Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 31, 2017

Jean Kilbourne, a feminist activist and author, says she was invited to give the commencement address at Saint Mary's College in Indiana, but the invitation was revoked because she had once been honored by Planned Parenthood, The Boston Globe reported. Kilbourne said that she had planned to speak on free speech issues, not abortion. “I felt it was chilling, and I feel that way in general with what’s going on in the country and on college campuses,” Kilbourne said. “There’s this polarization that’s so extreme that it becomes difficult to hear different points of view.”

The college issued this statement: “We consider our deliberations about, and discussions with, prospective college commencement speakers to be private. As yet, no public announcement has been made about the 2017 commencement speaker. Saint Mary’s expects to announce commencement details in late April.”

March 31, 2017

Millions of university email accounts are listed for sale on the "dark web," a study by the Digital Citizens Alliance found. Researchers with the organization, which focuses on online safety, found nearly 14 million email addresses and passwords associated with the 300 largest colleges and universities in the U.S. are available on dark web marketplaces -- websites that can't be accessed using common web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Some of the sellers are making the information available for free, while others claim to have ties with terrorist organizations, the study found.

The University of Michigan holds the dubious distinction of having the most email addresses and login credentials available on the dark web -- more than 122,000, the researchers found -- followed by Pennsylvania State University, the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University and Ohio State University. Adjusted for enrollment, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology takes the No. 1 spot. University email addresses have previously been sold more openly, such as on the Chinese shopping site Taobao.

March 31, 2017

Pennsylvania State University on Thursday announced a permanent ban on Beta Theta Pi fraternity, meaning that it can never return to the university. The university cited "a persistent pattern of serious alcohol abuse, hazing, and the use and sale of illicit drugs" as well as "a continuing criminal investigation into the death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza." Piazza died in February when he fell down stairs at the fraternity house, and authorities were not called for 12 hours.

Penn State also announced new rules for all Greek houses if they wish to maintain recognition. The rules include stronger enforcement of alcohol laws, and of limits on the number of people who can be at a social event in a Greek house.

 

March 31, 2017

Higher education and library associations called on the Federal Communications Commission Thursday to uphold Obama-era rules requiring broadband providers to treat all traffic on the internet equally. Ajit Pai, the FCC's new chairman, has indicated that the agency will roll back the rules, known as the Open Internet Order. Lifting the requirements could allow broadband providers to prioritize internet traffic from certain sources, which critics say would create "fast lanes" and "slow lanes" online.

"The higher education and library communities are deeply concerned that broadband internet access service providers … have financial incentives to interfere with the openness of the internet in ways that could be harmful to the internet content and services provided by libraries and educational institutions," the groups said in a letter to Pai and two other commissioners. "Preserving the unimpeded flow of information over the public internet and ensuring equitable access for all people is critical to our nation's social, cultural, education and economic well-being."

The associations, including the American Council on Education, the American Library Association and Educause, previously banded together to advocate for strong "net neutrality" rules.

March 31, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Christopher Austin, associate professor in the department of biological sciences at Louisiana State University, explores a new way to gather information on the past. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 30, 2017

North Carolina's Republican legislative leaders and Democratic governor have reached a deal to repeal HB2, the law requiring public agencies, including public colleges and universities, to bar transgender people from using bathrooms other than those associated with their legal gender assigned at birth. The deal is timed to avoid a deadline from the National Collegiate Athletic Association on repealing the law or losing eligibility to host championship events for several years. Some provisions in the repeal legislation -- expected to be adopted today -- are being opposed by gay rights groups, and it is unclear if the NCAA and other organizations boycotting North Carolina will decide that the repeal has gone far enough.

A draft of the repeal legislation published by The Charlotte Observer includes these provisions:

  • Only the General Assembly may regulate access to bathrooms of public agencies, and the boards of the University of North Carolina and the North Carolina Community College System are specifically barred from doing so without legislative approval.
  • No local government may pass legislation to assure equal access to bathrooms.
  • No local government may pass legislation on private employment practices.

These provisions are designed to prevent public colleges or local governments from affirming the right of transgender people to use the bathrooms of their choice. Further, the local-ordinance ban would block North Carolina cities or counties from banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

March 30, 2017

The American Arbitration Association declared this week’s graduate employee union election at Cornell University too close to call Wednesday, with 856 votes cast in favor of unionization, 919 against and an additional 81 votes remaining unresolved for now. A final determination is expected next month.

Cornell’s relationship with its would-be union seemed friendly last year, when the parties signed an agreement paving the way for a free and fair election ahead of a major decision from the National Labor Relations Board in favor of graduate student unions on private campuses. But the American Federation of Teachers, with which organizers are affiliated, has since questioned the validity of the election, saying that the Cornell “engaged in a series of election violations that compromised the ability of graduate students to make a free choice.” Allegations of interference include Cornell’s recent announcement that it would cut health-care costs next year for graduate students. AFT says such costs were a key issue in the organizing campaign and moving to reduce them on the eve of the election was an attempt to sway students away from unionization. The university could not immediately be reached for comment.

March 30, 2017

Wayne State University is trying to fire faculty members for allegedly using tenure as a shield against productivity in research, scholarship or teaching, The Detroit News reported. The first of five professors in line for termination began hearings this week. All are within the medical school, but the university reportedly is considering dismissing some outside the medical school, as well. The university announced in August that 37 medical faculty members could lose their jobs through retirement or termination for underperformance, and some two dozen professors have already left.

President M. Roy Wilson told The Detroit News that the dismissal hearings are about excellence and accountability, and that the professors facing the hearings are “grossly underperforming” and “not doing anything” -- making it difficult to move the university toward its mission as a premier urban research institution. Charles Parrish, a professor of political science and president of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers faculty union at Wayne State, said the process may be about cutting costs more than anything else. “No other university that I know of in American history has launched an attack on tenure in this way, announcing that they were going to go after (nearly) 40 faculty members,” he said. “There have been attacks on tenure all over the country … but not from inside the university.”

March 30, 2017

The University of Louisville Foundation killed a deferred compensation program that provided about $20 million to a small group of administrators, weeks after its lawyer said the program was structured to conceal it from foundation employees.

Former University of Louisville President James Ramsey and about a dozen other university officials received compensation under the program. Those who are currently vested in the program will receive money that was promised to them, but any remaining funds will not be disbursed, according to Louisville Business First. Six university employees will be affected by the decision, which was announced Tuesday.

Earlier this month, the longtime attorney for the University of Louisville Foundation told the foundation’s board that the organization had created two limited liability companies to administer deferred compensation awards for “obfuscation purposes,” according to WDRB. He later said he regretted using the word “obfuscation” and said the intention was to keep a group of people who work at the foundation from accessing records, not to conceal the compensation from the public.

March 30, 2017

The University of North Dakota announced Wednesday that it is eliminating three athletic teams: women’s hockey and men’s and women’s swimming and diving. The university cited the need for deep budget cuts and said that scholarships awarded to current players would be honored.

Minnesota Public Radio noted that the decision was stunning in the world of women's ice hockey, as the team has been highly successful. The North Dakota team sent eight players to the last Olympic games and is sending five to this year's world championships.

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