Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 1, 2017

The two Republicans who lead the education committees of the U.S. Congress have issued statements that criticize aspects of the Trump administration's entry ban on immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Hundreds of higher education leaders have strongly condemned the ban, saying it is morally wrong, unnecessarily harms students and professors, and could have a chilling effect on university research. The statements from Senator Lamar Alexander and Representative Virginia Foxx do not go that far. (See below.) But the Republican leaders of the two education committees said the executive order Trump signed on Friday was confusing and needed more clarity in order for it to be applied in an equitable fashion.

When asked Tuesday whether Congress should act to fix those problems, Foxx said, "My understanding is that the executive order that the president put out is completely legal and authorized, and so I don't know of anything that the Congress might do in response to it." Foxx, who was speaking at the annual meeting of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, demurred when asked if she would support the administration altering its order, saying, "I haven't heard anything about the administration wanting to change anything from what it's done."

Foxx's written statement on the order:

"We have always been a country that welcomes immigrants. However, it is also important to remember that national security is the number-one job of the federal government. Given shortcomings in the current screening process, I joined a bipartisan House majority in supporting legislation to strengthen the vetting process for individuals seeking entry to the United States through the Visa Waiver Program or as refugees. The executive order signed by the president on Friday came with little clarity and caused much uncertainty for foreign travelers. Additional implementing guidance is needed to ensure that the order can be applied in a fair and equitable manner."

Alexander's written statement:

"This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting. More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal permanent residents with green cards and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of American troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq. And while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one, which is inconsistent with our American character."

February 1, 2017

More than 2,300 professors at University of California and California State University campuses have signed an open letter to President Trump urging him not to drop the United States out of the Paris accords on climate change, and to continue to support work on the issue.

"With this letter, we aim to express the degree to which the scientists and intellectual leaders of our state, speaking for themselves and not on behalf of their respective employers, agree on the facts of climate change," the letter says. "Despite misleading portrayals, there is widespread consensus in the scientific and academic communities that human-caused climate change is real, with consequences that are already being felt. The science of how greenhouse gases trap heat is unimpeachable. Climate records are being broken as human-caused changes add onto natural oscillations (e.g., El Niño) in the climate system. Fossil records from pre-human times show much higher sea levels and a reorganization of vegetation patterns when greenhouse gases were higher and Earth’s climate was much warmer than today. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere set in motion regional variations in weather, weather extremes, the loss of major ice sheets, and declining biodiversity that has been associated with mass extinctions in Earth's past."

The letter was drafted by Aaron Parsons, an associate professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.


February 1, 2017

Several conservative and libertarian organizations are urging state lawmakers to adopt legislation that aims to "restore and protect freedom of thought and expression" on college campuses. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that launched a new education policy center last week, promoted the proposed state-level law at panel discussion Tuesday. 

The "model bill," called the Campus Free Speech Act, was written by the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian think tank, and Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The proposed legislation would prevent public colleges and universities from disinviting controversial speakers, require institutions to abolish speech codes and "free speech zones," and require colleges to publish a formal statement affirming that its "primary function is the discovery, improvement, transmission, and dissemination of knowledge by means of research, teaching, discussion, and debate."

In addition, the proposed bill would instruct institutions "to strive to remain neutral, as an institution, on the public policy controversies of the day." Jim Manley, senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute and co-author of the Campus Free Speech Act, said this piece of the legislation would not be mandatory, however, and wouldn't prohibit institutions from taking strong positions in unusual circumstances, such as the wide condemnation seen in response to the Trump administration's executive order to ban immigrants and nonimmigrant visitors from seven countries, which are majority Muslim, from entering the United States.

"This bill wouldn't have prohibited universities from taking positions," he said. "The reason that's in the bill is because universities are funded by taxpayers, and they are big communities with lots of opinions."

The model legislation also states that colleges should create disciplinary policies for students "who interfere with the free expression of others" on campus. "When protestors disrupt visiting speakers, or break in on meetings to take them over and list demands, administrators look the other way," a report describing the bill stated. "Students have come to take it for granted they will face no discipline for such disruptions."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said it supported the proposed law, but cautioned against conflating protests which seek to silence other speakers and those which aim to grab the attention of administrators.

"I think issuing demands is free speech, and silencing others isn't free speech at all," Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at FIRE, said. "A heckler's veto is not free speech." 

Manley, of the Goldwater Institute, said the institute has heard from half a dozen state lawmakers who are interested in introducing the bill. During Tuesday's panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation, Kurtz, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, said the proposed state-level law was created in response to the activism that occurred on several college campuses in 2015.

"Interrupting, assaulting or shouting down speakers is tyranny, pure and simple," he said. 

February 1, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute: Michelle Ouellette, assistant professor of journalism and public relations at SUNY Plattsburgh, explores how to get the real news out there and in front of readers' eyes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 31, 2017

A former dean of students at Washington University, in St. Louis, has been indicted on a federal child pornography charge. The former official, Justin X. Carroll, retired earlier this month for "personal reasons," but the university said it became aware of the investigation on Dec. 20 and immediately banned Carroll from campus. Carroll, had also served as Washington's interim athletic director, officially resigned on Jan. 5. The indictment covers activity between November 2015 and December 2016, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and includes allegations that Carroll was in possession of sexual videos involving children. 

"While our investigation is ongoing, at this point, we have no reason to believe that Mr. Carroll had inappropriate interactions with any member of the university community or any participant in university programs," the university said in a statement Monday. 

January 31, 2017

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced during his State of the State address Monday that all adult residents will be able to attend the state's community colleges tuition- and fee-free. The idea builds on the success of the widely-heralded Tennessee Promise, which offered free tuition, last dollar scholarships at community colleges to the state's high school graduates. 

"We have to do more for adults in Tennessee," Haslam said. "I'm introducing the next step in making certain everyone in Tennessee has the opportunity to earn a degree by proposing Tennessee become the first state in the nation to offer all adults a college education free of tuition and fees." 

The state's officials have a goal to have 55 percent of the adult population with a degree or certificate by 2025, but they're about 870,000 degrees short, he said. 

The proposal, which isn't expected to cost taxpayers, would be offered through the Tennessee Reconnect initiative, which already allows adult students to earn a certificate for free at any of the state's colleges of applied technology. 

January 31, 2017

The University of Maine is building on its highly visible tuition-matching program for undergraduates by starting a similar new program for graduate students.

The university's new regional graduate scholarship will be available to new fully admitted students from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont starting this fall. It will drop out-of-state tuition from $1,361 per credit hour to $650 per credit hour for 22 programs. That's the same price or lower than students would pay if they were attending a flagship campus in their own state, according to the university.

January 31, 2017

The former loan guarantor USA Funds has agreed to pay $23 million to settle a lawsuit that challenged the right of such agencies to collect fees from borrowers who had defaulted on loans but started repaying them. A federal appeals court sided with borrowers in a class action, and USA Funds appealed to the Supreme Court. After mediation, USA Funds agreed to refund the fees by lowering the outstanding balances of most borrowers and making payments to some. USA Funds announced late last year that it would sell its loan guarantee business to concentrate on grant-making activities.

January 31, 2017

A professor at the Université Laval, in Quebec City, was among six killed in a shooting at a nearby mosque on Sunday, the CBC reported. Khaled Belkacemi, age 60, was a professor of soil and agrifood engineering at the university.

The Canadian news broadcaster also reported that the alleged attacker, Alexandre Bissonnette, age 27, is a social sciences student at Laval.

January 31, 2017

Law students in North Carolina who bought Apple's latest MacBook Pro laptop need to disable its signature feature in order to take the state bar exam, the North Carolina Board of Law Examiners has decided. Apple last year introduced an updated version of the laptop that on some models replaces the standard row of function keys with a touch bar -- a small, touch-sensitive OLED display that changes depending on which application is being used. The board said Friday that the display needs to be disabled before students can take the exam. In a statement to the blog 9to5Mac, a spokesperson for the board said the display "can compromise examination integrity and security."


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