Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 9, 2016

The number of complaints filed last year with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights soared to a record 16,720, according to a report the department released Thursday. The number of complaints was a 61 percent increase over the previous year's total.

By far, the largest increase has been in reports of sexual violence on college campuses. Since 2011, when the department released a Dear Colleague letter urging institutions to more rigorously investigate and adjudicate reports of sexual assault, the number of complaints related to campus sexual violence has increased by 831 percent. The increase in complaints, the department said, has also been notable in other areas, including restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities (a 100 percent increase), web accessibly for persons with disabilities (511 percent), and harassment on the basis of race, color or national origin (17 percent).

From 2009 to 2016, the Office for Civil Rights received 76,022 cases and resolved 66,102 of them.

"Over the last eight years, one of the Obama administration’s highest priorities has been to protect the access of all students to a world-class education," the department stated. "As a result, the department and OCR have seen significant progress in increasing educational equity nationwide and reducing discriminatory barriers that students face."

December 9, 2016

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, introduced a bill Thursday that would require academic transcripts to show that a student has violated campus policies involving sexual violence.

Speier said colleges and universities currently have no way of knowing if a student transferring to their campus has committed a sexual assault at a previous school.

"My bill will ensure that students who try to transfer schools to avoid the consequences of their violent acts will, at a minimum, face the same consequences as students who transfer because they’ve cheated on an exam," she said in a statement.

Speier's bill, called the Safe Transfer Act, would clarify FERPA laws to allow such disclosures and set the disclosure requirement to sunset five years after school disciplinary proceedings are completed or year after a pending disciplinary proceeding is initiated. The bill would also require that an alleged perpetrator be notified of the disclosure and be allowed to write a statement accompanying the disclosure.

The congresswoman has been outspoken on issues of sexual assault on campus. In September, she urged the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights to work with the Office of Federal Student Aid to provide loan assistance to victims of sexual assault. Speier has also proposed that colleges and universities be required to release investigations into alleged sexual harassment by faculty and staff members as well as students.

December 9, 2016

Pima Community College has settled out of court with a former professor of chemistry who accused it of firing him with no due process, Tucson.com reported. David A. Katz will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages and about $50,000 in lost pay related to his 2014 termination. Katz will not be reappointed, despite his desire to resume work on campus. All parties are subject to a gag order, but public records show that the college, Chancellor Lee Lambert and two former subordinates implicated in Katz’s lawsuit denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to Tucson.com.

A federal judge ruled in a pretrial hearing in July that the college violated Katz’s constitutional right to due process in suspending and later terminating him without giving him the right to defend himself. The judge did not rule out the possibility that Lambert could personally be held liable for damages if the case went to trial. The court rejected other claims by Katz, however, including that his free speech rights were violated when he was disciplined after complaining about laboratory conditions. The college argued that Katz was prone to angry outbursts, but some instructors disputed that characterization. All parties will bear their own court costs.

December 9, 2016

Pomona College announced Thursday that G. Gabrielle Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at New York University, will become its next president. Starr will succeed David W. Oxtoby, who announced earlier this year that he would step down in June 2017, ending 14 years leading the college.

December 9, 2016

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals this week arguing that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau doesn't have the authority to investigate college accreditors.

The CFPB is appealing a D.C. District Court decision that blocked its efforts to investigate the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and, specifically, how the agency approves for-profit colleges. Since that defeat, the Department of Education group that oversees accreditors recommended shutting down ACICS. But the CFPB in October filed an appeal arguing it had "ample authority" to oversee accreditors for violations of federal consumer protection laws.

The chamber argues in its brief that the accreditation process for for-profit colleges has "no connection to a transaction with a consumer for a consumer financial product or service, the bureau's contrary protestations notwithstanding."

December 9, 2016

Deakin University in Australia will next year offer graduate degrees and certificate programs through FutureLearn, the online learning platform owned by the Open University in the U.K. The university on Friday announced it would launch four master's degrees and two certificate programs on the platform in disciplines such as cybersecurity, information technology and financial planning. Like many universities that are experimenting with delivering education through massive open online courses, Deakin will let students test the programs before committing to them. Students can enroll in free "taster" courses, which last only two weeks, and then decide whether they want to pay 2,600 Australian dollars (about $1,950) for the full course. FutureLearn expanded into for-credit courses in May.

December 9, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Andrew Oswald, professor of economics and behavioral science at the University of Warwick, says eating more fruits and vegetables can help boost your mood. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 8, 2016

In an interview with Time magazine for its Person of the Year cover story, President-elect Donald J. Trump offered sympathetic -- albeit nonspecific -- comments regarding the so-called DREAMers, young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” the president-elect told the magazine. “They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The Time article notes, however, that Trump "did not back off his pledge to end Obama’s executive orders" on immigration. During the campaign Trump said he would end the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which more than 700,000 young people -- many of them college students -- have gained temporary relief from deportation and two-year renewable work permits.

December 8, 2016

When two Muslim students at Nazareth College recently attended a service at a nearby church, someone at the church reported them to the Department of Homeland Security, which then sent New York state police to the college to confirm that they were students, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. The students were at the church to fulfill a requirement in a sociology of religion course that students attend religious services that are not of their own faith.

Daan Braveman, the president of Nazareth, sent an email to the campus Wednesday noting that the students did nothing wrong and sharing his frustration about what had happened. "I am very troubled and indeed angered that two of our students were singled out because of their religious beliefs," Braveman wrote. He added that he met with the students to reassure them.

"This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference," Braveman added.

December 8, 2016

USA Funds, which was one of the country's largest guarantors of federal student loans when banks originated most such loans, announced Wednesday that it would transfer its guarantor operations to Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and focus fully on its newfound role as a funder of college completion-related initiatives. Great Lakes will take over management of the nearly $50 billion in federally guaranteed student loans that remained in USA Funds' portfolio since a 2010 law effectively ended the bank-based Federal Family Educational Loan Program. Great Lakes has absorbed the portfolios of several other loan guarantors who have sought to wind down their involvement in lending.

As part of the new arrangement, Great Lakes will make grants to USA Funds to help support its advocacy work, which focuses on student completion, college value and other topics. Like other former guarantors, USA Funds has a sizable pot of money from borrower fees that it amassed during its time in the loan program, which consumer advocates have criticized.

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