Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 4:27am

An article in Time details an unusual series of events adding to the debate over gay rights at Wheaton College, a Christian college in Illinois. A student spoke out at a campus forum, arguing that Wheaton was unfair and unrealistic to expect all students to restrict sexual relations to heterosexual marriage, and said that celibacy was not the only sexual ethic that religious people should promote for gay people. When the student was finishing his remarks, another student threw an apple at him. While a subsequent speaker criticized the apple throwing tactic, there wasn't much of a reaction when it happened. Then the student who threw the apple allegedly posted a note on campus in which he defended his actions, and said he threw the apple as "a warning against insulting the spirit of grace."


Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 4:32am

The law schools of the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Iowa have announced that they will start accepting applications from some students without scores on the Law School Admission Test, Bloomberg reported. The American Bar Association recently loosened its LSAT requirement for law school accreditation and Buffalo and Iowa are using these new standards. The two law schools will consider applicants from their own undergraduate colleges based on their grades and other standardized tests, such as the GRE.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved legislation to expand the tax benefits of 529 college-savings accounts, less than a month after the Obama administration's failed bid to raise taxes on such accounts.

By a 401 to 20 vote, House lawmakers approved a measure that would include computers and software as qualifying educational expenses on which families can spend 529 account savings. It would also simplify how taxpayers calculate their benefits associated with the plan and would allow families to redeposit tuition refunds back into a 529 account without penalty.

The bill would cost $51 million over 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

Several Democrats had sought to offset that cost by eliminating 529 plans for families with adjusted gross incomes above $3 million. But that amendment was rejected by the Republican-controlled House Rules committee earlier this week.


Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

Community colleges in the State University of New York System are neither financed nor controlled enough by New York's government to make them state entities entitled to legal immunity, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The decision, by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, came in a lawsuit brought by a former adjunct professor, Carol Leitner, who was fired by Westchester Community College for purportedly making offensive comments in class. A lower court judge had rejected Westchester Community College's assertion that it should be immune from Leitner's lawsuit because it is a state entity. The appeals panel upheld that ruling, saying the state would generally not be responsible for satisfying financial judgments against the two-year institution and that New York's government lacks significant control over its operations.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

The dismissal of a Baylor University football player who was homeless a year ago prompted widespread outrage directed at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Wednesday after the player tweeted that the N.C.A.A. declared him ineligible for accepting help from a family friend. But the N.C.A.A. did not rule the student ineligible, and the association even allows for universities to apply for waivers for homeless students in need of assistance.

"In 2014, I was just a kid who [couch] surfed and took classes at a community college, but I had a dream to play college football," the player, Silas Nacita, said in a tweet that was shared more than 18,000 times. "However a few months before [I enrolled at Baylor], a close family friend approached me and said they didn't want me sleeping on floors and wondering how I was going to eat the next meal, so they insisted on putting me in an apartment and helping out with those living expenses." Because he accepted that offer "instead of choosing to be homeless," Nacita said, the N.C.A.A. declared him ineligible to play football.

The N.C.A.A. said on Wednesday that it did not declare Nacita ineligible and that Baylor has not requested a waiver for him. Baylor confirmed later that day that it was the university that declared Silas ineligible, not the N.C.A.A. "There was some misinformation on Twitter that caused that confusion," said Nicholas Joos, Baylor's executive associate athletic director of external affairs. Joos did not say why Nacita was dismissed or whether it would apply for the N.C.A.A.'s waiver. Nacita will reportedly remain a student at Baylor, and is there on academic -- not athletic -- scholarships.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

A female student is suing the State University of New York at Stony Brook, saying that the university required her to "prosecute" and cross-examine the student she accused of assaulting her. The female student had to create exhibits, write an opening statement and pursue witness testimony, she told The Journal News. The preparation, she said, took 60 hours and the hearing lasted 5 hours. In the end, the accused student was found not responsible for sexual misconduct. The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages and a court order banning the practice of requiring sexual assault victims to "prosecute their own cases and to cross-examine and be cross-examined by their assailants."

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has urged colleges to not allow such a practice. Stony Brook is one of two SUNY institutions under pending Title IX investigations by the office. In October, months after the student's assault, all 64 SUNY campuses adopted a new systemwide sexual assault policy, including agreeing to use a uniform definition of consent and to provide victims with a bill of rights. The new policy does not mention whether students should be required to cross-examine their alleged attackers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

Student presidents from 76 universities sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education this week opposing the Office for Civil Rights' recommendation that students should not be permitted to serve on panels adjudicating campus sexual assault cases.

"While we understand and support the good spirit of the recommendation -- to ensure well-trained and unbiased participation -- we strongly feel that it has significant unintended consequences," the letter reads. "Students provide valuable perspective as peers that faculty and staff cannot. They relate to the student experience directly and provide insight during questioning and discussion, enhancing the quality of hearings."

The letter, which was also sent to senators from 25 states, was written by Celia Wright, student president at Ohio State University. "A reasonable alternative would require adoption of baseline standards for training and confidentiality expectations for all members of conduct hearing boards," Wright wrote.

Thursday, February 26, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Brad Hansen, physicist and astronomer at the University of California at Los Angeles, explores a new method for locating habitable planets in deep space. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 3:00am

As part of National Adjunct Walkout Day today, many adjuncts -- along with some students and tenure-line faculty members -- will walk out of their classes or participate in other forms of protest on campuses across the U.S. and Canada. The idea was posed in the fall on social media to highlight adjuncts' working conditions, lack of job security and relatively low pay. Many adjuncts on unionized campuses are prohibited by their collective bargaining agreements or state laws from walking out, but many unions have pledged to support the effort through awareness campaigns, such as teach-ins. A list of actions is available here, and updates will be posted throughout the day on Twitter under #NAWD and on Facebook.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 3:00am

A small free-standing art college in Massachusetts, Montserrat College of Art, may merge into Salem State University, the two institutions announced Monday. The two institutions have been in private due diligence discussions and now plan to move to public discussions involving various campus constituencies. A statement from Stephen D. Immerman, the Montserrat president, said, "Montserrat offers a unique brand of arts education for a unique student population. However, as a small, private college with less than 400 students, it is challenging to provide the resources needed to maintain and grow the competitive advantages needed for working artists. By joining Salem State, we believe that we can ensure that the Montserrat name and the college's tradition of excellence and student-centered education will remain available for future generations of aspiring artists and designers."


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