Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 18, 2017

Michigan State and Louisiana State Universities have rejected requests by Richard Spencer, the white supremacist speaker, to appear on their campuses. In both cases, the university cited the violence in Charlottesville, Va., that accompanied a white supremacist gathering there. Historically, public colleges are required under the First Amendment to be open to speakers with all views. But the incidents in Charlottesville have already led Texas A&M University and the University of Florida to block Spencer appearances, citing the threat of violence, not his views.

August 18, 2017

A year ago, the University of Chicago sent incoming freshmen a letter that denounced the use of trigger warnings and "safe spaces," while noting the virtues of academic freedom. The letter -- from John Ellison, dean of students -- set off a debate at Chicago and elsewhere. Many said that Ellison shouldn't seem to be dictating what professors do in their classrooms, and that academic freedom in fact covered the use of trigger warnings by faculty members who wish to use them. Others said that the letter's tone denouncing trigger warnings and safe spaces belittled efforts to be inclusive. Many others cheered him as a heroic for sending the letter.

Ellison has just sent out another letter to this fall's freshmen. This year's version makes no mention of safe spaces or trigger warnings. It does talk about the university's commitment to academic freedom and to educating people from diverse backgrounds and with diverse views.

"You will find that an unwavering commitment to academic freedom and free expression is one of the university’s defining characteristics," the letter said. "In our time, challenges to academic freedom and free expression are both internal and external, from the world of mass politics and media and sometimes from voices within universities themselves. At the University of Chicago, we insist that all faculty and students are free to debate, disagree and argue, without fear of being silenced, all the while learning from each other and examining and testing their own views, assumptions and commitments. We expect this to happen in the college community, which welcomes people with a diversity of backgrounds and extremely diverse perspectives."

August 18, 2017

A statue of Robert E. Lee was vandalized at Duke University sometime in the night between Wednesday and Thursday.

The statue of Lee is one of 10 statues that adorn the Duke chapel, which are drawn from figures in Protestant and Methodist traditions, as well as the American South. The vandalism -- the statue’s face was damaged, and its nose chipped off -- comes as tensions are rising around Confederate monuments and white supremacy’s role in America in the past and the present.

“Duke Chapel is a place of sanctuary and refuge that belongs to every member of the Duke community,” Duke President Vincent E. Price said in a statement. “Each of us deserves a voice in determining how to address the questions raised by the statues of Robert E. Lee and others, and confront the darker moments in our nation’s history.”

The vandalism at Duke is the first known defacing of Lee’s statue, and the incident is being investigated by the university.

The statue has been somewhat controversial since the chapel was finished and it was unveiled in the 1930s, and has long been a subject of discussion -- and outside pressure -- for the administration.

Lee’s statue at Duke is one of many icons and monuments dedicated to known racists or members of the Confederacy at universities across the U.S., which have served as locations for protesters and counterprotesters, as well as targets for vandalism, over the years.

August 18, 2017

Rider University announced Thursday that it has a potential buyer for Westminster Choir College that would keep the college on its campus in Princeton, New Jersey, NJ.com reported. The college merged into Rider in 1992, and Rider's plans to sell the college -- with or without its campus -- have alarmed many supporters of Westminster, a distinguished music school. Rider did not offer details on the possible new owner for the college, but said it was "a potential international partner."

August 18, 2017

The U.S. Education Department announced this week that it has delayed the implementation of another element of the regulation that holds vocational programs accountable for their graduates' outcomes, and has eliminated some of the requirements on institutions to "reduce the burden" on them. The latest change, one of several the Trump administration has instituted to either delay or soften the so-called gainful-employment rules while it undertakes a wholesale rewrite of the regulations, postpones until next February the deadline by which programs subject to gainful employment must submit appeals of earnings data for their graduates. This is the second delay in that deadline.

The announcement also notes that the department will give programs that wish to challenge the government's data on earnings the ability to conduct and use data from their own survey of graduates' income. The department's announcement said the changes were in response to a federal court's ruling in June that partially blocked application of the rule to a group of cosmetology schools that challenged the rule.

In a news release responding to the department's announcement, the Center for American Progress asserted that the changes would "improperly allow hundreds of programs that leave their graduates with too much debt compared with their earnings to avoid sanctions."

“Weakening the appeals process is yet another extralegal action by the Department of Education to avoid enforcing a rule its political leadership does not like,” said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the center.

August 18, 2017

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking a proposed settlement against Aequitas Capital Management for assisting Corinthian Colleges with providing private loans to its students.

The federal agency alleges that Aequitas, which was a private equity firm based in Oregon, enabled Corinthian to make the private loans so that it would seem as if the school made enough outside revenue to meet the requirements for receiving federal student aid dollars. Aequitas purchased or funded about $230 million in Corinthian's private loans, known as Genesis loans. Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission took action against Aequitas for defrauding more than 1,500 investors, and a receiver was appointed to wind down the company and distribute its remaining assets.

If the CFPB's proposed settlement is approved, about 41,000 former Corinthian students would be eligible for approximately $183.3 million in loan forgiveness. The company would also forgive all outstanding balances on Genesis loans for borrowers who meet certain eligibility balances and forgive Genesis loans in default. A number of state attorneys general have also reached proposed settlements with Aequitas.

August 18, 2017

Worcester Polytechnic Institute is starting an initiative called Global Projects for All, which will provide every full-time, degree-seeking student a $5,000 credit to offset the cost of an off-campus project. WPI has a Global Projects Program in which students travel to one of more than 40 project centers around the globe to work in small teams under the guidance of faculty members to address problems related to issues such as energy, food, health and urban sustainability.

WPI plans to add additional project centers and is aiming for 90 percent student participation by 2020. The new funding will begin with the Class of 2022, or next year’s entering freshman class.

Colby College in April announced a similar initiative to provide funding for all students to spend time abroad.

August 18, 2017

Three more colleges this month have announced that they will no longer routinely require the SAT or ACT for undergraduate admissions. The colleges (with details of their policies in links) are: La Salle University, Niagara University and the State University of New York at Purchase.

August 18, 2017

Three leaders of Hong Kong’s 2014 student-led pro-democracy protests have been sentenced to prison after an appeals court overturned previous sentences for being too lax, The New York Times reported. Joshua Wong, the most visible of the student protest leaders, was sentenced to six months in prison, and fellow protest leaders Nathan Law and Alex Chow were sentenced to eight- and seven-month terms, respectively. All three reportedly plan to appeal their sentences, which by law render them ineligible to run for elected office for five years.

Wong and Chow were found guilty last year of unlawful assembly, while Law was convicted of inciting people to participate in the assembly. The Hong Kong Department of Justice said in a statement Thursday that the three activists "were convicted not because they exercised their civil liberties, but because their conduct during the protest contravened the law."

In a series of tweets, Wong said the fight for democracy would continue.

August 18, 2017

A fake-kidnapping scam appears to be targeting Chinese students in and around Vancouver, B.C., Richmond News reported. Perpetrators of the reported fraud contact students in Canada and their families in China and impersonate Chinese officials, telling families that students have been kidnapped and demanding a ransom. The Royal Canadian Mountain Police said investigations are ongoing.

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