Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Alpha Epsilon Pi is investigating the University of Chicago chapter of the Jewish fraternity for sending emails containing derogatory references toward black people, women and Muslims.

"We are going to work with the individuals in the chapter to educate them about the harm that such speech and thinking can bring to others," Jonathan Pierce, the international fraternity's spokesman and former president, said. "It is important to note, though, that many of these private emails are from some time ago and the chapter has worked to eradicate this type of behavior and speech."

The email chain, obtained by BuzzFeed News, contains messages sent between 2011 and 2015. The string of emails features frequent use of racist terms for black people, a warning to members to not to have sex with "fatties" and an invitation to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day at a fried chicken restaurant. In the emails, members of the off-campus fraternity refer to a Muslim member of the student government as a "terrorist" and to an empty, weed-filled lot located near the chapter as "Palestine."

"The language used in these emails is offensive, and it is not consistent with the university's values or our strong commitment to ensuring that people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive on our campus," Michele Rasmussen, the university's dean of students, said in a statement. Fraternities and sororities are not officially recognized student organizations at the University of Chicago.

The fraternity is one of several in the last year to come under fire after racist and sexist messages shared between members have surfaced online.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Mads Daugaard, senior research scientist and assistant professor of urology at the University of British Columbia, explores how a sugar protein may be the answer to an easier method of treating cancer. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:19am

Jason Lieb, a molecular biologist at the University of Chicago, has resigned after a university official recommended that he be fired for sexual misconduct, The New York Times reported. A letter of finding that the Times obtained said Lieb made unwelcome sexual advances on female graduate students at an off-campus retreat and engaged in sexual activities with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.” Lieb did not respond to requests for comment. Some students say the university should never have hired him, and that the university was warned in an anonymous email about a prior allegation against him. The Times article noted that Lieb has received millions of dollars in federal research grants.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

Brown University, by a vote of its faculty on Tuesday, has designated what was once Columbus Day at the university as Indigenous People's Day. In 2009, the university dropped the Columbus Day name and designated that day off as the "fall weekend holiday." Tuesday's vote replaces that name. The resolution adopted by the faculty states that using the new name “would recognize the contributions of indigenous people/Native Americans to our community and our culture and foster a more inclusive community.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday released a report on how some states and colleges are using data to improve student graduation and retention rates. The foundation said the report is based on a decade's worth of lessons learned.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is working with the foundation to develop a forthcoming "metrics framework" that further refines the data areas identified in the new report. The foundation said it will work with policy makers and others to encourage the use of those metrics, including their use as a way to measure the effectiveness of the foundation's own investments. The IHEP report is slated for release in March.

The impetus for the data push is gaps in knowledge about "posttraditional" students, the foundation said, including low-income, first-generation and adult students.

"Higher education is reproducing privilege in this country," said Dan Greenstein, the director of education and postsecondary success in the foundation's U.S. program. "It's unsustainable."

Many data tools from the federal government and other sources have failed to keep up with changing demographics in higher education, according to the foundation.

"We can't answer some of the basic questions," said Jennifer Engle, a senior program officer for Gates who previously worked for IHEP. "We're going to have modernize our data systems."

The foundation said it has focused on metrics that many in higher education agree have value and where serious gaps remain. Those areas include data about students' progress toward a credential (including part-time students), time to completion, transfer rates, debt accumulated, employment after graduation, how much students learn in college and how they use that knowledge and those skills.

Gates last year announced its policy priority areas for college completion. The new report is part of that effort. The foundation has convened a working group it said will make specific policy recommendations later this year on how to improve institutional, state and federal data systems. Likely topics include a federal student unit record, public-private partnerships and improving the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:22am

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected a proposal to merge the University of Baltimore into Morgan State University, a historically black institution, The Baltimore Sun reported. The judge is overseeing the process by which Maryland and advocates for its historically black colleges propose plans to end what the judge previously found was the perpetuation of segregation through similar programs being offered at Maryland's black colleges and nearby institutions that are not historically black. Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered further discussion of a range of proposals made by advocates for black colleges, but she said that the idea of merging the University of Baltimore into Morgan State would not be considered further.

"It is apparent from the current record that such a merger is neither educationally sound nor practicable; any numerical benefit as to the racial identifiability of the resulting student body would be outweighed by its academic and financial cost," she wrote.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:31am

A student at Syracuse University, Alex Purdy, created a video in which she talks about her decision to leave a sorority. She talks about wanting to find friendship and support and, instead, finding women who make cruel comments to one another about their bodies, sexuality and other subjects. Purdy does not name the sorority and says she wants to spark discussion about the topic generally, not a focus on one house at one university. The video -- and a related Twitter hashtag, #sororityrevamp -- are attracting considerable attention online. Many commend the discussion as overdue while others are praising Greek life.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

First-semester grade point average may be a better way to predict whether students will graduate than an ACT score, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The study examined more than 1,900 freshmen over a multiyear period, focusing on students from low-income families, poorly financed high schools and historically underrepresented groups. Among these students, the GPAs of those who went on the graduate were virtually identical to those who dropped out. But first-semester grades were an effective way to predict graduation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

Non-tenure-track faculty members in two academic units at the University of Southern California voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, while adjuncts in a third major unit voted down the bid, they announced Tuesday. Adjuncts in the Roski School of Arts voted 31-6 to unionize, and those in the International Academy voted for a union, 32-3. Non-tenure-track faculty members in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences voted down the bid, 127-113. A university spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

The world is not lacking for reports on how to restructure the federal student financial aid programs. But here's a new one to chew over, from the Urban Institute and its researchers Sandy Baum and Martha Johnson: "Strengthening Federal Student Aid."

The report calls for combining the varied student loan repayment plans based on borrowers' incomes into one "universal, automatic and frugal income-driven repayment plan," and consolidating the numerous tax credits and deductions for college expenses into a single option, among other things.

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