Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 18, 2022

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit filed by two former students at Fuller Theological Seminary who were expelled for being in same-sex marriages. The California seminary’s policies state that “sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman.”

The Ninth Circuit of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s decision that Fuller was shielded from liability under the religious exemption of Title IX, the federal statute prohibiting sex-based discrimination in higher education. Title IX includes an exemption for institutions controlled by religious organizations to the extent that application of the law “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.”

In its Dec. 13 opinion, the appeals court rejected the students’ argument “that the exemption does not apply to Fuller because the school is controlled by its own board of trustees rather than by a distinct, external organization.” The court concluded, instead, that “Title IX’s religious exemption encompasses educational institutions, including divinity schools like Fuller, that are controlled by their own religiously affiliated boards of trustees.”

The court also found that Fuller was not required to provide written notice to the Department of Education to claim the religious exemption from Title IX. “Given that DOE has never required educational institutions to request the religious exemption in writing and that such a requirement would conflict with the plain language of the statute, Fuller is not barred from claiming the exception because it failed to submit such a request,” the appeals court concluded.

January 18, 2022

The Yale University Divinity School has announced that its history is full of racial injustice. Dean Greg Sterling said, “We ask God for forgiveness. We ask those against whom we have sinned for forgiveness. We do not ask for forgiveness without working to change our institution.”

Sterling said the Divinity School is allocating $20 million in endowment to fund 10 social justice scholarships each year for incoming students who are dedicated to social justice work. The scholarships will cover all tuition for each recipient, as well as the comprehensive fee and board fee, and will provide a $10,000 annual stipend to help meet living expenses.

January 18, 2022

California may soon experiment with giving $500 a month to low-income students in the California State University system, the Los Angeles Times reported. State Senator Dave Cortese is considering legislation that would create a pilot program at select California State University campuses issuing monthly stipends for one year to students whose family income is in the bottom 20 percent of earners in the state. Up to 14,000 students could be eligible. A three-campus plan would cost the state about $57 million, and a five-campus plan would cost about $84 million, according to Cortese.

He cited statistics showing that nearly 11 percent of the Cal State system’s 480,000-plus students said they experienced homelessness in 2018. More than 40 percent of Cal State students reported food insecurity. For Black, first-generation college students, it was worse, with nearly 70 percent reporting food insecurity and 18 percent experiencing homelessness. “College students are couch surfing and sleeping in their cars. This could be enough money to rent a room, and if you don’t need a room, by all means, use it for what you do need it for,” Cortese said. “It’s like a booster shot. It could help get them off of this treadmill and stop them from dropping out, being on the streets and becoming homeless long term.”

January 18, 2022

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed an order by a district court dismissing a suit brought by a Chinese graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who alleged the university discriminated against him based on sex in the course of a Title IX disciplinary investigation after a former student accused him of misconduct.

In a Jan. 11 ruling in favor of the student, identified as John Doe, the three-judge panel “concluded that Doe’s allegations of external pressures impacting how the university handled sexual misconduct complaints, an internal pattern and practice of bias in the University of California and at UCLA in particular, and specific instances of bias in Doe’s particular disciplinary case, when combined, raised a plausible inference of discrimination on the basis of sex sufficient to withstand dismissal.”

January 18, 2022

A roof collapsed on a dormitory at Brevard College, in North Carolina, WLOS reported. There were 50 students inside when the collapse, which is blamed on snow, took place. All managed to leave the building.

January 18, 2022

A group of 15 colleges and universities was selected to participate in the initial phase of a $10 million initiative by the Strada Education Network and the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity, a group of campus leaders focused on pandemic recovery. The first round of grants, totaling $3.75 million, were announced today. 

Each institution will receive $250,000 to embark on a project to expand career services and support, incorporate career preparation into curricula, and improve job outcomes among students, according to an announcement by the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity. 

The University of Oregon, for example, is using the funds to create a new six-month, cohort-based career-preparedness program for students of color and low-income students. The University of Texas system plans to redesign undergraduate degrees to incorporate relevant microcredentials and skills badges.

James Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas system, said the goal is to give students a “competitive edge.”

“This grant will help undergraduate students across the UT System transition into high-value careers by expanding access to micro-credentials that arm students with the skills most valued by Texas employers,” he said in a press release.

Strada and the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity will provide more than $6 million in additional funds later this year to expand on these projects and will work with recipients over the course of the year to share best practices.

“As we recover from a worldwide pandemic, we understand that our economy and our education system are changing dramatically,” Ruth Watkins, president of Strada Impact, said in the release. “The good news is that institutions of higher learning are rising to the challenge, and are shifting their focus beyond completion of credentials and degrees. The Beyond Completion Challenge was designed not just to come up with new ideas for how to achieve that goal, but to put resources behind them so that more students can benefit.”

Note: This article was updated to reflect corrections of the date of the announcement of the grants and the amount distributed so far.  

January 18, 2022

Today on the Academic Minute: Karla I. Loya, assistant professor of educational leadership in higher education at the University of Hartford, explains why fostering an inclusive environment is key during a time of crisis. And if you missed Monday’s Academic Minute, in which Wayne State University’s Kevin Ketels delves into the reasons behind the shortages American consumers are finding, please click here. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 14, 2022

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule mandating that large employers require employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

The court allowed a separate rule mandating vaccination for employees of health-care facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to go into effect.

In blocking the OSHA rule, which would have applied to colleges and other workplaces with 100 or more employees, and which would have affected an estimated 84 million workers, a six-member majority of the court found that the states, businesses and nonprofit groups that sued were likely to prevail in their arguments that OSHA exceeded its authority as set out in the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

The majority said in an unsigned opinion that the act empowers the secretary of labor “to set workplace safety standards, not broad public health measures.”

“Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most,” the court’s opinion states. “COVID-19 can and does spread at home, in schools, during sporting events, and everywhere else that people gather. That kind of universal risk is no different from the day-to-day dangers that all face from crime, air pollution, or any number of communicable diseases. Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life—simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock—would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization.”

The three liberal justices on the court dissented, arguing the court acted “outside of its competence and without legal basis” in displacing the judgments of OSHA officials.

“In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed,” Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion. “As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible federal officials, acting well within the scope of their authority, to protect American workers from grave danger.”

January 14, 2022

Thirty-nine state attorneys general announced a settlement with Navient over the servicing of student loans.

“For too long, Navient contributed to the national student debt crisis by deceptively trapping thousands of students into more debt,” said Attorney General Letitia James of New York State. “Today’s billion-dollar agreement will bring relief to thousands of borrowers in New York and across the nation and help them get back on their feet. Navient will no longer be able to line its pockets at the expense of students who are trying to earn a college degree. Student loan servicers that operate through deception and wrongdoing will not be tolerated and will be held accountable by my office.”

The investigation found, according to James, that Navient also provided predatory, subprime, private loans to students attending for-profit schools and colleges with low graduation rates, although the company knew that a very high percentage of those borrowers would be unable to repay the loans. Navient allegedly made these risky subprime loans as an inducement to get schools to use Navient as a preferred lender for highly profitable federal and private loans, without regard for borrowers and their families, many of whom it unknowingly ensnared in debts they could never repay.

Navient will cancel the remaining balance on nearly $1.7 billion in subprime, private student loan balances owed by nearly 66,000 borrowers nationwide.

The company denied doing anything illegal. “The company’s decision to resolve these matters, which were based on unfounded claims, allows us to avoid the additional burden, expense, time and distraction to prevail in court,” said Mark Heleen, Navient’s chief legal officer.

January 14, 2022

Mills College and the Alumnae Association of Mills College have dropped their respective lawsuits against each other, the college announced Thursday.

The Alumnae Association sued college officials in July, hoping to receive more detailed financial information about the college and ultimately slow a merger with Northeastern University. The college countersued, and the two parties have subsequently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Litigation “will be concluded upon review and entry of the dismissal order by the assigned judge,” according to a press release.

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