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Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) has summoned regional and national accreditors to a July meeting that Judith Eaton, the group's president, described as an urgent "call to action."

Eaton, speaking at the group's summer workshop, said a U.S. Senate hearing and a Wall Street Journal article -- both last week -- contributed to the impetus for the meeting. During the hearing, Senators questioned why accreditors had not shut down Corinthian Colleges, a controversial for-profit that disintegrated during the last year. The Wall Street Journal article used public information requests to detail how accreditors continue to recognize hundreds of colleges with low graduation rates and high student loan default rates. "Last week was a game changer," said Eaton.

CHEA does not represent accreditors, but describes itself as a "national advocate and institutional voice for self-regulation of academic quality through accreditation." Eaton said the July meeting would feature a discussion by the accreditors it recognizes about graduation rates and student debt and defaults.

"We're being called on to do something more and different about protecting students," she said.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Pitzer College's president, Laura Skandera Trombley, announced in December that she would leave office at the end of this month to become president of the Huntington Library. She has won praise from her board and others for setting college records in fund-raising, bolstering environmental programs and attracting more students over a 13-year tenure. But even though she is in her final days in office, the faculty voted no confidence in her this week, after a meeting in which professors away for the summer participated digitally.

Faculty members say that Trombley has disregarded the tradition of shared governance at the college. Specifically, many are upset that she did not reappoint Muriel Poston as dean of the faculty, and that this decision was, they say, made without faculty consultation. Pitzer faculty leaders say that this is a position that college guidelines specifically state shall be evaluated by faculty members and administrators. Faculty also this week passed a resolution calling for a reinstatement of Poston, who did not respond to an email request for comment.

Via email, Trombley said, "I am very happily moving to more scholarly pastures, and the college is steeling itself for what could be an acrimonious search process. While I have stayed far, far away from the search, what I see surfacing is a struggle between who will lead the search and, by implication, the college."

She added: "Due to my outgoing status, the board felt it prudent and responsible in its legal and governing role to determine whether or not the dean of the faculty's contract should be renewed. Based upon the board’s careful review, as well as their deep belief in shared governance and careful adherence to the faculty and board bylaws, the board passed a motion that the dean of the faculty's contract should not be renewed. The dean was informed of the board’s decision by the board chair. The dean has tenure, and the board offered her a year's paid sabbatical. She was not fired. The board chair sent a written message to the faculty, and some faculty were upset about the board's action. The faculty met, voted no confidence in me on the basis of inadequate 'shared governance' (and let's face it, an easy vote with my immediate departure) and demanded that the dean be reinstated."

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

More than 22 percent of female undergraduate students responding to a survey at the University of Michigan say they have experienced some type of sexual assault, the university announced Wednesday. The findings echo that of the often cited, though also often criticized, 2007 study that concluded one in five female students were sexually assaulted while in college. A new national survey released by The Washington Post last week also reached the same conclusion.

The Michigan survey asked students about sexual misconduct, broadly defining it as "nonconsensual (also known as unwanted), kissing and touching, oral, vaginal or anal penetration" stemming from coercion, intoxication or use of force. But it also asked students about sexual assault specifically involving penetration, a distinction often made by critics when challenging the results of sexual assault surveys. About 12 percent of female undergraduate students -- and 9.7 percent of all female students -- said they had experienced "nonconsensual sexual penetration" in the previous 12 months.

In all, 11.4 percent of Michigan students in the survey said they experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year. Among male students, 7.6 percent of undergraduates said they had experienced a nonconsensual sexual act.

Fraternity and sorority members are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of "nonconsensual sexual penetration" than non-Greek students, the survey found, and minority students' risk is also higher. The survey also revealed a gap in awareness between male and female students regarding the university's sexual assault policies and resources. More than 90 percent of male undergraduate students said they were aware that Michigan has a sexual misconduct policy, but only 84 percent of female students said the same. Nearly half of male students said they know where to find that policy, compared to only 30 percent of female students.

When the survey -- along with a separate survey created by the Association of American Universities -- was conducted in the spring, some students said its questions were too explicit and could trigger harmful memories in sexual assault victims. The university defended the questions at the time, as did several researchers who study sexual violence. Despite the criticism, the survey had a 67 percent response rate, which is higher than most online surveys.

"Having good data is important," Mark Schlissel, Michigan's president, said in a statement. "The more we know about our own community, the more we can spread awareness of the issues we face and the better we are able to focus our programs to be successful."

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on Wednesday became the latest candidate to join the race for the Republican presidential nomination. While it is unlikely he'll spend much time talking about this fact, Jindal is the only Republican in the race (or Democrat, for that matter) who has been the president of a university system -- Jindal led the University of Louisiana System from 1999 (taking office at age 28) through 2001.

His appointment was controversial with some faculty members, because he was seen as a politician more than an educator. Known for his strong anti-tax positions, Jindal, who has been governor since 2008, has overseen numerous cuts in higher education spending, and his initial proposals in this year's legislative session (modified at the last minute) would have resulted in massive cuts to public higher education. In 2011, Jindal set off a huge debate in the state when he proposed a study of merging historically black Southern University at New Orleans with the predominantly white University of New Orleans. The plan died. Additionally, scientists have regularly criticized Jindal for, in their view, promoting creationist views.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

The former student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- who is still taking on for-profit colleges from his new perch -- sent a letter to ITT Educational Services investors Wednesday asking them to reform the for-profit institution.

Rohit Chopra, now a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, wrote, "I have serious concerns that ITT is not properly managed. Unless investors provide more vigorous oversight over management and the board, ITT will continue to harm both its students and its shareholders."

ITT is facing lawsuits from state and federal agencies for allegedly guiding students to predatory loans and lying to investors about high default rates on those loans. The company has been compared to Corinthian Colleges.

In response to the letter, Nicole Elam, ITT's vice president of government relations and external affairs, criticized Chopra's view as endemic of Washington's bias against the for-profit industry.

"The fact that he would write such a letter to investors days after leaving the [CFPB] trumpeting mere allegations against the company demonstrates a personal bias against our institutions and an unwillingness to allow for due process to work -- the cornerstone of the U.S. legal system," Elam said in a news release. "Allegations are not facts and we think our investors will not take action based on simple assertions from someone with an ideological ax to grind."

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

The House Appropriations Committee, along a party line vote Wednesday, approved legislation that would increase spending on the National Institutes of Health by $1.1 billion, raise the maximum Pell Grant to $5,915 (but commandeer $370 million in excess Pell funds for other purposes) and block the Obama administration from implementing several regulations aimed at holding colleges accountable, including a proposed rating system (see related article). The measure now goes to the full House. The Senate Appropriations Committee is due to consider a parallel bill today.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Wallace Hall, a controversial member of the University of Texas Board of Regents, has filed a suit in state court against the Texas system's new chancellor, William McRaven, The Texas Tribune reported. Hall has conducted investigations -- some of which have been verified by UT's own outside inquiries -- based on his allegations that officials at the Austin campus helped some politically connected applicants gain admission over the objections of admissions officers. UT's investigation did not go far enough, Hall says, in identifying which powerful people helped which applicants get in, and he wants that information. UT officials have said that they can't violate federal privacy requirements. "Chancellor McRaven believes that a regent's access to information is not above the law," said a statement from the university system.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 4:24am

The College of Charleston has been receiving scrutiny in recent days as its president has pointedly not joined other higher education leaders in calling for South Carolina to stop flying the Confederate flag on the State House grounds. On Wednesday, the board of the college announced it was endorsing such a change. On the college's website, President Glenn F. McConnell announced the vote and provided the board resolutions. But McConnell didn't indicate his position on the issue. On Monday, McConnell said via a spokesperson that it was “not appropriate to talk about the issue until after the families had a chance to mourn their losses and hold funerals for their loved ones.”

Formerly a state legislative leader who pushed to keep the Confederate battle flag flying prominently, McConnell has been criticized for not reversing his position in public this week. His appointment as college president last year was controversial for many reasons, including his long support for Confederate symbols. He used to own a shop that sold memorabilia of the South’s rebellion, and he appears in a widely circulated picture dressed as a Confederate general.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Joseph Pawlik, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, discusses sponges and coral reefs. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 3:00am

A federal judge dismissed a second challenge Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Education's gainful employment rule.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates upheld the department's gainful employment regulations, including the debt-to-earnings test and disclosure, reporting and certification requirements that had been challenged in a lawsuit by the Association of Private Sector Colleges & Universities (APSCU), which is the for-profit sector's trade group.

It was the second attempt at blocking this version of the Obama administration's attempt to regulate the industry by holding for-profit colleges accountable for the type of employment and debt students hold once they leave the institution. (A federal judge in 2012 largely invalidated a previous version of the rules.) APSCU argued that any employment after college should be viewed as gainful. The court disagreed, however. The department can measure the average debt load of a program's former students against their earnings and only those graduates who make enough money to service their educational debt will be viewed as gainfully employed. The court also rejected the for-profit group's argument that the metrics are arbitrary.

Last month, a New York federal judge ruled in favor of the department and dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Association of Proprietary Colleges, which represents for-profits in that state.

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