Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 19, 2018

Inside Higher Ed's new report, "On-Ramps and Off-Ramps: Alternative Credentials and Emerging Pathways Between Education and Work," is an up-to-the-minute look at how colleges, companies and other players are reconsidering how to measure and recognize knowledge and skills.

The special report, Inside Higher Ed's second, assesses the fast-changing landscape of postsecondary education and training credentials, based on interviews with scores of higher education leaders, corporate officials, policy makers and other experts. Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed's news editor, explores a wide range of examples of new kinds of credentials at all stages of the postsecondary pipeline: apprenticeships and other noncollege preparation for entry-level jobs; new pathways designed to lead to four-year degrees; badges and other add-ons to the traditional bachelor's degree; and shorter, narrower credentials that could disrupt graduate education.

The report also examines the funding sources for the new credentials and the risk that the push for them widens rather than closes racial and gender gaps in educational attainment.

The report is available for purchase here; you may also download a free preview of it from that page. And we invite you to sign up for a webcast on the themes of the report, featuring Inside Higher Ed's editors, on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m.

September 19, 2018

Nezar AlSayyad, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, who was suspended this summer for three years without pay for sexually harassing a graduate student, resigned and is planning to sue the institution, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. AlSayyad remains barred from campus through 2021, according to an administrative email sent to students, faculty and staff at the College of Environmental Design and obtained by the Chronicle. AlSayyad’s emeritus status reportedly will be withheld for three years, but he will receive his pension and retirement benefits immediately.

AlSayyad has denied the harassment allegations. His attorney told the Chronicle this week that he plans to pursue legal action against the university to challenge his three-year ban and have his emeritus privileges reinstated after the one-year suspension period previously recommended by a faculty committee. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that AlSayyad spent months grooming a graduate student before putting his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they go to Las Vegas. Berkeley tripled the terms of the faculty-recommended suspension because administrators determined that AlSayyad had abused his power in trying to isolate the student from other mentors for his personal gain.

September 19, 2018

The American Association of University Professors on Tuesday condemned what it called President Trump’s “disregard for and assault on science,” this time in relation to Trump’s comments about the credibility of a study by George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. AAUP’s statement says that Trump has "falsely claimed that the study, which found some 2,975 excess deaths in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria" in 2017, was politically motivated. It cites a recent tweet by Trump saying, "This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!"

While the AAUP takes no position on the accuracy or inaccuracy of this or any other study, reads its statement, “such research can be properly evaluated only by qualified experts through open channels of review and debate. Studies of this sort must not become political footballs. For the president of the U.S. to accuse scholars of political bias, without a shred of evidence, is an unacceptable assault on independent research and the academic freedom of scientists.”

The Milken Institute issued a statement last week standing by its research integrity and accuracy. “This study, commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico, was carried out with complete independence and freedom from any kind of interference,” it said. “Our results show that Hurricane Maria was a very deadly storm, one that affected the entire island but hit the poor and the elderly the hardest. We are confident that the number -- 2,975 -- is the most accurate and unbiased estimate of excess mortality to date.”

September 19, 2018

Faculty members at Saint Louis University are raising questions about whether a recent $50 million gift to create a research institute gave inappropriate control over hiring to the donors, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The concerns follow the news that the director of the center was selected jointly by the business school dean and the donors, without faculty input. While many donors specify that their gifts are for certain topics, they typically do not decide who gets hired to do the work. University officials said that the director's position was a staff position, not a faculty position, but professors noted that the person was given a faculty title. University officials have since pledged that the donors will not play a role in faculty hiring.

September 19, 2018

Yale University is launching a five-year, $26 million initiative to “recruit and retain pre-eminent scholars in every field,” President Peter Salovey and Provost Ben Polak announced this week. Some of the resources will be devoted to current professors, including immediate salary adjustments in some areas of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences “where we need to be more competitive,” Salovey and Polak said in a letter to the faculty. They said Yale also will establish a universitywide fund to recruit “truly transformative faculty,” or those professors “who redefine their fields, who not only answer important questions, but change the very questions that are asked. This is a high bar, but we want to encourage schools and departments to pursue such candidates.”

Salovey and Polak said the earmarked funds augment a five-year, $50 million Faculty Excellence and Diversity Initiative announced in 2015, and that “we remain committed to building a more diverse faculty.” They warned that resources alone are not enough to recruit and retain the best, and that Yale must otherwise work to ensure faculty excellence, such as by searching “again and again without compromising our standards” and maintaining “the highest tenure standards, even when decisions are difficult.” Building the kinds of community and climate that make it “very hard to leave” matters, too, they said.

September 19, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Elizabeth Anderson, assistant professor in the department of earth and environment at Florida International University, describes the challenges of new dams changing the flow of rivers in the Amazon basin. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 18, 2018

The Department of Education has until Oct. 12 to offer a stronger justification for delaying an Obama-era student loan rule issued to help defrauded borrowers. If it can't do so, the rule will take effect, a federal judge said Monday.

U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss ruled earlier this month that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unlawfully delayed the rule, known as borrower defense, because the decision did not include an adequate rationale. After the delay, consumer groups and Democratic attorneys general sued the department.

DeVos in July issued an overhaul of the rule with tougher standards for defrauded borrowers to get loan forgiveness. Moss's ruling could mean the department must carry out requirements of the much more generous Obama borrower-defense regulations until the expected effective date of the DeVos rule next year.

September 18, 2018

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said Monday that Congress shouldn’t attempt to attach federal funding to a college’s protection of free speech rights on campus.

Higher ed leaders should instead promote campus speech themselves by taking steps like refusing the heckler’s veto and adopting the Chicago principles of freedom of expression, Alexander said.

“It doesn’t work,” he said of a potential federal mandate.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, shared those thoughts in an exchange with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of a Justice Department forum on free speech in higher education, an issue that has increasingly preoccupied Trump administration officials.

President Trump himself warned last year that the federal government could withdraw federal funds from the University of California, Berkeley, after leftist and antifascist protesters blocked right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus amid sometimes violent protests.

Alexander, like many fellow conservatives, claimed both that college students today are too coddled and that college administrators have caved too easily to the heckler’s veto, where students use protests or other tactics to block appearances by controversial speakers. And he argued that promoting underrepresented points of view -- especially conservative opinions -- should be as important to colleges as promoting a diversity of student backgrounds on campus.

“Let’s recognize that campuses need underrepresented points of view as much as colleges need underrepresented students. That universities should work just as hard to have underrepresented points of view -- which are today, in many cases, conservative points of view -- on the campus,” he said.

Colleges themselves should be organizing forums of their own to discuss how to promote campus free speech and how campus leaders should handle incidents like student protest, he said.

September 18, 2018

The Montana Supreme Court sided with Montana State University in a five-year-old case brought by a student who said a professor harassed and raped her, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. The ruling, issued last week, overturned a lower court judge’s decision that Montana State was negligent in its employment of Shuichi Komiyama, a former professor of music there. Five of seven judges on the Supreme Court said that a district court judge erred in ruling that the university’s destruction of some email evidence -- intentional or not -- meant that the student should win her case without it going to trial, according to the Chronicle. The case was ordered back to district court.

Komiyama’s department reportedly counseled him for bullying in 2009 and was repeatedly warned about allegations of his past misconduct involving students, including the fact that the Billings School District had banned him from its campuses after he was accused of sexting underage students. The student plaintiff in the case reported Komiyama for misconduct in 2011, and he was barred from campus. Montana State at one point offered not to tell future employers about the investigation if Komiyama resigned, but case became public anyway. Komiyama eventually resigned.

September 18, 2018

A federal court last week blocked the Education Department's plans to cancel contracts with debt collection firms handling defaulted student loans.

The decision to drop the debt collectors was part of a broader overhaul of loan servicing pursued by the Office of Federal Student Aid. But Judge Thomas Wheeler of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims found that the department's justification for canceling the contracts was "slipshod" and that its alternative -- a plan to offer more enhanced servicing to borrowers before they default -- included scant details.

The department had begun to notify debt collectors earlier this summer that it would pull and reassign existing defaulted student loan accounts. But it quietly postponed those plans after separate congressional spending bills included language directing the department to extend contractors with debt collection firms.

The judge's decision means the debt collectors will continue to play a part in loan servicing as the department moves forward with plans for its Next Gen loan servicing system.

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