Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 13, 2018

A German journalism student at Tsinghua University was denied a new visa to stay in China, likely, he believes, because he filmed a documentary on human rights lawyers as an assignment for a class. The student, David Missal, said that he was detained for three hours by police in May while shooting footage for the documentary, an experience he described on his blog.

Missal said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that authorities with China’s Exit and Entry Administration told him his application to renew his visa was being denied “because I did some activities that weren’t covered by a student visa. I asked them, ‘What kinds of activities did I do?’ They said, ‘You know by yourself.’”

“I just can guess I don’t really know,” Missal said of the reason. “I guess it’s because of the one homework assignment I did with human rights lawyers.” Human rights groups have documented a crackdown on China’s human rights lawyers that began in 2015.

Missal said he was given 10 days -- through this past Sunday -- to leave China. He was only one year into a two- to three-year master’s program in journalism at Tsinghua and had planned to stay two more years with the support of a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service, known by its German acronym DAAD. He hopes to enroll in a master’s in Chinese studies back in Germany and subsequently apply the DAAD scholarship toward an exchange year in Taiwan.

"I think it's an interesting experience," Missal said Friday of his time at Tsinghua. "I really learned a lot during the last year. Although I need to leave now, and I'm upset that I need to leave -- I really like the country, so I would like to stay here -- to have this insight into how journalism is taught in China, and if you do things that cross the line, you can't do it anymore -- I think it's an experience I don't want to miss."

Tsinghua's media relations office did not respond to a request for comment. The international press center for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also did not respond to a request for comment.

August 13, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Washington College Week, Aaron Lampman, an associate professor in the department of anthropology, examines why many coastal residents don't accept the idea that rising sea levels are affecting their communities. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 10, 2018

The Department of Education plans to repeal the Obama administration’s gainful employment rule, it announced Friday.

The rule sought to hold all career education and certificate programs -- the vast majority at for-profit institutions -- accountable for producing graduates with debt they couldn’t repay. Programs that repeatedly failed the metrics risked losing access to federal student aid.

The rule was contested heavily by the for-profit college sector but eventually went into effect in 2014. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she would suspend the rule last year though pending the outcome of a negotiated rule-making process, which finished earlier this year without producing a new regulation.

In place of the rule, the department plans to expand program-level outcomes data available from the College Scorecard but without any measures that punish those programs with poor outcomes. More program level data has long been a goal of advocates for higher ed transparency but will do nothing to placate advocates of more accountability for poor performing programs.

The department argues in an unofficial notice of proposed rule-making document that research results undermine the use of debt-to-earnings rates for graduates to determine programs' eligibility for federal student aid. And the department notice says public disclosure requirements for institutions were more burdensome than anticipated. 

The department will have to seek public comment on the proposed repeal after its publication in The Federal Register.

The for-profit college sector had long called for the same rule for all higher ed programs. But Congress would have to rewrite current law to apply such a provision uniformly. The proposal accomplishes that by applying the same transparency measure to all programs.

A tenth of all programs assessed under the gainful employment rule in 2017 failed the federal standards. Of those, 98 percent were at for-profit institutions.

August 10, 2018

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has announced the arrest of a man for making threats of gun violence via email and letters against a faculty member at the University of North Georgia. The bureau said that the man threatened violence not only against the faculty member, but against others at the university, unless the faculty member resigned. University officials confirmed to The Gainesville Times that the man arrested was a student at the university.

August 10, 2018

For the past six years, Colorado Mesa University has been issuing diplomas with a typo, the Daily Sentinel reported.

Recent graduate Alec Williams was checking to see if his name was spelled correctly when he noticed that his degree was conferred by the "Coard of Trustees" instead of the Board of Trustees. The Colorado Mesa University Coard of Trustees has been issuing diplomas since 2012.

The university has offered to reprint over 9,000 incorrect diplomas. At $5 a diploma, it could end up costing the university almost $46,000.

August 10, 2018

Two of Scotland’s most prestigious universities are reserving all their “clearing” places -- spots for students who fell short of the exam grades necessary to gain automatic acceptance -- for students from the country’s poorest areas, The Telegraph reported. The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow are both reserving all of their clearing spots for students with a postal code that falls in the bottom 20th percentile in terms of wealth. An Edinburgh spokesman said this is one way of widening access, and Glasgow said its agreement with the Scottish Funding Council sets targets for enrollments from low-income areas that it is trying to meet. However, one education professor criticized the measure as "extraordinarily unfair and ill-informed," saying that 65 percent of young people from low-income households live in postal areas outside the poorest quintile.

August 10, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Stephen Okey, assistant professor of philosophy at Saint Leo University, explores how Pope Francis is using the medium. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 9, 2018

A textbook for a required fitness course at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been revised, following student complaints that it referred to cancer as a “disease of choice” and suggested that mental strength was a key to surviving the Holocaust, according to The News & Observer. Last month, when students began to publicly criticize the book as promoting questionable science, the university said it was reviewing the text for use the fall. This week, Chapel Hill said the online text, 21st Century Fitness, published by Perceivant and co-written by two professors of life and exercise sciences at Brigham Young University, already had been changed to address those concerns.

“These edits are based on student and department faculty feedback and are part of an ongoing curriculum review process by the Exercise and Sport Science Curriculum Committee,” Chapel Hill said in a statement. “Among other changes, the publisher has confirmed that references to the Holocaust and to cancer as ‘a disease of choice’ had already been removed from the fall 2018 edition.” Textbook co-author Ron Hager, a professor of life sciences at Brigham Young, has defended the book as promoting healthy lifestyles to reduce the risk of developing certain diseases and as drawing on late Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl’s personal observations about the meaning of life. The textbook, which can be tailored to certain curricula, remains in use on other campuses.

August 9, 2018

A federal judge has rejected a group's request for an injunction to stop activities of the Bias Response Team at the University of Michigan, MLive.com reported. The suit claimed that the team chilled free expression on campus in violation of students' First Amendment rights. But Judge Linda V. Parke found that the team is not a disciplinary entity and works to advise groups and people "who agree to participate."

August 9, 2018

Leaders of New York’s two large public higher education systems sent a letter Wednesday to financial aid officers outlining new resources for helping students navigate the free-tuition program called the Excelsior Scholarship as it enters its second year.

The letter comes the week after representatives from a group of State University of New York financial aid administrators -- the employees tasked with implementing the complex Excelsior program at colleges and universities -- asked for more guidance during a meeting of the state’s Higher Education Services Corp. Board of Trustees. That request drew sharp responses from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and SUNY chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, with Johnson saying the financial aid administrators created unnecessary confusion and were not being productive.

Wednesday’s letter struck a more positive tone.

“To you, our leaders and financial aid professionals, we greatly appreciate your direct assistance with New York families and the students who are entering our classrooms with a dream of higher education,” says the letter, signed by Johnson and Vita C. Rabinowitz, City University of New York interim chancellor. “To help with that process, we want to draw your attention to new resources through HESC.”

The letter goes on to outline an Excelsior Scholarship Answer Center website designed for financial aid officers in response to their feedback last week. The site functions as a center for guidance provided during Excelsior’s first year. It includes bulletins, memos, a section on frequently asked questions and a six-page eligibility manual outlining key issues of student eligibility, applications and on-time completion requirements.

“We also want you to know you can contact us or members of our leadership team at any time,” the letter says. “We thank you for your hard work and look forward to our ongoing partnership to make the dream of college a reality for so many of our young people.”

Inquiries to SUNY and CUNY were referred to HESC and the governor’s office. Cuomo touts Excelsior as one of his top achievements as he runs for re-election.

“Students, their families and the people who help them are our first priority,” a Cuomo spokesman said in a statement. “We are listening to them and will continue to help in any way we can.”

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