Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 22, 2017

A new law in South Carolina outlines a series of steps designed to strengthen Denmark Technical College, a historically black two-year institution, The Post and Courier reported. Enrollment has been falling, from 2,000 a few years ago to 600 now. Cash reserves have dropped in four years from $9 million to $285,000. The new law puts the college directly under the control of the state's technical college system. Further, the law authorizes tuition to be free for those in the area who graduate from high school with at least a 2.0 grade point average.

May 22, 2017

More than 50 academic organizations signed a letter registering concerns about proposed changes to the visa vetting process that would subject a certain subset of applicants to enhanced questioning. The U.S. Department of State has proposed requesting from some visa applicants additional information “to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities,” including information relating to applicants’ travel history, address history and employment history -- all for a 15-year period – names and birth dates of relatives, and social media handles and phone numbers used over a five-year period.

The joint letter from 55 higher education and scholarly groups, dated Thursday, argues that the proposed changes to the visa vetting process are “likely to have a chilling effect not only on those required to submit additional information, but indirectly on all international travelers to the United States. The uncertainties and confusion regarding supplemental questions will have a negative impact, particularly on U.S. higher education and scientific collaborations. The notice also provides insufficient information regarding the criteria for identifying those required to complete the supplemental form, the impact of unintentional incomplete disclosure of information, such as social media presence, or remedies for correcting information initially provided. These additional questions could lead to unacceptably long delays in processing, which are particularly harmful to applicants with strict activity time frames or enrollment deadlines. Additionally, there is no information regarding the longer-term use, retention or privacy protections for the information provided.”

The notice from the State Department estimates that about 0.5 percent of all visa applicants -- about 65,000 people each year -- would be subject to the enhanced information requests.

May 22, 2017

Despite confirmation that some Coastal Carolina University cheerleaders worked for an escort service, the institution will take no action against the team.

The university’s investigation into the cheerleaders centered on allegations of prostitution, drug use and underage drinking.

In March, the university received an anonymous letter, signed by a “concerned parent” with accusations that members of the team were working at a strip club and being paid for sex. The letter writer also indicated that the team members used fake identification to buy underage members of the team alcohol and that some of them smoked marijuana.

After the university began investigating, the entire cheerleading team was suspended later that month.

The university later identified the man who wrote the letter, but he declined to be interviewed, essentially halting the investigation, Investigator Michelyn Pylilo with Coastal Carolina’s Department of Public Safety wrote in a report released to Inside Higher Ed Friday.

Interviews with cheerleaders revealed that some had set up an escort service through Seeking Arrangement, a website that facilitates relationships between “sugar daddies and mommies,” who are wealthier and typically older, and “sugar babies,” younger men and women who often receive money and gifts in exchange for their company.

Cheerleaders were paid between $100 and $1,500 and were provided clothes, shoes and designer handbags, Pylilo wrote.

University spokesman William Plate disregarded emailed questions about the cheerleaders’ roles as escorts and the legality of their activities.

Instead, he forwarded an emailed statement from Coastal Carolina President David A. DeCenzo. “The university has thoroughly investigated this matter, taking into consideration the mission of the institution and our No. 1 priority and obligation to protect the safety and well-being of our students. As a public institution with a code of ethical conduct and as a public agency entrusted with public funds, we have a duty to investigate serious allegations. We had no choice,” the statement reads.

Plate wrote in an email that “there is no further information” and that Coastal Carolina would not give interviews on the scandal.

Tryouts for the team are scheduled for late July, Plate wrote. The university also will fill the head coach position that has been vacant since the previous coach left for the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2016.

May 22, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Mary Bendel-Simso, professor of English at McDaniel College, discusses the real origins of the detective fiction genre and what we can learn from it. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 22, 2017

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a letter Friday sought a commitment from the Department of Education that it would follow through on providing debt relief for students who attended the now-defunct for-profit American Career Institute.

In January, just before the transition to the Trump administration, the department announced that all 4,500 student borrowers with outstanding loans from attending the Massachusetts-based for-profit chain would have their debt discharged. It was the first time the department had granted automatic relief to all students who attended an institution without requiring individual applications.

But in her letter to Acting Undersecretary of Education Jim Manning, Healey said her office has been contacted by hundreds of former ACI students in recent weeks regarding the status of their federal loans.

"These communications revealed that no ACI borrowers appear to have received a discharge of their federal loans pursuant to the borrower defense to repayment rule," Healey wrote.

She noted that previous informal attempts by her office to receive an update on the status of those loans from the department had gone unanswered. Healey sought from Manning an explicit statement affirming that the department would inform those borrowers' servicers of the status of their loans as well as a date by which those borrowers could expect resolution of the issue.

May 21, 2017

Dozens of students about to graduate from the University of Notre Dame walked out of the commencement ceremony Sunday morning to protest the decision to have the main address delivered by Vice President Pence.

A statement from those who organized the protest said that, as governor of Indiana and vice president of the United States, Pence has "targeted the civil rights protections of members of the LGBT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee settlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color and sexual orientation."

The students who walked out did so quietly and did not disrupt Pence's talk. The video below includes the introduction of Pence, and the walkout starts at about 0:50.

The audience at the commencement greeted Pence warmly, and the boos appear directed at those walking out, not the vice president.

Notre Dame typically invites new presidents of the United States to be the commencement speaker during their first year in office. In 2009, many anti-abortion activists (largely outside the university) condemned Notre Dame for inviting President Obama to deliver the address, given his support for abortion rights. But he was warmly received and praised the university for being willing to listen to all views.

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, many on campus had been debating whether he should be invited to speak. In March, without commenting on Trump's suitability as a speaker, the university announced that Pence would appear.

May 19, 2017

The University of California Board of Regents voted Thursday to cap out-of-state enrollment at 18 percent of undergraduate enrollment at the five campuses currently below that level. But for the other four campuses -- generally those with the most admissions demand -- current out-of-state levels may be maintained. At the University of California, Berkeley, that rate is more than 24 percent, and the San Diego and Los Angeles campuses both have rates over 22 percent. The policy was adopted as Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and legislators have pushed the system to admit more Californians.

May 19, 2017

A report commissioned by the Tennessee Board of Regents has found "a climate of fear and oppressiveness" at Nashville State Community College, The Tennessean reported, based on a leaked copy of the report. The report was based on interviews and surveys with faculty members at the college, who were critical of President George Van Allen. In an interview with the newspaper, Van Allen defended his record and blamed "a strong minority" of professors for the criticisms.

May 19, 2017

The Law School Admission Council has announced that it is lifting a limit on how many times one can take the Law School Admission Test. Until now, people could take the test only three times in any two-year period. The move comes as the LSAT faces increased competition from the Graduate Record Examination, which is now accepted at Harvard Law School as an alternative to the LSAT.

Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep's executive director of pre-law programs, said via email that he thought the "additional flexibility" would be popular with students. But he questioned whether prospective law students would be well served by taking the test multiple times. He said his advice remains the same: "Prep once, get one killer LSAT score and leave no doubt to admissions officers about your candidacy to your top law school choices."

May 19, 2017

Tufts University graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Thursday. Turnout was high, at 82 percent, and the tally was 129 in favor and 84 opposed, with eight challenged ballots. The university said in a statement it’s "disappointed in the outcome" and "concerned unionization will fundamentally change the relationship between graduate students and faculty." Yet it recognizes the union's right to exist and is committed to collective bargaining in the coming months, it said. Non-tenure-track instructors at Tufts, both full-time and part-time, already are represented by SEIU. Brandeis University graduate students voted to form a union with SEIU earlier this month, and that institution committed to beginning contract negotiations, as well -- unlike other campuses that have continued to bring legal challenges to new unions. A hunger strike at Yale University over delayed negotiations there is ongoing, for example.

Also on Thursday, a regional NLRB office said that graduate students at Boston College, a Roman Catholic institution, were free to hold a union election -- except those students studying theology and ministry and mission and ministry, respectively. Similar to recent NLRB decisions on proposed adjunct unions at religious institutions, the office said that most Boston College graduate students, save those studying theology, did not perform the kinds of specific religious functions that would exempt them from NLRB oversight. The proposed Boston College unit is organizing with United Auto Workers.

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