Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 4, 2016

Delta State University, which has been the last public university in Mississippi to fly the state flag, announced Thursday that it would stop doing so. Students and faculty members at the university -- as has been the case at other public universities in the state -- have been urging the state to change the state flag, which featured a Confederate flag in one corner. As the state has not done so, the rest of the public universities stopped flying the state flag.

William N. LaForge, president of Delta State, issued a statement Thursday explaining the decision.

"The objectionable portion of the state flag -- the stars and bars -- presents a polarizing symbol that is a barrier to progress and improved understanding of our state, our university and our people," he said. "Delta State recently completed a visioning process, during which we set a course of excellence for the university’s future. Included in our visioning principles are a number of core values that we promote and embrace, including civility, respect for all, diversity, inclusion, fairness, hospitality and a welcoming environment that is conducive to the success of our students, faculty and staff. We believe that continuing to fly the state flag -- with its divisive symbol that sends a confusing message, at best, and that has increasingly become a distraction to our mission -- is contrary to our core values and to an accurate understanding of who we are and what we stand for as a university."

November 4, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Paul Christiansen, associate professor of music at Seton Hall University, delves into the way music is used to sway the public one way or the other. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 3, 2016

The U.S. Education Department announced Thursday that it would fine Pennsylvania State University nearly $2.4 million for failing to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. The fine -- a record under that law -- followed a review of on-campus sex offenses involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who sexually abused numerous boys. Until Thursday, the largest fine ever under the law was under $400,000.

The Clery Act required colleges and universities to track and disclose information about crime on or near campus. Many of the incidents involving Sandusky took place on or near the Penn State campus.

The department said it had been working on the investigation since Sandusky was indicted in 2011, and that the investigation took a long time because of the significant time period (1998 to 2011) covered by various relevant accusations against Sandusky.

Details of the department’s findings may be found here.

The department said that Penn State had responded to all 11 findings of violations of the law.

Inside Higher Ed will have more details on this story tomorrow.

November 3, 2016

A law professor at the University of Oregon is being criticized after wearing blackface to a Halloween party attended by students and other faculty members.

The university has not identified the faculty member, but Michael Schill, the president, issued a statement that said in part, "We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon’s cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion. The use of blackface, even in jest at a Halloween party, is patently offensive and reinforces historically racist stereotypes. It was a stupid act and is in no way defensible. The faculty member involved has apologized for the decision and has expressed concern about its potential impact on members of the community. Although the party occurred outside of the faculty member's official duties, the professor acknowledges that the costume choice was unacceptable under any circumstances. We take seriously any complaints from members of our community, and we have referred this complaint to the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, which will determine whether this action could constitute a violation of university policy."

November 3, 2016

The FBI and the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York on Wednesday announced the arrest of a Phoenix-based man who attempted to gain access to more than 2,000 university email accounts at more than 75 colleges and universities. The U.S. Department of Justice said Jonathan Powell, 29, illegally accessed about 1,035 unique email accounts belonging to a university in New York, as well as 15 accounts at a Pennsylvania-based university. Powell then used the email accounts to access the users' Facebook, Google and LinkedIn accounts, among others. Powell has been charged with computer fraud.

November 3, 2016

Bigfoot is widely considered by scientists to be a myth. But the University of New Mexico spent more than $7,000 on expenses for a February conference and an expedition (unsuccessful, as scientists won't be surprised to learn) to look for Bigfoot, KRQE News reported. Among the expenses were snowshoes for those on the expedition.

“I use discretionary funds for things that I think are of merit. That could include fieldwork of some kind of research of some kind,” said Christopher Dyer, head of the university's Gallup campus, who has long spent some of his free time looking for Bigfoot. “People use monies from the taxpayers to do research. For Bigfoot or whatever.”

Robert Frank, the university's president, said, “Dr. Dyer needs to be much more thoughtful about how he undertakes these activities. The type of expedition that just took place was not appropriate and will not occur in that manner again.”

November 3, 2016

The University of Wisconsin at Madison will review the stadium policies that allowed fans attending a football game on Saturday to wear costumes resembling Donald Trump lynching President Obama. Stadium officials asked the fans to remove the noose from their costumes but did not eject them from the stands. The university said the fans' behavior was protected by the First Amendment, but the decision not to remove the individuals has continued to generate criticism.

"A noose displayed in this fashion has no place on campus," Rebecca Blank, the university's chancellor, said in a statement Tuesday. "Together, the Athletics Department and the university’s Office of Legal Affairs are initiating a review of stadium policies with the goal of ensuring that symbols of this type are not displayed in our stadium again. We have work to do at UW Madison on campus climate issues, and an incident like this only deepens the divides across campus. Both the university administration and Athletics Department are committed to doing this hard work, while being acutely aware that we are a long way from where we want to be."

November 3, 2016

Norman J. Pattiz, a member of the University of California Board of Regents, has apologized for comments he made about women's breasts, The Los Angeles Times reported. The comments did not involve his university work but his radio production company. There, among other things, he asked a woman being recorded for a bra commercial if he could hold her breasts. The woman and others came forward, they said, because of the way past comments about women by Donald Trump are receiving public attention now. “There is no excuse for any such comments or making anyone feel uncomfortable,” Pattiz said Tuesday. “If I did that, I sincerely apologize, and it will be a valuable learning experience.”

The university declined to comment. The university's definition of sexual harassment includes unwelcome comments about a person's body or appearance.

November 3, 2016

Students are more likely to drop out of college if they lose even small amounts of financial aid -- regardless of their grade point average -- according to a study from the Education Advisory Board, a research and consulting firm based in Washington.

The study also found that the more financial aid a student loses, the more likely they are to drop out. On the other hand, students who receive more financial aid are more likely to persist in completing a degree, according to the study.

Ed Venit, senior director at EAB, said the research shows "monitoring changes in financial aid is another tool schools can use to determine where they should focus limited resources to improve student success."

November 3, 2016

A new report out Wednesday looks at colleges and universities investing in clean energy in an attempt to spark conversations about associated benefits.

The report, "Investing in Clean Energy: Campuses and Endowments," is from the Intentional Endowments Network, which is concerned with socially responsible investing, sustainable investing and environmental, social and governance investing. It says higher education institutions can act as investors through their endowments or as customers of clean types of energy -- investing in renewable energy generation, energy-efficiency efforts, energy storage and electrified transport solutions. Endowments have many options in such investing thanks to their long-term investment horizons and ability to make illiquid investments, and the investments can lead to financial benefits, research opportunities and environmental benefits, the group says. Challenges include worries about financial performance that may be holding endowments back from making investments.

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