Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, April 25, 2016 - 3:00am

A professor of English at Bangladesh's Rajshahi University was hacked to death on Saturday in an attack for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, The New York Times reported. The killing of Rezaul Karim Siddiquee bears similarities to recent targeted killings of secular activists in Bangladesh by Islamist militants, but it is not clear why Siddiquee might have been targeted. According to police who interviewed his family, he had not published materials critical of Islam and had not received any threats.

Monday, April 25, 2016 - 3:00am

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a group of 93 leading colleges introducing an alternative to the Common Application this summer, on Friday issued the essay prompts to be used on the first application. A notice from the coalition notes that colleges may or may not use the essay questions and/or may have their own questions. The initial essay prompts are fairly standard for the genre:

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Monday, April 25, 2016 - 3:00am

Four Turkish academics who had been detained on charges of spreading “terrorist propaganda” in connection with their support for a petition opposing a military campaign against Kurdish separatists have been released pending trial, The Guardian reported. Prosecutors intend to seek a lesser charge, “denigrating Turkishness,” which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence, against the academics. The next hearing is scheduled for September.

The more than 1,000 Turkish professors who signed the Academics for Peace petition in January have faced a range of repercussions, including criminal investigations and university-level disciplinary actions. Some of the signatories have been suspended or terminated from their university positions.

Monday, April 25, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Joshua Reno, assistant professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, details how becoming more aware of where our trash goes might be a good way to start reducing it. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

Eliminating tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, as Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has proposed, would disproportionately benefit wealthier families, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institute.

The analysis by Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings contributor and senior fellow at the Urban Institute, looked at the dollar value of eliminating in-state tuition at two- and four-year public institutions. He found that students from families in the top half of the income distribution would receive $16.8 billion in value from eliminated tuition compared to $13.5 billion for students in the lower half of the income distribution.

The difference is driven in part, Chingos writes, because wealthier families tend to attend more expensive four-year colleges. Chingos notes that his analysis does not consider the “likely impacts” of increased enrollment that would result from making public colleges tuition-free.

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 4:19am

A plan has finally emerged to provide some financial relief for public colleges and universities in Illinois, which have been operating without state funds since last summer, but it has stalled, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Legislators and the governor remain deadlocked on the state budget. But a plan that briefly appeared to have momentum Thursday (and that some hope could gather support today) would provide $356 million to four-year colleges and $74 million to community colleges. Those funding levels, coming 10 months after state funds should have started to flow, still would represent deep cuts compared to a normal year. But many colleges say that they need something to avoid layoffs and program shutdowns. Proportionately more money would be provided under the plan to Chicago State University, which many fear is on the verge of closure. On Thursday, legislators spoke of endorsing this possible compromise, but then held off amid questions about other state needs that have not been funded.

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

Essex County College's board on Wednesday fired Gale Gibson, the president, and Rashidah Hasan, general counsel and vice president for human resources, NJ.com reported. Board officials have declined to say exactly why the two were suspended last month and have now been fired. But board members have indicated that Gibson and Hasan were accused of raiding employee hard drives and preventing employees from lodging complaints with board members. A lawyer for the former president said, "Dr. Gibson's name has been wrongly dragged through the mud and she has been relieved from her employment by persons with a political agenda."

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

The embattled accrediting organization that is under scrutiny for its approval of many controversial for-profit colleges is now taking action against one of the nation’s largest for-profit college chains.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools has ordered ITT Technical Institutes to prove why it shouldn’t lose its accreditation or otherwise be sanctioned, the company told investors on Thursday.

The accreditor informed ITT Tech this week that allegations from various state and federal agencies “call into question” the institution’s “administrative capacity, organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students in a manner that complies with ACICS standards,” the company said.

ACICS cited the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to place ITT on heightened cash monitoring, a lawsuit by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a lawsuit by the Securities Exchange Commission and investigations into the company by several state attorneys general.

The show-cause order requires ITT to go before ACICS in a hearing where it can argue for why its accreditation should not be withdrawn or conditioned.

ITT said Thursday that it “is confident that it has [met] and will continue to meet the ACICS accreditation standards.”

The action by ACICS comes just several days after its chief executive officer, Albert Gray, resigned amid the growing scrutiny the organization is facing.

Gray was lambasted by Senator Elizabeth Warren at a hearing last year for defending ACICS’s approval of Corinthian Colleges even as various state and federal investigations and lawsuits piled up.

The Education Department will have to decide this summer whether ACICS should continue to be recognized by the federal government. Twelve state attorneys general and a coalition of higher education, consumer and labor groups have called on the department to deny ACICS federal recognition.

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a funding bill that would give a slight boost to the National Science Foundation next fiscal year.

Lawmakers approved, on a 30 to zero vote, legislation that would provide $7.51 billion to the NSF for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That would represent a $46 million increase from the science agency’s current funding level.

President Obama’s budget request had called for a much larger increase of more than $500 million.

The appropriations bill did not appear to include any additional requirements on how the NSF awards research grants. House Republicans earlier this year passed legislation that would require the agency to provide a written justification for how every grant furthers the “national interest.”

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

A Georgia legislator is suing the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the department "exceeded [its] authority" when it released the 2011 Dear Colleague letter instructing colleges on how to prevent and punish campus sexual assault.

Similar to arguments made by congressional Republicans, Earl Ehrhart, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, said that the letter serves as more than guidance and, instead, "advances new substantive rules and creates binding obligations on the affected parties" under threat of severe penalties. "The defendants exceeded their authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act when they circumvented the requisite notice and comment rule making while nonetheless enforcing the Dear Colleague letter as binding law," the lawsuit states.

In recent months, Ehrhart, who chairs the state's appropriations subcommittee that oversees university spending, has been engaged in a battle with Georgia Tech over how it handles accusations of sexual assault and other due process concerns. Earlier this year, he denied Georgia Tech's request for a $47 million library expansion as punishment and called for the university's president to resign.

In his lawsuit, Ehrhart argues he has been injured by the Education Department's Dear Colleague letter because he is a taxpayer and has a son enrolled at Georgia Tech. Legal experts and victims' advocates this week called the argument weak, however, as Ehrhart's son has not been punished under the rules, thus the harm in the case is speculative and Ehrhart may not have standing to sue. Earlier this month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education offered to sue the department on behalf of any accused students willing to work with the organization.

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