Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 14, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Washington College Week, Melissa Deckman, a professor of political science there, discusses how younger generations are changing gender norms in politics. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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August 13, 2018

A professor of journalism at Northwestern University who has been on leave since February, after 10 former students and co-workers accused him of harassment, will not be returning to campus, a campus spokesperson confirmed Friday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Alec Klein, the professor, allegedly touched and made inappropriate sexual comments to students and colleagues. He was also accused of bullying behavior. Jonathan Yates, Northwestern spokesperson, said in a statement that the university “takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention and investigated those allegations promptly and thoroughly, following established university procedures.”

An investigation into Klein's conduct was completed in June, Yates said, and as of Friday, Klein was “no longer employed by Northwestern, and will not be present on Northwestern’s campus or attend any university events.” Klein, who directed the Medill Justice Project, and who has previously denied the harassment allegations against him, said via email that he’d voluntarily resigned “because I believe it is in the best interests of all involved as I pursue other endeavors.”

August 13, 2018

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government has proposed banning gender studies programs at the country’s universities, the Hungarian Free Press reported.

The official reason is that the programs are not “economically rational,” though politicians associated with Hungary's right-wing ruling parties are on record opposing gender studies programs for ideological reasons.

The proposal would primarily affect Eötvös Loránd University and Central European University. CEU -- a U.S.-accredited graduate institution founded by George Soros -- remains locked in a standoff with Orbán’s government over its long-term future in the country.

“A recent proposal drafted by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Human Capacities touches upon the future of Gender Studies in Hungary,” CEU said in a statement provided to Inside Higher Ed. “The draft cannot yet be considered to represent the official standpoint of the Hungarian government. Regarding the issue, CEU informed the Hungarian Rectors’ Conference, and thereby the Hungarian government, about its position. Since this matter is currently in an ongoing and not public process, we do not wish to enter into the details. At the same time, CEU reaffirms its commitment to academic freedom and rejects any attempt at censoring academic curricula.”

August 13, 2018

Benefits from New York State’s much-touted Excelsior Scholarship have gone to 3.2 percent of undergraduates statewide, and the free-tuition program has covered far more students outside New York City than in it, says a data brief released Friday.

Among the 3.2 percent of students receiving Excelsior Scholarships, just 20.7 percent attended institutions in the City University of New York system, according to the brief, which was prepared by the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank that collected data through a Freedom of Information Act request. That’s a lower percentage than might be expected based on statewide enrollment -- CUNY students represent 38 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in New York State.

Only 1.7 percent of CUNY students received awards through the Excelsior program. Meanwhile, 4.1 percent of students in the State University of New York system, which is spread out across areas outside New York City, received Excelsior awards.

The Center for an Urban Future counted one college in the state where at least 10 percent of enrolled students received Excelsior awards, SUNY Fredonia in Western New York, where 11.9 percent of students received scholarships under the program. CUNY’s Hostos Community College in the South Bronx had the lowest rate of Excelsior awards, with them covering 0.5 percent of its students.

A total of 43,513 out of 63,599 Excelsior applicants were denied -- 68 percent. The Center for an Urban Future blamed Excelsior’s requirement that students generally complete at least 30 credits per year for most denials.

The report is likely to escalate debate around Excelsior, which is entering its second year after it began covering students last fall. Last week, financial aid officers voiced concern that they did not have adequate guidance for implementing the program after it was put in place under a short timeline. State leaders at first reacted sharply but then provided new resources.

More broadly, Excelsior’s design and implementation timeline have been points of disagreement. Some observers called its structure byzantine, pointing to controversial design elements including credit requirements, work and residency requirements, and income limits that are scaling up in its first three years. But Governor Andrew Cuomo has touted it as one of his primary accomplishments as he seeks re-election, even as his Democratic opponent has called for changing it.

A release from the Center for an Urban Future called the program well intentioned but said the new data suggest Excelsior “needs to be overhauled to serve more of the students who are most in need of financial support.”

Cuomo’s allies, however, have pointed out that Excelsior was designed to layer on top of existing financial aid programs serving low-income students, like New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program. Earlier this summer they said about 45,000 students received free tuition after applying for the Excelsior Scholarship -- 23,000 through Excelsior funding and 22,000 through TAP.

The Cuomo camp’s Excelsior figure doesn’t quite line up with the data released by the Center for an Urban Future, which found 20,086 students attending colleges and community colleges in the state benefited from Excelsior.

Cuomo's backers took issue with several elements of the report, arguing applicant numbers were incorrect and that the report uses head-count figures that include anyone taking even one course, which is not the set of students the program targets.

A spokesman in the governor's office provided a statement pushing back against the new report.

"We are pleased to announce that New York State's free college programs pays [sic] 100 percent tuition for 53 percent -- or 210,000 -- full-time SUNY and CUNY students, and we are proud to be the only state to do so in the nation," it said. "Eighty-two thousand CUNY students, or 56 percent of total full-time enrollment, already go to school tuition-free because of existing assistance programs. We are proud that with Excelsior, thousands more are attending college for free this year. By incentivizing on-time graduation, the Excelsior program aims to lower overall loan debt, but the program allows for flexibility to accommodate students who cannot meet the credits requirement. New York is expanding college access and making it affordable, and the Center for an Urban Future shouldn’t stand in the way of that progress."

August 13, 2018

Multiple members of the University of Maryland at College Park athletics staff have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an external review of the death of Jordan McNair, a Maryland football player. The university has not released a full list of names of those on leave, but Head Coach DJ Durkin is one of them, The Washington Post reported.

McNair died June 13 after suffering heatstroke during a May 29 practice. He had trouble recovering from 10 110-yard sprints and had a seizure around 5 p.m. that day, 45 minutes into the workout. He was transported to R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he remained until his death.

In a letter to university staff, boosters and supporters obtained by The Washington Post, Damon Evans, the university's athletic director, said that he was "concerned by the allegations of unacceptable behaviors by members of our football staff detailed in recent media reports."

Multiple people "familiar with the situation" confirmed to the Post that Rick Court, the strength and conditioning coach, Wes Robinson, an athletic trainer, and Steve Nordwall, an assistant athletic director for training, have also been placed on leave.

Anonymous current and former players and staff have opened up to ESPN about what they call a toxic culture at Maryland football, developed under Durkin and carried out by Court. They recounted many stories of humiliation, including a time when a player was forced to eat candy bars while his teammates worked out to embarrass him into losing weight. They said extreme verbal abuse was common, especially to players who struggled in workouts or who were injured. Sometimes, Court would throw small weights and other objects in the direction of the players when he was angry. One former Maryland staff member told ESPN, "I would never, ever, ever allow my child to be coached there."

The University of Maryland declined to comment to ESPN on the culture of Maryland football, except to say that members of the athletics staff had been placed on leave.

August 13, 2018

New final guidance published Thursday by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will change the way international students and visiting scholars on F, J or M visas are found to accrue “unlawful presence” in the U.S., a determination that could subject them to future bars on re-entry. Individuals who accrue more than 180 days of unlawful presence during a single stay in the U.S. are subject to three- or 10-year bans on re-entering the country.

The final policy guidance holds that unlawful presence will begin accruing the day after a student stops pursuing a course of study or otherwise violates his or her immigration status, rather than -- as was the case under the previous policy -- the day after the Department of Homeland Security issues a formal finding of a violation in the course of adjudicating a request for another immigration benefit or the day after a judge issues an order of deportation.

Immigration lawyers and international education professionals had raised concerns about a draft version of the guidance, specifically about whether students would have the opportunity to contest alleged violations of their immigration status, and even whether they would necessarily know about them in all cases until after more than 180 days of unlawful presence had already accrued. NAFSA: Association of International Educators wrote in a comment on the draft guidance that the then-proposed change was “operationally complex and may lead to wrongly identifying a large number of foreign students and exchange visitors as failing to maintain lawful status, thus unfairly subjecting them to the 3-year, 10-year, or permanent bars to re-entry to the United States.”

USCIS says the change is necessary to reduce visa overstays, and notes that its capabilities for monitoring whether students fall out of status have improved since the previous policy was put in place in 1997. The most notable change since then was the creation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a monitoring system for international students and scholars kept up-to-date by designated college officials.

The final guidance issued Thursday is similar to the draft guidance, with one significant change: it stipulates that international students on F and M visas will not accrue unlawful presence for time out of status while a “timely-filed” application for reinstatement is pending. To be considered timely, a reinstatement application must be filed within five months of the alleged status violation. NAFSA has published its analysis of the final policy guidance here.

August 13, 2018

A report released Thursday by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) shows a decline in enrollment in colleges of education and many impending faculty retirements. The association used data from an "array of governmental and organizational sources" to produce the report.

Among the findings:

  • Colleges of education have experienced a decline in enrollment. In the 1970s, the number of education degrees awarded annually peaked at 200,000. Today, it is less than 100,000.
  • There is a mismatch between the majors education students choose and the subject areas deemed "high need" by the U.S. Department of Education. Bilingual education and English language acquisition, foreign language, math, reading, science and special education all suffer a dearth of teachers, and only special education is among the most popular degree fields.
  • The average age of full professors of education is 62, which suggests that many faculty are over the retirement age of 65 and will likely retire within the next 10 years.
  • Women remain the majority of education graduates; 81 percent of undergraduate education degrees are awarded to women, and women make up 76 percent of those enrolled in teacher preparation programs.

The full report is only available to AACTE members, but the executive summary can be downloaded here.

August 13, 2018

A renowned scholar from China’s Uighur ethnic minority group disappeared in December, and her family and friends believe she was secretly detained as part of the Chinese government’s severe crackdown on Uighurs, The New York Times reported. Human rights groups estimate that hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim group, have been detained for weeks, months or years in “re-education centers” in China’s far western Xinjiang region.

Rahile Dawut, a celebrated anthropologist who taught at Xinjiang University and wrote and lectured widely on Uighur folklore and traditions, has now been missing for eight months, and her family and friends have decided to speak out.

“Virtually all expressions of Uighurs’ unique culture are dangerous now, and there’s no better evidence of that than the disappearance of Rahile Dawut,” Rian Thum, an associate professor at Loyola University New Orleans who studies Uighur culture, told the Times. “There was a lot of hope that they would see that she was a nonthreat and release her, but that hope gradually dwindled.”

The Times noted that until recently Dawut’s work had been supported with grants and awards from China’s Ministry of Culture. One month before her disappearance, she gave a lecture at Peking University, in Beijing, on Uighur women.

At least one of Dawut’s graduate students has also disappeared, according to the founder of the Dui Hua Foundation, a group that lobbies the Chinese government on human rights cases.

August 13, 2018

The provost at the University of San Francisco has reached out to Chinese university students to show support after President Trump reportedly said most students from China in the U.S. are spies.

“This week and over the past few months, there have been some comments from the leadership of the United States government about Chinese students in the U.S.,” Donald E. Heller, the provost, wrote in a letter sent individually to all incoming and returning Chinese students. “These comments have suggested that Chinese students come to this country to steal technical information and bring it back to China. We are saddened by this rhetoric and want to make certain you know that it does not express the views of USF or the majority of Americans.”

Heller posted the full letter on social media (below).

August 13, 2018

A report released today by Ithaka S+R examines what community college students say are their goals and challenges when navigating their institutions and how campus libraries may help them with their needs.

The report, "Amplifying Student Voices: The Community College Libraries and Academic Support for Student Success Project," found that two-year students see their institutions as accessible and affordable, but they face challenges when balancing work, finances, their classes, transportation to and from campus, and navigating the resources colleges offer.

The report is part of the Community College Libraries & Academic Support for Student Success project Ithaka S+R is conducting with Northern Virginia Community College, Pierce College, the State University of New York's Monroe Community College and the City University of New York's Borough of Manhattan Community College, Queensborough Community College, Bronx Community College and LaGuardia Community College. Approximately 500 students from each college were randomly invited to participate in the study, and about 40 students were interviewed to investigate their opinions on how the colleges could better serve them.

In the report, the researchers wrote, "We see the necessity and opportunity for libraries to engage in reinvention beyond traditional roles in helping students reach their goals, and to leverage the resources that students most often associate -- for example, the library as the most significant academic physical space on the campus outside the classroom -- as a platform and stepping off point for adopting, adapting, or building new services that will be attractive and relevant to the students crossing their physical and virtual thresholds."

The researchers are planning to develop services that community colleges and their libraries might seek to offer based on the student responses.

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