Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 30, 2023

Daniel Capra, an adjunct law professor at Columbia University, and a regular law professor at Fordham, recently turned down a student request in a class at Columbia and swore at the woman who had asked the question, Above the Law reported.

The women asked, while Capra’s microphone was on, whether he could go more slowly for international students. He turned her down and then followed with an expletive. It was recorded.

Capra has since apologized to the class and the student.

January 30, 2023

The Faculty Senate of Jackson State University has voted no confidence in President Thomas Hudson, The Clarion Ledger reported.

Dawn Bishop McLin, president of the senate, said, “These university leaders, including Hudson, have exhibited a continuous pattern of failing to respect shared governance, transparency, accountability, and have worked outside of professional norms that have broad implications for the campus climate, the reputation of Jackson State University, and the university’s commitment both to providing a high-quality education and to carrying out its mission of a commitment to excellence. The faculty senate remains intent to advance the concerns of the faculty and expresses a continued willingness to engage in any forum to yield remedy to the issues shared by its body.”

Hudson said, “I look forward to working with the entire body of the faculty senate to address any concerns. Shared governance, academic prominence and student success are common goals that we mutually agree are essential to the growth of our institution.”

January 30, 2023

The California State University system has a plan to punish universities that are not meeting enrollment targets, Cal Matters reported.

Under the plan, any campus missing its enrollment target by 10 percent or more will lose up to 5 percent of its state enrollment funding, which will then be sent to campuses exceeding their enrollment targets. This won’t go into effect until 2024–25 at the earliest.

Seven campuses are currently missing enrollment targets: CSU Channel Islands, Chico State, Cal State East Bay, Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal Maritime, San Francisco State and Sonoma State.

January 30, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Darby Saxbe, professor in the psychology department at the University of Southern California, looks at how fatherhood can change the brain. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 27, 2023

Facing pressure from the governors of Florida and Illinois, the College Board is preparing to unveil a new framework Wednesday for its Advanced Placement African American Studies course.

“To develop this official course framework, the AP Program consulted with more than 300 professors of African American Studies from more than 200 colleges nationwide, including dozens of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” read a letter from the College Board to its members and obtained by Inside Higher Ed Thursday. “The course focuses on the topics where professors shared a strong consensus on the essential shared events, experiences, and individuals crucial to a study of African American history and culture. This process was completed in December 2022. To be clear, no states or districts have seen the official framework that will be released on February 1, much less provided feedback on it.”

Earlier this month the Florida Department of Education, under Republican governor Ron DeSantis, announced that public schools in the state will not be allowed to offer the AP African American Studies course, declaring that it “lacks educational value.” In a letter to the College Board, state officials said they would be willing to consider reviving the course “should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content.”

The move came as part of a larger effort by the DeSantis administration to control how Florida’s K-12 schools and colleges teach issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has taken issue with the College Board for the opposite reason; he warned that the state will “reject any curriculum modifications designed to appease extremists like the Florida Governor and his allies,” according to local media reports.

January 27, 2023

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has resolved a complaint about the way Troy University, in Alabama, handled a student’s pregnancy.

The student complained that when she “became unable to fit into a classroom desk due to her pregnancy, she requested a table for one of her classes, but never received one. She also was penalized in a class for poor attendance and received a failing grade in another class because she was denied the ability to make up work.” The university blamed Troy’s response on poor guidelines at the university and poor training on those guidelines.

The complaint will be resolved by giving the student revised grades and by improved training and clear policies on pregnancy.

“I thank Troy University for addressing the pregnancy-related needs of the student who came to OCR for help and for ensuring that, going forward, it will provide pregnant students equal access to the university’s courses and other offerings,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights.

January 27, 2023

Lawmakers and student debt advocacy groups are pushing the Biden administration to develop backup plans in case the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the administration’s one-time student loan forgiveness plan, Bloomberg reported.

The report was based on two sources familiar with the informal discussions. One possible option is for the administration to change the legal justification for the plan. The administration is currently relying on the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 to forgive up to $20,000 of federal student loans for eligible Americans. Some legal experts have argued that it can instead forgive loans under the Higher Education Act of 1965.

Lawsuits challenging the plan have argued that the administration doesn’t have the authority under the HEROES Act to forgive student loans. So far, one federal judge has agreed with that argument, and the administration is sticking by its use of the HEROES Act in legal briefs filed with the Supreme Court.

White House and Education Department officials told Bloomberg that they are confident in the current legal strategy and that alternative plans aren’t under consideration.

The administration will defend the debt-relief plan before the Supreme Court next month. Oral arguments in two lawsuits will be held Feb. 28.

January 27, 2023

Saying it found “material weakness” in the Education Department’s financial statements for the last year, an outside auditor declined to issue an opinion on the documents.

KPMG, the independent auditor hired by the department’s inspector general, said the department wasn’t able to provide the necessary evidence to support its estimate of how much student loan forgiveness will cost, which was based in a large part on how many people would apply for debt relief. As a result, KPMG was “unable to determine whether any adjustments to the balance sheet might have been necessary” for fiscal year 2022.

The auditor’s report was included in the Education Department’s annual financial report released this week. The department partially concurred with the auditor’s finding, noting that the model used to develop the estimates has been in place since 1998 and that the agency has received a clean audit for 20 consecutive years.

The estimate was based on a review of relevant literature and historical data on how many borrowers participated in debt-relief programs.

“The department does acknowledge that controls may not have operated as intended due to the lack of strictly comparable other federal benefit programs,” the agency wrote in response to the audit.

The Education Department has said the one-time debt relief would cost $300 billion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s nonpartisan research arm, has estimated it could cost the federal government $400 billion over 30 years.

North Carolina representative Virginia Foxx, who chairs the House Education and Workforce Committee, called attention to the auditor’s findings in a news release.

“The department is blatantly lying about how much taxpayer money it is giving away,” Foxx said in a statement.

January 27, 2023

Union members are accusing three University of California, San Diego, professors of giving “unsatisfactory” grades to 21 teaching assistants and a graduate student researcher for participating in the recent strike.

In a Wednesday news release, the United Auto Workers said it violates California’s Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act to “retaliate against people on strike in any way, including by docking their grades.”

The UAW represents UC system graduate students.

“In Chemistry, 21 TAs in courses taught by Professor Jeremy Klosterman and Professor Robert ‘Skip’ Pomeroy were given unsatisfactory ‘U’ grades in a placeholder teaching credits course Chem-500 for participating in the strike,” the UAW said in the release. “In physics, Daniel Primosch, a graduate student researcher formerly in Professor Max Di Ventra’s lab, was threatened and intimidated throughout the strike and was also given an unsatisfactory ‘U’ grade in Phys-298, a placeholder research credits course.”

“I never threatened anybody,” Di Ventra said Thursday. “That’s a lie, that’s a total lie.”

He said he gave Primosch an “unsatisfactory”—not for abandoning his work as a graduate student researcher during the strike, but for not fulfilling his normal student obligations.

“If they don’t study and they don’t perform and do the homework, that’s it,” Di Ventra said.

“The university was very clear from the beginning that if you’re enrolled in a class like 298 or 299, then you have to perform in the class,” he said. “It’s a class, it’s a student class, it’s not related to the strike.”

Primosch said, “I got a pretty good review from [Di Ventra] just a couple months earlier, at the end of the academic year, and, actually, when the strike happened, I was just in the process of publishing a paper with him in a pretty prestigious physics journal.”

“It’s completely unheard-of that people get U’s in a course that’s really just a placeholder so that we can be signed up full time with the university while we work as researchers,” Primosch said.

Klosterman, Pomeroy and UC San Diego spokespeople didn’t comment Thursday.

In the UAW release, Primosch said, “Receiving an unsatisfactory grade means a graduate worker could be taken out of good academic standing, and a hold could be placed on their registration for the next available quarter. They could be barred from enrolling in coursework, receiving employment in the Spring quarter, and subsequently kicked out of the program. These specific retaliations undermine our right and ability to engage in collective actions, and that’s why it’s important that all of us demand justice.”

Shortly before Christmas, UC system graduate student workers voted to approve new contracts with substantial wage increases, ending a strike that started in early November, the Los Angeles Times reported.

January 27, 2023

Teachers went on strike for two days, starting Wednesday, at the University of California Lab School, which the Los Angeles Times described as “an elite pre-K-through-sixth-grade school nestled in a quiet corner of the UCLA campus,” which “has offered a nurturing environment for students whose parents won a coveted spot for their child.”

The school is run by UCLA’s School of Education and Information Studies. Students are selected for admission, and tuition is up to $25,000, with about a third of students on financial aid.

The strike is over working conditions.

“We have a leadership that does not seem to be concerned about the mission and vision of the school … and very little understanding of the culture of the lab school, who we are and what we represent,” said Rebecca Heneise, a dual-language demonstration teacher at the lab school.

The faculty, who are members of the University Council–American Federation of Teachers, say that UCLA management has violated their rights to bargain by delaying the process and denying them the right to negotiate a side letter that includes working conditions specific to the needs of a lab school.

The university declined to comment on the negotiations. “We value the work of our UCLA Lab School Demonstration Teachers represented by UC-AFT. UCLA is negotiating in good faith with the union, and we are hopeful that an agreement can be reached soon,” the university said in a statement.

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