Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 25, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Philip Watkins, professor in the college of social sciences at Eastern Washington University, explores how gratitude exercises can help strength your sense of well-being. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

November 23, 2016

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Betsy DeVos, a conservative philanthropist and Republican Party official known for her advocacy for private school vouchers, as education secretary, the transition office announced Wednesday.

Little is known about her views on federal higher education policy.

A statement from Trump said, “Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate. Under her leadership we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families. I am pleased to nominate Betsy as Secretary of the Department of Education.”

DeVos used Twitter to comment on her nomination:

DeVos was chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party in the late 1990s. She and her husband, Dick, who ran for governor of Michigan in 2006 and is a member of the family that owns Amway, have a foundation in their names that contributes heavily to education organizations and arts groups, especially in Michigan.

November 23, 2016

A federal district judge in Texas blocked a Department of Labor overtime rule Tuesday night in a major setback for the Obama administration.

The rule, which would have affected 4.2 million workers, was highly controversial among many employers, including higher education institutions. It would have raised to $47,476 from $23,660 the threshold under which salaried employees would be eligible for overtime pay. The final version of the rule released by the administration included a teaching exemption but, in theory, would have applied to postdoctoral fellows as well as many who work in student affairs, admissions and other parts of colleges and universities.

It would have gone into effect Dec. 1, but Judge Amos Mazzant granted a temporary injunction in response to a legal challenge filed by 21 states.

Congressional Republicans were joined by the American Council on Education in opposition to the rule. It received praise, on the other hand, from groups including the American Federation of Teachers and other groups that represent some of the workers who would benefit. Republicans had targeted the overtime rule along with a number of other Obama administration regulations for repeal at the beginning of the next Congress. It remains unclear exactly what will happen with the regulation, and how employers such as colleges will respond to the legal uncertainty.

 

 

November 23, 2016

Baylor University has reached an undisclosed settlement with two women who reported being gang raped by football players in 2012, ESPN reported. Baylor confirmed that the football players are no long enrolled but didn't provide additional details. A statement from David E. Garland, interim president of Baylor, said, "It breaks my heart that even one student would be sexually assaulted while a part of this university. I offer my sincere apologies, both personally and on behalf of the university, that we did not do more to prevent, respond to or support the care of these young women."

ESPN reported that, in total, 17 women have reported 19 sexual or physical assaults involving football players since 2011, and that four of those reports involve gang rapes.

In another controversy involving Baylor's football program, its associate athletic director, Heath Nielsen, has been arrested and charged with assaulting a reporter at the end of a football game, ESPN reported. The reporter said Nielsen grabbed him by the throat and pushed him away from a football player he was photographing. A statement from Baylor said, "Baylor Athletics was made aware of the postgame incident involving Heath Nielsen shortly after the game and took immediate action to address it with him through the university's human resources process. We will continue to handle this personnel matter internally."

November 23, 2016

Yale University has agreed to pay $3 million to settle a suit by the family of a graduate student who was murdered in a research lab in 2009, the Associated Press reported. The suit said the university did not do enough to protect Annie Le, the graduate student, or women generally on the campus. The suit also charged that Yale should have known of the danger posed by Raymond Clark III, a research technician who worked in the same building as Le and who is currently serving a 44-year prison sentence for killing her. Yale has denied wrongdoing. Both Le's family and Yale declined to comment to the Associated Press.

November 23, 2016

A police officer at Wayne State University was shot in the head while on duty off campus Tuesday night. The university announced that it was adding campus patrols as a caution, after the shooting. This is the most serious attack ever on a Wayne State police officer. After the police officer, Collin Rose, was released from surgery, Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson told reporters, including one from The Detroit News, that Rose remained in critical condition and has "a tough road to climb but we’ll just have to see what happens." The News also reported that a man was in custody in relation to the shooting but that it remained unclear what led to the officer's shooting.

November 23, 2016

Four University of Kansas cheerleaders have been suspended from the team after a photo circulated on social media showing three of them posing with their Kansas "K" shirts to spell out "KKK." The photo, at right, also includes the caption "Kkk go trump."

A university statement said that the individuals (one woman and three men) involved have been suspended from participation while the university completes its investigation.

November 23, 2016

The American Association of University Professors is the latest academic group to speak out against hate crimes and support the campus sanctuary movement for undocumented students. Its national council recently approved a resolution saying that since Donald Trump’s election as president, the U.S. has experienced “an unprecedented spike in hate crimes, both physical and verbal, many of them on college and university campuses. These have been directed against African-Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, women and people with disabilities. In some instances the perpetrators have invoked the president-elect in support of their heinous actions. The AAUP national council unequivocally condemns these attacks and calls on college and university administrators, faculty, staff and students to unite against them. Violence, threats of violence and harassment have no place on campus.”

The resolution urges colleges and universities to ensure that all members of their campuses “may seek knowledge freely,” reiterating AAUP’s 1994 Statement on Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes. That statement says that on a free and open campus, “no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed.”

At the same time, the new resolution says, “threats and harassment differ from expressions of ideas that some or even most may find repulsive. They intimidate and silence. The free exchange of ideas is incompatible with an atmosphere of fear. Colleges and universities must be places where all ideas and even prejudices may be freely and openly debated and discussed, but such discussion cannot happen when some members of the community are threatened or excluded. Our goal must be to provide safety for both ideas and for all those who wish to engage with them.”

AAUP calls on administrators “to take swift and firm action, consistent with due process rights, against those who have perpetrated violence and those whose menacing behavior threatens both the safety of members of our community and their sense of inclusion,” and “to make clear to all on the campus that such assaults will not be tolerated and to encourage frank and respectful discussion instead.” The association encourages AAUP chapters and all faculty members “to speak out against these assaults and to support all efforts to ensure that campus communities are welcoming and inclusive of all groups and ideas. During this difficult time the faculty voice needs more than ever to be heard loud and clear.”

AAUP says undocumented students, “many of whom have been in this country since early childhood,” are particularly vulnerable. “Concern for the welfare of these students has already prompted a rash of petitions calling on colleges and universities to become ‘sanctuary campuses,’” the resolution says, endorsing the notion. “While colleges and universities must obey the law, administrations must make all efforts to guarantee the privacy of immigrant students and pledge not to grant access to information that might reveal their immigration status unless so ordered by a court of law. Nor should colleges and universities gather information about the citizenship or immigration status of people who have interactions with the administration, including with campus police. College and university police should not themselves participate in any efforts to enforce immigration laws, which are under federal jurisdiction. Faculty members should join efforts to resist all attempts to intimidate or inappropriately investigate undocumented students or to deny them their full rights to due process and a fair hearing.”

The resolution also calls on Trump to reconsider his appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and “to more vehemently denounce the hate crimes being committed in the president-elect’s name and act to ensure the safety of members of threatened communities and the freedom of all to teach, study and learn.”

November 23, 2016

An open letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump from higher education professionals -- faculty, staff and administrators -- calls for the continuation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, under which more than 700,000 young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children have obtained temporary protection from deportation and two-year renewable work permits. Trump pledged to end the DACA program during the campaign, prompting anxiety and fears among students who benefited from the program and among higher educational professionals concerned for their students' futures.

“As higher education professionals, it is our livelihood to educate and cultivate the talent of students so that they can make significant contributions to our economy and society,” states the letter, which had garnered more than 500 signatures as of Tuesday evening. “It pains us to think of denying the possibility of employment and exposing to deportation some of the students who sit in our classrooms, who play on our sports teams, who lead our student governments and who are siblings, classmates, friends, co-workers, boyfriends/girlfriends to millions of U.S. citizens.”

The letter-writing effort is being organized by Herbert A. Medina, a professor of mathematics and associate dean at Loyola Marymount University.

Meanwhile, more than 200 college and university presidents have signed a separate statement calling for the continuation and expansion of the DACA program. As of Tuesday evening, 250 college presidents had signed the petition, which is being organized by Pomona College President David Oxtoby.

November 23, 2016

Student loan servicer Xerox Education Services will pay $2.4 million in a settlement agreement over allegations it mishandled students borrowers' applications for income-based repayment plans, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Tuesday.

Xerox -- known as ACS Education Services when the state launched its investigation -- serviced both federally backed student loans under the FFEL program and private student loans. The attorney general's office alleged that the company charged excessive late fees, did not protect active-duty service members and made calls to borrowers multiple times a week.

"To address this student debt crisis, we need students to be on repayment plans that will help them succeed, not fall further into debt," Healey said.

But the company undermined students' ability to enroll in those repayment plans, the attorney general said.

A portion of the settlement money will go toward restitution of the Massachusetts borrowers unable to enroll in lower payment plans. The company will also create a "borrower advocacy group" to provide assistance to borrowers looking to enroll in the plans in the future. The group will also provide information on federal loan discharge applications to students with loans associated with shuttered for-profits like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.

Healey has been aggressive in pursuing both loan servicing companies and for-profit colleges for alleged misconduct. Earlier this summer, American Career Institute -- a for-profit college Healey sued in 2013 -- admitted to deceptive practices and violating state law. And Healey has pushed for clear federal standards for former students of institutions like Corinthian to seek cancellation of their student loan debt.

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