Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 11, 2019

It’s a fishy tale.

More than two years after a man ate a student’s pet fish in her Louisiana State University dormitory, he has been arrested and charged with animal cruelty, according to TV station WBRZ.

The owner of the fish had allowed her ex-boyfriend and two of his friends to stay in her dormitory for a football game, University of Mississippi versus LSU in 2016.

Maxwell Taffin, who was 18 at the time of the alleged fish eating, was one of those who stayed in the room. When the fish owner came back from the game, she allowed Taffin inside to retrieve his bags. When he left, Taffin allegedly remarked to her that she should check her fish tank before quickly leaving.

Later, she received a text from Taffin’s phone with a picture of excrement in a toilet with the caption: “found your fish.”

LSU police spoke to Taffin, who apparently admitted to swallowing the fish. When asked about the photo, Taffin said his phone wasn’t password protected so “a lot of people” used it. He was told to appear for a criminal summons, but never did so, WBRZ reported.

Police arrested Taffin, now 21, on Tuesday and, in addition to animal cruelty, charged him with “improper telephone communications.”

January 11, 2019

Students at Arizona State University can watch pornography again, thanks to an inquisitive Arizona Republic reporter who noticed that they were being blocked from viewing adult content.

Reporter Rachel Leingang, who covers higher ed, queried Arizona State's administration and learned that the university’s Wi-Fi had been inadvertently changed to restricted access -- the restrictions, an ASU official told her, would typically apply only in summer, “when we have a large number of underaged individuals and families on campus with Wi-Fi access.”

ASU flipped its student Wi-Fi back to unrestricted access.

While porn now flows freely at ASU, students on other campuses have pushed to ban it. At the University of Notre Dame, 80 male students last October wrote in the student newspaper that porn is an “affront to human rights” that helps perpetuate violence toward women, among other offenses. They asked Notre Dame to block porn from the institution’s wireless network -- as have students at Harvard University, Princeton University and University of Pennsylvania.

A Twitter commenter on Thursday joked that the ASU episode might be a boon to the news business: “The lesson here is if you like watching porn on campus, subscribe to a newspaper,” said Hank Stephenson, editor of Arizona’s Yellow Sheet Report, a political tip sheet.

Stephenson, who formerly worked at the Tucson Star and Arizona Capitol Times, among others, added, “Freedom isn't free.”

January 11, 2019

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education placed all 11 University of Puerto Rico institutions on show cause, it said Thursday, a serious action meaning they will need to submit a report before the end of the month arguing why they should not have their accreditation revoked.

The institutions did not submit audited financial statements and an audit for June 30, 2017, according to a press release from the accreditor. Those documents were due by Jan. 2 under an earlier commission action.

Each institution is separately accredited and will have to show compliance with several Middle States standards and requirements. They are required to file reports with the accreditor by Jan. 25.

In March, the accreditor will meet and determine the 11 institutions’ futures. It will have the option of affirming accreditation, continuing show-cause status or withdrawing accreditation for any institution or for all of them. For eight institutions that were previously on probation, it will also be able to extend probation for good cause.

The institutions will remain accredited while they have show-cause status. Loss of accreditation is considered a severe blow that can close a college or university, because it means the loss of access to federal financial aid funding for students.

“It is the hope of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education that the institutions of the University of Puerto Rico system will provide the commission with the required materials on time so that the commission is able to carry out its accrediting responsibilities,” Margaret M. McMenamin, commission chair, said in a statement. “While the commission is sensitive to the challenging circumstances in Puerto Rico, the institutions of the UPR System failed to meet the commission’s deadline for the required material.”

Letters sent individually to the institutions spelled out requirements for show-cause reports they must submit. Requirements include providing evidence of financial resources to support educational programs and stability, information on the impact of the federally created Fiscal Oversight Management Board’s plans, an annual independent audit, a “record of responsible fiscal management,” and certification of recognition of accreditation requirements.

The University of Puerto Rico's president, Jorge Haddock, gave instructions to all institution chancellors to submit the required additional information, he said in a statement. The university's auditing firm should have statements ready in the coming days, he said.

"We are confident that, once we comply with all the requirements in the coming days, our accreditation will be renewed for a new period," he said.

January 11, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Randy Stein, assistant professor of marketing at Cal Poly Pomona, details why people like BuzzFeed-type quizzes more than the real thing. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 10, 2019

The City University of New York system says it is nearing the end of a much-discussed chancellor search that has already passed initially floated deadlines, even after a Gates Foundation official who was a leading candidate withdrew last month.

Robert Hughes, director of K-12 education in the United States program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dropped out of the race for the job last month, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the search. Inside Higher Ed confirmed with two independent sources speaking on background that Hughes had been approached in the search but that he ultimately withdrew. The Gates Foundation declined to comment or to make Hughes available for an interview.

Another candidate, Anthony Marx, withdrew from the chancellor search in August. Marx, who is president of the New York Public Library, said he wanted to stay in his position at the library.

CUNY declined to comment on specific candidates’ names. But the candidates who have come forward are of “extraordinary quality,” said a CUNY spokesman in an email. “The search has been thorough and is nearly concluded,” said the spokesman, Frank Sobrino. “It will yield an accomplished leader eager to embrace the university’s proud history of helping underrepresented students succeed and who is equipped to cement CUNY’s status as a standard bearer for quality and access in American public higher education.”

CUNY leaders have known for well over a year that they would need to hire a new chancellor after James B. Milliken said in November 2017 that he would step down at the end of that academic year. Milliken went on to be named chancellor of the University of Texas system.

The CUNY Board of Trustees officially launched the search for a new chancellor in February 2018. The search had an initial deadline of August, but the chairman of CUNY’s Board of Trustees said the board should name a new chancellor by the middle of December at the latest, according to Politico.

A union representing 30,000 faculty and staff members at CUNY, the Professional Staff Congress, noted that it has had no role in the search and would like some involvement -- perhaps meeting with finalists. The union is also concerned about the amount of time the search is taking.

CUNY faces several important issues as New York’s Legislature begins its session, said Barbara Bowen, president of the union. Issues include securing state funding, increasing pay for adjuncts and securing a new contract Bowen said is overdue by more than a year. “This is a point where CUNY very much needs a chancellor who can articulate a vision for the university,” Bowen said. “Right now, there is an urgent need for a chancellor to build the political support to ensure that CUNY is fully funded.”

January 10, 2019

The mother of a Northwestern University basketball player, Jordan Hankins, who ended her own life in 2017, is suing her daughter’s sorority and some of its former members. She alleges that Alpha Kappa Alpha’s hazing led to Hankins becoming depressed and anxious and, eventually, her suicide.

Felicia Hankins filed her complaint in federal court Tuesday. In addition to suing the campus chapter of AKA, Hankins also named the national branch in her lawsuit. Northwestern is not a defendant.

The complaint states that when Jordan Hankins was joining the sorority, a process known as rushing, she was subject to “physical abuse including paddling, verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial exploitation, sleep deprivation, items being thrown and dumped on her, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean her.”

Jordan Hankins allegedly told AKA members that the rituals were triggering her post-traumatic stress disorder and she was having suicidal thoughts. She was found hanging in her dormitory in January 2017.

January 10, 2019

A California state appeals court has ruled that college students who could be expelled or severely punished for sexual misconduct must be allowed to question their accuser.

The court ruled on a lawsuit that emerged from a disciplinary case involving a University of Southern California football player, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The student was kicked out of the university for allegedly raping another student, but he never received a hearing over the accusations, according to the newspaper.

The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles deemed USC’s sexual assault investigations unfair. The institution’s system gives one official “the overlapping and inconsistent roles of investigator, prosecutor, fact-finder and sentencer,” Justice Thomas Willhite wrote in a 3-0 ruling. This is commonly known as a single-investigator model.

The ruling comes at a time when U.S. secretary of education Betsy DeVos has proposed new regulations around a key federal gender antidiscrimination law that would provide more protections for students accused of sexual assault.

January 10, 2019

Proposed legislation from the House science committee would require federal research agencies to adopt a common policy on sexual harassment, similar to what the National Science Foundation announced in 2018, Science reported. An identical bill died last year, but this one has bipartisan support. The NSF now requires grantee institutions to tell it when an investigator is found to have engaged in misconduct or is placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation. 

January 10, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Donna McCloskey, associate professor in the School of Business Administration at Widener University, explores how to set boundaries between work and home. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 9, 2019

Some immigrant children are far more likely to major in math, science or technology fields in college than are those born in the United States, a new study has found. Immigrant children who arrive in the U.S. after age 10, and who come from countries whose native languages are dissimilar to English, are the group most likely to major in STEM fields in college. Among these students, 36 percent major in STEM fields. About 20 percent of U.S.-born students major in STEM fields. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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