Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Four international students at North Seattle College were killed on Thursday in a collision between a charter bus and an amphibious "Ride the Ducks" tour vehicle that left dozens of others injured, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. The college said the bus was carrying about 45 students and employees from its international programs office to a new student orientation event at the Seattle Mariners' stadium, Safeco Field.

The college said several students remained in critical condition on Thursday evening, and other students and an employee sustained serious injuries. The crash occurred on Seattle's Aurora Bridge.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

With just a week before the federal Perkins Loan program is set to expire, a bipartisan effort to extend the program emerged in the U.S. House on Thursday. Representatives Mike Bishop, a Michigan Republican, and Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, introduced a bill that would allow the Perkins Loan program to continue through next September.

Colleges and higher education groups have stepped up their lobbying in recent weeks to prevent the program from expiring next Thursday, Oct. 1. Some Republicans have been critical of the program as they look to simplify and streamline the array of federal student loan options.

Representative John Kline of Minnesota, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, said Thursday that he supports the one-year extension. “The current financial aid system is too confusing, complicated, and can discourage students from pursuing a college degree,” he said in a statement. “But this is just one of many challenges facing today’s higher education system. This bill will ensure we continue to support students and institutions while we continue our larger effort to strengthen higher education.”

Beyond debates about whether the Perkins program should continue, lawmakers also need to come up with more than $500 million elsewhere in the budget to offset what the Congressional Budget Office has determined is a cost of renewing the program.

The deal reached by Democrats and Republicans on the House education committee Thursday would pay for the program’s renewal by scaling back the program’s grandfathering provisions, reducing the amount of time that borrowers are eligible to receive additional Perkins Loans.

Under the bill, students who receive a Perkins Loan for the current 2015-16 school year (or those who previously received one) will be eligible to receive additional Perkins Loans until March 31, 2018, instead of Sept. 30, 2020, which is the current law.

Separately, the Perkins Loan extension bill would also renew for one year the authorizations of two higher education committees: the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the Education Department on accreditation issues, and the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, which makes recommendations to policy makers on financial aid issues.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Emails between newly selected University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld and Iowa's Board of Regents reveal that Harreld met with multiple board members in July, weeks before candidates were formally interviewed by the 21-member presidential search committee.

Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, confirmed in a statement that Harreld met with four board members on July 30 in Ames, Iowa. Harreld sent his résumé -- which has since been critiqued by faculty members for inaccuracy -- to regents in advance of their meeting. He also visited Iowa's health system on July 8. That day he gave a lecture to hospital administrators and had lunch with Rastetter and three search committee members.

"I especially appreciated your candor and perspective on the challenges and opportunities at UI," Harreld wrote to one regent after their July 30 meeting. "As we discussed, institutions only go up or down. It's clear many critical elements are in place to enable UI's next leader to take the institution to the next level."

That regent, Mary Andringa, wrote back to Harreld and encouraged him to apply for the presidency: "Crisis necessitates change -- it may be the big challenge that can energize you in the next five years!"

The revelation of these meetings further fuels concern among some faculty and staff at Iowa that Harreld's eventual selection was a done deal even before he and three other candidates were announced as finalists earlier this month. Harreld was selected as Iowa's next president, effective November, despite widespread faculty, student and staff opposition.

In his statement, Rastetter defended board members' meetings with Harreld. "The purpose of these meetings, which were at Mr. Harreld’s request, was for him to become more informed about the expectations the board had for the next president of the University of Iowa," he said.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Nearly 140,000 people have signed an online petition opposing a “Buddhist-inspired” university’s pursuit of permission to exterminate a community of prairie dogs living on one of its campuses. The petition’s web page features a picture of an adult and juvenile prairie dog and a caption underneath that reads, “Mommy, I heard Naropa University is going to have all of us killed.”

Naropa University, a private, nonprofit college in Boulder, Colo., did indeed apply for “a lethal control permit,” per local news site Daily Camera. But university officials said they have no plans yet to exterminate the 100 or so prairie dogs and were rather hoping the application process would help them find a place to relocate the animals.

"We were legitimately hoping that this would spur the community to help us identify some slots and I would say that we are deeply disappointed that despite making all these great efforts, not one option came forward," said Bill Rigler, a Naropa spokesman.

The fact that a lethal solution is even on the table, though, riled the nonprofit preservation group WildLands Defense, which sponsored the petition.

"It is a Buddhist university and the fact that a Buddhist university would even apply for a lethal application for prairie dogs is totally against any Buddhist concepts," Deanna Meyer, Colorado director for WildLands Defense, told Daily Camera. "You don't do that. You don't kill animals. So that inspired a lot of people, like, 'Are you kidding me? A Buddhist university is going to kill the native populations there? Why?'"

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Staffordshire University, in England, has apologized to a student who was questioned by a university official after he was seen reading a terrorism studies textbook in the library, The Guardian reported. Mohammed Umar Farooq, who was enrolled in the university’s terrorism, crime and global security master’s program, said he was asked his views on homosexuality, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Farooq said he was so unsettled by the incident that he chose not to continue his program.

Staffordshire’s apology to Farooq came after a three-month investigation. The university said it was responding to a “very broad duty … to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” A new law imposing a duty on universities to counter extremist ideology went into effect in the United Kingdom this week.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

A survey by Fidelity Investments on parents' college-savings activities finds that parents are doing more than in recent years.

Among the findings:

  • Saving for college has reached an all-time high, with 69 percent of families currently saving (up from 64 percent in 2014).
  • More parents than in the past are saving in strategic ways, by developing financial plans to help reach their goals (62 percent, up from 59 percent last year).
  • Parents surveyed plan to take on a larger share of expected college costs (66 percent) compared to just a few years ago (57 percent in 2012).

The results come from a Fidelity survey of 2,470 parents who have children aged 18 and younger who are expected to eventually attend college. Parents had minimum household incomes of $30,000 and were the primary financial decision makers in their families.

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Graduate student workers at Cornell University voted to form a union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, they announced Thursday. The election took place outside National Labor Relations Board channels and the university has not recognized Cornell Graduate Students United. There’s a federal labor law precedent against graduate student worker unions at private colleges -- Cornell is private, although it operates some units of the State University of New York -- but the union says it would like to be recognized by the university anyway, outside of litigation. (New York University recognized its United Autoworkers-affiliated graduate student union, for example.) If that doesn't happen, the Cornell union says, it will explore various options to further student workers’ goals, which include increased stipends, workers’ compensation, six- and seventh-year funding, and more say in university affairs.

Joel M. Malina, a Cornell spokesperson, said in a statement that graduate student workers are not considered employees under federal labor law since “their relationship with the university is primarily educational. As a result, they do not have the right to union representation or to engage in collective bargaining. Cornell will follow the law.” If the law changes, he said, and graduate student workers still want a union, “such considerations are ultimately a matter for Cornell graduate assistants to decide through the appropriate process, which may include a legally sanctioned election should a sufficient number of graduate students request one.”

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Fordham University announced this week that it has rescinded an honorary degree awarded in 2001 to Bill Cosby, the comedian who has been disgraced as numerous women have come forward to talk of being drugged and raped by him. A statement from the university said that trustees voted unanimously to rescind the degree.

"The university has taken this extraordinary step in light of Mr. Cosby’s now-public court depositions that confirm many of the allegations made against him by numerous women," said the statement. "Fordham has never before rescinded an honorary degree. A recipient's actions would have to be both unambiguously dishonorable and have a deep impact. By his own admission, Mr. Cosby’s sexual exploitation of women was premeditated and ongoing. Equally appalling is his longtime strategy of denigrating the reputations of women who accused him of such actions. That Mr. Cosby was willing to drug and rape women for his sexual gratification, and further damage those same women's reputations and careers to obscure his guilt, hurt not only his victims, but all women, and is beyond the pale. As a Jesuit university, Fordham could no longer stand behind the degree it had bestowed upon Mr. Cosby, hence this unprecedented action."

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Levi Esses, Newman University’s dean of students, on Tuesday noticed Provost Michael Austin coughing and, as soon became apparent, choking, The Wichita Eagle reported. Fortunately, Esses knows the Heimlich maneuver and was able to dislodge a piece of candy on which the provost was choking. Austin was, of course, appreciative. On Wednesday, he quipped that “provosts should not try to walk and chew at the same time.”

Friday, September 25, 2015 - 3:00am

Canada's York University is scrambling to replace bus advertisements that were supposed to say "This Is Engineering," The Star reported. Instead the ads say, to the embarrassment of York, "This Is Enginering."


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