Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a funding bill that would give a slight boost to the National Science Foundation next fiscal year.

Lawmakers approved, on a 30 to zero vote, legislation that would provide $7.51 billion to the NSF for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. That would represent a $46 million increase from the science agency’s current funding level.

President Obama’s budget request had called for a much larger increase of more than $500 million.

The appropriations bill did not appear to include any additional requirements on how the NSF awards research grants. House Republicans earlier this year passed legislation that would require the agency to provide a written justification for how every grant furthers the “national interest.”

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

A Georgia legislator is suing the U.S. Department of Education, arguing that the department "exceeded [its] authority" when it released the 2011 Dear Colleague letter instructing colleges on how to prevent and punish campus sexual assault.

Similar to arguments made by congressional Republicans, Earl Ehrhart, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, said that the letter serves as more than guidance and, instead, "advances new substantive rules and creates binding obligations on the affected parties" under threat of severe penalties. "The defendants exceeded their authority and violated the Administrative Procedure Act when they circumvented the requisite notice and comment rule making while nonetheless enforcing the Dear Colleague letter as binding law," the lawsuit states.

In recent months, Ehrhart, who chairs the state's appropriations subcommittee that oversees university spending, has been engaged in a battle with Georgia Tech over how it handles accusations of sexual assault and other due process concerns. Earlier this year, he denied Georgia Tech's request for a $47 million library expansion as punishment and called for the university's president to resign.

In his lawsuit, Ehrhart argues he has been injured by the Education Department's Dear Colleague letter because he is a taxpayer and has a son enrolled at Georgia Tech. Legal experts and victims' advocates this week called the argument weak, however, as Ehrhart's son has not been punished under the rules, thus the harm in the case is speculative and Ehrhart may not have standing to sue. Earlier this month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education offered to sue the department on behalf of any accused students willing to work with the organization.

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

A “Hijab Day” at the prestigious Sciences Po, in Paris, has sparked controversy, Agence France-Presse reported.

The student organizers of the event invited classmates to wear a Muslim head scarf for a day in a show of solidarity, describing the event on their Facebook page as an opportunity to “experience the stigmatization experienced by veiled women in France.” #HijabDay trended at the top of French Twitter and was praised by some and condemned by others. The philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy tweeted, “Hijab Day at Sc Po. When will there be a sharia day? Stoning? Slavery?”

Friday, April 22, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Thomas Olsen, associate professor and chair of the English department at the State University of New York at New Paltz, discusses how Shakespeare remixed others’ work to create his masterpieces. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 3:00am

Division I college athletes continue to improve academically, at least as measured by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's academic progress rate, the NCAA announced Wednesday. But historically black colleges and universities still trail other programs, with all but one of the 10 institutions facing sanctions this year for not meeting the NCAA's minimum APR requirement being HBCUs.

The NCAA requires teams to reach a minimum APR of 930, which the association says is roughly equivalent to half of a team being on track to graduate. Critics, however, say the metric is arbitrary and does not accurately measure academic progress, especially at institutions with missions to enroll underserved students.

HBCUs and other limited-resource institutions have seen some gains in recent years. The overall single-year APR for limited-resource schools increased from 945 to 966 in the last five years, while HBCUs, specifically, saw an increase from 918 to 956. The NCAA also recently announced a series of education initiatives to provide more academic support to those institutions.

The overall four-year rate for all Division I institutions is 979, up one point from last year.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 3:00am

Reuters reported Wednesday that at least five times in the last three years, the College Board gave high school students in the United States versions of the SAT that included questions and answers that had been online for more than a year. The article noted the concern of admissions leaders that the practice raised questions about fairness.

A College Board spokesman declined to comment. But also on Wednesday, Jennifer Karan, executive director of college readiness assessments at the College Board, posted a message to an admissions email list in which she noted that much of the discussion of cheating on the SAT involves the old version of the test. She said that the College Board was working to minimize any unfairness or cheating on the new version of the exam. Karan also wrote that "the vast majority of students work hard, play by the rules and do their best on the SAT and other tests."

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 4:17am

A new North Carolina law bars public institutions, including public colleges and universities, from letting transgender people use bathrooms that don't reflect their assigned gender at birth. A new study by a Georgia State University professor suggests that such policies are linked to suicide attempts by transgender students. The study used data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, focusing on 2,300 people who identified as transgender when in college. Nearly one-fourth of those said that they had been denied access to appropriate bathrooms or dormitory rooms while in college. The attempted suicide rate of all people in the study (consistent with other studies showing very high rates for transgender people) was 46.5 percent. The rate for those denied bathrooms or living spaces that reflected their gender identities was 60.5 percent.

The study was conducted by Kristie Seelman, assistant professor of social work at Georgia State, and was published in The Journal of Homosexuality.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 3:00am

The Scholars at Risk Network and the Committee of Concerned Scientists have renewed their calls for the release of Omid Kokabee, a doctoral student of physics, from Iran’s Evin Prison in response to reports that Kokabee has been diagnosed with kidney cancer. Kokabee, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, is serving a 10-year sentence on charges of communicating with a hostile government. Amnesty International considers him a "prisoner of conscience held solely for his refusal to work on military projects in Iran and as a result of spurious charges related to his legitimate scholastic ties with academic institutions outside of Iran."

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 3:00am

How do you feel about how colleges are handling race relations on campus? The answer could lead you to your soul mate. Angela Chen, an editor for The Morning News, noticed on Wednesday that the dating website OkCupid is asking users, "Should colleges punish students who make racially insensitive statements?" OkCupid uses the answers from that and thousands of other questions to pair users with potential matches.

Thursday, April 21, 2016 - 3:00am

Tenure-line faculty members at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire voted 97 to 67 to form a union affiliated with the American Association of University Professors, they announced Wednesday. Rebecca Noel, an associate professor of history, said in a statement that the new union seeks to establish agreements and processes guaranteeing workload equity, transparency in governance and academic freedom.

Julie Bernier, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Plymouth State, said in a separate statement that the “administration and faculty have enjoyed a very strong relationship. We expect that will continue as we work together both through collective bargaining and through our shared governance processes focusing on our commitment to providing an affordable, high-quality education to our students.”

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