Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 25, 2023

University of Minnesota president Joan Gabel on Monday resigned her position on the Securian Financial Board of Directors, citing weeks of “extremely painful” scrutiny over potential conflicts of interest between her two roles, The Pioneer Press reported.

The company holds $1.3 billion in retirement plan assets for university employees, and its affiliate Minnesota Life Insurance Company is in the middle of a life insurance contract worth $4.6 million a year.

The Board of Regents had approved, by a vote of 9 to 3, a conflict-management plan for her relationship with Securian.

Gabel had said that the board seat came with $130,000 in compensation (on top of the $1 million she will receive for being president). But she said Monday that she had “voluntarily waived the directors’ compensation and have not received any benefits.”

In a letter to the Securian board, Gabel wrote, “The last several weeks have been extremely painful for me and, I’m sure, very uncomfortable for you, as there have been questions regarding my service on the Board of Directors of Securian Financial. This distraction is unfortunate, as my appointment to the board of Securian would only expand the university’s important networks and outreach. However, out of respect for the institution and to eliminate any further distraction of our work, with a heavy heart, I will be resigning my Securian Financial directorship effective immediately.”

January 25, 2023

About 32 percent of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take some sort of physical education course to graduate—down from 39 percent in 2010 and 97 percent a century ago, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

The study, which looked at 331 institutions across the country, found that 56 percent had no PE requirement. Just under 32 percent required all undergraduates to take a PE course, and 12 percent had a “partial” requirement, meaning that only certain degree programs mandated PE or that students could choose between PE and other health-related subjects, such as sex education.

The study defined PE as “any activity or academic course pertaining to health, wellness, sports or physical activity.”

Given the general decline in physical activity among children and teens and rising obesity rates nationally, jettisoning physical education for college students is “a counterintuitive idea,” said study co-author Brad Cardinal, a professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“There’s an enormous amount of scientific evidence supporting the value of physical activity. It’s good for the human body, good for students—it helps them be better learners, better prepared; it increases cognitive functioning and helps with stress management,” he said. “Longitudinal studies have shown that when someone attends an institution with a physical activity education graduation requirement, they tend to be healthier long-term.”

January 25, 2023

Howard University received a $90 million, five-year contract from the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force to establish a research center on campus focused on tactical autonomy technology for military systems, university leaders and defense officials announced Monday.

Howard will be the first historically Black institution to lead a university-affiliated research center, or UARC. There are currently 14 of these centers in the country.

Researchers will begin work at a temporary site at Howard on Feb. 1 while renovations are made to the center’s future permanent site, The Washington Post reported.

U.S. secretary of defense Lloyd Austin told a crowd at the university that Howard “has always been dedicated to scientific discovery and innovation.”

Yet “only a tiny fraction of the department’s research funding goes to HBCUs,” he added. “You know, that just doesn’t add up. As secretary of defense, I’m determined to change that.”

The announcement comes at a time when some HBCUs, including Howard, have been striving to achieve R-1 status, the coveted Carnegie Foundation classification reserved for doctoral universities that demonstrate a certain level of research prowess. The designation is partially based on research expenditures.

Howard University president Wayne A. I. Frederick told The Washington Post that Howard has had “a big focus on expanding the research enterprise for the university” to train diverse researchers and undertake research that benefits diverse communities.

January 25, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Nancy Jecker, professor in the department of bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington School of Medicine, explores how ethics can be an important part of emerging technology. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 24, 2023

Bowling Green State University reached a $2.9 million settlement with the family of a 20-year-old student who died in 2021 after a fraternity hazing incident, The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday.

Stone Foltz was a sophomore at Bowling Green State pledging the Pi Alpha Kappa fraternity when he attended an off-campus initiation event in March 2021 where he drank a liter of bourbon, according to the Dispatch. Three days later he died of alcohol poisoning.

Foltz’s parents, Cory and Shari Foltz, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Bowling Green State in June 2022, alleging that the university knew Greek organizations on campus were engaging in hazing rituals but did nothing to stop them.

Several members of Pi Alpha Kappa were criminally charged in Foltz’s death and served between one and six weeks in jail, Cleveland.com reported, though they were found not guilty of the most serious charges, involuntary manslaughter and reckless homicide.

The settlement payout is the largest by a public university in a hazing case in Ohio’s history, the family’s lawyer said. The money will be used to support the antihazing iamstonefoltz Foundation.

As part of the settlement, the university has also agreed to partner with the Foltzes to end hazing.

“From day one, we’ve always wanted the same thing as Bowling Green—to eradicate hazing across the country,” Cory Foltz said at a press conference Monday. “So I strongly believe that today, moving forward, we can work with Bowling Green, and Bowling Green will be one of the first universities to take the big step towards eliminating hazing across the country.”

January 24, 2023

The University of Illinois at Chicago’s faculty strike has ended, just before its second week was to start.

The university and the union, UIC United Faculty, each announced the strike’s end and a tentative agreement early Monday morning.

Union members haven’t yet voted on the new contract, so the walkout could resume if members reject the deal. It’s unclear when that vote will be.

The union, which represents faculty who are tenured or tenure track and full-time non–tenure track, tweeted:

“Key wins for @UICUF in this #faircontract are: Non-contractual, public commitments on expanding resources for #studentwellness and establishing psychoeducational testing[.] Increased minimum salaries for the lowest paid faculty: $60,000 [non-tenure track] and $71,500 [tenure track]. 20 percent raise pools over the course of the 4-year contract[.] Stronger job protections for non-tenure track faculty[.] Expanded Non-Discrimination & Anti-Harassment policies[.] Increased professional development funds[.] And more…!”

In the last contract with the bargaining unit, the minimum salary for non-tenure-track faculty was $50,000, and the minimum for tenure track was $65,000.

As of Jan. 17, when the strike began, the union was requesting a $61,000 minimum salary for non-tenure-track faculty and $77,000 for tenure track, and a $3,000 base salary increase for all faculty in the first year of the contract.

The university’s offer, as of last Tuesday, was a $54,000 minimum salary for non-tenure-track faculty that would grow to about $58,400 by the fourth and final year of the new contract, and a minimum $67,600 for tenure-track faculty that would grow to $70,300 by year four.

As for student mental health wellness, the university said back then it had approved a “$4.47 million plan to enhance student mental health services,” but it kept insisting “a clause regarding student services does not belong in a faculty employment contract.”

In a statement emailed around 1:20 a.m. Monday, university officials wrote that “the agreement is subject to ratification by the union’s membership and approval by both parties. Details of the agreement will be provided after ratification.”

The statement—from Javier Reyes, interim campus chancellor, and Karen Colley, acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs—said all classes and labs will continue.

“The parties were able to find common ground on an overall contract that addresses various faculty concerns and bridges the gap in compensation offers,” they wrote. “However, there may be challenging financial times ahead that will require further collaboration with our faculty, staff and administrative leadership to control or reduce costs, as well as improve the retention and graduation rates of our students, to enhance the financial stability of the institution. The negotiation teams for UIC and UICUF and the independent federal mediator deserve credit for their steadfast work to reach a resolution.”

January 24, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Sam Seidel, K-12 lab director at Stanford University’s d.school and co-author of Creative Hustle: Blaze Your Own Path and Make Work That Matters, explains the benefits of what he calls creative hustle. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 23, 2023

A suspected murder-suicide being investigated by police in Little Rock, Ark., involved a married couple who worked at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Nathan Petty, the university’s director of research and compliance, is suspected of fatally shooting his wife, Stacy, an advanced practice registered nurse and director of the academic hospital’s virtual urgent care clinic, on Jan. 16 before turning a gun on himself.

In a statement to KARK, the family of Stacy Petty said the couple had separated last year after getting married in 2018, and a court hearing in their divorce was set for next month.

January 23, 2023

Critics continue to fault St. Joseph’s University on crime, even after the university has boosted security, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Aggravated assaults, robberies with a firearm and thefts have increased near its main campus, and at a higher rate than in the city as a whole, according to an analysis of police data.

Tommy McBride was scheduled to serve as a coordinator at freshman orientation. He didn’t serve because he was shot by two men in ski masks.

He spent 12 weeks on crutches and is still waiting for another surgery. He and his roommates left their house near campus. “We all decided it was not safe physically and mentally to live there anymore,” he said, “especially with that not being the only incident of gun violence and crime” in the neighborhood. Other students have left the university.

“Many of you have heard from your children or through our safety alert notifications that there has been a pattern of robberies and attempted robberies in recent weeks,” Cheryl A. McConnell, St. Joseph’s interim president, wrote to parents last month. “We have been very fortunate that none of our students have sustained life-threatening injuries, but these incidents are highly troubling.”

January 23, 2023

The University of California Board of Regents on Thursday fired Ting Guo, a professor at the Davis campus.

A campus investigation found that he had sexually assaulted a high school student who was working in his laboratory. Guo has been on leave since the investigation was launched in 2021.

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