Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 8, 2018

TIAA is recognizing its 100th anniversary by giving away $1 million to 100 "difference makers" who work in the academic and nonprofit worlds, the financial services company announced. TIAA will recognize individuals for either professional or personal contributions. Nominations for the competition are due June 12 and may be submitted here.

March 8, 2018

An investigation by Foreign Policy examines the links between the Chinese Embassy and consulates and campus chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which have long hosted cultural and social events and provided support for Chinese students at U.S. universities. Foreign Policy reported that campus chapters of CSSA regularly accept funds from Chinese consulates and that many describe themselves as being under the embassy's "guidance" or "leadership." The article cites "numerous CSSA members, including two current chapter presidents," who "say that they are uncomfortable with what they felt was growing ideological pressure from the embassy and consulates."

The Foreign Policy investigation found that embassy and consulate officials are regularly in contact with CSSA presidents, with whom they share information related to safety and "the occasional political directive." Consulate officials have asked CSSA leaders to share articles spouting a Chinese Communist Party line and last fall encouraged CSSAs to hold events tied to the 19th Communist Party Congress. In addition, the Chinese government has worked through CSSAs to organize welcoming parties for visiting Chinese leaders and pay students -- in one case, $20 each -- for their participation. 

Foreign Policy also reported that a "few CSSAs explicitly vet their members along ideological lines, excluding those whose views do not align with Communist Party core interests." The Chinese embassy did not respond to Foreign Policy’s requests for comment.

March 8, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute: Jonathan Pruitt, associate professor in the department of ecology, evolution and marine biology at the University of California Santa Barbara, asks a good leader is always able to rally the troops. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 7, 2018

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is the latest institution to have an email error confuse people about who was admitted. The university sent out 11,000 messages this week that were supposed to go only to parents of admitted applicants. But about 500 went to parents of rejected applicants, leading some of them to think that their children had in fact been admitted. Calls started to arrive 15 minutes after the email went out, and Colorado Springs followed up with correct information and an apology.

March 7, 2018

Grand Canyon University's accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, approved the for-profit institution's application to convert to a nonprofit entity. 

"We appreciate the Higher Learning Commission's due diligence in thoroughly examining our proposal," said Brian Mueller, president of Grand Canyon, in a news release. "This is consistent with GCU's history and puts us on a level playing field with other traditional universities with regard to tax status and among other things the ability to accept philanthropic contributions, pursue research grant opportunities and participate in NCAA governance." 

The conversion means the company will sell the university and its academic-related assets to a nonprofit entity. The company, Grand Canyon Education, will continue as a for-profit entity that operates as a third-party provider of services like recruiting, counseling and human resources to the new nonprofit university.

Grand Canyon announced in January it would attempt to change its tax status after failing to make the conversion in a similar bid a few years ago. 

The deal still needs approval from the Education Department and the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. 

March 7, 2018

A former assistant secretary of education in the George W. Bush administration will join the U.S. Department of Education again after a brief stint at the Department of Labor.

Diane Auer Jones will serve as senior adviser to the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, the post she previously held. She had joined the Department of Labor as a senior policy adviser last fall.

Politico first reported her return to the department. Jones was a senior fellow at the Urban Institute for more than two years. She served as assistant secretary from 2007 to 2008. Since leaving the Department of Education, much of her work has focused on career training, including apprenticeship programs.

Frank Brogan, whom the White House nominated for the assistant secretary for K-12 education job, is overseeing postsecondary issues as acting assistant secretary until he is confirmed by the Senate.

March 7, 2018

A federal district judge in Maryland on Monday upheld the Trump administration’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers temporary protection against deportation and provides the right to work to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers. The ruling has no immediate practical effect, as federal judges in California and New York previously ordered nationwide temporary injunctions barring the Trump administration from ending the program as planned.

Whereas the other two district judges found that the administration’s reasoning for ending DACA was arbitrary and capricious and based on the flawed legal conclusion that DACA was unlawful, Judge Roger W. Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland found that based on a review of the administrative record, “it was reasonable for [the Department of Homeland Security] to have concluded -- right or wrong -- that DACA was unlawful and should be wound down in an orderly manner.”

Judge Titus indicated he would have preferred to come to a different conclusion. “The result of this case is not one that this Court would choose if it were a member of a different branch of our government,” the opinion states. “An overwhelming percentage of Americans support protections for 'Dreamers,' yet it is not the province of the judiciary to provide legislative or executive actions when those entrusted with those responsibilities fail to act.”

A legislative solution for Dreamers has been elusive since the Trump administration announced plans to end the DACA program in September. The Senate failed to pass three separate bills that would have codified protections for Dreamers. After initially suggesting he would sign whatever bill Congress sent him, President Trump has shifted his stance to insist that legislation protecting Dreamers include other immigration-related provisions anathema to many Democrats, specifically $25 billion for a southern border wall, the elimination of the diversity visa lottery program and new restrictions on family-based immigration.

While Judge Titus's ruling may not have a practical effect, CNN noted that it represents a symbolic victory for the Trump administration. CNN quoted Department of Judiciary spokesman Devin O'Malley: "The Department of Justice has long maintained that DHS acted within its lawful authority in making the discretionary decision to wind down DACA in an orderly manner, and we welcome the good news today that the district court in Maryland strongly agrees," O'Malley said. "Today's decision also highlights a serious problem with the disturbing growth in the use of nationwide injunctions, which causes the Maryland court's correct judgment in favor of the government to be undermined by the overbroad injunctions that have been entered by courts in other states."

Trump also cited the ruling in a tweet in which he cast blame for lack of a solution for Dreamers on Democrats.

CASA, the immigrant rights group that filed the lawsuit, said in a statement it was weighing its legal options. “The judiciary is the last line of defense for the Dreamers and we still hope we can depend on the courts to save our young people from deportations,” said Gustavo Torres, CASA's executive director. “With the lack of action from Congress and the president’s decision to cancel the program with no solution in place, we see the judiciary branch as our last hope. President Trump broke up DACA and as far as we see it, is showing no intention to fix it.”

March 7, 2018

This week's edition of “Inside Digital Learning” explores the following:

  • Coursera's expanded foray into degrees.
  • A new tool that incorporates artificial intelligence into the student course evaluation process.
  • One faculty member's explanation for why he'll never teach online.

Sign up for the weekly “Inside Digital Learning” newsletter here.

March 7, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Adam McLain, assistant professor of biology in the department of biology and chemistry at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, explores a new species of lemurs and what it means for animal conservation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 6, 2018

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point plans to address “fiscal challenges” by expanding some academic programs and discontinuing others, it announced Monday. Tenured faculty positions are at stake, with possible layoffs occurring by 2020. 

Programs pegged for closure are American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. 

Currently enrolled students in closing programs will be able to conclude their degrees. Courses will continue to be taught in the affected fields, and minors in English, art, history and philosophy, among others, will remain, according to the university. 

Stevens Point’s proposal must be reviewed by a campus governance committee, the campus chancellor and the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. 

“Because possible program elimination may result in the layoff of some tenured faculty members, a new UW Board of Regents policy will be followed,” the university said in a statement, referring to a controversial change to the circumstances under which Wisconsin’s universities may terminate tenured faculty members -- made possible by a similarly controversial 2015 change to state law backed by Republican governor Scott Walker.

"If we accept the need for change, and we confront and solve the financial issues currently facing the institution, we can create a new identity for the regional public university,” Greg Summers, provost, said in the statement. “Stevens Point can move forward with fiscal stability, new opportunities to build programs and grow enrollment, and renewed capacity to improve our service to the students and communities of central and northern Wisconsin, which are complex, diverse and ever changing.”

Stevens Point says it faces a deficit of $4.5 million over two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

Programs up for expansion include chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing. Others include aquaculture, captive wildlife, ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources, and doctor of physical therapy.

Summers said the recommendations demonstrate a growing student preference for majors with clear career pathways. “Stevens Point is committed to strengthening our academic offerings while improving our liberal arts core to ensure students graduate with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the future,” he said. 

Ed Miller, longtime professor of political science at Stevens Point, told Wisconsin Public Radio that he was not expecting the announcement.

"I was personally surprised about the radicalness of the change," Miller said. "We do live in a democracy, and universities are supposed to be preparing people to participate in a democracy, besides participate in the work force, although that’s certainly important."

Miller said students in his department learn how to think critically and end up succeeding when they graduate.

"Our majors have done well in the job market, plus getting into graduate schools -- not just in political science, but in public administration, city management and certainly law schools, so we have actually had lots of success since I've been here,” he said.

Professors on other campuses reacted to the announcement on social media, expressing concern. 


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