Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 21, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump has agreed to pay $25 million to settle multiple suits that charge Trump University with swindling its students. New York's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, sued Trump in 2013. The settlement also covers other suits against Trump over Trump University. Trump has to date denied wrongdoing, and accused Schneiderman of playing politics with the suit. Trump University was not a typical for-profit university, as it operated outside standard licensure and accreditation requirements and, as a result, its students did not use federal aid. In fact, Trump University was never a university, and changed its name to Trump Entrepreneur Initiative when New York State officials said it could not call itself a university.

Schneiderman issued this statement: "In 2013, my office sued Donald Trump for swindling thousands of innocent Americans out of ​millions of dollars through a scheme known at Trump University. Donald Trump fought us every step of the way, filing baseless charges and fruitless appeal​s​ and refusing to settle for even modest amounts of compensation for the victims of his phony university. Today, that all changes. Today's $25 million settlement agreement is a stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university. I am pleased that under the terms of this settlement, every victim will receive restitution and that Donald Trump will pay up to $1 million in penalties to the State of New York for violating state education laws. The victims of Trump University have waited years for today's result and I am pleased that their patience -- and persistence -- will be rewarded by this $25 million settlement."

President-elect Trump's transition press office did not respond immediately to a request for comment. However, Trump tweeted about the settlement on Saturday.

November 21, 2016

Michigan State University was able to minimize exposure from a data breach this month when it received an email trying to extort money to take advantage of the data breach, The Lansing State Journal reported. The university did not pay off the person who sent the mail but was able to identify the data breach and deal with it before many student and employee accounts were accessed.

November 21, 2016

Thirty-two Americans were named Sunday as winners of Rhodes Scholarships, which cover two or three years of study at the University of Oxford. Harvard University students won four of the awards, more than those won by any other single college or university. While Ivies and Stanford University continue to do well, other winners were from Howard University, the University of Tulsa and the University of Kansas. Profiles of the winners may be found here.

November 21, 2016

Police say they have identified a suspect in the fatal assault of a student from Saudi Arabia at the University of Wisconsin at Stout last month and have found no evidence it was a hate crime, according to a statement on the university’s Facebook page. Police also say that the suspect in the death of Hussain Saeed Alnahdi is not a student at UW Stout or a resident of the surrounding Dunn County.

The Menomonie Police Department did not release the name of the suspect pending a decision on possible charges by the Dunn County District Attorney’s Office.

November 21, 2016

Members of the Middle East Studies Association voted in favor of advancing a resolution to remove the word “nonpolitical” from the group’s bylaws in what opponents see as a prelude to a future vote on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The resolution to amend the bylaws, approved by a 247-57 majority of those present at the annual members’ meeting, will next go to the full membership for a vote. An amendment to the bylaws requires the support of two-thirds of voting members.

Joshua Stacher, an associate professor of political science at Kent State University who introduced the resolution at the members’ meeting in Boston, said the proposed bylaw change would bring the association’s governance documents into line with the day-to-day practices of MESA and its Committee on Academic Freedom, which regularly sends letters to foreign government officials protesting violations of students’ and scholars’ rights in countries across the Middle East. MESA's board also periodically issues letters and statements, including, on Saturday, a statement reiterating its alarm at the "rise in the stereotyping and vilification of people of Middle East or Muslim background" in the United States.

“The ‘nonpolitical’ clause didn’t seem to reflect all the sorts of daily practices that members experience in MESA,” Stacher said on Friday. “When members would raise, ‘Well, aren’t we doing politics here?’ we would be told that, ‘Well, we’re a nonpolitical organization.’ It’s a conversation stopper, or a debate stopper, so we thought if we lifted this word ‘nonpolitical’ that it would actually help facilitate debates and help resolve some of these contradictions of MESA’s daily practices and what MESA espouses to be in its bylaws.”

Stacher added, “If the membership decides that it wants to pursue a BDS vote, then it’s going to do a BDS vote. I think that what was done today adds a lot more clarity to how members identify with the organization. And I think that for a lot of us, it’s not about BDS, it’s about the ability to take a collective stand as an organization on any issue that we feel is germane to how we educate, research and teach about the Middle East.”

Robert O. Freedman, a visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, spoke at the meeting against the proposed resolution to change the bylaws, saying in an interview that the action “transforms the Middle East Studies Association from an academic organization to an advocacy organization. It’s going to be advocating BDS and all sorts of other things instead of being a neutral academic organization.”

Freedman, who opposes BDS, also said that the proposed bylaw change “reduces or perhaps eliminates the credibility of the most important committee of MESA, which is the Committee on Academic Freedom. Once government leaders receive letters from an organization which is no longer a neutral organization but an advocacy organization, the credibility and legitimacy of those letters disappears.”

Ilan Troen, the Stoll Family Professor of Israel Studies at Brandeis University, said there's a big difference between the protest letters regularly written by the Committee on Academic Freedom and a potential boycott vote that could lead to the exclusion of individuals and institutions. He criticized what he described as the vote "to change the bylaws of an organization for one issue only -- that's supporting a Palestinian interpretation of a very complicated problem."

MESA is planning a full membership vote on the matter for early 2017.

November 21, 2016

Columbia University has finished its investigation into its wrestling team, some members of which have for years maintained a texting group in which racist, sexist and homophobic comments were regularly shared. The university said that the team couldn't compete while the inquiry was going on. Now that the inquiry is complete, the university has said that some team members -- those most involved -- will be suspended from the team for the rest of the 2016-17 academic year. Some other wrestlers will be suspended only until the start of the spring semester. Others, who were not involved, have been cleared to compete now.

A statement explained, "We recognize that free speech is a core value both of the university community and of our nation. Our students and faculty have the right to express themselves and their views, whether through their public or private communications. However, the group text messages that have been brought to light do not meet the standard of behavior we expect from our student-athletes at Columbia. Prior to the start of each competition season, Columbia Athletics shares with its teams a code of conduct, outlining our expectations for individual and team behavior. The messages are appalling and violate team guidelines."

November 21, 2016

A group of University of California, Berkeley, current and former students is asking administrators, including Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and members of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Privilege and Tenure to “withhold judgment” regarding a professor accused of sexual harassment. Some members of the group are now faculty members elsewhere, and their request comes after an on-campus protest by graduate students who criticized the campus's response to the allegations against Nezar AlSayyad, who teaches architecture, planning and urban design. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that he spent months becoming close to, or "grooming," a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they travel together to Las Vegas. The disciplinary process is ongoing, but some students said they wish they’d known earlier the results of the investigation and, in some cases, the nature of the allegations. AlSayyad denies wrongdoing. The case against him was first made public by the San Francisco Chronicle.

A university spokesperson confirmed that the new letter sent to administrators includes 23 names and nine unnamed signers. But all signatories wish to remain anonymous to the broader public due to what they described as “potential risks of retaliation from activists.” Describing themselves as those who have worked or studied closely with AlSayyad, they wrote that “we have never experienced any forms of harassment or inappropriate actions in our interactions with him throughout the years. On the contrary, he as always been a genuine mentor who cares deeply for his students’ well-being, has supported their careers and encouraged them to become professionals that interact with colleagues in a mutually respectful way.” They questioned circulating accounts of AlSayyad’s behavior towards students and colleagues, for example, saying that meeting with them outside of campus or socially is not unusual in the collaborative studio culture of design.

“We understand the very legitimate concerns of students and will strive with the campus community to fight any misconduct or unacceptable behavior,” the letter says. “We are simply making a request that one should wait until the investigation is over before making a judgment on the case.”

Members of the group added via email, "Given the times provoking increased conflicts and racist sentiments, it is particularly easy to jump into quick judgment, especially when the subject is being identified in the news as Middle East scholar."

November 21, 2016

International enrollment is an uncertain revenue stream for U.S. colleges and universities as Donald Trump prepares to take over as president of the United States, according to a report Moody’s Investors Service released last week.

Between 8 percent and 10 percent of total net tuition revenue in the United States comes from international students, the report estimated. International students only make up about 5 percent of U.S. higher education enrollment, but they pay more in tuition than domestic students.

Immigration proposals like those Trump has discussed, including proposals affecting employees with H-1B visas, could change international student demand significantly by hurting their postcollege job prospects in the U.S., Moody’s said. Universities that recently entered the international student market and those with less well-known brands globally would be most affected.

“In a climate where domestic students are extremely price sensitive and tuition increases have become a political hot topic, growth in international students provides a financial buffer against constrained tuition revenue growth,” the report said. “However, policy shifts can quickly change the landscape for international student demand, making this a potentially volatile revenue stream.”

November 21, 2016

Officials from a group of North American universities -- led by the University of Arizona -- released a report with recommendations to encourage more students to seek study abroad programs in Mexico. While study abroad from the United States to Mexico grew by 6 percent, to 4,712 students, in 2014-15, the report suggests this number could be much higher. At least part of the problem, the report says, is that State Department safety advisories about dangers in parts of Mexico scare off colleges and students from programs in parts of the country that are quite safe.

Above right is photograph of Tecnológico de Monterrey.

November 21, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Laura Russell, assistant professor of communication at Denison University, discusses how we learn to value what we already have. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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