Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 8, 2019

Wichita State University allegedly discriminated against a candidate for an assistant professorship in gender, sexuality and feminist studies earlier this year after finding out she was pregnant, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the woman, Evangeline Heiliger, and according to The Wichita Eagle. Heiliger says she was offered a job but saw the offer retracted after revealing she was pregnant and asking about campus childcare options. Wichita State has said that an earlier campus investigation “didn’t conclude” that the university violated the law.

January 8, 2019

A group of Michigan State University students, employees and alumni have struck out so far in their efforts to persuade university administrators to conduct the search for a new president in public. So today it is asking the candidates themselves to take the unusual step of publicly revealing themselves even if the search process remains closed.

Candidates need to engage publicly before they are hired, argues the group, ReclaimMSU, in an open letter released Monday. It wants them to challenge what it described as Michigan State's secrecy and lack of accountability.

“We love MSU, but we do not trust our presidential search process,” the open letter says. “We do not trust our Board of Trustees. And we do not trust our interim president. We hope we can trust you to work with the entire MSU community to rebuild our trust and pride in MSU.”

The group adds, “Any candidate who has succeeded in this calcified, top-down, secretive and retaliatory culture cannot effectively change it.”

Michigan State is searching for a new leader after its longtime president, Lou Anna Simon, stepped down last year in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Simon was later charged with lying to police as they investigated the Nassar case.

January 8, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Gabe Neal, clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M University, discusses why small slices cause such a big fuss. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 7, 2019

U.S. senators Doug Jones, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Catherine Cortez-Masto sent nearly 100 letters to education policy experts, business leaders and civil rights advocates asking them their thoughts on how to address racial disparities in student debt.

"Students of color are more likely to borrow, borrow in greater amounts, and are less likely to be able to pay down their debt than their white peers -- even if they graduate," the senators wrote in their letter. "This disproportionate debt burden can cause significant financial distress and affect their ability to build their path to the middle class, a key goal of the federal financial aid investment."

The letter outlines that black and Latino students owe more than 100 percent of their loan balance 12 years after first entering college, even after they complete a degree. Meanwhile, white students owe between 47 and 70 percent of their loan balance, depending on the credential they obtained.

"Even among bachelor's degree graduates, the African-American-white debt gap more than triples after graduation, due to differences in interest accrual, graduate school borrowing, and ongoing deeper issues related to labor market discrimination, racialized economic hardships, and familial wealth," the senators wrote. "These outcomes are staggering and unacceptable. As members of Congress, we are committed to doing better for these students and ask for your assistance in defining specific proposals the federal government can take to address these disparities."

January 7, 2019

The Reverend Charles L. Currie, a major force in Jesuit higher education as a college president, association leader and social activist, died last week at the age of 88.

Currie was president of Wheeling Jesuit University and Xavier University in Ohio, and he spent 14 years as president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, where he strengthened the colleges' collective development of leadership programs and online education, and spearheaded the Jesuit institutions' response to Hurricane Katrina, enabling students from Loyola University of New Orleans to continue their studies at sister institutions around the country.

Father Currie was perhaps best known in the public eye for his role in the aftermath of the assassinations of six Jesuit priests by government soldiers in El Salvador in 1989. As an adviser to Georgetown University's president at the time, he coordinated the university's response to the killings, which were seen as an attempt to stop the priests from advocating for human rights, and advised Congress about the matter.

A news release about Father Currie's death on the website of the Jesuit college association invites comments about him, and most of them focus not on his accomplishments but on his personal warmth and kindness.

January 7, 2019

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom plans to propose expanding the state's one-year, tuition-free community college program to two years.

Newsom reportedly will include an additional $40 million in his budget to fund the second year of college. An additional $5 million would go to the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office to boost outreach and encourage students to complete a two-year program or transfer to a four-year university.

The state currently gives the community college system about $46 million to administer the tuition-free program.

Democratic members of the State Assembly introduced a bill last month that would also expand the tuition-free initiative to two years.

January 7, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Craig Mattson, professor of communication arts at Trinity College, wonders if social problem-solving companies are here to stay. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 4, 2019

Career Education Corp. on Thursday announced that it had settled with attorneys general from 48 states and Washington, D.C., over a five-year investigation. The AGs had been probing "unfair and deceptive practices," including allegations about the for-profit college company "misleading prospective students about actual costs, the transferability of credits, accreditation, program offerings and accurate job placement rates."

The company denied any allegations of wrongdoing or liability under the settlement's terms. Career Education will forgo collecting $556 million in debt for "old accounts receivable" for roughly 180,000 students who attended more than 100 of the company's campuses over 30 years. All but $1.3 million of that debt had been written off previously, said the company, which will notify eligible borrowers by mail.

In addition, Career Education will pay $5 million to cover expenses for the AGs.

"Decisions about higher education are already stressful enough without having to worry about the high cost of obtaining a college education or questioning the value of your degree," Mark Brnovich, Arizona's attorney general, said in a written statement. "We've secured $22 million in debt relief for Arizonans that will help thousands of students who were saddled with large debts and degrees that were less useful than CEC led its students to believe."

Like most large for-profit college companies, Career Education has been struggling for years. Its revenue in 2017 was roughly $600 million, and it enrolled 33,000 students last fall, down from a 2010 peak of 118,000 students and $2.1 billion in annual revenue. The company in 2015 closed or sold all of its chains except for Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, including the sale of its Le Cordon Bleu Colleges of Culinary Arts, which had been a well-known brand among for-profits.

Two prominent officials at the Trump administration's U.S. Department of Education previously worked at Career Education: Diane Auer Jones, the principal deputy under secretary, and Robert Eitel, senior counselor to the secretary and the department's regulatory reform officer.

January 4, 2019

A Missouri judge ruled Thursday that Edward Gutting, a former instructor of modern and classical languages at Missouri State University, is unfit to stand trial for the 2016 murder of his former colleague Marc Cooper, who was a retired professor of history at Missouri State. The Springfield News-Leader reported that Gutting was charged with first-degree murder but that the court order suspended criminal proceedings and sent Gutting to mental health treatment. Gutting’s attorneys raised concerns about his mental faculties and ability to participate in his own defense, and a state psychologist agreed. The state is to report back to the court about Gutting’s mental capacities in seven months.

Gutting allegedly stabbed Cooper to death in Cooper’s home, injuring his wife, Nancy, as well. The News-Leader reported that data on Gutting's computers indicated he was having money problems and that he felt Cooper was making his work life difficult. Cooper retired in 2014, but Gutting may have wanted his still-unfilled position, according to police records.

January 4, 2019

Dartmouth College on Thursday announced a new Campus Climate and Culture Initiative aimed at curbing sexual harassment and misconduct. The announcement comes weeks after Dartmouth was sued by seven female former students who said the college mishandled their misconduct complaints about three former professors of psychological and brain sciences who resigned or retired last year.

President Philip Hanlon wrote in an all-campus memo that “Powerful accounts of sexual misconduct and the surfacing of painful memories have had a profound effect on us all. While change does not come easily for any institution, and there are no easy solutions, the stories that brave members of our community have shared strengthen our resolve to ensure that our learning environment is safe and inclusive for all of its members.” The initiative, called C3I, is inspired by a recent National Academies report on sexual harassment, Hanlon said. It will consist of climate reviews in all academic departments, mandatory sexual harassment training, professional development and leadership training, and increased campus resources and personnel, among other measures.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the pending federal case, who are with the firm Sanford Heisler Sharp, said in a joint statement, “To the extent that Dartmouth now seeks to conform its policies to the requirements of federal law, we certainly support this long overdue step.” Yet Dartmouth “continues in its failure to acknowledge or accept responsibility for the damage its long history of inaction has caused,” they added. “Until Dartmouth commits to making the women whose ‘courage’ Hanlon claims to ‘admire’ full partners in crafting and implementing reforms, each new ‘comprehensive initiative’ will continue to miss the mark.”

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