Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 20, 2015

The board of the University of Virginia has extended the contract of President Teresa A. Sullivan by two years, through 2018, The Washington Post reported. Sullivan was named president in 2010, and narrowly avoided ouster by some board members in 2012, but a protest movement by students, alumni and faculty members kept her in office. In recent months, Sullivan's contract negotiations have taken place against a backdrop of difficulties for the university -- such as the now discredited article in Rolling Stone about an alleged rape -- that were not of Sullivan's making. While board members expressed strong support for Sullivan in extending her contract beyond 2016, they included a clause that would permit her term to end in fall 2017 if a successor has been selected. One board member -- Helen Dragas -- abstained from the vote. She led the effort to oust Sullivan in 2012.

May 20, 2015

Despite the administration's attempt to ban "large objects" from Columbia University's Class Day ceremonies Tuesday, a student carried a mattress with her on stage in protest of the university's handling of sexual assault complaints.

Emma Sulkowicz has carried the mattress around campus all year as her senior art thesis and was expected to bring the mattress with her to the Class Day ceremony, an event separate from the main commencement ceremony. The day before the ceremony, the university sent an email to Columbia's seniors, warning them of a new rule that barred students from bringing "large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people."

Sulkowicz brought the mattress on stage with her anyway, prompting cheers from the crowd. Her alleged rapist, a fellow graduating senior who was never charged and is suing the university for allowing the art project to go on, was listed on the Class Day program. Many students and activists praised Sulkowicz for seeing her project through to the end. Other students criticized the university for not forcing Sulkowicz to follow the rules it set.

“We communicated to all students that the shared celebratory purpose of Class Day and commencement calls for mutual respect for the security and comfort of graduating students and their families in attendance,” Columbia said in a statement. “We are not going to comment on individual students; it is a day for all members of the Class of 2015. We were not going to physically block entry to graduates who are ultimately responsible for their own choices.”

May 20, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent who is running for president, on Tuesday unveiled more details about his plan to make public higher education debt-free for students.

Sanders introduced legislation that calls for the federal government to dole out $47 billion per year to states that agree to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at their public colleges and universities.

The federal government, according to his office, would pick up the tab nationwide for about two-thirds of the cost of eliminating tuition, and states would have to chip in the remaining third.

Sanders proposes to pay for the debt-free college program by raising taxes on the financial transactions of large investment firms.

The debt-free-college proposal, which goes beyond the Obama administration’s free community college plan announced earlier this year, has increasingly caught on among liberal lawmakers and progressive groups. Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager gave a nod to the idea earlier this month.

May 20, 2015

Sixty-five percent of parents expect to be providing some financial support to their children after they graduate from college, according to a survey released Tuesday by Upromise, a savings-related division of Sallie Mae. Significant numbers of parents seem to assume that the support will be needed more than a few months after graduation. The proportion of parents who believe they will need to provide some support for two years or longer is now 36 percent, double what the share was in a similar survey a year ago.

May 20, 2015

Federal funding for research and development fell by 9 percent from 2012 to 2013, but the National Science Foundation projects that it rose by 3 percent in 2014 and will grow by 2 percent in 2015, the agency says in a new report. The foundation's report breaks down the funding levels by agency, compares dollar levels for basic and applied research, and shows the proportion that flows to colleges and universities and to other research producers.

May 20, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Betsy Herold, a professor of pediatrics and microbiology-immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, discusses her work on a preventative vaccine for herpes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 19, 2015

Two students have filed a federal lawsuit against Valencia College, a Florida community college, alleging that instructors forced them and other students to undergo vaginal probes as part of the process of teaching them to perform such procedures for ultrasounds and other purposes, The Orlando Sentinel reported. The suit alleges that those who complained were retaliated against.

The college declined to answer the specific points of the lawsuit but did release this statement: “The use of volunteers -- including fellow students -- for medical sonography training is a nationally accepted practice. Valencia’s sonography program has upheld the highest standards with respect to ultrasound scanning for educational purposes, including voluntary participation and professional supervision by faculty in a controlled laboratory setting. Nonetheless, we continue to review this practice and others to ensure that they are effective and appropriate for the learning environment.”

May 19, 2015

Former players are charging that the women's basketball program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has abused players in a number of ways, The Chicago Tribune reported. Former players accuse coaches of, among other things, forcing athletes to play when suffering from injuries, verbally abusing players and engaging in racially divisive tactics, such as referencing the race of players and considering separate practices for black athletes. The university -- which is already investigating allegations of forcing football players to play while injured -- is investigating. Thus far, the university says, it has not found wrongdoing. However, the university announced that an associate coach, Mike Divilbiss, has left his position.

May 19, 2015

Faculty members and administrators are arguing over the roots of a $10 million deficit facing the College of Arts and Sciences at Ohio State University, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Administrators said that more students are arriving at college having completed some general education requirements in high school, meaning that enrollments in arts and sciences programs are lower. Many faculty say the university isn't admitting enough students who want to study the humanities. The university says that while applications are up from students who want to study the humanities, the increases are larger for other fields.

May 19, 2015

Two-thirds of college and university risk managers responding to a recent survey said they consider the risks associated with fraternities to be among the most significant risks facing higher education. When asked to describe how significant a liability risk fraternities are to an institution, half of the respondents said "medium risk" -- defined in the survey as posing "significant liability risk" -- and 14.3 percent said "high risk." About 7 percent of the managers said fraternities present "no unusual risk."

The survey, conducted by the University Risk Management and Insurance Association, also found that most risk managers are not convinced that their institution's current strategies for addressing fraternity risks are sufficient. Forty percent of the respondents said they are uncertain whether their strategies are effective, and a quarter said they feel that their strategies are not effective.

There was a sharp divide between risk managers at public and private institutions in how they view the advantages that fraternities provide to their campuses. More than one-third of respondents at private colleges said "there are no advantages" to having fraternities at their institutions. Only 10 percent of public institutions reported no advantages, with 70 percent of them saying that fraternities are important to alumni relations and philanthropic activities. The University Risk Management and Insurance Association said it conducted the survey to see if a recent "rash of negative news stories about alleged misconduct in certain fraternities" has affected how colleges view the risks associated with them.

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