Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 30, 2013

A new scam is tricking academics into thinking their research has been accepted for publication in a scholarly journal, the American Historical Association warned on Tuesday. Scholars will initially receive an email with "grammatical errors and unprofessional language" with an offer to publish a conference paper, and after submitting one, the scammer will ask the author to pay a "service charge" of several hundred dollars to review, edit and print the piece. The scam is targeting scholars in a "variety of disciplines," the AHA noted.

October 30, 2013

Negative ratings pressures have intensified on higher education, according to a Moody’s Investors Service report for subscribers that reviewed the ratings agency's work through the end of the third quarter.

There have been 21 downgrades of public colleges and universities this year but no upgrades. That's due to "declining state funding, flat or declining enrollment and lack of expense containment," the agency said.

The outlook may be a bit better for private colleges and universities: there have been nine upgrades of privates but still 13 downgrades. "Certain private universities have been able to establish a strong market presence and grow net tuition revenue leading to healthy operating margins and improved financial resources," Moody's said. "Others have struggled with stagnant net tuition revenue and lack of expense control leading to thinner liquidity and weaker balance sheets."

October 30, 2013

A third federal agency is now investigating Sallie Mae for violations of consumer protection laws, the company disclosed to investors in a quarterly report this week.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in September sought information from Sallie Mae as part of the bureau’s investigation into “allegations relating to our existing payment allocation practices and procedures,” the company said. The CFPB’s inquiry, according to the report, is similar to a separate investigation of Sallie Mae by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which plans to issue an enforcement action against the company for violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and other laws. The Civil Relief Act provides service members special benefits while they are on active-duty, such as a cap on the interest-rate on their student loans.

The Department of Justice is also probing Sallie Mae about its compliance with consumer protection law. The company said that it is “cooperating fully” with all three agencies.

In a report last year, the CFPB said that military service members were missing out on important benefits because of problems with their federal student-loan servicers. In some cases, the errors could cost members of the military tens of thousands of dollars, the agency said. Earlier this month, a CFPB analysis of borrower complaints reveled that some private student-loan servicers were applying advanced payments on loans in a way that maximizes profits for the lender but often leads to the borrower paying more interest.

October 30, 2013

North Carolina State University has sold a forest it owns for $150 million, The News & Observer reported. Conservationists have opposed the sale of the 79,000-acre forest. The university said that only a limited portion of the forest will be developed, and that students and faculty members will continue to be able to do research there. Officials said that the funds from the sale would go to an endowment that would support the university's College of Natural Resources.

October 30, 2013

The Education Department is set to issue a package of final regulations on federal student loans that are aimed, in part, at helping distressed borrowers and preventing colleges from manipulating their default rates.

In a notice last week, the department said it would officially adopt the rules “within the next several days” (though they would not take effect until next July). In addition to making minor changes to reflect legislative changes, the 423 pages of rules also beef up some protections for federal student loan borrowers.

Under the new rules, a borrower who is at least 270 days delinquent in paying his or her loans would be able to be placed in forbearance based on an oral request as opposed to the current written request requirement. This verbal forbearance request, however, would have limitations in order to prevent colleges from easily coercing students over the phone into unnecessary forbearances that help the institution avoid a default on its books -- or at least defer the default until the end of three-year period that the federal government evaluates. Any forbearance based on an oral request would be limited to 120 days and could not be extended without a written request and supporting documentation for why a loan deferment is needed.

In addition, the new regulations set a limit on the size of the payment that loan servicers can demand of defaulted borrowers who are trying to avail themselves of the opportunity, under federal law, to rehabilitate their student loans by making “reasonable and affordable” payments. The new rules would automatically define that “reasonable and affordable” standard as 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income -- that is, what he or she would be paying under an income-based-repayment plan. The clarified standard reduces the amount of financial documentation needed from the borrower.

The Institute for College Access and Success, which pushed for many of the changes, praised the new regulations in a blog post Tuesday as “key protections” that will “make it easier for borrowers to get out of default and repay their loans.”

October 30, 2013

Brown University called off a lecture Tuesday by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, when protesters in the lecture hall refused to stop shouting at him. Those protesting said that Brown shouldn't give a forum to someone associated with a "stop and frisk" policing that is viewed by many as discriminatory against black and Latino New Yorkers. The lecture wasn't called off until the protesters ignored repeated requests from university faculty members and students to let Kelly speak. He had agree to participate in a question period as well.

Christina H. Paxson, Brown's president, sent out a letter to students and faculty members, criticizing the protest for blocking the lecture. "This is a sad day for the Brown community. I appreciate that some members of our community objected to the views of our invited speaker. However, our university is – above all else – about the free exchange of ideas. Nothing is more antithetical to that value than preventing someone from speaking and other members of the community from hearing that speech and challenging it vigorously in a robust yet civil manner," she wrote. The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, also weighed in with an editorial against the way the protest unfolded. "It is evident at this point that there is an incredibly vocal minority of students who feel compelled to shut off all streams of debate with which they disagree," the editorial said. "There is perhaps a majority of students who find themselves frustrated with with the narrow scope of debate that occurs in person or now, more than ever, on forums like Facebook. There are students — students from diverse backgrounds — who are afraid to state their opinion, and that is a profound loss for this campus."

Most of the letters to the editor published today in the student newspaper criticized the protest, but one recent alumnus defended the protest, writing: "The system Kelly promotes actively disenfranchises people of color. It makes them afraid to be in certain neighborhoods, to wear certain clothes, to be too close to the authorities. It breeds distrust and anger and, most importantly, is antithetical to a free and just society. Racism is not a valid viewpoint. This much is written directly into Brown law.... In this case, two wrongs do make a right, much like two negatives make a positive. It is the definition of tolerance to be intolerant of intolerance. As an alum, I am proud to be part of the community that booed Kelly offstage. Nobody needs to entertain arguments that assert this in any way prevents open discourse."

Here is YouTube video of the event:

 

 

October 29, 2013

Student organizers at Hampshire College called off an appearance by the band Shokazoba amid complaints that the band was "too white" to play Afrobeat music, The Republican reported. Band members are angry, saying that they were falsely accused of being all-white, and that it should be possible for music to be judged on artistic value, not just the race of some of the musicians. The student committee that organized the event posted this note on its Facebook page: "Due to concerned students voicing their opinions about the band Shokazoba, we held community dialogue to hear what individuals had to say. As a result of the dialogue, and discomfort expressed by members of the community in person as well as by email, Facebook, and other means, we have removed Shokazoba from the lineup for Hampshire Halloween."

Many of the comments posted there are critical of the students for uninviting the band. One person wrote: "You know, it's not like these guys run around during their performances wearing dashikis, greeting the audience with a hearty meeng-gah-bou at the start of their set. These are just people who love a certain type of music and are sharing that enjoyment." Another wrote: "This is, without equivocation, one of the most ironically racist decisions I have ever witnessed a group of supposedly educated people come to. The fact that the irony is lost on you makes me believe that maybe that education was wasted. Stupid decision, and every one of you who was party to it should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves."

The college has issued a statement denying that racial issues were at play, and saying instead that the band was dropped because of the rising tensions over the discussion. "On an online event site, some members of our student community questioned the selection of one band, asking whether it was a predominantly white Afrobeat band and expressing concerns about cultural appropriation and the need to respect marginalized cultures. The students tried to be clear that they meant no disrespect to the members of the band in question, but wished to raise larger questions and have a deeper conversation within our own community," said the college's statement. "The decision by student planners not to have the band perform was not based on the band’s racial identity. It was based on the intensity and tone that arose on the event’s planning site on social media, including comments from off campus that became increasingly aggressive, moving from responses to individual student voices to rude, and at times unsettling, remarks. Tensions grew and students felt they were being unfairly characterized and disparaged."

 

October 29, 2013

A University of Wisconsin at Superior professor has voluntarily resigned, after reports surfaced this summer that he pleaded guilty and served prison time for attempted sexual abuse in another state more than 20 years ago, when he was a high school teacher. Matthew Faerber, a tenured professors of vocal music, was placed on paid leave in August after a newspaper in Utah, where he used to live, published a report detailing his past criminal record, involving two 13-year old students. The university announced that he voluntarily resigned, after a lengthy investigation into Faerber’s record, Northland’s News Center reported.

Faerber was hired by Superior in 1998, but the University of Wisconsin System did not introduce mandatory background checks for all employees until 2007.

Chancellor Renee Wachter said in a statement that Faerber -- whose status changed to unpaid leave earlier this month --  resigned "under terms of a separation agreement. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable resolution to a difficult situation, which serves the best interests of students and the entire UW-Superior community."

Faerber could not immediately be reached for comment.

October 29, 2013

Pennsylvania State University will pay $59.7 million in 26 settlements to victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, officials announced Monday. The settlement terms include a release of all claims against Penn State and other parties, and are subject to confidentiality agreements, a university statement says. The payouts should by covered by insurance and interest revenues from university loans, and no tuition money, taxpayer funds or donations will be used.

Six of 32 total claims remain, according to the statement. The university has rejected some as without merit, while the people who filed the others are engaged in settlement discussions. Jerry Sandusky, who is currently in Pennsylvania state prison, exploited his connections with Penn State football to rape and abuse young boys for years, sometimes on campus.

October 29, 2013

Berry College, a private institution in Georgia, announced Monday that it has settled (and won) a dispute with Tennessee. Berry sued Tennessee last year when the state tried to impose fees on the college because of two billboards that it put up. The state said that Berry was effectively operating a college in Tennessee. But Berry said that this was untrue, and that the college wasn't offering courses in the state (or even distance education). The college said the state was interfering with its right to simply recruit Tennessee students. Under the settlement, Berry said, Tennessee is waiving its rules based on Berry meeting similar standards in Georgia that Tennessee colleges must meet there. Officials of the Tennessee Higher Education Coordinating Board did not respond to email seeking comment.

 

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