Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 10, 2014

As expected, Northwestern University on Wednesday filed a brief asking the full National Labor Relations Board in Washington to review a regional NLRB decision that football players are employees of the institution and should be allowed to unionize. “Northwestern presented overwhelming evidence establishing that its athletic program is fully integrated with its academic mission, and that it treats its athletes as students first,” the brief says. “Based on the testimony of a single player, the regional director described Northwestern’s football program in a way that is unrecognizable from the evidence actually presented at the hearing.”

The brief notes that Northwestern awards four-year athletic scholarships (optional and uncommon, under NCAA rules, which allow one-year renewable ones), and provides primary or secondary medical coverage for all athletes for up to a year after their eligibility expires. The brief also says the majority of rules that athletes must follow (regarding things like hazing, academic dishonesty and drug use) apply to the student body at large.

The athletes’ secret ballot vote to unionize under the College Athletes Players Association is scheduled for April 25, but could be delayed if the full NLRB issues a stay on the regional decision.

April 10, 2014

While Brandeis University was facing criticism for planning to award an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she remained largely silent and she didn't immediately respond when the university announced Tuesday that it was abandoning plans to award the degree, amid concerns about her public criticism of Islam. On Wednesday, however, she released a statement denouncing Brandeis and, in particular, its assertion that it was unaware of some of her past statements when it decided to honor her. "[M]y critics have long specialized in selective quotation – lines from interviews taken out of context – designed to misrepresent me and my work. It is scarcely credible that Brandeis did not know this when they initially offered me the degree," Ali said. "What was initially intended as an honor has now devolved into a moment of shaming. Yet the slur on my reputation is not the worst aspect of this episode. More deplorable is that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The 'spirit of free expression' referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here, as my critics have achieved their objective of preventing me from addressing the graduating Class of 2014. Neither Brandeis nor my critics knew or even inquired as to what I might say. They simply wanted me to be silenced."

April 10, 2014

The state may get to keep the money from a $60 million fine the National Collegiate Athletic Association levied against Pennsylvania State University after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but it’s still not a sure thing, PennLive.com reported. The NCAA had ordered that the money go to child protection funds across the country, but two state legislators later sued the NCAA and passed an “Endowment Act” that required fines against any state-supported college to stay in Pennsylvania if they surpassed $10 million. The NCAA objected to the law in court (its motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied), saying it was created specifically to foil the association. The Commonwealth Court has now said the law is allowable, but declined to end the lawsuit outright, instead asking for more argument on the case.

April 9, 2014

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system to several Republican lawmakers, who criticized the plan. Testifying before the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the department’s budget, Duncan said that the college ratings system was needed to provide students with better information and to provide more accountability for taxpayer money. The department’s 2015 fiscal year budget request seeks $10 million to help develop the ratings system.

 “I question whether this is the best use of taxpayer dollars and whether higher education resources could be better-focused on federal student aid or other established programs,” said Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, a Republican.

Representative David Joyce, an Ohio Republican, cited a December poll that found a majority of college presidents doubted the administration’s proposal would be effective in making college more affordable.

Duncan reiterated that the administration’s goal in creating a ratings system is to make sure that federal student aid money is well-spent. “Taxpayers spend 150 billion each year in grants and loans,” he said. “Virtually all of that is based on inputs. Almost none of that is based on outcomes.” Department officials have previously said they plan to produce a draft outline of the ratings system by the end of this spring.

Separately, Duncan also sidestepped a question about whether college athletes should have the right to unionize. Echoing the remarks he made in an interview last month prior to a preliminary ruling in favor of Northwestern football players, Duncan said Tuesday he was concerned that athletic coaches’ salaries do not provide the proper incentives for academic performance. 

April 9, 2014
A new survey has found that male students outperformed their female counterparts on financial literacy aptitude questions but reported behavior that was less financially responsible overall.  The results of the survey of 65,000 first-year students at four-year institutions were released in a report on Tuesday. The report, which was funded by Ever Fi and Higher One, calls for more robust financial literacy education programs. 
April 9, 2014

South Carolina officials have determined that South Carolina State University diverted $6.5 million in funds intended for low-income families to deal with cash flow issues, The State reported. A state report characterized the shift in funds not as fraud but as "a pattern of mismanagement." The university issued a statement asserting that it had changed its policies so this diversion of funds would not continue.

April 9, 2014

Bruce Leslie, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges, has called off plans to replace a humanities core curriculum course with a new course based on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many faculty members have objected to the chancellor's plan to add the course. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Leslie notified faculty members in the community college system of his decision Tuesday. "The controversy and divisiveness surrounding this issue have simply outweighed the necessity to push ahead at this time," he said.

 

April 9, 2014

Brandeis University announced Tuesday that it will not award an honorary doctorate it had planned to issue to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been hailed by some for defending women's rights in Muslim societies but who has been criticized by many for statements that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Muslim students at Brandeis have objected to the planned honor, and thousands have signed an online petition objecting to the degree.

The university issued this statement on Tuesday: "Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year's commencement. She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values.  For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier. Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community's focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues."

Ali has not responded publicly to the decision by Brandeis.

 

April 9, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Victor Albert of the State University of New York at Buffalo, discusses his work looking deeply into the ancient origins of this Amborella and sequencing its genome in order to better understand how life has developed on Earth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

April 8, 2014

A day after the American Association of Community Colleges said it would not have anything to say about hiring a Bill Clinton impersonator to appear at the annual meeting, the association is apologizing and blaming the comedian.

The performance stunned and angered many attendees, many of whom walked out of the event. Many considered the jokes sexist, vulgar and inappropriate for a gathering of community college leaders.

Late Monday, the AACC sent this message to attendeeds: "Politicos Brigade comedian Tim Watters, a well-known Bill Clinton impersonator, performed in the final minutes of the opening session of the 94th Annual Convention. Mr. Watters has been on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' HBO's 'Real Time with Bill Maher,' and Comedy Central’s 'Win Ben Stein’s Money,' among other shows. The addition of a comedian was intended to entertain our attendees. Unfortunately, the comedian’s humor was not appropriate and it was not successful. AACC vetted the content planned for the performance, but unfortunately the comedian changed this original content without AACC's knowledge. AACC would never purposely offend any member of our association and the comedian in no way reflects the sentiment of the association's leadership."

Dustin Gold, who runs Politicos Brigade, disputed the AACC statement. He said that 10 jokes were provided to the AACC in advance, and that the AACC vetoed only two jokes and that those jokes were not used. He also said that AACC had the right to ask for the entire script in advance and didn't do so. In an email, Gold said: "Tim has been doing this for over 20 years, and has performed for countless Fortune 500s at thousands of events, and has run into several situations where the wrong type of entertainment was chosen for the attending crowd. As we all know, politics is a touchy subject and some audiences are just not the right fit for this type of entertainment. We apologize if anyone was offended, but I am confident that Tim provided the services he was hired to provide."

AACC did not respond to a request for comment on Gold's email.

 

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