Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 12, 2018

A professor of journalism at Northwestern University whom 10 alumnae and employees accused of misconduct is taking a leave of absence, the Chicago Tribune reported. Alec Klein, the professor, “has requested a leave of absence from all of his positions at Northwestern until the university completes its investigation, and the university has agreed that is the appropriate action,” Alan Cubbage, university spokesperson, said in a statement.

Last week, a group of former students and employees of the Justice Project at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism published an open letter accusing Klein of sexual harassment, abusive behavior and bullying. Klein has denied the claims, saying in a statement that many came from a “disgruntled former employee.” Northwestern has said that some allegations dating back several years were previously found by the university to be unsubstantiated. But new allegations included the letter are now being investigated.

Klein’s attorney, Andrew T. Miltenberg, said in a separate statement that Klein denies the allegations but “intends to respect the confidentiality and privacy” of Northwestern’s investigation. Records obtained by the Tribune show that Northwestern's human resources department recently reviewed complaints made about Klein's behavior and did not determine the allegations to be substantial enough to launch a formal investigation into Klein. Northwestern’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access said that it would pursue “informal action,” however, such as “a warning to cease current behaviors, no-contact directives, and/or an educational conversation with the respondent or others.”

Meribah Knight, a Nashville Public Radio reporter who graduated from Medill in 2009 and who is one of Klein’s public accusers, said she and her colleagues have received more than two dozen emails from others voicing similar complaints against Klein since last week. “I’m really glad that people felt that they could come forward, but it was sad to see so many of the same patterns emerging,” she told the Tribune.

February 12, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, David C. Richardson, associate professor of biology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, discusses how lakes can show signs of a warmer planet. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 9, 2018

A student in an online sociology course at Southern New Hampshire University had to appeal repeatedly when her professor gave her a failing grade on a key assignment. The problem, BuzzFeed reported, was that the assignment was to compare a social norm in the United States with another country. The student selected Australia as the comparison country, and the instructor rejected the assignment, saying that Australia was a continent, not a country. It took multiple appeals before the instructor relented.

A spokeswoman for Southern New Hampshire University confirmed the facts of the article to Inside Higher Ed. "Yes, it’s true. We take this concern seriously and our academic team is working to resolve the matter," the spokeswoman said.

February 9, 2018

The budget deal senators approved Friday morning would benefit two colleges in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But because the Senate did not approve the deal until Friday, a government shutdown started. The House of Representatives approved the deal Friday as well, so the shutdown will only last hours and should be over by the start of the workday today.

The budget agreement exempts Berea College, a nonprofit Christian college, from a provision taxing private college endowments in the Republican tax plan passed in December.

The deal also grants the secretary of education added authority to waive sanctions on colleges with high student loan default rates. That provision will most likely affect Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, which for the past three years has skated close to the cutoff point for access to Title IV federal student aid.

February 9, 2018

The University of Wisconsin Madison on Thursday announced a free tuition plan for many in-state students that will start in the fall, the latest development in the spread of free public college.

UW Madison will pay four years of tuition and segregated fees for incoming freshmen from Wisconsin who come from families with annual adjusted gross household incomes of $56,000 or less under a new program dubbed Bucky’s Tuition Promise. Transfer students meeting the income requirements will have two years of tuition and segregated fees paid. About 800 new students will have tuition covered each year, the university estimates.

The $56,000 cutoff was chosen because it is close to Wisconsin’s median household family income of $54,610. Income only -- not assets -- will be counted, and students will not have to fill out a separate application. The award will be made using information from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which students will still need to file annually.

Those are important differences from some other states and public institutions that have put free tuition programs into place. The University of Michigan this summer announced a program offering four years of free tuition for in-state students with family incomes up to $65,000 per year, but that program has asset limits. New York State’s much-publicized Excelsior Scholarship requires a separate application.

UW Madison’s plan will cover the cost of tuition and fees no matter how many credits students take -- another key difference from New York, which requires a student to complete 30 credits per year. The university is urging students to enroll full-time, however, as the program is limited to eight semesters for incoming freshmen and four for incoming transfers. The program only covers fall and spring semesters.

The university expects the program to cost about $825,000 per year, per class, above current institutional financial aid spending. That means the university will spend roughly $3.3 million per year once four classes are enrolled. Funding will be drawn from private gifts and institutional resources. Tax dollars won’t be used, according to the university.

The program is a last-dollar award, meaning it is structured to plug the gap between the tuition and fees students are charged and any financial aid they receive. Students could still receive additional financial aid to cover other expenses like housing and food. They could also take out loans for living expenses.

February 9, 2018

The American Society for Engineering Education published two new reports as part of its Transforming Undergraduate Education in Engineering project. A previously published report from the society focused on input from industry, while the new reports offer “Insight From Tomorrow’s Engineers” and “Voices on Women’s Participation and Retention,” respectively. The society’s project seeks to advance undergraduate engineering education by building consensus among different groups as to what it should entail.

Student insights from the Phase II report include that the discipline isn’t doing enough to produce “T-shaped” professionals, or those who have technical expertise, adaptability and so-called soft skills. Students also say they want real-world applications and design-based projects. Recommendations from the Phase III project on women in engineering include creating an online “diversity dashboard” for the field that shows the demographic makeup of engineering schools, making gender diversity an institutional value and promoting the idea that diversity translates to value in industry. The society’s final, Phase IV report, focused on professional engineering societies, will be published later this year.

February 9, 2018

Maryland’s governor offered as much as $100 million over 10 years to historically black universities, attempting to end a long-running lawsuit over whether the state caused segregation at historically black institutions by allowing predominantly white universities to duplicate successful programs.

The settlement proposal is more than twice an amount offered earlier in the case, which stretches back to 2006, The Washington Post reported. Governor Larry Hogan offered the proposal Wednesday, a day after a federal judge granted a temporary reprieve as the state appeals an order from November. The November order would have created new high-demand programs at Maryland’s four historically black institutions and forced funding for them under court supervision.

In a letter, Hogan’s chief legal counsel called the new settlement proposal a serious commitment he believes goes “well beyond what the law requires.” But the top lawyer for the coalition that sued the state said the offer does not address the fact that more than 122 academic programs at traditionally white institutions are unduplicated elsewhere in the state system, compared to only 11 at historically black institutions. He called for new programs at historically black institutions and state commitments against unnecessary duplications.

February 9, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Il Hyun Cho, assistant professor in the department of government and law and the Asian studies program at Lafayette, details popular myths about this hermit kingdom. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 8, 2018

Ten women -- former students and employees of Northwestern University's journalism school -- have issued an open letter accusing a prominent professor there of repeated sexual harassment, as well as behavior that belittled and insulted people. The letter was published in full in The Chicago Reader. The professor, Alec Klein, has denied the allegations. He gave a statement to CBS News Chicago saying in part, "I categorically deny the allegations and intend to take legal action. Many of the allegations involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago."

The letter was also sent to Northwestern. The university issued this statement Wednesday evening: "The university takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention. Many of the allegations were contained in a complaint brought several years ago by a former employee. At that time, the university conducted a thorough investigation and the complaint was not substantiated. Northwestern will now review the allegations received today."

February 8, 2018

Northeastern University has criticized a comment by one of its professors and removed a video showing the comment, The Boston Globe reported. Video of the comment, in a January lecture, was posted online Monday, leading to the discussion of it. Barry Bluestone, a professor of political economy, said, of the president, "Sometimes I want to just see him impeached other times, quite honestly -- I hope there are no FBI agents here -- I wouldn’t mind seeing him dead."

Northeastern sent a statement to the Globe that said, “The university and its leaders steadfastly oppose violence in all its forms … While faculty members are free to express controversial opinions, the university cannot provide a public platform for comments that could be construed to condone violence. As a result, we have decided to take down the video of this event.”

In an interview with the newspaper Wednesday night, Bluestone said that he does not condone violence and does not want anyone to assassinate the president. He said his remark was "offhand" and didn't reflect his intent. “What I should have said is, ‘I would love to see him disappear, I’d like him out of the White House,’” Bluestone said.

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