Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 11, 2017

Two American college students participating in a study abroad program were killed in a boating accident in Copenhagen’s harbor on Saturday, The Los Angeles Times and Massachusetts Live reported. Leah Bell, of Pomona College, and Linsey Malia, of Stonehill College, were killed after a motorized water scooter hit the boat in which they and five other students were traveling.

Pomona said in a statement that Bell was a psychology major with interests in neuroscience who wanted to be a neonatal nurse. The statement quoted psychology professor Patricia Smiley, who said that Bell had interned in a neonatal unit.

"Leah was a lovely young woman and very kind. She was a pre-health student who was delighted by working with children," Smiley said. "She found that she loved the experience of caring for premature babies, of helping families learn to bond with them and have hope for their future as a family."

Malia, a psychology major and sociology minor, had been one of four Stonehill students who dressed as the college’s mascot, Ace the Skyhawk, at athletic events. “We are a close community at Stonehill, and Linsey contributed to many areas of campus life -- as a peer mentor, a teaching assistant, a member of the Moreau Honors Program and a volunteer with multiple campus partners. Her death represents a deep loss for all of us and, of course, for her family,” said Stonehill’s president, the Reverend John Denning.

May 11, 2017

A free speech bill backed by state Republican lawmakers in Tennessee became law there this week. It is separate legislation from what was previously dubbed the “Milo bill,” after fallen Breitbart star Milo Yiannopoulos, whose February appearance at the University of California at Berkeley sparked violent protests from non-students. The news law says that it “is not the proper role of an institution to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical or wrong-headed.”

Tennessee lawmakers regularly oppose the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s annual Sex Week and earlier this academic year opposed a guide from the university's diversity office encouraging the use of gender-neutral pronouns for students who request them. But Anthony Haynes, vice president for government relations and advocacy for the University of Tennessee System, praised the new law and said it had been drafted by with the input and support of colleges and universitites. “The campus free-speech act that just passed in Tennessee clarifies and protects free speech on college campuses as provided by the First Amendment, but it appears to be the first state law in the country to protect academic freedom in the classroom," he said in a statement. "It was a fresh perspective developed independently as a Tennessee solution to a growing national debate and concern."

Similar bills have proved controversial in other states this year over concerns that they go too far in demanding certain administrative responses to free-speech flaps. Tennessee’s new law requires that institutions adopt policies consistent with the University of Chicago’s statement on free expression, prohibit “free speech zones” that confine protests and other forms of expression to certain areas on campus, and define student-on-student harassment by a legal standard described as so “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it limits one party’s access to education. It also bans institutions from revoking invitations to speakers, prohibits the denial of student fees to student organization based on their views, and protects faculty members from being punished for classroom speech that is germane to the subject matter, according to an analysis by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Robert Shibley, FIRE's director, in a statement called it “the most comprehensive state legislation protecting free speech on college campuses that we’ve seen be passed anywhere in the country.” (Note: This story has been updated to correct an earlier error conflating it with the 'Milo bill,' and to include a statement from the university.)

May 11, 2017

Internet2, the technology-focused membership organization that includes more than 300 colleges and universities, has a new leader. The organization said on Wednesday that it has named Howard Pfeffer, a former senior vice president at Time Warner Cable, its new president and CEO. Pfeffer will replace current CEO H. David Lambert on June 12.

May 11, 2017

A report released by the National Collegiate Athletic Association Wednesday said that athletes in Division I improved academically for the 12th consecutive year, according to the association's academic progress rate. While NCAA officials said that this represented meaningful progress, critics have questioned with the rate truly captures academic performance.

May 11, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute: Terry-Ann Craigie, assistant professor of economics at Connecticut College, explores whether taking the criminal conviction question off job applications can help ex-offenders get back on their feet sooner. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 10, 2017

An Illinois appeals court ruled Tuesday the College of DuPage Foundation is subject to state open-records laws, The Chicago Tribune reported. While the college is a public community college, foundation officials have said that the foundation should be considered a private organization not subject to open-records laws. The Tribune, which has published a series of articles about spending by the foundation and the college, sued to get access to a federal subpoena issued to the foundation. The ruling is the first by an Illinois appeals court upholding a records request made of a college's foundation.

The ruling noted that the foundation runs the college's fund-raising operations and that its employees are paid by the college and receive state health benefits. "The foundation is plainly performing a governmental function on behalf of the college," the appeals court decision said.

May 10, 2017

Peet's Coffee on Tuesday announced a tuition-reimbursement program in partnership with Oregon State University, becoming the latest coffee chain to roll out a program aimed at helping its employees earn a college degree. The initiative, known as the Peetnik Pathway to College Program, will launch this fall semester and is open to benefits-eligible full- and part-time Peet's Coffee employees. The company said it will reimburse up to $5,250 annually in tuition and fees for employees who enroll in any of the more than 20 online bachelor's degree programs offered by Oregon State. The program resembles a similar initiative launched by Starbucks in 2014 in partnership with Arizona State University.

May 10, 2017

Students sometimes end up in trouble for comments made on social media about their professors, but a case at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., is putting a spin on that formula. Cody Scheers, a student at the university, is suing Carolina Anderson, associate professor of aeronautical science, for libel after Anderson in a Facebook message referred to Scheers as "troubled," the News Chief reported. Anderson reportedly made the comment because of a disagreement over how to run a "cash-strapped" off-campus aviation club. Scheers, who serves as treasurer, had suggested selling a club-owned airplane. Scheers is seeking more than $15,000 in damages.

May 10, 2017

About one-tenth of the employees at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia have opted to take part in a voluntary early-retirement program as the Roman Catholic institution attempts to change its cost structure.

About 40 faculty and staff members opted to take part in the program, which takes effect at the end of the current academic year. Wheeling Jesuit has almost 400 employees. A quarter of them were eligible for the early retirement offer.

“Like many other small, private institutions, we must continually examine our ability to attract students and talent while maintaining a strong and sustainable operating model,” Kelly Klubert, Wheeling Jesuit’s executive director of alumni and communications, said in an email. “We are reviewing every opportunity to strengthen Wheeling Jesuit University’s future in the Jesuit tradition.”

Wheeling Jesuit has about 1,300 students, 945 of them undergraduates. The university is also making changes to its core curriculum and hiring for some new positions like director of career services and director of admissions. Klubert said it is investing in infrastructure at its 60-acre campus as well.

Officials did not provide a breakdown of the employees taking early retirement between faculty and staff members. Wheeling Jesuit had 77 full-time and 78 part-time instructional faculty members in 2016-17, according to its Common Data Set.

The early-retirement offer is the latest in a series of several significant changes at the university. Last summer Wheeling Jesuit partnered with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in a move billed as expanding the university’s services and helping it financially. The partnership came after Wheeling Jesuit agreed in 2015 to pay $2.3 million to the federal government to settle claims it misspent research grants.

May 10, 2017

The Common Application announced Tuesday that it is planning a new application for transfer students. The announcement said that with larger and larger populations of students moving from college to college, or returning to college after attending years before, prospective students and institutions need more application features focused on transfer. The new application is being developed with Liaison International, which has historically been best known in the graduate and professional admissions space, but which also offers services for undergraduate admissions.

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