Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 3:00am

Three former University of Minnesota at Duluth coaches are suing the Minnesota Board of Regents alleging gender, sexual orientation, national origin and age discrimination by university administrators. All three women are openly gay, including Shannon Miller, the successful women's hockey coach whose contract was not renewed last year amid much controversy after university officials said they could no longer afford to pay her salary. The other two coaches -- Jen Banford and Annette Wiles -- coached softball and women's basketball. Banford's contract was also not renewed, and Wiles said she was "forced to resign" due to a "hostile and discriminatory environment."

At a news conference on Monday, Miller said "sexism and homophobia are alive and well" at the university. In a statement, the university said that it "continues to refute the allegations and claims of discrimination and will aggressively defend ourselves in the lawsuit."

Tuesday, September 29, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Seth Davis, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Idaho, explains his research on viruses in plants. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

Oscar Braynon II, a Florida state senator who is expected to become leader of the Senate Democrats next year, recently urged Florida’s Board of Physical Therapy to continue to allow colleges to operate unaccredited physical therapy programs, The Miami Herald reported. While some believe such programs lack appropriate oversight and may be of poor quality, Braynon spoke of the importance of preserving them.

While addressing the board, Braynon didn't reveal that he is senior vice president of government and senior relations at a for-profit college, the University of Southernmost Florida. And that college announced, shortly after Braynon's appearance before the physical therapy board, that it is launching a physical therapy assistant program that is just the kind of program Braynon was lobbying to preserve. Braynon told the newspaper that he was unaware of the college's plans to start the program.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

Pope Francis on Sunday made an unscheduled, brief visit to Saint Joseph's University, thrilling those on the Philadelphia campus. Saint Joseph's is a Jesuit institution, and the pope is a Jesuit, making the visit particularly significant for the university. While on campus, Pope Francis visited a newly dedicated statue, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time," which marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document that -- in a reversal of centuries of practice -- called upon Roman Catholics to show respect for Jews, and urged Catholic leaders and theologians to work together with Jewish leaders. The photo at right shows President Mark Reed welcoming Pope Francis to campus.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

The Faculty Council at Rutgers University at New Brunswick on Friday adopted a resolution finding that the university's punishment of its head football coach for a recent incident of interference with academics was inadequate, NJ.com reported. The university this month suspended the coach, Kyle Flood, for three games and fined him $50,000 after a university investigation found that he violated Rutgers rules by contacting a faculty member about the academic eligibility of one of his players in an attempt to improve the player's grade.

The resolution says, in part: "We believe the penalties imposed on Coach Flood are incommensurate with the gravity of his violations of university policies and ethical standards …. We believe that the unacceptable behavior described in this report may be symptomatic of a serious decline in ethical and academic standards in the Rutgers football program."

Greg Trevor, a university spokesman, said, "Academic integrity is the cornerstone of a successful university. That is why the university thoroughly investigated Coach Flood and the president imposed a penalty against Coach Flood that is severe and justified.''

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

A new report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research -- a conservative think tank -- argues that community colleges aren't ready for the consequences of providing "free" tuition until they provide intensive counseling and "emulate" the for-profit college sector with relevant course work and internships. The consequences of free community college, the report said, would be a larger number of students looking to enroll in two-year colleges with low performance rates. As a way to encourage community colleges to make these changes, the report encourages federal funding to be awarded conditionally. Under the proposal, qualifying colleges would need to have proven records of "above-average" graduation rates and "below-average" student loan default rates.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

College Abacus is a free online tool for students and families to compare college pricing -- using net-price estimates taken from colleges and federal databases. The tool, which is owned by ECMC Group, a nonprofit loan guarantor, was one of several outside entities the U.S. Department of Education collaborated with on new data from the White House's College Scorecard, released earlier this month. College Abacus got early access to information from the large data sets that undergird the Scorecard, incorporating it into the online tool.

On Monday the group announced the release of a new tool aimed at low-income students. In addition to net-price comparisons, the new Pell Abacus uses data from the Scorecard to display college-specific information on financial factors such as average loan payments for Pell Grant recipients, the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants and the average monthly income percentage spent on federal loan repayments after college.

“By making this process simple to navigate without tax forms and accessible on mobile phones, we’re removing some of the key barriers preventing low-income students from exploring their full range of college options,” Abigail Seldin, co-founder of College Abacus and vice president of innovation and product management at ECMC Group, said in a written statement.

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

Ivory Toldson is the new executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Friday. Toldson has been deputy director of the initiative since 2013. He follows George Cooper, the previous executive director, who died in July.

A former professor of psychology at Howard and Southern Universities, Toldson also has worked for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, congratulated Toldson in a written statement. "Despite difficult circumstances," Duncan said, "he and the initiative’s team have continued to remain focused on their work and the students they serve."

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:30am

Arizona State University has apologized and offered to cover the medical expenses of local councilman after the university's mascot, Sparky, injured the man by jumping on his back. The councilman, David Schapira, was still recovering from back surgery during last week's football game when Sparky playfully jumped on Schapira's back, resulting in a torn muscle. "ASU sincerely apologizes for Sparky's excessive exuberance at Friday night's game," the university told the local ABC affiliate.

Schapira recounted the incident on Twitter:

Monday, September 28, 2015 - 3:00am

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was in Wisconsin Saturday to boost the election chances of fellow Democrat Russ Feingold, a former U.S. senator seeking to return to that position. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said that she focused on student debt issues, noting that Republicans (including Feingold's opponent, Senator Ron Johnson) have blocked her legislation that would result in lower interest rate options for many borrowers. Feingold also focused on student debt, saying that it was an issue about which he was hearing regularly on the campaign trail. Feingold said one student recently told him that students discuss their debt situations on first dates. "We need a better ice breaker for kids," quipped Feingold.


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