Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Michael Spring, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, discusses the importance of standardization. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:30am

Baylor University is facing questions and criticism about its handling of sexual assault accusations against a football player, following the publication of an article in Texas Monthly alleging that the university may have known that the player had previously been suspended from another team over violent behavior toward women. On Friday, the university announced an investigation of the situation.

Furthering the criticism, the player, Samuel Ukwuachu, was found guilty of the Baylor sexual assault Thursday, but the university -- with its lower burden of proof -- had never taken action against the player and was expected to add the rusher to its football team's rotation this season.

In May 2013, Ukwuachu was dismissed from the football team of Boise State University for "violating team rules" after a drunken dispute with his then girlfriend ended with the player putting his fist through a window. Marc Paul, the assistant athletic director at Boise State, was so concerned about Ukwuachu's behavior, Texas Monthly reports, that he urged the player's girlfriend and another housemate to stay away from him. Paul also made plans to get police protection for the housemate after the housemate received threatening text messages.

Just weeks after he was dismissed, Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor to play football there, though Boise State declined to support any waivers that would help the player get back on the field. That October, Waco, Texas, police received a call saying that Ukwuachu had sexually assaulted a female Baylor student.

In June 2014, Ukwuachu -- who still had not played a game at Baylor but was on the roster -- was indicted by a grand jury on two counts of sexually assaulting the female student. Last month, Phil Bennett, Baylor's defensive coordinator, said that the football player was still "expected" to play with the team this season. On Thursday, Ukwuachu was found guilty.

Now Baylor and Boise State coaches are involved in a very public blame game over why Ukwuachu was able to transfer. On Friday, Art Briles, head coach at Baylor, denied he was aware of Ukwuachu's history, saying there was "no mention" of any violent incidents in conversations he had with Boise State officials. Chris Peterson, the head coach at Boise State at the time, responded, saying in a statement that he "thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding [Ukwuachu's] disciplinary record and dismissal."

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:00am

Hocking College, a two-year institution in Ohio, has fired 13 faculty members, saying that they lack credentials required for their positions, The Athens Messenger reported. Some of the faculty members have taught at the college for more than 20 years. The college acted after its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, said the college was in violation of its standards by employing these instructors. Two of the 13 lacked any college degree, while others lacked a required advanced degree or a degree in a specific area.

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:00am

Portland State University last week invited VIPs to what was expected to be an announcement of a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor. While the story was initially one of heartbreak over a gift that would have been huge for the university, questions are now being raised on whether the university properly vetted the would-be donor, The Oregonian reported. "John Michael Fitzpatrick, 51, turns out to be a tech promoter with hardly any obvious assets and a history of insolvency. A quick Internet check reveals two bankruptcies, in 2011 and 2012, a failed U.S. Senate primary bid and a bizarre controversy over an anti-child-pornography documentary he produced that contained explicit images," the newspaper reported. Fitzpatrick says he does have the money to donate, but some at the university are asking why the institution didn't investigate more before assuming it would receive such a large gift.

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:00am

Facing a planned graduate student worker walkout over its decision to drop health insurance subsidies for teaching and research assistants, the University of Missouri at Columbia on Friday announced it will reinstate the subsidies indefinitely. Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and other senior administrators said in a statement that the university consulted external experts and peer institutions in trying to “navigate a complex health insurance regulatory environment,” and ultimately decided to “defer implementation” of its plan. “As a result, the university will pay for health insurance for eligible graduate students,” they said.

The university told graduate student workers earlier this month, with one day's notice, that it had to stop providing health care subsidies to the workers because their Aetna health care plan was a market plan, not an employer-sponsored plan as other, unaffected university employees at Missouri and graduate student workers on many other campuses have. A recent Internal Revenue Service interpretation of the Affordable Care Act prohibits large employers from giving workers subsidies specifically to buy health insurance on the individual market, the university said. It planned to give student workers stipends to close the coverage gap in the fall, but graduate student workers would have had to seek coverage on their own after that.

The university faced intense criticism for its approach and the late notice it afforded students. Graduate student workers planned a walkout over this issue, among others they outlined in a letter delivered to the university last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The university said Friday that “continuing the previous practice will allow time for a clearer understanding of federal guidelines and consideration of options and incorporation of input” from a new task force that includes students.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri and a graduate of the university, reportedly intervened on behalf of the graduate students, asking the chancellor to change course. She is also asking policy makers in Washington to find ways for graduate student workers to be covered that are in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. In a letter to the Treasury Department sent before Missouri announced its reversal, McCaskill said there are graduate students who aren’t eligible for Medicaid under Missouri law but who don't make enough money to qualify for federal subsidies under the health care act. “These students are now in danger of losing access to affordable, quality health care without a viable alternative,” she wrote. “Therefore, I request that you act expeditiously and come up with a solution to allow universities to comply with IRS regulations and the Affordable Care Act, while ensuring that health care is accessible for all students.”

Louisiana State University reportedly sent similar notices to their graduate students in late July. But several other universities that provide health insurance subsidies to graduate students haven't moved to revoke them.

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:00am

Old Dominion University officials and many others have condemned banners that were placed on a private house as students arrived at the university. The banners said, among other things, "Rowdy and fun. Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time." After photos of the banners (at right) were posted to social media, many students and others criticized them as sexist and inappropriate. The banners have since been removed.

Ellen Neufeldt, vice president of student engagement and enrollment services, posted this message to the university's Facebook page: "Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated. The moment university staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed."

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 4:12am

An increase of $1 million in federal energy research and development spending results in an additional one to two scholarly publications, according to a study released today by the National Bureau of Economic Research. However, the study found that there may be lags as long as 10 years between funding and publication. (An abstract of the study is available here.)

Monday, August 24, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Kathy Wright, an instructor at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, discusses the benefits of cleaning up. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, August 21, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of Texas Board of Regents adopted a policy Thursday under which a campus president may in a limited number of cases offer admission to a “qualified” applicant who would otherwise be rejected, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The board acted in part due to a controversy over interventions by Bill Powers, formerly the president at UT-Austin, that many said exceed the sort of limited intervention others would accept. The board policy states that such instances must be “very rare” and in circumstances of “highest institutional importance.”

Friday, August 21, 2015 - 4:22am

An article in The Oregonian examines how Portland State University expected to announce a $100 million gift Tuesday and then was left hanging when the gift did not materialize. The university invited key politicians and informed the press (with an embargo for the press conference), even describing some details about the anonymous would-be donor. No information is available about why the gift didn't happen.

A statement from the university said: "Some individuals offer gifts to universities, institutions and charities, but they don't deliver a gift for personal or financial reasons that they wish to keep private. Ultimately, it's up to a donor to make a gift or not."

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