Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 11, 2015

The University of Oklahoma has expelled two students for leading a bus full of Sigma Alpha Epsilon members in singing a racist song that was recorded on video. But First Amendment experts on Tuesday said that such a punishment is unconstitutional. "I have emphasized that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior at the University of Oklahoma," David Boren, Oklahoma's president, said in a statement. In a letter to the expelled students, Boren said that they were expelled because of their "role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others."

Writing for The Washington Post, Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that "there is no First Amendment exception for racist speech, or exclusionary speech, or -- as [in] the cases I mentioned above -- for speech by university students that 'has created a hostile educational environment for others.'" While SAE's national headquarters, as a private organization, is allowed to punish individual members based on its own rules, Oklahoma University, as a public institution, must view the song as protected speech, Volokh wrote.

In a statement Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said that "the expression recorded in the video, standing alone, is insufficient to create a hostile educational environment." FIRE also expressed concern that the students were seemingly expelled without a hearing. In his letter to the expelled students, Boren said administrators made the decision after identifying the students in the video, and that if they disagreed with the punishment they had until Friday to contact the university's Equal Opportunity Office. "This cannot be justified unless the students present an immediate physical danger to themselves or others were they to remain on campus," FIRE stated.

March 11, 2015

Apple will invest $50 million in a multiyear agreement with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the National Center for Women and Information Technology in an effort to address the technology industry's workforce diversity gap. The TMCF will receive $40 million of the pot, which will go toward student and faculty initiatives, including creating a database of talented students at historically black colleges and universities, internship opportunities and development programs. The NCWIT, meanwhile, will spend $10 million over the next four years to support its internship and scholarship programs.

March 11, 2015

For the first time in almost 40 years and just the second time in history, the University of Alabama's Student Government Association has a black president, AL.com reported. With his election, Elliot Spillers, a junior business management major who is enrolled in the university's honors college, becomes the first African-American to lead the student government since 1976. The development comes about 18 months after the university faced significant criticism over the segregation of its sororities.

Spillers's electoral triumph was noteworthy for another reason, too, the Alabama publication reported: he was elected without the support of "The Machine," which the university's student newspaper has described as a secret coalition of Greek organizations that are thought to control student institutions.

March 11, 2015

Borrowers of federal student loans have a "fundamentally different" relationship to their debt than other financial obligations, according to a new report by the New America think tank.

The report, written by Jason Delisle and Alexander Holt, is based on an analysis of several focus groups of student loan borrowers across the country.

It finds, among other things, that well-intentioned features of the federal loan program -- like making it easier for borrowers to delay payments -- sometimes work not as a fail-safe for borrowers who absolutely cannot pay but as a procrastination tool. Borrowers then end up with larger loan balances to pay.

Some borrowers also reported feeling that the "money wasn't real" when their college distributed federal loans to them, especially when the loans came in the form of refund checks. 

"The solution," Delisle and Holt write, "is not to admonish borrowers for laziness or irresponsibility, but to reexamine what makes federal student loans different, and what processes and incentives can be put in place to correct for those differences."


March 11, 2015

The University of California at Irvine's student government, which was scheduled to have a meeting today to discuss the ongoing controversy there over the U.S. flag, did not take place as scheduled due to a threat of violence. While the threat was not specific, Irvine officials are taking it seriously and with backing from the student government called off the meeting.


March 11, 2015

It's time for our monthly Cartoon Caption Contest.

Get creative and suggest a caption for this month's new cartoon.

Vote on your favorite from among the three captions chosen by our panel of judges for last month's cartoon.

And congratulations to Brendan Powers, an actor and former university artistic director, whose caption for January's cartoon -- "Our library takes overdue fees quite seriously." -- was chosen by our readers from among three finalists. He will receive an Amazon gift certificate and a copy of the cartoon signed by Matthew Henry Hall.

March 11, 2015

Police in Myanmar are cracking down on student protests, beating participants with batons, the BBC reported. The students have been protesting a new education law, which they say limits academic freedom. The students say that the law centralizes power over universities when individual universities should have more of a say. Students also want the right to form student unions and to study ethnic minority languages.


March 11, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Karen Bonuck, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, discusses her work on sleep and childhood obesity. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


March 10, 2015

Many academic groups cheered last month when the University of Massachusetts at Amherst reversed an automatic ban on Iranian students studying certain science and engineering subjects. The State Department confirmed at the time that there was no need for an automatic ban and that security concerns could be handled case by case. But Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has written to the State Department to demand such a ban, The Washington Post reported.

"While I fully support a university’s commitment to provide wide access to educational opportunities, I strongly oppose the actions by the State Department to shift responsibility onto independent universities or to reinterpret the law away from its obvious intent," Vitter wrote. "To put it frankly, we’re still at war with terrorist organizations and we still need strong economic sanctions on Iran until they comply with nuclear nonproliferation agreements and stop their support of terrorism.”

March 10, 2015

Purdue University sent a letter to employees Monday saying that major changes in its policy on leave days would not be made in the 2015-16 academic year. Purdue had planned to make a number of changes to "simplify" the categories of days off, but when employees added up the various categories, most said that they would lose days, and many objected to the changes. Purdue first announced that it was reviewing the proposal and has now announced that there will be no such changes in the next academic year. Purdue previously announced two changes that have been applauded: extending employee bereavement time and parental leave.



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