Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 30, 2014

The University of Notre Dame will spend $400 million to upgrade its football stadium with the addition of three new buildings to house student services and academic departments, officials announced Wednesday. They're calling it the Campus Crossroads Project, and the largest building project in Notre Dame’s history could take up to five years to complete. Integrating academics, student life and athletics, the new buildings will be home to the anthropology, psychology and music departments; student organizations and a recreation and career center; and 3,000 to 4,000 “premium seats” for game days. “Since its founding, one of Notre Dame’s greatest assets has been the boldness of its vision – the ability to see possibilities and connections where others saw only obstacles and fragmentation,” Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins said. “This project continues that boldness.”

January 30, 2014

A redshirt freshman kicker at Willamette University this week became the first active college football player to come out publicly as non-straight, revealing to Outsports.com that he’s bisexual and has a boyfriend. Conner Mertens first told his team and coaches at Willamette, a Division III program in a politically conservative area of Oregon, before going to the media. Mertens also tweeted out a letter explaining his decision and encouraging his peers.

“I refuse to apologize for being who I am. I am the same person that I was yesterday,” he wrote. “Don’t let society dictate who you can and cannot be simply because it doesn’t fit their perception of who you are supposed to be.”

January 30, 2014

Denison University has settled a lawsuit with a former student who sued after being expelled over a sexual assault allegation, The Denisonian reported. A female student accused freshman Zackary Hunt of assaulting her on the way home from a party where alcohol was served, and Hunt was expelled following a November student disciplinary hearing. Hunt filed suit the following month, alleging libel, defamation, negligence and infliction of emotional distress, among other things, and said he was illegally prohibited from using an attorney and presenting evidence or testimony.

Laurel Kennedy, Denison's vice president for student development, said via email that she "cannot confirm that a settlement has been reached, but we can confirm that the case has been dismissed in the courts." Asked to clarify, she emailed, "The matter was resolved by mutual agreement and together we sought dismissal by the court." Hunt's attorney, Eric Rosenberg, said via phone that there was a settlement but the case is officially recorded as dismissed because of semantics.

Kennedy's statement also said, "The assertions presented in the student paper are based almost entirely on statements from an attorney who filed a suit against our university. Our faculty and staff work diligently as coaches and educators to help our well-intentioned students produce factual reports. Sexual misconduct is a tremendously serious and complicated subject, and the clash of student conduct processes, state law and federal policy makes it even more challenging. We stand by our conduct process and by the rights of our student journalists to report a nuanced subject to the best of their ability."

Hunt’s case was one of a growing number of lawsuits filed by men who are punished following campus judicial proceedings, in some cases under Title IX, the same federal statute that women point to when alleging campuses handle their sexual assault allegations improperly. Rosenberg told the student newspaper, “I’d like to convey to students the risk of being involved with women who have been drinking…. because later she may say she was sexually assaulted.”

January 30, 2014

The U.S. Senate's education committee on Wednesday advanced several of President Obama’s nominees to key roles at federal agencies that work closely with colleges and universities.

The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved and sent to the full Senate the Education Department nominations of Ericka M. Miller as assistant secretary for postsecondary education; Ted Mitchell to under secretary of education; James H. Shelton to deputy secretary of education; and James Cole Jr. to general counsel of the department.

If confirmed by the full Senate, the nominations will largely complete out the team that will carry out the administration’s higher education agenda over the next several years. The nominees will fill a number of roles that have been left vacant since an exodus of staffers after the administration’s first term.

The committee also approved Wednesday the president’s nominee to lead the National Science Foundation, France A. Cordova. (The nominations of both Cordova and Cole had previously been approved by the committee before Congress recessed in December, but they had to be re-nominated due to the Senate’s procedural rules.)

 

January 29, 2014

Allegations from a former Rutgers University football player that a coach bullied him and the university mishandled the response were unfounded, according to an independent 10-page report released Tuesday and reported by the New Jersey Star-Ledger. The report found that during a study hall session, then-defensive coordinator Dave Cohen neither physically threatened nor verbally abused the freshman cornerback Jevon Tyree, and Tyree was not retaliated against after raising these concerns, as was alleged. However, the report did say Cohen was “inappropriate and unprofessional” with Tyree in the study hall incident. Athletics Director Julie Hermann, whom Tyree’s parents accused of ignoring their son’s complaints, also acted appropriately, the report says.

The review came just a couple of months after a Rutgers committee determined the university's lack of oversight and leadership in athletics helped enable the former basketball coach Mike Rice to physically and verbally abuse players for years.

January 29, 2014

It was the main subject of this month's White House summit, and members of the House of Representatives subcommittee focused their attention on the best ways to help low-income college students and first-generation college students not only get into college, but graduate, at a hearing Tuesday. The hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, was to discuss approaches to the issue and needed improvements in the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Witnesses (who included senior administrators at the College of Westchester and Fayetteville State and DePaul Universities), and lawmakers touched on several different themes, many that have been voiced before. Among them:

  • The Pay It Forward Affordability Act, which Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, plans to introducing later this week. The legislation would let students attend public colleges for free, but once they land their first job after graduation, a percentage of their income will be deducted to pay for the tuition. Oregon's approach to this has been controversial.
  • Simplifying eligibility for the TRIO program, as well as changing it so that it follows the Pell Grant’s eligibility requirements.
  • Finding better ways to measure success. The support program directors at each institution need to use measurable data and more comprehensive metrics to determine the program’s success
January 29, 2014

Yeshiva University, after making student organizers and a nationally recognized photographer meet many conditions for the institution to host an exhibit, has backed out of the exhibit, Haaretz reported. The exhibit, called "What I Be," involves photography of people in which words representing their vulnerabilities are written on their faces or other body parts. Yeshiva released a statement to the newspaper that said the following: “As a university based on Torah ideals, Yeshiva University supports and encourages the artistic exploration of diverse ideas by its students and offers robust programming in dramatics and the arts − all while keeping in line with our values. After close review and much discussion of this event with the student organizers, and taking the sensitivities of all of our students into consideration, we determined that a YU venue would not be able to showcase the project in its entirety.”

January 29, 2014

The New York Senate has passed legislation that would bar public or private colleges in state from using state funds to fund groups that support academic boycotts, The Albany Times-Union reported. The bill is designed to take a stand against the American Studies Association, which has voted to back a boycott of Israeli universities. Many defenders of academic freedom -- including those who have said that the American Studies Association move amounts to an attack on academic freedom -- have criticized the New York bill.

 

January 29, 2014

Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, was among several business leaders and policy experts to testify before the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Tuesday on the effects of the Affordable Care Act's so-called employer mandate. The law requires large employers to provide health insurance to employees working 30 or more hours per week, or face fines. Snyder said that the college already had reduced some adjuncts' hours and had to compensate by hiring others in anticipation of the law taking effect in January. Many other colleges and universities have done the same during the past 18 months, capping adjuncts' maximum course loads to ensure that aren't full-time, benefits-eligible employees under the law.

"Because of the unique role of the adjunct in the community college, the end result may be less access for the students and the inability of faculty to stay with one college,” Snyder said, noting that adjuncts' hours include not only contact time with students but also preparation time outside of class. The president said Ivy Tech supported the idea of expanding access to health care, but that it would cost the college system up to $12 million annually to provide all its employees working 30 hours or more weekly with health insurance.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy group, testified in November to the House Education and the Workforce Committee about how institutions' responses to the law were hurting adjuncts. She was not invited to Tuesday's hearing. 

Via email, she said: "The problem with colleges like Ivy Tech doing it is that they are not putting the mission of education first. The mission of higher education is not to figure out ways to cut costs by cutting faculty-associated costs; the mission of higher ed is to invest in the people who make education happen -- the teachers and the students."

January 29, 2014

Journalist, biographer, and Aspen Institute Chair and CEO Walter Isaacson will deliver the 43rd annual Jefferson Lecture, the National Institute for the Humanities announced Tuesday. The lecture is the federal government's top honor for scholarship in the humanities.

Isaacson has written a number of widely read biographies, including the 2011 international bestseller Steve Jobs. Previous books focused on Henry Kissinger, Albert Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin, among others. Before becoming chair of the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization, he was chairman and CEO of CNN and editor of Time magazine. Isaacson will give his lecture, "The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences," on Monday, May 12th, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

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