Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 19, 2013

A Delaware State University who was suspended after being accused of rape and subsequently cleared of criminal charges is suing the institution, several administrators and his accuser under civil rights laws, the Delaware Online reported. 21-year-old Andre L. Henry is at least the seventh person to take an institution to court after being disciplined for sexual assault. Inside Higher Ed reported in August an apparently new trend of men suing under Title IX, the same federal statute that women point to when alleging campuses failed to protect them from sexual assault. This week, Bloomberg reported that the number of lawsuits had grown to a half-dozen.

December 19, 2013

Brandeis University and Penn State University at Harrisburg are ending their institutional memberships in the American Studies Association. Their moves follow the organization's vote to back the boycott of Israeli universities. The American Studies Program at Brandeis posted this statement on its website: "It is a with deep regret that we in the American Studies Program at Brandeis University have decided to discontinue our institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association.  We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster. We remain committed to the discipline of American studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture -- freedom of association and expression."

Simon J. Bronner, chair of American studies at Penn State Harrisburg, said via email: "The withdrawal of institutional membership by our program and others allows us to be independent of the political and ideological resolutions issued by the ASA and concentrate on building American studies scholarship with our faculty, students, and staff. There might be alternative organizations forming in the future that better represent the field of American Studies. When and if that occurs, we will re-examine our independent position. In the meantime we view this move as one intended to protect students and faculty from opprobrium as a result of the ASA's claim to represent scholars of American studies."

John F. Stephens, executive director of the American Studies Association, said via email that he had not heard of other departments leaving, but that one has joined since the boycott vote. Most of the members of the association are individuals, not institutions. He said that since the boycott vote, the association has attracted 43 new members, and that he has received letters of resignation from eight members.

 

December 19, 2013

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Wednesday approved President Obama's nomination of France A. Cordova as director of the National Science Foundation. Cordova, former president of Purdue University, awaits confirmation by the full Senate.

December 19, 2013

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a compromise budget bill that sets federal funding levels for the rest of this fiscal year and next year.

Lawmakers passed the deal on a 64-36 vote and sent it to President Obama, who supports the measure and is expected to sign it into law.

Higher education advocates supported the legislation because it is expected to alleviate automatic, across-the-board cuts to research funding and campus-based student aid programs. The bill increases the overall pool of money available to those parts of the budget, but Congressional appropriators will now have less than a month to hammer out funding for individual programs and agencies.

Part of the legislation passed Wednesday immediately eliminates part of a 2010 student aid law that allowed certain not-for-profit entities eligible for no-bid contracts from the Education Department to service federal student loans. The program entitled those servicers to a minimum of 100,000 borrower accounts, for which the department pays more compared with its accounts with its other, larger loan servicers.

Critics of the program, which included Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who helped craft the budget deal, say it is wasteful of taxpayer funds to provide those loan servicers with “special treatment.”

Although Congress has now ended the program, the Education Department announced Wednesday that its existing contracts with the several dozen not-for-profit servicers would remain in effect, meaning there would be no immediate changes for the approximately 3.5 million borrowers whose loans are managed by those entities.

The department also said it would continue plans to allocate another batch of student loans to the not-for-profit servicers next year, so long as Congress allocates the agency enough money to do so. Those allocations will be based on whether the servicers receive yet-to-be-determined minimum scores on their quarterly performance evaluations.  

The Education Finance Council, the trade association representing not-for-profit servicers, said it was pleased with the department’s announcement.

“We’re glad the contracts won’t be canceled and will be working with appropriators to ensure sufficient discretionary funds are appropriated,” said Samantha DeZur, the group’s spokeswoman. 

A separate provision in the legislation passed Wednesday would cuts the amount of money that guaranty agencies receive for rehabilitating loans in the now-defunct Federal Family Education Loan program. 

December 19, 2013

Ireland’s universities stand to lose €3.6 million -- the equivalent of about $4.9 million -- in government funding as punishment for giving unauthorized bonuses to presidents and senior staff, the Independent reported.The bonuses were intended to reward senior staff for taking on extra responsibilities, but they were disbursed without the requisite ministerial approval.

December 19, 2013

Officials of the University of Colorado at Boulder continue to offer new reasons for why they told Patricia Adler, a tenured sociology professor, that she could no longer teach a popular course on deviance that attracts hundreds of students every semester (although they now say she could teach again if the course undergoes a review). The objections concern a lecture on prostitution in which Adler seeks volunteers from her assistant teaching assistants to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes and to discuss (in character) their lives. First, Colorado said that the university was concerned that the activity required approval by an Institutional Review Board. After many professors (and Colorado's IRB) noted that institutional review boards don't review classroom activities, Colorado acknowledged that there was no IRB issue, and said that some students complained that they felt pressure to participate in the exercise (which Adler and many past participants denied).

Then on Wednesday at a press conference, officials said that their primary concern was that some students in the class had their photographs taken (or videos made) of the class without their consent, The Daily Camera reported. Adler told the newspaper that students know that the class -- like many classes -- is videotaped, and that no complaints have been raised. She said come participants ask for copies of the videotape. The press conference followed a closed, emergency faculty meeting called to discuss the Adler case. The Daily Camera obtained a recording of the meeting, and said that "many faculty members angrily expressed their concerns and frustrations with the situation surrounding Adler."

 

December 19, 2013

Maranatha Baptist University has started the process of changing its mascot and team name away from "Crusaders," The Wisconsin State Journal reported.  Matt Davis, the university's executive vice president, said that there have not been controversies over the name, but that the university wants to avoid one. "In light of our global outreach and a more-advanced understanding of how things could be perceived, we want to avoid that," he said.

December 19, 2013

The Canadian Association of University Teachers this week called for colleges and universities in Canada to sever ties to Confucius Institutes, which have been set up at many Canadian (and American) campuses with support from the Chinese government. Supporters say that the institutes are a valuable way to expose more students outside China to Chinese history and culture. But critics say that the institutes present an oversimplified and positive image of China and that universities that want the house institutes may feel pressure to avoid certain topics. A statement from James Turk, executive director of the Canadian faculty group, said: “Confucius Institutes are essentially political arms of the Chinese government. They restrict the free discussion of topics Chinese authorities deem controversial and should have no place on our campuses."

 

Confucius
December 19, 2013

Trinity Western University has won final approval from authorities in British Columbia to start a law school -- the first faith-based law school in Canada. Gay rights and civil liberties groups had urged the provincial government not to grant permission, citing the Christian university's rules that ban students from "sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman." Critics said that this ban effectively barred gay people from enrolling. The university said that it was not discriminating against gay people, only against those who have sex outside of heterosexual marriage. A statement on Wednesday from the university's president, Bob Kuhn, reiterated that point. "It needs to be said that all students (gay or straight) are welcome to attend Trinity Western University, providing they meet our academic requirements and agree to respect our community values. Like most religious communities, we have established a set of values and principles to guide our daily lives; ours are in a manner consistent with Christian teaching. Chief among those values is to show love and respect for all people at all times," he said.

 

December 19, 2013

Boundless, a startup that creates digital "textbook replacements," has settled with publishers Cengage, Macmillan and Pearson after the companies sued for violating their copyright, the company announced on Wednesday. The parties reached a confidential settlement that means Boundless can "continue doing what we set out to do on a high level throughout the world of education," CEO Ariel Diaz said.

The publishers brought the lawsuit against Boundless in March 2012, alleging the company had copied the ideas and presentation of Pearson's Biology, Cengage’s Principles of Economics and Macmillan Higher Ed’s Psychology. Boundless's alternatives were eventually rewritten. The case has been in remediation since May 2013, "but it’s nice to get it over the line," Diaz said.

In a joint statement, the publishers said "We are very pleased to reach a resolution regarding our case with Boundless. We will continue to safeguard the rights of our authors and take action against the misappropriation of our content by any and all parties."

 

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