Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

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 18, 2013

George Mason University and a student group, GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid, have come to an agreement on a protest walkout planned by the group during the winter commencement at the university, to be held Thursday. The walkout is to protest a speaker and honorary degree recipient, the Israeli business executive and philanthropist Shari Arison. Students say that her ties to prominent Israeli businesses make her a supporter of "the illegal occupation and colonization of Palestine," and they have criticized the university for inviting her to speak. Arison recently endowed a chair at the university. Under the agreement with the student group, those who want to leave will be informed before Arison speaks, and will be given a space outside the arena to sit while she is talking. They will then return. A spokeswoman for George Mason said she knew of only one graduating student who is in the organization, but she said that others may be there in the audience.

Ángel Cabrera, the university's president, blogged about the controversy Tuesday. He said he would be "proud" to introduce her, and that her businesses philosophy and philanthropy promote "positive change" in the world. Added Cabrera: "Shari is an Israeli, and I am aware that her presence at graduation has upset some students and faculty who have had a very painful relationship to Israel in terms of the conflict and their people’s history.  With full respect for all concerned, our graduation ceremony will help to reaffirm our commitment to the mission of our university, and my own highest goals, namely that the world is made better by deep, courageous, and compassionate engagement with all peoples, with their civilizations, with their respective religions, with their hopes and dreams, and with their sorrows and suffering, even when doing so can put us in between peoples in conflict. This is the Mason way – to enable and empower students from all civilizations, and to pioneer new initiatives and projects that will make this precious planet a far better place for all than the one we inherited."

 

December 18, 2013

An article in The New York Times explores the impact of conference realignment on the travel logistics of college athletes. Many teams are traveling much longer distances, resulting in greater time and expense to reach opponents, as conferences no longer are confined to particular regions.

December 18, 2013

Duke University will add a softball team and increase to the maximum number of allowed athletic scholarships in women’s fencing, swimming, diving and track and field, the institution announced Monday. Reached for comment, a university spokesman attributed the decision to a number of factors, including “the opportunities that can be made available for student-athletes, facilities and services that will be necessary to create a positive experience for them, the competitive landscape (both in the [Atlantic Coast Conference] and nationally), financial implications, and Title IX.”

The Women’s Sports Foundation noted on its website that the organization began urging Duke to make changes a year ago in order to comply with Title IX. Hailing the decision as an "advocacy win," the foundation said it "will likely bring Duke into compliance with Title IX."

 

December 18, 2013

The U.S. attorney’s office has charged a 20-year-old Harvard University student who emailed a bomb threat to campus officials and the student newspaper, CBS Boston reported. The incident led administrators to shut down campus and cancel classes (and scheduled exams) Monday, before local and state police and authorities from the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced that the four supposedly targeted buildings were clear. Eldo Kim of Cambridge, charged under the bomb hoax statute, will appear in court Wednesday and faces a maximum of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

December 18, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Lisa Peschel of the University of York discusses the discovery of theatrical works that were only performed in World War II Jewish ghettos. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

December 18, 2013

Efforts to trim $3.3 million from the budget at Colorado State University-Pueblo could force 50 faculty and staff layoffs, The Pueblo Chieftain newspaper reports. “What the (CSU System) really wants is for the institution to downsize because, over the years, we haven’t grown the way we needed,” the paper quoted the university's president, Lesley Di Mare, as saying. She blamed declining state revenue and enrollment.

December 18, 2013

The Apollo Education Group's global division is buying 70 percent of Open Colleges Australia for $99 million, with additional payments of up to $48 million, the for-profit chain announced Tuesday in a news release. Founded in 1910, Open Colleges offers more than 130 online courses. Company officials hope the Australian institution "provides a platform for Apollo Global to operate and expand in other areas of the region.”

December 18, 2013

The elected council for the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association has unanimously opted to support the academic boycott of Israel, making it the third U.S.-based scholarly association, after the Association for Asian American Studies and the American Studies Association, to do so.

On NAISA’s website, the president of the association, Chadwick Allen, a professor of English and coordinator of American Indian studies at Ohio State University, wrote that the council opted to write its own declaration of support rather than commit itself to an outside organization’s specific language. In a “Declaration of Support for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions," the council urges the association’s members “to boycott Israeli academic institutions because they are imbricated with the Israeli state and we wish to place pressure on that state to change its policies. We champion and defend intellectual and academic freedom, and we recognize that conversation and collaboration with individuals and organizations in Israel/Palestine can make an important contribution to the cause of justice. In recognition of the profound social and political obstacles facing Palestinians in such dialogues, however, we urge our members and supporters to engage in such actions outside the aegis of Israeli educational institutions, honoring this boycott until such time as the rights of the Palestinian people are respected and discriminatory policies are ended.”

Academic boycotts have been deeply controversial: opponents argue that boycotts in general represent a violation of academic freedom, while they say that boycotts against Israel in particular are discriminatory in singling out one nation for criticism. In a message on NAISA's website, Allen wrote that the declaration and the boycott can be discussed at the association’s annual conference in May if members believe it to be appropriate.  The council’s declaration was originally prompted by a member-generated petition.

December 17, 2013

Alexander Gonzalez, president of California State University at Sacramento, has asked for a review of policies on the public display of art, following a controversial student artwork on the theme of lynching. In the piece, two white students were suspended from a tree in a way that made it appear they had been lynched. The idea was to present lynching without black victims. In a note to the campus, Gonzalez said that he does not think that the students' intent was to incite people, but that they had upset many. "I think that as members of a very diverse university community, it is our responsibility to always be mindful and respectful of cultural sensitivity in our pursuits and activities," he said.

 

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