Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 7, 2014

Simmons College, in Massachusetts, has become the third women's college to announce that it will admit transgender applicants, The Boston Globe reported. Many women's colleges, formally or informally, have not taken action against students who enroll as women and who later determine that they identify as male. Simmons is now formally stating that such student are welcome. In addition, Simmons will now admit those who are born biologically male but who identify as women.

Mills and Mount Holyoke Colleges this year announced shifts in their admissions policies to welcome transgender applicants.



November 7, 2014

Utah State University fired Marvin Roberts, the university’s assistant vice president of student engagement and diversity, over allegations that he assaulted a student, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. According to a copy of the letter of dismissal, the student -- about 40 years younger than Roberts -- reported feeling pressured into sexual acts with Roberts, and that she stopped him eventually by saying she is a lesbian. He said that the interaction was consensual, and that he stopped short of intercourse when she indicated her sexual orientation. A lawyer for Roberts did not respond to an inquiry from the Tribune. The dismissal letter said that he had not attempted to refute the allegations.


November 7, 2014

Six Indiana University men's basketball players have been cited for alcohol violations or have failed drug tests this year, including a student who was hospitalized Saturday after being struck by a vehicle driven by a teammate. That player had also been drinking, and neither student is of legal drinking age. Two other players were cited for underage consumption in April after trying to use false identification to enter a bar during the traditionally raucous weekend of IU's Little 500 bicycle race. One of those same players was suspended from the team this week after failing a drug test, as was a second player. In February, another player was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

The news inspired several editorials this week, both locally and nationally, calling for IU coach Tom Crean to get his team under control or to be fired. "This isn't a problem," wrote the Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel. "This is an epidemic. And it falls on Crean for two reasons. One, he recruited these guys. Every one of them. He and his staff identified them in high school, targeted them, got to know them, signed them, brought them here. Screwed that up, clearly.

"Two, he's now their coach. Not their father, but something close to a father figure. As close as it gets on a college campus, honestly. He's their leader, mentor, role model. Or he should be. And if he's not? He's doing something wrong."

November 7, 2014

EdCast, the online education platform provider launched this fall, on Friday debuted a healthcare-focused platform that will initially tackle the question of how to stop the spread of Ebola. The platform, Health.EdCast.Org, provides the foundation for international organizations and universities to work together on that and other issues, EdCast said in a statement. Of the content to be featured on the platform, Marcel Salathé, associate professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, will teach a course on Ebola.

November 7, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Steve Gimbel, a professor of philosophy at Gettysburg College, discusses the nature of offensive jokes and why we seem to have an type of ethical understanding embedded in humor. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


November 6, 2014

President Obama, after his party's losses in Tuesday's Congressional elections, said Wednesday that he would seek to find agreement with Republicans on some higher education issues.

Obama said several times during a news conference at the White House that college affordability and student loans are issues on which he was ready to work with Republicans to find common ground during the last two years of his administration.

"We’ve got some common ideas to help more young people afford college and graduate without crippling debt, so that they have the freedom to fill the good jobs of tomorrow and buy their first homes and start a family," he said.

Voters in Tuesday's election, Obama said, sent a resounding message that they want policymakers to "get stuff done" in spite of partisan differences.

"Don't worry about party affiliation," was the message voters signaled to Washington, Obama said. "Do worry about our concerns."

"Do worry about the fact that I'm a young person who's qualified to go to college, but I'm really worried about taking $50,000 a year out in debt and I don't know how I'd pay that back," he continued.

Still, Obama suggested that his willingness to compromise came with some limits, saying broadly that "there's not going to be perfect overlap" between his and Republicans' ideas.

One area over which there will likely be little room for agreement is the role of for-profit colleges in higher education. The Obama administration last week released its final "gainful employment" rule, aimed at clamping down on abuses in the for-profit education industry.

James Kvaal, a top White House domestic policy adviser, on Wednesday brushed off concerns that the future of those regulations was threatened by a Republican-controlled Senate.

Asked about the possibility that a GOP lawmakers would repeal the rule, he said that there was a "very strong case" for the White House to make to Congress over why the rule is important.

"There are a lot of constituents who are affected directly by this rule, and I think there are a lot of constituents who understand the challenge of student loan debt broadly," he said during remarks at the Center for American Progress. "So I feel very good about the case that we can make to Congress that we're doing the right thing."


November 6, 2014

The National Collegiate Athletic Association doubted whether it had the authority to punish Pennsylvania State University over the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, according to internal emails recently made public as part of an ongoing court case.

In one email, the sanctions eventually imposed by the NCAA against Penn State were described as an attempt to "bluff" the college. “I characterized our approach to PSU as a bluff when talking to [NCAA president Mark Emmert] yesterday afternoon after the call," wrote Julie Roe, the NCAA's then-director of enforcement. "He basically agreed b/c I think he understands that if we make this an enforcement issue, we may win the immediate battle but lose the war when the COI (Committee on Infractions) has to rule. I think he is okay with that risk.”

In another email, Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs, said that Penn State would accept the association's punishment because the university was "so embarrassed they will do anything." The NCAA eventually decided to vacate years of Penn State wins, suspend the university from participating in postseason games, and fine the institution $60 million. The historic punishment was criticized by some at the time as an overreach of the association's authority.

The NCAA ended Penn State's postseason ban in September, two years earlier than what the sanction had originally called for.

"Debate and thorough consideration is central in any organization, and that clearly is reflected in the selectively released emails," the NCAA said in a statement Wednesday. "The national office staff routinely provides information and counsel to the membership on tough issues. The NCAA carefully examined its authority and responsibility to act in response to the athletics department’s role detailed in the Freeh report. Ultimately, advised by all information gathered the Executive Committee determined to act and move forward with the Consent Decree."

University officials said that they found it "deeply disturbing that NCAA officials in leadership positions would consider bluffing one of their member institutions, Penn State, to accept sanctions outside of their normal investigative and enforcement process."

November 6, 2014

The University of Denver has released a report examining the role of John Evans (at right, from Wikipedia), its founder, in the 1864 massacre of members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes while Evans was governor of the Colorado territory. The report finds that Evans was culpable for the massacre, and proposes a number of steps the university should take (and that are being considered) to make this history clear and to honor the memories of those who were killed in what has come to be known as the Sand Creek Massacre. The report differs from a similar study produced last year for Northwestern University, the other institution Evans founded. That report, while critical of Evans for his failure to prevent the massacre or to discuss it honestly, stopped short of saying he was responsible for it.


November 6, 2014

Harvard University secretly photographed 2,000 students in 10 lecture halls last spring as part of a study of classroom attendance, The Boston Globe reported. With faculty and students criticizing the action as an invasion of student privacy, the university has pledged to study the issue.


November 6, 2014

Leaders of the University of California System, for the first time in four years, are proposing tuition increases, The Los Angeles Times reported. Officials say that increases of 5 percent a year are needed to provide more funds for a variety of goals, including increasing the number of California residents that the system's campuses admit. The proposal is expected to face skepticism from Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and students.



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