Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 31, 2014

Swarthmore College plans to expand trainings and consent workshops, finalize its interim sexual assault and harassment policies, and establish more comprehensive and integrative prevention and education programs in accordance with the final report from an independent firm commissioned to review the college’s response to sexual harassment. Swarthmore President Rebecca Chopp shared an interim version of the report in July, less than a week after the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced it would investigate a federal complaint against Swarthmore. While Chopp’s request for the review preceded OCR’s announcement, her proactive approach will likely work in Swarthmore’s favor because OCR tends to view action taken before and during an investigation as an indicator that a college is committed to complying with the law. Swarthmore has already hired new staff to work on sexual assault issues and expanded educational programming for incoming students. During the spring and summer, it will continue to refine and improve adjudication processes, data collection and nonalcoholic social options, and will publish an annual report summarizing judicial cases.

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 30, 2014

In a match seemingly made in open educational resource heaven, the free textbook producer OpenStax College and OER support provider Lumen Learning on Wednesday announced a partnership that aims to save college students $10 million on textbooks by 2015. Lumen Learning helps institutions transition away from traditional course materials, and will use OpenStax College's textbook offerings to bolster its catalog of open resources. The free textbook producer, based at Rice University, has published six textbooks so far and has another seven in the works.

"Lumen is the latest example of a growing coordination amongst philanthropic grantees to further the mission of access in a dynamic way," Richard Baraniuk, the founder of OpenStax College, said in an email. "Greater coordination will fuel a more rapid transition to a more efficient and open market."

January 30, 2014

About 600,000 books from the library of the University of Missouri at Columbia -- stored at an off-campus facilities -- have been damaged by mold, The Columbia Daily Tribune reported. The university plans to remove the mold from some of the books, but the high cost of that process (about $3 per book) probably means that all of the books can't be saved.


January 30, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Tom Coulthard of the University of Hull reveals the presence of ancient rivers that flowed across the Sahara Desert. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


January 30, 2014

Blackboard will create a virtual bookstore accessed from within the company's learning management system, Blackboard Learn. As seen in two conceptual screenshots shared by a Blackboard spokeswoman, the bookstore will automatically gather the materials assigned in a student's courses for easy checkout. The spokeswoman also said the bookstore, created in cooperation with MBS Direct, will help faculty members find materials -- both traditional textbooks and open resources -- for their courses.

The new feature can be seen as an effort to expand the LMS beyond a course repository, and also as an attempt to keep students inside the Learn ecosystem. By offering students an integrated bookstore that doesn't require a separate login, Blackboard can prevent them from shopping at sites such as Amazon or eBay's Half.com.

January 30, 2014

After a surge of protest from its members, the International Studies Association announced Wednesday afternoon that it would table a proposal to ban its journal editors from blogging

Harvey Starr, the association's president, said in an email to the Governing Council of the ISA that he intends to task the Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities to explore the "idea of balancing academic freedom and potential conflicts of interests" that blogging present. The committee will spend a year gathering input before making any recommendations at the 2015 annual meeting.

"Along the lines of the ISA Code of Conduct, our aim was to protect academic freedom while fostering civil discourse and freedom to express valid professional evaluations of the work of others in the contemporary world of social media -- and to the issues that can arise with people confusing the personal blogs of the editors of ISA journals with the editorial policies for their journals," Starr wrote. "Clearly, however, this is a far more complex issue, and your voices have been heard."

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

Columbia University announced Wednesday that it would start to release more aggregate information about sexual assault complaints and how they are handled, The New York Times reported. The university has been facing criticism from student groups that it has failed to respond appropriately, or to be transparent enough about its policies.



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