Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 8, 2017

A controversial video led to student protests Tuesday at Saint John's University and the College of Saint Benedict, men's and women's colleges in Minnesota that are adjacent and that operate together. The video shows some Saint John's students on a campus bus shouting, "Build that wall." The video was posted to Facebook.

The Reverend Doug Mullin, vice president for student development at Saint John’s University, sent a campus email saying in part, "Along with many others in our community, I find this behavior regrettably insensitive to those riding the bus who were offended by that behavior. Understandably, some people who were on the bus or who heard about the incident may even feel their safety was being threatened. The incident is currently under investigation …. It is a tradition and value of our Benedictine campuses that we strive to honor the dignity of all persons -- persons of all races, ethnicities, sexual or gender identities, nationalities, abilities, religious affiliations, economic or social standings, as well as all political persuasions -- by treating them with respect, most especially those with whom we may disagree or whom we do not understand. Chanting highly charged political opinions on a bus fails our community in honoring this value."

February 8, 2017

Classrooms at Orange Coast College now feature signs warning students not to record instructors without their permission, The Los Angeles Times reported. The signs follow a controversy last semester when a student secretly recorded an instructor criticizing Donald Trump, then the president-elect. College policy at the time already barred recordings without consent. While Republican students at the college have said that the professor showed bias, her defenders have said that the video did not feature the full context of the remark, which the instructor's defenders said was answering a question from the class.

February 8, 2017

East Tennessee State University is pushing to fire David Champouillon, a tenured music professor, after an investigation found that he sexually harassed two faculty members and made inappropriate comments to students, WJHL News reported. A report obtained by the station detailed numerous remarks the professor is said to have made about female students and faculty members' bodies. Fifty instances are cited. Champouillon denies the charges and claims people are making up the allegations.

February 8, 2017

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Tuesday released a nationwide survey of college and university bias response teams, saying they pose a growing threat to free speech on campus. The report identified 232 public and private institutions with bias response programs in 2016, saying that 42 percent list law enforcement personnel as team members -- what FIRE called “literal speech police.”

“Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer at FIRE, said in a statement. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”

Citing a controversial case at the University of Northern Colorado last year that resulted in the dismantling of a bias response team, Steinbaugh said that institutions “may rightly take action against a wide variety of conduct.” But in asking students to report incidents of “pure, protected speech simply because someone claims he or she found it offensive,” he said, “colleges are sending the destructive message that the way for students to handle speech they don’t like is not by challenging it in the marketplace of ideas, but by reporting it to authorities.”

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, challenged FIRE’s assessment somewhat, saying that bias response teams “play an important role in responding to behavioral incidents on campus around issues such as race, ethnicity, religion and gender identity.” Their design and intent is to make “a clear distinction between free speech and actual behavior that causes physical harm or speech that is harassment or threatening,” he added. “A well-developed bias response protocol provides a clear and consistent mechanism to respond to students most directly affected by the bias incident.”

Kruger said the distinction between protected speech and threatening or harmful behavior is “critical.” So even in cases in which reported speech or behavior is clearly protected, he said, teams can play an “important educational role in reinforcing the value of diverse and often controversial speech on a college campus.”

February 8, 2017

Thomas Aquinas College is expanding its footprint from California into Massachusetts, venturing into the Northeast at a time when many colleges and universities worry about a projected drop in the number of students in the region.

The Catholic college with a great books curriculum, which is located in Santa Paula, Calif., said Tuesday that it plans to start a new branch campus on the donated former grounds of a secondary school in Northfield, Mass. Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to take over its new campus on May 2 of this year before officially opening it in the fall of 2018. (Note: This paragraph has been corrected to reflect that the college's branch campus is starting on the former grounds of a secondary school that remains in operation in another location.)

Thomas Aquinas plans to ramp up on the new campus slowly, starting with 36 freshmen accepted in each of its first four years and then slowly growing the student body to between 350 and 400 students. Its two campuses will start out as parts of the same institution, with one governing document, faculty, Board of Governors, curriculum and accreditation. Leaders are keeping open the option of making the two campuses independent at some point in the future, however.

The college will accept its new campus as a gift from the National Christian Foundation, a philanthropy organization that received the grounds from Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. Hobby Lobby purchased the property in 2009, four years after the Northfield Mount Hermon School decided to move off the campus in a consolidation.

The deeply religious family that owns Hobby Lobby purchased the campus for $100,000 and invested millions of dollars into it while planning to transfer it to a Christian institution. Possible candidates mentioned over the years included a new college named for C. S. Lewis, Grand Canyon University, the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, Olivet University, Azusa Pacific University and Liberty University, according to reporting by MassLive.com and the Associated Press.

The Northfield campus that Thomas Aquinas is set to receive is about 90 miles northwest of Boston. It is listed at 217 acres with 500,000 square feet of dormitory and classroom space. It also has other buildings including a library, gymnasium, science hall and chapel.

Keeping the student body on Thomas Aquinas’s California campus at or below 400 has been a priority, said its president, Michael F. McLean, in a statement. Doing so keeps an intimate feel, he said. But the size limit led leaders to consider a second campus as the college turned away applicants.

“Given the tremendous challenges and costs involved, the question would have remained no more than academic -- but for this extraordinary opportunity that the National Christian Foundation has offered us,” McLean said in the statement. “Never did we imagine we could acquire a campus so fully developed and so beautiful.”

Plans call for Thomas Aquinas to share part of the campus with The Moody Center, which will operate a museum and archive related to evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who originally established the property in Northfield.

February 8, 2017

Female students and their advocates at the University of Sydney are criticizing the creation of a new scholarship for veterinary students that will favor men in the application process, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The scholarship criteria state that "preference will be given to applicants who are: from rural or regional areas, male, interested in large animal practice … [and] an Australian citizen." In Australia, as in the United States, enrollments in veterinary programs are majority female, and some universities maintain scholarships for women. But critics of the new award say that women continue to face discrimination in the field. University officials have defended the scholarship, noting that women can apply and that preference does not mean that only men will receive the awards.

February 8, 2017

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is making images of all its public-domain artworks -- more than 375,000 pieces -- available for unrestricted use. The museum said on Tuesday that it is using the Creative Common Zero (CC0) designation, a legal tool that essentially waives a copyright owner's rights, to facilitate the change. The decision means anyone can use the images (such as this one of Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Madame Georges Charpentier and Her Children) for any purpose, whether for educational or even commercial reasons. The Met also announced several partnerships on Tuesday to make the images widely available, including with the Digital Public Library of America, Wikimedia and Ithaka, which will make the images searchable in the Artstor digital library. The Met in 2014 made the images available for noncommercial use.

February 8, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Xiaosi Gu, assistant professor at the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, explores the connection between the brain and nicotine cravings. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 7, 2017

This week is seeing a return of white supremacist fliers and email messages on campuses.

Many campuses experienced such incidents in the fall, and individual incidents are of course nothing new. But incidents reported Monday appear to involve multiple campuses and are linked to known white supremacist groups.

At the University of Hartford, many received emails from "The White Students Union," reportedly as an arm of the group American Vanguard (logo at right). That group has repeatedly praised efforts to communicate with students and others about a message of white power.

Walter Harrison, president of the university, sent a message the campus saying that the university was investigating the unauthorized email messages and that "whoever sent the email is a hateful coward."

At Indiana University at Bloomington, officials are denouncing fliers from a group called Identity Europa, which advocates for a Eurocentric culture. The fliers featured photos of classical statues with the taglines "Let's Become Great Again," "Serve Your People" and "Protect Your Heritage," among other messages. The group's Twitter account featured photographs of the posters left on many campuses, but the accuracy of the photos could not be confirmed.

Laurel Robel, provost at Indiana, issued a statement in which she said that the fliers were "posted under cover of darkness, targeting the office doors of faculty members of color or scholars of race and ethnicity" and that "these fliers were clearly meant to intimidate, threaten, scare and provoke anger among faculty, staff, students and visitors." She added, "We stand together as a community in the face of this abhorrent action. We will not be divided by cowards. This is a university. We discuss ideas in the full light of day."

February 7, 2017

The American Bar Association House of Delegates on Monday rejected a proposal to require all law schools it accredits to have 75 percent of their students who sit for bar exams pass them within two years of graduation. The measure will now be returned to a committee for further review -- and could come back at a later time for consideration again. The ABA has been under pressure, with a worsening post-law school employment market and high levels of student debt, to assure that more law school graduates can find employment. The measure was questioned by many law deans from California, where bar passage rates have dropped, and from advocates for law schools that serve large minority populations. Here is a letter from law deans opposing the measure.

The measure was rejected on a voice vote that an ABA announcement called "overwhelmingly opposed."

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