Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 5, 2021

As she prepares to leave office, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged Congress not to enact President-elect Joe Biden’s proposals to eliminate tuition at public colleges or cancel student debt.

“I hope you also reject misguided calls to make college ‘free’ and require the two-thirds of Americans who didn’t take on student debt or who responsibly paid off their student loans to pay for the loans of those who have not done the same,” DeVos wrote in a letter to congressional leaders, as well as to the members of the House and Senate appropriations committees on Monday.

"Across-the-board forgiveness of college debts is not only unfair to most Americans, it is also the most regressive of policy proposals -- rewarding the wealthiest sector of our labor force at the expense of the poorest," she wrote.

Biden has proposed to make community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities free, as well as eliminating tuition at public colleges and universities for those making $125,000 or less. Biden would also eliminate $10,000 from all borrowers’ student debt during the pandemic. Then, for those making $125,000 or less, he would forgive debt accumulated to pay tuition, though not loans for living expenses.

DeVos also urged Congress to preserve the new rules on campus sexual assaults her administration approved. Biden has said he plans to reverse the rules, which granted more protections to those accused of sexual assault and harassment but have raised concerns that they would deter victims from coming forward.

"The regulation, which carries the force of law, holds schools accountable for responding equitably and promptly to sexual misconduct, and ensures a more fair and reliable adjudication process," she wrote.

January 5, 2021

The March Madness tournament, which includes 67 Division I college men’s basketball games, will take place in one “controlled environment” in and around Indianapolis, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Monday. The association, which is headquartered in the Indiana city, decided in November to downsize the tournament from 13 sites to one due to the coronavirus pandemic and the risk of teams spreading the virus through interstate travel.

A local health provider will test players, coaches and other staff members and officials for COVID-19 throughout the tournament, which spans from mid-March to early April, an NCAA press release said. The medical protocols developed by the NCAA for the tournament were approved by the county health department and include housing all the teams in hotels that are directly connected to a practice facility, the release said.

Each floor of the hotels will be dedicated to one team, and they will have “secure transportation” to the six tournament game locations, most of which are in Indianapolis, the release said. Two locations are outside the city; Mackey Arena is on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, Ind., and Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is at Indiana University, Bloomington.

Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said in the release that the tournament will be “complicated and difficult” to execute.

“The 2021 version of March Madness will be one to remember, if for no other reason than the uniqueness of the event,” he said. “With the direction of the Men’s Basketball Committee, we are making the most of the circumstances the global pandemic has presented.”

While a few family members of athletes and coaches will be able to attend games, officials are still determining the “feasibility” of permitting fans, the release said. Leading up to the tournament, the NCAA will advertise a public health campaign called “Mask Madness” to promote mask wearing and social distancing, the release said. The association has partnered with the state of Indiana to distribute hundreds of thousands of March Madness-branded masks to residents, The Indianapolis Star reported.

January 5, 2021

Kyrie Irving, a point guard for the National Basketball Association’s Brooklyn Nets, paid off tuition balances for nine graduating seniors at Lincoln University, a historically Black college in Pennsylvania.

The donations were first reported by a journalist for The Athletic.

A spokeswoman for Lincoln, which recently received a $20 million donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, said Irving “paid the remaining balance that the nine students owed to the University, financially clearing them to graduate.” The university did not disclose the amount of the donation.

Irving's decision to target student debt bears some resemblance to that of billionaire businessman Robert F. Smith, who paid off the college debt of 400 graduating seniors at Morehouse College, an HBCU in Atlanta, in 2019. Smith's donation amounted to a $34 million payoff of the students' debt.

January 5, 2021

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Misericordia University Week, Amanda M. Caleb, professor of English and medical and health humanities, explores the language and politics surrounding pandemics. Learn more about the Academic Minute here. And click here to see Monday's podcast about a project to reduce stereotypes and stigma.

January 4, 2021

"COVID-19" tops Lake Superior State University's annual list of words to banish. Since 1976, Lake Superior has started the new year with a list of words "that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical -- and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating."

The committee at Lake Superior said that "a large number of nominators are clearly resentful of the virus and how it has overtaken our vocabulary. No matter how necessary or socially and medically useful these words are, the committee cannot help but wish we could banish them along with the virus itself."

Other words (or phrases) on the list also relate to the pandemic: "social distancing," "we're all in this together," "in an abundance of caution," "in these uncertain times," "pivot" and "unprecedented."

Three nonpandemic words made the list:

Karen -- "What began as an anti-racist critique of the behavior of white women in response to Black and Brown people has become a misogynist umbrella term for critiquing the perceived overemotional behavior of women."

Sus -- "It’s a shortened version for 'suspicious' in the video game Among Us. No committee members play, but our children who do explained that this multiplayer online social game is designed around identifying 'sus' imposters so they can be 'thrown into the lava.' Complainers a) ask: How much effort does it take to say the entire word; and b) request: If that can’t happen, confine the syllable to the gaming world."

I know, right? -- "An amusing phrase flooding social media, "I know, right?" is a relatively new construction to convey empathy with those who have expressed agreement. But as one wordsmith put it, if you know, why do you need to ask if it’s correct or seek further approval? Another grammarian suggested that the desire for confirmation connotes insecurity. In other words, it’s reiterating something already seconded."

Nominate words for banishment in 2022 here.

January 4, 2021

Concordia University Chicago laid off 51 faculty and staff members -- 7 percent of its total employees -- and axed 15 academic programs, the Chicago Tribune reported

The cuts are due to budget concerns exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and are the result of a two-year program prioritization process, according to the Tribune. The university is offering retirement and severance packages to employees who were laid off, left the university voluntarily or had their positions eliminated. 

Graphic arts, theater, chemistry, business communication and women’s and gender studies are among the programs slated to be cut. Students currently in the programs will be able to complete their degrees at Concordia, according to the Tribune. The Lutheran college enrolls more than 6,000 students. 

The decisions were finalized Dec. 11, said the university's president, Russell Dawn, during an online student forum. Without budget changes, the university predicted a financial crisis within three years, he told students.

January 4, 2021

The University of California, Merced, is investigating a professor's Twitter account, which he recently deleted. The tweets on the account were reportedly anti-Semitic, with The Fresno Bee reporting that they included "an image of a 'Zionist brain' with the labels 'frontal money lobe,' 'Holocaust memory centre' and 'world domination lobe.'" In December, he commented on another person's tweet by saying, "the Zionists and IsraHell interest have embedded themselves in every component of the American system, media, banking, policy, commerce … just a veneer of serving US interest and population pp everyone pretends that is the case.”

The professor is Abbas Ghassemi, who teaches engineering. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The chancellor at Merced, Juan Sánchez Muñoz, and the provost, Gregg A. Camfield, issued a statement on the tweets.

"A Twitter account associated with a faculty member included messages that crossed the line established by the Board of Regents in their 2016 Statement of Principles Against Intolerance condemning anti-Semitism and 'anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism,' and affirming that 'acts of discrimination that demean our differences, are antithetical to the values of the university and serve to undermine its purpose.' The opinions presented in this Twitter account do not represent UC Merced or the University of California. They were abhorrent and repugnant to us and to many of our colleagues and neighbors; they were harmful to our university, our students, and our years of work to build an inclusive and welcoming community," the statement said.

They added, "We have called upon the dean and department chair to work with the Office of the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel to conduct an inquiry into potential violations of our standards, the UC Faculty Code of Conduct or other policies of the university, to determine what consequences are appropriate."

January 4, 2021

After the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl ended, a massive brawl erupted between the football teams of Mississippi State University and the University of Tulsa, CBS Sports reported. It is unclear what started the fighting, which was broken up by coaches and law enforcement. Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen released a statement on Friday in which he called the brawl "inexcusable." The head football coach at Tulsa, Philip Montgomery, released this statement: "There is no place in the game of football or our program for the actions that occurred after Thursday’s bowl game. It is not who we are. It is not part of our culture. It will not be tolerated. I’m sick about this ending to what was an otherwise incredible season for a talented team."

Both universities said they would investigate.

January 4, 2021

A New York State appellate court sided with Fordham University in its 2016 decision to deny recognition to a proposed Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on the grounds that the club would be polarizing. The decision reverses a ruling by a lower court ordering Fordham, a Roman Catholic college in New York, to recognize the club.

The appellate court found that one of the students who sued, who enrolled at Fordham after the club was rejected, lacked standing, while it said that the complaints of other students who had since graduated were moot.

“Even if we had found that standing exists and therefore had considered the merits of the petition, we would have concluded that the petition should not have been granted,” the court's opinion continues.

The court found that Fordham “followed its approval procedure and acted ‘in the exercise of its honest discretion’ … [Fordham’s] conclusion that the proposed club, which would have been affiliated with a national organization reported to have engaged in disruptive and coercive actions on other campuses, would work against, rather than enhance, respondent's commitment [to] open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding, was not ‘without sound basis in reason’ or ‘taken without regard to the facts.’”

A spokesman for Fordham, Bob Howe, said the university “is gratified that the court found Fordham followed its procedures in administering the student club approval process, and that Fordham had the right to not approve groups that were inconsistent with its mission.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal, legal organizations that represented the Fordham students in their complaint, criticized the appellate court decision and said they would seek review by New York's highest court.

“In a hasty decision short on analysis, a New York appellate division court reversed a thorough, well-reasoned ruling by the trial court that Fordham University violated its own policies when it refused to recognize a Students for Justice in Palestine club,” the groups said. “This is a shameful decision giving Fordham cover to censor students who are calling for Palestinian rights.”

January 4, 2021

Dennis DePerro, president of St. Bonaventure University, was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Dec. 24, and he is hospitalized, the university announced Saturday. “I’ve started to feel better the last couple of days and can’t thank the hospital staff enough for the care I’ve received,” DePerro said. While he is out of the office, Joseph Zimmer, provost and vice president of academic affairs, will assume day-to-day leadership of the university.

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