Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 6, 2019

A Rider University business school dean who describes herself as a "very committed Christian" is stepping down after the university blocked a Chick-Fil-A restaurant from opening on campus.

Cynthia Newman, dean of Rider's College of Business Administration, said the university's decision clashed with her beliefs, NJ.com reported.

In a Feb. 14 letter to faculty, Newman said she would resign from her role as dean in September but will continue teaching.

The fast-food chain has generated controversy due to its president's stance against same-sex marriage, which has earned it boycotts and demonstrations as well as same-sex "kiss days" at locations nationwide.

After Rider distributed surveys asking students which fast-food providers they wanted on campus, Chick-Fil-A emerged as a top contender. But a second survey left the chain out -- Rider later explained that it had been removed based on the company’s record of being "widely perceived to be in opposition to the LGBTQ+ community."

In November, Rider said the chain's corporate values "have not sufficiently progressed enough to align with those of Rider."

University spokeswoman Kristine Brown said the decision isn't an attack on Christian members of the community. "Rather, our intention was to foster a sense of respect and belonging of all members of the campus community, including those who identify as LGBTQ+," she said.

March 6, 2019

Nearly 90 percent of adjunct faculty members say they are saving, most commonly for retirement and building a financial emergency fund, according to a new report from TIAA Institute. TIAA’s 2018 Adjunct Faculty Survey also found that one-third of adjunct professors have contributed to a retirement plan offered by one of their institutions. Adjuncts are paid an average of $3,000 per course, and nearly 60 percent receive less than that, the report says. Some 40 percent report they are working elsewhere in addition to their current college and university. Among adjuncts who did not save for retirement in the past year, 74 percent either had no plan available or were unsure whether they did, TIAA's report says.

Still, one-half of adjuncts report they are satisfied with their current financial situation over all. Fifty-six percent report that it is “easy to make ends meet,” while 16 percent find it difficult. Adjuncts’ financial satisfaction is likely linked to their household income, according to TIAA. Sixty percent of adjuncts are in households with incomes of $50,000 or more, and 30 percent have household incomes of $100,000 or more. Three-quarters of adjunct households carry debt, such as credit cards and mortgages. Student loan debt was common among younger adjuncts. Some 48 percent of those under 40 reported having student loan debt, compared to just 12 percent of those 55 and older.

March 6, 2019

Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, called for Congress to scrutinize the decision making of regional accreditors, whom he accused of dealing unfairly with struggling historically black colleges.

"Just as black students in schools across this nation have been targets of and subject to punishments harsher than their nonblack peers, I would argue that historically black colleges and universities are receiving disparate and inequitable punishments and sanctions from regional accreditors," Lomax said.

The demand was part of UNCF’s legislative agenda that Lomax outlined in a “State of the HBCU” address, where multiple lawmakers were among the audience. He also called for Congress to double the size of the maximum Pell Grant and to invest $1 billion in an infrastructure program for historically black institutions to address deferred maintenance and support new construction.

March 6, 2019

Shawnee Community College president Peggy Bradford is stepping down from her position in June, according to The Southern Illinoisan.

Bradford has one year left on a three-year contract but announced Monday she would leave early. Bradford has frequently clashed with the college's faculty union, which has twice taken a no-confidence vote on her leadership.

March 6, 2019

Last year, the Nobel Prize in Literature was not awarded amid a scandal over alleged conflicts of interest, sexual harassment and sexual assault involving a man (since convicted of rape) married to a member of the Swedish Academy. The Nobel Foundation's board said Tuesday that the 2018 and 2019 prizes would both be announced this fall. Further, the foundation said that new procedures were in place, including requirements that the academy "no longer includes any members who are subject to conflict of interest or criminal investigations."

March 6, 2019

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, best known for its "genius" awards but also a funder of other programs involving academics, on Tuesday named its next president. He is John Palfrey (at right), head of school at Phillips Academy Andover.

March 6, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Robert Brown of the U.S. Air Force Academy discusses whether there is a planet beyond Neptune. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 5, 2019

The University of Chicago is known for its strong commitment to free expression on campus. The university's president, Robert J. Zimmer, has repeatedly called on colleges to assure that their institutions are open to all kinds of speakers, without regard to whether some on campus disagree with their views. On Monday, Zimmer sent an email to his campus opposing President Trump's plan to issue an executive order to cut off federal research dollars to institutions determined not to be supporting free speech.

His email said in part, "There are two related features of potential federal engagement on this issue that would threaten the mission of institutions of higher education. They would do so by creating the specter of less rather than more free expression, and by deeply chilling the environment for discourse and intellectual challenge. The first feature is the precedent of the federal government establishing its own standing to interfere in the issue of speech on campuses. This opens the door to any number of troubling policies over time that the federal government, whatever the political party involved, might adopt on such matters. It makes the government, with all its power and authority, a party to defining the very nature of discussion on campus. The second feature is the inevitable establishment of a bureaucracy to enforce any governmental position. A committee in Washington passing judgment on the speech policies and activities of educational institutions, judgments that may change according to who is in power and what policies they wish to promulgate, would be a profound threat to open discourse on campus. In fact, it would reproduce in Washington exactly the type of on-campus 'speech committee' that would be a natural and dangerous consequence of the position taken by many advocating for the limitation of discourse on campuses."

Zimmer isn't the only academic opposing the Trump proposal. Others are signing an open letter from the American Association of University Professors. That letter states, "Given the important role of colleges and universities in debate, dissent and the free exchange of ideas, the AAUP strongly supports freedom of expression on campus and the rights of faculty and students to invite speakers of their choosing. We oppose, however, any executive action that interferes with the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities by undermining the role of faculty, administration and governing board in institutional decision making and the role of students in the formulation and application of institutional policies affecting student affairs."

March 5, 2019

Anthony A. Azenabor, professor of health sciences at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, was charged with two counts of felony sexual assault with the use of force and one count of fourth-degree sexual assault in offenses that took place in March, April and May of last year, according to the Journal-Sentinel. He’s been ordered to surrender his passport by Wednesday, with bond set at $7,500. A preliminary hearing is set for March 13.

Chancellor Mark A. Mone said in a campus memo that Azenabor is not teaching this semester, and that while a no-contact order was issued as part of his legal proceedings, the university “took actions previously to preclude” Azenabor from having any contact with students. The charges against Azenabor “are very serious,” Mone said. Campus police have been “working closely with the district attorney’s office on the criminal investigation, and university leadership is evaluating his continued employment.” Azenabor did not respond to a request for comment.

March 5, 2019

Citing a looming demographic cliff that he called an "existential threat" to New England and the institutions he leads, the president of the University of Massachusetts System said Monday that the system would create an online college to serve adult learners. Martin Meehan, in his annual State of the University address, said the university needed to take bold action to respond to demographic and other challenges that are already taking a heavy toll on colleges in Massachusetts and surrounding states. (See related article on another closure of a New England private college.)

The best way to secure UMass's future and meet the state's work-force needs, Meehan said, is to create a freestanding online institution that would specialize in educating working learners. Online courses for the university system's traditional-age students would continue to be delivered through UMass Online, a spokesman for the system said, and revenue from the new online campus would be divided among the system's campuses to educate traditional undergraduate and graduate students.

Meehan said the new UMass campus would seek to compete with the existing and emerging institutions that are already targeting this population, including Southern New Hampshire University, the University of Maryland University College, Penn State World Campus and Arizona State University. “The time for us to act is now,” Meehan said. “Over the next several years, there will be four to five major players in online education with strong regional footholds, and we intend to be one of them.”

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