Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 25, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Aaron Ellison of Harvard University’s Harvard Forest describes efforts to intervene before ecosystems pass their tipping points. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 25, 2013

A Maryland appeals court has turned down a challenge to the right of Johns Hopkins University to develop land it purchased at below-market rates in 1989, The Baltimore Sun reported. The family of the woman who made the deal said that she never would have done so unless she believed the farmland would never be developed. But the appeals court said that the university was within its rights to develop the land into a research park.

 

November 25, 2013

Thirty-two students at American colleges were named Saturday as winners of Rhodes Scholarships. Harvard University students won six of the scholarships -- more than those won at any other institution. Yale and Stanford Universities were tied for second, with three winners each. Two institutions -- New York University at Abu Dhabi and Smith College -- had their first winners. The win for NYU Abu Dhabi comes with a student in its inaugural class. Smith has had prior winners in the competitions for students from other countries (with scholarships for Smith students from Zambia and Zimbabwe), but not for American students.

 

November 25, 2013

An article in The San Francisco Chronicle explores why the basketball and football players at some universities graduate at much higher rates than others. The piece focuses on the relatively low rates at the University of California at Berkeley, which stands out for low rates particularly among institutions respected for their academics. The article notes that the University of California at Los Angles admits far more under-qualified students than does Berkeley (by the universities' own standards), 100 to 36 this year. But in graduation rates, UCLA outpaces Berkeley in both football (82 percent to 44 percent) and men's basketball (60 percent to 38 percent).

 

November 25, 2013

San Jose State University announced late Friday it has that it has suspended a fourth student in connection with the alleged racial harassment of a black freshman for months during the fall semester. The case involves allegations that suitemates of the black freshman taunted him with racially charged names, posted photographs of Hitler in their room, and at times tried to put his head in a bicycle lock. Authorities charged three San Jose students Wednesday, and as word spread Thursday, many on the campus were outraged. Friday's announcement by the university said that the involvement of the fourth student had only recently come to light.

President Mohammed Qayoumi announced as well on Friday that he had met that morning with Reverend Jethroe Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, and that they had agreed to hold a joint press conference today, that the would co-host a campus forum in December on racial issues on campus, and that the university would offer a lecture series in the spring on diversity and tolerance issues.

On Saturday, the San Jose NAACP chapter called for prosecutors to change the charges against the students from misdemeanor hate crime and battery to felony hate crime and false imprisonment, The Los Angeles Times reported. "This is not simple hazing or bullying," Reverend Moore said. "This is obviously racially based terrorism targeted at their African-American roommate.

 

November 25, 2013

New guidance from Universities UK on hosting controversial speakers on campus suggests that, in regards to the issue of gender segregation at "ultra-orthodox" religious events, segregation from right to left is preferable than front to back and “a balance of interests is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas, although if the speaker is unwilling to accept this, the institution will need to consider the speaker’s reasons under equalities legislation.”

The guidance, which is intended to help universities balance their legal responsibility to protect freedom of speech while also meeting the requirements of nondiscrimination legislation, also states that “Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

The guidance from the British presidential association, which includes a number of legal caveats and issues to consider in any given case, is likely to be controversial. The University of Leicester and University College London both found themselves under scrutiny last year after word got out that Islamic speakers invited to the campus addressed audiences segregated by gender. The Telegraph’s deputy women’s editor, Louisa Peacock, has called the new Universities UK guidance “outrageous. What is the point of a university's equality policy -- designed to promote equal rights between men and women of all faiths -- if it cannot or will not be enforced properly?” 

November 25, 2013

Students at three colleges in the last week have faced criticism over ethnic or racial themes or costumes at parties:

  • Randolph-Macon College officials are investigating a fraternity party at which some students dressed either as "illegal immigrants" or "border control agents," and at which the latter group tried to "catch" the former, WWBT NBC 12 reported. Mark Heideman, a member of Kappa Alpha, which hosted the party, said that "it was definitely not meant to be racist whatsoever."
  • Two white students at Lee University have apologized for going to a rap-themed party in blackface and with T-shirts featuring forms of the n-word, WTVC News 9 reported.
  • California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo is investigating an off-campus party held by a fraternity and a sorority with the theme "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos," The Tribune News of San Luis Obispo reported. The men dressed in colonial attire while the women wore scantily clad costumes with Native American themes. One fraternity member (whose house was not involved) told the Tribune News that the party wasn't meant to be offensive. “Personally, I don’t think it was meant to be racist,” he said, given that many Greek parties involve "guy-and-girl" themes. “It’s unfair,” he said. “We are taught that Thanksgiving is Pilgrims and Indians.”
November 22, 2013

Princeton University has been facing an unusual outbreak of meningitis cases in recent months. In recent days, two other campuses have reported meningitis cases. Monmouth University, like Princeton in New Jersey, has reported that an employee is "gravely ill," The Star-Ledger reported. Across the country, three students at the University of California at Santa Barbara are suffering from meningitis, the Associated Press reported. More than 300 students who had contacts with those who are ill have been given antibiotics.

 

November 22, 2013

The College of Staten Island lacked institutional control over its athletics department, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Thursday, after the college's former men's swimming coach facilitated the visa process for five international prospects, signed housing leases and provided free living space for a handful of athletes, and lied to NCAA investigators while encouraging athletes to do the same. According to the public infractions report released by the Division III Committee on Infractions the coach, who the NCAA also cited with violation of ethical rules, also arranged for reduced-cost lifeguard certification classes for three athletes.

Under the NCAA's most serious charge, the college will face four years' probation, a two-year postseason ban for the men's swimming team, and a vacation of all individual records of the six athletes during the time they were receiving improper benefits and thus were ineligible for competition. The coach also faces a four-year show cause order (meaning his penalties will still stand at another institution), and was forced to vacate his conference Coach of the Year awards from 2007-11.

November 22, 2013

Much of the controversy surrounding the University of Montana's settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has centered on whether OCR believed Montana's new policies, which required sexual harassment response and prevention measures that some said are unconstitutional, should be applied everywhere. Although such agreements are generally looked to as guidance for what OCR expects from institutions, it is also known that they are legally binding only to the campus in question. But OCR called Montana's resolution "a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country," which critics including the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said meant that OCR planned to apply the new Montana standard to all campuses, potentially infringing upon the due process and free speech rights of students everywhere. But OCR's assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine E. Lhamon, settled the question in a letter to FIRE last week. "The Agreement in the Montana case represents the resolution of that particular case and not OCR or DOJ policy," the letter reads.

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