Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 20, 2020

The American Association of University Professors today released a new kind of diagnostic tool for assessing institutions’ academic freedom. The report is a based on an examination of 198 college and university faculty handbooks’ and collective bargaining agreements’ policies on academic freedom, dismissal for cause, financial exigency and program discontinuance. The investigation loosely tracks a similar study from 2000, revealing changes over time.

The good news, from the AAUP’s point of view, is that many of its recommended policies and standards are still prevalent, or more prevalent, within these documents, than they were in 2000. The bad news is that some AAUP-backed policies concerning financial exigency, in particular, are lacking, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Seventy-three percent of the four-year institutions with a tenure system studied based their academic freedom policy directly on AAUP standards, according to the report. Three percent of institutions have no academic freedom statement, and 24 percent have an academic freedom statement not based on AAUP language.

On financial exigency, 95 percent of institutions studied have financial exigency policies that allow for the termination of appointments. Some 55 percent do not explicitly define those conditions, down from 69 percent in 2000. That’s an improvement, but the AAUP urges that institutions align their definitions of true financial exigency with the AAUP’s in a new era of COVID-19-related financial challenges, with layoffs a looming threat.

Policies surrounding termination also need to be shored up, to include procedural safeguards such as timely notice or severance pay, according to the association. Procedural safeguards for termination were included in about 66 percent of the sample documents, compared to just 50 percent in 2000, and they were most common at institutions with collective bargaining agreements.

July 20, 2020

A federal judge ordered the government to restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “to its pre-September 5, 2017 status” in light of the Supreme Court’s recent 5-to-4 opinion finding that the Trump administration's attempt to rescind the program that day was unlawful. The decision means that the administration must begin accepting new applications for the program, which provides work authorization and shields certain young undocumented immigrants from deportation, for the first time since September 2017.

Media outlets have reported that the government has been rejecting new DACA applications or otherwise failing to act on them. CNN reported that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is reviewing the ruling.

“Today’s decision reaffirms what we already knew and what the Supreme Court already said. The Trump administration’s heartless attempt to terminate the DACA program was illegal and they must immediately begin accepting new DACA applications,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of the immigrants' rights group CASA, which was one of many organizations that filed suit to block the termination of the DACA program.

July 20, 2020

The chancellor of Peralta Community College District, in California, resigned less than one year into the job and issued a resignation letter outlining 11 allegations against the college’s trustees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The chancellor, Regina Stanback Stroud, accused the trustees of hostility toward Black executive staff, undermining the chancellor’s ability to do her job, “collusion with the unions” and “interference with fair and effective hiring practices,” among other allegations.

The president of the trustees, Julina Bonilla said the allegations were wrong. She declined to elaborate, saying some were of sufficient seriousness that they would, under college policy, require an independent investigation by a law firm.

A letter Bonilla sent to California Community Colleges chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley suggested the board and Stroud clashed over the power to hire executives. The board overrode two of her choices since December and tabled five more last week.

July 20, 2020

Nonwhite parents in Massachusetts who have less access to technology are more likely to say their high school children's college plans have changed due to COVID-19.

Most parents who took the poll from MassINC Polling Group said their child's college plans had not changed, but there were disparities by race and income levels.

The statewide poll surveyed 1,502 parents of 10th through 12th graders. It was sponsored by the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation and received input from the Education Trust.

Nearly a quarter of respondents said their child is likely to delay attending college due to the pandemic, and 17 percent said their children's plans had changed. Black and Latinx respondents were more likely to say their children's plans had changed, at 22 and 26 percent, respectively.

Access to technology is also a key factor. Twenty-nine percent of those who do not have enough devices for their children to do coursework at home said their children's college plans had changed, compared to 16 percent of those with enough devices. Those without decent internet access were also more likely to report changed plans.

There were also disparities based on language proficiency. For parents who speak Spanish at home, 36 percent said their child is more likely to delay their enrollment, compared to less than one-quarter of those who speak English at home.

“This survey tells the story of two vastly different experiences for families during the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts,” Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, said in a news release. “For mostly white and higher-income families, plans for their child’s future remain largely intact. But for parents of color, and low-income families, the number of obstacles between their child and higher education have increased.”

July 20, 2020

A federal judge rebuked the University of Michigan for failing to send President Mark S. Schlissel to her courtroom to discuss an investigation into sexual abuse allegations against former university doctor Robert Anderson, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The judge wants more information on how an investigation UM has commissioned through a law firm, WilmerHale, regarding Anderson’s alleged misconduct, will interact with the university’s defense in ongoing lawsuits. Anderson died in 2008.

Michigan said it would work to address the court’s concerns.

"At Friday’s hearing, the court asked the parties to work together to make sure guardrails are in place to ensure the independence of WilmerHale’s investigation into Robert Anderson’s misconduct," said Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. "We will carefully consider the discussion from today’s hearing and work with the mediator to identify a mutually agreeable path forward in this matter."

July 20, 2020

Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro announced Saturday that his office is suing Lincoln University’s Board of Trustees for allegedly violating the state's sunshine act in a vote not to renew the contract of the university's president, Brenda Allen. “My office has no position on who serves as president of Lincoln University, but we will take action to ensure the board follows the law,” said Shapiro.

The complaint alleges that on July 10, 2020, a special meeting of the Board of Trustees was held to discuss new leadership. The university’s bylaws require that a special meeting have 10 days' prior notice, and that topics not included in the notice cannot be discussed at the meeting. The July 10 meeting violated this bylaw, with inadequate prior notice given about the meeting and the meeting notice only discussing “new leadership” and not the removal of the university president.

July 20, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Kennesaw State University Week, Allison M. Martin, assistant professor of psychology, looks into developing better practices for captive animals. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 17, 2020

A proposal by Senate Republicans, being reviewed by the Trump administration, would make it harder for those who are infected with the coronavirus to sue universities, businesses and others, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The American Council on Education, representing the nation’s colleges and universities, as well as business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have been pushing for liability protection, fearing lawsuits as colleges reopen.

According to a summary of the proposal reviewed by the Journal, defendants in coronavirus cases would only be held liable if they didn’t make reasonable efforts to comply with public health guidelines and instead demonstrated gross negligence or intentional misconduct. The defendants would have the right to move the case to federal court if they so choose, which, the Journal said, could be more favorable than having cases decided by state courts.

For coronavirus-related personal injury and medical liability cases, the proposal would require plaintiffs to have clear and convincing evidence and would place a cap on damages. ACE and other proponents had said in lobbying Congress they are only seeking temporary protection during the pandemic. The changes being proposed would run through 2024, according to the report.

It was unclear from the Journal report whether the proposal would shield higher education institutions, as well, from other suits, including those over the return of room and board fees, if campuses are forced to close, as associations representing colleges want.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said a liability shield is a requirement for Republicans to agree to another coronavirus relief package. But it is expected to face opposition from Democrats and teachers' unions. Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the education committee, told Inside Higher Ed in a statement in May that the federal government should be giving colleges “clear, enforceable standards and guidance of what’s expected of them, not protecting them from lawsuits.”

July 17, 2020

The Trump administration is refusing to process new applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program despite a Supreme Court ruling that required reinstatement of the program, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Legal experts say the Supreme Court's ruling compels the administration to begin accepting new applications for the DACA program, which provides protections from deportation for certain young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. But immigration lawyers says U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is rejecting new applications or confirming receipt of the applications and not acting on them. USCIS did not respond to the paper’s request for comment.

July 17, 2020

Fourteen Republican attorneys general filed a brief in defense of the United States Department of Education’s new regulations that dictate how colleges respond to reports of sexual misconduct. The group also asked a federal judge to dismiss a motion that attempts to delay the Aug. 14 deadline for implementation of the new regulations.

The brief, filed July 15, is the latest development in an increasingly politically partisan legal battle between supporters and opponents of the new policy. Various lawsuits have been filed challenging the legality and merits of the regulations, which were issued May 6 by the department to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded institutions. The Republican AGs from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas argue in opposition to the 18 Democratic AGs that filed suit against the department in June. The Democratic AGs also requested the court put a hold on requiring institutions to implement Title IX policies in line with the new regulations.

The brief filed by the Republican AGs argues that the regulations set “reasonable standards for combating gender discrimination in educational programs while safeguarding free speech and due process,” which they suggest both college leaders and the Department of Education under the Obama administration failed to do “for decades.”

“Educational institutions and the Department of Education have betrayed basic constitutional protections in an effort to purge anything offensive from campus,” the brief states. “These constitutional abuses reached a crescendo when President Obama’s Department of Education issued its misguided 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, which trampled the rights of students and created a false choice: either combat sexual harassment or protect constitutional liberties. We propose a different option: do both. The Department of Education’s new Final Rule accomplishes this goal.”

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