Higher Education Quick Takes
One of the most famous professors at the University of Texas at Austin said this week that he plans to ban guns from his classroom, despite a new state law that will allow concealed weapons across campus, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The new law has already attracted lots of faculty opposition, but the pledge from Steven Weinberg, winner of the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics and the Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Chair in Science and Regental Professor at Austin, gives the cause new weight. That's in part because critics of the law have said it could make it harder for Texas institutions to recruit and retain top professors. “I will put it into my syllabus that the class is not open to students carrying guns,” Weinberg said at a Faculty Council meeting, drawing sustained applause. “I may wind up in court. I’m willing to accept that possibility.”
At the meeting, the council voted to approve five resolutions about the new campus carry law, including one calling for classrooms to be gun-free. Under the law -- set to take effect at public universities this summer and community colleges in 2017 -- people may now take concealed weapons into campus buildings (an earlier law permitted guns on campus but not explicitly inside classrooms or other indoor spaces). Campus presidents are permitted to establish guidelines related to specific safety concerns, but they can’t prohibit weapons outright. Gregory L. Fenves, Austin’s president, is expected to announce his guidelines next month.
Amherst College announced Tuesday that it will cease using "Lord Jeff" as an unofficial mascot for the institution. The use of the term has been controversial, and many students and some alumni have wanted it dropped.
Lord Jeffery Amherst was an English general for whom the town of Amherst is named. He died before the college was created and had no direct connection to the college. Honoring him was opposed by many because in correspondence he proposed the use of smallpox-infested blankets as a weapon of war against Native Americans. It is not clear whether the proposal was carried out. (The photo at right shows a student protest on the issue.) A statement from Amherst's board said: “Amherst College finds itself in a position where a mascot -- which, when you think about it, has only one real job, which is to unify -- is driving people apart because of what it symbolizes to many in our community.” The college said that names controlled by the college -- such as the name of the hotel run by the college, the Lord Jeffery Inn -- will be changed.
A statement issued by Cullen Murphy, chair of the college's board, said that while the college would prefer that people not use the Lord Jeff nickname or mascot, the college will take no action against those who -- as individuals -- do so. "The college has no business interfering with free expression, whether spoken or written or, for that matter, sung. Period," Murphy said. He added, "To those who argue that stepping back from Lord Jeff as an unofficial mascot takes us down some sort of slippery slope that calls into question the name of the town or the college, the board would respond that you can find slippery slopes anywhere you look, that real life isn’t a philosophy class or court of law, and that people long ago figured out the commonsense way to deal with slippery slopes: just draw the line. Amherst College will always be the name of the school."
A federal judge on Tuesday approved a reworked settlement between the National Collegiate Athletic Association and thousands of former athletes who suffered head injuries playing college sports. The agreement remains largely unchanged from the original class action settlement announced in 2014, including requiring the NCAA to establish a $70 million fund for testing brain trauma in college athletes. The new deal, however, also requires that all NCAA institutions adopt stronger concussion management and return-to-play guidelines.
The NCAA does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement. Earlier this month, the association's five wealthiest Division I leagues -- the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences -- adopted a new policy that granted "unchallengeable authority" to team physicians and athletic trainers in return-to-play decisions involving injured athletes.
Two students at Keystone College, in Pennsylvania, were killed Monday in a car crash that also injured four students, The Times-Tribune reported. A car with five students headed to a convenience store hit another car, also driven by a Keystone student. Two of those injured are in critical condition.
Florida State University has settled with the former student who said she was raped by the university's star quarterback in 2012. The university on Monday announced that it agreed to pay the student, Erica Kinsman, and her lawyers $950,000, as well as to commit to a five-year plan for sexual assault awareness, prevention and training programs.
“I will always be disappointed that I had to leave the school I dreamed of attending since I was little,” Kinsman said in a statement. “I am happy that FSU has committed to continue making changes in order to ensure a safer environment for all students.”
Kinsman accused the former FSU football player, Jameis Winston, of raping her in December 2012, but the university did not begin a disciplinary process for Winston until nearly two years after the alleged assault. Articles by The New York Times and Fox Sports, citing documents obtained under open-records requests, accused Florida State and local law enforcement of taking steps to “hide, and then hinder” the criminal investigation into the allegations against Winston. (Kinsman made her identity as Winston's accuser public in the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground.)
The university remains under investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for possibly violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 by mishandling Kinsman's case. FSU did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, and John Thrasher, the university's president, said the “overriding reason” for entering into the agreement was to avoid costly litigation expenses.
“We have an obligation to our students, their parents and Florida taxpayers to deal with this case, as we do all litigation, in a financially responsible manner,” Thrasher said in a statement. “With all the economic demands we face, at some point it doesn’t make sense to continue even though we are convinced we would have prevailed.”
Paul Ferguson resigned Monday as president of Ball State University, without an explanation and after less than two years in office. The Star Press reported that faculty leaders and others were surprised by the sudden exit and didn't know why he was leaving. While not saying that there was a connection to Ferguson's departure, the newspaper noted that the Indiana secretary of state's office is investigating -- including a criminal probe -- the university's loss of $13.1 million in investments to fraud.
A federal judge on Monday issued an injunction to ban Iowa State University from barring student groups from producing T-shirts that include both university symbols or names and also pot plants, The Des Moines Register reported. The ruling came in a suit charging that the university was selectively enforcing trademark rights in a way to discriminate against a student group promoting the legalization of marijuana. The ruling found that the university acted -- contrary to constitutional principles -- based on “the messages … expressed” in an effort to “maintain favor with Iowa political figures.”
Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today “The Rise of Competency-Based Education,” our latest print-on-demand compilation of articles. This compilation is free and you may download a copy here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m. Eastern about the themes of the booklet.