Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 13, 2014

Minority enrollments in law schools showed only modest gains in the last decade, rising from 20.6 percent in 2003 to 25.8 percent in 2012, according to an analysis in The National Law Journal. The figures for black students were particularly stagnated, increasing only from 6.9 percent to 7.5 percent during that time period.

May 13, 2014

A Texas House panel on Monday took the first step toward impeaching a University of Texas regent for what critics say was abuse of his power in trying to oust the president of the university system's flagship campus, the Associated Press reported. The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 7-1 on an impeachment motion against Wallace Hall, a Dallas businessman who has aggressively criticized and sought the removal of William Powers, UT-Austin's president. A report prepared for the House panel said that Hall may have violated state law, which he denies.

May 13, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Yehuda Ben-Shahar, assistant professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis, explains the role of RNA. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

May 13, 2014

The National Labor Relations Board took the expected next step Monday in its consideration of whether scholarship football players at private colleges can unionize. The labor board invited briefs from interested parties on whether the March 26 decision by the director of the board's Midwest region backing the right of the players to bargain collectively. The national board stayed the regional office's decision and has impounded the ballots of the April 25 vote by the players. The NLRB's invitation for briefs can be viewed here.

May 13, 2014

A Harvard University student group dropped its plans to re-enact a Satanic "black mass" Monday evening. But a New York City Satanic group announced plans to hold the event off campus Monday night after the student group ended plans to co-sponsor the event on campus. Whether the event took place was unclear. Employees of the lounge where the event was said to be taking place told The Boston Globe that some people were drinking at a bar and no rituals were being performed. But other reports in The Harvard Crimson and on social media said that later Monday night, some form of a black mass did take place at the lounge. The Harvard student group originally involved did not respond to an email seeking clarification.

Earlier Monday, Harvard President Drew Faust issued a statement condemning the planned event, but refusing to ban it. "[E]ven as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree," Faust said. "The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory."

She added that she would not bar the event. "Nevertheless, consistent with the university’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond — and to address offensive expression with expression of their own."

 

May 13, 2014

Syracuse University is planning to fire a tenured professor over an affair with a student whom he taught. A memo to faculty members from Chancellor Kent Syverud did not name the faculty member, but described the situation this way: "When completed, the process, as stipulated by the university’s faculty manual, could result in the faculty member’s termination and revocation of tenure. If this were to occur, I believe it would be the first time in decades a tenured professor here has been terminated through this process. Last year, the university brought forth charges based on this faculty member’s alleged violation of the consensual relationships provision of the Policy on Inappropriate Conduct by Faculty Members and the University Code of Ethical Conduct. Specifically, this faculty member allegedly engaged in a consensual romantic relationship with an undergraduate student whom the faculty member taught during the relationship. I just want you to know we are following the established procedure to address this matter. The final step in the process is currently underway and I will update you upon its conclusion."

 

May 12, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Bruce Peabody, professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, discusses trends that relate to our understanding of heroism in America. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

May 12, 2014

Navient, the loan-servicing company formerly known as Sallie Mae, disclosed to investors Friday that it expects to pay an additional $103 million to settle two federal investigations, on top of the $70 million it already set aside last year for that purpose.  The company is facing investigations from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Department of Justice, and other federal and state agencies over how it managed and processed the payments of student loan borrowers, including active-duty servicemembers.

The spin-off of Sallie Mae’s loan-servicing business into its own independent company, Navient, was officially completed at the end of April. Navient now inherits all liability stemming from the federal and state investigations of Sallie Mae’s loan-servicing business, the company said. The FDIC has cited Sallie Mae for unfair or deceptive acts involving the way it made disclosures to borrowers and assessed certain late fees.

Navient said Friday that, based on its discussions with the FDIC, the company believes it will be required to refund $30 million worth of certain late fees to borrowers of Sallie Mae loans dating back to November 2005. In addition, in an effort to “treat all customers in a similar manner,” Naveint said it also expected to “voluntarily” reimburse $42 million in late fees for borrowers whose loans were not owned by Sallie Mae but were serviced by them.

The Department of Justice has been probing whether Sallie Mae cheated active-duty servicemembers by not providing them with the interest-rate discount to which they are entitled under federal law. To settle those allegations, Navient said it expected to pay out $60 million.

None of the settlements are finalized, the company said. However, accounting standards generally require companies to disclose potential losses only when they are probable and reasonably estimable.

In addition to the Department of Justice and FDIC investigations, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is also probing the companies. They are also facing investigations by a number of states, led by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Consumer advocates and a growing number of Senate Democrats have said they are concerned that the Education Department is too lax in its oversight of how Sallie Mae services loans on behalf of the government. Some have called on the Education Department to assess penalties on Sallie Mae or to end its servicing contract with the company.

 
May 12, 2014

Quinnipiac University on Friday announced simultaneous plans for faculty layoffs and new faculty hiring, The New Haven Register announced. The university said it was eliminating 15 positions in programs losing enrollment (primarily in the liberal arts) and adding 12 faculty members in areas where the university envisions enrollment growth.

May 12, 2014

Many faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign believe that James Kilgore, an adjunct who has been told he will not have his contract renewed, is being treated unfairly. Kilgore had strong reviews, and indications that he would be renewed, but that changed when a local newspaper published an article identifying him as a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who has served jail time before coming to the university (and informing superiors of his past). Amid the complaints, the university has vowed to review what happened to Kilgore.

But now faculty leaders question whether that review will be conducted fairly. That's because Christopher Kennedy, the Illinois board chair, gave an interview to The News-Gazette in which he said that the board, while respecting the review process, has strong feelings about what should happen. "The board's position is we don't want to prejudge the process," Kennedy said. "But our general position is clear. We want to be respectful of the fact that we operate on taxpayer's money and tuition ... and people paying tuition who have will have concerns about underwriting this lifestyle." Kennedy also said that because Kilgore is an adjunct, there are not academic freedom issues at stake. "We're not reacting to public pressure. If this was an issue of academic freedom, we would stand up for it. This is an hourly employee who doesn't have tenure. It's completely different," he said. And Kennedy said he has been "very clear" in sharing his views about the issue with university administrators.

Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Illinois, past president of the American Association of University professors, and one of those pushing for Kilgore to be rehired, said via email that Kennedy's statements have made it impossible for Kilgore to be reviewed fairly for renewal. Having "confessed" to sharing his views, Kennedy "is being distinctly disingenuous in declaring that the board doesn't 'want to prejudge the process,'" Nelson said. "Indeed his remark that the board may have a role at the end of the university¹s review process telegraphs a warning that the board may well choose to deny Kilgore a job even if the campus decides otherwise. That may take the campus administration off the hook from the faculty perspective, but it leaves us with academic freedom and shared governance in tatters."

 

 

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