Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 16, 2018

American University discriminated against a former professor on the basis of her age when it denied her tenure, a unanimous jury in Washington Superior Court found Monday. The professor, Loubna Skalli-Hanna, who now teaches Middle Eastern studies off the tenure track at the University of California Washington Center, applied for tenure at American in 2013. She received endorsements at all levels of review but was denied tenure at the provost’s level.

During the trial, Skalli-Hanna presented evidence that younger tenure candidates and those with inferior publication records were treated more favorably than she or other older candidates were. (One of those candidates, Maria Ivancin, a former professor of communications who was denied tenure under similar circumstances to Skalli-Hanna, previously settled with American.) The jury awarded Skalli-Hanna nearly $1.2 million in damages and $175,000 in emotional distress damages. (Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the total damages.)

Skalli-Hanna said Monday, “I was begging just to do my job, and when I was wronged I went for justice. And the jury, who are not academics, saw something fundamentally wrong … It’s a huge validation.”

Lynne Bernabei, her lawyer, said that it is “very rare that any employment discrimination case, let alone cases about age discrimination, win with a jury, and it’s very, very rare that they win in an academic setting, because they tend to be complex and involve tenure.”

Scott Bass, the provost involved in Skalli-Hanna’s and Ivancin’s cases, has since returned to American’s faculty as a professor of public administration and policy. He did not respond to a request for comment. A university spokesperson said via email, “While we respect the jury system, we feel strongly that no discrimination took place in this case. We are evaluating our options and considering next steps. We will not comment further on matters pending before the court.”

October 16, 2018

Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Monday morning announced a $1 billion plan to create a new college of computing within MIT, and to promote teaching and research on computing and artificial intelligence. MIT's announcement says the effort "marks the single largest investment in computing and AI by an American academic institution, and will help position the United States to lead the world in preparing for the rapid evolution of computing and AI."

The new college will be named for Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is donating $350 million. Schwarzman is chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, a global asset manager. (Other large gifts to higher education may be viewed in this Inside Higher Ed database.)

MIT said the effort would, among other things:

  • "Reorient MIT to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study at MIT, allowing the future of computing and AI to be shaped by insights from all other disciplines."
  • Create 50 new faculty positions.
  • "Educate students in every discipline to responsibly use and develop AI and computing technologies to help make a better world."
October 16, 2018

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission voted 8 to 5 Monday to reject a plan to relocate a private law school from Indiana to Middle Tennessee State University. Valparaiso University announced last year that it would stop admitting new students and would seek to relocate its law school from its location in northwest Indiana, where it faced competition from many Chicago-area law schools. Eventually, the university agreed to give its law school to Middle Tennessee State.

But the Tennessee Higher Education Commission must approve all new academic programs, even if given to the state for free. Nashville Public Radio reported that some questioned whether the state needed another law school. It already has public law schools in Memphis and Knoxville, and three private law schools in Nashville.

October 16, 2018

GI Bill recipients are waiting longer than three weeks on average to receive housing benefits this fall.

There were 158,922 pending claims as of Monday at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an agency spokesman -- a 51 percent increase over the same time last year. The backlog has decreased in recent days, the spokesman said, but the VA expects a higher than normal backlog through the rest of the year.

The VA notified students of the exceedingly long wait times in an email last week, according to Military Times. IT challenges at the agency as well as a delayed implementation of the Forever GI Bill, which was passed last year, are among the contributing factors behind the backlog.

Paul Lawrence, the VA’s under secretary for benefits, will host a webcast on ongoing work at the agency Tuesday.

October 16, 2018

A new study by researchers at Duke University and the University of Massachusetts at Boston exploits an intergenerational database of Americans to explore the connection between parental income and wealth and college outcomes. Among the findings of the study, released by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract here):

  • Young people whose parents get a boost in income and housing wealth are likelier than other students to enroll in college, in large part because the parents in turn increase their financial support for the children.
  • Increased parental housing wealth also correlates to a greater likelihood of graduating from college, mostly because the parents take out home equity loans. Increases in parental income appear to have no such effect on graduation.
  • Evidence from the study suggests that parents who help finance their children's college going increases the parents' mortgage debt, without lowering the student-debt levels of their offspring.
October 16, 2018

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, announced legislation Monday that would lay out requirements for the Education Department to collect data and regularly publish results of experimental initiatives.

The Higher Education Act gives the department authority to temporarily waive requirements for Title IV federal student aid programs to run initiatives known as experimental sites. The idea is that the experimental sites will allow the department and lawmakers to assess new policy ideas. Current initiatives include the Second Chance Pell program, which allows incarcerated students to access Pell Grants in more than 60 correctional institutions across the country. But experts have said recently launched experimental sites are not being rigorously evaluated.

The bill, dubbed the Innovation Zone Act, is co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, as well as Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. It would also require a review of ongoing experiments. And it would direct the department to give colleges and members of the public opportunities to suggest new experiments.

October 16, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Amherst College Week, Sheila Jaswal, associate professor of chemistry, explores ways to increase STEM enrollment for women and members of underrepresented minority groups. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 15, 2018

More than 2,100 people have signed a petition calling for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to rename its Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation after Anita Hill, the law professor who accused the Supreme Court justice of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing in 1991, USA Today reported.

“It’s utterly disgraceful to me that I attended a school where a building was named after a sexual predator. And not just any sexual predator, one who wrongfully won against a woman’s word,” Sage Lucero, a graduate of SCAD who started the petition, wrote. In the petition, Lucero wrote that she was made aware of the building during the hearing at which Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh testified, calling Ford and Hill's experiences in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee "extremely similar."

Thomas grew up in the area, and SCAD renamed the building after him in 2010 after it was renovated. The building has previously housed an orphanage and a convent.

SCAD officials told WSAV that they are "aware of the petition and have reached out to the sponsor."

October 15, 2018

Carol Folt, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, apologized for the university’s role in slavery during her speech on the university’s 225th birthday.

“As chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved peoples in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them,” she said. “I reaffirm our university’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.”

Folt issued her apology amid an ongoing controversy surrounding Silent Sam, a Confederate statue in the middle of campus that was pulled down by student activists earlier this fall. University officials had been mild-mannered about Silent Sam, caught between students calling for its removal and board members and political figures asking for Sam to remain standing. The university is currently searching for a new location for the statue. Faculty leaders are calling for it to never return to campus.

James Leloudis, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and co-chair of the chancellor’s task force on UNC-Chapel Hill history, detailed several remedial steps the university will take to confront its role in slavery. These include signs posted on the quad to mark the “birthplace of American public higher education” and acknowledge the indigenous people who “were the first stewards of this land, and whose descendants work, study and teach here today.” There will also be a marker at the Unsung Founders Memorial, which will be repaired and renovated, that will express the university’s remorse for its role in slavery.

Leloudis referred to Silent Sam briefly as the “Confederate monument” and said that once there is a plan for its relocation, the university will conduct research to “inform an exhibit and other educational materials to teach the history of the monument and the era of white supremacy in which it was erected.”

October 15, 2018

Dozens of colleges in Florida and Georgia closed or canceled classes last week to wait out Hurricane Michael, the category-four hurricane that made landfall in the Florida panhandle Oct. 10.

Florida State University will reopen its main campus in Tallahassee on Monday after closing for five days. The city of Tallahassee suffered widespread power outages that included many student and faculty homes, but city officials hoped to have 90 percent restored by Sunday. Florida State's Panama City campus sustained water and roof damage, as well as multiple broken windows, and will remain closed until further notice while repair crews work to clean up the campus.

Florida A&M University, also located in Tallahassee, will resume classes on Monday. Tallahassee Community College will reopen five of its campuses on Monday, although two -- Florida Public Safety Institute and Gadsden Center -- will remain closed until further notice.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a list Wednesday of more than 20 Georgia colleges that closed or canceled classes last week in preparation for the hurricane, including:

  • Georgia Southern University
  • Georgia Southwestern State University
  • Ogeechee Technical College
  • Savannah State University
  • Fort Valley State University
  • Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
  • Albany State University
  • Albany Technical College
  • Coastal Pines Technical College
  • Augusta Technical College
  • College of Coastal Georgia
  • Georgia College
  • Mercer University
  • Middle Georgia State University
  • Oconee Fall Line Technical College
  • Saint Leo University
  • South Georgia State College
  • South Georgia Technical College
  • Southern Crescent Technical College
  • Southern Regional Technical College
  • Southeastern Technical College
  • Valdosta State University
  • Wiregrass Georgia Technical College

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