Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 13, 2018

Two universities have removed honors for prominent individuals who have recently been accused of sexual harassment.

Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration last year honored Steve Wynn, a hotel magnate in Las Vegas, as a "hospitality icon." Last week, the university revoked the honor. "We can no longer consider Mr. Wynn to be an exemplary role model for the industry and, more importantly, for our students," said a Cornell statement. "We have read with dismay the reports of his sexual misconduct, including the high incidence within his organization. Service employees are particularly vulnerable, and hospitality leaders have a keen responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe working environment for their employees, free from harassment of any kind."

The University of Minnesota has removed Garrison Keillor from Scholars Walk, which features panels honoring various people. The university said that it rotates panels to honor more people, but the statement left open the possibility that Keillor could have been removed for reasons beyond rotation. In deciding whose panels to add and whose to rotate off, the statement said that it takes "a variety of factors into consideration, including whether the person meets the standards the university holds for members of its community." A spokeswoman declined to elaborate on the reasons for removing Keillor's panel.

February 13, 2018

The Department of Education will not take action on civil rights complaints filed by transgender students blocked from using the bathroom matching their gender identity, BuzzFeed News reported Monday.

The website quoted department spokeswoman Liz Hill, who said it was the Education Department's position that bathroom complaints are not covered by Title IX. But Hill in an email said "there is nothing new here" and that the department's position has been that gender identity isn't covered by Title IX since Secretary Betsy DeVos last year withdrew Obama administration guidelines issued to protect the rights of transgender students.

The guidelines were issued to ensure those students had access to bathrooms and other facilities of their choice, but DeVos argued those issues were best handled at the state level and said the guidance had given rise to legal disputes over the issue.

A memo from acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson to regional officials last June clarified that investigators should continue to evaluate complaints for sex discrimination under Title IX, whether or not an individual was transgender. That document did not, however, mention whether access to bathrooms matching a student's gender identity would fall under the type of complaint officials should investigate.

Hill's statement to BuzzFeed clarifies that the department does not necessarily consider access to bathrooms based on gender identity a civil rights issue under Title IX.

“Where students, including transgender students, are penalized or harassed for failing to conform to sex-based stereotypes, that is sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX,” Hill told the site. “In the case of bathrooms, however, long-standing regulations provide that separating facilities on the basis of sex is not a form of discrimination prohibited by Title IX.”

February 13, 2018

The developer that built a controversial dormitory for Bethune-Cookman University is countersuing the institution in an attempt to receive payments it says it is owed.

Quantum Equity filed suit in Volusia County in Florida Monday, according to documents provided by a legal and crisis communications firm that is also representing the businessman previously identified as the developer's managing partner, Darnell Dailey. The firm also provided a statement denying claims made in a lawsuit Bethune-Cookman filed last month, saying the suit wrongly groups the developer with former university administrators and a broker accused of fraudulent activities.

Bethune-Cookman sued the developer and several former university officials, alleging improper payments were made to BCU officials as the price tag of the dormitory spiked.

But on Monday, the developer pushed back on the much-discussed idea that the project is costing the university $306 million. It issued a three-page statement calling past public discussion of the project's cost “grossly misleading.”

“Just like a home purchased on a 30-year mortgage, at the end of the payment term the total cost of the home is well above the stated purchase price,” the statement reads. “Moreover, the net 'cost' of the Sublease to BCU is zero because the room revenue more than covers the rent.”

The facility in question cost $85 million to build, according to previous reports.

Quantum is compensated for its work by sharing payments made by Bethune-Cookman, the statement continued. Therefore, the developer's interest is tied to the university's financial security and ongoing operation, it said.

The statement also argued Bethune-Cookman's financial and governance troubles are “largely independent” of the dorm project, which is designed to be self-supporting.

The lawsuit seeks possession of the dormitory; damages including rent, late charges and interest; the appointment of a receiver to collect rent or run the dormitory business; and an injunction requiring Bethune-Cookman to direct students to fill the dorm in question before leasing them space in other dormitories.

February 13, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Derek Black, professor of law at the University of South Carolina, looks into why there isn't a federal right to education. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 12, 2018

Photo of Lawrence S. BacowHarvard University on Sunday announced that its next president will be Lawrence S. Bacow, former president of Tufts University.

Bacow, 66, is currently the Hauser Leader-in-Residence at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership. Prior to serving as president at Tufts for a decade, he spent 24 years on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he served as chancellor, chair of the faculty and the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies.

The son of immigrants, he attended college at MIT and then earned three degrees from Harvard, including a Ph.D. in public policy. His scholarly work has included environmental policy, bargaining and negotiation, economics, law, public policy, and higher education.

Bacow will succeed Drew Faust, who announced in June that she would step down as Harvard president at the end of the current academic year. She has been president since 2007.

Harvard posted the following video in which Bacow talks about his parents, noting that they were both refugees and that his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz, was the only member of her family or her town who survived the Holocaust and World War II. He offers praise for the United States, asking "where else" can you go from an immigrant with nothing to the life of opportunity he has had. Of his opportunities, he says that "higher education was at the root of that."

He also says in the video that this may be the first time that people are challenging the value of higher education, and argues that higher education should be defended, both for its impact on students and society. He reflects on his decade at Tufts and says that his most significant accomplishment there was raising money to dramatically increase spending on financial aid. He expresses strong support for diversity, saying that "ultimately, we learn from our differences."

Following are some of the articles in which Bacow has been quoted on issues in higher education generally or at Tufts.

  • At a conference in 2013, he said that some form of online education would soon become an expected part of every undergraduate course. But Bacow dismissed naysayers who predict the current model of higher education is destined to fail. “Online is here to stay,” Bacow said, adding that as new technologies become available, “Faculty are going to run to that. Our students are going to demand it.” He also said online education would help colleges limit what they charge students. “We’re not only pricing ourselves out of the market, we risk jeopardizing public support,” Bacow said.
  • He was co-author of a 2012 report that said machines would soon be sophisticated enough to fill certain faculty roles at traditional universities. But to make this revolution work for students, academic leaders at those traditional institutions will need to broker a peace between artificially intelligent teaching programs and their human counterparts, the report said.
  • He was involved in disputes over free expression at Tufts, expressing strong support for free expression but also appointing a task force that led to new Tufts policy in 2009 affirming free speech but not stating it was absolute, and saying that expression at Tufts should "respect the human dignity of others" and maintain a climate that does not interfere with students' ability to "study, grow, and attain their full potential."
  • In 2011, his final year as president of Tufts, he ordered the end of the decades-old tradition of the naked quad run, citing physical and alcohol-related dangers that befall student participants in the annual event.

How long will Bacow serve as president? Harvard, of course, didn't say anything about that. But when he announced he was stepping down at Tufts, he said, “I have often said that 10 years is about the right term for a university president. It is long enough for one individual to have a substantial impact but not so long that the institution, or the president, becomes comfortable.”

February 12, 2018

New data from the Lumina Foundation show that in 2016, 46.9 percent of Americans aged 25 to 64 had a postsecondary degree or certificate. That is a 1.1 percentage point increase in a year and a nine percentage point increase since 2008, but Lumina's report says that the rate of increase isn't large enough to meet a goal of 60 percent by 2025. Further, the Lumina data show significant gaps by race and ethnicity. The 2016 figures by race/ethnicity (for degrees only, excluding certificates) are:

  • Asian-American: 61.7 percent
  • White: 46.4 percent
  • Black: 30 percent
  • Native American: 24 percent
  • Latino: 21.9 percent
February 12, 2018

The American Historical Association has condemned a new law in Poland that makes it a crime to write or speak "publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich." Many prominent scholars have written over the years that while some Polish citizens and leaders fought the Nazis, others helped them. The AHA has already has expressed concern to the Polish government about Jan T. Gross, a professor of history at Princeton University, who was facing a libel investigation from Polish authorities for publishing historical accounts of Poles killing Jews during World War II. The new statement from the AHA quotes from a letter sent about the Gross case, which noted the movement to enact the legislation that has now become law.

"We feel strongly that this law will allow police and judicial authorities to overrule the judgments of trained historians, and that it will threaten the ability of historians to conduct impartial research that might reveal facts that these authorities find uncomfortable," the letter said. "No nation’s past is free of blemishes, and Poland will do itself no favors in the eye of world opinion by passing such a restrictive and prejudicial piece of legislation."

February 12, 2018

Southern New Hampshire University announced on Twitter that an online sociology instructor who denied that Australia is a country has been replaced. The university is also reimbursing the student who had her work rejected for insisting that Australia is, in fact, a country.

February 12, 2018

The budget bill enacted last week included a provision clearing more than $330 million owed by four historically black colleges for loans they took out from the U.S. Education Department to help with recovery from Hurricane Katrina, The New Orleans Advocate reported. The institutions include three historically black Louisiana institutions -- Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans and Xavier University -- as well as Tougaloo College in Mississippi. The debts posed severe problems to the colleges, which are not wealthy and do not serve wealthy students. Congress granted the colleges a five-year break on repaying the loans in 2013, but that was about to expire. Historically black colleges were among the institutions most severely damaged by the post-Katrina floods.

February 12, 2018

Portland State University announced a plan to offer free tuition to prospective transfer students from low-income backgrounds starting this fall.

The university’s “transfers finish free” program is available to all residents of Oregon eligible for a federal Pell Grant. Program applicants must intend to enroll full-time, have completed at least 30 credits (and earned 20 credits after high school graduation), and have a minimum grade point average of 2.5.

Portland State plans to use federal and state grants before the university pays the difference. The program is available to transfer students for up to four years if they continue to meet the requirements for eligibility.

The university is not placing a cap on the number of transfer students eligible for acceptance to the program.

John Fraire, the university’s vice president for enrollment management and student services, said the program is the “answer to helping low-income community college students attend” the college, in a press release.



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