Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 27, 2018

A survey of colleges by Kaplan Test Prep finds, for the third year in a row, a decline in the share of colleges (25 percent this year) that check applicants' social media profiles during the admissions process. The figure was 40 percent in 2015. One theory about the decline is that many high school students are gravitating to social media sites such as Snapchat that are more difficult to track than popular sites in the past, such as Facebook.

November 27, 2018

The College Media Association has censured the University of North Alabama after administrators there allegedly fired the adviser of the student newspaper over a negative story it published.

The Flor-Ala newspaper ran a story in September about being denied personnel records of two employees, one of whom has resigned from the university. David Shields, former vice president of student affairs, left in July, and Gregory Gaston, a professor, is not allowed on the campus grounds.

A week after the story published, administrators met with student journalists and the newspaper's adviser, Scott Morris, according to the association. Morris and the students characterized Provost Ross Alexander as “angry” and “frustrated.”

Later that month, Morris was told the provost would be eliminating his job and replacing it with a tenure-track faculty position that required a doctorate, which would result in Morris, a longtime journalist without the credential, being fired.

The association said that administrators could not provide any proof that they were considering changing Morris’s position prior to the newspaper publishing its report. The university also sent out a reminder to professors and other staffers of the institution's rules, which suggest that officials should not speak to the media unless an administrator vets the inquiry beforehand.

"If college officials decided to remove the adviser as punishment for something that students published, then that reeks of retaliation for Constitutionally-protected student speech," Chris Evans, association president, said in a statement. The association represents more than 600 college newspaper advisers.

The university said in a statement via spokesman Bryan Rachal that the association's actions are "unwarranted, outside the scope of its authority, and inconsistent with its own investigation."

The statement said that the university has been considering since late 2014 upgrading the advising position to a tenure-track faculty job and the university provided the association with information that confirmed that timeline.

November 27, 2018

The American Anthropological Association, the Society for American Archaeology and the Archaeological Institute of America have joined to submit a brief in support of the plaintiffs who have sued the Trump administration alleging that the president does not have authority under the Antiquities Act to substantially reduce the size of Utah's Bears Ears National Monument (at right) and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Trump administration is seeking to remove much of the territory currently covered by the monuments to open up the space to mineral extraction, among other activities. The scholarly groups were involved in drafting the 1906 law that governs the monuments and say that it does not give the Trump administration leeway to act as it has done, potentially endangering archaeological objects.

November 27, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Sean Gerrity, assistant professor of English at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, describes how some didn’t need to go far to find freedom. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 26, 2018

Will Rainford (right), who was suspended as dean of Catholic University's social work school in September, has announced that he will resign that position, although he will remain on the faculty. At the time he was suspended, the university left open the possibility that he would return to the deanship. He was suspended after tweets he made criticizing one of the accusers of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many students and others were shocked that a social work dean would criticize someone bringing charges of sexual assault, and that a dean would do so on his official account linked to his role as dean.

November 26, 2018

About 40 faculty and staff members at Montana State University Billings received recorded racist phone calls on Thanksgiving Day, The Billings Gazette reported. The calls are believed to be from an out-of-state white supremacist group. University police are investigating the calls.

Also this month, racist robocalls hit students at Drake University.

November 26, 2018

An article in The Wall Street Journal considers why Democratic politicians are putting less emphasis these days on free-college plans. The article notes that a majority of Democratic voters (but not Republican voters) favor free college. But the article quoted pollsters and political analysts saying that many blue-collar voters don't see free college helping them or their children, while some liberals question whether some free-tuition plans do not focus on the lowest-income students. Others are saying that new federal benefits for working-class Americans shouldn't assume that they all want free college. “The feeling people had was, ‘Don’t impose your version of the American dream on us,’” said one Democratic strategist.

November 26, 2018

The prominent athletics director of George Washington University, who left unexpectedly last December, likely did so after his lewd and sexually inappropriate behavior was reported to the university, a Deadspin investigation found.

Patrick Nero, who resigned quietly last year with no job lined up, reportedly had also been in a long-running feud with the now former basketball coach Mike Lonergan, Deadspin reported.

Nero allegedly orchestrated Lonergan’s exit, casting the coach as a homophobe. The men clashed when Lonergan expressed concerns to other administrators about what he considered to be Nero’s inappropriate relationships with students.

But Nero kept his job until an anonymous tipster sent a video to officials of Nero apparently at a bar making obscene gestures and then straddling a 2017 male graduate.

The institution provided a statement from athletics spokesman Brian Sereno.

“The university takes seriously the safety and well-being of its students, including student-athletes, and it carefully and thoughtfully reviewed concerns raised in the past regarding its athletics program. The focus should properly be on the here and now. The athletics program, under new AD Tanya Vogel, is thriving and its leadership is deeply committed to the student-athlete experience.”

November 26, 2018

A professor of sociology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor disciplined for harassment should have been able to cross-examine her student accusers, a federal judge ruled last week, according to Mlive.com. In a lawsuit, Pamela Smock, the professor, argued that she was unfairly punished with a three-year pay freeze and denial of sabbatical, among other sanctions, after students -- whose identities were not disclosed to her -- said that she’d behaved inappropriately, such as by discussing her own sexual experiences, disclosing personal information about another student and asking a student and the student's spouse for favors. A university investigation found that while some of Smock's behavior was inappropriate, it was not enough to create a sexual hostile environment.

In response to a recent motion by Michigan to dismiss the case, U.S. District Judge Arthur Tarnow partially sided with Smock in saying that she should have been able to question her accusers as part of the university's disciplinary process. In so doing, he reportedly cited another recent court case regarding Michigan that found that universities must allow those accused of sexual misconduct or their attorneys to cross-examine their accusers. "Tarnow clearly indicated the university's approach to investigations for faculty members is unlawful, because they don't provide faculty members with opportunity for cross-examination of their accusers unless they are planning on firing them," David Nacht, Smock’s attorney, told Mlive.com.

Tarnow also ruled against Smock in dismissing other aspects of her suit, such as that her punishment was in retaliation for protected speech and that certain university standards were unconstitutional. Rick Fitzgerald, a university spokesperson, said, "From our perspective, this initial court ruling -- on a motion to dismiss -- was overwhelmingly in favor of the university."

November 26, 2018

A former North Carolina governor, Republican Pat McCrory, last week said that college students in the state are voting illegally. “In my particular election we had a lot of college students, who were out-of-state college students, vote,” McCrory said. “And they could do it because there was no voter ID which would’ve showed New Jersey license plates, Pennsylvania license plates, you name it … And I couldn’t do a thing about it.” As The News & Observer reported, McCrory was wrong about state law, which explicitly gives college students the right to vote in the county where they are enrolled.

Last week, Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican U.S. senator from Mississippi, was criticized for saying that it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for college students to vote.

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