Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 26, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, John Heitmann, professor of history at the University of Dayton, explores how we reshaped the car as it has reshaped us. Learn more about the Academic Minute here. And if you missed them, here are last week's podcasts on the future of football and two ways to estimate time.

November 21, 2018

An Education Department audit produced last year found that Navient, one of the country’s largest student loan servicers, steered thousands of borrowers toward higher-cost repayment plans.

The audit found that for nearly 10 percent of borrower calls monitored by the department, Navient offered no options besides forbearance, which allows borrowers to temporarily stop making payments while interest continues to accumulate. The findings of the audit were first reported by the Associated Press.

The document was released publicly Tuesday by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, who said it bolstered a lawsuit brought against the company by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. CFPB alleged that between 2010 and 2015, the company added billions in interest to student loans through overuse of forbearance. Along with CFPB, five states -- California, Illinois, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Washington -- are suing the company.

Warren also released a letter to Navient CEO Jack Remondi, sent last week, that demanded an explanation for the findings of the audit.

Within hours of the AP report Tuesday, the value of Navient stock tumbled by nearly 10 percent.

November 21, 2018

The law school at Seattle University has suspended an externship option for students with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, The Seattle Times reported. Externships provide law school credit for work with various groups. Students said ties to ICE could endanger undocumented students and questioned the ethics of ICE's work under President Trump.

November 21, 2018

The Department of Education on Tuesday announced updates to the handbook governing federal civil rights investigations that emphasize First Amendment principles.

The new addition to the Office for Civil Rights case-processing manual was welcomed by free speech advocates. Civil rights groups, though, raised concerns that speech protections could be used to dismiss serious harassment.

“While every federal government agency is of course bound by the Constitution and Bill of Rights, OCR has in recent years too often ignored this responsibility when it came to both guidance it has issued and its decisions in individual cases,” said Robert Shibley, executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “FIRE hopes that this will serve as a reminder to staff members that they must consider the fundamental civil rights enshrined in the First Amendment while doing the necessary work of enforcing those of our nation's civil rights laws that are under their jurisdiction.”

Shiwali Patel, senior counsel for education at the National Women’s Law Center, said just how far some are pushing the department to interpret the First Amendment could become an issue.

“In the education context, there are limitations on speech if it causes substantial disruption or interference with school activities,” she said. “That would include sexual harassment as well as racial harassment and other kinds of harassment.”

The changes to the Office for Civil Rights case-processing manual are the first since Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus was confirmed by the Senate in June. The update also restored some appeals rights for complainants and dropped a provision added last spring that allowed department officials to dismiss complaints that are part of a pattern of similar complaints.

But the document maintains other recent changes, including restrictions on when the department would launch systemic investigations of civil rights violations at an institution.

“Our top priority in the Office for Civil Rights is ensuring all students have equal access to education free from discrimination,” Marcus said.

November 21, 2018

Three incidents in which swastikas were discovered on the Cornell University campus in recent days have upset many there. Two were in dormitories and one was carved into snow.

Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, issued a statement that said in part, "I write today to express my revulsion at the symbol of hate and anti-Semitism that was marked in the snow outside of a residence hall on North Campus late yesterday. I vehemently denounce such acts, which are clearly intended to intimidate members of our community. The swastika has historically been -- and continues to be -- used as a symbol of intolerance, terror and repression against vulnerable communities."

November 21, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Ranjit Dighe, professor in the department of economics at SUNY Oswego, explores how the effects of Prohibition are still being felt today in the quality of beer. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 20, 2018

The University of Missouri at Kansas City failed to stop a pharmacy professor accused of coercing international students from India to do personal chores for him such as busing tables at social events, taking care of his dog or houseplants, or bailing water out of a flooded basement, The Kansas City Star reported.

Students said they feared losing their visa status if they did not comply with the demands of the professor, Ashim Mitra. One student said that when he told Mitra he would not act as a servant, "he threatened to kick me out of the university and force me to lose my visa and lose everything."

The Star spoke to nearly a dozen former students as well as to former colleagues of Mitra’s who said they had seen students performing menial tasks off campus or heard students’ complaints. Another pharmacy professor, Mridul Mukherji, filed two lawsuits in Jackson County Circuit Court alleging that Mitra mistreated international students and that the university retaliated against Mukherji when he complained.

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, UMKC’s provost and executive vice chancellor, said in written responses to the Star that the university investigated the complaint and "made repeated efforts to contact students identified by Dr. Mukherji at the time. However, no students substantiated the claims and thus no formal action could be taken."

Mitra issued a statement to the Star through his attorney denying the charges: “I have not required anyone to perform chores unrelated to their studies,” the statement said in part.

“I do not understand the suggestion that anyone was concerned with their visas being at risk. I have worked with over 60 graduate students attending UMKC on F1 (study) visas, and I am not aware of any of those students having their visa status challenged or revoked.”

November 20, 2018

Duke University is condemning whoever placed a large red swastika on a campus memorial to those who were murdered last month in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

A statement from Vincent Price, Duke's president, said in part, "That such a craven and cowardly act of vandalism -- a desecration of a memorial to individuals who were killed because they were Jewish and practicing their faith -- should happen anywhere is extremely distressing. That it should occur in such a visible, public location at Duke should be a matter of grave concern to us all."

November 20, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Kerri Lesh, Ph.D. candidate and certified specialist of wine at the University of Nevada at Reno, delves into one very special wine. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 19, 2018

Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican senator from Mississippi, is facing backlash for a video of her on a campaign stop telling a crowd that it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for college students to vote, The Washington Post reported.

“They remind me that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote,” she said. “Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.” Hyde-Smith faces Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff election Nov. 27.

Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for Hyde-Smith’s campaign, told The Washington Post that Hyde-Smith’s comment was a joke and that the video had been selectively edited. In an effort to stem the criticism, Hyde-Smith tweeted a photo with two students from Mississippi State University. One of the students pictured, JR Coleman, spoke out on Twitter against her use of his photo.

"As a political science major I want to understand and inform myself about every candidate. But I do not, however, support Cindy Hyde Smith. I am disgusted. The sole purpose of this picture being posted is because I am black," he tweeted. "She is attempting to show herself in a different light by using this photo of me. We were not laughing in regards to her terrible statements, and I don’t appreciate this post trying to make it seem so."

Hyde-Smith has since deleted the tweet.

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