Politics (national)

Legislator pressure leads North Dakota State to freeze Planned Parenthood grant

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North Dakota State U. wins $1.2 million grant for a sex education program, then -- after legislators protest -- says it might be illegal to use the money. Faculty accuse administrators of sacrificing academic freedom.

Higher ed in the Congressional election

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Even if college issues haven't been prominent in many races, the outcome -- especially if control of the House or Senate shifts -- could have a big impact.

Next Steps for Harkin and For-Profits

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Senator Harkin's two-year investigation of for-profit higher education ends, but the policy battle is far from over. What comes next?

For-profit group's new leader calls for self-regulation and collaboration

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Steve Gunderson has plenty of friends, including the Senate's leading critic of for-profit colleges. But the new head of the sector's trade group isn't afraid to pick a fight -- even with one of his members.

Gingrich puts forward higher ed ideas in 2012 campaign

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Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich is unique in the field for his academic past -- and for some of the ideas he has put forward.

Faculty opposition ends Republican politician's bid to teach business course

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Tom Emmer, who lost race for governor in Minnesota last year, loses shot at teaching spot at Hamline University, too. The reason, he says: his conservative views.

Campus intellectual diversity in the age of polarization (essay)

Commencement was over, and we had awarded diplomas to the more than 800 graduates in a timely way. I had made remarks, as I always do, connecting the education they had received with events in the world at large, especially the combination of corruption and inertia in Washington. While marching across the stage, a few dozen graduates managed to express their disappointment that the administration in general and the president (me) in particular weren’t as progressive as they would like on issues such as sexual assault, divestment from fossil fuels and support for underrepresented groups.

The commencement address at Wesleyan University this year was given by the MacArthur grant-winning poet Claudia Rankine. As president and master of ceremonies, I admit I was focused on the way she engaged the students -- no easy task. The address was political, as antiracism speeches must be, and it was smart, funny and moving by turns. She concluded by expressing, “Love to each of you and love to your bad behavior in the boardroom, on juries, in the office, on the street, at your dinner tables in all and every space that believes it can hold racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Muslim rhetoric and on and on. Love to you and your wild and unruly hearts imagining our world again.”

As families milled about after the ceremonies, taking pictures, sharing hugs and high fives, I was suddenly called out by an angry voice: “You annihilated my existence,” yelled a middle-aged man. Taken aback, I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “You annihilated my existence,” he repeated and went on to say that the ceremony had left him out and was an example of why people hate closed-minded universities today. Evidently, he did not feel included in the poet’s reference to unruly hearts.

I was surprised by this outburst, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I had recently encountered pushback from some on the other end of the political spectrum when I published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for an affirmative action program for conservative ideas on campuses. Noting the tilt to the left in many humanities and social-science divisions at selective colleges, I argued that it was not enough to take a free-market approach to intellectual diversity. Being unruly at a Northeastern university these days should include making a special effort to enhance the study of conservative (religious and libertarian) traditions, broadly conceived. We should avoid the hate-filled provocateurs of the alt-right and instead encourage the serious study of ideas outside the progressive consensus.

Many students and colleagues who think of themselves as being on the left, as I do, worked themselves into a position of outrage, even victimization, after hearing about my short essay. A young alumna returning to campus for her reunion told me that I had made it more difficult for people like her to get an education because I was claiming that this education should contain ideas contrary to her own. She didn’t say I had “annihilated her existence” but seemed to feel that way.

What’s going on?

Survey data released this week by the Pew Charitable Trusts have given me a better feel for the intensity of such reactions. It is clear that many national institutions with hitherto broad public support are now viewed very differently depending on one’s ideological position. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Republicans and right-leaning independents have a far more positive view of churches and a more negative view of labor unions than do Democrats and left-leaning independents. Although the media’s popularity among those tilting left has grown over the last year, that doesn’t offset the steep decline among Americans on the right who think the national media is having a positive impact on the country. Interestingly, one can’t find a majority who think favorably about banks and financial institutions, though Republicans are more positive (46 percent) than Democrats (only 33 percent positive).

The sharpest partisan divisions appear when people are asked whether colleges are “having a positive or negative impact on the way things are going in the country.” Fifty-eight percent of Republicans and their ideological friends now say that colleges are having a negative impact, while 72 percent of Democrats and their comrades see colleges as positive. This gap has widened significantly in recent years. In 2015, a majority of GOPers thought positively about higher education; in fact, the decline among those who lean to the right is close to 20 percent! The views of colleges of those who fall toward the left have been pretty stable.

Colleges and universities have long been the screens upon which groups project their own fears and anxieties. Older people wonder what the next generation is coming to, or worry that their children are having their lives distorted by a professoriate not part of their “real world.” In the past two years, the fantasy of political correctness on college campuses has been a catch-all for a range of people angry about the world, especially those concerned about their status in our age of rapidly growing inequality. The PC campus bogeyman has an important function -- it pumps up the myth that our biggest problems stem from a lack of tolerance for ideas friendly to the status quo. When fraternity brothers are disturbed by university restrictions on how they organize parties, they find a new rallying cry in bemoaning “political correctness.” When middle-aged veterans of college protests of yesteryear no longer see their own battles and slogans repeated by today’s students, they complain about PC culture undermining free speech. When men, even elected officials, are caught bragging about sexual assault, they punch back at political correctness.

As I noted in the run-up to the presidential election, there just isn’t any downside to attacking this imaginary monster of groupthink, and so people friendly to the status quo will continue to trumpet their own courage in “not being PC” as they attack society’s most vulnerable groups. Racism and xenophobia get a free pass when folded into an attack on PC elitism.

At the same time, those attacked as PC shouldn’t take the bait and content themselves with labeling anyone who attacks them as racist. Those who point out the dangers of big government, emphasize the needs of national security in an age of terrorism, extol the virtues of family and religion, or defend free speech deserve intellectual engagement -- not insult and irony. Those who support a progressive campus culture make a big mistake if they think they are protecting that culture by insulating it from ideas that come from conservative, libertarian and religious traditions.

Demonizing people because they have ideas different from your own has always been a temptation, and lately it has become a national contagion. College campuses are not at all immune from it, but this malady is fatal for liberal education. Many people are so accustomed to curated information -- be it from social media feeds or just from one’s choice of cable news -- that they have lost the ability to respond thoughtfully to points of view different from their own. When they are confronted with disagreement, they may feel their “existence is annihilated” or that the person with whom they disagree wants “to make it harder for people like themselves to get on in the world.”

So those on the left and on the right surveyed by the Pew Foundation may actually share the same picture of colleges but just evaluate it differently. Democratish survey respondents may be imagining campuses as places where they would find people who hold views like their own, and Republicanish respondents may be thinking that people like them would simply be called nasty names were they to speak out there. Both groups may be imagining colleges in blue states and red states as places where like-minded people go to become more alike.

This is a disastrous view of colleges and universities, one that we who work on campuses must do our best to dispel. We must highlight and enhance the ways that students and faculty members consider alternative perspectives on culture and society; we must promote vigorous debate that doesn’t degenerate into personal attack. This kind of consideration and debate is increasingly rare in the public sphere, and that’s why it is more important than ever to cultivate the terrain for it on our campuses. By this I don’t mean inviting provocative entertainers to the campus so as to get free speech points at the cost of providing a platform for idiocy and abuse. I mean enhancing conditions for the serious study of alternative visions of justice, freedom, individual rights and communal responsibilities. I mean not just sharing biases with students in acts of solidarity, but testing one’s biases by engaging with ideas that also challenge the campus consensus.

Even when colleges and universities are seen as places to engage with ideas and inquiry that break a consensus rather than support it, when students and faculty are seen as capable of trying out ideas without fear of reprisal, not everyone will say that colleges are having “a positive effect on the way things are going in the country.” If we are doing our jobs, some should always object to what happens on campus. But when we are getting objections (and support) from people who hold a variety of perspectives, then we can be more confident that we are fostering the intellectual diversity essential for higher education’s role in this country.

Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University and author, most recently, of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.

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Republicans view individual colleges differently than they do higher ed in general (essay)

Despite what you may have heard, Republicans don’t actually hate colleges and universities. A recent Pew Research Center poll does show that 58 percent of Republicans believe higher education institutions have a negative impact on the way things are going in the country, but that is no cause for alarm. In fact, Republicans love colleges and universities -- just like they love their members of the U.S. Congress.

There is a phenomenon with congressional voting. The majority of voters disapprove of Congress -- in fact, congressional approval continues to hit all-time lows. Yet representatives and senators continue to be re-elected. Why? Some people argue gerrymandering protects incumbents. Incumbents also get a major advantage in fund-raising and name recognition. But there’s also a much simpler explanation: people tend to hate Congress but love their representative. While only about 10 to 15 percent of voters approve of the job Congress is doing, almost half approve of their own representatives. Voters want to throw the bums out -- they just don’t see their own senators and representatives as bums.

We may be seeing the same phenomenon among Republicans in this new Pew poll. While 58 percent of Republicans believe colleges and universities have a negative impact on the direction of the United States, I sincerely doubt they feel the same way about their alma maters, their public flagship institutions, the university hospital where their children were born and especially their chosen intercollegiate basketball and football teams.

We actually have compelling evidence for the last of those allegiances. Public Policy Polling is a left-leaning polling organization based in North Carolina. Despite that partisan leaning, PPP is considered among the more accurate polling agencies in the business and does an annual culture survey in the state. The most recent survey, taken in January 2017, asked questions about sports, food and many more topics. And it provides some interesting insights into this particular issue.

The survey found that around 73 percent of all North Carolina voters expressed a team preference among the colleges and universities in the state. About a third support the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heels, with close to 20 percent supporting their archrival Duke Blue Devils, 16 percent supporting the Wolfpack of North Carolina State University and 5 percent cheering for Wake Forest’s Demon Deacons. It isn’t surprising that the vast majority of people in North Carolina would support the state’s major-conference athletics teams. What is surprising, given what the Pew poll would tell have us believe, is that support for each team transcends political divides.

PPP also asked people for whom they voted in the 2016 election. More Clinton voters than Trump voters professed an allegiance to college sports teams in the state; around 78 percent of surveyed Clinton voters and 66 percent of Trump voters support one of those four teams. Yet, of the remaining 34 percent of unaffiliated Trump voters, it is hard to imagine that at least some of them won’t be cheering for East Carolina University or Appalachian State University during football season. And regardless, two-thirds of Trump voters support at least one college or university in a state that has recently become known for a caustic political atmosphere.

Athletic events are some of the most high-profile showcases of colleges and universities. In North Carolina, National Collegiate Athletic Association sports and politics go hand in hand. In March, the NCAA delivered a 48-hour ultimatum to the state’s General Assembly: repeal the now-infamous HB2 bathroom bill, or it would ban North Carolina sites from holding championship events. The bill was repealed within that two-day period, with many observers arguing that college basketball was the reason for a swift repeal after two years of combative political posturing.

That said, colleges and universities are not equivalent to their athletics teams. It is possible for someone to have an allegiance to a college athletic team while also having a negative view of the institution. How do voters feel about the institutions themselves? Chapel Hill has had several run-ins with the state’s Republicans. The right-leaning Board of Directors of UNC replaced President Tom Ross with George W. Bush’s secretary of education Margaret Spellings and closed some research centers on Chapel Hill’s campus perceived to be left leaning. One might expect those events to be demonstrative of an anti-UNC sentiment among the Republican Party in North Carolina.

PPP’s culture poll, however, shows us that is not the case. The 2015 edition asked North Carolinians whether they thought the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was one of the best public institutions in the country. When given the options of “the best,” “not the best” and “not sure,” almost six in 10 voters -- and half of all Republican voters -- believed UNC to be one of the best public universities in the country. Excluding those voters who answered “not sure,” 75 percent of those polled and 65 percent of Republicans said they believed the university to be among the nation’s best. That puts approval of the University of North Carolina among Tar Heel State Republicans at a level similar to their support for the state’s Republican U.S. senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and its Republican Legislature. While being the best and having a negative impact are not entirely mutually exclusive, it is hard to believe that Republican voters both think their home institution is one of the best in the country and has a negative impact in the country. Who would want to be the best at being the worst?

So Republicans probably don’t think every college and university has a negative impact on where society is going. However, people might have a negative view of the postsecondary sector for many legitimate reasons. A Time poll in 2012 found that 54 percent of Americans thought higher education was on the wrong track. As many as 80 percent said college isn’t worth what people pay for it. Two years ago, a YouGov poll showed around 62 percent of Americans believe that no student should have to borrow to pay tuition at a public school. Such findings tell us that people are apprehensive about the cost of college. Stories of increasing college debt make people of all political persuasions wary -- especially Republicans. Yet the majority of young adults still think college is worth the cost.

College and university administrators shouldn’t lament the fact that the Pew poll shows a negative attitude toward colleges and universities. At the same time, they shouldn’t discount the findings and certainly shouldn’t write off Republicans as not understanding the important role higher education plays for both liberal and conservative sectors of society. Instead, they should ask why that is the case and use the Pew finding along with others to instruct how they should interact with people of all political stripes.

Regardless of their politics, people have an affinity -- maybe even a love -- for at least one college or university. They want to believe it is one of the best around. They want it to cost less, but they think attending is worth it. That’s the same message higher education leaders have received for years.

Now colleges and universities must engage with the public and show what they are doing to be the best higher education institutions possible. They should show how they plan to contain costs, or at least justify tuition and fee raises. They should remind people that the same university that won the NCAA basketball championship this year also generated 100,000 jobs for the state of North Carolina while making breakthroughs in HIV prevention and autism research. Postsecondary institutions have to remind those who don’t trust them that the Carolina blue and white (or whatever colored) uniforms they love so much are part of a great college or university -- one that objectively makes the United States a better place.

Christopher R. Marsicano is a Ph.D. candidate in leadership and policy studies with a focus on higher education policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. He studies politics and public opinion in higher education. It pains him, as an alumnus of both Davidson College and Duke University, to see so much popular support for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels.


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President Helped End Machete Attack on Students

A former Transylvania University student was subdued by the president of the university and the chief of the public safety department Friday after he attacked a female student with a machete and appeared ready to use the weapon on other students, The Kentucky Herald-Leader reported.

The attacker, 19-year-old Mitchell Adkins, entered an on-campus cafe with a bag full of weapons and begin singling out female students and asking them which political party they identified with, one witness told LEX 18.

When the first woman said she was a Republican, Adkins passed over her. The next woman, however, had a different answer, and Adkins stabbed her with his machete.

Gregg Muravchick, director of public safety at Transylvania, happened to be next door to the cafe when he received an alert that someone had pressed a panic alarm. When he approached the building, he saw the female student suffering from a stab wound.

Muravchick drew his handgun and told the attacker to drop his weapons.

President Seamus Carey, who also happened to be in the area when he heard students were in trouble, helped with the handcuffs while Muravchick restrained the attacker.

Other university and city police officers arrived to help, as well as an ambulance for the student victim, who had been aided by an employee in the accounting department.

The victim was admitted to a hospital but is not suffering from life-threatening injuries.

Adkins left the university in 2015. In November of that year, he wrote an article for BuzzFeed about harassment and discrimination he faced on campus for his conservative political beliefs.

He is charged with first-degree and fourth-degree assault, plus multiple counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Adkins is being held in the Fayette County Detention Center and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

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Boston College Objects to Paul Ryan Video

In a promotional video posted to the Speaker of the House’s Twitter account, Representative Paul Ryan used video footage of Boston College without getting proper permission from its creator, The Boston Globe reported.

The minute-long video, posted on April 18 and titled “Imagine a Tax Form That Is the Size of a Postcard,” includes eight seconds of footage of college graduates clad in black caps and gowns on a picturesque campus.

The footage, displayed while Ryan discusses the complicated tax provisions surrounding college tuition payments, was taken of BC graduates in front of an iconic campus building, Gasson Hall. It was shot and produced by Sean Casey, a senior creative producer for the university.

“The use of the video footage was not authorized by Boston College,” a spokesman told the Globe.

Casey pointed this out on his own Twitter account last week. “This video includes footage from one of my videos for BC the Speaker did not receive permission to use. … Shame … Shame … Shame …” Casey wrote on Twitter. He said he had reached out to the Speaker’s office about the misuse of his footage.

As of Sunday night, the video was still on Ryan’s Twitter account.

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