Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 23, 2018

The Senate on Monday passed a stopgap funding measure to end a government shutdown that began when members failed to reach a deal on a new spending agreement Friday.

The bill, passed on a 81 to 18 vote, includes a reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program but came with only a promise to Democrats from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would allow a vote on a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

In September, President Donald Trump said his administration would wind down the program, which allowed 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to work in the country legally and get temporary protection against deportation. Trump said Congress should act to pass legislation extending the program. But despite heavy pressure from immigration groups and progressive organizations, as well as from college leaders and DACA recipients themselves, Congress has yet to act.

Progressive activists -- and several prominent Senate Democrats -- said no funding deal should be agreed to without a DACA solution.

The new funding measure, which the House also passed later Monday night, funds the government through Feb. 8, potentially setting up another showdown over the program.

Pushing for a long-term solution on DACA has been a major focus of college presidents and the higher ed lobby in Washington since last fall. Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a statement that he was pleased to see Congress poised to reopen the federal government, and he praised the commitment to bring a DACA vote to the floor.

"College and university presidents are extremely concerned about the future of Dreamers, the group of bright and high-achieving young people brought to this country as children," he said. "We reiterate that it is unacceptable for Dreamers to be held hostage to a political face-off and left in limbo as they try to make decisions beyond the next few weeks about their education, jobs, or service in the military. We stand ready to work with all parties to reach a swift and fair resolution to this pressing matter."

January 23, 2018

The Reverend Judy Peterson, the North Park University pastor who was put on leave after she officiated a same-sex wedding, has had her credential indefinitely suspended by the Evangelical Covenant Church.

This leaves her employment with the university uncertain.

Inside Higher Ed first reported this month that Peterson had been temporarily suspended by the church and put on paid leave by North Park. Peterson, in a letter circulated online, said she was waiting for a meeting with church leaders to find out whether she would be able to practice her ministry.

Peterson and North Park will "discern constructive paths forward" regarding her position at the university, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Church officials invited Peterson back to continue the conversation in June, according to the Tribune.

January 23, 2018

The restaurant group that operates the Chili's and Maggiano's chains announced an arrangement Monday by which it will, through Pearson Education, offer employees cost-free educational programs from language skills through associate degrees.

Under the program, called Best You EDU, Brinker International will provide no-cost programs at three levels: "foundational" programs in skill development and bilingual coaching; GED programs; and an "online pathway to an associate degree in business or general studies through a regionally accredited college, including all courses, text and study materials, advising and coaching support."

Increasing numbers of corporations have struck arrangements in recent years to provide postsecondary learning opportunities to their employees, as incentives for recruiting and retaining workers.

January 23, 2018

Academic freedom in Hong Kong has faced growing threats since the 2014 pro-democracy “Occupy” protests, in which students and faculty played a central role, a new report argues.

The report, published by Hong Kong Watch, a London-based human rights organization, and authored by Kevin Carrico, a lecturer of Chinese studies at Australia’s Macquarie University, argues that since early 2015, “a growing top-down backlash has attempted to limit academic freedom and bring academia under the authorities’ control.” The report identifies three main trends associated with what it describes as “this post-Occupy retribution,” including retaliation against controversial academic figures who have been removed from their posts or blocked from promotions; “a growing push to place limits on freedom of speech,” in particular speech related to Hong Kong independence; and the politicization of university governing councils. Specifically, the report argues that “state-appointed and politically connected figures have governed universities in a manner divorced from the will of students and faculty.”

“Although academic work in Hong Kong remains considerably freer than in the rest of the People’s Republic of China, these trends suggest that elements of academic control in place elsewhere in China are gradually being incorporated into the Hong Kong system, threatening the city’s academic freedom and thus its universities’ reputations,” the report says.

January 23, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Stacey Havlik, assistant professor in the department of education and counseling at Villanova University, explores how schools can support such students in their time of need. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 22, 2018

A Harper College psychology professor is facing charges of attempted murder and assault on a peace officer after firing shots at a rest stop off Interstate 80 near Atalissa, Iowa, on Jan. 11, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.

Charles Johnston is also accused of firing five more rounds at drivers at a Cedar County BP gas station after leaving the rest stop, driving west and taking another exit on I-80, the Tribune reported. Johnston then engaged in a shootout with police officers before being arrested.

No one was injured during the shootings.

Johnston, who has worked at Harper College since 1996, was recently absent from the college without securing an approved leave. Johnston has been barred from the university following his arrest. The college's website indicated that Johnston taught three courses at Harper during the fall 2017 semester, but he is not listed on the 2018 spring schedule, according to the Tribune.

Johnston was in the custody of the Cedar County Sheriff's department as of Friday's Tribune report, as his $1 million cash bond remained outstanding.

January 22, 2018

As more details surface about Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty in November to charges that he molested numerous girls as a doctor for the U.S. national gymnastics team, Michigan State University has received more criticism. Nassar was director of sports medicine at the university at the same time he worked for the U.S. gymnastics team, and numerous former Michigan State athletes were among the dozens of women who gave victim-impact statements at Nassar's sentencing hearing for 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct last week. Michigan State has maintained that it acted as soon as it had information about the abuse. But many of Nassar's victims dispute that.

The Detroit News has now reported that 14 officials at the university were warned about what Nassar was doing.

While calls have grown for the ouster of Lou Anna K. Simon as president, the Michigan State board has largely stood behind her. But now one member of the board is calling for her resignation.

January 22, 2018

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case challenging the Trump administration’s third and current version of the travel ban, which restricts entry to the United States for individuals from eight countries, six of which are majority Muslim. The challenge was brought by the state of Hawaii, which has been able to establish standing in the case by asserting injuries to the ability of its state public universities to recruit international students and faculty.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the president had exceeded his authority in issuing the travel restrictions and that the indefinite suspension of entry for nationals of certain countries “conflicts with” the Immigration and Nationality Act’s prohibition on nationality-based discrimination. The court did not take up the state’s arguments that the travel restrictions violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which bars the government from favoring or disfavoring any religion.

The Supreme Court has allowed the travel restrictions to take effect pending the resolution of the case.

January 22, 2018

The Department of Education last week said it was further weakening disclosure requirements in the gainful-employment rule.

Under the new 2018 gainful employment disclosure template, career education programs would no longer be required to disclose median earnings data of graduates or charges for room and board. The template also allows those programs to list the job-placement rate from multiple accreditors.

Last year, weeks after saying she would launch a regulatory rewrite of the gainful-employment rule, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told those programs that they would have until July 2018 to disclose to prospective students information on graduate employment rates or typical graduate debt levels -- a year later than originally scheduled.

The Obama administration crafted the gainful-employment rule to hold career education programs accountable for producing too many graduates with student debt they couldn't repay. It tied access to federal student aid to performance on a debt-to-earnings metric. But additional transparency and disclosures to potential students were also significant components of the rule.

January 22, 2018

Concordia University, a Lutheran college in Oregon, on Friday reversed a decision to block an LGBTQ+ student group following a report by Willamette Week, the same publication reported.

Concordia had blocked the Queer Straight Alliance for some time, according to group members, by forcing the club to change its name and canceling on-campus events. In June, a federal review found that Concordia was in violation of anti-discrimination law Title IX in its efforts to quash the LGBTQ+ advocacy group. The university subsequently changed its club charter requirement policies, leading to the decision to reject the Queer Straight Alliance’s application in December. Without recognition as a university club, the alliance could no longer hold meetings or events on campus.

University president Charles Schlimpert announced Friday that in addition to approving the group, it would create a “safe space program” for LGBTQ+ students; invite the club’s members to meet with the university president; facilitate trainings in support of LGBTQ+ students for faculty, staff and administration; convene community and church leaders to discuss LGBTQ+ issues; and reopen the discussion related to the university’s club and events policy.

“We remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and we support all students, particularly people from groups who have historically been marginalized,” the statement said.

The Queer Straight Alliance expressed some skepticism about the university’s decision to reinstate the group. In a Friday statement, the club said they hadn't been contacted by Concordia about the reversal, and that the university’s current club policies restrict the group in operating as it intends. Despite the university’s resistance, the Queer Straight Alliance is popular on campus, voted “best club” by students two years in a row.

“While we are hopeful and willing to collaborate with the university to create a safer, more inclusive campus (when we are actually invited to the table), we want to be thoughtful about our next actions and ensure we don’t forget those who have already been negatively impacted by the university’s actions,” the statement wrote.

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