Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 12, 2018

Clifford Adams, an assistant professor of music at the University of Cincinnati, is on administrative leave until he retires on May 1, over comments he made to a student about Muslims, Cincinnati.com reported. "The university is committed to excellence and diversity in order to create the best living and learning environment on behalf of our students, faculty and staff," Greg Vehr, university spokesperson, said in a statement. "We take seriously all allegations of discriminatory behavior. The university investigated this matter and followed the process for review under the collective bargaining agreement with the faculty."

Adams was investigated after he asked students to write about the song “Walk on Water” as an assignment. In response to a Muslim student’s interpretation, Adams wrote, among other comments, that the U.S. president’s “first sworn duty is to protect America from enemies, and the greatest threat to our freedom is not the president, it is radical Islam. Review this list of Islamic terrorist attacks and then tell me about your hurt feelings.” Of Muslim women, he wrote, “Muslim females are safer in America than in any Middle Eastern country. How dare you complain while enjoying our protection!” He also said, “As you well know, young Muslim women are murdered by their father or a brother for dating -- or for holding hands with -- a non-Muslim boy …” Adams publicly apologized for his remarks after they were shared on social media. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

March 12, 2018

The Department of Education last week announced it was extending the window for students who withdrew from a failed for-profit law school before its closure to request discharge of their federal student loan debt.

The decision means that about 300 students who attended Charlotte School of Law could be eligible to have their student loan debt cleared.

Federal regulations state that students who withdrew from a college or university not more than 120 days before its closure can apply to have their loans automatically cleared, a process known as closed-school discharge. But the secretary of education has the authority to declare exceptional circumstances to extend that window so students who withdrew earlier can be eligible for loan forgiveness.

The department in August designated April 12, 2017, as the earliest date students could have withdrawn from the law program and still receive automatic loan forgiveness. Now, Charlotte students who withdrew on or after Dec. 31, 2016, can be eligible for closed-school discharge. That date fell shortly after an announcement from the Obama administration that it would cut off the law school’s access to Title IV federal aid, a major blow to its viability as an institution.

North Carolina attorney general Josh Stein, since well before Charlotte’s closure last year, was asking Secretary Betsy DeVos to extend the closed-school discharge window and praised the decision in a statement Friday.

As of November, when the more narrow eligibility guidelines were in place, just 79 Charlotte students had applied for loan forgiveness. Kyle McEntee, the executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, said expanding eligibility for loan discharge was unexpected but the right decision by the department.

“This signals to other for-profit institutions that the ED will not necessarily let them wiggle out of accountability by stringing students along,” he said.

March 12, 2018

Brown University has suspended its men’s varsity swimming and diving team after an investigation into allegations of hazing.

“After a comprehensive investigation into allegations of hazing and the conclusion of the full student conduct review process, the Brown University men’s varsity swimming and diving team, in its capacity as a student organization, had been found responsible for multiple violations of Brown’s code of student conduct,” the university said in a statement released Friday.

The charges are attached to an incident in October, when new members of the team vandalized school property, put on a skit and vomited after excessive alcohol consumption, according to The Providence Journal. In addition, older members drew inappropriate images on new members’ backs.

The university suspended the team until May 27, prohibiting all team activities. After that, Brown plans to enforce a deferred suspension through Dec. 21, meaning the team will be banned from representing the college in sports competitions but will be permitted to participate in other activities, like practices.

The team will be on probation during the spring 2019 semester. Brown requires the team, coaches and athletics staff to create an “organizational learning and development plan, and a strategic plan for rebuilding,” according to the statement.

March 12, 2018

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Friday weighed in on a dispute over whether states have the authority to regulate federal student loan servicers, issuing a legal interpretation saying that the federal government exclusively has the power to provide that oversight.

DeVos argued, as the Trump administration has elsewhere, that those regulations conflict with federal law and the obligations of federally contracted entities.

The pre-emption notice was blasted by Democratic officials as well as consumer groups who called it another attempt to weaken protections for student loan borrowers. Industry groups had argued for the declaration, saying that states across the country enacting their own particular rules would create a “regulatory maze.”

It’s not clear, though, what immediate effect the notice will have. When word of the pre-emption declaration leaked ahead of its publication, Democratic attorneys general said it would not stop their enforcement activities.

The states’ role in regulating servicers is likely to be settled for good either by the courts or by Congress. Legislation currently in the House to reauthorize the Higher Education Act would effectively bar the states from any oversight role.

And while loan servicer groups have focused on state rules such as licensing requirements, the Trump administration has argued in court attorneys general do not have the legal authority to sue those companies.

Several states -- along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- have sued servicers for misleading or overcharging borrowers, including a lawsuit brought by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey against the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency over deceptive practices.

In January, the Department of Justice issued a court filing in response to that case, arguing Healey did not have standing. Earlier this month, a Superior Court judge rejected a motion by PHEAA to dismiss the lawsuit, although the ruling did not address the pre-emption issue.

March 12, 2018

A former Orange Coast College student with autism has sued the institution for mistreatment, as he faces felony vandalism and misdemeanor charges, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Robert McDougal’s lawsuit, filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court, accuses the Coast Community College District and several college employees of negligence, emotional distress, assault, battery and false imprisonment. McDougal’s parents, in an August 2017 letter, claimed the college failed to accommodate their son despite knowing of his disability.

According to college officials, McDougal’s problems with the college arose in February 2017, when he repeatedly emailed his chemistry instructor, Amy Hellman, requesting to retake an exam with a calculator, which she denied. McDougal took the exam without a calculator and received a B -- a lower grade than he anticipated.

School officials alleged that on Feb. 27 last year, McDougal charged into the classroom while other students were there. He was removed by security officers and then returned and ran around the room.

Orange Coast College did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McDougal’s lawsuit portrays events differently. The suit states that McDougal withdrew from the class and immediately tried to get reinstated. Hellman emailed McDougal telling him he could finish the test questions and be reaccepted to the class, but when he arrived, he was told to stay outside the room until the class finished. McDougal was taken away by security officers, who slammed him to the ground and pepper sprayed him.

The Costa Mesa police, who arrested McDougal, said he was pepper sprayed after he kicked security officers and yelled a racial slur at one of them.

McDougal was then barred from entering the campus by a restraining order issued by Judge Michael McCartin in March 2017.

That month, McDougal was arrested and sent to jail based on a suspicion that he carved a swastika and a racial slur into two Orange Coast College security vehicles, and slashed their tires.

Prosecutors claim McDougal came back to the campus several times, violating the restraining order.

McDougal is facing felony vandalism and misdemeanor charges of disturbing a public school, staying on campus without consent, resisting a public or peace officer, and disobeying a domestic relations court order in connection to the incidents, according to court records. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

McDougal is slated to appear in a Westminster court for a pretrial hearing March 16.

March 12, 2018

After several years of high turnover and a 17-month search, Suffolk University appointed Marisa Kelly president, according to The Boston Globe.

Kelly became interim president of Suffolk in 2016 when former president Margaret McKenna was controversially ousted after about 12 months in the role.

Although Kelly was widely considered to be an effective interim, she was initially cut from the search process. Kelly was then reintroduced at the last minute and, despite some dissension, was approved first by a narrow margin and then a significant majority of board members, according to the Globe.

Suffolk is going through a difficult period, partially because it is a four-year private college that charges $55,000 for tuition and board, in Boston -- a city saturated with universities. Also, numbers of high school graduates are falling in the Northeast and families are struggling to pay for private postsecondary education, the Globe reported.

Before Kelly was reinstated as a candidate and then the new president, the board was considering two finalists: Patrick F. Leahy, president of Wilkes University; and H. Keith Moo-Young, former chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities.

In an interview with the Globe, Kelly said her plans for the college include advertising across the country, using Boston as a point of attraction. In addition, Kelly said she hopes to receive more financial support from alumni. During her 20-month tenure as interim, Kelly focused on fund-raising, accepting one alumni donation of $10 million -- the largest the college has received. Kelly also plans to improve the law school.

“We were coming out of a time of a lot of turmoil, and it was wonderful to see how much, irrespective of that, the entire community really just focused on our students,” Kelly told the Globe.

March 12, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Raymond Boisvert, professor of philosophy at Siena College, takes a deeper look at the horror classic. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 9, 2018

Students at Howard University are criticizing the administration there, and specifically President Wayne A. I. Frederick, over problems with housing -- and his response to a complaint from a student, The Washington Post reported. After a student sent him an email about her concerns over not being able to secure housing for next year, he wrote back criticizing her "tone." She then shared that email and received strong support from fellow students, who said she was expressing how many feel. Frederick sent an email to the campus saying that Howard doesn't have a housing shortage, although it may have some problems with the room-reservation process. Students organized a protest, with many saying he is understating a significant problem.

March 9, 2018

At least five people were arrested at a talk by Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin last week at the University of California, Los Angeles, though none were students, officials said.

Mnuchin was booed and heckled during his speech, hosted by the Burkle Center for International Relations, as shown in videos circulating on the internet. At times, he appeared agitated by his critics and said at one point, “I’m dealing with students, I forgot.”

Some attendees who disrupted Mnuchin were carried out by armed police. Spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said that five people were arrested and were cited and released. The Los Angeles City Attorney will determine whether to bring charges, he said.

At least some of the protesters appear to be associated with Refuse Fascism, a national anti-Trump organization. On Twitter, the organization posted a video featuring someone claiming to be a UCLA student under the name Tala Deloria who was filmed on the UCLA campus after the Mnuchin talk, challenging him to a debate.

UCLA has no record of a student who goes by that name, Vazquez said, and Refuse Fascism did not respond to request for comment.

A person named Nayely Rolon-Gomez has been misrepresenting herself to the media as a student, spokesman Tod M. Tamberg said. UCLA did not specify whether Tala Deloria and Rolon-Gomez are the same person.

Rolon-Gomez was one of the five arrested at Mnuchin’s event and was banned from the campus for seven days -- violating that order would mean being charged with a misdemeanor. Rolon-Gomez attempted to enter a campus talk by former U.S. Army Private and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning on Tuesday and was arrested again, Tamberg said.

“UCLA acknowledges the right of individuals to protest speech, but also emphasizes that the university will not permit a response or protest that is so disruptive as to effectively silence the invited speaker and prevent him/her from communicating with a willing audience (the so-called ‘heckler’s veto’),” Tamberg wrote in an email. “A pre-event announcement to this effect is read at the beginning of events where we have knowledge of protest activity. When protesters disrupt the event, they receive an additional warning to stop or face removal and possible arrest and/or disciplinary procedures.”

Though footage of the Mnuchin event is widespread, the secretary told UCLA he would not consent to the university publishing an official video on the UCLA website as had initially been intended.

The Treasury Department disputed the notion that Mnuchin was not being transparent in blocking the video’s publication.

“The event was open to the media and a transcript was published,” a Treasury spokeswoman told The New York Times. “He believes healthy debate is critical to ensuring the right policies that do the most good are advanced.”

March 9, 2018

University of California president Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday that she wants the system to explore ways to guarantee admission to academically eligible students in the state's community colleges.

UC would follow California State University, which already guarantees admission to qualified community college students. 

Napolitano said the path to guaranteed admission could be through the UC system's 21 transfer pathways, which help make students competitive for admission but doesn't guarantee them entry. 


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