Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 3, 2020

The mayor of Atlanta fired two city police officers over the weekend who forcibly removed two black college students from their car, tased and arrested them without explanation on May 30. Four other officers also involved in the incident have been charged with assorted counts of aggravated assault and battery, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and several national media outlets reported Tuesday. 

Taniyah Pilgrim, a 20-year-old Spelman College student, and Messiah Young, 22, who attends Morehouse College, were stuck in traffic in the city on the second night of public unrest over the death of George Floyd after the city’s newly instated 9 p.m. curfew, when officers shattered Young’s car windows and aggressively took both students into custody, according to news reports. Young, who spent that night in jail, fractured his arm in the incident, needed 20 stitches and also suffered an epileptic seizure, an Instagram statement from the Spelman College Student Government Association said.

Pilgrim, who was held in a police vehicle for several hours, said one of the officers told her that he “was going to shoot us,” the Journal-Constitution reported. The charges against both students were dropped, NPR reported.

“This isn’t just about me -- this is about an entire generation that has to deal with injustice,” Young said during a press conference at the Morehouse campus on June 1.

The incident was captured on video, televised nationally and prompted a response from both President Mary Campbell of Spelman and President David Thomas of Morehouse. The college presidents said during Monday’s press conference they were outraged by the officers’ actions, FOX 5 News Atlanta reported.

“We will not accept the kind of behavior on the part of law enforcement that they had to accept,” Campbell said. “I am sorry on your behalf that two fine, young students had to suffer in the way that you did.”

June 3, 2020

Drexel University students took to social media and wrote letters to President John Fry on Tuesday to criticize the use of a government-owned building on the Philadelphia campus as a headquarters for members of the National Guard. Hundreds of Guard members were called up on June 1 by Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf and sent to the city to respond to the protests and property destruction that erupted over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The Guard members are using the Armory, a building owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the longtime home to the National Guard’s 103rd Engineering Battalion, as a operations and communications command center, Fry said in a message to students and staff members Tuesday. Part of the building has also been leased by Drexel, a private institution, since 2008, and is used as a practice facility for university athletics.

Students who live in nearby apartment complexes and a university residence hall were warned on June 1 that they may see National Guard vehicles and members in the area and at the Armory, according to an email from University Crossings, an off-campus apartment located one block away from the Armory. A letter shared on social media as a template for students to send to Fry said students “do not condone” the use of the Armory by the Guard and that their presence on and close to the campus “has made many students feel uncomfortable and unsafe.”

“Calling in the Guard is a dangerous overreaction to protesting that will likely lead to more brutality and more bloodshed, which will then be on Drexel’s hands and by association, on your hands,” the letter said.

Fry responded in his message that while he understands why students are upset, Drexel “does not fund this space in any way, and we cannot bar the Commonwealth from using its own facility.” The building has housed Guard operations since the 1920s, he said.

“I appreciate that was a shock to our community and has created concern and distrust,” Fry said. “Please know that the university is not condoning violence against peaceful protesters or efforts to silence the voices that have risen up against racism in this country. This is a troubling time for all of us, and the emotional toll many of us are feeling is real.”

June 3, 2020

The College Board on Tuesday asked colleges to be flexible on SAT scores and other matters for next year's applicants. Specifically, the board asked colleges:

  • To accept "scores as late as possible in their process, especially by extending early action and early decision deadlines to take some pressure off on students and give them more time to test and send their scores."
  • To "equally" consider "students for admission who are unable to take the exam due to COVID-19 as those who submitted scores."
  • To recognize "that students who do submit scores may not have been able to take the test more than once (e.g., taking into account that students who tested as high school juniors but who could not as seniors would have likely achieved score gains)."
June 3, 2020

The Coalition for College will add a question to its application that enables students and counselors to describe how the coronavirus pandemic has affected education at the students' schools. For both first-year and transfer students, an optional checkbox-style question will allow them to choose the statements that describe how COVID-19 has affected their ability to engage in schoolwork. Statements cover a range of impacts, such as if the student has dealt with unreliable access to the internet or a home computer, or if they or a parent or guardian have suffered job loss or been designated as an essential worker. An optional text field will be available for students who choose to say more.

Counselors will also have a checkbox question to describe the changes in educational delivery and assessment at their school, with an optional text field to share more information.

Last month, the Common Application added an optional question on COVID-19.

June 3, 2020

The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources​, CUPA-HR, published its seventh survey of staffing levels in higher ed last month. More than 200,000 staff are counted in the survey, which includes salary and demographic data from 861 institutions during the 2019-20 academic year. The report covers office workers, maintenance staff and technical staff, in addition to other positions.

As higher education institutions respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and budget cuts, many may have to reduce their workforce. The authors of the survey said they will be closely tracking these changes and urged higher education leaders to keep "diversity, equity and inclusion efforts front of mind" as they make staffing decisions.

“Recent and historical data show that recessions hit women and people of color the hardest, both in terms of the fact that they are first to lose their jobs as well as the length of the recession’s impact,” said the report's authors. “As this report shows, women and minorities are better represented in higher ed non-exempt staff positions than they are in professional and administrative positions. Higher ed leaders will undoubtedly want to keep this in mind as they make workforce decisions that will impact the face of all higher education.”

Key survey findings:

  • Staff employees in higher education received a median percentage increase in pay of 2.4 percent last year, the largest increase since CUPA-HR began collecting data on nonexempt staff in 2013-14.
  • Most staff positions increase in number with increases in student enrollment. However, the increase in number of staff is much steeper for some positions, like custodian/housekeeper, than it is for others, like electrician.
  • The staff position with the highest growth is athletics equipment manager, with a 36 percent increase in number of positions in the last year. The position of recruitment coordinator had the greatest decline, a 53 percent decrease in number of positions.
  • Regional differences exist in higher ed staffing. Staff salaries are highest in the Northeast and West and lowest in the Midwest and South. The South and West have much higher representations of racial/ethnic minorities than the Northeast and Midwest.

An overview of the report is available here. The full report is available for purchase here.

June 3, 2020

Jim Johnsen, current president of the University of Alaska system, was named a finalist for the University of Wisconsin system presidency. Johnsen will complete multiple committee and shared governance interviews next week, according to a press release.

The pandemic posed “unanticipated and unprecedented circumstances and obstacles” to the search process, and several candidates withdrew their names from consideration over concerns about being publicly named a finalist during the health crisis, the release stated.

The search committee will decide after the interviews whether to recommend Johnsen to the system Board of Regents, which will vote to approve the new president.

Johnsen has served as president of the University of Alaska system since 2015. In July 2019, he proposed three potential restructuring plans for the university system following a 41 percent cut to state funding and a declaration of financial exigency. The plan to consolidate the three campuses into a single accreditation for the system was ultimately rejected in December. The University of Wisconsin system in 2017 started merging its two-year colleges with seven four-year colleges in similar geographic areas.

June 3, 2020

Lori Varlotta is departing the presidency of Hiram College in Ohio and becoming president of California Lutheran University, the college announced Tuesday.

Varlotta is slated to step down from Hiram, where she was the first woman president, effective Sept. 30. She’s been president of the private liberal arts college since July 2014. The college counted fundraising and curriculum changes among her accomplishments.

She’s been an advocate for what she describes as “the new liberal arts” model, a redesign combining “contemporary and classic majors,” emphasizing interdisciplinary learning, using technology and guaranteeing students experiential learning opportunities. The process stoked anxiety among some faculty members and students, particularly as Hiram navigated a tight budget situation, but it was an example of a trend among liberal arts institutions to try to adapt to student demands and a changing higher education market.

Varlotta will be the first woman president in Cal Lutheran’s 61-year history, according to the Pacific Coast Business Times.

“Dr. Varlotta’s vision and leadership, coupled by her determination and tenacity, have resulted in significant and positive change,” Dean Scarborough, chair of Hiram’s Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “It has been a pleasure working with Dr. Varlotta, and we wish her the best as she joins California Lutheran University.”

June 3, 2020

The Key With Inside Higher Ed is a podcast on the uncertainties both college students and colleges face in coming weeks and months.

A new episode discusses how public colleges and universities are seeking to preserve student access amid strained resources. It features an interview with Cathy ​Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage. The multi-campus, open-access university in recent years has experienced its share of tight budgets and other crises, including an earthquake and merger proposals. 

Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of the multi-campus institution, talked with us about how the university remains focused on its open-access mission and trying to prevent the creation of education deserts as it deals with budget turmoil and other challenges. For a national view of the murky revenue and policy outlooks for public colleges, we spoke with Brian Sponsler, vice president of policy at the Education Commission of the States.


June 3, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Scripps College Week, Nicholas Kacher, assistant professor of economics, determines the unintended consequences of rising home prices. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 2, 2020

A study of college students’ alcohol consumption and cognitive function found that the academic performance and mental health of women who drink frequently is impacted more than those of men who drink in excess. Men are more likely to engage in impulsive, risky behaviors as a result of high alcohol use, researchers found.

Researchers who conducted the study and wrote a paper published in the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education surveyed anonymous U.S. college students online and asked about their alcohol use, academic performance, lifestyle habits and mental distress. The research found that both men and women who said they drank in excess exhibited “an increase in impulsive behaviors” but determined that the longer-term cognitive functions and decision making of women, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex, were affected more by alcohol use than men, according to a news release from Binghamton University. Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton, was one of the study’s researchers.

“Young women reported generally less interest in academic work and performance than young men,” Begdache said in the release. “The latter reported more risky behaviors, such as being arrested, from excessive drinking. We also found that young women are more likely to depend on alcohol to improve mental well-being, which is also concerning, as they may self-medicate through drinking.”

The findings can also be explained by the fact that the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which supports impulsivity in the brain, are more connected in the brains of women than men, Begdache said. This could lead women to suffer more long-term mental health and cognitive impact from high alcohol use during college than men, she said.

“Thus, the differential behaviors noted with increasing alcohol levels are potentially related to the gender-based differences in the brain,” Begdache said. “We did find that men and women who don’t drink or drink minimally exhibit responsible behaviors and academic effort, which are reflective of a normal trajectory of brain maturity.”


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