Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 24, 2020

Jay Hartzell will take over as the University of Texas at Austin’s next president, the university announced Wednesday.

Hartzell was announced as the sole finalist for the position last month, and the board voted unanimously on Wednesday to name him president, effective immediately.

Previously, Hartzell served as dean of the McCombs School of Business and as a professor at the university.

“I’m humbled that Chairman Eltife, the members of the UT System Board of Regents and Chancellor Milliken have given me the honor of a lifetime, selecting me to serve as the next President of The University of Texas at Austin,” Hartzell said in a press release. “This is a dream come true for me because it means that I get the chance to go to work with students, faculty, staff and alumni and put all my energy into helping Longhorn Nation do what it does best -- change the world.”

September 24, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Jessica West, Ph.D. student in sociology at Duke University, examines how hearing loss in a partner can affect the health of one sex more than the other. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 23, 2020

Mark Hauser, of Los Angeles, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in the admissions scandal. He will be sentenced in January.

According to Hauser’s plea agreement, the government will recommend a sentence of six months in prison, one year of supervised release, a fine of $40,000 and restitution.

Hauser agreed with Rick Singer, who coordinated the schemed, to pay an amount, ultimately totaling $40,000, to facilitate cheating on his daughter’s ACT exam. As part of the scheme, co-conspirator Mark Riddell traveled to Houston, where Hauser’s daughter took the exam, and purported to proctor the test. Instead, Riddell corrected the answers on the exam after she completed it. Two days later, Singer paid an intermediary, Martin Fox, $25,000, with the understanding that Fox would pass part of the payment on to Niki Williams, the test site administrator who allowed the cheating to occur. Singer also paid Riddell $10,000 for his role in the scheme.

Singer, Riddell and Fox have previously entered guilty pleas.

September 23, 2020

Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that the state will refinance some debt to save millions of dollars for higher education over the next couple of years.

“One side effect of the pandemic has potential to help our public colleges -- that’s the low interest rates we’re seeing right now,” Northam said during the announcement. “There’s a significant opportunity for our commonwealth and our public higher education institutions to save money by restructuring our debt.”

The debt-restructuring project will save more than $300 million over the next two calendar years and three fiscal years. Northam has already authorized the refinancing of one set of bonds. Refinancing another set will require state legislation, which is expected to pass during the next legislative session.

Northam made the announcement at George Mason University alongside Aubrey Lane, the Virginia secretary of finance, and Gregory Washington, president of George Mason.

Right now, the university has 31 active cases of COVID-19 on campus, the lowest of any public college in Virginia, according to Washington.

“You being here today is probably safer than any place you could be in the commonwealth, with the exception of your home,” Washington said to Northam during the announcement.

September 23, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Lane Demas, professor of history at Central Michigan University, explores where an unexpected early desegregation battle in Atlanta was fought. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 22, 2020

The University of Cincinnati is reportedly investigating an instructor who referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” a term that has been deemed xenophobic, unscientific and politicized, and which has been employed by President Trump. According to WKRC and screenshots of an email shared on social media, John Ucker, adjunct instructor of mechanical and materials engineering, responded to a student who had to miss an in-person lab due to a mandatory COVID-19 quarantine like this: “For students testing positive for the chinese virus [sic], I will give no grade.”

President Neville Pinto of Cincinnati later said on Twitter, “There is no place for bigotry in our community or any other. We are better than this. Every Bearcat deserves to feel welcomed, respected and supported. Greatness starts with inclusion. And inclusion starts with each of us.”

John Weidner, Ucker’s dean, referred the incident to the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access for review and confirmed that Ucker was on administrative leave. "These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling," Weidner wrote in an email to CNN. "We know we can better protect and care for all when we speak about COVID-19 with both accuracy and empathy -- something we should all strive for."

Ucker did not respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s campus free speech program, said in a statement that the "use of the phrase reflects poor judgement and the university should speak out to affirm its commitment to rejecting racism, bigotry and hate." Yet, as a "matter of free speech and academic freedom, a disciplinary response to a single statement, in the absence of evidence of a broader pattern of biased or harassing conduct, risks constricting the space for open discussion on contentious issues."

Going forward, Cincinnati "can and should continue to speak out on this issue, raise awareness and unequivocally condemn what the professor said," Friedman added. "And they can and should pursue an effort at dialogue with the professor, in the hope that he can hear out just how deeply and negatively this phrase may affect students and the wider community. But efforts at dialogue and community support will be more sensible, effective and justifiable than a punitive response."

September 22, 2020

Deborah Shaffer, vice president for finance and administration at Ohio University, accepted a $100,000 bonus in July after hundreds of university employees had been laid off, The Athens News reported Monday.

The bonus was part of Shaffer’s contract renegotiated in 2017. It was promised on the condition that she remain in her role through June 2020.

In a regular year, Shaffer earns $327,726, but she agreed to a 10 percent pay cut that brought her salary to $294,953, not counting the bonus. University president Duane Nellis and provost Elizabeth Sayrs took a 15 percent pay cut in May.

The university has laid off more than 400 employees since May in response to the pandemic and pre-existing budget issues, The Athens News reported.

September 22, 2020

The American Association of University Professors will investigate the "crisis in academic governance that has occurred in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic," it said Monday. The resulting report, expected in early 2021, will focus on Canisius College, Illinois Wesleyan University, Keuka College, Marian University, Medaille College, National University and Wittenberg University. AAUP investigators will determine whether these colleges and universities have strayed from the association’s widely followed principles and standards of academic governance during the pandemic, not least of all when laying off tenured faculty members.

"Since March, the AAUP has received numerous complaints from faculty members detailing unilateral actions taken by their governing boards and administrations to dictate how courses are taught, to suspend key institutional regulations, to reduce and close departments and majors, to compel faculty members to teach in person, and to lay off long-serving faculty members," Gregory Scholtz, director of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the association, said in a statement. "In most cases, the stated basis for the actions was the need to deal with pandemic-related financial shortfalls."

The AAUP previously investigated faculty terminations at five New Orleans-area institutions following Hurricane Katrina. It eventually censured four of them for alleged violations of faculty rights.

September 22, 2020

Samantha Huge, director of athletics at the College of William & Mary, admitted on Sept. 18 that the college’s letter announcing cuts to seven athletic programs imitated a letter put out by Stanford University about athletic cuts nearly two months prior.

William & Mary published a letter on Sept. 3, which explained that men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s swimming, men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and women’s volleyball would no longer be offered at the college after the 2020-21 academic year. The letter, signed by President Katherine Rowe, Provost Peggy Agouris and Huge, said that the coronavirus pandemic made existing budget constraints in the athletic department “acute" and had "brought us to a point of reckoning."

Multiple sections of the letter were identical to Stanford’s letter of July 8, which announced 11 teams at the university would be discontinued after 2020-21. Swimswam.com, an online publication that covers intercollegiate swimming, published a comparison of the two letters.

William & Mary “consulted with professional colleagues and peers at several institutions, including Stanford” about the best way to deliver the bad news about the cuts to varsity programs, Huge’s Sept. 18 statement said. The college’s officials “clearly fell short of the William & Mary community’s standards,” she said.

“Our goal was to emulate best practices, not imitate,” Huge said in the statement. “Upon reflection, we should have taken more care with the review of the materials we shared with our community. At the end of the day, regardless of the drafting process, I take responsibility and we will do better. Above all, the goal was to convey respect to those most directly affected. I regret very much that we did not meet that goal.”

September 22, 2020

Mark Thompson, president of the Wentworth Institute of Technology, did not confirm or deny that the institution was considering a merger with the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology.

Earlier this week, The Boston Globe reported closed-door conversations between the two Boston institutions. Some Benjamin Franklin supporters oppose the possible deal.

“One of Wentworth’s strategic goals is to seek and develop next-generation partnerships to support market demand for talented and skilled labor. Wentworth is exploring various opportunities for partnerships, including with employers, other academic institutions, and the community that advance our mission to provide high-value educational opportunities,” Thompson wrote in a Monday message to the institute's constituencies. “Wentworth has no specific comment to share in response to the Globe column. We continue to evaluate opportunities consistent with our mission and strategic objectives related to expanding access to high quality education and embracing inclusive excellence. Next-generation partnerships are crucial to our successful, sustainable future. When appropriate, we will share news with our community about such partnerships.”

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