Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 22, 2020

The Steve Fund, a national advocacy organization focused on the mental health of young people of color, recently published a report with recommendations for college leaders to better support those students who are currently facing unprecedented mental health challenges.

The recommendations were formed by the organization’s Crisis Response Task Force, a group of students, mental health experts, colleges, nonprofits and corporate executives, created to address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout on the mental health of young people of color. The report also addresses the nation’s “racial reckoning” and how the death of George Floyd and wide acknowledgment of systemic racism can put additional emotional stress on those students.

The task force recommended that college leaders take a “trauma-informed approach” to decision making and show empathy toward racial injustices experienced by students of color in order to build trust, said the report published on Sept. 15. Counseling centers and mental health support staff on campus should collaborate with faculty members, student affairs and diversity, equity and inclusion staff members to respond to increased counseling center demand, the report said. Antiracist policies and the promotion of inclusion and belonging overall can have a positive impact on the mental health of students of color, the report said.

“Times of crisis and unrest in society and on campuses can drastically influence the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color, and ultimately derail their academic and career success,” the report said. “The recommendations of the task force aim to mitigate these risks.”

September 22, 2020

Higher education in the U.S. seems to be especially effective at mitigating tendencies toward authoritarianism, a new report suggests.

The report from Georgetown University’s Center for Education and the Workforce finds that bachelor’s degree holders are significantly less inclined, and associate degree holders are somewhat less inclined, to express authoritarian preferences and attitudes compared to high school graduates.

Among college graduates, holders of liberal art degrees are less inclined to express authoritarian attitudes and preferences compared to individuals who hold degrees in business or science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

The report, which draws from several national and international surveys, notes that people with higher education tend to be more economically secure than those without it, and that individuals with more economic security are less inclined to hold authoritarian preferences and attitudes.

People with higher education are also more likely to be politically active. Political interest and democratic activism are associated with lower inclinations toward authoritarian preferences and attitudes.

The report also notes that higher education tends to expose people to secular values and cultures. Surveys show that people who are more religious are more inclined to hold authoritarian preferences and attitudes.

The relationship between higher education and lower attitudes toward authoritarianism appears to be especially strong in the U.S. compared to other countries (see chart from report at left). The authors of the report hypothesize that a “possible contributing factor may be that, in contrast to European education and training systems that emphasize vocational preparation, American higher education places a strong emphasis on a combination of specific and general education. Such general education includes exposure to the liberal arts.”

“When it comes to the way our education is structured, our higher education system does the most compared to other countries to reduce authoritarian attitudes,” said Nicole Smith, co-author of the report and the chief economist at the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce. “Is it something about the mix of liberal arts because everyone is exposed to history and social studies and ethics? Maybe it’s something in the way we create this mix in the kitchen that is different from everyone else.”

The report includes a forward from Georgetown president John J. DeGioia, who describes the report as “a clarion call for all in the academy to accept responsibility for performing a role that only we can play in our society.”

September 22, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Kristin J. Jacobson, professor of American literature at Stockton University, explains the American adrenaline narrative and how it relates to nature. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 21, 2020

On Friday, an arbitrator sided with the University of Akron in its termination of nearly 100 unionized full-time professors.

Some of the terminated faculty members had since chosen to retire, but the result means that the 67 who did not will not be able to return to their jobs. Full-time faculty were selected for termination regardless of rank or tenure, the faculty union has said.

The arbitration case concerned the university’s use of a force majeure clause in the union contract. This clause allowed the administration to make layoffs regardless of tenure or rank.

The administration argued that the coronavirus pandemic and financial implications for the university were “catastrophic circumstances” that allowed for the use of the clause.

The arbitrator ruled in favor of the university but also said fired faculty must have callback rights for three years and first right of refusal if a short-term or adjunct position opens up to replace them.

“The results are an attack on tenure, due process and all the legal protections that should be guaranteed by collective bargaining. This is terrible news for our institution,” the union, the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said in a statement. “We do not accept that elimination of faculty or faculty positions was warranted or necessary. No other institution in Ohio took this step. It is clear to us that the university did not have to do this, but wanted to do it.”

Akron president Gary Miller said the university would now halt further faculty retrenchment.

“The COVID pandemic dramatically changed our plans. It required us to resolve an eventual $50 million fiscal problem in a single fiscal year,” he wrote in a statement. “We are grateful for this decision and look forward to moving ahead with our plans to secure the financial future of the university.”

September 21, 2020

The Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology is in talks about merging with Wentworth Institute of Technology, The Boston Globe reported. The talks are governed by nondisclosure agreements. Some Benjamin Franklin supporters oppose the deal, the Globe reported.

September 21, 2020

Lincoln University of Pennsylvania has approved Brenda Allen for a new five-year term as president of the historically Black university, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

In July, the board voted against renewing Allen’s contract as president, the role she had served in since 2017. The board was then sued by Allen, as well the governor and attorney general of Pennsylvania, who argued that the private vote, which had also excluded five state-appointed trustees, violated state laws and the board’s own bylaws.

The legal action resulted in a county judge ordering the university to reinstate Allen and hold another vote on her contract.

“After reflecting on the many discussions with President Allen, board members, students, alumni, employees, and community members that have occurred this summer about Lincoln’s future, I am more hopeful than ever that the next five years will take this institution to new heights,” Theresa Braswell, the board’s chair, told the Inquirer.

September 21, 2020

The University of Michigan Faculty Senate voted no confidence in President Mark Schlissel on Sept. 16. The results were close, with 957 faculty voting in favor of the motion, 953 voting against and 184 abstentions. All faculty members at the university are members of the Faculty Senate.

Faculty have said the administration has not been transparent regarding reopening decisions and has not released any modeling to estimate the risk that comes with reopening. Similar concerns about reopening, testing and support pushed graduate students at the university to strike Sept. 8. Resident assistants at the university are still on strike regarding COVID-19 protections

“Staff, graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty have exhausted all channels of communication to express their grave concerns about the re-opening plans, and President Schlissel has shown little substantial changes in policy in response to expressed concerns,” the motion reads.

The text of the motion also criticized Schlissel for comments made suggesting HIV testing led to further spread of that disease and his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against Martin Philbert. Philbert was a professor and dean of the School of Public Health and served as provost from 2017 until this past January. Schlissel has been president of Michigan since 2014.

At the Zoom meeting on Sept. 16, senate leadership originally announced that the motion failed because it did not achieve over 50 percent of the vote if abstentions were also counted as votes.

In an email to faculty, senate chair Colleen Conway said senate leadership had unanimously determined via the senate rules and Robert’s Rules of Order that abstentions should not have been counted as votes and the motion had passed. Faculty Senate votes of no confidence are largely symbolic.

The Michigan Board of Regents extended support for Schlissel in a statement. “Our board supports President Schlissel and the administration as they continue to lead our university through these tremendous challenges,” Chair Denise Ilitch said on behalf of the board at a meeting. “We know that the president and the administration will continue to listen and adapt through these challenges, honor our common values and advance the mission of the university.”

A spokesperson for the university previously said Schlissel has already committed to increasing engagement with faculty.

September 21, 2020

Associations representing colleges and universities still objected to the endowment tax that Congress enacted in 2017 but said final rules published by the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department on Friday made some improvements to the interim rules the agencies announced last year.

Congress, as part of a sweeping tax reform bill, created a 1.4 percent excise tax on net investment income at private colleges and universities with at least 500 tuition-paying students and assets of at least $500,000 per student.

In a reversal from the interim guidance, the Treasury and IRS now say they will not count a student whose tuition is paid through federal grants, scholarships or institutional aid as a tuition-paying student, said Steven Bloom, the American Council on Education’s government relations director.

Associations were still studying the 156-page rule. But in another change in response to input from institutions, the agencies said they will not tax colleges on the interest they receive on student aid, or revenue from housing students, faculty or staff.

Still, Bloom said the tax is extremely complicated, and the money would go into the federal government’s general coffers and not go toward helping students go to college.

Liz Clark, vice president for policy and research for the National Association of College and University Business Officers, praised the changes from the interim guidance, saying they “recognized some of the unique operating challenges colleges and universities contend with.” But she said, “NACUBO remains staunchly opposed to the legislative policy driving the creation of the tax, which diminishes the charitable resources the affected colleges have for students.”

September 21, 2020

Marshall University has placed a professor on administrative leave after a video circulated on social media of her making inflammatory comments about supporters of President Donald Trump.

The video showed biology professor Jennifer Mosher in a virtual class session discussing a recent indoor Trump campaign rally where few attendees were wearing masks, The Herald-Dispatch reported. “I’ve become the type of person where I hope they all get it and die,” she says in the video. “You can’t argue with them, you can’t talk sense into them.”

The university responded with a statement Friday.

“The university does not support or condone the use of any of its educational platforms to belittle people or wish harm on those who hold differing political views,” it said. “The professor was removed from the classroom yesterday and is on administrative leave, pending an investigation.”

September 21, 2020

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Board of Visitors has approved resolutions to de-commemorate six campus buildings named for members of the Confederacy. The resolution also calls for continued work with the city of Richmond to remove statues and monuments honoring people with ties to the Confederacy. 

The de-commemorated buildings include McGuire Hall, Baruch Auditorium, the Ginter House, the Jefferson Davis Memorial Chapel, the Tompkins-McCaw Library and the Wood Memorial Building. 

The resolution is a result of work and recommendations from working groups and committees charged with examining symbols, memorials and commemorations on campus. 

The Board of Visitors also approved a resolution to allow the Department of African American Studies to rename its building.



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