Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 21, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Thomas Paradis, professor of geography and urban planning at Butler University, explains how tourism can reshape an event to bring together the local and the global. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 18, 2020

Though acknowledging it likely won’t happen unless there’s a Biden administration, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren said they are proposing a resolution that would call on the next president to use authority they believe he would have to cancel $50,000 in federal student debt from all borrowers, a move that would completely eliminate the balances of 75 percent of all borrowers.

“There would be a giant sigh of relief from one side of America to the other,” Schumer said during a call with reporters, as many borrowers struggle financially during the pandemic-caused recession.

Schumer, however, said he does not believe President Donald Trump would take the action. Such an action would also in some ways go beyond the complete debt forgiveness for those making less than $125,000 that Democratic nominee Joe Biden is promising.

The Biden campaign didn’t return a request for comment, and apparently he hasn’t promised to make the move that Schumer and Warren are proposing. Schumer said of Biden, “We believe he will very seriously entertain the proposal.”

Rather, the move appeared to be aimed at furthering Democratic attacks, as the Senate remains stuck on creating another coronavirus relief package, that Trump is not doing enough to offer help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Trump has given up the fight to contain the virus or give families the help they need,” Schumer said.

Warren, who said during her run for president that she’d act unilaterally to cancel debt, said the nation’s higher education law gives the Education Department authority to manage student loans, including canceling them. Warren cited an analysis from the Legal Services Center of Harvard University that the administration could cancel the debt.

Dan Madzelan, the American Council on Education’s associate vice president for government relations, said the Trump administration used that authority to waive interest on student loans earlier this year. However, he said the administration could not cancel private student loans. To do that, Congress would have to authorize money to pay the lenders.

Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, declined comment on the legality of unilaterally canceling debt. But he noted it would cancel the debt of people able to pay back their loans.

“For example, if the government forgives the debt of someone in good standing on a $30,000 loan who earns $100,000 a year, I can't really figure out why that isn't just arbitrary,” he said. “There's no hardship, no emergency, etc. Seems like a ‘just because I want to’ approach to policy. Maybe the statute really is that broad to allow total discretion to forgive debt whenever and wherever the secretary of education feels like it, but I'm skeptical.”

The Education Department and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declined comment when asked if the resolution would be allowed to come to a vote.

September 18, 2020

The graduate students’ union at the University of Michigan announced Thursday that they would be ending their strike. Graduate students had been engaging in a work stoppage -- meaning not teaching, grading, researching or doing other university labor -- since Sept. 8. The union had previously said its demands included more robust COVID-19 testing and tracing, the option for graduate students to teach in the modality of their choice, subsidies for student parents and caregivers, increased support for international students, and a number of antipolicing demands, such as disarming and diverting funds from campus police.

The union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, accepted an offer from the university on Wednesday night. This was the second offer to be brought to membership after the last proposal was rejected.

It is illegal for public employees to strike in the state of Michigan, and the union had a “no-strike” clause in its university contract. The administration had previously filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union and went to court to seek a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against the strike. If granted, the injunction could have resulted in strikers being held in contempt of court and the union paying civil damages.

Membership voted to end the strike 1,074 to 239 with 66 members abstaining.

The union responded to the vote by highlighting the concessions it won from the university, but also lamenting the fact the strike was cut short by the injunction.

“In the face of the university’s threats and bullying, our member power still won critical progress,” the union said in a press release. “We won workable pandemic childcare options; substantive support for international graduate students; transparent COVID-19 testing protocols; and incremental but real movement on our policing demands.”

That incremental movement on policing included a commitment from the university to form a task force that works with the undergraduate Students of Color Liberation Front and the union to issue a public report.

According to a university press release, the offer also included a revised process to address safety concerns for graduate instructors working on campus and a process to appeal those decisions.

“Thank you for the messages of congratulations. We want to make it clear though that this is how we feel about accepting an offer under threat of an injunction,” the union posted on Twitter, above an image of a cat sadly pressing a button that says “Accepting the offer.” “We are pretty tired and pretty angry!!”

The union also retweeted a reaction from a graduate student asking people not to congratulate her for the resolution.

“The offer was 100% garbage and we were forced to accept it or have our union destroyed,” she wrote.

Michigan resident assistants, who are not part of a union, are still on strike, and their demands include hazard pay, regular testing and personal protective equipment.

At a Faculty Senate meeting on Wednesday, a motion to vote no confidence in the university reopening plan narrowly failed. A motion to vote no confidence in President Mark Schlissel is still being reviewed, though a plurality of faculty voted in favor of it during the meeting.

September 18, 2020

California State University, Fresno, says that CV Vitolo-Haddad, a Ph.D. candidate in journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, will not work there next year. Fresno State said last week that it was looking into Vitolo-Haddad’s recent admission under pressure that they (Vitolo-Haddad’s preferred pronoun) are white and misrepresented their ethnicity in the past. Fresno State said in a statement Thursday, “We can confirm that CV Vitolo-Haddad will not be a faculty member at Fresno State.” The university extended them a conditional tenure-track job offer for fall 2021, it said, but the offer, “which was subject to completion of California State University background check procedures, was made prior to the allegations that have since surfaced publicly.” Vitolo-Haddad did not respond to a request for comment.

September 18, 2020

California voters are strongly resisting a proposal that would restore the ability of public colleges in the state to consider race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. The ballot measure would allow diversity to be considered in employment, education and contracting decisions.

The poll, conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, found that among likely voters, 31 percent would vote yes and 47 percent would vote no, with 22 percent undecided. Forty-six percent of Democratic likely voters support Proposition 16, compared with 26 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans. The San Francisco Bay Area (40 percent of likely voters) and Los Angeles (37 percent) are the only regions with more than one-third support for the measure.

September 18, 2020

The University of Georgia changed course on Thursday and said it would host an early voting site on campus after initially saying it could not host a voting site due to COVID-19-related concerns.

As CNN reported, the decision by the university not to host an early voting site due to social distancing concerns was widely criticized by student groups and state politicians, with some pointing out that the university has a plan to allow up to 23,000 spectators at football games.

The university initially dismissed the criticisms, saying on Twitter Wednesday, “Those comparing this matter to a football game should be able to recognize that football games will be played outdoors but we will still require social distancing by substantially reducing capacity in the stadium.”

Georgia initially said it would provide a shuttle service to enable students to vote at off-campus locations.

On Thursday, the university changed its tune and announced that the basketball arena had been approved by state and local election officials as an early voting site on campus. "Social distancing protocols will be followed in this large, indoor venue," the university said on Twitter.

September 18, 2020

The National Association for College Admission Counseling has released "Roadmap for Change: Reimagining U.S. Higher Education as a Public Good." The report calls, among other things, for higher education to "redesign college admission policy and practice to focus on the centrality of individual students in the vast landscape of postsecondary education," to "emphasize transparency as a critical policy measure to restore trust in higher education, and to ensure good public policy to protect the public investment in education" and "begin basing policy and practice on the premise higher education is a public good and enact public policy that recommits our nation to postsecondary access and success."

September 18, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, Ashley O’Connor, assistant professor of social work at the University of Alaska Anchorage, explores how pets can play a role in getting through a stressful situation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 17, 2020

James Thomas, associate professor of sociology at the University of Mississippi, withheld his labor for two days as part of last week’s national Scholar Strike against racial injustice and police brutality. Now the state auditor wants Ole Miss to fire Thomas, on the grounds that public employees are prohibited from striking in Mississippi.

Shad White, the state auditor, reportedly told the Clarion Ledger that he’d sent two agents to Thomas’s house but that Thomas "wasn't interested" in talking to them. In a letter to Ole Miss, White pressed Chancellor Glenn Boyce not to pay Thomas for the two days of the strike and to pursue his termination. "You’ve got a professor that's telling the world that he's engaging in a strike," White told the Ledger, referring to Thomas’s social media posts about the strike. "I wanted to make sure, at minimum, he doesn't get paid for those two days he went on strike, and I believe that falls completely under my purview."

Thomas declined comment. The university said it does not discuss personnel matters. Strike co-organizer Anthea Butler, associate professor of religion and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said Wednesday that it is “disappointing to think that in a time of upheaval due to the pandemic and racial injustice” that White “felt the need to send two investigators to Prof. Thomas's home to intimidate him over participating in Scholar Strike.” The “message that that sends from a state that only recently changed its flag says a lot about the racial and political situation in the state of Mississippi, and the politics of Mr. White.”

September 17, 2020

Eleven percent of women students and 4 percent of men enrolled in a Canadian postsecondary institution experienced a sexual assault “in a postsecondary setting” during the previous year, according to a 2019 survey by Statistics Canada that garnered almost 15,000 responses.

A majority of students -- 71 percent -- said they had witnessed or experienced unwanted sexualized behaviors in their college setting in 2019, either on campus or in an off-campus setting involving students or others associated with their institution. Forty-five percent of women students and 32 percent of men said they personally experienced at least one such behavior in the context of their studies.

The majority of women (80 percent) and men (86 percent) who experienced unwanted sexualized behaviors said the perpetrators were fellow students.

Fewer than 10 percent of women and men who reported sexual assault or unwanted sexualized behaviors spoke about what happened with someone affiliated with the school.

“While many saw what happened as not serious enough to report, others cited a lack of knowledge about what to do or a mistrust in how the school would handle the situation,” a summary of the survey results states.

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