Inside Higher Ed

Pac-12 conference mulls taking on private equity investors

Fri, 2019-01-04 08:00

In the last year, the Pacific-12 Conference -- one of the country's best-known sports brands, whose members have won more national championships than any other league -- has continued its multiyear decline.

Its member universities have had a lackluster showing in the most lucrative college sports, football and men’s basketball. And Pac-12 presidents and athletics leaders have complained about not keeping financial pace with the conference’s peers like the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences, which are sharing significantly more revenue with their institutions.

That gap has apparently led to an unprecedented proposal: consolidating some of Pac-12’s assets and then selling a piece of that new entity to private investors.

Industry experts question whether the plan, which was first reported by The Oregonian, could succeed given the complexity in managing both a nonprofit (the conference) and a separate for-profit entity.

The conference's leaders, the presidents and chancellors of the member universities who oversee the league's commissioner and other employees, have discussed the pitch twice with Commissioner Larry Scott, the newspaper reported. Under the plan, some of the Pac-12's most commercial assets -- broadcast and sponsorship rights, merchandising and more -- would be spun off into a unit called Pac-12 NewCo, 10 percent of which would be offered to investors for an estimated $500 million.

That cash infusion would immediately be distributed among the member colleges and universities, which are based in the West. The conference would still retain 90 percent of the equity in NewCo.

“Pac-12 NewCo. sounds interesting, but I doubt the plan will work … or attract investors,” said John Vrooman, a sports economist and professor at Vanderbilt University.

The Pac-12 officials valued NewCo at between $5 billion and $8.5 billion, but they are making some assumptions: that they'd receive significant revenue from DirecTV ($36 million annually), a total $2 billion deal with Fox and a $347 million payment from ESPN, none of which have been confirmed yet. They were making these estimates based off current media rights deals and other "conservative" estimates.

A Pac-12 spokesman, Andrew Walker, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed, "As the value of Pac-12 media assets has continued to grow significantly over the years, we regularly evaluate proposals we receive and consider strategic options to maximize value for and with our members. As a matter of policy, we do not comment publicly on the nature of these discussions."

This deal is unsurprising, said Marcus Owens, a partner at the Washington law firm Loeb & Loeb. He previously worked for the Internal Revenue Service and investigated nonprofits and commercial revenue as the IRS's Exempt Organizations Division director.

Universities for a while now have farmed out auxiliary services, such as dining or the bookstore, to outside companies in an attempt to maximize revenue, Owens said. This is the first occasion he knows of for an athletics conference possibly attempting it, he said.

Owens said the conferences have likely not tried it before because they enjoy tax exemption, so they have never needed to tap in to investors.

If the business activity of NewCo began to be blurred with the rest of the conference, such as if officials were assigned to the governing boards of both entities, it could create some problems, Owens said. He guessed that the leaders would try to ensure clear separation between the two groups.

“It’s an interesting expansion of an activity that has been trending for some time in higher education,” Owens said.

By and large, the Pac-12 has struggled in the last few years. Scott is a controversial figure for his desire to infuse the conference with glitz generally only seen among professional leagues. He insisted that the Pac-12 headquarters be located in pricey San Francisco, skyrocketing the rent to millions of dollars. His compensation is nearly $5 million, according to the most recent available tax filing, double that of Jim Delany, Big Ten Conference commissioner, despite Delany running the most prominent conference of the Power 5.

And Scott’s deal seven years ago to keep the Pac-12 TV network independent -- forgoing a partnership with a major media company such as Fox -- has often been cited as the reason for the conference’s money troubles. The Pac-12 has paid tens of millions of dollars to run its cable network, while the Big Ten’s costs are generally covered by its partnerships, such as one with Fox, which owns just more than half the network -- ESPN owns part of the SEC's network.

“In an arms race in these other conferences, Pac-12 has fallen short of late,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.

In 2011, the Pac-12 did sell rights to its men’s basketball and football games to ESPN and Fox for a total of $3 billion over the course of 12 years, which at the time was the most lucrative deal among the college conferences. But its competitors locked in new deals that overtook the Pac-12’s, which was locked in to a rate until the arrangement expires in 2024. Conference officials have expressed confidence that the Pac-12 will catch up with its competitors in five years and that the league's value is increasing significantly.

In the meantime, the financial missteps have trickled down to the universities within the Pac-12, each of which received a share of about $31 million in fiscal year 2016. That may seem like a lot. But consider the other conference shares -- the Big Ten’s members each get $50 million, and the Southeastern Conference’s receive $41 million.

The total annual revenue of the Pac-12 is about $500 million.

Some of the Pac-12's athletics directors, football and basketball coaches, and presidents -- all generally among the highest-paid employees at sports-centric universities -- have been dissatisfied.

Both Ray Anderson, Arizona State University's athletics director, and Kirk Schulz, Washington State University's president, have said in interviews that the financial gaps between the Pac-12 and the other conferences have disadvantaged the universities. The institutions are hard-pressed to recruit top-tier players or build facilities, they said.

Other former athletics directors have talked publicly about how they felt Scott disregarded them or said they were silenced outright when they brought concerns to him about revenue.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Scott waved away issues of money.

“The focus on money is natural, but it’s only one piece of a broader equation that leads to competitive success,” Scott told the outlet. “Our conference has some significant non-financial advantages: the cities that we’re in, the universities, the academic excellence, the overall athletic excellence. California is in our backyard from a recruiting standpoint. We’re a conference that’s never been at the top of the standings in terms of revenue, but we’ve always been at the top of the standings in terms of winning. That’s what we measure. Having the most money, we’ve never had. We don’t need the most money to be competitive.”

Editorial Tags: AthleticsNCAAImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Pac-12 Commissioner Larry ScottIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Economics and its main association face criticism

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00

As thousands of economists gather this week for the annual meeting of the American Economic Association, the field and the association are facing criticism on a number of fronts.

One scholar's posts on Twitter -- receiving praise from others on social media -- note that the association's leaders, its top journals and a key prize increasingly appear tied to a very small number of departments at elite universities, in his view potentially excluding good people and good ideas from the attention they deserve. While many disciplines have particularly influential departments, this critique suggests that economics may be in a class by itself. The criticism also comes as hundreds of graduate students have issued a public call for the field, its departments and the association to adopt codes of conduct to prevent abusive treatment of graduate students and young scholars.

The tweets about the profession came from Jacob L. Vigdor, an economist who is a professor of public policy at the University of Washington. Here are a few of those attracting attention.

The American Economic Association's bylaws do not permit direct election of presidents. The nominating committee (chosen by president-elect) and executive committee (chosen by nominating committee) serve as an "electoral college" and place a single name on the ballot …

— Jake Vigdor (@JakeVigdor) December 18, 2018

The American Psychological Association permits direct election of presidents from a slate of 5 nominees.

Over the past 28 years:
AEA presidents have represented 10 institutions
APA presidents have represented 27 (including 3 psychologists in private practice).

— Jake Vigdor (@JakeVigdor) December 18, 2018

The AEA controls one of the discipline's five most prestigious journals. Two departments that have supplied 11 of the past 28 presidents control two more. A fourth is controlled by an organization (Econometric Society) that similarly avoids open election of officers.

— Jake Vigdor (@JakeVigdor) December 18, 2018

The most prestigious award conferred by the AEA is the John Bates Clark medal, for the best American economist under the age of 40. It was last awarded to an economist outside the 10-institution "cartel" in 1959. (Lawrence Klein, Penn)

— Jake Vigdor (@JakeVigdor) December 18, 2018

Many economists have been praising Vigdor for putting forward these issues and doing so with his name attached. Some have suggested he may have more freedom than they do because he works in a public policy school, not an economics department.

In an email interview, he said that he was hearing this as well.

"I think I'm saying things that thousands of other economists have long thought to themselves but dare not articulate because they are worried about possible repercussions for their career," he said. "This in turn reflects another lesson I learned from reviewing hundreds of tenure dossiers -- that universities grant it so that their scholars might take risks exactly like this."

Vigdor said it was his experience working on universitywide tenure and promotion committees that made him look closely at the norms in fields outside economics.

He said he "spent three years on a provost-level P&T committee (including one year as chair), where I had to broaden my horizons still further, to understand how things work in the sciences, engineering, the book-driven humanities, business schools, divinity schools, the basic science divisions of med schools, and so forth. This also gave me many opportunities to see fellow committee members from across the university scratch their heads in contemplating the strangeness of economics."

Vigdor's work at Washington and previously at Duke University has him very much immersed in the world of leading research universities, and his Ph.D. is from Harvard University. But in looking at the places that dominate economics, Harvard and a few other institutions are the very top tier.

Olivier Blanchard, president of the AEA, declined to comment on Vigdor's criticisms. Blanchard is a scholar at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, but he spent the bulk of his career at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (A listing of the association's past presidents confirms Vigdor's count.)

Tyler Cowen, chair of economics at George Mason University, has attracted many followers through both his scholarship and his blog, Marginal Revolution.

He said that he agreed with the idea that influence of economics comes from a relatively small number of institutions, and he thinks the number is shrinking. "What used to be something like a 'top six' has over time become the 'top two,' namely Harvard and MIT."

Cowen said that he doesn't "find that entirely ideal, by any means." But he also said that those departments deserve praise for their work. "Harvard and MIT are in fact remarkably good at finding, evaluating and attracting top talent. It is stunning how good they are at this, and we should not begrudge them that," he said. (Cowen is an example, having earned his Ph.D. at Harvard. His undergraduate alma mater is George Mason, where he teaches.)

The centralization of top departments, he said, worries him less than do "pressures for conformity."

Cowen added that he is sympathetic to Vigdor's criticism, but that the centralization may be "an opportunity" for departments outside the elites to shine. "The centralized centers of influence are going to miss important ideas in their early stages," Cowen said. "Both public choice and experimental economics came out of non-top schools," including to some extent George Mason, he said. "So did blogging. If something is unfair, well, in part that is your big chance."

Graduate Students' Open Letter

Vigdor's criticisms have circulated even as an open letter from graduate students (many of them at top programs) has been circulating calling for reform of departments, the discipline and the association

The letter was drafted amid a scandal over a prominent economist, Roland Fryer of Harvard University. Fryer resigned from the executive committee of the association amid reports of harassment allegations he faces at Harvard (he has declined to comment on them). The association said it was unaware of the allegations when he was named to the committee.

The open letter, issued in response to the reports on Fryer, says in part, "This is a painful moment for our discipline. Abuses of power, bullying, and harassment damage peoples’ health and happiness, ruin careers, and reduce the quality of scholarship in economics. Moreover, it is well documented that these abuses of power disproportionately harm women, minorities, and queer individuals. These frustrating realities have pushed us to ask how economics can address the power imbalances that drive out talented individuals, prevent the inclusion of underrepresented groups, and collectively damage our discipline."

The letter calls on leaders in the profession to "listen to us" about the problems faced by graduate students and others, for each department to "create, communicate, and enforce department-level standards of conduct" and for the association to "implement a discipline-wide reporting system to document bad behavior."

Blanchard, the AEA president, tweeted praise for the letter and said that the association was working on the issues raised in it. His tweet called the letter "careful and constructive."

Vigdor, asked if he had received any response from the association, said that he had not.

Editorial Tags: EconomicsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Economics CriticizedTrending order: 1

Some Calif. community colleges skip free college because of required participation in federal loan program

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00

California’s free community college plan wasn’t just about offering a tuition-free year to the state’s students.

It was an opportunity for state leaders and the California Community Colleges chancellor's office to encourage college leaders to support and undertake popular reforms such as using multiple measures to determine students' academic preparedness and forge deeper partnerships with K-12 school districts. But some college administrators are balking at one requirement in the one-year tuition-free legislation that passed last year -- participation in the federal student loan program.

“We’ve been concerned about debt, and the idea of making community college affordable or free was exciting for us,” said Bruce Baron, chancellor of the San Bernardino Community College District. “But when we learned it comes with a clause that mandates we offer federal student loans, that’s where we drew the line.”

The San Bernardino district, which enrolls about 24,000 students, has been joined by several other California colleges in opposing the requirement. Barstow College, College of the Desert, Imperial Valley College, Mt. San Jacinto College, Palo Verde College, Taft College and Victor Valley College also have declined to accept free tuition aid from the state and don’t participate in the federal loan program.

California Community Colleges system officials, however, oppose that move.

“Colleges that do not participate in the federal loan program are limiting access to federal student aid for their students,” Laura Metune, vice chancellor of external relations for the system chancellor’s office, said in an email. “Not participating in the federal student loan program doesn’t prevent debt. Instead, it limits students’ options when they do have to borrow.”

Metune said students instead may consider private loans, which could have higher interest rates and generally don’t offer the repayment or forgiveness provisions included in the federal student loan program.

California policy makers recognized that the tuition-free legislation, commonly called Assembly Bill 19, or AB 19, wouldn't cover the full cost of attending college and that some students would still need other financial aid, she said.

Yet among those attending California community colleges that do participate in the federal loan program, only about 31,000 of the system's two million students take on federal debt, according to state data.

“AB 19 was used as a carrot approach by providing colleges additional resources, but requiring that they do their part to maximize student access to all financial aid programs, of which the federal student loan program is one,” Metune said. The state is giving the community college system about $46 million for the colleges to administer the tuition-free law.

The San Bernardino district opted out of federal loans because of high default rates, which could jeopardize the colleges' federal funding, Baron said. As a result, San Bernardino is turning down about $400,000 in state aid it would have received as part of the tuition-free legislation.

“When we had the federal student loan program, we had an extremely high default rate,” Baron said.

Students can create decades of debt in college that can become a hardship once they graduate, he said, because they either aren't employed yet or are not making enough money to meet their debt obligation.

Last year the San Bernardino district ended its participation in the federal Perkins Loan program. The default rate for borrowers at its colleges who took out Perkins Loans was about 54 percent, although fewer than 30 entered repayment in 2016, according to data from the district. When San Bernardino Valley College participated in the federal loan program in 2005, its default rate was 22.4 percent. The threshold for losing access to federal funds was 25 percent at the time. It's now 30 percent.

“It’s hard to know how students spend their loan money once they receive it,” Baron said. “My observation over the years is if you get a student loan and go to the college bookstore to buy textbooks, you may also walk out with sweatshirts and a few other things. That’s not to judge the student, but to say that funding specifically for education is extremely important and we can’t control what students do with money from student loans. All we know is by the time they’re graduating or leave our campus, they need to start paying that back.”

Concerns About Defaulting

Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said high default rates and the risk of losing access to federal aid is the main reason colleges opt out of the federal loan programs. And colleges in California aren't the only ones to decide not to participate. Nationally, 9 percent of community college students attend institutions that do not participate in federal loan programs, according to a 2016 report from TICAS.

But those fears are overblown, she said.

“Most community colleges that don’t make federal loans available are nowhere near those sanction thresholds,” she said.

According to data from the California system, no colleges were above the 30 percent federal threshold. The system’s overall default rate is down to 17 percent, from 19 percent last year.

The system recently began a campaign to get all of its colleges below 20 percent. Last year, 30 colleges were above that mark, Metune said, compared to just 19 this year.

The national default rate for public community colleges is 16.7 percent.

“Any college that is enrolling students taking out federal loans is right to be concerned about loan defaults among former students, and they should take that seriously,” Cochrane said.

While Cochrane said she's heard one-off anecdotes about a student who used financial aid money inappropriately, there is very little evidence of this being a widespread problem, particularly at the community colleges.

“Most community college students are living independently, and they will have living costs,” she said. “No one questions those costs when they’re talking about four-year students. No one questions students’ ability to get grants or loans to cover meal plans. But you will hear a lot of the same people be highly critical of community college students who are taking out loans and receiving grant aid to cover their grocery bills or rent.”

The TICAS report found that nearly 55 percent of North Carolina community colleges have opted out of federal loan programs. At least one college in a relatively low-income area of the state cited students who used federal aid to cover living expenses as a reason to opt out because those conditions make it difficult for graduates to repay.

For example, North Carolina's Beaufort County Community College stopped participating in federal loan programs in 2014 because of rising default rates, said David Loope, the college's president.

The college’s default rate at the time was about 29 percent, he said. But a backlash followed the opt-out decision by the college of about 2,500 students.

“We had a significant drop of about 25 percent in enrollment that is only now coming back,” Loope said. “We had to ensure to the citizens in our service region that just because we were withdrawing from the student loan program, it did not mean students were prevented from obtaining Pell Grants or scholarships from the college.”

Loope said the economic barriers that pushed students to take out federal loans were the same ones that often kept them from repaying the loans after college.

“They’re impoverished, and we're in one of the poorer areas of North Carolina,” he said. “Jobs are somewhat difficult to come by in this region.”

Beaufort students have transportation obstacles, health-care issues, housing insecurity, childcare and other living expenses, said Loope, and loans often made those obstacles worse.

The college didn’t exit the loan program without offering students other options. Beaufort distributes about $150,000 a year in need-based scholarships.

“It’s absolutely essential to understand that if you’re going to pull out or forgo the student loan program,” Loope said, “you need to find ways to make up the difference for your students, especially in an impoverished area.”

San Bernardino is attempting to go a step further than the statewide tuition-free plan with the creation of its own two-year tuition-free program. The district’s board voted in October to invest $10 million in the program.

“Students, if you’re willing to promise on your end that you are going to take a full class load and work to graduate with an associate degree in two years … our promise is that you will not incur any other costs for education,” Baron said.

Baron said he has been lobbying the state chancellor’s office and local legislators to eventually drop the requirement that colleges participate in the federal loan program. So far, the latest change to AB 19 is a bill the Legislature introduced in December to extend the tuition-free offer from one to two years.

Paul Feist, vice chancellor for communications and marketing with the statewide chancellor’s office, said the system wouldn’t consider removing the requirement “until we close the yawning gap between low or no tuition and the total cost of attending college for students.”

The colleges have an obligation to make sure students have access to all forms of financial aid, he said via email.

“These are adults who shouldn’t be denied choices around financing their college educations,” Feist said.

Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Financial aidCaliforniaNorth CarolinaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Student activists' biggest obstacle often is the rhythms of college activism itself

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00

Student activists' biggest opponent often is the rhythm of college itself. The traditional academic calendar, with built-in holiday breaks, busy finals schedule and months-long summer leaves little uninterrupted time for organizing. And students’ temporary stay on campus all but guarantees setbacks when student leaders graduate.

The calendar dictates a rise and fall of momentum behind student movements. Chris Gannon, vice president for the United States Student Association, a national student organizing group, calls it the “student energy cycle.”

“When you get students coming in the fall, they have more time, they haven’t started their exams and they get really fired up in September and October,” Gannon said. “In November and December, students might not be doing as well in their classes and have to focus on that. They start to lose interest.”

The cycle repeats in the spring when classes resume. Angus Johnston, a history professor at Hostos Community College of the City University of New York, who writes about student activism, said that students are typically more successful in the spring because they laid the groundwork for their organizing in the fall.

Summer break serves as a “reset” button, as seasoned student leaders graduate while underclassmen leave campus. It also gives administrators an opportunity to regroup after protests and demonstrations.

“The summer winds up being the biggest opportunity that the administration will have to undo [students’] work that year, or put in place policies that will have greater student opposition,” Johnston said.

Gannon’s passion for student organizing grew out of a conflict at Wayne State University, where he was an undergraduate. In June 2013, the university approved an 8.9 percent tuition hike as part of its budget for the next year, despite a 3.75 percent statewide tuition increase cap.

“I remember hearing over the summer how mad folks were,” Gannon said, “but they did it at a time that by the time students came back, it would have been three months or so since [the university] voted on it -- maybe the [anger] would have died down.”

Although board meetings and budget votes often occur when students are off campus, it’s not clear how often administrators use the academic calendar to stymie student protest.

“I’m sure there are some places that use the calendar to that effect,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, a national organization for student affairs administrators. “How Machiavellian colleges are about it, I don’t know.”

Protesting, organizing and standing up for one’s beliefs are all parts of a well-rounded education, according to Kruger.

“We think encouraging [activism] is a good thing, even when it's uncomfortable. Subverting that is not the first instinct of student affairs folks,” he said. “Having said that, protests can be unpleasant for a campus when the protest is about the institution itself.”

Institutional Memory

Overcoming challenges posed by the academic calendar can be tough, and students face other disadvantages.

“It’s hard for students because they’re oftentimes full-time students and they’re working a part-time job on the side, which makes their responsibilities add up to more than full-time between the two,” Gannon said. “Organizing is almost like another part-time job.”

It’s unlikely that student leaders will create lasting institutional change during their four years on campus, Johnston said. But by passing on information about their successes and failures to younger students, activists develop the institutional memory required for real progress.

“One of the things that I’ve seen over decades in terms of where students win real victories that are lasting and sustainable, is often you have student institutions that provide you with institutional memory,” Johnston said.

Creating a place for that information to live is crucial. Without it, college officials can wait out student movements knowing that when a new crop of students arrives, they’ll have to start from scratch.

“Students are usually only on campus for four years, so they come in as a freshman and maybe don’t identify issues that they want to organize around until the end of their sophomore year,” Gannon said. “I think administrators use it to their advantage, because I think that they know they’re only going to be seeing the same student protesters for a few more years.”

A lack of institutional memory can also lead to copycat protests at colleges where current students no longer remember past activism. For example, in 2013 at St. Olaf College, a group of students founded the Enough! campaign and called on the college to address institutional racism after a series of racist hate incidents on campus. The campaign successfully made noise through walk-outs, demands and demonstrations, but effected little institutional change, and it eventually fell out of collective student memory.

Four years later, a new group of students convened the Collective for Change on the Hill after a separate series of racist hate incidents (one of the seven reported incidents was later discovered to be a hoax). The movements were similar, as were the racist incidents, but the progress made by Enough! was lost before the collective could build on it.

Neither Enough! nor the collective had an institutional “home” at St. Olaf, which Kruger believes is necessary for student activism to outlast student turnover.

“If that activism is contained or sponsored by existing structures at the institution, say, the student government association … or student groups … there are places and opportunities for advisers of those groups to help students form institutional memory,” Kruger said. “I think it’s difficult when the protest is organic and doesn’t have an organizational home.”

‘Us vs. Them’

Erin Hennessy is often called in to help colleges communicate with students, staff and alumni when protests pop up on campus. A critical misstep, said Hennessy, vice president of TVP Communications, is making an enemy of the students.

“One of the things that we see often with some institutions is the instant that there is a protest or a list of demands, there are some administrators who always go on this ‘us vs. them’ footing,” she said. “And it’s amazing how quickly institutions can forget the ‘them’ in the ‘us vs. them’ is their students.”

Protests that escalate into power struggles between the college and the students are the ones that become “bigger, newsier events,” Hennessy said. For example, the ongoing saga of Silent Sam protests at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill garnered media attention for months as the campus became a battleground with increased police presence, student arrests and virtually no compromise between students and university leadership. Likewise, when students occupied the administrative offices at Seton Hall University last fall, university officials moved to a building with increased security. A video also revealed a yelling match between a professor and a group of students.

Protests don’t have to lead to war. Hennessy remembered one at Lebanon Valley College in 2015, when students issued a list of demands that called for wide-ranging institutional reform, including hires of more minority faculty members, gender-neutral restrooms and expanded support for LGBT students.

The activists also demanded a renaming of Lynch Memorial Hall, an academic building named for Clyde A. Lynch, a former Lebanon Valley president. Lynch had never been associated with racist violence, but students didn’t want the word “lynch” on campus.

“Administrators approached the students and said, ‘We don’t think that keeping this on the list of the demands you have is going to be beneficial to you, let’s take that off,’” Hennessy said. “It ended up being resolved pretty successfully.”

Post-Missouri Organizing

Student activism in the late 20th century was marked by grassroots organizing and multicollege student associations. Students rallied around workers' rights, environmental justice, antiwar efforts or civil rights. Today’s students often are focused on equity issues, especially those concerning race, and re-examining the power structures in place at colleges.

The 2015 protests at the University of Missouri have become iconic; few talk about campus organizing without mentioning Mizzou.

“That was a situation where students really were able to leverage power in a very different way,” Johnston said. “And at a moment when the movement against racism on campus and off had been building for some time, Missouri was a flashpoint.”

The protest's success was due in part to the support of the Mizzou football team, which held significant leverage over university leadership. At institutions where sports are a vital source of revenue, public support from student athletes, coaches and boosters can move the needle in student activists' favor.

Last month at UNC, more than 280 student athletes signed an open letter condemning the university's decision to construct a $5.3 million building to house the controversial Silent Sam statue, and Roy Williams, UNC's men's basketball coach, sided with the students. UNC's governing board later voted against the project. Relative to past events, the mid-December vote was met with little on-campus protest, likely due to the fact students were in the middle of finals. While it's not clear if the pressure from student athletes influenced the vote, their condemnation received significant media attention in the days leading up to the board meeting.

The endorsement of star athletes is a valuable bargaining chip, but before the football team signed on to back the student cause at Mizzou, protest leaders already had drummed up support with social media and a strong list of demands.

Social media allows students to project their message far beyond campus. And many student movements have their own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts (see the Twitter pages of @shu_concerned44, @uopindecline, @move_silent_sam, @CS_1950).

The pages archive a timeline of actions, contributing further to institutional memory, and help keep students connected and energized when they’re off campus.

“I’d be interested to see if there are revisions to the student energy cycle, because a lot of these students are becoming much savvier about activism,” Hennessy said. “Social media has changed the game in terms of how we all look at calendars and breaks and whether or not breaks will put an end to an issue.”

A revolt at the University of Virginia in 2012 is an early example of this. Over that summer, when the board tried to force out then president Teresa Sullivan (only to reinstate her 18 days later), students joined faculty and alumni in their protests against the decision.

Lists of demands are becoming increasingly popular. Because they are formally written and typically provide guidelines for negotiations with and responses from college officials, they serve as a strong form of institutional memory. Ted Thornhill, a sociology professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, has watched protests -- especially around institutional racism -- unfold everywhere he's taught. Thornhill implores college officials to take the lists seriously.

“Students have put a lot of effort and thought into crafting these demands, and they ought to take them seriously,” he said. “There’s a unifying theme about these lists of demands. It’s not about these places issuing strong statements of condemnation when there are anti-black, anti-Latinx or anti-Muslim hate crimes on campus. That’s not what they’re focused on. These student protesters want substantive changes that will disrupt the white racist architecture that ordains the predominantly white institutions across the country.”

Administrators are often hesitant to take action on the demands, partly due to the fact that students don’t always understand what college officials can and cannot change. Changing processes of faculty hiring, college investments, tuition prices and other areas of interest require input from many stakeholders, not just the college president.

“The challenge with student activists is they often don’t understand what goes into running an academic institution behind the scenes,” Hennessy said. “It just doesn’t work like that. I can’t just say, ‘Here’s the funding for six [faculty] lines and I’m going to overrule the hiring process to get six faculty members in these departments.’”

Even if students don’t present a flawless plan of action, Thornhill hopes administrators pay attention to the students’ underlying concerns and commit to working toward the changes students are asking for.

“I think these administrators are looking at things the wrong way … they’re focused solely on the [immediate] negative consequences of doing the antiracist thing. They seem to be singularly focused on declining applications, declining enrollment, declining donations, declining alumni giving, negative perceptions in the media,” he said. “When these are predominately white institutions, their concerns about the negative consequences are because white folks in those groups have been upset or discomforted.”

Mizzou felt the negative consequences. In the wake of the protests, media coverage painted the campus as divided and unruly. Enrollments plummeted, leading to a decline in revenue and subsequent budget cuts. The administration weathered a wave of resignations, including those of Tim Wolfe, the former university system president, and R. Bowen Loftin, the former Mizzou chancellor.

But over time, antiracist efforts can yield positive results, including helpful attention from members of the news media as well as donors and potential students who appreciate the work and want to contribute to it. “It means you’re going to get other types of students over time,” Thornhill said.

The university has gotten started on several student-requested initiatives, including an effort to hire more minority faculty and staff, recruit more minority students, and prioritize access to mental health services.

Despite its now historic status, the Mizzou protests are not immune to the rhythms of student activism. The Class of 2019, the last group of students who were present for the protests, will graduate in the spring, and time will tell if the students' efforts will outlast their departure.

Editorial Tags: Student lifeActivismImage Caption: Students protest at the University of Missouri in 2015Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Lebanon Valley CollegeSt Olaf CollegeUniversity of Missouri - ColumbiaUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillWayne State University

Author discusses his new book on how writing is and should be taught

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00

For generations, professors have complained that their students can't write. Do they know what they are talking about?

John Warner questions those complaints, arguing that faculty members frequently ignore the real challenges to teaching writing and the impact of poor instruction that many students receive. He also questions traditional writing instruction (before college and in college), the way standardized tests evaluate writing skills, and the reliance at many colleges on adjuncts to teach writing. Warner, a blogger for Inside Higher Ed, discusses these issues in his new book, Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities (Johns Hopkins University Press). Via email, he responded to questions about the book.

Q: Many professors complain that "students these days" can't write as well as did those of previous generations. Are these professors correct?

A: Both history and current research say no. Professors lamenting about student writing is as old as professors and students. In the book I have a quote from Harvard professor Adams Sherman Hill from 1878 complaining about his students “making blunders which would disgrace a boy 12 years old.” I imagine that Professor Og was rending his animal skin over Student Thak’s failure to properly etch the antelope glyph on the cave wall.

A comprehensive investigation of student-produced writing artifacts dating back to 1917 by Andrea and Karen Lunsford also revealed that the number of errors in student writing have been largely consistent over time. (Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, “Mistakes Are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study,” College Composition and Communication).

Q: Technology is frequently seen as the culprit. You don't support that view. Why do you think technology is blamed, but maybe shouldn't be?

A: In a lot of ways, this dovetails with the first question, in that if one believes that students are somehow defective (or more defective than previous generations) there must be a cause, and that cause is technology. It is tempting to look at students through the lens of defects because it puts the onus on them to somehow amend their ways, rather than doing what I believe must be done, which is to examine how we approach teaching writing from a systemic level.

If anything, technology is causing students to write more than ever before. This smells like an opportunity to me when it comes to helping students learn to think and write in the ways we would like them to in academic contexts.

Q: The five-paragraph essay is widely taught in high schools everywhere, and its proponents say it teaches students basic skills of structure and argument. What's wrong with the five-paragraph essay?

A: The five-paragraph essay is more avatar for the problem than the problem itself. There’s nothing troubling about essays with five paragraphs, but the “five-paragraph essay” comes coupled with some very troubling things.

The primary problem is the practices which attach to the teaching of the five-paragraph essay, and the totalizing system of accountability which privileges the teaching of the five-paragraph essay. Prescriptive rules such as: a thesis must be the last sentence of the first paragraph, the last paragraph must start with “in conclusion” and restate the body paragraphs, and each paragraph should have between five and seven sentences do not help students learn the basic skills of structure and argument. They help them create what I call “writing-related simulations” which pass very basic muster on surface-level assessments, but don’t actually help students learn to make better arguments or think in the ways we expect in college.

Effective argumentation is about learning to make choices consistent with audience, purpose and message (the rhetorical situation). The way the five-paragraph essay is employed as prescriptive practice actually prevents students from practicing those far more vital and complicated skills.

Q: You note that many colleges have adjuncts teach freshmen to write. What are the problems with this model?

A: By and large this means writing teachers work with the most students while having the least security, lowest pay and often substandard institutional support. The maximum recommended student loads for teaching writing according to disciplinary experts is 60 students per semester (three sections of 20). Adjuncts and other contingent faculty often are working with double or triple this number. (Some tenured faculty are as well, of course.)

If an institution claims it’s important for students to learn to write while leaving contingent faculty with double or triple the maximum loads to do that instruction, they’re either liars or hypocrites.

Q: Many colleges have been dropping the SAT/ACT essay as a requirement, a shift you have applauded. How should colleges evaluate the writing of applicants?

A: Les Perelman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argued that the best strategy for doing well on the original SAT essay was to “just make stuff up,” and while the revised version is somewhat better, it’s still a largely inauthentic task which does little to demonstrate whether or not students can think through writing, which is what I believe to be most important. At the same time, essays written from admissions department prompts also suffer from their lack of authenticity while being susceptible to “coaching.”

My preference would be some kind of portfolio of student work which -- above all -- the student thinks best reflects not just their writing abilities, but their intellectual and creative preoccupations and passions. I want to see students creating knowledge in their writing -- why not ask them to show what they’ve been working on in this realm prior to college?

Q: What would be hallmarks of a good program to teach college students to write?

A: I would look at this on two fronts. One, what are the conditions that students and instructors are working under and are they consistent with what we know about the effective teaching of writing? We need reasonable class sizes, well-trained instructors who are given the time and resources to continue to develop their teaching practices, and professional pay that allows for the establishment of a stable teaching force.

Two, we would look at how well students are able to transfer what they’re learning in a first-year writing program to new and unfamiliar genres. My goal is to help students see through the lens of a writing “practice,” where a task may be unfamiliar, but they have a flexible and robust process combined with experience in analyzing the rhetorical situation to solve that unfamiliar problem.

Writers of any kind are never going to be a finished product, so I want to see writers who can apply the past to the future, a future which extends well beyond school.

New Books About Higher EducationTeaching and LearningEditorial Tags: BooksWritingIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: ‘Why They Can’t Write’Trending order: 2

Settlement forces white supremacist to denounce the movement, apologize to college student

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00

A man who targeted and harassed the first black female student body president of American University online has agreed in a landmark settlement to denounce white supremacy and apologize, possibly marking a rare victory for college students who have endured similar vitriol.

Taylor Dumpson, who was elected student government president in 2017, experienced a turbulent first day in office last May, when bananas were found around American’s campus that read “AKA,” or Alpha Kappa Alpha, referring to the sorority for African American women, which Dumpson had joined. Others read “Harambe bait,” a racist reference -- Harambe was a gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2016. The bananas were hanging from ropes in the shape of nooses, which officials condemned as “hateful and racist.” The culprit was never caught.

After news media reported the incident, Andrew Anglin, who heads a neo-Nazi and white supremacist website called The Daily Stormer, posted Dumpson’s picture and personal information and directed his followers to attack her online. When Anglin first posted her photo, he referenced the nickname "Dumpy Dumpson" and wrote that his readers should "fully support her struggles against bananas," telling them where to access her Facebook and the student government's social media pages.

One of those people was Evan James McCarty, an Oregon native. On Twitter, McCarty posted Dumpson's location on multiple occasions and once told his followers, "Everybody bring bananas." He also tweeted "READY THE TROOPS" and tagged the student government president's Twitter account in a tweet that read "OOGA BOOGA."

In a federal lawsuit that Dumpson filed this year, she alleges that the constant bullying she faced from Anglin, McCarty and other defendants had led to emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Dumpson suffered from anxiety that affected her academics, according to her complaint. She has graduated and enrolled in law school.

In December, Dumpson reached a settlement with McCarty, who posted online under the pseudonym Byron de la Vandal, a reference to Byron De La Beckwith, a Ku Klux Klan member who assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers in the 1960s.

As a part of the settlement, McCarty is not allowed to participate in online trolling or doxing, which is the practice of making personal information public online. He must also complete 200 hours of community service on racial justice and agree to participate in the lawsuit against Anglin and other white supremacists. Anglin did not respond to a request for comment.

McCarty must also apologize to Dumpson in writing and on a recorded video, which Dumpson can use for “civil rights advocacy, outreach and educational purposes.”

In the apology, McCarty must renounce white supremacy, sexism and other forms of hate and bigotry and describe how he is “confronting” his own prejudice, namely through counseling, according to a statement from his parents, Deb and James McCarty.

“Our family has sincere empathy for Ms. Dumpson and is profoundly sorry for the harm caused her,” McCarty's parents said in the statement, speaking for the entire family. “Evan, our son, feels deep regret about his actions and is committed to making changes and moving forward in a positive way.”

They added he had “completely ceased” all involvement with hate groups and was working with counselors.

“He is a different person than he was when he hid behind an alias,” his parents said.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which helped Dumpson sue, said in a statement that it believes the settlement can serve as a model to others who are attempting to leave white supremacy.

“The settlement will support the efforts of community leaders and advocates combating racism and discrimination across the country,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the committee, said in the statement. “This landmark settlement sends a strong message to white supremacists and neo-Nazis that they are not above the law and will be held accountable for their dangerous and unlawful activity.”

Peter F. Lake, a law professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said that the lawyers in Dumpson's case appear to be trying to create protections against doxing. Previous court cases have not dealt with the speed and anonymity with which trolls can pursue their victims online, which could be intentional infliction of emotional distress, Lake said, adding that the First Amendment could protect the trolls' actions.

"I'm not sure what the Supreme Court would do with this," Lake said. "There's something about 'troll armies,' in which these people are partially or completely hidden entities. There's a certain anonymity … but it's creepy about how many are out there. There's a terrorism feel to it. A fear factor."

College students have faced online attacks by white supremacists before. Students at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been targeted by a man who goes by the pseudonym Jack Corbin. He has used Twitter and a social media website favored by white supremacists called Gab to publish personal information of students, including their photos and where they live. Corbin, who was also connected to the alleged shooter of congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, has delighted in coming up with vulgar nicknames and other bigoted attacks. The institution has not stepped in to stop the harassment.

A recent decision by a federal appeals court found that students at the University of Mary Washington were permitted to pursue a lawsuit against the institution for allegedly failing to protect them against online harassment. This ruling could clarify that colleges need to shield students from such attacks.

A group of feminist students had sued Mary Washington, asserting that the online threats the members faced constituted gender discrimination. While a lower court initially threw out the case, the appeals court agreed with the students that it was potentially legitimate. It now returns to a federal district judge.

DiversityEditorial Tags: RaceLegal issuesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: American University

New presidents or provosts: Bladen Brunswick Carnegie Mellon Charleston Crafton Eastern Nazarene Pretoria SCICU Smith Western

Thu, 2019-01-03 08:00
  • Reverend Jack Connell, provost and dean of the faculty at Houghton College, in New York, has been selected as president of Eastern Nazarene College, in Massachusetts.
  • James H. Garrett Jr., dean of the College of Engineering and Thomas Lord Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pennsylvania, has been named provost and chief academic officer there.
  • Kevin Horan, vice president of instruction and student services of Los Medanos College, in California, has been appointed president of Crafton Hills College, also in California.
  • Andrew T. Hsu, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, has been chosen as president of the College of Charleston, in South Carolina.
  • Tawana Kupe, vice principal of the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa, has been named vice chancellor and principal of the University of Pretoria, also in South Africa.
  • Amanda K. Lee, chief of staff and vice president of academic affairs at Union College, in Kentucky, has been chosen as president of Bladen Community College, in North Carolina.
  • L. Jeffrey Perez, vice president for university relations at Winthrop University, in South Carolina, has been selected as president and CEO of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities.
  • Alan Shepard, president of Concordia University, in Quebec, has been appointed as president and vice chancellor of Western University, in Ontario.
  • L. Eugene Smith Jr., vice president of academic and student services at Wayne Community College, in North Carolina, has been named president of Brunswick Community College, also in North Carolina.
  • Michael Thurston, Helen Means Professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College, in Massachusetts, has been appointed provost and dean of the faculty there.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidentsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Under-the-radar USDA lending provides big boost for financially pressed colleges

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

Iowa Wesleyan University found itself facing closure in November as a cash crunch left it needing additional money in order to operate for the spring semester.

But soon after the 700-student university in southeast Iowa went public with its peril, it rallied. Leaders determined they had received enough in gifts and newly favorable financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to remain open, at least for the short term.

Both the gifts and the loan modifications were necessary for the university’s survival, said its president, Steven E. Titus. Could Iowa Wesleyan have announced in November that it was staying open if it hadn’t secured changes to its outstanding loans? Titus’s answer was simple.

“No.”

The university was able to extend the time frame on an existing USDA loan from 35 to 40 years. It deferred some interest and principal payments, and it changed its collateral requirements.

Collectively, those moves save Iowa Wesleyan hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and free up a sum of about $3 million that can now be used in a pinch, Titus said. Those are substantial amounts for a university the size of Iowa Wesleyan.

“We’re a $23 million-a-year enterprise,” Titus said. “We’re a very small institution from that standpoint, so yeah, when you start talking about $80,000, $100,000 at places like ours, that is really significant.”

What, exactly, was Iowa Wesleyan doing with a USDA loan in the first place? Colleges and universities receive funding from a variety of sources, including the federal government, for any number of research initiatives and other projects. When it comes to sources from which they can borrow, though, the Department of Agriculture isn’t necessarily the first place that comes to mind.

Nonetheless, one USDA program seems to surface again and again when small colleges are under intense stress. It has become an important source of cheap capital on favorable terms to colleges and universities in rural areas that have struggled to increase enrollment and revenue in the face of demographic changes and other pressures bearing down on higher education.

The program, the USDA Rural Development Community Facilities Direct Loan program, was authorized in the Rural Development Act of 1972. The law allows the federal agency to directly lend money to several types of "community facilities" deemed essential, such as those for health care, public safety and higher education.

Lending under the program has grown in recent years. Colleges frequently use it to build dormitories or renovate buildings, often with an eye toward using their new facilities to bring in more students or additional revenue. Institutions have also found ways to use the program to refinance existing debts -- sometimes when they are finding it difficult to pay those debts or to meet requirements put in place by bondholders.

Consequently, some in the financial industry are taking notice of the federal lending to colleges and universities. Skeptics privately wonder whether the USDA is functioning as a lender of last resort. The agency has, after all, stepped in to lend to small institutions that can’t secure financing elsewhere and that otherwise would be unlikely to survive.

Such an argument is politically fraught. Yes, a hard-line free-marketer’s view would be hostile to the idea of the government bailing out failing colleges and universities with cheap capital. And some small colleges that are closing and leaving holes in their communities are not rural. On the other hand, champions of small colleges and rural America can point out that the campuses receiving funding are often among the largest employers in their regions, making them critical pillars of small communities that deserve support.

Paradoxically, a small campus representing a major chunk of a region’s economy may not have access to enough capital. Local banks don’t always have the cash on hand to meet their lending needs. National lenders sometimes hesitate to provide financing on favorable terms to far-flung areas.

Yet such small colleges still feel they must make major investments in order to remain viable into the future. Their aged buildings will fall apart without work. They need at least some gleaming new facilities to be able to compete for students.

Many of the leaders who have used the USDA financing admit it may not conform to the mandates of a free market. But they say it gives rural colleges a chance.

Under that line of thinking, public financing looks less like a handout and more like a tool to help rural communities that have few other anchor institutions.

“We’re talking about how we preserve a local economy and regional sustainability,” Titus said. “Even though we’re a small institution, we’re in our 176th year. So historically, culturally, this institution is a convener and provides a lot of cultural and educational opportunities in the region. It also contributes to the human and social capital.”

Underpinning all of those discussions are questions that have long roiled higher education and economic development in the United States. Who gets to decide when a struggling institution deserves to close because it made the wrong bets or serves a market that has evaporated? And at what point does lending to those institutions flip from giving them a puncher’s chance to throwing good money after bad?

Buying Buildings, Freeing Cash

In November 2017, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, announced that a small college in his state, Bethany College, had received a $21.2 million loan under the USDA Community Facilities Direct Loan Program.

In addition to quoting leaders at Bethany, the announcement included a statement from a congressman, Roger Marshall. In that way, it was like many other announcements local leaders and politicians make to promote their successes bringing home federal funding.

USDA direct loans to colleges are regularly highlighted in such announcements. Bethany College in Kansas isn’t even the only Bethany College to receive a USDA loan recently. Bethany College in West Virginia announced its own USDA loans this year.

None of that changes the fact that the 2017 announcement was critically important to Bethany College in Kansas. The $21.2 million loan allowed Bethany to purchase a residence hall that it had been leasing from a for-profit company. It also refinanced long-term, high-interest debt with conditions that were much more favorable to the college.

Bethany had been paying what amounted to a 12 percent interest rate on the dormitory and between 6 percent and 8 percent interest rates on different sets of bonds, said the college’s president, Will Jones. Now, it is paying a 3.25 percent interest rate over 30 years, and it did not have to pay any principal early in the loan.

All told, the deal saved Bethany about $600,000 per year. It was a critical boost for a college that had recently been on probation with its accreditor because of concerns about its finances and operational processes.

Although Bethany had its probation lifted a few months before, the college’s balance sheet wasn’t particularly strong when the loan was announced.

“Being able to do this really was a godsend for Bethany,” Jones said.

Those changes gave the college the resources it needed to invest in a crafts program that teaches students about the arts and Swedish culture in the college’s home of Lindsborg, Kans. It helped Bethany further build upon its Swedish roots by planning a “Swedes to Sweden” service-learning trip in which the college will cover students’ costs.

The new loan also enabled the college to repay $2.7 million it had borrowed from its endowment, said its chief financial officer, Vincent Weber. And it came without some of the strictest requirements that are often written into other forms of borrowing, like requirements that the college meet certain equity ratios.

Securing the loan wasn’t easy. It took 18 months, according to Weber. Local community members had to write letters of support, the college had to provide financial projections for the next five years with and without the USDA loan, political representatives had to sponsor the application, and the college had to explain why the loan would be good for the surrounding area.

“It really does take a lot of cooperation with the local community,” Weber said.

Local banks probably would have had the capacity to refinance Bethany’s loans, Jones said. Only they might not have wanted to, given the college’s recent stint on probation.

“The issue for Bethany was, I’m not sure anyone would have wanted to take on the risk,” Jones said.

In other cases, local banks have clearly been willing to lend money to rural colleges, but they would have been hard-pressed to come up with the money quickly. Emory & Henry College in southwest Virginia secured $51 million in financing through USDA Rural Development in 2016 -- $46 million in a direct loan and $5 million in a loan through a local bank that the USDA guaranteed.

The college turned to USDA financing after two national banks, Bank of America and BB&T, called its loans. Emory & Henry had been paying on time, but the national banks weren’t interested in working with it further, said the college’s president, Jake B. Schrum.

“One day, they just got in touch with our chief financial officer and basically said, ‘We’re calling your loans,’” Schrum said. “They thought our ratios were not as healthy as they wanted them to be.”

That left Emory & Henry seeking to refinance between $35 million and $39 million in long-term debt. The college tried local banks first, but no single bank was large enough to meet its lending needs. Bankers looked into putting together a consortium that would allow Emory & Henry to refinance, but then the college discovered it could refinance with the USDA.

Doing so required the college to be developing a new project, Schrum said. It had been considering building an eight-residence-hall, 206-bed project that included six apartment-style townhomes and a community center. The architectural plans had even been drawn up.

Emory & Henry did the deal with the USDA, securing a total of $51 million in direct and guaranteed USDA lending. The college’s interest rate is 2.375 percent, and it is fixed over 40 years.

“After the loan, we actually had a lower payment than we had before,” Schrum said. “We had a number of older housing units on campus, so it really upgraded the facilities for housing.”

While many of the colleges and universities receiving direct loans under the Community Facilities program have used the money to construct new buildings, invest in existing facilities or buy buildings that they didn’t own, such action doesn’t always take place. A review of numerous colleges receiving loans in recent years shows other arrangements.

Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia used a $27.7 million loan to shore up its financial indicators in a complex transaction that involved the university’s endowment corporation. The endowment corporation used the loan to acquire parts of the university’s campus, which are being leased back to the university.

“The USDA loan will allow for the reallocation of additional resources to cover operating expenses at AB,” according to the university’s official announcement of the deal. “The immediate effect on the financial position will also result in improved numbers in the university’s Composite Financial Index (CFI), a key indicator used by the Higher Learning Commission in determining financial viability.”

Alderson Broaddus is far from the only institution to use a USDA loan to facilitate such a sale-leaseback agreement with an affiliated entity. It’s the strategy Iowa Wesleyan used when it first secured its USDA financing -- $21.4 million in direct lending and a $5 million guaranteed loan -- in 2016. A review of Community Facilities loans made in 2018 shows it to be a relatively common part of loan transactions. Often, the transactions also include plans to purchase new facilities, build them or buy land a college didn’t previously own -- but not always.

Large Sums Lent

The Community Facilities program has infused more than $1.7 billion into colleges and universities in the last three fiscal years through direct loans, guaranteed loans and grants. USDA figures do not break down the totals, but a review of grants and loans made in the 2018 fiscal year indicates loans are likely a large component of the total. Loans tended to be counted in the millions or tens of millions of dollars, while grants were often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Loan and grant funding totaled $396.7 million in the 2016 federal fiscal year, $984.9 million in 2017 and $326.9 million in 2018.

Federal lending to higher education has caught the attention of bond ratings agencies. In March, Moody’s Investors Service issued a paper looking at the Community Facilities program and the Historically Black College and University Capital Financing Program. The programs support institutions’ near-term financial viability, according to Moody’s.

“For the colleges that are able to obtain that financing -- and not all qualify -- it is a bit of a release valve,” said Susan Fitzgerald, associate managing director at the ratings agency. “They are able to obtain lower-cost capital financing than they could in the public market. Some may not even have cost-effective financing alternatives.”

The Community Facilities program is estimated to have $3.5 billion in direct loans in 2018, according to Fitzgerald. That number isn’t just loans to colleges and universities. It includes other types of institutions that qualify for the financing. Still, it shows how large the program has become. In 2014, the program totaled about $1 billion.

Even so, the loans represent a relatively small slice of the total borrowing by colleges and universities. Public and community college debt more than doubled from $73 billion to $151 billion over a decade, according to “The financialization of U.S. higher education,” a paper published in the journal Socio-Economic Review in 2016. Debt for private colleges totaled $95 billion in 2012, it found.

Wealthy institutions were more likely to borrow for many different purposes, including instruction and research, the paper found. They tended to borrow in order to maximize their financial revenues -- they paid less interest on their debts than they earned on their endowment assets, making it cheaper to borrow for projects than it would be to pay for them out of pocket. Private institutions that were not as wealthy increasingly borrowed in order to invest in in auxiliary and student services, including student amenities like dormitories, cafeterias and athletics and recreation centers. That likely indicated the less wealthy institutions used debt in order to maximize their commercial revenues in a bid to attract students who are willing to pay higher tuition and fees.

The USDA Community Facilities program doesn’t just provide financing to private institutions. It has financed public institutions as well.

Concerns and Criticisms

The USDA loans are not without their drawbacks -- or their critics.

After Bethany College in Kansas announced its loan, a self-described conservative wrote a letter to the editor in a local newspaper arguing that the government was giving away tax money that could be better spent elsewhere.

“Due to extremely low commodity prices, many farmers could much better utilize U.S.D.A. loan money than a private, for-profit college,” the letter said.

Bethany leaders pointed out that the letter writer incorrectly identified the college as for-profit and seemed to equate the loan with a grant. Bethany is in fact a nonprofit affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and its leaders say they intend to fully pay back the money they borrowed.

Bethany’s president, Jones, acknowledges people may have objections to the government providing loans.

“I definitely could see that there are likely to be folks out there who have a problem with the USDA making this type of loan,” Jones said. “I personally think it’s a great investment on the part of the federal government to invest in local, rural communities that often do struggle to find financing.”

Any comparisons between the USDA lending to colleges and federal lending to HBCUs could also prompt other worries: about the likelihood that the loans will be paid back and about whether the lending is being done in the most effective way possible.

Some HBCUs have had difficulty accessing the HBCU Capital Financing Program, and others have struggled to pay their loans under it. Two HBCUs recently defaulted on loans under the program, and 29 percent of loan payments were delinquent in 2017, according to a June 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office. Eight private institutions received deferments under the program earlier this year.

Further, the Department of Education in 2018 forgave hurricane-relief loans made to four HBCUs that were made after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The forgiveness came under a budget bill that cleared more than $300 million in loans made to the institutions.

Comparisons between HBCUs and other types of institutions are fraught and imperfect. HBCUs have long faced challenges borrowing, raising money and enrolling students who can afford to pay to attend college. Their needs are clear. HBCUs responding to a GAO survey said 46 percent of their building space needs repair or replacement, on average.

Many predominantly white institutions arguably have advantages that would make them more likely to be able to repay loans. Still, those same advantages could make predominantly white institutions more likely to be able to access nongovernmental sources of capital.

Setting that discussion aside, USDA statistics indicate its Community Facilities loan portfolio is performing well. Payment delinquencies are less than 2 percent across the direct and guaranteed programs, according to the agency.

That figure is for the entire portfolio, not just higher ed. It only addresses payments, not nonmonetary defaults that would take place when debt covenants are breached.

Some still wonder whether the government is set up to operate as a lender.

“From the government’s point of view, what is the appropriate risk-adjusted interest rate to charge?” asks Marc Joffe, senior policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. “If you actually want to be a loan program and not a subsidy program, you have to charge enough interest to make sure you’re covering your defaults.”

The USDA program could play an important role by sustaining colleges and universities in areas where they are needed, said Charlie Eaton, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Merced, who was the lead author on “The financialization of U.S. higher education,” the paper published in the journal Socio-Economic Review.

“At some level, it can be a good thing we provide capital to colleges and universities via the federal government rather than bond markets, because the federal government can make decisions about borrowing based on social need and where investments will serve a social good,” Eaton said. “Bond markets are going to be making lending decisions based on what’s likely to generate the highest rate of return.”

In other words, some colleges and universities might want to make the decision to build a dormitory based on factors other than whether it will make enough money to satisfy lenders. They might want to build dormitory -- or other facility -- because it is needed.

All of this comes at a time when various levels of government have pulled back on investing in higher education. College borrowing increased in recent years because federal and state governments have provided less capital for the construction of facilities, Eaton said.

When historically available sources of cheap capital dry up, institutions will turn to other sources, like the public bond markets, or a USDA program.

“The question is, does the USDA really have structures in place to make sure that it’s making its loans where there’s a social need, and where it’s not going to lead to risk or wasteful investments by the colleges doing the borrowing?” Eaton asked.

The answer to that question isn’t entirely clear. If, theoretically, a college with dated dormitories builds a new facility, then raises room and board rates in order to improve its budget outlook, is it taking action that the community needs? Or is it taking action that it needs? When are those two needs at odds, and whose job is it to evaluate them?

Those well versed in the way the USDA program works describe some decision making for smaller projects centered in local offices and a majority of final decisions being made in Washington. The agency, experts say, looks at many factors to gauge creditworthiness and eligibility. Factors include the regional impact a loan can have.

“In a lot of these smaller towns, the colleges are either the top one or two or three employer in the area,” said Rick Gaumer, who was chief financial officer at Emory & Henry when it borrowed from the USDA and is now a consultant at Academic Innovators, where his work includes helping colleges secure USDA financing.

In Gaumer’s experience, institutions pursuing funding are seeking to improve, become more relevant to students and grow. The Community Facilities program also adopts a “defensive strategy” at times, attempting to prevent entities from failing and hurting a region.

The agency doesn’t always step in to prevent an institution from closing. St. Gregory’s University, which was Oklahoma’s only Roman Catholic University, decided to close in 2017 after the USDA turned down an application for a loan that college leaders said it needed to survive.

Colleges have also turned to the USDA when other sources of financing have soured on them. Bard College in upstate New York had its debt rating downgraded in 2016 amid concerns about cash and borrowing from its endowment. A year later, it was publicly discussing USDA financing.

“Bard did make an application for a loan, but it did not make it out of the New York State office because it was thought that the level of debt was too great for the college,” said the college’s chief financial officer, Jim Brudvig, in an email. “We have not withdrawn that application yet pending the submission of a new application.”

The new application calls for a smaller loan and a larger equity contribution from the college, Brudvig added. Bard is aiming to finish the application by April.

Clearly, some cases will be easier than others. Emory & Henry didn’t need USDA financing to survive, said its president, Schrum. It could have applied about half of its $80 million endowment in a pinch. Such an emergency plan would have raised numerous other issues, but it meant the college wasn’t facing closure.

It is important to note that Emory & Henry did its deal with the USDA at a time when rural Virginia colleges were suffering, Schrum said. Virginia Intermont College had just closed its doors in 2014. Sweet Briar College had attempted to shut down in 2015 before its alumnae put a stop to that plan.

“Those things were happening in the local area, and I think some of these national banks are very risk averse and are not used to taking chances -- certainly on institutions that are far away from their headquarters,” Schrum said. “We can tell them that we have a $70 million to $75 million economic impact on this area, but that doesn’t make as much sense to them, or they don’t care as much, as it does to First Bank & Trust, which is just down the street from us.”

For a more complicated case, think back also to Iowa Wesleyan’s situation. The university this year managed to refinance a USDA loan it initially received in 2016. It only received those 2016 loans after going into forbearance on two sets of bonds. It went into forbearance because it was out of compliance with bond covenants, according to a 2016 consultant’s report.

Iowa Wesleyan never skipped a scheduled principal or interest payment, said its president, Titus. When it first received the USDA funding in 2016, it had an improvement plan in place that included rapid growth in online programs. It hired an online program management company to assist.

Eight months after signing its USDA loans, the OPM went out of business.

“That was a major blow to our turnaround strategy,” Titus said. “That was about a $2 million revenue hit for us at a very fragile time.”

Who is to say whether Iowa Wesleyan was a victim of circumstance or a university that should have had enough time outrun its problems?

Gaumer described a worldview in which struggling institutions should be left to close -- although he wasn’t speaking specifically about Iowa Wesleyan’s case. The wolf, he said, is chasing you. Maybe the slower institutions should be caught and eliminated.

That comes with costs, too.

“But you work for higher education,” he said. “The small school has to survive. Not everyone can go to the big state university. There is a place for smaller schools in our society, and I think that society has been well served.”

Administration and FinanceEditorial Tags: Business issuesImage Source: Iowa Wesleyan UniversityImage Caption: Iowa Wesleyan University was approved to participate in the USDA’s Community Facilities Program in 2016.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Saving Rural CollegesTrending order: 1College: Emory & Henry College

Fresno State to adopt a controversial set of Principles of Community

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

Like many institutions, California State University, Fresno, has seen some major campus speech flaps in the past few years. One of its faculty members was investigated and eventually cleared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for tweeting that “[President Donald] Trump must hang.” Another professor publicly called Barbara Bush an “amazing racist” hours after the late first lady’s death.

Now the university is attempting to build positive “community” with a set of draft principles that “exemplify what we can and should be.” Specific principles include, “We approach interpersonal interactions with collegiality and integrity” and “We hold ourselves and our colleagues accountable for behaviors and outcomes.”

Professors who joined administrators and staff members in writing the principles say that their work was about improving campus culture -- not about controversies over free expression. But the proposed principles have alarmed and annoyed First Amendment and academic freedom watchdogs.

The American Association of University Professors, for example, opposes institutional regulations -- namely tenure criteria -- on “collegiality” for their potential to chill unpopular ideas or be used against controversial scholars. Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University, East Bay, and chair of the AAUP's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said that documents such as Fresno State’s are at best “anodyne and quickly forgotten.” At worst, he said, they’re “used to justify censorship and conformity.”

Much depends on how these documents are used, Reichman said. The “problem” at Fresno State thus far is that the draft text “includes nothing to suggest what that use will be," he added.

If the devil is in the details, or lack thereof, here are some details. Fresno State’s draft “Principles of Community” say, “We all play a role in fostering a work and learning environment of respect, kindness, collaboration and accountability where every student, faculty, staff and administrator can thrive.” Such principles “reflect our core values of Discovery, Diversity and Distinction and our deep commitment to our mission to boldly educate and empower students for success,” they continue (emphasis Fresno State’s).

The draft continues as follows:

Source: Fresno State

Thomas T. Holyoke, professor of political science and chair of Fresno State’s Academic Senate, was part of a task force that wrote the principles. That task force held open forums, presented to the Senate and unions, and solicited faculty and staff input online, he said. And while forum attendance was never strong, Holyoke described feedback in general as “supportive.”

“After all, basically the principles just say we should be nice to each other. How do you object to that?” he asked. “The principles were, after all, created by faculty and staff for faculty and staff in an effort to reduce bullying problems.”

Academic bullying is not unique to Fresno State: stories abound across higher ed. And bullying doesn’t seem to be pervasive at Fresno State, based on a 2017 workplace quality survey that informed the principles. Respondents tended to agree that theirs was a good, inclusive place to work. Some 83 percent said they were well accepted by their co-workers, for example; the same percentage said they had a good relationship with their chair or supervisor. Still, the survey revealed some concerns about “accountability, especially as it relates to the inability to deal with low performers, disrespectful behaviors, and the perception of favoritism,” according to one report. Holyoke said some other faculty members involved in the project had experienced bullying firsthand.

Those concerns aside, Holyoke emphasized that the principles won’t and can’t be enforced.

“This is something I hope everyone at Fresno State is clear about -- these principles are just guidelines,” he said. “It is an aspirational document, not a policy.”

The Academic Senate will soon take up a separate project on guidelines for free speech and social media, he added, saying that, too, will be aspirational and not enforceable.

A university spokesperson referred a request for comment to another faculty member involved in the task force, Matthew Jendian, chair of sociology. Like Holyoke, he said that the principles are “not a policy or a set of rules.” Rather, he said, they’re a “philosophy that will inform and inspire the day-to-day practices of everyone who works at Fresno State. The principles are aspirational and align with our university values of discovery, diversity and distinction.”

Jendian said that his work surrounding this project -- including reading 2,600 responses to the online poll question "What are some of the behaviors we should expect of our teams and each other at Fresno State?" -- revealed “we had some workplace issues to address.” Nevertheless, he said, there will be “no disciplinary ramifications related to nonadherence.”

A second workplace quality survey will be conducted in March. Jendian said he imagines the principles will be revisited upon occasion.

As for the current draft, Jendian said the task force finalized it last month. The final version will be presented by Fresno State’s president, Joseph Castro, later this month.

Adam Steinbaugh, director of the Individual Rights Defense program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, is among those who have publicly criticized the draft. He said via email that Fresno State’s principles “urge that people should ‘clearly communicate expectations,’ which is good advice.” But the draft itself “falls short of that goal,” he said, “leaving unclear whether the ‘principles’ are merely aspirational goals or instead enforceable in some manner. They're almost certainly aspirational, as the principles are far too vague and subjective to be enforced without violating the First Amendment, but any chilling effect could be mitigated by clearly stating that they're goals, not rules.”

Steinbaugh said that some of the past speech controversies on at Fresno State were “prolonged” by the university's “hesitation to affirmatively defend its faculty members' First Amendment rights.” So “being clear now would help the university explain -- if, or when, the next controversy arises -- that while the institution has goals, its constituents have rights,” he added.

Reichman, of AAUP, said that campus officials have elsewhere stated that the principles will inform campus interactions. “Well, what happens if they don't inform the practice of someone who works at Fresno State?” he asked. Noting the principles’ nod to “accountability,” he wondered, “How will people be held accountable if these are just unenforceable guidelines? At minimum far greater clarity is needed.”

Reichman also criticized the principles’ use of the term “community” as lacking, in that it does not describe Fresno State as a very particular kind of community -- a university.

“One would think that in a university the first principle of community would be that we as a community are dedicated to the unfettered pursuit of knowledge through teaching and learning,” he said. “Yet there isn't the slightest recognition of that.”

FacultyEditorial Tags: FacultyTenureIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Collegiality ConcernsTrending order: 4College: California State University-Fresno

2019 In-and-Out List

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

The days are long, but the years go fast, or something. With the aid of algorithms and a friendly robot, Inside Higher Ed has attempted to capture the year that 2018 was, and what might be in store for the next 12 months. Happy 2019, y'all.

  2018 2019     Free college Baby bonds     Curate Organize   Sorbonne McGill   Campus snowflakes Representative Jeff Fartenberry     Dining options for vegan students Dining options for food-insecure students   Kiwibot deliveries Bacon vending   Coding AI     Student loan bubble Stolen inflatable colon     Virtual college tour College tour by private jet   Federal government Amazon   Explaining that 'black on campus" isn't a crime Explaining that it's never not been OK to be white     ECA ACICS     Privacy Free coffee   Governor Andrew Cuomo Governor Jared Polis   Hurricanes Wildfires     Roommates Alexa     History majors Data scientists   "Kiss the Girl" "Can't Hold Us Down"   Gainful employment Social mobility     @ubcprez @dynarski     Lying to boost rankings Paying big settlements   DeVos the Deregulator DeVos the Devastator   College degrees Prehiring assessments     Graduate lending $200K M.B.A.     For-profits OPMs   Senator Lamar Alexander Representative Donna Shalala   Work-study Work colleges     University general counsels Defense teams for indicted ex-presidents     Paying Elsevier Open access   Urban Meyer Urban Meyer   Federally registered apprenticeships Industry-recognized apprenticeships     Margaret Spellings Silent Sam     Princeton's 13 transfer students UC's 28,750 transfer students   The Coddling of the American Mind World Without Mind   AP courses Dual enrollment     Criticizing Bloomberg's $1.8 billion gift Debating tax breaks for billionaire donors     Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia University of St. Andrews Trinity College Dublin Editorial Tags: FacultyFederal policyStudent lifeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: 2019 In-and-Out ListTrending order: 2

UMass Amherst student asked to remove anti-Nazi poster for not being "inclusive"

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

After Nicole Parsons, a University of Massachusetts at Amherst student, hung a sign to her residence hall window proclaiming “Fuck Nazis,” she got an email from an administrator.

It wasn’t “inclusive,” he wrote, and asked that Parsons remove it.

The response by the institution officials -- who did admit Parsons had every right to keep the sign -- has drawn the ire of students and alumni who perceived the institution was attempting to include white supremacy under the banner of “inclusion.”

Parsons, who did not respond to requests for comment, told news media she hung the sign in her window that read “Fuck Nazis, you are not welcome here” in December following a swastika being drawn on a “Happy Hanukkah” poster a resident assistant had posted.

“I figured the person responsible would likely walk by my dorm and see it,” Parsons said in an interview with The Boston Globe. “UMass administration has had abysmal response at best to the rising number of hate crimes on campus, so I thought someone should be publicly condemning these actions.”

This is my window and an email harassing me!! I'm famous!! https://t.co/bUOef8ZGfe

— Nicole Parsons (@nicole_mparsons) December 20, 2018

Days after she put the sign in the window, Parsons received the email from Eddie Papazoni, a university residence director.

In the email, which has circulated on social media, Papazoni noted that the sign was allowed under university rules.

But “some in the community” said that the sign should be taken down, Papazoni wrote, as “it had created mixed emotions … on how to proceed, issues of inclusion and the ability to be active members of their community.”

Most public institutions cannot limit such displays of free speech, though some have policies against all window hangings out of safety concerns or other reasons. While universities are routinely embroiled in controversies regarding free expression, this is the first incident in recent memory where the institution seemingly was concerned about inclusiveness for Nazis.

“While Residence Education cannot force you or your roommate to take the sign down, I am asking that you or your roommate take the sign down so that all students can be a part of an inclusive residential experience, as well as having a respectful environment to be a part of on our campus,” Papazoni wrote.

Backlash was immediate. The public deemed the university Nazi sympathizers. One woman who identified herself as an alumna wrote on Facebook, “Tolerance for hate crimes and intolerance for resisting fascism? This is UMass Amherst now? Ashamed.”

The university apologized for what it called a “poorly worded email” that did not reflect campus values.

“UMass Amherst emphatically rejects Nazis, and any other hate group, a view expressed in the students’ sign,” the university said in a statement. “However, we are sensitive to the use of profanity, which some could find inappropriate. The university respects the students’ right to display the sign and it may remain up.”

The university's attempt to backtrack was poor, as officials seemingly tried to spin the conversation and focus on profanity and not the larger issue of Nazis and inclusion, said Michael Gordon, a crisis communications expert and principal at Group Gordon, a communications firm based in New York.

Parsons told the Globe she was already moving off campus before the controversy but was particularly glad she was, given the university’s initial response.

Administrators, particularly midlevel ones in student affairs, are consistently overreaching in an attempt to coddle students or even raise their personal profile, said Samuel J. Abrams, a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College, who has studied the political leanings and motivations of student affairs professionals. This appeared to be the case with Papazoni's email, Abrams said.

Abrams noted how Papazoni used vague language in the email, being so "noncommittal" that he wasn't even taking a stand. He said that the students should have been allowed to debate the sign instead of Parsons having her free speech rights squashed.

"Students need a place to grow," Abrams said. "Students are allowed to have disagreements. I have huge fights with people, but I deal with them or talk to them, and then you make up, or you don’t. But that’s really an important thing -- trying to teach people discourse. This inhibits that and sends a really weird [message]. These administrators' fear of everything, that has to stop."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a civil liberties watchdog in academe, confirmed that the First Amendment protects students’ rights to use vulgarity to describe Nazis, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

“The university was free to criticize the sign, but correct to note that they couldn't compel the student to take it down,” Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, said in a statement. “Government actors -- like a public university -- don't get to pick which words people use to express their feelings. If other students don't like a sign that says 'Fuck Nazis,' avert your eyes.”

UMass Amherst has promoted a campaign called Hate Has No Home at UMass, in which it has developed a diversity "tool kit" students and others can download. It also publicizes incidents of hate speech on campus -- there have been 19 since September.

DiversityEditorial Tags: DiscriminationFree speechIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Massachusetts Amherst

Siena organizes intercollegiate basketball game for fans on autism spectrum

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

The Siena College Saints defeated the Cal Poly Mustangs, 75-54, but some fans may remember the match less for the score than for special features that enabled them to attend the game.

Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty being in spaces with loud noises, especially if they are sudden, and flashing lights. So that means that those who might like to watch a basketball game stay away. The regular noise at an intercollegiate basketball game might also be upsetting for some with other conditions.

Working with the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, Siena organized a "sensory friendly" game for its match with Cal Poly at the Times Union Center, in Albany, N.Y. The game was played during the break between semesters, so the pep band wasn't going to play anyway. Some sections of the arena were reserved for fans and family members who needed a quieter atmosphere than is the norm at a basketball game. Horns and buzzers weren't used. And for fans who needed quiet that wouldn't be possible in any large arena, an enclosed media room was open for use and sealed off from the sounds of the arena.

Siena reports that about 60 people either sat in the special sections of the arena or in the protected room. The college plans to make the event annual.

Jalen Picket was among the players who went to the quiet room to sign autographs and chat with fans after the game (above right).

Below, Jamion Christian, the head coach, and players meet with fans.

Editorial Tags: AthleticsDisabilitiesImage Source: Siena CollegeImage Caption: Siena players and coach meet with fans after the gameIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Federal shutdown includes agencies that are key supporters of university research

Wed, 2019-01-02 08:00

Numerous federal agencies that are important to higher education were shut down when a standoff over President Trump's proposed border wall was not resolved. Trump has vowed not to sign a measure to keep the government fully functioning unless more than $5 billion is included for the wall. Democrats have refused to provide the votes to do so.

The shutdown applies to agencies that are not covered by appropriations bills already signed into law. The bill for the Education Department has been signed into law, and so that agency and the student aid funds it provides should not be affected. That same bill also includes the National Institutes of Health, a major provider of research grants.

But many other funding agencies that make numerous grants to higher education -- including the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Endowment for the Humanities -- are funded by appropriations bills that have not been signed into law. So these agencies are effectively closed.

The NSF budget -- more than $7.5 billion -- supports thousands of research grants to faculty members nationwide in the physical sciences, computer science and the social sciences. The NSF also funds science education programs. An agency such as the NEH is a fraction of the size of the NSF but plays a key role in many humanities research and education programs.

Generally, the faculty members and institutions receiving grants didn't face a severe impact in the first few days of the shutdown. Funds already distributed may continue to be used. But as long as the shutdown continues, new funds from these agencies will not go out. Most grants, in particular large grants, are not covered by a single payment from the agency. In contracts with each institution, a timeline is set and funds are distributed according to that plan. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely it is that research and education programs on campuses will not receive funds on the schedules they have planned.

Lobbyists for research institutions also warned about the impact of the shutdown on future grants. Agencies have extensive peer-review processes involving agency officials and outside teams of experts who gather to review applications. Agency officials field questions all the time about preparing grant applications. None of this will take place while these government agencies are shut down. The week of Christmas, of course, is not a period of peak activity on these matters, but the longer the shutdown goes on, the greater the delays in these activities, potentially delaying future grants.

The NSF has published guidance for those serving on peer-review panels. The guidance states that they must cancel all travel plans, and the NSF cannot reimburse them for lost deposits on hotel rooms. The guidance states that meetings will resume one day after the government reopens.

Trump has warned that the shutdown could be "very long." When Democrats take over control of the House of Representatives in January, they are likely to pass measures to fund the government, but not the proposed border wall. How their conflict with Trump will play out is uncertain. The Senate, controlled by Republicans now and in the new Congress, passed a bill with bipartisan support this week to fund the government without the wall, but that was before Trump indicated that he would not sign it.

Leaders of higher education groups that represent research universities issued statements after the shutdown started, calling for all agencies to be opened again.

Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, issued a statement that said in part that the shutdown "would have a real impact on public universities and their ability to conduct research in areas that are key to our economy, national security, and quality of life."

He added that "we know from past shutdowns that agencies won’t answer their phones or check their emails, and typically their websites go dark too. That leaves agency-funded scientists, including many at public research universities, in a lurch if they need to communicate with agency officials regarding an ongoing project. Additionally, most other important activity at the agencies will cease during the shutdown period as well, meaning there won’t be any reviews of grant applications for new research and any other scheduled meetings or funding disbursements will not occur."

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, issued a statement that said in part, "Senseless displays of brinkmanship have serious consequences, including for university researchers who seek cures, innovation, and [to] bolster national security on behalf of the American people. We urge Congressional leaders and the administration to act responsibly and immediately fund our government."

Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, noted one irony of the shutdown for researchers. Their grants might be delayed in coming, but their reporting obligations aren't pushed back. Kidd said that he has been advised that grantees whose agreements include reporting requirements must file those reports on time, even if no one is at the agency to read them.

Trump Threat on Border With Mexico

An additional potential issue for some campuses surfaced as the shutdown continued. President Trump threatened to close the entire border with Mexico if Democrats do not end their opposition to his plan for a border wall.

In Texas, several campuses are located on the border with Mexico and have both students and employees who live in Mexico and come to campus every day.

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which has several campuses along or near the border, issued this statement on President Trump's threat: "The closing of the U.S.-Mexico border would likely impact the UTRGV students and employees who commute to campus from Mexico daily. As always, the university will continue to closely monitor the situation and work diligently to ensure that both our students and employees are put in the best position to succeed."

Editorial Tags: ResearchImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Federal Shutdown and Higher EdTrending order: 3College: University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Former Republican congressman served on ECA's board and criticized Trump administration over for-profit chain's collapse

Fri, 2018-12-21 08:00

As the for-profit college chain Education Corporation of America navigated financial turmoil, accreditation challenges and federal sanctions during the past two years, it drew on the expertise of a board member with deep experience in federal higher education policy.

John Kline, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' education committee from 2011 through 2017, took a paid position on the company’s board shortly after retiring. Avy Stein, ECA's chairman, invited Kline onto the board.

In an interview, the former Republican congressman from Minnesota said the company's role was attractive -- he liked its efforts to get students through career education programs and into jobs, faster. But Kline was not happy with the demise of ECA, which shut down earlier this month. And he said the U.S. Department of Education deserves a good share of the blame for the closure of ECA’s 70 campuses.

Kline said he called lawmakers in the Senate and House to argue that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos should rescind a restriction placed on the chain's federal student aid money -- known as heightened cash monitoring two -- after it entered receivership due to a deteriorating financial situation. Some government watchdog groups questioned his role on the board, although Kline wasn't ultimately successful in getting the company get the relief from federal sanctions.

“I thought this was absolutely a no-brainer,” Kline said. “The HCM2 decision was an issue of secretarial discretion. All the secretary had to do was rescind the HCM2 requirement and the normal Title IV funds would flow.”

Kline said dysfunction at the Education Department was behind its inaction. If DeVos had acted, he said, nearly 20,000 students wouldn’t have seen their programs suddenly close.

“There was a failure to communicate between different offices of the department,” he said. “I don’t think some of the staff are serving the secretary well.”

After announcing in September that it would close about 30 campuses in a bid to stay afloat financially, ECA's situation continued to deteriorate. The company also filed a lawsuit against the department, which a federal judge eventually tossed, before entering court-approved receivership.

That move prompted ECA's accreditor to suspend its recognition and the department to place new restrictions on federal aid funds. That week the for-profit chain said it was out of money and would close its doors. Kline called the federal aid restrictions the “kiss of death.”

But the Education Department said the aid restrictions were triggered when the company entered receivership. And Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, pushed back on Kline’s claims that dysfunction at the agency had anything to do with ECA’s collapse.

“The problem is that ECA is financially unstable and recently convinced a federal court to place it in receivership because it cannot meet its financial obligations,” she said. “Although Mr. Kline and others heavily lobbied the department to remove ECA from HCM2, the facts show that doing that would not be in the best interests of students or taxpayers. Once again, the secretary has promised a level playing field for schools, nothing more.”

Revolving-Door Concerns

Government watchdog groups took issue with Kline’s role. They said it raised questions about how a sector that’s received heavy scrutiny from Congress and multiple federal agencies seeks to wield influence in Washington.

“This is perfectly legal within our inadequate revolving-door policies, and it is in effect abuse of the revolving door,” said Craig Holman, the government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen, where he advocates on campaign finance and government ethics.

The practice is also fairly common, Holman said, although it’s not clear how many former lawmakers join corporate boards after leaving Congress. Former lawmakers who lobby in D.C. must register as lobbyists and abide by a one-year “cooling-off” period before contacting former colleagues or staff on behalf of clients.

About 43 percent of former congressional lawmakers end up registering as lobbyists, Holman said, but numbers aren't available for those who serve on corporate boards. There are no reporting requirements for those positions.

Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, said when a committee chairman takes a position on a corporate board, the arrangement is even more deserving of scrutiny.

“It raises the specter of someone using their public service to cash in,” she said.

But Kline rejected the notion that there was anything untoward about his role.

“If you take that kind of approach, nobody who has any experience in any field or endeavor would ever be put on any board of any kind,” he said. “That’s what that kind of thinking leads to. It makes no sense to me.”

Kline also said he hasn’t lobbied on ECA’s behalf because he’s never worked on any legislation.

“Talking to people who you know and trying to figure out what’s going on, that’s not lobbying,” he said. “That’s just doing my duty as a member of a board.”

Holman said that’s a distinction without a difference.

“Kline was employed by, or otherwise serving at the behest of, the Education Corporation of America and reached out to make lobbying contacts with numerous covered officials under [the Lobbying Disclosure Act] in pursuit of a policy change in the interest of the company,” he said. “That is lobbying.”

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the top lobby group for the for-profit sector, said he didn’t see a problem with Kline's board position. Gunderson himself is a former lawmaker who served for 16 years in the House.

“I think if you would do the research, you would find that many members of Congress of both parties serve on various boards,” he said. “In this case, it was a labor of love certainly and not a labor of financial reward for John Kline.”

After ECA's collapse, Gunderson took the company to task for its shutdown. But he said rather than determine who was at fault, he wants to figure out how to make college closures work better for students, possibly through new legislation.

“I am hopeful that through reauthorization process the Congress will step back and say, ‘Look, nobody wants school closures. They're bad. We know that. But how do we fix this process?’” he said.

There was little indication before ECA filed its October lawsuit of how bad things had gotten. The chain said its decision to close about a third of its campuses by the end of next year would put it on more sound financial footing.

But Kline said the financial squeeze continued to tighten. And before attempting to downsize, the company was sinking money and resources into efforts to find a new accreditor. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which oversaw all but one ECA campus, had been on the ropes since 2016. The Obama administration that year withdrew the accreditor’s recognition in response to oversight failures involving Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute.

Like many other ACICS-accredited institutions, Virginia College, ECA’s biggest chain of campuses, earlier this year sought approval from another accreditor to maintain its access to federal student aid. But the chain's application was rejected in August by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training. That agency cited concerns about student outcomes, including poor graduation and job-placement rates. And those findings prompted ACICS to put Virginia College on show-cause status, a precursor to more serious sanctions.

ACICS suspended the accreditation of ECA colleges in December -- a decision it could have appealed. But that also meant forking over a $10,000 fee, and the company by then said it didn't have the money to keep campuses open past December.

Last month DeVos restored recognition for ACICS. But Kline said he was frustrated by the uncertainty over ECA's primary accreditor. Its accreditation status shouldn’t have been uncertain for so long, he said.

“ACICS should never have been hanging out there in limbo for months and months and months,” he said.

And Kline argued that accreditors have been pushed into policing federal aid, which he said shouldn't be their role.

“You’ve got these accreditors competing to see who can be the toughest,” he said. “That’s a bad place for anybody, any school to be in.”

For-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: Federal policyFinancial aidImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Former representative John KlineIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Student data system advocates want more colleges and universities to join them

Fri, 2018-12-21 08:00

The gaps in data about the academic progress, needs and outcomes of part-time, first-generation, older and low-income college students has long frustrated higher education advocates, policy makers, charitable foundations and college administrators who want to see all students succeed.

Over the last three years the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation and the National Student Clearinghouse have partnered to build a system, using a new "metrics framework" developed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, that will fill those data gaps and help institutions, states and researchers analyze the academic performance of all college students.

The partnership sidesteps the debate over, and wait for, Congress to move forward with plans to build a national student-level data system. The groups building their own system are encouraging more colleges and universities to join their partnership.

“We, as a field, have identified these general metrics that help us to understand how students are accessing, progressing and completing in higher education,” said Amanda Janice Roberson, IHEP’s assistant director of research and policy. “But between state collection and federal collection and a variety of data collection methods, we’re measuring students in different ways.”

The Postsecondary Data Partnership, which recently ended a yearlong pilot that involved three state college and university systems and 27 individual institutions, would alleviate the problem of having different and often inefficient ways of measuring students. Institutions and state higher education systems would submit data about their students to the National Student Clearinghouse. The clearinghouse, which already receives enrollment and degree completion data from more than 3,600 colleges in the country, would also receive data relevant to the partnership.

As part of the partnership, the clearinghouse validates the data and creates analytical and interactive dashboards. Those dashboards reflect the metrics that are often missing or inadequate for measuring such outcomes as students' credit accumulation, employment rates and costs for not completing credits. The Institute for College Access and Success, a progressive group that focuses on affordability and access in higher education, recently released a new report calling for the federal government, states and accreditors to standardize how they calculate job placement numbers for higher education programs.

“The core innovation is making sure the experiences of low-income students and students of color are counted,” said Jennifer Engle, deputy director of postsecondary success in the United States program at the Gates Foundation. The foundation also helped develop the framework with IHEP.

The clearinghouse sends reports on the data collected to organizations and agencies, including those already in the partnership such as Complete College America, Achieving the Dream and Jobs for the Future. These nonprofit organizations have been the leaders in promoting popular initiatives such as remediation reform and reverse transfer to increase and improve students' employment and education outcomes. Reverse transfer allows students who've already transferred from a community college to a four-year institution to earn an associate degree from the community college. Remediation reform involves getting students into credited English and math courses at a faster pace than noncredit, traditional remedial classes do, thus helping students to complete college in less time and earn degrees faster.

Groups such as Complete College America and Achieving the Dream are now also asking their member institutions to join the partnership. The clearinghouse is hoping to expand the partnership to up to 500 institutions by the end of 2019, said Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the clearinghouse.

Laurie Heacock, vice president for data, technology and analytics at Achieving the Dream, said the organization will host information sessions about the partnership during its national convention in February.

"When you have disparate data collection systems that have different cohort definitions, with some only looking at entering fall student cohort and some only looking at entering full-time students, for community colleges that is problematic,” Heacock said.

Federal data collection systems such as the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System have only recently expanded from only using first-time, full-time status to measure graduation rates. The department made changes last year that allowed completion data for part-time and non-first-time students to be collected and published.

Federal data collections do a poor job of measuring student metrics such as retention, academic momentum and credit accumulation, said Travis Reindl, a senior communications officer with the Gates Foundation. Those metrics have become commonplace in measuring student performance and their likelihood of graduating.

The data partnership hopes to address such shortcomings.

The changes can't come soon enough for John Armstrong, a senior policy analyst with the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. During a presentation to colleges about the partnership at CCA’s national convention earlier this month, he complained about the slow pace at which federal and state agencies collect and disaggregate information across race, ethnicity, gender and other student identifiers.

Angela Bell, the associate vice chancellor of research and policy analysis for the University System of Georgia, which was part of the pilot conducted by the partnership, said being part of the partnership meant that system administrators could now get very specific data that was once unavailable and do more sophisticated data analysis that they could then measure against or compare to the data of other institutions. For example, she said, the university system could examine the progress of first-generation Pell Grant recipients who are Asian women.

The institutions are submitting student unit record data to the clearinghouse, which means “there’s nowhere to hide,” Bell said, referring to the increased level of transparency the partnership will now provide. For example, by submitting such highly specific data, university systems or colleges can create alerts when a single student accumulates more credits than they need to graduate, she said.

A bipartisan bill that would overturn the ban on a federal postsecondary student-level data system was introduced in the Senate a year ago but has not moved through Congress.

Shapiro, the clearinghouse research director, said the partnership helps colleges and universities that aren't waiting for Congress to act and want to know their students’ performance now so they can change or adjust programs and policies to improve student outcomes in a timely manner.

“What we’re building is specifically for institutions that want to opt in to create a system that better informs them of their student success,” Shapiro said. “These are institutions who can’t wait.”

Community CollegesEditorial Tags: FoundationsGraduation ratesResearchTransferIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Studernt-Level DataTrending order: 2

A roundup of holiday videos from colleges and universities

Fri, 2018-12-21 08:00

Many colleges send out videos to celebrate the holiday season. Here are some of those of note this year.

The University of North Carolina at Asheville drew inspiration from Robert Frost.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the theme was the rush toward finals and final projects as the holidays and a break draw close.

The University of Virginia's new president got instant reaction to a text for help with his holiday card.

Clackamas Community College took a holiday song much debated these days and rewrote the words.

Ohio State University's veterinary medicine college focused on a tour led by four-legged beneficiaries of the college's work.

Hamilton College's president recreated James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke."

And George Mason University focused on the idea of giving.

Editorial Tags: Humor/whimsyImage Caption: The University of Virginia's new president gets help for his holiday cardIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Holiday Videos From CollegesTrending order: 3College: George Mason UniversityHamilton CollegeOhio State University-Main CampusUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignUniversity of North Carolina at AshevilleUniversity of Virginia

A list of the 10 articles with the most readers in 2018

Fri, 2018-12-21 08:00

The state of the humanities, admissions, race relations and graduate student life were topics that attracted many readers in 2018. The following were the articles that attracted the greatest numbers of readers.

  1. Wait-Listed, Rejected and Frustrated in California
  2. An 'Easy' SAT and Terrible Scores
  3. Mental Health Crisis for Grad Students
  4. Was Saturday's SAT Compromised?
  5. Punishing Women for Being Smart
  6. Rejecting AP Courses
  7. Yale Police Called on Black Student Taking a Nap
  8. When a Temporary Visa Is More Temporary Than Thought
  9. Faculty Members at Wisconsin Stevens Point React to Plan to Cut 13 Majors
  10. Shocker: Humanities Grads Gainfully Employed and Happy
Editorial Tags: LifeImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

New presidents or provosts: Birmingham Blackburn Bowling Green Davis Kalamazoo Northeast Riverside Saddleback Tennessee Tech Knoxville

Fri, 2018-12-21 08:00
  • Gregory Anderson, interim vice president of instruction at Mt. San Antonio College, in California, has been appointed president of Riverside City College, also in California.
  • Darin Brush, vice president of external engagement and economic development at Davis Technical College, in Utah, has been named president there.
  • Kelli A. Chaney, dean of career education and work-force development at Big Sandy Community and Technical College, in Kentucky, has been appointed president of Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville.
  • Daniel Coleman, former CEO of KCG Holdings, in Alabama, has been chosen as president of Birmingham-Southern College, also in Alabama.
  • Bethany H. Flora, associate director of the Center for Community College Leadership at East Tennessee State University, has been chosen as president of Northeast State Community College, also in Tennessee.
  • Danette Ifert Johnson, vice provost at Ithaca College, in New York, has been selected as provost at Kalamazoo College, in Michigan.
  • Julie Murray-Jensen, vice president of enrollment and external affairs and executive director of the KCC Foundation at Klamath Community College, in Oregon, has been named president of Blackburn College, in Illinois.
  • Elliot Stern, vice president of instruction at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, in Washington, has been chosen as president of Saddleback College, in California.
  • Joe B. Whitehead, professor of physics at North Carolina A&T State University and senior adviser for research at the University of North Carolina System, has been appointed provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Bowling Green State University, in Ohio.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidentsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Department to focus on credit transfer, credential inflation in rule-making session

Thu, 2018-12-20 08:00

In a meeting with college presidents and association officials Wednesday morning, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos planned to outline principles for her plan to revamp higher education rules, with a focus on accreditation.

DeVos wants more flexibility for accreditors to approve emerging models, such as distance learning, instead of what she called a current “all or nothing” approach. DeVos also called for clearer delineations between the roles of accreditors, state licensing agencies and the federal government.

The department's priorities are wide-ranging and include issues that haven’t been primarily associated with accreditors, including credit transfer and credential inflation. DeVos wants recommendations on how the department can encourage colleges to accept more transfer credits and confer with employers before approving new graduate programs.

The principles she laid out Wednesday are part of a broad framework that will guide an upcoming rule-making process set to begin in January.

The department described its priorities in two white papers released Wednesday -- on rethinking higher ed generally and on accreditation reform. Recommendations in the brief papers are broad and don’t come with specific policy proposals attached. Department officials said some of the identified issues could be addressed through regulations or changes to current law. Others are a matter of changing the department’s current practices, Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy under secretary of education, said in an interview this week.

“We want to put on the table what we think the challenge is,” she said. “But we are doing negotiated rule making. It isn’t up to us to solve every problem. We would love for people to come to the table with some of their own ideas on how to solve these problems.”

Auer Jones said the department wants to give accreditors the ability to craft standards that match the institutions they accredit. It makes little sense, she said, to apply the same outcomes standards to Johns Hopkins University and a nearby community college.

“We want to focus on standards that make sense based on what the institution does,” she said.

That priority likely will be a matter of enforcement for the department. But others, like credit transfer or credential inflation, will be brought to the negotiating table in the upcoming rule-making process.

Jones said the department doesn’t want to require colleges to accept credits from other institutions. But it may try to encourage accreditors to scrutinize credit transfer policies more closely. She said the department sees issues in particular with regionally accredited colleges rejecting credits from nationally accredited colleges, as well as four-year institutions rejecting credits from community colleges.

The rule-making process will also address how accreditors can approve emerging models such as distance learning or competency-based education. The department says accreditors currently face a catch-22 where they can’t approve those programs without demonstrating to the federal government that they already oversee similar ones.

“You have to give an on-ramp when an accreditor wants to expand its scope,” Auer Jones said.

Reactions to Outline of Plan

The DeVos vision reflects the goals of college lobby groups, accreditors and a bipartisan task force led by Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate's education committee, that combed through higher ed regulation in 2015. DeVos wants to streamline the federal review process for accreditors, make their role as oversight bodies more clear and signal how they can encourage innovation without running afoul of federal standards.

Many involved in those previous efforts were busy Wednesday scrutinizing comments by DeVos and the two briefing documents to figure out what specific policy changes the department would later recommend. But the framework appears to be in line with the objectives of accreditors themselves.

“The proposals, I think, fit with several things a number of accreditors want,” said Judith Eaton, president of the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.

Even so, observers were guessing how the principles described in the two white papers would translate into specific proposals from the department.

“Of course everybody in the accreditation field is poring over them for hints of what the future might hold,” said Leah Matthews, executive director of the Distance Education Accreditation Commission.

And Barbara Gellman-Danley, who chairs the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, said the devil would be in the details of specific policy changes.

A reform proposal must "make sure accreditors retain the authority necessary to carry out our central responsibilities to protect students and assure institutional quality," said Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission. "Above all, any regulatory changes must benefit our most vital stakeholder -- students -- and the council looks forward to working closely with the department to accomplish that goal."

Roy Swift, executive director of Workcred, said he liked most of the department's recommendations. But he said its intentions for items like “outcomes-based” accreditation needed more definition.

“It’s all over the place as to what that means,” he said via email. “Some process is important, such as involvement of appropriate stakeholders in curriculum development that truly represents the population being served.”

Swift also said innovation should be an expectation in higher education, and that accreditation standards must include language describing how it should be evaluated. Skeptics of the department have said that promoting innovation and flexibility while weakening protections could add risks for students and the federal government.

The danger, said Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, is a system that “gives full freedom to institutions and accreditors to pursue their goals with little to no oversight.”

But Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said it’s unclear how much the department will be able to accomplish through regulation as opposed to changes in the Higher Education Act.

“Whether they can do enough to move the needle significantly is really, I think, an open question,” he said.

Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: AccreditationFederal policyFinancial aidImage Caption: Education Secretary Betsy DeVosAd Keyword: AccreditationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: DeVos AgendaTrending order: 2

Court revives lawsuit over online threats made to feminist students at U of Mary Washington

Thu, 2018-12-20 08:00

A federal appeals court ruled 2 to 1 on Wednesday that feminist students who sued the University of Mary Washington for failing to protect them from anonymous online harassment were entitled to pursue their lawsuit. The decision reversed a ruling by a lower court to throw out the lawsuit on First Amendment and other grounds. The suit, which says that an insufficient response by the university constituted illegal sex discrimination, could redefine how colleges respond to online threats on their campuses.

If the current ruling stands, some colleges may face pressure to do more than they do now when their students receive anonymous online harassment, a phenomenon common in higher education. The dissenting opinion warns that meeting the standard set by the majority could be difficult for many colleges and universities.

The appeals court ruling was not a final ruling on the case. But the majority decision suggested that the students who sued the university had a legitimate case, and some of the language in the decision suggested that the judges believed the case was strong. The case now goes back to a federal district judge.

At issue in the case is the harassment received in 2014 and 2015 by Feminists United, a campus group affiliated with the Feminist Majority Foundation, after students in the group took public stands on campus issues. First, they spoke out against the idea of bringing fraternities to campus. Then they criticized a sexist chant by members of the rugby team. When the team was suspended by the university, supporters of the team blamed the campus feminists.

Harassment came largely via Yik Yak, a now-defunct social media tool that used geotargeting to allow people on campus to make comments anonymously about others on the campus. In this case, the harassment was not the kind of mocking of feminists that is omnipresent online, but specific threats of violent acts, accompanied by the whereabouts of members of Feminists United, who were identified by name.

Among the comments: "Gonna tie these feminists to the radiator and [g]rape them in the mouth" and "Dandy’s about to kill a bitch … or two" and "Can we euthanize whoever caused this bullshit?" (The [g] before "rape" is believed to refer to gang rape, according to the majority decision.) Other posts on Yik Yak called the campus feminists group "femicunts, feminazis, cunts, bitches, hoes and dikes [sic].”

According to the court's opinion, the students who were harassed complained multiple times to various university administrators, who took what the lawsuit said were only minimal steps to stop the harassment. And the appeals court said the evidence backed the idea in the lawsuit that the university was "deliberately indifferent," or at least that there was enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial.

The university did condemn the harassment and organized forums to listen to the students talk about how the online comments made them feel unsafe. But much of the university's response, according to the court's opinion, was confined to rejecting the students' demand that Yik Yak be blocked on campus. The university said that doing so would violate the First Amendment (Mary Washington is a public university located in Virginia).

The majority decision doesn't say the university had an obligation to block Yik Yak. But it questions the way the university cited the First Amendment, in particular because of the specific violent threats made against specific students.

Says the decision: "First Amendment concerns do not render the university’s response to the sexual harassment and threats legally sufficient for two sound reasons: (1) true threats are not protected speech, and (2) the university had several responsive options that did not present First Amendment concerns."

The university, the decision says, "faces serious difficulties in its effort to convince us that the complaint does not sufficiently allege deliberate indifference." The university never tried to identify the students who were engaged in harassing the campus feminists, didn't speak out forcefully about what was going on and didn't offer much support to the victims of harassment, the decision said. The university might have tried mandatory assemblies on preventing sexual harassment, and university leaders could have made clear their opposition to the kinds of treatment experienced by the students who were harassed, the opinion said.

"UMW’s administrators, however, merely responded with two listening circles, a generic email and by sending a campus police officer with a threatened student on one evening after particularly aggressive and targeted Yaks," the decision says.

Judge Robert B. King wrote the 57-page decision, which was joined by Judge Pamela Harris.

G. Steven Agee filed a dissent in which he warned of the consequences of the decision. He explicitly invited Mary Washington to appeal (which it could do to either the full Fourth Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court).

Wrote Agee: "Make no mistake, the majority’s novel and unsupported decision will have a profound effect, particularly on institutions of higher education … Institutions, like the university, will be compelled to venture into an ethereal world of non-university forums at great cost and significant liability, in order to avoid the Catch-22 Title IX liability the majority now proclaims. The university should not hesitate to seek further review."

The Feminist Majority Foundation issued a statement Wednesday praising the decision.

"The Feminist Majority Foundation took on this case to help our affiliate, Feminists United, fight for a safe campus free from online sexual harassment and threats, but we are thrilled that the Fourth Circuit’s ground-breaking decision will benefit students nationwide," the statement said. "Unlike the current Department of Education under Secretary [Betsy] DeVos, the Fourth Circuit is committed to enforcing Title IX [of the Education Amendments of 1972] and protecting students from sex-based discrimination, including when the harassment and threats are made online. The court understands that whether harassment is online or in person, the impact is the same: targeted students are cheated out of a safe learning environment."

The university issued this statement: "The University of Mary Washington has just received notice of the ruling, and, with the help of the [Virginia] Attorney General’s Office, will be thoroughly reviewing the majority and dissenting opinions before determining how best to proceed. The university remains committed to the safety and well-being of its students."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates for free expression in higher education, backed the university in the appeals case and issued an analysis highly critical of the majority decision.

FIRE argued that the speech in question was protected. "Ultimately, it is almost impossible to conceive of this case being resolved without addressing this enormous elephant in the room; if the speech was constitutionally protected, and was not harassment, then the question of substantial control is irrelevant," FIRE said.

FIRE also warned of the "far-reaching implications for universities’ obligation to monitor and address the off-campus, online speech of … students."

Editorial Tags: Legal issuesWomenImage Source: Feminist Majority FoundationImage Caption: Mary Washington students and their lawyers at the appeals courtIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Mary Washington

Syndicate

Syndicate content