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Trustee censured for inaccurate email at Johnson County Community College

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 01:00

The Board of Trustees at Johnson County Community College in Kansas has censured one trustee after she was found to have sent a email to state lawmakers that was rife with inaccuracies.

Angeliina Lawson, who like all trustees of the college was elected to the board directly by voters, sent an email to state lawmakers explaining her concerns around mismanagement of some of the college’s funds as well as works of art stored by the college.

That email eventually made its way to the Kansas Board of Regents and then to JCCC board members, though with Lawson’s name redacted.

A fact-finding investigation found that Lawson sent the email, though she originally refused to respond to questions about the email at board meetings. The fact finder discovered the email contained much false information and some misunderstandings of how the college’s works of art and logistical processes are actually handled. The investigation also found that Lawson’s description of a tour of the art storage facility she attended differed from what others on the tour said occurred.

Lawson has for her part said the censure vote is part of a long-running agenda of revenge by other members of the board stemming from the fact that she was not part of their slate of candidates. Lawson called the investigation a “witch hunt” and said that the lawyer in charge of the fact-finding investigation falsified information.

“I have done nothing wrong. I have a clear conscience,” she said in an interview. “I will keep showing up and I will keep asking questions, because I know I’m doing my job.”

She said that the intense response by the board and community college officials to her questions about the college’s assets and relatively large reserves is suspicious.

“When I dig into more of the budget, suddenly I get a lot of pushback,” she said. “What did I walk into that is causing this much pushback?”

Lawson also said that the Board of Trustees, being publicly elected by voters, operates with too much power and autonomy.

“What in the world is a community college doing storing millions and millions of dollars in art?” she asked. “The questions I’m asking are legitimate."

The total value of all art stored by the college is over $39 million. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the Johnson campus. The fact-finding mission concluded that Lawson did not show an understanding of how the art is managed and the policies surrounding its storage.

Lawson’s full email, with annotated initial responses from JCCC staff, can be found on page 49 of the board packet for the December meeting of the trustees.

She was censured by the board for violating the code of conduct, which requires, among other things, trustees to work in harmony and cooperation with the rest of the board.

Greg Musil, chair of the Board of Trustees, said that if Lawson was in fact simply asking for transparency and forwarding along constituents’ concerns, she should have done that in a public forum.

“Instead, she chose to send a secret e-mail to state legislators making factually false allegations, naming individual college employees, and even alleging misconduct at other Kansas community colleges,” he said via email. “Her conduct promoted secrecy, not the transparency practiced by or sought by the college.”

"Her intent, from the start and as she stated in her 'defense,' was to ensure that no one knew about her inflammatory and materially inaccurate e-mail -- not the public, her fellow board members, or faculty, staff or students," he said.

Musil said good governance, trusting relationships and a focus on students were all diminished by Lawson’s secret email. "If the board had ignored these violations, the Code of Conduct would simply have been a piece of paper, with no credibility."

Lawson said that in her time on the board since 2017, her concerns have repeatedly been mocked or dismissed, and so she had no faith in the board to investigate.

"If an elected official cannot seek the advice of another elected official, where do I go?" she said. "The constituents have a right to get their questions answered."

John Lombardi, former president of the University of Florida and the Louisiana State University system, and author of the book How Universities Work, said that typically when trustees have concerns about mismanagement, they should first speak to the chair of the board, and then the two together should speak with the president or chancellor of the college.

If the executive can’t resolve the issue, he said, it may be that the board needs to take up the issue in executive session.

“When boards do not resolve these issues in executive session, but individual board members seek out alternative forums in the public to attack the institutional management or each other,” he said via email, “it may well indicate mismanagement of the board's responsibilities.”

He said that board members should understand that their role is not to manage a university directly, but to hire and fire a president.

Two local news publications, The Kansas City Star and The Shawnee Mission Post, both reported that several residents spoke up in support of Lawson at the meeting where she was censured, saying she was asking difficult questions and won her election by a large margin.

A spokesperson for the community college said that the events were an “unfortunate situation,” but one that could have been solved fairly easily by Lawson. The spokesperson said the administration is looking forward to getting back to focusing on the mission of the college and student success.

Henry Stoever, president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said that a board should work collectively with a president to resolve questions.

“Effective board governance doesn’t happen if all members don’t have the necessary information to act on critical issues,” he said via email.

He said that while he was not aware of every detail of the JCCC case, boards do have the responsibility to police themselves.

“All members, whether they be elected, appointed, selected, ex-officio, or otherwise,” he said, “should understand their duties and how these responsibilities translate into effective board governance.”

Lombardi said that censure by a board is often a mistake and does not resolve the problem.

“Censure is a political act and indicates a dysfunctional board that has members who do not want to work together and cannot resolve their issues within normal board procedures,” he said via email. “Once you reach the point of censure, you will have more trouble, not less.”

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Brigham Young removes policy on same-sex intimacy

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

Brigham Young University's recent removal of “homosexual behavior” as a prohibited and punishable act under its honor code has caused both celebration and skepticism in the LGBTQ community.

On the surface, the removal of a passage in the honor code on Feb. 19 indicates that members of the university who display such physical intimacy will no longer be subjected to disciplinary measures, including removal from the university, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But in a series of tweets the next day, university representatives said “there may have been some miscommunication” about what the changes mean.

“We have removed the more prescriptive language and kept the focus on the principles of the honor code, which have not changed,” said Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for university communications. “We will handle questions that arise on an individual, case-by-case basis.”

The response has left many LGBTQ students enrolled at the Utah institution in the dark about how they can express their sexual orientation, since the university did not make it explicitly clear.

looks like we may have been a little preemptive—it’s unclear if BYU is saying yes or no to same-sex dating. I’ve seen direct accounts of LGBTQ+ students asking the HCO point-blank if they can hold hands/kiss/date and the office said yes … https://t.co/Eyp2Ut1UL4 https://t.co/xFUk9CrfPw

— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) February 19, 2020

Before Wednesday's changes, the university said it would act on "behavior" rather than "feelings or attraction." The now-deleted paragraphs state that homosexual behavior, which "includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings" is in violation of the honor code.

A spokeswoman for the university declined to explain what the revision will mean for LGBTQ couples who kiss, hug, hold hands, date or otherwise express their sexual orientation in public.

“Students are free to go to the Honor Code Office to get clarification if that affects them,” she said.

Some students did just that ​and learned physical intimacy between LGBTQ people is permitted, “as long as it’s not serious and leads to marriage,” said Martha Harris, a junior who is a lesbian. Multiple students shared similar stories on Twitter.

"Now I think it’s just very unclear what could happen," Harris said. "I know people who have gotten kicked out, people who have been reported to the office for rumors of hugging or coming out … I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m waiting a few days to see where things lay, because of the very conflicting messages."

McKay Boyack, a senior at Brigham Young who is a lesbian, said the “principle-based approach” the university will now take on LGBTQ sexuality is more subjective than the passage it removed, which is concerning.

“I’m so excited I could cry, but I’m really scared that they’re going to draw back on that before we have the chance to do anything,” Boyack said. “Who’s to say that one honor code officer wouldn’t be like, ‘it’s fine for them to date,’ and another wouldn’t throw you out of the school? It’s giving us more ambiguity as students that we already deal with in the church.”

The language change occurred immediately after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its updated general handbook, which outlines the church's mission and goals. The new handbook eased disciplinary measures for same-sex couples, but it continues to state that same-sex sexual activity is a sin and that gender is defined at birth, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. In addition to its removal of the behavior passage, the university expanded a section at the beginning of the Honor Code to define a “chaste and virtuous life” as “abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman,” according to the Tribune.

While removing the “homosexual behavior” passage from the Honor Code is a step in the right direction, the university has not implemented any nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBTQ students from bullying or harassment, said Paul Castillo, counsel and students’ rights strategist for Lambda Legal, a national organization focused on protecting the legal and civil rights of LGBTQ people. The burning question about the policy is what it will mean in practice, Castillo said.

“What does this mean for students who come out and are seeking to be supported by their peers, by school administrators, and what does that support look like?” Castillo said. “It’s one thing to remove language that targets LGBTQ students, but a whole different thing to show a wholesale commitment to the safety and well-being of all students.”

Culture changes take time, said Harris, who has been “selective” about whom she tells about her sexuality. She said when she first arrived at the campus, it was clear to her that she “wasn’t the type of person that [BYU] wanted.”

She questioned whether the university changed the Honor Code simply to improve its public image.

"I do fear it’s pressure from outside sources," Harris said. "Organizations not wanting to work with BYU, people from the outside thinking that’s a very toxic and homophobic school. I’m a little scared it’s for PR."

Bradley Talbot, a junior who runs an LGBTQ awareness and support organization called Color Campus, said he received threats to report him to the Honor Code Office when people learned that he was gay and was running the once-anonymous organization. He's now hopeful that the changes to the code will allow students to be open about their sexual orientation.

“I do feel like I can talk more openly about my dating life and what I hope to do in the future and not have to wait until I graduate to tell anyone,” Talbot said. “Dating has been going on for a while, just no one could talk about it. Because it was so secret, it put a lot of people into compromising situations and led to sexual harassment and rape. Now people can be more open … without fear of being disciplined on a scholarly level.”

Student opposition to the changes has been brewing, LGBTQ students said. Across campus, people have been posting copies of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a church document that affirms “marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan” and warns against “those who fail to fulfill family responsibilities.”

Seventy percent of members of the church support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, public accommodations and the workplace, a 2019 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute survey.

“There is very strong support for nondiscrimination policies,” said Sharita Gruberg, policy director for the LGBT research and communications project for the Center for American Progress.

Talbot said he believes the church is “becoming more understanding and recognizing” of LGBTQ issues.

“Even though we hold truths and doctrines about the family as what the standard is, there’s no such thing as a perfect family and things are going to get messy,” Talbot said. “It’s not as black-and-white as it once was … We might need a little more time for things to work out.”

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UCLA drops plan to use facial recognition security surveillance, but other colleges may be using technology

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

The University of California, Los Angeles, was the first university to openly propose using facial recognition software for security surveillance. Now it's the first to openly drop that plan. But whether other colleges are using the technology behind closed doors remains to be seen.

UCLA first floated the plan last year as part of a larger policy about campus security. Students voiced concerns during a 30-day comment period in June and at a town hall on the issue in late January.

Fight for the Future, a national digital rights advocacy organization, launched its own public campaign against the UCLA administration's consideration early this year, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

“This victory at UCLA will send a pretty strong message to any other administration who is considering doing this,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the organization. “It’s not going to be worth the backlash.”

As part of the effort, Fight for the Future ran its own experiment. The group ran over 400 photos of UCLA athletes and faculty members through Amazon’s facial recognition software. They found 58 of those photos were incorrectly matched with photos in a mug-shot database. The majority of those false positives, the organization said, were of people of color. Some images the software claimed were the same person with “100 percent confidence.”

Fight for the Future had planned to release the results of the experiment to a news outlet, Greer said, but when that publication contacted the university, the response was swift. Within 24 hours a UCLA administrator wrote Greer to say the university was no longer considering using the software.

“We determined that that the potential benefits of the technology were limited and vastly outweighed by the community’s concerns,” a spokesperson for UCLA said via email.

The university had not identified a specific software or made any concrete plans to deploy it, he said. The administration is now working to explicitly prohibit facial recognition software.

The Problem With Facial Recognition

The problems with the software are multifaceted, Greer said. It’s well documented that the current technology doesn’t always work as intended. It’s routinely bad at identifying women and nonwhite people.

That means those groups are more likely to face both the annoying aspects of being misidentified (like being locked out of a dorm) and the dangerous ones (like being wrongly accosted by police).

The technology is also susceptible to hacking.

“The scan of your face is a unique identifier, like your Social Security number,” Greer said. “But if your Social Security number gets breached, you can get a new Social Security number. If a scan of your face gets breached, you can’t get a new face.”

Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, said concerns around facial recognition should be particularly troublesome for higher education institutions. The systems are often particularly bad at correctly identifying children and young adults, she said. The software can cost millions of dollars and -- given that many episodes of violence are committed by students who attend those colleges -- is ineffective against violence.

“We just don’t have that much training data on children and on young adults,” Vance said. “This technology right now is not ready for prime time.”

Her organization has proposed a moratorium on facial recognition in public schools.

UCLA said it would consider using facial recognition in a “limited" capacity. One draft of the policy shared online by the student group Campus Safety Alliance said the technology would only be used “to locate a known individual for legitimate, safety or security purposes related to individuals who have been issued an official campus stay away order, court ordered restraining order, law enforcement bulletin or who pose a threat to one or more members of the campus community.”

That draft said a human being would need to examine the match before an official determination of someone’s identity could be made.

But Greer said that "limited" capacity -- security surveillance -- is one of the more concerning uses of the software.

“We’ve seen a few other schools that were trying to dabble with this technology,” she said.

Two other institutions in the state -- Stanford University and the University of Southern California -- had floated using facial recognition as part of their food service or dorm security. Students there would have been able to scan their faces to get into a dorm or pay for a meal.

While those uses normalize facial recognition and should be stopped, Greer said, they don’t ring the same alarm bells that surveillance uses do.

It’s possible that in the future the technology will improve, becoming more accurate and more secure.

For Vance, that’s one reason why her organization has called for a moratorium instead of an outright ban.

But to Greer, the possibility that the technology could become 100 percent accurate is even more frightening.

“That’s a world where institutions of power have the ability to track and monitor their people everywhere they go, all the time. That is a world where there are zero spaces that are free from government or societal intrusion, which is basically a world where we can’t have new ideas,” she said. “We really need to think about this not just as an issue of privacy but as an issue of basic freedom.”

If facial recognition software had been ubiquitous a few decades ago, she said, social movements like the LGBTQ rights movement may never have occurred.

“In the end it’s not really about safety -- it’s about social control.”

What’s Already Happening

UCLA chose to be open about considering facial recognition and solicited comments from students. For that, the university should be applauded, Vance said.

But that’s not necessarily happening everywhere.

“I would be absolutely unsurprised if multiple universities had adopted it and we just don’t know about it,” Vance said. Safety and security offices often act independent of other university administrators and may not be transparent about a new security measure.

Fight for the Future currently has a campus scorecard for facial recognition, keeping track of which colleges have pledged not to use the software. Though about 50 universities have told the organization they will not implement the technology, Greer said, many have said nothing at all.

“It is absolutely possible that there are other schools in the country that are already using this technology, they just haven’t told anyone about it,” she said.

The software is already in use by numerous municipal police departments and airports as well as at least one public school district. The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center found in 2016 that half of American adults are in a law enforcement facial recognition network.

Facial recognition software companies already are marketing to universities and K-12 schools.

“There are really no laws in place that would require private institutions, for example, to even disclose to their students that they’re doing this,” Greer said. “We really do need policies in place so that it’s not up to school administrators.”

Vance pointed out that university leaders and policy makers often bemoan that a younger generation doesn’t care about privacy.

“They clearly do care about privacy,” she said. “And this is a step too far.”

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Middle class heavily underrepresented at top private colleges, report finds

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

Students with similar test scores but different household incomes attend selective colleges at different rates, according to the latest report from Opportunity Insights, a group that has published groundbreaking research on how colleges may affect students' income mobility.

But the results contained some surprises. For example, middle-class students attend elite institutions at rates lower than students from the lowest income quintile.

Researchers Raj Chetty, John Friedman, Emmanuel Saez, Nicholas Turner and Danny Yagan looked at how the fractions of students who attend these elite colleges varies based on parental income, using only students who scored exactly 1400 on the SAT. That is the median score for students at "Ivy-plus" colleges, which includes the Ivy League, Duke University, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago.

The same researchers previously created mobility report cards for colleges to assess their students' upward income mobility. That report found great variability in low-income students' enrollment across colleges. But it also found that earnings outcomes are similar for students from low- and high-income families at any given college. And while some colleges had high mobility rates, access for low-income students at those colleges has fallen since 2000.

Building on their previous report, researchers found that students whose parents were from the lowest income bracket made up 7.3 percent of students with a test score of 1400 who attended Ivy-plus colleges. That was slightly below the average for all income groups. Students whose parents had the highest incomes made up a larger share, at about 10.8 percent, which was above the average for all groups.

But the students whose parents' incomes are in the middle attended Ivy-plus colleges at rates much lower than the average, between 4.4 percent and 4.7 percent. This means that middle-class students are underrepresented at elite colleges, and the report refers to them as the "missing middle."

Previous studies, such as one by the American Enterprise Institute, have also found that the share of students from the middle class at the most selective colleges in the nation has been declining over time.

It can be hard for middle-income families to afford higher education, particularly at private nonprofits, because their expected family contributions can be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, said Bill Hall, founder and president of Applied Policy Research Inc. Hall's company advises private nonprofit institutions on admissions and enrollment.

"There's not a lot of discretionary income for middle-income families," he said.

Older generations say that families today aren't willing to sacrifice for their children's education like they once were, Hall said. Whether it's possible for middle-income families to afford elite colleges or not, rising tuition costs are pushing them toward flagship public institutions.

Hall sees the new study as an alert about what private and more elite institutions will have to do to stop the middle-income population from going elsewhere. And, he said, everyone at those institutions is talking about this issue, not just admissions staff.

"Most of them will acknowledge, why did we ever get ourselves in a position where we have $50,000 tuition?" he said.

The movement toward tuition resets, where colleges slash sticker prices but not necessarily their net prices, is also a sign of colleges trying to make a change to help students who aren't high income, Hall said. Middle-income students stand to gain the most from those efforts, he said.

The report from Opportunity Insights analyzed what would happen if students with comparable test scores attended selective colleges at the same rate, regardless of their parents' incomes. Researchers found that economic diversity would "rise significantly" in this scenario. The fraction of students in the bottom income quintile who attend selective colleges would rise from 7.3 percent to 8.6 percent. Those in the middle would get a boost of about 10 percentage points at selective colleges, from 28 percent to 38 percent.

Providing low-income students with an admissions boost similar to what children of alumni receive at elite private colleges would increase the share of those students at those colleges as well.

At Ivy-plus institutions, this would push the share of low-income students up to 25.8 percent. The scenario used is similar to the preference legacy students, recruited athletes and students who are members of underrepresented minority groups receive during admissions at elite colleges.

If changes were made, it could have a large impact on income mobility, according to the researchers.

The gap in chances of reaching the top income quintile among college students from the bottom- versus the top-quintile families would decrease by 15 percent if all students with similar test scores attended elite colleges at the same rate, regardless of their families' incomes.

If lower-income students were given an advantage similar to legacy students, that gap would decrease by 25 percent.

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Author discusses book on institutional review boards

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

Institutional review boards are a constant subject of complaints from scholars about delays or limits placed on research -- even if they understand that a given IRB may only be following the rules. Sarah Babb, a professor of sociology at Boston College, tells the story of IRBs in a new book, Regulating Human Research: IRBs From Peer Review to Compliance Bureaucracy (Stanford University Press). She responded to questions via email about her new book.

Q: How are IRBs different today from when they were first created?

A: When the first proto-IRBs emerged within National Institutes of Health in the 1950s, they looked a lot like peer-review committees: NIH researchers would sit on panels to consider the ethics of their colleagues’ research proposals. Even after the 1974 regulations and two rounds of revisions (in 1981 and 1992), most IRBs were mostly run pretty much as faculty committees, but with “nonscientist” members and some federal paperwork. The faculty volunteers weren’t very good with the paperwork, but since the feds hardly ever checked, it wasn’t a big issue.

Nowadays, most research is being reviewed by IRBs that look a lot more like “bureaucracies” in the Weberian sense. They have hierarchies, job ladders and an elaborate division of labor, kind of like an assembly line. And they are run by paid administrators with specialized regulatory expertise. The most bureaucratic of all are the for-profit “independent” IRBs, which compete for clients based on their ability to provide rigorous regulatory compliance with maximum speed. Independent IRBs don’t have faculty “volunteers” -- academics are paid per review to serve on particular boards. Everything else is handled by administrators. Today, most biomedical research is reviewed by these for-profit boards.

Q: You talk about how academic research is increasingly commercialized. Have IRBs responded to that change? How should they respond?

A: I would rather say that IRBs have been shaped and transformed by commercialization. Most biomedical research today is sponsored by private firms -- mostly (but not entirely) outside of academic institutions. Commercial studies mostly involve multiple research sites. Imagine 20 different clinics, all recruiting participants for the same study. But federal IRB regulations are set up around a local review model. This has always posed a problem for commercial sponsors, because clinics don’t have IRBs, and even if they did, you wouldn’t want 20 IRBs coming up with 20 different decisions.

Recognizing this problem, back in the 1980s the Food and Drug Administration put a loophole in its rules saying you could outsource IRB reviews instead of relying on a local board. In response, independent review boards were founded to serve commercial research sponsors. But more recently, even government-sponsored studies have started going over to the for-profit IRBs. This is because they are extremely efficient and very good at reviewing multisite research (which is now the dominant model throughout the biomedical field). Traditional IRBs have been losing staff positions. To get a competitive edge, many have emulated some of the practices of for-profit IRBs.

So in a way, the whole IRB world has become commercialized. In my book, I argue that this is an American pattern, where our inability to rationalize public systems leads to the emergence of markets and private “workarounds.” It’s interesting to contrast this with how they do it in the U.K., where they decided decades ago that the best way to deal with multisite studies was to have a single government-sponsored portal that everybody goes through. The British don’t have for-profit ethics review because it isn’t needed.

Q: Your book talks about how IRBs have become “compliance bureaucracies.” Was this inevitable?

A: The reason IRBs became compliance bureaucracies is that compliance is a lot of work. The regulations are complicated and confusing. There are actually two sets of IRB regulations, run out of two different federal offices, and [they are] not entirely consistent. Over time there have been a bunch of other ancillary regulations to keep track of -- HIPAA, conflict of interest and so on. The regulations are ambiguous, and federal offices don’t have the mandate or the resources to set precedents by ruling in particular cases. What regulators do (although less lately) is audit IRBs to make sure they have meticulously followed and documented mandated procedures -- for example, that they considered each of the criteria for waiver of documentation of informed consent. This means that IRBs have to generate and store mountains of procedural paperwork. Over all, it’s a big job -- one that calls for the attention of full-time specialists.

I found that there was a turning point at the end of the 1990s, when Senator [Edward] Kennedy and others were calling for a comprehensive rationalization and centralization of the federal system. Unfortunately, there was too much opposition from Congress and vested interest groups. But I suspect that if Kennedy’s plan had gone forward, you wouldn’t have seen the same growth in compliance bureaucracy: it would have centralized a lot of the interpretive and administrative work, similarly to the way you see in the U.K. today.

Q: Some argue that IRBs cannot simultaneously review the biological sciences and the social sciences. Should universities have separate IRBs?

A: This is a really great question. My impression is that it is really common to have separate IRBs for social and biomedical research, but that this doesn’t necessarily address the problems social researchers encounter with the IRB process.

Our problem is twofold: first, the regulations were designed around the routines of experimental research; and second, academic administrators tend to respond to risk and uncertainty with “hypercompliance” -- going beyond what the regulations require or intend. Imagine an anthropologist doing ethnography somewhere in an Indian village, trying to go through a three-page informed consent form (including all kinds of legalistic and regulatory language) with each person he interacts with. And then imagine that every time he slightly changes his research design, he needs to wait for his IRB at home to reapprove the changes. It sounds absurd, but this was a common experience at the beginning of the 2000s -- and I suspect that it still happens today.

What really has helped social researchers like me is something called the “flexibility movement,” a recent initiative among some IRB administrators to move away from hypercompliance. If you’ve noticed your IRB getting a lot more social research-friendly recently, you probably should be thanking the flexibility movement.

Q: What can universities do to improve the functioning of IRBs?

A: There’s a whole industry of IRB consultants and accreditors that are better qualified than I am to answer that question. But as a sociologist, I have the luxury of thinking about the big picture. What we have in the United States today is a highly decentralized and commercialized ethics-review system; recent revisions to the IRB regulations reinforce this. Because it generates high administrative costs, our system has created a sort of marketplace in ethics review, in which a small number of for-profit boards compete for clients based on their efficiency. This is a very weird way of handling ethics review, and very different from the way they do it in other wealthy democracies.

The advantage of our American system is that it can’t be easily dismantled by anti-regulatory politicians. But one disadvantage is that it creates potential conflicts of interests: you have researchers and sponsors shopping in a marketplace of IRB services and paying the board they select to regulate them. We haven’t had an outbreak of research scandals since the 1990s. I really hope that we don’t look back on this time as the calm before the storm.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00
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Education Department escalates inquiry into reporting of foreign gifts and contracts

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 01:00

The Department of Education continues to step up its scrutiny of universities receiving foreign gifts and contracts. In going after Harvard and Yale Universities last week, the department sent a clear signal it was serious about enforcing the law, which requires colleges to report all gifts and contracts involving foreign sources valued at $250,000 or more.

The Education Department's new investigations into whether Harvard and Yale comply with reporting requirements follow other investigations launched over the past year into the disclosure of foreign funding at Cornell, Georgetown, Rutgers and Texas A&M Universities as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Maryland.

Department officials say the agency's efforts to enforce Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, which addresses disclosure of gifts and contracts, have led to the reporting of approximately $6.5 billion in previously undisclosed foreign money since last July 1.

Reed D. Rubinstein, the principal deputy general counsel at the department, has indicated that those efforts have "also revealed disturbing facts."

"One university received research funding from a Chinese multinational conglomerate to develop new algorithms and advance biometric security techniques for crowd surveillance capabilities," Rubinstein wrote in a Nov. 27 letter to the chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations. "One university had multiple contracts with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China … Another university had a relationship with Kaspersky, a Russian company that has been banned from contracting with the U.S. Government."

College officials have pushed back, arguing that the Education Department's aggressive efforts may go beyond the scope of what the law requires. The college officials also say the department has taken an unnecessarily combative, rather than collegial, approach to enforcing a law that no one much paid attention to in the past.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has not been swayed by the criticisms of the department's work.

“This is about transparency,” she said in a press release last week about the Harvard and Yale investigations. “If colleges and universities are accepting foreign money and gifts, their students, donors, and taxpayers deserve to know how much and from whom. Moreover, it’s what the law requires.”

She pointedly noted that the investigations have yielded results.

“Unfortunately, the more we dig, the more we find that too many are underreporting or not reporting at all,” she said in the release. “We will continue to hold colleges and universities accountable and work with them to ensure their reporting is full, accurate, and transparent, as required by the law.”

Many universities have in fact been lax in their reporting over the years. A 2019 report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations found that nearly 70 percent of colleges that received $250,000 or more in annual funding from Hanban, the Chinese government entity that funds the Confucius Institutes located at various American colleges and high schools, failed to report the funding. An increasing number of universities have closed these centers for Chinese language education and cultural programming, in response to pressure from congressional lawmakers.

Karen Perat, a Yale spokeswoman, said the university failed to submit required foreign gift reports for the years 2014 to 2017, an oversight that she said was corrected in November.

“Yale believes its reporting is now current and complete,” Perat said. She said Yale is preparing a response to the department's request for further information.

"Yale takes very seriously the importance of ensuring that funding from foreign sources does not in any way compromise American interests, and it respects the Education Department’s requirements about reporting of such funding," Perat said. "Yale also believes that a signal strength of American higher education has long been the quality of its international relationships and collaborations, which have helped our universities produce exceptional scholarship and research and exceptionally prepared graduates, to the direct benefit of the American people."

Terry Hartle, the senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said the stepped-up enforcement of the reporting requirement, which was enshrined in law in 1986, is a new priority of the Trump administration. He said while colleges had stopped paying much attention to the law, the department bears culpability for the lax reporting, having never issued regulations to implement the law. He noted that the department only issued informal guidance in 1995 and 2004.​

“There’s no doubt that colleges and universities need to put more emphasis on Section 117 reporting,” Hartle said. “Having said that, there’s also very little doubt that the Department of Education would prefer to have an issue rather than to fix a problem.”

Hartle explained that higher education leaders have been eager to meet with department officials to discuss compliance but said their requests for meetings have been refused.

"We are very anxious to fully and completely comply with the letter and spirit of Section 117," he said. "The Department of Education could facilitate this enormously by engaging in conversations. They refuse to do that."

Instead, the department "has indicated that its approach to collecting data on 117 will be based on investigations rather than collaboration to get the data," Hartle said.

An Education Department official suggested the reporting requirements are not that complicated. 

"The facts do not provide the Department with a reasoned basis for concluding that Section 117 reporting is too complicated or difficult for higher education, with all of its intellectual and financial resources, to manage," the official said via email.

The Harvard and Yale Investigations

The department’s investigations into Harvard and Yale are notable for their expansive scope and focus on two of the country's most elite institutions.

In its letter to Yale, the Education Department asks for “all records of, regarding, or referencing gifts, contracts, and/or restricted or conditional gifts or contracts from or with a foreign source to the Institution” since August 2013, including “true copies” of contracts and donor agreements.

The letter also requests “a list of each program, activity, and/or person at the institution (e.g., an Islamic law program, a Confucius Institute, a research scientist funded in whole or substantial part by a foreign corporation, a foreign graduate student studying physics under a scholarship or other contractual arrangement with a foreign government, a fellow in a cultural studies program created by endowment or other gift by a foreign national) that is in whole or in substantial part directly funded or supported by and/or employed due to a gift, contract and/or restricted or conditional gift or contract with or from a foreign source” from Aug. 1, 2013, to the present.

Another line item asks Yale to list all gifts and contracts that have benefited specific entities of the university, including the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and the Kerry Initiative, a program founded by John Kerry, former secretary of state under President Obama. The letter asks throughout for information about "all" gifts and contracts, not just for those at or above the $250,000 threshold that typically triggers a reporting requirement.

"The letter speaks for itself," the Education Department official said. "We are requesting records of all foreign gifts and contracts, regardless of size."  

"Taking the words on the page at face value, it seems to me to be a dramatic expansion of the kinds of things that are typically reported or required to be reported under the statute," said Alex Hontos, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, which represents a number of large academic institutions in government enforcement matters.

The letter to Harvard makes similarly expansive requests. The Education Department says in its letter it is “aware of information suggesting Harvard University lacks appropriate institutional controls and as a result, its statutory Section 117 reporting may not include and/or fully capture all reportable gifts, contracts and/or restricted and conditional gifts or contracts from or with foreign sources.”

The department cites as evidence for the alleged lack of appropriate controls the arrest last month of Charles Lieber, a Harvard professor and chair of the chemistry department, who was accused of failing to disclose payments of $50,000 a month he received in return for his participation in a Chinese government-sponsored talent recruitment program. The department's letter also cites a statement Harvard issued in September about a review of donations it received from the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, in which Harvard president Lawrence S. Bacow noted that Harvard's "decentralization makes such a review more complicated than it would be at some other institutions."

Harvard said last week that it is reviewing the Education Department’s notice of investigation and preparing a response.

Sending a Message

Meanwhile, the Education Department posted a notice in the Federal Register on Feb. 10 of a new form it proposes to use to collect information from universities about the foreign gifts and contracts they receive.

ACE and 29 other higher education groups had raised concerns that an earlier version of the proposed information collection request, or ICR, exceeded the scope of the department’s information-collecting authority under Section 117.

ACE said that while the Education Department has since “backed away from some of the more problematic provisions in the original ICR,” the association continues to have concerns.

“The new ICR … still includes the requirement to submit the names and addresses of anonymous individual donors, a provision ACE and others in the higher education community oppose,” ACE said in a Feb. 11 statement. “ED says it will protect the identity of such donors, but it is not clear that promise of confidentiality can be kept once the documents are in federal possession. ACE also opposes the requirement of supplying to ED true copies of contract and gift agreements that ED will now address under a separate rulemaking process, due to concerns over maintaining the confidentiality of these documents.”

Several universities investigated by the department said they had improved their processes for tracking and reporting gifts and contracts from foreign sources.

"In response to our recent review under the U.S. Department of Education, Rutgers has improved and clarified our procedures to ensure compliance with our foreign gift and contract disclosure requirements. All gifts received and contracts executed with foreign sources are reported semi-annually in accordance with the specified reporting timelines, deadlines, and financial thresholds," Rutgers said in a statement.

MIT said it identified ways to improve its foreign gift and contract reporting process more than a year ago.

"MIT’s reporting since January 2019 has been based on these improved processes," the university said in a statement. "The Institute is committed to working constructively with federal officials to address the department’s questions.”

Meanwhile, Texas A&M said it had actually overreported its foreign funding to the department by more than $2 million.

"Texas A&M has been praised by federal leaders for our fervent commitment to protecting our institution from intellectual property theft and undue foreign influence," a spokeswoman said.

It seems clear the federal scrutiny of gifts and contracts will not be going away any time soon. International collaborations in general -- and collaborations with China in particular -- are coming under increased scrutiny from lawmakers, who have raised alarm about the risk of foreign actors stealing research funded by American tax dollars. To a large degree, the newfound scrutiny of universities' foreign collaborations has been bipartisan in nature.

Indeed, U.S. senators Rob Portman, the chairman of the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and a Republican, and Tom Carper, the ranking member of the committee and a Democrat, issued a joint statement praising the Education Department's investigations last week.

"The fact that $6.5 billion in foreign gifts to U.S. institutions went unreported until now is shocking and unacceptable," they said. "We would urge the Department to also work with institutions to improve the reporting process to increase transparency and ensure that U.S. schools are in compliance going forward."

The Education Department official said DeVos is the first education secretary to hold colleges accountable for reporting.

"First, this is an issue of national security because, among other concerns, foreign money (from governments, government-run corporations/NGOs, and individuals) may come with 'strings attached' that compromise academic freedom," the official wrote. "These money streams raise serious questions about academic program/research integrity and the security of intellectual property. Second, colleges and universities are heavily subsidized by the American taxpayer. They must be held accountable [to] our American students, parents, and taxpayers, as well as the U.S. government, for complying with our laws, including transparency laws. Third, the vast underreporting in what is a very basic regulatory system suggests a potentially serious lack of internal financial controls -- this is very concerning in light of the fact that colleges and universities have extensive federal audit requirements and their failure or decision not to track foreign money could be a symptom of problems elsewhere as well."

Hontos, the lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney, said colleges, universities and academic research institutions should be prepared for such heightened scrutiny going forward.

"Certainly, if the United States government is going after Harvard and Yale and doing it in an open way, posting these kinds of open letters on a website and making a big splash about it, that’s really an effort by the government to send a message -- and that message is supposed to be heard throughout academia," he said.

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No-shows burden counseling center resources

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 01:00

When college mental health care providers and students talk about campus mental health resources, two very different perspectives emerge.

Students who have experienced mental illnesses themselves see the availability of on-campus services as one of the core responsibilities of the institutions they attend. They believe that if those services aren’t being utilized or are found by students to be inadequate, it’s up to the college to adjust.

College-based mental health providers consider themselves central to student well-being and academic achievement. They want to help as many students as possible but say the need for services well exceeds what their centers are funded to provide.

Where these positions converge and diverge has become the latest challenge for many colleges across the country facing increasing demands and skyrocketing costs for student mental health services.

For example, American University officials recently attempted to call attention to the number of missed appointments at its counseling center due to late cancellations and no-shows. Some students took offense at what they felt was an example of the university blaming students for the center's failures.

Daniel Solomon, a senior at Clemson University who founded ​You’re Not Alone, a peer support group on campus for students who struggle with mental illness or who have family members or friends that do, said he could relate to AU students' frustrations.

Students make sacrifices to go to college and in return expect the institution to take care of them, he said.

“It all has to go back to providing more resources. That in and of itself would solve all the issues,” Solomon said. “If universities are going to bring smart, well-educated students to their campus and provide them with an education and also make us pay for our health bills, then it’s their responsibility to keep us healthy.”

Shivani Nishar, a student at Brown University, is co-coordinator of its chapter of Project LETS, a national organization that works to decrease barriers to mental health resources on campuses.

“The blame or responsibility should never be on the student, especially a mentally ill student,” Nishar said. If a student doesn’t show up to a scheduled counseling appointment, it’s the university’s responsibility to “work out the logistics,” she said.

But counseling center directors believe students should view campus mental health services as a shared resource and a shared responsibility.

“It’s not totally fair to expect in any mental health service that I can be seen as much as I want to be and as quickly as I want to be,” said Peter LeViness, director of counseling and psychological services at the University of Richmond.

Counseling resources are a two-way street, said Ben Locke, executive director of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University.

“Big picture, it’s important for institutions and the services they provide to have a both-and conversation, where the students are an integral part of that service and making the service successful and being responsible consumers of expensive services,” Locke said.

The average annual operating and salary budgets of counseling centers at institutions with more than 10,000 enrolled students exceeded $1 million, while those with 35,000 students or more reached $4 million from 2017 to 2018, according to the most recent 2018 survey of 571 counseling center directors conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, or AUCCCD. The average total annual budget for counseling centers recorded in the association survey increased by more than $112,000 from 2016 to 2018, rising to $1,059,324.

Yet demand continues to outpace the supply of services universities are struggling to provide, said LeViness, who also coordinates the AUCCCD survey. As a result, center directors are taking a hard look at how resources can be wasted, including by the very students they are meant to help.

When American University sent an email to students listing the hours lost in psychiatric services due to appointment no-shows, some students found the email “hurtful” and felt it blamed them for the gaps in the mental health services provided by the university.

AU has been attempting to improve those gaps in services as part of its strategic plan, said Traci Callandrillo, assistant vice president for campus life. She said the idea to share information with students was well-intentioned.

“When it comes to health-care agencies, being able to be clear that we’re doing the best that we can in how the resources are being utilized is an important part of us being good stewards of resources for the community,” Callandrillo said.

The email listed data from the fall 2019 semester: one-fifth of all counseling center appointments were no-shows or late cancellations, or the equivalent of five no-shows each day. And there were 48 missed appointments with psychiatrists at the student health center. Similarly sized institutions (10,000 to 15,000 total enrollment) had a no-show rate of 9.2 percent for talk therapy appointments from 2017 to 2018, according to the AUCCCD survey.

Students have been complaining about the wait time for initial consultations at the counseling center in forums with administrators, said Jeremy Ward, speaker of the student government’s undergraduate senate. So when students received the email from Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, it caused a “flare-up,” Ward said.

“We do not know why the administration felt the need to express what comes off as complaints about students, and we do not believe that telling students that their behavior is the problem will do anything to improve mental health services on campus,” the student government executive board said in a statement.

Conversations about wait times and appointment availability at American’s counseling center were “certainly” happening when she was a student, said Kelly Davis, a 2015 AU graduate and director of peer advocacy supports and services for the Collegiate Mental Health Innovation Council, an elected group of students who lead mental health initiatives on their campuses and identify trends and best practices. She said the email was “tone-deaf” and “discounts the fact that no-shows are pretty common across all health concerns.”

“If you’re offering a service that people are not utilizing, most businesses would not blame the customer,” Davis said. “There’s a whole lot of reasons that someone wouldn’t show up for an appointment, and that can be like a kick while you’re down. Not only are you not showing up, you’re preventing others from getting help.”

But when a student does not show up for an appointment or cancels too late for the appointment time slot to be given to someone else, that’s time that another student could have been seen, Aw said in her email. Wait times at counseling centers increase when there are more no-shows, LeViness said.

“It’s an unfortunate loss of resources in any case, and if you want to think of it in terms of cost, it’s even more costly for psychiatric appointments, in terms of the units and time that person is being paid,” LeViness said.

Seventy-two percent of 400 university presidents reported in a 2019 American Council on Education survey that they were spending more funds now on mental health initiatives than three years ago. ​

Psychiatric appointments, which are usually with medical doctors, are typically two to three times more expensive per hour than meeting with a counselor or therapist, who are not medical doctors, and they’re also more coveted, because of how limited they are at any given center, Locke said. More than half of the institutions in the 2018 AUCCCD survey had no psychiatric provider, a licensed medical doctor or nurse practitioner who could diagnose and care for students with psychological disorders. American has both a full-time psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner, said Lisa Stark, assistant vice president for communications.

“In the world of health care and mental health care, big picture, that’s in some ways a cost of doing business,” Locke said. “But if a large percentage of appointments are just simply no-shows or late cancellations, and they can't be reused for other students … that represents a financial investment that's unused.”

University medical centers are looking for ways to reshape their structure to mitigate no-shows, such as relying more on a walk-in appointment model and sending students reminders about scheduled appointments, Locke said.

When there are no-shows at the University of South Florida’s counseling center, the counselor is put “on call” so if a student walks in, they can be seen, said Scott Strader, director of the center. South Florida was recognized as a leading university for its quality of and investment in mental health care in 2018 by the nonprofit Active Minds, a youth mental health research and advocacy organization. Having clinicians available for initial consultations on a same-day basis allows students to show up when they are feeling most motivated to seek help, Strader said.

“As we look at the demand for services, maximizing the clinical availability of time is very important, and a lot of us are focused on how our providers’ time is maximized,” Strader said. “That is a way to kind of offset the no-show issue. Students can get an immediate touch point with a provider. They might not need a follow-up, and if they do, we put them in that initial provider queue and wait a couple of weeks.”

The South Florida center’s no-show rate is between 7 and 8 percent for scheduled appointments, Strader said, lower than the national average for talk therapy appointments, according to the AUCCCD survey. The South Florida center also saw a significant decline in no-shows when it increased its fee for missed appointments from $10 to $15 in 2017, Strader said.

The University of Oregon, which also won Active Minds’ Healthy Campus Award in 2018, charges a $25 fee for no-shows, said Alisia Caban, the associate director of the Oregon center. Oregon informs students about the fee up front and explains to them that the center is an important, utilized resource, Caban said.

American does not want to charge students for missing counseling appointments because it can be a barrier for people who can’t afford the fee, but it does charge a $20 no-show fee for psychiatric appointments, said Callandrillo, the campus life official. She said the university will continue to receive feedback from its wellness council and campus as a whole about “how we as an institution are meeting those needs and understanding the expectations.”

Despite her criticism of American’s data-sharing email, Davis, the alumna, praised the university's willingness to engage in dialogue about the no-show problem.

“There is an inherent power imbalance between those who use the services and those who provide it,” Davis said. “There’s a shortage of resources, there’s a lack of investment in campus mental health, and from their perspective, if they’re putting in resources they don't’ think people are utilizing, that’s frustrating … The answer isn’t to blame the consumer of the service. It’s to try and be creative in how you get better outcomes.”

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Report shares sustainable college endowment investment strategies

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 01:00

Students' calls for institutions to stop supporting the fossil fuel industry and start investing in more eco-conscious companies have been ongoing for years but don’t show any signs of dying down.

Just last week, students at Cornell University staged a mock wedding between a six-foot-tall cutout of the university’s clock tower and a cardboard businessman wearing a hat inscribed with the words “big oil,” as part of a series of continuing protests. Administrators at Cornell did not promise to change their investment portfolio in response to student activism, but the issue of fossil fuel divestment will be considered by the institution’s shared governance groups, they said. This pledge, however, came with a warning that divesting from oil, coal and gas companies would take many years and “could have significant economic costs for the university.”

Cornell is far from the only institution to come under pressure from students to divest from fossil fuels. Activists rushed onto the field at the annual football game between Harvard and Yale Universities in December. Leaders at the two institutions have indicated that they do not support divestment, but the pressure is only increasing. Harvard Forward, a pro-divestment group, was recently successful in placing five candidates on the 2020 Board of Overseers election ballot. Harvard Forward's platform advocates for the university to divest all its assets from fossil fuels and develop more transparent investment guidelines.

Calls to divest from fossil fuels are often met with resistance from critics, who say such considerations will undermine investment returns. The fear that divesting from fossil fuels will yield lower returns is pervasive among university leaders, said Georges Dyer, executive director of the Intentional Endowments Network -- a membership organization for higher education institutions pursuing so-called sustainable investment strategies.

Student climate activists protested for four hours Thursday afternoon –– staging a “wedding” and blocking traffic –– urging Cornell to divest from fossil fuels.
https://t.co/8JC1bI83nO

— The Cornell Daily Sun (@cornellsun) February 14, 2020

The network published a report Wednesday highlighting research findings from academics and practitioners that show sustainable investment strategies, “in general, perform as well or better than traditional approaches.” Featured research findings include a July 2018 article published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and the Sightline Institute. The article acknowledges that fossil fuel companies have historically provided strong investment returns but says they stopped offering a significant advantage in the 2013 to 2018 period.

In addition to summarizing existing research, the report shares case studies of 11 institutions that are attempting to build environmental, social and governance, or ESG, factors into their traditional investment evaluations. In some cases, the changes were introduced as recently as six months ago and therefore do not provide a definitive long-term view. But the report indicates the early results are promising.

Institutions pursuing sustainable endowment investing strategies featured in the IEN report follow:

  • Arizona State University
  • Becker College
  • California State University
  • College of the Atlantic
  • Rhode Island School of Design
  • Hampshire College
  • North Carolina State University
  • Unity College
  • University of New Hampshire
  • University of California System
  • Warren Wilson College

Arizona State University, for example, reported that its $100 million Sustainable, Responsible and Impact investment pool, established in July 2019, has outperformed non-ESG-oriented strategies since its launch. Jeff Mindlin, chief investment officer of the Arizona State University Foundation, acknowledged that it has been “too short a time frame to draw significant investment conclusions,” but he said he is encouraged by the performance of the fund as well as the “growing sophistication and availability of products in this space that allow us to build a portfolio that doesn’t need to sacrifice returns in order to align with our mission.”

The case studies are not intended to be a comprehensive review, “nor provide the definitive last word on this important area of study,” the report said. “But for endowment fiduciaries asking whether they can implement mission-aligned strategies without sacrificing financial returns, these examples demonstrate that it is possible to take a thoughtful approach … and maintain or improve investment performance.”

A working paper published in January by authors Christopher J. Ryan Jr. and Christopher R. Marsicano looked at hundreds of college and university endowments in order to compare the returns on funds that did not divest from fossil fuels versus those that did. The authors were not able to conclude that divestment has a discernible effect on endowment returns. The Independent Petroleum Association of America, which warns of great financial losses from divestment, said the analysis was flawed. Some universities have, however, recently announced plans to explore divestment -- Georgetown University announced plans to stop making new investments in fossil fuel companies earlier this month.

Dyer described the new report released Wednesday as the first to share real-world case studies of colleges implementing sustainable investing strategies and meeting financial performance targets.

“This is what university and college endowment professionals need to see in order to proceed with confidence,” he said. “It shows that endowments large and small can invest for a low-carbon, sustainable future, in ways that reduce risk, enhance returns and protect their reputations.”

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Polish academics fear role of Roman Catholic group in legislation on free speech

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 01:00

Polish academics have raised fears about government moves to create a committee to rule on alleged freedom of speech violations in universities, highlighting the involvement of a group of ultraconservative Roman Catholic lawyers in the proposed legislative changes.

Ordo Iuris, which describes itself as defending the Polish Constitution against “radical ideologies that aggressively question the existing social order,” said the ruling Law and Justice Party’s amendments to the controversial 2018 higher education law, to introduce clauses to protect freedom of speech in universities and to create a new committee to rule on alleged breaches, were “based on the draft” it submitted.

The proposed law change follows a high-profile free speech controversy at the University of Silesia in Katowice, where students complained that an academic had expressed homophobic and anti-abortion views during lectures.

Łukasz Bernaciński, a member of Ordo Iuris who is studying for a Ph.D. in law at the University of Łódź, said the organization had published a report in January describing key “violations” of free speech in Polish universities in recent years. Ordo Iuris, he added, “drafted a bill” that it presented to the minister of science and higher education, Jarosław Gowin, a former university rector who is also the deputy prime minister.

“The project met with great interest, so the ministry decided to start work on changing the law,” Bernaciński continued. “Currently, the Ministry of Science and Higher Education has drafted a bill that is based on the draft submitted by Ordo Iuris Institute.”

The Silesia controversy had “a direct impact” on Ordo Iuris’s interest in the issue, he said. Students had been “outraged at the Christian concept of the family, taught based on scientific foundations and research,” he said.

“This means that there has been a dangerous precedent that may prohibit universities from presenting research on specific phenomena and prevent academic debate on these topics,” Bernaciński said. The new committee on free speech “would issue nonbinding recommendations to university authorities,” he added.

A ministry spokesman said Ordo Iuris “did not participate in the preparation of the project” but rather was “one of many organizations and institutions … invited to participate during the open public consultation phase.”

Jarosław Płuciennik, professor of the humanities, cultural studies and religion, and former pro vice chancellor for education at the University of Łódź, said committee members would be “like disciplinary judges who will introduce a lot of stress on academics, who will be afraid of dealing with many issues because they will be afraid of losing their jobs.”

He added, “It’s a philosophy which can be described in two words: discipline and punish.”

Płuciennik feared the proposed law was a way to “allow expressions of views in academia,” potentially providing a platform in universities for those in the Catholic Church who campaign for a total ban on abortion, or for climate change deniers.

Ordo Iuris is “very radical” and “very proud of influencing people in Poland” and sees academia as a “liberal, leftist” bastion, Płuciennik said.

The ministry’s spokesman said the proposed law change “addresses many situations that indicate the need for intervention to protect academic freedom, including freedom of expression when teaching, research or a debate open to various scientific arguments is at risk.”

He said the ministry was “fully aware” of the concerns of some academics. “The representative bodies of the Polish academic community are actively involved in a dialogue with the ministry; we [are] all working constructively towards formulating an optimal legal framework,” he added.

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New presidents or provosts: Alverno Chicago Clark Estrella Fraser Lakehead Tusculum

Thu, 02/20/2020 - 01:00
  • David Barnett, interim provost and vice president, academic, at Lakehead University, in Ontario, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • David Fithian, executive vice president at the University of Chicago, in Illinois, has been appointed president of Clark University, in Massachusetts.
  • Joseph Foy, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters at Marian University, in Wisconsin, has been chosen as vice president for academic affairs at Alverno College, also in Wisconsin.
  • Manuel Gomez, associate provost and registrar at National American University, has been selected as vice president of academic affairs at Estrella Mountain Community College, in Arizona.
  • Scott Hummel, executive vice president and provost at William Carey University, in Missouri, has been appointed president of Tusculum University, in Tennessee.
  • Joy Johnson, vice president, research and international, at Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, has been promoted to president and vice chancellor there.
  • Ka Yee C. Lee, vice provost for research and a professor of chemistry, has been promoted to provost at the University of Chicago, in Illinois.
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Syracuse students suspended for second sit-in

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 01:00

Syracuse University suspended more than 30 students Tuesday for occupying a campus building to protest administrators' slow response to a series of racial and anti-Semitic events that roiled the institution three months ago and made national headlines.

The suspensions came after students began a sit-in at the administration building on Monday and refused to leave.

The sit-in was the second such protest -- the first took place in November, when students occupied another building for seven straight days -- but unlike the last time, when the protesters were allowed to remain in the building while university administrators met and negotiated with them, the institution's leaders took a decidedly hard line after the students refused to move to a suggested different location on campus.

The events have led to a stand-off between university leaders, who insist they understand the students' frustrations and are acting in good faith to address their concerns, and students, who believe they're being given lip service and have to continue to agitate for real change.

Each side has lost patience with the other. The university has made clear it will not tolerate a repeat of the last sit-in. The students have indicated that's exactly what the university will get if they don't get what they want.

When #NotAgainSU, a multiracial coalition led by students of color, occupied a recreation facility on campus last November, they were responding to racial incidents that occurred on campus during the so-called two weeks of hate when a series of swastikas and various racial slurs were discovered on building walls, among other troubling events at the New York campus.

University chancellor Kent Syverud signed an agreement with the protesters committing to address a number of demands, including changes to the university's bias incident reporting policies and increased resources for students of color, such as more diverse staff and a centralized space on campus for multicultural offices and programs -- all of which the university says either have been implemented or are pending.

This time around, however, university officials say they will not bend policies to accommodate participants taking part in a sit-in at Crouse-Hinds Hall, where the chancellor's and other administrators' offices are located. More than 30 students remained in the building on Tuesday, and all received interim suspensions for violating a campus disruption policy. The university also relocated all the classes normally held in the building.

"There was a choice to enforce policy" that was in effect last November and currently, but administrators decided to enforce it on Monday, when students declined to leave the building at closing time, said Ellen Mbuqe, director of news and public relations.

A suspended student organizer for #NotAgainSU who was at both the November sit-in and most recent sit-in, but who did not want to be identified, said she can appeal the suspension. A statement from John Liu, interim vice chancellor and provost, said suspended students who live in campus housing can remain there but they cannot attend classes or enter campus facilities.

“Though the university continues to support peaceful demonstration and the free and respectful exchange of ideas, university leaders are enforcing established policies that help maintain an environment that fosters sensitivity, understanding and respect for all 22,000 students in our community, as well as our faculty, staff and visitors,” the statement said.

University officials said in a different statement that the “continued unwillingness by some to engage constructively, along with changing demands, challenge our collective forward progress.” #NotAgainSU disputed that assertion and said administrators only interacted with the demonstrators to negotiate their relocation to another building on campus, not to discuss their complaints. Administrators offered to let the group hold the sit-in at the university library, which is open 24 hours a day, but that would have defeated the purpose of the demonstration, the student organizer said.

“Change does not come to campus unless occupation like this happens,” the organizer said. “A protest is an active disruption. That’s intentional -- we knew what we were doing.”

The demonstrators continue to demand the resignation of what they call the “core four” -- Syverud; Dolan Evanovich, senior vice president for enrollment and student experience; Bobby Maldonado, chief of the department of public safety; and John Sardino, the deputy chief. Though the officials have made no indication of stepping down, #NotAgainSU has given them a deadline of Friday to do so.

There was no specific incident that ignited the new demonstrations; students were simply frustrated with the administration's slow progress on responding to their demands and investigating the numerous bias incidents on campus that prompted the first sit-in, the organizer said. The suspended students say they are being punished while there are perpetrators of “hate crimes who are still roaming campus freely,” said the #NotAgainSU organizer.

There have been a total of 25 incidents on campus since November, and some continue to be investigated by campus police, Syracuse Police and, in some cases, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mbuqe said. Six of those incidents -- including two instances where people yelled racial slurs out of car windows at passersby -- occurred during the current semester.

The university has issued multiple statements stating that it has acted in “good faith” since the November incidents. For example, a webpage was created to track the university's progress on addressing protest organizers’ demands as well as a bias incident report page on the website of the department of public safety.

Mbuqe said in a written statement that Syracuse has had the same experience with hate speech as many other colleges and universities.

“Our primary focus is -- and will always be -- ensuring our campus is a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment where our students, faculty and staff are and feel safe, valued and respected,” the statement said. “Syracuse University is not immune to broader societal issues including racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and other hateful biases. Yet, we are striving to be at the center of the kind of change that can serve as a model for other universities.”

That's not how the protest organizers see things. They said Syracuse is applying its free expression policies differently than in the past and noted that the university did not enforce the disruption policy during the first sit-in, which “makes no sense to us,” the student organizer said. This time the students were told they had to leave the building by 9 p.m., when the building officially closed. More than 2,400 people signed a petition on Feb. 18 to reinstate the suspended students. #NotAgainSU said it plans to continue the sit-in until their demands are met.

“We’ve already met with administrators; we’ve met with the Board of Trustees,” the student organizer said. “We’re not playing with administrators going forward.”

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Success slows for project seeking increased enrollment of Pell students at high-achieving colleges

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 01:00

An initiative aimed at enrolling more low-income students in top-tier colleges is on track to complete its goal. But the most recent data show a concerning slowdown of the project's results.

The American Talent Initiative, managed by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, began in the 2016-17 academic year with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Its goal is to enroll 50,000 more low- and moderate-income students at institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher by 2025. While the initiative tracks data from 320 U.S. institutions that meet this criteria, only 128 are official members.

Between the 2015-16 and 2017-18 academic years, the 320 institutions with high graduation rates enrolled 20,696 more students who are eligible for federal Pell Grants, about 40 percent of the initiative's ultimate goal.

However, data collected so far for the 2018-19 academic year showed that continued progress isn't a guarantee. Of the data collected from 120 member institutions, there was a net aggregate increase of only eight Pell-eligible students during that time, according to the report.

While data from all of the qualifying colleges are not yet available, member institutions made up most of the progress in previous years. Members accounted for 54 percent of all undergraduates enrolled at the eligible institutions, but they made up 62 percent of the progress toward the ultimate goal.

Those working on the initiative said this is a reminder that the goal needs to remain a priority at colleges.

"It’s something we’re focusing on very intensively and something that I would say significantly increases our sense of urgency around the mission," said Martin Kurzweil, director of the educational transformation program at Ithaka S+R.

Still, he said, "leveling off in one year is not necessarily a sign of what will happen over time."

Success in Dayton and San Diego

Some of the challenges institutions face in meeting this goal include the upcoming demographic cliff, declining state investment and a decrease in the yield of lower-income students.

Eric Spina, president of the University of Dayton in Ohio, said resources are the biggest challenge.

With an endowment of less than $100,000 per student, the university is not the wealthiest on the list, Spina said. But, as a Catholic institution, Dayton wants to uphold its values and have a consistent identity.

Historically, the university offered opportunities to lower- and middle-income families, he said. But recently that shifted to more affluent students as the university's tuition became more expensive. In joining the initiative, Spina said Dayton is focused on returning to its roots.

The university is doing well so far. About 260 Pell-eligible students, not including transfer students, enrolled at the University of Dayton in the fall of 2016. By this past fall, that number had risen to 420.

"For us, that's kind of a record," Spina said. He hopes to eventually get in the 20 percent range for Pell-eligible students in an incoming class.

Dayton has created several programs and initiatives to increase its enrollment of Pell recipients. Eight years ago, the university eliminated fees, which led to a higher graduation rate and a lower borrowing rate. It also offers fixed tuition rates across the total four years.

One program is the Flyer Promise scholarship, which takes in about 50 Pell-eligible students each year, often the first in their families to attend college, from certain partner high schools. It lowers the total annual cost of attending the college from just shy of $60,000 to $7,500, which students can cover with work-study and loans, Spina said. The retention rate for these students is 99 percent, he said.

Dayton also has partnered with Sinclair Community College to admit students to both institutions at the same time and to lock in their aid and costs at Dayton before transfer students set foot on campus.

These efforts come at a cost, though. While eliminating fees helped retain students, Spina said it also led to a decline in net tuition revenue.

"As a result, we have to make harder decisions about the budget," he said.

The university now is trying to do "less with less." It's examining what's most important to the mission and what could be trimmed to help support what's most important. For example, Dayton has grown its graduate programs extensively over the past few decades, Spina said. And a committee is examining what programs are in demand, what's central to the university and what could be trimmed.

"There are no sacred cows," he said. "This is the moment to look really carefully at what we’re doing."

In contrast, the University of California, San Diego, has added the most Pell-eligible students so far -- 1,642 students, which is about 400 more than the next highest institution.

One of their key programs is the Chancellor's Associate Scholars Program, which helps admitted students from California with family incomes of $80,000 or less.

It provides up to $10,000 per year, supports parents in understanding the challenges students face in college and helps first-generation students learn the language of a university.

The program is possible due to donations, according to Alysson Satterlund, vice chancellor of student affairs at the university.

"The challenges have always been the financial support to support it," said Ebonee Williams, interim assistant vice chancellor for student retention and success. The university overcame that challenge with commitment from leadership, donor dedication and efficient programming, she said.

Prioritizing this work will be important if colleges want to actually move the needle, according to Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy at the Education Trust.

"You have to decide that meeting the needs of low-income students is more important than rankings," Jones said.

Part of that shift would come from changing the admissions process, such as by going test optional or eliminating legacy admissions. Another aspect would be redirecting resources toward need-based aid instead of merit-based aid.

Over all, Jones said she is excited about the work the initiative is doing. Colleges need to take responsibility for serving low-income students, she said.

But, she said, "it’s important to be aware that increasing the enrollment of low-income students is not the same as addressing equity as whole," as reports have shown.

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Cengage and McGraw-Hill navigate challenging merger delay

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 01:00

When publishers Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education announced merger plans last May, they hoped to have the process wrapped up by the end of this March.

As that date fast approaches, it seems increasingly unlikely the companies will achieve their goal.

In an investor call last week, Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage, said the publishers continue to “make good progress” on the merger, but he conceded that securing U.S. regulatory approval would require more time than anticipated.

The merger has faced fierce opposition from consumer advocacy groups, students and even college bookstores, but a fast-changing publishing environment and challenging negotiations have added complexity to the process.

Opponents to the merger worry the new mega-publisher, to be called McGraw Hill, will significantly reduce competition in the textbook market and enable the company to drive up prices. The publishers strongly refute this, saying the merger will enable them to pass on savings to students and make their products more affordable.

Officially, the merger is still expected to take place in the first half of this year. Last month, however, Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education extended the cutoff date on their merger agreement to May 1. The deal was set to expire this month. A further extension to Aug. 1 is possible by mutual agreement, though this would take the publishers dangerously close to the start of the fall semester -- an important sales period. 

Several factors are slowing down the merger process, sources close to the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity told Inside Higher Ed.

When two large publishers merge, it is common for the Federal Trade Commission or the Department of Justice to request that the publishers sell areas of their portfolio that overlap. Decisions are made on a course-by-course basis using a market concentration measure known as the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index.

Since Cengage and McGraw-Hill Education have so many competing textbook titles, it was anticipated that they would be required to sell a large proportion of them. The Justice Department is rumored to have asked the publishers to make a divestiture worth around $175 million -- the upper limit of what the companies stated they were prepared to do in their merger agreement.   

As the publishers’ portfolios overlap significantly and include some 44,000 titles, figuring out which products to keep and which to sell is not a straightforward process. These divestiture decisions are thought to be further complicated by the fact that many of the publishers’ most popular textbook titles are linked to proprietary digital learning platforms and tools, which may have to be sold or leased to the publishers’ competitors in order to comply with the Justice Department's request, sources told Inside Higher Ed.

A spokesperson for both McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage said that conversations with the Department of Justice regarding potential divestitures are ongoing. “No final decisions have been made, and the companies will not speculate about potential business changes. Until the merger is completed, we remain separate companies and operate as independent businesses,” the spokesperson said.

In the recent Cengage investor call, Hansen was asked if there was a scenario -- perhaps if the companies were asked to divest “too many assets” -- when continuing with the merger would no longer make sense. Hansen replied that there are scenarios in which the logic for the merger no longer holds, “but as I said in my prepared remarks, we are continuing in very constructive and thoughtful discussions and frankly we would not have entered the agreement if we thought that would be a big possibility.” He added, “We don’t see this as a real big scenario at this point, but the situation is fluid. We continue in discussions with the DOJ and we will see.”

As both McGraw-Hill Education and Cengage recently have laid off hundreds of employees in anticipation of merging, questions have arisen about how day-to-day operations at the publishers will be impacted if the merger continues to be delayed or perhaps even abandoned. A slimmed-down staff may look good to investors, but it’s difficult to see how it will benefit customers. In the short term, it is anticipated that the publishers will stop developing new products or making large investments.

On The Layoff, an anonymous discussion board for rumored company layoffs, some commenters theorized that it would be in McGraw-Hill Education’s interest to delay the merger given Cengage’s relatively weaker financial position. The merger was conceived as a merger of equals, but perhaps it could turn into a takeover, they suggested.

If the merger proceeds, observers and industry analysts will be watching closely to see whether any of McGraw-Hill Education’s titles become part of the Cengage Unlimited subscription offer, where students pay one flat fee to access all course materials. So far, neither party has publicly made a commitment one way or the other, possibly fearing an adverse reaction from textbook authors. On this issue, the spokesperson for the companies said simply, “both parties maintain their commitment to continuing and growing their inclusive access and Cengage Unlimited subscription programs.”

During the investor call, Hansen said, “Given the most recent industry developments and ongoing affordability pressures, the rationale for the merger remains strong. The core objectives of the merger-- to improve affordability, extend choice and deliver high-quality products -- will deliver significant benefits to faculty, institutions and, importantly, students.”

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Bloomberg plan brings contrast with Warren and Sanders, but differs from other moderates

Wed, 02/19/2020 - 01:00

In proposing a plan for providing free higher education and forgiving student debt -- but not for all borrowers -- New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday drew a contrast as he has in other policy areas with the more progressive candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

But Bloomberg's proposal also is significantly different than those from other more centrist candidates in how they’d deal with other issues like reducing student loan repayments, said Wesley Whistle, New America’s senior adviser for education policy and strategy, and other higher education experts.

An example is the question of forgiving student debt. While Sanders would cancel all debt and Warren would entirely eliminate the loans of more than 75 percent of borrowers, reducing them for 95 percent, Bloomberg’s plan called for a more limited approach, restricting debt forgiveness to borrowers who went to failed or predatory for-profit colleges.

He would also enroll current and future borrowers in income-based repayment plans and forgive balances, tax-free, if borrowers made progress on paying down their student loan debt for 20 years. Bloomberg also would lower the monthly rate borrowers on income-based plans have to repay, from the current rate of 10 percent of their discretionary income to 5 percent.

However, former vice president Joe Biden would go further. While his plan would also lower repayment to 5 percent of discretionary income, borrowers making $25,000 or less annually wouldn’t have to make any payments on their federal undergraduate loans. And he would forgive loans for students who were deceived by for-profit colleges by restoring the Obama administration’s borrower-defense rule.

The idea of lowering the income-driven repayment rate, however, has its critics, including Sandy Baum, a nonresident senior fellow for the Urban Institute's Center on Education Data and Policy and a professor emerita of economics at Skidmore College, who advised Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Bloomberg’s plan “goes too far on reducing loan repayment rates because borrowers would end up paying back a small fraction of what they owe” due to balances being forgiven after 20 years, she said in an email.

Senator Amy Klobuchar’s education proposal, however, does not mention lowering payments in the same way, but would allow borrowers to refinance their student loans. The Minnesota Democrat also would expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program to more in-demand occupations.

Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg’s proposal would automatically enroll borrowers in income-based plans if they are struggling to make payments, but does not mention lowering the repayment rate. He also would accelerate the cancellation of student debt for government and nonprofit workers.

On tuition-free college, Bloomberg joins all the major Democratic candidates in proposing to make community colleges free.

However, departing from Klobuchar and Biden, Bloomberg joined Buttigieg in going a little further and also making public four-year institutions free, at least for some students.

Bloomberg and Buttigieg’s proposals also differ in how much to target free tuition at four-year institutions to those most in need.

Buttigieg made headlines in December by criticizing Sanders’s and Warren’s plans for making tuition free at all public colleges, saying even children of millionaires would benefit.

Instead, he proposed making public colleges tuition-free only for families who make less than $100,000. Students from families earning $100,000 to $150,000 per year would get tuition subsidies on a sliding scale under Buttigieg’s plan.

Bloomberg would take an even more limited approach, making public colleges free only for low-income families -- those making less than $30,000.

Like Biden and Klobuchar, Bloomberg called for doubling the maximum Pell Grant amount to $12,690. Buttigieg also called for a $1,000 increase to the maximum amount, but Whistle noted his plan is less reliant on the aid program.

None of Bloomberg's opponents mentioned in this article returned inquiries about his proposal.

Tamara Hiler, director of education at the center-left think tank Third Way, praised Bloomberg’s tack of limiting free tuition. “Having a plan that is more targeted in scope is not only less regressive and less expensive, but it’s also what Democratic primary voters said they would rather see in a candidate.” She cited a November online poll Third Way conducted of likely 2020 Democratic primary voters. It found greater support, 56 percent versus 44 percent, for providing free higher education for low- and moderate-income students instead of all students.

Like others interviewed about the proposal, Hiler didn’t endorse any single plan.

Another backing the limited approach was Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs.

“Given limited federal resources, we have believed that federal student aid funds should be focused on low-income and first-generation students. If at some unforeseeable future point there is no limit on available funds, we will revise our position,” he said in an email.

Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, also praised limiting free tuition but said the plan still is off track. “Bloomberg’s proposals are more reasonable than sweeping loan forgiveness or massive ‘free’ college,” he said, “but they still have the wrong basic prescription: more federal ‘help’ where less is needed. Federal student aid has fueled rampant price inflation, and this plan would only exacerbate that with bigger Pell Grants and encouraging more use of student loans.”

Meanwhile, Baum and Hiler praised Bloomberg’s plan for taking aim at improving college completion rates. As part of a federal matching program he’d create, Bloomberg said states would have to adopt programs aimed at improving competition, involving the use of advising, course scheduling, tutoring, childcare services, transportation and emergency financial assistance.

But Hartle, who backed increasing the maximum Pell Grant award, also cautioned that talk is cheap during campaign season.

“The basic rule of any campaign proposal is caveat emptor. Campaign proposals are easy, but enacting concrete changes in public policy of the sort the Democrats are discussing is really hard,” said Hartle. “While higher education welcomes the emphasis on affordability, we should not assume that any of these ideas are set in stone.”

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The wealthiest universities are paying big endowment tax bills, but how much are others who are on the hook paying?

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 01:00

It has been more than two years since President Trump signed into law a controversial new tax on net investment income at wealthy colleges and universities -- the so-called endowment tax.

Since then, a few large universities have made headlines as they for the first time reported eight-figure endowment tax liabilities. Stanford University received attention for its $42.9 million estimated tax liability last week. A few months earlier, Harvard University grabbed headlines with a $37.7 million tax bill.

As eye-wateringly high as those figures may be, Harvard and Stanford are far from representative of the average college’s endowment. Harvard had the largest endowment in the country in the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ annual study of endowments, valued at $39.4 billion. Stanford’s was the third largest of any single university at $27.7 billion.

Both institutions were well over the threshold that triggers the endowment tax: $500,000 in assets per student. Those with more assets per student are subject to a 1.4 percent tax on net investment income.

Harvard had about $1.6 million in endowment assets per full-time-equivalent student, according to NACUBO estimates. Stanford had $1.64 million.

Meanwhile, the median college in the study had $35,555 per full-time-equivalent student. The median endowment value was a bit under $150 million.

The difference in scale can be hard to picture. For context, a thousand seconds is less than 17 minutes. A million seconds is the rough equivalent of 11 and a half days. A billion seconds is nearly 32 years.

So how much, exactly, are other colleges and universities paying on their 2019 endowment tax bills? The NACUBO study didn’t address the question this year. And it’s a deceptively hard one to answer, because the Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department have yet to finalize regulations. That left colleges and universities making estimated payments under interim guidelines after they closed the books on their recent fiscal years.

Still, wealthy colleges and universities were supposed to try to make a good-faith effort.

“Ultimately, their legal obligation is to make a reasonable interpretation,” said Liz Clark, vice president for policy and research at NACUBO. “There were indeed a lot of questions inherent in the tax. It’s not as straightforward as one might believe.”

In an attempt to quantify how many colleges and universities are paying the tax -- and to gauge how much they’re paying -- Inside Higher Ed reached out to 49 wealthy institutions in December and January, requesting a range of financial information including estimated endowment tax paid. Those institutions were selected because their leaders signed a 2018 letter to Congress urging the endowment tax’s modification or repeal.

They may not represent every institution subject to the tax or on the brink of being subject to the tax. But it’s about the right number of colleges and universities to examine, according to NACUBO’s endowment data. NACUBO data show 46 institutions with per-student endowment assets of more than $500,000 on a full-time equivalent basis.

The list of 49 Inside Higher Ed used wasn’t an exact universe of likely endowment tax payers to poll, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the tax, it was a place to start -- and it was filled with institutions that had at least shown interest in the issue.

Still, the results of the polling should be interpreted with caution. Not only is there widespread confusion over how to calculate endowment tax liability at the moment, but some colleges that have reported tax liabilities say they won't actually end up paying the full liability in cash.

The $42.9 million listed in Stanford's financial statements represents the amount of excise tax the institution eventually expects to pay on all of its investment income for the 2019 fiscal year, according to a spokesperson, E. J. Miranda. Realized and unrealized gains are included.

"Because the current year tax is imposed only on realized capital gains, our current year tax will be less than the $42.9 million," Miranda said in an email. "Our actual cash payment for FY2019 will not be determined until we file our FY2019 tax return in July 2020. The difference between the $42.9 million and current year tax will be paid when the unrealized capital gains are eventually realized in future years."

Inside Higher Ed attempted to compensate for different reporting choices by asking colleges and universities how much tax they actually paid or expected to pay. But some simply responded with references to financial statements. In cases like Stanford's, where a liability was clearly attributed to the endowment tax and information on actual tax payments made was not easily accessible, it was considered along with other responses.

A Range of Results

Just 15 of the institutions that signed the letter urging the tax’s repeal responded to Inside Higher Ed’s queries with an estimated payment figure or listed an endowment tax entry in financial reports that were available as of last week.

Of those 15, two gave ranges. One said it estimated a tax liability of under $1 million; the other estimated its liability between $1 million and $1.8 million.

The remaining 13 institutions estimated tax bills between Stanford’s $42.9 million and the $7,500 reported by Rice University. The median was $1.3 million.

Two estimates are much larger than any other -- those from Harvard and Stanford. Remember, though, some institutions like Stanford are reporting liabilities that they won't pay this year, while others reporting less told Inside Higher Ed what they actually paid. Excluding them, the remaining 11 institutions posted a median of $910,000, and the largest individual bill was $4.5 million.

Of the other 34 colleges and universities polled, one responded that it made a payment but would not share the amount. Eight said they were not subject to the tax or that they made no payment. The remainder declined to respond, did not respond, did not break out the endowment excise tax from other taxes in their financial reports or said they were unable to calculate a tax liability without more guidance.

Respondents generally cautioned that the figures they reported were estimates and could change.

“The university believes it will be subject to the excise tax; however, the available proposed regulatory guidance is not sufficient to calculate a reasonable estimate,” the University of Richmond's financial statements said. “The university has reflected an estimate in its statements for unrelated trade or business income tax using the current proposed regulatory guidance. The university continues to evaluate the impact of the Act on current and future tax positions.”

Calculating the endowment tax is complicated by the fact that it technically doesn’t just cover endowments. The tax is a 1.4 percent tax on net investment income. It includes other investment income as defined by the IRS, like housing and royalties, said Andy Hirsch, a spokesman for Swarthmore University, in an email.

“I'll also share that Swarthmore is very concerned about the endowment tax,” Hirsch said. “Swarthmore is one of only a few colleges in the country that’s able to offer need-blind admissions, which means we admit students to the college regardless of their financial need and provide access to a college education for students who otherwise might not be able to afford it. That's only possible through the support of our endowment, and this tax diminishes our ability to do so. In essence, it's a punitive tax that threatens to reduce access to a college education for students from lower-income families.”

Swarthmore is far from the only institution continuing to object to the tax. The chief investment officer for the University of Notre Dame, which reported an $11.3 billion endowment in 2019, has called the tax “a very un-American excise tax” and called for its repeal.

Notre Dame declined to say how much its estimated 2019 payment was. The university’s estimated endowment value per full-time-equivalent student was more than $900,000 in 2019, according to the latest NACUBO data.

Even some responding that they are not currently subject to the tax indicated they are worried about the future under it.

“We are a small college and our endowment-per-student number isn’t high enough to reach the current threshold, but we’re mindful that as our endowment grows, we will be paying the tax,” said Jim Amidon, chief of staff at Wabash College, in an email.

Wabash’s endowment was valued at $344.3 million in 2019. That was just over $390,000 per full-time-equivalent student.

Different officials from colleges speaking on a condition of background cited a range of reasons for declining to share information on their tax payments. They included an argument that it is impossible to compare investment income tax for different institutions because colleges and universities have been left to interpret unfinished regulations on their own. Without more guidance, it’s comparing apples and oranges, the argument goes.

Others cited uncertainty about the tax’s calculation more generally -- they were squeamish releasing numbers that might not prove to be accurate.

Indeed, colleges in several cases reported paying the IRS less than they expect to owe after final calculations are complete.

A note from one college’s financial department said that "the estimated tax was a conservative estimate because we don't have all the data yet to actually calculate it. The calculation is not due to the IRS until May 15, 2020. The IRS has allowed colleges to use a stepped-up basis of Dec. 31, 2017, to calculate the gains, and we are still gathering this information. So once we have that, we'll calculate the actual tax which we expect to be less … the IRS will then refund us the difference."

Finally, some worried that if they were to speak up, the endowment tax might be modified in a way that would hurt their institutions instead of helping them. Regulations are still being finalized, and leaders still hope for changes or repeal. Why attract unwanted attention or burn bridges?

Outside experts, meanwhile, urged more of a focus on whether overall endowment spending rates and returns are lining up. Spending from endowments has inched up in recent years, according to NACUBO data, even though long-term capital market assumptions suggest investors should expect lower returns in the future than what they’ve experienced in the past.

Spending has increased most notably at small and midsize institutions, said Debashis Chowdhury, president and an investment consultant at Canterbury Consulting, in an email. But reported returns for institutions of different sizes suggest returns were clustered relatively narrowly in recent years.

Only 46 out of 780 NACUBO respondents reported an endowment value of more than $500,000 per full-time-equivalent student in 2019, Chowdhury pointed out.

“So that is less than 6 percent of the overall universe subject to that new tax,” he said. “Maybe that’s the story.”

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Title IX debate complicates push for Higher Education Act reauthorization

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 01:00

Any deal to update the law governing federal student aid would have to overcome concerns about the highly charged new rule U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is about to release on what colleges are required do about allegations of sexual assault or harassment on campuses.

That was the message from an aide to Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, who said the Title IX rule would be a stumbling block toward reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

"Senator Murray is a vocal opponent of Secretary DeVos’ efforts to roll back Title IX protections for students and has made clear from the start of negotiations that any reauthorization of our country’s higher education laws must address the four key challenges of affordability, accountability, accessibility and campus safety," the aide to the Washington Democrat said Friday in a statement. "So the question is how much Senate Republicans will be willing to work with her in a serious way to protect students."

In recent days, the two top members of Congress involved in negotiating HEA's reauthorization -- Murray and Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee -- have expressed optimism about being able to cut at least a limited deal by the end of year, before Alexander retires.

Speaking Tuesday at a meeting of community college trustees​, Alexander said, "That doesn't mean we're going to take that whole big act and reauthorize everything." But he added, "I think we can make some progress."

Murray agreed on Monday. “We have been making progress in the negotiations, and I think we can get that done,” she told Inside Higher Ed Monday.

However, the statement from Murray's aide illustrates a concern of many higher education lobbyists that the release of the final Title IX rule will be one of several key stumbling blocks that will make it harder to reach a deal on a broader reauthorization bill that would address a range of issues on student aid.

The Title IX issue has posed a challenge since DeVos proposed a number of changes in November 2018. Perhaps most controversially, the proposed rule would force complainants who say they’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed to submit to cross-examination in a live hearing, despite fears that doing so would further traumatize victims.

The debate will come to a head when DeVos issues a final rule that's not expected to differ much from what she proposed. The administration is expected to release the final version of the rule in coming days.

Lobbying and Legal Challenges

Even as Alexander and Murray were expressing optimism on being able to reach a deal on the broader reauthorization bill, women’s and civil rights groups were gearing up to fight the rule in the courts, in state legislatures, at colleges and universities, and by getting Congress to include a provision in the reauthorization bill that would block the rule.

“Any controversial issue undermines the chances we will see a comprehensive reauthorization act,” said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs.

In interviews, opponents of the rule like Elizabeth Tang, the National Women’s Law Center’s counsel for education and workplace justice, said a first battle in Congress could be over passing a resolution of disapproval blocking the rule -- similar to the one the Democratic House approved in January opposing DeVos’s borrower-defense rule, which makes it significantly harder for student borrowers to receive debt forgiveness after being defrauded by colleges.

But as with the borrower-defense measure, chances are slim that a resolution on Title IX would pass the Republican Senate. And even if it were to pass both chambers, President Trump probably would veto it anyway, pushing the debate over Title IX to the higher education bill.

The Democratic House's version of the reauthorization bill, passed by the education committee last October, would block the rule. In interviews, Tang and Liz King, education program director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, were adamant that the Senate version would also block the rule.

“We encourage Congress to use every tool it has to make sure this dangerous rule never goes into effect,” Tang said.

However, higher education lobbyists said adding a provision to block the rule proposed by Trump’s administration would make it difficult for the Senate’s Republican majority to support the reauthorization bid.

A spokesman for Alexander didn’t return a request for comment.

“You never say never, but it’s hard to see a path forward,” Hartle said.

Illustrating the partisan nature of the debate, all Democrats on the House oversight committee criticized the rule in a letter to DeVos on Friday, saying, “your proposal would limit the circumstances under which schools are required to investigate sexual misconduct and make it more difficult for student survivors to resolve their claims.”

In addition to subjecting accusers to cross-examination, the DeVos proposal is expected to require colleges to investigate complaints that happened outside campus programs, like rapes at off-campus apartments. Tang said it would raising the bar on what’s considered sexual harassment.

Instead of it being defined as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” as it has been since 2001, the proposed rule would make the definition more stringent, limiting it to conduct that is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it “effectively denies” a student equal access to a school’s “program or activity.”

According to Tang, "this rule essentially means many students would be forced to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse before they can receive help. Some schools might not help sexual assault survivors until after they have already dropped out of a class or out of school altogether."

However, to some, like Teresa Manning, director of the National Association of Scholars’ Title IX project, DeVos’s proposals, including the right to cross-examine accusers, would give much-needed due process protections to men who increasingly have been unfairly accused of sexual misconduct, “causing terrible if not ruinous damage.”

If anything, Manning is hoping the final rule will be stronger than DeVos’s original proposal. Even if the proposal is changed, Manning said she’s done research showing Title IX staff have no practical legal experience, are predominantly female and have feminist beliefs. Believing staff members are likely to be biased against the accused, she wants the final rule to require institutions to provide them an attorney or an expert in due process who is independent of the college.

"If they are not fair in hiring, how will they be fair in hearings?" she said. “The system is only going to be as good as the people in them."

In addition to the fight in Congress over the HEA, Sage Carson, executive director of Know Your IX, said the advocacy group is preparing to campaign to prod colleges and universities to take steps like continuing to investigate off-campus sexual assault and harassment, even if they are no longer required under the new rule. Carson said her group also is planning to lobby state legislatures to pass laws requiring institutions to go beyond requirements of the rule.

Title IX is expected to be fought in the courts as well. The National Women’s Law Center is waiting to see the final rule. If it has the same problems the group had with the proposal, as is assumed, the center will sue. Mark Shade, a spokesman for Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro, said his office plans to sue if the final rule has the same legal questions a coalition of 19 state attorneys general raised last year in a letter to the Education Department.

Among other concerns, the attorneys general said the proposal violated administrative procedures by not making public studies and reports it used to come up with its proposals.

In its own letter to the department, which could be the basis of legal challenges, the National Women's Law Center raised a number of other issues. The group, for instance, said Title IX requires institutions to provide “equitable” resolution of complaints, but “a presumption in favor of one party against the other is not equitable.”

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Arkansas State considers opening vet school with for-profit

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 01:00

Arkansas State University is exploring a partnership with a for-profit company to build a veterinary medicine school.

While it would be the first such school in the state, it's unclear whether it's necessary, and some question if partnering with a for-profit is a good move for a public institution.

"By arranging for the for-profit to operate on campus, the public university is lending its credibility to a for-profit college," said Robert Shireman, director of higher education excellence and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. "For-profit colleges have a sketchy reputation because of disproportionate consumer abuses."

The company in question is Adtalem Global Education, the parent company of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, and formerly known as DeVry Education Group. Ross University is a for-profit college based on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. While it's accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, it's been criticized for saddling graduates with large amounts of debt. The average debt for U.S. graduates of Ross and another veterinary school in the Caribbean is nearly $275,000, which is about $90,000 more than nonresident graduates for veterinary colleges based in the United States.

Starting salaries for vets can be less than $35,000 for internships, according to data from the association, making debt repayment a struggle.

While the state doesn't have its own veterinary school, it does have partnerships with other public institutions to address that. Paul Jenkins, president of the Arkansas Veterinary Medicine Association and a partner in Vilonia Animal Clinic, said Arkansas State has built relationships with public institutions in neighboring states, like Louisiana, to offer spots to Arkansas vet students with in-state tuition rates. But the number of spots at some of those colleges has decreased over time as state funding for the partnerships has shrunk.

While some legislators are concerned that those students don't return to Arkansas, Jenkins said that more than half usually do eventually. They just might do an internship elsewhere before returning home.

"We have a mechanism that has worked really well and can work even better if the state would fund those," he said.

Donald Kennedy, the interim dean of the College of Agriculture at Arkansas State, said student loan debt is a "very big concern of mine and others'."

The college will have an 180-day exploration period before making a decision on the partnership. During this time, Kennedy hopes the task force examining the deal will explore "creative ways to lower student debt."

Elizabeth Story, director of external communications at Adtalem, said the company isn't speculating on the details of the potential partnership, but she said it is "committed to addressing the critical shortage of veterinarians in the United States, and we are excited to be engaging in conversations with Arkansas State University."

When asked about Ross University specifically, Story said its tuition costs are competitive with other private colleges and that its students have a cohort default rate of 1.2 percent. Most veterinary medical schools are public.

"RUSVM’s more than 5,000 graduates practice in almost every state and many foreign countries, providing veterinary workforce solutions with highly respected hospitals and partners like Banfield Pet Hospital, VCA Inc., National Veterinary Associates and Compassion First," she added.

Partnerships between public colleges and private for-profits are a growing trend, according to Noah Black, spokesman for Career Education Colleges and Universities, or CECU. The partnerships can combine the training experiences and employer connections of the for-profits with the larger profiles and student base of public colleges.

One example is a partnership between Louisiana State University and Fullstack Academy, a Zovio subsidiary, to offer coding programs.

CECU supports these partnerships if they can help improve student access and outcomes, Black said.

"What’s important is making sure students are aware of what the full program costs will be and what the expected earnings are," he said.

But some at Arkansas State are nervous about the deal. Erik Gilbert, a professor of history, is concerned there could be pitfalls to the partnership that the college wouldn't foresee, and that it could suck up too much of administrators' time just as higher education faces an enrollment crisis.

"Given the successes of our previous public-private endeavors, it’s not hard to imagine it going wrong in predictable or unpredictable ways," Gilbert said. The chancellor of Arkansas State has acknowledged that the college's recent partnerships with private entities, like the New York Institute of Technology, have yet to yield any revenue.

"We are in an enrollment crisis now. It needs our undivided attention," Gilbert added. "Making a priority of the vet school will mean taking the institutional eye off the enrollment ball."

However, Kennedy said there's been interest in starting a veterinary medicine college for "quite some time."

"What sparked the idea is the need in our region for more veterinarians," he said. "Not only is there no vet medicine college in our state, we are located where we could help neighboring regions."

The task force will be collecting data specific to Arkansas about the demand for more vets in the state during the exploration period, he said.

There is at least one county in the state that is reporting a shortage of vets for food animal medicine, according to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment for veterinarians in the state will increase by 15.3 percent by 2026.

But Jenkins said the demand for more vets in the state depends on where people go. Small animal practices have many job openings, he said, but it's difficult to determine whether there's a need for more large animal vets.

While those who own large animals, like cattle ranchers or other farmers, might say there's a need, Jenkins said his colleagues see economics as the real issue.

"The fact of the matter is, those people that are consumers of large animal practice sometimes don’t really want to pay for large animal practice," he said.

The proposed partnership would also go after students outside Arkansas, which Jenkins fears could affect the spots saved for Arkansas students elsewhere.

The association is most concerned about whether the for-profit would offer competitive tuition and a quality education, he said. As of right now, the program also wouldn't include clinical training, which is a concern.

"We have to recognize that student debt for veterinary graduates is very high," he said, adding that it's important for students to graduate with as little debt as possible, not only so they can eventually open up their own practices, but also so they can buy homes and start families to contribute to the state's economy.

Shireman cautioned that, while "Arkansas State may require that the for-profit school include language in its materials declaring that they are separate institutions," it could still be liable for "anything that goes wrong, because it is in a business relationship that unavoidably implies an endorsement of whatever the for-profit school does in the future."

Kennedy said the college is looking into partnering with a for-profit because veterinary schools are expensive to start and run, and this model could help the college overcome those costs. When asked how the college would contribute to supporting the program, Kennedy said that is something the task force will work out with Adtalem.

At a Faculty Senate meeting where the proposal was announced, Gilbert said a faculty member asked why the college didn't expand existing popular programs, like the professional graduate programs in the College of Nursing that have to turn applicants away.

Gilbert has two theories as to why the college doesn't pursue this strategy.

"One is that we are so broke that we can’t round up the resources to accommodate an increase in the number of faculty in these programs, even if it were sure to bring enrollment growth and yield revenue. The second possibility is that starting the state’s first vet school through a public-private partnership (no money down!) looks a lot better on your CV than saying that existing programs grew on your watch, even if the more boring accomplishment does more for the financial health of the university," he said, adding, "So my money is on a new vet school and another private investor to which the university has conceded some of its autonomy and to which we are financially obligated."

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Pulse podcast features conversation with Bryan Alexander about his book 'Academia Next'

Tue, 02/18/2020 - 01:00

This month's episode of the Pulse podcast features a conversation with Bryan Alexander, author of Academia Next (Johns Hopkins University Press), about the future(s) of higher education.

In a wide-ranging talk with The Pulse's host, Rodney B. Murray, Alexander discusses his new book, long-term higher education scenarios and high-impact technologies, among other topics.

Alexander is a futurist and author.

The Pulse is Inside Higher Ed's monthly technology podcast, produced by Murray, executive director of the office of academic technology at University of the Sciences.

Find out more, and listen to past Pulse podcasts, here.

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La Verne seeks to terminate gadfly professor for allegedly threatening to 'assassinate' a colleague

Mon, 02/17/2020 - 01:00

Diane Klein saw the writing on the wall in 2016: the University of La Verne, where she works as a professor of law, was going to either close the law school or dramatically change the way it did business. Wanting to give the program and its tenured professors a fighting chance, she joined the university’s Faculty Handbook revision committee. Her immediate focus was shaping how La Verne would terminate tenured faculty members, if it came to that.

Fast-forward four years and the law school is still open, with plans to transition to California Bar Association backing from the more stringent American Bar Association accreditation. The reason for the change, among others, is that La Verne has struggled to meet ABA standards for bar exam passage rates. But Klein’s tenured job is still on the line, not due to any program closure, but because she stands accused of threatening the life of a colleague.

Any institution must take violent threats seriously, especially in an era of mass shootings. But Klein and her supporters believe that the case against her stretches the term threat into absurdity: following a separate ad hoc committee meeting about the future of the law school, in November, Klein verbally told a third professor that the group would have to decide if it wanted to “assassinate” Jendayi Saada, assistant dean at La Verne’s Center for Academic and Bar Readiness, if the law school were to survive. Klein allegedly also said that she, for one, was willing to "assassinate" Saada.

Klein has made professional enemies because she is outspoken. And she was already in hot water with her administration because, in her capacity as president of La Verne's American Association of University Professors chapter, she'd helped a group of education professors discuss a tenure case in their college. In that incident, administrators charged Klein -- and not anyone else involved -- with violating the confidentiality surrounding tenure decisions.

In other strikes against her, Klein is a stickler for details and procedure, including when it comes to shared governance -- something that may be difficult for her peers to understand. Still, she's not a criminal and thought that her “assassination” remark was private.

It was not. The comment made its way back to a Saada at the bar readiness center, and, in December, Klein was suspended, escorted off campus, and subject to a strict no-contact order regarding students and employees. Klein was notified that Saada also sought to pursue a restraining order against her, but that case was apparently dropped when Saada did not appear at the hearing.

“This is torture -- I’m being terrorized, from my point of view,” said Klein, who only recently received a notice regarding an opportunity for a "rebuttal," though she's not quite clear what that means or how she should prepare. "They’re leaving me here to languish.”

Simultaneously, she said, La Verne’s law program is transitioning to the California Bar program and the university will be laying off faculty members. So while Klein worked hard to make sure that process would be fair to those with tenure, it will probably work against her, as long as she's operating in an informational vacuum. That's if she doesn’t get terminated for cause first.

“It appears the administration has clearly aligned itself with the person making a ridiculous allegation against me -- made clear that it won’t defend me, even in the face of these ridiculous allegations -- and my tenured colleagues are all in a fight to the death for a maximum of six jobs. Who’s going to defy the president, the provost, the general counsel?” she said. “The timing of this is obviously designed to have an effect on governance by removing a knowledgeable and determined faculty leader. And that’s demoralizing, undermining and distracting to the faculty who shared my views. That’s where we are.”

More to the Story

Saada said she did not file the complaint against Klein. Rather, she said via email, two witnesses overheard the statement and filed a complaint with “appropriate authorities,” in accordance with the university’s workplace violence policy.

Asked if she took the comment seriously, Saada said, “absolutely."

“We live in a time of school shootings and other acts of violence, both random and targeted, and I am deeply concerned and fearful for my own safety and for students and co-workers around me who might be victims of violence aimed at me.”

She further cited California Penal Code Section 422 on criminal threats. Although Klein continues to “justify her assassination threat as ‘colorful language,’” Saada said, Klein is a trained attorney “who is well aware of the implications and significance of the term ‘assassinate’ and the legal ramifications of making such a threat against a coworker. I am thankful to the University of La Verne for taking all threats of violence seriously and for the no-contact order that it put in place.”

Saada also read a statement to the Faculty Senate in January, saying that there is “absolutely no protection under any reasonable interpretation of academic freedom for any faculty members, tenured or not, to harass or bully other faculty members or staff, or to threaten the lives or professional reputations of faculty members or anyone else.”

She further explained then that she and her colleagues at the bar center, who are all untenured, feel undervalued and underrepresented in conversations about the future of the law school. It appears race is also a factor. Klein is white and Saada is black, and a colleague who heard Saada speak wrote in a mass email to his faculty colleagues, “I do not wish to see this campus further divided. I want the current division to go away. However, I will not stand for the mistreatment and ganging up on of another Black colleague, who has done nothing wrong but tried her best to serve our students as we all have.”

Rod Leveque, a spokesperson for La Verne, wrote in an email that the university also disagrees this is “solely a matter of ‘colorful language.’” The university “takes all threats of harm seriously, and it is obligated to protect all faculty, staff and students from harm or harassment,” he said. La Verne "will not tolerate any threats or threatening behavior that create a hostile learning or working environment.”

Klein was placed on “indefinite administrative leave without pay with the intent to terminate her tenure based upon an investigatory finding that she made serious threats to harm another university employee,” Leveque also said. In addition, she “was previously disciplined for similar inappropriate conduct, including severe harassment and bullying of employees.”

Leveque didn’t elaborate on that prior conduct, and La Verne is of course legally restricted as to what it can reveal about its employees. But Klein said that she had previously crossed swords with Saada about two years ago when she asked for topic-specific information on bar-passage performance. Klein said she wanted to see it to determine what sections and questions students were having problems with, as part of her interest in the future of the law school, but that she never received it. Saada allegedly said Klein was harassing her, and Klein has had to keep her distance since.

Klein said two other, prior complaints about her relate to the Senate, of which she is a member. In one instance, Klein said she emailed a fellow senator to tell her to “do her job” with respect to conversations about shared governance. In another instance, Klein publicly expressed concern about whether an adjunct professor of law who was also a graduate student could appropriately serve on the Senate alongside professors who might evaluate his academic work at some point.

Apparently sick of such questions, that adjunct emailed the Senate to demand that Klein to stop contacting him. She emailed back to explain that she’d only ever contacted him about Senate matters.

Interestingly, the adjunct who complained about Klein emailed the Senate last month to express concern that Saada was working with the administration to take down Klein. The adjunct, who declined an interview request, said in his email to the Senate that everyone deserves due process. He later wrote another email to the Senate saying that he was being retaliated against by La Verne for his disclosure.

Saada did not respond to a question about the adjunct's claims.

Mr. Confidentiality

Around the same time she was clashing with members of the Senate last spring, a group of Klein’s colleagues in La Verne’s education program asked her to help them with a tenure case. The colleagues said that their recommendation against tenure for a particular candidate had been ignored and that the candidate had advanced up the tenure and promotion approval chain, against their guidance.

Klein made clear to the faculty members at the school that she was not their attorney, but that as their AAUP president, she could help them draft a letter of concern. She says she acted as their scribe during an April meeting at the library and then compiled the notes into a letter. She then sent the letter to the education school’s tenured professors. Soon after, Klein -- not the professors she’d been helping -- was charged with violating the confidentiality of the tenure process.

Things came to a head in October when she was told to report to the main campus to sign a last-chance agreement regarding her alleged confidentiality violation. Earlier that month, Klein had received a letter saying that her tenure was at risk. In addition to the confidentiality charge, the letter noted previous complaints from faculty members about Klein's tone in emails -- presumably the two cases involving the Senate. It also listed various concerns about Klein's teaching, such as that she had a "whatever" attitude regarding a collaborative teaching initiative, and previous administrative attempts to address some of those concerns. But the letter said a meeting with human resources would be scheduled -- not that she'd be required to sign any last-chance agreement.

The day was hell. And in a Kafkaesque detail, Doajo Hicks is the university's new general counsel. Hicks had previously helped Dixie State University fire several faculty members over alleged violations of confidentiality, including a professor who emailed his grown son in another country a note about his day and some thoughts about a tenure case he'd weighed in on. Hicks is also named in the adjunct's letter to the Senate about alleged coordination between Saada and the administration regarding Klein.

Klein said that the last-chance agreement was not provided for in the handbook, and "required me to admit to wrongdoing I deny engaging in," and waive some of her faculty rights. While she's "aware of some colleagues' alleged issues with me," she said, "I deny any problems with my teaching or collaboration that were unique or serious enough to warrant any of this discipline." She never ended up signing the agreement.

John Bartelt, a professor of education at La Verne with whom Klein worked on the letter about the tenure case, said recently that he wrote both the interim law school dean and human resources in the fall to affirm that about “a dozen faculty members on the Tenure and Promotion Committee in my college, uniformly disgusted with what we perceived to be egregiously unethical and overreaching behavior by our administrators, invited Diane Klein, as our AAUP representative, to take notes as we talked.”

The group discussed only the tenure and promotion process itself, he said, and “no one viewed anything about our meetings as a breach of confidentiality. Anyone who attended that meeting would confirm that.” ​Bartlet said he also told the administration that “we as faculty have every right to discuss procedural and governance issues with one another, and clarified that Diane only tried to mediate discussion at our specific request.”

'Toxicity'

Bartlet said he couldn’t discuss anything else because “I fear retribution. That’s how bad it has gotten. I can only hope the toxicity doesn’t reach our students.”

In the meantime, La Verne is planning to do away with tenure entirely in the law school. That's against the advice of the ad hoc faculty committee on the program transition and of deep concern to the Senate. The Senate also recently voted no confidence in La Verne’s president, Devorah Lieberman, and has asked the administration to put Klein on paid leave. It has also recommended that her campus communication rights and access be restored, and that a time for her hearing be set. 

A separate petition, signed by La Verne colleagues, asks the university to restore Klein's ability to participate in her elected shared governance roles, at the very least, during any investigation.

The university has not responded to their requests for action thus far.

The national AAUP and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education are also following what's happened to Klein.

Will Creeley, an attorney at FIRE, said there appeared to "be a lot going on" at La Verne, but that the most concerning aspects, from his organization's point of view, are "the seeming lack of procedure governing the university's response, including an apparent lack of communication with Klein throughout," the "interpretation of the alleged use of the word 'assassinate' as a threat," and "the gag order."

Hicks also seems to reprising what "we criticized him for back when he was at Dixie State," Creeley said. "We're still checking it all out, but it seems dysfunctional, to say the least."

Asked whether she’d want to return to La Verne, given all that’s happened, Klein thought for a while. The truth, she said, is that she believes in La Verne law's mission to provide inland California -- parts of which are underserved by attorneys -- an able supply. She said she's also interested how the law school will evolve, including through the thoughtful use of hybrid technologies.

More than her own career, Klein said this fight is about due process, tenure and the fate of the university.

“The protections of tenure and shared governance and academic freedom are the essential values that should distinguish a university from every other sort of entity,” she said. “The advancement and protection of those values is at the very soul of the university and if they’re not, what are we trying to keep the university around for?”

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