Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 30, 2023

The United States and about 70 other countries issued a joint statement Wednesday supporting academic freedom.

“Academic freedom is key to human rights education but also essential for technical and scientific progress and for the development of the creative industries and the arts,” says the statement, issued at the 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. “It is intrinsically linked to the effective enjoyment of other rights and freedoms, such as participation in public affairs, freedom of opinion and expression and the right to education, demonstrating the indivisibility of all human rights.

“Without freedom to teach and research, and without freedom to disseminate and debate the results of research, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will be compromised,” the statement says. “Without academic freedom, there is no safeguard against the manipulation of information or against the distortion of history.”

“Regrettably, attacks on academic freedom are on the rise,” the statement says. “These include: repression, intimidation and harassment of researchers and teachers in connection with their research and public statements; dissolution of research institutions and the establishment of restrictive legal or financial frameworks.”

“We hereby call for enhanced international cooperation towards strengthening the protection and promotion of academic freedom in the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,” the statement says. “We further call on the United Nations human rights system to redouble efforts in addressing this issue, in conjunction with relevant multilateral and regional institutions.”

Scholars at Risk, which says it’s an international network of institutions and people protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom, praised the statement.

“As the signatories acknowledged, attacks against academic freedom are on the rise around the world, imperiling social, political and scientific progress, political participation, and numerous related rights and freedoms,” said Rob Quinn, Scholars at Risk’s executive director, in a news release.

March 30, 2023

The University of California has proposed, for the first time, a guaranteed admission plan for all qualified community college students, but the plan applies to the UC system, not individual campuses. So students would be assured of a spot in the system, but not on a particular campus, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Community college students would need to complete a new unified set of general education courses required by both UC and the California State University system, complete specific coursework needed for their intended majors, and earn a minimum grade point average. Those who are not admitted to their campuses of choice would be offered a spot at UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced or UC Riverside.

The proposal comes amid a debate over another plan for community college transfer to the University of California, Los Angeles. That plan, from Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, calls for UCLA to create a guaranteed transfer pathway for community college students or forfeit a chunk of state funding.

To meet the requirements outlined in the proposed budget, UCLA would have to join the UC Transfer Admissions Guarantee program, which offers California community college students who meet specific criteria guaranteed admission to participating UC campuses. Six of the nine campuses that educate undergraduates currently participate, with UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego making up the last holdouts. UCLA would also be required to participate in the Associate Degree for Transfer program, which promises community college students who fulfill certain requirements a guaranteed spot at participating four-year institutions, including all California State University campuses. If UCLA doesn’t meet both requirements, it risks losing $20 million in ongoing state funding.

March 30, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Marilynn Desmond, distinguished research professor at Binghamton University, uses the example of Christine de Pizan to show how writers who lived through war can help bring different perspectives to these conflicts. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 29, 2023

University of Arizona president Robert C. Robbins admitted failings in the October murder of a professor, Thomas Meixner, on the campus.

“There were systemic issues across our university that should’ve been identified and corrected. I’m angry at myself that I did not do more to prevent this tragedy and most of all I’m angry at this man that took from us our loved one, friend and colleague,” Robbins said at a press briefing, 13 News reported.

He also released a report by the PAX Group, which the university hired to complete a review of Meixner’s death.

The review found “systemic issues across three main themes: understanding and managing threats, providing a consistent and compassionate response, and the decentralization of communications. For those failures, I accept responsibility on behalf of the university and commit—once again—to all of you and to the Meixner family that we will do all that we can to prevent another tragedy.”

The Meixner family announced a $9 million suit against Arizona Monday. “The university had a chance to save Tom and did not act,” said the family’s lawyer, Larry Wulkan. “Nothing the university can do can bring Tom back. Now it has a chance to ensure that Tom’s family does not live with financial uncertainty because of the university’s failures. Hopefully, the university will do the right thing this time.”

Authorities said Meixner was killed by former student Murad Dervish, who had a history of violence.

A faculty panel released a report in February with many of the same conclusions as the outside panel. The report noted Meixner’s dying words were “I knew you were going to do this!”

March 29, 2023

Wayne State University has suspended an English professor for a social media post that allegedly called for violence, The Detroit Free Press reported.

The university announced the suspension but did not identify the professor.

President Roy Wilson said, “The post stated that rather than ‘shouting down’ those with whom we disagree, one would be justified to commit murder to silence them … We have on many occasions defended the right of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but we feel this post far exceeds the bounds of reasonable or protected speech. It is, at best, morally reprehensible and, at worst, criminal.”

The suspension will continue until an investigation by law enforcement is completed.

The Free Press said the post in question was “Although I do not advocate violating federal and state criminal codes, I think it is far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down.”

March 29, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Arianna Maffei, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Stony Brook University, looks at how childhood preferences influence the food we like as adults. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 28, 2023

George Washington University’s third-party investigation has exonerated a diversity course teacher of some Jewish students’ and a pro-Israel group’s accusations of antisemitism, the university announced Monday.

StandWithUs filed a complaint in January with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights regarding Lara Sheehi, an assistant professor of clinical psychology and co-author of the book Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine.

“The university engaged the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP to conduct a third-party investigation to thoroughly examine the allegations in this complaint,” GW said in a summary of the firm’s findings. The university hasn’t released the full findings.

“Crowell’s review was comprehensive,” the university said. “It included interviews with almost all of the students in the class, as well as program faculty and school administrators. It also included a review of a significant number of contemporaneous documents and communications.”

“Crowell found no evidence substantiating the allegations of discriminatory and retaliatory conduct alleged in the complaint,” GW said. “Many of the statements the complaint alleges were made by Dr. Sheehi were, according to those who heard them, either inaccurate or taken out of context and misrepresented.”

Part of StandWithUs’s complaint said that on Sept. 30, during the Jewish High Holidays, a guest lecturer whom Sheehi invited to campus “demonized Israel,” “noted that appropriate resistance includes throwing stones” and “lionized” a 13-year-old Palestinian who participated in the stabbing of a 13-year-old Jew.

The Cromwell review found such lecture allegations “are largely inconsistent with the recording of the event or significantly decontextualized,” the university said.

The review found that StandWithUs, “and a few of the students in the class, advocated for an expansive view of the definition of antisemitism, which, if accepted in the university environment, could infringe on free speech principles and academic freedom.”

The summary of findings only critiques Sheehi regarding her tweets.

“Although the tweets from what appears to be Dr. Sheehi’s personal account do not violate GW’s social media policy, the university strongly denounces the use of profane language directed at any group of people, including in private tweets,” the university said. “Crowell found, however, that the tweets were made in a private Twitter account that was only briefly visible to the public … While the university disapproves of the tone of the tweets, GW policies recognize the right of faculty to articulate their points of view consistent with the university’s strong commitment to academic freedom.”

The StandWithUs complaint, which redacted profanity, said Sheehi has tweeted the following: “Israelis are so f****ing racist,” “F*** Zionism, Zionists …” and “F*** every person who is not yet an anti-Zionist.”

Sheehi didn’t comment Monday afternoon. StandWithUs said the outcome of the complaint is still pending.

March 28, 2023

Another federal appeals court on Monday cleared the way for a lawsuit seeking reimbursement of tuition and fees from a college that shifted to virtual instruction in the spring of 2020 because of COVID-19.

Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling to allow a case to proceed against New York University; Monday it was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit doing so in a class action against Illinois Institute of Technology, just as it did in a similar case involving Loyola University Chicago.

The three-judge appeals panel, which was divided, ruled that the student plaintiff, Omar Hernandez, “alleged enough” to support his claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment on the part of IIT to require a trial on the merits of the case before a lower-court judge.

March 28, 2023

Colleges and universities face an “unsustainable” shortfall in deferred capital renewal, according to the 10th State of Facilities in Higher Education report from Gordian, a Building Intelligence Solutions provider.

While preliminary data from fiscal 2022 show a 10 percent year-over-year capital investment increase, inflation has greatly expanded the amount of funding necessary to steward existing space, creating a 36 percent shortfall.

The report also finds that deferred asset renewal costs have increased from $105 per gross square foot in 2020 to $133/GSF this year, which represents at 27 percent increase. It notes that campus operating costs are funded at an average of 80 percent of target budgets, “straining the workforce to care for properties and programs.”

The report includes data from more than 52,000 higher ed facilities on 325 campuses in North America; approximately 40 percent of the institutions are private and 60 percent are public. Collectively they enroll 3.5 million students on 1.5 billion square feet of campus space.

To avoid future operational or building failures, proactive leadership is required, the report warns.

“Ultimately, we observe that stewardship demands are now so acute, facilities issues can no longer be reactive,” said Pete Zuraw, vice president of market strategy and development for Gordian. “Every facilities, planning and business leader will need to be a key participant in institutional decision-making going forward.”

March 28, 2023

At nearly 700 colleges and universities and colleges, the rates paid by low-income students increased by larger percentages than the prices paid by their highest-income ones, according to federal data analyzed by the Hechinger Report and published in USA Today.

The study is based on what students actually paid, not tuition rates.

The net price for the lowest-income students at Connecticut College rose 235 percent in the last decade, compared to 9 percent for the highest-income students. The lowest-income students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University saw their net price go up by 69 percent, while it fell by 37 percent for their highest-income classmates. At Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, the net price went up by 45 percent for the lowest-income and down by 27 percent for the highest-income students.

None of the colleges responded to requests for comment.

In most cases, the low-income students still pay less (in dollars) than wealthier students.


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