Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 24, 2023

A Roman Catholic professor who publicly renounced identifying as gay says Western Michigan University chose to not renew his contract after a quarter century there due to his religious views on homosexuality.

Daniel Mattson on Monday sued the university’s president, its College of Fine Arts dean, its School of Music director and a former director. His lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, says he is a “world-class trombonist” who worked as an adjunct professor and performer for the university since 1999.

He also wrote the 2017 memoir Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace. For First Things, he wrote the 2018 article “Why Men Like Me Should Not Be Priests.”

“In the fall of 2021, campus activists discovered Mr. Mattson’s writings on Catholicism and same-sex attraction,” his lawsuit says. “They claimed that his Catholic views were offensive to homosexual students and protested his continued affiliation with the school. In short order, the school administration removed Mr. Mattson from a student-faculty ensemble, and did not renew his annual contract. Even though Mr. Mattson never expressed his religious views at Western Michigan University, he was maligned and punished solely for holding to and expressing orthodox Catholic teaching elsewhere.”

Mattson is alleging violations of his federal constitutional rights to freedom of speech, religion and equal protection. His lawsuit seeks, among other things, financial damages and his job back.

A university spokeswoman told Inside Higher Ed Thursday that “As this is a matter of pending litigation, I cannot comment on it.”

MLive reported on the lawsuit earlier.

March 24, 2023

Students at West Texas A&M University held a protest Wednesday of President Walter Wendler, who wrote in an opinion piece that “drag shows are derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny, no matter the stated intent.” He also wrote that “drag shows stereotype women in cartoonlike extremes for the amusement of others.” And he canceled a drag show at West Texas A&M.

Dozens of students waved gay pride flags and held signs that included the sayings “Women for Drag,” “Drag Is Rad” and “Everybody Say Love” at the Wednesday protest, the Associated Press reported.

WT Spectrum, a student group for LGBTQ students and allies, was recruiting participants for the March 31 drag show to raise money for the Trevor Project, a group that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ young people.

A petition in favor of the show had nearly 4,500 people signatures by Tuesday. By Thursday evening, it had nearly 10,000 signatures.

March 24, 2023

Millikin University in Illinois is poised to lay off 15 employees and reduce a number of unspecified vacant positions, citing “the effects of the [coronavirus] pandemic, coupled with increased expenses, and changing demographics,” according to WAND-TV.

“The majority of the reductions will be made through a combination of open vacancies and retirements, and one-year contracts that will not be renewed. Fifteen layoffs are included, with several of those being part-time or reduced hours. All tenured and tenure-track faculty members laid-off will receive 10-month terminal contracts, and those affected by administrative and staff reductions will receive a 90-day notice to assist in planning and seeking alternative employment,” read part of a university statement to WAND-TV.

Employees affected by the layoffs will reportedly be informed by the end of this month.

March 24, 2023

Four students from Auburn University were likely drugged by a ride-share driver who offered them drinks on campus last Friday, The Miami Herald reported.

University officials released a statement Wednesday saying that the students used a local ride-share bus to take them from campus to an off-campus event. One of the students told campus security that she and three other young women became ill after consuming the mixed drinks, experiencing vomiting, numbness, confusion and memory loss.

“Giving someone a drug without their permission is considered aggravated assault and is a felony,” the university statement said. “This type of crime can occur anywhere. Watch your drink be opened or open it yourself, always keep it with you, and avoid common, open containers.”

Safety officials have not yet released the name of the ride-share service or the driver.

March 24, 2023

A deeply divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Thursday resuscitated a class action that seeks to require New York University to reimburse students for tuition and fees they paid when it pivoted to remote instruction in spring 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A lower federal court had ruled that the parent of an NYU student who brought the lawsuit lacked standing to sue, and it rejected an effort to amend the original complaint to add a current student as a plaintiff, concluding that the case was unlikely to succeed on its merits. A majority of the three-judge panel supported the lower court’s view that the parent did not have standing to sue, since the parent herself did not suffer harm. But it concluded that adding a current student plaintiff would not be futile, writing that the revised complaint makes “plausible” claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

“In doing so, we join three of our sister circuits that have recognized the plausibility of implied breach of contract claims brought by students seeking partial tuition reimbursements in the COVID-19 context,” the Second Circuit majority wrote.

One of the judges who joined the majority wrote separately to say that he believed the court should not have dismissed the original plaintiff’s right as a parent to sue NYU for unjust enrichment.

The third judge said the majority should not have agreed to hear the amended case, saying the current student’s claims lack merit.

March 24, 2023

The Education Department is gearing up for the next round of negotiated rule making, which will touch on a variety of issues, from distance education to accreditation to cash management. 

The department plans to form at least one rule-making committee, which will begin meeting in fall 2023. Before that, the agency will hear feedback on its agenda in virtual public hearings on April 11 to 13. After those hearings, the department will finalize the issues that will be addressed during negotiated rule making and request nominations for negotiators to serve on the committee.

More information on the hearings is available here.

The department is planning to hold three four-day sessions of negotiated rule making starting in early this fall, according to the notice on the Federal Register

“The department’s primary responsibility is to serve students and help them succeed,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “That means we must continue to take a look at a range of regulations to ensure that colleges and programs serve our students well and that Department processes work in their best interest.”

March 24, 2023

Last summer, the White House mandated that any research based on federally funded studies must be made freely available to the public without an embargo. The new requirement, which updates an existing policy that allowed a 12-month embargo for making research freely available, will take effect by the end of 2025.

At the time, many open-access advocates celebrated the decision, but some scholars wondered who would fund the policy, given the high cost to researchers who publish open access.

Now, a paper published in the Journal of Science Policy and Governance offers recommendations for colleges, publishers and funding agencies interested in supporting open access moving forward. (Note: This article has been updated to correct the journal's name.)

Colleges might cancel subscriptions with major publishers in favor of paying for researchers’ open-access article processing charges, according to the paper. They might also “reevaluate the weight that journal impact factor carries in the tenure and promotion review process,” given an absence of evidence correlating journal impact factor with research quality. Such a change would facilitate researchers’ incentives to publish in newer, open-access journals over “established, expensive, higher impact journals.”

Publishers should be more transparent about journal operating costs and how article processing charges are used, according to the paper. They might also offer a wider range of open-access publishing options.

Funding agencies might increase grant budgets to offset the expected higher costs of open-access publishing, according to the paper. The authors of the study described such a measure as “temporary, if expensive.” Funders could also increase their scrutiny of publication costs in researchers’ proposed budgets and “openly endorse non-profit [open-access] journals and platforms with minimal or no fees for researchers.”

The new policy presents hurdles for colleges, publishers and funding agencies, but some expect that it will benefit society.

“When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives, provide policy makers with the tools to make critical decisions, and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society,” Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote last August when the policy was announced. “The American people fund tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge research annually. There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments in research.”

March 24, 2023

Houston Christian University filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the American Association of Christian Counselors and its president, Tim Clinton, alleging fraud, breach of contract and a cover-up of Clinton’s alleged plagiarism, according to the independent news site The Roys Report.

HCU, a private Baptist university, hired Clinton and AACC—a large Christian counseling service—for $5 million in 2016 to help drive enrollment and develop courses for its counseling program. Clinton was also contracted to help launch and promote a mental health center at HCU.

Now the university is seeking $1 million from Clinton and AACC, alleging that the defendants did not deliver on “the expressed scope of the contracts.” HCU claims in the lawsuit that AACC outsourced course development to a third party instead of conducting it itself, and that it delivered only one new student—far short of the 133 that had been promised.

Clinton has been accused of multiple instances of plagiarism, including lifting the work of legendary boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman, which HCU claims was not revealed. Given the importance of academic honesty, HCU argues the plagiarism should have been made clear. The allegations caused HCU to rethink naming a health center after Clinton.

AACC has filed a counterclaim, alleging it “performed all of its obligations under the agreement” and that HCU breached deals with Clinton and AACC, failing to fully compensate both parties.

In addition to his role at AACC, Clinton is also the executive director of the Liberty University Global Center for Mental Health Addiction & Recovery. The Roys Report notes that Clinton joined Liberty in 2021 while under contract for an “exclusive license and services agreement” with HCU.

March 24, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute: Britteny M. Howell, assistant professor of health sciences and director of the healthy aging research laboratory at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, explains why some of the things we need to age in a healthy way may be hard to obtain. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


March 23, 2023

A Stanford University law school dean at the center of a free speech controversy has been placed on leave amid continuing criticism of the March 9 event, at which students shouted down federal judge Kyle Duncan, an anti-LGBTQ+ conservative, who had been invited to speak on campus.

Officials apologized to Duncan shortly after protesters interrupted his scheduled talk. With criticism still pouring in from free speech groups and conservative politicians, Stanford Law School announced Wednesday that Tirien Angela Steinbach, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, is on leave. Steinbach has been criticized for not enforcing Stanford’s free speech policies; when Duncan asked for an administrator to help manage the event as his talk was repeatedly interrupted, Steinbach instead asked pointed questions about his judicial record.

“Generally speaking, the university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters, and so I will not do so at this time,” Stanford Law dean Jenny S. Martinez wrote Wednesday in a statement addressing the controversy. “I do want to express concern over the hateful and threatening messages [Steinbach] has received as a result of viral online and media attention and reiterate that actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the law permits. Finally, it should be obvious from what I have stated above that at future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard.”

The statement added that Stanford’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion means that we must protect the expression of all views,” and that the law school will be adopting “clearer protocols for managing disruptions” and “adding educational programming on free speech and norms of the legal profession.”

Martinez also noted that Stanford will introduce “mandatory educational programming for our student body rather than referring specific students for disciplinary sanctions” for their role in the protest.


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