Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 17, 2023

Pennsylvania State University is bracing for layoffs, Spotlight PA reported.

A top administrator asked leaders of virtually all university departments to, by the end of June, identify the employees they would lay off, according to documents obtained and shared by Spotlight PA.

Penn State president Neeli Bendapudi is trying to balance the system’s budget by 2025; last fiscal year it operated with a structural budget deficit of more than $125 million.

In February, Bendapudi sent university leaders a memo in which she said that while “not in a financial crisis,” the system was “in a vulnerable state.”

To help shrink the deficit, Bendapudi’s administration implemented a “strategic hiring freeze” and a new budget model for the next fiscal year.

That model included allotting funds according to a specific formula and requiring each unit to review and adapt its budget, according to a March 13 memo that reiterated Bendapudi’s plan. It also noted such a process might require “corrective actions”—including “limited layoffs.”

Earlier this month, another Penn State administrator acknowledged that some layoffs are “impossible to avoid.”

“Any reduction in workforce is not something University leadership takes lightly,” the university said in a statement to Spotlight PA. “These are very difficult decisions that are being reviewed in a careful manner and the hope is to keep these changes to a minimum. Attrition is obviously a preferred measure for reductions in employee numbers.”

March 17, 2023

A full recording has emerged of students at Stanford University law school disrupting a talk by Judge Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The audio recording was reproduced by David Lat for the legal blog Original Jurisdiction. On the recording, the students interrupt and clap (for fellow students) throughout the talk. Duncan was a target because he has a history of anti-LGBT activism.

From the day of the talk last week, many have criticized the students as suppressing the free exchange of ideas.

One of the groups that encouraged the protest has now spoken out. The Stanford chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said, “This protest represented Stanford Law School at its best: as a place of care for vulnerable people, and a place to challenge oppression and bigotry in all their forms, including on the federal bench. NLG’s strong moral commitment to providing support to political activists, protestors, and movements for social change is at the center of our wholehearted support for the protest.”

March 17, 2023

The president of Northern Seminary, an Illinois institution with Baptist roots, resigned after he was accused of bullying and retaliating against employees, particularly women, which resulted in some employee departures, Baptist News Global reported. The seminary put him on leave last month and launched an internal investigation into his behavior.

William Shiell, the former president, reportedly defended himself in his resignation letter.

“I have done everything in my power to prevent the kind of abuse of authority that has been publicly alleged about my character and leadership,” he wrote. “I am very grateful that in January, the board’s independent investigator concluded that there have been no financial improprieties or grounds for claims of misogyny, racism or discrimination.”

The Board of Trustees also sent a campuswide message commending Shiell’s legacy, according to Baptist News Global.

“We affirm his deep commitment to women in leadership and racial justice,” the board said in the letter.

Some employees at the seminary felt otherwise.

Tommy Lee, executive director of the seminary’s Grow Center for Church and Mission, wrote to the institution’s board and threatened to shut down the center’s operations if Shiell was allowed to continue as president.

“When things go wrong, he throws people under the bus. When anyone dares to challenge him, he belittles them,” Lee told Baptist News Global in February. “If it was anyone else, we would fire that person. He’s become an embarrassment; let him go.”

The board named John Bowling, former president of Olivet Nazarene University, acting president while Shiell was on leave. He will continue to serve in the role until a new president is selected.

March 17, 2023

College students are experiencing all-time high rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality, according to the latest Healthy Minds survey. In the annual survey, which received responses from 96,000 U.S. students across 133 campuses during the 2021–22 academic year, 44 percent reported symptoms of depression, 37 percent said they experienced anxiety and 15 percent said they have seriously considered suicide—the highest rates in the survey’s 15-year history.

However, the survey also showed that students are now getting more help than in the past. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they have received mental health counseling in the past year, a 7 percent increase from 2020. Binge drinking is also down, with 54 percent of respondents saying they haven’t consumed any alcohol in the past two weeks and 17 percent reporting that they consumed alcohol but did not binge drink.

“We need to understand what’s driving rates of depression, anxiety and suicidality in college students, but I’m glad we’re seeing more students accessing services and drawing on other forms of social support,” said Justin Heinze, associate professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a principal investigator of the Healthy Minds Network, in a Michigan press release. “The goal now is to continue to build out these services and support networks, and I think campuses increasingly recognize they are in good positions to do so.”

March 17, 2023

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is warning loan servicers to stop collecting private student loans that were discharged by bankruptcy courts, the agency announced Thursday.

The agency found that some servicers were continuing to collect payments on loans after bankruptcy proceedings had concluded, in violation of federal laws, and many borrowers ended up paying thousands of dollars they did not owe. The agency directed those servicers to return the money.

“When a court orders the discharge of a loan, lenders and servicers should not treat this as a suggestion,” CFPB director Rohit Chopra said in a news release. “The CFPB has found that some servicers are ignoring bankruptcy court orders. The student loan servicing industry should ensure that their collection practices are compliant with the law.”

The agency said that student loan servicers failed to differentiate between the loans that could be discharged in a standard bankruptcy proceeding and those that can’t. Typically, borrowers have to show during bankruptcy that they would suffer “undue hardship” if the student loans are not discharged—a higher bar than for other types of debt. Not all types of private student loans are subject to that standard.

“The CFPB expects servicers to proactively identify student loans that are discharged via standard bankruptcy orders, permanently cease collections, and refund any consumers who have been affected by unlawful collections in the past,” the agency said in the release.

The Student Borrower Protection Center drew attention to the issue in a January 2022 report and applauded the agency’s decision.

“After years of unfair, deceptive, and shamelessly predatory behavior by some of the largest financial companies in the world, the nation’s top consumer watchdog has finally stepped in to protect student loan borrowers,” SBPC counsel Amber Saddler said in a statement. “The entire student loan industry should take notice—the days of cheating borrowers out of their legal right to bankruptcy are over.”

March 17, 2023

Lansing Community College closed for the rest of this week due to an “ongoing cybersecurity incident,” The Lansing State Journal reported.

The college is suspending nearly all classes and activities and asking students and most employees not to work or log in to the college’s systems or come to campus. The college said it has no evidence that employee or student information has been compromised but acknowledged that “we do not know everything yet, and communication is going to be very challenging once we disconnect from the network.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Michigan Cyber Command Center are helping the college investigate.

March 17, 2023

A group of CEOs, community college leaders and state and federal officials is forming a network to develop new strategies to boost Black student enrollment and college completion rates, according to a press release from the group Thursday.

The release noted that U.S. colleges and universities have lost more than 600,000 Black students over the last decade, and over half of those losses were at community colleges.

“The impact of declines in Black students’ enrollment and completion in postsecondary education is felt both on the individual and social levels,” Keith Curry, president of Compton College, said in the release. “State and national economic and social vibrancy suffer. Currently, Black learners lost from the nation’s community college system receive 23% lower pay, on average, than what they would have earned if they had obtained an associate degree.”

Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education under President George Bush and former chancellor of the University of North Carolina system, said failing to enroll, retain and graduate Black students costs the country $2.9 billion per year in lost wages.

“If every working Black adult with a high school diploma or GED earned as much as the average Black college graduate (at least an associate degree), the collective additional earnings would equal an estimated $222 billion more,” she said, referring to those workers’ lifetime earnings.

March 17, 2023

Today on the Academic Minute, part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Shayla Sawyer, professor of electrical, computer and systems engineering, explains why knowing how you learn best can be crucial for your education. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 16, 2023

A Princeton University student was charged Tuesday with civil disorder, a felony, and related misdemeanor offenses in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

A Justice Department announcement of the arrest said Larry F. Giberson Jr. “was among rioters who repeatedly engaged in violence against law enforcement officers guarding the Capitol in the Lower West Terrace tunnel entrance. Giberson entered the tunnel at approximately 3:10 p.m., and made his way towards the front of the pack of rioters. Giberson joined rioters as they attempted to force their way into the building by coordinating ‘heave-ho’ pushing efforts against the police line. While Giberson was at the front of the pack of rioters pushing against officers in unison with other rioters, one officer was crushed between a door and a shield held by a rioter. A few minutes later, Giberson rushed to the tunnel entryway and began waving more rioters into the tunnel. Giberson then returned into the tunnel to participate in a second round of coordinated pushing against the police line. Eventually, police officers were able to gain temporary control over the tunnel and push rioters, including Giberson, out.”

The press release also said, “After watching the intensifying violence in and around the tunnel, and after watching rioters drag one officer out of the tunnel and violently assault that officer, Giberson started yelling ‘DRAG THEM OUT!’ He then cheered as weapons and pepper spray were used against police officers in the tunnel.”

The New York Times reported that Giberson was arrested in Washington and released after he appeared before a federal magistrate judge.

A Princeton spokesman confirmed that he was a member of the class that will graduate this year.

The Times reported that Giberson could not be reached for comment and that a lawyer representing him did not respond to a request for comment.

Federal investigators matched a photo of Giberson from the day of the riot with images posted on Instagram and the Princeton website, according to a federal affidavit. He was subsequently interviewed at the Princeton Police Department, where he acknowledged being the person seen in videos and photos from the scene of the riot.

March 16, 2023

The University of the Cumberlands has settled with the family of a member of the men’s wrestling team who died of heatstroke in 2020 following an on-campus workout, the institution announced Wednesday. The university will pay over $14 million to the family of the student, Grant Brace, in addition to promising to complete heat-illness training and promote the Brace family’s work raising awareness of heat-related injuries.

“Grant was a talented, well liked young man entering his junior year with a bright future ahead of him,” Chancellor Jerry Jackson said in a statement. “Our University community continues to mourn his untimely loss. We sincerely hope that resolving this matter early in the legal process will offer the Brace family a measure of peace and healing.”

According to the statement, the university believes it could have defended itself in the lawsuit, but it chose to settle to avoid a lengthy legal battle and to respect the Brace family’s loss.


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