Inside Higher Ed

Faculty group at Alaska's Anchorage campus says Fairbanks should bear brunt of state cuts

7 hours 12 min ago

The gloves have already come off in the wake of massive cuts planned for the University of Alaska system, with the Faculty Senate at the university’s largest campus in Anchorage issuing a report detailing why the smaller research campus in Fairbanks should bear the brunt of the financial reduction.

Fairbanks officials were none too pleased.

In late June, Governor Mike Dunleavy vetoed portions of the Alaska Legislature’s state budget -- causing an unprecedented 41 percent cut to the University of Alaska system. Last week, legislators failed to override the governor’s veto. Now, as major financial issues loom closer, infighting has already begun between institutions within the system -- as is often the case in higher education when money gets tighter.

The Anchorage campus's Faculty Senate committee on governance and funding reform released a report last week detailing opinions on how the system should handle the cuts -- and it asserts that the University of Alaska Fairbanks should absorb much of the pain.

Among several recommendations within the report, the committee calls on the university system to apportion funds based on the number of full-time-equivalent students at each campus. The committee said that at Anchorage and University of Alaska Southeast, the smallest of the three campuses, this would mean funding continuing at the previous year's level despite the cuts. However, Fairbanks would receive a significant reduction. The report said that 70 to 80 percent of students in the Alaska system would be able to continue their education as a result of this recommendation.

“Admittedly, UAF would bear the brunt of the cuts,” the committee wrote. “Probably, it will be necessary to declare a state of financial exigency at UAF or for some units that are a part of UAF.”

The report acknowledges that its recommendations would result in "financial vulnerability for the Fairbanks campus" -- but suggests that the susceptibility would result from what it calls "historically unequal" funding that has benefited the Fairbanks campus. According to the report, the Fairbanks campus was funded at a rate of $34,845 per student while Anchorage was funded at a rate of $11,540 per student. The report defines this financial vulnerability through a comparison to UA Anchorage -- pointing to the fact that Anchorage has had to adapt to funding cuts while Fairbanks has not.

“These disparate allocations have encouraged inefficiency in the one institution and efficiency in the other,” the committee wrote.

Tension Has Built

The committee’s report seemed to reveal further animosity between the two campuses, including that cuts in recent years have been generally levied at Anchorage rather than Fairbanks.

Among the other recommendations made in the report, the committee expressed the belief that the Alaska university system should decentralize, blowing up the system office in favor of independent universities with separate governing boards, which the committee said would lead to better financial health at each institution.

Forrest Nabors, an Anchorage political science professor and chair of the committee that created the report, said it was a "false assumption" that the two campuses weren't competing already. Decentralization would lead to healthier competition, he argued.

"Our belief is that when we become independent institutions, our competition will be healthy, and that each of us will be more responsive to the market and will each concentrate on our strengths," Nabors said. "We will be more complementary. UAF and UAA each has unique strengths, and I see no reason why we cannot thrive and collaborate as independent institutions."

Nabors said that no ill will drove the creation of the report, and that recognizing problems was necessary in a time like this.

"I cannot emphasize enough that we do not wish ill to anybody. Faculty, staff and students at UAF are our colleagues, fellow citizens and fellow Alaskans," Nabors said. "We want the best for all of us. We sympathize with them. We have reached out to them to work in common towards a better future for our system. Our dependence on state aid and this abrupt and deep cut to our state aid is the cause of this division. To remove ourselves from this dependency, we must reform. That has been the sentiment of our faculty for years."

Anchorage chancellor Cathy Sandeen said in an emailed statement that the opinions expressed in the report are representative of the committee’s opinion and not necessarily the university’s. Sandeen's statement avoided a direct question about whether Anchorage administrators supported the report or not.

"Under our model of shared governance, faculty, staff and students have the right to come together, form committees and make recommendations on any number of topics or issues. We are committed to an inclusive process and welcome diversity of thoughts and opinions -- especially in this time of budget uncertainty and reinvention,” Sandeen said in the email. “The UAA Faculty Senate took time to provide an analysis based on publicly available data. The opinions and recommendations are their own. It is up to the UA Board of Regents and state elected officials to decide on a path forward based on all the various reports and recommendations they receive.”

In an emailed statement, Fairbanks Chancellor Dan White didn't respond directly to the report but instead simply said those considering UA Fairbanks budget to work with the Fairbanks campus officials to make sure the proposals are "well informed."

"There are many different opinions on how to meet the budget deficit facing UA," White said. "We would encourage those writing proposals about UAF's budget to work directly with us so that the proposals are well informed to the greatest extent possible. At UAF we support our faculty to work across the system in a collaborative and constructive manner."

Response From Fairbanks

Sine Anahita, a UA Fairbanks professor of sociology and president of the Fairbanks Faculty Senate, said his group chose not to respond by releasing a similar report but instead to email the UA Board of Regents to share opinions about the UA Anchorage committee report.

“It is true that the budget crisis has set people on edge across the system. There is deep anxiety, as we are facing massive layoffs and program closures. Some of our colleagues have reacted to the stress by striking out at others,” Anahita said. “But the leadership at UAF -- both governance leaders and administrative leaders -- believe deeply in the power of solidarity, unity and community. While we will correct misinformation as needed, and we will promote UAF's interest, we will not do so at the expense of other campuses.”

In an April interview with Inside Higher Ed, Alaska system president Jim Johnsen pointed to the fact that the different campuses in the Alaska system were distinctive within the state. This could often lead to tension, as Fairbanks is the system’s main research university -- terrain that officials at the Anchorage campus have often expressed desire to expand into.

“My philosophy has always been stay in your lane and do more,” Johnsen said of the two universities. “Let’s educate more nurses; let’s educate more engineers and accountants. Our state needs you for that. We already have one research university, and our board has supported that, generally speaking. There are really interesting research programs that the federal government funds that do ask us to reach out and partner with the other universities.”

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The divide over scholarly debate over gender identity rages on

7 hours 12 min ago

Scholars are coming to the defense of a graduate student instructor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is under scrutiny for her critical perspective on trans women. At the same time, other trans scholars and allies say they’re increasingly targeted for their own views and identities.

These events, among others, suggest that the so-called TERF wars -- in reference to the derogatory term “trans-exclusionary radical feminist” -- aren’t slowing down.

Philosophers recently reacted to an anonymous open letter to them on Medium, titled, “I Am Leaving Academic Philosophy Because of Its Transphobia Problem.” The writer identified herself as graduate student and a trans woman who was been adversely impacted by “TERFs,” or “so-called ‘gender-critical feminists’” and “those who amplify their voices. I am writing this letter because I want people to know that there are real, concrete, macro-level consequences to allowing hate speech to proliferate in philosophy under the guise of academic discussion. In sharing my pain and anger at being forced out of a career that I once loved, I hope to stir some of you to greater action.”

Through philosophy discussions on social and other media, “the knowledge that there is once again trans discourse in philosophy has itself become stressful. In the past year, I have been driven off social media because of feelings of stress, vulnerability, anger and pain that surface whenever there is new trans-related philosophical news," she said. And the cost of not engaging on social media is lost career opportunities.

Moreover, “I do not feel safe or comfortable in professional settings any longer,” the student wrote. Whereas hurtful comments or questions about being trans aren’t tolerated in other work environments, the same is not true in academe. “How can I be expected to attend professional events where people deny and question such an integral part of my identity and act like that is tolerable or normal?” My gender “is not up for debate. I am a woman. Any trans discourse that does not proceed from this initial assumption -- that trans people are the gender that they say they are -- is oppressive, regressive and harmful.”

The student identified Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex and a well known gender-critical feminist, in particular, as someone toxic, and asked why she’d been asked to speak on sexual orientation at the then upcoming Aristotelian Society meeting in Britain. In so doing the student cited some of Stock's statements on Twitter, including, "Transwomen are male. Most have penises. Many fancy females. These too are facts. There are documented cases of transwomen harming females. If we legally allow transwomen into female-only spaces, SOME females will be hurt by SOME transwomen. It's utterly predictable."

Stock responded to the letter in her own Medium post, saying that the writer appeared to be blaming her for her own actions. “Adults make their own decisions, and clearly, a job in philosophy doesn’t suit everyone,” Stock wrote. “Readers might also bear in mind that at least one of my supposedly terrible views, that subjective ‘gender identity’ doesn’t determine womanhood or manhood, is very clearly entailed by the work of some well-known contemporary feminist philosophers on gender, whether or not they would recant it now.”

Stock’s June talk at the society still proved controversial, with Minorities and Philosophy UK and Minorities and Philosophy International saying in a joint statement that the “right to promote hateful ideas is not covered under the right to free speech. Thus, we resist the charge that this is simply an attempt to silence and stifle philosophical debate.”

Not “every item of personal and ideological obsession is worthy of philosophical debate,” the joint statement continues. Skepticism about the rights of marginalized groups and individuals, “where issues of life and death are at stake, are not up for debate. The existence and validity of transgender and nonbinary people, and the right of trans and nonbinary people to identify their own genders and sexualities, fall within the range of such indisputable topics.”

Elsewhere online, there have been discussions about whether it’s acceptable for professors to publicly criticize graduate students about their trans advocacy statements and tactics.

At Santa Barbara, students have reported and are encouraging other students to report an outspoken gender-critical Ph.D. candidate in feminist studies for gender discrimination. A campus protest was organized against her, as were student petitions. One such petition signed by some fellow graduate students doesn't mention Tanner by name but asks the faculty in her department for "transparency" in how the matter is being addressed. It also demands that "specific steps be taken to ensure that those espousing openly racist, anti-sex work and transphobic beliefs do not continue to teach or TA" for the department.

"While we appreciate being referred to Title IX, EthicsPoint, and other institutional entities and resources," the petition reads, "we also recognize that these institutional entities often further marginalize vulnerable students and we ask that the feminist studies department respond publicly to the concerns being raised by undergraduate students, graduate students and alumni in a timely manner."

Stock has come to the graduate student’s defense, publicly calling the campaign against her a “witch hunt.”

The complaints against the student, Laura Tanner, relate, at least in part, to her statements on social media. Tanner’s Twitter profile says “Woman: noun; adult human female. My views are my own, I will not be silenced.” Many of her posts relate to concerns about transing minors; she retweeted a post critical of young trans men getting “top surgery,” or their breast tissue removed, for example.

Tanner, who declined an interview request, on her webpage describes her research interests as “resisting the discursive erasure of women and girls, particularly in health and gender discourse; attempts to disassociate the female body from womanhood; the mistaken idea that biological sex is socially constructed or possible to change, the loss of women and girls' civil rights through changes to laws that remove sex protections and define gender as a feeling; and the abusive and dangerously experimental practices of medically ‘transing’ children and young adults.”


Shelly Leachman, university spokesperson, declined to comment on the case, citing privacy policies and laws governing employees and students.

Santa Barbara “has a process for reporting bias incidents on campus, and procedures for addressing these issues when they arise,” Leachman said. It “also has strong policies related to protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression. Campus community members are encouraged to report violations of these policies and of misconduct in all of these areas.”

Looking Backward, and Ahead

These battles aren’t exclusive to academe, and have been waged for some time in the U.S. and abroad -- particularly in the United Kingdom, where proposed updates to the Gender Recognition Act centering on gender self-identification have proven divisive.

But the issue flared in U.S. academe in 2017, when Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy published an article comparing being transgender to being transracial. The journal’s editors and associate editors disagreed about how to handle the intense criticism the piece prompted, and about whether it should have ever been published. The journal’s Board of Directors eventually stepped in to limit the associate editors’ authority and announce a restructuring of Hypatia’s editorial process.

There have been trans discourse-related controversies in fields beyond philosophy and gender studies. In one instance last summer, both Brown University and PLOS ONE distanced themselves from a descriptive study based on a survey of parents of teens and young adults who’d experienced “rapid-onset gender dysphoria.” In response to criticism about the study’s premise and methodology, the study’s author, Lisa Littman, an assistant professor of the practice of behavioral and social sciences at Brown, said at the time, “like all descriptive studies, there are limitations, which are acknowledged. And although descriptive studies may be one of the less robust study designs, they play an important role in the scientific literature primarily because they are a first description of a new condition or population and they make it possible to conduct additional, more rigorous research.”  An updated version of the study, which included a separate formal comment from social psychologist Angelo Brandelli Costa was published in March.

Is what it means to be trans a legitimate line of inquiry? If so, where is the line between scholarship and discrimination? Paisley Currah, professor of political science and women’s and gender studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and founding co-editor of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, said that in general, “If one doesn’t think trans women are women, fine, don’t invite them to your private, women-only spaces. But it’s an entirely different matter to decide gender for someone else and to try to exclude them from gender-segregated public spaces.”

Still, Currah said he disagreed with using offices responsible for following Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination, to settle scholarly trans issues.

“No matter how much I agree with the content of the objections to ‘research’ that dehumanizes trans people, I would think long and hard about giving university administrations power to adjudicate speech and the legitimacy of research questions,” he said via email. “Using Title IX in this way may seem like a solution, but in the long term that strategy expands university administrations' policing power over all of us.”

Susan Stryker, professor of gender and women's studies at the University of Arizona and Currah’s founding co-editor at the journal, offered an analogy between how the trans discourse debate and the debate over immigration.

If womanhood is a “a restricted country,” Stryker said, citing the writer Joan Nestle, “Who says what those restrictions shall be? Who is womanhood for? How does one become its citizen?”

It’s “legitimate to ask all such questions,” Stryker continued. “There should be no bounds on academic inquiry.” Yet “what I see in the TERF wars is not disinterested academic inquiry,” she added. “It's more akin to white supremacists wanting to propagandize other whites about foreigners, where the position of foreigners in the conversation has been deemed illegitimate in advance.”

And when trans people “speak out, asserting their presence, and grasp for any lever to address the asymmetries of power that characterize their circumstances,” such as Title IX, she said, “they are all too often seen as being disruptive, provocateurs, aggressors, troublemakers, entitled, uppity, demanding, ungrateful” and more. 

How did the issue become so divisive? Stock said Thursday that in gender studies, queer theory and mainstream feminist philosophy, “the position that trans women are literally women is now an article of faith, disagreement with which is seen as a sign of moral degeneracy, rather than a matter over which reasonable people with different theories can disagree.”

This wouldn’t be so bad, she continued, “except that the article of faith is now being accepted as intellectually defensible by policy makers, who are rewriting laws and policies internationally to grant trans women, with or without legal sex changes or any medical alteration” access to women-only public spaces, resources and activities.

“Many people, both in and outside the academy, and on both left and right of the political spectrum, rightly have questions about how all this affects the original occupants of the category ‘women’ (i.e. females, especially those who can’t ‘identify out’ of poverty or vulnerability), but they are being vilified for raising such questions,” she added via email. Stock noted that since she started speaking out, she’s faced defamation from colleagues, threats and complaints.

Going forward, the anonymous student who is leaving philosophy suggested that journal editors and referees reject “transphobic” articles or those that otherwise question the legitimacy and rights of trans people. Transphobic conference speakers and submissions also should be rejected.

“Do not provide a platform for transphobes in philosophy,” she wrote in her letter. “Do not give them an opportunity to publicly express their bigotry.” Don't share their work on social media. “Finally, if you do see transphobia in philosophy, speak out. Do not remain silent.”

Responding on his blog, Daily Nous, Justin Weinberg, associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, said that banning “trans-exclusionary works simply because they are trans-exclusionary” is “not a good idea.” At the same time, he said, “I’ve urged that we take seriously just how difficult existing discourse about transgender issues can be for our trans colleagues (and students, I should add).”

This involves “not just attending to what happens in academia, but also appreciating the broader discriminatory culture they inhabit and the role that abuse-friendly forms of social media play in our professional lives," Weinberg wrote. Specific examples include providing “explicit statements of support for trans persons in venues in which trans-exclusionary work appears” and balancing scholarship space for trans-exclusionary and trans authors.

Avoid hostility and talk of “sides," he said. And ensure that, “when possible, works you write, host or publish that argue for a trans-exclusionary view engage or otherwise demonstrate familiarity with the relevant scholarly work by trans or trans-inclusive scholars.”

Of the latter point, Weinberg wrote, “This is just basic research ethics: know about what you are writing about.”

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States pass flurry of bills targeting loan servicers

7 hours 12 min ago

Before the legislative session that began in January, consumer groups in Colorado had twice sought to work with state lawmakers to pass a bill establishing a student borrower bill of rights, coming up short both times. But with Democrats in control of both state houses in 2019 and a new attorney general focused on consumer protections, the measure passed in May with days left in the legislative session.

Charley Olena, the advocacy director at New America, a progressive group that backed the bill, said student debt had come to be a prominent concern for voters in midterm elections in a way it hadn’t before.

“Debt wasn’t necessarily an issue rising to the top before,” she said. “There were a lot more people in the legislature willing to engage with us on it this time.”

Lawmakers in a growing number of states have sought to tackle student debt as a consumer protection problem. Over the first half of 2019, legislatures have enacted a flurry of bills taking aim at the companies that process and handle payments on the roughly $1.5 trillion in outstanding federal student loan debt.

Loan servicers have come under increased scrutiny from consumer advocates in recent years. And the Trump administration’s decision to dial back federal oversight of the industry appears to have prompted several states to act themselves, often at the urging of consumer groups.

New state regulations are testing arguments by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration that only the federal government, and not the states, has the authority to police loan servicers. Recent court rulings, though, appear to have only strengthened the hand of states seeking to wield more oversight powers.

Seven states so far this year have passed laws requiring loan servicers to meet consumer protection requirements. And a bill that may be the most far-reaching in the country could be headed for passage in the California Senate.

Most of the new laws require loan companies to be licensed through the state and ban deceptive practices. They also will lead states to create several new ombudsman offices to which borrowers can turn with complaints or unanswered questions about student loans.

Critics of servicers say state consumer protections are finally catching up to the scale of the problem. But the industry argues it’s taking the blame for deeper problems with the structure of the federal student loan system. And loan companies say the new laws could create a patchwork of regulatory regimes that drive up costs without real benefits for borrowers.

Only a handful of states and the District of Columbia had sought to regulate loan servicers before this year. The new laws will test the impact of state regulation on a scale not seen before, covering millions more borrowers across the country.

Filling Gaps in Oversight

Under the Obama administration, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put the spotlight on the servicing sector. The agency began collecting thousands of complaints from student borrowers -- many of them involving issues like faulty information from servicers or errors in processing payments. It began publishing statistics on those complaints in annual reports. In January 2017, the consumer bureau (along with the attorneys general for Illinois and Washington State) filed a lawsuit against the servicer Navient that helped paint the Delaware-based company as a poster child for misconduct by student loan companies.

The company has denied wrongdoing in response to the lawsuit and argued witnesses failed to confirm the allegations by CFPB.

In recent years, DeVos has made an aggressive shift in its oversight of loan servicers. In 2017, she killed an information-sharing agreement between the Education Department and CFPB allowing the agency to track consumer complaints. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, also shuttered a special CFPB unit dedicated to student loan issues last year.

And after pressure from loan servicers facing new state regulatory regimes, DeVos declared last year that states don’t have the authority to regulate federal student loans. That hasn’t deterred state legislators. While several of those laws emerged from new Democratic trifecta states, a bill adding oversight of loan servicers was also signed into law by Republican governor Larry Hogan in Maryland this year.

“What you’re seeing now is an effort by elected officials across the country -- most of which are being done in bipartisan fashion -- to ensure people who take on student loan debt, when they get ripped off, can get some justice,” said Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center.

Frotman was the student loans ombudsman at CFPB before publicly resigning last year in a letter that rebuked the Trump administration’s higher ed policies. He’s also played a big role in pushing for new legislation targeting loan servicers at the state level.

His group hailed the California State Assembly's passage in May of the loan servicing legislation, which is currently in committee in the Senate. The bill would go further than most other new state laws by requiring that board members of servicing companies pass background checks. Consumer complaints found to be valid under the bill could also result in monetary damages being assessed against the companies.

Scott Buchanan, executive director of the Student Loan Servicing Alliance, the industry trade group representing servicers, said those companies are taking the blame for issues outside their control. Many complaints from borrowers, he said, are related to loan repayment or forgiveness options that were made complicated by Congress. The new state requirements, Buchanan said, “don’t move the needle for borrowers who are really struggling.”

SLSA opposed legislation in California and other states. Buchanan warned that the requirements could drive up compliance costs and force companies to spend money defending themselves from lawsuits.

“Our interests are already pretty well aligned with those of borrowers,” he said. “Our incentives financially are to keep a borrower in repayment, not to become delinquent or default.”

A New Playing Field for Loan Companies

The industry has argued for years that states don’t have the authority to regulate federal contractors -- ever since the first student borrower protections passed in states like Connecticut and Illinois. But a recent federal court ruling undercut that position.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that a student borrower in Illinois could sue her loan servicer, Great Lakes Education Loan Services, for violations of the state’s consumer protection laws. The borrower, Nicole Nelson, argued that the company steered borrowers away from options like income-driven repayment toward inferior options like forbearance.

The court ruled that while the Higher Education Act states that loan servicers are not subject to state disclosure requirements, the company could be sued for affirmative misrepresentations -- in this case, statements that representatives offer expert help or that they work on behalf of borrowers, not the company.

“The biggest impact of the decision is that it clarifies that loan servicers are not effectively immune from state consumer protection law,” said Dan Zibel, vice president and chief legal counsel at the Student Legal Defense Network. “The argument they’ve been making fundamentally is that the Higher Education Act pre-empts state law.”

Colleen Campbell, director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said it’s likely that more borrowers will bring lawsuits against their loan servicers as a result of new state regulations.

“The inclination of folks now is to handle as much as possible in the courts,” she said. “I worry that doesn’t address the root cause of these issues.”

Campbell, who studies how loan servicing can be improved, said Congress crafted federal student loan laws in a restrictive manner so that programs like loan forgiveness are difficult to access and repayment plans are difficult to navigate.

States are often on the front lines of dealing with resulting consumer issues and can push those problems onto the national level, she said. But Campbell said ultimately there is no replacement for federal accountability.

“We want borrowers to be treated the same across the country. I don’t want their treatment to be dependent on their servicer or the state that they live in,” she said. “And unless the Department of Education wants to hire thousands of new employees, we need the loan servicers.”

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Ellucian Banner security flaw highlighted by Education Department

7 hours 12 min ago

The U.S. Department of Education has warned of “active and ongoing exploitation” of a security flaw in Ellucian’s Banner system that may have given hackers access to student data such as grades, financial information and Social Security numbers.

A security alert, published Wednesday by the department’s Office of Federal Student Aid, said 62 colleges and universities using Banner had already been targeted. The alert indicates that criminals have been “scanning the internet looking for institutions to victimize” and drawing up lists of colleges to target.

Institutions that have transitioned to Banner 9, the latest version of Ellucian’s enterprise resource planning system, are not thought to be affected. But users using older versions of two Banner modules called Web Tailor and Enterprise Identity Services could be vulnerable.

According to Ellucian’s website, more than 1,400 institutions in the U.S. use Banner to manage student grades, staff payrolls, course schedules, admissions and student financial aid, among other tasks. Web Tailor and Enterprise Identity Services can be used by system administrators to get access to sensitive data protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The student aid office encouraged institutions that have not recently upgraded Web Tailor or Enterprise Identity Services to do so and to contact the FSA incident team to determine whether there has been a data breach. Ellucian published a patch on May 14 that fixed the security flaw but has not shared how many institutions have installed it.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology described the Banner security flaw as an “improper authentication vulnerability” that enabled attackers to take over users' sessions when they attempted to log in. Depending on the administrative privileges of the user, and the way data are organized by individual institutions, attackers could potentially use this access to drop students from their courses, deny them financial aid or change their personal information and grades.

According to FSA, affected institutions reported that attackers used the security flaw to manipulate admissions and enrollment systems and create thousands of fake student accounts over the space of a few days. “Some of these accounts appear to be leveraged almost immediately for criminal activity,” the office said.

Josh Sosnin, chief information security officer at Ellucian, said in an emailed statement that there is no connection between the security flaw and the generation of the fake student accounts. “Ellucian has confirmed internally that the two issues outlined in the Department of Education report are separate, unrelated issues,” he said. “There is no connection between these two issues and Ellucian has communicated this to the Department of Education.”

If your campus uses Banner/Ellucian as a SIS, I hope you install updates in a timely manner. So far 62 campuses have reported they were affected by exploitation of a vulnerability in the product by "criminal elements." Patch was released May 14. #emchat https://t.co/SwIkZvdZaN

— Dr. Liz Gross (@lizgross144) July 18, 2019

Institutions being targeted by bots that submit fraudulent admissions applications are “an industry issue and not specific to Ellucian or Banner,” said Sosnin. He added that Ellucian’s customer service employees are “standing by to help” customers with questions about patches or updates.

Why the FSA office is reporting on the Banner security flaw two months after it was patched by Ellucian is unclear. It is also not clear how the flaw was discovered, though the NIST advisory links to a document suggesting that it may have been identified as early as December 2018 by Joshua Mullekin, a member of IT staff at the University of South Carolina.

In a GitHub post, Mullekin outlines a “disclosure timeline” indicating that Ellucian took several months to address his concerns. Mullekin said via email that he believes he was the first person to identify the security flaw. 

Scott Shackelford, professor of law and cybersecurity program chair at Indiana University at Bloomington, said it is not uncommon for organizations to take several months to release patches addressing security issues, particularly if they “don’t think it’s particularly troublesome.”

Moving forward, Shackelford encouraged colleges and universities to pay attention when companies release updates and install them “as quickly as possible.”

“This really boils down to basic cyberhygiene,” he said.

Both Shackelford and Emory Roane, privacy counsel at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization that tracks data breach disclosures and advocates for consumer data protection, said it could take weeks before more information about the data breach is made public.

Depending on where institutions are located and what type of data were affected, there are different reporting requirements for disclosing breaches, said Shackelford. In Georgia, for example, there is no enforced timeline for reporting data breaches, he said. Roane would like to see that change -- he thinks the U.S. should move closer to Europe’s 72-hour disclosure requirement under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Without disclosures, it is difficult to determine how serious the Banner data breaches are, said Shackelford.

Charlie Moran, senior partner and CEO of Moran Technology Consulting, described the breach as “bad, but only for a small number of schools.”

Most of the 1,400 institutions using Banner have made the transition to Banner 9 modules, said Moran. “Most schools moved to Banner 9 this past year in a forced march because of a major software change that Ellucian was forced to make, so there are not a lot of schools running this old software,” he said.

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Colleges award tenure

7 hours 12 min ago

Centre College

  • Leonard Demoranville, chemistry
  • Jonathon Earle, history
  • Ellen Goldey, vice president of academic affairs and dean of the college
  • John Harney, history
  • Danielle La Londe, classical studies
  • Matthew Pierce, medieval Islamic history
  • Ellen Swanson, mathematics
  • Karin Young, chemistry

Frostburg State University

  • Tianna Bogart, geography
  • Kevin Knott, English
  • Oleg Kucher, economics
  • Haiyun Ma, history
  • Jason Speights, physics and engineering
  • Nazanin Tootoonchi, mathematics

Hamilton College

  • Katherine Brown, physics
  • Courtney Gibbons, mathematics
  • Gbemende Johnson, government
  • Alexandra List, psychology
  • Max Majireck, chemistry
  • Seth Schermerhorn, religious studies
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Florida governor signs tough new hazing law

Thu, 2019-07-18 07:00

Florida’s governor has signed one of the country’s most intricate antihazing laws, an attempt to stem the sometimes deadly rituals by expanding those who could be criminally liable and offering protections for those who help an ailing victim.

Historians and experts say the law is among the “most cutting-edge” in the nation. That’s largely because of the unique provisions that ensure Good Samaritans can’t be prosecuted if they see a hazing victim needs medical attention and they’re the first to contact 911 or campus security. In order to escape criminal charges, the person making the phone call would need to remain on the scene until help arrived, according to the law. Such a measure may reduce hazing-related deaths if students don’t fear being punished for contacting authorities. Under the law, a person could also be immune from charges if he or she administered medical aid.

Even those who orchestrated the hazing can take advantage of these exemptions.

“In a few remote possible cases, a true perpetrator of hazing may escape prosecution, but it is far more important that lives do not get extinguished while perps cower in fear and do nothing to save their friends,” said Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Indiana who has written extensively about hazing.

Under the new law, those who weren’t physically present during a hazing event, but who helped plan it, can now be prosecuted. This would likely affect a fraternity or sorority leader, but Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, said he could envision a legal scenario in which administrators could also be held liable.

Sometimes officials must sign off on a Greek life event, and Lake said the law will likely test whether they would be immune from criminal charges or a civil case.

“This is definitely a new frontier for hazing prevention,” Lake said.

Nuwer said that chapter members have tended to skate by when a prosecutor brings charges only to the most “active” perpetrators and chapter officers.

“Finally it is recognized that individuals in the entire chapter bear some responsibility in a death when they knew, planned and abated actions by the most fervent zealots in the group who took things to a dangerous and fatal level,” Nuwer said.

Andrew’s Law, which the governor approved last month, is named for Andrew Coffey, a Florida State University pledge who died in November 2017 after he drank an entire fifth of Wild Turkey bourbon at an off-campus party.

Coffey, 20, was participating in a “big brother” night where the initiates were expected to finish the bottle of alcohol presented to them by their “big.” Coffey did -- he then fell unconscious and was carried to a couch and ignored until the early morning. His “big” had gone home. Coffey was found without a pulse. His autopsy found he died of alcohol poisoning -- his blood alcohol level was 0.447, nearly six times the legal driving limit.

His death upended Greek life at Florida State. The president, John E. Thrasher, shut down all fraternity and sorority activities that November, proclaiming the entire network of 50-some chapters needed to be reworked. Florida State did not respond to request for comment for this piece.

A couple of months later, Thrasher partially lifted the ban, adding new requirements for Greek life, requiring fraternities and sororities to use a third-party vendor to supply their booze and shortening the recruitment “rush” period, when many of these incidents occur.

But antihazing advocates, among them Coffey’s parents, were not fully satisfied. They lobbied the Florida Legislature to amp up the state’s law, which was already one of the stricter in the United States.

In 2005, Florida politicians made hazing a first-degree misdemeanor and a third-degree felony if a victim was seriously injured or died -- they named the law the Chad Meredith Act, for a University of Miami student who drowned in a hazing death in 2001. Then-governor Jeb Bush signed the law.

David Bianchi, one of the lawyers who helped write the Chad Meredith Act, also worked on Andrew's Law.

Bianchi, who represented the Coffey family, said prior to the bill’s passage that the law needed some improvements. He referenced a hazing case last year, also at Florida State. During a hazing game, Nicholas Mauricio was hit so hard in the face he fractured his skull and was left unconscious. He lived, but police said at the time there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the fraternity members for hazing (Mauricio was already a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity but was not yet registered as a Florida State student).

The new law closes that loophole -- under the legislation, current members of a group can also be considered hazing victims.

The bill sailed through the legislative process, being unanimously approved at every step. It was bipartisan, being sponsored chiefly by both a Democrat and Republican. Lake said lawmakers were likely confident in passing the legislation after a Florida Supreme Court ruling in December that flatly rejected a challenge to the Chad Meredith Act as potentially unconstitutional.

On the federal side, two U.S. representatives, Marcia Fudge, a Democrat from Ohio, and G. T. Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, last month introduced the End All Hazing Act, an amendment to the Higher Education Act.

It would require institutions to maintain a website that would publicize information about student organizations that had been disciplined for hazing. Colleges and university officials would also need to report allegations of potentially deadly hazing within 72 hours to campus police or other law enforcement.

The End All Hazing Act has been endorsed by the National Panhellenic Conference and the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which represents many sororities and fraternities nationally. Both groups created the Anti-Hazing Coalition, along with parents of students who died from hazing.

Andrea Benek, a spokeswoman with the North-American Interfraternity Conference, provided a statement on the new Florida law to Inside Higher Ed:

“The North-American Interfraternity Conference is deeply committed to eradicating hazing by advocating for stronger laws throughout the country. We support comprehensive hazing prevention measures -- proactive education, transparency and accountability around standards -- enacted through federal and state legislation. We work in partnership with the Anti-Hazing Coalition to make lasting cultural change in student organizations and on university campuses.”

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UT Arlington takes new approach to career training within arts disciplines

Thu, 2019-07-18 07:00

As anxieties grow in higher education over the decline of liberal arts in favor of increased vocational and career-centric training, one university is employing a new strategy to highlight the relevance of arts and humanities disciplines in career preparation.

Administrators at the University of Texas at Arlington have begun supporting new methods and concentrations within areas such as art and music designed to better prepare students for tangible employment immediately after graduation. While other universities have chosen to cut arts programs, pointing to declining enrollment numbers in the arts, UT Arlington has responded in a very different way to the changing landscape of arts education.

Vistasp Karbhari, UT Arlington's president, pointed to two examples of this new approach. In the art and art history department, the university offers specific courses and concentrations in the field of designing packaging -- a major industry in Texas that Karbhari said is looking for more professionally trained employees. In the music department, Arlington now offers students the opportunity to gain the traditional education in music performance while also taking classes within the music department and college of business to gain skills in musician management -- a degree called music business.

“If you look at the U.S. Department of Labor, the amount of musicians and singers in Texas is expected to grow by about 17 percent in the next eight years or so,” Karbhari said. “A lot of that growth comes from things like agents and business managers of music. The challenge within the industry is that most of the people who do this come out from the business major side or from communications -- it's not that they have a true understanding of music. And therefore musicians often feel that these people don’t quite understand what they’re trying to do.”

This is the theme of Karbhari’s strategies in these fields: to apply analysis of the job market to identify trends that promote an avenue for gainful employment postgraduation in fields where students may be apprehensive to enter due to work-force anxieties. Karbhari said he doesn’t believe the arts need any special treatment -- he simply wants to showcase the value that may not be so easily seen in an arts education. Karbhari said these changes came from faculty members within the departments -- and that the administration ran with them as they fell in line with the goals of the university.

“I’d hate for anyone to think we’re doing this because we feel the liberal arts need special support. The arts, humanities and social sciences are disciplines that have tremendous value not only academically but in daily life,” Karbhari said. “The challenge that we have across the board is trying to show relevance. I think this is sometimes where universities don’t do the best job. What our faculty have done a very good job of is not reinventing the wheel but actually working to show the relevance of that discipline is in today’s world.”

Karbhari said one of the things that makes UT Arlington unique is its many nontraditional students, with 56 percent of all students being transfer students. These students often have a greater focus on postgraduate career success.

When it comes to art, the university has partnered with groups with knowledge of the packaging industry. Karbhari said the concentration has grown to over 100 students taking art department classes related specifically to packaging. Dallas and north Texas are home to a number of companies with broad demand for packaging designers.

Robert Hower, department chair for the art and art history department at UT Arlington, said the goal is to allow students with a passion for a traditional education in the arts to do so with the ability to consider different avenues for building postgraduate careers.

“We’re making sure the past is considered, the future is considered and that there’s a blend that creates a lifelong educated individual,” Hower said.

Hower said the packaging courses have been thriving and have grown significantly since the department started offering them in 2012. Karbhari said numerous students have gone on to jobs in the industry after connecting through internships during their undergraduate years.

“The general question that many parents ask and [people] across academia often ask is can a student who [majors in art] get a good-paying job when they graduate four years later,” Karbhari said. “I can imagine a student saying they’d love to do that but that they have to balance their passion for some things with my needs that I make sure that I can have a good life and make life better for my family.”

In the music department, the music management concentration has continued to grow as well, with 30 students majoring in the program now. Karbhari expects that to grow to as many 100 in the next year.

Dan Cavanagh, chair of UT Arlington's music department, said that anxieties over postgraduate careers are looming over every field. But since these anxieties always followed the arts, the arts are more suited to adapt to them.

“When I went to college, I was double majoring and music and math, and I switched to just music and my dad said, ‘Oh God, you’re going to live with us for the rest of your life,’” Cavanagh said with a laugh. “We want to really showcase that there are a ton of opportunities in music, and it doesn’t need to be a hobby. We think music is really important as a humanity, and this is another way to support that importance for our culture.”

Karbhari said that as trends continue to change in regards to liberal arts, he hopes to continue to show the value of a degree when put in the right economic context.

“The liberal arts are of tremendous value. We just haven’t been able to enunciate what the value is, and these programs do exactly that,” Karbhari said. “They show that you can follow your passion and yet be almost guaranteed a wonderful job at the end of that -- you can marry both things.”

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Author discusses new book on "breakout moves" to community college teaching

Thu, 2019-07-18 07:00

Success rates for community college students lag those at other institutions. Why? Many factors are at work. Many community college students come from high schools where they received lousy teaching. A new book, Teachin' It: Breakout Moves That Break Down Barriers for Community College Students (Teachers College Press), argues that instructors make an enormous difference to community college students.

The author, Felicia Darling, a college skills instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, responded via email to questions about her book.

Q: Graduation rates are much lower at community colleges than at most four-year institutions. What do you consider a good graduation rate for a community college? How should we judge community colleges on completion?

A: Community colleges have lower graduation rates because they have a different mission and serve a more diverse student body. Therefore, three factors should be considered when discussing “good graduation rates.” First, the majority of students attending four-year universities seek to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, while many community college students do seek to graduate with an associate’s degree, there is a wide variety of other aspirations represented. These include transferring to a four-year college, obtaining a certification, completing industry-specific training, exploring career options and taking recreational courses. All of these can be attained without actually “graduating” (i.e. completing an associate’s degree).

Second, unlike four-year universities with entrance criteria that funnel in students with high levels of academic preparation, the open-access nature of community colleges means that some students attend even without a high school diploma or GED. Therefore students enter community college with a broader range of academic skill development and preparation. Third, due to their mission, community colleges serve more students who are underrepresented among those who possess four-year degrees. These include students of color, first-generation college students, students with disabilities, students from the LGBTQ+ community, students from low-income households and first-generation college students. While underrepresented students may be more resilient and motivated, they are also more likely to face obstacles to graduating. These include navigating a system that is discriminatory, experiencing food and housing insecurity, reintegrating into society after being incarcerated, balancing work and school, and supporting families.

That being said, community colleges should aim for a 90 percent graduation rate within three years for those students attending full-time who declare the goal of attaining an associate’s degree. I would say 100 percent, but I recall, with a heavy heart, students like Lisette, a 19-year-old who began the semester with a promising A and wanted to be a nurse. She stopped coming to class after the ninth week, because she had to care for her mentally ill mother and seven younger siblings, who all lived in a homeless shelter.

Q: What are the major problems you see with traditional instruction methods as applied at community colleges?

A: The major issue with traditional approaches like the teaching is telling and the primarily lecture model is that they miss opportunities to unleash the full learning potential of the maximum number of students in the classroom. In particular, there are two reasons why traditional approaches fall short. First, community college students come from diverse cultural backgrounds and embrace a wide range of identities. Consequently, they bring a wealth of cultural knowledge to the classroom. Unfortunately, the traditional, direct-instruction approach, where the instructor is the authority, overwrites these students’ funds of knowledge.

When instructors draw from students’ wealth of cultural assets during instruction, they communicate that they value students’ identities. Using a more egalitarian, inclusive approach like complex instruction can help illuminate students’ assets. This means doing more inquiry-based, group learning where all students’ contributions are taken up equally and all students are held to the same high standard.

The second reason why the traditional lecture-style approach is so problematic is that community colleges are open-access institutions, so students enter with a range of academic skill preparation and a variety of gaps in content knowledge. When instructors shift their role from lecturer to facilitator of inquiry-based learning in groups, it redresses gaps in knowledge and skills. When students work in groups with carefully crafted tasks, they can approach learning from their strength areas by drawing from their prior knowledge. In addition, they can build on the knowledge of their peers by engaging in scaffolded discussions where they negotiate meaning and co-construct new knowledge. Education psychology theory and cognition research demonstrate that students learn better in groups. This means giving more low-floor, high-ceiling tasks with multiple entry points to give the broadest access to students. Facilitating discussions around group-worthy activities allows all students to build on their prior knowledge and skills and to communicate their unique reasoning and perspectives. In addition, this approach makes student understanding of the content explicit, so instructors can refine instruction to meet the needs of more students.

Q: At many community colleges, a majority of students need some remediation. Are there approaches to remedial teaching that could help many students?

A: While the majority of students entering community college place into remedial courses, there is a growing trend toward placing students directly into transfer-level courses with corequisite support courses instead. The goal is to increase transfer and completion rates of students -- especially underrepresented students. The following three instructional strategies are useful for students placed into either remedial or transfer-level courses. First, it is important to foster a growth mind-set classroom. Community college students frequently have experienced failures when learning in the past, and they may have internalized negative mind-sets around schooling and their identities as learners.

Second, doing “inreach” is a powerful instructional move. This means using instructional time or course materials to connect students with campus resources like financial aid, tutoring, mental health services, academic counseling, mentoring or student clubs. Underrepresented students make up a disproportionately large number of students placed into remedial classes at community colleges. Research indicates that completion rates improve when community college instructors connect entering students to institutional resources. The third approach is that instructors should seamlessly layer college skills into the curriculum in ways that dignify students’ lived experiences. Examples of college skills are: using professional academic language when communicating with professors, knowing how to study for and take different types of tests, navigating financial aid, taking effective notes, knowing how and when to get a mentor, or code-shifting. For first-generation college students, instructors may be the only one they know with a college degree.

Q: You have extensive experience in teaching math, and math is a major stumbling point for many community college students. Would you please offer an example or two of making math instruction have more impact on your students?

A: On the first day of class, students do an activity called “Finding Your Growth Mind-Set.” Students draw a picture of something they are now good at, something they got better at over time by expending great effort. This is an area where they have a growth mind-set. They draw themselves playing soccer, baking, playing guitar, speaking in public, fishing or writing, etc. Afterward, in pairs they discuss strategies they used when they made mistakes or when things got challenging in this one area where they have a growth mind-set. I scribe their strategies on the whiteboard, then we discuss how these can be applied to learning math. We circle back to their drawings and this class list of strategies as the math content grows increasingly complex and cognitively demanding. This launch activity not only reinforces a growth mind-set but also acts as a springboard for co-developing norms with students around doing the inquiry-based group work that is foundational to the course.

The second activity involves applied problem solving in groups. When I introduce the topic of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with positive and negative integers, I do not begin with the typical lecture on the rules followed by having students complete 20-40 problems on a worksheet. Instead, I introduce the topic by having students explore real-life, culturally informed problems that previous students gave me or ones that I created from my Yucatán study. Students work in groups of four and use visuals to solve these problems in their own ways. Then, each group explains their assumptions, reasoning and solution to their problem to the entire class. After two days of solving and presenting, students derive their own rules for using the four operations (+, -, x, ÷) with integers -- and write them in their own words. For homework, students create and solve their own real-life word problems, and these are graded with a rubric. A student from Jordan created a problem to find the distance traveled if one was to travel from the top of Mount Nebo to the bottom of the north end of the Dead Sea. Another student wrote a word problem in Spanish that she developed with her mother about business accounting.

Q: Your book talks about the importance of mind-set -- for students and instructors. Would you explain what you mean by that?

A: The research is clear. Beliefs and attitudes of both instructors and learners impact student outcomes. Many students enter college with unproductive attitudes about school and learning from their prior experiences in elementary or secondary school, with the media or society at large. For example, “Girls do not do well in math”; “People who look like me are not college material” or “People who are good at music are born that way.” For community college students seeking to transfer to four-year colleges, their first course lays the groundwork for achieving that goal. Therefore, it is important for instructors to foster a growth mind-set classroom where all students recognize that experimenting, making mistakes, taking risks and expending great effort are all a natural part of being a competent and powerful lifelong learner. Furthermore, recent research indicates that when educators possess growth mind-sets, then their students achieve at higher levels, so it is important for educators to nurture their own growth mind-sets about learning, as well.

In addition to fostering their own growth mind-sets, it is also important for educators to cultivate an equity mind-set. We know that when educators have differential expectations for different students based on their ethnic/racial, linguistic or socioeconomic background, then the achievement gap widens. Therefore, educators need to frame their instructional moves with an equity lens. This may mean exploring their own implicit bias, writing a positionality statement or educating themselves about the cultural backgrounds and histories of their students. This work to cultivate an equity mind-set is particularly important when teaching students who are subjected to discrimination on a daily basis, like students of color, students from the LGBTQ+ community and students from low-income households. By cultivating an equity mind-set, instructors ensure that classroom instruction does not perpetuate these unfair systems but instead disrupts these larger systemic inequities at the classroom level. All students should feel invited to communicate their unique perspectives in the classroom as part of their journey to develop their identities as powerful learners.

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New calls for Europe-wide stance in defense of academic freedom

Thu, 2019-07-18 07:00

European governments must protest “loudly and clearly” against abuses of academic freedom in Hungary or risk other authoritarian states constricting the independence of scholarly institutions, university leaders and researchers have warned in response to the Orbán government’s latest moves.

Earlier this month, János Áder, the president of Hungary, signed a law giving the government control over the network of research institutes that formerly belonged to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences -- a move that has been widely criticized as endangering academic freedom.

Meanwhile, the Budapest-based Central European University has made further steps toward moving to a new campus in Vienna, after being driven out of Hungary by Viktor Orbán’s government. On Saturday, CEU announced that the institution and six of its degree programs had received Austrian accreditation.

Michael Ignatieff, president of CEU, told Times Higher Education that hundreds of universities and academic institutions across the world have voiced solidarity with CEU and the Academy of Sciences, “but it was all to no avail,” in part because “governments themselves have done little or nothing.”

“That’s a sobering lesson that the international academic community has stood up for itself, but these governments are ignoring what they’re being told,” he said.

“The British government, the American government, the French government, the Dutch government -- all of whom have free institutions inside [their nations] -- are not saying loudly and clearly enough to these authoritarian regimes: ‘If you want to stay in Europe, Europe means free institutions. If you don’t defend and support and sustain free institutions, you don’t belong to the club.’

“No one is saying that clearly enough or making the costs of doing what they’ve done to the Academy of Sciences and to us … prohibitive. Until the costs are prohibitive, governments like Orbán’s will keep on doing what they’re doing.”

Ignatieff added that the Orbán government is “very dependent” on the structural subsidies along with the political and diplomatic support and protection that it receives from its E.U. membership and it is “therefore susceptible to a firm talking-to from European governments.”

However, he said that E.U. member states “fear that if they apply pressure to Hungary it may one day be applied to them” and so they “risk some of the values on which Europe depends.”

While the European Parliament last year voted to pursue disciplinary action against Hungary under Article 7 of the E.U. treaty -- in response to the Hungarian government’s attacks on the media, minorities and the rule of law -- the procedure has made little progress.

Ignatieff added that the language of European treaties “does not contain a very strong or robust definition of academic freedom” and there is “no specific requirement that European states respect and protect the academic freedom of their scientific institutions,” allowing “authoritarian regimes pretty well free rein to do what they want.”

“I think that’s an area where Europe needs to learn a lesson from these episodes and change the law,” he said. “If respect for academic freedom had been made a condition of continued membership in the E.U., we would still be in Budapest. It’s that simple.”

When asked whether the inaction by European governments may embolden other authoritarian or populist states to restrict academic freedom, Ignatieff said, “I can’t say for sure. But this is what globalization means. Everybody learns from everybody else and sometimes they learn very bad lessons … Universities are very much on the front line as authoritarian regimes consolidate their rule.”

On the changes to the Academy of Sciences, he added that “other countries -- Poland, the Czech Republic -- may be tempted to do the same.”

Earlier this year, János Kertész, head of the department of network and data science at CEU, wrote an open letter to Manfred Weber, the German European Parliament member who leads the European People’s Party -- the center-right group of parties that is the European Parliament’s largest group -- calling for him to put pressure on Orbán to withdraw the new Academy of Sciences legislation. The letter received 1,460 signatures but “didn’t help,” he said.

György Bazsa, professor emeritus of the University of Debrecen, one of the signatories, said he hoped that the new leadership of the E.U. “will take steps to force rules of democracy.”

Hungary’s treatment of CEU and the Academy of Sciences “should result in stopping Hungarian participation in European committees,” he suggested. “There are definitely possibilities in the hand of the European Union. It should want to use them.”

He added that there is “a danger” that Central and Eastern European countries with “similar antidemocratic” tendencies will make comparable steps to constrict university autonomy.

Anne Corbett, a senior associate at LSE Consulting and an expert on higher education and the E.U., said it was significant that Eastern European countries managed to block the choice of Frans Timmermans, the Dutch center-left politician who had “tried to act against Orbán,” as the new president of the European Commission.

Other than continuing Timmermans’s approach of trying to mobilize Article 7 of the treaty, “there’s very little that the E.U. can do,” said Corbett, “unless it gets general support.”

Corbett said that “the hope lies with universities themselves,” specifically cross-border networks of universities, which can “put pressure on national rectors’ organizations to lobby governments collectively.”

“I don’t think anything will happen unless there is a wide university front saying that this is not just an issue for Hungary, it’s really an issue for Europe,” she said.

“It’s universities themselves saying they’re not just interested in European funding, but they’re interested in seeing the E.U. standing up for these values.”

However, academics in Hungary said E.U. action against the country could have unintended consequences.

Such a move “may damage the reputation of the government, but it will also damage our research and that’s not what we want,” said Gergely Bohm, head of the international department at the Academy of Sciences.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Thu, 2019-07-18 07:00
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Steven Pinker's aid in Jeffrey Epstein's legal defense renews criticism of the increasingly divisive public intellectual

Wed, 2019-07-17 07:00

That convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had help in avoiding federal or state prison is unsurprising: money and power often buy what they shouldn’t. But the recent revelation that Epstein found aid from star psychologist Steven Pinker in the form of a 2007 legal document surprised both Pinker’s fans and critics.

At least at first. Then came the analysis: to supporters of Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, his ties to Epstein are an aberration in an otherwise commendable life as a public intellectual -- one based on reason and truth, even when that’s unpopular. Increasingly, Pinker’s work centers on the notion that life is good -- better than it’s ever been -- and that we don’t appreciate it enough.

As Pinker wrote in 2018’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, “People seem to bitch, moan, whine, carp and kvetch as much as ever,” despite reams of data on how humans’ quality of life continues to improve.

Pinker’s detractors, meanwhile, take the revelation that he knew Epstein and contributed to his legal defense as proof that the professor is a fraud, has lost his way, or both. Just as critics have accused Pinker of glossing over inequality and the continued suffering of individuals in praising progress, they’ve asked how he could have patinated a predator’s defense.

“At a certain point, if you’re playing Dr. Pangloss to people who administer a monstrous social order, then at some point you’re going to rub shoulders with and do favors for actual monsters,” said Patrick Blanchfield, a scholar of politics and violence and an affiliate faculty member at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

They’re going after Pinker now because he’s been photographed with Epstein (which he regrets & has addressed) & because he’s previously made the common sense observation that rape has something to do with sex. Shameless https://t.co/NcmvO3Li4B

— Claire Lehmann (@clairlemon) July 13, 2019

Steven Pinker, explaining to a child slave inside of a sex dungeon moving 500 mph through the stratosphere, that technology is actually making the world safer

— L Ron Mexico (@LRonMexico) July 7, 2019

Joel Christensen, chair of classical studies at Brandeis University, said that “however forced, or tepid or merely transactive” Pinker's interaction with Epstein was, it “confirms for many what has been clear for years.” Pinker, he said, “is a reactionary who is moving from the center to the right because he refuses to engage critically with new voices or to entertain honestly the criticisms his work has produced.”

Pinker, who has said publicly that he regrets helping Epstein, told Inside Higher Ed this week that he's used to being “criticized and attacked, and I have a long paper trail of debates, replies and letters.”

“I don’t always enjoy it but have always accepted that it’s the way things have to be,” he said. “If I take a strong position, I can’t expect people to bow down and agree with it, but they’ll take [their] best shot at me, and I’ll defend it as best I can.”

‘According to Dr. Pinker’

Epstein was previously convicted on just one count of prostitution, in 2008. But what he was accused of before he brokered a most unlikely plea deal was monstrous: trafficking dozens of underage girls in a scheme whereby they recruited each other for sexual abuse. And Pinker did rub shoulders with him, before and after Epstein’s first indictment, in 2006. (He's facing similar charges today.) Pinker was included in the flight log for Epstein’s plane, which was dubbed the “Lolita Express,” for example, in 2002. He was photographed with him at a gathering in 2014. And he shared an affidavit from the case via Twitter in 2015.

Alan Dershowitz's affidavit on accusations in the Jane Doe/Jeffrey Epstein/Prince Andrew lawsuit. https://t.co/Iz1bmXHhvb

— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) January 6, 2015

But it’s the favor that Pinker did for Epstein that’s caused him the most trouble of late: in 2007, Epstein’s attorneys -- including Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz -- submitted a letter to federal prosecutors arguing that their client hadn’t violated a law against using the internet to lure minors across state lines for sexual abuse.

“To confirm our view of the ‘plain meaning’ of the words, we asked" Pinker, "a noted linguist, to analyze the statute to determine the natural and linguistically logical reading or readings of the section,” the letter said. “We asked whether the statute contemplates necessarily that the means of communication must be the vehicle through which the persuading or enticing directly occurs. According to Dr. Pinker, that is the sole rational reading.”

It’s impossible to know how much that analysis helped Epstein land his deal, if at all. But it clearly didn’t hurt him. In any event, with Epstein now facing new federal charges, everyone in his orbit has come under new scrutiny. And Pinker has tried to defend himself against those who find his involvement with Epstein indefensible and part of a larger pattern of problematic statements.

I have no relationship with Epstein & have taken no funding from him. Our circles have occasionally overlapped: In 02, my lit agent invited me to join a group of east-coast TED speakers Epstein flew to CA. In 14, Krauss seated me next to him at a lunch, & someone snapped a photo.

— Steven Pinker (@sapinker) July 11, 2019

Questioning Pinker's Record

Kate Manne, an associate professor of philosophy at Cornell University, for example, has posed her own outstanding questions about Pinker’s discussions of feminism, gender-based violence and the nature of rape. In particular, she’s noted that Pinker on Twitter called the idea that the 2014 murders near the University of California, Santa Barbara, were about a larger pattern of hatred against women “statistically obtuse.” She also took issue with arguments in his 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. In it, Pinker wrote that rape is "not exactly a normal part of male sexuality," but that "the theory that rape has nothing to do with sex may be more plausible to a gender to whom a desire for impersonal sex with an unwilling stranger is too bizarre to contemplate."

Leaving Epstein entirely to one side, Pinker is now trying to rewrite his history of highly dubious remarks about rape and feminism. Here's a lengthy footnote from my book on misogyny in which I canvass those remarks. https://t.co/utV2kQRHMX pic.twitter.com/jxWpGbRkiG

— Kate Manne (@kate_manne) July 13, 2019

Others have pointed out, anew, that Pinker wrote a blurb for Heather Mac Donald’s polemic The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. (He also quotes Mac Donald in The Better Angels.) There have been reminders, too, that Pinker has fans within the alt-right -- though some of that fan base was built on a misleading clip of him discussing how some young white men find their way to the alt-right over the internet.

Pinker’s definitive response to the recent criticism was posted to the blog Why Evolution Is True by moderator Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago.

Coyne wrote on the blog, “I see articles where, on no evidence at all, scientists and atheists are tarred because they either knew Epstein or associated with him.” Such “innuendo is meant to imply that those people knew about Epstein’s crimes and either ignored them or, perhaps, even participated in them. In other words, they’re complicit. I could reproduce several examples, but I suspect readers have already seen them, and I’m not going to highlight and send traffic to miscreants involved in slander or character assassination.”

It’s unclear who, exactly, Coyne was referring to, beyond Pinker. But Lawrence Krauss, a physicist who accepted $250,000 in funding from Epstein, was not renewed as head of Arizona State University’s Origins Project last year amid separate harassment allegations, which he denied.

Pinker and Krauss weren’t the only thinkers to hobnob with Epstein, who had an affinity for Harvard and donated millions to it. Former Harvard president Larry Summers rode on Epstein's plane, as did Bill Clinton, for instance.

Pinker Responds

Pinker’s response begins with what he calls an “annoying irony” about Epstein: that “I could never stand the guy, never took research funding from him and always tried to keep my distance.”

“I found him to be a kibitzer and a dilettante -- he would abruptly change the subject, ADD-style, dismiss an observation with an adolescent wisecrack and privilege his own intuitions over systematic data.”

Still, he said, because “Epstein had insinuated himself with so many people I intersected with,” and since “I was often the most recognizable person in the room, someone would snap a picture; some of them resurfaced this past week, circulated by people who disagree with me on various topics and apparently believe that the photos are effective arguments.” He said that most joint engagements were before Epstein’s arrest, but one was after he served his sentence. 

Regarding the 2007 letter, Pinker wrote that Dershowitz is a friend, “and we taught a course together at Harvard. He often asks me questions about syntax and semantics of laws, most recently the impeachment statute.” While he was representing Epstein, Dershowitz “asked me about the natural interpretation of one of the relevant laws, and I offered my opinion; this was cited in a court document.”

He added, “I did it as a favor to a friend and colleague, not as a paid expert witness, but I now regret that I did so. And needless to say, I find Epstein’s behavior reprehensible.”

Since some of the related social media “snark insinuates that I downplay sexual exploitation, it may be worth adding that I have a paper trail of abhorrence of violence against women, have celebrated efforts to stamp it out and have tried to make my own small contribution to this effort,” Pinker continued.

Citing The Better Angels, he said, “As far as I know, I’m the only writer who has documented and celebrated actual progress in reducing violence against women and argued that this progress shows that the effort is not futile and should embolden us to press for greater reductions still.”

Coyne wrote, “There you have it. If people are going to tar Pinker by flaunting his association with Epstein, then Pinker deserves a reply. This is his reply, and any further discussion should take it into account.”

Adia Benton, an assistant professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, said that beyond Pinker and Dershowitz, “I think there’s a tendency for men to overlook the foibles of their acquaintances and colleagues. The shunning of assholes and creeps is just not done. Especially when it comes to sexual misconduct and misogyny.”

‘A Polite Canadian’

Pinker said via email that he’s a political liberal, "a polite Canadian" and a member of the academic mainstream. Even so, "since I was a graduate student, I’ve been in thick of intellectual controversies and have always had critics."

During cognitive psychology’s imagery debate in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, Pinker said, he argued with his graduate adviser, Stephen Kosslyn, that mental images are represented in the brain as picture-like arrays of pixels. He was also an advocate of Noam Chomsky’s controversial hypothesis that language is “an innate human faculty,” while simultaneously opposing Chomsky and Stephen Jay Gould in holding that language is an evolutionary adaptation for communication.

His 2002 book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, brought a series of controversies. Writing for The New Yorker at the time, literature scholar Louis Menand of Harvard respectfully condemned the book -- and the field of evolutionary psychology. (Pinker was teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology then.)

“Evolutionary psychology is therefore a philosophy for winners: it can be used to justify every outcome,” Menand wrote. “This is why Pinker has persuaded himself that liberal democracy and current opinion about women's sexual autonomy have biological foundations. It's a ‘scientific’ validation of the way we live now.”

Echoing Menand, Christensen, of Brandeis, said Pinker's public support of last year's Sokal Squared hoax authors, for example, is “connected to his faith in evolutionary psychology and his basic overreliance on nature in nature-versus-nurture debates.” And Enlightenment Now “is a broadside in defense of Western civilizations when serious scholars of color” are arguing that the very idea of Western civilization “relies on and reinforces structural racism.”

It’s true: criticism of Pinker is nothing new. It was, however, perhaps best summed up by this May headline from Current Affairs: “The World’s Most Annoying Man.”

Pinker “doesn’t think he has an ideology,” Nathan Robinson wrote in that article, partially quoting Pinker. “He insists that his conclusions simply follow from data, contrasting his own work with the ‘statistical obtuseness’ common among journalists and humanities professors, who use ‘Anecdotes, headlines, rhetoric,’ and the ‘highest-paid person’s opinion.’ If you look through his work though, you’ll find anecdotes, headlines, rhetoric and appeals to authority abound.”

Pinker, meanwhile, maintains that “Too many leaders and influencers, including politicians, journalists, intellectuals and academics, surrender to the cognitive bias of assessing the world through anecdotes and images rather than data and facts.” So he told The Harvard Gazette in June.

How ‘This Round of Attacks’ Is Different

What is different now is that “this round of attacks comes from the rowdy cage fight of social media rather than academic, literary and intellectual forums, which -- however verbally pugilistic -- have some version of Marquess of Queensberry rules,” Pinker said this week.

Everyone can take a shot now, even based on a single tweet or other “small part of my controversy portfolio.” So “lots of people have lots of bones to pick.” And, as they say, “friends come and go, but enemies accumulate.” Pinker’s “bad luck in repeatedly finding myself in the same place as Jeffrey Epstein” has given openings to those who want “slime me,” he added.

“If someone is determined to discredit me by any means necessary, then no means will be sufficient to change that person’s mind,” Pinker said. Going forward, his policy will be the same as it’s always been: to “advance arguments that I think are too interesting, important and supported by data for people to ignore, even if they disagree with them.”

That Pinkerism probably won't do much to quiet his critics.

Christensen said it’s important to contextualize Pinker in the ever-growing “economy of intellect” -- think TED Talks and thought influencers.

Comparing Pinker to University of Toronto psychologist and quasi-guru Jordan Peterson, Christensen said Pinker “courts public attention and controversy after years of creating and publicizing work that is interdisciplinary and outward focused.” Over the past few years especially, he said, Pinker has joined “a cadre of older, mostly white male academics who espouse a purist view of free speech and debate" that "ignores significant scholarship from women and scholars of color about how free speech and academic freedom as traditionally construed overweight and privilege already privileged voices” -- meaning mostly white, older men.

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Senate lawmakers introduce bill to spur growth of income-share agreements

Wed, 2019-07-17 07:00

Senate lawmakers announced legislation Tuesday that they argue will spur the growth of income-share agreements, privately run alternatives to student loans that commit workers to paying back a portion of their future income.

ISAs have received extensive press coverage, thanks to their promotion as an alternative to unmanageable student debt. They’ve yet to catch on widely, though -- in part, supporters argue, because of a lack of clarity surrounding federal law.

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, and Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, were joined by Virginia Democrat Mark Warner and Delaware Democrat Chris Coons in rolling out the bill. Young and Rubio had previously introduced legislation. The new Democratic support reflects the growing interest in alternatives to traditional student loans. Coons said the legislation would allow ISA proponents to “proceed safely and with more government oversight.”

But some consumer advocates say regulations on financial products already apply to income-share agreements. And Democrats including Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren have warned that the financial instruments carry common pitfalls of private student loans with the “added danger of deceptive rhetoric and marketing.”

The legislation could test whether the negative branding for student debt will motivate lawmakers to embrace a mostly untested financial product. Young said skyrocketing student debt had pushed too many families into financial hardship to pursue a quality education.

“That’s why I have introduced a bill to offer students from all backgrounds with a private -- or philanthropically -- funded, debt-free financing option catered to their own income needs through the use of income share agreements,” he said. “If we strengthen the framework of ISAs, we can help colleges and career and technical schools prepare Americans for rewarding careers, all without any additional cost to taxpayers.”

The legislation would exempt individuals earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line from obligations to pay income-share agreements. Under most ISA agreements, students' repayment obligations kick in when they reach a certain income threshold. The bill would also cap payment obligations at 20 percent of workers’ incomes and apply lower caps for longer contracts. And it gives the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversight of ISAs and makes them dischargeable in bankruptcy. Federal law doesn't allow student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy.

Anne Kim, the vice president of domestic policy at the Progressive Policy Institute, said the legislation would ensure the market for ISAs “is fair and transparent and puts students’ needs first.”

But Joanna Darcus, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, said the bill would pre-empt multiple federal and state consumer protections.

“ISAs cannot be properly described as anything other than debt. Legislation like this would actually roll back the existing protections that we have for students when they incur debt,” she said. “We need to be very careful to ensure that we're not adding to the confusion in the higher ed financing market.”

Lawmakers on the Senate education committee are in the midst of negotiating a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act that could include new accountability for colleges’ outcomes on student loans. A Young spokeswoman said that the finance committee would have jurisdiction over ISA legislation but that all potential legislative vehicles would be considered.

Income-share agreements have been most popular with alternative higher ed providers like coding boot camps, the kind of programs that often enroll students who already have a college degree. Only a handful of traditional four-year colleges have offered ISAs themselves, most notably Purdue University, where the Back a Boiler program has been looked to as a model by supporters. Purdue president Mitch Daniels offered an endorsement of the new legislation, saying it’s a necessary framework to expand an option for students “who wish to be protected against the risks of excessive student loans.”

The Trump administration has also indicated an interest in experimenting with ISA arrangements. In May, a top Education Department official suggested the administration could use its experimental sites authority to run a pilot program for federal income-share agreements.

That prompted Warren and House Democrats Ayanna Pressley and Katie Porter to ask Education Secretary Betsy DeVos last month whether the department had considered its legal authority to pursue such an experiment.

“The department should instead focus on pursuing real solutions to the student debt crisis that help student borrowers avoid and escape debt, like fully discharging the loans of defrauded borrowers and improving the abysmal administration of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program,” the lawmakers wrote.

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Experts still digging into new taxes on higher education

Wed, 2019-07-17 07:00

AUSTIN, Tex. -- Colleges and universities have paid or are preparing to pay for the first time two new, much-talked-about taxes under Republicans' 2017 tax-reform law: the so-called parking tax and the endowment tax.

But that doesn't mean all the kinks are worked out yet -- or that the fight over the federal levies is over.

The intricacies involved in paying and calculating the taxes were much discussed during the National Association of College and University Business Officers annual meeting here this week. So was discussion about repeal efforts, at least for the parking tax. NACUBO was asking business officers to sign up for a campaign against the tax, tweet with the hashtag #parktheparkingtax and tell their own local lobbyists to take up the campaign.

“There is actually strong bipartisan support to repeal the parking tax,” Megan Schneider, NACUBO's senior director for government affairs, said during a panel Sunday. “I think we are cautiously optimistic that the parking tax could be repealed.”

It won't be simple in a gridlocked Washington, where lawmakers have a long list of top-level priorities like raising the debt ceiling and agreeing on a budget looming before them. Any tax repeal would be complicated by disagreements over how to pay for repealing a revenue-generating item. Nothing about the parking tax has been simple, though.

Despite its nickname, the tax itself doesn't only cover parking. It's an unrelated business income tax on employee parking and transportation benefits that has been the focus of questions since its introduction.

The tax first kicked in for colleges and universities for the six months from Jan. 1, 2018, through June 30 of that year. Taxes would have been due in mid-November, but since almost every institution files for a six-month extension, most likely paid under a May 15 deadline. Not every college will have to pay the tax -- scattered hands went up when attendees at a Monday session were asked whether they paid. And while the Internal Revenue Service issued interim guidance at the end of 2018 addressing some of the details involved in calculating parking tax burden, the fine print isn't final.

Every university seems to take a slightly different approach to administering parking and transit passes, said Julia Shanahan, executive director of tax for Columbia University. Columbia, for example, doesn't give employees any money for transit passes or parking but allows them to receive money for those priorities on a pretax basis.

“Initially we thought we were completely out of it because we were not giving our employees anything in terms of parking or transit,” she said. “But that wasn't the definition that ended up coming out.”

A significant number of attendees raised their hands when asked if they'd ended pretax options for transportation benefits after the tax was put in place. But some colleges and universities are in municipalities that require them to offer transportation benefits.

Meanwhile, private nonprofit institutions that will be subject to the endowment tax will have to pay it for their first full fiscal year beginning after Jan. 1, 2018. For most, that will be the year running from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

Only those institutions with assets of $500,000 per student and at least 500 tuition-paying students will be subject to the endowment tax. That tax isn't strictly levied on endowments, though. It's placed on net investment income from assets not used for exempt and educational purposes.

The U.S. Treasury Department just released guidance on the endowment tax at the end of June. Some institutions may be surprised by what nonendowed assets are to be counted toward the tax, a NACUBO panel said Monday. Calculations using existing databases of institutional endowments seem likely to miss key factors, like interest on student loans or dormitory rental income.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this tax, and we are trying to get our hands around this,” said Liz Clark, NACUBO's vice president for policy and research. “Frankly, they are defining dormitory rental income as investment income. I urge you, again, if you are at a private college or university, to look at all of your lines of revenue. If you are a small institution with some unique revenue lines and you are at or near that 500-student threshold and you have a certain amount of income, this calculation may not play out the way you think it does when you look at IPEDS reporting of endowment size per [full-time enrollment].”

Student loan interest would also be counted as taxable investment income for colleges and universities under the guidance

Panelists also covered a range of other tax issues, including a new excise tax on certain employees making more than $1 million in compensation.

“It's effective for tax years after 2017, so if this applies to you, you would have just finished your filing associated with 2018,” said C. Aaron LeMay, associate vice chancellor for finance and system controller for the University of North Texas system. The way the tax is currently written, it only applies to private colleges and universities and public institutions set up as 501(c)(3) organizations. But some in Congress are said to be interested in fixing language so it would apply to all institutions.

With all of the moving parts, experts recommend consultation and documentation.

“For our institution, we have become very good friends with a couple people in our general counsel's office associated with every position in this tax reform bill to make sure we have documented our position,” LeMay said. “In the event of a review by the IRS of our position, we have the backing of our general counsel's office in every position we have taken.”

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NCAA spending on outside lawyers rises 50 percent in two years

Tue, 2019-07-16 07:00

AUSTIN, Tex. -- The National Collegiate Athletic Association is paying more than twice as much in outside legal fees as it did four years ago in order to fight a slew of lawsuits, according to figures shared by its chief financial officer Monday during an appearance at the National Association of College and University Business Officers annual meeting.

High-profile concussion and antitrust lawsuits have forced the NCAA to hire high-powered lawyers at a time when it is also spending millions of dollars to try to shore up the college basketball ecosystem in the wake of a damaging recruiting scandal. Those expenses put financial pressure on the athletic association at a time when it is also facing uncertainty and risk from major changes to the landscape such as a 2018 court case giving states the ability to legalize sports gambling.

The NCAA is spending about $54 million in third-party legal fees for its fiscal year ending in August 2019, said Kathleen T. McNeely, NCAA senior vice president of administration and CFO. That's up from $46 million the previous year and $36 million in 2017. For the year ending in August 2015, the NCAA spent $25 million, its federal tax filing for the year shows.

“One of our biggest challenges financially -- and by we I mean the NCAA -- I'd say for the last five years has been the growth in our third-party legal fees,” McNeely said. “Our third-party legal fees are escalating to the point where it is affecting our ability to provide additional resources for our schools.”

Despite increasing sharply, outside legal fees are still only a small slice of the money passing through the NCAA's hands. The association reports more than $1 billion in annual revenue, and a 2019 revenue distribution plan called for it to pay about $590 million to individual institutions and conferences at the Division I level alone.

But NCAA leaders worry about continued antitrust suits or other lawsuits that ultimately seek to make sure college athletes are paid for their efforts. The NCAA and its member institutions have in recent years increased what can be offered to athletes in terms of food, stipends and scholarships, but the association still opposes institutions paying athletes.

“We really can't lose these suits,” McNeely said. “This is fundamentally what college sports are about. And so that means we're hiring really good attorneys with national reputations and who have argued in front of the Supreme Court so that we can win.”

All of the lawsuits have had indirect effects as well. General liability insurance premiums have been rising, as have premiums for directors, McNeely said. Some conferences have been informed that general liability claims cannot include head injuries going forward.

Business officers and other leaders at colleges and universities need to think about the financial implications and trickle-down effects those developments may have on their individual institutions, McNeely said.

“They're not just suing us now,” she said. “They're suing your conferences, and in some situations they're suing your schools.”

As different states legalize sports betting in the wake of a landmark 2018 Supreme Court decision overturning a federal ban outside Nevada, the NCAA put together both an internal working group and an ad hoc member committee to look at related issues and new steps. Sports wagering will affect athletes, their coaches and officials, according to McNeely.

The NCAA will develop educational materials for athletes, coaches and administrators. It is exploring changes to how it performs background checks for referees and game officials. It has hired a Minneapolis-based company to look for signs of game fixing.

All three divisions will be monitored. A total of 12,500 events were monitored under a pilot program last year.

Work that the NCAA does on wagering means institutions and conferences don't have to pick up expenses themselves, McNeely said.

Meanwhile, a working group has been studying issues related to athletes being compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses. Lawmakers in at least two states, California and North Carolina, have introduced bills pressuring the NCAA to allow athletes to profit from use of their images.

“It is really about their ability to sponsor something,” McNeely said of the bills' potential impact on athletes. “Membership has not been accepting or wanting to change this.”

The resistance is rooted in worries about recruiting, she added. Recruiting could become unfair if wealthy and well-connected institutions are able to entice athletes to enroll by offering sponsorship opportunities.

Of course, critics can contend that powerhouse institutions already have the ability to dangle future sponsorship opportunities, athletic connections or business ties in order to tilt the recruiting playing field. And the blurry lines between booster and university, between company and athletic department, make a coherent argument difficult.

“This is not paying the student athlete,” McNeely told university business officers in attendance Monday. “You wouldn't be paying them. We wouldn't be paying them, which is really why this is one of the ones that's hard for us to argue. Although I will say it's difficult if you understand the way recruiting works.”

On the topic of the recent high-profile college basketball recruiting scandal, the NCAA is implementing recommendations from a commission chaired by Condoleezza Rice, the former U.S. secretary of state and Stanford University provost. It will cost about $15 million annually, McNeely said.

She also touted work the NCAA has done to address athlete health, concussion safety and transparency about health risks athletes take.

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Full repeal of Pell ban in prisons top of mind at annual convening on Second Chance pilot

Tue, 2019-07-16 07:00

Vivian Nixon was a key voice in the Education Department’s decision in 2015 to reinstate Pell Grants for a limited number of incarcerated students. On Monday, the executive director of the College and Community Fellowship exhorted lawmakers to take what criminal justice reformers view as the next step: lifting the 1994 ban on federal student aid in prisons.

“To succeed after a criminal conviction, one must navigate countless hurdles and barriers,” Nixon told a roomful of supporters from higher education and corrections backgrounds. “Education is one of the most effective ways to help people negotiate that process.”

Proponents of college education in prison on Monday marked the successes so far of the Second Chance Pell pilot program, the Obama administration initiative that will soon enter its fourth year, at a convening organized by the Vera Institute. The larger goal for many in the room, though, was full reinstatement of Pell Grants for incarcerated students, a priority that many think has been advanced by the progress of Second Chance Pell. Many supporters see the personal stories of students pursuing college course work through the program as the strongest argument for reinstating federal student aid in prisons.

The initiative, which offers Pell Grants through 64 participating colleges, has proved to have staying power through part of two administrations. And it’s given advocates new ammunition to argue for lifting a quarter-century ban on the grants in prisons. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos reaffirmed her support for the program at the Vera event and said it would be up to lawmakers to decide how prison education should be expanded further.

“It’s Congress’s chance to act and do its job to make sure to extend this opportunity in a very sustainable and predictable way to many more people across our country,” DeVos said.

About 1,000 students have graduated with degrees or postsecondary certificates since the Second Chance program began in 2016. Although Republicans criticized the pilot as an overreach by the Obama administration at the time, signs of bipartisan support for prison education have emerged since then.

The Trump administration and Senator Lamar Alexander, the Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, have offered support for including a repeal of the 1994 ban in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. And earlier this year, legislation to repeal the ban got GOP co-sponsors in the House and Senate for the first time.

Nixon, who herself served three and a half years in prison, said in an interview that she expected difficult conversations around carve-outs for Pell eligibility in prisons -- who gets federal aid and who doesn’t based on types of convictions, length of sentence or other factors.

“That’s why I think they’re moving slowly. Not because there’s a lack of will to move forward,” she said.

Nixon said she disagrees with restrictions on grant eligibility because any person has the ability to change and because the length of prison sentences can always change as a result of exoneration, pardons or compassionate release.

And she said the comments from DeVos -- and her personal visits to two prison education programs -- were encouraging for supporters of expanding aid to incarcerated students.

“Her recommendations were all about broad access, and that was a pleasant surprise,” Nixon said.

Making the Case for Pell Reinstatement

Panelists at the Vera event took stock of the shifting support for restoring aid to incarcerated students.

“We’ve come a lot farther on this issue than we ever anticipated,” said Hayne Yoon, the government affairs director at the Vera Institute. “Partly as a result of this pilot program and as a result, I think, of synergy between the right and the left. It’s really moved the issue forward on Capitol Hill.”

John Wetzel, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said the majority of the incarcerated population in the U.S. will eventually re-enter their communities and education is the best tool to help them succeed -- a message correctional administrators have brought to lawmakers and their staffs on Capitol Hill.

“If they’re getting back out, why aren’t we giving them the tools to be successful?” he said.

Expanding postsecondary education in prisons hasn’t been without serious challenges in the first years of the Second Chance program. Various reports have documented problems obtaining adequate classroom space or keeping a ready supply of textbooks in some prisons. Many prisons also offer few chances to access the internet or even computers, making it more difficult for students to research assignments.

Participants at the convening Monday also acknowledged the significant difference it can make for students when there is buy-in not only from top corrections officials, but prison staff as well. A Vera report released this year noted tensions with a guard at a New Jersey prison that led to a sit-in by students.

Because the Education Department has collected little data on the Second Chance Pell program, there are also serious barriers for researchers looking to study the effectiveness of the pilot. The Government Accountability Office urged the department in a report earlier this year to undertake a rigorous evaluation of the program. That’s yet to happen, although DeVos said in May that a planned expansion of the number of participating colleges would help efforts to evaluate Second Chance Pell.

But some lawmakers continue to offer philosophical objections to expanding Pell Grants for incarcerated students.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the ranking Republican on the House education committee, said in May that states should cover the cost of educating incarcerated students -- that despite restrictions on student aid in her home state, North Carolina. And some higher ed officials offered a heavy dose of realism Monday about the continued opposition to lifting the Pell ban.

“We absolutely are in no position to take political success for granted,” said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges. “There are just a whole lot of people out there at this moment who are not sympathetic to this concept.”

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Author discusses his new book on teaching undergraduates

Tue, 2019-07-16 07:00

Professors teach; most them teach undergraduates. This is their path to self-redemption, according to The Happy Professor: How to Teach Undergraduates and Feel Good About It (Rowman & Littlefield). Bill Coplin, the author, is director and professor in the policy studies program at Syracuse University. He responded to queries about his new book.

Q: You talk about priorities in a career. What if you are at a university where a faculty member can't make teaching undergraduates a priority?

A: This is a major cause of unhappiness. If you are asked to teach undergraduates and want to be happy, give the job enough priority to help students prepare for careers and become effective citizens along with your content. Follow the strategies and tactics in the book. Research for your career can still be No. 1 if it puts food on the table, but in that case, undergraduate teaching has to be No. 2 if you want to find peace in teaching undergraduates. Once you are a tenured full professor, the priorities should reverse if you include graduate teaching. I choose to make teaching my top priority at a research university because I didn’t feel good treating paying customers [as] less than they should be. That choice has been extremely rewarding and hence, the happy professor.

Q: Assuming you are a professor where you can focus on teaching, how can you use the skills continua you outline?

A: You can do many things, but first you must focus on the important skills for careers and citizenship that your course will help students practice. Then list the skills in your syllabus and on your course evaluations. Always mention in class the skills that are being practiced and how they will help in careers and effective citizenship. For example, if you are having students conduct or think about surveys, mention that surveys are used in all professional careers, whether business, nonprofit or government, and also note that citizens need to understand the principles of survey design when making judgments about government policies and politicians.

Q: You advocate for “andragogy, not pedagogy.” What does that mean?

A: “Andragogy” is a term developed many years ago and championed by Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s. It means teaching adults, while “peda” means children. I advocate treating undergraduates as if they were adults even though many are not far along on the children-adult continuum. Treating undergraduates as children being told what to do and what to learn breeds distrust. Distrust breeds late and poorly written papers and zoning out in class. The question “why do I have to learn this?” needs to be answered with something other than “it’s good for you.” Teachers should check out Knowles’s writing to see the many and powerful differences between viewing your student as a child and not an adult.

Q: How can a faculty members become more experimental in the classroom?

A: I wrote the book so faculty can try out things that worked for me, many of which are small and don’t take a lot of time or effort. The most powerful thing they can do is to treat students or former students as advisers in some capacity. They will make suggestions on what the teacher is now doing, and after a while the teacher will come up with ideas and ask for their advice.

Q: Your advice on teaching assistants may surprise faculty members. What is their positive role?

A: I found that graduate teaching assistants did not know the content of my course since they had not taken it. Teachers will not know the abilities and knowledge base of their graduate students. They will know it for their undergraduates. Undergraduate TAs who took the course know what students need. They will help teachers avoid the tendency to teach over the heads of the majority of their students. They make it easy in a big class to make the class have a small-group feel to it. They can be used for mundane things like taking attendance or grading multichoice tests. They can help in writing and evaluating the tests. They will recruit new students. They will serve as junior partners. Just as importantly, the undergraduate TAs will learn to take responsibility, how difficult teaching is and many other things for career and citizenship. Teachers need more help as the technology becomes a larger part of education in both designing course work and coaching students on how to navigate software.

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NCAA notifies NC State it may have broken rules in connection with men's basketball corruption case

Tue, 2019-07-16 07:00

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has begun cracking down on institutions connected to the massive pay-for-play scandal that rocked men’s basketball nearly two years ago -- and North Carolina State University is its first target.

Corruption charges were first made public in September 2017, when 10 people, including Adidas executives and four assistant coaches in prominent programs, were arrested for allegedly orchestrating tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of payments to basketball recruits. The NCAA has waited until the conclusion of the federal trials in New York, which began in October, to start its own investigation.

The association notified NC State last week that it may have run afoul of the association’s rules, including committing two Level I violations, the most egregious charge the NCAA can levy, which is subject to the most severe of penalties.

College sports pundits told Inside Higher Ed they believe the association is attempting a scare tactic -- a way to deter other coaches from unethical conduct. And the NCAA’s pick of NC State is intentional, they said -- an institution large and visible enough to be considered part of big-time athletics, but not in the same tier as Big 10 programs such as Ohio State University or the University of Michigan, which bring in major revenue for the association and thus would likely escape the NCAA’s wrath.

The allegations against NC State largely relate to a star recruit, Dennis Smith Jr., who played with the Wolfpack for a single season in 2016-17 before becoming a top-10 pick in the professional draft.

Former assistant coach Orlando Early purportedly helped arrange a $40,000 payout to Smith’s father to secure Smith’s commitment to the university. The payment came from an Adidas consultant, Thomas (T. J.) Gassnola, who testified during the fraud trial of former Adidas executive Jim Gatto that he gave the money to Early. (Gatto, another representative of the shoe company and an aspiring sports agent were all found guilty of federal wire fraud last year).

Smith also received other “impermissible benefits,” the NCAA alleges -- more than 100 complimentary tickets to 13 games in the 2016-17 season that were worth $4,500. Shawn Farmer, who was Smith’s former trainer, also got 44 complimentary tickets worth more than $2,100, according to the NCAA.

The NCAA is also charging Mark Gottfried, the former head men’s basketball coach at NC State, with failing to monitor his program, the other Level I violation. The association is alleging two Level II violations related to the complimentary tickets and for the institution as a whole not monitoring the provision of the tickets. Players are supposed to receive only four complimentary tickets per home game.

Gottfried was fired in 2017. Despite no longer being at NC State (he’s now the head coach at California State University at Northridge), he could find his position in jeopardy if the NCAA finds that he did not promote an “atmosphere of compliance.” The Division I Committee on Infractions could slap Gottfried with a show-cause order that would essentially make him unemployable at an NCAA institution for a period of years.

His lawyer, Scott Tompsett, provided a written statement on the allegations: “Coach Gottfried has cooperated fully with the NCAA’s investigation and he will continue to cooperate. He is disappointed that allegations have been brought against his former program at NC State, and he takes these allegations very seriously.

“While we disagree with the enforcement staff’s position that Coach Gottfried did not adequately monitor certain aspects of his program, we are pleased that the NCAA agrees that he was not involved in any illicit payments.”

Walter Harrison, president emeritus of the University of Hartford and former chairman of the NCAA Executive Committee, the top leadership board of the association -- now known as the Board of Governors -- said, “It strains credulity to think that the head coaches had no knowledge of these activities.”

“It is very important to stress to all head coaches that they are responsible for all members of their staff complying to both NCAA regulations and the law,” Harrison said.

Some are skeptical whether the NCAA would challenge the sport's most valuable coaches, the (in some cases) revered figures who buoy certain programs and generate significant revenue for the NCAA. Dave Ridpath, president of the Drake Group, an ethics watchdog group in college athletics, said he would be interested to see the NCAA go after a coach like Sean Miller, head coach of the University of Arizona's men's team and one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. Miller was initially subpoenaed in the federal corruption case but ultimately did not testify.

"I'm still very skeptical," Ridpath, also an associate professor of sports management at Ohio University, said. "Mark Gottfried, he's not a big fish … he's not going to a big-time job. Sean Miller, that's a whole different story."

NC State has 90 days to respond to the NCAA, which will then issue a rebuttal within 60 days. After that, within three to six months, the Committee on Infractions will meet to debate the case.

The university noted in a statement that the coaches who were involved in the potential rule breaking were no longer employed there.

“NC State is committed to the highest levels of compliance, honesty and integrity,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said in a statement. “As the university carefully reviews the NCAA’s allegations and thoroughly evaluates the evidence in order to determine our response, we are prepared to be accountable where we believe it is appropriate and to vigorously defend this great university and its athletics program where we feel it is necessary.”

Marc Edelman, professor of law at Baruch College and a sports law specialist, compared the NCAA’s behavior to that of an economic cartel’s.

The NCAA is made up of member institutions that try to maximize the revenue to them and to the coaches and athletics directors, Edelman said. So when coaches cheat the system by trying to pay players illicitly, it threatens the cartel’s stability, and the NCAA is more likely to discipline the offending parties, he said.

This was evident with Southern Methodist University in 1987, when the NCAA handed down its strongest sanction: the death penalty. The football program was canceled for an entire season after the university was found to have been paying players to commit to the university.

It destroyed the SMU football team and sent a strong message to other institutions at the time, Edelman said -- and for a time, violations were minimal.

Edelman said he was unsurprised that the NCAA was coming down so hard on NC State compared to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which avoided all punishments in a major academic fraud case.

“NC State is probably not seen as nearly as powerful, useful or important as the University of North Carolina, because the NC State athletic program presumably brings in less revenue and has less brand equity than a school such as UNC,” Edelman said.

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Parents of slain University of Utah student sue under Title IX

Mon, 2019-07-15 07:00

Last October, Lauren McCluskey, a student at the University of Utah, was being harassed by her ex-boyfriend.

Melvin Rowland sent the young track-and-field star threatening text messages, told her he would release her nude photographs unless she paid him $1,000, stalked her and ultimately murdered her on campus. He abducted her while she was on the phone with her mother, shooting her several times and leaving her body in a car he had borrowed.

Rowland ended his life when campus police pursued him.

But when twin investigations (one commissioned by the university, the other by the state) revealed that the university’s law enforcement and housing offices had disregarded McCluskey’s and her friends' reports about Rowland, officials didn’t admit fault. They doubled down.

“There is no way to know for certain whether this tragic murder could have been prevented,” Utah president Ruth Watkins said in December.

Lauren’s parents disagree.

They learned about their daughter’s multiple phone calls to the campus police, her frantic reports of extortion, the fact that her friends told housing administrators that Rowland had cut Lauren off from her friends for weeks, was obsessed with her whereabouts and said he would buy her a gun to protect her from other men.

Rowland was a felon on parole, having spent a decade in prison for enticing a minor over the internet and attempted forcible sexual abuse. But he had lied to Lauren about his age and his name and didn’t disclose his crimes to her.

Now Jill and Matt McCluskey are suing university officials, including campus police chief Dale Brophy, whom many have called to be fired, for $56 million. They’re alleging that administrators' and law enforcement's indifference and lack of training in dating violence led to violations of a key federal law barring sex discrimination, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The university has declined to discuss the lawsuit. Watkins said in a written statement it would be “addressed through the appropriate channels.”

“While there are differences in how we would characterize some of the events leading to Lauren’s tragic murder, let me say again that we share the McCluskey family’s commitment to improving campus safety,” Watkins said in her statement. “We continue to address the recommendations identified by the independent review of the university’s safety policies, procedures and resources, and we are making ongoing improvements designed to protect our students and our entire campus community.”

Title IX has been a major focus for the public (and for institutions) after the Obama administration released guidance around the law that activists credited with providing significant protections for survivors of sexual violence -- but critics said the new guidance ignored the rights of students accused of rape. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pulled the Obama rules almost two years ago, replacing them with new draft regulations unpopular among survivor advocates, but favored by those accused.

But Lauren McCluskey’s case does not focus on a struggle between an accused and accuser, or an accused student suing the university over a lack of due process, as is typical with many Title IX lawsuits.

The McCluskey suit deals with an aspect of sexual violence that many Title IX practitioners say is overlooked on college campuses: intimate partner, or dating, violence.

“Unfortunately the national discussion is very focused on the accuser. And we treat Title IX almost like a penal code system,” said Taylor Parker, a partner with Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses and the deputy Title IX coordinator at the Ringling College of Art and Design. “In reality, we need to reframe that situation. It’s a civil rights statute -- these are civil rights laws and regulations. And because we have become so fixated on whether we can punish the accused of wrongdoing, there’s this growing trend toward the other obligations and the other responsibilities falling to the wayside.”

A Turbulent Relationship

Lauren McCluskey began dating Rowland in September 2018. He convinced McCluskey and her peers that he was a 28-year-old community college student named Shawn Fields.

While Rowland was initially respectful, the relationship soured quickly. Rowland was controlling, telling McCluskey what she could and could not wear. He monitored her location both on and off campus, following her around in some cases. He informed her that she couldn’t go places or talk to certain people without him being present.

McCluskey’s friends took notice -- after a short period, McCluskey lost weight, her eyes appeared glassy and she ignored her academics. Her friends saw bruises on her body, which seemed to indicate Rowland was being physically abusive, too.

Near the end of the month, McCluskey told one of her close friends that Rowland intended to buy her a gun to ward off the advances of other men. Concerned, several of McCluskey’s friends reported the situation to a graduate assistant in one of the dormitories, who tried to take the information to her superiors, but she was rebuffed. Housing administrators were unconcerned and eventually said McCluskey needed her privacy.

In October, McCluskey discovered Rowland’s real name and searched the internet for him -- unearthing his criminal history. She intended to break up with him in a public place after returning to the campus after fall break, but when she got back to her room, she found Rowland peering in through her window. Rowland “effectively held [her] hostage in her dorm room by refusing to leave and aggressively choosing to stay through the night,” the lawsuit states. In an attempt to have him leave peacefully the next day, McCluskey loaned Rowland her car so he could run errands.

McCluskey’s mother helped arrange for campus security to escort McCluskey to retrieve the car, but the police department never followed up about potential domestic violence.

For days, McCluskey received nasty and threatening texts -- purportedly from Rowland’s friends. One said that he was suicidal, that he’d been in an accident and McCluskey needed to see him. McCluskey believed these were from Rowland and reported them to police continually.

But the campus police said initially they couldn’t help unless the situation “escalated,” the lawsuit states. McCluskey, after reporting the extortion attempt, went to the police station and spoke with multiple police officers in person, among them Officer Miguel Deras.

Deras has been singled out because the two investigations flagged that he had mishandled McCluskey’s case. He was later subject to training to better recognize the signs of dating violence. Deras subsequently flubbed another woman’s case after the training, The Salt Lake Tribune reported, but only got a warning letter in his personnel file, according to the newspaper. This is the only disciplinary action against an officer that has been made public after the university made changes within the department. The university said in December it will add staffers to both its Public Safety Department and its Behavioral Intervention Team, a counseling center group designed to handle students who are a threat to themselves or others who are worried about being harmed.

The president, Watkins, has declined to punish any of the officers involved with McCluskey’s call.

Campus police officers also weren’t properly trained to identify whether Rowland was on active parole. They checked Rowland’s criminal history, which did reveal his conviction but not his parole status. He was out on parole for the third time.

Later, Rowland impersonated a police officer in a text message in an apparent attempt to lure McCluskey to him. Rowland checked with an officer, who confirmed that the message was fake but did not investigate further. The same night McCluskey got the text message, she was on the phone with her mother walking from a class when Rowland grabbed her. Her parents heard her scream “no, no, no” before being disconnected. McCluskey was later found in the back of a car, dead. Campus police finally discovered Rowland’s status as a parolee and went to track him down, following him to a church close to the university, where he shot himself in the head.

McCluskey’s parents allege the university violated Title IX by ignoring their daughter’s pleas for help.

Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said he was unsure whether the Title IX arguments would hold up in court. The university could have banned Rowland from campus, but it did not have jurisdiction to punish him, as a nonstudent, and so Title IX may not apply, he said. While other officials knew about McCluskey’s plight, it is unclear when or whether the Title IX office learned about it, Sokolow said.

“I think this is new territory,” Sokolow said, adding he had never seen a murder in a Title IX lawsuit before.

The lawsuit also states that campus police have continually failed to investigate reports of sexual assault because the victims were women. In one case officers allegedly didn’t respond immediately to reports of a Peeping Tom who had sexually assaulted another woman on the campus three hours before.

Campus police operate “based on the assumption that Lauren, like most women, was unreasonable, hysterical, hypersensitive, paranoid, overreacting to the situation and not being truthful,” the lawsuit states.

Parker, from Ringling College, said that colleges and universities generally need to do more to improve their training around dating violence. Typically, most of the lessons around sexual assault are frontloaded in the beginning of the academic year, during orientation, and address consent when alcohol is involved, she said. This is an attempt to mitigate what is known as the “red zone,” the initial weeks of the first semester when most campus sexual assaults occur.

But equal attention needs to be given to partner violence, Parker said. Nearly one in five women in Utah will be the victim of dating violence -- some form of psychological, physical or sexual abuse by a partner -- in a single year, according to statistics from the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

“Utah’s first step needs to be how has this impacted their climate campus,” Parker said. “That’s the utmost important. One of their peers was murdered on campus -- their trainings need to address that.”

The campus remains shaken by the episode.

One student, Isaac Reese, wrote to the campus newspaper, The Daily Utah Chronicle, to say that the university “has a laundry list of inadequacies it must address.”

Reese called for Brophy’s firing. Under his watch, the department not only failed to prevent McCluskey’s death, but also was tone-deaf for including McCluskey’s name in an awards ceremony program honoring officers, Reese wrote.

The lawsuit was what the university “deserves,” Reese wrote.

“The administration has failed to take responsibility for their inaction,” he wrote. “This has forced Lauren’s parents to seek justice on their own, and rightfully so. However, they should not have to go through the legal hoops that the university has forced upon them in order for them to seek justice for Lauren. The university, administration, campus law enforcement, housing office and President Watkins should feel ashamed for their inaction and for their refusal to accept accountability for that inaction.”

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Hackers demand $2 million from Monroe College in ransomware attack

Mon, 2019-07-15 07:00

A cyberattack disabled many of Monroe College’s technology systems and platforms last week. Students and faculty and staff members were locked out of the college’s website, learning management system and email, with hackers demanding payment of around $2 million in Bitcoin to restore access.

Marc Jerome, president of Monroe College, a for-profit institution in New York City, confirmed the cyberattack in a statement July 11. “Our team is working feverishly to bring everything back online, and we are working with the appropriate authorities to resolve the situation as quickly as possible,” he said.

“In the meantime, Monroe continues to operate,” said Jerome. “We’re simply doing it the way colleges did before email and the internet, which results in more personal interactions. As we have done throughout our 86-year history, we are coming together to assure that our students, faculty and staff are well served."

Jackie Ruegger, executive director of public affairs at the college, said in an interview Friday that the institution did not know who had orchestrated the attack. She said the college is working with local law enforcement officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She did not comment on whether the college plans to pay the $2 million ransom.

Despite the college’s learning management system, Blackboard, going down, students continued to attend classes last week, handing in homework on paper, said Ruegger. The college’s online students have been advised to contact the college through their personal email accounts.

ATTENTION: To all of our Online Students pic.twitter.com/ni4PiHlLDg

— Monroe College (@monroe_college) July 12, 2019

Over the weekend, the college’s main website came back online. The college has not publicly shared whether access to its IT systems has yet been restored.

Jared Phipps, vice president of worldwide sales engineering for cybersecurity company SentinelOne, said these types of attacks have been linked to a small number of sophisticated criminal groups.

“They scope out the size of the organization and its ability to pay the ransom,” said Phipps. “They’re determining your pain threshold.”

Earlier this year, Grinnell, Oberlin and Hamilton Colleges were subject to a ransomware attack on their admissions systems, but the hackers demanded just a few thousand dollars, which was later reduced to $60. Local governments, police departments and health organizations have also recently been attacked. In Baltimore, for example, the city government has refused to pay hackers after a cyberattack earlier this year, opting instead to rebuild its systems at a cost of over $18 million. The hackers originally demanded $76,000.

Typically these attacks start with a phishing email -- an email disguised to look as if it is from a trusted source, said Phipps. If someone unwittingly clicks on a link in a fraudulent email or enters their personal log-in information, hackers can install malicious software known as ransomware, which will encrypt and block access to the users’ computer files. The hackers then demand money for the encryption key. If there are no backups of the system elsewhere, institutions are left with few options, said Phipps -- rebuild or pay.

Attempted ransomware attacks happen every day, but it is difficult to gauge how many of the attacks are successful, as “nobody is required to disclose it,” said Phipps. “If nobody’s personal information is lost, you don’t have to disclose,” he said. Information from cyberinsurance companies suggests, however, that attacks are on the rise, and many organizations are choosing to pay because they aren’t able to restore their systems from backups, he said.

Ben Woelk, information security office program manager at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said that successful attacks in higher education at the institutional level are unusual as attacks are “more often targeted at specific individuals, and the ransom demands are nowhere near as high.”

Both Woelk and Phipps agree that the attack on Monroe is notable because of the large ransom the hackers are demanding from the college. “This is the highest amount I’ve seen in higher education,” said Phipps.

Ensuring institutions have isolated backups so that systems can be restored if they become compromised is critical, said Woelk. Software that monitors unusual computer activity and filters out suspicious email is also useful, but the most important defense against a ransomware attack is education, he said.

“You need to train your community to recognize anything suspicious and report it ASAP,” said Woelk. In the past few years, many colleges have started to use simulated phishing programs -- deliberately sending fraudulent-looking emails to faculty, staff and students to see how they respond. Previously, many institutions were unwilling to take this approach because they didn’t want to “trick” their community, but it’s increasingly seen as necessary, said Woelk.

Michael Corn, chief information security officer at the University of California San Diego, said crippling ransomware attacks like the one Monroe College experienced are the “exception and not the rule.” Nonetheless, Corn said higher education institutions should be doing more to prevent and prepare for these kinds of attacks.

At his institution, Corn has encouraged his colleagues to think through how to respond to a crippling cyberattack just as they would for an active shooter situation or an earthquake as part of their “all-hazards” emergency operations planning. “We’ve carried out a drill asking how we would respond to this. That kind of planning makes me feel much better about our preparedness and raises awareness,” he said.

Corn said that his institution has agreed that it would not pay a ransom in the event of an attack. There is no guarantee that once you pay, the hackers will give you a working encryption key, said Corn. And paying up might indicate that you’re an easy target for future attacks, he said. He acknowledges, however, that there are data -- medical records, for example -- that might make the institution think differently. “It’s a decision we’d have to make in the heat of the moment.”

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Faculty call for new search as trustees consider secret approach in South Carolina

Mon, 2019-07-15 07:00

Amid an increasingly chaotic search for a new president, the University of South Carolina’s Faculty Senate sharply rebuked the Board of Trustees -- members of which say they could move forward with choosing a new candidate entirely in secret.

The board reopened the search in April after the favorite candidate, Robert Caslen, a retired three-star army general and former West Point superintendent, drew protests and division on campus. According to the Post and Courier, Caslen drew criticism for comments blaming sexual assault on binge drinking, a lack of a research background, and for being one of the top choices to be President Trump’s national security adviser. Caslen was one of four candidates recommended by the search committee that the board passed over in favor of beginning a new search.

Though it appeared the board had the votes to approve Caslen as president by a thin margin, a court blocked the Friday vote for lacking to give appropriate notice for the meeting. The board plans to vote now on July 19.

However, three members of the board told the Post and Courier that they could select a new candidate whose name has not been revealed to the public, since they were still technically in a continuation of the search. The longest-serving member of the board said there’s another candidate who has support among the board and has yet to be revealed.

"This would be an even bigger breach of trust than hiring General Caslen. It’s incredible that they would even consider such a move," said Christian Anderson, a South Carolina professor of higher education, in an email. "The whole point of the campus visits is to vet the candidate -- to see if that person is a good fit for the institution. Even if they hire someone who is qualified, how does this person come to campus and have the trust and support of the institution and community?"

Marco Valtorta, South Carolina professor and chair of the Faculty Senate, said he wouldn’t provide an opinion on the idea that the board could vote on a secret candidate. The Faculty Senate voted last Thursday calling for the board to begin the search again, with public input. The board also voted to say they had no confidence in potentially naming Caslen as the president.

The senate’s resolution regarding a new search also denounced political pressure placed on the board from South Carolina’s Republican governor, Henry McMaster, who has lobbied trustees to approve Caslen as president.

“Whereas, political interference in the selection of the university president conflicts with good governance of the university,” the Faculty Senate resolution reads, “and whereas the governor’s action has already transformed selection of our next president into a partisan conflict, defiant of deliberative process and destructive of trust, and whereas, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has demonstrated concern over gubernatorial interference in governing boards …”

Caslen has the support of many members of the state Legislature as well as the governor, which would play a significant role in the public university’s ability to lobby for funding.

The Faculty Senate resolution urged the trustees to also consider a public search in the hopes that it could yield the best candidates for the university. The senate said the university should conduct a new search compliant with the recommendations of the American Association of University Professors. The association recommends increased faculty participation in the search and that finalists should always meet with constituencies before their appointment to the executive position.

Anderson said he believed if Caslen was chosen after all that had happened, relations between the campus constituencies and the trustees would be deeply harmed.

"Relations between the board and faculty were always cordial, professional and respectful," Anderson said. "I think the faculty would lose trust in the board. So would students, alumni, staff and members of the community. This would be a terrible blow to campus relations."

With the extended search and chaos surrounding the process and outgoing South Carolina president Harris Pastides’s retirement date approaching, the board has appointed Brendan Kelly, the chancellor of the University of South Carolina Upstate, to serve as interim president. Kelly will take over for Harris Aug. 1.

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