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Academe sees a new wave of faculty-student relationship restrictions in the era of Me Too

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 8 mins

A number of colleges and universities banned faculty-undergraduate dating or otherwise shored up their consensual relationship policies after the Education Department published a reminder letter about sexual harassment liability, in 2011. Other institutions had adopted such policies earlier.

Now, in the era of Me Too, another wave of institutions has moved to restrict consensual relationships between students and their professors. And while many involved in or affected by these decisions support them as preventing potential abuse, others remain critical of policing connections between consenting adults.

“There’s still wide variation in terms of policies,” said Tara Richards, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Baltimore. “But more and more universities are moving toward policies that go beyond a sentence or two discouraging these relationships, to actually having thoughtful conversations among stakeholder groups -- faculty, students government and administrators -- discussing what’s going to work.” 

Most successfully, Richards said, institutions have “proactive” discussions, taking into account their own student populations, norms and shared governance structures. Less successfully, she said, institutions change their polices in response to incidents on their campuses or elsewhere, “out of fear of liability.”

Richards co-wrote a 2014 study of 55 institutions’ student-faculty dating policies saying that consensual relationships were viewed in previous generations as "private matters” and ignored by administrators, except where harassment was alleged. Fear of legal liability and increasing acknowledgement of academic power structures changed that, leading institutions to adopt a mix of policies regarding these relationships. That mix led to subsequent “confusion” about community norms, however, according to the study.

At the time, within Richards's sample, only Yale University banned undergraduate-faculty dating. But as institutions increasingly came under scrutiny for their enforcement (or lack thereof) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, other campuses followed suit. In one example, Northwestern University -- which saw a case of alleged assault involving a professor and an undergraduate (and, later, a graduate student) -- banned dating all undergraduates in 2014. Its rationale for doing so, stated in the policy itself, sums up much of the thinking behind blanket bans on undergraduate-faculty dating. 

“When undergraduate students are involved,” the policy says, “the difference in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great that no faculty member or coaching staff member shall enter into a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a Northwestern undergraduate student, regardless of whether there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship between them.”

Northwestern’s policy on graduate student-faculty dating restricting relationships where an evaluative authority exists reflects a Title IX-era trend, as well. Northwestern previously banned relationships between graduate students and faculty supervisors. But the new policy said that relationships between a faculty member and a graduate or professional student in the same department or program must be disclosed to the department chair, to manage the potential conflict of interest. 

There is no hardfast rule about these policies. Richards’s institution, Baltimore -- a traditionally non-traditional student-serving institution -- has no policy against student-faculty dating, for instance. Somewhere in the middle of the policy mix, the University of Wisconsin System in 2016 banned faculty-student dating (graduate or undergraduate) where an advisory or supervisory relationship, or the potential for one, exists. Pre-existing relationships must be reported. The University of California System’s policy against professors dating the students they supervise academically has been in place since 2003. In terms of trends however, there was movement toward restricting student-faculty relationships in what might be called the Title IX era, and there’s new movement now. 

New Wave of Restrictions

In the spring semester alone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia and Duke Universities adopted prohibitory policies against dating undergraduates across the board, not only where a supervisory relationship exists. Syracuse University is considering something similar.

Just this week, Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack announced that that she’d largely accepted campus input on student-faculty relationships, and that the institution was banning sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and undergraduates altogether. Romantic relationships between professors and graduate or professional students “whenever the faculty member exercises direct academic authority over the student or is likely to in the foreseeable future,” also are prohibited. The latter policy was a compromise, following debate over an ealier version that would have banned dating between graduate students and professors in the same program. 

Additionally, “Any member of the Cornell community who has, or has had, a sexual or romantic relationship with a current student or current postgraduate is prohibited from exercising academic or professional authority over that student or postgraduate.” 

Most sweepingly, Berklee College of Music -- which has faced recent allegations that it tolerates a culture of harassment -- adopted a ban on all romantic or sexual relationships between employees and students, graduate or undergraduate, this month. Such a strict policy remains rare, since even other relatively restrictive codes allow for graduate students to date professors where no evaluative authority exits.

Apart from blanket bans on dating undergraduates, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the first time this spring banned student-faculty dating where an advisory relationship exists. (A standing policy at Amherst College merely “discourages” these relationships and requires that professors remove themselves from any advisory role.)

Similar to Richards, Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and moderator of the Title IX Blog, said that policies probably depend on a student populations. 

“I can imagine some institutions, particularly large publics with age-diverse student bodies, permitting consensual relationships -- especially pre-existing relationships -- between faculty and undergraduates with whom they have no contact,” she said, noting that a friend recently went back to college to to take care of her university employee husband's tuition remission. In a blanket ban scenario, that wouldn't be possible, she said, even if they had no contact on campus. So a policy such as UMass’s make sense to Buzuvis.

“There should be a professional norm in teaching just like there is in other professions, that regards dating as incompatible with the objectives of the profession,” she said. “Just like a counselor-client relationship is compromised by the introduction of a romantic component, so too is a faculty-student relationship.” 

Still, faculty-student dating constraints remain controversial. Richards said that they’re notoriously difficult to enforce, since they typically rely on the couples’ disclosure. It's hard to get the details right: outstanding faculty questions about what a proposed policy on consensual relationships at DePaul University really means delayed a vote on it. Bamshad Mobasher, professor of computing and president of DePaul's Faculty Council, said council members had questions about what constitutes a “romantic” relationship and the potential impact of some policy language on  "opportunity hires" involving spouses of faculty candidates. 

Other legal experts say it is costly — up to $250,000, on average — to get rid of a faculty member found to have violated a policy, whether in quiet agreements or litigation. Some raise ethical arguments about agency and consent, even calling blanket bans anti-feminist.

Neil McArthur, a professor of applied philosophy at the University of Manitoba wrote a paper last year arguing against blanket bans (while urging caution to those who engage in such relationships), “because adults have a fundamental right to engage in intimate relationships without interference,” for instance.

Brett Sokolow, who advises campuses on security and legal issues as executive director of the Association for Title IX Administrators, also opposes blanket relationship bans.

“Quid pro quo harassment is already prohibited on every college campus" and behaviors “that cross the line are already addressable under existing policies,” he said. "Perhaps there is some value in consensual relationship policies for their ability to protect the institution, but the Draconian rules being implemented on many campuses now are both infantilizing and over-broad.”

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Philip Roth's relationship to academe? It's complicated

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 8 mins

The great American novelist Philip Roth, who died Tuesday at 85, had what might be described as a complicated relationship to academe.

Several of Roth’s 30-plus novels and story collections -- especially the trilogy that comprises American Pastoral, The Human Stain and I Married a Communist, called out academics as misguided, hyper-political or overtly ambitious.

“He certainly had a love-hate relationship -- more of the latter, I guess, less of the former -- with the academy,” said Ezra Cappell, an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso.

But in real life, said Aimee Pozorski, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, “He was really supportive of us.”

Roth, she said, “was happy to know that he was being taught” in English departments nationwide, he once told her. Over the past few decades, she and others said, his work has found a ready audience in immigrant and first-generation college students who reflect his own journey from middle-class Newark to a position as one of America’s most honored writers.

Roth graduated magna cum laude from Bucknell University in 1954, and a year later earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked on a Ph.D. in English at Chicago, but dropped out in 1956, after one term, The New York Times reported.

Three years later, his short story collection Goodbye, Columbus brought him a first taste of critical success, winning a National Book Award. The title story is about a working-class Jewish youth from Newark who falls in love with a wealthy, more assimilated Jewish Radcliffe College student from upscale Short Hills, N.J. The novella takes its name from the lyrics of a song sung at Ohio State University's commencement, played over and over again by the woman's brother, depicted as assimilated because of his connection to Ohio State athletics. "We will miss you, in the fall, in the winter, in the spring, but some day we shall return. Till then, goodbye, Ohio State, goodbye, red and white, goodbye, Columbus."

A decade later, in 1969, the raunchy and ground-breaking Portnoy’s Complaint made Roth a household name.

In its obituary, The Times on Tuesday called him "the last of the great white males” who dominated American letters in the second half of the 20th century, along with Saul Bellow and John Updike.

But Pozorski said her students don’t necessarily see him through the lens of race. “They’re not thinking about him as this old white guy who doesn’t have anything to say.”

Actually, she said, her students -- many of them the first in their families to attend college -- find him speaking directly to them. Though Roth often took criticism for his depiction of women, Pozorski said her students admire his portraits of vulnerable women who are abused, ill or even dying.

Cappell, the UTEP professor, agreed, saying his students -- many of them immigrants, "have found his work extremely relevant.” 

Roth’s fiction, he said, often explores conflicts between older and younger generations of immigrants in which the younger generation pulls away from the older one. “My first-generation college students often here at UTEP really embrace Roth and his incredible body of work. I do think he’s extremely relevant to our society. We’ve just lost one of the great voices and one of the great chroniclers of our culture and our society -- perhaps when we need him most, actually.”

Though he taught seminars in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania and at New York's Hunter College, among others, much of Roth’s work “stood against these institutions, which tend toward a belief in their infallibility, Cappell said.

Among the most notable examples: Roth’s 2000 novel The Human Stain, in which a classics professor at Massachusetts’ fictional Athena College finds himself in hot water after students accuse him of racial insensitivity, a plot line in political correctness that could play out nearly word-for-word on a U.S. campus today.

Roth began writing the book around the time of Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Clinton, which led to Clinton’s impeachment. “I felt there was something afoot in the late ‘90s, just a great explosion of righteous moralizing, which Americans are gifted at,” he told The Times in a recent interview.

Roth later said the incident actually happened to a friend who taught at Princeton. Writing in The New Yorker in 2012, he said the book was actually inspired by “an unhappy event” in the life of his late friend Melvin Tumin, a longtime professor of sociology, whom he’d met as a writer-in-residence in the early 1960s.

He wrote that more than 20 years later, in the fall of 1985, Tumin was “meticulously taking the roll” in a sociology class in the middle of the semester and realized that two of his students hadn’t attended a single class session. Tumin queried the class about the two mystery students, asking: “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”

The two students, it turned out, were both African-American. Though Tumin meant the remark as a joke about ghosts, students understood it as a degrading racial term. Summoned before an administrative tribunal, Tumin defended himself, but a “witch hunt” ensued in which “the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all.”

The book was made into a 2003 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.

Dean Franco, an English professor at Wake Forest University and director of the university’s Humanities Institute, said he taught The Human Stain this semester, “and boy, was I nervous teaching it in the Me Too moment, because it’s a novel about a lot of surprising sex.”

For one thing, the main character is an older male professor who sleeps with a 30-something janitor at the college. “There are all of these power disparities and imbalances,” Franco said. 

But his students -- including his female students -- “felt that Roth was able to get at the many, many facets of sexual encounter. So we were not offended by it. We were not calling Roth sexist. Rather we were examining the complexities, almost moment-by-moment, of sexual encounter.”

The novel, he said, presented a disarmingly honest depiction of a relationship between two unlikely characters. It also offered a clear-eyed look at “academic pretension and academic politics” in a small New England college.

“Roth got it right,” he said. “He got a lot right.”

Franco and others said Roth was also a quiet booster of young writers -- he noted that while researching Roth, he found letters from the novelist Louise Erdrich, who thanked him for being a mentor, and for offering blurbs for her book jackets. 

Though he was not necessarily a fan of literary criticism, Franco said, Roth made exceptions when it pleased him. In 2013, when Roth turned 80, an academic conference in his honor at the Newark Public Library became a raucous birthday party after Roth "basically hijacked the conference and said, ‘Let’s turn this into my 80th birthday party.’ So there was an academic conference on Day 1, and on Day 2 there was a massive banquet and blowout party for Roth and all of his friends -- and the academics were all invited. He lined up and chatted with us. It was good times.”

The conference included an improbable tour of Newark filled with “all these academics driving around on a bus looking at all these Philip Roth sites,” Franco recalled.

But nearly 50 years after his breakout novel appeared, do literature classes still read Portnoy’s Complaint, with its well-known scenes of masturbation? The Washington Post has called it “a provocative hand grenade rolled right into the literary and Jewish establishments,” noting that novelist Irving Howe in 1969 slammed it, saying, “The cruelest thing anyone can do with Portnoy’s Complaint is read it twice.”

Cappell said the novel’s “ruthless intimacy” still holds lessons for aspiring writers.

“That is what his work does,” he said. “It is ruthless in terms of its ability to get into the depths of his characters and try to understand the world through their experiences. And sensuality is a major part of that, just as it is in the lives of all of us.”

Wake Forest’s Franco noted that The Wire creator David Simon is adapting Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America into a six-part TV miniseries, and said he hopes the series will prompt readers to pick up Roth’s novels.

“I think he’ll be around for a very long time,” Franco said.

For his part, Simon on Wednesday tweeted that he’d recently met Roth to discuss the adaptation: “At 85, he was more precise and insightful, more intellectually adept and downright witty than most any person of any age,” Simon wrote. “What a marvelous, rigorous mind.” 

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UCLA will limit how much it will pay in security on outside speakers

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 8 mins

The University of California, Los Angeles, will cover only $100,000 in total security costs each academic year for speakers who are not invited by a student group, a spending cap on certain events that appears to be the first of its kind among high-profile colleges and universities.

This policy -- which legal experts say was carefully crafted to balance the First Amendment obligations of a public institution with the potentially high costs of hosting controversial speakers -- took effect on an interim basis this month.

It comes after nearly two years of hot-button individuals testing the boundaries of college free speech practices. Most notably, the white supremacist Richard Spencer toured universities nationwide last year in a deliberate attempt to rattle the campuses, but institutions have also faced protests inspired by visits from the ex-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and the conservative commentator Ann Coulter (though in her case, she didn’t end up showing up at UC Berkeley as she publicly stated she would).

Administrators have struggled with how to accommodate these instigators while not taxing their budgets to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in security. Spencer's trip to the University of Florida in October cost it upwards of $600,000 in security, university officials said at the time. A spending cap for certain events has been oft-debated in higher education, but never materialized until now.

The UCLA policy ensures that the university will pay, without any limits, for security for speakers invited by student groups associated with the institution, as long as they follow certain procedures, such as registering the event at least three weeks before it occurs, and meeting with campus police at least two weeks before.

These rules don’t apply to all events – just the ones the university deems “major,” meaning more than 350 people are anticipated to attend and there may be a security risk or a chance it would interfere with campus day-to-day activities.

For campus outsiders not brought in by a student group, the university has set aside $100,000 for the same type of events per academic year. Once that money is used up, generally a speaker would be denied. Outdoor events are still allowed, meaning Spencer could still shout on the UCLA grounds with a megaphone if he wanted to, but he probably couldn’t rent a space if the $100,000 budget had been exceeded.

A UCLA spokesman told Inside Higher Ed an administrator was unavailable for an interview.

Civil liberties advocates and experts expect that the UCLA rule will be both tested in court and replicated in some form at other institutions, given the likelihood that provocative speakers won’t disappear anytime soon.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a watchdog group that normally rails on institutional attempts to limit free expression, gave a much more measured response after learning about the policy.

FIRE’s lawyers debated the constitutionality of the policy, but ultimately, they found it had been so smartly written that it’s unclear whether it would fail under legal scrutiny, said Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy. Had the university applied the $100,000 maximum to student group-organized events, or also extended it to outdoor spaces, it would likely clash with free speech principles, he said.

“The law does not provide great clarity here in terms of what the obligation is,” Creeley said, noting that universities are allowed to impose restrictions on free expression that don’t discriminate based on viewpoints or content.

Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, likened the potential legal challenges to the policy to the arguments in a Supreme Court case on charging student fees, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, decided in 2000.

The court ruled that universities could impose a mandatory student activities fee and use it to fund groups that individual students found offensive -- as long as that money was distributed in a viewpoint neutral way.

“It has the same texture,” Lake said, referring to the Supreme Court case. “But I would worry if I were a speaker, if my great idea pops up in April, that I would be disadvantaged if someone else had a great in September. Without some system to plan ahead for the year, I have a feeling you’ll see some kind of balancing process.”

Colleges and universities will likely be adopting some form of this policy, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

He said it does not clash with the traditional mission of universities serving as open forums.

“Philosophically, it makes sense, with the disruptive new world order of what speech can look like on campus, this is a reasonable way to reduce the negative consequences,” Kruger said. 

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Oxford and Cambridge both turn to bonds as major tool in finance

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 8 mins

The University of Cambridge is facing internal criticism over plans to borrow up to £600 million ($801 million), in a move that suggests the emergence of a borrowing “arms race” with the University of Oxford.

Cambridge’s plans for a new bond, which follows a £350 million ($467 million) bond issued in 2012 and Oxford’s raising of £750 million ($1 billion) via a bond launch last December, is intended to finance income-generating investments in “non-operational estate” such as housing and retail developments. It could be seen as a sign of the huge fund-raising power of Britain's top-tier higher education institutions -- and of how they are seeking to keep pace with American rivals that boast huge endowments.

Nine British universities have now issued bonds, but all of them apart from Oxford and Cambridge had their credit ratings downgraded last September in the wake of Brexit, with Moody’s warning of lower international student recruitment and increased competition.

Cambridge’s council, its executive body, last month said that it wanted to seek approval from the governing Regent House for further borrowing of up to £600 million (Regent House had already given approval for extra borrowing up to £300 million).

Two members of Cambridge’s council have signed a “note of dissent” expressing concern about the plan, which has yet to go before Regent House for approval.

“We have yet to see a sufficiently clear business case with enough detail on the funding model and how repayments for a new bond will be achieved,” says the note of dissent.

The council responded in a report published May 10 in the university’s official journal, The Reporter, saying that “specific business cases are indeed immature at this stage," but that it has “a high degree of confidence in the collective potential of such projects."

Duncan Maskell, pro vice-chancellor for planning and resources, said at a Regent House discussion of the new plans  that the university “needs capital” for purposes including “the potential commercial elements of development schemes such as Old Press/Mill Lane [where a retail development is planned]” and “the development of commercial research facilities at West Cambridge," as well as to invest in housing for staff.

He added that “approval for a bond issue is being sought now so as to lock in currently low interest rates."

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, one of the two signatories of the note of dissent, told Times Higher Education: “The question here is, quite simply, ‘Should we back the university as a property developer?’ The answer, from experience, is ‘No more than we have to.'”

Gill Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology at Cambridge, said that she was concerned by a plan “to borrow a gigantic sum speculatively on the stated basis that interest rates are currently low."


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New presidents or provosts: Georgia Southern Golden West Lock Haven Mississippi Rochester St. Cloud St. Edward's

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 8 mins
  • Jeffery Boyd, provost at Tidewater Community College, in Virginia, has been chosen as president of Rochester Community and Technical College, in Minnesota.
  • Annesa Cheek, vice president for school and community partnerships at Sinclair Community College, in Ohio, has been named as president of St. Cloud Technical & Community College, in Minnesota.
  • Scott Cook, vice president for quality assurance and performance funding at Motlow State Community College, in Tennessee, has been appointed as provost at Madisonville Community College, in Kentucky.
  • Tim McGrath, vice president of instruction at San Diego Mesa College, in California, has been selected as president of Golden West College, also in California.
  • Robert M. Pignatello, senior vice president for finance and administration and chief operating officer at Hunter College of the City University of New York, has been appointed as president of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
  • J. Andrew Prall, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Saint Francis, in Indiana, has been selected as provost of St. Edward’s University, in Texas.
  • Alfred Rankins Jr., president of Alcorn State University, in Mississippi, has been appointed as commissioner of higher education in the state.
  • Carl Reiber, senior vice provost at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Georgia Southern University.
  • Ann Vendrely, associate provost and associate vice president for academic affairs at Governors State University, in Illinois, has been chosen as vice president for academic affairs and academic dean at Goshen College, in Indiana.
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Following latest scandal, professors demand firing of president of Southern Cal

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

C.L. Max Nikias has raised billions of dollars for the University of Southern California, and used that money to recruit top faculty members and students.

But his hold on the position of president is being challenged in ways that it never has since he took office in 2010. On Tuesday, more than 200 faculty members released a letter calling for his resignation. Their letter follows revelations of numerous instances of abuse of students by a campus gynecologist. And that scandal broke just months after scandals involving medical school deans. In all of these cases, questions have been raised not only about the conduct of those involved but whether university leaders acted to prevent or respond to misconduct.

"President Nikias' own actions and omissions amount to a breach of trust," the letter says. "He has lost the moral authority to lead the university, and in addition, to lead the investigation of institutional failures that allowed this misconduct to to persist over several decades."

USC trustees promptly released a statement expressing support for Nikias, and the board decides whether he stays in office. But a series of investigative reports in The Los Angeles Times have left many on campus and elsewhere questioning whether the university is being well led.

The Times broke the news of the most recent scandal last week. It reported on the case of George Tyndall, who worked as a gynecologist in USC's student health clinic for nearly 30 years. The article detailed complaints that he photographed female students while examining them, touched them inappropriately and made sexually suggestive comments while examining them. Many of the female students were from China, and may have felt particularly vulnerable to him. Tyndall denied wrongdoing. But much of the anger on campus isn't just about him, but about how the university handled the allegations.

A USC inquiry confirmed reports of inappropriate behavior on his part last year, but he was allowed to resign, and USC did not inform his patients or state medical authorities of its findings. The university now says that, "in hindsight," it should have reported him. Suits are already being filed against USC by former patients.

Many of those criticizing the university over the Tyndall case are also noting the case of Carmen A. Puliafito, the now former dean of the medical school, who lost his job amid a series of stunning reports in the Times. Prior to resigning as dean, the newspaper reported, he had spent considerable time socializing with criminals and others who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.

The newspaper also reviewed photographs showing the dean partying with these companions in a variety of locations, including his USC dean's office. He resigned as dean shortly after a woman overdosed while with him in a hotel room, but he maintained his faculty role.

In back-and-forth statements between the university and USC after the newspaper broke the story about Puliafito, the university suggested that it had only recently learned of the accusations against him. But the Times described a series of inquiries over 15 months it made to the university seeking information about the then-dean's conduct.  In one case, a reporter delivered a sealed note requesting an interview about the matter to Nikias's home, only to have the note returned, unopened, the next day by courier with a letter from the university's vice president for public relations and marketing saying the reporter had crossed the line.

Then the university faced another scandal over the professor selected to succeed Puliafito as medical school dean.

In October the university announced that it had lost confidence in Rohit Varma and that he was no longer dean. The university acted after the Times told officials it was about to publish an article about how Varma treated a female medical school fellow. According to the Times: "The woman accused Varma of making unwanted sexual advances during a trip to a conference and then retaliating against her for reporting him, according to the records and interviews. USC paid her more than $100,000 and temporarily blocked Varma from becoming a full member of the faculty, according to the records and interviews." Later, however, the university promoted him to dean -- at least until the newspaper called with its story.

The faculty letter calling for Nikias to be ousted focuses on what professors see as a pattern.

"The university administration's actions have been wrong at every turn, and not only in hindsight," the letter says. "In this case, as in prior cases, faced with an ongoing pattern of serious wrongdoing by a powerful university official, the university has kept the wrongdoing quiet, settled financially with the wrongdoer in secret, and denied any responsibility on the part of the university. There has been no public report on the two cases involving USC medical deans, nor any visible attempt to determine what university administratioors knew and when they know it and why they waited as long as they did to take action."

A petition by alumni -- also calling for Nikias to step down -- also references what those signing see as a pattern. "We do not know how many more cases of abuse have yet to be exposed, but it is clear that the university is unwilling to confront the toxic environment for women they have cultivated over years of neglected accountability," the petition says.

Amid the criticism, leaders of the university's board issued a statement backing the president. The statements said that board leaders found the reports about the abuse of students to be "distressing."

But the statement went on to say that Nikias was putting in place a "comprehensive action plan" tp prevent such abuses. And as to the president, the statement said: "The executive committee of the board has full confidence in President Nikias’ leadership, ethics, and values and is certain that he will successfully guide our community forward."

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Trump administration says it will re-examine rules for higher ed oversight bodies

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

In drafting a regulatory agenda for the oversight bodies for higher education institutions, the U.S. Department of Education is paying special attention to previously published recommendations that suggest reorienting accreditation toward its original focus of academic quality, a key adviser to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday.

Diane Auer Jones, a special adviser to the secretary, offered the remarks in a briefing before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which oversees the country’s higher ed accreditors, on how the department is looking to reduce the regulatory burden on those organizations. 

The activity of accreditors is often less well publicized than enforcement by federal agencies. But their decisions to authorize or withdraw recognition from a college determine its ability to receive Title IV federal student aid. 

“Secretary DeVos has challenged all of us to rethink education,” Jones said. “We must challenge our current assumptions, we must evaluate our current practices, and we must question everything to be sure we do not limit the ability of any student to reach his or her full potential. In that spirit, we are examining the accreditation process.”

Helping to guide that review of the rules for accreditation are recommendations including those drafted by NACIQI as well as a 2015 white paper issued by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee. 

Those recommendations call for, among other steps, restoring a clear separation in the roles of the so-called “triad” that oversees colleges and universities -- the federal government, accreditors, and the states. They also call for giving more priority in accreditor reviews to activities directly related to student experience or quality of education and giving more autonomy to accrediting agencies themselves. 

The Department of Education placed accreditation issues on its spring agenda of regulatory activities. Jones said that was done so that if department officials determine that regulatory changes are necessary in that area, it can “move forward swiftly and without delay.” 

She said afterwards that the department isn't necessarily pushing for accreditors to abandon an outcomes-based approach to accreditation, which measure institutions on measures like graduation and job placement rates as well as the content of their curriculum. Instead, she said the themes she mentioned represent the issues raised by major higher ed organizations.

"We just started having conversations," she said. "These are the documents we read and these are the themes we extracted." 

While Jones updated NACIQI on the department’s regulatory agenda, DeVos herself spoke to House lawmakers in a hearing on her policies and priorities that ran the gamut from school safety and civil rights to college accountability and job training. 

She told members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee that she planned to work with members of Congress and other executive agencies to advance opportunities for students to get a postsecondary education outside of a traditional degree. 

DeVos said she is working with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and industry leaders on plans to boost the number of apprenticeships and other credential options. And she said she is eager to see the Senate take up a reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education bill already passed by the House. 

“We need to build in flexibility for these programs to meet the needs of students today and to meet the needs of industry,” she said. 

But DeVos on other issues said the department would defer to the courts and lawmakers, particularly on enforcement of civil rights for transgender students. The department has said federal Title IX law bans discrimination on the basis of sex but not gender identity. DeVos told lawmakers that won’t change unless Congress makes its position on the issue clear, or until what she says are conflicts in court rulings are resolved. 

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, pointed to two rulings -- Whitaker v. Kenosha and Glenn v. Brumby -- that he said make clear educational institutions' obligations to uphold those students' rights. But DeVos insisted other court cases conflict with those. (After the hearing Tuesday, a Virginia federal court sided with Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who had sued his school district over the right to use the boys’ bathroom.)

“Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I am not going to make up law from the Department of Education,” DeVos said. 

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