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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.”Editorial Tags: State policyImage Source: Istockphoto.com/KeithSzafranskiIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Alaska AnchorageUniversity of Alaska FairbanksUniversity of Alaska SoutheastDisplay Promo Box:
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.”Academic FreedomFacultyThreats Against FacultyEditorial Tags: GenderFacultyImage Source: Wikimedia CommonsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: CUNY Brooklyn CollegeUniversity of ArizonaUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraUniversity of South CarolinaDisplay Promo Box:
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.”Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Loan programsState policyImage Source: Getty ImagesAd Keyword: Student loansIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box:
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.TechnologyEditorial Tags: Information systems/technologyImage Source: EllucianImage Caption: Ellucian's Banner ERP systemIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box:
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- 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
- Tianna Bogart, geography
- Kevin Knott, English
- Oleg Kucher, economics
- Haiyun Ma, history
- Jason Speights, physics and engineering
- Nazanin Tootoonchi, mathematics
- Katherine Brown, physics
- Courtney Gibbons, mathematics
- Gbemende Johnson, government
- Alexandra List, psychology
- Max Majireck, chemistry
- Seth Schermerhorn, religious studies