The Week: What You Need to Know About the Past 7 Days

June 19, 2016

A Week of Mourning

Rogelio V. Solis, AP Images

Last week colleges across central Florida had the sad task of comforting and counseling students, professors, and staff members in the wake of the killings at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando. Valencia College alone lost seven students in the shooting, which occurred on "Latin Night" at the club. One University of Central Florida student was also among the dead, as were a Seminole State University student and four students from Ana G. Méndez University’s South Florida campus. Keiser University lost a financial-aid officer, and Mercyhurst University’s branch in North East, Pa., mourned a young woman who had planned to attend in the fall on a basketball scholarship.

Colleges around the country held vigils and religious services in the massacre’s aftermath, and Central Florida complemented its vigil — which filled four floors of the student union and drew 125,000 to a live Facebook stream — with a blood drive. "In time, I expect we all will know someone affected," said John C. Hitt, the president.

At Harvard University, a dean and members of Hispanic and LGBTQ groups read the names of the dead during a memorial; at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chancellor Carol Folt said the "community is shocked and saddened by the news." Commemorations took place as far away as Colby College, in Maine, the University of Wisconsin at Stout, and the Palm Desert campus of California State University at San Bernardino.

Sanford C. (Sandy) Shugart, Valencia’s president, said in a video that students and employees would need to support the families and friends of those who lost their lives. "Take the time to reflect, be silent, be still. Don’t fill every moment with a media flurry," Mr. Shugart said. "Join with the people you love, and embrace them. Come to school, here at Valencia, ready to hug and support others."

‘Pervasive’ Failings

Last week the U.S. Department of Education took what could turn out — eventually — to be its strongest action yet against for-profit colleges that don’t serve their students well. The department recommended against renewing federal recognition of the accrediting agency overseeing many of those colleges, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, because of "extensive and pervasive" failings.

If the group does lose federal recognition, which could take two years, absent legal challenges, some 250 institutions with a total of about 900 campuses would have to seek accreditation elsewhere or lose access to federal student-aid funds.

In a 29-page report, the department said the accreditor had failed to deal with "widespread placement-rate falsification" and conflicts of interest, and had not held institutions "accountable for ensuring integrity in their data submissions," among other complaints. The accreditor came under particular scrutiny for its oversight of Corinthian Colleges Inc., which closed its 28 campuses abruptly last year.

Anthony S. Bieda, the accreditor’s executive in charge, said in a statement that the department’s recommendation "is disappointing and must be addressed directly and decisively by the board and senior management of the agency."

Meanwhile, the Education Management Corporation announced it would close 22 of its 26 Brown Mackie College campuses. A spokesman for the company said the move "largely relates to regional and student demand."

De Profundis

Online, it was the perfect storm: After Brock A. Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside a fraternity party while he was still a student last year, a California judge sentenced him to just six months in jail — a sentence widely denounced as too short (the prosecutor had sought six years). The internet seethed with posts noting that Mr. Turner had never acknowledged wrongdoing — he had insisted that the encounter was consensual — and denouncing a letter from his father, Dan Turner, saying any prison sentence at all would be "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action."

But even more striking was a powerful letter that the victim read aloud in court and that subsequently went viral — a letter describing how invasively she was examined at the hospital, how she learned from a news article about the circumstances in which she’d been found, how the defense lawyer tried to undermine her credibility during the trial. "I was pummeled with narrowed, pointed questions that dissected my personal life, love life, past life, family life," she wrote, "inane questions, accumulating trivial details to try and find an excuse for this guy who had me half naked before even bothering to ask for my name."

"Even after twelve jurors unanimously convicted him guilty of three felonies, all he has admitted to doing is ingesting alcohol," the victim wrote. "Someone who cannot take full accountability for his actions does not deserve a mitigating sentence."

For its part, Stanford released a statement responding to what it called a "significant amount of misinformation" regarding its role. The university said it had done "everything within its power to assure that justice was served in this case," including banning Mr. Turner from the campus — "the harshest sanction that a university can impose on a student."

Also, This ...

St. Cloud State via Twitter
Dowling College, on Long Island, which recently announced it would close because of debt and declining enrollment, now says it is negotiating a deal with a European investment company, Global University Systems, that might keep the college open. … Earl H. Potter III (right), president of St. Cloud State University, in Minnesota, died in a car accident while driving to a meeting with the chair of the university foundation’s board. … Thirty-eight community colleges have joined a program that will replace commercial textbooks with open educational resources, saving thousands of students as much as $1,300 each every year. … A new South Carolina law requires public colleges to publish detailed reports of incidents at fraternities and sororities that involve alcohol, drugs, sexual assault, and hazing.

A Less-Imperfect Union

On my way across Washington to meet a friend last Tuesday, I passed a trio of flags at half staff in memory of those killed in the Orlando shooting. What struck me was that we’re all targets now.

You may be gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist — but someone you don’t know hates you and all your kind with a passion, a passion probably inflamed by social media and possibly licensed by a self-appointed moral authority. Professor, student, soldier, first-grader, filmgoer, marathoner, Congresswoman — someone angry beyond comprehension has the inspiration, and the means, to take your life. Gun enthusiast, wildlife lover, coal backer, solar supporter, abortion provider, abortion foe, judge, reporter, American — someone ruthless sees your demise as deserved, or justifiable, or politically advantageous.

We’re all potential targets in this weaponized era of political and religious intolerance, this century of ceaseless hatred, of shouting, of shooting. Is it safe to linger in Union Station over coffee? Attend an all-male production of The Taming of the Shrew by the Shakespeare Theatre Company? Shop? Teach a class?

It would be encouraging to imagine that schools and colleges could band together and somehow help civilization get through this. Philosophy and logic, political science, history of religion, languages, biology, poetry — all these can help us understand one another and ourselves. They can help us see through fabrications, wild claims, and dangerous accusations, as well as our own flaws. But where would we start? How can we come together to teach instead of shouting? Any ideas? Anyone? 

Lawrence Biemiller writes about a variety of usual and unusual higher-education topics. Reach him at