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

July 31, 2016

Clinton on College Costs

When delegates to the Democratic Party’s convention gathered last week to confirm Hillary Clinton as their presidential candidate, the cost of attending college was a high-profile topic. Mrs. Clinton had mentioned it often in the months leading to the convention, and a year ago she had announced a fairly complicated plan to encourage states to help students attend public institutions without resorting to loans. But, as her campaign worked to increase her appeal to supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mrs. Clinton adopted significant parts of his more audacious scheme to make college affordable for everyone.

The result is a proposal that calls for free tuition for all community-college students and free tuition for students at four-year public colleges if their families make $85,000 a year or less — a figure that would rise to $125,000 a year by 2021. In return, students would have to work 10 hours a week (as they do now at a handful of work colleges, such as Alice Lloyd and Warren Wilson). The plan would also restore year-round Pell Grants, add income-based repayment options for those with student-loan debt, and create a $25-billion fund to support historically black colleges and other minority-serving institutions. Furthermore, the campaign said, Mrs. Clinton would hold colleges "accountable for reining in costs," "reward innovators who design imaginative new ways of providing valuable higher education to students," and "crack down on the abusive practices of for-profit colleges."

Lots of promises get made during presidential campaigns, of course, and many are never heard of afterward, as observers were quick to note. Many private colleges, in particular, have reason to hope that the Sanders/Clinton plan doesn’t become reality — at least not in its current form — because it could make them much less appealing to students. Kent John Chabotar, a former president of Guilford College, said the plan could lead to "a combination of dropping enrollments and skyrocketing tuition discounting, killing off the weaker, private, unendowed colleges."

But even public colleges might have reason to be wary of the Clinton/Sanders plan and its potential for unintended consequences: What would happen, for instance, if state governments — many of which have been cutting support for higher education in recent years — refused to boost their appropriations enough to meet the increased demands on their public colleges? Free tuition is less appealing if it means classes have too many students and faculty members have too few teaching resources.

Meanwhile, in the GOP

Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee, said last week that he would release his plan for dealing with college costs within a month. The announcement didn’t get much attention because it came at the same news conference during which he appeared to ask the Russian government to hack into Mrs. Clinton’s emails, and his campaign offered no details on what the proposal might include.

The platform adopted during the GOP convention is vague on college costs. It asserts that "new systems of learning are needed to compete with traditional four-year colleges" and that "the federal government should not be in the business of originating student loans," but it offers no specifics. Mr. Trump has also said on a number of occasions that he might severely shrink the Education Department, and he often links that idea with criticism of the Common Core standards for K-12 instruction.

Back at Work at Yale

It may not be not the biggest higher-ed story of the summer, but it says something striking about the times: Yale University has rehired Corey Menafee, the Calhoun College dishwasher who in June used a broom handle to smash part of a stained-glass window in the college’s dining hall that depicted two slaves carrying large baskets of cotton through a field.

Mr. Menafee, who is black, said shortly afterward that, in 2016, "I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that." Subsequently, though, he apologized and resigned, telling the Yale Daily News that "there’s always better ways of doing things like that than just destroying things." After some students and others held rallies on his behalf, the university persuaded prosecutors to drop criminal-mischief and reckless-endangerment charges, and it offered him a job in another location.

Meanwhile, a Yale Committee on Art in Public Spaces recommended that several other Calhoun windows be removed and "conserved for future study and a possible contextual exhibition." But Yale leaders have rebuffed calls to rename the college, which opened in 1933. John C. Calhoun, who graduated from Yale College in 1804, returned to his native South Carolina to become a prominent defender of slavery.

Of ‘Duress’ and Art

Tristan Spinski, The New York Times, REDUX
Last week The New York Times reported that in 2012 Fisk University quietly sold two paintings from its collection even as it was engaged in a protracted legal battle over its attempt to sell 101 works once owned by the photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Those works were donated to the university in 1949 by his widow, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

The sale of art from institutional collections — even when an institution is "under duress," as Fisk was — is frowned upon by museum curators and accreditors, who insist that art should be sold only to acquire more art. And Fisk is hardly the first institution to have raised hackles by attempting to sell valuable works: An uproar several years ago prevented Brandeis University from selling its collection and closing its Rose Museum. Thomas Jefferson University succeeded a decade back in selling a prized painting by Thomas Eakins, "The Gross Clinic," for a whopping $68 million, but it riled many in Philadelphia during the process.

The court battle over Fisk’s Stieglitz collection was resolved by a $30 million deal in which the collection spends two years of every four at the university and the other two at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a Bentonville, Ark., institution supported by the family that owns Walmart. Meanwhile, the university sold two other works that had been given without stipulations — one by Rockwell Kent and another, "Asbury Park South" (above), painted in 1920 by Florine Stett­heimer. That painting, which attracted the newspaper’s attention because it is on loan to the Portland Museum of Art, in Maine, shows Stettheimer and several friends, including Marcel Duchamp and Carl Van Vechten, among black beachgoers in New Jersey.

Fisk refused to say how much it sold the two works for.

Plus This

Dowling College, which announced in late spring that it would close but then tried to remain open by making a deal with a European investment company, said it would indeed be shutting down. … Also closing is Cambria-Rowe Business College, a small for-profit institution in central Pennsylvania. Officials said they would have difficulty finding a new accreditor to replace the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which is under fire from the federal government. ... A Twitter user whose account is called Raped at Spelman said last week that Spelman College’s president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, had never set up a promised meeting with her in the wake of a gang-rape allegation involving four male students from neighboring Morehouse College. "I thought my voice would be heard, I thought my opinion and my story would matter," the Twitter user wrote. "That is not the case. I’m being ignored."

Bulletin Board

How would you like to spend the next three years doing "archival and field research" on the history of beer brewing in America — "with special emphasis on the craft industry"?

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History — the museum in which Julia Child’s kitchen is on display — is looking for a scholar to contribute to an exhibit about changes in American eating and drinking habits since World War II. "We were looking at wine, coffee, cheese, artisanal bread, and farmers markets," said Paula J. Johnson, curator of the museum’s division of work and industry. "Well, this movement with small-scale, local regional beer is part of the ethos." The job, which will be supported by the Brewers Association and will involve plenty of travel, will pay $64,650 a year.

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