News

The Week

What You Need to Know About the Past 7 Days

September 12, 2014

Just a Thought

As legislators, deans, parents, and students debate what to do about the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses—many of them all but awash in alcohol—maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider the bigger picture. Maybe it’s time for Americans to start teaching their teenagers to drink responsibly (if they want to drink), and time to rethink our drinking-age laws—which, let’s face it, seem to have done little more than create a thriving fake-ID industry.

Really, where has the current approach gotten us? High-school kids sneak off to drink under stadium bleachers and in parks that closed at dusk. College students party in their rooms and at fraternities and in bars. If you didn’t hear it earlier this week, listen to the piece that NPR’s Patti Neighmond did on college drinking for Morning Edition. Sharon Levy, director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, summed up the situation this way: "We’ve created a situation in which there is an expectation that drinking—and in fact heavy drinking—is just part of the college experience."

And then—studies are clear on this, as are stories from virtually every campus—assaults happen. To say nothing of car crashes and hospital visits for alcohol poisoning.

Try as they might, colleges are probably not going to solve the sexual-assault problem by requiring that students say "yes" to each caress (as California law may soon require) or by becoming more adept at the due-process requirements of rape charges. Nor are they going to tame the out-of-control campus-drinking culture as long as drinking by anyone under 21 has to be a wink-wink "secret." Maybe it’s time for a fresh start on this one.

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho

Is civility "really a catchword for a kind of censorship for speech that makes us uncomfortable"? That’s how it was characterized this week by Katherine M. Franke, a professor of law at Columbia University who is among the high-powered individuals and organizations arguing that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign needs to reverse its ever-more-controversial decision not to hire Steven G. Salaita.

Mr. Salaita spoke to about 200 supporters at the University YMCA on Tuesday after protesters marched across the campus chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, censorship has got to go." He said that he would pursue legal action if he was not hired as a professor of American Indian studies, and also that, while his tweets about "recent atrocities committed by the Israeli government" were indeed "passionate and unfiltered," the university’s decision to vet his Twitter feed sets a "perilous standard that risks eviscerating the principle of academic freedom."

But Phyllis M. Wise, the university’s chancellor, gave no hint that she was reconsidering the decision to withdraw the job offer, and on Thursday the Board of Trustees backed her up, voting against Mr. Salaita when his name appeared on a list of faculty hires.

Up for Discussion

Goucher College, which stopped requiring applicants to submit standardized-test scores seven years ago, now says applicants don’t have to send in high-school grades if, instead, they submit two samples of academic work and a two-minute video saying "how you’d fit in at Goucher." … Kentucky State University said on Wednesday that it had re-enrolled about 70 percent of the 654 students it kicked out last week because they weren’t paid up on their bills. … Has your campus police department sought surplus M-16s or Kevlar helmets from the Defense Department? Grenade launchers? Freedom-of-information requests filed by Dan Bauman, a Chronicle intern, turned up 117 colleges that had received items as varied as gauze bandages and mine-resistant vehicles.

Look Who’s Here!

So Congress showed up here in Washington this week, with a lot on its plate and just two weeks to do what it can before taking another break. It seemed like a good time to ask Kelly Field, who covers the federal government for The Chronicle, what to expect this fall. Her analysis:

• Because the government’s spending authority runs out on September 30—and because no one wants another government shutdown—Congress will pass a continuing resolution that will allow spending at current levels until after the November elections. Why wait till then to make real decisions? The elections will determine which party controls the Senate. If the Republicans win a majority of Senate seats, it’s a new ballgame for everybody.

• In the meantime, the Senate may take up a bill from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would scale back interest rates on student loans. The bill has little chance of getting through the House—OK, no chance at all—but from the Democrats’ point of view, it’s still good politics.

• The elections will also determine who replaces Sen. Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, as chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. If the GOP takes control, the post most likely goes to Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former secretary of education and former University of Tennessee president. He’s big on limiting regulations. If the Democrats hold on, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington—a student-loan expert—gets the gavel.

• Will Congress make any progress on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act? Nope.

• Over at the Department of Education, a November 1 deadline looms for final gainful-employment rules. Depending on how strict the rules are, they could cut into the number of for-profit colleges whose students are eligible for federal grants and loans. Whatever the department decides, chances are good that the for-profits will challenge it.

• Also due this fall: a formula for measuring how well colleges serve diverse student populations. Expect complaints there, too.

C Is for ‘Chutzpah’

Turns out that Anoop Shankar, who left Virginia Commonwealth University last month after NBC News started asking questions about his résumé, had quietly been let go by West Virginia University in December 2012. That institution, which had been about to promote him, instead discovered that he didn’t have a Ph.D. in epidemiology, hadn’t written any of the papers listed on his CV, and was not, in fact, a member of the Royal College of Physicians.

Ratingzzzzz

Some days you just can’t win, you know? On Monday the high-profile New York Times "Upshot" data team held an invitation-only conference to release its College Access Index, which it said was a guide to "the most economically diverse top colleges." (If you’re interested, Vassar came in at No. 1, followed by Grinnell.) The index took heavy fire almost immediately. "Only the NYT could come up w/a college access ranking index basically limited to the wealthiest 3% of all colleges," tweeted Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. It was widely noted that very few public institutions had made the list, after which a lot of people stopped paying attention.

Meanwhile, yes, U.S. News & World Report released the 30th-anniversary edition of its college rankings. Notable accompaniments were a nice Washington Post profile of Robert Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News, who has worked on the rankings for 27 years—"It’s not where you went to school, it’s how hard you work," he told the Post—and an over-the-top Bloomberg News piece alleging that Dartmouth’s fall from 10th to 11th place means, in the words of one consultant, "The brand has been damaged but not destroyed."

Highlight of the week? The Onion’s 2014 university rankings, which imagined stats like Harvard’s "Entitled-Pissant-to-Faculty Ratio" (7:1) and listed a University of Phoenix selling point as "Boasts small chat-room sizes."

—Lawrence Biemiller