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September 19, 2017

Welcome to Tuesday, September 19. Today a violent protest erupts after a campus killing, the U.S. Education Department approves the sale of two for-profit-college companies to nonprofit buyers, and we want to know which professors deserve movie treatment.

Violence at Georgia Tech.

Late on Monday night, a vigil in memory of a student shot dead by the campus police at the Georgia Institute of Technology turned into a violent protest in which a police car was torched. The university told people on the campus to seek shelter, reported the Associated Press. Georgia Tech said three people had been arrested and two police officers injured.

Harassment or scholarly disagreement?

Hundreds of scholars have signed a letter in support of Dorothy Kim, an assistant professor of English at Vassar College who says she is being targeted for harassment as a result of a senior scholar's blog. At the center of the controversy is the degree to which medieval studies should diversify. Ms. Kim has argued that doing so should be a major priority of the field, while Rachel Fulton Brown, an associate professor at the University of Chicago, wrote a blog post saying that such talk is overblown. But Ms. Brown's critics say her writing, and its immediate consequences, amount to harassment of a junior scholar by a more established professor. Read more from our Nell Gluckman.

Quick hits.

  • The U.S. Education Department has approved the controversial sale of two large for-profit-college companies to nonprofit buyers, BuzzFeed News reports. It's an indication that the department is taking a laissez-faire approach to business deals that the Obama administration viewed with deep skepticism. Purdue University is buying Kaplan University, and the Dream Center, a small Christian organization, is buying the EDMC-owned Art Institutes.
  • The Trump administration announced on Monday that Johnathan Holifield, a consultant and former NFL player, would be the next executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ordered the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust and Transworld Systems Inc., its debt collector, to stop filing lawsuits against borrowers of private student loans when it can't be proved that the debt was owed or when a deadline to sue has passed.
  • Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial right-wing firebrand, accused the University of California at Berkeley of trying to derail his planned "Free Speech Week" on the campus.
  • Cornell University announced several steps to create a more "equitable, inclusive" university in the wake of an apparent hate crime that left a student hospitalized.

Competing for top minority students.

At California's Pomona College, more than 10 percent of non-international students in recent freshman classes were black and more than 20 percent were Hispanic. But most colleges and universities can't afford to recruit top-tier minority students as Pomona does. Even if institutions do ramp up their recruitment for diversity, some experts say that it's not enough, that colleges should not consider standardized-test scores or allow legacy admissions if they hope to enroll a student body that reflects the nation's diversity. For more of what happens when affirmative action isn't enough, read this New York Times article.

The talkers.

  • New data show that college enrollment has declined for a fifth straight year. Demographic trends, including a drop in the number of high-school graduates, explain some of the pattern. But another reason may be that colleges aren't offering the courses and degree programs that today's technology-driven workers need, argues Jeffrey Selingo in The Washington Post.
  • By changing Obama-era directives on how to handle campus sexual assault, Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, takes support and priority away from survivors, argue Miriam Gleckman-Krut and Nicole Bedera in The New York Times.

A grad student and federal records requests.

When Ryan Shapiro started studying radicals in the animal-rights movement, he knew he would have to submit a request to the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which gives citizens the right to obtain information from federal agencies. Years later he has tapped his FOIA knowledge to go after President Trump. David Schimke has the story of how Mr. Shapiro, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of science, technology, and society at MIT, is doing that.

On-screen professors.

This summer we asked readers in an informal survey about their favorite fictional professors in movies and television shows. We know our readers love Indiana Jones and admire Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter series. Now let's turn the tables. Which real-life professor deserves movie or TV treatment? And who would play that person? Fancy yourself a casting director, and email me your ideas for a future Briefing:

Comings and goings.

  • John Miller, acting president of Williston State College, in North Dakota, was inaugurated as president.
  • Ronald W. Gray, chief executive of Thompson Gray Inc., a financial- and business-management firm, was named president pro tempore of the University of Alabama system's Board of Trustees.


From The Chronicle's Nick DeSantis:

Betsy DeVos has a taste for pricey bourbon. That’s how I reacted after learning — thanks to Michael Stratford of Politico — that the education secretary had recently invested money in something called “Jos. A. Magnus & Co. LLC,” in Washington, according to a new government disclosure statement.

Booze enthusiasts like yours truly know Magnus as one of several distilleries that have cropped up in D.C.’s Ivy City neighborhood. Magnus is renowned for its bourbon, the house version of which is “aged in white oak and finished in Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximénez and Cognac casks.” If you want to sample the secretary's apparent beverage of choice, a standard 750-milliliter bottle will set you back just $92.

Ms. DeVos’s involvement in the business has been an open secret around the neighborhood for months. In July an eagle-eyed drinker spotted her leaving the distillery and posted photo evidence on Twitter. One person’s reaction indicated that she might sometimes have trouble doing something we all enjoy: drinking in peace.

“I hope you had a tomato on you,” he wrote.

—Fernanda and Adam

Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz and Adam Harris are breaking-news reporters at The Chronicle. Reach them at and

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