The Week

Ryan M. Kelly, AP Images

September 28, 2015

Unwanted Contact

Look around at undergraduates in the campus center this afternoon, or in the stands at a game, or in your classroom. Chances are that nearly one out of every four of the women you see has experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact on your campus. And despite the severity of the incidents — they’re classified as "nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation" — they most likely went unreported.

Those were among the findings of a survey of students at 27 public and private universities that was conducted by the Association of American Universities. The survey attracted attention from the moment it was announced, partly because a number of AAU member institutions declined to participate. But even with only 27 universities taking part, it was one of the biggest studies of campus sexual assault conducted to date, covering a wide variety of kinds of incidents.

Among other findings:

• Fewer than 10 percent of male undergraduates reported having been victims of unwanted sexual contact involving force or incapacitation. Students who identified themselves as "transgender, genderqueer, or nonconforming" reported contact by force or incapacitation at a slightly higher rate than women.

Drugs and alcohol were involved in a significant proportion of incidents.

• Even among the most serious incidents, defined as those involving penetration, 28 percent or less were reported to any authority.

Coming after several years of widespread concern about sexual assault on campuses — and after a number of high-profile incidents — the results held few surprises. But the level of detail in the findings, the survey’s designers hope, will let college administrators fine-tune campus policies to confront a range of "very different types of sexual assault and misconduct." (Read more here.)

Regulatory Reform

Speaking of reports, a panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences has released a 144-page document describing, in genteel but ultimately damning terms, "how increasing federal regulations hinder the output" of researchers who receive federal money. The panel said that’s because the researchers end up spending so much time attempting to comply with mazes of rules and policies that vary from one funding agency to the next. The panel’s members recommend, among other changes, that Congress work with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to make the various agencies adopt a common grant-proposal format, a governmentwide conflict-of-interest policy, and sensible rules for research involving human subjects.

Oh sure, you say — fat chance of Congress’s actually doing anything that useful. But Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, wrote that "we intend to include many of the recommendations in legislation we will introduce this year to speed innovation in health care." Keep your fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the panel’s report should probably be required reading if you’re in any way involved with research. In addition to saying that universities need to do a better job of policing their researchers, it suggests that federal agencies’ inspector-general offices be "rebalanced" so they would devote energy both "to uncovering waste, fraud, and abuse and to advising on economy, efficiency, and effectiveness." (Read more here.)

In re: Press Freedom

Michael Melia, AP Images

The fall semester’s off to an interesting start at Wesleyan University. After the student newspaper, The Wesleyan Argus, published a student’s opinion piece asking whether Black Lives Matter should be labeled as a hate group, at least 167 students, alumni, and others signed a petition calling for a boycott of the paper and asking the student government to cut off its funding.

The petition listed five demands, including that the newspaper dedicate a front-page space to marginalized groups and that the paper create paid positions so that students who aren’t well off can afford to work for it. The petition said the Argus "has historically failed to be an inclusive representation of the voices of the student body" and that it "neglects to provide a safe space for the voices of students of color and we are doubtful that it will in the future."

According to the Argus, one student who signed the petition wrote in an email: "That the Argus chose to give this man somewhere to share his disrespectful opinion and to then have the Argus and its staff members defend the publication, hiding behind the argument of ‘Well, it’s not my opinion but he’s allowed to have it,’ is frankly a great disappointment. The Argus’ publication of this opinion is a silent agreement with its content."

The student-government president said that while the petition had been received, no student legislator had submitted a measure for formal consideration. In an editorial, the Argus’s co-editors apologized for not having thoroughly fact-checked the controversial piece, which they said "cites inaccurate statistics and twists facts," and for not running alongside it another piece countering its arguments. They also promised to publish an issue "written entirely by students of color" in the near future.

More Data Points

Are you tired of reading about scorecards, rankings, ratings, and data? No? Good.

The Education Trust has pulled together data about how recipients of Pell Grants fare at 1,149 nonprofit colleges. Among the calculations included are figures for the graduation rate of Pell recipients after six years at each institution and for the gap between the graduation rates of Pell recipients and those of students who did not get the grants.

Andrew Howard Nichols, director of higher-education research and data analytics at the trust, wrote a report that was released along with the data. Gaps in graduation rates between Pell recipients and others are "egregious" at some institutions, he wrote, but "at the average college in our sample, the low-income students who receive Pell support graduate at rates only 5.7 points below those of students who don’t have the extra challenges that most low-income students have to navigate as they work their way toward a college degree." But he also noted that Pell recipients are "much more likely to attend institutions with lower graduation rates for all students, and much less likely to attend institutions that graduate most of their students."

• On a lighter note, The Washington Post published a convenient roundup of less-heralded rankings, such as Gawker’s 2014 ranking of best "safety schools" (Wait — since when is Cornell a safety school?) and the Daily Caller’s "definitive" list of the 19 ugliest college campuses in the U.S. (Hey, now! I love that crazy 1970 library at UC-San Diego!).

And Finally

Ryan M. Kelly, AP Images

The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents who last spring pinned a black University of Virginia student to the sidewalk while arresting him were not unnecessarily aggressive, a state-police report said. The arrest of the student, Martese Johnson (left), prompted anguish and protests on the campus after a video of it went viral. … The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights said an investigation of admissions practices at Princeton University found "no evidence" of discrimination against Asian and Asian-American applicants.

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