Archives for category: Higher Education

What a relief! The conservative Supreme Court sided with Indians University’s demand that all students must be vaccinated.

The New York Times reported:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court allowed Indiana University on Thursday to require students to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Eight students had sued the university, saying the requirement violated their constitutional rights to “bodily integrity, autonomy and medical choice.” But they conceded that exemptions to the requirement — for religious, ethical and medical reasons — “virtually guaranteed” that anyone who sought an exemption would be granted one.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who oversees the federal appeals court in question, turned down the student’s request for emergency reliefwithout comment. She acted on her own, without referring the application to the full court, which was an indication that the application was not on solid legal footing.

A trial judge had refused to block the requirement, and a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, declined to issue an injunction while the students’ appeal moved forward.

“Each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting,” Judge Frank H. Easterbrook wrote for the appeals court. “Health exams and vaccinations against other diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, varicella, meningitis, influenza and more) are common requirements of higher education. Vaccination protects not only the vaccinated persons but also those who come in contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable.”

Judge Easterbrook, who was appointed to the appeals court by President Ronald Reagan, relied on a 1905 Supreme Court decision, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which ruled that states may require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

The smallpox vaccination requirement allowed no exceptions, Judge Easterbrook wrote, while Indiana University’s requirement made accommodations for students with religious and other objections. (Exempted students must wear masks and take frequent coronavirus tests, requirements that Judge Easterbrook said “are not constitutionally problematic.”)

The university was entitled to set conditions for attendance, he wrote, just as it can require the payment of tuition and instruct students “to read what a professor assigns.”

“People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere,” Judge Easterbrook wrote, noting that many universities do not require vaccinations. “Plaintiffs have ample educational opportunities.”

Judges Michael Y. Scudder Jr. and Thomas L. Kirsch II, both appointed by President Donald J. Trump, joined Judge Easterbrook’s opinion.

Adam Liptak

Republicans have whipped up a frenzy in the states and in the conservative media that they control about “critical race theory.” They are blowing up the issue because it benefits their party in two ways:

First, it distracts public attention from the violent and unprecedented assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. They want to pretend that day—where their own lives were at risk—never happened. It was like “a normal tourist visit,” as one House Republican member said. It was a day of infamy that should never be forgotten, but Republicans are trying to bury it.

Second, the CRT dispute is the kind of cultural wedge issue that fires up the Republican base. They cheer as legislatures pass laws that would criminalize teaching about racism and sexism, because some students might feel bad to learn what really happened in the past.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is a celebrated journalist who has won major awards for her work. The current controversy was launched in reaction to “The 1619 Project,” which she organized and to which she contributed the introductory essay about the resilience of racism. It waspublished in a full issue of The New York Times magazine.

You know the story by now about how the journalism school at the University of North Carolina offered her the Knight Chair of Race and Investigative Journalism. But when the faculty decision reached the board of the university, they decreed that—unlike her white predecessors—she would not be offered tenure.

In response to ongoing protests by students and faculty, the board took another vote and agreed (9-4) to reverse their original decision and to offer her tenure. Hannah-Jones rejected their grudging offer and will instead create a journalism center at Howard University, the most prominent Historically Black University in the nation.

Mercedes Schneider posts here the story behind the scene, as written by Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch. Killian fills in the blanks about the influence on the original decision by Walter Hussman, the wealthy and conservative magnate who donated $25 million to UNC for the journalism school, which was renamed the Hussman School of Journalism. Initial reports suggested that he did not use his influence to affect the board’s decisions. Killian says otherwise.

In recent decades, states have reduced their subsidies to institutions of high education, shifting the financial burden to students and families. After World War II, the federal government recognized that investing in higher education would benefit society as a whole. The rise of libertarianism in the past forty years has promoted the view that the consumer, not society, should pay for what is now seen as a personal benefit. This attitude exacerbates inequality, since those at the top can more readily pay for their children’s education than those with less money. It’s worth mentioning here that all higher education in Finland is tuition-free. The Finns consider education to be a human right, which people should not be required to purchase.

Making college free for all creates problems, to be sure. What about students and families already deeply in debt? Shouldn’t their debts be forgiven? What about those who already sacrificed to pay staggering debt?

Two Connecticut professors—Stephen Adair of Central Connecticut State University and Colena Susankreed1 of Gateway Community College— review some of the issues here, in an article that appeared in the New York Times.

The last 40 years have seen an ever-widening income gap between those with college degrees and those without. Over that interval, incomes have soared for those with advanced degrees and declined for those with high-school diplomas or less. As a result, the route to economic security for young people depends increasingly on access to higher education. Yet it keeps getting more expensive.

Since the Great Recession, the public portion of the operating costs for state universities and colleges in Connecticut, where we teach, has declined 20 percent; since the 1980s, it has declined by nearly half. In the 1960s, tuition for a Connecticut state university was $100 a year, which could be earned by working fewer than 100 hours at minimum wage. Today, a student needs to work nearly 1,000 hours at the state minimum of $12 an hour to pay the $11,462 required for tuition at the least expensive state university in Connecticut.

Our state is hardly unique in abdicating its responsibilities to the next generation. By 2018, only four states had returned to prerecession funding levels at public two- and four-year institutions. In Arizona the decline has been especially acute: 2018 per-student higher-education funding was down 55.7 percent from 2008, and average student tuition costs at four-year institutions increased by 91 percent. In Louisiana, these figures were 40.6 and 105.4 percent, respectively.

The Biden administration has proposed reforms to ease the student-debt crisis. But a real solution must upend a system of cascading inequities. Restoring the dream of higher education as an equalizer requires a holistic solution that attacks all the sources of the problem: a lack of investment in common goods, growing tuition and student debt and exploitative labor practices that undermine the quality of education.

The rise in tuition costs, combined with the growing economic value of a college degree, fuels the crisis of student debt, which today totals $1.7 trillion. To pay for a year of school, three-quarters of American families pay at least 24 percent of their average family income, even after grants are distributed.

As students pay more, they often receive less. Nationwide, nearly 75 percent of all faculty positions are off the tenure track, often without benefits or long-term job prospects. Ironically, hundreds of thousands of some of the most educated people in the country now shuttle to and from campus, juggling gigs to try to eke out a living while unable to give students the attention they deserve.

While President Biden’s American Families Plan includes a provision for free community college, this is an incomplete solution.

The College for All Act of 2021, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal, would address the crisis in full. In addition to making community college tuition-free for all, it would make two- and four-year public colleges and minority-serving institutions free for poor and middle-class students and increase funding for programs that target students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Nationally, in 2016, the net average price of college attendance (the total cost minus all grants awarded) for students coming from the lowest family income quartile amounted to 94 percent of total family income. Unsurprisingly, poorer students are less present at higher levels of education nationwide. In Connecticut, students of color are overrepresented at the introductory levels and increasingly underrepresented at higher levels.

We stand to exacerbate racial and class divides if we create a dead end for poorer students by cutting off funding at the associate level, stunting their progress or requiring them to take on debt to continue. By including both two- and four-year institutions and by expanding Pell grants so they can be used to cover living and nontuition expenses, the College for All Act would help bridge the significant earning gap between those with some college education and those with bachelor’s degrees.

The measure would also address the labor precarity corroding learning conditions: It would require that at least 75 percent of courses be taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty members and help transition short-term and part-time faculty members to those positions.

To fund these reforms, the bill proposes a tax on trades of stocks, bonds and derivatives, to raise more than $600 billion over the next decade.

The College for All Act complements recent efforts in states like California, Connecticut, Georgia and New York to boost two- and four-year institutions. While these efforts are distinct, they all seek to facilitate the movement between two-year colleges and public universities and improve equity...

To the extent that higher education reinforces existing inequities, it contributes to the affliction it is supposed to ease. Solving this problem will expand opportunities for individuals, grow the middle class, improve the skills of America’s work force and strengthen democracy. But this won’t happen on its own; it needs a push. So let’s push.

I posted a delightful article by Jennifer Raab, President of Hunter College, celebrating the importance of public higher education, which has provided opportunity to so many students from low-income and immigrant families.

A faculty member of the City University of New York wrote to say that budget cuts are strangling the promise of public higher education.

He wrote:

Public education requires more than cheerleading: right now, we also need advocates who are willing to fight for it. And while Virginia may have been an impressive alumna of Hunter College, this year Governor Cuomo has held back 20% of CUNY funding based on an expectation of a dramatic state shortfall. While the shortfall has been much less than predicted, the cuts to public education have occurred anyways. 

At Hunter and other CUNY schools, those cuts have meant heavy lay-offs of adjunct faculty. Their courses have been cancelled and, as a result, students are being squeezed into over-crowded classes. A course that, a year ago, might have worked with 30 students in person, this semester will have 40 students in a Zoom room. That’s nowhere near the level of teaching and engagement that Virginia received. And that’s a real tragedy.


In a year in which our public officials have insisted they will fight for greater equity, we need leaders who will fight for the country’s largest public university to be fully funded and its students to be given the quality of education they deserve. We need leaders who don’t only celebrate CUNY’s past, but demand that its traditions of providing a first-rate education for all New Yorkers be maintained in the present and into the future. And if that requires fighting, let’s insist that they take up that battle.

This is a beautiful article by Jennifer Raab, president of Hunter College, which is part of the City University of New York. It appeared in the New York Daily News. When Virginia O’Hanlon attended Hunter College, the City University was tuition-free. In 1976, CUNY began to charge tuition, but it remains far less than private colleges and universities, and many students can piece together aid packages from state and federal funds.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” It may be the most famous sentence in the history of local journalism.

Virginia O’Hanlon of 115 W. 95th St. was just 8 years old when she composed a letter to the editor, writing: “Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

Yes, there is, the paper guaranteed her. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”

Those in the know must have been shocked to learn that the words came from the pen of veteran journalist Francis Pharcellus Church, brother of the Sun’s editor. Known to colleagues as a hard-boiled cynic, Church had never written so sentimentally. Now he tenderly assured young Virginia: “Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world.”

Soon enough, thanks to free public higher education, Virginia saw those wonders for herself. Many of today’s newspaper readers know about the editorial. It has been widely reprinted, in the Daily News among many other papers, each year since it first appeared. It has inspired musical pageants.

But few know what happened to Virginia — or that her path in life actually followed Church’s advice to imagine the best.

The daughter of an NYPD coroner, young Virginia soon began harboring dreams that stretched beyond St. Nick’s annual visits. She aspired to teach — and motivate — children herself. So 10 years after writing to the Sun, Virginia O’Hanlon enrolled at Hunter College, which then, as now, educated many of the teachers employed by the New York City school system. Crucially, Hunter offered higher education to women of all races and religions — a rarity at the time of the school’s 1870 founding.

Graduating in 1910, Virginia went on to earn a Master’s and Ph.D., lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic, and taught grade school for decades. Eventually, she became junior principal of PS 401 in Brooklyn, a school renowned for providing an early version of “remote learning” to chronically sick children confined to the borough’s hospitals.

In 1949, Virginia O’Hanlon Douglas returned to Hunter to address students at her alma mater (and of course, retell her Santa Claus story). She retired in 1959, and died nearly 50 years ago, in 1971.

Her life — both the storybook version and the equally uplifting reality — serves as a reminder not only of faith questioned and reignited, but of the opportunities New York public education continues to provide, even now, amid the most stressful and prolonged crisis in city history.

In fact, when CollegeNET recently released its annual Social Mobility Index rankings of America’s colleges, it did not look at all like the usual “Best Colleges” lists topped by Ivy League names. The index, which analyzes colleges’ success at graduating low-income students into well-paying jobs, was front-loaded with public universities. Hunter ranked 9th out of 1,449 schools.

More than a century after Virginia matriculated, Hunter’s student population still offers a springboard to opportunity. Hunter has already served as the launchpad for, among others, Bella Abzug, Martina Arroyo, Ruby Dee, Pauli Murray, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow — and from our high school, such luminaries as Elena Kagan and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Always, we’ve taken particular pride in students, from here and overseas, who are the first in their families to attend college.

Just look what the most recent graduating class is up to. Elliot Natanov, the son of immigrants who fled anti-Semitism in Uzbekistan, is now pursuing a career in sports medicine. Ahmet Doymaz, who immigrated from Turkey as a child, studies cancer and cell regulation. Evelyn Tawil, daughter of Syrian refugees, is pursuing a graduate degree in landscape architecture. Jennifer Dikler, whose parents fled Russia, won a coveted Luce Scholarship to study trade policy in Asia.

Among recent grads, Margarita Labkovich became a Schwartzman Fellow in 2020 and will spend a year at Beijing’s Tsinghua University before returning to medical school and resuming her career as chief operating officer of Retina Technologies (she already holds two patents). And Thamara Jean, daughter of a Haitian-born synagogue superintendent, now attends Oxford University as Hunter’s first-ever Rhodes Scholar. These remarkable young people are soaring above their circumstances, with Hunter’s full support at their backs — and no debt collectors at their front doors.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus: it’s called public education.

After President-Elect Biden announced his new national security team, a group of experienced, highly competent professionals, Senator Marco Rubio mocked them in a tweet, mostly because they are well-educated. Presumably he’s trying to grab Trump’s mantle as champion of the uneducated.

Brianna Keillor of CNN shredded Rubin’s baloney, pointing out that the Trump administration included many Ivy League graduates, such as Trump, who went to Penn and frequently boasted about his Ivy League credentials. Neither Biden nor Harris are Ivy Leaguers. Marco Rubio of full of baloney, even if it’s shredded.

Mitchell Robinson, a professor at Michigan State University, has advice for state Democratic parties about their message to voters. He suggests what they need to do to attract new voters and turn red legislatures blue. Two big ideas: expand internet access and promote public education, K-16.

He begins:

1. Better, more affordable access to broadband internet service

In a digital age, access to fast, secure internet service is not only a basic human need–akin to utilities like electricity, water, and gas/oil–but it’s a requirement for candidates building a digital campaign infrastructure. Not being able to reliably connect to persons in remote areas of your state, or to those who live in urban areas plagued by internet deserts, severely hampers the ability to convey a candidate’s or party’s message, policy beliefs, or positions on issues. It also leaves persons without reliable internet access to the mercies of our information sources like Fox News or the Detroit News–meaning that they are less informed than someone with no media access at all.

2. Improve support for public education, including community colleges and state universities

One of the single largest predictors of voting patterns is the level of education among a group of potential voters. In general, the more educated a person is, the more likely that person is to vote, and to vote for Democratic candidates. Areas and states with a lower percentage of college-educated voters tend to vote Republican, and more educated areas tend to vote for Democrats. It just stands to reason that increasing the number of college-educated voters would lead to a more Democratic populace.

At the same time, the concerted attacks on public institutions under Republicans have decimated public schools in both our largest cities and the most sparsely populated regions in the country. Aside from race and ethnicity, the demographics and socio-economic issues in cities and rural areas are surprisingly similar–including the damage that has been done by Republican and neoliberal ed reform policies to students, teachers, and schools in both urban and rural communities.

  • Imagine a Democratic platform that features free community college tuition and affordable access to state colleges and universities, and a return to the kind of financial support from state legislatures that was common as recently as the late 1970s.

Open the link and read his other strong ideas to change the political dynamic.

The California State Attorney General, Xavier Becerra and 48 other states and the Consumer Financial Bureau won a $330 million settlement on behalf of students from a now-defunct for-profit “college.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, along with 48 states and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Tuesday announced a $330 million settlement with ITT Technical Institute (ITT Tech), the now-defunct predatory for-profit college, and PEAKS, its holding company. The settlement, which in California is pending court approval, resolves allegations of an illegal private student loan scheme that harmed student borrowers by misdirecting them towards expensive student loans that they struggled to repay. The settlement will automatically discharge PEAKS’ entire student-loan portfolio with loan forgiveness for anyone with an outstanding PEAKS loan. This will provide relief for more than 43,000 borrowers nationwide, including 4,000 Californians. PEAKS will also be required to shut down after carrying out the settlement.

“As students strive for a college degree, their attention should be on their studies not on being cheated by unscrupulous lenders,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Using a private lending scheme, ITT Tech saddled students with massive debt, exorbitant interest rates, and a worthless diploma. Today’s settlement removes the financial handcuffs gripping thousands of California students defrauded by ITT Tech. These students and former students can now wake up from this borrower’s nightmare. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to crackdown on predatory for-profit colleges that focus on dollars instead of diplomas.”

Over 600 faculty and staff at Penn have organized Penn for PILOTS and issued a statement calling on the university to make “payments in lieu of taxes” (PILOTs) to the Philadelphia public schools. As is well known, the public schools in Philadelphia are chronically underfunded, thanks to a hostile Republican legislature, and they are currently facing devastating cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Penn is the largest property owner in Philadelphia and the only Ivy League university that doesn’t pay PILOTs. Calls for PILOTs have surfaced for years, but support for the idea has now reached an unprecedented level. A significant number of Penn faculty and staff believe that it is time for the university to pay its fair share for public schools.

As the organizing statement of the group says, Penn is the seventh wealthiest university in the nation, and the Philadelphia schools are among the poorest in the nation.

This is the petition of the organizers. The statement begins:

We are faculty and staff at the University of Pennsylvania who believe that Penn has a responsibility to ensure adequate funding for the Philadelphia public schools. Penn is the largest property owner in the city of Philadelphia, but as a non-profit institution, it pays no property taxes on its non-commercial properties. In other words, it contributes nothing to the tax base that funds Philadelphia’s public school system—this in a city whose schools are underfunded and facing deep budget cuts amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our Commitment

Penn should contribute to an Educational Equity Fund governed by the school district and city of Philadelphia. These would be payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs)—a fraction of what Penn would owe if it were subject to property tax assessment. We commit ourselves to seeing our university pay its fair share.

Nearly every other Ivy League university already makes payments in lieu of taxes. Penn would be joining the ranks of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, and Dartmouth in recognizing its financial obligation to the community of which it is a part.

The supporters of this demand explain their rationale:

This is not a matter of charity but of justice. Penn’s tax exemption is predicated on the notion that it is a non-profit institution that exists to fulfill a public purpose, not a for-profit corporation that exists to accumulate capital. That distinction must be made meaningful. Today, Penn is the seventh richest university in the country. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has the highest poverty rate of the ten largest cities in the United States. If Penn’s public mission is to have any meaning at all, the university must not be an exemplar or engine of urban inequality.

Yet the existing system of public finance ensures that Penn benefits from city services that it does not pay to maintain. Penn’s administrators, faculty, and staff rely on city schools, sanitation services, transportation, and other programs. Penn’s location in the city of Philadelphia is one of its defining characteristics that enables the university to attract faculty and students. When the university does not pay for the services and environment that make its work possible, other Philadelphians are left to make up the difference—or city schools and other institutions simply go without. Penn has a duty to contribute to the city that sustains it.

Here is their list of frequently asked questions.

The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this remarkable movement.

I salute the faculty and staff at Penn who support this movement. The financial condition of the Philadelphia public schools is dire. They need all the help they can get. In this age on intense individualism and greed, it is wonderful to see people acting with a sense of social responsibility.

Harvard University has dropped the SAT as a Condition of admission for the new class entering in fall 2021.

The Boston Globe reports:


In a pivotal decision that will likely ripple across higher education, Harvard University announced on Monday that it will not require next year’s undergraduate applicants to submit standardized test scores.

The decision comes amid fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and growing criticism that standardized test requirements unfairly penalize students of color.

A coalition of civil rights groups and education advocates intend to send a letter on Tuesday to elite colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UMass Amherst, urging them to scrap the SAT and ACT altogether.

“[We] call upon you to stand up against practices that institutionalize racial inequity and take action to ensure your institution promotes the type of inclusive diversity that is critical for generating sustainable solutions and a better future for all,” says the letter, written by The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and signed by 10 other organizations and provided to the Globe.

Harvard’s decision is temporary. The university has defended its admissions policy and its strategy to build a diverse student body in court. Last fall, a federal district court judge in Boston ruled in favor of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy, although opponents are looking to overturn that judgment on appeal.