Behind the News

Behind the News

The stories making headlines in higher education.
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For years, a $26.65 million lawsuit filed by the parents of Elizabeth Shin, a student who died in a 2000 dormitory fire, against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology attracted national attention. The case against two student life staff members came to an abrupt halt in April when MIT and the Shins settled out of court with an undisclosed payment to the family; the Shins also agreed not to proceed with a case against four MIT psychiatrists. "We appreciate MIT's willingness to spare our family the ordeal of a trial and have come to understand that our daughter's death was likely a tragic accident," said Cho Hyun Shin, Elizabeth's father, in a statement released by MIT.

On the day of the fire, Elizabeth Shin reportedly told two students that she planned to kill herself. She was later found in her room amidst a fire and suffered severe burns that led to her death several days later. David Deluca, a lawyer for the Shin family, recently told The Boston Globe that toxicology tests indicated that Elizabeth had experienced a non-lethal overdose, which might have made her unresponsive when candles sparked a fire.

"I am surprised to see a suggestion that the Elizabeth Shin 'suicide' was an accident. That muddies the waters," says Gary Pavela, a professor at the University of Maryland and expert on higher education law. "It also means the lower court ruling on summary judgment will be cited rarely, if at all."

The lower court ruling, issued last summer, took an expansive view of schools' liability. Traditionally, non-clinician administrators have not been seen as having a legal "duty of care" in regards to potentially suicidal students. "In terms of viable legal precedents," says Pavela, "the best guidance we have is a state supreme court ruling in Iowa (Jain v. Iowa, decided in 2000) that held there was no general duty of care on the part of non-therapist college administrators to prevent suicide."

Yet, in part due to legal concerns, some colleges maintain policies that suspend or involuntarily withdraw students who pose a threat to themselves or to others. In Washington, D.C., The George Washington University suspended student Jordan Nott through a judicial process after he reported having suicidal thoughts. Nott has sued GWU for violating his rights under federal disability law. According to Tracy Schario, a university spokeswoman, GWU wanted Nott to be safe more than anything. The university is examining its mechanisms for communicating with students who might harm themselves or others (a process that began before the Nott lawsuit).

Sound Bites:
'What we are facing is actually a little bit of a stressful opportunity moment.' - Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, on the supposed "Science Crisis."

The Shin settlement has generated myriad questions, particularly in regards to how it will affect policies at IHEs. What's clear now is that MIT and the Shins can move forward from a bad legal tangle. -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

The 2006 winner of an awards program aimed at exposing outrageous instances of political correctness in higher ed that the national press may have ignored is none other than an institution that's gotten plenty of press.

Yale (Conn.) was tops in the 9th Annual Campus Outrage Awards, known as the "Pollys," for its enrollment of a former Taliban official into a non-degree program (combined with an earlier decision to bar ROTC programs from the main campus).

The Pollys are awarded by the Collegiate Network (www.isi.org/cn), a group that focuses on the dangers of politicizing classrooms, curricula, and student life, as well as provides assistance to student editors and writers at independent college publications. Nominations are accepted from current college students.

Other 2006 Polly winners included:

DePaul University (Ill.), for threatening free speech (e.g., a veteran adjunct was suspended after "daring to debate students handing out pro-Palestinian literature on campus")

Stanford University (Calif.) and College of the Holy Cross (Mass.), "for trying to silence the independent voices of their conservative alternative news-

papers." -Melissa Ezarik

POWER MENTORING

By Ellen Ensher and Susan Murphy

Jossey-Bass, www.josseybass.com; 2005; 368 pp; $27.95

Bill Gates had one. So did Pamela Thomas-Graham, president and CEO of CNBC. What they, and many others, credit as crucial to their success are mentors-those who help guide and shape career and life decisions.

In their new book, authors Ellen Ensher, an associate professor at the College of Management at Loyola Marymount University (Calif.) and Susan Murphy, associate professor at the Claremont McKenna College (Calif.), insist that the mentoring model needs updating. The idea of an older, wizened one keeping the secrets of an underling is being replaced with "power mentoring." Prot?g?s are encouraged to have multiple mentor relationships with many professionals who cut across various disciplines and industries. They even encourage older, established professionals to consider taking on mentors who are younger, in the effort of keeping current.

The new title is filled with how-to information about ways to select mentors, best practices for mentors, and ways to nurture mentor-prot?g? relationships. (Tools such as e-mail and IM are crucial.) The authors pepper the manuscript with examples of higher ed mentors, such as William Wulf, computer science professor at the University of Virginia, who has mentored numerous graduate students. -Jean Marie Angelo

A partnership between BosTON University and mtvU, a television network for colleges and universities, exemplifies the way business and higher education can intermingle to benefit students.

The partnership is the brainchild of Paul Schneider, a seasoned television director and professor in BU's College of Communication. He wanted students to grasp the realities of writing, developing, and producing a television pilot so he approached mtvU with the idea of creating a real show, and with funding from MSN the idea rolled.

The finished product, Roller Palace, bloomed from months of preparation and on-set work. "This was an opportunity to give [students] a taste of what it would be like to prepare and do a production in something fairly close to... the professional world," says Schneider.

mtvU, which aired Roller Palace on television and online, is growing fast, with nearly 7 million viewers on campuses around the country. The BU project, says Director of Programming Ross Martin, fit the network's mission perfectly. "It was a chance to jump inside the creative process, as some incredible students were teaming up to pull off something they had never done with professors in a classroom."-C.M.F.

Universities and colleges in Michigan have thrown their lot in with K-12 schools on a K-16 funding initiative that would provide automatic, guaranteed annual increases in education funding. Tom White, chair of the K-16 Coalition, says higher education has not had a stable source of revenue for the past six years, has seen significant budget cuts, and had little or no increases in funding. At first reading, the initiative seems weighted toward K-12, but White says higher ed has more to gain because K-12 has been treated "a little better" under the current budget. But the group is looking for long-term funding. White explains IHEs are currently funded out of the state's general fund, and the initiative would guarantee that funding. Opponents say the initiative doesn't provide financial oversight or accountability, would reduce the general fund to the detriment of emergency services, and would lead to tax increases. Polls, depending on which group conducts them, can go either way. The state legislature will have 40 days to act on the initiative. If the legislature doesn't pass the initiative or fails to act, the issue will be placed on the November 7 General Election ballot, where the voters will decide. -Ann McClure

Many colleges and universities are expanding their education programs for the U.S. military, including the University of Maryland University College, which recently deployed faculty and staff to Afghanistan to help educate some of the 18,000 service people stationed there.

The classes in Afghanistan are part of a broader UMUC program in that country and Iraq that provides higher education in person and online to those in all branches of the military.

Sound Bites:
'Alot of staff would have liked to have seen the headline,
'Lacrosse coach fired' instead of, 'Lacrosse coach resigns.'
-Robert Korstad, professor at Duke University (N.C.), commenting on the response to allegations that several male Lacrosse athletes raped and kidnapped a young woman.

Last year, approximately 59,000 U.S. service members and their dependents were enrolled in UMUC courses. While UMUC is one of the biggest educators of military personnel, many other colleges and universities work with the military, including the University of West Florida, Coastline Community College (Calif.), Central Texas College, and DallasTeleCollege (Texas). Many are partners in eArmyU (www.earmyu.com), an online portal that informs those in the service about higher ed opportunities and tuition assistance.

Overall, the U.S. military spent approximately $461.4 million in tuition reimbursement last year for those studying while serving, according to budget documents available through the Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support (DANTES).

No doubt, it is appealing for IHEs to want to get some of those reimbursement dollars. And higher education is a big benefit for those in the field, notes one soldier quoted in a DANTES bulletin. Studying helps to stay focused and beat stress, he reports.

Duquesne University (Pa.) is just one of several IHEs that most recently revamped courses so that material could fit on digital handheld devices, allowing soldiers to continue studies in the desert or other remote locations where computers and internet connections are rare or non-existent. -J.M.A.

While Hurricane Katrina washed away so much in New Orleans, it didn't rid the city of contentious disagreements. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Tulane University leaders have been exchanging tense letters as of late. The disagreements center on whether Tulane's decision to dismiss large numbers of tenured faculty adhered to appropriate policies and involved faculty input.

AAUP has asked Tulane to disclose information about its finances, since the university declared financial exigency that cleared the way for faculty dismissals in December. Tulane President Scott Cowen and Board of Tulane University Chair Catherine Pierson have not yet responded to the latest AAUP's missive of March 14, but they noted in a February 7 statement, "We believe that your letter does not reflect a full understanding of the unprecedented devastation this area and its institutions have suffered."

Faculty are worried that the Tulane dismissals might set a bad precedent. Says Roger Bowen, AAUP general counsel: "While we can empathize with the terrible disaster, it's difficult to be silent when so many faculty are losing their jobs, and in the absence of good data to demonstrate that that should happen." The AAUP sent a letter to the University of New Orleans in April addressing faculty layoffs there. -C.M.F.

More than 50 IHEs have found a new way to protect their residents by adding "gender expression" and "gender identity" to their non-discrimination policies.

Gender identity refers to how a student defines him or herself-male or female-while gender expression refers to behavior or style of dress. The new policies protect everyone, including people whose sexual orientation is gay, those who are transgender, or simply gender non-conforming, such as a heterosexual male who just happens to be petite or effeminate.

"Increasingly the courts are seeing these as separate issues," says Danny Baker, Director of Operations and Education for Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, adding that even when sexual orientation is not a protected class, gender-based claims are often recognized. GenderPAC's list of institutions that have gender-based protections is available at www.gpac.org, as are suggestions for new policy language. -A.M.

Ironically, it began with HEARTBURN. That is, Norah Ephron's book by that name. Jennifer Cognard-Black, an English professor at St. Mary's College (Md.), saw that one of the characters described a recipe for lima beans and pears. "What better device to create a full, complex character than to have me cook and consume this dish, 're-embodying' the character in my own flesh and blood," she says. Cognard-Black found other "recipe novels" and created a course on cooking in literature called "Books That Cook."

Reading assignments include The Age of Innocence, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Chocolat, and students prepare the recipes in the books. "The most interesting dish prepared was chabella wedding cake, which requires 102 eggs and tears-although the student made a fourth of the recipe, and I'm not sure she added actual tears," she says. "It comes from Like Water for Chocolate." -Tim Goral

Christopher Cory, executive director of public information AT Pace University (N.Y.), wrote one imaginary Variety headline after another after announcing that his university will be the new home to Bravo's TV show Inside the Actor's Studio. Taping the show from Pace's Michael Schimmel Center is part of the plan to revitalize lower Manhattan. Pace and the famed Actor's Studio to which the TV show is linked will jointly offer a Master's of Fine Arts program. The relationship to the TV show and The Actor's Studio is a coup for Pace, heretofore known for its business and law programs. The TV show was previously taped at The New School. Ironically, it is New York University's Tisch School of the Arts that has been more recognized for drama. But it seems all that is about to change. -J.M.A.


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