Behind The News

Behind The News

The stories making headlines in higher education
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What began as an exercise in sorority reorganization evolved into an incident with national ramifications and ended with the demise of a nearly 100-year relationship between a university and a sorority.

Robert Bottoms, president of DePauw University (Ind.), announced in early March that the university would no longer be home to Delta Zeta, which had established at DePauw one of its first chapters, in 1909. The move came after DZ's national leadership abruptly kicked out nearly two dozen members after questioning their "commitment to recruitment."

The members-as well as many other people within the university community-believed the decisions were based on looks and social status. National leaders of the sorority recognized that the DePauw chapter was lagging and needed to rebuild. What threw up red flags was how they did it (evicted members received letters just before final exams, notifying them of their alumnae status).

"It has become clear that the values of DePauw University and those of the Delta Zeta National Sorority are incompatible," Bottoms wrote in a March 11 letter to alumni.

The campus maelstrom drew national attention when The New York Times covered the slimming down of the DePauw chapter. Within hours of the Times story hitting newsstands, calls were pouring in to DePauw administration offices, says Director of Media Relations Ken Owen. Some of the women who had been kicked out of the sorority then appeared on Good Morning America.

DePauw had already launched a "Greek Fact-Finding Commission" last year to draft recommendations on oversight of the Greek system, and the Delta Zeta incident intensified the spotlight. This month the university's board of trustees is considering recommendations that the university: develop new housing standards for Greek residences; enlist assistance in reducing alcohol abuse; review how new member recruitment and education are conducted; and add two staff positions in the Campus Life office. Fraternities and sororities will no longer be able to break housing agreements mid-year.

DePauw is one of the most Greek campuses in the country; more than 70 percent of its 2,326 students belong to a fraternity or sorority. Bottoms believes the Delta Zeta situation provides an opportunity to grapple with challenges inherent to the Greek system. "Based on our experience and learning out of this situation, we may seek to take a much more active role in support as well as rules and regulations," he says. "They are our students, after all, and our first loyalty is to them, not to their national organizations."

Alexandra Robbins, author of Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, expands on that notion. "I think DePauw's response was exactly what it should have done," she says.

"I think that too often sororities act like the universities are part of them, rather than the other way around. DePauw absolutely did the right thing in protecting its students and hopefully setting a standard and a model for other universities across the country," Robbins adds. -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

President Gene Nichol thought he was being inclusive of all students when he decided to take an 18-inch brass cross off the altar of Wren Chapel at the College of William and Mary (Va). Instead he received a barrage of threats from donors who said they would withhold their pledges. One was ready to pull a $12 million donation when Nichol offered a compromise-the cross could stay in the chapel, just not on the altar. The cross will likely be placed in a glass case and accompanied by a plaque explaining its origin.

The College of William and Mary is the latest higher ed institution that has had to confront its religious roots and more recent public school status. Officials at nearby University of Virginia previously made a similar decision regarding its historic chapel.

Wren Chapel, the oldest at any U.S. college, represents William and Mary's Anglican roots; the college was founded in 1693 to help train ministers. When word got out that the cross would be taken down, 17,000 alumni and students signed an online petition in opposition. Another 2,000 signed a petition in support of Nichol. -Jean Marie Angelo

Presidents and higher ed managers of state universities now have their own primer covering what to do when stepping into leadership. The text, which is written as much for those who have just assumed power as for those who are building careers, covers all bases in a commonsense and easy-to-access style. Author Duane Acker knows much about the topic. He is currently president emeritus at Kansas State University but has worked at five other state universities as educator, dean, and vice chancellor. He tackles head-on the realities of leading such a behemoth as a state university. Job liabilities include burnout and the sacrifices to family life. He offers coping strategies, of course. Things like a thick skin, a sense of humor, and the ability to see the big picture are paramount.

So what does a new president do after landing the dream job? Acker suggests poring over the budget documents. Knowing where the money comes from and how it is used will serve as a base of knowledge for dealing with complex issues: the drying up of state funds, the need to do fundraising, to manage research efforts, and to help run large athletics programs.

His succinct chapters cover all aspects of higher ed, including dealing with the donors and the governing board.

The book, offered through Greenwood Publishing, is part of the Series on Higher Education offered by the American Council on Education. -J.M.A.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched a new offensive in its longstanding battle over illegal music downloads by sending more than 800 "pre-settlement litigation" letters to colleges and universities across the country in February and March. The letters, which are to be delivered by university administration, inform students that they are the targets of a forthcoming copyright infringement lawsuit-unless they pay. The students are encouraged to turn themselves in and pay fines online at www.p2plawsuits.com.

Critics of the action charge the RIAA circumvents normal legal procedures by identifying students they say are downloaders and presenting a "pay now or pay later" ultimatum without due process of the law.

Letters have been sent to Arizona State University (to 23 students), Boston University (50), North Carolina State University (37), Northern Illinois University (28), Ohio University (50), Syracuse University (N.Y.) (37), University of Massachusetts-Amherst (37), University of Nebraska-Lincoln (36), University of South Florida (31), University of Southern California (20), University of Tennessee-Knoxville (28), and The University of Texas at Austin (33), and the University of Wisconsin System (66), among many others.

In another college-related action, the RIAA has won the right to retroactively charge royalty fees to internet-based radio stations. Under the ruling, stations will have to pay a per-performance royalty rate. Though the per-performance fee is a tiny fraction of a cent, for a station with 1,000 listeners, each song played represents 1,000 performances. Multiply that by the number of songs played per hour, per day, per week, and the cost could be considerable. Although many college radio stations are protected, others are confused about how they may be affected.

At St. Cloud University's (Minn.) KVSC, Station Manager Jo McMullen-Boyer says the industry's new reporting procedures will be a challenge for the station. "We're told this year we'll have to report song/artist/label, etc., for seven days each quarter of the year, but the process and forms to make this happen are not very streamlined or clear at this point," she says. "Most college stations are struggling with how to follow [the industry's] Excel-based paperwork and tracking a very specific list of codes on a volunteer staff to meet their reporting criteria. We're hoping to computerize our CD collection into a scannable database, but that's a lot of work for a 15,000-20,000 CD collection."

Adam Winer, general manager of WMUC Radio, originating from the University of Maryland, College Park, says they are monitoring the royalty situation closely. "At this point, we are not certain what impact this will truly have on us, and we are waiting to see if this is something that they can even enforce." -Tim Goral

Sound bite
An advantage for the United States is that it's where all the smart people want to be. -Arizona State University president Michael Crow commenting on visa restrictions at a recent Science Coalition dinner.

WHEN PRINCETON AGREED TO GIVE BACK $782,375 to the children of a now deceased couple, some might have expected a settlement in what is believed to be the largest donor-intent lawsuit in U.S. history. Instead the plaintiffs in the case say the payment is "too little, too late."

The legal tangle began in 2002, when the children and other principals in the Robertson Foundation charged that Princeton had misspent a gift now valued at $800 million that was given by Charles and Marie Robertson of the A&P supermarket fortune. The Robertsons had given their money to endow the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Their children have claimed that Princeton misused $200 million on programs, research, real estate, and salaries unrelated to the Robertson Foundation charter.

Princeton officials said they were refunding the nearly $800,000 to the foundation because of "inadequate disclosure of the agreement to the [foundation's] board." A six-page statement issued by the Robertson Foundation says that Princeton's explanation for refunding part of the gift is "another shameless act of duplicity."

In its statement, the foundations says that its lawsuit is expected to go to trial later this year. -J.M.A

Data Point
37% High-achieving high school students who rated "academic ranking or reputation" as a "most important" factor in selecting a college. -Survey by My College Guide, www.mycollegeguide.org.

It was only a matter of time before someone found a way to combine students' love of texting with their love of free food. Student governments are petitioning their administrators to contract with Mobile Campus, a service that allows local businesses to send exclusive coupons to members via cell phones.

"I've enjoyed it and I think it's going to get better," says Stephen Gosnell, student body president at Clemson University (S.C.). The service launched on his campus in October. So far students have received offers ranging from special apartment rates to oil changes.

Students have to sign up for the text messaging service and can choose from a variety of categories, such as health and beauty or food and beverage.

Because the students select the categories, they don't have to worry about spam.

Although Gosnell says the text offers from a local tanning salon don't interest him, he does enjoy receiving messages that offer him free appetizers. -Ann McClure

Sound Bite
Rarely has a university president been able to identify with such precision the end of the honeymoon. -College of William and Mary President Gene R. Nichol on the furor over him removing the Wren Chapel Cross.

Last year was a good one for capital campaigns, as gifts from alumni helped institutions haul in a record $28 billion, according to survey results released by the Council for Aid to Education in February. Results showed that alumni giving increased by 18.3 percent. The findings were no surprise, according to Ann E. Kaplan, director of the council's Voluntary Support of Education Survey, citing that several colleges and universities were engaged in capital campaigns.

"No matter how good the economy is, giving increases in large part because institutions make a good case for support and are out there asking for contributions," Kaplan says. "Therefore, the advancement function at the institution is key, and should be robust."

Stanford University topped the list of 2006's largest fundraising institutions at $911.16 million, followed by Harvard University, at $594.94 million, and Yale University, at $433.46 million.

Stanford's fundraising total, a significant jump from $603.6 million in 2004-2005, could be said to be in timing with two campaign drives. In 2006, the university concluded The Campaign for Undergraduate Education, a five-year effort that brought in more than $1.1 billion for undergraduate students and programs. Last October, the university launched The Stanford Challenge, a $4.3 billion campaign aimed at seeking solutions to complex global problems as well as enhancing its graduate and undergraduate education. According to Martin Shell, vice president for development, this campaign cycle brought in strong results in giving.

The survey, sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, indicates that alumni are responding to campaign drives, as gifts for capital purposes-such as endowments, buildings, and equipment-increased by 14 percent in 2006. The number of alumni donors continues to rise slightly each year, and the size of contributions also is increasing, notes Rae Goldsmith, CASE's VP, communications and marketing. "We can speculate that this is also happening because more alumni are being asked and because more institutions are in capital campaigns, which focus giving around defined institutional needs that often connect to alumni interests," Goldsmith explains. -Michele Herrmann

Campus counseling centers are seeing more students coming in with more serious problems. Terry Mason, president of the International Association of Counseling Services, an agency that accredits IHE counseling services, attributes part of that increase to students being able to use new medications for conditions that kept previous generations from attending college. There are a variety of steps institutions can take to get students the help they need when they need it. Mason shared some steps he has taken at Iowa State University that have also been applied at other schools.

Put information online so students can determine whether they need to see a counselor.

Charge for missed appointments in order to optimize staff time. While Iowa State doesn't charge for appointments, it does implement a $10 missed appointment fee if a student doesn't call in advance and cancel.

Promote group therapy in addition to one-on-one sessions, where students can be supported by and learn from their peers.

Start a "waiting list" group. If students can't be scheduled for personal sessions, they can have the option of joining a group for general problem-solving discussion.

Be flexible with appointments and treatment. Iowa eliminated session limits, so if a student's problem is solved in three sessions he or she can transition out. There are also no restrictions on the number of sessions allowed per week or month.

Take a preventative stance. Conducting outreach programs can provide students with the information they need without visiting the center.

Document the center's benefit to campus. By conducting a study that showed students who visit the center are 14 percent less likely to dropout, Mason was able to secure administrative support and more funding for his center. "A rule of thumb is one counselor for every 1,500 students," Mason says. "It's not an arbitrary number, it's an effective ratio for providing adequate services." -A.M.

Data Point
1million The number of submissions to Common Application so far during this admissions cycle. The nonprofit has processed 3 million since 1998.

"I have yet to see a broccoli floret that's anything but an unappetizing shade of greenish-gray (and squishy, very very squishy)."

This kind of e-mail whets the appetite of David Annis, director of Food Services at the University of Oklahoma. "The only thing that should be squishy is the guacamole. ... I'm not sure why we can't get it right. I blame it on the 'that's the way my mama made vegetables' syndrome," he writes back.

The exchange is from a March edition of Kitchen Comments, which Annis has been publishing weekly-in print for two decades and also online for the past five years or so. Soliciting and posting e-mail comments, and then taking action when necessary, has kept Annis in closer touch with customers of UO's several campus dining locations. From complaints about specific items and service experiences to praise about overall improvements and delicious dishes, Annis sees it all and shares much.

Often suggestions bring about immediate changes. Annis has found that sharing direct comments with campus chefs is more effective than simply informing them of requests. Lots of "little changes overall add up to greater customer satisfaction," he says. The feedback process works so well, he has even invited repeat commentators to shed their pseudonyms and meet face to face at year-end dinners.

While in-person contact will never disappear as an effective way to hear out campus diners, the more methods students can use to contact dining services, the more feedback the department is likely to receive. Students at Chartwells client schools, for instance, can send e-mails and take polls through www.dineoncampus.com. And Aramark knows of one client, Johns Hopkins University (Md.), that uses AOL Instant Messenger as a feedback method.

Annis has this caution for other food service directors that may be making efforts to increase feedback via technology: "You've got to have a thick skin." Monday mornings of 20 complaints awaiting replies can be depressing. It takes him a few hours to select e-mails representative of the total batch and then respond. Sure, he adds, "it can be intimidating. But it can also be a lot of fun." The blog-like site is www.housing.ou.edu/content/blogcategory/2/190. -Melissa Ezarik

NEW YORK STATE'S ATTORNEY GENERAL Andrew Cuomo stole a page from Eliot Spitzer's book when he took on the student loan industry in March. Spitzer, Cuomo's predecessor and now governor of New York state, made a political name for himself by questioning practices in the insurance and financial services industries.

Now Cuomo is taking on colleges, universities, and the banks and lenders who are on their "preferred lender" lists. Cuomo has launched an investigation and says he will be filing a lawsuit to stop what he calls "deceptive practices" in the student loan industry.

"An unholy alliance" is his description of the relationship between IHE and lender, noting that some financial firms give lucrative kickbacks to schools who steer students and their parents to them in order to take out loans. His March 22 statement charges Education Finance Partners with awarding basis points on loans written to students at Duquesne University (Pa.), Boston University, Drexel University (Pa.) and nine other IHEs. These points translate into payments made back to the universities. Cuomo charges that EFP paid Drexel $100,000 in a single year. In all, the money EFP and other lenders pay to colleges and universities adds up to millions. Students, meanwhile, rely on these preferred lender lists, with 90 percent of borrowers going with the banks and organizations that an IHE recommends.

Cuomo's charges made national news in March. CBS specifically questioned some of Sallie Mae's practices and alleged travel perks provided to an executive at The University of Texas System. The lender immediately issued a retort. A press release issued in mid-March denies that the lender paid for any travel for this exec, and further defends guaranteed student loans. Sallie Mae's statement says that these loans save students more money in the long run than those provided by the Direct Lending program. -J.M.A.


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