Behind the News: The Stories Making Headlines in Higher Ed

Behind the News: The Stories Making Headlines in Higher Ed

Colleges and universities debate arming security officers, student privacy rights.
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CAMPUS SECURITY HAS COME under unprecedented scrutiny since the mass shootings at Virginia Tech in mid-April. People want answers about what went wrong and they want assurances that education officials and lawmakers are taking steps to ensure that this type of tragedy doesn't happen again.

Steven Healy, president of the 1,200-member International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, tried to provide some. Healy, who is also public safety director for Princeton, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in late April that better training for campus security and risk analysis should be on the agenda.

"Rampage shooters, which have always represented a potential threat, now move to the top of the list," Healy told the subcommittee.

Understandably, Virginia's lawmakers led the charge among state officials in reviewing campus security practices. Immediately following the shootings, members of the House and Senate proposed spending $250,000 on an emergency text-messaging service for the state's 29 public colleges and universities. Other proposed money would be used on antiviolence programs.

A few states, too, responded to the shootings. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) signed an executive order to study security on the state's 11 public higher ed campuses. The chancellor of Florida's university system, Mark Rosenberg, asked the state legislature for $1.5 million to pay for emergency alert systems that can send text messages to students in times of emergency. At press time, lawmakers in South Carolina were considering legislation that would allow adults to carry concealed weapons on public school campuses. Currently only Utah allows concealed weapons on campuses. Proponents argue that such laws would allow for better self-defense, but detractors worry about inciting more violence on campus.

SOUND BITE
Lots of things that were seen as acceptable three months ago are no longer regarded that way.
-Terry W. Hartle, senior VP, American Council on Education, on student loan scandals.

Colleges in other states have revisited the idea of at least arming their campus police forces. The University of Hawaii will be doing this. Students at Suffolk University (Mass.) circulated a petition asking that the campus police department be armed. IHEs from coast to coast also are considering technology upgrades. Healy has urged the consideration of emergency mass notification systems that can send text alerts and email messages. Many of these systems can also provide RSS feeds to university websites. -Jean Marie Angelo

AS VIRGINIA TECH HAS BEEN RECEIVING "YEA" or "nay" responses from the 12,848 offers of admission mailed out on April 1, the campus tragedy that occurred 15 days later seems not to have discouraged high school seniors from choosing to attend the university.

At press time, Virginia Tech had received deposits from 5,215 freshman students, slightly more than the enrollment target of 5,000 set for the class of 2011, according to a media release. The freshman class comes from an applicant pool of 19,579 the largest application pool in the university's history. Virginia Tech did not draw from its wait list of 1,441 applicants.

Last year, 5,185 freshman deposits were received at this time. As it was this year, the freshman enrollment target was 5,000.

Less than five students turned down their acceptance letters because of the tragic events of April 16, according to Mark Owczarski, director of News and Information. Hundreds of parents have called to explain that even though their children chose not to attend Virginia Tech, the massacre in which student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and then turned a gun on himself was not the reason, he adds.

Empathy has accompanied explanations, says Owczarski. "There has been a tremendous outpouring of support [from people who] have decided not to come," he says.

Though the shootings may have had some parents thinking about having their children attend colleges that are closer to home, Mary Lee Hoganson, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, says that the majority of them look at the recent shootings as an anomaly. -Michele Herrmann

WHEN DOES A STUDENT'S RIGHT TO PRIVACY outweigh the right for the parents to be informed, particularly with mental health issues?

With the Virginia Tech tragedy and court cases involving parents versus IHEs, the meaning behind the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is still in question. A child psychologist, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), seeks to modify FERPA. The proposed Mental Health Security for America's Families in Education Act intends to allow schools and universities to share a student's mental health information with parents or guardians if the student is found to be at risk of suicide, or committing homicide or physical assault. Its purpose is also to enable parents to help their child.

Murphy's interest in this matter began with a tragedy involving Allegheny College (Pa.) student Charles Mahoney, who hung himself in February 2002. His suicide had culminated from a downward spiral in a battle with depression. A year later, his parents filed a lawsuit against Allegheny and two of the professionals who treated their son, saying they might have prevented his death but failed to intervene, even after observing clear signs that he posed an immediate threat to himself. In 2006, a jury sided with Allegheny, concurring that since Mahoney had not signed a waiver allowing the school to break his confidentiality, there was no way they could contact his parents.

Nancy Tribbensee, general counsel for the Arizona University System, thinks Murphy's proposed amendment is not necessary, saying FERPA currently permits institutions to disclose educational records, in connection with a health or safety emergency, to appropriate parties if the knowledge of this information is necessary to protect the student's safety as well as other people.

"FERPA is not currently an obstacle to communicating with families," Tribbensee adds, in that it presently permits administrators to notify relatives.

SOUND BITE
These kids have been nurtured. Even if their team finishes eighth in the soccer league, they still get a trophy.
-Bill Conley, dean of Enrollment and Academic Services at Johns Hopkins University on the need for nicely-worded rejection letters.

For example, at Arizona State University, parents or other appropriate individuals are contacted when the institution becomes aware of serious health or safety issues regarding a student, Tribbensee explains.

Ada Meloy, director of Legal and Regulatory Affairs, American Council on Education describes balancing privacy and personal safety as "a very sensitive process," says . "I think that the proposal recognizes the difficulty that colleges face when they are caught between the need to preserve the privacy of students or medical records and the need to take action that is believed to be in the best interest of the campus community."

With the bill, Meloy suggests it might be best to first consult with college officials, who have approached this issue from different vantage points, so they could jointly reflect on what's best before rushing into legislation. -Michele Herrmann

Campus Crisis Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Planning Prevention, Response, and Recovery

By Eugene L. Zdziarski II, Norbert W. Dunkel, J. Michael Rollo & Associates; Jossey-Bass; 384 pp.; $45; www.josseybass.com

THE TRAGEDY AT VIRGINIA TECH IN APRIL had many institutions reexamining crisis response plans. But as the authors of Campus Crisis Management point out, such review isn't something to be done after the fact but must be a continual practice.

"When a crisis unfolds, or a tragedy overwhelms staff and resources, it is not the time to begin making lists of needed actions. It is not the time to begin searching for that three-ring binder that some of the staff put together a few years ago after attending a workshop or living through a different experience."

Crisis management, they argue, is an ever-evolving process of learning, training, evaluating, and implementing best practices. The book provides an understanding of the impact of environmental crises, facility crises, and human crises, as well as lessons learned. Included are the 1966 sniper attacks at the University of Texas, the 1991 meningococcemia outbreak at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Seton Hall (N.J.) dorm fires in 2000, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The authors review these scenarios and many more while outlining responses to crises and changes made in the aftermath. -Tim Goral

EDUCATORS ARE INCREASINGLY turning to web video as a teaching tool. But it might be difficult to find that video on fluid motion properties among the various clips of karaoke singers and car crashes on YouTube. New initiatives from publishers and teachers are trying to change all that.

Publisher Pearson Higher Education has teamed with Google Video to deliver videos to supplement Pearson textbooks.

"The videos are a great way to get the extra help they need at a time when it's convenient for the students," says Jane Wampler, an instructor at Housatonic Community College (Conn.). The project was launched with lecture and test prep videos designed to accompany Prealgebra by mathematics author Elayn Martin-Gay. Low-quality samples of the videos can be viewed at www.prenhall.com/freelecturevideo. Students can purchase full-length videos with captioning, playable on PCs, Macs, video iPods, or the Sony PSP.

Another web video service called TeacherTube (www.teachertube.com) is gaining interest. Though it currently leans more to K-12 education, TeacherTube is "an open community for all educators to share their best practices," says cofounder Jason Smith. "Our goal is to provide an online community for sharing instructional videos. It is a site to provide ... professional development with teachers teaching teachers. As well, it is a site where teachers can post videos designed for students to view in order to learn a concept or skill." -T.G.

THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE SOCIETY for College and University Planning is one place in higher ed where financial, facilities, and academic interests intersect. This year's conference, to be held in Chicago, July 7-11, 2007, is titled "Shaping the Academic Landscape: Integrated Solutions." See www.scup.org.

PHILANTHROPIST KATHRYN WASSERMAN Davis celebrated her 100th birthday by giving a special gift to Middlebury College (Vt.): a $1 million donation to encourage youth to build peace throughout the world in the 21st century.

The resulting program, the "Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace," invited students from schools participating in the Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars Program, which is based at Middlebury, to submit project plans.

It has selected 100 proposals, submitted by students from 66 colleges and universities, to receive funding for the summer of 2007. Each project will receive $10,000. Students will travel to more than 40 countries to implement their projects over the summer and report on their experiences when they return.

Middlebury students developed three of the winning proposals:

- "Storytelling in Uganda," which plans to produce radio narratives of children.

- "Building a Peaceful Future: A Workshop for the Old City of Jerusalem," which will address the city's division

- "Enlightening Pakistan," a project developed in collaboration with Seeds of Peace, an organization founded in 1993 by late journalist and Middlebury College 1964 graduate John Wallach, which intends to help Pakistani youth.

The Middlebury College Office of the President will fund two more projects:

- "No-Collateral Damage: Micro-credit, Environmental Degradation, and the Threat to Peace," which looks at microcredit loans to impoverished agricultural communities in northeast Thailand.

- "Louisiana Art and Peace Project (LAPP)," which proposes to help New Orleans youth develop and express visions of civic peace through mentoring and collaborative art projects.

Visit www.kwd100projectsforpeace.org. -M.H.

THE STILL UNFOLDING STUDENT loan scandal claimed its first victims in a hectic couple of weeks in May, with two executive firings and a resignation in quick succession.

University of Texas financial aid director Lawrence Burt was fired in mid-May, following charges that he broke ethics rules by owning stock in a loan company that his office recommended to students.

Burt was placed on paid leave in April after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who launched a probe into the relationships between student lenders and higher ed institutions earlier this year, uncovered improprieties in UT's financial aid office. Burt's stock ownership violated the university's ethics rules, which led to his firing.

An internal UT investigation showed that in 2001 Burt bought 1,500 shares of Education Lending Group, then the parent company of Student Loan Xpress, which rocketed to the top of several preferred lender lists, although it trailed other companies in terms of volume, customer service, and loan default rates. Burt sold his shares in 2005 for a profit of $18,000, according to a report released by the UT System.

The following week, Johns Hopkins University (Md.) announced that Financial Aid Director Ellen Frishberg resigned her 18-year post after it was learned that she had received tuition payments and "consulting fees" from Student Loan Xpress between 2002 and 2006, but did not file a written disclosure of those payments.

A Johns Hopkins spokesman said that Frishberg received about $65,000 from Student Loan Xpress during that period, and included the company on the school's preferred lender list. By doing so, Frishberg had violated the university's ethics and conflict of interest policies.

Then, on May 21, Columbia fired its financial aid director, David Charlow, after Cuomo's investigation found evidence of kickbacks to him once again from Student Loan Xpress.

"While our investigation has uncovered many direct secrets of the college loan industry, the stock and other benefits that Student Loan Xpress funneled to Charlow were among the most flagrant," Cuomo told reporters. "At times, it seems that Charlow was working more for SLX than for Columbia." -Tim Goral

Know a dancer eager to start her own troupe? How about a biology student who wants to open a medical clinic? They probably want to know about the Innovation & Entrepreneurship program at Clark University (Mass.), now in its third semester. The program has been designed to be a minor for students who want to meld their passions for scholarly subjects with startup zeal. Led by George Gendron, the program's founder, students take a core I&E curriculum in topics such as organizational management, compensation, sales, and team motivation, while carrying the course loads for their majors. Gendron knows these startup topics well. For 20 years he was editor of Inc., a magazine that covers new companies and small businesses. When he and other investors sold the title several years ago he decided to re-enter highered, having been an instructor at Boston University (Mass.) years ago.

Gendron notes that Clark eschewed the predictable route of creating an I&E major because the university wanted to stay true to its liberal arts tradition. He also focuses on the realities of starting an organization. Much talk about entrepreneurship perpetuates the myth that a proposal leads to a written business plan, which leads to venture capitalists forking over $20 million in funding. Most startup ventures do not begin this way, insists Gendron. Powerhouses like Microsoft, Dell, and others were once just good ideas championed by a bunch of passionate unknowns who started with modest financial means. "We don't try to thwart ambition or tell students not to think big," he says. Rather, the I&E program is about grasping the business principles that will help dreams come true. There are currently 150 students enrolled in Clark's program. -J.M.A.

GOING ON A COLLEGE TOUR IS often out of the question for students from low-income families. To encourage enrollment in higher education, administrators from Opportunities for Learning, a public charter school system in California, are taking 21 students on a tour of nine historically black colleges and universities.

"We were looking for schools with a rich tradition that would catch the student's eye," explains Bill Toomey, director of instruction, adding that students are aware of the institutions from shows on Black Entertainment Television and MTV. Administrators organized the trip after examining the low numbers of minority students attending college, both statewide and in their own system. To be considered for the trip, students had to meet GPA requirements and submit an essay. Essay responses focused on being the first in a family to graduate from high school, to being the first to attend college, to the desire to motivate younger siblings. Toomey hopes this will become an annual trip. OFL is considering a tour of just California IHEs, "to give the students more realistic options," he says. -Ann McClure

WHEN DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF a crisis on campus, the modern instinct is to bring an army of therapists in to counsel the survivors, but that might not be necessary. "The human psyche is very resilient," says Ian Birky, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Lehigh University (Pa.). Birky was among the 200 counselors and medical professionals who traveled to Virginia Tech in April. He explains that people directly involved in the shootings might suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress and require counseling, but the fears of other people on campus will be based on what could have happened and can well be dealt with by speaking to friends and family.

"We tried not to overreact," he says. "We wanted to acknowledge [the shootings] happened and make counseling available." Birky spent most of the time validating the students' emotions and recommending they visit the campus counseling center, but very few felt they needed to go. The visiting counselors' goal was to offer a compassionate response to students "that links them back into the community that cares about them," he says.

As for the new school year, Birky theorizes that "body memory" the ability to adapt to day-to-day life will take over and help the students readjust quickly, although they might be affected by the anxiety of parents or professors. For the few that will have anxiety returning to campus, Birky suggests they will have probably worked with therapists over the summer and will have coping mechanisms in place. -Ann McClure

THE REALITY TV SERIES PROJECT RUNWAY, a show on the Bravo TV cable network, has done more than just help start the fashion careers of several contestants. It has also boosted admissions to Parsons, The New School for Design (N.Y.). For three seasons now Parsons has been host to the show's competing fashion designers, allowing them to use Parsons' studios to make their creations. Each episode also gives Parson's instructor Tim Gunn a fair amount of airtime as he offers critiques. Bottom line: Parsons is mentioned several times in every episode and the fa?ade of its administrative building in the heart of New York City is shown multiple times in every broadcast hour.

"Project Runway has been a terrific boon to the school in terms of building name recognition among a wider cross-section of the general public," says Nancy Donner, VP for Communications and External Affairs.

The show debuted in late 2004 and has driven up applications and enrollment. In 2006, the number of students enrolled in the bachelor's degree in fine art program was 521, up 52 percent since 2002. The number of students enrolled in the associate program was up by 76 percent, to 309 students, during the same time period. In all, Parsons now receives 20,000 inquiries annually regarding all its degree and non degree design programs.

The big question looms: Will Parsons continue to "make it work"? Gunn's catchphrase aside, the relationship between school and TV stardom is on hiatus. There is no start date for a new season, and Gunn has left to pen a book and become a fashion executive. He has assured producers, though, that he will return to the series while also starring in a spinoff. -J.M.A


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