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colleges and universities

Through the actions of multiple federal agencies — the Department of Education, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the Obama Administration has succeeded in wiping out a major for-profit education provider with thousands of employees and 72,000 students, all without bringing a legal charge. Imagine what they could have done if they’d filed charges [WSJ editorial]

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KC Johnson is closing his definitive blog on the Duke lacrosse case and its aftermath, and reflects on it all in this final essay.

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on July 18, 2014

  • Harris v. Quinn aftermath: California teacher’s suit might tee up renewed challenge to Abood [Rebecca Friedrichs, earlier here, here, etc.] Recalling when CTA spent its members money trying to convince them their voting preferences were wrong [Mike Antonucci]
  • Calcasieu parish school board in Louisiana votes to stop paying insurance on student athletics [AP/EdWeek]
  • “Maryland Tested Kids on Material It No Longer Teaches, Guess What Happened?” [Robby Soave, Common Core transition]
  • Sexual harassment training of college faculty: a professor talks back [Mark Graber, Balkinization]
  • Eighth Circuit orders new trial in Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit charging Iowa Law discriminated against her because of her conservative views [Paul Caron/TaxProf, earlier]
  • “The 4 NYC teachers banned from classrooms who rake in millions” [Susan Edelman, New York Post] Adventures in Bronx teacher tenure [New York Daily News]
  • New Jersey: “Expensive New School Security System Traps Teacher in Bathroom” [Lenore Skenazy, Reason]

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Duking it out

by Walter Olson on July 10, 2014

Duke University and the heirs of the late actor John Wayne have been fighting in court for nearly a decade over trademark/licensing rights to the word “Duke” [Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter]

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Martin Odemena, formerly a student at the Massachusetts School of Law, says he couldn’t transfer to another school because of the unfair grade in the Contracts course and “is seeking more than $100,000 in damages for the lost legal career.” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal]

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Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on June 17, 2014

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Civil libertarian Wendy Kaminer, writing at WBUR, says the new White House task force report on campus sexual assault

reflects a presumption of guilt in sexual assault cases that practically obliterates the due process rights of the accused. Students leveling accusations of assault are automatically described as “survivors” or “victims” (not alleged victims or complaining witnesses), implying that their accusations are true….

Thus the task force effectively prohibits cross-examination of complaining witnesses. … But by barring cross-examination, you also protect students who are mistaken or lying, and you victimize (even traumatize) students being falsely accused…. School officials are also encouraged to substitute a “single investigator” model for a hearing process, which seems a prescription for injustice.

More links on the current controversy:

(& welcome Glenn Reynolds/Instapundit readers)

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Yale Law’s Stephen Carter lacks patience for the start-a-conversation-by-FOIAing-someone’s-emails approach to academic controversy:

Laycock’s approach to the constitutional issue [underlying Hobby Lobby and the Arizona version of RFRA] may be right or wrong, but it’s well within the mainstream conversation of legal scholarship. The late Ronald Dworkin, often tagged as the greatest defender of liberal theory in the legal academy, argued last year in his final book that Catholic adoption agencies with religious objections to adoption by same-sex couples should have a constitutional right to disobey laws requiring them to violate their convictions.

But even when a professor holds opinions off at the far margin, to target him or her for intimidation is an affront to the freedom that makes the academy worth cherishing.

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on June 6, 2014

  • “Tenured Wisconsin Prof Sues Former Student Over Online Comments on Her Teaching” [Caron/TaxProf]
  • Recent Paul Alan Levy profile: “The web bully’s worst enemy” [Washingtonian] HHS signals it won’t pursue case against blogger [Levy, earlier] Arizona Yelp case angle [Scott Greenfield]
  • Get your ideas out of town: threats against hotel “have escalated to include death threats, physical violence against our staff and other guests” [Deadline Detroit; "men's rights movement" conference]
  • UK police investigate Baptist church after “burn in Hell” sign reported as “hate incident” [Secular Right]
  • Please don’t give him ideas: “Should it be against the law to criticize Harry Reid?” [Trevor Burrus, Boston Herald]
  • “MAP: The places where blasphemy could get you punished” [Washington Post]
  • Only three states – Wisconsin, Michigan, and Kansas — have laws inviting vengeful secret John Doe probes [Ilya Shapiro, earlier]

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…study this comment on our thread about activists’ FOIA-ing of University of Virginia professor Douglas Laycock:

Scott Rose 05.30.14 at 9:40 am

That Laycock and/or the university would refuse to show the requestors the material they are requesting suggests that Laycock has something to hide, and that what he is hiding shows that he has been behaving unethically.

The story has broken out into widespread discussion this week; check out contributions by Will Creeley at FIRE, Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, and Megan McArdle at Bloomberg View.

Schools roundup

by Walter Olson on May 29, 2014

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Prof. Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia is among the nation’s leading law-and-religion scholars. Many of his positions on church-state matters would normally be taken for quite liberal; for example, he argued the recent Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway on behalf of those objecting to sectarian prayer of any sort before town council meetings. At the same time, as noted on an earlier occasion, Prof. Laycock happens to favor a broad application of religious-accommodation laws such as the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This has led him to support proposals for state RFRAs with broad definitions, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, and also to file an amicus brief on behalf of employer Hobby Lobby in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.

Now comes the price to pay [Charlottesville Daily Progress]:

Laycock, who is married to UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan, is the subject of a Freedom of Information Act records request by two UVa student activists — Gregory Lewis and Stephanie Montenegro. In an open letter to the professor, Lewis and Montenegro said that while they respect Laycock’s right to academic freedom, they believe his writings supporting controversial religious freedom laws are holding back progressive causes such as access to contraceptives and gay marriage.

An outside group has been promoting the action [C-ville.com]:

“His work, whether he understands it or realizes it or not, is being used by folks who want to institute discrimination into law,” said Heather Cronk, co-director of Berkeley, California-based LGBT activist group GetEQUAL. …

Through the activist group Virginia Student Power Network, GetEQUAL found two UVA students willing to take up the cause of calling out Laycock: rising fourth-year Greg Lewis and now-alum Stephanie Montenegro. Last week, the pair sent an open letter to Laycock asking him to consider the “real-world consequences that [his] work is having.” They also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking e-mails between Laycock and various right-wing and religious liberty groups. … Meanwhile, GetEQUAL has launched a national e-mail campaign calling out Laycock for his role in shoring up the legal arguments of those who support “religious bigotry.”

If the issue of FOIA-ing U.Va. professors rings a bell, it’s because it’s happened at least twice before. Around 2009 Greenpeace, the environmental activist group, FOIAed the university demanding correspondence and documents relating to former professor Patrick Michaels (now at Cato), who had espoused skeptical views on global warming. Then allies of former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli filed a FOIA request seeking similar documents for Michael Mann, a prominent advocate of global warming theories. [C-ville.com, WaPo]

No one could doubt that Laycock’s views on religious accommodation are part of a set of intellectually derived convictions that run through decades of his work. (In addition to opposing such forms of church-state entanglement as officially sponsored prayer, he supports the right of gays to marry.) It’s simply a matter of trying to arm-twist a tenured, well-recognized scholar who takes a position that the Forces of Unanimity consider wrong.

Of course, the student activists deny that anything like that is on their minds:

Lewis said they’re not trying to smear Laycock, and they’re not trying to undermine academic freedom. They just want a dialogue, he said.

Prof. Bainbridge isn’t buying it:

[B.S.] You don’t start a dialogue with FOIA requests. ….It’s time to start fighting back.

It might also be time for legislators to clarify state open-records laws to determine under what circumstances they can be used to go after academics, and consider altering them, where appropriate, to provide for financial or other sanctions when they are misused.

Note also: conservative-leaning groups have launched a series of FOIA requests seeking records of professors at state universities in North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Texas. The left-leaning Institute for Southern Studies has a critical account here. (& welcome readers from Steve Miller, IGF; Paul Caron, TaxProf; Jonathan Adler, Volokh; Ramesh Ponnuru/NRO “Corner”; Prof. Bainbridge; Will Creeley/FIRE; Dahlia Lithwick, Slate; Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View)

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ReportSpeechPoster The Kansas Board of Regents has adopted a broad new policy barring employees, including faculty, from “improper use of social media,” which include content that “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or is “contrary to the best interests of the university,” with some narrow exceptions such as “academic instruction within the instructor’s area of expertise (emphasis added)” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, among other groups, have argued that the new policy “authorizes punishment for constitutionally protected speech, and … leaves professors unsure of what speech a university might sanction them for,” the result being a chilling effect on both free speech and academic freedom [FIRE, NPR]. The policy was adopted at the behest of critics of one professor’s controversial anti-gun tweet, and Charles C.W. Cooke at NRO says conservative regents should have been among the first to realize that professor-muzzling is not the way to respond.

KSU’s Dan Warner did a series of posters (Creative Commons permissions) skewering the new policy, including the one above; more on that here.

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“The fencing club at North Dakota State University cannot hold practices on campus as a result of the school’s weapons policy, Campus Reform reported.” [University Herald; Valley News Live (Fargo/Grand Forks)]

Also, note the ambiguity of the next line, “Members of the newly formed club said that despite having no pointed tips or sharp blades, the school classifies the club’s equipment as weapons.” It sounds as if the school administration itself is being described as “having no pointed tips or sharp blades,” which might be a version of “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

More: Scott Greenfield, who has a family connection with the sport of fencing.

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Maryland roundup

by Walter Olson on May 3, 2014

  • Correctional Officers Bill of Rights (COBR) of 2011, developing out of AFSCME efforts to defend prison guards in western Maryland, and role it played in Baltimore jail scandal. Vital reading [Charles Lane, City Journal, Sasha Volokh; earlier; related Kevin Williamson on incident at NYC's Riker's Island in which mentally ill inmate was permitted to roast to death, responsible officer drawing 30-day suspension]
  • Narrowly defeated effort to enact state False Claims Act becomes issue in Senate GOP primary [Frederick News-Post, earlier here, here]
  • Citing federal guidelines, Howard County schools restrict special-event food [Ellicott City Patch]
  • Judge rebuffs lawsuit by Montgomery County police union seeking to invalidate legislative measures inconsistent with its contract [WaPo] County council race “a ‘battle royale’ between the government employee and school system unions” [Seventh State]
  • “Maryland Puts Up Roadblocks to Online Ed” which just happens to protect the state’s UMUC (University of Maryland University College) [The American Interest, Arnold Kling]
  • Will Montgomery County finally get out of the liquor distribution business? [Bethesda magazine]
  • And speaking of MoCo monopolies, its taxi near-cartel needs to go: “Uber provides a better service even without the regulation” [David Lublin, The Seventh State]

“The age-21 rule sets the U.S. apart from all advanced Western nations and lumps it with small or repressive countries like Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Congress was stampeded into this puritanical law by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.” — Camille Paglia in Time on why the national minimum drinking age law “must be repealed. It is absurd and unjust.” Related: “A drinking age of 21 infantilizes adults who are otherwise able to serve in the military, marry without permission, enter into business contracts, buy tobacco, vote and run for public office. It forces college administrators to be babysitters rather than educators. And it doesn’t achieve its stated goals.” ["ABC debacle should stir debate on Virginia’s drinking age," Rick Sincere, Richmond Times-Dispatch] Earlier here, here, here, etc. Plus: Relevant political thoughts from Glenn Reynolds last year.

Related, if distantly: study in Britain finds liberalization of bar closing hours associated with decline in traffic accidents [Jeffrey Miron, Cato]

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The internet has lit up with the story of the 20-year-old, 92-lb. history major who says she’s been battling the Yale administration over its pressure on her to eat more. [New Haven Register]. Although much of the press coverage seems unaware of the issue, it would not be surprising if changing legal pressures on universities played a role here. Efforts both regulatory and liability-driven have been under way to hold universities accountable for not preventing student suicides, and as a result, many campuses have seen a shift toward more interventionist, rules-driven policies designed to show that the institution was not standing idly by when it knew or had reason to know of early signs of self-harm. (Our file on the topic goes back a decade.) If the list of self-harm behaviors includes eating disorders, you might have a formula for interventions in which very skinny students are placed under pressure to prove they are not anorexic. Evaluating cases like the current one, of course, is difficult for outsiders because of HIPAA and other privacy laws which broadly prohibit the sharing of health-related information, even on topics of public concern.

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When is it considered a success to generate more complaints against one’s own organization? When you’re a newly assembled Title IX team, in this case installed at the University of North Carolina following pressure from federal regulators and students. [Harry Painter, Pope Center] Our previous coverage of the Department of Education/Department of Justice “blueprint” on campus harassment and sexual misconduct allegations is here.