Lois G. Lerner, the high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official at the center of an uproar over revelations that her agency improperly gave special scrutiny to conservative nonprofit groups, has backed out of plans to give the keynote address at Western New England University’s law-school commencement, the university announced on Thursday. The agency’s acting director was forced out of his job on Wednesday amid the controversy. In a written statement, a university spokeswoman said Ms. Lerner had cited “her wish to have the ceremony focus on a celebration of the achievements of the graduates” when she told the institution of her decision.
Following a furor among lawmakers after it was learned that the University of Wisconsin system had nearly $650-million in reserves, Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday recommended freezing tuition and scaling back his proposed budget increase for the system by $94-million over the next two years, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Freezing tuition would cost the university an additional $42-million in revenue from 2-percent increases it was seeking in each of those years.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is now considering the governor’s budget and making its own changes. In a memorandum to the committee on Wednesday, the governor’s administration secretary, Mike Huebsch, said the administration was “saddened that the UW System did not show leadership during a fiscal crisis and instead made the burden of a public higher education heavier while stockpiling cash.”
The system’s colleges and universities will reallocate $42-million from other resources to cover the loss of the proposed tuition increase, the system’s president, Kevin P. Reilly, said in a written statement. “We share the governor’s interest in keeping college affordable and tuition low.” He added that a two-year freeze would “send the right message to Wisconsin students and families.”
The university system had more than $1-billion in reserve as of June 2012, of which $648-million was unrestricted, the Journal Sentinel reported. The total reserve is on track to climb to nearly $1.2-billion by the end of June, university officials have projected.
Gerald Whitburn, a member of the university’s Board of Regents and chairman of the board’s budget committee, said the governor’s action was a message to the system “to step up transparency big time, and I expect that’s exactly what you’re going to see in the future.”
A bill in France’s parliament that would allow French universities to increase the number of courses taught in English is running into fierce opposition, the international news channel France 24 reports. Lawmakers have denounced the bill as a signal of France’s “waning influence,” a “humiliation to French speakers,” and a “suicidal project,” with criticism coming even from members of the party of the higher-education minister, Geneviève Fioraso, a Socialist, who introduced the measure.
The bill, offered as a way to raise the country’s profile in international higher education, would allow some university-level classes to be taught in English if they were part of an accord with a foreign institution, or if they had financial backing from the European Union.
Ms. Fioraso argues that more English-language instruction would allow French universities to compete better for the world’s brightest students, many of whom come from the English-speaking world. “India has one billion inhabitants, including 60 million computer scientists,” she recently told a group of students, but French universities enroll only 3,000 Indian students. “We look ridiculous,” she said.
A number of distinguished French academic leaders and scientists, including two Nobel laureates, recently argued in favor of the bill in a commentary in Le Monde. English is already the lingua franca that scientists use to communicate, the authors write, and the language of choice for most scientific conferences and publications. Allowing more English-language instruction would make France more attractive to foreign students and scholars, they argue, thus promoting the country’s position in the world.
The Alberta College of Art and Design has reinstated Gordon Ferguson, the instructor who was fired after a student slaughtered a chicken in the college’s cafeteria as a performance-art project, according to a joint statement from the college and its faculty bargaining unit, the Alberta College of Art and Design Faculty Association.
In the statement, the college said its decision to terminate Mr. Ferguson “was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom,” but it conceded that its action may have created that perception. “Mr. Ferguson acknowledges that he wishes he could have had a greater opportunity to advise and support his student before he undertook his performance on April 18, 2013,” the statement says. “Both Mr. Ferguson and the college regret that the incident happened.”
The college also reaffirmed its commitment “to maintaining an environment that allows artistic and academic freedom to flourish in a positive learning environment while, at the same time, protecting the well being of all members of our community.”
The Canadian Association of University Teachers, which filed a grievance on Mr. Ferguson’s behalf, released a statement saying it was pleased that he had been reinstated. Mr. Ferguson, in comments to the Calgary Herald, said he was “elated” to be heading back to work.
Michael V. Drake, chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, on Tuesday pledged to take action against the person who reportedly slipped a racist note into the backpack of a black female student last week. The note read, “Go back 2 Africa slave,” according to the campus police department. “We have clear and unwavering policies forbidding such hateful actions, and we take the security and well-being of everyone on campus most seriously,” Mr. Drake said in a written statement. “We do not, and will not, tolerate this kind of behavior.” The incident came to light weeks after an Irvine fraternity drew fire for releasing a video featuring a member in blackface, an incident for which the fraternity apologized and suspended itself.
Morehouse College announced on Wednesday that adjunct faculty members would each receive one ticket to be in the audience at its commencement ceremony, after concerns arose that overwhelming demand stemming from President Obama’s address this weekend would shut them out of the event. The college said additional tickets became available after students’ ticket needs were met. The adjuncts will not, however, be able to sit with full-time faculty members on the stage.
Updated (5/15/2013, 10:21 p.m.), reflecting final passage of the bill to limit the regents’ powers.
In the latest signals of unhappiness in the Texas Legislature with the University of Texas system’s Board of Regents, the State Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would place new limits on the regents’ power to fire campus presidents, and at a hearing in the House of Representatives, a lawmaker grilled one of the regents about e-mails that Gov. Rick Perry apparently sent to some of the board’s members.
Both actions come against a backdrop of continuing clashes between lawmakers and the board, which is made up of Mr. Perry’s appointees. Legislators who have defended the Austin flagship’s president, William C. Powers Jr., have accused the regents of micromanaging the university’s affairs.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the bill approved by the Senate, SB 15, would bar regents from firing presidents without first getting a recommendation from the university system chancellor. Among other changes, it would also require that regents of all Texas public-university systems to be appointed while the Legislature is in session, allowing lawmakers to review them earlier and preventing governors from stacking boards with off-year appointments, which can take more than a year to be confirmed.
The bill now goes to Governor Perry, who has 10 days to decide whether to veto the measure or allow it to become law. If he vetoes it, the Legislature has until the end of the session, on May 27, to vote on whether to override his decision. Mr. Perry has not indicated what he will do.
The House hearing was held by the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. According to a report by The Texas Tribune, four board members received an e-mail from someone with the initials “R.P.” expressing sympathy with board members who “get tired of being hammered by charlatans and peacocks” and but told them that “the fight is being won.” Brenda Pejovich, who was one of the regents who received the message, confirmed at the hearing that the e-mail came from the governor but declined to elaborate on its contents or speculate about who the “charlatans and peacocks” are.
When asked about the message, a spokesman for Mr. Perry told the Tribune that “in general, the governor’s communications with the regents of all our public universities are about keeping higher education in Texas accessible, accountable, and affordable.”
Coppin State University should enroll higher-caliber freshmen, focus more on transfer and returning students, and reorganize its academic programs and administration, a committee plans to report on Wednesday to the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, according to articles by the Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Business Journal.
The regents appointed the committee in December to study problems at Coppin State and make recommendations to help turn it around. The institution has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country and is underenrolled by more than 2,000 students, the committee said. It blamed mismanagement and indifferent faculty members for those and other problems, and noted that the university had added programs, faculty members, and administrative programs even as enrollment declined.
William E. Kirwan, the system’s chancellor, said the committee’s report “points out where there are strengths at Coppin, but it doesn’t hide any of the weaknesses and the issues that need to be addressed.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved two significant amendments to landmark immigration legislation that would affect American colleges and the international students they enroll.
One provision would require all institutions approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to accept foreign students to be accredited by a regional or national accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Two years ago, a major Chronicle investigation revealed that the lack of such a requirement in current student-visa law allowed “sham” universities to enroll thousands of foreign students and permit them to work in the United States. Federal investigators concluded that, without controls to verify colleges’ legitimacy to accept foreign students, the student-visa system was vulnerable to fraud.
A second amendment would require front-line customs officials to have real-time access to the federal student-visa database within 120 days of the legislation’s enactment. The language was prompted by last month’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. A Kazakh student who has been charged with hiding evidence for one of the bombing suspects apparently entered the United States even though his status as an international student had been terminated in the database. That’s because border agents do not have access to the database, a loophole the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has vowed to close.
While colleges have said the data-sharing problem needs to be fixed, Nafsa: Association of International Educators had expressed concern about the provision because it would suspend issuance of student visas if the deadline was not met. Penalizing international students for Homeland Security’s failure to act is wrong, the organization said, noting that foreign students are far more closely tracked than other visa holders.
Both amendments, which passed the committee unanimously on voice votes, were proposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican. Mr. Grassley, who has voiced concern about the security of the student-visa system, also proposed several other amendments related to higher education, but they were defeated.
The university said that the coach, Brian Brecht, “did use inappropriate language and exhibited unprofessional behavior on occasion,” but “the instances were infrequent and not directed at individual players.” As a result, the university said, it “found no criminal or university-policy violations.” Mr. Brecht was suspended with pay last month amid a broad investigation of Rutgers coaches that followed the dismissal of the men’s basketball coach for abusing his players.