University News

This Week in Higher Ed: Nov. 11, 2015

By
University News Editor
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Missouri protests spark president’s resignation

Following months of student and faculty protests that reached a peak in the last week, the University of Missouri saw the resignation of President Timothy Wolfe and a promise from Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to step down to a research position at the end of the year, the New York Times reported Monday.

Wolfe and Loftin came under heavy criticism for inadequate and unaware responses to racism on campus this semester, including slurs hurled at the president of the Missouri Students Association, who is black, racial epithets used at a Legion of Black Collegians homecoming rehearsal and a swastika smeared in feces on a dormitory wall. The university’s administration also faced anger from graduate students over a termination of their health insurance benefits, as well as a political controversy regarding an association with Planned Parenthood.

In the last week, deans of nine of the University of Missouri campuses publicly supported Loftin’s removal, the student government called for Wolfe’s dismissal, students formed an encampment of tents on the campus green and faculty members canceled classes Monday and Tuesday in order to hold a “teach-in focused on race relations.”

But two events received particularly widespread national news coverage. Graduate student Jonathan Butler, a former participant in the Ferguson protests, went on a hunger strike last week, refusing to eat again until Wolfe left the university. And on Saturday, the football team — which plays in the prestigious Southeastern Conference — acted in solidarity with Butler, boycotting any games as long as Wolfe remained president. Each game missed would cost the university an estimated $1 million or more and “would have been a disaster for their recruiting of black athletes and of black students to the university,” William Lacy Clay, a state representative whose district lies within St. Louis, told the Times.

Public figures voiced support for Wolfe’s decision, including White House press secretary Josh Earnest and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. In a statement, Nixon called the resignation a “necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus.”

Wolfe unveiled a plan for a “system-wide diversity and inclusion strategy” Sunday, which came across to critics as “too little, too late,” the Times reported. On Monday he announced his resignation at a news conference, citing conversations with “community leaders, students, faculty, donors and others” as the impetus for the move, as well as his perception that “the frustration and anger was evident.”

 

Rolling Stone sued by UVA fraternity

The University of Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi has sued Rolling Stone magazine for $25 million on charges of defamation, following a Sept. 28, 2014 article, “A Rape on Campus,” that alleged that a gang rape occurred in the fraternity house during a party, the Washington Post reported. The claims made by the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely — who is also a defendant in the suit — were subsequently disproven by the Washington Post, the Columbia School of Journalism and the Charlottesville Police Department. Erdely later left Rolling Stone, along with the magazine’s editor Will Dana.

“In the most scurrilous traditions of yellow tabloid journalism, Rolling Stone published a devastating story it knowingly failed to verify, in reckless disregard for … the essential safety, dignity and welfare of … those lives it was willing to crush with its defamatory article,” the lawsuit reads.

In a statement, the fraternity said the article’s allegations — including that nine fraternity brothers took part in or witnessed the assault as part of a hazing ritual — caused “extreme damage” to the reputations of students and alums and “subjected the student members and their families to danger and immense stress.”

Rolling Stone declined to comment to the Post and currently faces another federal lawsuit for an unspecified amount from three University of Virginia alums who are former members of the fraternity, as well as a $7.5 million suit from University of Virginia Associate Dean Nicole Eramo, who claims she was “vilified” in the article, the Post reported.

 

Religious colleges challenge ACA in Supreme Court

A group of Evangelical and Catholic colleges joined other groups taking the Affordable Care Act to the Supreme Court for the fourth time Friday in a challenge that claims the current regulations leave religious colleges, hospitals and charities liable for the free coverage of birth control for women, Business Insider reported.

The Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama in 2010, ensures that women have access to birth control at no extra cost but includes a provision that permits religious organizations to pass the payment for contraception along to their insurers. These religious groups are arguing that the provision does not go far enough and that “they still are being forced to participate in an effort to provide coverage for contraceptives, including some which they claim amount to abortion,” Business Insider reported.

The colleges instead want a total exemption, as is currently available to “religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith,” as well as “closely held” businesses with religious objections — the latter a result of the 2014 Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case, in which the chain of craft stores argued that its rights were violated under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Seven of eight appeals courts that have heard similar cases have ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s current provisions do not violate federal law.

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