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For-profit college watchdog under federal scrutiny

Federal education officials are deciding whether to shut down the nation’s biggest accreditor of for-profit colleges over allegations that it overlooked deception by some of its schools.

The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools is meant to be a watchdog for hundreds of for-profit schools, wielding the stamp of approval that colleges need to receive federal money. It’s one of many accreditors authorized by the U.S. Education Department to ensure the quality of schools. But the nonprofit is being accused of employing lax standards and failing to stop schools from preying on students.

Institutions that have operated under the group’s certification include the Corinthian College chain, which closed in 2015 amid fraud allegations, and the ITT Technical Institute chain, which now faces federal charges of fraud. Even after the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began investigating both in 2013, the council found no major problems during its own reviews. In 2014, it included two Corinthian schools on its annual “honor roll.”

“If accrediting agencies aren’t willing to stand up against colleges that are breaking the law, colleges that are cheating their students, then I don’t know what good they do, and I sure don’t know why we would let them determine which colleges are eligible for federal dollars,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at a congressional hearing on Corinthian last year.

At least 17 colleges certified by the council have been subject to state or federal investigations, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy organization in Washington. Over the past three years, those schools received more than $5.7 billion in federal money, the group said.

Attorneys general in more than a dozen states, along with other critics, want the Education Department to strip the council of its authority to accredit schools. The council is up for its regular review this month; it was last approved in 2013.

“This is an outfit that is in the business of sustaining and aiding and abetting with fraud and abuse,” said Barmak Nassirian, a federal lobbyist for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “It’s like a consumer fraud dream come true.”

Council officials declined to be interviewed for this story.

Losing recognition would effectively close the council and give its schools 18 months to find new accreditors. Otherwise they would lose access to federal money, the primary source of revenue for most for-profit colleges. Because the council oversees more than 900 schools, some experts question whether it will be spared because of its size.

“The fear of it being too big to fail is the only thing saving it right now,” said Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the center. “At this point it would be shocking if ACICS didn’t face some sort of sanction.”

Top Education Department officials will decide the group’s fate after an advisory committee issues a recommendation this month. Any decision could be appealed in federal court. Department officials declined to comment on the pending decision but said they’re working to improve oversight of accreditors.

“Unfortunately, in recent years, we’ve seen far too many schools maintain their institutional accreditation even while defrauding and misleading students, providing poor quality education, or closing without recourse for students. This is inexcusable,” Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement. “Accreditation can and must be the mark of quality that the public expects.”

The council last week announced a series of changes and promised not to certify any new schools until its work improves. In a statement, the council acknowledged that it has problems and needs to fix them.

“The ACICS board of directors is determined to restore trust and confidence in the accreditation process, strengthen ACICS’s oversight of member institutions, and ensure that students are receiving a quality education that will put them on a path to employment,” said Anthony Bieda, the council’s interim chief. The accreditor’s president of seven years resigned in April amid the Education Department’s review.

The changes include a pledge to “ensure greater accuracy” of the data that schools publicize about student success, which were found to be inflated at some colleges. An ethics board will review potential conflicts of interest on the group’s board of directors, which is heavily made up of executives at for-profit colleges. The group will add more training for its volunteer evaluators who visit and assess schools.

Recently, the council has tried to take a firmer stance against troubled schools. In March it attempted to revoke accreditation of California’s Bristol University over academic problems, but a federal judge blocked the move because it would have forced the school to close.

The council also demanded that ITT Tech justify its accreditation amid allegations that the chain concealed failing loan programs from authorities.

But some say those improvements are too little, too late.

The Education Department is supposed to give its authorization “based on whether an agency is a reliable authority, not whether it might be,” said Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a Washington think tank that describes itself as progressive and nonpartisan.

Among the chorus of critics, there’s a debate over the root of the council’s troubles.

Some say it intended well but outgrew its ability to police so many schools. Some say it attracts bad actors because it sets a lower academic bar than other accreditors. Others suggest it intentionally has turned a blind eye to deceptive colleges.

“They demonstrated not just an incompetence to do the job, but an unwillingness to do the job,” said Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, who has led a push against the group. “They simply shouldn’t be allowed to continue in the business of what is essentially taking advantage of students and taxpayers.”

The department’s decision is also seen as a test of its willingness to regulate for-profit accreditors, which have rarely faced severe sanctions, but are often accused of being too lenient.

“You couldn’t line up a better set of facts against an entity,” said Nassirian, of the association of state colleges and universities. “If this is a hard judgment, then there’s really no hope.”

 

Spring push for fossil fuels divestment launched on campuses

Students with Swarthmore Mountain Justice took action outside board member Rhonda Cohen’s off-campus office this week, calling on her to recuse herself from future conversations on fossil fuel divestment due to her personal financial ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The demonstration marked the launch of a two-month series of nonviolent direct actions on colleges and universities.

“We refuse to stand idly by as Swarthmore continues to align itself with an industry that is incompatible with our future,” said Sophia Zaia, a sophomore and divestment organizer with Swarthmore Mountain Justice. “Board members can’t make objective decisions on divestment when they have a personal financial stake in the future success of the fossil fuel industry. We have no choice but to escalate to ensure that the conversation on divestment, an issue that leaves us without a moment to lose, is transparent and free from compromising conflicts of interest.”

Students across the country are taking action this spring, calling out links to the fossil fuel industry on their boards and demanding divestment in a campaign sponsored by 350.org.

“We know that change will only come when we take the lead and push our institutions to stand on the right side of history,” said Julia Berkman-Hill, a divestment campaigner and leader with Bowdoin Climate Action. “As long as Bowdoin refuses to move forward on divestment, we will continue to use our voices to show that we do not consent to the College’s relationship to this industry’s inherently destructive business model. Our schools betray us when they invest in the exploitation and deception that the likes of Exxon and Big Oil perpetuate.”

Reports from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed that Exxon knew about climate change since the 1970s but poured extensive resources into discrediting its own research and sowing doubt and confusion among the public and world governments.

Exxon is currently being probed by the criminal branch of the FBI and four Attorneys General have launched investigations into the corporation’s alleged climate crimes. Also, 20 Attorneys General have launched a coalition to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for their decades of deep deception, according to 350.org.

“Around the world, those who have done the least to contribute bear the brunt of the worst effects of climate change. From Pakistan and the Philippines, to New Orleans and New York, climate change threatens the lives of frontline communities every day by actively making our planet uninhabitable,” said Sarah Jacqz, an organizer with Divest UMass. “Any action on climate is undermined if our institutions continue to invest in this violent industry.It is high time that our institutions do everything in their power to tackle the climate crisis — that starts with divesting from fossil fuels.”

To date, more than 500 institutions representing more than $3.4 trillion in assets under management have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment.

For the student activists involved in the divestment campaign, personal ties to the fossil fuel industry among their school’s decision-makers pose disturbing conflicts of interest.

“We have made our choice clear, and we choose to stand on the side of a just and stable future,” said Zaia. “Now, we’re demanding that our institutions of higher learning stand with us and make a choice: the future of a destructive, outdated and rogue industry or the future of your students?”

 

Schools adding climate fiction to curriculums

Colleges and universities worldwide are incorporating into their curriculums the evolving genre of literature that focuses on the changes coming to Earth as the result of climate change — “cli-fi” or “climate fiction.”

Some of the books and movies now being considered part of the genre are old classics, while others were written more recently in direct response to today’s changing climate.

“It’s a very, very energized time for this where people in literature have just as much to say as people who are in hard science fields, or technology and design fields, or various social-science approaches to these things,” said Jennifer Wicke, an English professor at the University of Virginia who will be teaching a course this June on climate fiction at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont.

The Bread Loaf School of English is mainly for elementary- and high school-level English teachers who can, in turn, take what they learn back to their classrooms to get their students to understand how literature can reflect current events.

“This course gives them a kind of model for helping to create and imagine English courses that will be particularly relevant to helping the young people whom they teach to understand that reading literature, looking at the arts, looking at film isn’t something you do as an aside,” said Bread Loaf school Director Emily Bartels, also a professor of English at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. “It’s something you do as you learn how to navigate your own moment in the 21st century.”

Climate fiction, a term that emerged less than a decade ago, is now being discussed by academics across the nation and world. Next month, about three dozen academics are expected to attend a workshop in Germany called “Between Fact and Fiction: Climate Change Fiction,” hosted by the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study in the northwestern city of Delmenhorst.

The website for the workshop lists some contemporary examples of books that fit the definition: Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behavior,” about an Appalachian town to which confused monarch butterflies have migrated; Nathaniel Rich’s “Odds Against Tomorrow,” the story of a mathematician coping with catastrophe in New York; and Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife,” about water wars in the southwestern United States.

But some of the literature now being recognized as cli-fi was written decades, or even centuries, ago. Some of Shakespeare’s works focus on humanity’s relationship with nature. Works of fiction such as H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” or “The Time Machine” also fit the profile of climate fiction, Bartels said.

Retired Hampshire College Professor Charlene D’Avanzo, a marine scientist who spends her summers in Yarmouth, Maine, is about to publish her first novel, “Cold Blood, Hot Sea,” the first of a three-volume series of what she describes as “cli-fi eco-lit novel and amateur sleuth mystery novels” sparked by what she sees as the harassment of scientists studying climate change.

She said that there’s much uncertainty in the scientific study of climate change and that readers are more willing to accept uncertainty in fiction. In her first book, the protagonist is an amateur sleuth who investigates the mysterious death of a colleague who was crushed to death by a buoy on a research vessel off Maine.

“You have to make people care,” she said.

Wisconsin elections board pushes voter ID information

Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board is pushing to inform people about new voter photo ID requirements with less than two weeks left before the spring primary.

The board held a news conference on Feb. 1 to re-launch its “Bring It to the Ballot” campaign, which it started in 2011 when the law passed.

The photo ID requirement was in effect for the first time during the 2012 spring primary election, but a court soon halted its implementation due to ongoing legal challenges. It will take full effect this year, starting with the Feb. 16 primary.

Republicans introduced the voter ID requirements as part of an effort to discourage voting among demagraphic groups that tradionally vote Democratic. The GOP has also scaled back on popular early voting programs and reduced the number of polling sites.

Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy says the board spent about $700,000 in 2011 and 2012 to develop videos, brochures and radio ads.

This year, however, legislators didn’t provide funding for the campaign, because the law was on hold.

Republicans have voted to get rid of the accountability board because it investigates political corruption.

Political football | Koch Industries makes play on college campuses

University of Wisconsin students cheered as the Badgers rolled over Rutgers on Oct. 31 at Camp Randall Stadium. But there also was a smattering of boos and catcalls off the field because, on one of the most liberal college campuses in America, the very un-liberal Koch Industries bought sponsorship of the game.

Koch Industries, owned and operated by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, has sponsored UW football throughout this season.

“Really? There isn’t a university in Texas or Arizona that’s a better fit with Koch Industries than UW?” said Kyle Dunn, a Madison resident and UW alumnus, during halftime. He sounded like a fan outraged over a fumble. “If they are recruiting, they’re making waves in the wrong pool.”

A chorus of students and alumni have posted letters to the school, the athletic department and to Wisconsin newspaper editors noting the irony of the university benefiting financially from a conglomerate owned and operated by the billionaires behind political efforts to cut funding to public education, co-opt academic programs, influence scientific research and bust teacher’s unions.

Koch Industries first bought into college sports during the 2014–15 basketball season, with sponsorships at 15 universities. The sponsorship drive will continue into the 2015–16 basketball season, with fans seeing Koch signs and videos and hearing radio ads in college arenas.

Koch also has handed out such giveaways as sunglasses, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, a Madison-based watchdog and advocacy group that monitors right-wing activity, corruption and corporate influence.

Koch’s sponsorship at UW-Madison is through a multi-year contract between the UW Board of Regents and Badger Sports Properties, a subsidiary of Learfield Communications, Inc., according to The Capital Times, which obtained the contract through an open records request.

The Cap Times Oct. 22 report said the contract, worth more than $111 million to UW, gives Badger Sports Properties the right to sell game sponsorships and ads through 2026. The agreement gives UW officials the right to refuse sponsorships that adversely affect the school’s reputation or are contrary to university policy.

The policy, according to The Cap Times, prohibits sponsorship by tobacco companies and requires reviews of sponsorships involving alcohol and gambling.

However, the school apparently has no problem with Koch sponsorship — recruitment ads have been appearing on the Camp Randall scoreboard throughout the season.

A statement from UW-Madison’s media relations department said the school “doesn’t screen companies that sponsor our athletics program based on the political views of their owners. As a public institution, we don’t think that would be appropriate. UW Athletics draws support from a wide variety of firms.”

Rebranding and recruiting

Koch Industries is seeking to “bolster recruitment” on campuses, reshape its image and connect with “dedicated sports fans and university communities,” according to a news release from Learfield.

“Like student athletes, our 60,000 U.S. employees understand that hard work and team spirit are fundamental to winning and success,” stated Koch communications officer Steve Lombardo, who previously worked to rebrand the Philip Morris USA cigarette company. 

Learfield executive vice president Roy Seinfeld said, “There is a special passion and loyalty among the college sector that is like no other and we’re fortunate to bring this to life for Koch Industries and their many brands.”

Koch Industries is one of the largest private multinational conglomerates in the United States, with about $115 billion in annual revenues. Koch’s holdings are in asphalt, chemicals, energy, fibers, fertilizer, natural gas, plastics, petroleum, plastics, pulp and ranching — a stew of subsidiaries that environmentalists characterize as toxic.

The conglomerate is led by CEO Charles Koch and executive vice president David Koch, major funders of right-wing and libertarian politics. Their money, through a vast network of foundations, think tanks and PACs, goes to lobbying against expanded government health care, denying climate change, operating anti-government groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and backing tea party politicians like Scott Walker. 

The Kochs, for example, have ties to the Virginia-based nonprofit Generation Opportunity, described on its website as “a free-thinking, liberty-loving, national organization of young people promoting the best of Being American: opportunity, creativity and freedom.”

A review by the watchdog group OpenSecrets found that 86 percent of funding for Generation Opportunity over a three-year period came from two Koch-connected nonprofits — Freedom Partners and TC4 Trust.

GO pursues a right-wing agenda and aims to persuade young Americans to vote against Democratic candidates and oppose Democratic initiatives, most prominently the Affordable Care Act.

SourceWatch.org, a publication of the Center for Media and Democracy, tracked GO’s campaign to convince young people to “opt out” of insurance under the ACA. In September 2013, GO announced it would spend about $750,000 on the campaign against so-called “Obamacare.” There was a tour of 20 college towns and lots of free beer offered.

Today, nearly 2.5 million people “like” GO’s Facebook page, which on Oct. 30 contained new posts about job scarcity, Affordable Care Act fraud, secret cellphone monitoring by police and Mike Huckabee’s most recent debate performance.

The Koch network also buys influence over curriculum, personnel, policy and research by funneling grants with strings attached to schools. For example, a Koch foundation grant to Florida State University required veto power over candidates for professorships the grant funded. 

Unkoching education

But a counter-movement is gaining strength among college students through campaigns such as UnKoch My Campus, which called for a national day of action against the corporatization of education on Nov. 5.

In a day of action last November, demonstrations took place on about 30 campuses. This year, students on 50 campuses planned to publish op-ed pieces for campus papers, lobby administrators and faculty to take a pledge to refuse income from special interests, planned sit-ins and teach-ins and filed open records requests demanding disclosure of Koch interests in their schools.

UnKochMyCampus.org maintains a “Koch heat map” designating schools that have received Koch funding. In Wisconsin, in addition to UW-Madison, Koch-related funding has gone to UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse, Lakeland, Wisconsin Lutheran, Carthage College and Beloit College.

Across the country, about 400 post-secondary schools need to be “unkoched,” according to UnKoch My Campus and Greenpeace, an environmental group that monitors Koch efforts encouraging academics to deny climate change.

Greenpeace says the number of universities receiving Koch funds has skyrocketed from just seven in 2005. A report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization, released in late October and based partly on an analysis of IRS filings, found Koch-led charitable foundations contributed $19.3 million donated to 210 colleges in 46 states in 2013.

Koch and college football:

Koch Industries kicked off the football season on Sept. 12 with a sponsorship of the Southern Methodist University game against North Texas. On Sept. 19, Koch sponsorships included Oklahoma State against University of Texas-San Antonio, University of Arkansas against Texas Tech, University of Oklahoma against Tulsa and Texas A&M against Nevada.

Koch put its brand on games between the University of Nebraska and Southern Mississippi on Sept. 26, Iowa State and the University of Kansas on Oct. 3, University of Kansas and Baylor on Oct. 10, and University of Houston and Vanderbilt and University of Wisconsin and Rutgers on Oct. 31.

Study shines light on campus sexual violence

About 11.7 percent of students across 27 universities reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation since they enrolled.

The incidence of experiencing sexual assault and sexual misconduct among female undergraduate students was 23.1 percent. The rate was 5.4 percent for male undergraduates, according to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct released by the Association of American Universities.

Twenty-seven universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, participated in the survey, which took place in the spring and involved more than 150,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

“Our universities are working to ensure their campuses are safe places for students,” said Hunter Rawlings, president of AAU, an organization of 62 private and public research universities. “The primary goal of the survey is to help them better understand the experiences and attitudes of their students with respect to this challenge.”

The survey, one of the largest to date dealing with campus sexual violence, looked at whether survivors of sexual assault and sexual misconduct reported incidents to the university or another organization, such as law enforcement. It revealed that rates of reporting were low, ranging from 5 percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.

Students said they did not report incidents because they felt “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult.” Another explanation: Students said they “did not think anything would be done about it.”

Other findings in the survey:

• Rates of sexual assault and misconduct are highest among undergraduate females and those identifying as transgender, genderqueer, non-conforming and questioning.

• The risk of the most serious types of nonconsensual sexual contact due to physical force or incapacitation decline from freshman year to senior year.

• Nonconsensual sexual contact involving drugs and alcohol constitutes a significant percentage of the incidents.

• A little fewer than half of the students surveyed witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, most did not try to intervene.

Last year, when the White House launched the “It’s on Us” campaign to keep women and men safe from sexual violence, the administration encouraged people to take a personal pledge that includes a promise “to intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given.”

Other elements of the pledge: to recognize that non-consensual sex is sexual assault, to identify situations in which sexual assault may occur and to create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

UW-Madison: It’s on Us

Earlier in October, UW-Madison joined the “It’s on Us” campaign, displaying its commitment to the effort at the Badger’s homecoming football game on Oct. 17.

In addition, a series of “It’s on Us” videos — featuring UW athletes Vitto Brown, Corey Clement and Sydney McKibbon, athletic director Barry Alvarez and men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves — will be played at home games at Camp Randall Stadium, the Kohl Center and LaBahn Arena.

“We are pleased to join with the campus in raising awareness of this issue,” said Alvarez. “We are constantly educating our staff and student-athletes about creating an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported, and this is a great way for us to share that message.”

More than 40 student leaders at UW-Madison, along with University Health Services, the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, the UW Police Department and the Division of Student Life took the “It’s on Us” pledge.

UW-Oshkosh is No. 3 on Sierra’s list of greenest schools

Sierra magazine, the official publication of the Sierra Club, released its ninth annual “Cool Schools” ranking of America’s greenest colleges and universities and put University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the top 3.

Each of the schools ranked in the top 20 have displayed a deep and thorough commitment to protecting the environment, addressing climate issues and encouraging environmental responsibility, according to a news release from the club.

More than 150 schools filled out Sierra’s survey about sustainability practices on campus. Using a customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked the universities based on their commitment to upholding high environmental standards.

Sierra magazine’s top 20 schools of 2015 are:

  1. University of California, Irvine

  2. University of California, Davis

  3. University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh

  4. Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)

  5. Oberlin College (Oberlin, OH)

  6. University of Connecticut   

  7. University of California, San Diego

  8. University of Washington, Seattle

  9. Lewis & Clark College (Portland, OR)

  10. University of California, Berkeley

  11. University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)

  12. Green Mountain College, (Poultney, VT)

  13. Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ)

  14. Middlebury College (Middlebury, VT)

  15. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

  16. Dickinson College (Carlisle, PA)

  17. College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, ME)

  18. University of California, Santa Barbara

  19. Colby College (Waterville, ME)

  20. Portland State University (Portland, OR)

“We’re so inspired to see how colleges are taking the lead on addressing climate change,” said Avital Andrews, Sierra magazine’s lifestyle editor. “From building green to saving water to offering hundreds of eco-classes, these schools’ efforts are profound, and are changing not only the campus grounds, but also the minds of the students they’re educating.”

This is UC Irvine’s sixth consecutive year as a top 10 finalist and its second time in a row as Sierra’s winner, thanks in part to three on-campus solar projects, a 19-megawatt turbine cogeneration plant, and energy-efficiency goals that are consistently exceeded.

Other factors that helped those at the top of our list: dining halls that serve organic, local foods; waste systems that divert trash away from landfills; transportation options that keep students and staff out of cars; academic programs that are heavily eco-focused; and strong methods in place to conserve water and energy.

“Young people understand the need to confront climate disruption and jump-start our economy. That’s why students across the country have joined the Sierra Student Coalition’s Seize the Grid campaign — demanding 100 percent localized clean energy on campuses,” said Karissa Gerhke, national director of the Sierra Student Coalition. “‘Cool Schools’ is a showcase of campuses taking concrete steps toward those goals. We look forward to working with these schools in taking the next step and committing to 100 percent clean energy.”

The full ranking of 153 colleges, including each school’s completed questionnaire, is online at www.sierraclub.org/coolschools.

UW-River Falls ranked No. 24.

UW-Milwaukee ranked No. 68.

UW-Stevens Point ranked No. 70.

UW-Green Bay ranked No. 78.

UW-Whitewater ranked No. 94.

Amid spate of fraternity investigations, feds indict Georgia man for noose at Ole Miss

The federal government indicted a Georgia man on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students at the University of Mississippi.

Graeme Phillip Harris was enrolled in classes on the Jackson, Mississippi, campus in February 2014, when the noose and a flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem were found on a statue honoring James Meredith, the student who integrated the school in 1962.

University officials turned the case over to the Justice Department after the local district attorney declined to prosecute, saying no state laws were violated.

“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a recent news release.

He said, “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are. By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”

The Justice Department announced the indictment in late March, when several investigations were underway on other campuses over alleged sexual harassment, abuse, racist and sexist chants, and violent hazings.

This spring, the University of Mary Washington in Virginia suspended its men’s rugby team for violating the school’s code of conduct for club sports. An audio recording captured team members chanting a song with sexually explicit, derogatory and violent language.

The University of Oklahoma disbanded a Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter after a video revealed fraternity members taking part in a chant that included references to lynching, a racial slur and a vow never to induct a black member.

The chant was part of the pledge process, according to school officials, who said punishment for fraternity members included expulsion, community service and sensitivity training.

At Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, local authorities are investigating an invitation-only Facebook page hosted by Kappa Delta Rho that contained nude and seminude photos of women, including some who were either sleeping or passed out. The university suspended the fraternity for a year and police are looking into possible criminal charges, including invasion of privacy.

In late March at the University of Maryland-College Park, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was suspended after sending other fraternity members an email containing racial slurs and sexually aggressive language.

At North Carolina State University, a chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity recently was suspended after the discovery of a notebook containing sexist and racist comments. 

Another NCSU frat, Alpha Tau Omega, was suspended in March after drug paraphernalia was seized in the execution of a search warrant related to a sexual assault allegation.

University chancellor Randy Woodson, in a statement to the press, said, “The poor behaviors we’ve seen recently by a few in no way represent the strong character and values of our larger student body.”

Meanwhile, hazings that occurred last fall resulted in recent sanctions against the Acacia fraternity at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Advocate newspaper reported that pledges of the now-dissolved chapter were required to stand in hot steam, prohibited from eating the week of initiation and required to participate in activities that interfered with “academic and psychological well-being.”

And, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, the fraternity that partly inspired “Animal House” is now accused of branding pledges.

Gawker first reported the story, saying the incidents took place last fall, when the chapter was under suspension over a party.

University of Dayton becomes 1st Catholic school to divest from fossil fuels

The University of Dayton, a leading Catholic university and the largest private university in Ohio, is divesting its $670 million endowment from fossil fuels.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental action group 350.org, had praise for the decision: “Earlier this year, Pope Francis said ‘if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us. It’s very good news to see Catholic institutions starting to put his wisdom into effective practice, and stand up to the powers that are trying to profit at the expense of all who depend on the proper working of this good earth.”

University President Daniel J. Curran said the decision was consistent with Catholic social teachings, the school’s Marianist values and a campuswide policy promoting sustainability initiatives. “We cannot ignore the negative consequences of climate change, which disproportionately impact the world’s most vulnerable people,” Curran said earlier this month. “Our Marianist values of leadership and service to humanity call upon us to act on these principles and serve as a catalyst for civil discussion and positive change that benefits our planet.”

The university is the first major Catholic institution to join the divestment campaign and, at $670 million, the largest endowment yet to fully divest from the 200 fossil fuel companies that hold the largest coal, oil and gas reserves.

Stanford University recently divested its $18.7 billion endowment from coal companies, but is still considering divesting from oil and gas.

The University of Dayton’s divestment is planned to occur in phases. The university will initially eliminate fossil fuel holdings from its domestic equity accounts. The university then will develop plans to eliminate fossil fuel from international holdings, invest in green and sustainable technologies or holdings, and restrict future investments in private equity or hedge funds whose investments support fossil fuel or significant carbon-producing holdings.

Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said, “We applaud the University of Dayton for taking this step as perhaps the first U.S. Catholic university to divest from fossil fuels. This is a complex issue, but Catholic higher education was founded to examine culture and find ways to advance the common good. Here is one way to lead as a good steward of God’s creation.”

The announcement came in the same month that President Barack Obama endorsed the growing divestment movement in a speech at the University of California-Irvine. There, the president told students, “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.”

More than a dozen universities or colleges have committed to fossil fuel divestment. So have more than 20 cities, 27 private foundations and more than 30 churches, congregations, or dioceses.

S.C. House refuses to restore college cuts for books dealing with homosexuality

The South Carolina House refused this week to back down from plans to punish two public colleges in the budget for assigning freshmen to read books dealing with homosexuality.

The House rejected multiple attempts to restore $52,000 cut from the College of Charleston in the state budget, and $17,142 cut from the University of South Carolina Upstate. Those are the amounts the universities spent on books assigned to their incoming freshmen last summer. The efforts failed by votes of 69-41, 70-43, 71-40 and 71-38.

Opponents argued the cuts, which reduce what the colleges can spend from their own revenue sources, censor and micromanage college decisions.

When it comes to public colleges, legislators should be debating funding and building construction, not “pushing our own moral agenda on these institutions of higher learning,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.

“Are we saying we don’t trust the college students enough to expose them to something they may not have seen before? We can’t let you read anything other than what we believe?” she asked. “What about the notion of freedom to have different views? Isn’t this what we go all over the globe fighting for?”

College of Charleston students read “Fun Home,” a book by Alison Bechdel that describes her childhood with a closeted gay father and her own coming out as a lesbian. USC Upstate assigned “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio,” referring to South Carolina’s first gay and lesbian radio show, for a freshmen course that included lectures and other out-of-classroom activities meant to spark discussions about the book.

Rep. Garry Smith, whose subcommittee made the reductions, said he wanted to make a point after college officials declined to give students an option to read something else. He said he wouldn’t oppose the books if they were part of an elective course. He called it promotion of a lifestyle.

“Freedom comes with responsibility. These universities did not act responsibly,” said Smith, R-Simpsonville.

Rep. Wendy Nanney, R-Greenville, said opponents of the cuts argue for a diversity of ideas but don’t want to consider conservatives’ viewpoint. After House Speaker Bobby Harrell rejected Smith’s suggestions to project illustrations from “Fun Home” on the House screen, Nanney said, “It’s not appropriate to even put up in this room but we’re giving it to 18-year-old kids?”

The votes came as the House opened floor debate on the state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The spending plan commits $7 billion in state taxes. The state budget would total $24 billion, up from $22.5 billion this year, when including all revenue sources, such as federal money, fees, fines, lottery profits and tuition at public colleges.

While other sections of the budget passed quickly with no discussion, the college cuts tied up debate for hours. Debate on other sections will continue Tuesday.

College of Charleston President George Benson said the university is committed to academic freedom, and any university education must include the opportunity for students to engage controversial ideas. Any attempt by legislators to tie funding to what books are taught threatens the credibility of all of South Carolina’s public colleges, he said.

“Our students are adults, and we will treat them as such,” Benson said. “Faculty, not politicians, ultimately must decide what textbooks are selected and how those materials are taught.”