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Veterans Group That Hosted Donald Trump Loses Nonprofit Status

November 11th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

The Internal Revenue Service revoked the nonprofit status of the veterans benefit organization that hosted and sold tickets to a foreign policy speech by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump aboard a retired U.S. battleship, The Associated Press has learned. The group’s endorsement of Trump at the event also could raise legal problems under campaign finance laws.

Trump’s campaign did not respond to questions from the AP about whether it was aware that the IRS had revoked the nonprofit status of the Veterans for a Strong America, which sold tickets to Trump’s event for up to $1,000 as a fundraiser. The IRS issued its decision Aug. 10, citing the group’s failure to file any tax returns for three consecutive years, according to IRS records reviewed by the AP.

The Associated Press
September 18, 2015
NonProfit PRO Magazine

Study warns of effects of excessive cell phone use among students

January 24th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

The increasing use of cellphones could be affecting the well-being of young people, say some experts. A new study from Baylor University, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, found that women students spend on average 10 hours a day on their cell phones, and men 8 hours a day. Most of that time is spent texting, followed by sending email, checking Facebook, and browsing the Internet. The survey also raises questions about whether or not cellphone use can be classified as an addictive behavior, as well as about the impact of such extensive use on students. “We have young people whose brains are literally being rewired according to digital technology. They are losing skills that have been anthropologically significant and developing others that may or may not be significant,” said Neal Berger, an addictions consultant. Sybil Harrison, Director of Learning Services at Camosun College’s Lansdowne campus in Victoria, said that there is “a whole spectrum of tolerance and acceptance of cellphones” on PSE campuses, but noted that “increasingly it’s hard to say ‘Leave the cellphones at the door, don’t use that.’”

The hazards of cellphone use are clearly demonstrated on the stairs built decades ago at Camosun College, educator Sybil Harrison says.

“Last year, we had three students fall down the stairs because they were texting at the same time,” said Harrison, director of learning services. “Nobody ever fell down the stairs before.

“I just have to look around the campus to see the amount of cellphone use there is,” she said. “And it’s not just young people, because I see it with my colleagues when I go to meetings. People are always looking at their cellphones.”

Harrison’s story of the stairwell is almost funny, albeit dangerous. But educators and clinical psychologists are now recognizing that cellphone use is going beyond the realm of modern convenience. Increasingly, it is recognized as a wasteful distraction, even a harmful addiction.

A recent study at Baylor University in Texas found women students spend an average of 10 hours a day, men eight, on their cellphones, putting their academic performance at risk.

The study, The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction Among Male and Female College Students, was published in The Journal of Behavioral Addictions. It was based on an online survey of 164 students.

Those students reported the top cellphone activities were texting, an average of more than 90 minutes a day; sending emails, nearly 50 minutes; checking Facebook, nearly 40 minutes; and surfing, 35 minutes.

Respondents were also asked to respond to statements such as “I get agitated when my cellphone is not in sight” and “I find I am spending more and more time on my cellphone.”

The study authors called for more research to determine which cellphone activities are likely to push the device from being helpful tool to one that undermines personal and social well-being.

Neal Berger, a 40-year addictions consultant and director of Cedars, a treatment centre in Cobble Hill, said he has no trouble calling cellphone use an addictive behaviour.

“I think we are seeing just the tip of the iceberg and I don’t know what the iceberg looks like,” he said.

Berger said he regularly sees clients, checking in for treatment to deal with addictions to substances such as alcohol and narcotics. But one of their first hurdles is leaving behind their cellphone, part of treatment regime.

“There has been a few times where [leaving behind the cellphone] has been a greater source of anxiety than anything else,” he said.

“If they don’t have the ability to keep texting, keep Facebooking, keep doing their thing, they will get really uncomfortable and agitated.”

“That’s pretty well the same thing as any other addiction,” said Berger.

But what especially worries him as an addiction treatment specialist is the way young people are taking to cellphones. Addictions initiated at a young age, say 12 or 13, are far more difficult to kick than ones begun in adult years.

Berger dismissed the notion they are learning to “multi-task.” The reality is that every activity attempted while using a cellphone just gets diminished.

He said it’s also well known all brains, but especially young brains, will change and adapt their neural pathways according to stimulus and activity. Cellphones, like all digital devices, offer stimulus, invite, even demand, a mental response and provide instant gratification. It’s unlike just about everything else in real life.

“We have young people whose brains are literally being rewired according to digital technology,” said Berger. “They are losing skills that have been anthropologically significant and developing others that may or may not be significant.”


Victoria addictions counsellor, Sue Donaldson, of Pegasus Recovery Solutions, said doctors diagnose addiction based on whether the patient corresponds to specified criteria including:

• Addicts continue to engage in a behaviour even after negative consequences become apparent. Donaldson noted diminished academic scores are an identifiable negative consequence.

• Addicts experience strong cravings to engage in an activity and will neglect other activities or obligations, like family, work or school to satisfy their craving.

• Addicts experience withdrawal.

• Addicts find it hard to curtail the use of a substance or activity.

• Addicts will also express the desire to cut back on an activity or substance.

“And cellphone use absolutely falls into some of those categories,” said Donaldson.

Nevertheless, she worried about the over-use of the word “addiction.” In some ways she wondered whether as a society it’s time to devise social etiquette to govern cellphone use in the same way we govern smoking.

Most people now, at minimum, will ask if anybody minds before lighting a cigarette. Also, texting while driving is becoming seen as irresponsible as drinking and driving.

“I’ve run a lot of groups and invariably everyone has their cellphone at hand,” said Donaldson. “People will ask if they can eat or bring their coffee into a group but there is no thought about a cellphone.”

Meanwhile, back at Camosun College, Harrison said the use of cellphones is now being left to instructors and the students. They are, obviously, all adults.

She said some instructors even favour the inclusion of cellphones in class.

For example, allowing students to make tweets can add an interesting element to a lecture or discussion.

Also it’s hoped a lecture, or class, will be engaging and interesting enough so students will want to put their cellphones away.

“There is right now a whole spectrum of tolerance and acceptance of cellphones,” Harrison said.

“But increasingly it’s hard to say ‘Leave the cellphones at the door, don’t use that,’ ” she said. “And to be fair, there have always been students who sit in classrooms and are completely disengaged.”

By Richard Watts / Times Colonist
December 15, 2014 02:02 PM

Charity Tax-Break Effort Falters as White House Threatens Veto

December 10th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Fundraising, News and Updates

U.S. lawmakers’ bid to permanently lock in three tax breaks for charitable giving faltered as the White House threatened to veto the bipartisan measure.

Charities had been rallying supporters behind the $11 billion bill, which would have revived expired tax incentives for donations of conservation easements, money from retirement accounts and food inventory.

The chairmen of the House and Senate tax-writing committees expressed optimism yesterday and said lawmakers were poised to pass the bill as the congressional session nears an end. Then Senate leaders in both parties said it would be tough to advance the measure and White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the administration was opposed.

Earnest said the administration’s view on making the lapsed breaks a permanent part of the U.S. tax code hasn’t changed since July, when a veto threat was issued because the breaks for charities wouldn’t have budgetary offsets.

“It tracks very closely with the legislation that the president’s senior advisers had previously recommended that he veto,” Earnest told reporters on Air Force One. “It’s fair for you to assume that our view of the new version that appears to be very similar to the old version is the same.”

The White House statement sapped momentum from the effort by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican, and Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat.

Museum Directors

Groups that lobbied on the tax breaks include the Association of Art Museum Directors, the National Grocers Association and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, according to Senate records.

All three breaks expired at the end of 2013 and are probably going to be revived for 2014 only.

The conservation easement break lets taxpayers spread the benefit of donations over 15 years instead of five. The retirement account break allows direct contributions to charities, meaning that the donations don’t increase their adjusted gross incomes.

Camp had said he expected the bill to get a House vote soon and Wyden said he thought the Senate would pass it.

“I just can’t even believe it,” said Representative Pat Tiberi, an Ohio Republican and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, after having Earnest’s statement read to him.

Congress could only overcome an Obama veto with two-thirds votes in the Senate and House. The earlier bill exceeded that threshold in the House. The biggest obstacle may be time, because the House is planning to adjourn this week.

Bipartisan Support

Getting the bill done would be tough, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters yesterday.

“All three of these provisions have widespread bipartisan support,” Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, told reporters yesterday in Washington. “I really don’t see a lot of controversy here.”

The tax breaks are included in a broader bill that would revive them for 2014 only. That measure passed the House and is expected to clear the Senate within days.

The new measure, H.R. 5806, was included late yesterday on a list of items to be considered by the House this week under an expedited procedure requiring a two-thirds vote for passage. It could be taken up as early as today.

The bill passed earlier this year is H.R. 4719. The short-term extension bill is H.R. 5771.

By Richard Rubin and Angela Greiling Keane December 10, 2014
Bloomberg News


President of Korean Center Guilty of N.Y. Charges

November 26th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Authorities say the president of the nonprofit Korean Social Service Center has pleaded guilty to grand larceny, fraud and tax fraud charges in a scheme to prey on elderly Korean-Americans by taking money and falsely promising placements in preferred housing.

Ock Chul Ha of Fort Lee, New Jersey, faces one to three years in state prison under the plea agreement. Sentencing is in March.

According to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Korean Social Service Center in Manhattan will be shuttered, and victims who cooperated with the investigation have received restitution judgments.

An investigation showed that over three years, the 37-year-old Ha fraudulently took money from dozens clients seeking advice about Medicare and Social Security, promising placement in New York City’s affordable-housing program.

Ock Chul Ha of Fort Lee, N.J., pleaded guilty to charges of grand larceny, fraud, and tax fraud and faces one to three years in prison under an agreement with state authorities. Sentencing is scheduled for March. In a criminal complaint filed last May, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Mr. Ha, 37, fraudulently collected $780,000 from dozens of clients of the Korean Social Service Center, which will be shut down.

Volunteering Hits Lowest Rate in More Than 10 Years

May 19th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

Volunteering in the U.S. hit a new low last year, according to the Labor Department. As of September 2013, 25.4 percent of all Americans 16 and older had volunteered with an organization at least once in the prior year, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is the lowest rate of volunteering the annual report has found since it was first conducted in 2002, and the latest year-over-year change is statistically significant, according to a BLS economist.


The BLS could not comment on the reasons behind the falling volunteer rate, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that also sponsored the report, also declined to comment on those reasons.

[READ: U.S. Farmers are Old and Getting Much Older]

While it might make intuitive sense that an improving job market would bring the rate down – spending more time at the office might logically mean less time for the animal shelter or soup kitchen – that doesn’t appear to be true. The volunteer rate hit its peak in the early 2000s, when the jobless rate was lower than it is now. In addition, as the Washington Examiner points out, employed Americans tend to volunteer at higher rates than the unemployed or people not in the labor force. Part-time employed Americans volunteer at even higher rates, with 31.7 percent volunteering last year, compared to 26.8 for full-time workers, 24.1 for the unemployed, and 21.9 percent for people outside the labor force.

People outside the labor force may have lower rates of volunteering than their employed counterparts, but those who did volunteer last year did it much more – 65 hours annually to be exact. Meanwhile, full-time-employed Americans volunteered for a median of only 44 hours. (The median for all volunteers was 50 hours.)



Among groups that saw large declines in volunteering were those with bachelor’s degrees or higher. The share of these people who volunteered in 2013 was at 39.8 percent, down from 42.2 percent in 2012, a decline of nearly 1 million people.

The 55-to-64-year-old segment saw the biggest percentage-point decline among age groups, from 27.6 to 26 percent. And among the four racial and ethnic groups studied, people who identify as black or African-American had the largest decline, from 21.1 percent to 18.5 percent, though whites and Asians also saw a decline. Hispanics and Latinos were the only group to see higher volunteer rates, from 15.2 to 15.5 percent.

Feb. 26, 2014

Study reveals underemployment peaks during recessions

March 25th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education, News and Updates

For Recent Grads, Recessions Equal Underemployment

Finding a good job after graduation has indeed become more difficult since the recession – the recession of 2001, that is. A new study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Current Issues found that the trend of recent graduates working in jobs that do not require a degree began with the 2001 recession, and recent graduates are increasingly working in low-wage or part-time jobs.

Unemployment has peaked three times in the last 24 years, the report says: Following the 1990-91 recession (about 4.5 percent unemployment in 1992), the 2001 recession (about 5 percent in 2002), and the 2008 recession (7 percent in 2011). Recent graduates fared worse during those times than college graduates as a whole.

Underemployment, or working in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, among recent graduates on average also peaked at around 45 percent in 1992, 2004 and 2012.

The report also notes that from 2009-11, students in some fields fared far worse than others. Unemployment in most fields hovered around 6 or 7 percent, but there was much more variation in underemployment. While 8 percent of recent liberal arts graduates were unemployed, another 52 percent didn’t need a degree for the job they held. Although their unemployment rates were lower, at 4 percent, leisure and hospitality graduates were most likely to be underemployed (63 percent). At the other end of the scale was engineering, where 5 percent were unemployed and 20 percent were underemployed.

Here’s a link to the Study.

Inside Higher Ed

January 7, 2014


University in Cyprus to start accepting bitcoin payments

January 7th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Education, News and Updates

Cyprus’ biggest private university says it will start accepting the digital currency bitcoin as an alternative way to pay tuition fees.

University of Nicosia’s Chief Financial Officer Christos Vlachos says the move will help foreign students in countries where traditional banking transactions are either difficult or costly to pay fees for programs such as online degrees.

The university claims it is the first in the world to take bitcoin payments.

Vlachos told The Asssociated Press on Thursday that the university is also offering a new Masters’ degree in digital currency, a field he says is the monetary equivalent of the Internet in its infancy.

He said the Cypriot government should set up a regulatory framework to attract digital currency trading companies and boost the bailed-out country’s foundering economy.

The Associated Press Posted: Nov 21, 2013 9:09 AM ET

USPS Pays Futurist to Assess the Stamp

December 21st, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in News and Updates

The financially strapped United States Postal Service is paying a futurist more than half a million dollars to assess the future of stamps as the agency struggles to raise revenues.

The Postal Service will pay Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, which describes itself as a futurist marketing consultancy, $565,769 to provide “analysis and recommendation on the future of stamps,” according to documents acquired by Federal Times, which provides news for federal managers.

The New York-based company was expected to make recommendations in October on ways to slow the decline in stamp usage.

Stamped mail, the most profitable business of the agency, accounts for 43 percent of its revenues. But stamp sales have continued to plummet as more Americans communicate electronically and pay bills online.

The Postal Service expects a 40.5 percent drop in first-class mail from 84 billion pieces in 2009 to 50 billion pieces in 2020.

“As part of its ongoing innovation efforts, the Postal Service regularly seeks advice and counsel from mailing industry, marketing and innovation experts,” said USPS spokeswoman Toni DeLancey in an email.

“This is an important activity that helps the organization anticipate changing mailing and shipping behaviors, as well as long-term changes to the evolving communication marketplace it serves,” she said.

Posted by  on 9/25/13

US universities face increase in cyber-attacks

August 8th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education, News and Updates

America’s research universities, among the most open and robust centers of information exchange in the world, are increasingly coming under cyberattack, most of it thought to be from China, with millions of hacking attempts weekly. Campuses are being forced to tighten security, constrict their culture of openness and try to determine what has been stolen.

University officials concede that some of the hacking attempts have succeeded. But they have declined to reveal specifics, other than those involving the theft of personal data like Social Security numbers. They acknowledge that they often do not learn of break-ins until much later, if ever, and that even after discovering the breaches they may not be able to tell what was taken.

Universities and their professors are awarded thousands of patents each year, some with vast potential value, in fields as disparate as prescription drugs, computer chips, fuel cells, aircraft and medical devices.

“The attacks are increasing exponentially, and so is the sophistication, and I think it’s outpaced our ability to respond,” said Rodney J. Petersen, who heads the cybersecurity program at Educause, a nonprofit alliance of schools and technology companies. “So everyone’s investing a lot more resources in detecting this, so we learn of even more incidents we wouldn’t have known about before.”

Tracy B. Mitrano, the director of information technology policy at Cornell University, said that detection was “probably our greatest area of concern, that the hackers’ ability to detect vulnerabilities and penetrate them without being detected has increased sharply.”

Like many of her counterparts, she said that while the largest number of attacks appeared to have originated in China, hackers have become adept at bouncing their work around the world. Officials do not know whether the hackers are private or governmental. A request for comment from the Chinese Embassy in Washington was not immediately answered.

Analysts can track where communications come from — a region, a service provider, sometimes even a user’s specific Internet address. But hackers often route their penetration attempts through multiple computers, even multiple countries, and the targeted organizations rarely go to the effort and expense — often fruitless — of trying to trace the origins. American government officials, security experts and university and corporate officials nonetheless say that China is clearly the leading source of efforts to steal information, but attributing individual attacks to specific people, groups or places is rare.

The increased threat of hacking has forced many universities to rethink the basic structure of their computer networks and their open style, though officials say they are resisting the temptation to create a fortress with high digital walls.

“A university environment is very different from a corporation or a government agency, because of the kind of openness and free flow of information you’re trying to promote,” said David J. Shaw, the chief information security officer at Purdue University. “The researchers want to collaborate with others, inside and outside the university, and to share their discoveries.”

Some universities no longer allow their professors to take laptops to certain countries, and that should be a standard practice, said James A. Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy group in Washington. “There are some countries, including China, where the minute you connect to a network, everything will be copied, or something will be planted on your computer in hopes that you’ll take that computer back home and connect to your home network, and then they’re in there,” he said. “Academics aren’t used to thinking that way.”

Bill Mellon of the University of Wisconsin said that when he set out to overhaul computer security recently, he was stunned by the sheer volume of hacking attempts.

“We get 90,000 to 100,000 attempts per day, from China alone, to penetrate our system,” said Mr. Mellon, the associate dean for research policy. “There are also a lot from Russia, and recently a lot from Vietnam, but it’s primarily China.”

Other universities report a similar number of attacks and say the figure is doubling every few years. What worries them most is the growing sophistication of the assault.

For corporations, cyberattacks have become a major concern, as they find evidence of persistent hacking by well-organized groups around the world — often suspected of being state-sponsored — that are looking to steal information that has commercial, political or national security value. The New York Times disclosed in January that hackers with possible links to the Chinese military had penetrated its computer systems, apparently looking for the sources of material embarrassing to China’s leaders.

This kind of industrial espionage has become a sticking point in United States-China realtions, with the Obama administration complaining of organized cybertheft of trade secrets, and Chinese officials pointing to revelations of American spying.

Like major corporations, universities develop intellectual property that can turn into valuable products like prescription drugs or computer chips. But university systems are harder to secure, with thousands of students and staff members logging in with their own computers.

Mr. Shaw, of Purdue, said that he and many of his counterparts had accepted that the external shells of their systems must remain somewhat porous. The most sensitive data can be housed in the equivalent of smaller vaults that are harder to access and harder to move within, use data encryption, and sometimes are not even connected to the larger campus network, particularly when the work involves dangerous pathogens or research that could turn into weapons systems.

“It’s sort of the opposite of the corporate structure,” which is often tougher to enter but easier to navigate, said Paul Rivers, manager of system and network security at the University of California, Berkeley. “We treat the overall Berkeley network as just as hostile as the Internet outside.”

Berkeley’s cybersecurity budget, already in the millions of dollars, has doubled since last year, responding to what Larry Conrad, the associate vice chancellor and chief information officer, said were “millions of attempted break-ins every single week.”

Mr. Shaw, who arrived at Purdue last year, said, “I’ve had no resistance to any increased investment in security that I’ve advocated so far.” Mr. Mellon, at Wisconsin, said his university was spending more than $1 million to upgrade computer security in just one program, which works with infectious diseases.

Along with increased spending has come an array of policy changes, often after consultation with the F.B.I. Every research university contacted said it was in frequent contact with the bureau, which has programs specifically to advise universities on safeguarding data. The F.B.I. did not respond to requests to discuss those efforts.

Not all of the potential threats are digital. In April, a researcher from China who was working at the Medical College of Wisconsin was arrested and charged with trying to steal a cancer-fighting compound and related data.

Last year, Mr. Mellon said, Wisconsin began telling faculty members not to take their laptops and cellphones abroad, for fear of hacking. Most universities have not gone that far, but many say they have become more vigilant about urging professors to follow federal rules that prohibit taking some kinds of sensitive data out of the country, or have imposed their own restrictions, tighter than the government’s. Still others require that employees returning from abroad have their computers scrubbed by professionals.

That kind of precaution has been standard for some corporations and government agencies for a few years, but it is newer to academia.

Information officers say they have also learned the hard way that when a software publisher like Oracle or Microsoft announces that it has discovered a security vulnerability and has developed a “patch” to correct it, systems need to apply the patch right away. As soon as such a hole is disclosed, hacker groups begin designing programs to take advantage of it, hoping to release new attacks before people and organizations get around to installing the patch.

“The time between when a vulnerability is announced and when we see attempts to exploit it has become extremely small,” said Mr. Conrad, of Berkeley. “It’s days. Sometimes hours.”


The New York Times

Published: July 16, 2013

US push for new definition of sexual harassment in PSE sparks debate

July 23rd, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in Education, News and Updates

Debate rages over Obama definition of college sexual harassment. The Obama administration wants a broader definition of sexual harassment to encourage more incident reporting.

To hear the critics tell it, President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the Departments of Justice and Education to the University of Montana, Missoula—a campus long plagued by sexual assaults and shoddy sexual harassment prevention efforts.

The letter asks the school to encourage students to report what they believe to be sexual harassment on campus, regardless of whether the harassment is creating a hostile environment for students. It also sets a broad standard for what harassment means. “[S]exual harassment should be more broadly defined as ‘any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,’” reads the document. “Whether conduct is objectively offensive is a factor used to determine if a hostile environment has been created, but it is not the standard to determine whether conduct was ‘unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature’ and therefore constitutes ‘sexual harassment.’”

It’s a minor legal point, but critics say it could have big implications that could prevent teachers from teaching sexually explicit books and implicate everyday classroom flirtations. Historically, most colleges—including the University of Montana—have defined sexual harassment as conduct that creates a hostile educational environment. As recently as 2012, the Department of Education upheld the “hostile environment” standard in agreements with institutions like Yale University. Under current definitions, a “hostile environment” involves behavior of a sexual nature that is more than just “unwelcome.” It must be “sufficiently severe or pervasive as to disrupt or undermine a person’s ability to participate in or receive the benefits, services, or opportunities of the University, including unreasonably interfering with a person’s work or educational performance.”

The Obama Administration believes that should still be the criteria for identifying a hostile environment. But they want a broader definition of sexual harassment to encourage more incident reporting. “To ensure students are not discouraged from reporting harassment, the [Montana] agreement allows students to report when they have been subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct, and requires the University to evaluate whether that conduct created ‘a hostile environment,’” said Dena W. Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. Separating the definitions of “sexual harassment” and “a hostile environment,” says another Justice Department official, encourages victims to let the proper authorities know about questionable behavior.

Conservative politicians, civil liberties advocates, and academics have criticized the broadening of the definition of harassment. On June 26th, Arizona Senator John McCain sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder questioning the Obama Administration’s powers to unilaterally emphasize the broader definition of harassment. McCain also asked if “a student giving another student a Valentine’s Day Card” or “a student listening to music that contains content of a sexual nature overheard by others” could constitute harassment under the new standard.

Academic professionals have also joined the dialogue about the implications of the DOJ’s resolution agreement. On June 6th, Professors Ann Green and Donna Potts of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote a letter to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali expressing their concern that “a broader definition of sexual harassment may limit academic freedom for the teaching of controversial subject matter.” In an email, Professor Green reflected that the most worrisome characteristic of the DOJ’s agreement is that it does not concur with precedent, which requires sexual harassment to be “evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the alleged victim’s position.”

“While I applaud efforts by the DoJ to make campuses more safe for women,” Green told TIME, “the elimination of the reasonable speech standard is potentially dangerous when controversial material is taught.” The AAUP has encouraged the DOJ to adopt their definition of sexual harassment, which requires the input of a reasonable, objective outsider and states that in the teaching context behavior must be “persistent, pervasive, and not germane to the subject matter” to be considered harassment.

In May, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights publicly responded to an email from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an academic civil rights group, by arguing that the definition of sexual harassment in the Montana case does not change the legal triggers for liability. “Our letter and agreement require that the University of Montana’s policies and procedures consistently articulate the University’s prohibition of sexual harassment that creates a hostile environment,” the response reads. “At the same time, it is important that students are not discouraged from reporting harassment because they believe it is not significant enough to constitute a hostile environment. Students will be allowed to bring complaints when they have been subjected to unwelcome sexual conduct, and the University will evaluate whether that harassment has created a hostile environment.”

According to Lucy France, general counsel of the University of Montana, that means you can report that the annoying boy who sits next to you in class is being creepy, but that doesn’t mean the school will do anything about it. “The revisions currently being added to university policy,” she says, “aim only to clarify the procedures for filing harassment-related grievances, to establish protocol for adequately investigating and responding to allegations, and to train the school community in identifying and addressing sex discrimination and violence.”

So what does the free speech crackdown in Missoula look like? Are flirts being handcuffed in the hallways? Do social events now look more like a scene from Footloose than from Animal House? In a word, no. First of all, the Department of Justice’s agreement was published the day before final exams started, so most students and employees are unaware of it or have not yet been effected by the news. Missoula looks more like a ghost town than a college town in early July, but Professor Beth Hubble—co-chair of the University’s Council on Student Assault—says there is a team of lawyers and educators hard at work on policy revision over the summer.

For students at the University of Montana, the Department of Justice’s agreement and the changes being made by the school this summer mean a few things. First, they mean more email. The DOJ’s agreement requires the university to inform all students and employees of policy revisions. It also mandates annual, anonymous surveys to be distributed to all students. Indirectly, alerting the school community to changes being made could facilitate a more open and interactive dialogue about sexual harassment and discrimination.

Second, despite the qualms of civil liberties advocates, Montana’s curriculum won’t change. Beth Hubble claims that online commentators are misrepresenting how the DOJ agreement will affect academic freedom at the university. “It’s not about what faculty teach, it’s about what faculty do,” she says. “I can and do teach novels that have violent scenes in them, that have sexual violence in them. And I’m not going to stop that.” She cites Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale” as an example of a text that could be construed to seem inappropriate under the Letter of Finding, but then points out that the use of that text would not be considered inappropriate unless it created a “hostile environment” that denied or limited a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s education program. Says Hubble, “You teach whatever you teach, you just don’t hit on the students while you’re doing it.”

Some students may also get a new dorm-mate this year. There will be a “Campus Relations Officer”—a representative of the Office of Public Safety—living in a residence hall, attending meetings of the Council on Student Assault, and conducting trainings on harassment. Other students will be forced to take part in focus groups conducted by the university’s new “Equity Consultant.” In a post created by the Department of Justice’s agreement, the Equity Consultant will evaluate and recommend revisions to university policy, and conduct an annual survey with recommendations for the school By the end of next school year, every single student and employee will have taken part in the training or will be required to do so in 2014.

According to Hubble, a number of other colleges have asked the University of Montana for permission to use and adapt their mandatory training. Though she sees their requests as encouraging, others worry that nationwide dissemination of the DOJ’s findings and recommendations may do more harm than good. AAUP’s Green fears the DOJ’s actions will “deaden lively intellectual discussion and rigorous debate.” Even though the Montana “blueprint” did not explicitly limit academic freedom, she contends that universities are more likely to respond to it defensively rather than critically, which “could have a silencing effect on classrooms.”

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh says his concern with the resolution agreement “is less about what’s going to happen at this one university and more what message other administrators get from this in other contexts.” Volokh has accused the Department of Justice of trying to implement “broad speech codes,” noting that while the Obama Administration does not require universities to punish all behavior that fits the definition of sexual harassment, it repeatedly expresses the government’s intention to “prevent”, “prohibit”, “eliminate”, and “not tolerate” sexual harassment. Volokh says such language sends a powerful message to public universities that don’t want the Feds poking around their campuses. “It is true that they’re trying to get it reported, but they’re not just trying to get it reported,” he said, of sexual harassment. “They’re trying to make clear it is unacceptable.”

The Department of Justice says that they are in the process of crafting responses to Senator McCain and the American Association of University Professors that will clarify the precedent set by the existing agreement. Whether or not they amend their position, the results of their investigation now loom over every discussion of free speech, academic liberty, and gender relations on campus.


July 10, 2013

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