Thursday, June 01, 2017

Trump Budget Reduces Government's Role in Higher Ed, Will Curtail Runaway Tuition Prices

President Donald Trump released his budget proposal on Tuesday, which includes some dramatic changes to higher education funding.

While there is still room for improvement, the president's proposals would be a significant first step in reducing the federal government's role in higher education and giving much-needed relief to the U.S. taxpayer.

Elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The president's budget proposal eliminates the costly Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which offers special student loan forgiveness to graduates for performing certain public service jobs. This will be welcome news to taxpayers, who have been picking up the tab for federal employees who, under this policy, have their loans forgiven after just 10 years of payments.

Loan forgiveness in general is bad policy-it encourages students to take on large amounts of debt, often without a plan to pay it back. In particular, loan forgiveness for public service elevates public sector work over the private sector. The administration is correct to move away from this misguided policy.

Unfortunately, though, the president's budget would allow all students to take advantage of loan forgiveness after 15 years, only reducing it from 20.

Loan repayment policies that are based on income already protect students from burdensome loan payments. These generous loan forgiveness policies leave taxpayers on the hook for much of the cost of a college student's education.

Year-Round Pell Grants

The president's budget also allows students to use their Pell Grant dollars year-round, which may offer needed flexibility to students who want to finish their degree faster. However, any changes to the Pell Grant system should focus those funds on truly low-income students, and should not increase overall Pell spending.

Consolidation of Federal Loans

This budget consolidates the current five loan programs into a single loan option. This will streamline federal lending, and has the potential to infuse fiscal responsibility to the system if terms are aligned with the current terms of the Graduate Stafford Loan Program. Additionally, all loans should be issued with both an annual and lifetime borrowing cap. These reforms could both help put downward pressure on college tuition prices and insulate taxpayers from high rates of default.

As my colleague Jamie Hall and I recently outlined:

"Issuing all future direct loans under a single set of terms would simplify the program and eliminate some perverse incentives in current law ... Issuing all new loans under the current terms of Graduate Stafford Loans would generate savings relative to the [Congressional Budget Office] baseline of $9.4 billion under [Federal Credit Reform Act accounting], or a cost of $2.5 billion under [Fair Value] accounting, closer to revenue neutrality than any other loan type."

Additionally, this budget proposes the elimination of loan interest subsidies. Many economists have pointed to the heavy subsidization of federal student loans as one of the primary drivers of rising tuition. The elimination of subsidized loans will be a smart first step in deflating the student loan bubble and making college more affordable based on market principles.

Consolidating federal student loans into a single option and eliminating loan interest subsidies may help achieve the added benefit of revitalizing the private lending market.

The president's proposal overall reduces the federal government's role in higher education and will encourage more students to turn to the private market to finance their loans. That will protect U.S. taxpayers while curtailing runaway tuition prices.


UCLA students say ‘free speech is under attack’ and a conservative professor is the target

Students and supporters of a UCLA adjunct professor are protesting what they say is pressure the university is putting on him because of his outspoken conservative politics.

Keith Fink, a lawyer, has taught classes on free speech, contemporary issues, entertainment law and other subjects at UCLA for 10 years. He and student supporters said he may be dismissed from the school because administrators disagree with his views and practices, such as holding seminars on students’ rights and interviews he gave on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” about his charge that UCLA is blocking students from taking his popular free speech course.

“The administration doesn’t like what I have to say,” Fink said by phone Friday. “I also support students’ basic rights to due process and the school doesn’t like that. ... I show the students how their rights are violated. ... I don’t believe in trigger warnings. I don’t walk on eggshells. I don’t believe in safe spaces. I run against that current.”

Fink, an adjunct professor at the university, said a recent shift in the leadership of the Communication Studies department, where he teaches, has led to pressure on him. He is undergoing a review process that he said could result in his dismissal and which UCLA said is routine for lecturers who have completed 18 quarters of teaching at the school. Fink said he didn’t accept a salary in his first years of teaching at UCLA, which is why, administrators told him, the review is taking place now rather than several years ago.

About 25 students and supporters, carrying signs saying “Free speech is under attack” and “Keep your agenda out of our classroom,” gathered Friday on campus before bringing a list of demands to Laura Gómez, interim dean of UCLA College Division of Social Sciences which oversees the Communication Studies department, who wasn’t in her office when they delivered their list. Among the demands: that Fink be allowed to keep teaching and that the school implement curriculums “that increase intellectual tolerance” on campus.

Mick Mathis, a senior at UCLA, said pressure on Fink is about curtailing free speech.

“This is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, and it’s not a marketplace of ideas if they’re trying to get rid of somebody with a contradictory viewpoint,” Mathis said.

Requests for comment sent to Gómez and to Kerri Johnson, dean of the Communication Studies department, weren’t returned by deadline Friday.

But university officials issued a statement in response to questions about whether Fink’s employment at UCLA is under consideration:

“The content of his courses has never been curtailed, and as a lecturer, Mr. Fink is protected by a collective bargaining agreement between UCLA and the American Federation of Teachers, the union to which he belongs as a lecturer.

UCLA’s process for reviewing instructors is comprehensive and fair, as well as respectful of the privacy normally accorded to personnel procedures. His current review is in-progress, and he has been afforded the full due process considerations mandated by the collective bargaining agreement and that every lecturer undergoing this review receives,” said the statement sent by UCLA spokeswoman Rebecca Kendall.

Cynthia Truhan, a UCLA alumna and volunteer at the school, said she came to the protest Friday out of concern that the situation reflects a chilling of free speech at a public school.

“As an alumni, I am highly disturbed, because now in our own backyard is a firm example of what is happening across the nation, which I feel is a silencing of free speech of any divergent opinion that varies from the base of that particular university,” Truhan said.

Fink and students said that a popular class he teaches, “Race, Sex & Politics: Free Speech on Campus,” has consistently had more students who want to attend than spots available, yet the school has effectively reduced the class size to around 200 through a cap on enrollment and by moving it to a smaller classroom. Fink said he was allowed nearly 300 seats for past sessions of the class.

Fink, an alumnus of UCLA, said he is outspoken in his political viewpoints. Asked if he has ever used a racial slur in his class, as a student alleged in one news report, Fink said he has only in the context of discussing free speech.

“N-----, c--- ... Of course! I teach harassment. You have to use those words” in discussions with students about what constitutes a hostile environment, he said. “It’s all contextual. That infuriates me, the insinuation that I’m using racial epithets, out of context.”


Campus Double Standards Mean Free-Speech Laws Are Just a Start

Could college free-speech laws be weaponized to suppress free speech?

In May, Tennessee enacted Senate Bill 723, the Campus Free Speech Protection Act. The law is based on model legislation drafted by the Goldwater Institute and has been hailed as the nation’s “most comprehensive” protection for campus speech by FIRE’s Robert Shibley. Similar legislation has been proposed in statehouses across the nation. The bill promises to end overbroad speech codes, ludicrously named “free-speech zones,” and other assaults on the First Amendment. The statute is an important victory, yet lawmakers and like-minded allies need to recognize that it is only a start. To see why, it’s useful to remember the hypocritical and selective manner in which college officials wield their existing policies.

Case in point: This month, Paul Griffiths, a professor of Catholic theology at Duke Divinity School, resigned after facing backlash and formal punishment for criticizing university-sponsored racial-sensitivity training. In response to a faculty-wide e-mail “strongly urging” participation in the two-day “Racial Equity Institute,” Griffiths decried such events as “anti-intellectual” and wrote to his colleagues:

I exhort you not to attend this training. . . . It’ll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: There’ll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty. When (if) it gets beyond that, its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show.

The divinity school’s dean, Elaine Heath, deemed Griffiths’s statement “inappropriate” and implied that his response had been hatefully motivated, declaring, “The use of mass emails to express racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry is offensive and unacceptable.” After Griffiths refused to meet with her unless a trusted colleague could witness their conversation, Heath barred him from faculty meetings and promised that he would face “further consequences.” Meanwhile, the professor who issued the initial invitation filed an official complaint of harassment against Griffiths for “the use of racist and/or sexist speech in such a way as to constitute a hostile workplace.” Griffiths ultimately felt compelled to resign from the university.

Griffiths’s tale presents a remarkably different picture from the way administrators addressed concerns about faculty bigotry and harassment a decade ago, when three white members of Duke’s men’s lacrosse team were falsely accused of raping an African-American stripper. In that instance, less than a week after allegations became public, Duke professor Houston Baker penned an open letter demanding the immediate expulsion of the entire lacrosse team – not just the three players who were accused (and ultimately cleared). There was also the infamous “Group of 88” ad, in which 88 Duke professors issued a public statement that ran in the school newspaper. Entitled “What Does a Social Disaster Sound Like?,” the ad was paid for by the university’s African-American Studies program and claimed to be endorsed by three academic departments and 13 academic programs (although none of the departments voted on endorsement). The professors declared that “the disaster” represented by these (ultimately exonerated) students would not “end with what the police say or the court decides.” At no point, not even after the accusations were proven to be a fabrication, did Duke administrators take any action against these faculty members for violating the campus’s commitment to combating intolerance and promoting a safe learning environment.

More familiar to most readers will be the contretemps that played out at Middlebury College earlier this spring, when our colleague Charles Murray was invited to speak. There, a violent crowd prevented Murray from delivering his address and then assaulted him and his hosts, ultimately hospitalizing a Middlebury professor. Forty-six days after the fact, Middlebury finally announced that its investigation had identified “more than 70 individuals it believes may be subject to disciplinary procedures.”

It all sounds promising enough — but what did the discipline actually amount to? Middlebury’s student newspaper reported that most students were given an especially modest form of “probation” in which they “have a letter placed in their file that will be removed at the end of the semester.” Since Middlebury’s spring semester ended on May 15, all those students had to do was behave for a few weeks and the whole thing went away. Meanwhile, 19 students received an additional two semesters of probation. That was it. The college acknowledged that not a single student was suspended, kicked off campus, or otherwise visited with any meaningful consequences.

In the moments before Murray spoke, video captured Bill Burger, a Middlebury official, jovially playing the part of stern administrator. To student cheers, Burger announced, “You’re going to love this next part” before reading a perfunctory statement about Middlebury’s rules on audience conduct. Burger closes by informing the students that continued disruption “may result in college discipline, up to and including suspension” — and is met with whoops of approval from the students. As Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, pointed out in The Federalist, “Burger’s lines were excerpted from Middlebury’s official statement on ‘Demonstrations and Protests,’ but curiously omitted a few key points including this: ‘Disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass.’” In short, Middlebury officials felt no obligation to take their own norms and policies seriously, or to mete out the appropriate consequences to those who violated them.

Some of the most glaring instances of institutional hypocrisy have played out in the University of California system, which encourages students to anonymously report any observed behavior that might include “expressions of bias” or “hate speech,” or create a “hostile climate.” As Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and influential blogger, chronicled in the Washington Post, UC administrators have taught that actions that can create a hostile climate on campus include such statements as “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job.”

Despite the system’s commitment to creating a welcoming environment for “all,” no disciplinary action has yet been taken against student protesters who shouted down Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald during her recent visit to campus. While shouting “Bulls**t! Bulls**t!” at a guest speaker may not be an “expression of bias,” it certainly violated UCLA’s “Principles of Community” and “True Bruin Respect” civility policy — and would seem to create a “hostile climate.” Stephen Bainbridge, another UCLA law professor, pointed out the hypocrisy of the whole situation on his blog (with copious links providing examples):

Bainbridge puts his finger on the crux of the matter, illustrating why Tennessee’s necessary and important Campus Free Speech Protection Act is only a start. Policies securing free speech need to be enforced, and they need to be enforced in a serious and evenhanded manner. Unfortunately, today’s supine administrators have given no indication that they are up to that task – yet they are the ones charged by states with breathing life into these new directives. Worse, the record gives reason to fear that campus officials may find ways to apply these new protections in troubling ways that subvert their intent. That means that the next challenge is to monitor whether campuses honor these protections, find ways to change the culture and blind spots of university leaders, and ask what more might be done to ensure that campuses are bastions of free inquiry and not hothouses for ideological thugs.


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