Thursday, September 21, 2017

Evergreen professor at center of protests resigns; college will pay $500,000

Professor Bret Weinstein was a vocal critic of an Evergreen State College event that asked white students to leave campus for a day as part of Day of Presence/Day of Absence. A group of students, in turn, confronted Weinstein and called him a racist, and the video went viral.

Bret Weinstein and his wife, Heather Heying, resigned from their faculty positions effective Friday. The couple filed a $3.85 million tort claim in July alleging the college failed to “protect its employees from repeated provocative and corrosive verbal and written hostility based on race, as well as threats of physical violence,” according to the claim.

Weinstein had criticized changes to the school’s annual Day of Absence after white students who chose to participate were asked to go off campus to talk about race issues. He called the event “an act of oppression,” according to emails obtained by The Olympian. Weinstein later appeared on Fox News and wrote an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal.

The incident led to protests and threats over allegations of racism and intolerance, pulling Evergreen into a national debate over free speech on college campuses. The campus was closed for three days in June and graduation was moved to Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

In an email to faculty and staff sent Friday about 6:40 p.m., Evergreen officials wrote that the college will pay $450,000 to the couple and $50,000 toward the couple’s attorney fees.

“In making this agreement, the college admits no liability, and rejects the allegations made in the tort claim. The educational activities of Day of Absence/Day of Presence were not discriminatory. The college took reasonable and appropriate steps to engage with protesters during spring quarter, de-escalate conflict, and keep the campus safe,” according to the email.

In a statement, Evergreen spokesman Zach Powers said the settlement was in the college’s best interest.

“Years of expensive litigation would drain resources and distract from our mission to provide an outstanding education at reasonable cost to the veterans, first-generation college students, creative thinkers and future leaders who study at Evergreen,” he said.

Messages to Weinstein and the couple’s lawyer were not immediately returned Saturday.

Weinstein taught biology and Heying taught anthropology at Evergreen. College officials said they will work with students whose coursework is affected by the resignations.


Appeals Court: Rolling Stone Must Face Defamation Lawsuit Over Rape Story

In unfortunate timing for Jann Wenner, who just put Rolling Stone up for sale, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals has revived a defamation lawsuit over the magazine's infamous story about the gang rape of a freshman identified as "Jackie" at a University of Virginia campus fraternity.

For that since-retracted article from author Sabrina Erdely, Rolling Stone has faced several lawsuits including one by University of Virginia associate dean Nicole Eramo, which went to trial and was later settled for $1.65 million.

Another lawsuit came from members of Phi Kappa Psi, but in June 2016, U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel granted a motion to dismiss, finding "the article's details about the attackers are too vague and remote from the plaintiffs' circumstances to be 'of and concerning' them."

In an opinion (read here), Judge Katherine Forrest, sitting on the 2nd Circuit panel by designation, decides the lower court prematurely rejected claims from George Elias and Ross Fowler while correctly rejecting those from Stephen Hadford.

"[W]hile it is a close call, we conclude on balance that the complaint plausibly alleged that the purportedly defamatory statements in the Article were 'of and concerning' Elias and Fowler individually," she writes. "At this stage of the litigation, Plaintiffs need only plead sufficient facts to make it plausible—not probable or even reasonably likely—that a reader familiar with each Plaintiff would identify him as the subject of the statements at issue. With regard to the Article, Elias and Fowler have met this burden."

As far as Elias, he alleged to have been identified in the story because he was a fraternity member on the night in question and was known to live on the second floor where the rape was reported to have occurred. His claims were initially dismissed upon the observation that the article contained no details about the bedroom, but his suggestion of having the only bedroom at the fraternity house large enough to fit the description of the rape is deemed by the appeals court as being enough at this stage.

Fowler gets the benefit of the doubt on his claims because of two main allegations. One, that he was the rush chair for the fraternity. And two, that he regularly swam at the university's aquatic center. The article describes how Jackie met one of the fraternity brothers at a pool and suggested that the rape was related to the fraternity's initiation process.

Unlike those of the other two, Hadford's own individual claims don't survive scrutiny. He may have been a member of the fraternity, but the fact that he rode a bike on campus isn't enough of a connection to the article's statement that Jackie had seen "one of the boys riding his bike on the grounds."

According to the opinion, "there is no allegation that it is unusual for UVA alumni to bike through campus such that a reasonable reader familiar with Hadford’s biking habits would conclude that the Article plausibly referred to him."

However, quite notably, the 2nd Circuit accepts a group defamation theory.

Forrest writes that the size of the fraternity does not present an obstacle because 53 members of Phi Kappa Psi is "sufficiently small." Under New York law, a plaintiff is more likely to succeed in a group defamation when the community is small enough that individual members are readily associated with the group.

The lower court agreed in that regard, but also came to the conclusion that the article didn't expressly or impliedly state that the fraternity required all initiates to participate in a rape.

"The District Court erred by evaluating the Article’s various allegations against Phi Kappa Psi in isolation, rather than considering them in the context of the Article as a whole," states the opinion. "Taking the allegations in the Article together, a reader could plausibly conclude that many or all fraternity members participated in alleged gang rape as an initiation ritual and all members knowingly turned a blind eye to the brutal crimes. Indeed, Erdely suggested such an interpretation in her Podcast interview."

Forrest articulates.

"Consider first the description of Jackie’s purported rape," she writes. "Not only did nine men associated with the fraternity participate in the alleged offense, but several made comments—'Don’t you want to be a brother?' and 'We all had to do it, so you do, too'—implying the event was part of an initiation ritual."


More dumbing down coming for California colleges

California State University officials want more undergraduates to earn their degrees and do so more quickly. Yet their “solution” could compound the more fundamental problem that too many students are graduating without being prepared.

CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White issued an executive order last month that changes policies affecting entering freshmen’s knowledge assessments and course placements. One change is allowing remedial English and math classes to count as credit-bearing courses toward a degree. To help avoid remedial courses altogether CSU plans to use multiple measures to determine course placements not just scores on tests taken during students’ junior or senior years of high school. These measures will include high school course grades and GPAs.

Yet these changes are risky, as Thomas D. Elias explains in The Orange County Register.

The 23-campus California State University system knows it must somehow speed up graduation beyond today’s pace, which sees just 19 percent of entering freshmen graduate within four years. The low rate is at least partly because more than a third of frosh need some remedial work. ...

The problem with giving academic credit for remedial classes that essentially provide students with knowledge or skills they should have picked up in high school is that it threatens to dumb down degrees from Cal State campuses from the North Coast to San Diego.

He concludes that in spite of CSU officials’ quality assurances, “Still, it may not be possible to turn a cow into a racehorse just by calling it something different or painting it a different color.”

Elias is right, and there’s reason to believe that a similar sort of paint job’s been happening for years in the form of inflated high school performance.

Last fall, the mean high school GPA for students in CSU remedial classes was a 3.2.

How on earth do students with GPAs that would qualify them for the high school honor roll wind up in remedial classes?

Along with remedial students’ high school GPAs, California’s reported annual graduation rates are also high. This spring State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that California’s high school graduation rate increased for the seventh consecutive year to a new record-high, 83.2 percent in 2016 up from 74.7 percent in 2010. In fact, rates were up across almost every student socio-economic group. Torlakson attributed the graduation rate increases to better academic standards, additional funding for schools, and more engaging classes, as he did last year when he made a similar announcement.

But the U.S. Department of Education (ED) isn’t convinced. It’s initiated an audit to determine whether California schools are accurately calculating and reporting high school graduation rates. (See pp. 9 and 17; and also here and here. As of this writing, the results of that audit aren’t available.) According to ED rules that were updated in 2008, the states were supposed to have adopted a uniform method for calculating high school graduation rates that was “more honest” no later than the 2010-11 school year.

The biggest problem with reported graduation rates like these is that no matter how states calculate them, they amount to false advertising about students’ actual preparation for college-level work or a career (see here and here).

According to the latest results from California’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test, the percentage of 11th graders deemed college-ready by the state is alarmingly low (defined as Level 4 or exceeding the state standards).

In English language arts, just 39 percent of non-economically disadvantaged 11th graders are ready for college, dropping to 16 percent for economically disadvantaged students. In math, only 22 percent of non-economically disadvantaged 11th graders are ready for college, plummeting to 6 percent for economically disadvantaged students.

Yet California is hardly the only culprit when it comes to inflating graduation rates. (For state-by-state rates, see here).

For all ED’s emphasis on “more honest” figures, there’s lingering suspicion that its new reporting method isn’t all that honest, either.

Starting with the 2009-10 school year ED announced that the American high school graduation rate had reached a 30-year historic high of 78.2 percent. Each school year thereafter the rates kept climbing to new record-breaking highs:

79 percent in 2010-11
80 percent in 2011-12
81 percent in 2012-13
82 percent in 2013-14
83.2 percent in 2014-15 (the latest year available)

“This increase,” according to President Obama’s press office last October, “reflects important progress schools across the country are making to better prepare students for college and careers after graduation.”

Not everyone’s so sure.

Once the country’s high school graduation rate surpassed 80 percent, alarm bells started going off. NPR advised taking it with “a big grain of salt.” Even Education Week was doubtful about the newest record-high rate. But my favorite response of all came from Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. In his blistering article titled “The Phoniest Statistic in Education,” Pondiscio gets right to the point: “Let’s just stop pussyfooting around and say it out loud: The ‘historic’ peak in the country’s high school graduation rate is bullsh*t.” [edited]

Such skepticism seems warranted. Since 2009, proficiency rates of American 12th graders on the Nation’s Report Card in reading and math have barely budged and remained shockingly low. For students not considered low-income, less than half score proficient or better in reading (45 percent), dropping to less than one-third in math (32 percent). Results for low-income 12th graders are even worse. Less than one-quarter of low-income students are proficient or better in reading (23 percent), and barley more than one in 10 are proficient or better in math (11 percent).

As it is, remedial education costs Californians up to $14 billion annually. There is no good reason high school graduates should be unprepared for entry level college English and math classes—much less expect taxpayers to pay twice to educate them by counting remedial classes as credit-bearing courses.


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