CUNY Investigating Use of $500,000 Gift at City College!

Dear Commons Community,

At the request of Chancellor James Milliken,  City University of New York is investigating whether a recent $500,000 donation intended to bolster the humanities and arts at City College was improperly diverted for other purposes.  As reported by the New York Times:

“The inquiry was prompted by senior faculty members at the school, the City College of New York, who learned that an account that should have contained roughly $600,000, thanks to the donation, had just $76. Faculty members asked City College officials for an explanation, but were met with “silence, delay and deflection” before appealing directly to the university’s chancellor, James B. Milliken.  Mr. Milliken then asked Frederick P. Schaffer, the university’s general counsel and senior vice chancellor for legal affairs, to look into the “the expenditure of monies donated,” according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

The account in question — the Martin and Toni Sosnoff Fund for the Arts — is part of the holdings of the City College 21st Century Foundation, the school’s principal fund-raising arm. The finances of that foundation, as well as those of City College’s president and her family, are already being investigated by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn.

In May, The Times reported that the foundation had paid for some personal expenses of the president, Lisa S. Coico, such as fruit baskets, housekeeping services and rugs when she took office in 2010. The foundation was then reimbursed for more than $150,000 from the Research Foundation of the City University of New York, which manages research funds for CUNY, the largest urban public university system in the country. But that arrangement has raised questions of propriety, because such funds are typically earmarked for research.

It is unclear whether federal prosecutors are also looking at the $500,000 donation in June to the Sosnoff Fund. But Mr. Milliken’s willingness to conduct an internal investigation suggests that the finances of City College, and the leadership of Ms. Coico, are likely to be under more scrutiny, just as a new school year has started.

…CUNY announced in July that it had hired an outside counsel — Andrew J. Levander, the chairman of Dechert L.L.P. and a former federal prosecutor — to ensure that the 21st Century Foundation complied with “all applicable laws” because “the faithful stewardship of funds, regardless of amount or source, is a matter of the highest importance.”

Let’s hope that there has indeed been faithful stewardship of these funds.




New Sandy Hook Elementary School Opens in Newtown, Connecticut!

Sandy Hook New School

The new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut


Dear Commons Community,

A new Sandy Hook Elementary School opened yesterday built to replace the one that was the scene of carnage when twenty-six innocent people including twenty children were killed in 2012 by Adam Lanza.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“About 400 pupils on Monday attended school at a new Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., for the first time since the 2012 shooting rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

School Supt. Joseph Erardi credited parents for creating a smooth first day back for students, saying it was an uneventful day at the new 86,000-square-foot Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was built to replace the one torn down after the shootings. The new building has a gated entrance, along with cameras and card readers.

About 70 current Sandy Hook students attended the old school when the shooting occurred. School officials say about 35 of them were in the building at the time, but none witnessed the shootings. Those students are now fourth-graders.

When the new school was opened for public inspection on July 29, Principal Kathy Gombos called it “a beautiful tribute” and “a warm, smart environment for kids.”

The old school was razed after Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old teacher’s son, entered it on Dec. 14, 2012, killed 20 small children and six adults and then committed suicide.”

We hope that the new school helps Newtown find peace especially those who lost children and loved ones. 


U.S. Dept. of Education Bars ITT Colleges from Enrolling New Students Needing Federal Financial Aid!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Department of Education imposed strict new rules last week on ITT Educational Services, barring it from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid and ordering it to pay $153 million to the department within 30 days to cover student refunds if its schools close down.  ITT has been coming under increased scrutiny by the U.S. DOE since 2014.  As reported in the New York Times:

“John B. King Jr., the secretary of education, said the department took action to protect both ITT’s students and the taxpayers who are on the hook for losses when students default on their federal aid. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear that we need increased financial protection and that it simply would not be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds,” Mr. King said in a statement.

The action threatens the viability of the beleaguered company, which like most for-profit education entities relies heavily on government financial aid programs for students to fund its operations. As of June 30, according to a regulatory filing, ITT had only $78 million in cash on its balance sheet.

An email message requesting comment from an ITT spokeswoman late Thursday night was not immediately returned.

ITT operates 137 campuses in 39 states, providing career-oriented programs to 43,000 students at ITT Technical Institute and Daniel Webster College locations. ITT was once a highflying stock, trading above $75 a share in 2012. On Thursday, its shares closed at $1.40.

The company has been under increased scrutiny by the Education Department since 2014 and has been accused by both federal and state regulators of misleading students about the quality of its programs and their employment potential upon graduation. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit against ITT two years ago, accusing the college chain of predatory student lending

The Education Department also required ITT to develop “teach-out” plans for current students, allowing them to finish their programs at other colleges if ITT shuts down.

ITT, based in Carmel, Ind., must also inform its students that its accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, has determined that the institution is not in compliance with its criteria. That determination was made this month. Earlier this year, ITT said it believed its schools were in compliance, but it also acknowledged that if the schools lost the accreditation, they would no longer have access to government loan programs.

Those programs are the lifeblood of ITT and other for-profit education companies. Federal aid accounted for almost 70 percent of ITT’s $850 million in revenues last year, the Education Department said.

Consumer advocates praised the department’s action against ITT. “We applaud the Department of Education for taking real action to prevent ITT from recruiting more students to take on federal student loan debt to attend an institution that was found by its accreditor not to fully satisfy even minimal standards in critical areas,” Abby Shafroth, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said in a statement.”

The news for the for-profit higher education sector keeps getting bad.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  However, the students and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.




Chris Emdin:  Why Black Men Quit Teaching?

Dear Commons Community,

In a New York Times op-ed today, Chris Emdin, an associate professor at Teachers College and an alumnus of our Ph.D. Program in Urban Education here at the CUNY Graduate Center, examines the role of black male teachers in -12 education.  Chris comments that “black male teachers can serve as powerful role models, but they cannot fix the problems minority students face simply by being black and male”.  His rationale is:

“Black male teachers are not just expected to teach and be role models; they are also tasked with the work of disciplinarians. The stereotype is that they are best at dispensing “tough love” to difficult students. Black male educators I work with have described their primary job as keeping black students passive and quiet, and suspending them when they commit infractions. In this model, they are robbed of the opportunity to teach, while black male students are robbed of opportunities to learn.”

As a result, black male teachers leave the profession rather than dish out “tough love”. 

There is truth to what Endin says but it is not the whole story.  The entire profession has a very high attrition rate regardless of race or gender especially in the first several years of teaching.  Furthermore, there are so few black male teachers in K-12 because proportionally very few of them go into it in the first place.  If there were more black male teachers, they would not all have to be “tough love” dispensers, some would just be teachers.

Chris is correct in that our schools of education can do more to prepare all teachers to deal with severe issues of poverty, the inequitable distribution of resources across communities, and the criminalization of black men inside and outside of schools.  But I believe that we would serve our minority students better if there were more role models for them. Our K-12 system needs more male teachers – black, Latino, and white.



Bill Clinton and For-Profit Laureate International Universities!

Dear Commons Community,

Bill Clinton’s relationship with the for-profit  Laureate International Universities received some attention last year but has resurfaced due to the publicity that Bill and Hillary Clinton have received regarding The Clinton Foundation.  As reported in the New York Daily News two days ago.

“Bill Clinton accepted nearly $18 million in payments from a prominent for-profit education company, despite the fact that his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has made criticism of such firms a cornerstone of her education policy proposals, a new report alleges.

The former President took at least $17.6 million from Laureate International Universities, a large for-profit education conglomerate that runs at least 80 schools and universities across the world, in exchange for a five-year role as “honorary chancellor,” NBC News reported.

As part of that job, which Clinton held from 2010 to 2015, the former President traveled the world talking up the advantages the company’s schools offer, according to the network.

But his role appears to contradict many of the criticisms Hillary Clinton — who was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 — has offered about the very same kind of institutions during her campaign.

Candidate Clinton has vowed to “crack down on predatory” for-profit schools as part of a broader plan to help lessen crippling student loan burdens on millions of Americans.

The “College Affordability Plan” posted to Clinton’s campaign website dubs “for-profit colleges” as institutions that have “too often taken advantage of borrowers” and promised a “crackdown on the abusive practices of for-profit colleges that defraud taxpayers while burdening students with debt for educational programs of no value.”

In fact, one of Laureate’s largest schools in the U.S., Walden University, was found to have burdened students with the second-highest debt load of any American school, according to a 2015 study by the Brookings Institution.

Three of the five schools the company runs in the U.S. have been under what the federal Education Department calls “heightened cash monitoring” due to questions over its finances, CNN reported this week.

In a statement, the Clinton campaign reiterated its desire to “crack down” on for-profit schools operating in “lawbreaking” ways.

Complicating the picture even more is the fact that Doug Becker, the founder of Laureate, has donated up to $5 million to the Clinton Foundation.

And it appears that Hillary Clinton, during her tenure as secretary of state, but before her husband was hired by the company, wrote to a top aide that she wanted officials from the school added to a State Department dinner guest list.

According to emails released by the State Department, Clinton, in 2009, described the company as “the fastest-growing college network in the world” and mentioned that it was “started by Doug Becker, who Bill likes a lot.” Bill Clinton appears to have resigned from his position with Laureate just days before Hillary Clinton announced her campaign and after five years in the role.”

The Clinton Foundation is a weighted chain on Hillary’s candidacy that just keeps getting longer and heavier. The Clintons should divest themselves of all involvement in the Foundation as soon as possible.



New York Public Library Makes 300,000 Titles Available on an App!


Dear Commons Community,

The New York Public Library is going mobile by making available an app for downloading 300,000 of its holdings.  

The app called SimplyE, is available if you have a library card.  If you do, you can simply head to the app to check your desired book’s availability and download it for free, right to your phone.  Books in the public domain are available for permanent download.

There are a limited number of licenses for each book, so if you have your eye on a popular choice, you may have to wait until it’s back “in stock” to read it. But you can always reserve a book and download it when it’s available.  

You can download the app now for iOS and Android. 

Go read and be happy!



U of Texas Students Protest and Find the Absurd in a New Law Allowing Concealed Guns on Campus!

Texas Gun Protest

Dear Commons Community,

Students at the University of Texas at Austin protested a new law allowing concealed handguns on state college campuses by carrying something they thought was just as ridiculous and out of place: Thousands of sex toys!  As reported by the New York Times:

“On the first day of classes at the University of Texas in this city that revels in its own oddball creativity, students protested a law  allowing concealed handguns on state college campuses by carrying something they thought was just as ridiculous and out of place: Thousands of sex toys.

“These laws won’t protect anyone. The campus doesn’t want them,” said an organizer of the protest, Jessica Jin. “It’s absurd. So, I thought, we have to fight absurdity with absurdity.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Jin, a recent graduate who majored in violin, helped distribute brightly colored dildos to hundreds of students gathered to protest the law that took effect Aug. 1.

Their plan was to carry the toys openly to class, attached to their backpacks, to show that they think that guns have no place on campus and could stifle the open exchange of ideas.

“For the state to deny research about gun safety and allow this in classrooms is kind of obscene,” Ms. Jin said. “What better way to show how we feel?”

Texas has long issued concealed handgun permits but banned guns from college campuses. After repeated efforts, the Republican-controlled State Legislature passed a law in 2015 lifting the ban.

Similar laws and court rulings have allowed guns onto campuses in a handful of others states in recent years, including Idaho and Colorado. The chancellor of the University of Texas system and the president of the flagship university in Austin have said that they are against guns on campus but that they have no choice but to implement the law.

Some faculty members say the administration is trying to limit the effect of gun laws while not antagonizing state lawmakers for fear of future legislation that could loosen gun laws on campus even more.”

To borrow the motto of the 1960s peace movement – “make love not war!”



Graduate Students at Private Universities Win the Right to Unionize!

Dear Commons Community,

In a reversal of a 2004 decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled yesterday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.  The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who were seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as student stipends and the quality of their health insurances. As reported by the New York Times:

“Punctuating a string of Obama-era moves to shore up labor rights and expand protections for workers, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday that students who work as teaching and research assistants at private universities have a federally backed right to unionize.

The case arose from a petition filed by a group of graduate students at Columbia University, who are seeking to win recognition for a union that will allow them a say over such issues as the quality of their health insurance and the timeliness of stipend payments.

Echoing longstanding complaints from blue-collar workers that they have become replaceable cogs in a globalized economic machine, the effort reflects a growing view among more highly educated employees in recent decades that they, too, are at the mercy of faceless organizations and are not being treated like professionals and aspiring professionals whose opinions are worthy of respect.

“What we’re fundamentally concerned about isn’t really money,” said Paul R. Katz, one of the Columbia graduate students involved in the organizing efforts. “It’s a question of power and democracy in a space in the academy that’s increasingly corporatized, hierarchical. That’s what we’re most concerned about.”

Columbia and other universities that weighed in with the board before the ruling argued that collective bargaining would lead to a more adversarial relationship between students and the university that would undermine its educational purpose.

The decision reverses a 2004 ruling by the board involving graduate student assistants at Brown University. The ruling held that the assistants could not be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

This is a win for organized labor and for graduate students around the country.



Kirsten Powers:  Fox News Political Analyst Leaves for CNN!

Dear Commons Community,

Kirsten Powers who has been a political analyst for Fox News, made her debut last night on CNN. Her leaving is being watched as a harbinger of possible other defections by women reporters and commentators of the Roger Ailes-tainted Fox News.  Ms. Powers has taken on the likes of Bill O’Reilly on the issue of racism in America and Donald Trump on freedom of speech.  As reported by The Wrap:

“Kirsten Powers made her CNN debut Monday night on “Anderson Cooper 360” after it was announced this afternoon that the political analyst was leaving Fox News.

Powers joins CNN as a political analyst and will continue to write columns for USA Today.

She was typically used by Fox as a political commentator, appearing on election nights, presidential debates in addition to both daytime and primetime special programming. In 2015, Powers got into a heated exchange of words with Bill O’Reilly about racism in America on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

In a column that recently appeared in USA Today, Powers wrote that Donald Trump “has a curious understanding of what freedom of speech means.” The piece goes on to mock the GOP nominee for his claim that negative newspaper stories about him are not protected speech.

“Trump loves free speech only when he or his supporters are speaking,” Powers wrote.

Powers’ writing has also been published in The Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Morning News, the New York Observer,, the New York Post, Elle magazine and American Prospect online. Prior to her journalism career, Powers worked for the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Public Affairs.”

Good luck to Ms. Powers!


Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.): To Rein In College Costs, Use DVDs and Internet Instead of Teachers!

Dear Commons Community,

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said last week that to rein in college costs, let’s have more DVDs and fewer teachers.   As reported by The Huffington Post:

“We haven’t even come close to taking advantage of the power of technology in education,” Johnson said at a WisPolitics forum. “We’re still working on the exact same model ― almost the exact same model. … The way to really bust up the higher education cartel is move to a certification process versus a diploma process because a diploma process maintains that cartel within these institutions of higher education.”

Johnson also touted the benefits of online education and suggested that teachers really weren’t all that necessary anymore: 

JOHNSON: We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.

WISPOLITICS: But online education is missing some facet of a good ― 

JOHNSON: Of course, it’s a combination, but prior to my doing this crazy thing [of being in the Senate] … I was really involved on a volunteer basis in an education system in Oshkosh. And one of things we did in the Catholic school system was we had something called the “academic excellence initiative.” How do you teach more, better, easier?

One of the examples I always used ― if you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers ― a union with more than 1 million members ― sharply criticized Johnson for his remarks.

“Leave it to someone from a party led by a reality TV star to confuse videotape with the learning experience of a classroom,” she said. “What Ron Johnson doesn’t get is that education happens when teachers can listen to students and engage them to think for themselves ― and that can include using Ken Burns’ masterful work. But this is typical for a party with an education agenda as out of date as Johnson’s Blockbuster Video card.”

“We know Ron Johnson graduated from college 40 years ago, but we assumed it was from a university here on planet Earth,” said Scot Ross, the executive director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, which flagged Johnson’s remarks. “Not only does Ron Johnson oppose common sense measures like student loan refinancing that would immediately reduce costs for 515,000 hardworking Wisconsin borrowers, but he apparently thinks the solution to the nation’s higher education student debt crisis is getting rid of diplomas and watching more television.” 

Johnson is running for re-election against former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who lost the seat to Johnson in 2010.”