For-Profit Ashford University to Maintain GI Bill Eligibiltiy!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting that Ashford University will maintain its eligibility to enroll students receiving GI Bill benefits.  As reported by The Chronicle:

“The for-profit institution, which was the subject of a Chronicle investigation in November, faced a Tuesday deadline from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to be approved by the veterans agency in its home state. Failure to get that approval, the department had warned, would lead the federal government to “suspend payments” for the thousands of GI Bill students who attend Ashford.

In the days leading up to the deadline, the stock price of Ashford’s parent company, Bridgepoint Education, had slipped to $7.60 a share — its lowest price in over a year.

But the department has backed down somewhat from its threat, and Ashford will continue to receive millions in GI Bill dollars even though its state-approval status is still unsettled. The key concession made by Ashford: The university applied this month with the state of California to be recognized for GI Bill purposes.

Ashford had previously gone to great lengths to obtain its state authorization from someplace other than California, which has a reputation for tough scrutiny of for-profit schools. The Chronicle’s investigation showed that Ashford had obtained a fast-tracked approval from Arizona regulators, with help from the governor’s office and U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, even though the university had only a small rented office in the state.

Under federal GI Bill rules, a college is supposed to be approved by its home state, and Ashford’s corporate headquarters is in San Diego.

In November, a week after the department threatened to cut off funding, Ashford asked an appeals court to overturn the agency’s finding that the university lacked proper state approval. That case remains pending.

An Ashford University representative did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Curt Cashour, a department spokesman, told The Chronicle on Tuesday that there was a risk the courts would halt any enforcement action while the appeal was pending, and that, “in that event, VA would still be paying benefits and Ashford would not be undertaking any corrective actions.”

Instead, the department opted to voluntarily agree to continue funding Ashford’s GI Bill students until the federal appeal is resolved — so long as Ashford applies for California approval, which it did on Friday. And if California ultimately approves Ashford’s application, Mr. Cashour wrote in an email, that would bring the university “into compliance with VA rules and federal law.”

This is a questionable decision on the part of the Veterans Administration given that Ashford was doing everything possible to avoid close scrutiny of its operations by trying to establish itself in Arizona rather than in California where it has been located for years in San Diego.


Pi Delta Psi Fraternity Barred in Pennsylvania for 10 Years after Death of Baruch College Pledge in 2013!

Dear Commons Community,

Pi Delta Psi, an Asian-American fraternity, has been barred, for 10 years, from operating in Pennsylvania after it was found guilty of aggravated assault and involuntary manslaughter in the 2013 death of a pledge at Baruch College.  The hazing incident, in which Chun Hsien Deng was brutally beaten, occurred in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.  As reported by The New York Times:

”The strict sentence, by a state judge, Margherita Patti-Worthington, comes amid more rigorous prosecution of fraternity members involved in hazing deaths. The fraternity and five men were charged with third-degree murder. Four of the men pleaded guilty to reduced charges of voluntary manslaughter, for which they received varying sentences for as long as two years in prison, while the fraternity was acquitted of the murder charge.

… the fraternity said it would appeal the assault and involuntary manslaughter judgments. “Michael Deng’s death was a loss not only to the family, but also to the fraternity and the community at large,” the fraternity said in a statement quoted by the newspaper.

The aggressive approach by prosecutors echoes that surrounding the death of Timothy Piazza, a Penn State sophomore who died at a fraternity party in 2017. Eighteen members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity faced criminal charges, the most serious of which were later dropped. But a county district attorney filed new charges in November, including involuntary manslaughter, against former members of the Penn State fraternity after the recovery of video that had been deleted from a basement security camera. Judge Patti-Worthington referenced the Penn State case in handing down the sentence, according to the Times.

The sentencing follows a tumultuous semester for fraternities nationwide. Several prominent colleges suspended all Greek activities campus-wide after reported deaths or injuries”.

This is a sad situation and one that colleges and universities have to address proactively and with diligence.


CUNY School of Professional Studies Ranked 16th Nationally among Online Bachelor Degree Programs!

Dear Commons Community,

U.S. News and World Report released its annual rankings of the best online degree programs this morning. CUNY’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) was ranked 16th nationally among all online bachelor degree programs.  It was also the only school in the top twenty from New York State.  Congratulations to John Mogulescu, Brian Peterson, George Otte, and the faculty and staff at SPS.  



Investor Backlash Against “Addictive” Smartphones and Social Media!

Dear Commons Community,

There is a growing backlash against companies that are offering devices and services that many feel are addicting children to technology.  Here is an excerpt in an article in today’s New York Times that reviews the issue.

“A creator of the iPhone called the device “addictive.”

A Twitter founder said the “internet is broken.”

An early Facebook investor raised questions about the social network’s impact on children’s brains.

Now, two of the biggest investors on Wall Street have asked Apple to study the health effects of its products and to make it easier for parents to limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads.

Once uncritically hailed for their innovation and economic success, Silicon Valley companies are under fire from all sides, facing calls to take more responsibility for their role in everything from election meddling and hate speech to physical health and internet addiction.

“Companies have a role to play in helping to address these issues,” said Barry Rosenstein, managing partner of Jana Partners, an investment firm that wrote an open letter to Apple this weekend pushing it to look at its products’ health effects, especially on children. “As more and more founders of the biggest tech companies are acknowledging today, the days of just throwing technology out there and washing your hands of the potential impact are over.”

The backlash against big tech has been growing for months. Facebook and Twitter are under scrutiny for their roles in enabling Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and for facilitating abusive behavior. Google was hit with a record antitrust fine in Europe for improperly exploiting its market power.

But until now, Apple had escaped largely unscathed, and concerns about the deleterious effects of excessive technology use have not been among the most pressing matters for Silicon Valley executives.

Jana, an activist hedge fund, wrote its letter with Calstrs, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which manages the pensions of California’s public-school teachers. When such investors pressure companies to change their behavior, it is typically with the goal of lifting a sagging stock price. In this case, Jana and Calstrs said they were trying to raise awareness about an issue they cared deeply about, adding that if Apple was proactive about making changes, it could help the business.

“We believe the long-term health of its youngest customers and the health of society, our economy and the company itself are inextricably linked,” the investors said in the letter.

Jana, which is often vilified for its aggressive focus on short-term profits, also said it would be raising a fund this year that would engage in more such campaigns, an effort that could help soften its image.

Whatever the motivations, the two large investors are tapping into the growing anxiety among parents about their children’s preoccupation with devices, at the expense of activities like reading and sports.

“Over the past 10 years, there’s been a bottom-up backlash,” said Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” “You see it in things like people not sending their kids to schools that use iPads, and kids telling their parents to put their phones down.”

For years, researchers have been sounding the alarm over the ubiquity of mobile phones and social media. A 2015 study by Common Sense Media, a research group that studies technology use, found that more than half of teenagers spent upward of four hours a day looking at screens, and that for a quarter of teenagers, the figure was more than eight hours. In anothersurvey, in 2016, half the teenagers said they felt addicted to their mobile devices.

“These things can be incredibly addictive,” said Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who helped create the iPod and iPhone. “It’s amazing, but there are a lot of unintended consequences.”

Unintended consequences indeed.  Unabated this “addiction” will have its most serious consequences in the years to come.  Parents make sure you read a book or a magazine in front of your children on a daily basis and encourage them to do the same.  And have dinner together as much as possible and discuss what is important in each other’s daily lives.



David Brooks on “The Decline of Anti-Trumpism” or The Crazies v. the Invisibles!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, David Brooks, has a sobering piece today that realistically looks at the Trump White House and offers that there are two White Houses:  the crazy and the invisible.  The crazy one which figures prominently in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury… and which has dominated the headlines for the past week.  The invisible one is quietly pushing through Trump’s agenda and making serious headway in fundamentally changing federal policies on taxes, the environment, immigration, foreign affairs, judgeships, etc.  Brooks goes further and offers that the invisible uses the crazy one as cover for its operation.  Below is the entire column, very well-worth the read.



The Decline of Anti-Trumpism

David Brooks

Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year:

First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by.

Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade.

It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation. Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss.

I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country.

I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us.

I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don’t know anybody who works with him or supports him. And if they do have friends and family members who admire Trump, they’ve learned not to talk about this subject. So they get most of their information about Trumpism from others who also detest Trumpism, which is always a recipe for epistemic closure.

The movement also suffers from lowbrowism. Fox News pioneered modern lowbrowism. The modern lowbrow (think Sean Hannity or Dinesh D’Souza) ignores normal journalistic or intellectual standards. He creates a style of communication that doesn’t make you think more; it makes you think and notice less. He offers a steady diet of affirmation, focuses on simple topics that require little background information, and gets viewers addicted to daily doses of righteous contempt and delicious vindication.

We anti-Trumpers have our lowbrowism, too, mostly on late-night TV. But anti-Trump lowbrowism burst into full bloom with the Wolff book.

Wolff doesn’t pretend to adhere to normal journalistic standards. He happily admits that he’s just tossing out rumors that are too good to check. As Charlie Warzel wrote on BuzzFeed, “For Wolff’s book, the truth seems almost a secondary concern to what really matters: engagement.”

The ultimate test of the lowbrow is not whether it challenges you, teaches you or captures the contours of reality; it’s whether you feel an urge to share it on social media.

In every war, nations come to resemble their enemies, so I suppose it’s normal that the anti-Trump movement would come to resemble the pro-Trump movement. But it’s not good. I’ve noticed a lot of young people look at the monotonous daily hysteria of we anti-Trumpers and they find it silly.

This isn’t just a struggle over a president. It’s a struggle over what rules we’re going to play by after Trump. Are we all going to descend permanently into the Trump standard of acceptable behavior?

Or, are we going to restore the distinction between excellence and mediocrity, truth and a lie? Are we going to insist on the difference between a genuine expert and an ill-informed blow hard? Are we going to restore the distinction between those institutions like the Congressional Budget Office that operate by professional standards and speak with legitimate authority, and the propaganda mills that don’t?

There’s a hierarchy of excellence in every sphere. There’s a huge difference between William F. Buckley and Sean Hannity, between the reporters at this newspaper and a rumor-spreader. Part of this struggle is to maintain those distinctions, not to contribute to their evisceration


University of Illinois Freezes Tuition Again to Stem Enrollment Slide!

Dear Commons Community,

One of America’s major public university systems, the University of Illinois, will freeze tuition again for the coming year amid serious budgetary and enrollment issues.  President Timothy L. Killeen proposed extending for another year an in-state tuition freeze that has been in effect for the three-campus system since the fall of 2014.  In a written statement, Mr. Killeen said that the freeze was intended to “help keep doors of opportunity open for Illinois students and hold down costs to keep them here at home to study.” The latter half of that equation may be especially important after a prolonged state-budget standoff contributed to an enrollment drop that persisted last fall at many of the state’s public colleges and universities.  As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“The impasse over spending between Bruce V. Rauner, Illinois’s Republican governor, and the Democratic-controlled legislature stifled state institutions for two years before it ended last summer. The budget deadlock led to layoffs, furloughs, and other emergency measures across the state’s public colleges and universities.

As the stalemate dragged on for months, then for years, it took a toll on perceptions of public higher education in the Land of Lincoln. Despite some allocations of emergency funding from the state, enrollment across public institutions began to slip in the fall of 2016.

The trend has continued, with the state’s public universities experiencing a 2.2-percent dip in full-time enrollment in the fall, compared with the previous year; the drop was steeper for the state’s community colleges, at 3.4 percent. A few campuses saw enrollment increases — the University of Illinois at Chicago’s rose almost 5 percent, and first-time freshman enrollment went up almost 23 percent. Enrollment at the University of Illinois’s flagship Urbana-Champaign campus increased by about 3 percent, though the number of first-time freshmen fell by 1 percent.

But enrollment at many public universities stayed flat or fell. The University of Illinois at Springfield saw total enrollment drop almost 9 percent, with the number of first-time freshmen declining by more than 7 percent.

At the state’s regional universities, the enrollment drop was often worse. At Western Illinois University, fall undergraduate enrollment declined from 8,543 in 2016 to 7,599 in 2017, a drop of about 11 percent. The number of first-time freshmen fell from 1,527 in the fall of 2016 to 1,206 in 2017, a drop of about 21 percent. At both Governors State University and Chicago State University, total fall enrollment declined by about 11 percent from 2016 to 2017.

Illinois already had the second-highest rate of high-school graduates leaving to attend college in other states. Nearly 17,000 new graduates of Illinois high schools went elsewhere to study in 2014, compared with the 29,000 students who left New Jersey that year.

….Many aspects of life in Illinois have suffered as a result of the budget standoff, but the damage to public higher education may have moved its state universities closer to an inflection point. They have been hurt by a lack of stable state support, which has made them less attractive to some students. A tuition freeze may foster greater access and attract more students, but it could hobble attempts to stabilize and rebuild without further investment from the state. It is not an enviable cycle to be in.”

We wish our colleagues in Illinois well as the state’s elected officials try to figure out what priority, if any, public higher education holds in the state’s future.



Donald Trump: “I am a very stable genius” – Richard Nixon: “I am not a crook”

Dear Commons Community,

On twitter and during an impromptu press conference at Camp David yesterday, Donald Trump surrounded by the Republican establishment declared that he was perfectly sane and accused his critics of raising questions to score political points. He said he was a “very successful businessman” and television star who won the presidency on his first try. “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”  As reported by the New York Times:

“In a series of Twitter posts that were extraordinary even by the standards of his norm-shattering presidency, Mr. Trump insisted that his opponents and the news media were attacking his capacity because they had failed to prove his campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence,” he wrote on Twitter even as a special counsel continues to investigate the Russia matter.

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he added. He said he was a “VERY successful businessman” and television star who won the presidency on his first try. “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

Elaborating during a meeting with reporters at Camp David later in the day, Mr. Trump again ticked off what he called a high-achieving academic and career record. He raised the matter “only because I went to the best colleges, or college,” he said. Referring to a new book citing concerns about his fitness, he said, “I consider it a work of fiction and I consider it a disgrace.”

The president’s engagement on the issue is likely to fuel the long-simmering argument about his state of mind that has roiled the political and psychiatric worlds and thrust the country into uncharted territory. Democrats in Congress have introduced legislation to force the president to submit to psychological evaluation. Mental health professionals have signed a petition calling for his removal from office. Others call armchair diagnoses a dangerous precedent or even a cover for partisan attacks.

In the past week alone, a new book resurfaced previously reported concerns among the president’s own advisers about his fitness for office, the question of his mental state came up at two White House briefings and the secretary of state was asked if Mr. Trump was mentally fit. After the president boasted that his “nuclear button” was bigger than Kim Jong-un’s in North Korea, Richard W. Painter, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, described the claim as proof that Mr. Trump is “psychologically unfit” and should have his powers transferred to Vice President Mike Pence under the Constitution’s 25th Amendment.

Mr. Trump’s self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have generated endless op-ed columns, magazine articles, books, professional panel discussions and cable television speculation.

“The level of concern by the public is now enormous,” said Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” a book released last fall. “They’re telling us to speak more loudly and clearly and not to stop until something is done because they are terrified.”

As Politico reported, Dr. Lee was invited to Capitol Hill last month to meet with about a dozen members of Congress to discuss the matter. But all but one of the lawmakers she briefed are Democrats. While some Republicans have raised concerns, they do so mostly in private. Others scoff at the question, dismissing it as outrageous character assassination.”

The article goes on to examine other aspects of Trump’s behavior as well as that of other U.S. presidents.  I have never met anyone who has had to declare that s/he was “a stable genius”.  Trump’s comments remind me a bit of President Richard Nixon declaring “I’m no crook” just before the Watergate hearings. 



Photos of Partially Frozen Niagara Falls!

Dear Commons Community,

Those of us in the Northeast this weekend will be experiencing some of the coldest temperatures in decades. A number of weather people are predicting that records will be set today and tomorrow in many localities.  So while we are dealing with the cold and frost, how about taking a few minutes to look at some stunning photographs of Niagara Falls partially frozen. They might help us appreciate the beauty of winter’s chill.



Henry Holt and Company Moves Up Publication Date of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”!

Dear Commons Community,

Henry Holt and Co., the publisher of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”, announced yesterday that it would make the book available for sale starting at 9 a.m. today rather than wait for its original release date on Tuesday. “We see ‘Fire and Fury’ as an extraordinary contribution to our national discourse, and are proceeding with the publication of the book,” the company said in a statement.  Moving up the publication date, Holt and Company was responding to President Trump’s threat to sue the publisher for libel.  As reported by the New York Times:

The book infuriated Mr. Trump in part by quoting Steve Bannon making derogatory comments about the president’s children. Mr. Bannon was quoted as saying that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” for meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign and that Ivanka Trump was “dumb as a brick.” Mr. Trump fired back on Wednesday, saying that Mr. Bannon had “lost his mind” and had “nothing to do with me or my presidency.”

President Trump threatened legal fire and fury on Thursday in an effort to block the new book portraying him as a volatile and ill-equipped chief executive, but the publisher defied his demand to halt its release and instead moved up its publication to Friday because of soaring interest.

Angry at the publisher’s refusal to back down, Mr. Trump took aim late Thursday night at the book’s author, Michael Wolff, and one of his primary sources, Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, whose derisive comments about the president and his family stirred deep resentment in the Oval Office.

“I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before 11 p.m. “I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist. Look at this guy’s past and watch what happens to him and Sloppy Steve!”

The president’s blast at Mr. Wolff came at the end of a day in which Mr. Trump’s effort to stop publication failed. In an 11-page letter sent in the morning, a lawyer for the president said the book,  as excerpted in a magazine article, includes false statements about Mr. Trump that “give rise to claims for libel” that could result in “substantial monetary damages and punitive damages.”

“Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book, the article, or any excerpts or summaries of either of them, to any person or entity, and that you issue a full and complete retraction and apology to my client as to all statements made about him in the book and article that lack competent evidentiary support,” the letter said.”

I just ordered my copy at


Photos of New York City Blizzard January 4, 2018

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday the blizzard or snow bomb of 2018 traveled up the East Coast and visited New York City on its way to New England.  Up until Tuesday evening, weather forecasters were predicting 1 to 3 inches snow.  On Wednesday, they kept raising the total accumulation about an inch at a time.  By 8:00 pm last night, most of New York had over one foot of snow accompanied by horrific wind.  These photos from several sources will give you a sense of what the day was like.

Stay warm!