Thursday, October 29, 2020

Colleges of Education--Higher Education's Cash Cows--are Suffering from Malnutrition

Colleges of Education have been higher education's cash cows for more than half a century, but the cash cows have gotten sick.

 Fifty years ago, the education schools were packed with undergraduates--mostly young women--working on their bachelor's degrees in elementary education. Many of them wanted to spend their careers teaching children, and others chose to major in education because they knew it was easy. 

Graduate programs in education also attracted a lot of students. In most states, an educator was required to have a master's degree in educational administration to become certified as a school principal.  That requirement kept the educational administration programs well supplied with working-adult students. 

In the old days, school districts often gave teachers automatic raises if they obtained a master's degree. Many school districts would actually pay a teacher's tuition to get a graduate degree in curriculum studies or educational administration.  Most teachers said, "Why not?"  Free tuition and a pay raise were all the incentives they needed to enroll at a nearby public university.

Universities loved their education colleges because they usually carried large enrollments, and the universities didn't have to pay the education professors very much. Also, public universities often received additional revenues for their graduate programs, so all those enrolled in M.Ed. and Ed.D. programs generated extra income.

But in recent years, the cash cows have gotten sick. Enrollments in education colleges are drastically down at universities all over the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, undergraduate degrees have plummeted over the past 50 years--from 176,000 in 1970-1971 to only about 83,000 in 2017-2018. Graduate-program enrollments have also dropped sharply.

What in the hell happened?  First of all, young people aren't going into the field of education. During the same 50-year period, when education degrees dropped by half, degrees in business more than tripled. In 2017-2018, more than four times as many people obtained business degrees than degrees in education.

Secondly, non-university certification programs proliferated at the expense of the education colleges.  Instead of sitting through a battery of boring college courses before getting a teaching certificate, people with college degrees found out they could immediately get a teaching job and work on their teaching credentials while drawing a salary. These programs were often operated by regional service centers and--in some states--even by the school districts themselves.

No wonder then that the University of South Florida demoted its college of education to a school within a larger college that included non-education programs.  Louisiana State University, where I first began teaching, took that step more than ten years ago.

Why have young people become less inclined to be teachers and school administrators?  Poor pay is one reason.  In Louisiana, teachers are severely underpaid, and the state doesn't participate in Social Security. Why would anyone invest their career in education knowing it will be damned difficult for them to retire comfortably?

Secondly, a public-school classroom is often not a nice place to be anymore--especially in the inner cities. Student discipline is a serious problem in some (but not all) schools.  Standardized testing has put teachers under stress to deliver good test scores. The bureaucratic maze of providing services to students with disabilities has made teaching a lot less satisfying for many educators.

My father was a cattle rancher, and when one of his cows got sick, he got out his spring-loaded "pill gun" and tossed a bovine-grade antibiotic pill down the ailing cow's throat.

But universities do not have an equivalent remedy for their sick cash cows.  For professors and students alike, the education business suffers from a malady for which there is no known cure.






Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Did you major in liberal arts? You may be the 21st-century equivalent of a blacksmith

 I grew up in a small western Oklahoma town where middle-class families worked at jobs that no longer exist. People owned their own gas stations in those days, and a man could make a modest living by selling gasoline (regular or ethyl), repairing cars, and fixing flats. 

I recall two appliance stores in the little town of Anadarko: Zerger's Appliances and Roberts' TV and Appliances.  Two families owned gift shops: Graham's and Lovell's.  

And there were 10 or 12 little grocery stores in my hometown. Everyone lived within walking distance of at least one. These were mostly run by widows who supplemented their modest Social Security checks by selling milk, bread, and canned goods in the front room of their homes. And soda pop. As a kid, I'm sure I bought at least one Grapette at every one of those little stores.

All these businesses are long gone--wiped out by Walmart and corporatism in general. 

Something similar is happening in the field of liberal arts. People who get college degrees in the humanities, liberal arts, or the social sciences will find it damned difficult to find a job. And people who went into debt to get a degree in comparative religions or sociology may have committed financial suicide on the day they selected their majors. 

People who get Ph.Ds in those fields are not likely to find jobs either--at least not teaching jobs at the university level. As the New York Times reported today, colleges across the country are slashing budgets in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And they are laying off faculty members--both tenured and untenured. Most of those laid-off faculty members teach in the liberal arts.

Not too long ago, tenured faculty members had rock-solid job security. Unless they committed a violent felony or said something unforgivable like "All Lives Matter," they could be assured of keeping their job until they tottered off to a comfortable retirement, made possible by a fat pension and lifetime health insurance.

But no more. Universities are enrolling fewer students, and those students are more likely to major in business than the humanities. Professor Whatshisname still teaches his seminar on the causes of the Crimean War (his dissertation topic), but nobody wants to borrow tuition money to listen to his lecture.

In his cautionary book about going to law school, Paul Campos warned against the snowflake syndrome.  You may think you are special.  You may think you will beat the odds and find a great job at a prestigious university, where you will teach fawning students all about the progressive era in American history. Or you will teach English while you write the great American novel.

But you won't. If you pursue a doctorate in liberal arts intending to become a professor, you are probably on a fool's errand. Like the blacksmith of yesteryear, no one will want to hire you. And if you borrowed money to pursue your foolish dream--you are a dead person walking--at least in terms of your financial wellbeing.




Friday, October 23, 2020

"We escaped Commie-fornia": Californians are leaving the Sunshine State in search of a better life

 Driving home from New Mexico a couple of weeks ago, I stopped for gas at the Love Truck Plaza in Tucumcari, New Mexico. A guy pulled up at the gas pump next to mine, driving a good-sized vehicle and pulling a large storage trailer.

As I walked behind his rig, I notice a sign on the back of the trailer: "We Did It!! We Escaped Commie-Fornia. We back the Blue!!"

I've got to meet this guy, I said to myself. So I chatted with him a bit while he was gassing up. He turned out to be a real nice guy with a big smile and a sunny disposition.  He said he and his wife were moving to Florida to be nearer their grandkids.

I didn't want to intrude on this man's privacy, so I broke off our conversation without asking him about his political views.  I don't think he was some right-wing zealot.  I read him as a guy with mild political views who just wants to move to a place where life is a little easier. 

And who can blame him? I'm not making a political statement when I say that California appears to be rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell (to paraphrase Merle Haggard). The forest fires are out of control despite everything the Californians have done to manage their public lands.

I'm not saying these massive fires--4 million acres burned this year alone--are anyone's fault.  I agree with Governor Newsom that climate change is probably the biggest contributor to the state's forest fires.  Who's done more to combat climate change than the Californians?

Nevertheless, it must be terrifying to live in a neighborhood that could be engulfed at any time during the fire season by a holocaust fire.  That little fire extinguisher you bought at Home Depot won't do you much good when the big one comes roaring down the street at 20 miles an hour.

Then, there is the growing problem of homeless, which is out of control in San Francisco and a few other California cities.  I'm not blaming that on anyone either. I have thought a lot about the homeless crisis, and I've done some volunteer work at food banks.  

I don't know how to solve the homelessness problem--made almost intractable by the fact that so many homeless people suffer from mental illness. Nancy Pelosi doesn't want homeless people living in her neighborhood, and I can't really blame her.  The image of some bum peeing in her hot tub is too horrible to contemplate.

But something else is going down on the West Coast--beyond the forest fires and the homelessness. The California legislature appears to be dominated by lunatics who, unfortunately, are not homeless. The California university system is a mess and seems to have forgotten how to teach young people how to think and reason.  

Crime.  I read that Walgreen's closed its third store in San Francisco due to high levels of shoplifting. 

The state pension funds are underwater and will someday collapse.--when, nobody knows. Who is going to bail out the California pension funds--the taxpayers of Ohio?

I find it ironic that hundreds of thousands of Americans from the Midwest came to California as refugees during the Great Depression--the Okies and others who rolled down old Route 66 in beat-up cars and trucks.  And the Californians tried to keep them out.

Now, Californians are baling on the Sunshine State and are moving east to the Rocky Mountains states, Texas, and Florida. They can count their lucky stars that the people who live in these states are mostly decent and compassionate Americans who will greet them much more warmly than the Californians greeted my ancestors when they went west in the 1930s to escape the Dust Bowl.


Monday, October 5, 2020

Chong v. Northeastern University: No tuition refund to students whose classes were switched to remote learning due to COVID-19

American universities were dealt a severe blow last spring when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Almost all of them were forced to switch from face-to-face instruction to an online format in midsemester. 

Students at several universities filed lawsuits demanding a refund of tuition and fees. They argued that the quality of online teaching was inferior to classroom instruction, and they wanted their money back.

A few days ago, Judge D. J. Stearns, a federal district judge in Massachusetts, issued a decision in one of these cases: Chong v. Northeastern University. Plaintiffs had filed a class-action lawsuit against Northeastern to get a refund of tuition and fees, but Judge Stearns sided with Northeastern University.  In his view, Northeastern had not breached its contract with students by shifting to an online teaching format, although he allowed the plaintiffs to proceed with their claim for a refund of the campus recreation fee.

I think Judge Stearns made the right decision, and I predict other judges will rule in favor of universities when they decide similar cases.  After all, it is not the universities' fault that the nation was virtually shut down by COVID-19 last spring. The colleges pursued their only reasonable option--which was to convert all instruction to a distance-learning format.

I am sure that complaining students are often right when they say that online instruction is inferior to face-to-face teaching. Nevertheless, new technologies like Zoom have improved the quality of video-conferencing.  I have taught via Zoom over the past several months, and I don't think my students' learning experience was hurt because I was not in the same room with them.

As I said, I think American colleges will win students' lawsuits demanding tuition refunds because their instruction was shifted to an online format. But that does not mean the colleges will skate through the coronavirus crisis unscathed.

Thane Gallo, one of the named plaintiffs in the suit against Northeastern, paid a tuition bill of $26,210 for the 2020 spring semester. Manny Chong, a graduate student in  Northeastern's counseling psychology program, was charged $23,400 to enroll in spring classes. That's a lot of money to take online courses.

All across America, universities will find that the coronavirus awoke students and their parents to the fact that the cost of attending an American college is too damned high. Undergraduate tuition at Northeastern is $52,000 a year, and students must pay additional money for room and board, textbooks, and assorted fees. 

That simply is not reasonable--especially when students are taking classes from their home computers.  In the months to come, colleges and universities may discover another symptom of COVID-19 not yet officially identified: sticker shock.

Snap out of it!


Saturday, October 3, 2020

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services: Bankruptcy judge slaps student-loan servicer with a $378,000 contempt sanction

 A few weeks ago, Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glen slapped a huge contempt penalty on Great Lakes Educational Loan Servicers--$378,629.62! Why? Because Great Lakes repeatedly refused to comply with Judge Glen's directives in a student-loan bankruptcy case.  

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Servicers: The facts

In 2015, Sheldon Leary filed an adversary action in a New York bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge over $350,000 in student-loan debt. He amassed this debt to pay for his three children's college education (p. 1). 

 Mr. Leary represented himself and properly served Great Lakes, his student-loan servicer. He didn't know, however, that he needed to sue the U.S. Department of Education as well. Great Lakes passed Mr. Leary's complaint on to DOE, but neither DOE nor Great Lakes answered Mr. Leary's lawsuit. In fact, Great Lakes forwarded fifteen pleadings to DOE, but neither DOE nor Great Lakes made an appearance in Judge Martin's court for quite some time (p. 3).

In 2016, Mr. Leary obtained a default judgment against Great Lakes for failing to respond to his lawsuit, and Judge Glen discharged Leary's student-loan debt.  DOE ignored this judgment and sent Mr. Leary two letters threatening to garnish his wages (p. 5).

More than four years after filing his lawsuit, Leary moved to reopen his adversary proceeding and asked Judge Glen to find Great Lakes in contempt. Great Lakes still did not respond, and on April 29, 2020, Judge Glen held the loan servicer in contempt and assessed sanctions against it for $123,000.

Great Lakes did not pay this assessment, and Judge Glen held a second contempt hearing last August. At this hearing, Great Lakes made several arguments to avoid sanctions. First, it argued that it could not be held in contempt because it had not acted in bad faith. Judge Glen rejected this defense. Whether or not Great Lakes had acted in bad faith, the judge reasoned, it had ignored "clear and unambiguous" court orders and had not diligently tried to comply with them (p. 9). 

Great Lakes also argued that it transferred its loan processing job to another collection agent after Mr. Leary's lawsuit was filed, thus relieving itself of the obligation to respond to court pleadings. But that fact, the judge ruled, did not relieve Great Lakes from its duty to comply with court orders in Mr. Leary's lawsuit (p. 5).

Finally, Great Lakes argued that sanctions were not warranted because Mr. Leary had not been hurt by its five years of noncompliance with court orders.

But Judge Glen didn't buy that argument either. In fact, he pointed out, Great Lakes' inaction had significantly injured Mr. Leary by causing him to suffer "aggravation, pain and suffering, negative credit ratings, loss of sleep, worry and marital strain" (footnote 11).

Judge Glen:  Great Lakes was "grossly negligent"

In short, Judge Glen ruled, Great Lakes' inaction had been "grossly negligent" and "really much worse" (p. 1). As for Great Lakes' claim that its legal department was unaware that it was a named party in Mr. Leary's lawsuit, the judge found this argument "unbelievable[e]" (p. 11).

The judge ordered Great Lakes to pay most of its sanction to DOE, in an amount sufficient to pay off Mr. Leary's student-loan obligations. Thus, in the end, Leary got the relief he sought in 2015.  

Judge Glen did not find it necessary to hold DOE in contempt, but he did not find the agency blameless. As he noted in a footnote:

It should not be lost on anyone . . . that DOE's inaction with respect to Mr. Leary--especially when DOE had knowledge at multiple steps along the way that Great Lakes was ignoring its obligations to Mr. Leary as a named defendant in the adversary proceeding--is disappointing to say the least.

Another example of DOE arrogance and heartlessness

Judge Glen's decision fingered Great Lakes as the bad guy in the Leary case, but he found DOE's conduct to be "highly questionable" (footnote 4). As the judge pointed out, Great Lakes "sat by, regularly monitoring Mr. Leary's bankruptcy docket until his case was closed and Great Lakes could return his student loans to normal servicing status" (p. 10).

Obviously, DOE's lawyers knew what Great Lakes was doing and made no objection. It is hard to escape the conclusion that DOE allowed Great Lakes to flout Judge Glen's orders and thereby circumvent Mr. Leary's bankruptcy action.

 Great Lakes' behavior and DOE's complicity are despicable. All this shameful conduct must have been approved at the top levels of Betsy DeVos's administration. I say again, Secretary DeVos should be impeached.


References

Leary v. Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Case No. 15-11583, Adv. Proc. No. 15-01295, 2020 WL 5357812 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2020).

Friday, October 2, 2020

If You Have Problem Debt and Student Loans – Do Not Vote for Trump--Essay by Steve Rhode

 


Written by Steve Rhode

The 2016 election is a cantankerous event. What surprises me most are the people that want to decide who to vote for based on what they see on social media or one political learning media outlet.

Strictly speaking from a consumer debt point of view, who to vote for isn’t even close.

And frankly, if you care about creditors being responsible for abusing consumers or you are drowning under student loan debt then there is only one candidate to vote for.

Under Trump--Student Loans

The DeVos Department of Education has gone out of its way to punish student loan debtors at every opportunity. In fact, the level of aggressiveness by the Department has made it look like they want to punish all debtors and go back on the word of the government to help people to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Abusive Schools – The Department has removed or eliminated rules that require schools to be responsible for abusive practices and fraud that let to enrolling students who are then on the hook for federal student loans.

The Department of Education all but stopped processing valid claims for the elimination of federal student loans under the government policy that is known as the Borrower Defense to Repayment.

Student Loan Servicers

Student loan servicers have been allowed to give debtors poor advice, bad advice, or self-serving advice with little consequences. The Department has asserted that States can’t go after student loan servicers for abusive and deceptive practices. Since the servicers are acting on behalf of the federal government.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

The first wave of debtors eligible to have their student loans forgiven under the President Bush initiated the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which came due under the current Department of Education.

Secretary DeVos has done a lot to prevent people from getting the promised forgiveness. Roadblocks and hurdles have been artificially created to prevent people from getting the forgiveness they worked towards for ten years. One of the more ridiculous measures was the position that even though a person is eligible for loan forgiveness after 120 payments, it was stated the person must continue in eligible employment for however long afterward it takes for the Department to review the application for forgiveness. Given the current delays, that could be a year or more stuck in a lower-paying job.

Another person ran into an issue where they made the payment the monthly statement from the loan servicer said to make and it was found the servicer statement was off by less than a dollar so none of the 120 payments were eligible to be counted towards forgiveness.

You can see the crazy things the Department has done in these past posts.

Sliding Scale Forgiveness

Even when a school was found to be fraudulent or deceptive and the Department of Education was supposed to forgive the debt, the Department came up with an arbitrary sliding scale of forgiveness that left students harmed by the school, to hold a life of debt. And these are for schools that the courts determined were fraudulent scams. The previous position of the Department of Education was to grant full forgiveness.

Bankruptcy Discharge for Federal Student Loans

The Department of Education has fought bankruptcy discharge for debtors that are clearly in hardship and distress. Even though they have a policy to not do this.

Instead, the current administration has wanted people to enroll in Income-Driven repayment plans that will never repay the debt but make it continue to grow. For more articles on this, see these posts.

A Bankruptcy Judge even said the lifetime of unpayable student loans creates a prison of emotional confinement. While students are left to struggle the schools that enrolled them face little to no consequences for putting the student in federal student loan debt.

The Judge said, “It is this Court’s opinion that many consumer bankruptcies are filed by desperate individuals who are financially, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Sometimes lost in the discussion that the bankruptcy discharge provides a fresh start to honest but unfortunate debtors is that, perhaps as importantly, it provides a commensurate benefit to society and the economy. People are freed from emotional and financial burdens to become more energetic, healthy participants.”

CFPB

Through the Trump presidency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been under assault to gut their abilities, power, and protection of consumers. Efforts had been put forward to restrict the protection of consumers.

For example, the CFPB terminated the consumer advisory board members and then made meetings secret.

The CFPB Financial Law Taskforce claimed “to have established the Taskforce to obtain recommendations about how to improve and strengthen consumer financial laws and regulations. The Taskforce’s objective therefore goes to the heart of the Bureau’s mission—and positions the Taskforce to provide a blueprint for the CFPB to revise the laws that protect financial consumers across the United States.” – Source

“None of the selected Taskforce members has a background advocating for consumers, nor does any appear to believe that the CFPB should vigorously protect consumers from dangerous and confusing financial products.”

The meetings led by creditor representatives are closed and secret. Who knows what is going on.

Trump: F-

If you want to see people go further in debt, live lives of student loan financial slavery, and have fewer protections against the interest of creditors and banks, vote Trump.

Biden

Since former Vice President Biden is not currently in office, I have to turn to what his policies state.

Student Loans

  • Stop for-profit education programs from profiteering off of students. Students who started their education at for-profit colleges default on their student loans at a rate three times higher than those who start at non-profit colleges. These for-profit programs are often predatory – devoted to high-pressure and misleading recruiting practices and charging higher costs for lower quality education that leaves graduates with mountains of debt and without good job opportunities. The Biden Administration will require for-profits to first prove their value to the U.S. Department of Education before gaining eligibility for federal aid.
  • The Biden Administration will also return to the Obama-Biden Borrower’s Defense Rule, forgiving the debt held by individuals who were deceived by the worst for-profit college or career profiteers.

    Finally, President Biden will enact legislation eliminating the so-called 90/10 loophole that gives for-profit schools an incentive to enroll veterans and servicemembers in programs that aren’t delivering results.


  • Crack down on private lenders profiteering off of students and allow individuals holding private loans to discharge them in bankruptcy. In 2015, the Obama-Biden Administration called for Congress to pass a law permitting the discharge of private student loans in bankruptcy. As president, Biden will enact this legislation. In addition, the Biden Administration will empower the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – established during the Obama-Biden Administration – to take action against private lenders who are misleading students about their options and do not provide an affordable payment plan when individuals are experiencing acute periods of financial hardship. – Source

More than halve payments on undergraduate federal student loans by simplifying and increasing the generosity of today’s income-based repayment program. Under the Biden plan, individuals making $25,000 or less per year will not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and also won’t accrue any interest on those loans. Everyone else will pay 5% of their discretionary income (income minus taxes and essential spending like housing and food) over $25,000 toward their loans. This plan will save millions of Americans thousands of dollars a year. After 20 years, the remainder of the loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100% forgiven. Individuals with new and existing loans will all be automatically enrolled in the income-based repayment program, with the opportunity to opt out if they wish. In addition to relieving some of the burden of student debt, this will enable graduates to pursue careers in public service and other fields without high levels of compensation. Biden will also change the tax code so that debt forgiven through the income-based repayment plan won’t be taxed. Americans shouldn’t have to take out a loan to pay their taxes when they finally are free from their student loans.

Affordable Education

For too many, earning a degree or other credential after high school is unaffordable today. For others, their education saddles them with so much debt it prevents them from buying a home or saving for retirement, or their parents or grandparents take on some of the financial burden.

  • Providing two years of community college or other high-quality training program without debt for any hard-working individual looking to learn and improve their skills to keep up with the changing nature of work.
  • Creating a new grant program to assist community colleges in improving their students’ success.
  • Tackling the barriers that prevent students from completing their community college degree or training credential.
  • Invest in community college facilities and technology.

We have a student debt crisis in this country, with roughly more than 44 million American individuals now holding a total of $1.5 trillion in student loans. One in five adults who hold student loans are behind on payments, a disproportionate number of whom are black. Thus, student debt both exacerbates and results from the racial wealth gap.

This challenge is also intergenerational. Almost one in ten Americans in their 40s and 50s still hold student loan debt. But, college debt has especially impacted Millennials who pursued educational opportunities during the height of the Great Recession and now struggle to pay down their student loans instead of buying a house, opening their own business, or setting money aside for retirement.

There are several drivers of this problem. The cost of higher education has skyrocketed, roughly doubling since the mid-1990s. States have dramatically decreased investments in higher education, leaving students and their families with the bill. And, too often individuals have been swindled into paying for credentials that don’t provide value to graduates in the job market. As president, Biden will address all of these challenges.

Biden’s plan to make two years of community college without debt will immediately offer individuals a way to become work-ready with a two-year degree or an industry certification. It will also halve their tuition costs for obtaining a four-year degree, by earning an associate’s degree and then transferring those credits to a four-year college or university. And, as a federal-state partnership, it will ensure states both invest in community colleges and give states some flexibility to also invest in college readiness or affordability at four-year institutions.

Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Make loan forgiveness work for public servants. Public servants do the hard work that is essential to our country’s success – protecting us, teaching our children, keeping our streets clean and our lights on, and so much more. But the program designed to help these individuals serve without having to worry about the burden of their student loans – the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program – is broken. Biden will create a new, simple program which offers $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate student debt relief for every year of national or community service, up to five years. Individuals working in schools, government, and other non-profit settings will be automatically enrolled in this forgiveness program; up to five years of prior national or community service will also qualify. Additionally, Biden will fix the existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness program by securing passage of the What You Can Do For Your Country Act of 2019. Biden will ensure adjunct professors are eligible for this loan forgiveness, depending on the amount of time devoted to teaching. – Source

I would expect a Biden Department of Education to honor the promise of Public Service Loan Forgiveness for people under the past program.

Bankruptcy

  • Make it easier for people being crushed by debt to obtain relief through bankruptcy.
  • Expand people’s rights to take care of themselves and their children while they are in the bankruptcy process.
  • End the absurd rules that make it nearly impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy.
  • Let more people protect their homes and cars in bankruptcy so they can start from a firm foundation when they start to pick up the pieces and rebuild their financial lives.
  • Help address shameful racial and gender disparities that plague our bankruptcy system.
  • Close loopholes that allow the wealthy and corporate creditors to abuse the bankruptcy system at the expense of everyone else. – Source

Biden: You Give Him the Grade

So if student loan debt and consumer protections are important to you and if facts matter, then I welcome you to make your own informed decision based on the information above. But given what the positions and policies are, clearly, Biden would be the logical choice if these issues matter to you.

But here is the bottom line, if you vote for Trump, don’t complain later when your student loan servicer lies to you, your loans aren’t dealt with as promised, and you find yourself stuck in a life of debt without consumer protections.

You get what you vote for.

******

Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.  You can read this essay on Mr. Rhode's web site at https://getoutofdebt.org/153979/if-you-have-problem-debt-and-student-loans-do-not-vote-for-this-candidate#respond.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

When we want your opinion, we'll give it to you: Feds investigate charge that SUNY Binghamton falsely represents that it respects free speech

 Last month, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation against SUNY Binghamton, a public university located about 140 miles west of New York City. According to DOE's official "Notice of Investigation," the feds suspect the university of falsely representing to students and others that it respects free speech.

DOE accuses a public university of breaking its promise to protect free speech

Here is the chain of events as laid out in DOE's notice. On November 14, 2019, the College Republicans, a conservative student group, set up a display table on the Binghamton campus where they handed out flyers and promoted an upcoming lecture by Professor Arthur Laffer, a conservative economist. 

Student protesters shouted threats and obscenities at the group and "allegedly destroyed [the group's] materials and tables and attempted to chase them away." A video of the incident shows that the campus police did nothing to stop the disruption.

The following day, a lawyer for the Young Americans for Freedom, a co-sponsor of Professor Laffer's lecture, met with Barbara Scarlett, SUNY Bingingham's campus lawyer, and asked for assurances that the university would protect students' constitutional right to freedom of assembly during Professor Laffer's talk. 

Reportedly, Scarlett refused to give this assurance, so the organization hired two Pinkerton agents to protect Professor Laffer.

 Before the night of Professor Laffer's lecture, campus police discovered social media posts indicating that protesters intended to disrupt the event. Two officers met the professor at the airport and advised him not to speak and to leave town. 

On the day of Professor Laffer's presentation, the campus police told the student sponsors that the university had set aside a room adjacent to the lecture hall for the specific purpose of allowing protesters to gather. 

Against the campus police's advice, Professor Laffer spoked at the appointed time and place. Shortly before his lecture was to commence, hundreds of students and non-students entered the hall. "Dozens wore masks" and some wore clothing that indicated an affiliation with BING PLOT, which DOE described as a "violent organization."

According to DOE:

Dr. Laffer went to the podium and, within seconds, conspirators in the second row began shouting to prevent him from speaking. One emerged from the side of the hall to hand a bullhorn to [a] shouting protester,  thereby preventing Dr. Laffer from being heard. Others joined in the hostile display, drowning out Dr. Laffer and denying other students the right to hear his views.

Instead of making a good faith effort to restore order to allow the lecture to continue, university police ordered Dr. Laffer's removal by the Pinkerton agents. This ended the lecture, allowing the conspirators to unlawfully deny and intimidate Dr. Laffer and the students who came to listen in the exercise of their First Amendment rights.

As DOE noted, it found no record that SUNY Binghamton disciplined any student who disrupted Professor Laffer's speech. Nevertheless, on the day following the lecture, the university sent the College Republicans a message saying it was being suspended as a chartered student organization because it had not gotten prior approval before putting up its display table on November 14.

SUNY Binghamton's woeful inaction when a mob stopped Professor Laffer's lecture is in stark contrast to the university's repeated assertions that it encourages free speech and condemns conduct that interferes with the rights of others.  In fact, the university's student handbook makes this explicit statement:

Conduct that interferes with or threatens the operation of the university or the rights of others, either in or out of the classroom, is not condoned.

And the university also solemnly pledged that the "full exercise of First Amendment rights is encouraged and protected."

In its complaint against SUNY Binghamton, DOE pointed out that the university charges $10,000 a year in tuition and fees and that it expressly promises its students "that they will have the freedom to speak, learn, challenge, and dissent."  

In DOE's view, the events surrounding Professor Lasser's aborted lecture give rise to the allegation that SUNY Bingham broke its promises to protect free speech and violated federal law.  DOE closed its letter with a reminder that it has the power to hold "a fine hearing," if it concludes that the university "made substantial misrepresentations about the nature of its educational program."

Why is the Laffer episode significant?

If you are a young person thinking about enrolling at SUNY Binghamton, what does the Professor Laffer episode mean to you? 

Perhaps nothing. If you believe that ideas like those held by Dr. Laffer are not worthy of constitutional protection, SUNY Binghamton is precisely the kind of university where you want to study. And you may be willing to take out student loans to pay your tuition bills.

But if you want to study at a university that respects free speech, encourages open dialogue, and protects the constitutional right of students to explore unpopular ideas, you probably don't want to enroll at SUNY Binghamton.