AJC On Campus: Vaccine mandate for some USG workers, more student loan changes

Carol Senf (center), a Georgia Tech professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication rallied with professors from several Georgia universities on Tue., Oct. 12, 2021 at the Keneda Building located on the Georgia Tech campus against changes to the state system’s post-tenure review process they believe will make it easier for administrators to fire them. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Caption
Carol Senf (center), a Georgia Tech professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication rallied with professors from several Georgia universities on Tue., Oct. 12, 2021 at the Keneda Building located on the Georgia Tech campus against changes to the state system’s post-tenure review process they believe will make it easier for administrators to fire them. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

It’s just mid-October, and it’s already been quite a busy time on Georgia’s college campuses.

Last week was full of several important developments, many coming from the two-day state Board of Regents meeting held at Georgia Tech.

Here’s a look at news from the meeting, a few federal policies that will impact Georgia and how some schools are involved in innovative approaches to improve student performance in this edition of AJC On Campus.

Post-tenure review. What’s next?

The state’s Board of Regents voted Wednesday to revamp the University System of Georgia’s post-tenure review process angering many faculty members who fear it’s a politically motivated attempt by some members to quiet and fire professors with viewpoints they don’t like.

Regents members involved in the process and University System of Georgia officials say the changes are being done to ensure student success is a more important part of the evaluation process.

So what happens now?

System officials said they’ll begin the implementation process, which consists of working with faculty and others to develop and refine standards. Critics say they’ll work on getting faculty power to define student success and how much of a role it will play in annual reviews.

Meanwhile, the American Association of University Professors, which has raised concerns about the changes, is planning to dig more into the revisions. They may take actions that could result in censuring the Board of Regents, which could discourage some professors from working in the Georgia system.

Vaccine mandate in USG, for some

For months, many faculty members in the University System of Georgia have written letters, signed petitions and held public demonstrations pleading for mask or vaccine mandates.

Well, vaccine mandates are coming soon, for some people working in the system.

Acting University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney sent a letter Friday to its 26 presidents saying federal contractors working in its schools must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8, or by the first day of work for a new contract, contract extension, or renewal. The mandate comes from an executive order signed last month by President Joe Biden requiring federal contractors be vaccinated.

The two-page letter mentions accommodations for workers with a disability or those seeking an exemption because of their religious beliefs.

The letter does not say how many contractors are in the University System.

University System officials said in a statement to us on Monday that they are “working in coordination with the Georgia Attorney General’s office which is looking at all legal options related to the order. In the meantime, we continue to encourage all students, faculty, staff and visitors to get vaccinated either on campus or with a local provider and wear a mask or face covering while inside campus facilities.

Federal government changes for lenders

The Biden administration is continuing to take piecemeal steps to address one of the biggest issues in higher education: student loans.

We recently reported about changes to its Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. On Friday, U.S. Department of Education officials announced changes aimed at creating greater accountability from six loan servicing companies. The companies are: Great Lakes, HESC/Edfinancial, MOHELA, Navient, Nelnet, and OSLA Servicing.

The changes include withholding revenue for poor performance and greater ability to monitor and address servicing issues as they arise.

In its announcement, the department vowed it will ensure borrowers have easier access to information about their loans and to simplify the process to transfer borrowers from one servicer to another.

The companies, for the first time, must produce information detailing why borrowers contact a loan servicer, how long it takes for servicers to process various applications and which borrower applications are denied.

Paine College lawsuit

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November 1, 2017 Augusta: The campus of Paine College on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, in Augusta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

November 1, 2017 Augusta: The campus of Paine College on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, in Augusta.    Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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November 1, 2017 Augusta: The campus of Paine College on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, in Augusta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) recently filed a lawsuit against Paine College, saying the Augusta school owes the organization more than $1.6 million from a prior legal dispute.

The lawsuit was filed a couple of weeks ago in DeKalb County Superior Court. The association’s headquarters are in Decatur.

The two sides have been feuding since 2014 when the association, which is the main accreditation agency for most colleges and universities in the South, put Paine on probation for several financial issues that threatened the school’s future. In 2016, SACSCOC revoked Paine’s accreditation and the college sued. As the lawsuit wound its way through the courts, Paine sought and was granted accreditation last year by the Virginia-based Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

SACSCOC was granted summary judgment in October, and says it’s time for Paine to pay up. Brent W. Herrin, an attorney for Paine, told us the college disputes owing any money to the accrediting association.

USG gala fundraising haul

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From left, First Lady Marty Kemp, Georgia Gwinnett College nursing student Autumn Musgrave, Gov. Brian Kemp and GGC President Jann Joseph pose for a picture on Wed., Oct. 13, 2021 at the University System of Georgia's annual fundraising gala. Musgrave was the keynote student speaker who shared how receiving a scholarship is helping her overcome obstacles and pursue her degree. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.

From left, First Lady Marty Kemp, Georgia Gwinnett College nursing student Autumn Musgrave, Gov. Brian Kemp and GGC President Jann Joseph pose for a picture on Wed., Oct. 13, 2021 at the University System of Georgia's annual fundraising gala. Musgrave was the keynote student speaker who shared how receiving a scholarship is helping her overcome obstacles and pursue her degree. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.
Caption
From left, First Lady Marty Kemp, Georgia Gwinnett College nursing student Autumn Musgrave, Gov. Brian Kemp and GGC President Jann Joseph pose for a picture on Wed., Oct. 13, 2021 at the University System of Georgia's annual fundraising gala. Musgrave was the keynote student speaker who shared how receiving a scholarship is helping her overcome obstacles and pursue her degree. PHOTO CREDIT: University System of Georgia.

The University System of Georgia on Wednesday raised $625,000 at its annual fundraising gala that will go to needs-based student scholarships.

The need-based scholarships funded through the gala will be awarded for the 2021-22 academic year. Each institution’s president selects scholarship recipients at their respective campuses.

KSU presidential search waiver

The Board of Regents agreed at its meeting Wednesday to waive a rule to allow interim Kennesaw State University president Kathy ‘Kat’ Schwaig to be a candidate for the job.

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Kathy "Kat" Schwaig is the interim president of Kennesaw State University. PHOTO CREDIT: Kennesaw State University.

Kathy "Kat" Schwaig is the interim president of Kennesaw State University. PHOTO CREDIT: Kennesaw State University.
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Kathy "Kat" Schwaig is the interim president of Kennesaw State University. PHOTO CREDIT: Kennesaw State University.

Schwaig has been in the interim role since July. Her predecessor, Pamela Whitten, resigned earlier this year to become president of Indiana University.

Schwaig has held several positions at KSU since arriving there as an associate professor in 2002. She’s been dean of KSU’s Michael J. Coles College of Business, interim chair of two departments and provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Considering this waiver, her next job may be president.

CAU Innovation Lounge

Clark Atlanta University this month, with some support from Dell Technologies and Home Depot, opened a space for its students to pursue entrepreneurial, academic and career opportunities.

The university’s Innovation Lounge is located in the Carl and Mary Ware Building on CAU’s campus.

Events, workshops and speaker series will be hosted there, scheduled within its online portal. The university’s business school on Tuesday is hosting its first Professional Development Series with the chief executive officers of Goodr and Goodie Nation, companies with strong community engagement missions.

“The Innovation Lounge will give our scholars direct access to tools that will equip them with the knowledge and hands-on experience they need to enter the technology world, ready and prepared to compete for full-time opportunities,” said Clark Atlanta University President George T. French, Jr. “Our scholars come first at CAU, and we appreciate the outstanding support from major companies such as Dell and The Home Depot.”

USG tobacco surcharge complaint

The United Campus Workers of Georgia last week says some non-smoking University System of Georgia employees are being mistakenly hit with a $100 monthly tobacco user surcharge and they want the problem fixed.

They say the current benefits enrollment system applies the surcharge to all covered employees and their dependents by default, unless the person deliberately opts out.

The surcharge began in 2011 to encourage employees and their families to quit using tobacco and reduce health care costs systemwide.

System officials noted in a statement to us the appeals process to prevent inaccurate tobacco use surcharges.

“Employees may file their appeal through the OneUSG Connect — Benefits call center or can remove the tobacco surcharge at any time throughout the year by logging into the OneUSG Connect online system and changing their status to non-tobacco user.”

Campus workers, though, say the appeals process isn’t working properly.

“For workers charged in error — either because they were classified as smokers by default, or because of the glitch — there is an appeals process available,” the campus workers said in a news release. “However, UCWGA has identified several workers who pursued it, and none were refunded in full. Most were unable to recoup any lost pay, and their efforts hit an administrative wall.”

The $10 million challenge

About three dozen colleges and universities, including three in Georgia, are involved in a new effort announced last week aimed at helping more college students of color and first-generation students succeed.

Strada Education Network is partnering with the Taskforce on Higher Education and Opportunity to launch the $10 million Beyond Completion Challenge.

The challenge has two parts. In the first phase, Taskforce colleges and universities are invited to propose new projects that will help students achieve measurable outcomes focused on employment, economic stability, and fulfillment of purpose. Up to 15 projects will be funded at up to $250,000 per project for a total of $3 million. In the second phase, each Taskforce school will be invited to expand their work. An additional up to $7 million will be awarded.

The Taskforce was created in the spring of 2020 by three dozen presidents and chancellors representing close to 100 colleges and universities and 2.4 million students with organizational support from McKinsey & Company to improve higher education by addressing persistent inequities that were exacerbated by the pandemic.

The Georgia schools in the Taskforce are Georgia State University, Georgia Tech and Spelman College.

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