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Local Education

    A Morehouse College student posted short videos on Twitter late Tuesday and Wednesday claiming the school has ignored his complaint that an employee sexually harassed him last year. The all-male, Atlanta college responded to the posts Wednesday afternoon by saying it has launched a formal investigation and the employee is now on unpaid administrative leave. The student said the incidents included verbal sexual advancements and touching, and said he immediately notified college officials about the situation.  “It got to the point where I got into a bad depression,” the young man, who did not identify himself, said in one two-minute video watched more than 91,000 times by Wednesday afternoon. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not identify alleged sexual assault or harassment victims without their permission. In a statement from its president, Morehouse identified the employee as DeMarcus Crews, who was the school’s interim director of housing and residential education. Crews graduated from the all-male college in 2015 and has worked at Morehouse for four years, according to his LinkedIn page. Crews said on the page that he was a student representative for a task force on campus to stop violence against women. The student also identified Crews in his social media posts. The alleged victim said he was a freshman when the harassment began. The student said efforts to get other Morehouse employees to address his complaints went nowhere. “Morehouse has not responded to anything that happened,” he said. “They’ve ignored my emails. They’ve ignored my calls.” The college posted a letter from its president, David A. Thomas, to student government association leaders saying it will “vigorously investigate any claims of sexual misconduct.” The student said he posted the videos out of frustration about the situation and concerns that other students have been harassed. Another student responded with a statement saying he also was sexually harassed and felt the college didn’t respond adequately. The student who posted the videos on Twitter added a new video Wednesday afternoon thanking people for their support. Morehouse’s senior student service officer, Maurice Washington, has been assigned to respond to the alleged victims and investigate their claims. “Maintaining a safe and secure campus for students, faculty, staff, and visitors is a priority at Morehouse College. We will take appropriate and immediate action against anyone involved in compromising the safety of our community,” the college said in a statement to the AJC.
  • A recent report to the DeKalb County Board of Education underscored the severity of a nationwide problem metro Atlanta school districts are facing: not enough special education teachers. Linda Woodard, the district’s interim human resources leader, explained that while the district had 170 special education teaching vacancies, just 40 people had applied for those open spots. “Every time someone applies as a special education teacher, we’re picking up the phone and we’re calling them,” Woodard told DeKalb’s school board on during its monthly meeting on Monday. “They’re also going to get a special invitation to the (upcoming) job fair. “Right now, we are loving on the special education candidates.” Special education teachers are responsible for some of the most vulnerable of learners and must meet certain federal and state requirements. The job often requires much more paperwork to show students are taught according to Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) built to teach students at their respective paces. But burnout happens more often, leading to higher-than-average turnover and teachers shifting to other areas of instruction, or leaving the field altogether. Schools are already working to fill thousands of vacancies before the new school year begins in a matter of weeks. With special education teachers becoming more and more scarce, many districts are strategizing to find ways to entice the few available prospects, making direct calls to applicants, even offering thousands of dollars in incentives to get them to sign contracts. Information from the Georgia Department of Education indicates nearly 19,000 special education positions at schools across the state. According to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which certifies teachers, about 2,600 new special education certifications are approved annually, but about 1,000 expire each year for various reasons, including teachers changing expertise or leaving the profession. Teacher certifications, which can last up to five years, must be renewed. Many teachers certified in special education never teach it, often getting the credential along with others because they are strongly encouraged to do so for competitive purposes, said Chuck McConnell, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission’s chief information officer. “There’s high turnover and a high burnout rate (for special education teachers),” he said. “There’s a large replacement need.” There also appears to be a gap in understanding why they tend to leave. A 2012 study of special education teachers and superintendents from rural districts showed administrators believed teachers were leaving for different reasons than those the teachers cited. The top answers from administrators were personal reasons at 37%, followed by retirement at 21%. Teachers cited retirement or a desire to scale back responsibilities as their top answer, at 27%, followed at 24% by burnout, stress, job pressure and lack of support. According to Education Week research data, the student-teacher ratio for special education has risen from about 14 students per teacher in 2006 to 17 students per teacher in 2016, while the number of special education students age 6 to 21 in the United States has declined. Metro Atlanta teachers said they have left or are considering leaving their classrooms because administrators don’t acknowledge the larger workloads and amount of paperwork, and they often find themselves with students whose behavioral issues disrupt the learning process regularly for the rest of the class. “The teachers have no support when it comes to these kids,” said Lauren Taylor, whose son receives special education instruction at a DeKalb County school. Taylor said the situation has gotten so dire at her son’s school that officials often violate IEPs by not affording students their one-on-one training with the classroom teacher. Woodard said DeKalb’s “aggressive” plan for special ed classes includes also taking a look at class sizes and possibly combining some at the start of the year while recruiting continues. The district is not currently offering incentives to recruit special education teachers, but has been reaching out to recently retired special education teachers for short-term substitute work, as well as asking new hires to recommend other teachers looking for jobs. “We have put together an aggressive plan,” she said. “At the same time, we want to make sure we’re adhering to the guidelines and giving students what they need and following their IEP objectives. We’re not going to do anything to jeopardize the students and their education.” Around metro Atlanta, Atlanta Public Schools is offering a $5,000 bonus to help fill about two dozen special education vacancies. While Fulton County Schools has 39 special education vacancies, about half of those appeared in the last month or so, said Ron Wade, the district’s chief talent officer. Wade said the district pays special education teachers on a salary schedule that supplements their income for working in the hard-to-fill area. Clayton County Schools officials said the district has 94 special education openings they hope to fill in the coming months. Gwinnett County Schools has 52 special education teacher vacancies it is still seeking to fill. That number could be much higher, but the district offers an internship program for prospective special education teachers that turned out 19 candidates for the upcoming school year. “The special education internship is a recruitment/retention strategy to secure qualified special education teachers to support our growing special education populations,” officials said via email. Cobb County School District officials said the district’s reputation as one of the best school districts in the nation to teach helps it fill vacancies, including the 16 special education vacancies. The Cobb County Board of Education recently approved raises between 8 and 12.6% for district staff. “While there are currently 16 special education openings, Cobb will not have openings, for any teaching positions, on the first day of school,” said Chief Human Resources Officer John Adams. “The historically unprecedented raise recommended by Superintendent (Chris) Ragsdale has had a big impact on those candidates who had choices between districts. We value what we prioritize and, in Cobb, we prioritize our teachers.”
  • Joshua Atkins remembers business leaders telling him during his second year at Morehouse College that many students there lacked the data skills necessary to excel at their companies. Atkins was motivated, he said, “to be on the other side of that trend.” A year later, Atkins took a data analytics course on campus and got an internship at Accenture. This fall, the 21-year-old Morehouse College graduate said he’ll be working at the global consulting firm. Data science — using math, science and statistics to solve problems — is one of the highest in-demand careers, but educators and business leaders say there are not enough African Americans in the industry (about 7%, some say). UnitedHealth Group announced Tuesday it is investing $8.25 million over the next five years toward an effort to enhance data science education at Atlanta’s historically black colleges and universities. RELATED: This is the hottest (little known) career in America right now, report says UnitedHealth Group leaders and the schools began discussing a partnership about two years ago, officials said. Four schools — Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse, Morehouse School of Medicine and Spelman College — will participate in the effort. “I’m now looking at these talented young leaders gathered here today as a new generation that can help us responsibly unleash the power of big data,” said UnitedHealth Group CEO David S. Wichmann. Atlanta University Center Consortium leaders say the money will be used for scholarships and software to improve the technological capabilities across the schools. The schools will also offer certificates for midcareer professionals. All four schools currently have courses related to data science, but none offer a degree. The schools are working on next steps in how to best offer data science coursework or degrees. The students have ideas for using data science to address issues such as health disparities in underserved communities locally and globally. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at Tuesday’s event that the work will be important, noting the city’s high HIV rates. “I cannot stress how impactful this will be on our city,” she said. Students who’ve taken data science courses or use the technology said they can envision working on projects to improve things that bother all college students, such as improving the financial aid process or on-campus housing. Students like Clark Atlanta University senior Michael English have used the technology to do research that could reduce airport passenger wait times. “I learned how big data is the next thing,” said English, 26. Many African American students enroll in college with little expertise in data-related subjects. Todd Greene, the consortium’s executive director, said about one-third of predominantly African American high schools don’t offer algebra or calculus courses that teach students skills they’ll need for college data science courses. “We need to also work on our pipeline,” Greene said. > RELATED: How do we get black students in the picture and in computer majors? Nationally, there are a labor gap and a skills gap, Wichmann said. Job postings for data scientists rose 29% between December 2017 and December 2018, according to an Indeed report. The University of Georgia last September became the first school in the University System of Georgia to offer an undergraduate major in data science. The new program will begin with its first cohort of undergraduates in the fall semester of 2019, officials said. UnitedHealth Group has about 35,000 technologists and health data specialists, Wichmann said. He’s hoping the company’s investment will, in part, pay off with future hires from racially diverse backgrounds. During one meeting between students and faculty, Morehouse School of Medicine doctoral student Kaylin Carey said she was unaware of some of the data research tools being used by Spelman’s biology department. “I can learn something from you and maximize what I know,” said Carey, 24, whose interest in cancer biology was sparked after her grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. > MORE: Seeking remedies for lack of black male doctors The initiative highlights efforts by the schools to establish major academic partnerships, which leaders there say are necessary as operational costs rise at college campuses. The partnerships are also necessary to conduct top-tier research, said Greene. “We want to be a hub for other HBCUs … and for some of the research questions that face black America,” Greene said.
  • Atlanta high school graduates from the class of 2019 were awarded more than $160 million in college scholarship money.  North Atlanta High School students posted the most scholarship dollars among Atlanta Public Schools’ 16 high schools. Students at North Atlanta, the district’s largest high school by enrollment, were awarded more than $30 million. The school also had the most students who earned a HOPE Scholarship, with 224 students receiving the state funds.  MORE: Effort to get more Atlanta graduates to college succeeding Superintendent Meria Carstarphen announced the scholarship tallies in a Twitter post.   Other APS high schools include whose students were awarded $10 million or more in scholarship money are:  Grady High School: $23.6 million in scholarships and 187 HOPE scholars  Booker T. Washington High School: $17.7 million in scholarships and 48 HOPE scholars  Maynard Jackson High School: $15.2 million in scholarships and 78 HOPE scholars  Mays High School: $13.5 million and 77 HOPE scholars  Drew Charter School: $12 million in scholarships and 41 HOPE scholars  KIPP Atlanta Collegiate: $10 million in scholarships and 53 HOPE scholars
  • A former Atlanta Public Schools teacher convicted in the notorious 2015 cheating trial has been released from prison about 15 months before the end of her two-year prison sentence. Angela Williamson, who taught at Dobbs Elementary School, was one of 11 former educators convicted of racketeering in the district-wide cheating scandal. Teachers and administrators changed students’ answers on standardized tests and received bonuses and raises based on the falsely inflated scores. VIDEO: Previous coverage of this issue After failed attempts to appeal her conviction, Williamson began serving a two-year sentence last fall. She and Tamara Cotman, who worked as a school reform team executive director, were the first two defendants to serve prison time in a case that garnered national attention. Williamson’s prison sentence was to expire Sept. 23, 2020; the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles granted her early release effective June 4. “She wants to move on with her life. She wants to get back to being a mother and a wife,” said her attorney, Gerald Griggs. “She’s elated to be able to return to her family and her children and to be a productive citizen.” MORE: With hymns and prayers, ex-APS educator reports for prison in cheating scandal Parole board members consider an offender’s criminal and social history, education and other factors before making a decision to release someone early, said board spokesman Steve Hayes. “State law makes someone with a two year or less sentence parole-eligible after serving nine months,” he said, in a written statement. Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, Jr. declined to comment through a representative, who said the office was not contacted by the parole board about Williamson’s early release. Griggs said Williamson was granted early release “because of her model status.” Her release comes with conditions. She must follow a rehabilitation plan that requires her to work and be drug tested. She’s not allowed to have a gun, and she can’t leave the state or change her residence without permission. Williamson may be arrested if she violates any of the conditions. While Griggs praised the parole board’s decision, he called it “a travesty” that his client was sent to prison. He said some framed the decision to prosecute the Atlanta cheating case as a way to ensure a quality education that would send a message to educators that such behavior would be punished harshly. MORE: Multi-million dollar APS effort to help cheating victims yields few results But Griggs said problems continue in education, despite the Atlanta prosecution, convictions and prison sentences. He pointed to the recent national college admissions bribery scandal and, closer to home, a group of nine Gwinnett educators who resigned or retired amid a cheating investigation that began in the spring. “It hasn’t really changed anything, but it’s just drastically affected teachers like Ms. Williamson,” Griggs said. Cotman, who also began her prison sentence last fall, received a three-year sentence and will be eligible for parole in late September. Of the 11 defendants found guilty of racketeering, two avoided prison time after admitting guilt in court. Seven of the defendants are seeking a new trial.
  • Nearly 500 former ITT Tech students in Georgia who say they were coerced by the for-profit school into taking student loans with high interest rates will receive an estimated $4.1 million in debt relief, according to a nationwide settlement announced Thursday by Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Nationally, the settlement will result in debt relief of more than $168 million for 18,664 former ITT students, Carr’s office said in a news release. The school, which had four campuses in Georgia, shut down in 2016 due to financial problems. > RELATED: ITT is latest for-profit college in Georgia campuses ITT offered students temporary credit to cover their gaps in tuition costs. Students thought they could repay the credit six months after graduation but learned the money was due the following academic year, Carr’s office said.  ITT pressured and coerced students into accepting loans, which for many students carried interest rates much higher than federal loans, authorities said. ITT pressured students by pulling them out of class and threatening to expel them if they did not accept the loan terms, Carr’s office said. The company that offered the loans, Student CU Connect CUSO, LLC, has agreed to forego collection of the outstanding loans and will cease operations.  “As Attorney General, I am committed to protecting Georgia families, “said Carr. “This settlement provides relief to hundreds of Georgia students and holds CUSO accountable for its role in subjecting ITT students to abusive lending practices.”
  • A former Fort Valley State University employee pleaded guilty, prosecutors said Monday, to six counts of prostitution in a case that stunned the campus last fall and caused a stir in the surrounding community. A judge sentenced Alecia J. Johnson, 49 — who was the university’s special events director months before her arrest — to five years on probation, a $1,000 fine and 180 days house arrest, authorities said. Johnson’s plea agreement is contingent on her testimony in any trials of six men who have been charged with pandering and solicitation of sodomy, prosecutors said. Some of the men held prominent positions in the area, located about 100 miles south of Atlanta, such as a county commissioner, a city manager and an assistant principal. Johnson and the men were arrested in October. Her attorney, Adrian Patrick, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Monday his client was guilty of prostitution but she was not involved in pimping, which was one of the initial charges. Johnson had previously been in an abusive relationship and had financial issues, her attorney said. > RELATED: Little Fort Valley weathers the scandal Patrick said Johnson, who is doing administrative work, agreed to a deal to end the speculation about her, particularly on social media. “We thought with all those allegations, true and false, we thought it was the best thing to do,” Patrick said. The investigation, which began months earlier, sparked countless rumors about the size and scope of the prostitution ring, which prosecutors eventually said included an unnamed student. Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke said Monday that Johnson’s actions damaged the university’s reputation. “Ms. Johnson’s actions in exploiting this young woman cast FVSU in a negative light that the school and those who hold it dear certainly didn’t deserve,” said Cooke.
  • Most but not all metro Atlanta teachers will receive a pay raise amounting to the $3,000 promised by Gov. Brian Kemp, or more. Those in DeKalb, Cobb, Clayton, Fulton and Gwinnett counties will see that size increase. Atlanta Public Schools teachers will get a raise, but not that much. Money in Kemp’s first state budget intended for teacher pay raises doesn’t cover the costs of locally funded positions, nor all the ancillary costs, so local districts often must reinforce these raises with their own dollars. Districts across the region grappled with who Kemp’s raises will and should cover, and increased benefits costs not funded by the state, as well as increasing compensation for all employees. The DeKalb County School District’s tentative budget for the 2019-2020 school year includes $3,000 raises for every employee on the teacher salary schedule. That is in addition to more than $30 million the district is using to adjust salaries for employees across the board, part of salary adjustments the district began rolling out at the start of 2019. Michael Bell, DeKalb’s chief financial officer, said the district expects to receive $22 million from the state to implement Kemp’s pay raise, though it will cost the district about $28 million to give the raise and cover associated benefits. Bell said money allocated to DeKalb by the state “doesn’t fully cover the governor’s raise.” Some DeKalb employees have voiced displeasure online that the raises will not be given to speech and language pathologists, occupational and physical therapists and others in the district who work directly with children but are not on the teacher salary schedule. Cobb County Schools officials said every full-time employee will receive raises between 8% and 12%, which would be more for each teacher than Kemp’s pledge. Starting pay for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $43,465, so an 8% increase for that person would be $3,477. Clayton County Public Schools employees on the teacher pay scale will receive $3,000 and a salary-step increase. Other employees also will see raises as well. In Atlanta Public Schools, teachers will see a raise — but the average pay increase will be $2,000. District officials said APS needs about $4 million more than it will receive from the state to fully fund a $3,000-per-teacher raise. That’s because APS employs more teachers and other staff than are covered by the state and because the state money the district receives is reduced by the “local fair-share” funding formula, which distributes money to poorer districts. The APS decision troubled teachers groups, who said the district should find a way to pay for the full $3,000 raises. Atlanta school leaders pledged to provide more generous raises to teachers retroactively if the district ends up receiving more revenue. One potential funding source could be the City of Atlanta. The city and school district signed an agreement in January to resolve a dispute over the use of future school property taxes as development incentives. In return, the city agreed to pay the district millions of dollars over the coming years. But APS officials said they need assurances the city will make those payments before building those dollars into the district’s budget. “As we receive confirmation that the city has honored the (agreement), it is our plan to fully fund the teacher raises,” Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said in a written statement. Fulton County teachers will receive the $3,000 salary increase plus a mid-year step increase, which will go into effect in January. The district estimates that all employee salary increases will cost about $38 million, of which the teachers’ portion is about $29.5 million. “We watched with interest as Gov. Kemp recommended, along with concurrence by the Georgia General Assembly, a $3,000 salary increase for teachers,” Fulton County Board of Education president Linda Bryant said in a written statement. “We are delighted to share that increase, as well as an additional mid-year increase next January for those employees who meet the approved criteria.” In Gwinnett, salary improvements for employees for the upcoming school year will include a $3,000 cost-of-living increase for all employees paid on the teacher salary schedule; a 2% cost-of-living increase for all employees not paid on the teacher salary schedule; and a salary-step increase for all eligible employees. Nearly all (95%) current teachers are expected to get a salary-step increase in addition to the $3,000. “These salary improvements will begin with our employees’ first paycheck for the coming school year,” said spokeswoman Sloan Roach.
  • Leslie De Santos furrowed her brow as she read the passage. The four sentences contained terms such as “litigation,” “adjudicative,” “jurisdiction” and “identifiers,” and the last sentence, 23 words long, included two semicolons. It wasn’t an assignment from an advanced course in legal studies. The passage was from the free application for federal student aid, otherwise known as FAFSA, an integral — and often hated — part of the lives of high school seniors who aspire to college. Cluttered with confusing terminology, it and other densely worded documents are a surprisingly significant barrier to students — especially students who don’t have college counselors to help them or parents with higher educations. “There are a lot of words that I have no idea what it means,” said De Santos, who was a freshman at the University of Georgia this past school year. “For the most part, it’s hard to understand this.” If there were a ranking of the most complex and convoluted higher education forms and documents, FAFSA might be No. 1. Critics say it’s why some students are derailed in the application process. Half of high school seniors last year didn’t complete the FAFSA form, according to the National College Access Network, which estimates that they’re collectively forgoing $24 billion a year in financial help. But the FAFSA form is not alone among documents so bafflingly worded that they create obstacles in the college experience and invite mistakes. University administrators and officials across the country continue to produce instructions and forms — from handbooks and guides to syllabuses, websites and policies about everything from academic honesty to sexual harassment — that are puzzles of almost comically complex words and phrases. Thankfully for DeSantos, UGA recently developed a handbook for students who are first in their families to attend college that defines many of the terms they’ll encounter in school. “Universities have been slow to realize the importance of plain language,” said Deborah Bosley, a former professor at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who owns and runs the Plain Language Group, which helps clients communicate more clearly. >> RELATED | Say what? Edu-speak obfuscates simple language “There is a sense that if you’re in an academic environment, writing has to be complex so that it reflects the intellectual level of a university, which in my way of thinking is totally the opposite of what they should have been doing.” Self-absorbed academic lingo has long been the subject of parody. There’s even a jargon generator, a tongue-in-cheek guide for academics to insert such words into their work as “actionable,” “blended learning,” “stackable credentials” and “assessment-driven,” and a game, EduBabble Bingo, in which players “win” when they find enough of these words or terms to fill a row. But as comical as it can sound, the impenetrable language of universities is a serious problem for students because it adds another layer of obstruction as they try to navigate higher education, said Bosley. She shared a particularly confusing paragraph from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte website that includes acronyms, abbreviations, phrases out of context and even a typo: “If you were paid a Pell grant on a full-time enrollment and your (sic) are not able to confirm attendance in all courses, your aid will be adjusted to the amount of the credits confirmed and the calculation will be based on the last date of attendance for the confirmed classes.” Like Bosley, Zach Taylor is a champion of common language at colleges. The third-year Ph.D. student at the University of Texas has found that college literature and websites often are written at the reading level of college seniors and graduate students. “Almost nothing is written with a student audience in mind,” Taylor said. Much of it is “for institutional communication between practitioners and not for students and not for their families.” Freshmen, for example, are referred to as “prospective or aspiring undergraduate first-year students.” But how can schools fix the problem? Writing in the active voice, using more concise grammar and bullet points, explaining abbreviations and acronyms and simply subbing the word “you” for wordy descriptions of students would make institutional information clearer, Taylor said. Making it easier to understand The University of Georgia has taken its own step to address this problem. Starting the academic year just ended, it produced a handbook (there’s also an online version) that was mailed to more than 400 incoming freshmen who were the first in their families to go to college, using simple and clear English. Also translated into Spanish, Korean and Chinese, it includes a glossary of academic terms and acronyms that might be unfamiliar to most new students. “I didn’t know what a bursar was for the longest time. Some of these things, they just don’t seem like regular English,” said Ramatulai Jagne, who began at UGA this past school year and whose parents are from Gambia. “It’s not like the ‘university payment center.’ It’s the bursar’s office.” The words and terms in UGA’s new handbook include “co-requisite” and “prerequisite,” “CRN” (course reference number), “FERPA” (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), “registrar,” “hardship withdrawal,” “matriculation” and even “dean’s list.” “That is such a step in the right direction,” Taylor said. “Mad props to Georgia for doing that.” The idea began with UGA transfer student coordinator Judy Iakovou, who remembered questions she received from students when she worked as an academic adviser in a freshman residence hall. “Once a student gets on campus, they get so much information so early in the process that they can be overwhelmed, and so reaching them in advance so they know, watch for this information, is going to be an important piece of that,” Iakovou said. There are other signs of change. U.S. Department of Education officials, recognizing the confusion some families have navigating their way through the FAFSA financial aid form application process, last year developed a mobile app they believe is easier than filling out the information online. The University System of Georgia earlier this year created a “Student Outcomes” page on its website for prospective students to learn more about its schools and other information, such as their student loan debt. >> READ | How to access the federal student financial aid app And when Taylor encountered the word “domicile” in a financial aid section for “certain categories of foreign students” on the Texas A&M University website, he worked with the school to rewrite “You must hold a visa that enables you to domicile in the United States,” to “You must hold a visa that allows you to live in the United States.” Information too complex for the average student to read “is going to diminish the likelihood that they will be able to appropriately enroll in the university,” Bosley said. De Santos, the UGA student, said her parents are from Mexico, so English isn’t their first language. She had to fill out most of the admission, enrollment and financial aid forms herself, which she said required numerous phone calls to the financial aid office and searching for the meaning of words and phrases. “A lot of stuff,” she said, “when I was applying to college, I had to look it up.” This story about college student success was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for The Hechinger Report’s higher education newsletter. AJC staff writer Eric Stirgus contributed to this article.
  • An alumnus of one of the state’s largest and highest-regarded institutions emerged Thursday as the candidate to become its new leader. Ángel Cabrera, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Georgia Tech, was named as the sole finalist to become the school’s next president. If selected, he would take over a school that is still recovering from some recent well-publicized ethics troubles. Cabrera has been president of George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia, since 2012 and has become a high-profile figure in the higher education world. The university’s enrollment has increased by 5.8% and its graduation rate is up 3 percentage points since Cabrera took office. But Cabrera has faced criticism in recent months after its law school agreed to have U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh teach overseas classes this summer over the objection of some students. A 22-member committee of the state’s Board of Regents and others picked Cabrera to be the candidate to replace G.P. “Bud” Peterson, who announced in January his retirement plans after a decade as Georgia Tech’s president. Peterson has spent much of the past 12 months grappling with several internal and state reports of ethics violations that resulted in the resignations and firings of some of the school’s top administrators.  >> RELATED | Georgia Tech president to retire >> MORE | President Peterson rebuked for ethical lapses under his watch “Dr. Ángel Cabrera has the academic background, leadership skills and community ties necessary to lead a premier research institution like Georgia Tech,” University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley said in a statement. “His strong record of improving student outcomes, increasing enrollment, strengthening research and enhancing stakeholder partnerships will enable him to successfully advance the priorities and meet the needs of the Georgia Tech campus community.” Cabrera’s Georgia Tech roots are deep. He’s been chairman of the school’s advisory board. His wife and son are Georgia Tech graduates. “Georgia Tech is very special to me,” Cabrera said in a statement. “My wife and I met there and our son is a recent graduate. It would be a privilege to lead such a great institution.” The announcement surprised some on campus who were unaware of the committee’s progress. The Board of Regents presidential search policy allows them to name just one finalist. The 19-member board will vote on Cabrera at an unspecified date. >> READ | Georgia Tech has had a ‘dramatic increase’ in ethics complaints, president says If hired, Cabrera will be tasked with improving its ethics culture and investigating complaints faster. Georgia Tech took an average of 102 days in 2017 to investigate a complaint, the second-longest time of any college or university in the University System of Georgia, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. It also saw a surge in ethics complaints, with 140 complaints between July and October, Peterson told staff at one meeting. Cabrera will also have to improve mental health services at Georgia Tech. Several students have committed suicide in recent years, and others have complained the school’s mental health services are inadequate. Cabrera will also have to maintain Georgia Tech’s rigorous academic standards, its standing as one of the world’s top research institutions and its ongoing effort to offer more online classes. Georgia Tech has nearly 33,000 students, and its 88% six-year graduation rate is the highest of any public college or university in the state. Its research institute received nearly a half-billion dollars in federal research funding in the last federal fiscal year. Some students complained Thursday that they didn’t have enough input into the selection process. One student group, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, released a statement raising those concerns and criticizing some of Cabrera’s decisions at George Mason. “Ángel Cabrera is not the answer,” it said. Fourth year student Jack Becker was critical of Cabrera’s decision to have Kavanaugh teach. Becker wants to see Cabrera, if he’s appointed, implement more recommendations to improve conditions for Georgia Tech students after the 2017 fatal shooting of a student by a campus police officer. “I want to see (Cabrera) make headway and not sweep it under the rug,” said Becker, 21, a liberal arts student. Cabrera has defended George Mason’s decision to hire Kavanaugh, who was accused of a sexual assault that allegedly occurred more than 30 years ago, when the judge was a high school student. “I respect the views of people who disagreed with Justice Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation due to questions raised about his sexual conduct in high school,” Cabrera wrote in March on George Mason’s website. “But he was confirmed and is now a sitting Justice. The law school has determined that the involvement of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice contributes to making our law program uniquely valuable for our students. And I accept their judgment.” George Mason has nearly 38,000 students, and its six-year graduation rate is about 69%, according to its website. The university has doubled its endowment during Cabrera’s tenure, and he’s been a vocal supporter of immigrant students known as “Dreamers” who obtained protection from deportation through an Obama administration policy, according to The Washington Post. American Council on Education Senior Vice President Terry Hartle called Cabrera an “ideal” candidate to lead Georgia Tech. “He is an experienced president, he’s internationally known and he has unique connections to Georgia Tech,” Hartle said. Hartle noted Cabrera has added more campuses in Virginia to increase accessibility for students, and the university has been ranked by some prominent organizations as a top-flight workplace. “A place like Georgia Tech isn’t going to take risks with (who it chooses to be) president,” Hartle said.