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SAFRA, the Student Aid and Financial Responsibility Act, passed the House of Representatives yesterday in a 253-171 vote. If passed by the Senate later this fall, SAFRA will end government subsidies to private student loan companies, move those loans federal direct loan program, and use the savings to increase aid to students and colleges by $8 billion a year.

This is a very big deal.

The House’s endorsement of loan reform is a huge step forward, but SAFRA contains another component that’s also worth paying attention to. Since 1998, the Higher Education Act’s Aid Elimination Penalty (AEP)  has denied federal financial aid to students with drug convictions on their records. Commit robbery or rape and you can still receive financial aid, but if you’re busted with pot you’re out of luck.

Two hundred thousand American students have lost financial aid because of this law since it went into effect a decade ago, but in the version of SAFRA passed yesterday, the AEP has been scaled back dramatically. If the House language makes it into the final bill, AEP will now apply only those students who are convicted of selling drugs while actually receiving financial aid.

Observers are predicting a tough fight for SAFRA in the Senate, where private lenders are gearing up to protect their turf. We’ll keep you informed as the situation develops.

A yearlong drug investigation at the University of Illinois culminated in more than two dozen arrests last week.

But all the cops found was six ounces of pot and some Xanax.

The UI campus police launched “Operation Thunder Strike” last fall, and the force decided to make “a little bit of a splash” before the end of the semester, according to Lt. Roy Acree. They obtained search warrants and arrest warrants for seventeen people, and swept in on three fraternity houses and several apartments starting last Tuesday.

They made twenty-five arrests, twenty-one of UI students, but Acree said the total haul was “180 grams of cannabis, numerous pieces of drug paraphernalia, cocaine residue, and some Xanax pills.” Cops also confiscated two vehicles, three television sets, two computers, and about three thousand dollars in cash.

Spring classes end tomorrow at UI, and final exams start this Friday.


(The Chronicle of Higher Education swallowed the campus cops’ line on this bust, by the way, but the comment thread on their story is turning into a real doozy.)

I posted earlier about one misconception about Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments in the case of Safford School District v. Redding, and now I’d like to take on another.

The case stems from a lawsuit brought by Savana Redding, who was strip-searched when she was in the eighth grade by school officials looking for prescription-strength ibuprofen.

In a Slate story on the oral arguments, Dahlia Lithwick quotes ACLU attorney Adam Wolf as saying that school officials required “a 13-year-old girl to take off her pants, her shirt, move around her bra so she reveals her breasts, and the same thing with her underpants to reveal her pelvic area.” Justice Breyer, Lithwick says, responded by wondering whether the strip search Wolf described was “all that different” from requiring a student to “change into a swimming suit or your gym clothes.” 

But Breyer’s example was not, as Lithwick claims, offered as parallel to Wolf’s — just the opposite.

Read the rest of this entry »

Last week the Cal State Northridge Daily Sundial ran an article on student drinking habits that claimed that American first-year students “spend more time drinking than studying.” Their source for this claim was a deeply flawed report produced by a company that markets anti-alcohol programs to college campuses.

As we reported last month, the study in question was little more than a marketing handout for Outside the Classroom, a for-profit company that produces anti-drinking programming for use by student affairs administrators.

The study received quite a lot of attention on its release, in large part because it was presented at the annual meeting of NASPA, a professional association for professionals in the student affairs field. What received much less attention was the fact that Outside the Classroom is a major corporate sponsor of NASPA, and paid for time at the group’s annual meeting.

And the problems with the study don’t end with its sponsorship. Its methodology is questionable and its most often repeated conclusions are not supported by the evidence it offers.

In short, the Outside the Classroom “study” is shoddy, anti-student research from a company with a financial interest in portraying students as problem drinkers. Disseminating it doesn’t bring us any closer to actually understanding student drinking habits, healthy or unhealthy.

This morning the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched at school over suspicions that she was hiding prescription-strength Advil somewhere on her body.

The transcript of the arguments will be released later — and I’ll update this post when I have them — but reporters who were present describe the two sides’ attorneys staking out extremely different interpretations of the constitutional issues at stake.

Adam B. Wolf, representing the student, Savana Redding, said that schools must have “location specific” information to search inside a student’s underwear. Even if a student is suspected of hiding weapons or heroin, he said, a school has no right to conduct such a search without evidence that contraband is hidden on the student’s body.

The attorney for the school, on the other hand, said that the school would have been legally justified in conducting a body cavity search on Redding, if they considered it appropriate.

The Court’s ruling in the case is likely to come sometime in June.

4:15 pm update: The transcripts of the oral arguments have been posted (PDF). I’ll read and comment when I get the chance.

6:15 pm update: Reading the transcripts now. The Baltimore Sun badly misrepresented the school attorney’s response to the cavity search question. More later.

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n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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