Monday, January 17, 2022

AMERICAN POLITICS - Redrawing Congressional Districts

"States redraw districts ahead of midtermsPBS NewsHour 1/16/2022


SUMMARY:  Several states across the country have redrawn legislative districts on the basis of the 2020 census.  In Michigan, the lines were drawn for the first time by an independent commission made up of citizens.  NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has an update to our report from there, and Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Adam Podowitz-Thomas, senior legal strategist at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.


"Inside Estonia’s approach in combating Russian disinformationPBS NewsHour 1/15/2022


SUMMARY:  Russian disinformation is rife in countries formerly ruled from Moscow.  Some ex-Soviet states have tried to suppress it altogether by banning Russian television stations and even limiting the use of the Russian language on their own domestic channels.  Special Correspondent Simon Ostrovsky visited Estonia, which is trying a different approach.  The story was produced in partnership with the Knight-Wallace Reporting Fellowship.

OPINION - Brooks and Capehart 1/14/2022

"Brooks and Capehart on voting rights legislation and partisanshipPBS NewsHour 1/14/2022


SUMMARY:  New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including Democrats' push for voting rights legislation, partisanship and President Biden’s handling of key issues within his party.

Judy Woodruff (NewsHour):  This week, Democrats renewed their push for voting rights legislation, the Supreme Court ruled on vaccine mandates, and new data showed inflation at its highest rate in nearly 40 years.

For a deeper look at all this, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart.  That is New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, columnist for The Washington Post.

Very good to see both of you.

Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post:  Thank you.

Judy Woodruff:  Thank you for joining us on this Friday night.

Let's start with voting rights.

David, it hasn't been a good week for the Democrats, despite the fact that President Biden went to Atlanta, made, I think it's fair to say, his strongest remarks yet on why voting rights matter.

What was your take on what he had to say?

David Brooks, New York Times:  I thought 80 percent of it was fine, a very good speech is.

There were some rhetorical flourishes at the end that went over the top and they were too partisan.  If we're going to have a clean election and a fair election and a properly certified election, we're going to need Democrats and Republican officials across the country to do their job.

And, in 2020, most Republicans did their job.  And to make this a partisan issue and to have, to me, supercharged rhetoric about, are you on the side of Abraham Lincoln or are you on the side of Jefferson Davis, that offended a lot of Republicans, made them extremely angry, and I think it makes it harder for the Republican officials who are going to do a good job to be in their party.

My friend and colleague Tom Friedman wrote a column advocating for a Biden-Liz Cheney ticket in 2024.  And I don't think he meant that literally.  But what he pointed to the fact was, in Israel, they — there was a broad coalition that said, we cannot have Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister again.

And so they formed a broad coalition to make that happen.  If we're going to prevent Donald Trump from being President again, we need a broad coalition.  And I thought this speech was unhelpful, especially coming from a man who said he's going to unify the country.

So, most of the speech was good, but those rhetorical flourishes, partisan, I think, detract.

Judy Woodruff:  Jonathan, too much partisanship in what the President had to say?

Jonathan Capehart:  I don't think so, Judy.  In fact, what David calls rhetorical flourishes and over the top, I thought was probably the most powerful part of the President's speech.

Remember, President Biden, to my mind, is never more clear, passionate, focused and determined than when he is talking about what he calls the soul of America, started with his campaign talking about Charlottesville, talking in his run against Donald Trump about who we are as a people.

And I think a lot of people make a mistake in terms of focusing in on the politics of this speech, and not understanding that it's as much political as it is moral for this President.

And we can focus in on what happened in the 2020 election, but the fire that's coming from the President, the fire that is coming from millions of Americans has to do with what Republicans in particular have been doing in states since the 2020 election.

For a lot of people, what is happening at the state and local level in terms of not just voter suppression, but voter subversion, is what is animating this entire debate.

And so for people to be upset because the President drew a very stark and clear line in the sand that you are either with, as he said, Dr. King, in terms of opening up the promise of America to everyone, or George Wallace, who was about holding on to power for power's sake, and holding it in the hands of an elite few, particularly a white male elite few, this is where we are right now.

And the last thing I will say on this is, after four years of a President who took a blowtorch to the American presidency, to the Constitution, to our values, to the peaceful transfer of power, to decency in general, for people to be upset with President Biden for fighting for American values and for American democracy, it's a little hard for me to take them seriously.

Judy Woodruff:  What about that, David?

Because what we have seen Republicans doing in a number of states is cutting back on early voting, the number of days, cutting back on things like mail-in — the ability to do mail-in voting.  What about that?

David Brooks:  Yes.  Well, I'm not here to defend that.  And I certainly have not been defending it lo these many months.

But I do think rhetoric like comparing Republicans to Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis is not helpful.  It's not 1861 anymore.  I even think the trope that he has that, well, the Georgia law is Jim Crow 2 is also not helpful.

The Georgia law was a big step backward.  And I would condemn it in the strongest terms.  And I agree with Jonathan about 80 percent.  But the Georgia law, it's compared — I have read an article — an analysis recently comparing it to the New York law.  And there are some parts where Georgia makes it easier somewhere, New York makes it easier.

And the — it's true that Georgia is going backwards and New York is going forward.  So I don't want to justify that.  But the overheated rhetoric, I think, has the effect of making this just a Republican-vs-Democratic issue.  And it should not be a Republican-vs.-Democratic issue.

It should be a Republican and Democrats on one side and the cult of Trump on the other side.  And making that clear, I think, is the right thing — the right way to approach this.

Judy Woodruff:  Jonathan?

Jonathan Capehart:  Well, I mean, all I can say is, we can polite ourselves to oblivion.  And, at some point, it is imperative that the President state clearly what's at stake here.

And when it comes to Georgia, let's keep in mind, Georgia didn't institute its new laws, propose them and pass them into law until after Georgia voters voted for President Biden to make him the next President of the United States and after they elected two Democrats from that state.

So, this is what we're talking about here.  And what — 19 — what is it, the stat I'm looking for?  Nineteen states have passed 34 restrictive laws in 2021 alone.  So, that is what's animating this entire discussion.

Judy Woodruff:  David, I want to ask you about…


Judy Woodruff:  Go ahead, David.  Go ahead.

David Brooks:  Yes, maybe I will get to what we're going to.

But we have an ethical responsibility here to make sure we actually effectively repulse what's being — happening.  And (AUDIO GAP) is now in a position where nothing's probably going to happen in Washington, because they couldn't get Sinema and Manchin to sign off on the filibuster changes.

So it's likely that we will have no voting rights bills this year.  And so we have to figure out ways to actually pass things.  And I think alienating the center is probably not the way to go.

Now, in retrospect, as I look at the Biden presidency, and especially the terrible events, in my view, of not having these voting rights bills, it seems clear to me the whole Biden presidency, and, on Inauguration Day, they should have sat down with Manchin and Sinema and said, where can we go from here, and what can we do together?

That is to say, they should have started at the center and gone outward.  Instead, they started at the left and went centrist.  And I — that's looking like an unfortunate strategy both on voting rights and on Build Back Better.

Judy Woodruff:  Well, that brings up what Sinema had to say, Senator Kyrsten Sinema.  Jonathan, in her speech on the Senate floor this week, where they need — they need her, they need Senator Manchin to go along with any change in the Senate rules, in the filibuster.

But she essentially argued that it's more important to work on partisanship than it is to do something about voting rights.

Jonathan Capehart:  Sure.

And her speech could have been delivered from fantasyland, this idea that the Republicans who sit there now have any interest in working with Democrats on this issue in particular.

In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized unanimously in the Senate.  Republican President George W. Bush had a South Lawn signing ceremony with Reverend Al Sharpton sitting in the front row.  That was when voting rights was bipartisan.  All the Republicans in the Senate voted for it.  As the President pointed out in his speech in Atlanta, 16 of those senators still serve.

And yet 16 of those senators won't even vote to allow those two voting rights bills to even be debated.  They don't have to vote for them, but why shouldn't they debate them?  Why shouldn't the American people at least get to hear what's in those bills, what's wrong with those bills, where could there be areas of compromise?

And when it comes to Senator Manchin, at least he worked with Republicans.  They had three bites at the apple on the Freedom to Vote ActAnd Senator Manchin gave Republicans, after talking to them, many of the things that they wanted, including voter I.D.  And yet no Republican voted to allow that bill to even be debated.

So, for Senator Sinema to say, look, we have to work with Republicans, and I will only do this if there's bipartisanship, well, where's it going to come from, because it's not it's happening now?

Judy Woodruff:  David?

David Brooks:  Yes, well, I mean, her argument is not an implausible argument.  And it's not really about these two particular pieces of legislation.

Her argument is that if the — if we change the filibuster rules, and the majority party basically gets to control the Senate, and never has to work with the minority party, that would be bad for the country and bad for the Senate, because you basically have sort of one-party rule.

And that's not an implausible argument.  Whether she's right to not pursue a carve-out for voting rights, I think that's a mistake.  I wish they — she would do a carve-out just for voting rights to get this issue off the table.

But her defense of the filibuster is the traditional defense of the filibuster.  And, in my view, having covered this issue for a long time, in my view, almost every effort to reduce the filibuster over the course, whether on judges or anything else, has had long-term negative effects.

David Brooks:  Jonathan and I are in violent agreement on this subject.


Judy Woodruff:  Is that what you call it?

All right, well, we have only got about 30 seconds left.  So, there's no time to ask you about the Supreme Court decision the vaccine mandate and inflation.

But I promise you we're going to come back to that next Friday.


Judy Woodruff:  You have got a whole week to think about it.

Thank you both, Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks.  We appreciate it.  Have a good weekend.

Jonathan Capehart:  You too.

David Brooks:  Thank you, Judy.

KENYA - Worst Drought in Decades

"Kenya’s worst drought in decades creates humanitarian crisisPBS NewsHour 1/14/2022


SUMMARY:  The worst drought in decades is gripping eastern Africa -- parching landscapes, killing livestock and creating a humanitarian crisis.  Driven by climate change, it's also leading to civil strife, as shepherding communities battle each other for scarce resources.  Special correspondent Jack Hewson and producer Georgina Smith report from the Wajir province of northern Kenya.

SYRIA - Official's Crimes of War

"Syrian official faces war crime charges for overseeing brutal prison torturePBS NewsHour 1/12/2022


SUMMARY:  On Thursday in a German courtroom, a verdict will be rendered in the world's first trial against a high-ranking former officer in the Syrian regime for crimes against humanityAnwar Ruslan was in charge of interrogations in a government prison and stands accused of overseeing mass torture, rape and killing.  For Reveal and PBS NewsHour, Adithya Sambamurthy and Luna Watfa report.

U.S. ECONOMY - Inflation's Impact

"Inflation surged at the fastest pace in 40 years.  What will it mean for consumers?PBS NewsHour 1/12/2022


SUMMARY:  The last time inflation rose 7 percent annually was back in 1982 and the latest consumer price report shows costs are continuing to spike.  That is presenting real questions for the Federal Reserve, which is tasked with promoting stable prices.  Mary Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco who also sits on the committee that decides interest rates, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

AMERICAN POLITICS - Bridging the Divide

"Political polarization prompts efforts to bridge the gap through shared experiencesPBS NewsHour 1/10/2022


SUMMARY:  PBS NewsHour spent much of last week trying to examine what still divides our country and the deep polarization that preceded the Jan. 6 riots.  Now, Paul Solman looks at multiple efforts to bridge those major political and cultural fissures in the U.S., beginning with smaller steps forward.

UKRAINE - NATO & U.S. vs Russia

"U.S., Russia begin tense talks amid stark disagreements over UkrainePBS NewsHour 1/10/2022


SUMMARY:  It is one of the most significant crises with Russia since the end of the Cold War: 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border that the U.S. says could invade within weeks.  Meanwhile, American and Russian diplomats have kicked off intense talks.  Debra Cagan, a former American diplomat, and Dmitri Trenin, of the Carnegie Moscow Center, join Nick Schifrin to discuss.



"U.S., NATO meet with Russia over massive troop buildup at Ukraine borderPBS NewsHour 1/12/2022


SUMMARY:  The U.S. and its NATO allies met with Russian officials Wednesday in Brussels as part of a whirlwind week of diplomacy across Europe, sparked by a massive Russian troop buildup on its border with Ukraine.  The crisis comes as questions about NATO cohesion persist.  Nick Schifrin reports, and speaks with Ivo Daalder, former U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Clinton administration, to learn more.



"Russian military escalation with Ukraine looms as diplomatic efforts make little progressPBS NewsHour 1/13/2022


SUMMARY:  A week of diplomacy in Europe concluded Thursday, with the U.S. and European countries meeting with Russia over its massive military deployment on the borders of Ukraine.  But the talks did not end well.  Nick Schifrin reports on where the standoff may head moving forward.

THE RIGHT TO VOTE - Republicans Are The Party Threatening Voter Rights

COMMENT: The GOP is, and always has been, the party that tries to restrict the Right to Vote by making it harder to vote.  Trying to stop mail-in voting which mean no need for polling places.  They now try restricting the number of polling places, especially in Democratic areas.  They are the one putting more and more ways to block an individual from qualifying to vote.  They are the ones pushing the LIE of rampant voter fraud.  The danger today is with the situation in the Senate where they can actually accomplish their goal of one-party-rule, especially the help of two Democratic Party traitors.

"Democrats make push for voting rights legislation in CongressPBS NewsHour 1/10/2022


SUMMARY:  U.S. senators returned to work in Washington, D.C.  Monday as Democrats launched their most concerted push yet on voting legislation.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss voting rights, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and more.



"Democrats search for pathway to voting rights legislation in a divided CongressPBS NewsHour 1/12/2022


SUMMARY:  On Capitol Hill, Democrats are looking for ways to move voting rights forward as Senate Republicans pushed back after President Biden denounced them for stalling legislation.  Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to discuss where legislation stands and what options lie ahead.



"Democrats’ voting rights legislation ‘on ice’ with opposition to filibuster changePBS NewsHour 1/13/2022

IMO The filibuster (which is NOT in our Constitution) should have never been allowed and should be permanently banned.  Especially since Republicans changed the filibuster rule to NOT requiring a Senator to actually be on the floor and talk (like in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), they only have to state the will filibuster.


SUMMARY:  President Biden and congressional Democrats made a new push Thursday for voting rights legislation.  The House passed a repackaged set of two bills aimed at blunting Republican-passed state laws that Democrats say will limit voting.  But they still face hurdles within their own party to achieve a filibuster rule change.  NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins and Geoff Bennett join Judy Woodruff to discuss.



"Sen. Warnock on the prospects for voting rights legislation: ‘This is about our democracy’PBS NewsHour 1/13/2022


SUMMARY:  President Biden on Thursday made his case for voting right legislation directly to Senate Democrats and heatedly denounced the Republican efforts to put limits on voting.  But Sen. Kyrsten Sinema reiterated that she would not support a change to the 60-vote threshold or weakening the filibuster.  Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, a key lawmaker close to the issue, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

COVID - Week Starting 1/10/2020 Roundup

"How the latest CDC guidance on COVID-19 is creating unnecessary confusionPBS NewsHour 1/10/2022


SUMMARY:  The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on isolation and testing for COVID-19 has received intense pushback.  Many health experts are now criticizing what the CDC has said and how its officials have said it.  This includes the American Medical Association, which issued a strong rebuke.  Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the AMA, joins Williams Brangham to discuss.



"COVID hospitalizations reach record high as the White House rushes to ramp up testingPBS NewsHour 1/11/2022


SUMMARY:  During Tuesday's congressional hearing about the pandemic, there were tough criticisms of the Biden administration and the lack of available testing.  Biden has announced plans to ramp up the response, from requiring insurers to pay for rapid at-home testing to making 500 million tests available.  Thomas Inglesby, senior advisor to the White House COVID team, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.



"Examining the human toll of China’s stringent COVID policyPBS NewsHour 1/11/2022


SUMMARY:  Chinese authorities locked down after discovering two cases of omicron in Anyang, a city of 5.5 million people about 300 miles outside Beijing.  It’s the third Chinese city now in lockdown and comes less than a month before the Beijing Olympics.  These lockdowns are tests of China’s zero-COVID policy, which authorities have called a success.  But critics ask: at what cost?  Nick Schifrin reports.



"Chicago teachers agree to return to school after a protracted standoffPBS NewsHour 1/11/2022


SUMMARY:  With the spread of omicron exacerbating staffing shortages, returning to school after winter break has been a significant struggle in many parts of the country.  The overwhelming number of districts are back in person, but some have gone virtual for a few weeks.  And, as Stephanie Sy reports, the biggest battle over whether to return to in-person learning has been playing out in Chicago.



"Hospitals near a breaking point with latest influx of COVID patientsPBS NewsHour 1/12/2022


SUMMARY:  The Biden administration is pressing to ship more COVID test kits to schools amid growing criticism of shortages as infections pile up nationwide.  But for hospitals dealing with the surge the worst is far from over.  In the city of Rochester in New York state, hospitals are so over capacity and under-staffed that many are asking ambulances to take patients elsewhere.  William Brangham reports.



"U.S. Supreme Court blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for large companiesPBS NewsHour 1/13/2022

IMO they are willing to allow more U.S. citizens to get COVID for an over-conservative interpretation of law.  Totally wrong!


SUMMARY:  The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the Biden administration must stop enforcing a rule that employees at big companies take the COVID vaccine, but permitted vaccine requirements for most health care workers.  William Brangham reports.



"What a Supreme Court decision on vaccine mandates means for workersPBS NewsHour 1/13/2022


SUMMARY:  The conservative majority of justices on the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Biden's COVID vaccination policy, stating that the administration had overstepped its authority with the rule, which would’ve applied to more than 80 million workers.  Marcia Coyle, of The National Law Journal, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, join John Yang to discuss.



"Health systems buckle under latest surge of COVID hospitalizationsPBS NewsHour 1/14/2022


SUMMARY:  President Biden on Friday announced free tests to help combat the rapidly spreading omicron variant.  But the surge is battering hospitals and stretching some to capacity, with COVID hospitalizations jumping 179 percent in the past two weeks.  William Brangham reports, and speaks with Dr. Rajan Garg, ICU medical director at Methodist Hospital of Southern California, to learn more.



"Boston schools face staff shortages amid sky-high COVID casesPBS NewsHour 1/14/2022


SUMMARY:  Most of the nation’s nearly 100,000 public schools are open.  But as the omicron surge continues, some districts are struggling to keep in-person learning going.  Boston Public Schools have been operating in person since last spring, though a high number of cases are raising concerns about whether there will be enough teachers and staff.  Stephanie Sy reports on how the district is faring.



"Omicron spreads as free home tests are set to roll outPBS NewsHour 1/15/2022


SUMMARY:  Starting Saturday, private insurers are required to cover the cost of up to eight at-home testing kits, while those without insurance can get a free kit from the federal government.  Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases rose by another 800,000 across the U.S. Hospitals are filling up even as deaths have risen at a slower pace.  Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency room physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital joins from Boston.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

PROPUBLICA - Nonprofit College Spending

Baker College promises students a better life.  But few ever graduate, and even those who do often leave with crushing debt and useless degrees.  No one — not the board, nor the accreditors, nor the federal government — has intervened.

"The Nonprofit College That Spends More on Marketing Than Financial Aid" Anna Clark (ProPublica) and David Jesse (Detroit Free Press), ProPublica 1/12/2022

Baker College sells itself as a place where students thrive and lives are transformed: “a haven for those who dream big.”

From humble beginnings as a small business school in Flint, Baker rose to become the largest private college in Michigan, forging a presence in online learning and in Michigan towns where many students thought a college degree was beyond their grasp.  For decades, the school’s marketing touted low costs and employment rates of nearly 100% for job-seeking graduates — making the dream seem both affordable and achievable.

But for many the Baker reality is neither, an investigation by the Detroit Free Press and ProPublica found.

What the college’s ads don’t say is that less than one-quarter of its students graduate — far below the national average for private four-year schools, according to federal data.  Baker has the third-lowest graduation rate among 26 private four-year schools in Michigan.

The ads also don’t point out that 70% of Baker students who took out federal student loans have problems making payments two years after leaving college.  An exceptionally large number of former Baker students with loans have filed claims with the federal government that they were defrauded or misled by the college.

Nor is there mention of the Baker students who find themselves struggling long-term after leaving the school.  Ten years after enrolling, according to federal data, fewer than half of former Baker students made more than $28,000 a year, the lowest rate among schools of its kind in the state.

All this has occurred under the watch of a college oversight structure with unusually close ties to Baker’s leadership, the Free Press and ProPublica found.  The joint investigation relied on public records, internal reports and more than 50 interviews, including with current and former students, faculty and employees.

The president of the college, records show, serves on its Board of Trustees, which is supposed to provide a check on the decisions of the school administration.  And a retired Baker president served as chair of that board until very recently — at the same time being paid more than a million dollars from the college for five years of part-time work.

Education experts caution nonprofits against compensating board members, saying it can lead to decisions that are not in the best interest of students or the college.

“I’ve never seen the president of an institution become the chairman of the board after he retires,” said James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University who has studied higher education finances for decades.  “It certainly is not doing best practices by any stretch of the imagination.”

The new board chair is another longtime Baker executive who previously served as the institution’s top academic officer and a campus president.

Some former students have no regrets about their time at Baker; they’re grateful for a teacher or adviser who came through for them when they needed it.  “I think it is a great place for adult learners to engage,” said Jules Tarrant, who earned degrees from both Baker’s Flint campus and its online program.  Thanks to a scholarship, the school helped her transition from a tumultuous home life.  She now lives in Northern Virginia and manages a grocery store.  “My friends and family can’t believe how successful I’ve been,” she said.

But others express frustration after seeing what was supposed to be a life-enhancing experience become a lifelong financial burden.  They describe confusion about shifting academic requirements and a lack of career counseling.  Or dismay about not getting their degrees.  Sometimes, it’s pure anger.

After graduating from high school in 2013, Daniel Church pursued an ambitious bachelor’s/master’s degree program in computer technology at Baker but said the department began to lose faculty and fell into disarray.  Intent on sticking it out, he took out loans to stay in school and navigated unexpected graduation requirements.  Then, after six years, he gave up in defeat.

Today, Church drives a truck cross-country, with the hope that someday he can erase more than $30,000 he said he borrowed for a degree he never received.

“I will never get that time in my life back,” he said.

Baker officials, in response to questions, traced the school’s low graduation rate to its open enrollment policy of accepting virtually any applicant with a high school degree or GED.  They also said the college is not allowed to restrict student borrowing.

In a statement to reporters, Baker emphasized a continuing commitment to improving student outcomes and reducing student loan debt, though it did not provide specifics.  It did not comment for this story on the students or the experiences they described.

Bart Daig, Baker’s president and chief executive, talked to reporters last summer before declining additional interviews.  He said he believes Baker’s marketing efforts — costing $9.7 million in the 2019-20 school year, more than the college spent on financial aid — are necessary because its breadth of educational opportunities are not well-known.

“We’ve been extremely modest over the years,” he said.

Baker Spends More on Marketing Than Student Aid

In the 2019-20 school year, Baker College’s marketing spending outstripped what it devoted to financial aid.

In 2019, Chief Operating Officer Jacqui Spicer gave a rare response to critiques of Baker when residents in Ferndale, outside Detroit, pushed back against the college’s plan to move its main campus there.  Some complained at public meetings about Baker’s academic reputation and called the school predatory.

“Being predatory, I don’t think that’s the way in which we operate,” Spicer told a reporter at the time, adding: “We always put our students first, and I think it’s just disappointing people think that we’re predatory, because we really do have the students — they’re top of mind for us.”

Baker began as a for-profit school in 1911 but became a nonprofit in 1977, then entered a period of rapid growth.  Since the recession, however, enrollment has been in a tailspin.

Competition in the online education market contributed to the erosion, as did its own decisions to close five campuses, including those in historically industrial communities like Flint and Allen Park, while eliminating most certificate and associate degree programs.  It is now Michigan’s second-largest four-year private college by enrollment, after Davenport University.

The school’s search for a new campus signaled a major pivot, with Baker trying to appeal to more traditional students, especially those seeking bachelor’s degrees right out of high school.

After failing in Ferndale, Baker found a warmer welcome in Royal Oak, a well-off Detroit suburb, where it is building a $51 million flagship campus scheduled to open later this year.  The marketing strikes a familiar theme of hope, tailored to a new audience.  A YouTube ad highlights sophisticated labs and experienced instructors, along with disc golf, live music and sushi.

“Your path to your dream career begins at Baker College,” the ad declares.

Student Debt

Baker has long made affordability its selling point.  Full-time undergraduate tuition is around $11,000 a year, cheaper than most of the state’s other private colleges.

That makes Baker “quite attractive for students who are concerned over the cost of college,” Daig said.  One glossy ad champions a “quality education minus the long-term financial sacrifice.”

But most Baker students are low-income or the first in their families to attend college.  They often turn to federal and private loans to pay a large chunk of their costs.

“We can’t stop them from taking a federal loan, which — it is not within our authority,” Daig said.  “We can strongly encourage them not to do it, and we can package them with that institutional aid so they don’t need it.  But a lot of times, they took it.”

Several students interviewed for this story portrayed their interactions with the school differently, saying Baker officials didn’t urge caution.

Bart Bechtel said he took out more than $40,000 in student loans while pursuing an online associate degree, with encouragement from Baker — even though the amount surpassed what he needed for tuition.

Financial aid officers, he recalled, told him he was eligible, so he might as well take advantage of the full amount.  He said they talked about how he might need money for family expenses, his son and Christmas presents.

“We were going through a lot at the time with our son getting diagnosed as autistic, and Baker was very quick to suggest more and more financial aid to pay for things,” Bechtel said, referring to student loans.  “So we became sort of dependent on them for that.

“It was not a good time or situation, and I feel like they took advantage of that.”

Dan Nowaczyk, who graduated from Baker’s Flint campus in 2016, recalled students talking about the extra spending money they could get from loans.

Once, he said, some students were talking about aid disbursement and one asked the others: “How much money did you guys get back?”

Nowaczyk recalled saying that he took out only enough money for classes and books.  When the student said he came away with more than $10,000 beyond that, Nowaczyk said he felt obligated to tell him these were loans that had to be paid back — because the student didn’t seem to know.

“The financial aid department was not very good at explaining student loans,” he said.

Nowaczyk finished with a bachelor’s degree in information system security and $60,000 in debt, “less than I was expecting, so I’m not too upset,” he said.  He now works at Kettering University in Flint as head coach of esports.

Jacqueline Tessmer, who taught digital media at Baker’s Auburn Hills campus for 14 years, saw the Baker experience backfire for low-income students who weren’t prepared for college.  (Tessmer’s relationship with the school ended with a settlement after she filed a lawsuit for breach of contract and retaliation; in a countersuit, Baker disputed her claims.)

“Anybody got in,” she said.  “If they could get financial aid, and they had a pulse, you could become a Baker student.”

But getting in was no guarantee of success, she said, and retention was a constant problem in her program.  Students, she said, “were promised a better life but ended up with debt and no degree and no job in their chosen field.”

She added: “Baker College has ruined a lot of people’s lives.”

Low Earnings for Baker College Students

In its response to questions from the Free Press/ProPublica, Baker said financial aid award letters and loan request forms list each student’s maximum eligibility for federal loans, as regulations require, as well as “the reduced amount recommended to cover their institutional charges.  This was done to reduce over-borrowing.” The college also provides students with aggregate loan totals and estimated monthly payments.

Baker also noted that if students took out private loans, these were disbursed without the college’s “awareness or involvement.”

If students don’t repay federal loans after leaving Baker, the government can garnish their wages, tax refunds and Social Security benefits.  It can also hire collection agencies and file lawsuits to pursue payment.  Unlike other forms of debt, federal student loans are extremely difficult to discharge in bankruptcy.

For Baker, the loans pose no risk or obligation.  In fact, they provide a steady source of government-guaranteed revenue.

About 51% of Baker’s tuition revenue comes from federal student loans.  Add in Pell Grants given to low-income students, which don’t have to be paid back, and about 72% of Baker’s tuition is backed by taxpayers.

By comparison, in the years before it shut down following federal penalties for predatory practices, ITT Technical Institute, a for-profit college system, relied on federal funds for about 76% of its revenue.  Studies by several researchers have concluded that having a large percentage of tuition money coming from federal funds can be an indicator of a predatory for-profit school.

Davenport University, which Baker officials say is similar to their school, isn’t as reliant on public coffers.  Only about 37% of Davenport’s tuition comes from federal loans.  Including Pell Grants, about 49% of its tuition comes from the federal government.

Most nonprofit schools fundraise, seeking donations from successful alumni and others to reduce dependence on student debt.  Not Baker.  Its website states that “tuition is our sole source of income” — it doesn’t solicit donations.

Student reliance on loans can also be reduced through generous financial aid, often supported by college endowments.  And Baker, in fact, has a sizable one.

The Jewell Educational Fund, a nonprofit affiliated with Baker to help with financial aid and capital projects, has nearly $300 million in net assets.  That gives Baker a wealthier endowment than Kalamazoo College in western Michigan, Seton Hall University or Gonzaga University.

But it hasn’t lessened the need for Baker students to go into debt, because Baker hasn’t aggressively spent the money on scholarships.  Baker spends about 3% of the Jewell endowment earnings annually.  Davenport, with an endowment of about $28 million, has a policy to spend 5% of its earnings each year.

In search of relief, former students can file claims with the U.S. Department of Education, saying they were misled when they borrowed the money.  As of December 2020, according to data published by Yahoo Finance, of the 266 institutions with more than 100 “borrower defense” claims of deception, only five were nonprofits.  The rest are for-profits and “covert for-profits,” where the moneymaking mission is clearer.  “Covert for-profits” is a term that has been applied to colleges that very recently changed from for-profit to nonprofit, with little difference in how they actually operate.  Among the five nonprofits that had a high number of claims, three are shuttered colleges, and one recently regained accreditation 20 years after losing it.  The other is Baker.

Claims are not proof of wrongdoing, and Baker’s written response to reporters said the college has never been alerted to a successful application for borrower relief.  Students file the claims under penalty of perjury.  The Department of Education declined to answer questions about the claims against Baker, but it recently revived a borrower defense enforcement unit that had been dormant during the Trump administration.

Robert Niles, a former student with more than $83,000 in debt incurred while getting two associate degrees at Baker’s Cadillac campus, is preparing a borrower defense claim against the school.

He said he is citing Baker’s claims of 99% employment in the job market, which persuaded him to enroll because he believed it would give him his “best chance” at a better life.  He will contend the training he received was insufficient for more than changing oil on cars.

For about three decades, Baker ads cited a “graduate employment rate” of nearly 100%.  Its website, too, promoted this; it still claims “one of the highest available graduate employment rates in the country.”

When asked about the source for these numbers, Daig cited the National Association of Colleges and EmployersHowever, NACE said it does not evaluate individual institutions.  It collects information that colleges self-report, often based on surveys.  It would not comment on Baker’s claims.  Baker’s public disclosure forms for certain programs say it calculates the employment rate using responses to a survey sent by the school to graduates.

It uses the same survey to estimate that its 2020 graduates with bachelor’s degrees make about $52,000 a year.

Niles first studied computer-aided drafting and design but said he couldn’t find a job in the field.  Hoping to enhance his earning potential, he returned to Baker for training in automotive services.  He graduated cum laude for both associate degrees.

But even with those credentials, he said, he earned just pennies more than what he had made previously as an auto mechanic intern.  After graduating, he had to study on his own to obtain certifications for the skills he needed to make more.  “It has nothing to do with any of those degrees,” Niles said.

One lesson from his time at Baker, he said, is this: “It’s just a business, you know.  I mean, all Baker is a business.”

College Structure

College presidents sit at the top of a management flowchart, but they do not typically operate without oversight.  Independent boards of trustees serve as a check on decision-making and a judge of performance.

Recently, for example, the president of the University of Michigan announced he will leave the job sooner than expected — a move that coincided with rising tensions with the school’s Board of Regents, which questioned how he handled the pandemic and sexual misconduct scandals.

At Baker, Daig, the president, is actually a trustee, too.  And the chair of the board through August was Daig’s predecessor as president, F. James Cummins.

Having ex-presidents as members of the board is a red flag, higher education experts said, because they are too closely tied to the operations of the college and their former colleagues.

“Essentially, this would make them their successor’s boss,” said Finkelstein, the higher education expert.  “Regardless of whether they are being paid as a board chair, a university employee or just serving as a volunteer, this seems to be a unique situation and runs against virtually any principles of good governance.”

Baker did not answer repeated questions about whether Daig voted as a trustee.  In its statements to reporters, Baker described its board as knowledgeable and involved, citing “constructive discourse and feedback.”

Meanwhile, the role of former president can be lucrative at Baker.  In every tax filing by the college since Cummins retired in 2016 and joined the board, he has been one of the school’s most highly compensated individuals.

Cummins’ compensation for 2019-20 was $202,000 for a reported 22 hours of work a week.  The tax filing said he played multiple roles, serving on the systemwide Board of Trustees and the Board of Regents, which provided guidance for branch campuses.  Some state and federal filings also list him in a “secretary” position.

Ed Kurtz was 26 years old and Baker was still a for-profit school when it hired him as president in 1968.  He led the school until 2002 and went on to serve about 13 years on Baker’s Board of Trustees, holding various titles, including chairman and vice-chairman.

During Kurtz’s time on the board — which overlapped with his two controversial stints as the state-appointed emergency financial manager of Flint — the college paid him more than $2.2 million for a reported 1 to 40 hours of work a week, for an average of about $170,000 a year.

Baker bylaws examined by reporters say that “no stated salary shall be paid to trustees, as such, for their services.”  The bylaws do permit payment to a trustee who works for Baker College itself.

Former presidents have served as board chair since at least 1986, according to Cummins in a 2006 Flint Journal story.

Their leadership roles can stretch for decades.  Robert Jewell, now 91, is a past president who owned Baker when it was a for-profit college.  On documents, he was listed as a member of the Board of Regents of the Muskegon campus as recently as 2019.  That year, the college paid him $10,450.  Jewell could not be reached for comment.  Baker said in its written responses that “Ed Kurtz and Jim Cummins received deferred compensation which was paid while serving on the board.  Also, the Board Chair is an employee of Baker College.”

Demetri Morgan, assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago, said this type of arrangement is problematic.

“Board members are supposed to be free of any real or apparent conflicts of interests,” said Morgan, who studies how colleges are run.  “Being a paid employee of Baker potentially impedes a board member from carrying out their fiduciary roles because the threat (perceived or real) of employment termination is more than enough to circumscribe one’s actions.”

Kurtz could not be reached for comment; Cummins declined to comment for this story.

Baker told ProPublica and the Free Press that as of Aug. 31 — three weeks after reporters asked questions about a possible conflict of interest — Cummins’ board tenure came to an end.

The new board chair is Denise Bannan, who retired in 2020 after 35 years as a top Baker executive.  She has been provost, vice president for academics, president of the Owosso campus and Baker’s liaison to its accreditors.  She made more than $300,000 in 2019-20, her last full year as an administrator, records show.

As for the other trustees, Baker doesn’t list them anywhere on its website or its student handbook — a potential problem for a student or anybody else who wants to contact the board with concerns about the way the college is run.  When reporters asked who the current board members were, Baker declined to provide a list and instead recommended looking in the organization’s tax filings, which provide information for 2020 but nothing more recent.

Experts in higher education governance who reviewed Baker’s bylaws questioned whether any real checks and balances exist at Baker.  “This is very atypical,” said Morgan.

So much so that when the Free Press/ProPublica asked Morgan to review Baker’s governance documents, he texted fellow researchers to see if they could think of any institution that was similar.  They couldn’t.

Baker’s nonprofit status gives the college tax advantages, wider access to gifts and government aid and the ability to promote itself as having a public service mission.

But, George Mason’s Finkelstein said, “this looks more like a legacy structure for a for-profit enterprise.  I have never seen a nonprofit college set up this way.”

Baker said its governance documents “have been and continue to be reviewed by accreditors, attorneys, accounting firms, etc.  The articles of incorporations, bylaws, and governance structure are the result of professional advice designed to enable Baker College to fulfill its mission.”

The Higher Learning Commission, a private accreditation agency, found no flaws in oversight when it gave its most recent stamp of approval to Baker in 2020.  “The Board operates independently,” it declared in its review.

The commission, which declined to comment for this story, based its conclusion on interviews and written documents, including the school’s bylaws.  It also cited the minutes of trustee meetings, which describe the proceedings tersely.

The meetings reviewed by the commission occurred during a time of some of the most significant changes in Baker’s 111-year history, including the decision to close and sell four campuses and build a new one.  Votes on all matters were unanimous.

Baker’s Many Incarnations

Baker prides itself on a long history of pivoting quickly and changing with the times.

As it grew, it began issuing not only certificates, but associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.  It expanded by buying business schools and Bible colleges across the state, while also making inroads in new communities and then broadening further through online education.  In recent years, it bought a California-based online law school that it’s bringing under the Baker brand.

In 1999, Forbes applauded the college’s online efforts and revenue gains.  “Such growth is impressive given that it has been achieved despite a complete absence of state or federal funding — even any fund-raising,” the magazine wrote.

John Matonich, a former member of the Board of Regents for Baker’s Flint campus, said one thing he always admired was the school’s nimble approach.  “They recognized things pretty quickly, and they made changes when they needed to,” said Matonich, a retired CEO of Rowe Professional Services, a civil engineering consulting company.

Driven in large part by a massive online program, Baker grew from just shy of 4,000 students in 2000 to about 26,000 in 2015, dwarfing other Michigan private colleges.

Then, as more schools entered the online marketplace and demographic shifts meant fewer high school graduates, enrollment dropped.  It slid to about 6,000 students in 2020, according to federal data.  Enrollment for 2021 has not yet been reported.

Fewer students means less money.  The school brought in $96 million in tuition for the 2017-18 academic year, according to audited financial statements.  Two years later, it was $55 million.

This coincided with dramatic changes.

Baker shut down its campuses in Flint, Allen Park and Clinton Township in 2020, and will soon close one in Auburn Hills.  The Port Huron campus quietly ceased operations two years earlier.  Many campuses had received millions of dollars in recent renovations, including new dorms built at Port Huron three years before it closed.  Baker also closed extension campuses in rural communities.  A 2020 report delivered to accreditors affirmed that the school wanted to target “a more traditional student market that is academically prepared to succeed at the college level.”

Spicer told the Free Press in 2019: “We recognized that our business model wasn’t sustainable, and that’s one of the reasons that we’re making this shift.”  She also said the school had “a lot of students who were at-risk,” which went “hand-in-hand with how our campuses have historically operated.”

The change in strategy at Baker doesn’t sit right with everyone.

Cleamon Moorer Jr., a former administrator and faculty member, observed with dismay as Baker shut down campuses and sought to attract different kinds of students.

“I think it’s insulting.  I do,” said Moorer Jr., who served about three years as Baker’s first dean of a consolidated school of business.  “Because now it’s almost as if you’re blaming the students for your institutional failures.”

Students Lost in the Shuffle

Baker’s dismal graduation rate almost certainly has something to do with the “at-risk” students Spicer mentioned — people who may come from low-income backgrounds, who didn’t excel in high school or who are balancing school, parenting and a full-time job.“

Open enrollment institutions generally do not have high graduation rates,” Baker officials noted to reporters in a written statement.

But for many students, the biggest hurdles placed in their way came from Baker itself.

Baker often starts programs, then changes them, moves them or shuts them down before students finish.  It opened a campus in Reading, Pennsylvania, in 2016 that closed nine months later.

A common criticism among students is the lack of guidance once they begin school about everything from internships to graduation requirements.  Students said they were on their own to find required internships.  Baker once promoted “free lifetime placement service,” but recent graduates said they were simply referred to Handshake, an online platform.

“Baker College does have a Career Services department that continues to offer both current students and alumni assistance with social media profiles, resume writing, and career search and placement services,” Baker said in its response.

The department has four full-time and two part-time staffers.  Davenport, which has roughly the same student population as Baker, employs 12 people full-time.  It also makes use of Handshake and offers lifetime services.

Bechtel, the student who took on $40,000 in loans, earned an associate degree in web design but found his experience disappointing.  Required courses, he said, taught computing languages he considered obsolete.  When he reached out to student services — tutoring, tech support, career counseling — “they never returned my phone calls,” he said.

A year in, Bechtel said, Baker changed the requirements for his web design program without exempting current students.  He’d taken required courses that no longer counted toward his degree.  It bothered him, but he decided it wasn’t worth a fight.

More changes to the requirements came a year later, and then again the year after that.  “I raised a whole lot of hell,” he said, until Baker waved him through with his existing credits.

Bechtel graduated in 2011.  Neither the coursework nor the degree proved useful, he said.  At home, he taught himself the programming language SQL, which got him jobs.  He and his wife make decent salaries, he said, but his student debt — now up to $58,750 — has them living “paycheck to paycheck.”

“I’m not going to be able to retire because I’ll be paying these off,” Bechtel said.

Daniel Church, who enrolled out of high school as a full-time student in Flint, ran into trouble when Baker switched from quarters to semesters in 2017 to better align with other college calendars.  In a booklet, Baker pledged the change would be cost-neutral and would “not disrupt your academic progress or increase your time to graduation.” But for Church, it did.

Church said he needed more time and money to finish getting bachelor’s and master's degrees in Baker’s tech program.  So he quit to work as a long-haul trucker, driving cross-country and saving paychecks.

He “didn’t go home,” he said, and “didn’t see anyone in my family.  I worked my arse off.”

Church put aside thousands of dollars to pay for school.  But when he got back to Flint, he learned he’d have to effectively repeat some of his quarter-based classes in the new semester system and complete an internship, costing him more than he had saved.

Baker gave him a list of leads, he said, but the companies he contacted weren’t taking interns.  He decided it was time to give up on Baker.

“At that point, I just threw my hands up and laughed, because it was just so unbelievable,” said Church, who is now 27 and said he has more than $30,000 in loans.  “How could any institution that expects itself to be taken seriously do this to people?”

After living in his parents’ house during the pandemic, he’s back to driving the truck.

POLITIFACT - Trump: Democrats “are trying to ban voter ID”

"Trump says Democrats are trying to 'ban voter ID.' That’s misleading.'” by Amy Sherman, PolitiFact 1/11/2022

As Democrats renew their efforts to pass federal voting rights legislation, former President Donald Trump suggested that Democrats want to erase state laws that require identification in order to cast a ballot.

"They are trying to BAN voter ID and other basic measures that can ensure the sacred integrity of the vote," Trump said Jan. 7 in an email from his Save America PAC.

Trump accused Democrats of trying to "pass a radical federal takeover of state election law."

Trump didn’t name any specific bills, and a spokesperson Liz Harrington told us he was "not referring to any legislation."

But Harrington pointed to the House Democrats’ support for the HEROES Act in May 2020.  It was a $3 trillion proposal by House Democrats that focused on aid to governments and businesses and included stimulus checks.  Tucked into that legislation was a provision that said voters could meet a state’s voter ID requirement by signing a sworn written statement attesting to their identity.  The provision did not apply to certain first-time voters who registered by mail.

The voter ID proposal drew criticism from Republicans at the time, but the focus of discussions was about the main provisions of the bill, which aimed to help Americans get through the pandemic.  The legislation passed the Democratic-led House mostly along party lines but didn’t pass the Senate.

Democrats tried to pass a similar voter ID proposal within an expansive voting rights bill, H.R. 1, but the bill never made it into law.  The latest comprehensive bill that addresses voter ID is the Senate Democrats’ Freedom to Vote ActSenate Republicans blocked the bill last fall.

The Freedom to Vote Act also includes a requirement that states offer a workaround for voters who lack IDs, but it doesn’t broadly "ban" ID requirements.  Rather, it would set an expansive and uniform policy for what counts as an acceptable ID; it wouldn’t have to be one with a photo such as a driver’s license.  It does contain a provision, however, that would prohibit states from requiring voters present an ID in order to get an absentee ballot.

"I don’t know that ban is the right word, but it certainly makes it hard to put in place strict voter identification rules, especially those that make it harder for minority voters to vote," said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor who specializes in election law.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he wants to create a path forward for federal voting rights legislation by Jan. 17.  To proceed on the Freedom to Vote Act or other voting rights legislation, Democrats would have to persuade Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona to support changes to the filibuster, and would need every Democratic vote in the evenly split chamber.

Support for voter ID rules

Thirty-five states have laws asking voters to show some form of identification at the polls, while the remaining states use other identifying information when voters cast ballots, such as a signature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

Polls show most people support a voter ID requirement, but voting rights advocates say that these polls may not grasp the issue’s nuances — such as safeguards that are already in place — and that the trend toward stricter ID rules could make it harder for a small group of voters to cast ballots.  This leaves Democrats seeking to stem the tide of increasingly strict rules, without proposing a total ban on voter ID requirements.

How voter ID requirements vary by state

What bothers some voting rights advocates is what’s in the mix of allowable options for acceptable IDs.  In Texas and Tennessee, for example, gun permits are considered valid voter IDs, but student IDs are not.  Critics say this makes it easy for gun owners, a heavily Republican group, to vote but harder for students, a predominantly Democratic group.

Also, voters who lack government-issued IDs tend to be nonwhite, and that includes in places where elections are settled by slim margins such as Georgia.

Republicans who want stricter voter ID rules argue that they are needed to prevent voter fraud.  But voter fraud is rare.  An AP investigation in December found fewer than 475 potential cases in six battleground states in the 2020 election, not nearly enough to affect the outcome.  "Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots," the AP reported.