Higher Education News

White nationalists disrupt professor's talk

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 29, 2019 - 5:00pm

Many professors who do research or teach courses on white people have been subject to criticism that includes threatening emails and distortions of their work, typically from those on the far right.

On Saturday, a group of white nationalists went a step beyond that and disrupted a talk being given in a Washington bookstore by a Vanderbilt University professor. The small group of white men did not name any group with which they are affiliated but said that they were speaking for the white working class and that they were "identitarians." The men shouted, "This land is our land," among other things. After a bit, they left.

Soooooo I’m at @PoliticsProse for #IndependentBookstoreDay and a group of white nationalists just interrupted an author’s talk on how the politics of racial resentment is killing the heartland. pic.twitter.com/G0tOdE6MIy

— dckath (@dckath) April 27, 2019

Some attendees made video of the disruption, showing audience members booing throughout the disruption.

The professor who was giving the talk was Jonathan M. Metzl, the Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and director of its Center for Medicine, Health and Society.

His new book, which was the subject of his talk, is Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland (Basic Books).

The talk was at Politics and Prose, a Washington bookstore known for hosting talks by authors of books in the policy realm.

The central argument of the book is that white Americans attracted to the policies of President Trump are acting in ways that increase the chances that they will die.

The publisher describes the book this way: "Physician Jonathan M. Metzl’s quest to understand the health implications of 'backlash governance' leads him across America’s heartland. Interviewing a range of everyday Americans, he examines how racial resentment has fueled pro-gun laws in Missouri, resistance to the Affordable Care Act in Tennessee and cuts to schools and social services in Kansas. And he shows these policies’ costs: increasing deaths by gun suicide, falling life expectancies and rising dropout rates. White Americans, Metzl argues, must reject the racial hierarchies that promise to aid them but in fact lead our nation to demise."

Metzl told The Washington Post that the disruption started as he was talking about how a man in the audience had helped his father and grandfather escape from the Nazis in Austria. “I was saying how much stronger America is when we think about our responsibility to people in need. At that point, the Nazis walked into the talk,” Metzl said. “It was very symbolic for me. In case anybody’s wondering what’s happening right now, they’re illustrating my point.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

FBI director discusses Chinese espionage threat to U.S. academic research

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 29, 2019 - 5:00pm

Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray doubled down on arguing for the need for a “whole-of-society” response to economic espionage threats, in particular those emerging from China, and reiterated his view that academe needs to be more sophisticated about responding to these threats in remarks on Friday at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Wray’s remarks were in line with what he has said before, but they represent a rare expansion of his views in a public forum. Over the past 18 months, universities have come under increasing pressure from the FBI, the federal science agencies, the White House and members of Congress to confront what the FBI says are broad efforts by foreign actors, in particular China, to steal the fruits of U.S. government-funded research and other valuable intellectual property. The increased scrutiny has raised concerns in academia about racial profiling of Chinese students and scholars and about the risk that overreaction to the threat could undercut scientific collaborations and ultimately harm American science.

In his remarks, Wray described a broad threat emanating from China that targets universities as well as other sectors.

"We still confront traditional espionage threats … but economic espionage dominates our counterintelligence program today,” Wray said in his remarks. “More than ever, the adversaries’ targets are our nation’s assets, our information and ideas, our innovation, our research and development, our technology. And no country poses a broader, more severe intelligence collection threat than China.

“China has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation in any way it can from a wide array of businesses, universities and organizations,” Wray continued. “They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, through a variety of actors, all working on behalf of China.”

“We need to focus even more on a whole-of-society approach because in many ways we confront whole-of-society threats,” Wray said, echoing remarks he made at a February 2018 Senate intelligence committee hearing on this subject.

Wray emphasized the importance of information sharing between universities and the FBI. "We've got to share as much information as we can with you, as quickly as we can, through as many channels as we can. We've also got to create mechanisms for you to share information with us."

He also suggested that universities need to be more sophisticated in responding to the threats, even as he said he was encouraged by the steps some universities have taken to try to address the issue.

"I do think that the academic sector needs to be much more sophisticated and thoughtful about how others may exploit the very open, collaborative research environment that we have in this country and revere in this country," he said. "I’m encouraged, actually, by the number of universities around the country that are taking very thoughtful, responsible steps to make sure that they’re not being abused and that their information, proprietary research, confidential information, isn’t stolen -- which is happening, all over the country, and it’s a real problem."

Major higher education groups have expressed their readiness for cooperating with the FBI and other national security agencies to protect sensitive academic research and intellectual property from foreign espionage threats, and many research universities have hosted the FBI for briefings on their campus over the past 18 months.

"Public universities need to be part of the solution," said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "It’s all in the context, of course, of universities, and their purpose really is to create and disseminate knowledge. It's in that context that we’re saying, 'Look, the intellectual property that is developed needs to be protected, the ownership of that needs to be protected.' It gets to be, in a practical way, a complicated matter, but our universities around the country, a large number of them have been talking to their FBI regional offices. We of course have been for a year talking to the FBI here in Washington."

Steven M. Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said it was a "big wake-up" call for higher education when Wray described universities as being naïve about the espionage threat at the February 2018 Senate intelligence committee hearing mentioned above.

"When the director of the FBI called higher ed naïve, you pay attention," Bloom said. "We’ve worked pretty hard to try to understand those concerns and to respond to them. The fact that he now sees that some institutions are doing that [responding] is a good thing. Higher ed, though, it's a broad community, and it takes time for these kinds of concerns to be broadly understood. The research universities are more likely to get them sooner because they have more direct engagement with some of the science agencies or they might have a vice president for research and they may even have a national lab, so when they hear stuff coming from the FBI director and other national security agencies, they listen, they take it seriously, they adapt. But the broader higher ed community, I think that they’re waking up to these concerns."

"It’s a challenge," he added. "We have to balance the apparent concerns of the national security agencies with our fundamental nature as open, welcoming institutions. The research that a lot of our institutions engage in really feeds off of that kind of environment. We have a lot of international students, we want to be a welcoming place for the world’s most talented students and scholars and we have a lot of Chinese students and scholars. So it’s a delicate line."

Several groups of Chinese American scientists have raised concerns about what they describe as "the recent political rhetoric and policies that single out students and scholars of Chinese descent working in the United States as threats to U.S. national interest." The Committee of 100, a group of Chinese American leaders in academics, business, government and the arts, has also raised concerns that Wray's characterization of China as posing a "whole-of-society" threat to the U.S. implies that all individuals of Chinese descent are to be distrusted. The group said in a statement earlier this month that "in scientific, business, political, academic and government circles, Chinese Americans are reporting being subject to greater scrutiny and discriminatory treatment in their work and daily lives."

Of concern to many in higher education are changes in visa policies that limit the duration of visas to one year instead of the usual five for Chinese graduate students studying certain STEM fields. News outlets have recently reported that hundreds of Chinese graduate students are encountering delays in renewing their visas as a result of this change. In addition, numerous Chinese social scientists -- not physical or biological scientists or engineers -- have had their visas to the U.S. canceled. Many of the affected scholars are affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Asked about visa issues affecting Chinese social scientists on Friday, Wray said that while he did not want to comment on any specific visa-related decision, "I will say that we have seen many instances in which the visa process -- which I think is very important to ensure an open and collaborative research environment, which I have no desire to change, in that sense -- is being abused and exploited," he said. "And in those instances where we have information that exposes that abuse, we want to share it with the right people so they can make the right decisions. As I said, I think that's starting to happen more and more often, and I think you can expect to see that happening more and more often."

Wray also was asked to address a question about Confucius Institutes, Chinese-government funded centers for Chinese language education and cultural programming that are hosted by U.S. universities. At least a dozen universities have announced plans to close their institutes amid growing criticism from lawmakers that they function as platforms for Chinese government propaganda or even espionage (allegations defenders of the institutes vehemently deny). At the February 2018 Senate intelligence committee hearing, Wray said the FBI had concerns about the institutes and in certain cases had taken investigative steps in relation to them.

But when asked about the Confucius Institutes on Friday, Wray downplayed the FBI's concerns somewhat. "The Confucius Institutes are something that we view as part of a sort of soft power strategy that the Chinese government has," he said. "Certainly, it's something we're concerned about. In many ways, a lot of the things that I talked about in my opening comments [in which he discussed threats to research and innovation] are things that we're more concerned about even than the Confucius Institutes."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 29, 2019 - 5:00pm
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Hofstra vows to review policies in wake of student's complaint of harassment

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 26, 2019 - 5:00pm

Many colleges bar all sexual relationships between faculty members and their current students. Some colleges ban relationships between faculty members and all students, or all undergraduates.

Hofstra University is facing criticism -- and is vowing to change its policies -- because a case has become public in which a professor expressed romantic interest in an undergraduate just as she finished his course. Since she was no longer his student, his conduct appears not to be barred by current university policy.

The professor attached a handwritten letter for one of his former students to her final graded project. She remained an undergraduate even though her course with Chandler Carter of the music department was then over.

“At the risk of embarrassing myself, I confess a foolish and dangerous attraction to you,” said the letter to Angelina Scolari.

"I could call it a schoolboy crush, but I’m not a schoolboy. It’s more a midlife crisis, I suspect, which may have little to do with you," the letter said. "Regardless, I’ve felt this way for well over a year, but have tried to conceal it to protect both you and myself, but also everyone around us. Such feelings from a teacher toward a student -- while inevitable given that we’re only human -- are usually toxic to all involved when expressed openly. For that reason, I ask that you keep this to yourself."

She didn't.

Aside from rejecting him, Scolari reported Carter to the university. And this week she shared photos of the letters with the student newspaper, The Hofstra Chronicle. The newspaper reported that it hired someone to do handwriting analysis (which matched Carter) before publishing the article, the facts of which have now been confirmed by Carter and the university.

Hofstra policy is clear that such a letter would have been a violation of university rules had it been delivered when the course was still going on.

"Sexual relationships in which one member of the university community has supervisory or other evaluative responsibility for the other create the appearance of favoritism, the potential for actual favoritism and the potential for sexual harassment," says the policy "on personal relationships between faculty/other employees and students." The policy continues, "This is also true of conduct that may reasonably be perceived as inviting or encouraging a sexual relationship. Such relationships can raise serious concerns about the validity of consent, conflict of interest and unfair treatment of others. They may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the evaluation and supervision provided and the trust inherent in such relationships."

But the policy takes a different approach once the professor is no longer teaching the student.

"Outside the instructional or supervisory context, the aforementioned conduct or relationships between employees and students are discouraged although not expressly prohibited by university policy," the Hofstra rule states. "Employees considering or engaged in such relationships should be sensitive to their potentially exploitative nature and the possibility that the employee may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the students’ instruction, supervision or evaluation."

Hofstra released a statement noting that it did not condone what happened, but also pointing to the loophole in current policy, and a desire to close it.

"While an unsolicited letter in which a faculty member requests a relationship with his former student, who is still an undergraduate student at the university, may not constitute sexual harassment under the law, the university does not condone such behavior," the letter said. "In collaboration with faculty, the university is proposing changes to our formal policies on such matters. The university is committed to fostering a climate of mutual respect and trust in faculty/student relationships, which is an essential component of our academic mission.”

Carter published a letter in the student newspaper after it reported on the situation.

"In my 23 years teaching at Hofstra, I have never previously communicated -- nor felt -- the sentiments I expressed in the letter referenced therein. And I never will again. I have always tried to act in my students’ best interests. But in this instance I failed. Upon receiving the student’s negative response, I immediately offered a sincere apology, which I reiterate now," said the letter.

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Carter said, "I don’t plan to take any further action. I have not been informed [of] any further action by the university."

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Categories: Higher Education News

National American University is latest for-profit chain to face financial turmoil

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 26, 2019 - 5:00pm

As Democratic lawmakers raked many for-profit colleges over the coals during the past decade, National American University, a chain based in South Dakota, managed to keep its reputation mostly intact.

But the publicly traded company has been beleaguered in recent years by the same troubles affecting much of the for-profit sector. Plummeting enrollment has prompted National American to close physical locations and place its bet on online education as the path to sustainable growth.

The company's financial challenges also have prompted scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Education and other regulators.

After National American de-listed from the Nasdaq stock exchange and acknowledged in a January corporate filing that falling revenues raised “substantial doubts” about its ability to continue operating, the Education Department sought collateral in the form of a letter of credit and imposed new financial reporting requirements on the chain. The new oversight measures were first reported by Education Dive.

The company said it is committed to offering academic programs online. But after the abrupt closure of multiple for-profit college chains in the past year -- including Education Corporation of America, Vatterott College and Dream Center-operated colleges -- the new disclosures about financial turmoil at National American have some observers closely watching the response by regulators.

“During its 78-year history, the university has periodically evolved to serve the changing needs of its students, the majority of whom are working adults. College education has changed dramatically during the past several years and continues to evolve today. Our students want full mobile functionality and support services available 24-7,” Ronald Shape, National American’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “To serve the needs of the majority of its students, NAU will primarily offer courses online taught by faculty across the country.”

The company will continue to operate physical locations at Ellsworth Air Force Base and Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, which enroll mostly military students and their families. Other campuses will be phased out.

National American enrolled a total of nearly 10,000 students just four years ago. But that enrollment has dropped to about a third of what it was. The decline has been especially dramatic over the past year. Nearly 6,000 students attended NAU nondegree programs as well as undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in the 2018 winter term. But about 3,800 students were enrolled as of February of this year, a 36 percent decline.

In SEC filings, the company attributed the drop-off to lower demand among its targeted student demographic. In November, NAU suspended new enrollment in 34 of 128 programs as part of its strategy to focus on online programs. The company’s revenues have declined by $15.2 million, or more than 26 percent, compared to the same period a year ago, driven mostly by falling enrollment.

Declining enrollment isn’t National American's only looming challenge. A former employee filed a whistle-blower lawsuit in 2017 alleging violations of the Higher Education Act, and two students filed a lawsuit in Missouri state court last year alleging fraud and misrepresentation of the value of their degrees. The company has denied any wrongdoing in both cases, which are pending.

After those financial disclosures, the department found in March that NAU was out of compliance with financial responsibility standards for colleges receiving Title IV student aid. In a letter to the company, the feds demanded a letter of credit worth either 50 percent of federal aid revenue -- roughly $36.6 million -- or 15 percent of aid revenue and a provisional certification form.

National American asked the department to reconsider the requirement, and discussions about the letter of credit are ongoing, according to the department. If the department does not drop the demand for a letter of credit and National American cannot produce it, it may face losing access to Title IV programs, the company warned in its latest SEC filing.

Liz Hill, an Education Department spokeswoman, said federal officials haven’t discussed plans for a possible closure with NAU’s accreditors or state authorizers because the department “has not gotten any indication from NAU that the organization intends to precipitously close.”

When it sought the letter of credit, the department also imposed new financial reporting requirements. It asked for biweekly reports on cash balances and monthly reports on projected and actual cash flows. And the department placed NAU on heightened cash monitoring, a financial aid restriction that requires a college to distribute aid to students before it is reimbursed by the federal government.

A spokesman for the Higher Learning Commission, National American’s regional accreditor, said it has received a provisional plan from the company on its strategy to ensure students can either complete their programs or transfer credits to another equivalent institution through what’s known as a teach-out agreement. The accreditor requires those plans when the Education Department takes any actions against a college or when an institution announces plans to close locations.

National American said in corporate filings that it has such an agreement in place with Brookline College; the company did not confirm if it is in talks with other colleges.

Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy at New America, said the most important steps for federal officials to take when a college is facing possible closure are to make sure teach-out agreements are in place, secure financial protection in the form of a letter of credit and get student rosters so the department can do outreach about loan-discharge options. She also said students should be made aware of potential issues at their institution.

National American did not respond to questions about steps it was taking to inform students about the wind-down of physical campuses.

Antoinette Flores, associate director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said students often are the last to know about potential campus closures, as was the case for many students at colleges operated by Education Corporation of America and Dream Center.

“Shareholders have been informed of problems for months, but students may be completely unaware,” she said.

Career Education Colleges and Universities, the lobby group for for-profit colleges, has proposed addressing the risk of sudden closures by having the Education Department create an Office of Continuing Education Services that would work with struggling colleges to make sure their students can continue their education. CECU proposed that the office be funded with a per-student fee paid by for-profit colleges.

“Think of how the FDIC manages a transition in a failed bank -- professionals come in and achieve the transition to new ownership without any interruption in the customer’s reliance on the bank for their financial services,” Steve Gunderson, CECU's president, wrote last year in an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed.

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Call for major government funding boost for community colleges

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 26, 2019 - 5:00pm

Community colleges enroll large numbers of low-income students, who increasingly are students of color. And policy makers are challenging two-year colleges to increase socioeconomic mobility for those students. Yet a new report, backed by a broad range of experts, says community colleges are not being adequately funded.

The report released Thursday by the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan progressive think tank, calls for greater investment in the country’s community colleges by building federal-state partnerships that incentivize states to reinvest. The foundation also called on lawmakers to support research that would for the first time establish the true cost of educating community college students.

“Community colleges are described as a ticket to the middle class,” said John B. King Jr., former U.S. secretary of education during the Obama administration. “Community colleges have the majority of their students coming from the bottom two income quartiles, as opposed to elite private universities, where maybe, at best, a fifth of students come from the bottom two income quartiles. So, community colleges are essential if we want to have a society where folks can move across income quartiles.”

But community colleges are not producing the number of graduates needed to meet labor and work-force demands, or to improve social mobility. About 62 percent of students entering community college fail to complete a degree or certificate within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. And only 15.2 percent of those students are still enrolled in college, while 47.3 percent are not.

A working group of 20 education experts behind the report recommended the federal-state partnerships, which would encourage states to increase their investments in two-year colleges by offering federal matching funds, said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the foundation and executive director of the working group.

“The federal government continues to increase the Pell Grant, which all of us support, but there is some feeling among members of Congress that states need to do their part as well,” Kahlenberg said. The foundation plans to circulate the report on Capitol Hill and hopes 2020 presidential candidates take up the issue, he said.

Federal spending on financial aid tripled from $50 billion in 1995 to more than $150 billion in 2015, the report said, while state spending on higher education per full-time student fell by 28 percent.

The report said completion rates at community colleges are low because these institutions are deeply underfunded even as they admit all students, who typically are more likely to be socioeconomically disadvantaged than students who attend four-year institutions. Nearly half of the country's undergraduate students attend community colleges.

Private, four-year colleges spend an average of $72,000 per full-time student each year, the report found, which is five times more than the $14,000 community colleges typically spend. Public universities spend $40,000 each year on full-time students. Even when excluding research spending, private universities spend triple what community colleges do, and public four-year institutions spend 60 percent more.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and candidate for her party's presidential nomination, on Monday proposed a similar federal-state partnership for all two- and four-year public institutions. Warren’s proposal splits the costs of tuition and fees between states and the federal government while requiring states to maintain their current levels of funding on need-based financial aid and academic instruction.

“We have seen across the country systematic disinvestment by states, and we need an approach to federal investment that incentivizes states to put in more,” King said. “One of the bleak realities we have to acknowledge is that … as we move to a higher population that is more African American and more Latino, there is less enthusiasm among some parts of the American voting public for investing in those students and communities.”

But a federal-state partnership is not enough, he said, because community colleges and students still need more Pell Grant funding. King also said the country should create a national lunch program for higher education.

“Some people say that sounds really expensive, but we didn’t mind doing a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans,” King said. “Let’s take that back and invest it in the long-term well-being of our society.”

Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in the City University of New York system, said additional resources community college students need could mean the difference between their ability to study for a few hours a day or to work two jobs.

“What money gives them is food security, housing security and this amazing thing we take for granted -- the ability to study, read and focus on your work,” Mellow said.

The foundation considers the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs initiative from CUNY as a good example of how increasing funding for tutoring, advising and financial aid at community colleges can lead to a greater return on investment. ASAP costs the system 60 percent more per student, or about $16,300 more per student over three years. But it has reduced the amount spent for each college degree awarded by more than 10 percent, according to the report.

“ASAP, which everyone touts as this amazing piece, is just about a third more money a year, and it’s on a very small basis,” Mellow said. “So, going full-time to LaGuardia for the whole year is about $5,000. You up that by 30 percent and you can provide the resources students need.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 26, 2019 - 5:00pm
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Michigan adopts new policy after controversy over students turned down for letters of recommendation

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 25, 2019 - 5:00pm

In September, a University of Michigan professor refused to write a letter of recommendation on behalf of a student hoping to study in Israel. The professor said he was abiding by the academic boycott of Israel and that his decision had nothing to do with the student's qualifications.

The professor's decision prompted a national debate: Do professors have an obligation to write such letters (on behalf of academically worthy students) or can politics influence the decision? While the spark for the debate was Israel, academic observers noted that the question could extend to other issues as well.

Would it be legitimate for a faculty member to refuse to write a letter to Liberty University because of its close ties to the Trump administration? Or to a university experiencing labor strife? Would professors be justified to refuse letters to students whose politics they opposed?

Michigan appointed a faculty panel to review the issues, and it came back with a recommendation -- now endorsed by the administration as well -- that politics should not be a factor in whether a professor writes a letter of recommendation.

"The panel’s recommendations center on a single core statement of principle, namely that as faculty members make judgments and act in their role as teachers, they must do so based solely on educational and professional reasons," says the faculty report. "The recommendation honors the dual rights and responsibilities of faculty members -- their fundamental rights to academic freedom as scholars and their concomitant responsibilities as teachers employed by an educational institution."

The report makes clear that the policy is not intended to say that faculty members can't make judgments that someone shouldn't be recommended for a program or hired as a graduate assistant. The key issue, the report says, is the rationale for the decision, and whether it is professional and not biased.

States the report, "We include 'professional reasons' to cover such everyday and legitimate actions as these: declining to hire a qualified and intellectually gifted student for lab work because they are chronically late or routinely lose valuable specimens; declining to write a letter of recommendation because one is too busy or does not know the student well enough or think they are qualified for the position. Sometimes it is appropriate to explain to students the grounds on which one declines to do such things, but sometimes it is not. There is plenty of room for discretion in exercising one’s educational and professional judgment. 'Discretion' here does not mean that anything goes; it means making a reasoned judgment on the basis of the range of relevant or appropriate reasons."

The report states that the panel intentionally wanted to focus on what is appropriate, rather than trying to define "political." The report stresses that faculty members are free to mention their political views in class, to be politically active in society and to exercise their rights generally. The area of concern is bias.

"Faculty may not reward students because they are politically like-minded," the report says. "Nor may faculty deprive students of equal opportunity and fair evaluation because they disagree politically. Nor may faculty help students pursue future educational and professional opportunities because they politically approve of the students’ aspirations, or refuse to help because they politically disapprove."

Many examples are given in the report -- and the examples illustrate points of fairness and do not touch on the politics of the Middle East.

"Whether the student grew up in your hometown, shares your taste in music and other such idiosyncratic matters are also out of bounds as reasons for treating a student differently," the report says.

The report acknowledges that there may be cases that can't be anticipated today that may not fall into the panel's framework, and suggests faculty committees be available to review such cases. But generally, the report says, political concerns should not be part of the equation.

The faculty report also specifies that graduate students -- when they interact with undergraduates -- should be governed by these principles.

John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in American culture and digital studies, is the professor whose refused to write the letter for the student seeking to study in Israel. He did not respond to an email seeking his comment on the new policy at Michigan.

Nor did the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. That group had issued a statement last year backing Cheney-Lippold and saying that "a letter of recommendation is not a right but is written at the discretion of faculty members. Professors, like any other individual, are entitled to hold firm positions on a matter of conscience and act in regard with those principles."

Hans-Joerg Tiede, the American Association of University Professors' associate secretary, noted that the AAUP, together with other college groups and student groups, in 1967 developed the Joint Statement on Rights and Freedoms of Students. The statement says that "student performance should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards."

"The recommendation of the blue ribbon panel at the University of Michigan seems to be to extend that principle to other areas of faculty-student interaction," Tiede said. "The AAUP has not taken a specific position on extending the Statement on Rights and Freedoms in that manner. The association does recognize that principles of professional ethics, such as those that relate to the evaluation of students, place limits on academic freedom."

The Michigan report acknowledges that there are limits on academic freedom. While some faculty members the panel talked to "seem to imagine that any and all requirements to do things they do not want to do are invasions of academic freedom," the report says, such a view is incorrect.

One member of the Michigan panel dissented from its recommendations. Deborah Goldberg, the Margaret B. Davis Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Michigan, wrote that the vision in the report was "too absolute with very little room for reasoned faculty judgment."

"The university generally should expect that faculty will prioritize student autonomy in such cases," Goldberg writes. "Faculty nevertheless should have the right to refuse to promote student educational aspirations that go against their own ethical and moral commitments, as long as those commitments are based on well-reasoned judgments and are not discriminatory based on individual identity. Thus, it could be appropriate for a faculty member to refuse to sponsor a student research project that the faculty believes is unethical (but is still in accordance with university rules) or to write a letter of recommendation to an organization or institution the faculty member believes is unethical. Even in such cases, however, faculty still have responsibilities to the student. First, is the educational responsibility to help the student understand the reasoning and evidence that led to that stand of conscience and why it justifies their action in not supporting the student. Second, is to help the student find alternatives to mitigate any harm to their educational goals; for example, refer them to other potential research mentors, professional sponsors or letter writers. For the latter, writing a 'to whom it may concern' letter to be placed on file at the Career Center is also an option."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Senate Democrat adds momentum to push for accountability for all colleges

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 25, 2019 - 5:00pm

For-profit colleges have for years been higher education's boogeyman for consumer advocates and many Democrats in Congress. And those lawmakers have repeatedly called for tougher standards in response to the sector's relatively high loan default rates and other poor outcomes.

But Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, suggested this month that his party hasn’t focused enough on failures happening at all colleges -- including public and nonprofit institutions. And he argued that a reauthorized Higher Education Act should add accountability for all colleges that receive federal aid.

“By committing to fix the outcomes crisis across the board for every student, we can frankly bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats,” he said at an event hosted by the think tank Third Way.

Higher education experts have spent years debating the merits and proper design of an accountability system that would encompass the entire higher ed system. But Murphy, who sits on the Senate education committee, adds a prominent voice on the Democratic side to calls for expanding standards for all colleges, a top priority for the committee’s GOP chairman, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

“I’m fascinated by Murphy doing this and working separately from leadership,” said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who studies issues of college accountability.

Whether his proposal could help spur consensus on one of the major sticking points for a reauthorized Higher Education Act remains to be seen.

Murphy's comments acknowledge the shortcomings of current accountability system, which has produced few consequences for the poorest-performing colleges, and the reality that Alexander and Republicans likely won’t support accountability measures that solely impact for-profits. The sort of broad accountability system Murphy proposed might also face less opposition from colleges that would lose out with a single measure assessing outcomes.

Alexander in February proposed assessing every postsecondary education program based on student loan repayment rates. College lobby groups criticized that framework, saying it would disadvantage institutions that serve high proportions of low-income and minority students, including historically black colleges. They also argued that assessing individual programs could push students away from high-need fields like teaching, because repayment rates in those programs can be relatively low.

Senator Patty Murray, Alexander’s Democratic counterpart, has talked mostly about tougher oversight of for-profit colleges at the federal level. In a speech last month, Murray said a new HEA law should include tougher oversight for large, predatory college chains, citing examples like the collapsed Corinthian Colleges, ITT Tech and Education Corporation of America.

Murphy wants to bridge the partisan gap by creating a system that holds all colleges accountable but uses multiple student outcomes metrics, such as graduation rates, loan repayment, some measure of degree value -- such as earnings -- and enrollment of low-income students.

Failures of the Current System

Most groups with a voice in the college accountability debate acknowledge that the only existing metric that applies to all colleges, the so-called cohort default rate, is largely ineffective. Only a handful of colleges have lost access to federal student aid over the least 10 years as a result of the rule. And the Government Accountability Office has found it is easily gamed by some institutions that have poor outcomes for loan repayment.

Craig Lindwarm, vice president for congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said the cohort default rate “is completely ineffective at holding the worst-performing institutions accountable.”

Multiple legislative proposals with bipartisan support have sought to tackle college accountability. A bill introduced in 2017 by then senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican, and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, the New Hampshire Democrat, would have cut off federal aid eligibility for colleges where at least 15 percent of students haven’t begun repaying their loans within three years. And Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat, and Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, also have introduced legislation that would pressure wealthier colleges to enroll more low-income students.

Neither Alexander nor Murphy has offered details about how their plans would work -- for example, what minimum loan repayment rate colleges would be expected to meet, or whether the plans would use a graduated scale or a single “bright-line” standard, where colleges either pass a threshold or fail entirely. Kelchen said it could be difficult to pass a plan that includes such a bright-line system.

While those details would have to be sorted out, observers who are plugged in to negotiations over a new higher ed law said there appears to be real momentum behind adding accountability for all colleges.

“It demonstrates that there’s widespread agreement the cohort default rate is ineffective and furthers the conversation about using repayment rates or other metrics,” said Emily Bouck West, the deputy executive director of Higher Learning Advocates and a former Senate staff member.

James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said that’s a positive direction for policy makers to be moving. But he said measuring outcomes isn’t a substitute for other traditional methods of monitoring colleges, like the gainful-employment rule.

“It’s exciting to have this new accountability conversation about outcomes,” he said. “But outcomes alone aren’t a substitute for proven methods of gatekeeping and monitoring. I think it would be a mistake to discard the protections we have now.”

APLU and other groups warned that an accountability system that includes multiple outcome measures could quickly become unwieldy. Lindwarm suggested it would be more appropriate to task college accreditors with monitoring results like graduation rates.

“It’s difficult to see how all of these pieces would fit together,” he said of the Murphy proposal.

Reaching agreement on accountability is just one challenge lawmakers on the Senate education committee will face in crafting a reauthorization of the law. They’ll also have to address to what extent legislation should improve college affordability, which Murray identified as a top priority last month. And issues like sexual misconduct on campus and free speech are expected to figure into the debates as well.

Some observers see a debate over new college standards as perhaps the biggest obstacle to passing an HEA law this year. Adding new rules would be a serious shift in federal policy, which would generate serious opposition from colleges with the poorest outcomes. But the kind of plan outlined by Murphy, which attempts to account for the characteristics of various student bodies, could potentially reduce resistance from colleges that serve high numbers of low-income and minority students.

In a letter sent to Alexander and Murray in February, Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents public historically black institutions, told the lawmakers that any accountability system should hold colleges accountable for both access and completion.

Any reasonable measure of accountability, he said, "should take into account how schools fare relative to their peer institutions, rather than simply the population at large and how many low-income or first-generation students those institutions serve."

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Categories: Higher Education News

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