Higher Education News

New CCCSE survey examines link between student engagement and growth mind-set

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 9, 2019 - 5:00pm

A study released today by the Center for Community College Student Engagement reinforces past research that found students who have an academic “growth mind-set” and a sense of belonging in college have higher grades and are more engaged learners.

Seventy-one percent of community college students who responded to the CCCSE survey measuring student mind-set and engagement had a productive mind-set, or said they believed they could improve their intelligence in English courses. Those same students reported having a grade point average that corresponds to an A grade. Sixty-one percent of students reported they could change their intelligence in math, and those students also had an equivalent of an overall A grade point average.

Colleges are redesigning their academic and student experience programs as new research proves that students' mind-set has an impact on their academic success. These programs can be very powerful motivational drivers because many community college students have been told they don’t belong or are not smart enough to be in college -- and believe it, said Evelyn Waiwaiole, executive director of the center.

“Educating students about the power of mind-set can help them change the way they feel about past failures, which can lead to more engagement, and, in turn, more successful students,” she said.

Students mostly held a negative mind-set when surveyed on their ability to take a test in math, according to the survey. Forty-two percent of students disagreed or responded neutrally as to whether they could do well on tests. Forty-four percent of students disagreed or responded neutrally as to whether they could significantly change their intelligence in math. More than 82,000 students from about 160 two-year institutions responded to the annual survey.

Faculty mind-set may also play a role in the ability of students to perform well.

The survey found that 41 percent of faculty members are confident that all of their students can change their basic intelligence. But nearly 24 percent of faculty members responded that only some or none of their students could change their basic intelligence.

“A quarter of faculty believes none or some of their students can change their intelligence,” Waiwaiole said. “We want to change that number, because it’s pretty high. How do we change the people walking into those classrooms so they believe students can learn? That comes from professional development.”

A study released earlier this year by brain science scholars at Indiana University at Bloomington suggested students see more possibility for achievement when their instructors believe they can improve their intelligence.

“Faculty beliefs and behaviors shape the mind-set cultures within their classrooms,” Mary Murphy, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at IU, said in an email. “Faculty are the culture creators in their own classrooms, and these mind-set cultures may be even more influential, in some settings, than students’ own personal mind-set beliefs.”

Waiwaiole said the CCCSE survey did not examine a correlation between faculty mind-set and students’ own beliefs about their ability to grow their intelligence. More research is needed in this subject area, she said.

“Intuition tells you a faculty member influences how a student feels about going through a class,” Waiwaiole said.

Instructors at Seattle Central College, a two-year institution in Washington State, began offering workshops to their colleagues and other staff members in 2013 to help them learn how to improve students’ beliefs about learning, belonging and relevance of course subjects.

The workshops help faculty revise the way they talk to students about their abilities. For example, an instructor who praises a student by saying, “I knew you were a math person,” may have the best intentions, but they aren’t supporting that student’s growth, said Jane Muhich, a math professor at Seattle Central, who helped develop the workshops at the college.

“Are you praising the process or the person?” Muhich said. The emphasis is on an attribute and not the abilities of the students, she said.

Instead, Muhich said, a better way to frame completing a difficult math assignment for a student is to say, “You really worked hard and improved.”

Seattle Central faculty learn to emphasize that students can improve at math or any subject they find difficult and that it’s OK for them to seek help, she said.

The CCCSE survey also found that nontraditional students, or those aged 25 and older, had a more positive mind-set than traditional-age students. For example, 62 percent of nontraditional students agreed that they do well on tests, even if those tests are difficult, while only 55 percent of traditional-age students agreed with that statement. More nontraditional students responded positively that they will accomplish difficult tasks and are confident in their course work than their traditional-age peers.

“Even if you’re older and you feel you can’t do math, so much of life has prepared you so you feel you can overcome challenges,” Waiwaiole said. “Our data didn’t detail this, but the older you are, the better mind-set you have. I have to believe that some of it is because you’ve overcome life, and at 18 your life hasn’t been as broad.”

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2U to buy boot-camp provider Trilogy for $750 million

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 9:10pm

A prominent online program management company, 2U, announced this morning that it will purchase Trilogy Education Services, a large boot camp provider that partners with continuing education divisions at dozens of universities.

The publicly traded 2U will pay $750 million in cash and shares for Trilogy, in a deal that will nearly double the number of university partners for the combined company, to 68 from 36.

“We’re believers in the power of a great university,” said Chip Paucek, 2U's CEO, who said the acquisition extends the company’s mission and its ability to offer “digital reskilling” to working adults.

Paucek said the substantial overlap between the two companies includes a shared belief in “the university’s central role in the life of the student.”

An early entrant to the OPM space at its founding 11 years ago, 2U focuses largely on graduate degrees offered by selective research universities. But the company has diversified in recent years, with an eye toward being able to be meet nascent but growing demand for short-term and alternative credentials from working adults.

For example, last year the company bought GetSmarter for $103 million. GetSmarter provides short graduate-level online courses aimed at working professionals. As with offerings from some MOOC providers, students in 2U’s courses from GetSmarter can earn a verified noncredit certificate from partner institutions like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, other domestic universities and institutions in other countries.

Also last year, 2U paid $13 million to lease an online learning platform created by the Flatiron School, another boot camp provider. That acquisition was part of a broader partnership 2U struck with WeWork, the co-working giant that has 637 spaces in 111 cities in the U.S. and around the world. Through that arrangement, 2U gives students who are enrolled in its online degree programs the free use of WeWork offices.

The OPM is working to create physical learning spaces with WeWork as part of a broader bid to develop a “global campus” for in-person and hybrid online credential programs.

If lifelong learning becomes more than a catchy phrase, 2U could be in a good position to offer short-term online or hybrid credentials to knowledge economy workers at WeWork, a group that is among the most likely student segments to pursue alternative, career-advancing credentials in large numbers.

Likewise, Trilogy has become one of the most established boot camp providers, and the boot camp that has opted to reach students directly through relationships with traditional universities, rather than pitching its services directly to consumers. Some critics and competitors of Trilogy, however, have said the company’s partnerships could be misleading to students, who may not understand that the university-endorsed boot camp is administered through an outside company.

The company’s programs typically are priced at $10,000 for 12 weeks of full-time instruction (24 weeks for part-time programs) in web development, data visualization and analytics, UX/UI design, and cybersecurity. Trilogy offers career services to its students, including interview training and networking events.

Instruction is offered in classroom space on or near university campuses, although undergraduates who are enrolled at those institutions are not their primary students.

Trilogy’s model works by helping university partners run their own boot camps. The universities control the curriculums, and their continuing education divisions get a share of the boot camp’s tuition revenue. The programs also are not credit bearing or eligible for federal financial aid. Late last year Trilogy turned some heads by announcing a boot camp offered with Harvard University’s Extension School.

Trilogy and 2U could seek to create credit-bearing and financial aid-eligible versions of the boot camp’s programs. And the acquisition comes as the U.S. Congress is considering whether to open the federal Pell Grant program to short-term credentials, dropping the minimum eligible program length to eight weeks from the current minimum of 15 weeks.

Democrats in the House of Representatives in a report released last month voiced support for so-called short-term Pell Grants as part of their suite of recommendations for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, the federal law that oversees federal financial aid. Support among Democrats for that proposal is somewhat flimsy, however. And the House Democrats’ report called for strong quality control checks on short-term programs.

The boot camp sector has seen plenty of consolidation in recent years. Several, including early entrants Dev Bootcamp and the Iron Yard, shut down years after being acquired, partially or fully, by large, traditional for-profit education chains.

Last April the Adecco Group, a major temporary-staffing firm based in Switzerland, bought General Assembly, one of the largest skills and coding boot camp providers in the U.S., for roughly $413 million.

Through this acquisition, the expanding 2U, which brought in $412 million in revenue last year and hired 914 people, gets new footholds in global markets. Trilogy this year expanded its international offerings through a new partnership with Australia’s prestigious Monash University, the first boot camp in that country. The company also has programs in Canada and Mexico, with more global growth in the works.

The boot camp has a presence in 50 cities and offers corporate training. While most of its programs are face-to-face, Trilogy currently offers an online boot camp with the University of California, Berkeley, and a handful of other university partners. Through the acquisition, 2U could substantially increase the online reach of Trilogy’s boot camps.

Dan Sommer, Trilogy’s founder and CEO, said the boot camps feature a centralized curriculum with digital elements that the company modifies based on local employer needs.

The acquisition by 2U, which is subject to regulatory approvals, comes on the eve of the annual ASU+GSV meeting in San Diego, a popular gathering for investors and education technology companies. Last year’s version featured a more collaborative tone about traditional higher education from company officials who, at similar events in previous years, sounded more pessimistic about colleges’ ability to cope with disruption driven by technology and the economy.

Sommer said a shared focus on working with universities helps explain the partnership between the two companies.

“We both fundamentally believe that universities are the place for lifelong learning,” said Sommer.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Dean and provost stepped down from their posts under pressure at Western Kentucky U

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 5:00pm

Western Kentucky University provost Terry Ballman stepped down Friday, effective immediately, just a day after the faculty voted no confidence in her. She was on the job for less than a year.

Just last week, Larry Snyder, the popular dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters, was suddenly forced to resign from his post.

What’s going on? Faculty members say the two administrative departures are related, and that a major review of academic programs also is involved. Snyder was widely seen as an advocate for professors who may be the targets of cuts. He was so popular on campus that even students held a series of protests -- an unusual form of student activism for a dean.

"Ballman definitely had the best interests of the university and students at heart, but what the faculty could just not get beyond was the way she dealt with personnel decisions -- and that culminated in the removal of a very well-liked dean,” said Kirk Atkinson, University Senate chair and associate professor of information systems.

At the request of more than a dozen faculty members, Atkinson called a special meeting of the Senate Thursday to vote on a resolution of no confidence in Ballman.

The resolution itself was simple: “Be it resolved that the University Senate has no confidence in the leadership of Provost Ballman.” But a lengthy discussion preceding the vote revealed a deep faculty distrust of Ballman’s ability to lead the university through tough times ahead -- namely program cuts resulting from the recent academic program review. Those cuts have not yet been announced. But just prior to his forced resignation, faculty members in his college say, Snyder informed them that the cuts would indeed be deep.

Guy Jordan, associate professor of art history, began the discussion of the resolution, saying that he’d worked with Snyder for 10 years and never knew him to do anything rash, let alone resign midsemester -- via a brief email from Ballman, sent March 27.

“Dr. Snyder has elected to step down as dean,” Ballman wrote. “Dr. Snyder will be on leave preparing to resume his duties as a member of our faculty. I wish to thank Dr. Snyder for his service as dean."

Explaining that he initially feared for Snyder’s health, Jordan said that he rushed to the dean’s office and saw his staffing crying about his having been “fired.” Others were gathering outside the dean’s office, too, Jordan said. And at that exact moment, two high school students were touring the university with their parents.

The students were “looking at us, wondering, ‘What on Earth is going on?’ That was the most chaotic and embarrassing thing I’ve ever witnessed in an academic workplace,” Jordan said.

Separate statements from senior administrators since have confirmed that Snyder was forced out neither for cause nor misconduct, Jordan continued. So while Ballman has the right to “choose her team,” he said, she could have waited for a more opportune time to let him go.

Instead, Jordan said, “we have grief and chaos, and for a month, in the busiest of the time of the spring semester, no one running the dean’s office except [Snyder’s] staff and a few dedicated but overwhelmed faculty fellows.”

Jordan expressed concern that Snyder’s dismissal was not a one-off, and that Ballman indeed exhibited a “pattern” of “reckless” decisions. Another member of the provost’s team involved in the academic review was dismissed from the process in similar manner earlier this academic year, he asserted. And Ballman told non-tenure-track professors to expect letters saying that they would lose their appointments but possibly be rehired for next year, he said. The letters were never sent, but Jordan criticized Ballman’s handling of the possibility.

Like many institutions, Western Kentucky is facing challenges, including steep state funding cuts. So while the university reviews academic programs with some regularity, the stakes are high this round. And it's still unclear what will be cut. The Board of Regents is set to review the Comprehensive Academic Program Evaluation committee's recommendations this week.

Jordan said he knew that cuts across the university were imminent. But “when you know that your dean is willing to advocate for you, fight your fight -- that a dean will do all he or she can to ensure transparency, fairness and to protect his or her students, staff and faculty -- even when the ultimate decision doesn’t go your way, it makes those cuts easier to handle and those transitions easier to make.”

The final vote was 50 to 10, no confidence, with three abstentions. Students of course couldn’t participate, but some attended the meeting in a show of solidarity with professors opposed to Snyder’s release. Many students protested on campus immediately following the news that he would no longer be dean.

Following the special meeting, the university released a statement saying that a vote of no confidence “is exceedingly rare in higher education and at our institution. [The university] takes shared governance seriously and will need some time to react appropriately to this action taken” by the senate.

The next day, Friday, Ballman announced her immediate resignation. The decision followed discussions with President Timothy C. Caboni about “what would be in [the university’s] best interest,” she said. Ballman will serve as assistant to the president for special initiatives until 2020 and resume a professorship in the department of modern languages full-time after that.

Ballman began as provost in August. Prior to that, she was dean of the College of Arts and Letters at California State University, San Bernardino. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Snyder was unavailable for an interview.

“Serving as your provost has been both an honor and a privilege, and I am proud of the things we have accomplished this year,” Ballman said. “I remain confident in the future of [Western Kentucky]. This is a remarkable, student-centered institution, and our students will continue to enjoy the transformative educational opportunities that are a hallmark” of the university experience.

Caboni, the president, wrote in a campus memo that “a vote of no confidence is a powerful statement and one that I take very seriously.” Saying that he’d heard from various members of the campus over the past two weeks -- presumably since Snyder’s resignation -- and that he’d spoken with Ballman, Caboni also said she'd "agreed that it is in [Western Kentucky’s] best interest that she step down from her role, effective immediately.”

Cheryl Stevens, longtime dean of Western Kentucky's Ogden College of Science and Engineering, will serve as acting provost. Merrall Price, special assistant to the provost and professor of English, who had previously been announced as Snyder’s interim successor as dean, will immediately move to the dean’s office.

Caboni added that academic affairs “also will immediately implement a plan of action to address the concerns of the campus community and to regain the trust of those who have lost confidence. Clearly, we must do more.”

To that end, he said, any program decisions related to the review will not go beyond the committee’s recommendations. Noting that the campus has been operating without three associate vice presidents for academic affairs this semester, Caboni also said that the new provost will appoint a senior vice provost to work with her and deans, “to advance [the university’s] strategic plan and also to strengthen relationships between academic affairs and each of our five colleges.”

Caboni also announced the creation of a new, monthly provost’s council of senior professors and other individual college leaders to “ensure that policies and decisions are being vetted more broadly and with input from and conversation with a larger group from across campus.”

Such moments in the life of an institution “are painful,” Caboni wrote. “As we move forward together, where damaged, we must repair our organizational bonds. Most importantly, we will refocus our time and energy on the things each of us was brought here to accomplish. At our core are student learning, knowledge creation and public engagement that elevate our region.”

Atkinson, the senate chair, said he and others are still trying to process the recent changes. But the overall feeling on campus seems to be a desire to “get back to business.”

“We are very student focused and we want to move forward,” he said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Hampshire College president quits and board votes to raise money to try to stay independent

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 5:00pm

Hampshire College's president, Miriam E. Nelson, announced Friday that she was leaving her position, effective immediately.

In a letter to the campus, she defended her analysis that the college needed substantial changes in its structure and financing to remain viable. She also, however, said that opposition to her leadership "would be a distraction from the necessary work" of placing the college on sound footing.

The college also announced that its board had voted to start a fund-raising campaign to remain independent. While the board has not in recent months ruled out that possibility, it has been pursuing partnerships -- a strategy opposed by many students, alumni and faculty members who believe that it would be impossible to find a partnership that would not erode Hampshire's values.

Nelson's announcement comes the same week that the board chair left her position, also saying that the intense criticism she had received was making it difficult for the college to consider options.

Hampshire announced in January that its financial struggles were so severe that it was considering not admitting a new freshman class this fall. In February, it announced that it was admitting as new students for the fall only those who were admitted early decision or were admitted last year and deferred enrollment for a year. By not admitting a full class of students, the college said it hoped to buy some time and keep expenses low -- layoffs followed -- while searching for a partner. Many students, faculty members and alumni criticized the move, saying that further decreasing enrollment would make it more difficult to survive, especially as an independent institution. For nearly 50 years, Hampshire has operated as a college where students could lead their own educations, without the constraints of traditional departments.

According to data released by the college, in 2014, enrollment was 1,390, but it fell to 1,120 this year. In 2018, the college projected that it would receive deposits from 397 first-year students. The actual total was 320.

In her letter to the campus, Nelson outlined her analysis of the college's situation (she arrived only last year) and also why she felt it would not be wise to continue in office.

A phrase used to describe Hampshire -- “perennially strapped for cash” -- "is not a desirable description, even if accurate," she wrote. "Last May, when I learned from Jonathan Lash [the prior president] that our entering class was again going to be significantly smaller than expected, it was clear this would trigger a chain of negative events threatening our long-term viability. So, in coming to Hampshire, I knew I needed to embrace the challenge of finding a path to the long-term financial stability that has always eluded the college. As I dug into our fiscal reality, I learned we had stark choices. It was clear to me, and soon after to the board, that we would need to find a partner that could help us preserve what our community has always valued in Hampshire."

Nelson added that she "anticipated that the January 15 announcement that stated we were seeking a strategic partner, and the subsequent decision to admit only a fraction of our fall 2019 class, would create anxiety, sorrow and anger. That has surely come to pass. For many, this entire situation came as too much of a shock and felt too much like a betrayal. Together with our Board of Trustees, I have had to make a number of very tough decisions without putting them up for a collective debate. To some, this is an inexcusably top-down, un-Hampshire way of doing things."

The now former president noted in her letter that Hampshire, while historically known for a commitment to shared governance, has also designated ultimate responsibility for key decisions to the president and board. "In Hampshire’s 1970 catalogue, it was clear that decision-making authority would accrue to the college’s president and trustees: 'The Hampshire governance arrangements will not be egalitarian; they will be hierarchical. To be involved, informed and participating will be the responsibility and right of every member of the community; but experience, past performance and a definition of role will determine the decision-making arrangements.' This language was prescient, since throughout Hampshire’s tenure, leadership has had to make tough and unpopular decisions."

Her letter went on to say, however, that she realized others wanted to focus on fund-raising to remain independent, rather than seeking a partner.

Ken Rosenthal has been named interim president. He was one of the college’s founders and its fifth employee. He started work there in 1966, served as the college's first treasurer and left the college in 1976.

On social media, critics of Nelson and the board's prior strategy said that they were excited by the prospect of raising money to stay independent.

Hampshire's woes have come at a time when small private colleges have been struggling. Three small private colleges in March announced plans to close: Hiwassee College, in Tennessee, and two in Vermont, the College of St. Joseph and Southern Vermont College.

Green Mountain College, also in Vermont, announced in January that it will close at the end of the spring semester. Newbury College in Brookline, Mass., announced in December that it would close at the end of this academic year.

Hampshire's financial challenges remain serious, but there is a precedent for the sort of rebellion the college is seeing. In 2015, the board of Sweet Briar College announced it would close, citing an eroding financial and enrollment base. Alumnae objected and mobilized. A few months later, following harsh attacks on the leaders who proposed shuttering the college, the board agreed to give up control to a new group that has kept Sweet Briar going. While the college remains alive, it has continued to face financial difficulties as it has attempted to make enrollment changes and to attract more students, and in 2017 it eliminated the jobs of about 10 percent of its faculty.

Also last week, students at Hiwassee College protested that institution's decision to close.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges recruiting 2020 presidential candidates as commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 5:00pm

In December, Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who at the time had not yet declared she would run for president, spoke at the winter commencement of Morgan State University, a historically black institution in Baltimore.

She touched on familiar themes for a progressive lawmaker: Wall Street greed and the need to dismantle systemic racism. But her words swerved into the political realm even further, taking a swipe at President Trump, whom she said “kisses up to autocrats and undermines voting and basic democratic institutions.”

Her decision to even speak at a college of almost all minority students could be viewed as politically savvy. Warren had just come off a controversy in October, when she publicly released a DNA test that she intended to prove her Native American ancestry. The move backfired when the results showed Warren’s Native heritage was fairly weak. Pundits said she had damaged relationships with her allies by equating DNA to Native American identity and questioned whether she could connect with minority voters.

For Warren, Morgan State was an ideal setting to talk and be seen. She's not the only presidential candidate with that view.

Administrators who court politicians for commencements said they simply do not censor their speeches or police them to make sure they don’t veer into political territory -- they rely on them to be appropriate for the venue.

And in many cases, the colleges are the first to contact these candidates because they believe that hearing from (potentially) the next president of the United States, or another office holder, will only benefit students -- even if it comes with pushback on occasions.

Candidates benefit, too -- with the 2020 election cycle in full swing, and a slew of Democratic contenders, colleges will see more politicians taking advantage of these speaking opportunities, especially if the colleges are located in key primary states.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, for instance, whose presidential campaign has failed to make major waves, will be the commencement speaker for New England College this year, a small private institution in New Hampshire.

Gillibrand’s selection in some ways makes sense -- she is well-known for her fight against sexual assault, particularly on college campuses, and was a major player in gathering support for the failed Campus Accountability and Safety Act. In a message to campus, President Michele D. Perkins lauded Gillibrand’s achievements.

“Throughout her time in the Senate, Senator Gillibrand has been a leader in some of the toughest fights in Washington,” Perkins said in a statement. “She led the effort to repeal the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in the military; she wrote the STOCK Act, which made it illegal for members of Congress to financially benefit from inside information; and she won the long fight to provide permanent health care and compensation to the 9/11 first responders and community survivors. Senator Gillibrand is recognized for bringing Democrats and Republicans together to solve important national problems.”

Gillibrand’s appearance would also boost her profile in a battleground state that holds the first presidential primary election of the season.

It was the college, though, that reached out to Gillibrand’s representatives, not vice versa, said Wayne F. Lesperance, the vice president of academic affairs at New England and one of the administrators who helps pick the commencement speaker. The college said Gillibrand’s team eagerly accepted the invitation.

Officials intentionally reached out to Gillibrand, because the college tries to bring in political figures around election time, believing that doing so fits with its mission to teach civic engagement, Lesperance said. The college’s commencement speaker last year was Julián Castro, the former housing and urban development secretary under President Obama, who was seen as a likely candidate for president (he announced his run in January).

After soliciting ideas from the campus, administrators will forward a name to the Board of Trustees, which has a committee that approves the speaker. Lesperance said the pick is based off timing of commencement and interest among students and professors.

The college doesn’t review the commencement speeches -- administrators merely remind the speakers of time limits and who “their audience is,” Lesperance said.

“We’re not looking for them to give a stump speech, or pass out envelopes,” he said. “We want them to be inspirational, or talk in hopeful terms about getting ready to graduate to the next big adventure.”

Colleges and universities generally don’t appear to review the content of commencement addresses. The University of California, Berkeley, which invited Kamala Harris, a California senator and Democratic presidential hopeful to speak at commencement last year, does not vet the speeches; rather, officials “ask that commencement speakers acknowledge the students’ work and ask them to inspire students as they go on to the next phase of life after university,” said Roqua Monetz, a Berkeley spokesman.

Harris ultimately backed out of the speech to avoid crossing a picket line by striking UC workers.

Kean University, in New Jersey, which recruited its junior senator, Cory Booker, a Democrat and presidential candidate, as commencement speaker last year, also does not advise its picks on what they can and cannot say, spokeswoman Margaret McCorry said. Kean administrators reached out to Booker, who is known for his grand, lofty speeches.

“Commencement represents an opportunity for the entire Kean community, including our graduates and their families, to gather together and celebrate a milestone achievement for our students,” McCorry said. “Our speakers are chosen because of their stature in the national and international arenas. We were delighted to have Senator Booker as a commencement speaker. He is a New Jersey success story whose life experiences and accomplishments are relatable to our students.”

New England, meanwhile, in addition to Castro, has brought in John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president and a 2008 presidential candidate; George Pataki, New York's Republican former governor; and Carol Moseley Braun, a former diplomat and Democratic senator from Illinois.

All of them “have been pretty good,” Lesperance said. And while some alumni, parents or even students have groused about the selection of a politician as a speaker, college officials said it’s important that they come. Lesperance said he personally advocates for the politicians to come to campus.

The speeches at New England have delved deep into policy issues, though -- Edwards in his speech talked at length about global warming and the push by college students to bring attention to it, and mentioned the Iraq war and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“It’s part of the deal of conversations that can happen in a democracy and differences in points of view,” Lesperance said. “It’s a fertile ground for conversation for members for our community. We want to take concerns seriously, but we’ve never had a situation where those concerns were a veto of a speaker.”

Part of being an institution of higher learning is that politicians -- presidential candidates -- will be “in your backyard,” said Libby May, spokeswoman for Southern New Hampshire University, which this year has Booker as one of four commencement speakers. Booker is also booked for commencement at South Carolina State University, a historically black university, in May.

Southern New Hampshire’s process for selecting a speaker is similar to New England’s, with a “core team” developing ideas for the speaker and the president giving the final sign-off, May said. Neither Southern New Hampshire nor New England pay their politicians for commencement speakers. May said that the candidates typically don’t accept a fee -- sometimes they’ll ask money be donated to a charity of their choosing.

Then senator Barack Obama also spoke at Southern New Hampshire in 2007. At the time, though he was a rising star in the Democratic Party, Obama was considered an underdog candidate for president, and his early appearances in New Hampshire helped catapult him to the point in the 2008 primary that he only tailed Hillary Clinton slightly in the state. Colleges were a major forum for Obama, and he spoke at other commencements too, including Wesleyan University in 2008 as a stand-in for Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Carly Fiorina, a former chief executive for Hewlett-Packard who ran for president as a Republican during the last presidential election, also spoke at Southern New Hampshire while she was a candidate. May said the institution tries to ensure an even political mix -- and administrators tend not to focus on speakers as candidates, but what their stories bring to the graduates.

“Obama was a sitting senator, and Carly Fiorina had major business experience,” May said.

While none of the candidates have ever devolved into a campaign speech, “at the end of the day they’re still politicians,” May said -- the flavor of their commencement addresses can be political, such as challenging societal injustices. The university does request a copy of the speech beforehand, but never have they edited it for content, May said. She said it’s typically so the university can make arrangements for commencement.

“I don’t believe anybody who has taken campaigning, or even gone on a policy stint,” May said. “They tend to keep it pretty light. It’s commencement, it’s a celebratory thing. They don’t usually go for policy or attacking the other side. I can’t recall anybody doing that.”

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MIT and Harvard fail to get out of video captioning court case

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 5:00pm

Two high-profile civil rights lawsuits filed by the National Association of the Deaf against Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are set to continue after requests to dismiss the cases were recently denied for the second time.

The two universities were accused by the NAD in 2015 of failing to make their massive open online courses, guest lectures and other video content accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Some of the videos, many of which were hosted on the universities' YouTube channels, did have captions -- but the NAD complained that these captions were sometimes so bad that the content was still inaccessible.

Spokespeople for both Harvard and MIT declined to comment on the ongoing litigation but stressed that their institutions were committed to improving web accessibility.

This is not the first time a university has faced legal consequences for failing to adequately caption videos. The University of California, Berkeley, decided to remove thousands of educational videos from public view in 2017 after the U.S. Justice Department ordered the university to provide captions. The decision drew criticism from disability rights advocates but highlighted the financial and administrative burden placed on universities by web-accessibility requirements.

Both MIT and Harvard have argued in court filings that they should not be required to provide closed captions for every video they create or host on their websites. After the institutions’ first attempt to dismiss the cases was denied, there was a yearlong attempt to reach a settlement out of court. When that attempt failed, the universities again moved to dismiss the cases.

Judge Katherine A. Robertson of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts largely rejected the universities' second attempt to dismiss the cases. On March 28, Robertson denied the institutions' pleas for the exclusion of their websites from Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Title III of the ADA prohibits disability discrimination by "places of public accommodation." Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs that receive federal funding.

Judge Robertson did, however, agree that the universities could not be held responsible for the accessibility of third-party content on their websites under the Communications Decency Act. The CDA was an attempt by Congress in 1996 to regulate pornographic material on the internet, but Section 230 of the act has been used to argue that operators of internet services should not be regarded as publishers and cannot, therefore, be held liable for content they did not create.

Arlene Mayerson, directing attorney of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund and one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the case, said that the third-party content represents “a tiny amount of the material that we have been looking to have captioned.” The most significant part of Judge Robertson's ruling was her rejection of the universities' arguments that much of their online content was outside the accessibility requirements of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, Mayerson said.

Harvard and MIT define third-party content as "including content posted by students, individual faculty members and other scholars." But in court documents, the plaintiffs disagreed that content created by "individuals such as faculty members and students who are closely associated" with the universities should be classified as "third party." Judge Robertson ruled that third-party content could not include content created or developed "in whole or in part" by the universities, or "someone associated" with the universities.

Scott Lissner, the ADA coordinator at Ohio State University, said he believes it is his responsibility to make all content on Ohio State websites accessible, regardless of where it comes from.

“If we believe the information is useful to our constituents and program participants then it should be available to all of our constituents and program participants with the same level of independence, planning and effort,” he said.

Mayerson believes the recent ruling against the universities is the "end of the line" in terms of having their cases dismissed.

“I don’t think there’s anything left for Harvard or MIT to argue,” she said. “The outcome that we’ve always sought is for accessibility on these websites for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We’re still on that road.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 8, 2019 - 5:00pm
  • Carroll University, in Wisconsin: Milwaukee police chief Alfonso Morales.
  • Central State University: Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, a pastor, social justice advocate, author and former president of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP.
  • Delaware College of Art and Design: Catherine Quillman, the artist and writer.
  • DePaul University: Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; and others.
  • Furman University: Eleanor Beardsley, international correspondent for National Public Radio.
  • Hampden-Sydney College: David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and co-executive chairman of the Carlyle Group.
  • Manhattan College: Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Randolph College: Richmond, Va., mayor Levar M. Stoney.
  • Rhode Island School of Design: Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.
  • Sarah Lawrence College: Maggie Haberman, White House reporter for The New York Times.
  • Union College, in New York: Susan Zirinsky, president and senior executive producer of CBS News.
  • University of Washington: Rick Welts, president and chief operating officer of the Golden State Warriors.
  • Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer, the retired football coach at the university.
  • Wake Forest University: Frederick J. Ryan Jr., publisher and chief executive officer of The Washington Post.
  • Washington University in St. Louis: Michael R. Bloomberg, the philanthropist and former mayor of New York City.
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Two years after rescue, Wheeling Jesuit guts faculty, programs

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 5, 2019 - 6:00pm

In the spring of 2017, Wheeling Jesuit University was deeply in debt and looking for ways to get out. Salvation came from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, which had originally gifted the land for the university campus in 1952.

In a massive deal whose terms weren’t publicly disclosed at the time, the diocese took control of Wheeling Jesuit's physical campus -- its 65 acres and buildings were valued at $47.1 million -- and agreed to lease it back to the university for just $2,418 per month, roughly the sum a group of recent college graduates might pay for a two-bedroom apartment in a big city.

In exchange, the diocese paid off the university’s bond debt, totaling about $32.4 million, according to financial filings.

At the time, Debra Townsley, Wheeling's interim president, called the arrangement “a substantial chunk of relief” for West Virginia’s only Catholic higher education institution and the nation's youngest Jesuit one. “It’s an exciting day. It’s not many schools that can have its debt eliminated.”

Now, less than two years later, the university is again in crisis. It declared "financial exigency" last month and says it will heavily cut back its undergraduate offerings in the fall -- one observer calls it a “major course correction.” Wheeling laid off 20 of its 52 full-time instructors March 28, trimmed its course catalog sharply and substantially lowered its forecast for this fall’s incoming class.

The university is poised to eliminate several majors, including theology, philosophy, history, engineering and literature. Instructors, several of whom spoke to Inside Higher Ed on condition of anonymity, said that if that's the case, the university has essentially given up its role as a liberal arts or traditional Jesuit institution.

Catholic higher education has a long tradition of founding colleges in the health professions, but Jesuit colleges and universities such as the College of the Holy Cross, Georgetown University and Gonzaga University are also known for rigorous liberal arts programs, with an emphasis on fields such as philosophy.

The layoffs will gut the teaching staff responsible for delivering Wheeling's core undergraduate curriculum, which had already been modified in 2017. In that change, the core curriculum shrank from more than 50 credit hours of instruction in philosophy, theology, literature, history, ethics and natural and social sciences to just 36. It was later supplemented with several short undergraduate seminars, but it has never regained its previous stature.

“Wheeling Jesuit University will exist in name only next year. The heart of the school, and its identity, have just been cut out. It’s been pretty heartbreaking.” -Jessica Wrobleski, theology professor

Daniel Weimer, a Jesuit-educated history professor and one of the 20 professors laid off, said the current core curriculum "looks very different, in my opinion," from that of other Jesuit institutions. He said that during an all-employee meeting following the layoffs, President Michael P. Mihalyo told faculty that the question of whether Wheeling would remain a Jesuit university would be part of a longer-term discussion.

Like most of those who lost their jobs last week, Weimer, who is in the middle of his 13th year there, had earned tenure. But the university’s declaration of financial exigency paved the way for his removal, as well as those of his colleagues. The classification is traditionally defined as indicating an “imminent financial crisis which threatens the survival of the institution as a whole” and is often used to terminate long-standing tenured faculty.

“Wheeling Jesuit University will exist in name only next year,” said Jessica Wrobleski, a tenured theology professor who was laid off. “The heart of the school, and its identity, have just been cut out. It’s been pretty heartbreaking.”

In all, the cuts amount to nearly 40 percent of the university’s full-time faculty and nearly all of its core undergraduate faculty. They were not offered buyouts or severance packages, as in past layoffs, faculty members said.

Nearly all of Wheeling’s traditional arts and sciences positions were eliminated, leaving the institution to focus on health care, business, exercise science and a handful of other majors.

“Basically all liberal arts faculty have been cut, with the exception of one person in English, one person in biology [and] one person in psychology,” said Wrobleski. “I can’t imagine that they’re intending on keeping anything like the core curriculum.”

The university didn’t make Mihalyo or other officials available for interviews.

In a statement, it said university officials and trustees "have engaged in hard but necessary conversations" about Wheeling's future, ultimately deciding to offer programs of study "that reflect the intersection of the faculty’s expertise, student and workforce demands, and financial sustainability."

Wheeling said it will offer seven undergraduate majors and four graduate majors this fall. In undergraduate studies, it will offer nursing, respiratory therapy, exercise science, education, business, criminal justice and psychology. It will offer a doctoral program in physical therapy and master's programs in business administration, education and nursing. As recently as this week, the university boasted 47 programs of study, including 18 undergraduate programs. Wheeling said it remains "fully committed to serve its students and provide them with the highest quality education that will prepare them for career and life." It said students will, if needed, be able to choose "a variety of online courses, hybrid courses, independent study options and internships," among others. Students in majors that aren’t offered in the fall will have ways to complete their degree, either at Wheeling or elsewhere. It plans to hold an "Institutional Major Fair" on April 11.

Faculty members said their understanding is that the university’s athletics programs, including its football team, will remain in place.

The Reverend Michael Sheeran, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, said the changes represent a “major course correction that I think gives them a chance to survive and even thrive” in an area hard-hit by the recession. “Don’t count this one out,” he said of the university.

Despite faculty criticisms of the changes, Father Sheeran described Wheeling as able to remain “authentically Jesuit” without majors in a number of liberal arts fields, as long as it includes those fields in its core curriculum. He said the university is recommitting itself to fields like nursing out of a need to “be of much more service, and much more reliable service, to the people of West Virginia.” Nearby Wheeling Hospital, he said, needs “many more nurses” than local programs can provide. Sheeran called the changes “a very genuine effort to meet the needs of the diocese,” as well as to avoid going broke.

A few of the laid-off professors said a Jesuit institution like Wheeling can continue supplying nurses to a struggling region without abandoning the liberal arts.

For her part, Wrobleski -- who also serves as chair of Faculty Council this year -- wonders what objective criteria and data were used to make the programmatic decisions. She noted that the nursing program expects to graduate just four students this year. Four years ago, its entering class numbered 26. She said just seven nursing students graduated in 2018, a number on par with, or smaller than, many programs that the university eliminated. By contrast, West Virginia University last spring graduated 252 nursing students, both graduate and undergraduate. (A previous version of this article incorrectly included an additional 181 enrolled students who were not due to graduate in 2018.)

Father Sheeran said the U.S.’s 27 other Jesuit colleges are reaching out to both Wheeling students and faculty with opportunities.

Townsley, the former president who brokered the debt/land swap in 2017, this week said the university “has offered a great education over the years with great outcomes -- it certainly has helped the region.”

Now president of Laboure College in Milton, Mass., Townsley said that in both the Midwest and Northeast, “It’s a challenging time in higher education, as we all know.”

“It’s taken all the wind out of campus. You refer to ‘what happened last week’ and everyone there just stares.” -Darin McGinnis, professor of philosophy

Father Sheeran said the entire state is still, in a sense, recovering from the 2010 death of Senator Robert Byrd, who had served in the U.S. Senate since 1959, famously bringing millions of dollars in federal projects and funding home to West Virginia.

The watchdog site Open Secrets found that in just the last three years of his tenure, Byrd sponsored or co-sponsored 330 congressional earmarks, totaling more than $1 billion for West Virginia.

That included four earmarks specifically for Wheeling Jesuit University, totaling $11.7 million.

When Byrd died, Father Sheeran said, “The money stopped.”

By 2010, Father Sheeran said, West Virginia “was already on the downward trend, in terms of lack of money coming into the economy, in terms of coal and other industries.”

Since Byrd’s death, he said, “the schools in that state have all had to adjust to the lack of federal funding, compared to what they were used to. There’s been a struggle at Wheeling Jesuit, but at the other schools, too.”

But Darin McGinnis, a professor of philosophy, said the university could have handled the realignment better. For one thing, faculty were cut out of the process. They don’t know, for instance, which majors have historically attracted more students, a key indicator of whether they are worth keeping. “We don’t have access to any of the numbers to verify if that’s actually the case,” he said.

McGinnis and others said they also don't know of any sort of strategic plan upon which the layoffs were based. “If there is a plan, we have not been apprised of it,” he said. “Certainly to cut all of these programs now is to cut out the Jesuit portion of what’s offered,” he said.

He and others said they anticipate that the university will likely hire part-time adjunct or online instructors to fill holes in instruction.

“It’s taken all the wind out of campus,” he said. “You refer to ‘what happened last week’ and everyone there just stares.”

The university projects about 500 undergraduates and 275 graduate students this fall; last fall, it reported 764 undergraduates and 310 graduate students, as well as 77 in professional and certificate programs, for a total of 1,151 -- that's down about 29 percent from a high of 1,619 in 2013.

McGinnis said students are also scrambling to learn what will be taught-out, and how. “There’s still no plan and won’t be until June or July,” he said. “Staying to be taught-out would really be an article of faith, but for a few juniors, I don’t know what other choice they have.”

Father Sheeran said other Jesuit institutions, from Buffalo, N.Y., to Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati and even Omaha, Neb., are willing to consider enrolling Wheeling students. “Kids who really want that Jesuit tradition that they’ve really been immersed in will get that opportunity to go to other schools,” he said.

The association has also begun reaching out to faculty to help them find jobs at the other Jesuit institutions, he said. “You can’t guarantee that people will be hired,” Father Sheeran said, “but we’re committed to connecting them with colleagues from across our network who have expressed interest in helping them.”

For most, the layoffs came too late to find a teaching job for the fall, since other institutions typically hire in the fall for the following year. Wrobleski, who grew up in Morgantown, W.Va., said she plans to take a job as vice president for mission at a Catholic girls’ high school.

Weimer, the history professor, said he is not sure of his plans. “I think it’s pretty dour,” he said of the mood on campus. “I don’t think people were expecting such a large restructuring, if you want to put it that way.”

McGinnis, who has spent eight years at the university, noted that in that time he has worked for four presidents. “I’ve had at least that many deans -- I’ve had at least that many chairs of my department, too. It’s just been in constant flux.”

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Duke Ph.D. wants to know why professor facing multiple harassment allegations was honored

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 5, 2019 - 6:00pm

Jill Hicks-Keeton, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma, has a book on Jewish antiquity and numerous peer-reviewed articles under her belt. She’s co-edited another book, has one under contract and teaches courses on biblical literature, ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

But before she’d accomplished all that, Hicks-Keeton was a graduate student in religion at Duke University, where she says her professor, Melvin Peters, humiliated and harassed her.

She spoke out against Duke this week, after her former department congratulated Peters -- who faces additional allegations of harassment and who is not currently teaching -- on Facebook. The occasion? A mentoring honor, recognized by Duke president Vincent Price and presented at a garden party last month.

“I trust it is obvious why I would find this outrageous,” Hicks-Keeton wrote in a letter to Price, which she shared on social media, alerting Duke. “And there’s only so much outrage I can keep to myself these days.”


I have just emailed the letter below to the president of Duke University (my PhD-granting institution) regarding sexual harassment. Thanks to many, both at Duke and beyond, who have offered support. And to any who read: I hope you read my scholarship too. @DukeU @DukeChronicle pic.twitter.com/YWJ3P5Kzw4

— Dr. Jill Hicks-Keeton (@JillHicksKeeton) April 3, 2019


On one occasion in class, in front of her male cohorts, Peters asked Hicks-Keeton if her bra fastened in the back or the front, she says. She remembers that he also made regular comments about her appearance and suggested that she’d do well on the job market, not because of her credentials, but because she was attractive.

Hicks-Keeton says she considered reporting the professor at the end of the term, especially after some fellow students approached her about the behavior. But when the time came, she was too afraid of possible retaliation within the department that held her future. She was the only woman in the class in question, after all, so it would be obvious who complained. Plus, she hoped never to have to deal with Peters again.

Ten years on, Hicks-Keeton has changed. But Peters apparently hasn’t, she says. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Making a Report

Last year Hicks-Keeton read an article in Duke’s student newspaper about a professor accused of harassment. She later confirmed, through disciplinary backchannels, that the professor in question was Peters, she says. And for the first time, she realized her experiences were part of a larger pattern of harassment.

The revelation prompted her to report her experiences to Duke, by contacting professors in her old department, who put her in touch with a dean, who put her in touch with the Office of Institutional Equity.

Hicks-Keeton thought she was making a formal report -- one that would launch some kind of investigation. But she has heard nothing since.

Instead, she says, she saw the congratulatory post on the religion department’s Facebook page this week.

“Pres. Vincent Price has recognized Prof. Mel Peters as a Celebrating Mentors honoree,” it said. “He was honored at a special reception held on March 25th at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Way to go, Mel!”

Considering that she had still heard nothing about her complaint against Peters, Hicks-Keeton wrote up her experience in a letter to Price. She said wanted to know if Peters had in fact been removed from the classroom, as rumor indicated.

“I would like a response,” she wrote. “And if Peters has indeed been sanctioned by the Duke administration for sexual harassment, say it out loud. Rescind the mentoring award.”

Hicks-Keeton closed her letter with a comment on the “failure of the system that adds a further burden on junior (female) scholars that should not have to be borne: I’m now hard at work to earn tenure and make my way in my guild. I have a recent book out with Oxford University Press.”

She added, “I wish that were the principal reason my former (beloved) Duke professors were now in touch with me. I have a book under contract with Cambridge University Press. I wish that were the reason I’m putting words on a page right now. But it’s not. And that’s because Mel Peters sexually harassed me. Way to go, Mel.”

Echoing how she closed her letter, when she shared it on Twitter, Hicks-Keeton thanked her supporters and said, “to any who read: I hope you read my scholarship too.”

'I Could Not Believe It'

The department’s Facebook post was deleted soon after it appeared. Mark Goodacre, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies at Duke, said Thursday that he first heard of Peters’s honor when he saw the note on the department page -- which he immediately took down.

“I could not believe it,” he said. “I deleted it because I knew of the allegations of sexual harassment against [Peters], and I was deeply concerned about the hurt that the post might cause.”

Laura Suzanne Lieber, professor of religious studies, divinity and classical studies, said her comments had to be limited due to the "many confidences” involved in the situation. But she said she first “became aware of the seriousness of the problem -- namely, that Mel’s offenses involved students, both undergraduate and graduate, and were not limited to my own unsettling experiences, which were not sexualized but nonetheless troubling -- in May 2017.”

At that point, Lieber tried on her own and with other senior colleagues to address "the harassment issues that were emerging through the appropriate channels.”

Beyond that, she said, “I can only say that I am profoundly disappointed in how this situation has been handled, and frustrated by my experiences with the Office of Institutional Equity.”

David Morgan, department chair, said he, too, was frustratingly limited as to what he could say, because he’s forbidden from commenting on personnel matters. And he's “very frustrated by the process itself."

“We wholeheartedly endorse Duke's policy of intolerance of sexual harassment,” Morgan said. “We stand solidly with the victims and we have worked hard to support the university's response to reported instances of harassment.”

A number of department members have commented on Hicks-Keeton’s Facebook page, criticizing Duke for its handling of the matter.

In some of those remarks and in on-the-record comments to Inside Higher Ed, several of Hicks-Keeton’s former Duke classmates confirmed her account.

Stephen C. Carlson, senior research fellow at Australian Catholic University’s Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry, said on Facebook, for example, that the class in question "was the most dysfunctional experience in my entire time at Duke. There was a constant stream of inappropriate, insulting and demeaning comments, and I don't think there was a single time he addressed you without commenting about your appearance."

One recent graduate who accused Peters of harassment has gone public with her account, as well, sharing it on social media. Among other allegations, she recalls Peters commenting on women's appearances, and says that he repeatedly told her class that students had offered to sleep with him for "grades."

Michael Schoenfeld, university spokesperson, responded to questions on behalf of Price. He said that Peters did not receive a mentoring award. Rather, he said, “Each year, the several hundred graduating seniors who make a contribution to the university are invited to acknowledge someone -- a faculty member, adviser or fellow student -- with their gift.” An acknowledgment of that gift is then sent to the people named by the students.

The university does not “direct or prohibit students from recognizing anyone they choose with their contribution,” Schoenfeld said.

An email invitation from Price to professors honored at the event, including Peters, reads, "Members of the Class of 2019 were inspired by their mentors to give back to Duke -- and that lifts our entire community. Thank you for everything you do to teach, guide, and support our undergraduate students."

Schoenfeld declined to answer other questions about Peters, citing a policy against commenting on personnel issues.

A review of department schedules shows that Peters is not currently teaching.

Whatever recognition Peters received, Hicks-Keeton underscored the language in the Facebook post that had so alarmed her: “honored in a public reception where the president presided.”

As to Duke’s statement, she said she was “distressed that President Price has thus far chosen to ignore me,” while making public comments.

Hicks-Keeton is also “distressed that Duke has no safeguards in place to ensure that a professor removed from teaching after investigations into allegations of sexual harassment does not receive a public honor for mentoring students at a reception where the president of the university presides,” she added.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic candidate, bucks progressives on free college

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 5, 2019 - 6:00pm

Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor who has built a national media profile since launching his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, put himself at odds this week with a national movement behind free college.

Buttigieg, a Harvard University graduate and the son of two University of Notre Dame professors, said in an appearance at Northeastern University Wednesday that he believed in making college “dramatically more affordable” by expanding Pell Grants and incentivizing states to spend more on higher education. But he stopped short of supporting a universal program to address college affordability. In the early days of the campaign, Buttigieg has surged to third place in recent polls of Iowa Democrats and posted impressive fund-raising numbers and crowd sizes as well.

“Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t,” he said. “As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, who announced in February he would seek the party’s nomination, made free college a central plank of his 2016 Democratic primary campaign. And candidates including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand have signed on to legislation that would make public college in the U.S. free or debt-free.

But other than Buttigieg, only Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, has said she opposes free college since announcing a presidential run. Klobuchar, who said she supported free community college, said in February forum, "I wish -- if I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone and we could afford it, I would."

Buttigieg also called for examining student loan refinancing -- a policy some education researchers have found would be regressive -- and “robust ways to have debt forgiven” for graduates who enter public service.

The South Bend mayor has mentioned in interviews that his husband, a middle school teacher, is still paying off student loan debt.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a political action committee that supports objectives like debt-free college and Social Security expansion, called on Buttigieg to clarify his position and to back the goal of zero debt for all college graduates.

“Especially if people with college degrees earn more, that's all the reason to allow more working-class people to go to college and graduate with zero debt -- and candidates like Elizabeth Warren know that instinctively,” the group said in a statement. “A progressive tax code means the rich pay their fair share so that others have opportunity, and Elizabeth Warren's wealth tax on ultramillionaires would pay for things like universal childcare and allowing students to graduate without debt many times over.”

Polling released by the Campaign for Free College Tuition on Thursday found that roughly three-quarters of respondents have consistently supported states providing free college tuition for academically qualified students. The same results found more support for states, rather than the federal government, creating free college programs. Other polls have suggested that many working-class white people are skeptical of the value of higher education and are thus not likely to be excited about free college.

Wesley Whistle, education policy adviser at Third Way, said that Buttigieg’s comments show he understands problems with student debt and college affordability are more nuanced than a universal approach would allow.

Third Way, a center-left think tank, has consistently opposed free-college proposals. In a policy memo last month, Whistle and Tamara Hiler, the group’s deputy director of education, argued that Congress should triple the size of the Pell Grant and enact a federal-state partnership to reverse declines in state spending on higher education.

“If we’re going to spend a massive amount of money, the first thing we should do is address the students struggling the most -- and address the real cost of college,” Whistle said.

Beth Popp Berman, an associate professor of sociology at the University at Albany of the State University of New York, said in a series of tweets Thursday that Buttigieg’s arguments against free college could be used to undermine all sorts of public services. She said it relies on a cost-benefit framing of government spending that ignores the broad social benefits of college education.

Public services create solidarity, community, and meaningful civic culture. That’s the real reason we have fire stations, and high schools, and parks, and libraries. Because they create the kind of society we want to live in.

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Dutch populist party seeks report of indoctrination at universities

Inside Higher Ed - News - April 5, 2019 - 6:00pm

A Dutch right-wing populist party set up by an ex-academic has renewed its attack on universities following its election victory, setting up a “hotline” for reports and videos of left-wing “indoctrination” by lecturers.

The anti-multiculturalism, anti-European Union Forum for Democracy was launched as a political party in 2016 by 36-year-old former Leiden University law lecturer, Thierry Baudet -- a movement born from his Leiden Ph.D. thesis, Baudet's former supervisor told Times Higher Education.

The Forum for Democracy gained more votes than any other party in provincial elections for the upper house of the Dutch Parliament held on March 20 (although it only won 14.5 percent of the vote).

Since the election, the party has provoked outrage among many in Dutch universities and condemnation from the education minister by setting up a “hotline” for “reporting indoctrination at schools and universities,” inviting videos and other evidence of supposed left-wing bias in teaching.

This followed Baudet’s election victory speech, in which he said that “civilization” was being destroyed “by the people who should protect us.” He went on to say, “We are undermined by our universities, by our journalists, by the people who receive our art grants and who design our buildings.”

The Forum for Democracy hotline has brought condemnation from a number of Dutch university presidents and rectors, although it is widely regarded as a political stunt.

Carel Stolker, Leiden’s rector magnificus and president, said in a tweet that the hotline was “idiotic” and an attempt to attract attention. Universities were among the world’s most enduring institutions, he said.

Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University, told Times Higher Education, “Although I am generally not getting nervous about political soundbites, the recent statement of Mr. Baudet that universities are a sort of ‘enemy of the people’ needs to be corrected. Also, the action of his party to create a ‘hotline for reporting indoctrination at school and universities’ goes against everything we stand for: free speech, tolerance, openness and respect for each other. As academic communities, we need to take a strong stand against anybody who is trying to undermine our academic principles.”

Earlier this year, Times Higher Education reported that academics around the world were increasingly facing threats of secret recording and denunciation online by their own students, as tactics used by far-right activists in the U.S. have been taken up in nations including Germany, Brazil and Hungary.

An open letter circulated among Dutch university staff expresses alarm “at the recent actions and statements” of the Forum for Democracy and Baudet.

“Given the strong interest Baudet expresses in dismissing climate science and promoting history based on national pride, it is clear that this initiative is not genuinely interested in reducing bias in academic institutions,” says the letter. “Rather, it is interested in selectively discounting knowledge that does not fit its political and ideological aims.”

The letter urges Dutch academics to unite in making clear that “our society will not tolerate any political infringement on the freedom to conduct critical academic research and education.”

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Repeated scandals stymie USC's efforts to improve its image

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 26, 2019 - 6:00pm

After a series of embarrassing scandals and divisive controversies at the University of Southern California over the past two years, students, alumni and faculty hoped 2019 would be different.

It's not.

The university is deeply enmeshed in a national college admissions scandal involving various pay-to-play schemes in which rich parents paid hefty bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top colleges. USC students were implicated in the fraud and bribery scheme more than were students at any of the other colleges. And one of the USC students was among those most widely mocked for an apparent lack of interest in studying.

Instead of turning the tide of bad publicity and banner headlines, the university has only drawn more critical scrutiny.

Many USC students, alumni and influential benefactors are deeply disappointed and angry about the latest turn of events and are highly critical of the administration under whose watch the bribery apparently occurred undetected. They are particularly annoyed that USC administrators are again scrambling to contain a public relations debacle instead of focusing on restoring the reputational luster already lost as a result of the past incidents.

Although the hiring of a new president was announced last week, raising hopes that a change in leadership might help steer the campus onto a path of positive change, the university's critics are debating the long-term implications of the collective scandals. They're also wondering whether the image of the institution will be permanently sullied along with the standing of current students, the graduating Class of 2019, and alumni.

“I was totally embarrassed,” said Calvin Carmichael, a freshman at USC. “I know how hard I worked to get into the school. Before people would say, ‘Wow, you go to USC -- you must be so smart.’ Now I’m not sure what they’ll say.”

They might say something along the lines of: How much did you pay to get in?

Greg Autry said he was asked that very question at a recent conference, even though he’s not a USC student. He’s an assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship in USC’s business school but was nonetheless the subject “of a constant barrage of admission jokes” during the conference.

He said variations of jokes about bribing one’s way into USC were “the second thing out of people’s mouths after they said hello and saw the name of my institution. They questioned the quality of faculty along with that of students.”

Autry took the ribbing in stride, but he believes what’s happening at USC is no laughing matter. When the charges and arrests related to the admissions buying were announced earlier this month after a yearlong investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, he was immediately dismayed. He dreaded the thought of more unseemly headlines about USC after widespread media coverage of revelations of sexual assault allegations against a campus gynecologist and charges of drug abuse by the medical school’s now former dean.

“I thought, oh no, not again,” he said.

The admissions investigation led to the arrests of 50 people, including athletics coaches at USC and five other selective institutions who allegedly took bribes in exchange for granting spots on various sports teams to students who did not play those particular sports. The students’ parents and several college entrance exam administrators were also arrested and charged.

The university’s top administrators have not responded to requests for comment, but Wanda Austin, USC’s interim president, has issued several written statements outlining the university’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities and actions taken in the wake of the Justice Department announcement of the indictments and arrests.

“We have planned significant remedial efforts,” she said in a statement issued on March 12, hours after the Justice Department announcement. “We will take all appropriate employment actions. We will review admissions decisions. We are identifying all funds received that may be connected to the government’s allegations. And we will be implementing significant process and training enhancements to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”

Austin also announced the firing of two employees, including Donna Heinel, the senior associate athletic director who was among five current or former USC coaches charged with racketeering conspiracy as part of the Justice Department probe. She also said a tenured faculty member named in the federal indictment as a parent would be placed on leave while the university takes "a required procedural step in the process for terminating tenured faculty." The faculty member is Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry who received his doctorate of dental surgery from USC in 1987. According to the Justice Department's affidavit, Zadeh and his wife refinanced their home in order to pay a $100,000 bribe to the athletic director to have their daughter designated as a recruit for USC's lacrosse team, "despite the fact that she did not play lacrosse competitively -- thereby facilitating her admission to USC."

“More employment actions may be possible as new facts come to light,” Austin said in another statement.

Autry said the culmination of various scandals within a relatively short time period -- “It seems like a scandal du jour, or one every six months,” he said. -- contributed to an overall unflattering perception of USC.

“There’s a sense of institutional corruption, and that’s not wrong,” he said. “There’s a severe cultural problem going on that you can’t deny.”

He’s worried the perceptions may become reality and hurt faculty recruiting, “which had been on the upswing.”

Paul Kaster, a sophomore at USC, agrees.

“It impacts USC’s reputation for sure,” Kaster said. “Its reputation is important for recruiting faculty and students and for the value of your degree later, especially when you’re looking for a job.”

Students who were considering applying “might see the university as less prestigious,” he said.

Still, as disappointing as it was for Kaster to learn that 12 students were accepted at USC through admission fraud, he said it was such a small portion of the nearly 20,000 undergraduates enrolled that the impact on campus and on the larger student body is almost negligible.

There’s also the notion that even bad publicity can sometimes result in positive attention.

“I actually hear more about the scandal from people who aren’t at USC,” Kaster said. “It’s kind of good to know that someone is willing to pay a million dollars to attend USC. I’ve actually been offered money to take the ACT test for others, but I declined. I feel honored to be in the company of Yale and Stanford, and being among that caliber of school can also improve USC’s reputation.” (Although USC has become increasingly competitive and selective in recent decades, it is still not as selective as Yale or Stanford Universities, other institutions where parents tried to rig the admissions process. According to federal data on College Navigator, a database of the National Center for Education Statistics, USC accepted 16 percent of 56,676 applicants for its fall 2017 freshman class, while Yale and Stanford accepted just 7 and 5 percent respectively. Yale and Stanford students also scored higher on college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, and they graduated from those institutions at higher rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.)

It’s obviously impossible for anyone to predict what will happen over time, especially given the fast pace of news cycles and the short attention span of the general public.

“Reputational damage is not forever anymore,” said Margaret Dunning, managing partner at Finn Partners, a global marketing and communications firm. “There are a few exceptions, but it’s hard to predict what they are.”

Still, some USC alumni remember the university’s less heady days, when it was known for being “a party school” with a great football team and less than rigorous academics. USC was not nearly as selective back then, and the competition to get in was not so intense. People joked that USC actually stood for “University for Spoiled Children.”

No one wants a return of that image, but the involvement of the children of wealthy movie stars and hedge fund managers in the admissions scandal only reinforces that impression. These students have become the focal point of public ire and are seen as the embodiment of spoiled and entitled young people who gained entrée to USC by dint of their parents’ money and influence.

The students and their parents are the source of intense social media attention and derision because they are viewed as unworthy of enrollment spots that might have gone to more deserving students. Many current students and alumni were upset and offended by the YouTube video of Olivia Jade Giannulli, a so-called social influencer with two million followers, casually discussing wanting to experience college “game days and partying” but not academics.

“I don’t really care about school,” she said.

It made matters worse when it became public that Giannulli, whose famous parents, the actress Lori Loughlin and the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were implicated in the admissions buying scheme, was enjoying spring break in the Bahamas with other wealthy classmates aboard a yacht owned by Rick Caruso, the controversial chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees.

Lloyd Greif, a 1979 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business and a member of its Board of Leaders advisory group, was among those offended.

“I’m a native of Los Angeles, and I’m very aware of what USC’s reputation was and what caused it to change and made it what it is today,” he said.

Like many other alumni, Greif credits Steven B. Sample, the institution’s 10th president. USC grew fast, amassed lots of money and raised its academic standing under Sample’s leadership from 1991 to 2010.

“That’s when the University of Spoiled Children name sank and went away,” Greif said. “So to have it come back now is distressing to alumni who lived through the metamorphosis.”

Sample, who died in 2016, was widely praised for transforming USC into a leading research university. During his tenure, USC “recruited some of the most academically talented freshman classes in the country, more than doubled sponsored research to $430 million a year, and completed two comprehensive, universitywide strategic planning processes designed to take USC to new levels of academic excellence,” according to the university. “It also mounted the most successful fund-raising campaign, raising $2.85 billion and becoming the only university to receive four separate nine-figure gifts in one campaign.”

Greif fears that the admissions scandal will undermine all the progress made. He thinks one way to prevent that from happening is for heads to roll “not only at the top of the athletic department … but also at the very top of the university itself.”

He’s not alone in wanting change.

“There are a lot of us that came up the hard way and not with this who you know, who paid what stuff. We had no such connections,” said Robert L. Rodriguez, principal and CEO of First Pacific Advisors Inc., and a USC donor who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the business school.

“To have a vacuous individual like her take a spot from a hardworking applicant who really wants to learn is reprehensible,” he said in reference to Olivia Jade Giannulli.

“When I served on the Board of Leaders several years ago, there were members whose kids did not get in at USC. The kids getting in today have scores that are qualitatively equal to kids getting in at Stanford University. That was not the case 20 years ago. I look at how far the school has come, and when I see the things that drag down the school, it’s very heart-wrenching. Hopefully the whole school will not be condemned just because of the individual bad apples and bad actors.”

According to the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, which represents 83 private, nonprofit college and universities, the concerns about USC’s image are unwarranted.

“The recent college admissions scandal should have no effect on the reputations of the universities involved,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “The affected AICCU institutions are cooperating fully with the United States Department of Justice, as well as conducting internal reviews to ensure all appropriate responses and campus actions are taken. These were illegal actions committed by individuals at institutions -- not by the institutions themselves -- and do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our member institutions.”

Most people will not likely see things that way, however, and will consider the actions of the individuals involved as representative of the universities that employed them.

Any talk of USC's mission and values seem to be overshadowed by the bad publicity. On social media, the focus is on a campus bursting with students from rich families.

The median family income of a USC student is $161,400 (compared to $62,175 for the average American family), and 63 percent are from families with incomes in the top 20 percent of the income scale, according to data from the Equality of Opportunity Project launched by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty with The New York Times. Fourteen percent of USC students are from families who earned $630,000 or more per year, the top 1 percent of the income scale.

“I think it would be a great shame for people to believe that it should permanently damage a very fine institution such as USC,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, which represents leading research universities, including USC.

Coleman, who was president of the University of Michigan for 12 years and president of the University of Iowa for seven, believes Interim President Austin and other USC leaders “understand the gravity of the situation and the need to investigate and root out the problems and do the right things to regain the public trust.”

Austin has indicated that USC leaders appreciate the seriousness of the scandal and what’s at stake for USC.

“We will do all that is necessary to continue to strengthen our culture and to restore trust within our community,” she said in a statement. “Moving forward, we will take all necessary steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process and to ensure we conduct ourselves with integrity and ethics consistent with our values.”

Coleman said it’s important for all the institutions implicated in the admission fraud “and all of higher ed to live up to the principles that we say we have for our institutions, especially in an era when there is a lot of mistrust that our admissions policies are fair and equitable.”

Greif, who funded the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s business school, said procedures should have been put in place to prevent or at least detect the bribery and corruption at the heart of the admission scheme.

“How is it that no one at the university was tracking athletic department admissions against athletic engagement post admission?” he asked. “This multiyear misconduct that escaped notice is clear evidence that governance is lacking and that the problems need to be addressed by the Board of Trustees and need to be done right now,” he said. “There’s a critical need for a president to be put in place, and that person needs to come in and clean house.

“This board needs to function like a board that actually oversees the management of the institution and demands accountability of that management, and make changes when changes are necessary. It needs to be more hands-on, more engaged and more involved, and it needs to enforce consequences when it’s clear there are issues that require remediation.”

Erin Hennessy, vice president of TVP Communications and a former admissions counselor and chief of staff to two college presidents, said even though USC may be unique in the numbers of recent scandals it has had, the problems and challenges posed by the admission fraud case are common to all the universities involved, and they’re all searching for the best ways to address them.

“Speaking broadly about what I have seen … all of the institutions that have been named in the indictment have positioned themselves as victims” of the individual at the center of the scandal, she said referring to William (Rick) Singer, who was identified by the Justice Department as the ringleader of the fraud and bribery conspiracy. “And I think that’s the right move.”

“Longer term, all institutions need to think about how this has resurfaced perceptions that wealthy children are treated differently in the admissions process. People think they’re not getting a fair shake,” she said.

Kaster, the USC sophomore, echoed those sentiments.

“For some people it reinforces speculation that the system is rigged,” he said. “But I also know that USC is very selective and hard to get into. I think ambiguity confuses and scares a lot of people. There’s a lot of variation in the process; it’s hard to know exactly what to do to get in -- there’s no one formula.”

He noted, for instance, that he was denied admission by the University of Michigan but was a offered a full scholarship by USC and Vanderbilt University.

Hennessy said the universities should be communicating with internal and external audiences “to reassure them about the integrity of their admissions process and that everyone can be treated fairly based on the institutions’ admissions criteria and the students’ academics abilities.”

She said college enrollment and admissions officials should also be explaining how the admissions process works and how transparent they are about the process

“It’s incumbent on enrollment management professionals to be clear about how they evaluate students and how they go about building a class,” she said.

Despite the widespread negative publicity about the scandal and the loss of goodwill the colleges will have to work hard to rebuild, Hennessy said the damage to their reputations won’t last.

“The universities’ reputations are going to be fine and students are still going to clamor to get in in record numbers,” she said. “Long term it’s still going to be really hard to get into Stanford next year.”

Dunning, of Finn Partners, said the focus on the prestige and image of certain colleges misses an important point.

“The vast majority of American students don’t go to elite institutions and they still do well, and we need to remember that,” she said. “You can get an incredible education at institutions that are neither Ivy League nor tier one.”

“We need to take a deep breath and stop the emphasis on elitism and focus on why higher ed institutions were created. The most important thing that you’re there for is an education, and we’ve lost sight of that. There needs to be a resetting on a variety of levels, and this latest scandal is just a reminder of that.”

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Franciscan U of Steubenville is seeking to block faculty members from talking about university matters anonymously

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 26, 2019 - 6:00pm

Franciscan University of Steubenville is considering taking disciplinary action against faculty members who make anonymous comments to the media.

According to documents first obtained by the conservative Catholic website Church Militant, a proposed policy on academic freedom and personal conduct loosely follows widely adopted professional ethics guidelines from the American Association of University Professors -- before taking a hard left.

“Anonymous communication of facts or opinions about the university to media outlets or other external organizations is unprofessional and unethical, and may be grounds for disciplinary action,” it says. Few to no other institutions have such a prohibition. And professors frequently take concerns about their institutions public, using their names or not, to find support from colleagues elsewhere that may lead to change. 

Another proposed policy on faculty disagreements outlines a process for resolving them and ends with a blanket ban on breaching “confidentiality.” That includes “spreading defamatory material among other faculty, students or the public” and involving “media outlets or providing them with anonymous information.”

Sharing on social media and “otherwise going outside the circle of parties immediately concerned with the alleged objectionable behavior” is also inappropriate.  

A third proposed policy on social media use says professors "shall conduct themselves with the same level of professionalism in social media that they would when speaking to traditional media (newspaper, radio, TV), knowing that anything they say may have repercussions for the entire university community."

The policies appear to have been sparked by a recent controversy over the inclusion of Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom in the syllabus for an advanced English seminar. The 2017 book was critically acclaimed but raised some eyebrows on campus: it discusses pornography and, crucially, questions the Virgin Mary’s virginity and makes reference to her masturbating.

The university initially defended Stephen Lewis, the professor who assigned The Kingdom, in a public statement. But after that statement was published in a Church Militant article called “Franciscan Univ Defends Use of Pornographic, Blasphemous Book,” Franciscan backtracked. Lewis lost his department chairship, and the university said the book would not be taught on campus again.

Church Militant reported this week that some of the faculty members who originally contacted it about The Kingdom, angry that Franciscan hadn’t immediately taken a harder line against Lewis, had retained lawyers in response to the new policies on anonymous sources. It’s arguably ironic. But so is the university responding to an academic freedom crisis with new limits on faculty speech.

Daniel Kempton, chief academic officer, said in an emailed statement Monday that the policies “are part of a broader set of draft policies that were recently proposed by our Faculty Standards Committee for consideration by the full Franciscan faculty.”

Kempton underscored that the policies are still drafts that “could well be revised prior to approval, or not implemented if not approved by a faculty vote.” The standards were “collectively developed by the members of the Faculty Standards Committee and were not authored by the administration,” he added.

Lewis did not respond to a request for comment, nor did numerous other faculty members.

John K. Wilson, co-editor of the AAUP’s "Academe" blog, previously criticized Franciscan’s actions regarding Lewis on that platform. As for the new policies, Wilson said what appears to be a growing trend toward prohibiting “staff and even faculty from speaking to the media” is a “threat to both academic freedom and transparency on campus. Freedom of expression, not secrecy, is a fundamental value of a university.”

Franciscan’s proposed policy on faculty disputes, in particular, is “extraordinarily broad,” he added, noting that it covers concerns about colleagues' publications. Faculty members "should not be immune from criticism, especially from their colleagues,” he said. And it's “particularly appalling that Franciscan wants to invoke the AAUP's principles of academic freedom then add on their unsupported belief that anonymous whistle-blowing is unprofessional and unethical.”

Anonymity is “far from ideal,” Wilson said, but academics may feel “they have to be anonymous because they work at an institution that fails to protect their academic freedom.” And while the “attacks” on Lewis and his academic freedom in response to The Kingdom were “terrible,” Wilson said, “the solution is for colleges to fiercely defend the academic freedom of faculty, not to try to silence criticism of them.”

Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, said that rules against employees sharing information with reporters are widespread, but they are “on doubtful legal footing” and are regularly struck down when challenged.

The anonymous comment stipulation is one LoMonte hadn’t seen before, but one that he said “seems like an especially dangerous variation of the employee gag order.” That’s because it would be easy for someone to be the mistaken target of discipline based on "the erroneous suspicion that he is a leaker.” (LoMonte said this would also be a recruitment challenge, in that it would scare away potential faculty hires.)

The policy, as written, is weak in that it makes no distinction about the kind of information being shared, whether it’s sensitive and or “the location of the annual Christmas concert,” he added.

William C. Ringenberg, an instructor of history at Taylor University and author of The Christian College and the Meaning of Academic Freedom: Truth Seeking in Community, said that at these institutions, “attributable communications are usually preferable to anonymous ones, for the sake of open dialogue.” But the forbidding of anonymous statements “may be even more undesirable than the making of them.”

People in a community “must be able to trust one another,” Ringenberg added. “Often what is needed is more open dialogue rather than a restriction on communication.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 26, 2019 - 6:00pm
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Jerry Falwell, a key Trump ally, falls short of big talk on free speech, critics say

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 25, 2019 - 6:00pm

When President Trump issued an executive order last week dealing with campus free speech, he was joined by conservative students who complained their rights had been trampled by liberal censorship.

One of the earliest backers of the Trump executive order was Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who has frequently called out the alleged "silencing" of conservative college students.

“The president is right to stop our government from handing out taxpayer dollars to subsidize institutions that practice censorship -- regardless of whether that censorship is used against those on the left or the right,” he wrote in a Fox News opinion column earlier this month.

No college president is more closely identified with the president than Falwell, who invited Trump to give a 2017 commencement address at Liberty and has frequently attacked the president’s critics in the media and on Twitter. He’s also claimed unique credentials on campus speech, having declared in the past that Liberty promotes free expression “unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out.”

But the university has been repeatedly taken to task by civil libertarians in recent years for censorship of student journalists and speakers on its campus.

It’s not clear that the executive order will actually endanger federal research funds for colleges and universities that fail to protect free speech. And it states only that religious private colleges like Liberty must comply with their stated institutional policies on campus speech. However, despite Falwell's boasts about the freedoms at Liberty, the complaints about the university show that -- contrary to many statements from President Trump -- censorship isn’t just an issue affecting conservative speakers on largely liberal campuses.

Among the incidents of alleged censorship that have become public, Falwell instructed the editor of Liberty Champion, the campus newspaper, in October 2016 to spike a column critical of then-candidate Trump after a leaked recording from Access Hollywood in which he is heard bragging about assaulting women.

In October 2017 and again the following year, Falwell and faculty members pressured student journalists not to cover a gathering of a progressive evangelical Christian group in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty is located.

In an April 2018 meeting with Champion staffers, Bruce Kirk, Liberty’s dean of the school of communication and digital content, told Champion staffers their job was “to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK?”

World magazine released an article in August 2018 detailing those and other instances of alleged censorship on the Liberty campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for free speech on campuses, urged Falwell in a letter shortly afterward to reconcile the university’s actual policies and practices with his stated commitment to free expression.

“I think Falwell Jr.’s statements about his commitment to freedom of expression would be more well received if he didn’t have a history of engaging in a campaign of press censorship on his campus,” said Sarah McLaughlin, a senior program officer for legal and public advocacy at FIRE, and the author of the letter.

In February, FIRE listed Liberty in its annual list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech.

A spokeswoman for Liberty said the university would pass on commenting for this story.

Complaints about censorship at Liberty go back even further. In 2009, Liberty de-recognized the College Democrats chapter on campus. But FIRE found that, according to the institutional policies published at the time, respect for free expression did not appear to be among the chief values it professed. There was no mention of free speech or free association among the 10 "distinctive" attributes of Liberty published on its website at the time, the organization found.

Although Liberty does not rank among the top universities for federal research grants, which the executive order addresses directly, it ranked sixth last year for total federal student aid it received. The order does not affect federal student aid.

The extent to which censorship is an ongoing issue on the campus is difficult to track in part because the university requires student journalists to sign nondisclosure agreements. That means their ability to continue their education could be affected by complaining to outside groups.

According to the executive order signed by President Trump -- the first in what he said would be “a series of steps” to protect students' rights -- public institutions must uphold the First Amendment while private colleges like Liberty must comply with their stated institutional principles on free speech. Liberty’s institutional policies, which were previously available online in its student handbook, are now password protected on its website.

It’s unclear if the executive order, which provided few details on how it would be implemented, will push more private colleges to disclose those policies. FIRE has called out those colleges that choose not to make them public.

“Generally, our stance is that schools should make these handbooks and any policies public so students can know what kind of campus they’re agreeing to go to before they actually attend,” McLaughlin said.

Because of the lack of transparency at the campus, it’s difficult to say whether censorship has gotten worse in recent years, McLaughlin said.

“I can say that over the past two years it appears to have been a sustained campaign of censorship,” she said.

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Beloit student suspended after social media posts

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 25, 2019 - 6:00pm

On March 15, in the early hours of the morning after the bloody shootings at New Zealand mosques, Beloit College student Nathaniel Acharya made an emotional post to a campus Facebook group.

Little did he know that this -- and other statements on his social media -- would set off a free speech battle at Beloit that Acharya said resulted in his temporary suspension and removal from the private institution’s grounds.

Acharya has since been reinstated, but placed on probation. The college has refused to discuss his case, despite Acharya alleging he was targeted for his religion and background. The kerfuffle comes at a time when free expression in higher education has broadly been called into question -- President Trump last week signed an executive order threatening to cut off research funds to colleges that do not support free speech.

Acharya, who is Muslim, wrote in that post about how he was sick of the attacks against those who practiced his religion (the shooting killed 50 worshippers and injured 50 more) and other minorities. He said his post was an open letter to the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a national conservative group, and its leader, who planned to bring Erik Prince to the college to speak on March 27. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and known as the controversial founder of Blackwater, a military security company that has been accused of crimes against Muslim people in many countries.

“I would like it to be public record that I, personally, at least, have had it with your shit,” Acharya wrote to the group. “To everyone with a basic sense of human decency, let’s organize to repel the March 27th invasion of our college, lest we be complicit in it and all that it represents.”

Two days later, Acharya received a letter from the college. Administrators alleged he was engaged in “acts of serious of misconduct” that violated the college’s policies.

The letter stated he had been accused of intimidating others and threatening violence, and referenced two social media postings (neither was the Facebook post against YAF).

The first was a Facebook post he had made that included a photo of someone else’s violent tweet. The original tweet read “don’t worry, revenge is coming” with a picture of a gun. Acharya wasn’t endorsing the message in that tweet, but urged his social media followers to stay safe.

He wrote that if the person was to “spray his bullets at the fascists, then perhaps he will rest among the green birds,” which is reference to his religion -- green birds are the souls of dead martyrs who live in paradise. Acharya was essentially saying that if the person was fighting fascists, he will enter heaven.

“Should he be one of those poor brothers that is only anger and no rationality, his will not be the resting place of the righteous,” Acharya wrote, indicating that if the person would murder innocent people, he will end up in hell. “Stay safe my friends. Please.”

The second of Acharya’s postings was a photo on Snapchat with a caption that read “Hey if you post on 4chan or [8chan] I don’t care what board you’re part of, you deserve to be shot for knowingly [participating] in one of the biggest breeding grounds for white supremacist terrorists of the modern era.”

Both 4chan and 8chan are social media platforms, but far less regulated than are Facebook or Twitter. They generally allow for memes and other showings of support for white nationalism. The alleged New Zealand shooter espoused white supremacist ideology, and he and his supporters were active on those platforms.

Acharya said that the proceedings against him were unfair.

The rest of the letter he received, as is common for campus disciplinary process, detailed where his hearing would take place, which administrators he would be facing and told him he was allowed a “support person” -- who could be a peer, professor, even an attorney.

But the problem was Acharya’s hearing was supposed to take place that day at 3 p.m. -- less than an hour after the letter had been delivered, he said.

This gave him no time to scrounge up someone to attend with him, he said. The hearing was also scheduled during spring break, which meant fewer people were on campus.

After the hearing, Acharya said he was suspended from the college and barred from campus pending a second hearing and a final meeting to decide the verdict against him. He said that the administrators in the first meeting mentioned the social media posts in the letter, but also the post against YAF.

Acharya’s friends launched a full campaign -- writing down the series of events and posting about his situation to Facebook and contacting media.

Another of Acharya’s friends created a petition, which she said was signed by nearly 300 people in the 24 hours after she published it online March 18. On Tuesday, the day of Acharya’s second hearing, his friends said that more than 50 students and a couple of professors camped outside the Office of Residential Life with signs that read “Nate Is Not a Threat/White Supremacy Is the Threat” and “Bring Nate Back.”

The petition read in part, "I condemn and protest the behavior of Beloit College in their choice to suspend him, and in the way the institution has responded to the alleged 'threats' he made on social media. The posts in question are not threatening, nor do they incite violence, which is more than can be said for the ideology [white supremacy] Nathaniel spoke out against."

Administrators lifted the interim ban against him on campus on Tuesday, saying that their investigation determined there was “no evident threat to campus,” according to a letter from the college.

In the letter Acharya received Wednesday, the college called his social media postings “disturbing” and said they could be construed as threatening to the campus. However, administrators acknowledged Acharya did not intend to threaten violence. The college said he violated the conduct code and put him on probation through May 19.

“Any student or student group at Beloit could consider your posts, individually, or in their totality to be intimidating and an effort to shut down speech you disagree with,” the administrators wrote. “Your personal views are welcome, but introducing the subject of guns and shooting people into the discussion is not acceptable at Beloit, or likely anywhere else. This is true whether you subjectively intended to harm anyone or not. Your communications are treated the same way as they would be if made by another student objecting to another speaker that you agree with.”

Tim P. Jones, a spokesman for the college, declined to discuss Acharya’s case, citing federal privacy laws. Asked what kind of speech that college would consider threatening and in violation of the conduct code, he said, “Every situation is unique and requires a great deal of context. The college follows its processes and procedures in the student handbook."

Acharya said he appreciated how the college handled his hearing, but he said he believes he was singled out because he was a minority. He pointed to Prince’s scheduled appearance -- he said the college feels comfortable giving Prince a platform, but pursued him for no reason.

“There’s not a lot of Muslim students here; I can count us all on two hands. They tend to really jump to conclusions pretty easily,” Acharya said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Asian Studies scholars debate ethics of holding future conferences in Asia after visa debacle in India

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 25, 2019 - 6:00pm

DENVER -- Is there anywhere in the world an academic association can hold a conference without making some kind of ethical compromise?

The Association for Asian Studies held a town hall meeting here Saturday night during its annual meeting to ask the question of whether it should continue to organize regional conferences in Asia. Controversy ensued last year after it emerged that the Indian government had barred Pakistani scholars from participating in an AAS-in-Asia conference in New Delhi.

More than 600 scholars signed an open letter at the time faulting the AAS leadership for not canceling the conference and for not informing participants about the restrictions on Pakistani scholars in a timely manner so that they might have the option of withdrawing prior to making travel arrangements. The February letter from India’s Ministry of External Affairs barring Pakistani participants was posted on the conference website as a hyperlinked document in a section about visa information, but AAS did not call attention to the restrictions or make any kind of public statement until news of it broke on social media in June, one month prior to the conference.

Anne Feldhaus, the Distinguished Foundation Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University and the president of AAS at the time of Saturday's town hall, said the association chose not to make a public statement upon learning of the visa restrictions in March at the request of its partner in organizing the conference, the New Delhi-based Ashoka University.

“The reason we didn’t cancel the conference is one we can debate,” Feldhaus said during Saturday’s town hall. “The reason we did not reveal in a very loud, public way the fact that this had been done to us was that our partners in Delhi insisted that that was their prerogative and that they were working behind the scenes with the government of India and it was not for us to speak about the government of India. That was their job. In my view, we were faced with the choice between being as transparent as our membership would like and if we did that being neocolonial in our relationship with our partners, or on the other hand being true partners of our partners.”

Members speaking at Saturday’s town hall criticized AAS for its handling of the situation and said the failure to notify participants as soon as the visa restrictions became known put them in ethically compromising positions. “By the time I got the news, it was too late for me to step back,” said Martha Selby, chair of Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Selby said by the time she learned of the ban -- via Facebook, not an official AAS communication -- her university had already committed funds for her travel and she’d engaged in extensive planning of a panel with colleagues from India.

“Had I known when AAS knew this would have been an issue, I would have very quietly withdrawn,” Selby said, “and it also put me at odds with several of my colleagues on the U of T campus, colleagues who are very dear to me. They questioned me about why I would go to such an event after this happened.”

But while there was criticism of AAS’s handling of the situation in Delhi, several AAS members spoke in favor of continuing to organize conferences in Asia in the future.

“I strongly endorse the idea of continuing to meet in Asia,” said Arjun Guneratne, a professor of anthropology at Macalester College. He added that he was astonished by the lack of self-reflection in the discussion in Denver.

“We live in a country where scholars from Iran, Sudan and elsewhere may not attend a conference in this country purely because of their citizenship, purely because of their religion,” Guneratne said. “If we are going to be outraged because Pakistani scholars were not allowed to come to New Delhi, we should be outraged now that there are potentially Asianists from Iran or Asianists from some other country that are in the crosshairs of the State Department that are unable to come here.”

Ananya Vajpeyi, an associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, offered the perspective of an American-trained academic who taught at U.S. colleges but is now teaching in India. “For someone like me … it’s great for us that there is a conference option somewhere closer to home, more affordable,” she said.

Vajpeyi also argued that the problem of visa restrictions isn’t one that can be solved by either AAS or Ashoka University. “These are issues of national policy and international politics; it should not be a matter of a blame game on the leadership of the AAS,” she said.

“We all condemn hypernationalism, we all condemn xenophobia, and we can’t be responsible that our countries are practicing such policies that we ourselves don’t agree with … Some perspective and some modulation are called for.”

Fabio Lanza, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, argued, however, that if AAS does move ahead with hosting conferences in Asia, it needs to be more transparent with members, and not only in the event of a problem.

"What’s the standard for not choosing a place?" Lanza asked. "Do they ban LGBT people, should we go? Can we have a panel about Xinjiang or Tibet [two sensitive topics in China that are often subject to censorship] -- should we go? I’m not saying the answer is no or yes. I’m saying this is a decision the members should actually be part of."

"I’d also point out that we are a pan-Asian institution in terms of membership, but we are a North American-based institution," Lanza added (AAS's secretariat is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.). "Why do AAS-in-Asia is also a question. We don’t have to do it.”

AAS started holding regional conferences in Asia in 2014. The association has so far held five conferences in Asia -- in Singapore, Taipei, Kyoto, Seoul and Delhi -- and has a sixth conference scheduled for this summer in Bangkok. A seventh conference is in the planning stages for Hong Kong.

“I can imagine that if there are topics that couldn’t be talked about in Bangkok, they could be encouraged in Hong Kong,” said Laurel Kendall, a past president of the association and the curator of Asian Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History. “If this is a pan-Asian organization and if we all recognize that there are going to be issues everywhere -- including huge visa issues in this country -- there are ways we can … use the resources we have as a pan-Asian organization to allow for the discussion of topics that can’t be discussed here but can be there.”

But each location brings different issues. Katherine Bowie, another past president and the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, raised the question of whether AAS will need to warn members planning on participating in the Bangkok conference that they cannot criticize the monarchy, which is a criminal offense in Thailand punishable by jail time.

Bowie also discussed the difficulty of finding university partners in certain countries in Asia that have the capacity to organize conferences with 1,000 or more attendees. Sri Lanka is difficult, she said, as is Nepal; if AAS is unable to locate a partner in Pakistan, “that means we go back to India; we do this all over again.” And in regards to its conference in Thailand this summer, Bowie said the association could be criticized for de facto supporting a military regime.

AAS is following up on Saturday’s town hall with a survey of members about their views on future AAS-in-Asia conferences. “Do we continue to do this knowing that in every location we will be compromised?” Bowie asked. “Maybe not in the same way, but we will always be compromised.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

New presidents or provosts: Alvernia Central Asia Gettysburg Kennesaw New Brunswick New England Optometry Seton Hall UConn

Inside Higher Ed - News - March 25, 2019 - 6:00pm
  • Glynis Fitzgerald, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Central Connecticut State University, has been chosen as provost at Alvernia University, in Pennsylvania.
  • Robert W. Iuliano, senior vice president and general counsel at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, has been selected as president of Gettysburg College, in Pennsylvania.
  • Thomas C. Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, has been appointed president of the University of Connecticut.
  • Andrew Kuchins, senior fellow and research professor at the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., has been chosen as president of the American University of Central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan.
  • Paul Mazerolle, pro vice chancellor of arts, education and law at Griffith University, in Australia, has been appointed president and vice chancellor at the University of New Brunswick, in Canada.
  • Joseph E. Nyre, president of Iona College, in New York, has been named president of Seton Hall University, in New Jersey.
  • Kathy Schwaig, Dinos Eminent Scholar Chair of Entrepreneurial Management and dean of the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, has been selected as provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Erik Weissberg, director of clinical education at New England College of Optometry, has been promoted to vice president and dean of academic affairs there.
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Students with a passion for realising gender empowerment

University World News - March 24, 2019 - 12:30am
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Categories: Higher Education News

After outcry, Cambridge withdraws visiting fellowship

University World News - March 23, 2019 - 5:02pm
Following an outcry from faculty and students, Cambridge University has rescinded its offer of a visiting fellowship to controversial academic Jordan Peterson, who refuses to refer to transgender ...
Categories: Higher Education News