Higher Education News

Middlebury fossil fuel divestment took 'generations' of students to pull off

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 11, 2019 - 7:00pm

Middlebury College last week said it will sell its holdings in fossil fuel companies, phasing them out of its endowment over 15 years and making no new investments in the sector. The decision represents a major reversal of the college’s 2013 rejection of campus activists’ demand that it divest these holdings.

What has changed?

The weather, mostly. And perhaps the climate on campus and in Middlebury’s investment house.

A new president has welcomed what amounts to a years-long, ongoing debate on the issue, pushing to broaden the debate to include campus sustainability. Administrators and trustees have quietly engaged with a new and impatient group of students who see the effects of climate change more clearly than ever.

“We made this conversation about what we do about our energy use in the next 10 years,” said Laurie Patton, a religion scholar, poet and former Duke University arts and sciences dean who became Middlebury’s president in 2015. Framing the divestment debate more broadly was crucial to its success, she said in an interview. The broader conversation included a commitment, among others, to getting 100 percent of the college’s energy from renewables.

“Once people start thinking more collaboratively, and not based on a single issue, that changed the conversation on campus and allowed trustees to be more part of the conversation,” she said. It also allowed people who wouldn’t necessarily have seen divestment as “their issue” to consider it. “So people started to collaborate a lot more,” she said.

Alec Fleischer, a Middlebury junior from New York City who is majoring in environmental science, said the mood has changed considerably since he arrived on campus in 2016 with plans to help revive the divestment proposal. The response from college leaders at the time, he said, was “a resounding no. We were told to stop. ‘It’s never going to happen.’”

But a spring 2018 student referendum that found about 80 percent of students in favor of divestment -- and a faculty referendum last fall with 98 percent approval -- showed strong campus engagement in the issue, he said.

In the meantime, the urgency of the climate change debate has grown, said Jeannie Bartlett, a 2015 Middlebury graduate and veteran of the earlier divestment effort. “It was abundantly clear in 2013, but I think we continue to feel that closer to home every year.”

A seminal 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made it “abundantly clear how fast we have to move,” said Bartlett, who now works for the Vermont environmental group 350.org. She said the northern Vermont farmers she works with are seeing more frequent and intense rainstorms that are washing out their planted fields “in ways that didn’t used to happen.”

Middlebury students, of course, have long seen climate change as a serious problem -- the college was the first in the U.S. to offer an environmental science major. But Bartlett said it came down to new leadership: once President Ronald D. Liebowitz left for Brandeis University, she said, the conversation changed.

“I never got the sense that this effort was something that he thought the college should do, at least very soon,” Bartlett said. “Yeah, he helped create a dialogue and a platform for the conversation, but I didn’t get the sense that, in conversations between him and other administrators or investors or the board, that he was pushing for divestment at all.”

By contrast, she said, Patton seemed much more interested. “I think that her heart was behind it from sort of an earlier point.”

For her part, Patton said trustees, students, faculty and staff “remained in the conversation over years. Student generations came and went, trustees sometimes came and went, but everybody committed to staying at the table, even if they couldn't find consensus for years. I really want to underscore how powerful that is.”

New Tools to Track Investments

In 2013, Liebowitz said Middlebury’s Board of Trustees basically had no choice but to keep a small proportion of its endowment, then valued at $970 million total, in the fossil fuel sector. The college’s money managers had to stay the course, given “the lack of proven alternative investment models, the difficulty and material cost of withdrawing from a complex portfolio of investments, and the uncertainties and risks that divestment would create,” Liebowitz wrote at the time.

The college has since 2005 retained the services of the Virginia-based investment firm Investure, which by 2013 managed the endowments of 13 colleges, universities and foundations, with a combined fund of about $10 billion.

Middlebury’s funds by then were commingled with the others’, and it was “unlikely” that any of the 150 fund managers tasked with managing Middlebury’s portion “would adopt a policy of fossil-free investing,” Liebowitz said -- especially since the firm would have to reinvest more than half of its portfolio to do so. And he explained that Investure would have to gain the agreement of the other 12 institutions to do it. To pull out of the fossil fuel sector, he said, would require nothing less than withdrawing from the 13-member Investure consortium “at considerable cost now and in the future.”

Nearly six years later, Investure still manages Middlebury’s endowment, now valued at just over $1 billion. Suddenly, extracting its money from fossil fuels is not such a heavy lift.

David Provost, executive vice president for finance and administration, said that in 2013, Investure didn’t have systems in place that allowed it to understand “where every one of those dollars ended up. That has changed in the last two years.” Investure has made a significant investment “to be able to drill down into the investor's level -- we have a better understanding of where money sits,” he said. “The sophistication and the advances in the reporting, and the ability to look into the funds is making what was very difficult five [or] six years ago easier now.”

Another factor making the shift easier: the new plan calls for a years-long, gradual reduction in fossil fuel investments, with Investure phasing out direct investments by 25 percent over the next five years, 50 percent over eight years and 100 percent in 15 years. Later this year, the college said, Investure won’t make any new investments on Middlebury’s behalf in private investment funds that focus on oil and gas. At the moment, the investment in fossil fuels stands at about $50 million to $60 million, or about 5 percent of the endowment (other colleges that have "divested" have merely committed not to invest in the sector in the future, but didn't have any holdings subject to divestment).

Patton, Middlebury’s president, said the gradual drawdown “felt to us like a moderate approach that really minimized our risk financially. And that's a really different approach than, ‘We have to do it now.’”

Because of the slow drawdown, she and Provost said, the effect on the endowment will be minimal.

But Fleischer, the environmental science major from New York City, said his understanding is that the 15-year drawdown represents “a floor, not a ceiling.” In other words, he said, advocates will continue pushing for a faster timeline.

Hard to Make a Financial Case

Middlebury is by no means the only campus that has debated divestment over the past several years. The environmental group 350.org estimates that 1,029 institutions have divested from the sector or pulled back on certain types of investments, such as coal or coal and tar sands. In the process, the group says, they've withdrawn an estimated $8 trillion in fossil fuel investment. Of those, the group says, 15 percent, or about 150, are educational institutions.

Divestment fights have also played out with mixed results at Brown, Cornell and Harvard Universities, among others that hold large endowments. In 2013, then Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust wrote a lengthy public letter explaining why the university shouldn’t divest, saying students should be “very wary of steps intended to instrumentalize our endowment in ways that would appear to position the University as a political actor rather than an academic institution.”

Faust added, “The endowment is a resource, not an instrument to impel social or political change.”

A 2018 Inside Higher Ed survey found that most colleges' chief business officers agree with Faust: 58 percent said decisions about investing endowment funds should be made primarily on financial considerations, rather than political or ethical ones. In prior surveys, the percentage has been near 60 percent.

In a few cases, courts have gotten involved in endowment conflicts. In 2016, a state appeals court rejected a move by Harvard students pushing for divestment who had filed a lawsuit to assert “special standing” so that they could be considered a nonprofit benefiting from Harvard’s endowment.

Also in 2016, a Barnard College task force stopped short of recommending that the college totally divest from fossil fuel companies. Instead it called for divesting from companies mining coal and tar sands, which are considered particularly harmful to the environment. And it recommended divesting from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or that attempt to undermine climate change mitigation efforts. Barnard said it wanted to highlight scientific integrity and reward companies that follow best practices, while divesting from companies that ignore science. Among the educational institutions that have divested in some form, many have taken that route, according to 350.org.

Robert Goldberg, at the time Barnard’s interim president (now its chief operating officer), told Inside Higher Ed that the move was an attempt to “shift the narrative and also to differentiate companies in the industry.” He added, “A more nuanced approach is potentially a more impactful approach.”

Barnard has since partnered with the consulting group Fossil Free Indexes and the Union of Concerned Scientists to evaluate 30 oil and gas companies' positions on climate science and climate change. A 2017 analysis found that none of the 30 companies denied the existence of climate change or made statements in direct opposition to the scientific consensus that human activity is a primary contributor to it. But Barnard said two-thirds of the companies -- including all 14 U.S.-based companies -- scored “poor” or worse on its analysis, either misrepresenting the science, downplaying the need to reduce emissions or providing no position on the science. Barnard said it was in the process of working with its investment group on a divestment approach based on the analysis.

Advocates for divestment have long said that the strategy will move the needle on climate change by effectively starving energy companies of funding. But Brad M. Barber, a professor of finance and the associate dean at the University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management, said it’s not that simple. While there may be a moral case for divestment, he said, “the financial case is a little bit harder to make.” For one thing, other investors will almost certainly swoop in to buy shares. Even if share prices drop, he said, lower stock prices allow investors to buy them at a bargain and earn higher average returns. This is what happened when boycotts hit tobacco stocks, he said: “If a lot of people or investors eschew a particular investment, it's possible that that investment could be discounted and offer good returns.”

After the Middlebury announcement, environmentalist Bill McKibben, a 350.org founder who is also a Middlebury professor, wrote in The Guardian that the Vermont students “never gave up, passing on the activist torch to each new entering freshman class.”

He also offered kudos to Patton, who he said “proved an adept conciliator able to help her institution move.”

Like many at Middlebury, McKibben said a lot has changed elsewhere since 2013, with record-high annual temperatures in four of the past six years and “hurricane after firestorm after drought,” among other disasters. At the same time, he said, the prices of solar panels and battery storage have fallen sharply, making solar energy generation and storage “the cheapest way to produce electrons across most of the globe.”

And the fossil fuel sector, he said, “has underperformed the rest of a surging stock market.” He noted that if neighboring New York State had divested of such stocks in its pension fund, it’d be returning $19,000 more per retiree. Investure referred questions about performance of Middlebury’s endowment to the college.

Patton said environmentalists have made the so-called stranded asset argument, which posits that fossil fuels’ value will eventually go down as users move to alternative energy sources. "We are open to having that debate, where reasonable people could have different views," she said. "Ultimately we had to focus on risk assessment: What would happen if the value of fossil fuels went up? What would happen if the value went down? And we felt that, in both cases, our model could work to preserve the value of our endowment and allow us to fund our educational mission."

Barber, the UC Davis finance professor, said that while short-term downturns in one sector may have an effect, endowment investors generally operate on very long-term horizons, making it “hard to make a very clean financial argument” for divestment.

“Looking at the performance of any particular industry or sector over the course of a year or two or even five years is really difficult to draw [an] inference about whether it consistently outperforms or underperforms,” he said. Mutual fund managers “are really good” at thinking longer term. “The general public will look at what's happened in the last month or the last year and draw strong inferences. You just can't -- there's too much volatility in markets to do that.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

U of Michigan housing officials can't remove free speech from dorm doors

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 11, 2019 - 7:00pm

In 2017, student name tags on University of Michigan dormitory doors were vandalized with a racial slur. Black students said then they were being targeted. The incident restarted a vociferous debate on campus prejudices.

If this incident happened today, though, resident assistants and other housing staffers wouldn’t be able to take down the offensive language from the door. It’s the institution’s policy that employees can’t remove speech from a student’s dormitory door, even if it’s hateful or targeting a minority group, an unusual tactic for an institution given the relative frequency with which these episodes occur on campuses across the country -- reports of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic comments on whiteboards abound.

This is apparently not a new rule for Michigan, but one that was recently clarified for housing staffers “as a part of evolving understanding in a community,” said Amir Baghdadchi, a spokesman with university housing.

But this new attention to the policy comes at a time when the institution’s guidelines on free speech are under scrutiny. A civil liberties watchdog, Speech First, sued Michigan last year, asking for an injunction against its Bias Response Team, which investigates incidents of hate speech and more on the campus. Speech First also took issue with the university’s definition of “bullying” and “harassment,” which it characterized as overly broad and likely to chill free expression.

While the lawsuit, which was backed by the U.S. Department of Justice, seems unlikely to be successful -- U.S. District Court judge Linda V. Parker rejected the group’s request for an injunction in August -- the institution did alter its definitions of bullying and harassment.

Baghdadchi also declined to definitely say whether the clarification of the dormitory door policy was related to the ongoing litigation, saying that “we are confidently revising and rethinking our trainings. We do it every single year.”

He said that resident assistants have expressed concerns about the policy and related issues, but pointed out that almost never would hate speech remain up. Students often take the initiative to remove speech they find distasteful or hateful, even if it was from someone else's door, and they would not be punished for that, Baghdadchi said.

“We don’t censure student resident[s] for removing a posting, for erasing things on a whiteboard,” Baghdadchi said.

While the student workers and others can’t take down a threat of violence, or something offensive, they can report the posting up the chain of command. In the case of a violent threat, the employee could go directly to the Division of Public Safety and Security, but often these incidents would be handled by the director of the residence hall or another official. The housing office also maintains a diversity and inclusion unit where students would report.

Baghdadchi said that the resident assistants and the housing officials can and should talk with both students who feel victimized and those students promoting hate speech so publicly. Housing employees were trained in how to treat these situations this summer, as they do annually, Baghdadchi said.

“Actually the choice isn’t between suppressing speech or ignoring it,” Baghdadchi said. “There’s lots of things we can do, and a lot of ways to respond. We can engage with the person who is responsible. Those things are more impactful. For an offensive message, if you go and suppress it … there is nothing fundamentally changed about the culture.”

With the rule, Michigan is meeting its First Amendment obligations, said Eugene Volokh, the Gary T. Schwartz distinguished professor of law at University of California, Los Angeles, and a constitutional scholar.

By allowing students to hang whiteboards and decorate their doors, Michigan has created a “limited public forum” that it cannot regulate with restrictions on viewpoints, Volokh said.

The institution could step in to halt certain types of speech, such as a violent threat, but even that can be murky territory, Volokh said. Racial slurs or other sorts of epithets would generally be protected speech if they didn’t specifically target one person.

But Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group that tracks bigotry nationwide, said that the free speech protections aren’t so clear cut.

If a student wrote a racial slur on a door, and there were only two black students living in a hallway, then they would likely feel targeted, Brooks said.

She said she was frustrated with the university’s approach to free speech, which she felt would unnecessarily burden resident assistants who couldn’t act to remove the offensive language and would need to handle the reporting.

"I think there’s room for further interpretation, and there are exceptions to the First Amendment," Brooks said.

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, wrote that Michigan’s policy represents an example of the “shifting landscape” of how First Amendment issues are treated on campus. He said it was challenging to create open forums for divergent perspectives, but “feels very different” to permit racist or homophobic speech.

“It is a difficult pill to swallow -- to allow forms of hate speech, knowing that very speech is creating a hostile and harmful environment for many of the marginalized and minoritized communities on campus,” Kruger said. “However, in this case Michigan is getting it right -- creating the space or all speech to occur, even hate speech, but at the same time, developing a clear protocol by which the tenor of the speech can be examined, while ensuring that the students and communities most affected receive the support they need in the aftermath.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Roundup of colleges starting or finishing fund-raising campaigns

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 11, 2019 - 7:00pm

Starting Out

  • Florida International University is starting a campaign to raise $750 million. The university has already raised $480 million.
  • New School is starting a campaign to raise $250 million by 2022. Already, $163 million has been raised. Student aid will be a major priority.
  • Santa Clara University has started a campaign to raise $1 billion over four years. So far, the campaign has raised $600 million. Key priorities are student aid and educational programs that reflect the university's Jesuit mission.
  • University of Colorado System has started a campaign to raise $4 billion. Student aid and research are top priorities. No firm end date for the campaign has been set.

Setting a Higher Goal

  • Norwich University in 2014 started a campaign to raise $100 million by the end of 2019. The university has raised the goal to $110 million, having met its initial goal.

Finishing Up

  • Centre College has raised $210 million in a campaign that started in 2015. The original goal was $200 million. New scholarship programs were a major priority.
  • Northeastern Illinois University has raised $12.9 million to finish a campaign started in 2017 to raise $10 million to support student aid.
  • University of Michigan raised $5.28 billion in a campaign that lasted more than seven years. More than $1 billion will go toward student aid.

Track colleges' fund-raising campaigns here.

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As art schools show signs of stress, what can liberal arts colleges learn?

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 7, 2019 - 7:00pm

It’s no secret that private, nonprofit art colleges have been showing cracks in recent years.

In just the last several months, the Oregon College of Art and Craft explored mergers with two different institutions, only to have talks fall apart. The University of New Haven decided in August to end degree-granting programs at Lyme Academy, whose academic programs it took over under an agreement five years ago. Last week the Cornish College of the Arts announced it is cutting tuition by 20 percent in the 2019-20 academic year, adopting a tuition-reset strategy that’s frequently been deployed by institutions seeking a shot of attention to help boost enrollment. And the New Hampshire Institute of Art is in the midst of merging into New England College.

A bit further in the past, the Memphis College of Art announced in October 2017 that it would be closing and has laid out plans to shut down after graduating the last of its students in May 2020. The School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston reached an agreement to have its educational operations acquired by Tufts University in 2016. The Art Institute of Boston, which merged with Lesley University in 1998, moved from Boston to Cambridge to join its sister colleges in 2015, taking on the new name of the Lesley University College of Art + Design along the way.

Also in 2015, the Montserrat College of Art explored merging into Salem State University, but the two sides ultimately ruled out the move. That decision came the year after George Washington University decided to acquire the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington.

Those cases alone mean that about a fifth of the 43 institutions that were members of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design as of the start of 2014 have attempted to merge, closed, relocated or drastically changed their tuition structure in the last five years.

They’ve done so while facing some pressures unique to art schools, according to leaders in the sector. Curricular changes make it more difficult for some students to take classes before they graduate from high school, meaning art schools must work harder to reach prospective students at an early age. Meanwhile, art schools remain capital-intensive operations to run, as supplies, equipment, small class sizes and generous faculty-to-student ratios keep expenses high.

But art schools have also been under pressures that cut across the higher education landscape and are bearing down on many liberal arts colleges. Population and demographic shifts are changing where high schoolers are graduating in the greatest numbers, who those students are, what they can pay and what they value in a college education. And as the cost of providing students with a good education rises annually, many small institutions struggle to keep costs in line without the benefits of efficiencies of scale.

“I often say we are a microcosm of the higher ed environment,” said Deborah Obalil, president and executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. “There are challenges in particular to the very small, under-500-student institutions. I think that is applicable across all of higher ed, because the challenges they face are not special to them because they are art and design institutions. It is really about their scale.”

The art school market is bifurcating based on institution size. Although enrollment remains strong across a core group of institutions, those with more than 500 students are much more likely to see their fortunes rise than are those with smaller enrollments, observers say. Some of the best known larger institutions, like the Rhode Island School of Design and California Institute of the Arts, are considered to be doing quite well, even though they are not huge, with reported enrollments of about 2,500 and 1,500, respectively.

The pressures playing out at colleges of art may resonate particularly strongly at this moment in time because some struggling private liberal arts colleges have been taking steps that could make them resemble art schools. Strategists sometimes counsel endangered liberal arts colleges to find an area of focus or a special niche to fill -- paralleling art schools, which arguably embody the ideal of specialization.

Now, that ideal has been called into question after Green Mountain College, which had carved out a niche in environmental liberal arts, decided last month to close in the face of financial challenges.

Backers of art schools say the personalized education they provide and creative thinking they inspire are more important than ever in a world where students from all disciplines will need to be able to adapt their skills to a fast-changing workplace. But as pressures play out in the market, it’s become increasingly clear that some institutions have been able to continue to attract students and pay their bills, while others have fallen behind.

It’s also growing more and more clear that small institutions with negligible endowments and other disadvantages can’t always count on clever strategy alone to save them -- whether that strategy is merger, debt reorganization or specialization. Art school presidents think sound decisions can still strengthen most institutions, but they need to be deployed with increasing levels of sophistication.

Specialty institutions can remain viable if they examine their business models and revenue streams, said Kurt T. Steinberg, president of the Montserrat College of Art and a former executive vice president at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design who spent a year as acting president there. Only they must be making the right choices quickly “and defining who they are and why they have a competitive advantage.”

How Strong Is Enrollment?

By some measures, art schools are enrolling more students than they did a decade ago.

As a group, the institutions in the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design enrolled 34,466 undergraduates in 2018. That’s an increase of 2.4 percent from 2008, which would be roughly in line with projections showing very little growth in the number of high school graduates over the same period.

But the data only include 32 institutions that are based in the United States, fully independent and still enrolling new students. They don’t include small institutions that merged with larger institutions in recent years, nor do they include closing institutions, like the Memphis College of Art.

Enrollment data measured at the institution level can’t include closures and mergers, according to the association’s assistant director in charge of research services, Joanne Kersh. Students in a merging or closing institution don’t disappear, but the association can’t account for them, so it provided data only on those institutions that remain open and independent.

“Our institutions that have closed were very small, and had seen declining enrollments for years, and generally they do teach-outs as they prepare to close their doors,” Kersh wrote in an email. “Students enrolled at the merger schools, well, I think they mostly stay where they are, or the enrollment change is gradual. I've even seen enrollments rise after a merger, as the previously small independent school now has more resources available. But, as we can't account for the movement of students between schools, I think a cleaner look at stable institutions over time offers the most accurate perspective.”

While that may be the case, it also arguably means the statistics screen out institutions that have been forced to go through major changes -- and they are likely to be the weakest, experiencing the greatest enrollment declines.

With a few exceptions, most of the association’s member institutions that enroll more than 500 students have seen enrollment rebound in the last few years, while those with fewer than 500 have seen it fall, Obalil said. It’s not clear whether 500 is a firm dividing line or just happens to be the current level at which institutional fortunes are diverging.

“In terms of the schools that have actually closed or merged, each picture is unique, to some degree,” Obalil said. “What commonalities I’ve seen often line up, again, with size and the inability to scale.”

Such institutions have failed to differentiate themselves from the rest of the marketplace, or they have not reconsidered their curricula in five, 10 or even 20 years, she added. Some can’t add another program because they are too small to afford it, and others are faced with a high level of debt.

Art schools don’t tend to have large endowments, so a combination of high debt and a failure to attract enough students can be a fatal combination.

Closing or Clawing Back

Such a combination helped to bring down the Memphis College of Art. The college saw its undergraduate enrollment fall from 362 in 2009 to 338 in 2016, according to statistics in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. By 2017, enrollment had fallen to 278.

The college struggled to attract students in the postrecession era, said its president, Laura Hine. Students and families were questioning the value of a four-year art degree and emphasizing job skills even as the college grappled with its identity.

“There was a sense that we’re a fine arts school, and we can’t abandon our history and our roots,” Hine said.

Looking back, Hine thinks the college could have built sustainable programs while balancing the need to stay true to the fine arts with new investments. It could have used its animation program, which is the only one of its kind in the region and was in demand, as a foundation.

As it faced new challenges related to enrollment and programming, the college’s past decisions caught up to it. The college was struggling with debt from real estate purchases made in the past, Hine said. Although leaders attempted to reduce debt levels and secure lower interest rates, they couldn’t do enough.

In October 2017, the college announced that its board decided to stop recruiting new students, dissolve the institution’s assets and teach-out existing students. At the time, it cited “declining enrollment, overwhelming real estate debt, and no viable long-term plan for financial sustainability.”

Without a large endowment to draw upon, the college had been relying on revenue from enrollment and the philanthropic community, which had been exceptionally generous, Hine said. Major donors were tapping out, though.

Soon after announcing its plans to close, the college staged a transfer fair, encouraging new freshmen to enroll in another institution, Hine said. It moved to teach-out remaining students, which has been a challenge because tuition revenue shrinks as students leave and new classes aren’t recruited. The college expects to graduate its last students in May 2020.

Larger colleges with more diversified funding from states or other sources might be better positioned to survive or thrive in the face of pressures, Hine said. Some college presidents worry that too many art schools being affiliated with states could diminish students’ freedoms, however. State funding brings in political considerations that budding artists don’t always appreciate.

Hine also worries about the students who are “born artists” and would have enrolled at the Memphis College of Art, were it not closing.

“We were attracting and have attracted kids -- a lot of kids -- that were coming out of poverty,” Hine said. “Some of our kids live with their family members. They can’t up and move to Sarasota, Fla. They don’t have the capacity to do that and the support to do that.”

The experience leaves Hine, who has worked in work-force development, worried about the future of art schools and education more generally.

“The disparity between people’s ability to pay for college now and what it used to be, I think, is growing increasingly greater,” she said. “And in a situation where colleges and universities today have a lot of costs -- technology, security, Title IX compliance, accreditation burdens that have become more and more onerous on the cost side -- and you don’t have it being offset by this burgeoning middle class or upper middle class that can send their kids to school, I think it’s a crisis brewing.”

Other colleges are still fighting to grow and improve their fortunes. At the end of January, the Cornish College of the Arts announced that it will reset its tuition from $40,442 this year to $32,160 for all new and returning students in the 2019-20 academic year. In doing so, it believes it is the first fine arts school in the country to put a tuition reset in place.

The move comes after Cornish, a college located in Seattle that typically enrolls about 700 students and offers a bachelor of fine arts, bachelor of music and postbaccalaureate artist diploma in early music, compared itself to competitors. It found that it was attracting low-income students who receive Pell Grants or state grants, as well as students who could afford to pay $40,000 in annual tuition. But it was struggling to enroll those from middle-income families, according to Raymond Tymas-Jones, the college’s president.

Cornish does not have any graduate programs and enrolls few international students, Tymas-Jones said. About half of its students come from the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, a price point that middle-income families can afford is critical, and will hopefully improve the college’s enrollment prospects.

“We really believe that with the reset, we will be competitive,” Tymas-Jones said.

Cornish’s tuition discount rate was 39 percent, Tymas-Jones said. It’s expected to drop to 23 percent with the reset, a change that is in line with many other colleges making such moves, although both rates are relatively low by private college standards.

Recruiting more students in today’s market requires sophistication, presidents said. Students who might consider an art school go to their art teachers for advice first, not their guidance counselors, said Steinberg, president of the Montserrat College of Art.

Reaching students also means telling them as early as middle school that art school is a viable option, Steinberg said. With more and more being packed into high school curricula, many students are being forced to choose between taking classes in the visual arts and other subjects, like music, as freshmen.

Steinberg has seen remarkable changes in enrollment during his career as students’ interests evolve. When he left the Massachusetts College of Art and Design last year, 70 percent of students were enrolled in design programs and 30 percent were in fine arts, he said. A dozen years earlier, when he arrived at the institution, the split was 50-50.

“The fine arts-only institutions, those institutions that didn’t add design to their offerings, are the ones that are suffering early,” Steinberg said.

Unfortunately, more programs means spending more money, particularly in the world of art schools. Computers have to be replaced frequently, and software is constantly updated. Meanwhile, institutions must maintain what amounts to industrial facilities while keeping class sizes small.

“The amount of airflow that a print-making shop has to have is huge and is equivalent to exhaust systems that might be on large pieces of equipment in a factory,” Steinberg said. “In a hot shop for glass, you can only have that class be a certain size. Otherwise, someone is going to get hurt.”

Is massive growth or merger the only way a small struggling art college can stay on top of it all? Not if they’re making the right moves and the hard choices, presidents say. When Montserrat failed to merge with Salem State, it forced a period of soul-searching and decision making that has allowed the institution to strengthen itself after an initial hit, even as it enrolls only 370 or so students, said those who watched the situation.

Steinberg, who joined the college after the merger discussions were long since over, said he hopes to grow Montserrat to have 400 or 500 students. That will allow it to have enough scale to stay strong while also keeping its founding vision of being a small institution.

“I don’t want to lose the idea that the differentiation in the kind of education we have is important,” Steinberg said. “Only having 10,000-student institutions is not, necessarily, I think, a good idea.”

Back on the West Coast, the Pacific Northwest College of Art (at right), in Portland, Ore., wants to grow to 1,000 students over the next several years. It has about 600 today, said its president, Don Tuski.

Last fall, the college had been in merger talks with the 140-student Oregon College of Art and Craft, which is also in Portland. The two sides called off the deal, and Oregon College of Art and Craft went on to discuss merging into Portland State University. Those talks died at the end of the month, with The Oregonian reporting that the Oregon College of Art and Craft would continue examining opportunities for partnerships and revenue streams in the face of financial struggles.

Tuski didn’t go into detail on the merger discussions, other than to say that it didn’t make sense from a curricular standpoint. The Oregon College of Art and Craft did not return requests for interview by the deadline for this story.

The Pacific Northwest College of Art is trying to recruit students by articulating a strong value proposition, Tuski said. Going from studio to gallery is still a pathway, but it wants its students to be able to make a living in multiple ways, including through entrepreneurship.

Faculty members in client-based fields, like illustration and graphic design, already think that way, he said. Others have been receptive, especially when the discussion is raised in a broader conversation about student debt and the fact that not all students can go on to get M.F.A.s and become art professors.

“We still want students to do great, experimental, edgy artwork,” Tuski said. “But if they learn to apply that creativity in multiple ways, that’s what society wants and needs, and that’s why I think art schools, if they get their business models together, can be leaders in society.”

It’s a compelling pitch, although other art schools have made it. A generic liberal arts college has also likely made that argument to students.

Yet to be seen is whether it will work for the Pacific Northwest College of Art -- or any other art school seeking to hit enrollment targets in a competitive market.

If he is worried that other specialized institutions have tried similar strategies and failed, Tuski isn’t showing it.

“Part of being distinctive is also doing something better than other people -- doing something different but also doing something everybody else is doing, but doing it better,” he said.

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Tenure is again at risk in Iowa, which saw a major threat to academic freedom over margarine during World War II

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 7, 2019 - 7:00pm

It's winter, which means that tenure is under attack in Iowa, where academic freedom and tenure were once central to a fight over controversial research on margarine. (Yes, really. More on that later.)

The Republican state senator behind the consistent -- and thus far unsuccessful -- attempts to end tenure in Iowa is Brad Zaun.

Zaun didn’t respond to a request for comment about the new iteration of his proposal. But, similar to bills introduced in legislative sessions past, Zaun’s 2019 antitenure bill seeks to prohibit any tenure system for any public college or university employee. Acceptable grounds for termination would include, but not be limited to, just cause, program discontinuance and financial exigency. And each institution governed by the Board of Regents of the State of Iowa “shall adopt a written statement enumerating employment agreements, annual performance evaluations of all faculty members, minimum standards of good practice,” faculty discipline and more.

Unlike in past years, Zaun's proposal passed the State Senate's education committee in a 2-to-1 vote.

College deans, under the authority of the state board and their presidents, would “employ faculty as necessary to carry out the academic duties and responsibilities of the college,” the bill says.

Zaun has spoken previously about why he wants to end tenure, saying that he supports institutional flexibility, not a “guaranteed” job for life for professors. He’s also expressed concern about undergraduates being taught by teaching assistants.

Faculty advocates in Iowa are quick to point out that tenure doesn’t mean a job for life, and that having teaching assistants has little to nothing to do with tenure.

Katherine Tachau, professor of history at the University of Iowa and president of its campus advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said that Zaun “might find it reassuring” to hear that “tenure is not a gift, but a contractual relationship that requires many years -- usually six to 10 years -- for faculty to earn.” And those who are willing and able to run the tenure gantlet “tend to be strongly motivated internally to continue doing the high-quality work through which they earned tenure,” she said.

Even so, tenured faculty members at each of the state’s three public institutions overseen by the board are reviewed annually already, and more extensively every five years, Tachau said. Faculty members can lose tenure or be fired for failing to do their jobs, with due notice and a fair process.

Most significant to the debate, though, is that the majority of Iowa’s faculty members have contingent positions and aren’t eligible for tenure anyway, she added.

As for teaching assistants, Tachau said that they have no relation to tenure, except that they represent -- necessarily -- the faculty of the future.

“We tenured faculty teach students at every level, freshmen through Ph.D. students, and do so willingly,” Tachau said. But in addition to their professors, undergraduates benefit from TAs who have relevant teaching or research experiences before enrolling in their graduate degree programs, she added in an email.

Tachau’s colleague at Iowa, Loren Glass, professor of English, said he thought the bill wouldn’t go anywhere. That’s probably likely, given that previous bills failed, even in a newly Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature last year. Still, Republicans maintained majorities in both chambers in 2018, and tenure is undoubtedly part of the resurgent culture wars.

Like Tachau, Glass said he thinks the antitenure bill based on a “misunderstanding of what tenure is and does.” He cited the AAUP’s official definition, which says, in part, that a tenured appointment “is an indefinite appointment that can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances such as financial exigency and program discontinuation.” AAUP says that tenure exists primarily to “safeguard academic freedom, which is necessary for all who teach and conduct research in higher education.”

When professors can lose their positions “because of their speech or publications research findings, they cannot properly fulfill their core responsibilities to advance and transmit knowledge,” AAUP says.

Some tenure skeptics believe that academic freedom is more about protecting professors' political rants or underperformance than protecting research to advance the public good. But examples of how academic freedom has affected the latter abound -- including a slippery World War II-era case in … Iowa.

The Margarine-Butter Wars

By 1943, Iowa State College-- now Iowa State University -- had attracted a bevy of economists dedicated to researching hard subjects and then translating what they'd learned into policy suggestions. O. H. Brownlee, a graduate student at the college, suggested in one of his policy pamphlets that Americans should eat more margarine as part of the war effort, in light of a dairy shortage among service personnel. In a pre-I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter moment, he also asserted that margarine was comparable to butter in taste and nutrition.

Iowa’s dairy industrial complex, which lobbied against margarine right down to its color, challenged the recommendation and urged Iowa State to get rid of the some of the people involved. The butter lobby also waged its war against margarine, Iowa State, and Brownlee through the press, calling the graduate student “unstable” and insulting economists in general as less-than-real scientists.

Iowa State’s president convened committees to review Brownlee’s work. Eventually bowing to public pressure, the president asked Brownlee to rewrite his report and even sought to reorganize the college's press. The department chair, Theodore Schultz, left Iowa for the University of Chicago in protest, but wrote a very public, very scathing resignation letter on his way out. Some 16 of 26 economists left Iowa by 1945.

Schultz and another former Iowa economist, George Stigler, were later awarded a Nobel Prize (not for margarine).

David Seim, an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Stout, wrote about the margarine-butter wars for the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Annals of Iowa in 2008. He said this week that during the Great Depression, Iowa State invested in attracting agricultural economists who “were at the cusp of lifting Iowa State’s reputation to the very top.”

They “encouraged courageous objectivity, that they need not fear whatever research conclusions they might find,” Seim said, calling that kind of fearlessness “rare.” Those economists saw tenure as an “efficiency mechanism” that would promote more ideas from which to choose -- not a reason to slack off.

Seim said that so many years later, “We ought to do better work reminding as many people as we can of some lessons from this episode.” Despite assertions otherwise, the institution of tenure “actually enables certain efficiencies that are less likely to happen without tenure,” he said -- namely “reasonable and wise risk-taking” and the “leadership and service that society needs.”

It seems Iowa’s board agrees. It opposed Zaun’s 2017 bill and opposes this one, too, said spokesperson Josh Lehman.

“Tenure allows our institutions to recruit and retain the best faculty to teach, do research and provide service to advance the institutional missions of our public universities,” he wrote in an email.

Barbara A. Cutter, associate professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa and the campus’s faculty chair, said she hoped Zaun’s bill would fail, but that threats to tenure should be taken “very seriously.”

Without the academic freedom that tenure ensures, “professors can’t do their jobs properly,” she said. “Professors have an obligation to teach and conduct research honestly, competently and ethically. They aren’t supposed to be swayed by public opinion -- just the evidence they study.”

The topics they study, such as race relations and climate change, can be controversial, Cutter said. And as scholars talk and write about those things within the boundaries of their fields, “tenure protects them for being fired for saying or writing things others disagree with.”

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While staying the course in Saudi Arabia, MIT says it will strengthen processes for reviewing projects in "problematic countries"

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 7, 2019 - 7:00pm

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will not terminate existing projects with Saudi Arabia, but its leaders say they will seek to strengthen their internal processes for approving or renewing projects with countries where governments are engaged in serious human rights violations.

MIT president L. Rafael Reif commissioned a report on the university’s Saudi connections last fall after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist, was killed in a Saudi consulate in Turkey in a crime that the Central Intelligence Agency concluded was ordered by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince was received by Reif when he visited the MIT campus last March.

Reif addressed the decision to host the crown prince in a letter that accompanied the report, which was released Wednesday. In the letter, Reif wrote that he agreed with the report’s recommendations, including the recommendation that faculty should be free to continue existing engagements with Saudi Arabian entities. Reif also condemned the killing of Khashoggi.

“When I agreed to host the Saudi state delegation at MIT last spring, I shared the hope of many in the U.S. and around the world that the visit and official engagement were an important part of an ongoing process of reform and modernization. I know some of you were and remain disappointed with that decision, and I understand that disappointment,” Reif wrote.

“As many of you have made plain, in the present situation, if MIT simply continues to work with Saudi state entities without comment, we risk having our silence taken as an endorsement of the regime’s behavior -- an unacceptable result.

“For the record then, let me be clear: MIT utterly condemns such brutal human rights violations, discrimination and suppression of dissent, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”

The report on MIT’s Saudi activities was written by Richard K. Lester, MIT’s associate provost for international activities. The final report issued Wednesday followed a preliminary report released for comment in December.

Lester wrote that he had received 111 separate comments since December from faculty, students, postdocs, administrative staff and alumni. Many of these commenters, Lester wrote, “are appalled by the conduct of the Saudi government and are deeply troubled that MIT’s relationships with this government might in any way be enabling such behavior. They find it very difficult to reconcile MIT’s mission to work effectively for the benefit of humankind with what is occurring on the ground in Saudi Arabia and in neighboring Yemen.

"The words some respondents used to describe their views -- ‘sickened’, ‘outraged’, ‘embarrassed’, ‘ashamed’ -- make clear the depth of feelings elicited by the situation," Lester wrote. "These reactions are linked partly to the Khashoggi assassination and attempted coverup but also to the atrocities perpetrated against civilians in Yemen, and the repression of human rights, the absence of basic rights of self-determination for women, the persecution of Saudi LGBTQ citizens, and the attacks on free speech in the Kingdom."

Beyond the comments, the student newspaper, The Tech, also published an editorial in response to the Lester report calling on the university to cut ties with the Saudi government and government-linked entities.

The Lester report does not concur with that recommendation, recommending instead that the decision to continue projects sponsored by Saudi state entities should be left to the individual faculty members who are leading such projects. According to the report, MIT received in the most recent fiscal year a total of about $7.2 million in sponsored research support from five Saudi sources, including two state-owned companies, the Saudi national science agency and laboratory, and two Saudi universities.

“The principle that our faculty should be permitted to pursue their intellectual interests and objectives without interference is among the most fundamental operating principles of our Institute,” Lester wrote. “Of course, this is not an unalloyed right. Sometimes the administration does say no to faculty research proposals. But for ongoing research projects that are initiated and led by faculty, as is the case here, I expect our faculty would broadly agree that the bar for administrative intervention to terminate such projects should be set very high.”

Going forward, Lester wrote that new relationships in Saudi Arabia, and renewals of existing relationships, will be considered by MIT's International Advisory Committee, which recently was reconstituted as a faculty-led standing committee, as well as by a group of senior administrators tasked with reviewing "all major international engagements that may pose significant institutional risks to MIT."

In his report, Lester suggested that future proposed Saudi collaborations may be subject to a higher bar than in the past. He reflected on the view of one commenter who recommended that "engagements that do not allow MIT community members to participate fully and equally in all activities and opportunities should receive the highest level of scrutiny."

"I agree with this recommendation," Lester wrote, "especially as it applies to projects that require travel to the kingdom by MIT investigators. In at least one previous case involving such travel, full participation in the project required some participants to hide certain aspects of their identity; opportunities to participate in social events linked to the project were restricted by gender; and in a variety of settings female MIT faculty researchers were not accorded the same civil rights as their male MIT faculty colleagues.

"When a proposed project only involves a single investigator, that individual can decide for him or herself whether such restrictions are acceptable. But if a project involves the expectation of travel by multiple MIT investigators, the principal investigator should be required to present for consideration by the reviewing committees a written explanation of why such restrictions should be tolerated, and a plan for managing them. In general, such cases will not pass muster."

Of course, Saudi Arabia isn’t the only place where MIT has collaborations where there are concerns about the actions of the government and potential reputational risk to the university.

Last month Radio Free Europe and Radio Free Liberty reported that MIT had to remove a Russian billionaire, Viktor Vekselberg, from its board after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on him as part of a move to punish a group of Russian oligarchs who were deemed to have benefited from the government of President Vladimir Putin or to have played "a key role in advancing Russia's malign activities." Vekselberg is president of a foundation that contracted with MIT for a large-scale project to help develop a science and tech-focused university near Moscow, the Skolkovo Institute of Technology, known as Skoltech.

The second phase of MIT’s collaboration with Skoltech -- which Lester said is focused on faculty research collaboration -- is coming to an end soon. “If there is a proposal to renew that, [it] is a serious one and we’re not at that point yet -- we haven’t got to that point yet -- but if there is it will be subject to the same set of reviews that we would expect any renewal of the Saudi projects would also be exposed to,” Lester said in an interview.

Reif said in his letter that MIT is also constituting an ad hoc committee of faculty and staff members and students to further consider how the university might engage in "problematic countries," including questions about how to better tap in to faculty expertise and whether there is a general standard that can apply. The ad hoc committee will report to the MIT administration by September with proposed guidelines.

“This exercise, which was triggered by the situation in the Kingdom, is extremely helpful for us,” Reif said in an interview. “I anticipate we will be facing these kinds of issues over and over again, and we need to better anticipate when to engage, why to engage and where.

“It is really a painfully complex issue,” Reif said. “Universities want to have a global footprint because we have people from all over the world at MIT, and these people want to interact and find collaborators in different countries. Once you start doing that … these kinds of risks occur, and managing this or preventing this is a serious issue.

“There are many progressive people that we want to engage with because it’s helping the country, and how do we distinguish helping the people who want to help the country versus helping the regime? How do you sort all those things out? It’s not trivial. It’s complex. We are setting a path to figure it out for themselves, and maybe for others, too.”

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Cambridge economist uses unusual approach to oppose Brexit

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 7, 2019 - 7:00pm

Many British academics are ardently opposed to Brexit. Others are passionate in their commitment to the idea that women can do what they like with their own bodies. But Victoria Bateman -- fellow in economics at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge -- must be highly unusual in bringing the two causes together, most recently in a performance titled Brexit: The Naked Truth, where audience members got a chance to create a living anti-Brexit petition by signing her bare body.

So how does she link the two issues?

“Freedom is at the root of both my opposition to Brexit and my feminist activism,” she said. Bateman has  spent much of her career “trying to work out the recipe for economic prosperity” and has come to see the key as “a free, tolerant and open society.” With Brexit, “the type of society many people have voted for -- one that is, for example, unwelcoming to immigrants -- is one that will likely feed back to cause real harm to the economy.” Yet it was “also a feminist issue,” most obviously because an economic downturn might well lead to “cutbacks to childcare services and social care.”

During her teenage years in Oldham, when she and her peers had been “dismissed as ‘trashy girls’ because of the way [they] dressed,” Bateman had initially responded by covering up. Now, however, she is determined to “challenge the underlying assumption … It’s when a woman’s value is thought to hang precariously on bodily modesty that we end up putting in place all kinds of practices and regulations in an effort to ‘protect’ women from harming their modesty, but which actually greatly restrict them, resulting in persistent gender inequalities.”

Along with amusement and mockery, Bateman acknowledged that she has “encountered lots of genuine anger and hostility online, but also in person from one or two senior female economists -- including when I protested naked against sexism in economics at an economics conference last year. Some women believe that by using your body as a form of protest, you are doing a disservice to other women.

“I very much disagree. Women’s bodies are one of the big battlegrounds we face today, whether in terms of women’s access to birth control, sex workers’ rights or clothing, including burka bans … By covering up the body, these problems don’t go away. Instead, we fail to address them because we think of the body as something that’s embarrassing and not to be talked about in polite -- or academic -- company.”

It was also crucial, in Bateman’s view, to put “the concept ‘my body, my choice’ … at the heart of feminism. That requires women being tolerant of other women making choices about their bodies that differ from their own. When I protest naked, it seems to bring to the surface a lot of intolerance and hypocrisy in regard to ‘my body, my choice’ -- and it’s that same intolerance to women who make choices about their bodies that are different from our own that is driving, for example, some feminist groups to recommend polic[ies] that [harm] the livelihoods of voluntary sex workers.”

Cambridge economists have often had an impact on government policy, either in formal consultative roles or through suggestions whispered over the port in gentlemen’s clubs. Bateman has also “written thousands of words on why Brexit is bad for the British economy,” but was there any reason to think that taking off her clothes was remotely likely to be an effective way of influencing policy makers?

As she saw it, however, “the relevant question is not ‘Why use your naked body?’ but ‘Why not use your naked body?’ Reversing the question in this way helps to reveal people’s inner thoughts or presumptions about women’s bodies: that when a woman shows her body it devalues her worth or decreases the respect people have for her.” She also believes “in the power of art to go beyond what academic writing alone can offer … I’ve condensed all my words into one simple message: that Britain has been sold the emperor’s new clothes.”

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Division, investigations, faculty departures… What is going on in Hope College's music department?

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

A faculty exodus from Hope College’s music department has rocked the small Christian campus on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore. The college’s administration says that things are under control. But some students and faculty members want further action regarding the events that precipitated the departure or reassignment of 17 instructors within a year.

Specifically, students in the music department are seeking the resignation of Hope’s provost. Another professor who recently took early retirement following misconduct allegations, which he disputes, has requested an independent investigation into the college’s management.

“If the leadership of Hope College wishes to regain the support and trust of its broad constituencies, it should institute as soon as possible a thorough, impartial and independent investigation of its recent actions against long-serving, dedicated, and respected music faculty,” Brad Richmond, the recent retiree and former director of Hope’s choral activities, wrote in a recent open letter to the college, published in the Holland Sentinel.

Richmond denied an interview request, referring questions to his letter. It says that he cherished his 20 years at Hope -- until he was suddenly suspended and banned from campus in June.

The letter does not say what Richmond was accused of, exactly. But people who have seen the charges “call them petty and contrived; one described them as ‘a combination of 1984 and Catch-22,” he wrote. He also says he endured an uncomfortable faculty and staff meeting about the music department’s situation on Jan. 9, during which someone in the audience asked what he’d done.

“It was inferred, without any specifics, that I was a threat because of a history of ‘manipulating students,’” Richmond wrote. “Really? Then why did the college allow me to travel to South Africa with 35 Chapel Choir members just two weeks before my suspension? Ask my students whether I discussed department matters with them. Ask former administrators whether other faculty members have done this.”

Hinting that a major cultural rift among music professors is at play, Richmond wrote that the department has “long suffered from philosophical divisions.” While he and others envisioned a program that “moves past the traditional European model to include multicultural experiences preparing students for 21st-century careers,” he explained, efforts in that direction, such as folk music, Brazilian drumming and recording arts, “all came under attack last year.”

Those professors who “fought this dismantlement were rebuffed and labeled ‘insubordinate,’ with the result that many people who served Hope College with distinction are now gone,” he wrote.

Some 17 current and former professors have been affected, Richmond says: four quit, two were dismissed, eight lost adjunct status or received significant assignment changes, while one was investigated and sanctioned. Two who were suspended -- including Richmond -- are also gone.

In certain ways, Richmond's account transcends his department and could apply to many programs at many Christian institutions struggling to balance progress and tradition.

Hope is a Calvinist college that has received much funding from the DeVos family. Its last major controversy was in 2016, when its governing board privately considered ousting former president John Knapp. The board backed off after its plan was leaked, and after campus protests. Knapp, who left of his own accord in 2017, was popular with students and faculty members, many of whom approved of his public statements and actions in support of diversity and inclusion. Some said Knapp's approach was critical to the college's survival, especially as Michigan's college-age population shrinks.

A number of professors did not respond to request for comment. An investigation by the Sentinel, which included numerous anonymous sources, said professors trace the faculty departures back to 2017, and a fight over how the department would proceed after a former chair left for another institution out of state.

“In my mind, it was a tale of two cities,” Edye Evans Hyde, a former adjunct who taught jazz vocals, told the Sentinel. “There was a group that wanted to expand the department, offer new options and get more students. The other faction was the conservative Christian Reformed classical style. It was very much: ‘How do we expand what we’re doing’ versus, ‘This is who we are.’”

At the same time, some faculty members told the Sentinel that the progressive camp exaggerated the divide, to the detriment of the department and students.

“Contrary to what some people think, the music department is doing well, given the circumstances, while classes, lessons, as well as rehearsals and concerts are being performed without interruption, making sure that our students receive what they are here for: a high quality music education,” Mihai Craioveanu, professor of violin, reportedly said via email.

Richmond wrote that he and colleagues met with Hope’s new provost, Cady Short-Thompson, to assure her that the department could solve its own challenges. But things devolved, and the succeeding chair stepped down.

The administration decided to appoint a chair from outside the department. Hope picked Jonathan Hagood, a historian and associate dean for teaching and learning.

Around the same time, in early 2018, four music professors learned that they were the subject of a sexual harassment complaint. Details were never made public, and the complaint was dismissed within a few months, sources reportedly said. But Short-Thompson initiated an extensive cultural investigation of the department that proved even more divisive, faculty members told the Sentinel.

As that investigation proceeded, Richmond and one other professor were suspended. Another professor was placed under review, two instructors were asked not to return and others saw their duties reassigned.

Alumni asked questions about the departures over the summer, as did students when they arrived back to campus in the fall. Certain classes or programs they said influenced their decisions to attend or stay at Hope, including a women’s chamber choir class, were suddenly gone. And many of those asking questions said they missed and valued the professors being forced out.

In September, the music department’s outside chair, Hagood -- a well-liked and respected professor -- died by suicide.

In November, students demonstrated outside the college’s Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts to demand transparency about what was happening to Hope music.

As an MSU alumnus, I know what it’s like to have no confidence in your administration, to search for answers and justice but receive only deceit. I stand with Hope Music students. #bringbackourprofs #bringbackthemusic pic.twitter.com/KvCBYbaI9W

— madeline (@strugglingsloth) November 8, 2018

It’s been a hard year to be a music student at Hope College. We are missing 3 profs who have influenced me greatly as a student, but also as a person. These people pour their lives into their students and their jobs. I love and miss them. #bringbackourprofs pic.twitter.com/H3SlrjCVbF

— Mackenzie (@kenziethepug) November 5, 2018

every student has the right to an education by the educators that they chose to come to a a school for. I am proud to be a Hope music student #bringbackourprofs #hopecollegemusic @HopeCollege pic.twitter.com/H286XHPWUg

— riley (@rileywlsn) November 5, 2018

In December, the college announced that a new president, Matthew A. Scogin, a finance executive and 2002 Hope alumnus who is a member of its governing board, would begin this summer.

But concerns about how Hope has handled the music department center on the provost, Short-Thompson.

In addition to faculty concerns about her leadership, a group of current music students and alumni wrote in an open letter in the Sentinel last month that their “many conversations with Provost Short-Thompson have shown us that [she] is not being open or transparent regarding our concerns.”

Hope’s actions “have caused irreparable damage to the affect[ed] faculty members and their family and friends,” the students wrote, requesting a public explanation and Short-Thompson’s resignation. “The administration is not demonstrating its values as a college rooted in the historic Christian faith.”

The college publicly said last month that it had concluded its investigation of the music department, with “evidentiary substantiation of violations including documented financial malfeasance, insubordination and, as to one professor, academic irresponsibility.”

Hope also addressed its findings with faculty members in the meeting Richmond wrote about. For 45 minutes, he says, the college’s human resources director made "derogatory comments about me, the department and others, and invoked the faculty handbook to support claims of due process. A screen over the stage displayed categories of fireable offenses while she tossed off nasty characterizations and alleged acts like beads at a Mardi Gras parade."

While students in the music department continue to express frustration over how the college has managed the music department, other student leaders say they’re satisfied with Hope’s actions.

In another recent letter in the Sentinel, the members of the Student Congress Executive Board wrote that they’d met with administrators and believed that “correct steps of the faculty handbook were followed with efforts made to protect the students, faculty, music department and college.”

They added, “We would like to state our trust in the process and affirm our support for the administration of Hope.”

Jennifer Fellinger, Hope spokesperson, said late Tuesday that in response to concerns, the college’s Board of Trustees has ordered an outside review of the  matter. As for reports that employees and students haven't been heard throughout this process, Fellinger said that the college worked to balance transparency and confidentiality concerns.

“There have been various reports about the number of music faculty that have been impacted,” Fellinger added via email. “In the fall, some part-time music faculty were not renewed, which is common in music departments because student demand and faculty performance vary from semester to semester and year to year. Other faculty contracts were adjusted in light of accreditation requirements and enrollment needs.”

Hope remains committed to the music department and, “contrary to what is being reported, there is optimism at the college” about its future, she said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Professors express concern about comments on blackface incidents in book by leader of a Canadian university

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

Blackface controversies have set off debates at American universities, whether about recent incidents at the University of Oklahoma or the medical school yearbook of Virginia's governor. Now a book written to shed light on how universities handle disputes over free speech has set off a debate about blackface … in Canadian academe.

The book is University Commons Divided: Exploring Debate & Dissent on Campus (University of Toronto Press). The book explores a number of incidents in which students and professors at Canadian universities have had their speech rights threatened, in some cases related to controversial things they have said. The author is Peter MacKinnon, interim president of Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia, and formerly president of the University of Saskatchewan.

In one section of the book, he describes incidents at the University of Toronto and Brock University in which students dressed for Halloween as members of Jamaica's bobsled team, with blackface part of their costumes. He also describes an incident at Queen's University, where costumes depicted people from a variety of national backgrounds. The incidents are from 2009 on.

MacKinnon does not defend the various ways students portrayed themselves and people from other races and cultures. But he questions how these incidents were condemned and became the subject of widespread debate, with some comparing the students to those who would wear Nazi uniforms.

"If there was insensitivity to issues of race in the selection of costumes by party-goers at the three universities, there was also a lack of proportion in the responses to them," he wrote. "These were Halloween parties, not cultural misappropriations, Nazi mimicry, or manifestations of disapproval of other peoples. So describing them [as such] risks diminishing real problems of intolerance, discrimination and racism. It also risks backlash from a bewildered public observing these episodes."

In Canada, as in the United States, many students and professors view blackface as hateful, not a costume faux pas.

Students have called MacKinnon a "blackface apologist" and demanded his removal. He released a statement that he does not "condone blackface."

This week professors have demanded that the university release a statement on its policies on blackface, and to state that wearing blackface is a form of harassment of other students and demeans them in violation of the university's codes.

"These statements [in the book] have caused us concern about how Dalhousie’s policies could be applied to similar facts, should they arise here. Imagine that a student or employee attends a Halloween party on campus wearing blackface in October 2019. Would our policies result in any sanction for their behavior, or the response that it was 'just a party'?" said the letter, signed by 28 faculty members.

They added, "It is our view that reasonable people know or ought to know that wearing blackface would make other people feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed. The meaning or significance of this practice cannot be separated from its painful history, and this history is indelibly marked by racism. Blackface cannot be understood in isolation from historical and ongoing practices of invoking the imagery of African enslavement for the purposes of amusement for non-black people. We are concerned that this history and the harms of blackface are at risk of being minimized at Dalhousie, as is the inclusion of the black and racialized communities in our understanding of who counts when identifying the 'reasonable person' and what all of us should be expected to know."

The university released a statement to Inside Higher Ed stating that it does condemn blackface and views it as a serious problem.

"There has been a lot of recent conversation in our local, national and international communities about blackface," said the statement. "Dalhousie would like to make a very clear statement. Blackface is absolutely unacceptable and wrong. All forms of racism, including blackface, are an affront to our values as a university and will not be tolerated at Dalhousie University. Having a safe, supportive and respectful environment for all members of our community is our highest priority. The University’s Statement on Prohibited Discrimination clearly outlines our commitment to safeguarding students and employees against all forms of prohibited discrimination in their work or study or their participation in the university more generally. When an incident comes to the university’s attention, a number of policies -- including the Student Code of Conduct and Statement on Prohibited Discrimination -- could apply depending on the circumstances … Building a community where we all feel like we truly belong is a priority at Dalhousie University."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Florida Coastal School of Law seeks to earn nonprofit status

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

Florida Coastal School of Law, a Jacksonville-based for-profit institution, says it will seek to reclassify as a nonprofit entity, joining a number of other for-profit institutions that have recently announced plans to change tax status as a solution to legal, regulatory or marketing hurdles.

The law school has faced growing scrutiny in recent years from legal education observers and its accreditor over its admissions standards and bar-passage rates. The American Bar Association found Florida Coastal out of compliance with accreditation standards last year. Other law schools operated by its parent company, InfiLaw, meanwhile, have closed or faced sanctions in recent years.

But Florida Coastal leaders say they’ve overhauled their academic curriculum and have made significant strides in student outcomes, boosting bar passage rates by 15 percentage points last year to over 62 percent.

“We’ve improved our entry credentials. We’ve improved our bar-passage results,” said Scott DeVito, Florida Coastal’s dean. “So that’s part of why this is now the time to do it.”

Law school officials say the change would allow professors to apply for federal research grants and would facilitate the expansion of an endowment. Converting to nonprofit status would also have the added benefit of reducing federal regulatory requirements and removing a for-profit label that has become toxic for many students.

Florida Coastal officials said that at the end of the process, the law school would be an independent entity. But they didn’t rule out some kind of role for InfiLaw, its parent company.

“We’re not exactly certain what InfiLaw’s final role, if any, will be. But they will not be the owner,” said Jennifer Reiber, Florida Coastal’s dean of academic affairs.

Other institutions, like Grand Canyon University, that have converted to nonprofit status have signed management agreements with their former parent companies after splitting off. Kyle McEntee, the executive director and co-founder of Law School Transparency, said he questioned what kind of arrangement the new nonprofit entity would have with InfiLaw.

“Will InfiLaw be managing or does it hope to manage the law school?” he said.

Florida Coastal officials also plan to form a partnership with a nonprofit university if the conversion goes through. They said talks are ongoing with one potential partner but declined to offer further details.

To make the switch, the law school will need approval from multiple regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Department of Education, the Florida Commission for Independent Education and its accreditor, the ABA.

The next step is for ABA to send a fact finder to Florida Coastal to review the application and file a report.

Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA's section of legal education and admissions to the bar, said a change in tax status is rare but not unheard-of for law schools. Western State University College of Law last year and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2001 both converted from for-profit to nonprofit status. The review process typically takes six to 12 months before a decision is reached, Currier said.

“Florida Coastal School of Law is on the list of ABA-approved law schools, and it remains subject to published notices that it is operating out of compliance on specific standards,” he said. “The school has been directed to take specific remedial action to demonstrate that it has come back into compliance with those standards. The school’s accreditation remains in place while the review processes are continuing.”

The law school will have to show it is in compliance with its accreditor’s standards before its application to change tax status is approved. But its leaders are confident it will do so after a major rebound in recent bar exam results.

Less than a decade ago, Florida Coastal regularly posted pass rates of 75 percent on the bar exam, which is the biggest obstacle for graduates to go on to practice law. But over the past five years, the law school’s bar-passage rates cratered. After lowering entrance standards in 2016, it fell below 50 percent for summer bar exams the next year. Bar-passage rates had declined overall in Florida at the time, but Florida Coastal was also one of only two law schools to fail the Education Department’s 2017 gainful-employment ratings.

Last year, however, Florida Coastal cleared a 62.5 percent bar passage rate -- a result, law school officials said, of an overhauled curriculum that gave students more early preparation for the range of subjects they faced on the state’s bar exam.

“We believe we’re seeing a lot of success as a result of those curriculum and program changes,” Reiber said.

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Judge dismisses lawsuit opposing American studies group's support of Israel boycott

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 6, 2019 - 7:00pm

A federal judge ordered the dismissal of a case against the American Studies Association filed by a group of current and former members who argued that in endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities, the ASA breached its contract with members and misappropriated association funds.

In dismissing without prejudice the case against ASA and several of its current and former leaders, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to seek damages for what they alleged were injuries to the association.

Further, Judge Contreras found that while the plaintiffs “may have meritorious claims arising from their individual injuries as ASA members,” the value of such potential claims did not exceed $75,000 and therefore fell beneath the threshold under which the federal court could act. Judge Contreras concluded that the plaintiffs "have raised allegations and presented evidence indicating that they may have meritorious claims, but they must assert these claims before the proper tribunal."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were undeterred and would continue to press ahead either in federal or state court with the lawsuit.

The suit concerns a December 2013 vote in which ASA members voted by a nearly two-to-one margin in support of a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities The text of the resolution describes Israeli higher education institutions as "a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students."

At issue in this case was the plaintiffs’ claim, as Judge Contreras put it, that the “defendants coopted an apolitical educational organization and, against its members' wishes, turned that organization into a mouthpiece of the Israel boycott movement.”

The plaintiffs claimed that the December 2013 membership vote in which ASA members voted by a large margin in favor of the resolution endorsing the Israel boycott was conducted unlawfully. They alleged that ASA leaders misrepresented their intentions to the membership and manipulated the association's voting procedures for their own interest, including by freezing membership rolls prior to the vote in an alleged attempt to prevent boycott opponents from rejoining and voting.

They alleged that after the resolution passed, ASA leaders improperly spent association resources to defend and promote it, including by accessing the ASA’s trust fund to pay for resolution-related insurance, public relations and legal fees. The plaintiffs also claimed that ASA raised membership dues from $120 to $275 to offset expenses related to the resolution.

Judge Contreras ruled in dismissing the case that even “if Defendants misappropriated every dollar that Plaintiffs contributed to ASA in annual dues, it would take each Plaintiff 625 years to reach $75,000 in damages,” the threshold necessary for the federal court to have jurisdiction.

In a statement, three lawyers for the members who sued the ASA said they "fully intend to go forward with this lawsuit, whether in federal court, should we choose to appeal the amount in controversy dismissal, or in state court, where there is no amount in controversy requirement."

"Our clients are four esteemed professors of American Studies," said the statement from the three lawyers for the plaintiffs, which was released by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, an advocacy organization focused on anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activity on university campuses. "They brought this case because they believe that the ASA’s academic boycott of Israel violates cherished principles of academic freedom. They opposed the academic boycott on the same grounds as the American Association of University Professors, the presidents of dozens of universities, numerous former presidents of the ASA, and many, many others. They also believe that the individual defendants violated democratic principles and the ASA Constitution and Bylaws in the adoption of the academic boycott."

Liz Jackson, a senior staff attorney for the legal advocacy organization Palestine Legal, which provided advice to ASA in the lead-up to and aftermath of the resolution vote, said the decision was "a significant victory for academic associations, for professors who want to stand up for Palestinian rights. There has been so much fear and intimidation kind of kicked up around this case, and the Brandeis Center was very clear about their intent to deter other groups of professors from taking a stand in support of boycotts for Palestinian rights. Professors should take heart that they have a right to boycott and they have a protected right to stand up for Palestinian human rights. There will be more intimidation, there will be more lawsuits and professors should take heart that they will fail."

John F. Stephens, the executive director of the ASA, said, "We had a great day in court and we look forward to continuing with our mission of interdisciplinary and critical studies of the U.S."

Other U.S.-based scholarly associations that have formally supported the academic boycott of Israel include the African Literature Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, the National Women's Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

Some larger associations have rejected the boycott. The American Anthropological Association narrowly voted down a pro-boycott resolution in 2016, and the Modern Language Association's Delegate Assembly in January of 2017 rejected a pro-boycott measure in favor of another measure, subsequently ratified by the membership, calling on the association to refrain from a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli universities on the grounds that such an endorsement "contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature."

The lawsuit against the ASA was originally filed in spring of 2016. One of the original lawyers for the plaintiffs was Kenneth L. Marcus, the former head of the Brandeis Center who has since been appointed as assistant secretary of civil rights for the U.S. Department of Education. Opponents of Marcus's nomination argued that his appointment as the department's chief civil rights enforcer could have a chilling effect on speech and activism critical of Israel on college campuses.

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Colleges grapple with racism after Northam controversy

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

When Eastern Virginia Medical School published a statement on Saturday about racist photos in the institution’s 1984 yearbook, purportedly of the state’s governor, Ralph Northam, many asked: How could this have been going on? How could the yearbook’s editor allow such blatantly bigoted photo to be published? How could this happen in the 1980s?

The photo, on a page in the yearbook devoted to Northam, depicts two people, one in Ku Klux Klan garb, the other in blackface. While Northam initially took responsibility and said he was one of the two people in the photo, he later backtracked and said he believed it was mistakenly attributed to him. The scandal has resulted in widespread calls for Northam's resignation from lawmakers and pundits of all political stripes, a harsh rebuke of a lawmaker who ran on a platform of racial justice.

But the incident has also prompted those questions to Northam’s alma mater about how it handles racism, both presently and historically, and whether officials there skated over the prejudice that was apparent on campus during Northam’s time. It’s a question more broadly posed to universities -- especially in Virginia, a state steeped in the Confederacy. While debates over monuments to Confederate leaders have been long-standing, the new development in the last few days has been reckoning with more recent history.

Scholars and historians said in interviews with Inside Higher Ed that to truly address the root of racism, colleges must educate their incoming students particularly about the effect that Confederate symbols, or Klan imagery, for instance, can have on campus.

“The bigger issue is systemic,” said Keri Leigh Merritt, a historian on race and class based in Atlanta. “At some point soon we will be forced into a real conversation about what education reparations look like.”

Richard V. Homan, Eastern Virginia’s president and provost, has already pledged that all past yearbooks will be investigated to determine the publishing process and whether administrators were involved in it. Homan banned the yearbooks in 2013 after he was shown that year’s version featuring three white students dressed in Confederate uniforms in front of the Confederate flag, The Washington Post reported. The Richmond Times-Dispatch also interviewed a yearbook page designer from around when Northam was enrolled who said that students submitted the photos that would appear on their personal pages.

The yearbook from 1984 contains other racist references, other photos of blackface, such as a man dressed in a white dress and pearls, a black wig and blackface, with the caption “Baby Love, whoever thought Diana Ross would make it to medical school,” a reference to the lead singer of the Supremes, the black Motown group.

While Northam has most recently denied he was in the photo, at a recent, eyebrow-raising press conference he did admit to using shoe polish to darken his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume, and in an odd aside, added he won the dance contest because of his skills in moonwalking.

A page of Northam’s undergraduate yearbook at Virginia Military Institute from 1981 also lists his nicknames as “goose” and a Jim Crow-era slur, “coonman.” Northam said the latter moniker was given to him by upperclassmen for reasons unknown. A VMI spokesman declined to comment.

Homan on Saturday said in a statement that the yearbook photo that caused the initial stir was “shockingly abhorrent and absolutely antithetical to the principles, morals and values we hold and espouse of our educational research institution and our professions.” Eastern Virginia will hold a news conference today to discuss the yearbook.

“It has been said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” Homan said in his statement. “We must learn from this and will come together to support and live the values and principles we hold so dear.”

Reaction to Homan’s words has been largely negative, with the public criticizing their hollowness, though alumni have emerged to defend Eastern Virginia. Naved Jafri, who said he graduated from the institution in 1996, wrote on Facebook that he never experienced discrimination when he attended, nor observed anything such as what was present in the yearbook. He declined an interview, but told The News Leader in Staunton, Va., that the photo didn’t accurately depict Eastern Virginia’s culture.

While commentators online seemed shocked that the picture passed editorial muster, Julian Hayter, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond, was not surprised at all. Hayter has studied race relations extensively and said that by the '80s, black people had only been part of historically white colleges in any significant numbers for about a decade. Colleges were ill equipped to handle desegregation in the '60s. And in the South, expressions of racism persisted despite the shifting laws, well past when Northam was studying medicine, he said.

“A lot of that has to do with this appalling persistent type of racist imagery that the public has grown accustomed to,” Hayter said.

Racially charged episodes at colleges and universities, blackface in particular, occur frequently. In 1991, seven years after Northam’s photo, fraternity brothers on George Mason University’s campus dressed up in drag and blackface and were put on probation. The next year, a fraternity at Texas Tech University was punished for a party where members wore blackface and afro wigs.

As recently as last year, a California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo fraternity came under fire for blackface. Two women faced wide condemnation at the University of Oklahoma and left the institution in January after a video circulated of one of them in blackface using a racial slur.

Blackface has a particular legacy in Virginia and at its flagship institution, the University of Virginia, according to Rhae Lynn Barnes, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and an expert in blackface. Barnes did not respond to request for comment but wrote an extensive essay on the subject in the Post.

UVA relied on amateur blackface financially and most prominently during the Reconstruction Era. Students would form “negro minstrel troupes” to perform on campus and in towns -- these were early iterations of blackface, used as a form of entertainment. The university’s official Minstrel Troupe donated proceeds of its show -- featuring a stand-up comedy routine satirizing black politicians -- to the construction of the university’s chapel in 1886, Barnes wrote.

Barnes alleges that the UVA yearbook, Corks and Curls, which is independent from the university, is a reference to the minstrel slang for burned corks, which were used to darken faces, and curly afro wigs that were part of the costumes. A summary of the yearbook's history on its website states that a student actually named it for “an unprepared student” who was called upon in class “but who remained silent like a corked-up bottle.” The curl referred to students who performed well in class, “who, when patted on his head by his professor would curl his metaphorical tail in delight.”

UVA has also commissioned its own report on its association with slavery and found that the campus was largely built by black slaves. The institution documented at least 150 to 200 enslaved people at the university in most years during construction in the early 1800s.

The university is building a Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, which is due to be completed in October, honoring those who helped construct it. The UVA Board of Governors also voted in September 2017 to remove two plaques from the university’s rotunda that honored students and alumni who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

This all came after the white supremacist protests in 2017 over the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The protests shifted to the city of Charlottesville, where one woman died, struck by a car driven by a white nationalist.

A UVA spokesman, Anthony de Bruyn, responded to a request for comment by forwarding a campuswide email from President Jim Ryan on the controversy with Northam. Ryan did not explicitly demand that Northam step down, but said that when “trust is lost, for whatever reason, it is exceedingly difficult to continue to lead.”

“It seems we have reached that point,” Ryan wrote in his message, adding that the photo was “shocking.”

Northam will also no longer attend this week's Charter Day event at the College of William and Mary. The president there, Katherine A. Rowe, told the campus Monday that she was “appalled and saddened” by the image from Northam’s yearbook and that his presence would disrupt campus unity and so the college and his office mutually decided he would no longer appear.

William and Mary also removed Confederate imagery from prominent locations on campus in 2015 -- a plaque that listed students and professors who fought for the Confederacy and a ceremonial mace emblazoned with its battle flag.

As two of the older institutions in the state, both UVA and William and Mary have closer ties to the turmoil caused by the Civil War.

James Madison University, meanwhile, was not founded until 1908, but was named for a founding father who was a slave owner.

The Madison Board of Visitors will consider on Friday a proposal to name a new residence hall for Paul Jennings, who was James Madison’s personal manservant.

Jennings was an enslaved black man who served until Madison’s death and later gained his freedom, writing the first memoir about life at the White House, called A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison.

“The naming of the residence hall is just one part of the larger effort of the university to increase understanding of the legacy of James Madison, and of the continuing need to confront our past, present and future with regard to issues of diversity and inclusion,” spokesman Bill Wyatt wrote in an email.

Hayter, of Richmond, said that universities should pursue educational routes to ending racism -- but be more unambiguous if they have a “tortured racial history.” Instead of glossing over a past with slavery, it should be included in an institution’s advertising and officials should spell out how they are addressing it, Hayter said. He recommended that part of institutions’ orientations be devoted to history on race.

“It has to be part of the school’s identity,” Hayter said. “You shouldn’t be blindsided by this stuff; it needs to become part of the university’s DNA, not an addendum to the narrative. Young people need to know what they’re getting into.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Weighing in on Duke case, experts discuss discrimination against international students and pressures to assimilate

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

The email was ostensibly offering advice. Yet it was incredibly offensive to many.

You probably know the story by now (and if you don’t, here’s a link). In short, a Duke University faculty member and the director of graduate studies for a master’s program in biostatistics wrote to students last Friday advising them not to speak Chinese in the student lounge. The faculty member, Megan Neely, wrote that she was following up on complaints of two other professors who came to her office to ask for pictures of students and picked out those they had observed speaking Chinese (“in their words,” she wrote, “VERY LOUDLY”) in the student lounge and study areas. According to Neely’s email, they wanted to know who the students were so they could write down their names and remember them if they were to apply for internships or to work with them on a master’s project in the future. They apparently were disappointed the students were not taking the opportunity to improve their English.

“To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building,” said Neely’s email, which advised them to speak in English 100 percent of the time they were in the classroom building. Neely sent the email to first- and second-year students in the program, copying the second years, she wrote, "as a reminder given they are currently applying for jobs."

The email was swiftly and widely condemned. Within two days a student-organized petition asking for a full investigation had more than 2,000 signatures -- "We are disheartened," the petition states, "when Duke’s faculty members implied that students of diverse national origin would be punished in academic and employment opportunities for speaking in their native language outside of classroom settings" -- and the incident had been covered by virtually every major national publication you could name.

But newsworthy as it was, what may have been most notable about this incident was the way in which these attitudes were explicitly laid out in an email sent to all students. The Duke email follows closely on a case at the University of Houston in which a professor sent a message to students about personal hygiene and body odor, singling out particular cultural groups and their eating habits, and another at the University of Liverpool in which the British university's international advising office sent an email to international students about academic integrity singling out Chinese students. The email, for which the university leadership has apologized, said that Chinese students are "usually unfamiliar with the word" for cheating in English and provided a Chinese translation.

The emails raise the question of how widespread these kinds of attitudes are. How common is it for faculty and administrators to harbor attitudes toward international students that could be characterized as culturally insensitive or even outright discriminatory or hostile? It’s hard to say for sure, but experts who have studied international students’ experiences and faculty perceptions of international students say what happened at Duke for example is not an isolated incident. And as higher education has grown more international -- the number of international students on U.S. campuses has nearly doubled in a decade, even when factoring in a recent dip in new enrollments -- incidents like these may be getting more attention than ever before.

"Now that international student discrimination is being tied to potential loss of tuition revenue, it becomes something that university leaders may be talking about, whereas over a decade ago when I was writing and talking about this in open forums it wasn't getting as much attention, because the financial implications were nowhere near as large back then as they are now," said Jenny J. Lee, a professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona who has written about international students' experiences of “neo-racism,” “neo-racism” referring to discrimination on the basis of cultural difference or national origin. Research Lee coauthored based on interviews with 25 international students from 15 countries found that most of the students from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East experienced some discrimination, whereas none of the students from Australia, Canada or Europe reported facing discrimination.

Discrimination frequently took the form of insulting jokes and statements made about their home country -- not just by other students but also by faculty and administrators. Several students reported feeling frustration or contempt from faculty or administrators in relation to their accents. ("Too often," Lee has written, "a 'foreign' accent, particularly Asian accents, was equated with 'stupidity' and sometimes even ridiculed, whereas European accents were more tolerated and appreciated.") Students in the study also perceived that domestic students were favored over them in getting teaching appointments.

“The international students who reported to me back then over 10 years ago indicated that they had never shared any of these incidents to anyone,” Lee said. “There are fears of deportation, fears of retaliation from faculty members, fears that the university will not act and there will be negative consequences to their status as students or their visa status. All of that created this culture of silence. I’m hoping that this [the Duke case] is an example of how things are changing and also sending a message to international students that they can be protected -- that the university will side with them.” In the Duke case, Neely was asked to step down from her position as director of graduate studies (she remains an assistant professor), and the medical school dean apologized and promised an investigation.

Christina Yao, an assistant professor in the educational administration department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who has researched international students' experiences, said she thinks outright hostility on the part of faculty toward international students is uncommon. By and large, she said, higher education is guided by values of diversity and inclusion and faculty see the benefits of having a diverse student body in their classrooms, whether those students are domestic students of color or international students.

"The bigger issue," Yao said, "is not faculty and administrators who are necessarily hostile to international students, but I think there is a high expectation that we expect international students to come to the U.S. and they adapt to how we do things. They adapt to our structures of writing. They adapt to our norms of writing. We’re a predominantly English-speaking country in the United States and [the assumption is] everyone has to speak English."

“There probably is a lack of that cultural competency,” she said, “but I think it’s rooted in us being very comfortable in our expectations that people conform to how we do things. And sometimes where that cultural competency is lacking, I think a lot of that is rooted in language dominance."

"I don't think the Duke case is an isolated incident," said Li Jin, an associate professor of Chinese at DePaul University who along with a colleague surveyed DePaul faculty about their perceptions of international students. One finding of their survey was that faculty far and away viewed students' English proficiency as their biggest challenge -- but that faculty who were born outside the U.S., who spoke two or more languages, and who were nonwhite were all comparatively less likely to point to challenges related to English proficiency.

"It shows clearly that faculty in this incident are concerned about their international students' English language skills, which is largely reported in previous studies," Jin said via email. "This particular incident reflects three deeper issues faced by many universities with an increasing number of international students: 1) latent intolerance of multilingualism, which mirrors certain attitudes toward immigrant assimilation in the larger American society. 2) outdated knowledge about second language development. Many empirical studies have shown that appropriate use of the mother tongue actually provides cognitive, metacognitive, and psychological support for adult learners' second language development. However, many Americans including faculty outside the language education field still hold a traditional view that the mother tongue is an interference for second language development, thus prefer an English-only approach when advising their international students."

Thirdly, she continued, "there is lack of training and support for faculty who have to teach and advise an expansive international student population. For instance, the director of graduate studies could have advised the two concerned faculty members how to help their own international students who they think face language challenges instead of punishing their international students by depriving them of future academic and professional opportunities. Thus, my primary takeaway of this incident is university faculty need to receive training to have a better understanding of the challenges faced by their international students … as well as of resources and support they can provide to their international students. University administrators also need to take notes as to how to provide additional resources to support faculty's new role in helping international students if they wish to maintain the enrollments."

Jason Schneider, an assistant professor of writing, rhetoric and discourse at DePaul who conducted the survey of DePaul faculty with Jin, said the survey didn't explicitly document what he would characterize as "negative" views toward international students. "However, I think this is partly a result of the survey questions we used, which were more oriented towards understanding faculty perceptions of international students’ unique strengths and challenges, as well as faculty’s own challenges and experience," Schneider said in written answers to questions.

"Nonetheless, I think there are ways that our data indicate the kinds of negative views that are implicit in the Duke incident. For example, when we posed an open-ended question, 'In working with international students, what unique challenges have you encountered inside and outside of the classroom?' the majority of responses actually focused on perceived student problems, e.g., English language challenges, reluctance to participate in class discussions, limited understanding of U.S. notions of academic integrity. A much smaller number of faculty wrote about their own teaching challenges, e.g., effectively explaining assignments to international students. The link between this and what happened at Duke is a view among some, maybe many, faculty that the challenge of international student adjustment to the U.S. academic reality falls wholly on the students. Or differently, the view seems to be that students arrive with shortcomings and deficiencies, and any teaching challenges that we may have as faculty can be attributed to those supposed shortcomings and deficiencies, not to our own inability to rethink our pedagogies in response to changing demographics. Some seem to believe that if students want to succeed, they just need to figure how to do it."

Chris R. Glass, an associate professor and graduate program director for the higher education program at Old Dominion University, has written extensively about the crucial role faculty can play in helping international students feel a sense of belonging on campus. The majority of international students he has surveyed report that their interactions with faculty have been positive, but he said that perceived slights can corrode students' sense of belonging. Such slights, Glass said, "can be anything from a faculty member skipping a student during class introductions to tending to suspect cheating if Chinese students are sitting together in a classroom. These are perceived as purposeful slights that show that a student in some ways doesn’t belong, and doesn’t have the kind of freedom to operate as maybe a domestic student.”

Like Lee, however, Glass noted that students may be feeling more empowered to speak up than they were in the past. “It used to be, I think, that when I would talk to international students, these perceived slights would be received and then absorbed, and I think what’s interesting about this story and some of these other stories that are coming out is they are now going viral and the politics of it is changing from the student side."

The dynamics of international student mobility are changing, Glass said. “Historically, the idea was we’re importing talented international students into our top-tier STEM programs and a U.S.-dominated liberal world order. Those are the old rules of the game. The new rules of the game are these students have a lot of choices. These students have a lot more financial resources. They feel far more freedom to speak up. The politics of belonging have been turned on their head, in the sense that the person who doesn't feel like they belong in this new world is the professor and the graduate program director.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

College in hot water over inclusive-access programs and student choice

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

Trident Technical College is one of many colleges that have embraced the inclusive-access approach to curricular materials in the past few years.

For colleges like Trident Tech, a public two-year institution in Charleston, S.C., the benefits of inclusive-access programs are compelling. The programs allow colleges to automatically bill students for their course materials as part of their tuition or course fees, meaning that on the first day of class, every student has the right textbook and is ostensibly ready to learn.

But colleges are allowed to offer inclusive-access programs only under certain legal conditions. To automatically bill students for course materials, U.S. Department of Education regulations say colleges must offer these materials below a competitive market rate and must also give students a way to opt out of the program.

In a lawsuit filed last week, Trident Tech is accused of not fulfilling either of these requirements. 

Virginia Pirate Corporation, the company that sued Trident Tech on anticompetitive grounds, owns a secondhand textbook store down the street from the college.

The store, Textbook Brokers Charleston, lost hundreds of potential customers in fall 2018 and spring 2019 due to the college’s inclusive-access programs, said Jeremy Cucinella, regional manager for Virginia Pirate Corp.

The lawsuit alleges that Trident Tech was misleading students about the true cost of course materials purchased through inclusive-access programs. The filing includes screenshots from the website of the college’s bookstore, TTC Bookstore, showing several materials listed at $0.

Students often have no idea what they’re actually paying for these materials, said Cucinella.

"They come in and ask why we’re charging $60 for something they get for free," he said. But they are actually being charged large amounts for their textbooks as part of their course fees, he said.

Textbook Brokers Charleston has helped many Trident Tech students opt out of inclusive-access programs and buy cheaper alternatives, said Cucinella. However, he notes that at least 100 students have had difficulty opting out, despite assurances from the college that this would not be a problem.

In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed on behalf of Virginia Pirate Corp., Helen Sughrue, executive assistant to the president at the college, said any student who opts out of an inclusive-access program and purchases the nationally available version of required materials “will not lack access to anything else to which other students have access to.”

In reality, this has not been the case, said Cucinella.

In the lawsuit, emails and meeting notes between professors, administrators and publishers, obtained by FOIA request, are used to illustrate that sometimes students are unable to opt out of inclusive-access programs. In some cases, this is because the college has used customized content or is using technology that is not available elsewhere -- a practice that does not appear to be prohibited by the U.S. Department of Education regulations.

In one email cited in the lawsuit, Mark Schmid, a math instructor at the college, suggests that any student who opts out of a course using Pearson’s MyLabsPlus platform would experience “automatic failure since they cannot do their work.”

David Hansen, spokesman for Trident Tech College, said that the MyLabsPlus platform is only used in two courses in the college’s developmental math sequence. The cost of inclusive access for a seven-week course is $59, and a 14-week course is $107. Prior to the availability of the inclusive-access program, the cost for the textbook and access code in the college bookstore was $132.00 for both the seven-week and 14-week courses, he said.

“Like many other colleges in South Carolina and across the nation, we are making digital materials available to our students in an effort to lower the cost of attending college,” said Hansen. “Each term Trident Tech faculty report that more students are not buying the course materials needed to be successful due to the high cost of textbooks. Students in courses that offer digital materials are able to access course materials, including textbooks, online at a substantial cost savings.”

Trident Tech currently has inclusive-access deals with Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill through distributor Redshelf for 35 courses. All materials are selected by faculty members, either individually, as a committee or as a whole department, said Hansen. The program has so far saved students more than $400,000 based on Trident Tech bookstore prices from the previous year, he said.

“Students who wish to acquire their materials from elsewhere are given the opportunity to opt out of inclusive digital materials,” said Hansen. In the fall semester, 73 students opted out and were fully refunded, he said.

“Innovation in any product or industry is always met by some challenges,” said Scott Overland, Pearson spokesman. Pearson is not a named party in the lawsuit but stands by the inclusive-access model -- which offers “real benefits to students, instructors and institutions,” he said.

“First-day access [to digital course materials] has been proven to increase student retention and performance in class, and busy students, particularly those who are busy juggling work and school, know they are getting a great deal without having to spend time searching for course materials,” said Overland. “Students may forgo the benefits of inclusive access by opting out at any point during the add/drop period. If a student opts out, they are free to purchase the required course materials from other sources, but that often results in higher total prices or a decision not to purchase materials.”

Susan Aspey, senior vice-president for communications and public affairs at Cengage, echoed Overland's statement. "It's unfortunate that programs created to offer students easier, more affordable ways to buy course materials are subject to criticism and worse," said Aspey. "We comply with federal opt-out regulations and our institutional customers manage the process with students. Most students choose not to opt-out because they cannot find a lower price elsewhere." 

The lawsuit, thought to be the first to tackle inclusive-access programs, raises important questions about this model of textbook delivery, said Nicole Allen, director of open education at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC).

“Many institutions are jumping on the bandwagon to negotiate this kind of publisher deal, but we’re only starting to learn what devils might be in the details,” she said.

Some publishers require colleges to meet a quota in order to get the best prices for students, said Allen.

“This type of quota puts the institution’s financial interest at odds with academic freedom and student choices,” she said noting that it is in the institution’s interest to discourage students from opting out of inclusive-access programs.

“The complaint lays out multiple illustrations of how opt-out can be confusing, difficult or practically -- if not actually -- impossible, especially in the case of custom materials or platforms tied to mandatory course work,” she said.

Matt Reed, vice president for learning at Brookdale Community College and an Inside Higher Ed blogger, also has concerns about the inclusive-access model. If a college opts for all of its course materials to be provided by one publisher, then what is to stop that publisher from raising its prices, Reed asked in a recent blog post.

“Whether this particular bookstore’s claim has merit, I don’t know,” wrote Reed. “But at a larger level, it has a point. Monopolies abuse; that’s what they do.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Alexander lays out vision for new higher ed law

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 5, 2019 - 7:00pm

WASHINGTON -- Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, chose one of the most prominent conservative think tanks in the nation's capital to lay out his vision for overhauling the Higher Education Act.

But much of the Tennessee Republican’s speech appeared designed to win over Democrats skeptical that they could work with the GOP on a comprehensive higher ed bill. Alexander said his top priorities for a bill to renew the massive higher education law are streamlining the application for federal student aid, simplifying student loan repayment and holding colleges accountable for student loan repayment rates -- each one reflecting established principles for the senator.

He rattled off 10 different bills already introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support that address those priorities and could be incorporated into broader higher ed legislation.

“In my conversations with Democrat and Republican senators, I have found a remarkable degree of bipartisan consensus about the directions we should take to make college affordable and make students’ degrees worth their time and money,” Alexander said. “Of course, there will be differences of opinion, and if there are, we will resolve them the traditional way: by voting.”

Removing barriers to completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, and simplifying loan repayment options will garner support from the right and the left alike.

But Alexander will encounter much more resistance from Democrats over a push to replace gainful employment, a signature Obama administration accountability rule aimed at career education programs, with the new loan repayment metric. And his comments did not directly address the long-term prospects of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that became a flashpoint of a recent reauthorization fight in the House.

Senator Patty Murray, the ranking Democrat on the Senate education committee, said she was pleased that Alexander had made reauthorizing the HEA a priority and that he had acknowledged the serious challenges facing students and their families.

“I am committed to working with Chairman Alexander and Democrats and Republicans on our Committee and off to tackle the tough issues in higher education -- including affordability, access, accountability, and campus safety,” she said in a statement. “This is a moment for us to step up and do the hard work of negotiating a comprehensive reauthorization that truly works for students, families, and borrowers, and I hope we can remain committed to tackling the tough issues to get that done.”

Streamlining How Students Get Aid and Pay for College

Alexander said he wants to cut the 108 questions on the FAFSA application down to two dozen -- a step that college-access experts have said could lead two million additional students each year to finish the process and receive aid.

“The cumbersome FAFSA is one major impediment to low-income students who want to go to college,” he said.

His proposal to streamline the repayment system for borrowers would offer two options: a standard 10-year repayment plan and an income-based repayment plan that would automatically deduct a set percentage of a borrower’s income from their paycheck.

“This new option should end the nightmare that many students have of never being able to afford their student loan repayments,” he said.

The concept of automatically deducting loan payments -- which proponents say would be akin to a payroll tax -- has been around for half a decade. Some observers question the feasibility of paycheck withholding as a mechanism to handle student loan payments. But tackling the FAFSA application and loan repayment has support from progressive groups as well as Democrats in Congress.

And Alexander endorsed other bipartisan higher ed priorities, like expanding Pell Grants to incarcerated students and expanding data on student outcomes with the College Transparency Act.

But his proposal to install a new accountability system for all colleges based on student loan repayment rates drew immediate skepticism from some prominent higher ed advocates. Alexander said the system would “simplify and expand” what the gainful-employment rule does now. The Obama administration issued that rule to hold career education programs accountable for producing graduates with debt they can’t repay.

But rather than measuring a ratio of students’ debt to income, as gainful employment did, Alexander’s proposal would measure borrowers’ progress repaying their debt. And it would apply to every program at every college, regardless of the type of institution.

“His proposal to use student loan repayment rates to identify low-performing colleges is worthy of discussion, but not at the cost of losing important existing protections,” said James Kvaal, president of the Institute for College Access and Success. “More work is needed to make college more affordable by investing in Pell Grants, working with states to bring down college costs and building on proven accountability rules that protect students against unaffordable debts.”

A new higher ed law has been long overdue. Congress last reauthorized the HEA in 2008 and then extended the law in 2013 with few changes.

Alexander said last year that he wanted to make quick progress on HEA reauthorization as well. But after a series of hearings by his committee on higher ed, negotiations between the GOP and Senate Democrats never became serious despite broad consensus on items like simplifying the financial aid process.

A white paper released by Alexander’s office last year illustrated how far apart Republicans and Democrats were on accountability. And it suggested existing rules were unfair to for-profits. The paper specifically suggested doing away with the 90-10 rule, which limits the amount of an institution’s revenue can come from federal sources, and the gainful employment rule.

While negotiations never got serious in the Senate last year, a Republican proposal to overhaul the HEA in the House, dubbed the PROSPER Act, failed to garner enough support for a floor vote after a campaign by higher ed groups to stop the legislation. Much of the opposition to the bill focused on its elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Congressional Democrats later introduced their own higher ed proposal that essentially rebutted the major proposals of the GOP legislation. After retaking the House in November, Democrats said they would move forward with a new version of their own higher ed bill.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 5, 2019 - 7:00pm
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U Georgia grad student says he's under investigation for his comments about race now that donors are involved in the debate

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 4, 2019 - 7:00pm

The University of Georgia says it is “vigorously exploring all available legal options” regarding a black graduate student’s provocative comments about race.

That the university is investigating the student’s comments at all has drawn criticism from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and other scholars. They object, in part, because the student’s comments were brought to light by a political activist who urged donors to stop supporting Georgia after it initially declared the speech protected.

“The First Amendment does not permit [the university] to subject the expressive rights of faculty members or students to the whims of donors, students, or members of the public who find those views uncomfortable, objectionable or deeply offensive,” FIRE wrote in a letter late last month to Jere W. Morehead, Georgia’s president.

Georgia already condemned the teaching assistant’s expression, and the First Amendment “prevents the institution from taking any further steps,” the group wrote. Instead, the university “must immediately abandon its investigation into protected expression.”

The university, meanwhile, is seeking guidance from the state’s attorney general on what actions “we can legally consider in accordance with the First Amendment,” it said in a statement. “Racism has no place on our campus, and we condemn the advocacy or suggestion of violence in any form.”

The student, Irami Osei-Frimpong, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, said Sunday that he’d just learned that the university is not only looking into his comments but also disclosure issues on his Ph.D. program application. A notice from the Office of Student Conduct cites his alleged failure to disclose that he'd previously attended the University of Chicago and had been arrested for trespassing. 

Osei-Frimpong said he didn't disclose a prior misdemeanor trespassing arrest during an Occupy Chicago-related protest in 2011 because he didn't think it mattered to his application, as the charges -- about being in Grant Park after a curfew that was ultimately deemed unconstitutional -- were dismissed. Nor did he think his previous enrollment in a political science graduate program mattered, he said, since he applied to Georgia's philosophy program after two faculty members left Chicago and on that application noted his master's degree in philosophy from Brandeis University.  

Now it appears Osei-Frimpong's future at Georgia is at risk. He said he suspects the conduct charges are about retaliation for his comments on race.

A political philosopher who studies institutional racism, Osei-Frimpong is outspoken on social media and on his YouTube series The Funky Academic. In one example of a comment that has since been held against him as racist or violent, Osei-Frimpong said that “some white people may have to die for black communities to be whole in this struggle to advance freedom.” The California native also once said that he feels as if he’s around a “bunch of sociopaths” among whites in the South.

These declarations have spread far beyond their original reach in recent days, since the activist Andrew Lawrence alerted donors that the university was “not willing to properly ensure the safety and respect of its student body.”

Lawrence wrote his open letter to fellow Georgia alumni after the university’s Equal Opportunity Office first responded to his complaint about Osei-Frimpong. The office determined that the graduate student’s comments were personal views expressed on a private platform, but said that Lawrence should notify it of specific instances of discrimination or harassment related to the campus.

Lawrence, who graduated from Georgia last year, also circulated a video of a himself confronting Osei-Frimpong at a meeting of the Young Democrats. The video includes other students encouraging Lawrence to engage in dialogue rather than interrupt the meeting.

Some of Osei-Frimpong’s statements now making the rounds on political blogs are detached from their original contexts. The comment about sociopaths, for example, was a reference to how Osei-Frimpong says Southerners learn manners -- “as a series of behaviors the way autistic kids learn to read social cues for behaviors.” Except, he said, “since these guys and gals aren't autistic, I just feel like I'm around a bunch of sociopaths.”

Osei-Frimpong recently visited with Tim Bryant, a white, conservative local radio host, to explain his comments about racial struggle and violence.

Asked by Bryant if he was one of white people who “needs to die,” Osei-Frimpong recalled the death of the Charlottesville, Va., anti-white supremacist protester Heather Heyer in 2017, saying, “It’s just a fact of history that racial justice often comes at the cost of white life.” He added, “Slaves asked nicely to be let off the plantation, but that didn’t happen.”

Addressing one past statement about Georgia suburban neighborhoods raising white supremacists, Osei-Frimpong told Bryant, “I never said that all kids in suburban Georgia are white supremacists.” But it wouldn’t surprise him to meet one -- something like running into a Georgia Bulldogs fan on the streets of Athens, Ga., he said.

In a new Funky Academic video about the matter, Osei-Frimpong sums up his message as, “A rising tide does not lift all boats, especially if they’re black boats.” He also says that the university “changed its tune” regarding his comments “once donors got involved.”

Asked to clarify exactly what he meant about race and violence, Osei-Frimpong said via email, "Of course I don't want white people killed arbitrarily. I want the wealth gap closed and that entails a massive redistribution of assets and resources in a way that's never happened for black communities, and in a nation where every inch closer has come with blood. So much so that we've simply stopped trying to right the wrongs of racial terrorism and have consigned black communities to a caste system. That's the story of us ending Reconstruction."

In context or not, Osei-Frimpong’s comments remain controversial. In a Jan. 26 post to Medium, for example, Osei-Frimpong said he’d been banned from Facebook for 30 days for a post on race and violence. His reposted Facebook statement says the idea that white people “have to die for freedom isn’t particularly shocking … I think what’s offensive is the notion that some white people have may have to die for black people to be free.”

Osei-Frimpong has cited Tommy Curry, a professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University whose past comments about race were unearthed by a conservative publication in 2017. “In order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people might have to die,” Curry was quoted as saying in an article called “When Is It OK to Kill Whites?”

Curry’s quote was accurate but devoid of context -- in that case a conversation inspired by Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Texas A&M first supported Curry’s right to academic freedom and then strongly rejected his views after public calls for his termination grew.

Curry weathered death threats but held on to his tenured faculty position. Graduate students have fewer assurances of academic freedom.

The American Association of University Professors recognizes that gradate students have academic freedom and due process rights as employees. But it maintains that their academic freedom is more limited than faculty members’ in the areas of teaching and research because they work under supervision.

In the public political domain, however, graduate students "should have the same freedom of action" as faculty members, reads AAUP’s Statement on Graduate Students.

Disciplining a graduate student employee with dismissal for their extramural speech would require the same sort of connection to professional fitness that's expected in cases against faculty members, said Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for academic freedom, tenure and governance at the association.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Colleges experiment with experiential transcripts

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 4, 2019 - 7:00pm

This spring at Western Michigan University, nearly 23,000 students -- including almost 18,000 undergraduates -- are taking part in something called WMU Signature Designated Experiences. In addition to attending class, students agree to participate in as many as 12 out-of-class “designated experiences” in one of nine pathways. They include civic engagement, health and wellness, leadership, social justice, and sustainability, among others.

Students join clubs, attend lectures and perform community service. A recent listing invited them to hear Mary Robinson, Ireland’s first female president, speak on climate issues. Another invited students to spend a few hours each Friday this semester at the WMU Open Bike Shop, repairing their own bicycles. Still another invited them to study the New Testament book of Romans. Students are required to reflect on the experiences in writing, and in the end all of it will somehow make its way into students’ academic transcripts.

Evan Heiser, director of the program, said the big commitment to experiential learning is a way to honor students’ “out-of-class learning as much as your in-class learning.”

Though efforts to capture the effects of such learning are not new, the past four years have seen a resurgence of interest in the idea -- as well as an acknowledgment that institutions must capture students' “learning outcomes” in both formal and informal settings.

The traditional transcript mostly serves as a helpful chronology that tells universities whether a student is ready to take on more in-depth academic study, said Thomas Black, registrar and assistant vice provost at Johns Hopkins University. Faculty know how to interpret them, but “to any other third party, it is just opaque,” he said.

Most transcripts, Black and others said, tell employers little about a student’s knowledge and skills. And students often don’t have any more ability than anyone else to figure out what their own transcript means.

“It’s the record of everything you’ve forgotten,” Black said. “It’s a big collection of experiences, and they just all kind of flow together -- you can’t decipher them.”

Black, who began experimenting early on with different kinds of student records at Stanford University, called the typical transcript “a mess” when it comes to figuring out the shape of a student’s academic career. It prominently features letter grades, of course, but creeping grade inflation means it’s not actually a good indicator of whether a student has mastered a subject. “You really can’t trust or know what those grades mean.”

Black, who has spent 40 years in academe, admitted that he was once the “biggest defender of the transcript as the be-all, end-all.” Now, like many who have been critically investigating it, he’s not so sure of its usefulness. “I’ve realized that that document is really not very good at making clear what a student has been provided and what a student has accomplished.”

Increasingly critics like Black also worry that transcripts do a poor job describing what a student has done outside the classroom, where many of their most important learning experiences can take place. Study abroad experiences, community service and the like are happening all the time, Black said, “and we don’t document them.” The typical transcript, for instance, may devote just two words -- “independent study” -- to an experience “that could have been transformative for that student.”

Others aren't so sure that these "transformative" experiences should be highlighted so heavily, or that students should spend much time on them at all during their precious undergraduate years. Higher education, they say, should focus on intellectual, not practical, pursuits.

“Americans and America have always been suspicious of purely intellectual activity,” said John Kijinsky, a former administrator and current English teacher at the State University of New York at Fredonia. Kijinsky, who has written on the topic for Inside Higher Ed, said his own department is focused heavily on "experiential learning," which baffles him. “It’s very odd that people, particularly in the humanities, just jump on that bandwagon right now.”

While a short spell working or performing community service may be valuable, he said, students have the rest of their lives to take part in these experiences. “If you have a choice between working at the local historical society, that’s nice -- but it means you’re not going to read Hegel? You can work at the historical society any time.”

He added, “Most people, in their lives, are going to have only four years of challenge, of really being intellectually challenged. Some of us are going to be wonky and become professors or editors for higher education journals, so we’re always dealing with ideas. But [for] most people, it’s pretty short.”

Proponents of experiential learning have the best of intentions, he said -- and are rightly focused on giving all students, including disadvantaged students, a practical education. But this approach can shortchange students, substituting practical work, travel and volunteering for a more important experience: the hard work of learning complex, difficult material that trains them to concentrate, think and read texts closely. “There’s no way that an internship experience is going to give you those sorts of things,” Kijinsky said.

Making Learning More Efficient

Next fall, Drury University will begin requiring students to earn at least two professional or “life” certificates in addition to their typical required course work. The life certificates build on students’ intellectual passions and interests, said Provost Beth Harville. She said students are often careful about which courses they take, fitting them together cleverly. “But when they’re just transcripted as a long list of courses taken over a long period of time, it’s difficult for an employer or a graduate school or, let’s be honest, even a student, to see how these things fit together.”

The professional and life certificates include Comparative Mythology, Christian Ethics, the Politics of Food, Neurodiversity in Life, Society and the Sociology of Sport, and the Social Science of Wrongful Convictions, among others. The results will show up in a digital portfolio on their transcript.

“What we really wanted to create was something that provided students really important learning experiences,” Harville said. “It’s about learning some content, it’s about learning some skills, it’s about learning to apply it. But when you do it just in a class here, a class here, a class here, it’s really disjointed.”

Darin Hobbs, registrar and director of academic records at Western Governors University, said that by this June he expects to roll out the prototype of a skills-based transcript, to be used by all programs by 2020.

WGU is experimenting with alternative transcripts -- the competency-based university already breaks out “other earned credentials and certifications” on its transcripts. Hobbs said the traditional transcript will endure because it remains a “tool of communication between institutions.” But WGU and others need to produce a transcript that is “consumer facing,” one that helps students succeed in the workplace.

That’s especially true of WGU, where the average student is in his or her mid-30s and has already had work and, often, military experience.

He sees transcripts as less an institutional record than a kind of portable tool that follows students throughout their lives, giving them access to credentials whenever they need it. “The notion that I have, and I believe my university has, is that the student owns the record,” he said. “We own the validation of the record.”

Annemieke Rice of Campus Labs, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based technology company that helped Western Michigan build its Signature Designed Experiences program, said she sees it as a way of making students’ out-of-classroom learning more efficient, allowing them to, in effect, “drive through a pathway rather than bump into learning.”

For instance, if a student focuses on civic engagement, she’s encouraged to volunteer, mentor students at a local high school and take an alternative spring break to help a hurricane-affected community get back on its feet. The system records each action a student takes and how it fits in with the whole -- in effect, it’s a learning management system for learning taking place outside of class.

Rice said colleges and universities are under increased pressure to tell employers what students are learning -- with “increased focus on the student doing something besides showing up.”

At Stanford, Black helped develop a way to better document community service, in the process creating a structure that audited the quality of the program. Stanford also began requiring students to write about the experience, which the students found “very powerful,” he said. Black also found a way to tweak student transcripts to include the name of faculty members under whom students studied -- and to include a hyperlink to student research.

Changes like this represent a huge opportunity, not just for students but for prospective employers and graduate schools, said Rodney Parks, Elon University’s registrar. Most systems, he said, limit descriptions of student work to just 30 characters. So a student might spend months on “an extremely interesting” research project. “Right now, your academic transcript would just say, ‘Research.’”

Elon, which pioneered experiential transcripts more than 20 years ago, now routinely links to students’ research papers, grant award letters and websites of organizations where students have had a “significant service experience.”

Experiential learning, Parks said, is “built into the fabric of the curriculum itself” at Elon. To graduate, students must complete two experiential learning requirements out of a possible five. “But if they only have two, it’s not going to be a very good-looking transcript,” he said. Likewise, if a student decides that certain low-level kinds of community service are likely to make him look attractive -- if he gives blood during a blood drive, for instance -- that will only be meaningful if it fits into a bigger commitment to community service.

“If that’s the only thing that’s on your experiential transcript, that transcript is not going to help you very much,” Parks said.

Most Elon students end up with transcripts featuring about nine “substantial” experiences, he said. “If it’s not a substantive transcript, then it’s not going to be something they want to send to potential employers.”

While Elon helped put these ideas on the map, efforts over the past four years to transform the college transcript have had a big effect. Funding from the Lumina Foundation to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and to Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education have pushed about a dozen institutions try new ideas.

Parks next wants to figure out a way to help students choose courses more efficiently, adding tags to course descriptions that help students find course work in key areas not typically broken out -- for instance, if a student wants to take as many courses as possible that feature design thinking, she should be able to see all of the courses that apply.

Reached by email, Parks agreed to talk even though he's busy teaching in South Africa, where he and a colleague are leading a short January-term course on apartheid with 29 students. The course features not just visits to key sites in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. It also features community service: while in South Africa, students are volunteering in an elder-care facility and doing prison outreach.

“We’ve done a lot of service while we’re down here,” Parks said. “‘The Elon Way’ isn’t just to go visit a site and look at a distance. The Elon Way is to go to a site and do your best to embed yourself into a culture, understand the culture and give back to the culture. If we can do that, we feel like we really give the students a more substantive experience.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Hampton alumni protest installation of statue of George H. W. Bush

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 4, 2019 - 7:00pm

Legacy Park at Hampton University features statues of prominent Americans, most of them African American heroes -- people like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Barack Obama and Rosa Parks. Last week a new statue went up in the park, and some alumni and others are asking why. The statue is of George H. W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States, who died last year.

The Hampton announcement of the statue noted that Bush has a long association with the United Negro College Fund, going back to his undergraduate years at Yale University, where he founded a campus group to raise money for UNCF. Further, the university noted that Bush, as president, appointed members to a federal advisory board on black colleges, which was charged with fostering connections between historically black colleges and federal agencies. And the statement noted that President Bush delivered the commencement address at Hampton in 1991. William Harvey, president at Hampton, said that he considered Bush a friend.

The announcement didn't note that Jimmy Carter and every subsequent president has appointed members of the advisory board on black colleges.

As news spread, black-oriented publications started to raise questions about why a black college would honor Bush.

Bush's support for the UNCF was long-standing, and he is credited with promoting the organization and helping it raise money. But Bush was -- in his presidency and now after his death -- disliked by many students and alumni of historically black colleges.

Much of the anger toward Bush relates to the Willie Horton ad in his successful presidential campaign against Michael Dukakis.

A CNN article about the ad said, "The TV ad is now considered one of the most racially divisive in modern political history because it played into white fear and African-American stereotypes." And the Willie Horton ad wasn't the only time Bush was seen as engaged in racial politics. Running for the U.S. Senate (unsuccessfully) in 1964, he criticized the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which banned discrimination in employment, housing and voter registration, among other areas), saying, "The new civil rights act was passed to protect 14 percent of the people. I’m also worried about the other 86 percent.” (When a few years later he was elected to the U.S. House, Bush did vote in favor of a law to ban housing discrimination.)

Student opposition to Bush surprised some leaders of black colleges during his presidency. In 1989, Howard University appointed Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager and subsequently chair of the Republican Party, to the university board. Hundreds of students took over the administration building, and Atwater eventually stepped down from the board. The students continued to protest, saying that the appointment showed how out of touch James Cheek, who had been president since 1968, was with students. Cheek then resigned.

When Bush gave the commencement address at Hampton, two-thirds of the graduates participated in a silent protest during the ceremony.

Some of those students are among those, as alumni, organizing to protest the statue. A T-shirt is being sold (at right). A petition is gathering support, noting that Bush was a loyal member of the Reagan administration, whose policies, the petition says, hurt African Americans.

The petition, referencing the Willie Horton ad, says that Bush "ran ads during his campaign for presidency that were straight out of the playbook on how to dog-whistle racists."

Adds the petition: "It is an absolute embarrassment, that the institution that produced Booker T. Washington, Mary Jackson, Alberta King, and thousands of others that have stood on their shoulders, that the Board of Trustees and ultimately the university's long term president, William R. Harvey somehow found it morally acceptable to memorialize this man on our beautiful campus."

Hampton University did not respond to a request for comment on the petition.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Presidents of variety of faith-based colleges gather to defend their missions

Inside Higher Ed - News - February 4, 2019 - 7:00pm

WASHINGTON -- Leaders of religious colleges made a case for faith-based education at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Conference and addressed concerns about how religious higher education is viewed by the wider public.

Speakers at the meeting of the council -- all of whose members subscribe to the view that sexual relations should be limited to marriage between a man and woman -- spoke about the need to preserve a space within the American higher education landscape for their brand of education.

At one point in the conference, a questioner cited the backlash to the news that Karen Pence, wife of vice president Mike Pence, teaches in a Christian school that bars LGBTQ students and teachers in asking whether there is growing intolerance to faith-based education. The irony, of course, is their institutions are often the ones viewed as intolerant for rules -- not universal in Christian education -- like those in the school where Karen Pence teaches.

But while the CCCU institutions are increasingly out of step with growing support in the larger society for LGBTQ rights, for the moment, at least, no court or government agency is trying to close them or force them to change their policies. And they have a friend in the U.S. Department of Education.

Speaking on Friday, Diane Auer Jones, the principal deputy under secretary of education, said the department’s ongoing negotiated rule-making process to rewrite rules for accrediting agencies is “a rule-making effort that is designed to respect and honor missions of institutions … Regardless of what the mission of the institution is, I think our rule-making path is really focused on respecting that mission, honoring that mission and making sure that through the accreditation process and the evaluation of outcomes we are always measuring against that mission.”

Jones added, “There are elements of our regs that focus on faith-based mission, making sure that institutions do not find that accreditation is difficult because of the faith-based mission, making sure that accreditation regs are not superimposing upon you expectations around hiring practices, around student life that are counter to the tenets of faith-based institutions but potentially popular in the world at large.”

"It's not a change in regulations. It's not a change in law. It's a reaffirmation," Jones said.

In one session at the CCCU conference, leaders of colleges representing a variety of faith traditions -- Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Protestant and Roman Catholic -- spoke about the value of faith-based education. While leaders from these colleges all shared the same stage for the discussion, it’s worth noting that colleges from these various traditions can have very different policies regarding faculty and student life. For example, while the Protestant institutions in the CCCU limit faculty and staff hiring to “only persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ” and require students to sign covenants agreeing not to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman, Roman Catholic colleges generally do not have such restrictions on hiring or student conduct.

Yet what leaders of the institutions shared was a commitment to the value of a holistic, faith-based approach to education.

“We need to do all we can to affirm the value of faith-based higher education, to keep that as part of the diversity of the world of American higher education,” said Shirley Mullen, the president of Houghton College, a Christian institution in New York. “All of us today in our own ways have spoken about this kind of education that does not require students to leave behind their fundamental moral and spiritual convictions as they deepen their intellectual understandings. These are educational frameworks that do not artificially separate questions of fact from questions of value, they do not artificially separate cognitive matters from the affections and the role of the will. We’re all about an education that invites the integrated development of the whole human being, that subjects every aspect of human development, including their faith, to the discipline of appreciative and critical reflection.”

Hamza Yusuf, the president of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal arts college in California, described what he saw as a growing hostility toward religion within secular higher education. “For religious people, the secular institutions have become increasingly hostile to religion,” Yusuf said. “Faith-based people find themselves often confronted by professors that are aggressively anti-theistic, anti-religious, and put forward the idea that somehow religion is superstition. This belies the fact that all of the great traditions of the world were deeply committed to reason.

“For me, just having safe places where people that actually are devotional can come to and not be offended by [having] their sensibilities attacked, I think that’s extremely important,” Yusuf said.

The Reverend John P. Fitzgibbons, the president of Regis University, a Jesuit university in Colorado, said he thinks the university “needs to be a sacred space. That is not a throwaway word. What happens in the university is that human beings become what God intends us to be.

“The university is the place where the personal, the consummately personal, and the structural are examined together,” Father Fitzgibbons said. “It is an enormous mistake to excise or cut out faith from public conversation … If you don’t bring the deepest parts of your being to the conversation with others -- that is rigorous and challenging and profoundly difficult -- if you don’t do that, the deepest part of what it means to be human is not in the conversation.”

“I see this moment in time as a moment of opportunity for religion or faith,” said Rabbi Ari Berman, the president of Yeshiva University, a Jewish institution in New York. “I look at the world and the way things are analyzed or thought about, I see that there’s place for us now that is profound and necessary.”

Rabbi Berman referred to a center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where researchers recently grappled with the question of how to resolve the famous “trolley car problem” in relation to self-driving cars -- how they should be programmed to respond to situations in which there are two options, both of which will result in fatally striking a person or group of people.

“How did they resolve one of the great philosophical challenges or ethical issues of our time?” Rabbi Berman asked. “They took a survey.”

“They took a survey,” he said, seemingly disbelievingly. “We come with a 3,000-year-old tradition of wisdom, of texts, of substance, of ideas, of values, of nuance. And we bring that to contemporary issues and challenges and we are able to speak with weight.”

Editorial Tags: Religious collegesImage Source: Courtesy of Council of Christian Colleges and UniversitiesImage Caption: The ecumenical presidential panel. From left: Brigham Young University's Kevin J. Worthen, Yeshiva University's Ari Berman, Regis University's John Fitzgibbons, Zaytuna College's Hamza Yusuf, Houghton College's Shirley Mullen and moderator Peter Wehner.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 
Categories: Higher Education News