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Brown University and others consider lessons of its open curriculum, now 50 years old

May 6, 2019 - 5:00pm

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Fifty years ago, Brown University adopted a "New Curriculum," in which distribution requirements were dropped and course selection was left in the hands of undergraduates who could define their own educational goals. The changes were adopted based on a 400-page report drafted by students and debated by hundreds (most of them students) in lengthy conversations on campus, most of them long outdoor sessions.

The process played out in a time of turmoil at many campuses, an era in which many college leaders agreed to demands to calm things down. Brown is notable, however, in that the curriculum adopted then remains in place. Perhaps realizing the difficulty of calling something that is 50 years old "new," Brown now calls it the "open curriculum." And the university sees the curriculum, and the philosophy of that 50-year-old report, as central to Brown's identity.

On Friday and Saturday, Brown leaders gathered with academics from other colleges -- mostly elite private institutions -- to consider the relevance of the Brown curriculum today. Only a few colleges have adopted similarly open curricula, and some have criticized the curriculum for not sufficiently guiding students to make good educational decisions. But many here see elements of the Brown philosophy -- particularly in viewing undergraduates as active learners, able to make key decisions for themselves -- as relevant for many colleges, including those with much more structure in the curriculum than Brown has.

At the same time, many here expressed fears that innovation may be more difficult today than it was when Brown adopted its changes in 1969, and that society may be less supportive of liberal arts education in any form than it was then.

Rashid Zia, dean of the college at Brown, said that the ideas from 1969 are "enduring" at Brown and noted that they were codified in Brown's official rules and regulations -- even if the statements there seem more rules to prevent the faculty from taking too much control away from students.

The rules state: "At Brown University, the purpose of education for the undergraduate is to foster the intellectual and personal growth of the individual student. The student, ultimately responsible for his or her own development in both of these areas, must be an active participant in framing his or her own education. A central aspect of this development is the relationship of the student with professors and fellow students and with the material they approach together. Structures, rules, and regulations of the university should facilitate these relationships and should provide the student with the maximum opportunity to formulate and achieve his or her educational objectives."

Zia and others here stressed that elements of the report that led to reforms at Brown were not just about requirements -- even if the end of distribution requirements received the most attention.

Indeed parts of the report seem ahead of the curve on other issues. There is a lengthy section on lectures that reads like a call for flipping the classroom (even if online options wouldn't have been available at the time for any part of the flipping).

"If a lecture is dully delivered it can be the deadliest experience a student will encounter in college," the report says. "Some professors, no matter how good they are as scholars and teachers, do not have the abilities necessary to be good lecturers, abilities which may involve such nonscholarly traits as showmanship and humor. Other problems with lectures result when students must note-take to the point where listening, and comprehension, is impossible. Being afraid to miss any of the 'important material' that the professor is presenting, the students write down as much as they possibly can; yet often when students emerge from a lecture with pages of notes, they do not know what the lecture was about."

The report goes on -- in ways that were shocking then, but not today -- to say, "Being a good lecturer is not the equivalent of being a good teacher. It is our belief that these professors should perhaps use other teaching methods, such as the discussion group or the tutorial, or should modify the basic three-lecture-per-week structure of the course. Some possible modifications would be the use of a discussion section … the increased implementation of a question and answer period, or possibly even the increase of office hours."

What Is Student-Focused Innovation Today?

In an era when discussion sections don't count as innovation, what does?

Peter Felten and Sophia Abbot, both from Elon University, led a discussion on viewing students as "partners" in learning.

Felten acknowledged that this is not simple. He recalled a discussion with a faculty member who said, "I have a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and my students do not."

That comment "is fair," Felten said. But he argued that "the job" of teaching organic chemistry is "not for the faculty member to demonstrate her expertise."

By listening to students about the learning process, and making adjustments, more learning will take place -- without sacrificing the substance of what is taught.

Felten and Abbot -- along with Brown students -- discussed Brown programs (far more recent than the curricular reforms of 50 years ago) that have undergraduates assist professors with writing and other tasks in courses. These students are not teaching assistants in the model of many research universities. They don't grade or lead classes. They focus on helping students, one by one, and sharing information with faculty members on what is and isn't working in class. The Brown students said that the experience of doing so made them stronger students.

A topic that came up throughout the conference was about whether ideas in play at Brown, however successful there, could be used elsewhere.

Felten said that some in the audience were probably thinking, "Yeah, you can do this at Brown, where you have brilliant students in small classes. But can you do this at a huge state institution or a community college?"

He also said that many students -- particularly those who may not have attended good high schools -- have been taught to be "receptacles," not active learners able to teach their instructors a thing or two.

All of that's true, he said. But he added that he hoped people with different student populations and different missions consider what they can learn from Brown.

"Context matters," he said, "but that doesn't mean you can't partner with your students. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to this."

One participant here from a liberal arts college said he loved the ideas behind this role for students, but he stressed that there are many obligations for the colleges. The moment undergraduates are playing a role in class beyond just being a peer, colleges need to be sure they are trained on issues of sexual harassment and discrimination, mental health and more. Just because students may be aware of their duties as students doesn't mean they will know their obligations if they are playing any formal role in class.

Who Gets to Participate?

Brown and other elite colleges are receiving considerable criticism these days for policies and practices many see as favoring the wealthy -- in admissions and the student experience. Brown's president, Christina Paxson​, last month announced a review of policies on "fairness" in admissions and in student life.

One presentation here argued that the spirit of student engagement hailed by Brown in celebrating the golden anniversary of curricular reform needs to go further -- into thinking about which students get to participate in engaging programs.

Timothy Eatman, dean of the Honors Living-Learning Community at Rutgers University at Newark, described the academic and nonacademic programming that participants in the program receive. The student population is largely from Newark and low income. Students are from every ethnic and racial group. They include community college transfers. They include the formerly incarcerated.

Eatman argued that you cannot limit innovation in the liberal arts to those who could get into Brown. Those who apply to the program come together in groups of eight or so to work on problems together with a faculty member or someone else observing. Then some are invited for interviews. Standardized testing and other traditional measures of worthiness for an honors program are not used.

"Honors is as diverse as you can get at Rutgers," he said.

Attendees from elite colleges generally said that they admired Eatman's program and saw it as consistent with some of the values of Brown 1969. But these participants also said that they couldn't imagine making decisions about students at their institutions (or being permitted to do so) the way Eatman and his colleagues do.

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Doane U suspends library director over exhibit that included 1920s-era students in blackface

May 6, 2019 - 5:00pm

Doane University in Nebraska shuttered a library exhibit and put a librarian on leave over historical photos of students in blackface. The university says the images ran counter to its values and, as presented, served no educational purpose. Some of the librarian’s faculty supporters disagree and say that Doane interfered in a learning moment, albeit a painful one, that their colleague was already working to right. 

“Were some of our students genuinely offended or hurt by the library display? Yes,” said Brian Pauwels, associate professor of psychology at Doane and vice president of the campus’s American Association of University Professors advocacy chapter. “Was suspending the librarian in response to that hurt heavy-handed and in violation of the academic freedom that is necessary to do her difficult job every day?”

Pauwels continued, “Can’t the answer to both questions be yes? Because lots of people want us to pick one or the other. These are values that are hard to define, and now they’re colliding with one another.”

Other professors think Doane made the right call. 

Mark Orsag, professor of history, said this is "primarily a common sense and respect issue and not an academic freedom issue.” As the photos in the display were not "contextualized at all,” he said, there "was really no education taking place.” 

The director of the Crete campus's Perkins Library, Melissa Gomis, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Doane’s AAUP chapter just approved a statement condemning Gomis's suspension and Doane's actions against the exhibit as censorship.

According to that statement and other accounts, Doane’s library staff in March curated an exhibit of historical photographs and other memorabilia from student scrapbooks housed in university archives. In late April, a student complained about two photographs in a display called "Parties of the Past." The photos showed students attending a 1926 Halloween party, apparently in blackface. A blurb from a local newspaper at the time indicated it was a campus masquerade party. But there was no accompanying note from the curators explaining why the photos were included.

Many historians have argued that there is value in showing the presence of racism at universities and in other parts of society, even if such visibility makes people uncomfortable today. Many also argue for contextualizing this kind of content.

After speaking with the concerned student, Gomis decided to remove the blackface photos due -- according to the AAUP -- “to genuine concern for the student while also recognizing the current atmosphere of elevated sensitivity on many college campuses.” Indeed, a number of campuses have this year been forced to acknowledge blackface incidents in their own not-so-distant pasts.

Then last week, under orders from the provost, the entire exhibit was removed. That same day, Gomis was told to collect her things from her office and suspended indefinitely.

Gomis's suspension, AAUP says, is the “consequence of a grievance complaint about the exhibit, prior to initiation of an investigation.”

Citing censorship guidelines from the American Library Association, Doane’s AAUP chapter describes the university’s forced removal of the exhibit as “an unambiguous example of censorship,” coming from “outside the library performed by a person with no training in library and archival science.” That’s in contrast to Gomis’s initial self-censorship, which was “driven by her genuine concern to respond to the student and to avoid external censorship.”

When an educator "is pressured to remove content from a lecture, lesson or display that was created according to the current methods of the profession, then a violation of academic freedom has occurred,” AAUP also says.

Academic Freedom and Censorship

Also last week, President Jacque Carter sent an all-campus memo saying that blackface “has a history of dehumanization and stereotyping, which perpetuates systemic racism in society.” He apologized for the photos and the hurt they’d caused.

“Such an insensitive action is unacceptable and will not be tolerated now or in the future,” Carter wrote.

Doane's AAUP took issue with that statement, saying that an environment in which a president can judge exhibits as "sufficiently controversial or offensive that they must be removed partially or in their entirety at the president’s discretion" constitutes "an infringement of the academic freedom that is essential to the work of Director Gomis, all other faculty and, by extension, the students of the university."

Much of the criticism of Gomis has centered on the fact that the exhibit itself did not acknowledge that the photos showed students in blackface. Did Gomis intend that, for some educational purpose, or was it professional negligence?

Pauwels said Gomis made the professional judgment not to include an explainer, and that the university should have deferred to her expertise. “Carelessness was not an issue here.”

What would have been appropriate, sufficient language to note that students at Doane once thought blackface was fun, he asked rhetorically.

Asked if that was an implicit argument against trigger warnings of any kind, Pauwels said no -- and that that choice should be left up to educators. The guiding principles in such matters should be deference to disciplinary expertise and commitment to letting the process of educational dialogue play out, he said, however undervalued those principles are outside college and university settings of late.

“The university should have exercised some restraint, and I just fail to see why that didn’t happen here.”

A Failure of Common Sense?

Orsag, the historian, said the photos, without context, were "clearly disrespectful to the African-American faculty, staff and students on this campus.” Given national controversies over similar pictures, he added, "putting those photos up in that manner was tone-deaf in the extreme and demonstrated a fundamental lack of common sense.”

Academic freedom "carries with it the responsibility to act respectfully, with fairness and with common sense," he added, arguing that "such offensive displays" are explicitly against Doane's anti-harassment policy.

Amanda McKinney, executive director of Doane’s Institute for Human and Planetary Health and director of its Open Learning Academy, said the key issue is not content but context. 

"Words matter, including their omission,” McKinney said. "There was nothing there with the pictures to indicate whether this was right or wrong, racist or not, condoned by the librarian or not.” Given the display title, one "might even think we were celebrating it. That's the crux of the issue,” she added. 

McKinney also noted that the display was located immediately outside the library, in a high-traffic area, where there is no opting in or out of the viewing experience.    Quoting AAUP’s policy on academic freedom, McKinney said that teachers "are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject.” Additionally, she continued, quoting the AAUP, professors’ "special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances.”   McKinney said that Doane was within its rights to suspend Gomis under its anti-harassment policy, pending the investigation. Saying she thought it was unlikely that Gomis would be fired, McKinney called for "a university-wide conversation about this issue that includes all its many facets.”    Of the ongoing investigation, Orsag said, “Let the facts, as revealed, guide the decision.”   Melissa Clouse, director of pre-health programs at Doane,  said she doesn’t "shy away from difficult discussions" when they're "beneficial to the learning objectives that I have for my students within the context of the classes I teach.” At the same time, Clouse said she has a "responsibility to be guided by respect for my students, and to provide context and an environment where learning can occur within explorations of difficult topics.”    As someone who is "keenly aware of the innate power differential between faculty members and the students that we work with," Clouse said that any "semblance of disregarding or abusing that power dynamic is detrimental to learning and to a healthy educational environment."   Librarians and Free Inquiry   Do librarians have academic freedom? The AAUP endorses granting librarians faculty status, mainly so that they’re guaranteed it.   Doane’s AAUP statement says that some observers "may object that a library is not a classroom and therefore librarians do not require academic freedom. However, we assert that the library is a fundamental classroom, where knowledge and learning begin."   The document cites a joint a joint statement by the AAUP and the Association of College and Research Libraries asserting that college and university librarians “share the professional concerns of faculty members. Academic freedom, for example, is indispensable to librarians, because they are trustees of knowledge with the responsibility of ensuring the availability of information and ideas, no matter how controversial, so that teachers may freely teach and students may freely learn."   Key to the Doane case, that joint statement also said that as members of the academic community, "librarians should have latitude in the exercise of their professional judgment within the library, a share in shaping policy within the institution and adequate opportunities for professional development and appropriate reward."   Doane’s AAUP chapter further argues that librarians “are particularly vulnerable to sanctions resulting from public disapproval of their collections and exhibits,” since they deal with an “enormous range of materials that inevitably will include items that some, and perhaps even many, will find objectionable.” And unlike professors in a dynamic classroom setting, the chapter wrote, librarians can’t “respond instantly to questions or reactions from their audience, or explain in the moment their decision-making process in presenting such materials.”   Pauwels argued that the broader issue is that one instance of even well-meaning censorship sets the stage for worrisome instances of censorship going forward. Defending academic freedom “here and in the long term” ultimately ends up benefiting students, he said.   Carter declined an interview request, citing the ongoing investigation. A spokesperson reiterated that Gomis was not escorted off campus by security.   The university said in a statement that a display of photographs placed outside the library “included offensive photos -- taken in the 1920s -- showing some students in blackface. There was no context around the photos and it was not used in an educational way.”   After a “concerned student expressed a complaint about the photos, the photos were removed,” Doane said. “We apologize for the display of those photos and for the pain they have caused. Blackface is hurtful and racist and has no place at this institution without educational context surrounding it.”   Doane also said that the photos “ran counter” to its “beliefs and values,” and that the university strives “to be an inclusive university that welcomes students, faculty and staff members from all backgrounds and walks of life.”   The university has made “important progress over the years, but events such as this remind us of the work that lies ahead,” it said. “We intend to use this as an opportunity for growth within our entire campus community.” Academic FreedomFacultyLibraries and PublishingEditorial Tags: Academic freedomFacultyLibrariesRacial groupsImage Caption: Melissa GomisIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box: 
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Far-right government in Brazil slashes university funding, threatens cuts to philosophy and sociology

May 6, 2019 - 5:00pm

First, they announced they were considering withdrawing funding from sociology and philosophy programs. Writing on Twitter a week ago Friday, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro said, “the goal is to focus on areas that will have immediate return to taxpayers, such as veterinary medicine, engineering and medicine.”

Then, they said there would be 30 percent cuts to three major federal universities: the University of Brasília, the Fluminense Federal University and the Federal University of Bahia. Brazil’s new minister of education, Abraham Weintraub, said the three universities -- all three of which are respected internationally -- are underperforming academically and hold "ridiculous" and partisan events. "The university must have a surplus of money to be making such a mess and organizing ridiculous events," he told the O Estado de São Paulo. The newspaper reported that he gave as examples of this mess "Members of the Landless Workers' Movement inside the campuses, naked people inside the campuses."

Then, they announced that the 30 percent cuts would apply not just to those three universities, but to all of Brazil’s federal universities. Higher education policy experts clarified that the proposed cuts do not affect faculty salaries -- faculty at the federal universities are civil servants -- but instead target the maintenance budgets of the universities, things like electricity and staff travel.

It has, in short, been an eventful 10 days for Brazilian higher education. Experts see the cuts to federal university budgets and threatened cuts to specific programs as ideologically motivated and part of a broader effort by the Bolsonaro government to roll back the signature achievement of former left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of expanding access to higher education.

“Bolsonaro campaigned on ending supposed leftist indoctrination in schools, so he’s going to make that happen,” said Jason Stanley, the Jacob Urowsky Professor of Philosophy at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, in which he wrote about international attacks by far-right governments on higher education (Penguin Random House, 2018).

“What we’ve been waiting to see is when there would be changes in policies for budgeting. It’s now coming,” said James N. Green, the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Modern Latin American History at Brown University.

“First, they were singling out the universities [seen] as particularly intransigent, the Federal University of Bahia, the University of Brasilia and Fluminense Federal University. These are excellent universities, some of the top universities; they also have people within them who have organized events criticizing Bolsonaro,” Green said.

“Then it was made clear that you couldn’t target the universities to cut the funding without any real basis; they decided to expand it to 30 percent across the board, but the intentions were very clear,” Green said. “It’s to punish universities.”

The Estado reported that the initial 30 percent cuts to the three federal universities were part of about $1.5 billion in cuts to the Ministry of Education. "I can cut and unfortunately, I have to cut from somewhere," Weintraub, the education minister, said.

Weintraub, who was nominated for his post in April and is the second education minister since Bolsonaro assumed the presidency in January, has also said that the government’s priority is elementary and secondary education. “In the government plan that elected President Jair Bolsonaro, it was very clear, it was explicit, that our priority was basic education and preschool,” he said in a video posted on Twitter seemingly in response to protests regarding the cuts. “An undergraduate student costs 30,000 reais per year; a student in a day-care center costs 3,000 reais per year. For each undergraduate student I enroll in college, I could have 10 children in a day-care center -- children who are generally in a low-income family, poorer, more needy and who do not have day care for them today. What would you if you were in my position?”

In Brazil, however, the federal government has a relatively limited role in financing K-12 education, which is primarily financed by states and municipalities. “There is a real situation of budget constraints,” said Simon Schwartzman, an expert on Brazilian education and a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences. “But this kind of decision to cut 30 percent across the board [at federal universities] combines the need to make cuts with anti-intellectual reasons.”

“Announcing this specific set of cuts -- the 30 percent cut -- is absolutely ideologically motivated. There’s no other way to see it, because it wouldn’t be enough money to make a difference in public financing,” said Justin Axel-Berg, an associate researcher of higher education policy at the University of São Paulo. He added that the topic of cuts hadn’t been discussed until two to three weeks ago after Weintraub took office.

“This is a man who has been in his job for less than a month wanting to make an immediate impact,” Axel-Berg said.

Weintraub, an economist who before becoming education minister was a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo, has been a proponent of countering leftist ideology in universities and overcoming what’s described as “cultural Marxism.” He recently defended what he sees as the right of students to film their teachers in the classroom.

“This new minister has adopted this anti-cultural Marxist rhetoric of the entire Bolsonaro administration,” said Stephanie Reist, a postdoctoral researcher in education policy at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro. “They just say ‘cultural Marxism.’ It doesn’t mean anything, but they’re very much against any kind of critical race theory or feminism, or any sort of critical studies writ large.”

The proposal to defund philosophy and sociology programs has attracted worldwide outrage, though Axel-Berg cautioned that in the era of Bolsonaro it is difficult to separate proclamations on social media that may or may not have substance behind them from serious policy proposals. “How this is going to be achieved, nobody has any idea,” Axel-Berg said. “These aren’t people who have any kind of experience with higher education, with universities. It’s noise on Twitter being played to their electoral base.”

International academics are, however, taking the threat seriously. The American Philosophical Association and the American Sociological Association joined with several other groups in writing a letter protesting the move. Thousands of international academics have signed open letters. One such letter describes the attack on philosophy and sociology as “an attack on the very fabric of a democratic society.” Another letter says Bolsonaro’s “intent to defund sociology programs is an affront to the discipline, to the academy and, most broadly, to the human pursuit of knowledge. This proposal is ill conceived and violates principles of academic freedom that ought to be integral to systems of higher education in Brazil, in the United States and across the globe.”

Stanley, the Yale philosophy professor and author of How Fascism Works, said what’s happening in Brazil should be “a canary in the coal mine” for American academics. “This is not some exotic thing,” he said. “This is an international, worldwide far-right attack on the universities that is if anything more mainstream in the United States than in Brazil.”

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Colorado State, citing potential sex assaults, tries to shut down Undie Run

May 6, 2019 - 5:00pm

In an annual tradition, the students of Colorado State University strip to their underwear at the end of the academic year and dash across the campus in what is known as the Undie Run. This is a celebration before final exams, a way of students airing stress in a way that many of them perceive to be harmless.

But administrators want to shut it down.

One of their primary reasons? That participants, particularly women, have reported being sexually assaulted during the run and at parties held afterward -- an argument, students and other critics say, that smacks of victim blaming.

Online and in interviews with Inside Higher Ed, these Undie Run supporters say that linking students’ (admittedly minimal) attire to sexual violence promotes the idea that the survivors were somehow asking to be assaulted if they ran around publicly in their underwear.

Campus rape has been a long-standing issue for colleges and universities, though administrators’ handling of such cases has come under new scrutiny.

Though few colleges have radically changed the way they investigate and judge these cases, they are under new pressure to respond to sexual assault.

“I think that, primarily in my experience, that schools are motivated by press,” said Faith Ferber, a student engagement organizer with activist group Know Your IX. “And if a lot of people are assaulted at this Undie Run, and there’s an article about it, that their school is getting bad press, they have a rape problem, schools are afraid of that. They want to do whatever they can shut those things down.”

Organizers of the run have been hyping it up far before its scheduled date on May 10. But administrators have engaged in a full-court press against the event, saying they will ask police to monitor illegal activity and have emailed parents an explanation of why they are intent on stopping it.

One official, Jody Donovan, the assistant vice president for student affairs and dean of students, even wrote on the Undie Run Facebook event from her personal account, listing all the reasons the university will not allow it. She also has responded to students who said that the university’s policies can’t stop them from participating.

“If there is an indication that there will continue to be plans to assemble, there will be a heightened police presence on campus and off campus,” Donovan wrote on Facebook. “If there are plans to assemble off campus, police and university volunteers will also respond. If people assemble, police will take video of the area. Images will be used to follow up on complaints and potential criminal incidents to identify individuals who behave inappropriately.”

An identical message was sent to students and their families -- as well as other colleges in the area, said spokeswoman Dell Rae Ciaravola. This detailed how students could report sexual assaults.

In addition to concerns about sexual violence associated with the run, administrators said they have observed outsiders photographing or filming the run, and they have posted those images online or used them without students’ consent.

Colleges should inform students about potential risks outside sexual assault, said Jess Davidson, the executive director of advocacy group End Rape on Campus. Administrators can flag the potential for students’ pictures to be taken, but ultimately, they’re making the decision, Davidson said. She also said that she thinks the focus on photo taking is a bit of a red herring.

“Most students know if they’re running around in their underwear outside, people are going to be posting it to social media,” Davidson said. “There will be friends taking pictures and putting it up; Instagram stories are going to be happening with the Undie Run. Students are aware of that.”

The university said it estimates the run has forced officials to pay about $150,000 to cover property damages and security, too.

Ciaravola did not respond to additional questions from Inside Higher Ed, including the college’s response over the sexual assault criticism.

Students online blasted administrators and complained the event had gone off without a hitch in previous years.

“My favorite part is when they said it makes it easier for girls to get groped by men when rapists literally hurt women fully clothed,” Andrea Goff, a student, wrote on Facebook. “It’s not about what you're wearing and that’s just another excuse. Don't blame the victim because they wanted to participate in a tradition where we should all be respectful of each other, regardless of how much or little we're wearing. Underwear doesn't change that.”

The organizers of the Undie Run did not respond to request for comment.

Ann M. Little, a history professor at Colorado State, posted to Twitter after she received the emailed warnings for students -- she agreed with administrators

“I understand and agree mostly with the public and personal safety issues our campus police raise about the Undie Run,” Little wrote, adding, jokingly, the easiest way to shut down the jaunt around campus would be to send out administrators and faculty sans clothes.

Races involving partial nudity are certainly not confined to the Colorado State campus. Colleges across the country hold similar rituals, and there are videos online to prove it -- among them the University of California, Los Angeles; UC Irvine; Oregon State University and Northeastern University.

Davidson said that such events always inspire debate about whether they facilitate rape. But she said if Colorado State wanted to help its students, it wouldn’t impose a full ban on the Undie Run. Officials should be teaching students about “bystander intervention” -- how to step in when you witness sexual violence, or offer a ride service so students who have been drinking have a way to arrive home safely, Davidson said.

“It just sends the message that it is the fault of the individual who is running in their underwear,” Davidson said.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

May 6, 2019 - 5:00pm
  • Alfred University: Marlin Miller, business leader and philanthropist.
  • Baruch College of the City University of New York: Carl E. Heastie, speaker of the New York State Assembly.
  • Boston University: Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Chaffey College: Yasmin Davidds, CEO of the Multicultural Women’s Leadership Institute and the Women’s Institute of Negotiation.
  • Cranbrook Academy of Art: Carole Harris, the artist.
  • Drury University: Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of the late Reverend Oliver L. Brown, namesake of the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
  • East Tennessee State University: Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission; and Scott Lillibridge, senior medical adviser to the International Medical Corps.
  • Loyola University Chicago: Ellen Alberding, president of the Joyce Foundation; and others.
  • Manchester Community College, in Connecticut: Connecticut attorney general William Tong.
  • Maria College, in New York: Sister Marilyn Lacey, founder and executive director of Mercy Beyond Borders.
  • Monroe Community College, of the State University of New York: Tokeya C. Graham, associate professor of English and philosophy at the college.
  • Park University: Reggie Robinson, vice chancellor for public affairs at the University of Kansas.
  • Ramapo College of New Jersey: Tiki Barber, the author and former New York Giants football player.
  • Randolph-Macon College: Alan B. Rashkind, a lawyer and the college's outgoing board chair.
  • Rollins College: Robiaun Rogers Charles, vice president of advancement at Agnes Scott College; and others.
  • St. John’s University, in New York: Margaret M. Keane, CEO of Synchrony.
  • University of Miami, in Florida: Drew Gilpin Faust, former president of Harvard University; and others.
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North Carolina press seeks sustainable open-access model for monographs

May 3, 2019 - 5:00pm

The University of North Carolina Press is leading an experiment to significantly lower the cost of producing scholarly books -- an important step toward a sustainable open-access publishing model for monographs.

Many university presses have experimented with open-access monographs, but few have transitioned away from charging fees for most work, as they are unable to do so sustainably, said John Sherer, director of UNC Press.

A big part of the problem is that monographs are incredibly expensive to produce. A 2016 Ithaka S+R study found that monographs can cost anywhere from $15,140 to $129,909 to publish depending on overhead, staff time, design, production and marketing costs. In contrast, a typical science journal might charge around $2,000 to make an article free to read.

While there are some libraries, universities and research funders willing to offer generous subsidies to university presses in order to help them publish OA monographs, many are unwilling to prop the system up at scale, said Sherer.

One ambitious OA monograph initiative, Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME), offers university presses subsidies of $15,000 per book. Sherer’s project aims to demonstrate that a subsidy of $7,000 could suffice.

By streamlining workflows, Sherer believes university presses could make their processes much more efficient and cost-effective. He also hopes that by making digital copies of monographs free for anyone to download, university presses might actually sell more print copies of books than before.  

Presses Participating in the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot: 

  • University of British Columbia Press
  • University Press of Colorado
  • Cornell University Press
  • Fordham University Press
  • University of Georgia Press
  • University of Hawaii Press
  • Kent State University Press
  • Liverpool University Press
  • Louisiana State University Press
  • Manchester University Press
  • University of Michigan Press
  • University Press of Mississippi
  • University of Nebraska Press
  • University of New Mexico Press
  • University of North Carolina Press
  • Oxford University Press
  • University of Rochester Press
  • University of Virginia Press
  • University of Washington Press

To test scholars' appetite for digital books, each title will be published initially only in a digital format. After a 90-day embargo period, scholars will be offered the option to buy a print copy. 

“Our hypothesis is that making monographs open and digital might actually help to expose them to new audiences,” said Sherer. “If that gets proven -- and we’ll be testing it pretty heavily -- it could mean the books sell better than if the digital version had been paywalled.”

It is unclear whether, given the option to access the digital content for free, many people will choose to purchase print, acknowledges Sherer. But there are several studies indicating that scholars in the humanities prefer engaging with print texts over digital ones, he said. 

Sherer was awarded $950,000 by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in July 2018 to support the pilot, which will focus on work by historians. The project, called the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot, has so far recruited 19 university presses to participate. The presses will work collaboratively with Longleaf Services, a not-for-profit publishing services provider owned by UNC Press.

The project’s aim is to publish 75 OA monographs over the next three years. With match funding from authors' home institutions, the project could publish up to 150 books. 

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Each university press involved in the project will carry out the same acquisition and peer-review process, said Sherer. But rather than creating a custom cover and formatting the text for each book as they have before, participating university presses will be encouraged to use the design templates and automated typesetting provided in web-based monograph production platform Editoria -- an open-source tool developed by the University of California Press, the California Digital Library and the Collaborative Knowledge Foundation.

The books may not have the design flair some scholars have come to expect, and that may be off-putting for some authors, said Sherer. But he argues for specialized titles, which are likely to have a small audience, it simply doesn’t make sense for the press to spend a fortune on appearances. The important thing is to disseminate the scholarship as widely as possible.

“The crucial thing with the OA History Monograph project is that the simplified format is the first iteration, but the door is left open for a more elaborate edition later should the reception of the simplified version be particularly positive,” said Charles Watkinson, director of the University of Michigan Press, which is participating in the pilot.

The book cover and formatting may follow a template, but that doesn’t mean it has to be ugly, said Watkinson. “It is necessary and possible to create a handsome-looking simplified OA version; cover templates, for example, can be very beautiful if done well.”

Aside from aesthetics, there is another hurdle to overcome in persuading authors to participate in the project -- a lack of knowledge about open-access publishing, said Seth Denbo, director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives for the American Historical Association.

“Most historians don’t spend a lot of time thinking about scholarly communication. We write books, and publishers publish them,” said Denbo, who is advising the pilot. Though awareness of open-access publishing is growing, Denbo suggests many authors might not fully understand what open access publishing means or believe it holds negative connotations. “There’s a perception that it’s not good quality, that it’s thrown up on the web with no peer review.”

Historians are unlikely to make great fortunes from authoring monographs, but the fact that they won’t make money from the digital sales of their book could give some scholars pause, said Denbo. On the other hand, the pilot "could allow us to publish scholarship that was previously unpublishable," he said, particularly if the work is an obscure field. 

"That's one big difference with monographs, authors get money when a book sells, which doesn't happen for journals ever," said Jeff Kosokoff, assistant university librarian for collection strategy at Duke University. But he doesn't think the loss of income would be a huge deterrent to authors considering making their work open-access. "I think most authors will tell you that income is very small." 

In both journal and book publishing, though the sales model is very different, the objective of the author is usually the same, said Kosokoff. "Authors want to get tenure, have an impact, engage in conversations, raise their stature and become known and acknowledged for being good scholars." 

The stripped-back approach to formatting being tested in the OA monograph pilot might not be right for everyone -- particularly those working in the digital humanities, said Denbo. There are other monograph initiatives, such as Lever Press, that are pushing the boundaries of what monographs can be -- incorporating images, videos and 3-D models.

There is room for lots of experimentation and a variety of approaches, said Denbo. The most important objective is to make historians' work more accessible and visible, he said.

“We have a real problem with the broad discoverability of our ideas."  

Challenging Economics

It can often take university presses two to three years to recoup the costs they put into producing a book, and many operate on tight budgets, said Sherer. Just this week, Stanford University threatened to pull financial support for Stanford University Press.

“Creating affordable, high-quality monographs is inherently deficit publishing, and yet it’s at the core of what university presses do,” said Sherer. “That doesn’t mean presses shouldn’t be striving for sustainability, even if it requires a significant change in how presses operate. And that’s exactly the type of intervention we’re attempting.”

“The scaling and standardization and digital-first features we’re embracing make many people uncomfortable,” he said. “While our project is simply a pilot with limited funding, we do believe that in the long run, institutions might be more willing to fund high-quality monographs that are produced at lower costs and harness the power of the web to distribute exponentially more broadly than we’ve ever been able to before.”

Open access monographs often rely on patronage from libraries, universities or research funders, but this patronage can be hard to come by, said Don Waters, senior program officer for scholarly communications at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

While the Mellon Foundation has been happy to support experiments that build publishers' capacity to produce open access books, it doesn't want to become the funding mechanism for publishing these books in the long-term, said Waters. 

"We are not as passionate about open access as we are about providing the means for scholars to use the digital environment to communicate their ideas. That's really the objective of our funding," said Waters. "To do that in a way that is affordable for all the parties involved is a really delicate balance."

For many university presses, the digital publishing realm is still new, and "actually pretty expensive" because it is not yet familiar, said Waters. "With practice and imagination, we expect the costs to come down."

Not only will the OA history monograph pilot introduce new digital publishing practices to university presses, but it will also help them gauge interest and demand in new titles before going to print, said Waters. "That is a really wonderful idea." 

Martin Eve, professor of literature, technology and publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, said the economics of monographs make open-access publishing challenging, even for the most well-funded presses.

There are lots of interesting OA monograph initiatives out there, but many have limited resources, said Kosokoff. "I think people haven't been willing to take the risk to lead a real transformation." 

There are several open-access initiatives, such as Knowledge Unlatched, which have crowdsourced funds from libraries to make scholarly books open access. This model has “shown great promise in mitigating the economic challenges,” said Eve. But when Knowledge Unlatched became a for-profit company, it lost some support from librarians, he said.

Groups like ScholarLed, punctum books, Open Humanities Press and Open Book Publishers are making encouraging progress but are still operating on a small scale, said Eve.

“I hope for a universal open-access ecosystem for books, but the economics remain tough,” said Eve. “That said, we manage to pay for the books that are published at present (they are, after all, published). Figuring out how to redistribute those costs for OA, in a fair way, is the core challenge in my view.”

The nature of monograph publishing and a shortage of funding in the humanities and social sciences “makes it tough to find a sustainable model” for OA publishing, agrees Watkinson. That said, there are open monograph publishers, such as LuminosOA from the University of California, which have been successful in seeking funding from a mixture of sources -- institutional support, print sales and membership schemes. 

“There is such a strong move toward open-access journals and articles at the moment. I worry that if specialist monographs don’t go open access, the work of humanists and qualitative social scientists who work in long-form modes will become less visible,” said Watkinson.

“I don’t want monographs to be left behind.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Poll: Support for free college among young people

May 3, 2019 - 5:00pm

More than half of young adults, many of them in the traditional college age range, support plans to make public universities free, even if it costs billions of dollars, according to new data from Harvard University.

The Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School has released an annual poll -- notable in that it’s created by undergraduates -- for two decades. The poll asks about many of the issues du jour, and the students with the institute this year included questions about free college plans, which have come under new scrutiny as candidates for the 2020 presidential election ramp up their campaigns.

The students polled more than 3,000 people ages 18 to 29. About 51 percent of those who answered the poll said they to some degree supported free college.

Proposals for tuition-free college can vary. In their question, the students posed making community college free and four-year institutions free for all families who earn $125,000 and under a year. Even with the $47 billion price tag the students estimated for the plan, more than half still agreed. An earlier version of the poll had asked about free college without a cost estimate and support only dropped by five percentage points, from 56 to 51 percent.

About 29 percent of respondents said they didn’t support free college. The remainder of the poll takers either were unsure or declined to answer the question. Unsurprisingly, adults who identified as Democrats were more supportive of a prospective free-college plan than were their conservative counterparts. About 65 percent of Democrats backed free college versus 32 percent of Republicans.

In a statement, Mark D. Gearan, the institute’s director, noted how influential a role students played in policy making and the just-past midterm election.

“This presidential election serves as a consequential moment in time to shape how young Americans engage in politics, and I hope candidates thoughtfully listen and engage with their agenda,” Gearan said in his statement.

A new poll from Quinnipiac University found that voters (across age groups) were mixed about free college -- about 52 percent were against plans, and 45 percent were in favor of them.

The Harvard poll posed other higher education-related questions, too.

Roughly 53 percent of respondents said they trusted their college or university administrators all or most of the time. Other research has shown a declining confidence in higher education, particularly among conservatives, however, the Harvard poll revealed little difference depending on party. About 59 percent of Democrats reported they trust college officials, compared to 55 percent of Republicans.

Only 7 percent of the poll takers said they never trust their college administrators.

Confidence in elected officials was particularly low -- 19 percent of young adults said they trusted Congress all or most of the time, and only 23 percent trusted the president. About 21 percent reported trusting the federal government. Trust with media was also mixed -- 14 percent said they trusted news all or most of the time, but 47 percent said they trusted it sometimes.

The respondents on the ease of securing a job after graduating college were split.

About 55 percent of the adults said it was difficult to find a job, and 42 percent found it easy. Three percent did not answer the question.

Differences did emerge with party affiliation for this question -- 65 percent of Democrats said it was hard to get a job compared to 33 percent of Republicans. And 66 percent of Republicans reported they thought it was easy to find a job versus 35 percent of Democrats.

Women also reported they found it harder than men to find a job -- 60 percent of women indicated that they thought it was difficult and 48 percent of men did.

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Iceland's universities worry about the small numbers of male students they attract

May 3, 2019 - 5:00pm

It may be a vision of the future of the university. At the University of Iceland’s campus in central Reykjavik, every male student has on average two female course mates. At the master’s level, the ratio is nearer to one to three.

“We are seeing this concern in many countries,” says Jón Atli Benediktsson, the university’s president and rector. But the campus gender imbalance has reached an extreme extent in Iceland, a country that tops global lists for gender equality.

In Iceland as a whole, 64 percent of tertiary education students are women, according to European Union statistics. This is more than any other E.U. country, but across the bloc, women make up 54 percent of students. In only a handful do men remain the majority.

The gulf in Iceland is now so wide that Benediktsson would like to see special initiatives to get boys interested in higher education, with universities working alongside other parts of the education system such as high schools.

“We would like to have it closer to 50-50 all over,” he said, “in order to be more representative of the society as a whole.”

But the root causes of the imbalance are hard to tackle. And a focus on male disadvantage is not uncontroversial in a country where men still earn far more than women and the professoriate remains overwhelmingly male.

Iceland, surrounded by fisheries, has long offered plentiful stereotypically male work opportunities that do not require high levels of education. “Young men have better job prospects without university education than the young women,” explained Thamar Heijstra, an associate professor of sociology at the university. Men can earn more out on a fishing boat than women can in female-dominated areas such as caring and teaching, she explained, so women gravitate toward universities to boost their earning prospects.

Female-heavy campuses are also the result of pent-up demand, explained Katrín Ólafsdóttir, an assistant professor at Reykjavík University, who has written about gender inequality. Women in their 40s and 50s are studying for degrees for the first time, she said, having grown up when it was far less common for women to go to university.

“Some boys may not see the value in going to college,” said Benediktsson, and they drop out of high school in far greater numbers, moving on to places such as trade schools. Some researchers are investigating whether the dearth of men on campus has roots beyond the economic, and if boys have become disillusioned with the idea of higher education, he warned. Certainly, they need more role models in areas such as teaching and nursing, he added.

Iceland’s male graduate deficit has not yet become a political or media flashpoint, Ólafsdóttir said. “It hasn’t been politically correct to say, ‘We need to do something for the boys,’” she said. But she warned, “We should be more worried than we are.”

Courses with scarcely any men, such as playschool teacher education and social service counseling, have started to award male-only scholarships to redress the balance, explained Heijstra. “However, the effect is minimal, with only few of these scholarships being available,” she said. Legal prohibitions also make positive discrimination by universities difficult, said Benediktsson.

The nursing profession has disseminated on social media images of and interviews with male nurses, she added. But at the University of Iceland’s nursing faculty, women outnumber men 31 to one.

There is, however, still one part of the university where men are very much in the majority. In a mirror image of the student body, just under a third of full professors are women, according to the most recent statistics, from 2017.

This has improved by three percentage points since 2013, and in the same period, associate professors have become majority female. “There has been a change, but it’s been very gradual,” said Benediktsson.

Critics say Iceland basks in an “aura of gender equality,” said Heijstra, despite the persistence of inequality below the surface. “Many people in Iceland are somewhat tired of the discussion on gender equality, as it is assumed to be water under the bridge,” she said. Instead, the discussion has moved on to ask, “How about the men?” she lamented.

According to the E.U., in 2017 Icelandic men still earned 15.5 percent more per hour than women. Despite female preponderance in the lecture hall, the promise of equal wages has yet to materialize, pointed out Ólafsdóttir.

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Colleges award tenure

May 3, 2019 - 5:00pm

Bellingham Technical College

  • Anita Peng, mathematics
  • Jan Richards, English
  • Rachael Wright, welding

Cedar Crest College

  • Joshua Harrington, mathematics
  • Lindsey Welch, chemistry

Quinnipiac University

  • Iddrisu Awudu, management
  • Ruby ElKharboutly, software engineering
  • Margaret Gray, nursing
  • Mary Ho, mechanical engineering
  • Stephanie Jacobson, social work
  • Stephen McGuinn, criminal justice
  • Martine Mirrione, biomedical sciences
  • Sheila Molony, nursing
  • Rachida Parks, computer information systems
  • Jeffrey Saerys-Foy, psychology
  • Therese Sprinkle, management
  • Molly Yanity, journalism
  • Robert Yawson, management

University of Kansas

  • Subini Ancy Annamma, special education
  • Nazli Avdan, political science
  • Jordan Bass, health, sport and exercise science
  • Katie Batza, women’s, gender and sexuality studies
  • Joseph Brewer, environmental studies
  • Jonathan Brumberg, speech-language-hearing: sciences and disorders
  • Hui Cai, architecture
  • Marco Caricato, chemistry
  • Juliana Carlson, social welfare
  • Haiyang Chao, aerospace engineering
  • Andrew Denning, history
  • Abbey Dvorak, music therapy
  • Jessica Gerschultz, African and African American studies
  • Farhan Karim, architecture
  • Minyoung Kim, international business
  • Kevin Leonard, chemical and petroleum engineering
  • Remy Lequesne, civil, environmental and architectural engineering
  • Jian Li, civil, environmental and architectural engineering
  • Lin Liu, mechanical engineering
  • Lindsey Ward Lyles, urban planning program
  • Ahreum Maeng, marketing
  • Corey Maley, philosophy
  • Brittany Melton, pharmacy practice
  • Patrick Miller, political science
  • Martin Nedbal, musicology
  • Eileen Nutting, philosophy
  • Matthew O'Reilly, civil, environmental and architectural engineering
  • Bradley Osborn, music theory
  • Betsaida Reyes, librarian
  • Alessandro Salandrino, electrical engineering and computer science
  • Benjamin Sikes, ecology and evolutionary biology
  • David Slusky, economics
  • Terry Soo, mathematics
  • Daniel Tapia Takaki, physics and astronomy
  • Dai “Dan” Tran, civil, environmental and architectural engineering
  • James R. Walters, ecology and evolutionary biology
  • Amber Watts, psychology
  • Heechul Yun, electrical engineering and computer science
  • Liqin Zhao, pharmacology and toxicology
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Categories: Higher Education News

Study: When it comes to research output, where Ph.D.s get hired matters more than where they trained

May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm

A 2015 study found that “social inequality” across a range of disciplines was so bad that just 25 percent of Ph.D. institutions produced 71 to 86 percent of tenured and tenure-track professors, depending on field.

The effect was more extreme the farther up the chain the researchers looked, based on their own program ranking system: the top 10 programs in each discipline produced 1.6 to three times more faculty than even the next 10 programs. The top 11 to 20 programs produced 2.3 to 5.6 times more professors than the next 10. In theory, this reflects the quality of those programs. But critics say in-group hiring is also about snobbery.

Now computer scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder who led that earlier study say academic pedigree isn’t destiny after all -- at least in terms of future productivity.

“Our results show that the prestige of faculty’s current work environment, not their training environment, drives their future scientific productivity,” says the new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Current and past locations, meanwhile, "drive prominence.”

That is, when it comes to actual research output, where one works is more important than where one trained.

For this new study, researchers looked at productivity and prominence (measured in number of published papers and scholarly citations, respectively) for 2,453 tenure-line faculty members in 205 Ph.D.-granting computer science departments. The analysis was based on a matched-pairs experimental design. As opposed to a completely randomized design, matched pairs involve one binary factor and blocks that sort the experimental units into pairs.

The relevant time period was five years before and five years after the Ph.D.s’ first faculty appointments. The professors together accounted for over 200,000 publications and 7.4 million citations.

Regarding prominence, Ph.D.s from more prestigious programs tended to continue to accumulate citations from their work as trainees (similar to the 2015 paper, prestige here was based on an original, placement-based ranking system). But the prestige of the training programs played little to no role in how many papers the Ph.D.s wrote after their faculty placements.

For matched pairs of faculty members with appointments at similarly prestigious institutions, the person with the more prestigious Ph.D. pedigree was not more productive in the first five years posthire. That person did receive 301 more citations, on average, however.

By comparison, among matched pairs of professors with similarly prestigious training and with similar productivity and prominence, the person with the more prestigious appointment wrote 5.1 more papers during the first five years posthire. Those with more prestigious appointments also received 344 more citations, on average.

Professors at the top 20 percent of institutions in the ranking produced, on average, 17 more publications in their first five years and got 824 more citations than the faculty members at the bottom 20 percent of institutions.

Source: Samuel Way

The new study’s lead author, Samuel Way, a postdoctoral researcher in computer science at Boulder who earned his doctorate there, has said that if both he and a Ph.D. from a top program such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ended up at, say, computer science powerhouse Stanford University as professors, their research output would be the same, based on the analysis.

Why is that? Way and his co-authors -- Aaron Clauset, associate professor; Allison C. Morgan, Ph.D. candidate; and Daniel B. Larremore, assistant professor, all computer scientists at Boulder -- considered hiring criteria, such as productivity during the Ph.D., along with program expectations for faculty and retention of productive professors. There was only weak evidence for each, however. Prestige of the current program was strongly correlated with productivity. 

The findings “have direct implications for research on the science of science, which often assumes, implicitly if not explicitly, that meritocratic principles or mechanisms govern the production of knowledge,” the paper says. “Theories and models that fail to account for the environmental mechanism identified here, and the more general causal effects of prestige on productivity and prominence, will thus be incomplete.”

Asked whether they thought their results might hold across disciplines, Way and Clauset said in a joint email that past work -- including their own -- suggests that most other disciplines have similar patterns in faculty hiring and in productivity, "so we see no reason not to expect similar effects across fields due to environment."

That said, Way and Clauset added, the degree to which the results hold in other fields "likely comes down to whether the underlying mechanisms that drive the observed correlates of productivity in computer science also hold in those fields.” For example, a scholar's productivity could be "directly affected by access to institutional resources than it is in computer science -- things like laboratory equipment and supercomputers for biologists, libraries for historians, etc.” Advising and publishing norms, such as whether Ph.D. students tend to be co-author papers with their advisers, may also matter.

Does where you got your Ph.D. still matter? Yes, Way and Clauset said, since the prestige of one’s degree is highly predictive of where one will likely to be hired as a faculty member. But that fact "presents a puzzle,” they said, as to what actually drives higher productivity of researchers at elite institutions.   As for implications for hiring, Way and Clauset said that competition is high for faculty jobs in every field, and their own past work shows that most people who are "lucky enough to get faculty jobs will place at an institution that is less prestigious than where they received their Ph.D.” But these new results indicate that doctoral prestige "should probably play a more limited role in predicting scientific contributions, including at the hiring stage,” they said.   Because what actually drives productivity remains something of a mystery, Way and Clauset said that figuring out which departmental characteristics matter is a key direction for future work. Resources, such as a large number of graduate students, preliminarily appear to make a difference, at least in computer science. New Hiring ModelsResearchFacultyEditorial Tags: Computer scienceFacultyGraduate educationGraduate studentsResearchImage Source: iStock Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Links to SuccessTrending order: 2Display Promo Box: 
Categories: Higher Education News

Community college picks courses for students in bid to boost completion

May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm

High schools across the country provide preassigned class schedules to their students that often match those students’ career and education interests.

Administrators at Cosumnes River College, a community college located in Sacramento, want to continue that practice for its first-time, full-time students. This fall, Cosumnes plans to create and give each student a 15-credit course schedule based on their major. As a result, instead of students registering and scheduling courses on their own, the college is doing it for them.

“College isn’t something that you should figure out on your own,” said Ed Bush, president of Cosumnes River College. “We’re just matching the experience they’re accustomed to at the high school level and providing them with the first courses they need, not just in English and math, but based on their academic interests.”

Community colleges typically ask students to plan their courses each semester. If problems arise, students can add or drop classes by a specific date. CRC flips that tradition with premade schedules. If students have a conflict or a problem with the courses that were selected for them, they now must opt out of those courses.

“Many students who desire to be full-time have great difficulty in being full-time, and some students that are full-time were put in a class that didn’t match their educational goal, but they wanted to be full-time,” Bush said.

The college expects that under this new scheduling system, students will not only complete college quicker because they are taking 15 credits a semester, but also won't end up with an excessive amount of credits that aren’t relevant to their degree programs or don’t eventually transfer to a four-year institution. Nationwide, community college students on average take 22 more credits than are needed for an associate degree, according to a 2017 report from Complete College America.

Last fall, 13.1 percent of CRC’s first-year recent high school graduates took at least 15 credits. About 73 percent of this group enrolled in fewer than 12 credits their first term. And among the college's full enrollment last year of more than 14,100 students, 26.2 percent attended full-time, or took more than 12 credits a semester, according to data from the college. While nonrecent high school graduates in their first year will be able to sign up for the 15-credit scheduling program, the college said about 1,000 recent high school graduates will participate this fall. Bush said that's about 80 percent of the college's freshman class.

Some groups, such as the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, have been critical of the state’s efforts to encourage students to pursue full-time course loads instead of investing more resources to help adult learners or students who have no choice but to go part-time because of work and family responsibilities.

State Grants for Full-Time Status

Bush said he expects the college to eventually have premade schedules beyond just the first semester and to eventually include part-time students.

CRC administrators were eager to try the new scheduling system after realizing that high-demand courses at the college, such as math and English, tend to fill up quickly. The college didn’t have a good system in place to meet the high demand of students wanting those courses or that could provide the right counseling to students.

California’s new Student Success Completion Grant provides a financial incentive to CRC students who take the full-time credit load. The grant, which expanded two existing programs last year, awards students $2,000 a year if they take more than 15 credits each semester. Students who enroll in 12 or more credits qualify for $1,000 a year.

“The difference between taking 12 units or 15 units is significant,” said Tadael Emiru, CRC’s interim vice president of student services. That financial incentive also is a “wake-up call” to high school and college counselors.

CRC counselors and support staff have been visiting Sacramento-area high schools over the past few months to meet with students who will be attending the college this fall, to have one-on-one conversations with them about their academic and career interests. The college’s new scheduling plan requires that college counselors know earlier than is typical for a two-year institution what major or program path students want to pursue so schedules can be built that will meet the students’ availability. CRC’s opt-out scheduling plan relies on so-called guided pathways as a structure for mapping out students’ program paths in any particular major.

“The key here is knowing which courses students will be registered for -- that was the most difficult thing to figure out,” Emiru said. He said the college's counselors already have built first-semester schedules for every current academic program the college offers.

“Once we got past that stage, the remaining part was to make sure we had enough folks around to provide that one-on-one support for students, [to] sit down with them and identify which particular schedule they’ll register for,” he said.

CRC’s ratio of students to counselors is 900 to one, which Bush admits is not ideal. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-counselor ratio of no more than 250 to one. The National Academic Advising Association found that the national average for community colleges is 441 to one.

Teresa Aldredge, a CRC counselor, said the college is hiring three counselors this summer to help with the new system. The college also is hiring two full-time faculty members in math and two full-time instructors for English because the new scheduling system will increase demand for those courses, Emiru said.

“We made this promise to students that these are the classes they’ll be able to take,” Aldredge said. “If I give a first-time college student a schedule and I guarantee English and math in the first semester, then the administration has to ensure there are enough English and math classes.”

Kay McClenney, a senior adviser to the American Association of Community Colleges and former director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, views CRC’s scheduling efforts as the natural next step in developing guided pathways initiatives at colleges across the country.

“I am hoping that Cosumnes intends to expand this practice to include part-time students who typically need guidance and clarity about their paths even more than full-time students,” she said, adding that some colleges have considered prebuilding students’ class schedules for a full year to accommodate their work schedules.

Still, the move by the college and similar ones elsewhere will be controversial, with concerns about the potential to "track" students into specific courses and programs.

“We expect we’ll have a number of students come to us and say, ‘I signed up to take all these classes but … I have to take more hours at work,’” Emiru said. “We have to deal with those situations on a case-by-case basis. What we don’t want to do, and we’ve been consistent in saying this to students, we’re not going to present it as an option to go part-time.”

Davis Jenkins, a senior research scholar at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, said students want this type of scheduling and program guidance. He said students typically want to know the financial and long-term benefits of taking 15 credits a semester or 30 credits a year.

“As it is, most community college students get little support to explore options and interests and develop a direction,” Jenkins said. “To put in place this policy, Cosumnes is redesigning a new student experience to help students with this exploration process from the start.”

And this level of guidance already happens for first-time students who attend selective universities, he said.

“First-time students at UCLA and Berkeley get all sorts of support to develop education and career plans,” Jenkins said. “Why should we let community college students, who are less likely than students at selective institutions to have family members and friends who can guide them in their decisions, figure out a path on their own?”

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Executed Saudi student was allegedly convicted on basis of confession obtained under torture

May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm

He was 17 years old, at the airport to catch a flight to the U.S., where he planned to visit colleges and hoped to attend Western Michigan University, where he subsequently gained admission. But he was arrested for crimes related to participation in a pro-democracy protest before he could board the plane.

Last week Saudi Arabia announced Mujtaba al-Sweikat was one of 37 people executed for terrorism-related crimes. The human rights group Reprieve says al-Sweikat, who was arrested in December 2012, was convicted on the basis of a confession obtained by torture.

CNN reported on court documents it obtained regarding al-Sweikat’s prosecution. According to the documents obtained by the broadcaster, al-Sweikat’s father, who served as his lawyer, portrayed his son as a diligent student, loyal to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, who completed his final high school exams with a score of 94 percent. Although al-Sweikat confessed to throwing Molotov cocktails at security forces and running a chat group to help organize demonstrations, his father claimed in reality he joined the demonstrations just twice, for five minutes each time.

"He was subjected to psychological and physical abuse, which drained his strength," his father reportedly said. "The interrogator dictated the confession to Sweikat and forced him to sign it so that the torture would stop. He signed it."

United Nations human rights officials had previously written to Saudi officials regarding al-Sweikat’s case, using an alternative spelling of his name. In November 2016, they wrote in regard to information they had received that he “was routinely subjected to torture including suspension from his hands and feet, sleep deprivation, severe beatings with cables and shoes, cigarettes burns and pouring of cold water on his body during winter. He was put in solitary confinement for three months. As a result, Mr. Suwaiket suffers from a broken shoulder, sustained pain in back and knees and blood deficiency due to insufficient nutrition. He has been deprived of any medical care. Mr. Suwaiket was reportedly subjected to acts of torture until he confessed to armed disobedience against the king and to attacking, shooting and injuring security forces, civilians and passers-by … On 1 June 2016, after several hearings, Mr. Suwaiket was convicted and sentenced to death by the [Specialized Criminal Court], on the sole basis of the confession extracted under torture.”

The letter from the U.N. officials said that while they did not want to prejudge the accuracy of the accusations regarding al-Sweikat’s treatment, they were concerned about the decision to impose the death penalty in light of international human right conventions related to fair trials, due process, torture and protection of the rights of children (as al-Sweikat was a juvenile at the time the alleged crimes were committed).

A subsequent letter from U.N. officials, sent in July 2017 in relation to multiple cases, including al-Sweikat’s, faulted judges for failing to investigate the allegations of torture and forced confessions. “While it was raised in court that the confessions were forced and had been obtained under torture, no investigation was initiated by the judges. Instead the forced confessions were admitted as evidence and used as the basis for their convictions,” they wrote.

In a written response, Saudi Arabia’s mission to the U.N. said that al-Sweikat was not subjected to torture or ill treatment. They said the claim his shoulder was broken was false and that he suffered from shoulder-related pain for five years prior to his arrest due to “sports-related activities.”

Saudi government officials also denied that his confession was extracted through torture and said he confessed “of his own free will.” They said that the judge "did not rely solely on the confession as evidence in his judgment but on the evidence provided, including the arrest and investigation records, witness statements, and the deliberations and statements made during the judicial proceedings."

The Saudi mission wrote, “The lower court judgment sentenced Mojtaba Suwaiket to death after convicting him of committing crimes such as: manufacturing firebombs (Molotov cocktails) and supplying them to others for use against law enforcement officers; throwing firebombs at law enforcement officers and their vehicles; involvement in the targeting of a security patrol by opening fire on it; monitoring police officers, their location and their movements and transmitting the information to members of another cell who used it to implement one of their operations; concealment of wanted individuals charged with opening fire on security patrols and persons charged with launching attacks on private property; concealment of persons charged with setting fire to a security vehicle and stealing a machine gun and bulletproof vest from it.”

In a subsequent communication, the Saudi mission said al-Sweikat's death sentence was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court, rendering it “final and enforceable.”

Western Michigan previously confirmed al-Sweikat was admitted in 2013 but never enrolled. A university spokeswoman, Paula Davis, said Monday he was an applicant for pre-finance studies and English language. “We learned about his shocking death last week and grieve this tragic loss of a young life full of potential,” she said.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents Western Michigan faculty, was involved in campaigning for al-Sweikat’s release.

“Saudi Arabia’s sickening criminal beheading of a young student, after he was tortured and held in solitary confinement for years, is a despicable violation of international law and basic humanity,” Randi Weingarten, the AFT president, said in a statement last week. “Condemned at 17, Mujtaba al-Sweikat was planning to attend Western Michigan University when he was arrested after attending a peaceful protest rally. Today, we discover this young man has been executed, along with more than 30 others, in a ghastly display of state brutality.”

“If it was not already clear, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has moved to the top tier of the bloodiest regimes in world history,” she said. “We demand the U.S. government immediately condemn, in every way and with every means, this disgusting and outrageous crime.”

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After sexual assault allegations, Swarthmore fraternities disband

May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm

Swarthmore College’s only two fraternities have disbanded, following days-long protests and the leak of internal documents from one of the chapters in which its members boasted about sexual violence and expressed bigoted views.

Student activists stormed one of the fraternity houses, which the college had leased to Phi Psi, on Saturday afternoon. There they remained, both on the main level of the quaint stone building in the center of campus and in tents pitched around the yard. Students accused administrators of ignoring the sexual assaults they said took place in the house. In the released documents, Phi Psi brothers called the bedroom in the upstairs of the home a “rape attic.”

While allegations of rape have hounded Phi Psi for years, the troubles on campus began after a handful of students put together a blog chronicling anonymous students’ stories of being harassed or assaulted by fraternity members. One of the students who started the project said the students had received more than 100 submissions, not just from students at Swarthmore, known for its academic rigor and its Quaker roots, but also from the two other institutions in the Tri-College Consortium, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College.

After the blog gained some attention, two student-run publications, the Phoenix and Voices, last month published more than 100 pages of what appear to be Phi Psi meeting “minutes” from 2012 to 2016. The logs detail explicit behavior and racial prejudice by fraternity members.

More than 100 students overtook the Phi Psi house on Saturday, and the same day President Valerie Smith informed the campus that she would block fraternity activities until an investigation into the documents had finished. The college has declined to share details of that inquiry, including who is conducting it.

After initially disavowing the documents -- while also claiming that the trends had not continued with the current crop of members -- Phi Psi late Tuesday stated on Facebook it would dissolve and turn the house back over to the college.

“We cannot in good conscience be members of an organization with such a painful history, “ the members wrote on Facebook. “Since the start of our membership, we made it our mission to improve the culture and perception of Phi Psi. Unfortunately, the wounds are too deep to repair, and the best course of action for all those involved is to disband the fraternity completely.”

Though not the primary target of student ire, the campus’ other fraternity, Delta Upsilon, also announced on Tuesday that it would disband.

“After much discussion, the members of Delta Upsilon have unanimously decided that disbanding our fraternity is in the best interest of the Swarthmore community,” the fraternity wrote on Facebook. “We hope that our former house will provide a space that is inclusive, safe, and promotes healing.”

What will become of the buildings, which for many years have housed the fraternities, remains unclear. Students had demanded that they be converted into spaces that would cater to minority students on campus, or as one activist phrased it, those factions that had been “victimized” by the fraternities.

A spokesman did not respond to request for comment about the future of the buildings and other questions.

Swarthmore is in the midst of studying its now even further shrunken Greek system. Only one sorority remains on campus. The committee conducting that work will still continue it, Smith said in a message to campus Wednesday.

“Still, as a community, we have much healing to do,” Smith said in a statement. “We have heard heartbreaking stories from students who feel unwelcome to the point of wanting to transfer out of our community. Those stories have come from across the spectrum of our student body -- from student protesters to fraternity members. Stories such as these reflect our failure to realize the values we so often espouse.”

Smith stressed that the college would investigate any reports of sexual violence that reached officials.

Swarthmore has long struggled with its handling of sexual assault cases. It was subject to a highly controversial and publicized complaint under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal sex antidiscrimination law, in 2013.

And students have protested the college’s response to sex assault before. Last May, students participated in a sit-in over Title IX issues, and eventually the dean of students who was criticized during the demonstrations resigned.

The fraternities also have come under fire. In 2013, students voted down a referendum measure to ban Greek life from Swarthmore. The same year, Phi Psi was blasted for circulating recruitment materials that featured naked women. The fraternity was suspended in 2016 for alcohol violations and resumed hosting parties last year.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

May 2, 2019 - 5:00pm
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Stanford backs down -- for a year -- on ending support for university press

May 1, 2019 - 5:00pm

Stanford University provost Persis Drell late Tuesday indicated that the university was backing down -- at least for another year -- on plans to end financial support for the Stanford University Press.

She acted amid widespread anger among faculty members at the university -- and nationally -- over her plan announced last week to end university financial support for the press. The university has been giving the press $1.7 million a year, while the press brings in $5 million a year in book sales. Ending the support would effectively result in dozens of books not being published that would have been otherwise.

In an email sent to Stanford professors, Drell acknowledged how upset many scholars are at the planned cut.

"While I expected that this decision would be a difficult one for some of you to hear, I did not anticipate it would touch such a deep nerve in the community of our humanities and social sciences colleagues," Drell wrote. "I would especially like to thank those who have explained how this has been interpreted by some as 'a marginalization of the humanities at Stanford,' which is deeply regrettable and certainly not what was intended. My goal was, and continues to be, to find a financial model for the press that is sustainable, builds upon the strengths of the press, and ensures its success for years to come. Numerous years of one-time funding bridges do not make for a compelling path for the press."

Drell added, "I hope it will alleviate some of the concerns that have been expressed to clarify that I intend to make one-time funds available to the press for FY20, at an amount up to $1.7 million, to help ensure a smooth transition to a sustainable future. Also, the press, once it has a model that is sustainable, may request incremental general funds in the FY21 budget process. Finally, we anticipate that additional philanthropy can be attracted, particularly as the press focuses on its considerable strengths. With these moves, our intent is to build a strong, sustainable press organization at Stanford that serves the institutional and community needs into the future."

While university presses periodically face threats of budget cuts from their universities, the news that Stanford's press was facing such a threat stunned scholars who publish with Stanford or value its books. Many have said they fear that if Stanford -- with a $26 billion endowment -- stopped supporting its press, other universities could point to Stanford to justify similar cuts. Many also have objected to what they view as inappropriate financial measures being used to evaluate the press. University presses are generally known for the ideas they bring to the world, not the dollars they bring in.

Stanford publishes about 130 books a year. It is particularly well-known in the fields of Middle Eastern studies, Jewish studies, business, literature and philosophy. While much of the scholarship published by the press comes in traditional formats, the press has also been a leader in disseminating "born digital" scholarship.

Professors have been mobilizing petition drives, letter-writing campaigns and the use of graphic art to demand that Stanford back down on its plans to cut off the press.

Ge Wang, an associate professor of music at Stanford, is circulating online both the illustration above and a petition opposing the changes. The image is adapted from one in a book by Wang, published by Stanford University Press, Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime. "If we use a purely financial metric to assess the value of academic books, the scholarly mission of the academy will be lost. Presses will publish only profitable books, graduate students will write only profitable dissertations, and tenure will be awarded based on scholarship that is profitable," the petition says.

In an interview Tuesday night, Wang said that on matters related to the press, "slow action is preferable to fast, potentially hasty, action. In this regard, I see the [provost's letter] as a step in the right direction."

But Wang said he was concerned by the provost's continued focus on financial "sustainability," which suggests that she is applying a business approach to academic publishing. This focus, he said, "is unmistakably prevalent throughout the message, and remains ill defined and problematic, for it implies that 'sustainability' is still a goal and possibly a necessary condition for Stanford to support to the press."

Wang also asked why only parts of Stanford are judged this way. "I have to wonder, at this rate, if the argument of financial sustainability will eventually be applied to athletics," he asked.

Just prior to Drell releasing her letter, Peter Berkery, the executive director of the Association of University Presses, sent Stanford leaders a letter outlining reasons why people in academic publishing have become so concerned about the situation at Stanford.

"Eliminating all institutional funding precipitously will never right-size a publishing operation, but destroy it," Berkery wrote. "Successful press reconfigurations are planned, implemented and assessed over years, matching the demands of the university press mission. Every book, after all, proceeds from the prospective author’s submission of a manuscript through the essential processes of peer reviewing, contracting, copyediting, designing, producing, promoting and distributing, a chain of events that also generally takes several years. Many books are now at each of those stages in the offices of SUP."

Berkery added, "The reverberating outcry from communities of scholars, alumni and communities often comes as a surprise to universities making decisions similar to what is being contemplated by Stanford. Internally, unilateral administrative decisions affecting university presses raise questions about university governance, including protest from faculty editorial boards already tasked with press engagement and oversight. Significantly, unexpected announcements which call into question a press’s future viability can immediately harm ongoing acquisitions efforts, and may give rise to potential breach of contract claims for its new and forthcoming books."

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Trinity College sociologist who studies whiteness is again in trouble for his comments about race

May 1, 2019 - 5:00pm

Johnny Eric Williams, professor of sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut, is once again facing criticism for his social media posts about race. But this time the institution is immediately backing his right to that speech, citing academic freedom.

Trinity “supports academic freedom and free expression and inquiry, which are hallmarks of academia and democratic society,” President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said in a statement. “When speech proves controversial, our responsibility as educators is to promote more debate and discussion, not less.”

Williams faced death threats -- and Trinity briefly shut down -- in 2017 after he wrote on social media about that year’s shooting at members of Congress practicing for a baseball game. The point of the discussion was that a lawmaker who opposed LGBTQ rights and reportedly one spoke at a meeting of white supremacists was saved by a black lesbian first responder. Using a phrase he did not create to share his own post, Williams wrote, "#letthemfuckingdie." He and his supporters say that the hashtag was rhetorical, not a literal call for anyone's death.

After a college investigation into his comments, Williams was eventually cleared of wrongdoing. Berger-Sweeney said at the time that “the principles that underlie this particular set of events go far beyond the actions of any one person. These involve principles that concern how we think about academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the responsibilities that come with those fundamental values.”

Williams said at the time that he was “heartbroken” over the college’s response to him, but both he and Trinity cited a need for “space” from each other.

‘Whiteness Is Terrorism’

In recent days Williams has again caught flak for new Facebook posts about race. In one, he wrote, “White kneegrows really need a lot of therapy and a good ol' ass kicking.” He later clarified that he was talking about black Republican commentator Candace Owens, but also “other and less brazen but more insidious dangerous ‘white’ kneegrows like Barry and Michelle Obama.”

On Easter, Williams tweeted that “Whiteness is terrorism.”

“All self-identified white people (no exceptions) are invested in and collude with systemic white racism/white supremacy,” he also said.

Alumni soon brought the posts to public attention, with some calling for Williams’s ouster. He was lambasted by Tucker Carlson, a far-right conservative commentator and Trinity alum, for example.

Berger-Sweeney said in her public statement that “Twitter is a challenging place for a thoughtful discourse, which is clear from this example.” But her invocation of Williams’s academic freedom hasn’t wavered.

Berger-Sweeney used a similar tone in an all-campus memo that did not reference Williams by name.

“As an educational institution -- with a foundation built on academic freedom and freedom of expression and inquiry -- we embrace this important work and the opportunity it provides to nurture a learning environment that values differences and seeks debate and discussion,” she wrote. “Where else should these debates occur, if not here?”

Williams said in an interview Tuesday that he’s received some racist emails and messages but nothing so unnerving as the threats from two years ago. Asked if Berger-Sweeney’s support made a difference, Williams said he wouldn’t call her reaction “support.”

Yet her message this time around is more “politically astute and educated about what academic freedom is,” he said. A college shouldn't say it values scholars' public engagement without planning to defend those professors for their public comments.

Williams also said that his tweet about whiteness has been “misconstrued” by many to mean white people. And courses or academics' comments on whiteness at other institutions have been similarly interpreted -- and criticized.

Whiteness is an idea or ideology affiliated with racial capitalism, not a skin color, however, Williams said.

“I am focused on systemic white racism. That's why you have critical professors who interrogate this stuff in our scholarship and our classrooms,” he added. “This is not about hating white people.”

Williams said that nonwhite people may also subscribe or aspire to whiteness, seeking to accrue benefits associated with it. Owens, who is black, is probably making a lot of money speaking for the causes she does, for example, he said.

Williams also argued that President Obama never enacted a policy that bettered the lives of black people, and that the U.S. political system isn’t designed to benefit them -- hence his "kneegrows" comment.

A Battle Over the Churchill Club

More than anything, Williams linked the current backlash to his social media posts to an ongoing Trinity battle over a proposed student club affiliated with the off-campus Churchill Institute.

The institute was formed by Gregory Smith, professor of political science at Trinity, in 2016. Its website says it is dedicated to the “preservation, dissemination and extension of the Western moral and philosophical tradition … in a world where Western civilization is under attack politically and militarily, but even more ominously, intellectually.”

Smith, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has previously been criticized for his public statements about identity politics: he sees them as divisive, not inclusive, and negating of the individual.

Smith also has criticized Williams, if not by name, for his 2017 comments on race. In an essay on racism posted to the institute’s website he wrote that year, Smith accused Williams of racism in his own right and said it’s “morally obtuse” that the college “and the majority of its faculty, far from expressing their clear outrage at obviously hateful and racist sentiments, have actually apologized to the offending professor, turned him into a hero, and then recently given him a platform to speak on campus.”

This “alt-left racism and fascism can be dressed up with all the sociological neologisms, barbarisms and obscurantism possible,” he wrote, “but lipstick will never beautify this pig.”

Seeking to do more on campus -- specifically to rent out rooms to hold colloquia -- the small group of Trinity students affiliated with the institute recently applied for club status. A bigger group of Trinity students opposed that move, saying that the institute’s website defined Western civilization in narrow, alarmist and arguably white supremacist terms. That's the same kind of criticism that's been levied against Western civ-style courses (whether they're designed that way or perceived to be) on many campuses, including Reed College.

Williams and about four dozen faculty members circulated an open letter to Trinity deans about the ongoing club debate, echoing students’ concerns.

The institute’s website “explicitly promotes the superiority of ‘Western’ ideas and civilization, a position that often accompanies the demeaning and devaluing of other ways of knowing,” reads that letter. “Students have expressed concern that the institute, named after a known racist, imperialist and white supremacist, and the bellicose claim that Western civilization is ‘under attack,’ reinforces the daily marginalization of many students on campus.”

The group also “advertises itself as a response to perceived intolerance of ‘intellectual diversity’ at Trinity,” the letter continues. “However, what it really fosters is the silencing of diverse intellectual and cultural traditions that challenge the assumption that the European tradition is (and should be) the aspiration of all human societies.”

Trinity’s Student Government Association on Sunday voted against granting the institute club status. But early this week, Berger-Sweeney said that the college’s Office of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership reviewed and approved the Churchill Club’s application materials earlier in the semester.

"As such, the club is an officially recognized student group at Trinity,” Berger-Sweeney said. It is also the “administration’s understanding that the group had met the requirements of the college and of SGA and should therefore have received SGA recognition.” 

As an educational institution, Berger-Sweeney said, “we have an unshakable commitment to free expression and inquiry, open debate and discourse, and the valuing of all voices.”

Some will certainly view Berger-Sweeney’s take on the club as "both sidesism." Williams said that Trinity remains highly conservative, and that any concern that conservative students’ views are stifled is manufactured.

But others see Berger-Sweeney’s actions toward the club as good for the college, and for the free flow of ideas.

A representative of the institute who did not want to be identified by name, citing concerns about being targeted for the affiliation, said in a statement that both the institute "and the club’s student members are grateful that the administration upheld the basic promises of free speech and association on Trinity’s campus and appreciate that difficult situation" Berger-Sweeney faces.

The club currently has eight to 10 members, "though many others on campus have offered their support," the representative said. "The club’s roster is representative of the diversity of Trinity’s campus, comprised of men and women from a variety of backgrounds and bringing nuanced viewpoints to our discussions. The Churchill Institute is grateful for the passion and energy each of the students has contributed to launching the club, particularly in the wake of the harassment they have faced on campus recently. As has always been the case, the institute is eager to be part of a productive dialogue on campus. We remain hopeful to be seen as a convener of ideas, to connect people of differing opinions, and work united on ways to make the college better for everyone."

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Study of student learning outcomes

May 1, 2019 - 5:00pm

As Americans express growing doubts about the value of a postsecondary degree, colleges and universities have been under increasing pressure to show that students emerge with the knowledge and/or skills the institutions say they're trying to develop. Not everyone applauds the push to measure student learning, but the pressure to be more intentional about the outcomes a college or program aims to develop isn't likely to abate soon.

A new report, "Degree of Difference: What Do Learning Outcomes Say About Higher Education?" digs into data about "learning outcome statements" at dozens of colleges and universities to see what institutions say they want their students to be learning and how they measure whether that learning occurred.

Its conclusions: many colleges don't align what they're trying to do at the program and department level with an overall institutional approach.

The study, from Campus Labs, which makes data and assessment software for higher education, taps into its database of the learning outcome statements that colleges produce (typically for accreditation purposes) to show the desired goals of a course, an academic program or a school or campus. The data come from 73 colleges and universities, a mix of two-year and four-year.

The study sorted about 8,500 outcomes found in those statements into broad "themes" to try to gauge which outcomes were valued most at the institutional and program levels. As seen in the chart below, "intellectual skills" -- incorporating problem solving, critical thinking and reasoning -- was the most-cited outcome in both institutionwide and department or program outcome statements.

The authors said they were surprised to see greater emphasis on personal development in student outcomes at the program level than at the institutional level.

Drilling down, the report shows differences at the two- and four-year level, as seen below. The community colleges' focus on technology -- which includes things such as technical literacy and fluency, computer science, and emerging technologies -- is consistent with the mission of those institutions, the authors write.

The report also explored how institutions in the sample went about measuring whether students were achieving the outcomes. The most commonly used method of gauging achievement of a particular outcome was a survey questionnaire, used in 16 percent of cases, especially for outcomes such as intellectual skills, personal development and technology.

This was followed, in descending order, by essays, exams, final exams and individual projects. Essays were the most often used assessment for things such as communication, creative arts and humanities.

Perhaps the biggest concern cited by the researchers was the emphasis (or lack thereof) that institutions seemed to put on quantitative reasoning, which appeared far down the list of outcomes that colleges and programs sought to measure.

"There is no other way to say it -- campuses need to up their game in quantitative reasoning. Employers have consistently listed analytical and quantitative skills as a desirable attribute, yet according these data, the quantitative learning theme shows up in only 2 percent of outcome statements and is most often measured by exams," the authors write.

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Emerging career education tracks may mask struggles of students in traditional programs

May 1, 2019 - 5:00pm

Betsy DeVos has spent much of her tenure as education secretary pushing alternatives to the traditional college experience. The nation should do much more, she has said, to expose students to occupational skills training that has long been stigmatized in favor of a four-year degree.

Career and technical education, which was once known as vocational training, has shed some of that stigma thanks in part to growth of new fields in communications, health care and engineering. CTE programs also have created clearer connections between skills training and continued postsecondary education. And supporters have pointed to both improving test scores and graduation rates among CTE students in high schools.

But a report from the American Enterprise Institute released today finds that those signs of progress can mask continuing struggles of students who are enrolled in more traditional career and technical education courses. That’s because overall academic gains for CTE programs may reflect higher enrollment of more academically prepared, college-bound students rather than improving quality of courses themselves.

The findings are a warning to state and federal policy makers that career and technical education must strike a better balance between serving the students who plan to continue with their postsecondary education after high school and those who likely won’t receive training opportunities beyond CTE programs.

Nat Malkus, the report’s author and the deputy director of education policy at AEI, said the increasing enrollment of academically higher-achieving students may be papering over challenges for traditional vocational students.

“We need to look under the surface to make sure we’re not missing problems that need to be solved,” he said.

Malkus analyzed 30 years of data on CTE course enrollment in high schools from the National Center for Education Statistics, beginning in 1982.

Vocational programs were once -- and, in many cases, still are -- derided for “tracking” disadvantaged students into inferior academic programs. A rebranding of career training began with the 1990 reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education law. That reauthorization and subsequent updates to Perkins put more emphasis on accountability and pathways to continuing postsecondary education.

In 2018, President Trump signed an update to the Perkins law that gave states more authority to shape career education programs and required more cooperation with needs of local industry. DeVos said Congress had expanded educational opportunities and given “local communities greater flexibility in how best to prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The changing enrollment in CTE courses reflects both changes in industry and technology, the report finds. For example, credits awarded in business, the top category for career and technical education, declined by 75 percent between 1982 and 2013. That’s in part because the personal computing revolution made typing courses obsolete. But credits taken in six other traditional vocational CTE areas declined by a third over the same period. Meanwhile, course credits attempted in “new-era” career and technical subjects like engineering, computer science, communications, health care and hospitality grew by 238 percent.

The trends are even more clear when examining CTE concentrators, or students who complete three or more courses in one occupational area. By 2009, the share of career and technical graduates with a concentration in new-era occupational courses had surpassed the share of traditional vocational and business concentrations.

Those concentrators report a sense of belonging in school relative to other high school students, whereas vocational concentrators reported a lower sense of belonging on campus. The same pattern is true of test scores, where new-era concentrators post higher results and college attendance than other CTE students.

Although there was less gender imbalance than in traditional vocational programs, the report found imbalances persisted in the new CTE concentrations. Female students were more likely to pursue communications, hospitality or health care credits, for example. Male students were more likely to focus on computer science and engineering concentrations, which tend to lead to higher-paying jobs. Other recent research has found significant pay disparities by gender and occupation for holders of nondegree career education credentials.

While career and technical education programs have expanded their focus and enrolled many new students, Malkus finds that those who pursue concentrations in traditional vocational programs still fare poorly in other academic programs and are unlikely to pursue postsecondary education.

State policy makers are in the process of producing CTE plans in accordance with the Perkins law President Trump signed last year. Malkus said states should maintain a balanced approach that accounts for the needs of students who aren’t likely to go on to postsecondary education.

“Creating CTE for kids to go into careers straight out of high school is the hardest work. Those programs are the hardest to set up, because those are difficult kids to educate academically or otherwise,” he said. “The problem is, if we don’t have those kinds of programs in CTE, we don’t leave them with much else.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

How not to handle a Me Too-related public relations crisis

April 30, 2019 - 5:00pm

Weeks after it allowed a known harasser to attend a conference where three of his accusers were present, the Society for American Archaeology is still mishandling the incident. That’s what scores of academics are saying in open letters, social media posts and other correspondence with the organization.

Specifically, critics say that the society hasn’t addressed questions and concerns about the actions it took -- or didn’t take -- during and after the conference. They’re also asking why the society has deleted tweets about the incident and blocked several conference attendees on social media.

The society has expressed some regret about how it handled the matter and said it’s committed to dealing with harassment. But the lesson to other professional organizations is clear: while privacy and process concerns abound in harassment cases, sexual misconduct is a public issue requiring a transparent, coherent response to member concerns.

“I did not think that the Me Too issue that arose at the SAA conference over two weeks ago would still be going on,” Kristina Killgrove, teaching assistant professor in anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Monday.

Instead, said Killgrove, who publicly stepped down as chair of the society's media relations committee over the incident, “I expected that the Board of Directors and the SAA staff would immediately identify what went wrong and work with the survivors of Yesner's harassment to come to an appropriate resolution.”

Killgrove was referring to David Yesner, a former professor of anthropology at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. He formally retired in 2017 but was recently denied emeritus status over  a wave of student allegations of misconduct spanning his long career. He hasn’t commented on those accusations. But a university investigation found them so credible that Yesner is banned from campus and all university events. Anchorage even alerted students earlier this month to tell the police if they saw him around.

The Alaska Anthropological Association notified members that Yesner was banned from its events, too. But Yesner was allowed to register on site for the SAA conference starting April 10 in Albuquerque, N.M. The SAA has since said that it received complaints about Yesner’s presence on April 12 and asked him to leave that same day, as soon as it confirmed the allegations against him with the Anchorage campus. But three of Yesner’s targets who have identified themselves online say that they missed out on much of the conference due to Yesner’s presence.

Norma Johnson, a graduate student in archaeology at Anchorage and one of nine women who brought substantiated complaints against Yesner, confirmed Monday that she has had two phone calls with the organization but no resolution. Johnson also said that the society was aware of Yesner’s presence at the conference on April 11, not April 12.

Before Yesner left the conference, the SAA booted out science journalist Michael Balter for confronting him. Balter believed he was acting on behalf of the student accusers, including Johnson. He was also at the conference to speak on a panel about Me Too. But the society later tweeted that Balter was not in attendance as a "credentialed journalist.” The tweet has since been deleted.

The SAA Twitter account also appeared to blame Yesner’s former institution for not alerting it to its findings about Yesner. That tweet is now gone, too.

In response, the university has said that its conference attendees communicated their concerns to the society on April 11, and that its arts and sciences dean followed up with his own email to the SAA that evening. 

“Absent any response from SAA,” Chancellor Cathy Sandeen also emailed on April 12, the university said in a statement. The campus was not a co-sponsor of the conference and Yesner had not been an employee since 2017, so Anchorage had no reason to anticipate his attendance, “particularly given recent publicity.”

That said, the university continued, “when conference organizers failed to respond promptly to students concerns we acted swiftly to ensure the safety of our students.” 

More recently, the account blocked both Killgrove and Balter on Twitter.

Both have been publicly critical of the organization. But “blocking two of the most vocal people on Twitter is problematic given the history in the field of archaeology of silencing people who address harassment and assault,” Killgrove said.

The SAA has deleted other tweets about the incident -- along with critical replies. Some allege this amounts to censorship, or at least a major public relations flub. One of those tweets was about a task force to address sexual harassment and assault.

Early member replies to that announcement criticized the task force idea as a kind of nonresponse response, or kicking the accountability can down the road. But members were surprised to see the society erase the tweet and the subsequent criticism, rather than allow the debate to play out.

Jason De León, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, in a public Facebook post asked the society to cancel his membership, effective immediately.

“I decided to attend your conference this year because of my involvement in the #MeTooInArchaeology session,” he wrote. “I was feeling overly optimistic that your organization was primed to be at the forefront of helping our discipline overcome its legacy of sexual harassment, assault and various forms [of] discrimination and inequality.”

Yet the last two weeks demonstrated that “my optimism was unfounded,” De León said. “Your organization has serious problems related to equity, diversity and basic human sensitivity. I keep thinking that your Twitter account responses to the Me Too issue is some employee gone rogue, but in many ways the tone-deafness of your Twitter account perfectly encapsulates the culture of your organization.”

Holly Norton, archaeologist for the state of Colorado, left the society and its Committee for Government Affairs on similar terms. Numerous other society members have publicly parted ways with the organization or otherwise declared their disappointment with it.

 

I sent this open letter to the @SAAorg Board early this morning, revoking my membership and resigning from the Government Affairs Committee. This wasn't easy. I'm deeply disappointed and saddened. pic.twitter.com/TS09muj8AQ

— Dr. Snarky-ologist (@HKNorton) April 23, 2019

 

The Committee on the Status of Women in Archaeology also spoke out.

This needs to be circulated more widely. @SAAorg is not only ignoring non-members and members who already were skeptical; it is ignoring its own committees. https://t.co/RURzk2BIXW

— Rosemary Joyce (@rajoyceUCB) April 26, 2019

Joe Watkins, president of the society’s Board of Directors, said via email that the last two weeks “have shown me, the SAA Board of Directors and the SAA staff the enormity of the systemic problem related to sexual harassment and how women are treated” in the field.

“We are at a tipping point for our profession, and we feel we have not done enough to address the systemic issue of sexual harassment in archaeology,” he continued. “That said, I have personally reached out by phone or email to the survivors. We regret that we were not able to act sooner, and we sincerely apologize.”

The kinds of “changes being discussed require that we conduct professional and mindful conversations online and off,” Watkins added. “This isn't about placing blame or going over what we did wrong in the past. This is about how and what we need to do next.”

What should that be? Members have offered their own advice to the organization -- starting with an action document that’s been signed by more than 2,300 people. That includes issuing a formal apology, refunding conference registration fees to aggrieved parties, and updating the society's anti-harassment policies and procedures.

Sarah M. Rowe, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, shared her thoughts with the organization in a public letter on Facebook. (Rowe previously reached out to the organization, asking for a more thorough response to members’ concerns, and said she received what was essentially a form letter in response.)

Rowe’s advice for what she calls a “society in crisis” includes short-term and long-term actions. Needs include communicating with all three women targeted by Yesner, revoking Yesner’s membership, addressing the society’s full membership via email -- and firing whoever is behind the SAA's social media.

Adopt policies already in place at other organizations, so that someone under investigation should not be allowed at meetings until the case is resolved, Rowe also advised. Institutional censures should translate to society event bans.

Norton, of Colorado, has said publicly that she was asked to serve on the task force but declined. She said Monday that she didn’t feel like it was a good use of her time, "as there were too many unknowns and not enough accountability,” in that "it feels even more like howling into the wind than Twitter.” 

At this point, she said, the society should hire an outside consultant to assess problems within its system for dealing with harassment and then act accordingly.

“Ultimately,” Norton added, "the board needs to act and respond, and they just seem paralyzed at the moment.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Stanford moves to stop providing funds to its university press

April 29, 2019 - 5:00pm

University presses periodically face threats to the financial support they receive from their universities. Such support is crucial, leaders of academic publishing say, because university presses publish work with scholarly significance, knowing that impact must be measured in ideas shared or conventional wisdom challenged, not commercial standards on book sales.

But even if such threats occur periodically, many academics were stunned and angry to learn that Stanford University has announced that it will no longer provide any financial support for its press. Professors at Stanford are pushing back, but there are no signs that the university will reconsider.

Without support from the university, dozens of books released by the press each year would no longer be published.

“At first glance the proposition that a university of Stanford’s stature would voluntarily inflict damage upon an asset like the Stanford University Press seems shockingly improbable. The press is a world-class scholarly publisher with a 125-plus-year history -- a global ambassador of the university’s brand,” said Peter Berkery, executive director of the Association of University Presses, via email.

“It appears the Stanford administration is proceeding from the misperception that university presses are self-funding -- which, with only a handful of highly circumstantial exceptions, is demonstrably not the case.”

Ge Wang, an associate professor of music at Stanford, is circulating online both the illustration below and a petition opposing the changes. "If we use a purely financial metric to assess the value of academic books, the scholarly mission of the academy will be lost. Presses will publish only profitable books, graduate students will write only profitable dissertations, and tenure will be awarded based on scholarship that is profitable," the petition says.

The Stanford press actually brings in about $5 million a year in book sales, a sum that is impressive compared to sales of many scholarly publishers. But it has also depended on support from the university, which in recent years has provided $1.7 million annually.

Provost Persis Drell told the Faculty Senate Thursday that the university was ending that funding. She cited a tight budget ahead, due to a smaller than anticipated payout coming from the endowment. (The endowment is worth more than $26 billion and is the fourth largest in American higher education.)

Drell told a group of faculty leaders recently that she considered the press “second rate” and that many of its series could be pruned, according to some present at the meeting. The comments angered many professors who consider the press to be a point of pride. A Stanford spokesman declined to comment on the reports that the provost called the press “second rate,” or to elaborate on her comments to the Faculty Senate.

Alan Harvey, director of the press, declined to comment.

Stanford publishes about 130 books a year. It is particularly well-known in the fields of Middle Eastern studies, Jewish studies, business, literature and philosophy. The press has also been capable of undertaking long-term scholarly efforts, such as a 20-year project to translate the Zohar, the key work in understanding the Jewish thought of the Kabbalah.

While much of the scholarship published by the press comes in traditional formats, the press has also been a leader in disseminating "born digital" scholarship.

Professors on the editorial board of the press have written to Drell and to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne objecting to the plans to end university financial support for the press. They noted that even though they are charged by Stanford with providing guidance on the press, and know more about the operations of the press than do most other professors at the university, they were not consulted about the idea of cutting the university subsidy.

Shrinking the press would be “a devastating statement” about the university’s priorities, the letter said.

Law professors have also circulated a protest letter, noting that many of them have published with the press. The law professors also asked why faculty members were not involved in the decision to make cuts.

David Palumbo-Liu, a professor of comparative literature at Stanford, has published books with several university presses. Among the works he has published with Stanford University Press are The Poetics of Appropriation: The Literary Theory and Practice of Huang Tingjian, 1045-1105 and Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier.

Via email, he said, “If these cuts go through, it will be a terrible day for not only Stanford, but for higher education as a whole -- it sends a signal that other institutions may well exploit. It is irresponsible and shameful. University presses perform both an institutional and a public good. They should not be judged by an economic calculus but by intellectual value and value to the intellectual life and reputation of the university.”

Palumbo-Liu added that the decision says something about what is valued at Stanford. University presses, he said, “should be considered a necessary expense and for an enormously wealthy school like Stanford to say it cannot afford $1.7 million to support its press is an embarrassing declaration of our lack of values. University presses, and the books they provide the global community, form an indispensable part of free speech and free inquiry, unconstrained by financial or political considerations. University presses are our equivalent of a free press.”

Gregory Britton, editorial director of the Johns Hopkins University Press, said a few presses have revenue streams beyond book sales and university endowments. Hopkins has Project Muse, for example.

“Those that look profitable often have substantial endowments, key intellectual properties (like assessment tools), distribution services or large journals programs supporting their books programs,” he said. Hopkins has Muse and many journals, but most presses don’t have the equivalent, he said.

Evaluating a press based on profitability, he said, misses the point of the mission of academic publishing. What university presses do, Britton said “is an extension of the mission of a university, and integral to how scholars share their work.”

He said that the decision at Stanford “seems deeply wrongheaded.”

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Categories: Higher Education News