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Big data, AI prompt major expansions at UC Berkeley and MIT

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2018-11-02 07:00

If you don’t believe that big data and artificial intelligence are here to stay, just ask Alexa: “What academic disciplines this fall are driving two major research universities to reorganize?”

The University of California, Berkeley, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology are doing just that, creating entirely new institutions within their campuses to come to terms with the ubiquity of data and the rise of AI -- and to accommodate a surge in popularity that these fields are generating among students and employers.

Berkeley on Thursday said it plans to form an entirely new division, to be tentatively called the Division of Data Science and Information, that will engage faculty members and students across the flagship UC campus. The division, officials said, will be led by a new associate provost and connect departments as disparate as UC’s College of Engineering and its College of Letters and Science.

The announcement follows a similar one last month at MIT, which unveiled plans to build an entirely new, $1 billion college devoted to AI, data science and related fields. MIT said it had already received a “foundational gift” of $350 million from Blackstone co-founder Stephen A. Schwarzman. The new college, on MIT’s Cambridge, Mass., campus, will bear his name.

MIT Schwarzman College of Computing will create 50 new faculty positions, both within its walls and across other departments, MIT said. It will “reorient MIT to bring the power of computing and AI to all fields of study,” nearly doubling the institute's academic computing staff and giving its five schools “a shared structure for collaborative education, research and innovation in computing and AI.”

Marty Schmidt, MIT’s provost, has said 40 percent of MIT undergraduates now major either in computer science or earn a joint degree that includes computer science. Teaching all of those students puts a strain on MIT’s existing computer science faculty, he said.

But these students "don’t want to code for life," Schmidt said. "They want to gain these skills that allow them to apply them in their discipline."

To that end, MIT also is pushing faculty members to become what it calls “bilinguals” who have a foot both in their discipline and in computation. “That creates individuals who can really bring these advanced tools to the disciplines,” he said.

MIT previously has created interdisciplinary research labs but struggled to bring that approach to instruction, Schmidt said. To make it happen on a large scale, MIT decided it needed a new college, not just an expanded computer science department.

Berkeley provost Paul Alivisatos said that simply expanding the university's existing computer sciences department would not be enough to match the surge of interest.

“Pretty much any field of inquiry and knowledge connects to [data science],” he said. “We wanted to create a structure that would allow that new methodological development to grow more, but also allow it to be widely used everywhere, where it can be beneficial.”

He said Berkeley envisions incorporating faculty members from fields as varied as sociology, public health and physics into a kind of “data science commons” to deepen their research. “From what we can tell, pretty much every part of this university wants to be involved, which is great.”

The field, Alivisatos said, is forcing other disciplines to come to terms not just with the widespread availability of data from diverse sources, but with “new methods that allow it to be sifted and analyzed.”

David Culler, Berkeley’s interim dean for data sciences, said the new division will be a peer of the university’s other schools and colleges. “But rather than standing apart from them, it’s really integrated with them,” he said, since these days, data science “touches almost every domain of inquiry.”

Culler said Berkeley, like most major universities, has been “grappling with this for at least five years” as it tried to figure out how to fit new computational disciplines into the broader world of other academic fields.

“The frontiers of knowledge are extremely integrative, and yet to a large extent, institutions of higher learning are very hierarchical,” he said.

Berkeley officials said another reason for the new division has been the sheer popularity of data science among students: two recent data science courses have turned out to be among the fastest-growing ever, they said.

One of them, Foundations of Data Science, saw enrollment grow from 100 in 2015 to 1,300 this fall. Its more advanced follow-up course, Principles and Techniques of Data Science, grew from 100 students in 2016 to 800 this fall. Berkeley this fall also announced a new integrative data science major.

“The moment we opened up the major, we started getting a flood of predeclarations,” Alivisatos said, noting that 1,070 students have already said they plan to major in data science after their first year of preparatory course work.

Alivisatos said he was talking last Monday with a biology student who told him he’d taken the data course and decided to use what he’d learned to more closely analyze data sets on bird flight. Another, who is earning a Ph.D. in law, said he'd become convinced that big data represents the future of the legal profession.

“My sense is that this is not a casual transformation,” he said. “This is something that’s going to be here a very long time.”

Recent research has suggested that a shortage of job candidates with fluency in data science and analytics is among the nation’s most yawning of skills gaps. The Business-Higher Education Forum, a nonprofit membership group of Fortune 500 CEOs, college leaders and the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, found last year that by 2020, about 2.72 million new job postings will seek workers with skills in data science and analytics.

Cathy O’Neil, a onetime MIT postdoc and hedge fund "quant" who launched a data journalism program at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 2014, said the expanded academic offerings at Berkeley, MIT and elsewhere must also focus on digital ethics and accountability. "If it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen in academia," she said, noting that large investments in these fields, to date, that don't address ethics are "going in the wrong direction."

The issue of ethics, she said, is being sidestepped at almost every turn by efforts like these, in favor of international economic competitiveness with China, among others. “It’s about power, it’s about control -- and it’s not at all good news for the public if we keep going like this.”

O'Neil, author of the 2016 book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy​, noted the $1 billion price tag for the new MIT college and compared it to a much smaller, $25 million "AI for Social Good" grant program recently offered by the search and advertising giant Google.

"People who are actually worried about society and tech need a billion dollars," she said. "We need a billion-dollar investment, and $25 million isn’t big enough right now."

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Report: Student affairs professionals more diverse than rest of college professions

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2018-11-02 07:00

The student affairs field is demographically more diverse than other college professions and relatively lacking in pay-equity issues, according to a new report.

The College and University Professional Association relied on data it collected on student affairs professionals to determine that about 71 percent of positions are held by women. In contrast, about 58 percent of positions across higher education more broadly are occupied by women.

However, most racial demographics are underrepresented in student affairs.

While about 17 percent of college students are Hispanic, only about 8 percent of student affairs officials are. And Asian men and women comprise about 6 percent of students, but only about 3 percent of student affairs professionals.

The association said in a written statement that a big increase is projected among Hispanic students by 2026, which “should prompt action to ensure there are more Hispanic student affairs staff in the pipeline.”

In a potentially surprising twist, white men are slightly underrepresented in student affairs compared to overall student demographics, with 20 percent of positions being occupied by white men versus 24 percent of students overall.

For leadership positions, this shifts somewhat, with about 33 percent of top jobs being held by white men. About 56 percent of the top officers are female.

“This report confirms a mostly anecdotal observation that student affairs division and leadership represent one of the most diverse sectors in higher education,” Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said in a written statement. “However, the report also makes clear that more progress is needed in order to ensure that the student affairs workforce is truly representative of the rich diversity of students who attend our colleges and universities. It is critical that we continue to increase pathways for access, pay equity and advancement for women and professionals of color in student affairs.”

In terms of pay, student affairs has smaller gaps for both members of minority groups and women compared to the rest of higher education.

White women -- the more entry-level staff members -- were paid about 96 cents for each $1 white men earned. This gap was slightly wider among leadership, where white women earned closer to 91 cents for every $1 their white male counterparts earned.

Black men earned 97 cents for every $1 a white man made, and black women earned 94 cents for every $1 a white man was paid -- among the black junior student affairs staffers.

The report also examined counselors, which are in high demand on campuses given that the mental health needs of students have increased dramatically in recent years. While the overall growth rate for student affairs positions is about 7 percent, the number of student counselors has increased by 10 percent.

Most counselors are women (about 77 percent) and white (75 percent).

“Current events and emerging needs such as the heightened demand for mental health counselors play out some of the same tensions found in all of student affairs -- the pressure to expand available services while trying not to overextend the bottom line,” the report said.

The report follows recent research into the political inclinations of student affairs professionals, which found they were overwhelmingly liberal.

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Academics at RMIT in Vietnam question its equivalence to home campus

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2018-11-02 07:00

Academics at an Australian university’s overseas branch campus have scoffed at claims that its courses are as good as those back home, saying that workload inequities make it impossible for them to deliver degrees of the same quality.

Those who teach at RMIT Vietnam insist that they are given far less time than their counterparts in Melbourne, home of RMIT University’s main campus, to do far more teaching.

This inevitably detracts from the learning experience and makes a mockery of the university’s claim that “the learning outcomes and assessments for courses taught in Vietnam are equivalent to those delivered at RMIT Melbourne.”

Those in Vietnam have about half as much time as their Melbourne peers for lesson preparation, marking and student feedback, according to a petition signed by several dozen academics at RMIT’s Hanoi and Saigon South campuses.

Making matters worse, their face-to-face teaching load is 25 percent greater and they are required to teach for nine more weeks a year. They also have no time allocated for course coordination and little or none for research, and they are obliged to spend up to eight times as many hours in service roles and meetings, the petition says.

“We lodge this petition in the spirit of upholding the academic integrity of RMIT University’s degree programs being delivered globally,” the document says. “If equivalency is expected … sufficient time allocation, support and resources [should] be given to academic faculty members at RMIT University Vietnam as … at RMIT University Australia.”

RMIT Vietnam's president, Gael McDonald, said academic workload arrangements in Vietnam were reviewed every two years. She said a review was under way, with staff participation.

“We have recently undertaken some functional changes across RMIT that are designed to create greater alignment between RMIT Vietnam and Melbourne,” McDonald added. “These changes are a visible demonstration of a deeper commitment to RMIT Vietnam as we seek to build it as a hub for our regional activity.”

She said the institution was undergoing “a period of transition,” which staff in both Australia and Vietnam would find disruptive.

“We will continue to work in consultation with our staff, our colleagues in Melbourne and in line with the relevant local labor laws as we seek to continue delivering high-quality teaching, learning and research outcomes in the region,” McDonald said.

The dispute illustrates the challenges universities face operating in countries with different labor laws, pay scales and funding models. But Melissa Slee, Victorian secretary of Australia’s National Tertiary Education Union, said RMIT administrators had been “profiting” from rules that stymied collective action.

“[They] get away with a lot more than they ever would at the Melbourne campus,” she said. “The workload models we develop here at RMIT Melbourne should at least be a foundation for what happens in Vietnam. If they want equivalence, they need to resource it at the equivalent level.”

Slee, a former union branch president at RMIT, said the academics had taken a big risk in putting their names to the petition. “They’re on fixed-term contracts, and the people who determine whether their contracts are renewed are the same people they’re petitioning. If they don’t get their contracts renewed, they’re expected to leave the country.”

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When institutions look to teaching loads instead of academic program cuts in the face of budget shortfalls

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

Faced with steep budget cuts, several University of Wisconsin System campuses have targeted academic programs to try to save money. The Superior campus announced last year that it was suspending 25 programs, including nine majors -- sociology and political science among them. The Stevens Point campus said it would cut 13 majors, including English, history, political science and sociology -- and expand programs it says are more job oriented and in demand. In many cases where colleges take this approach, humanities and other liberal arts disciplines face some of the deepest cuts.

The Oshkosh campus is taking a different route to solvency: it’s asking tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the College of Letters and Science to teach more.

“I fully understand the hardship that this change may present to faculty and instructional academic staff,” Colleen McDermott, dean of the college, wrote to faculty members in a recent letter about the change. “We have exhausted every other route of cost cutting for the college (short of laying off faculty or closing programs).”

Currently, tenure-line faculty members in the college teach 24 credit hours per year, or 12 credit hours -- typically four classes -- per semester. But most professors apply for and get what’s known as a curriculum modification to teach 18 credit hours per year, or three classes a semester, to spend more time on research.

Starting next year, however, professors will all teach a minimum of 21 credit hours per year, or four classes one semester and three the other. That’s regardless of where they are in their curriculum-modification schedules, which last three years.

McDermott explained in her letter that the college is approaching the harshest year of a three-year plan to close its $9.5 million budget deficit. About half of the gap will be closed next year alone, and getting professors to teach more is supposed to save the college about $1 million in adjunct instructor pay. It’s not yet clear how many adjuncts counting on reappointment will lose their positions. McDermott said the adjustments are temporary and will be reassessed after one year.

The university has previously said that its budget deficit is caused by a declining state birth rate-related dip in undergraduate enrollment -- about 15 percent in the six years leading up to fall 2017, with a slight but not fully corrective uptick this year. Other factors are massive state funding cuts to higher education in the 2015-17 budget, frozen undergraduate tuition and a state policy maxing out tuition at 12 credits a semester, even if students take more.

Through a university spokesperson, McDermott stressed via email that faculty reassigned time away from teaching is for scholarship that goes above and beyond standard campus research expectations. “We chose this method because it did not require suspension of majors/programs and does not negatively impact students' ability to access classes,” she said, noting that faculty feedback has thus far been mixed.

David Siemers, professor of political science at Oshkosh and an executive board member of the campus’s American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty and staff union, expressed concern for the adjunct instructors who will not be rehired under the plan.

“Some of these academic staff have taught here full-time for more than 20 years,” he said, calling the idea “a serious drain on morale, which was already low.”

Taking aim at the Wisconsin Legislature’s actions on higher education in recent years, Siemers described the current climate as the result of a “deliberate plan to starve the state university system of revenue through funding cuts and a long-term tuition freeze that decreases our revenue year by year.” The university system that was once a “crowning achievement of the state of Wisconsin” is suffering from “serious neglect,” he added.

Stephen Bentivenga, professor of biology and Oshkosh’s Faculty Senate president, said that while some may perceive the change as an increased teaching load, it’s really a reduction in the time allotted for research or scholarly activity.

That said, Bentivenga said many professors, staff and administrators are upset about the policy shift, since it’s a blow to already low morale over the budget, and there is widespread concern for the “highly educated, talented and dedicated” adjuncts who stand to lose appointments.

Asked whether Oshkosh’s solution to its budget woes was at least better than the elimination of departments seen elsewhere in his state, Bentivenga said it is a matter of opinion. His view is that the college’s solution is “much better than cutting programs,” especially given the timeline. The savings need to be realized next year, he said, and there was “not sufficient time to make those decisions.” Cutting could also have resulted in fewer adjunct contracts and faculty layoffs, he said.

“The chancellor and vice chancellors are taking measures to improve our budgetary outlook. Everyone is hoping that our financial situation improves and that this is a short-term problem.”

Teaching loads are a particularly touchy subject in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has suggested that professors do more work to offset budget shortfalls, and professors have responded by saying that he misunderstands what faculty work entails. Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the Madison campus, also has been criticized for saying that she sometimes gives professors with outside job offers course releases to get them to stay at her institution. Madison is a research university, of course, and Oshkosh is primarily a teaching institution.

Course load issues are touchy outside Wisconsin, too, however. They expose disparities in institutional resources and working conditions, and many professors already feel time starved. And teaching load increases have been elsewhere suggested to address budgetary concerns. One example, at Missouri State University’s two-year West Plains campus, is contentious not only due to questions about how faculty members will balance teaching and research, but also about how it will affect their take-home pay.

Like Wisconsin university campuses, West Plains faces state budget cuts and declining enrollment -- about 5 percent this year over last. But a former chancellor’s plan to up all faculty members’ teaching loads from 12 credits, or four classes per semester, to 15, or five, didn’t go over so well. The Faculty Senate rejected it flat out.

The new chancellor created a task force to come up with various options for closing a budget gap, and the faculty and administration recently approved a compromise: professors may opt out of the 15-credit system and teach 12 credits in the fall and spring, but they’ll no longer be eligible to teach “overload” courses for extra pay.

Those faculty members who opt in to the new plan will get a modest pay increase and still be eligible to teach overload courses. All new faculty members hired from July 2019 onward will be expected to teach 15 credits in the fall and in the spring. Instructors who earn full professor status may be able to apply for a three-year course load reduction, teaching 12 credits in the fall and the spring, to work on research.

Dennis Lancaster, dean of academic affairs at West Plains, said, “I don’t think anybody wanted to do this. But this is another piece of the puzzle of trying to make things work. And many of the faculty who voted to approve this alternative realize that we need to do this in light of our financial situation -- and that overload would probably have been another thing curtailed anyway.”

Those faculty members who didn’t approve of the compromise plan, meanwhile, felt as if, “Hey, I’m not giving in to this change to the culture and the way things have been working for 50-some years,” Lancaster said, noting that eligibility for overload pay was another big concern among professors. “So it hasn’t been easy.”

Shirley A. Lawler, campus chancellor, stressed that the institution had already made some additional budget trimming, such as reductions in staff and cuts to programs including respiratory health. But she and Lancaster said that the associate of arts in general studies program remains the campus’s primary source of degrees, and that no academic cuts to it are planned.

Like McDermott, Lawler said she hoped the financial constraints on her institution were just temporary. “We believe state appropriations will improve and we’re working hard to increase enrollment numbers. We’re also looking at our foundation to raise more funds. We’re being very optimistic instead of reactive.”

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False statistic on sexual harassment at Baylor spreads, with help from media and Twitter

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

It was the sort of headline that jumps off the page: “56 percent of Baylor students have experienced sexual harassment by a faculty member, per report.”

In an era of inflamed interest spurred by Me Too and the lightning-quick spread of information (valid and not) through social media, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article published Wednesday based on misinterpreted data drew national attention as other journalists and many others spread the word about it on Twitter. The article pulled from a Big 12 Conference report that used misinterpreted data from a 2017 Baylor University campus climate survey.

The problem is, the statistic is flat out inaccurate, and the incident shows how quickly misinformation can spread when it aligns with popular narratives.

The situation unfolded in the wake of the Big 12 Conference's Tuesday decision to endorse a third-party report that assessed how Baylor had responded to a 2016 sexual assault scandal involving athletes. The league was deciding whether the university should be reinstated into the league's revenue-sharing program, from which it had been suspended.

The Big 12 report inaccurately stated that “Climate Survey results indicate that 56% of Baylor students have experienced sexual harassment by a faculty member that involved sexist or sexually offensive language, gestures, or pictures.”

In fact, 31 percent of student respondents in the 2017 social climate survey indicated that they had experienced sexual harassment by a faculty member, instructor or staff member in the form of “sexist gender harassment,” which was defined in the survey as “situations in which a person: treated you ‘differently’ because of your sex; Displayed, used, or distributed sexist or suggestive materials; Made offensive sexist remarks; or Put you down or was condescending to you because of your sex.”

This definition, Baylor University officials clarified, could include remarks like “she looks nice,” “I like her haircut” or “she runs like a girl” and does not include attempts by a faculty or staff member to establish a romantic or sexual relationship with the student or unwanted touching, which fall into other categories including "crude gender harassment" and "unwanted sexual attention."

Of those 31 percent, the social climate survey found, 56 percent said that “the situation that had the greatest effect on them involved sexist or sexually offensive language, gestures, or pictures” and 3 percent “indicated that the situation involved subtle or explicit bribes or threats.”

Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president of media and public relations at Baylor, said that after discussions with the Big 12 office, the university determined that "during the verification process, Baylor provided the Big 12 with a summary list of accomplishments and activities following the university’s 2017 climate survey that failed to summarize the survey results completely and accurately." In other words, Baylor appears to have provided the flawed data to the Big 12.

Fogleman issued the following statement to Inside Higher Ed.

“A point in the Big 12’s ‘Report on Verification of Implementation of 105 Recommendations by Baylor University’ -- amplified this morning by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- contains a gross mischaracterization of the results of the university’s publicly available campus climate survey,” the statement read in part. “The 56 percent number actually refers to 56 percent of this 31 percent -- in other words, roughly 17 percent of respondents to this specific question. While 17 percent is still an unacceptable number -- and Baylor is working to improve the behavior that would cause this -- it is a far cry from 56 percent of Baylor’s entire student body.”

The aforementioned article in the Star-Telegram has been shared by many users on social media, including several national journalists. The story has not been removed or corrected, but a follow-up article about the Big 12’s error was published Wednesday afternoon.

The reporter, Mac Engel, has taken some heat on Twitter for failing to check the statistic against the original social climate survey.

“Shouldn't you have maybe looked into the stat just a little bit before publishing it? Kind of a big mistake there, big guy,” one user tweeted.

For the most part, Engel has pushed responsibility for identifying the false statistic on Baylor and the Big 12 Conference.

“Champ, are you talking to me or the law firm that Baylor paid $1.6 million to do this investigation and write this report? Or the Big 12 that sent it out?” he tweeted in reply to the user above.

Bob Burda, the associate commissioner of communications for the Big 12 Conference, said that he reached out Polsinelli PC, the third-party law firm that produced the report and redirected requests for comment to Baylor University.

The Big 12 Conference endorsed the report because it showed that Baylor had implemented over 100 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton -- the law firm that investigated the 2016 sexual assault scandal -- to improve how the university investigates and adjudicates claims of sexual assault.

According to the Star Tribune, the Big 12 Conference will no longer withhold a share of Baylor’s conference revenue. Of the $14.3 million that has been withheld over the past two years, Baylor will be fined $2 million, $1.65 million will cover legal costs and the remaining $12.6 million will be invested.

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One day after reinstatement, Maryland's head football coach fired

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

The University of Maryland at College Park has fired its embattled head football coach, DJ Durkin, a central figure in an athletics saga that has roiled the state flagship institution.

As of Tuesday, Durkin was to remain at the university at the urging of the state’s higher education governing body, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents. This was despite a pair of regents-led investigations that revealed the institution was at fault for the death of redshirt freshman Jordan McNair in June, and that there was rampant abuse of players by the coaching staff.

President Wallace D. Loh, who also announced his retirement on Tuesday in wake of the scandal, wrote to the campus on Wednesday saying he had met with students and administrators who were deeply concerned about Durkin’s return. Reportedly, Loh told the regents he wanted to dismiss Durkin, but they informed Loh that they would simply fire him instead and replace him with someone who would keep Durkin.

Loh hinted at this clash in his statement to the campus. The Washington Post reported that while the board was informed of the decision to fire Durkin, its members were not consulted.

“A departure is in the best interest of the university, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the university will part ways,” Loh said in his statement. “This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire university. I will devote the remaining months of my presidency to advancing the needed reforms in our athletic department that prioritize the safety and well-being of our student-athletes.”

The two inquiries, initially headed by the university but then taken over by the regents, found that athletics staffers were at fault for the death of McNair, who collapsed from heatstroke at a practice in May and then died the next month. The report on his death found staff members had failed to give him a cold-immersion bath, which would have all but assuredly saved his life.

The second investigation, the results of which were recently made public, revealed that strength and conditioning coach Rick Court belittled his players, often using homophobic slurs and inappropriate language. Court, who negotiated a settlement from the university and left in August, threw weights and food at them, and on one occasion, a trash can full of vomit.

The regents’ decision to side with Durkin had been particularly unpopular, and the backlash, among both students and state officials, was swift. The student government had organized a protest for Thursday against Durkin’s reinstatement.

Jonathan Allen, the student body president, posted a statement on Wednesday calling for Durkin’s firing. Allen said in his statement he had met personally with Loh and that the student government's Executive Board submitted emergency legislation asking for Durkin’s departure.

“The decision to not fire Coach Durkin indicates that the Board of Regents prioritizes profits over the lives of students,” Allen said in his statement.

The regents also earned the ire of Maryland governor Larry Hogan, a Republican up for re-election. Hogan said in a statement that he was concerned about a “lack of transparency” from the regents and asked for both the board and Loh to “reconsider their decisions.”

“While the university system is required by law to operate independent of political influence, and as such no governor has the ability to hire or fire any university personnel or members of the Board of Regents, I can and will demand that the university is held accountable for making the reforms they have pledged to put in place with the full transparency that the students, parents, and faculty expect and deserve,” Hogan said in his statement.

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With E.U. slow to enforce new data-privacy rules, colleges told not to panic about lack of compliance

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

DENVER -- American colleges and universities that have yet to figure out a plan to comply with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation still have time to act, attendees at Educause's annual conference heard Wednesday.

Speaking at a conference session called GDPR: Where Are We Now? Esteban Morin, a lawyer at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, told university IT leaders to “not panic” if they are just starting to develop a plan to ensure their institution is compliant with the E.U. data protection and privacy rules.

The GDPR went into effect on May 25 this year, but many higher ed institutions (and companies) are still at the beginning of their compliance journeys, said Morin. “There’s been a lot of confusion,” he said. “We know the GDPR has been incredibly overwhelming.”

Organizations in the U.S., including colleges and universities, are subject to GDPR if they handle data relating to people in Europe. Failure to comply with the rules can result in deep fines. But so far enforcement of the rules by data protection authorities in E.U. member states is yet to ramp up, said Morin.

“Government officials tasked with enforcing this are still figuring out what their enforcement strategy is going to be,” said Morin. “As we’re all struggling here -- the people enforcing the rules are struggling, too.”

Though no U.S. university has yet been fined, institutions should not be complacent about taking steps to come into compliance with GDPR, said Morin. There has recently been “a real hiring spree” of staff in the E.U. who will review GDPR complaints, he said. “Enforcement is coming in the next few years.”

Heidi Wachs, vice president of Stroz Friedberg, a company that helps organizations respond to data breaches and cybersecurity issues, said that there was an assumption that American tech companies like Google or Facebook “would have a bull's-eye on their back” when the GDPR came into effect. “None of that has come to fruition,” she said. “We thought we would have a lot more to talk about.”

Brian Markham, assistant vice president of information security and compliance services at George Washington University, urged attendees to think about their GDPR plan, “not just as a compliance journey,” but as an opportunity to take a deep look at data security and privacy practices at their institutions. The process is not easy, but it is "good business," said Markham.

As part of preparing for GDPR, Markham helped to perform an audit of all the data on students his institution collects, stores and shares. The process was valuable -- “we found websites that we didn’t even know existed,” he said.

One of the tenets of the GDPR is that organizations should seek to minimize the data they collect -- a principle Markham took to heart. Why collect data that you don’t need? Historically the U.S. is “horrible” at data minimization, said Wachs. “We have the mentality that it’s good to collect as much as possible.”

Markham said that George Washington was holding on to student data for seven years under the mistaken belief that it was a legal requirement, “but when you asked people ‘which law?’ they didn’t know,” said Markham. “Don’t be afraid to delete data. It will save you a lot of effort down the road.”

Under the GDPR, E.U. residents have the “right to be forgotten” -- which means they can request that organizations delete their data. Sometimes these requests may conflict with federal or state laws that require universities and colleges to store data for certain periods of time. Though this issue is “not tested yet,” Morin said that colleges should not be afraid to say no to requests to delete data under the GDPR.

U.S. institutions should do their best to abide by the GDPR, but they also have a duty to follow domestic laws, said Morin. “Remember that a domestic enforcement agency is much more likely to come after you than the other way around,” said Wachs.

Wachs warned that institutions should be careful to verify requests to supply or delete information. Several institutions have already encountered third parties claiming to represent individuals that want to exercise their GDPR rights, she said. “The institutions pushed back and asked them for proof they were representing who they said they were -- none of them were able to supply that information.”

These third parties could have been criminals looking for personal information, said Markham.

“Think carefully about how the data you release could be used,” he said.

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Report: More sports offered at smaller, independent colleges

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

While most of the public often focuses on big-time college sports, not much attention is paid to the generally less competitive Division III institutions and trends in their athletics.

But James C. Hearn, a professor and interim director for the Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia, wanted to go beyond the headlines and scandal that some major programs -- men’s basketball and football, typically -- have experienced, given only a fraction of athletes participate at the most elite level.

He worked with the Council of Independent Colleges to analyze its member institutions -- more than 600 of them -- and their athletics profiles to see how they have either added or changed sports since the early 1990s. Many CIC institutions field Division III teams -- about 47 percent compete at that nonscholarship level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Many CIC member institutions have over the past two decades increased the number of sports offered on their campuses, and participation rose considerably, Hearn found. In 1992, the median number of athletes participating at CIC institutions was 240, versus in 2015 when the number rose to nearly 400 athletes. At some small, private institutions as many as a third, or even half, of the students participate in athletics.

“There was an explosion of student participation,” Hearn said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.

Hearn and a team of his researchers collected National Collegiate Athletic Association participation data from 1991-1992 and 2014-2015 academic years, as well as U.S. Department of Education data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System from the 2003-04 and 2014-15 academic years. The data set allowed them to examine 614 institutions. The report notes that sometimes students will be replicated in the count if they played more than one sport, but that did not significantly influence the findings.

He said that the increase in women’s sports, such as golf and lacrosse, was quite striking, but men’s teams also saw gains. Women’s lacrosse, for example, jumped from a little more than 20 percent of CIC institutions offering it (in 1992) to nearly 60 percent three years ago. Liberal arts colleges in the Midwest have used lacrosse to woo students.

While most CIC institutions do not rely on athletics as big revenue generators for them, as some larger and more successful Division I universities do, some sports can indirectly have a financial benefit, Hearn said.

For instance, “greenfield sports” such as golf, lacrosse and soccer, for both genders, and field hockey for women, tend to attract wealthier students who played the sports at their high schools, Hearn said. That’s because these sports can often be more expensive to field and for travel at the high school level, so those students who want to continue on at the college level will likely be more affluent. The percentage of institutions offering these sports also varied by geography.

The average number of greenfield sports at CIC institutions increased from 2.8 in 1992 to 4.5 in 2015. Hearn recommended that colleges consider investing in these sports because it would tend to bring in wealthier students.

Meanwhile, sports such as men’s wrestling have declined in popularity. The percentage of CIC institutions offering it dropped about 10 points, from 30 percent in 1992 to 20 percent in 2015. Hearn said that while he and his researchers did not analyze the uptick in certain sports and the drop in others, he said in this case it was because wrestling has gained a poor reputation over the past couple of decades, being in the news for injuries and more.

In terms of participation, Hearn noted that the less selective CIC institutions tended to have higher rates of participation. At about 36 percent of the least selective institutions, 30 percent or more of their undergraduates were athletes.

Compare this to the most highly competitive institutions, where only about 21 percent of them had 30 percent or more of their undergraduates participating in athletics.

Hearn said the major takeaway from the data is that no “one-size-fits-all” approach will work for smaller institutions attempting to change their athletics profile.

“They should be careful looking at aspirational peers because they’re going to need to choose sports that fit their enrollment profile, region and so forth,” Hearn said.

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Roundup of colleges starting or finishing fund-raising campaigns

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2018-11-01 07:00

Starting Off:

  • Carleton College is starting a campaign to raise $400 million by 2021. The college has raised $315 million to date, with an emphasis on student aid and academic facilities.
  • Juniata College has started a campaign to raise $115 million by 2021. So far, $80 million has been raised.
  • Kenyon College is starting a campaign to raise $300 million by 2021. Major goals focus on scholarships and endowed chairs. Thus far, $200 million has been raised.
  • Lehigh University has started a campaign to raise $1 billion. So far, the campaign has raised $550 million, with no firm end date.
  • University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, is starting a campaign to raise $50 million by 2021. So far, the university has raised $34 million.
  • Wofford College is starting a campaign to raise $300 million by 2022. The college has already raised $262 million, with student aid and faculty support among the top priorities.

Finishing Up:

  • Roanoke College has raised $204 million in a campaign that started in 2013 with a goal of $200 million. Funds raised have been used, among other things, for a new athletic complex and a new academic complex.

Track the progress of campaigns with Inside Higher Ed's fund-raising databases.


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Survey of faculty views of technology explores online teaching, OER, assessment

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2018-10-31 07:00

More professors are teaching online and believe technology can help students. But they question the effectiveness of digital methods and the motives behind their use.

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Maryland's Loh retiring as president; football coach, athletics director stay after scandal

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2018-10-31 07:00

Months after a football player died and revelations emerged that the University of Maryland at College Park football program was plagued by coaching abuse, the institution’s embattled president, Wallace D. Loh, announced he will retire in June.

Head football coach DJ Durkin, who has been on paid leave since August following explosive media reports of rampant cruelty and mismanagement in the program, will return, as will athletics director Damon Evans.

Loh announced his departure at a Tuesday news conference.

Reporters pressed Loh over accounts that he wanted Durkin gone, but that the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents -- the state’s governing body -- had strongly urged Loh to keep Durkin in his position and that Loh would be fired if he did not comply.

While Loh was highly complimentary of Evans during the news conference, he did not mention Durkin unless asked a direct question. Loh only said that Durkin had been a successful coach on the field, and that the president had accepted the recommendations of the regents.

"Since I arrived on this campus, in October of 2010, I have had the honor and the pleasure of working alongside some of the most impressive faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of the university to advance our beloved flagship institution. For me, the job of president is more than a job. It’s a calling to service," Loh said at the press conference. "It is a calling that I believe is larger than simply having a job. Together with all of these stakeholders, I believe we have boldly transformed the university. Today, the university deservedly stands as one of the most distinguished institutions of learning in the country. I’m proud of the shared legacy that’s been created and I will have more to say about that at a later time."

While Loh has been popular with both campus constituents and state lawmakers, and is recognized as a successful fund-raiser, more recently he has been criticized for the university’s obvious failures in overseeing athletics.

The saga began in May, after redshirt freshman Jordan McNair passed out from heatstroke after a practice.

McNair died days later, in June, for which the university took “legal and moral” responsibility, Loh said. In the months that followed, news media reported widespread abuse by Durkin and strength coach Rick Court, who negotiated a $315,000 settlement from the university and left in August. McNair’s parents, who have indicated they will sue over their son’s death to the tune of millions, had called for Durkin’s dismissal.

While the institution initially began an investigation into McNair’s death, the regents stepped in for College Park officials and took over the review. That inquiry found that athletics staffers had failed to treat McNair with a cold-water immersion bath, ultimately leading to his death.

Regent chairman James T. Brady said during the press conference that Durkin had “unfairly” been blamed for the dysfunction in the athletics department and that university leadership shared some of the responsibility. The Washington Post reported that the regents -- who struggled for days to reach consensus on who should keep their jobs -- were enamored with Durkin after meeting with him, and prioritized keeping him as coach.

The regents appointed a separate commission to examine the football culture. While the panel’s members did not deem the program “toxic,” they did document inappropriate behavior, particularly from Court, who would throw weights and food at players, and on one occasion, a trash can full of vomit. Court would also routinely use homophobic slurs and other foul language and belittle players, according to the report from the commission.

Of particular focus during the news conference was the fact that Court was essentially operating without any supervision. He never was subject to a job review and officials disagreed about to whom he was supposed to report -- some believed it to be Durkin, who had hired Court, but Durkin denied this.

Brady said that the board had accepted the findings and suggestions of the commission regarding the football program. Loh pledged to help with the implementation and guiding the state’s flagship university “through the storm.”

In recent weeks, as the university system announced it was reviewing the results of the investigations, rumors persisted about how the regents would proceed, given that university system governing boards are typically responsible for system leaders, not officials on individual campuses.

Many had called for Loh’s firing, particularly after it came to light that his office had been informed anonymously about the football program in 2016 -- a letter was emailed to both him and former athletics director Kevin Anderson. The university said that the warning was forwarded to Anderson. Anderson, in a statement included in the commission report, said that the messiness within the athletics had resulted in McNair’s death.

Loh, somewhat presciently, remarked last year that a sports scandal for a university was a “dormant volcano” that could “blow up” a presidency. He said he believed that the National Collegiate Athletic Association would levy the “death penalty” -- a shutdown of a program -- to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over long-standing academic fraud there.

“It’s abysmal,” Loh said. “But I’m not in charge of that.”

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Valparaiso Law School will close following unsuccessful attempt to transfer to Middle Tennessee State University

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2018-10-31 07:00

Valparaiso University announced Tuesday that Valparaiso Law School will close following an unsuccessful attempt to transfer the law school to Middle Tennessee State University.

The law school is working with the Higher Learning Commission and the American Bar Association to develop a teach-out plan that will ensure the remaining 100 second- and third-year students finish their degrees.

That plan could take a number of forms, according to Mark Heckler, president of Valparaiso University in northwestern Indiana. Once approved, the plan will dictate the timeline for the school’s closure.

“We really need to spend time with the accreditors, spend time with the students to talk about our options with how to proceed,” he said.

In 2017, Valparaiso Law School announced that it would no longer admit new students. Remaining students have the option to transfer out of the law school, and current faculty and staff have signed an agreement with the university to stay until the end of this academic year, which included an “incentive for them to stay,” Heckler said.

One potential teach-out arrangement would be to retain a group of faculty members to teach the level-three curriculum that remaining students will need to graduate after this year. Valparaiso is one of six law schools in the greater Chicago area, and another option would be to have students complete their coursework at one of the nearby law schools and transfer the credits back so that Valparaiso can confer their degrees.

The Board of Directors of Valparaiso University ultimately made the decision to close the law school.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision and is the result of several years of careful discernment,” Frederick Kraegel, chairman of the Board of Directors of Valparaiso University, said in a press release. “We have explored a number of strategic alternatives. Despite these efforts, we have not been able to achieve a more positive outcome.”

The closure was announced less than a month after the Tennessee Higher Education Commission rejected a proposal to transfer the law school to Middle Tennessee State. The law school announced its intent to transfer in June. At the time, there was some speculation about whether Tennessee needed another law school in addition to the six the state already has. Such concerns ultimately influenced the commission’s decision; Nashville Public Radio reported that several lawyers and law schools in Memphis and Knoxville who consulted on the commission's decision were concerned about a potentially watered-down law school market in the state.

Heckler met with law students and faculty on Monday and said that given the Tennessee commission’s decision, they were not surprised by the closure announcement.

“I think especially the faculty and staff understood that this would be the only option for the board,” Heckler said. “Students had been following each of the steps here on Middle Tennessee, and I think they too had reached that conclusion. It doesn’t make it any easier. Everybody here is very sad, very disappointed.”

The university will convene a task force in the spring to determine how best to use the law school buildings.

Valparaiso is not the first law school to close its doors in recent years -- Whittier Law School announced its plans to close in 2017. The external pressures facing Whittier and Valparaiso are similar: there is less demand for law degrees, and the student applicant pool is less impressive than it used to be.

The 2008 recession hit the law market hard, said Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, a consumer advocacy nonprofit.

“Law schools, for a long time, were able to expand without regard for any market pressure,” McEntee said. “They had access to a student loan system where students could borrow as much as they needed to get through law school. They operated with a presumption that law school was a ticket to financial security.”

After the recession, this was no longer the case. According to Law School Transparency data, legal education enrollment peaked in 2010 at 52,000 students and took a sharp decline through 2014. Since, enrollment numbers have plateaued around 37,000 students, but the enrollment decline caused a “financial shock” to the law school system, McEntee said.

“Law schools were forced make enrollment decisions,” he said. “Many schools made choices to enroll people who had no business being in law school. Their predictors showed a high likelihood of [those students] not passing the bar exam, which makes it textbook exploitation.”

Valparaiso Law School was one of those schools. In 2016, the ABA sanctioned the school for admitting students who were unlikely to succeed.

“When you have fewer students applying to law schools, there’s a cascading effect,” Heckler said. Elite law schools began to enroll less qualified applicants, causing middle-tier schools like Valparaiso to reach even lower.

The number of law school applicants has also steadily declined since 2003, and, in 2016, 42,800 of 52,800 applicants were admitted to law school. Admissions standards have relaxed significantly; in 2003-04, the national acceptance rate was 55.6 percent, and it peaked at 78.1 percent in 2013-14. In 2015-16, it was 75.8 percent.

McEntee said more law schools are likely to close.

"I do think we’ll see more school closures. I will not predict which ones they are, because it depends on a number of factors including support from a central university and their desire to see a school stay open, or support from the state," he said. "It’s the independent schools that are really struggling most. Will we see a well-regarded regional school close? It wouldn't surprise me."

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Growing number of public universities have become less affordable

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2018-10-31 07:00

A growing number of public universities are becoming less affordable and accessible for low-income students and people of color, according to two new reports released today.

In its report, New America found that more than half of the 600 public universities it examined expect the neediest first-year students to pay more than $10,000 to attend, which equals more than a third of their families’ yearly earnings.

About 8 percent of public institutions expect low-income families to pay more than $15,000 a year, according to the report.

“The story has gotten worse and worse at publics, and a growing number of them are using the enrollment management techniques used at private universities,” said Stephen Burd, a senior policy analyst with New America's education policy program.

The second report, from the Institute for Higher Education Policy, examines persistent racial and socioeconomic gaps in access and graduation at six flagship universities in the Midwest: Indiana University, Bloomington; Ohio State University; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“Flagship universities bear an unmatched responsibility to provide exceptional educational opportunities to state residents,” Michelle Asha Cooper, IHEP's president, said in a written statement. “As our college-going population becomes increasingly diverse, these premier institutions must be catalysts of social and economic mobility for state residents, while boldly disrupting existing racial and socioeconomic inequities.”

All six of the universities highlighted in the IHEP report fell into the category of having low Pell Grant populations and offering a low net price. For example, UW-Madison has a 14 percent Pell population and a net price of about $7,600.

Burd said New America found that in 2010, only 34 percent of public universities had an annual net price of more than $10,000. But that figure increased to 52 percent in 2015. (Net price is the amount students pay after all grant and scholarship aid is deducted from the listed price of all tuition and fees.)

One reason for the inequity, said Burd, is that public universities are seeking more revenue from out-of-state and international students.

Another is their quest to be at the top of U.S. News & World Report rankings, he said.

“They want to get students with the best SAT numbers and better grade point averages,” Burd said. But often the high school students who can afford to hire tutors for standardized tests come from wealthier families, he said, and the K-12 system is just as inequitable.

Mamie Voight, vice president of policy research at IHEP, said institutions are increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in attendance, but those increases are failing to keep pace with the changing demographics of the Midwest.

The report found a 10-percentage-point gap between the number of minority first-year students at the University of Michigan and the number of students from racial minority groups who are graduating from the state’s high schools. There is also a 23-percentage-point gap in access between low-income students at the university and low-income students at other institutions in the state.

A spokesperson for the University of Michigan pointed to a news release the institution released Tuesday, which said 26 percent of in-state undergraduates paid no tuition this fall under a new initiative called the Go Blue Guarantee, which offers four years of free tuition to full-time students with family incomes of up to $65,000 per year.

The university also said diversity is increasing on campus. “Of the 6,403 new freshmen who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, 949 are underrepresented minorities that make up 14.8 percent of new freshmen,” according to the university.

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota, criticized the IHEP report for not including the sizable Hmong population as part of the institution's efforts to increase diversity.

The IHEP report detailed a seven-percentage-point gap between black, Hispanic and Native American first-year students at the university compared to those who are graduating high school in Minnesota. The report did not include Hmong or other Asian American students.

McMaster said the university also moved to “ban the box” last year despite the report saying that they didn’t. (Banning the box means applicants don’t have to disclose or provide an explanation of any past criminal convictions.)

The IHEP report also criticized Minnesota for considering legacy status as part of its admissions process, by giving preferences to students with familial ties to the institution. McMaster challenged that claim, however.

“Legacy is a really weak secondary characteristic,” he said. “Students do not get in here because a parent went here.”

McMaster said the university is mindful that it's trying to attract a diverse student body, and it offers aggressive financial aid to support low-income students.

“We know, as with our peers, there is work to be done and we shouldn’t be happy until those gaps are zero,” he said.

A significant number of public universities got high marks from New America for serving low-income students and providing need-based aid.

The report, for example, highlights Rutgers University, Newark, where 53 percent of the student population receives federal student aid and the net price is about $7,800.

“Higher education has been the route to a better life, and we are concerned that route is closing down,” Burd said. “More and more we have a two-tiered system where low-income students go to community colleges and for-profits … community colleges are great, but the outcomes are not always the best, and we believe a public, four-year higher education should be accessible and affordable for all.”

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Campus IT leaders face continued budget challenges

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2018-10-31 07:00

Lean information technology budgets are making it difficult for colleges to hang on to talented employees, the latest Campus Computing Survey reveals.

More than two-thirds of IT leaders surveyed this year, from 242 two- and four-year public and private nonprofit colleges and universities across the U.S., reported that their campus IT budgets had still not recovered from the 2008 recession -- when many institutions experienced sweeping cuts.

“Annual IT cuts and midyear budget reductions have become all too common for many institutions over the past decade,” said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, which conducts the survey.

“These recurring cuts come despite growing demand and expanding need for campus IT resources and services to support instruction and campus operations, and also increased IT security challenges,” said Green. The results of the survey will be presented today at the Educause conference in Denver.

Retaining talented IT staff has become a real challenge for IT leaders, the survey found. More than four-fifths (79 percent) of survey participants said that their campus had “a difficult time retaining IT talent because salaries and benefits are not competitive with off-campus job opportunities.”

IT departments are also experiencing significant “organizational churn,” said Green. Just under half (45 percent) of survey respondents said that their department had been reorganized in the past two years. Of the departments that recently reorganized, a third (31 percent) said they expected to do so again in the next two years.

Budget cuts could be causing IT units to consolidate, but Green notes that IT departments have had significant reorganization activity in both good and difficult economic times -- suggesting that this instability may “almost be a structural aspect of life in campus IT units.”

Data security emerged as IT leaders' top concern, with just 35 percent rating their IT security as "excellent." Concerns about phishing and other data hacks mean that many institutions are regularly updating their cybersecurity plans, said Green. But 11 percent of institutions said they had not updated their cybersecurity plans in the past two years.

IT leaders' second biggest concern was hiring and retaining IT talent, followed by leveraging IT to support student success in third and assisting faculty with the instructional integration of IT in fourth place. These four issues have been among the top five IT priorities for the past several years, said Green. But this year there was a new addition to the top five -- learning and managerial analytics. Insights from big data are seen as increasingly important, said Green.

But campus investments in analytics are not meeting expectations. Less than a fifth of survey participants described their institution’s investments in data analysis and learning and managerial analytics over the past few years as “very effective.”

Despite 65 percent of campus IT leaders saying that assessing the effectiveness of IT investments is “very important,” relatively few campuses (16 percent) have a formal program in place to assess the impact of IT on learning outcomes. “Part of the challenge is that the academic initiatives are often programmatic or centered in academic departments,” said Green. “In too many circumstances the formal assessment of these initiatives may be an afterthought or unfunded expense.”

Green expressed concern that a significant number of respondents (31 percent) said their campus had not updated IT disaster-recovery plans in the last 24 months. Recent hurricanes and storms have shown that IT disaster recovery is an essential task, said Green, and not updating such plans regularly is risky. “This truly is an example of when, not if,” he said.

IT leaders reported rising institutional support for open educational resources at their institutions -- with 64 percent saying that their campus encourages faculty to use OER, up from 34 percent in 2014. A large number (81 percent) agreed that OER course materials and textbooks “will be an important source for instructional resources in five years.” However, only 38 percent reported that faculty at their campus believe the quality of OER content to be as good as comparable commercial products.

Artificial intelligence is of increasing interest to IT leaders, the survey found. Two-fifths of survey participants said that AI will play an important role in analytics in the coming years, up from 30 percent in 2017. Fewer participants (30 percent) agreed that AI would play an important role in instruction, up from 19 percent in 2017.

Generally, IT leaders had great faith in the potential for technology to improve instruction -- with 96 percent agreeing that adaptive learning technology has “great potential to improve learning outcomes” and 92 percent agreeing that digital course materials provide “a richer and more personalized experience than traditional print materials.” (Faculty members have a somewhat different take on this, as evident from Inside Higher Ed's 2018 Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, also published today.)

But actual deployment of these technologies appears to be low. Only 17 percent said that general education courses at their institution use digital courseware, and just 8 percent said they used adaptive learning technologies.

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Potential 2020 Democratic contenders issue proposals on equity that could help people pay for college

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2018-10-30 07:00

Student loan debt has become perhaps the biggest preoccupation of policy makers overseeing the higher education system.

But often buried beneath headlines about graduates with six-figure debt is the reality that students who most need loans to attend college come from families with little or no savings. That’s especially true of African American households, who rely on loans to send children to college to a greater extent and spend more of their income after loans and grant aid on higher ed than white families.

A proposal from Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, aims to address those patterns of inequality in the U.S. by establishing a savings account for every child in the country when they are born. The federal government would make payments of as much as $2,000 into the account each year based on family income until the child turns 18 -- at which point, he or she could use the money to buy a home or pay for a college education.

It’s the latest ambitious policy idea offered by a handful of expected 2020 Democratic presidential contenders. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, has introduced legislation for tuition-free public college and Medicare for all. California senator Kamala Harris earlier this month introduced a $2 trillion tax-credit proposal that would boost middle-class incomes by as much as $3,000 per year for individuals and $6,000 for married couples. And Booker has previously introduced legislation for a federal job guarantee.

The Booker "baby bonds" bill and the Harris tax-credit bill both could provide more money for students and families to pay for costs like a college education, although they take very different approaches.

The Booker legislation, dubbed the American Opportunity Accounts Act, follows 20 years of legislative proposals at the federal level to address inequality by creating account-based interventions for children. It would have a larger scale, however, and do more than previous plans to target poor children.

“It’s progressive in a way that that nothing that has come before it really is,” said Justin King, policy director at New America’s Family-Centered Social Policy program.

The latest Booker bill promises as much as $46,215 for each child from a family of four at or below the federal poverty line. That’s well above the roughly $30,000 debt that the average student loan borrower left college with in 2017, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

Booker said that nearly one in three American families have either zero or negative net wealth.

“This proposal is about helping families break through barriers that keep so many Americans from wealth-creating opportunities like higher education and home ownership,” he said in a statement announcing the bill. “Combined with other tax policy changes, like an expansion of the earned income tax credit, this bill will help level the playing field in our country to ensure that every child has a chance to live their version of the American dream.”

Since the early 2000s, lawmakers in Washington have discussed something like the baby bonds legislation -- often bringing together strange bedfellows.

Former senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat, introduced the “Kids Save” Act in 1999. And in 2005, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the ASPIRE Act, which would establish a $500 investment account for every newborn. The bill was co-authored by New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum, South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint and New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine. The legislation got backing in the House from former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich and progressive champion Keith Ellison.

And Hillary Clinton as a 2008 Democratic presidential candidate proposed her own child savings account plan.

“In a lot of ways, this bill looks like bills that came before in terms of how the design accounts for all kids,” King said.

What separates the Booker proposal from previous legislation, he said, is that it would involve bonds, not savings accounts. And the government, rather than parents, would make contributions to the accounts. It also has a much bigger scale than previous proposals, King said.

The Booker bill closely resembles a baby bonds proposal from economists Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics and urban policy at the New School, and William Darity, a professor of economics and public policy at Duke University.

“The key ingredient of how successful you will be in America is how wealthy your family is,” Hamilton told The Washington Post in January.

Much like free college, which has gathered momentum in cities and states across the country, the savings account idea is already being tried at the local level in states like Maine, Nevada and Pennsylvania. And Oklahoma launched the SEED for Oklahoma Kids experiment in 2007 to test the results from child development accounts. 

Michael Sherraden, a distinguished professor and the founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, helped design the program and said it has already shown some positive returns for the families of students. Researchers at the Center for Social Development are evaluating the program as part of a long-term social experiment. They’ve found that mothers of students in the program have a more positive outlook and higher expectations for their child’s educational attainment.

“Their parents expect them to go to college,” he said. “We know from other studies that expectations for educational attainment are very highly associated with actual educational attainment.”

Harris Seeks Income Boost

The Harris tax credit bill, called the LIFT the Middle Class Act, could also have implications for higher ed access -- although the legislation wouldn’t have the same focus on assisting students from the poorest families. The proposal would function like a beefed-up version of the earned income tax credit and phase in quickly for individuals and married couples who work.

It would offer substantial immediate benefits. Families earning up to $60,000 could receive up to $6,000 annually under the proposal. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated that one million Pell-eligible students would qualify for a $3,000 tax credit under the plan.

A majority of students of color enrolled in community college have several thousand dollars in unmet need from costs associated with attending classes, said Angela Hanks, director of the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at the Center for Law and Social Policy.

“It’s not just tuition and fees, books, and all of those things. You also have to have a place to live,” she said. “Would it go directly to postsecondary ed? It’s up to the individual. But could it help defray some of the costs? For sure.”

Poor people who don’t work, however, wouldn’t get much of a boost from the proposal. Neither would student parents who don’t report earnings or independent students. Individuals must earn at least $3,000 in order to qualify, although the full benefits phase in quickly afterward.

But the bill has the support of some progressive outfits like Demos because of its antipoverty potential overall, said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at Demos. The windfall from the tax credit could help address both stagnant wages and inequality, he said.

“You're seeing policy proposals now that match the scale of the problem,” Huelsman said. “If you believe that inequality is a generationally defining crisis, it's going to take a large investment to address that. If you believe the racial wealth gap is a crisis-level problem, it’s going to take some serious investments to address that.”

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Investigation finds no policy violations when police were called on a black student

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2018-10-30 07:00

Smith College released a report Monday detailing an independent investigation into a July call to campus police and rejecting the idea that the caller was motivated by clear racial bias. During the call, a Smith College custodial employee reported a black student who was eating lunch and relaxing in the Tyler House residence hall living room. The student “seems to be out of place,” the caller told the dispatcher.

To many at Smith and elsewhere, the call appeared to be another incident of law enforcement questioning black people for doing nothing wrong. And while racial profiling is a national issue, its presence is particularly upsetting to many on college campuses, where people hope for everyone to be treated fairly. And some at Smith are criticizing the report.

Anthony Cruthird and Kate Upatham, two lawyers who have experience with education, discrimination and civil rights law, were asked to “determine whether any employees violated the college’s affirmative action policy.”

Ultimately, the investigators did not find sufficient evidence that the student’s race or color motivated the phone call and concluded that “the caller provided a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for calling the campus police on the day of the incident.”

“The investigative team was not able to identify any other scenario in which the caller had encountered a person of a different race or color in a Smith building where he did not expect to see that person, and he responded differently,” the report read.

The full report is available to the public with names and identifying information redacted per college confidentiality policies.

According to the report, the caller, whose name has not been publicly disclosed, called campus police because “he thought it was strange that a person was in the un-air-conditioned living room of Tyler House, when the nearby dining area was air conditioned, and the building was ‘closed.’”

During her interview with the investigators, Oumou Kanoute, the Smith College sophomore who was reported, said that she was “pretty shaken up” after she was confronted by a campus police officer and “just wanted to get out of there. [She] left and went for a run at the gym.” As she left the building, she said that she “was trying hard not to break down in public.”

In a blog post for the American Civil Liberties Union, which along with the ACLU Massachusetts represents Kanoute, Kanoute wrote about the impact the experience has had on her life.

“A few humiliating minutes later, the questioning was over. But the pain certainly wasn't. As I write this, I still feel overwhelmed with anxiety and sadness over what happened,” she wrote. “I still struggle to leave my room. Walking into the dining hall to grab a meal fills me with dread.”

Kathleen McCartney, Smith College president, emphasized in a letter to students, faculty and staff that the college still had work to do to prevent racial bias on campus.

“I recognize that this event has been painful for the student, and that the publication of this report will bring this pain to the forefront again,” McCartney wrote. “It is clear to me that we need to foster the capacity for person-to-person conversations -- on our campus and in our wider communities -- thereby preventing unnecessary escalation involving the police.”

Cruthird and Upatham interviewed 11 people for the investigation. Among them were the caller, Kanoute, the campus police chief, the dispatcher, the responding officer and the director of building services. Cruthird and Upatham also reviewed photos of the living room, social media posts about the incident and multiple media reports.

Some students and alumni have taken to social media to criticize the report's findings.

“Oh my god my alma mater @smithcollege just sent out a report declaring the recent incident where a college employee called the cops on a Black student for being in a dorm was ‘legitimate’ and ‘non-discriminatory,’” one user tweeted. “This is so humiliating, I hope that student finds peace & support.”

“Reminded today that institutions won't protect you if there's the slimmest chance they can protect themselves instead @smithcollege @presmccartney,” another user tweeted.

“No. Having someone ask a young African American student why she is there face to face is not any better than calling the police on her. SHE BELONGS. Period. End of story. Keep your white fragility in check,” a Facebook user commented.

Carl Takei, senior staff lawyer at the ACLU, issued a statement in response to the investigation’s findings.

“Smith’s investigators determined no policies were violated based on a key finding of its own report: the college’s policies provide abysmal guidance on how to deal with race-based suspicious person situations, for both individuals making the calls and dispatchers fielding them,” Takei wrote. “Oumou should never have been reported to the police. Any reasonable person looking at Oumou on the couch would have seen a black student doing nothing threatening or suspicious.”

The caller was placed on administrative leave in August pending the outcome of the investigation. According to the Smith College website, the college “does not anticipate pursuing any adverse employment action in connection with the events of July 31” because the caller was not found in violation of any Smith policies.

Several other colleges have seen racial profiling incidents in recent years, including Yale University, Colorado State University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

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Election turmoil could put dent in University of Illinois's massive research bid

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2018-10-30 07:00

The State of Illinois famously operated without a budget for two years, so it might be the last place you’d expect to help bankroll an ambitious new multicity, multiuniversity research and training center, the Illinois Innovation Network. But if the stars align over the next few months, a gleaming facility could rise on Chicago’s South Side that will help kick it off.

State officials anticipate that the project's capital costs, along with others located elsewhere in the state, will be backed mostly by Illinois taxpayers -- to the tune of half a billion dollars.

The Chicago portion of the project, dubbed the Discovery Partners Institute, carries a tentative price tag of $230 million. Officials with the University of Illinois, its main partner, say it will be part of an imagined larger public-private research network spanning at least three cities statewide that will someday focus on long-term “grand-challenge problems” in computing, big data, health, wellness, food, agriculture and the environment.

But advocates' most pressing concern is more short-term: Will this thing be dead in the water come Nov. 7?

One of the Chicago project's two biggest political patrons, Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, faces a tough re-election bid on Nov. 6. His Democratic opponent has shown little support for the project. And the project's other patron, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, announced last month that he won’t seek a third term in 2019.

Bill Sanders, a longtime professor of electrical engineering at the university’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign and DPI’s interim director, called the endeavor “a new way of thinking about a research institution that supports a university.”

He said the institute will bring together people from industry, community groups and other nongovernmental organizations, as well as researchers from around the world.

“By engaging industry very early, by engaging community groups and nongovernmental organizations to understand what the real problems are today, we can make sure that when the good fundamental research is done, we can drive it towards impact,” he said.

Among their models: the Cornell Tech campus that opened in September 2017, built on donated land on New York City's Roosevelt Island. The project, estimated to cost more than $2 billion, required nearly seven years of planning, and seed money and land from New York City. Cornell also raised nine-figure gifts to support the project.

Hubs for the new Illinois network are planned at each of the University of Illinois system’s campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, as well as locations at or near the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, among others.

Sanders said DPI will look like your typical high-tech incubator, but with much of the underlying research done in-house. It’ll also be home to both undergraduate- and graduate-level instruction. “The vision is that in the areas of the grand-challenge problems, we can be very opportunistic,” he said. Courses will be offered through a cross-listing mechanism, the same way most colleges handle study-abroad programs with other institutions, allowing students to take a few courses on another campus. As many as 2,000 students and 100 faculty could someday call the institute home, officials say.

“We will be the clearinghouse, if you will,” Sanders said. “Different universities can receive the courses that are taught at the institute.”

Though Rauner has said private investors are willing to come forward to support the project long-term if he is re-elected, it’s not clear what will happen if he’s defeated in less than two weeks. Most recent polls put his Democratic opponent, billionaire J. B. Pritzker, ahead by several points. Pritzker has said DPI shouldn’t rely on $500 million in state grant funding. “There is no private support as best as I can tell,” he told Crain’s Chicago Business last month.

University of Illinois president Timothy Killeen has said potential donors have promised “many hundreds of millions of dollars” for the project and the larger Illinois Innovation Network. In August, he said DPI has verbal commitments of more than $100 million in private funding, but he didn't provide details.

Earlier this month, Killeen said he was "very comfortable" with Pritzker's support for the project.

But John Pletz, who covers technology for Crain’s, said Emanuel and Rauner’s possible exits from Illinois politics could spell trouble for DPI. “You have a project that could end up without a patron, and that’s very different from what the world looked like when this was announced,” he said. “Everybody's still in wait-and-see mode.”

Though many observers like the idea of DPI, Pletz said, the devil is in the details -- and few funding details are available at the moment. “I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘This is just crazy,’” he said. “It may be a good idea -- there are people who think it’s a good idea. But will it really happen? Nobody knows.”

Killeen has said Chicago developer Related Midwest will donate the land for DPI as part of a larger, 62-acre, mixed-use development south of downtown, tentatively dubbed The 78. The reference is to the developer’s aspiration that it become Chicago’s 78th officially recognized neighborhood.

Related Midwest has said the project will combine university, research, residential and retail offerings along with more than 11 acres of open space. The project’s advocates have even floated the idea that it could help Chicago lure Amazon’s coveted second headquarters. Killeen last month couldn’t say how much private funding had been committed to the project, but he said there was “significant philanthropic interest."

Pritzker, who founded the Chicago tech incubator 1871, told The News-Gazette of Champaign, Ill., that he “understands the importance of technology and innovation to the future of this state” and would prioritize higher education institutions as “hubs of innovation and economic growth” if elected. But a spokesman wouldn’t say directly if he’d support state funding for DPI.

The $500 million appropriated for the project, to be paid out over several years, comes from a state bond fund that has only about $160 million available right now. A sizable chunk of that -- as much as $50 million -- is slated for the construction of a "world-class" data sciences research and classroom facility at the Urbana-Champaign campus. Killeen has said another bond sale, planned for this month, will cover DPI’s first round of funding. He said he isn’t worried about future funding.

But Illinois lawmakers have said they’re concerned about promises of private funding for the project. At a legislative hearing last month, State Senator Scott Bennett, a Democrat who represents Champaign, complained, “They have done a lot of press conferences, mostly with the governor, saying we've got all these things lined up. I have yet to see any names.”

While Illinois has seen its share of budget troubles, things may be looking up a bit, analysts say: Moody’s Investors Service last July revised its outlook on the state’s credit rating, moving it from “negative” to “stable.” The Baa3 general obligation rating is still “just a notch above junk” status, Reuters noted, but it represented the first stable rating since December 2012. Two other ratings agencies have put the state at “stable” as well. The Bond Buyer, a trade publication, noted that Baa3 is the “lowest investment grade level.”

Illinois has the lowest overall ratings of any state, meaning it pays the biggest penalty to sell debt in the municipal bond market. Analysts have warned that the way it handles future financial pressures -- especially pension obligations -- could affect those ratings.

But Moody’s senior analyst Diane Viacava said the university system has an excellent rating, despite the state's budget troubles. Actually, she said, all of the DPI partners are "strong universities" with sound finances.

“They have infrastructure in place and a machine already running for research,” she said. “So that’s already going. You have three major research universities that have worked together in different ways in the past -- and with a substantial footprint in the research world already.”

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Georgia State and publishers continue legal battle over fair use of course materials

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2018-10-30 07:00

When three publishers sued Georgia State University for sharing excerpts of textbooks with students at no charge 10 years ago, librarians and faculty members took notice.

The lawsuit was a big deal for universities offering "e-reserves" to students -- free downloadable course materials that often included scanned pages from print textbooks.

GSU (and many other higher ed institutions) believed that this use of publisher content was within the bounds of "fair use" -- a much debated tenet of copyright law. Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Sage Publications disagreed. The publishers argued that this use of copyrighted materials without a license constituted infringement.

Then the courts went to work. In 2012, U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans sided largely against the publishers. The court ruled that 43 of 48 alleged cases of infringement were fair use -- a judgment heralded as a victory for higher education institutions and libraries.

But in 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed this decision, throwing the case back to Judge Evans. In 2016, Judge Evans again ruled in favor of Georgia State. Using a new formula for calculating fair use, Evans ruled that 44 of the 48 alleged cases of infringement were in fact permissible.

In 2017, the publishers appealed again, and again, the 11th Circuit said Evans got it wrong.

In an opinion published this month, the appeals court said that Judge Evans should not have applied a “mathematical formula” when analyzing whether or not something constituted fair use, and instead should have performed “a qualitative consideration of each instance of copying in the light of its particular facts.”

Kevin Smith, dean of libraries at the University of Kansas, wrote in a blog post this month that the circuit court took an “astonishingly long time” to issue its ruling on the appeal -- 449 days. “I wish I could say that the wait was worth it and that the ruling adds to our stock of knowledge about fair use,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, that is not what happened.”

The ruling “does not fundamentally alter the way fair use analysis has been done throughout this case,” said Smith. If there is a third trial, Judge Evans may find more than four or five cases of infringement, “but the big principles that the publishers were trying to gain all lost. There will be no sweeping injunction, nor any broad assertion that e-reserves always require a license.”

“The saddest thing about this case is that, after 10 years, it continues to chew over issues that seem less and less relevant,” said Smith. “Library practices have evolved during that time, and publishing models have changed. Open access and the movement toward open educational resources have had a profound impact on the way course materials are provided to students. So the impact of this case, and of any final decision, if one ever comes, will be negligible.”

Barbara Fister, professor and librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed), agreed that the landscape had changed since the case against GSU was first brought a decade ago. Librarians are rarely the ones providing course materials to students -- now faculty members distribute readings to students. “The defendants in this lawsuit are simply not the alleged offenders anymore,” she said.

Licensing of content has also changed as the popularity of digital content has grown, Fister said. “The idea of paying per use for scholarly materials is growing less and less obvious than when faculty used course packs and libraries handled reserves.”

Fair use determination is “never going to be simple,” said Fister. She said the main outcome of this “decade of legal wrangling” is that “libraries can and should use judgment when making fair use decisions.” And despite what publishers may want institutions to think, it is not the case that “all uses must be paid for just to be on the safe side,” she said.

Jonathan Band, a Washington-based copyright lawyer, said that the most important aspect of the case is the reinforcement of the idea that there is not a mathematical formula that can be applied to fair use. “It is a much more flexible, nuanced standard,” he said.

Band agreed with Smith that the publishers should have dropped the suit a long time ago.

“Looking at the big picture, the publishers should have dropped the suit back in 2009, when GSU abandoned its old fair use policy shortly after it was sued,” said Band. “The new policy it adopted was the same as the policy the American Association of Publishers had blessed at other institutions. The publishers should have just declared victory and gone home.”

The publishers aren’t likely to give up this fight, said James Grimmelmann, professor of law at Cornell University's law school. But like others, he believes that the outcome “won’t matter very much.” Licensing practices are “worked out much more by negotiation” now than they were in the past, he said.

Regardless, the publishers and Georgia State are poised to keep fighting.

Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers, said in a statement that she was pleased that the 11th Circuit had unanimously reversed the district court’s “erroneous findings.”

Kerry Heyward, a lawyer for Georgia State, said, “We remain convinced that GSU has abided by the copyright law of fair use in providing small excerpts for student use in the educational environment and stand ready to demonstrate that fair use in accordance with the 11th Circuit’s decision.”

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Historians announce their 2020 annual meeting won't have a general theme, to avoid "acrobatics" to fit it

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2018-10-29 07:00

We’ve all seen it: the panel or paper contorted to fit within the boundaries of disciplinary conference theme. Credit to the moderator or panelist for trying. But, save a title or a few paragraphs, it has glaringly little to do with the given topic.

The American Historical Association has had enough this bending and twisting of research. So the association recently said that its 2020 annual conference will have no theme at all, for the first time in nearly two decades.

"Next year, no one will be tempted to engage in misguided and pointless gymnastics to make a panel appear to fit a theme,” John R. McNeill, the association’s president-elect and University Professor of History at Georgetown University wrote in his announcement of the decision. “I hope that a themeless AHA will prove to be a maximally inclusive AHA. There will be no cluster of sessions devoted to ‘War and Peace,’” a reference to the 2004 theme, “or ‘Uneven Developments’ (2008) or to anything else.”

No one will discount their 2020 submission ideas for lack of relevance to a theme, McNeill said, and practitioners “of every variety of history should feel equally encouraged to try their luck.” As a result, he added, “the assortment of topics represented by the sessions should be entirely random” and “represent a fuller array of all the approaches, methodologies, topics and, yes, themes that historians nowadays find compelling.”

McNeill said via email last week that he couldn’t immediately recall specific examples of tenuous panels, but that two years on the conference program committee left him with “the impression that people were attempting useless acrobatics.”

Underscoring a point that McNeill made in his announcement, James Grossman, executive director the AHA, said the association makes it clear in its annual call for papers that they are not assessed by relevance to a theme (the association does not accept individual papers, just panel pitches). But while adherence to the topic is optional, it seems that members remain skeptical that catering to a theme won't help them, he said.

“We get proposals that do backflips to relate the true focus of the panel to the theme,” Grossman added. And session titles “that are bent backwards and sideways to incorporate a word from the theme.”

Themes are not all bad: McNeill said in his announcement that part of the reason 2020 will be themeless is that so many good ideas have been taken. “Had the AHA known what was coming,” he said, it might have held off on using “Practicing History in Unsettled Times” in 2007. McNeill also praised 2015’s theme, “History and Other Disciplines,” and even this year’s, “Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in Global Perspective.”

More “fundamentally,” however, McNeill said, “I wonder what good it does to have a theme.” He guessed he, too, might have been guilty of “contortions” to fit a theme “back in the day,” but that he now recognized all such efforts as “pointless.”

Pulling Things Together

Assuming that themes do offer some guidance, or at least guidance to some, what will guide the 2020 conference? Grossman said “major threads” will come from two plenary sessions.

Other threads will remain loose. And that could be the case beyond 2020: Grossman also said a themeless 2021 meeting is under discussion.

Other disciplinary group meetings have long gone without themes. The American Psychological Association hasn’t had one for more than a decade, at least, said Kim Mills, organization spokesperson. That’s because the association’s 54 divisions each get a certain number of programming hours, and typically devote them to their respective subfields, Mills said. The result is a “large and very diverse program.”

Mills didn’t rule out a more thematic approach to future conferences, however, such as a possible themed day.

Some organizations are more committed to banners. The American Geophysical Union, for example, has had themed fall meetings, at least of late. Last year’s topic was “What Will You Discover?” This year’s upcoming meeting is “What Science Stands For.” Chris McEntee, the union’s executive director, said the group uses themes to “frame the meeting around the issues we know our attendees and the broader Earth and space science community are most concerned about.”

Sebastiaan Faber, chair of Hispanic studies at Oberlin College, said he thought it made “perfect sense” to hold a themeless conference, especially for “massive” professional meetings. At these large conferences, he said, overarching themes “seem a bit meaningless and invite a kind of opportunism -- although they are often so broadly formulated that they can accommodate almost anything.”

At smaller meetings, however, where most everyone attends most sessions, Faber said he thought predefined themes “can be quite productive.”

Flagging the fact that he’s not an historian, Faber said McNeill’s explanation “makes you wonder why large professional organizations in the humanities and social sciences decided to give their conferences overarching themes to begin with.” He guessed that it might have stemmed from the anxiety wrought by increasing “specialization, fragmentation and interdisciplinarity” from the 1970s and 1980s. Why? Those trends undermined the notion that “scholars in the same field could automatically be assumed to be part of a common pursuit,” he said.

Faber mused, “Maybe the loss of this assumed disciplinary coherence or the sense of a common pursuit sparked a search for other types of coherence.”

That hypothesis at least fits with McNeill’s mini-history of AHA conference themes. For its first 100 or so annual meetings, he said, beginning in 1884 in Saratoga, N.Y., “the AHA did not bother with themes. They gradually took hold in the 1990s, if we can trust the admittedly incomplete archival record.” Then, for a while, themes were optional. The 1994, 1995 and 1998 meetings went themeless. The last year without a theme was 2003.

Joshua Eyler, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University (and an occasional columnist for Inside Higher Ed), said he was recently chatting with colleagues about how very common the “stretching phenomenon” is.

“Although some themes are urgent and important, many cause potential attendees to force their ideas into a predetermined box, so to speak,” he said.

Patrick Manning, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of World History, emeritus, chose “Scale in History” for 2017’s AHA conference, when he was association president. The idea, he said, was to ask participants to “stretch” their papers to fit the theme, or, “really, to stretch their paper by articulating the scales they were using,” such as local to global or small scale to large scale. He said quite a few participants appeared to do that, and that he’s interested to see if they continue to do so over time.

On the topic of themes, Manning said he’s interested in whether history might appoint a group to identify the “main topical and interpretive directions of the field, and to comment on implications of those directions,” and maybe make recommendations. He said he’s recently written about the idea of “historical theory,” a parallel to literary theory.

Still, Manning said he wasn’t “worried” about no theme for AHA in 2020.

History “addresses a very wide range of topics, and the [conference] program committee seeks to provide space for as many as possible,” he said. So while the absence of a formal theme likely won’t make much of a difference, it's “an interesting experiment.”

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Hillels nationwide focus on assuring students and protecting safety

Inside Higher Ed - Mon, 2018-10-29 07:00

A year ago, alt-right protesters marched through the University of Virginia chanting Nazi slogans. White nationalists have for the last two years been posting anti-Semitic banners on campuses. On Saturday, an avowed anti-Semite killed 11 at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

For Hillel, Saturday's tragedy prompted quick action, as campus centers for Jewish students opened for counseling and discussions on Sunday. A Pittsburgh Hillel center that serves students at local campuses, several of which are near the site of the synagogue shootings, is among those that opened on Sunday. Many campus Hillel chapters are planning vigils to honor the victims of Pittsburgh.

Hillel has been stepping up efforts to train its campus leaders on how to respond to safety threats.

Matthew Berger, vice president of communications for Hillel International, said in an interview Sunday that "in the last two years, we have strengthened our efforts to prepare professionals for mitigating and addressing potential threats and strengthened our relationship with university law enforcement and community partners to better prepare for and mitigate" incidents of violence. "The safety of our students is our highest priority."

In many college towns, Hillel centers are the most visible Jewish organization in the community. So Berger said that the national organization has been doing workshops for campus leaders, including drills and simulations for how to respond if a center faces a threat.

Challenges include the generally open nature of Hillels and of campuses generally. In addition, he noted, many Hillel centers are located just off campus but are not technically on campus. So one thing Hillel has encouraged all of its campus organizations to do is to determine the exact role of campus and local law enforcement in the event of any safety issue.

Berger said that this work has been a priority because of public events like Charlottesville, but also because of many others -- such as incidents of vandalism of Hillel centers -- that have not attracted as much attention.

Hillel is part of the Secure Community Network, a coalition of Jewish organizations focused on safety issues they face in the current environment. One project of that network was the creation of a Student Guide to Staying Secure on Campus.

Berger said that campus leaders will be listening to students -- Jewish and non-Jewish -- and planning responses to their concerns. "The best thing right now is to have a strong community."

National Trends

A backdrop for Hillel's efforts has been national trends about incidents on campuses:

  • The Anti-Defamation League reported in February that 2017 saw 204 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, an 89 percent increase from the previous year. The ADL counts incidents as involving "harassment (where a Jewish person or group of people feel harassed by the perceived anti-Semitic words, spoken or written, or actions of someone else); vandalism (where property is damaged in a manner that indicates the presence of anti-Semitic animus or in a manner that victimizes Jews for their religious affiliation), and assault (where people’s bodies are targeted with violence accompanied by expressions of anti-Semitic animus)."
  • Postings of white supremacist propaganda -- some of it with Nazi themes -- increased by 77 percent during the 2017-18 academic year over the prior year. Many of the posters appear to be from off-campus organizations whose members put up posters in the middle of the night.

Victims With Campus Ties

Two of those shot Saturday -- one of whom was shot fatally -- had ties to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, was a physician who was on the family medicine faculty of the medical center.

"The UPMC family, in particular UPMC Shadyside, cannot even begin to express the sadness and grief we feel over the loss of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz. Jerry was above all one of the kindest physicians and human beings in our community." More ⬇️.

— UPMC (@UPMCnews) October 28, 2018

Daniel Leger, 70, is a nurse and chaplain at the medical center. He was shot and was listed as in critical condition late Saturday.

Also killed Saturday was Joyce Fienberg, 75, who had previously worked as a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center, and who was the widow of Stephen Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University. The Facebook page of the learning center at Pitt described her as "an engaging, elegant, and warm person" who had made key contributions to several long-term research projects while working there from 1983 until she retired in 2008.

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