Inside Higher Ed

Critics blast University of Oklahoma's handling of sexual assault allegations against its former president.

1 hour 44 min ago

When the University of Oklahoma announced this month that its popular former president was cutting all ties to the institution, its administrators strongly indicated -- without directly saying so -- that ending the relationship effectively released the university from any responsibility for continuing to investigate, or for acting on sexual misconduct allegations against former president David Boren.

The university leaders' response was surprising given the seriousness of the accusations against Boren, a former U.S. senator and Oklahoma governor who led OU for 24 years, until June 2018, and who has been one of the most powerful political figures in the state. Six former male students and staff have alleged that Boren and another senior university official sexually harassed or assaulted them. Leaked copies of a report by a law firm hired by the university to investigate the accusers' claims said their complaints were credible.

OU's Board of Regents has since run into a buzz-saw of criticism for its handling of Boren's voluntary disassociation from the university. The board's decision has also prompted questions about whether the university's response was in line with best practices for addressing and remedying sexual harassment and assault complaints on college campuses.

The terse and ambiguously worded statement issued by the board emphasized that Boren's decision to discontinue any affiliation with the university, including giving up his teaching position and emeritus status, "brings this matter to a close." It also implied that the case had been resolved, as far as the university was concerned.

The statement said nothing specifically about the university closing its investigation of allegations that Boren and Jim "Tripp" Hall, former vice president of University Development, sexually harassed or assaulted male students and staff. Both men are now under criminal investigation and have denied engaging in sexual misconduct. The statement also did not acknowledge the accusations by the alleged victims or say whether the inquiry had yielded any findings to support or refute their claims. Also left unsaid was what, if any, steps the university would take going forward to ensure students, faculty and staff, that such allegations are taken seriously.

Instead, the statement made repeated references to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education and requires educational institutions to investigate and remedy sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints.

" … the Title IX issue between David Boren and the University of Oklahoma has been concluded," the statement said. It also noted that administrators "worked very hard to bring to a close the Title IX issue between David Boren and the University of Oklahoma," and that "David Boren no longer has any relationship going forward with the university as a result of his resignation." The comments were attributed to Leslie Rainbolt-Forbes, chair of the OU Board of Regents.

"We are mindful of the OSBI investigation and will be watchful as to the determination of the grand jury," she said in the statement, referring to a separate investigation of the allegations being conducted by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Meanwhile, a statue of Boren, looking regal and dressed in academic robes, remains on the main campus in Norman, as does another statue on the campus in Oklahoma City. The College of International Studies building also still bears his name, as do a prestigious professorship and several scholarships. The regents have said they have no intention of removing the statues or Boren's name from the professorship and scholarships.

The Board of Regents did not respond to written questions from Inside Higher Ed about the university's investigation and about the criticisms for using ending Boren's affiliation with OU as justification for closing the case.

For at least one of Boren's accusers, the regents' actions and statements seemed more intended to protect the reputation of the university and the widely beloved former president than to determine what may or may not have actually occurred.

"I think the university has proceeded at every juncture with the intent of keeping all the findings confidential and discrete," said Jess Eddy, who was Boren's teaching assistant during the fall semester of his junior year in 2010 and said he was assaulted by both Boren and Hall. "You can see this very clearly in the most recent statement. They didn't take any action; they let him resign. And once he resigned, they said the matter is closed."

Lauren Brookey, OU's spokesperson, said the university's decision was driven by legal concerns.

"We believe we're following the parameters of the Title IX law," she said. "It's our understanding that removing a threat, either by expulsion of a student or termination of an employee, it's the highest sanction under Title IX. President Boren's departure achieves that."

Kevin Reilly, presidential advisor for leadership at the American Council on Education, said when senior administrators leave a university under a cloud of suspicion or with allegations of impropriety or criminal misconduct trailing behind them, it's customary for the institution to investigate if any of its standards or practices were violated.

"It's generally accepted good practice to do so after somebody, especially the president, resigns under those circumstances," he said, noting that he was speaking about such cases in general and not about OU in particular.

"I think you want to know that in terms of your own rules and regulations," he said. "It helps the institution adhere to the regulations and determine how to do better in the future and minimize the chances of that happening again."

If the investigation concludes that there were not violations of the regulations, "then that's good too," he said.

Reilly, president emeritus and regent professor of the University of Wisconsin System, said being open about the findings of investigations helps institutions rebuild trust with students, faculty and staff.

It signals "that we take this matter very seriously and want to learn from it," he said. "That message is about credibility, going forward, with both internal and external audiences that are certainly watching" how universities handle or respond to embarrassing controversies and scandals.

"It does seem unusual to me that they would not have an interest in finding out on their own terms what actually happened or didn't happen," he said.

A former university system chancellor who did not want to be identified agreed with Reilly's assessment.

"These issues do not resolve themselves," she said. "Continuing to address the issue publicly is important for recovery and healing."

Suzette Grillot, an OU professor and former dean of the College of International Studies, blasted the board for accepting Boren's resignation without doing anything more.

"The OU Board of Regents seems to think (wrongly) they can just wash their hands of David Boren, put the whole matter behind them and move on," she recently tweeted. "We shall see."

Brookey characterized Boren's departure much differently.

"It is fairly significant," she said. "It cuts all of his ties and ends his relationship with the university. And it is very comprehensive and falls within the requirements of the Title IX law. In order to teach, he was technically an employee of the university, which has ramifications under Title IX. He was listed as an employee and on our payroll."

Outside critics said Boren's departure was not enough and that the university should not have ended its investigation of Boren, which was being led by Jones Day, a Washington law firm. (A special counsel is overseeing the separate investigation by the OSBI and will assist state grand jurors "in any proceedings" related to it, according to The Oklahoman.)

"Regardless of its legal responsibilities or lack of such responsibilities, I think that the OU Board has an ethical obligation to consider the Jones Day report and at the very least to determine if any of the University's internal systems (past and present) prevent legitimate investigations and also to decide what the University needs to do going forward to protect all members of the campus community from acts of sexual assault or harassment," said Susan Resneck Pierce, a former college president who advises university boards and presidents.

Grillot, the OU professor, likened the university's statements on adhering to Title IX regulations as pure obfuscation.

"Ah, the 'jurisdiction' justification. … that's not at all code for a CYA tactic that's part of a larger 'pass the buck, bury your head in the sand, sweep it under the rug' strategy," she tweeted last week.

Grillot has clashed with the administration on a number of issues including gender-based wage discrimination. She filed suit against OU in March saying she was paid less because of her gender and demoted because she spoke out against the university's leadership. She was demoted from her positions as dean, vice provost for international programs and the William J. Crowe Jr. chair in geopolitics. But she remains a tenured professor. -- Her complaints are not new, other faculty members were raising concerns about male-dominated cronyism on campus under Boren as far back as 2013.

Pierce, president emerita of the University of Puget Sound and president of SRP Consulting, LLC, said given the involvement of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the OU Board of Regents also "needs to think about its responsibility for the health and integrity of the university in all its aspects."

Said Brookey, the university spokeswoman: "Our responsibility is to fulfill the Title IX laws and observe the interest of the complainants in their situations and to make sure we remedy the situation for the complainants," she said. "That's our responsibility as a university."

She said the board's actions were focused on protecting the privacy of the alleged victims.

"That's the highest priority of Title IX," she said. "To ensure impartiality, fairness and privacy for the complainants."

She noted that university administrators are awaiting the results of the OSBI investigation to determine any possible further course of action.

Eddy, the former Boren aide, believes university leaders should do a lot more.

"It's clear that they're more interested in keeping the reputation of the university away from the fact that president Boren had preyed on students for years," he said. "They spent over a million dollars in taxpayer money and student fees to keep the bulk of the reports (on the allegations) private."

He said the Board of Regents has held about 25 closed door meetings and executive committee sessions on this issue.

"They have not spoken about the investigation publicly, with the exception of a few written statements," he said. "I had to exercise my rights and struggle with them for weeks just to get three pages having to do with my situation" that was part of the Jones Day investigation report.

Brookey defended the university's handling of the case.

"We have the highest confidence in our Title IX office, and we believe the facts will bear that out through the various investigations," she said. "But we also understand that universities have seen increased complaints," of sexual harassment and assaults on campuses. "We are evaluating a staffing increase that our Title IX office may have in the future. That is under review."

In the interim, Levi Hilliard, another accuser, filed suit on Tuesday against the university and former Vice President Hall for allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulting him.

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There's a movement for better scientific posters. But are they really better?

1 hour 44 min ago

Hey science, your posters stink.

Mike Morrison, a Ph.D. candidate in organizational psychology at Michigan State University, is way too polite to say it that way. But that's the implicit message behind his #betterposter campaign for less cluttered, more user-friendly scientific conference posters.

If you've ever been to the poster hall at an academic conference (typically in the bowels of some big city chain hotel), you know what Morrison's talking about: rows and rows of giant boards alerting passers-by to the newest research in the field. These posters are supposed to serve as jumping-off points for scientists to discuss their work and -- as Morrison tells it -- efficiently convey new insights to someone navigating the hall in an hour or less.

The typical conference poster, which is long on information and short on design, fails on both points, Morrison says. That's because an eager scientist usually asks if you have any questions before you've even started to read the darn thing, taking up much of that hour. And the tiny print on all the remaining posters makes them impossible to skim before you've got to run off to some panel, interview or meet-up.

Source: YouTube/Mike Morrison

"The cardinal sin of every poster I've seen, including the posters I've designed myself, is that they assume people are going to stand there and read our posters in silence for 10 straight minutes, following the order of the sections we've laid out," he says in a YouTube #betterposter video that's been seen more than 224,000 times.

Morrison thinks there's a better way, and that it looks like some version of this:

The #betterposter template boils down the conference poster to what Morrison thinks are the essentials: a main finding, in big type and plain language; an "ammo bar" of data for presenters to use while they're talking to conference attendees; and a "silent presenter" bar with bullet points introducing the study, its methods and results.

Follow the template and you'll achieve the big three conference poster goals, Morrison says: maximize insight transmitted to attendees, keep it easy to make and include what people "need to know," not necessarily what's "nice" for them to know.

Morrison advises topping it all with a QR code linking to a full version of the study and a copy of the poster. He assures followers that this kind of code is "stupidly easy" to make and will better serve conference attendees who take pictures of posters.

The Bigger Picture

Scientific posters are actually what Morrison calls the "lowest-hanging fruit" in his bigger agenda to make science more efficient. (He's published another YouTube video of a talk on that topic.) He thinks it's unbelievable -- even negligent -- that it takes up to two years to see an article published. And he thinks it's just as bad that information typically sits behind a journal paywall upon publication, instead of being shared freely. In this sense, Morrison is butting up against a culture clash between those who would keep science among institutionally-affiliated colleagues and those who believe that science is a public good. He knows that, but he's undeterred.

Morrison's own past as a web developer specializing in user experience makes him especially sensitive to inefficiency. If it takes too long to load something when you're designing a website, it means lost clicks, he said in a recent interview. But in science, it can mean life and death.

“I'm not just talking about curing cancer faster. I'm talking about curing every disease faster. And solving poverty and hunger faster. And reaching the stars faster. Those are the stakes, and that's the opportunity."

Of the conference poster, in particular -- an admittedly small piece of the puzzle -- Morrison said, "It's a bottleneck to learning within science. So if we can improve the learning efficiency of that common design, even by a tiny bit, we can uncork the bottleneck and create massive ripple effects across science."

Morrison has seen accolades across academe for his design. A simple search for #betterposter on Twitter turns up praise from scientists who have tried it and seen positive results, or from those who plan to. Scientists are trained to be critical, so the response has been "overwhelmingly positive," he said, noting that some fellow scientists have won "top poster" nods at their conferences using his template.


Morrison also has detractors. Criticism centers on his past assertions that scientists don't think enough about design, because they're not trained designers, as many scientists have previously offered thoughtful suggestions on how to poster design.

Others say Morrison's approach is too extreme.

Teomara Rutherford, assistant professor of educational psychology at North Carolina State University, said recently that the #betterposter movement "would be great if it got people talking about design and being thoughtful about how design principles could be used for their individual posters, but that's not what has happened." Instead, she said, "people have been very quick to adopt an untested format on the recommendation of a splashy video."

Just as Morrison is predisposed to thinking about the user experience and efficiency, Rutherford -- whose research focuses on educational technology -- is predisposed to a certain kind of skepticism.

"There are a lot of complaints about ed tech being a solution from outside of education that is often plopped into classrooms and expected to solve all manner of issues," she said. And many researchers "now recognize that we first have to understand the needs, experiences and existing skill levels of teachers and students and work with them to find technology solutions that fit within the context."

In other words, Rutherford wants more research on whether #betterposters are, in fact, better. That discussion has to start with the goals of poster sessions, and with a better understanding of attendees and presenters alike, she said. Morrison has talked about the role of poster design in information retention, for example Rutherford said, but retention hasn't been an aim of any poster session she's attended.

Guessing that the likely goal of a poster session is engagement with scholars who are "highly knowledgeable and motivated about a very specific topic," Rutherford said they will want to see and talk about data and methods in depth. And while it may be difficult for conference-goers to find the five or 10 relevant posters in a crowded hall, she added, "we might be able to solve that just with better titles."

Further research questions on better posters might include, "How should we present data and text to aid in scientific discussion?" Rutherford said, and, "What is the flow of a general academic elevator speech about the study and how does the poster layout match with that?"

Morrison said that a recent comprehensive literature review found no evidence for posters' efficacy as a tool for knowledge transmission. He also underscored that the template is based on research on user experience design.

An exit survey of attendees at a recent conference of all #betterposters found that 68 percent of attendees preferred even a plain #betterposter layout to the traditional poster design, Morrison noted. Still, he's planning on multiple additional tests and side-by-side comparison of multiple formats at a conference next year. The idea is to see what works best, not just whether the current #betterposter template works.

"It's been tricky to get scarce conference real estate reserved for pure experimenting just logistically, but we now have organizers from virtually every field ready to help," he said. "Ultimately, we are planning to test specifically for learning outcomes and attention directly."

Martin H. Trauth, a geoscientist at the University of Potsdam in Germany who has written about science communication, including the scientific poster, said a poster is really a "teaser to attract people that are not exactly working in your area. The ones that eventually help you to move forward, because they have some overlapping knowledge and interest."

To attract that audience, he said, “your poster needs to be beautiful, with a very short and attractive, meaningful title," something like the main conclusion of the #betterposter design.

"You stand next to the poster, smiling, and you start communicating with your possible future collaborator," Trauth said. If you're not there, the poster should also work. That's "why we need content, but not too much, nice and simple."

Trauth said that he supports a movement toward better posters, "in principle." In his graduate course on science communication, for example, he asks students to review 10 posters and guess which won awards. There is a typically little consensus. In reality, all have won some kind of award and none, in Trauth's estimation, is really great. That's in part because awards tend to assess content, not design, he said.

Of #betterposter, in particular, Trauth said that users' examples show that they are still putting too much information on their boards, but now also "wasting a lot of space on a central statement." That means there is much less space for "real content," he said.

Try It First

Morrison's response to his critics? "Please try it before you knock it."

"If it's too extreme for you and you find yourself missing certain elements," he said, "then add them back for the next conference. Start from scratch and add up. Don't start from everything and boil down."

Morrison added, "I can guarantee that you'll learn something about what works and doesn't from trying the #betterposter layout, whether you decide to scrap it or not."

So far, Morrison has just talked about the need for better posters in science. But many fields outside the natural sciences use posters, too. And academics in some of those fields have previously thought about how to make those posters better.

Colin Purrington, a professor of biology at Swarthmore College who has written about posters, said the design problem is compounded because PowerPoint templates are passed on through departments. There's typcially a “poster person” who has a template that everyone seems to use, he explained. And that poster is "invariably bad, with "no emphasis on good design, such as pleasing use of white space and graphics."

Then, he said, disciplinary societies and conference organizers "choose one of these dense templates to push onto conference attendees, for decades. The result in most sciences and non-sciences is conferences are full of posters that are unreadable. It’s really hard to undo a template in a field once it has been posted on a meeting site. Like a mutation, it’s there until the person dies."

Purrington said that he used to advise adding QR codes to posters, but that the idea didn't really take. In general, though, he said, "posters in all disciplines would benefit from fewer words and especially fewer logos."

"I wish conference organizers would just enforce a word limit -- 500 words max, for example, might counteract the innate tendencies for academics to overshare. One can always hope."



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Four university presidents depart institutions within days of one another

1 hour 44 min ago

Within days of each other, four university presidents left their respective institutions with little warning. At each institution, administrators offered only minimal, and sometimes no, explanation for their departure.

On Wednesday, Marist College President David Yellen announced his departure after three years in office and was immediately replaced by an interim president. The same day, Muhlenberg College announced John I. Williams Jr. would be replaced by an interim president after four years as president. Friday saw the departure of Phyllis Worthy Dawkins after serving three years as Bennett College president and, finally, President Steven Leath of Auburn University announced a mutual decision to part ways with the university. Leath had been with Auburn since 2017.

In addition to the obvious similarities in the timing and nature of these departures, one other factor tied them together: an immediate departure, rather than the usual transitional time period. Each announcement lauded the work of the outgoing president in similar ways, but none shared much information on why the departure was occurring -- or on the lack of transitional period.

In the case of Auburn, Leath had been with the university for a relatively short tenure and had headed up a number of popular initiatives. During his previous tenure as Iowa State University president, Leath was known for fund-raising expertise and boosting research support -- while also building ties to students. He spent weekends at Iowa State patrolling popular campus areas to verify students were drinking responsibly and behaving appropriately. During Leath's tenure at Auburn, the university received Carnegie R1 Designation among the top research universities in the U.S.

Auburn Student Government President Mary Margaret Turton said in an emailed statement that Leath had made a “lasting impact” on the university.

"The student body thanks Dr. Leath for taking Auburn to new heights in the student experience and research expansion," Turton said. Local press coverage suggested Leath had many other supporters among students and faculty members.

Nonetheless, little explanation was given by Auburn for his exit -- much like his counterparts at Marist, Muhlenberg and Bennett. Bennett has been fighting to hold on to its accreditation, but Dawkins has been widely praised for raising money to help the college.

Brian C. Mitchell, president and managing principal of higher education consulting firm Academic Innovators, said these instances of quick presidential transition with little explanation were unusual. Mitchell previously served as president of Bucknell University.

"These are not places that are operating sort of on the fly," Mitchell said. "Ordinarily for health reasons or because the president or the board realized it wasn't a good fit -- there's usually some reason given. If in fact it was a closed discussion, then that is unusual enough to take note of it."

Mitchell said colleges and universities also regularly prefer outgoing presidents remain in office after the departure is announced for six months to a year in order to smooth a transition for the incoming president.

"They want an orderly transition," Mitchell said. "It's less likely for presidents who had only been there for a year, and more likely for presidents who had been there longer."

The average tenure of a president has also changed as the years have gone on -- Mitchell said the average used to be seven years and it's now under five years.

“Presidents are not retaining their positions or staying in them for nearly as long as they were even in the period after the Great Recession,” Mitchell said. "The fact that it's dropped to under five years is something to watch."

Each of the outgoing presidents from last week's departures had served less than five years at their respective institutions. As interim presidents prepare to take office and fill the leadership voids left by these departures, Mitchell said the lack of information could sow concerns among faculty.

"In this case, the board is presumably making the decision not to retain the president, and that will send shivers through the administration unless your administration was in favor of the move," Mitchell said. "If in fact faculty are not taking a strong position, the only thing that does is create two issues: uncertainty, and skepticism about the actions of the board."

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Presidential hopefuls get behind Pell Grants in prisons

Fri, 2019-06-21 07:00

In response to a town hall question this spring, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders touched off a new debate among Democrats by arguing that people in prison should have the right to vote.

None of Sanders’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have followed him in going as far as endorsing voting rights for people behind bars, which is allowed in only two states.

But while voting rights may be a step too far for many candidates, there's little controversy among most of the Democratic primary field that people behind bars should have access to federal aid for postsecondary education. Nearly all of the top contenders in the Democratic primary have backed repeal of the ban on Pell Grants for incarcerated students, in place since 1994.

Lifting the ban has become a top priority for education advocates and criminal justice reformers. And the widespread support from Democratic presidential candidates shows that for many office seekers, supporting higher education for people behind bars is smart politics -- a sign of how much the party has shifted on criminal justice issues over the past two decades.

Several Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination have backed legislation to remove the ban. The campaigns of several others said they would support reinstating Pell Grants for incarcerated students. Among the only primary candidates who haven’t commented on the ban is former vice president Joe Biden, who as a Delaware senator authored the 1994 crime law that included the ban.

Sanders, along with Senate Democrats and presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Michael Bennett, has signed on to co-sponsor the REAL Act, legislation introduced by Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, to reinstate Pell Grants for incarcerated students.

Sarah Ford, a Sanders campaign spokeswoman, said the senator voted against an amendment in 1994 that banned federal student aid for those students.

“Bernie believes our nation’s criminal justice system must be reformed and focus on rehabilitation of our citizens, which includes expanding eligibility for Pell Grants to those currently incarcerated,” she said.

Maria Hurtado, a Gillibrand spokeswoman, said the senator believes restoring Pell eligibility “will open up access to higher education and allow people who've been incarcerated to have a chance at a better life postrelease.”

Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke, another Democrat vying for the presidential nomination, was not among the co-sponsors of House legislation to repeal the Pell ban. But a campaign spokesman said O’Rourke “would support legislation ending the ban on people currently incarcerated from receiving Pell Grants.”

Fellow Texas Democrat Julián Castro, a former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio mayor, last month released a presidential campaign platform on education that promised support for educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals, including, a campaign spokesman said, repeal of the Pell ban.

And South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who pointedly disagreed with Sanders on voting rights for incarcerated individuals, also supports access to federal aid for students behind bars, a campaign spokesman said.

As criminal justice reform is rising in significance, candidates want to establish their bona fides, said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

“In that context, support for Pell is relatively easy,” he said. “It’s worthwhile for things not even related to reducing mass incarceration. It’s something everyone should be able to embrace.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Democratic rivals including Harris, a former prosecutor herself, have criticized Biden for his role in crafting the 1994 crime bill, which was passed at the height of the tough-on-crime era.

Harris has argued the bill fueled mass incarceration in the U.S. Biden has defended the law on the campaign trail, although he has acknowledged some faults, such as the "three strikes" provision that created mandatory life sentences for repeat offenders. But he hasn’t specifically addressed the ban on Pell Grants.

As Mother Jones reported this month, critics warned before the law’s passage about the impact removing student aid would have for the formerly incarcerated. One criminal justice advocate wrote in an op-ed addressed to then president Bill Clinton in 1994 that blocking the grants would mean people would leave prison no better able to cope with life outside than when they entered.

Sanders raised concerns about the crime bill at the time but ultimately voted for it because it included funding for the Violence Against Women Act.

Democrats who voted for an amendment to ban federal aid for incarcerated students have since changed their positions, including Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat. Both have signed on as co-sponsors of Schatz bill to repeal the ban.

“These weren’t all conservative Democrats necessarily who voted for the ban. They were middle-of-the-road Democrats joining Republicans in what was clearly the popular position at the time,” Ring said. “That’s not where the country is anymore.”

The impact of the ban on prison education was consequential. In the academic year before the ban passed, about 23,000 incarcerated students received Pell Grants. That number represented about 1 percent of all Pell recipients. After those students were barred from receiving the grants, about half of all college programs in prisons closed down, and the rest were reduced in size, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The first serious expansion of postsecondary education behind bars in two decades occurred in 2015, when the Obama administration launched the Second Chance Pell program. The federal experiment allows a limited number of colleges to award Pell Grants to incarcerated students to assess the impact of postsecondary education in prisons. Sixty-five colleges are participating in the program, which will reach about 10,000 students in its third year -- less than half the number who received federal aid before the ban.

The Second Chance experiment, although not without controversy, provided new impetus to efforts to secure a repeal of the ban on Pell Grants in prisons. Efforts to have Congress lift the ban have brought together higher education advocates and criminal justice reformers that had rarely crossed paths before. Endorsements for Schatz’s legislation in May ran the gamut from the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union to FreedomWorks and the American Correctional Association.

Supporters for repealing the ban have pointed to findings showing reduced recidivism among formerly incarcerated individuals who attended postsecondary courses. At a time when more people are leaving prison each year than in earlier decades, they say postsecondary education is critical for the formerly incarcerated to obtain good-paying jobs and have a chance at success after their release.

Their efforts have started to find limited success winning bipartisan support. When Schatz introduced the REAL Act again in May, he nabbed his first GOP co-sponsor, Utah senator Mike Lee. And two Republican lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of identical House legislation.

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, has suggested he would support including repeal of the Pell ban in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Efforts to restore federal aid are also getting encouraging signals from the Trump administration as well. The Education Department said in February that it would renew the Second Chance program for another year and last month announced it plans to add more colleges to the experiment. The White House has also backed reinstating Pell Grants for students behind bars on a limited basis. A list of priorities it released this year for a new HEA law mentioned targeted financial aid to students in prison eligible for release.

Trump has identified criminal justice reform as a top issue and claimed the passage of the FIRST STEP Act last year as a major victory. Critics have noted that the latest White House budget proposal shortchanged re-entry programs called for in the law. But supporters of criminal justice reform nonetheless see the administration’s embrace of Second Chance Pell as a sign of serious momentum.

Ed Chung, vice president for criminal justice at the Center for American Progress, said that support from presidential candidates for reinstating Pell Grants is encouraging, but he noted that there’s no reason the ban couldn’t be lifted by Congress before another election.

“It doesn’t have to wait until another president takes the oath of office,” he said. “I think there is general momentum regardless.”

Chung said the kind of weight the White House throws behind efforts to lift the ban could help shift momentum. The Trump administration became involved in negotiations over the FIRST STEP Act late in the game, he said.

“If it happens now, during the point [reauthorization] of the Higher Education Act is being considered, it could help out a lot,” he said.

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Study shows how different types of college dormitories can affect grades

Fri, 2019-06-21 07:00

Colleges have attempted to woo prospective students in recent years with slick residence halls that are far cry from the minimalist construction styles of the past. And while studies have focused on how living on campus versus off campus can affect students’ attitudes and academic performance, little research has been conducted on how the actual architecture of a building can influence those same factors.

A group of researchers that attempted to determine the relationship between student housing and grades outlined their findings in a new study published this month in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

The authors note that some parents believe that apartment-style living spaces -- as opposed to the more traditional rooms lined down a single corridor -- will benefit their children. But many students find the apartments make them lonely, despite giving them more privacy and space, the researchers wrote.

The researchers set out to figure out whether students who lived in traditional campus housing had better grade point averages and a sense of belonging compared to those in apartments. The researchers also wanted to know whether black students who lived in a typical dormitory would have more academic success than those who did not.

The researchers examined data over four years from an anonymous private liberal arts institution in the South. The authors selected this university because it recently had undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation of its residence halls, prioritizing new apartments. Before that expansion, 29 of the 33 residence halls on campus were the traditional corridor design. The buildings each housed approximately 70 residents and had three people per bedroom and two communal bathrooms per floor.

The college built 30 new “luxury” residence halls with individual bathrooms, washers and dryers, full kitchens, and furnished living rooms that the researchers described as “isolating.”

Because the college requires students to live on campus for their first two years, the residence halls influenced the undergraduates' experience early on.

Over the four years, the researchers studied 5,537 first-year students, about 800 of whom were black. The black first-year students who lived in the corridor-style dormitories -- those with more opportunities to socialize among similar peers -- ended up having higher GPAs than those who were housed in the apartments, with an average 2.3 GPA compared to a 1.9.

The differences were less pronounced among white students, but those who lived in the traditional residence halls had higher GPAs -- an average 2.9 versus 2.8 for the apartment dwellers.

Carla Yanni, a professor of art history at Rutgers University who has studied the history of dormitories and is the author of Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory (University of Minnesota Press), described the findings as “fascinating.”

“The study's outcomes may surprise families and students who assume that a quiet apartment will lead to better first-semester grades,” she said.

Josh Brown, the lead author of the study and an instructor of leadership, foundations and policy at the University of Virginia, said administrators should consider how they invest in student housing and the types of residence halls in which they are investing. Even though the college might benefit from better aesthetics, “there is a social cost” to these buildings, he said.

Student affairs officials should also consider how to adjust programs that help new students based on where they live, Brown said. For instance, lessons about alcohol could focus on the negatives of binge drinking for the students who live in traditional residence halls, while those in apartments could learn about the drawbacks of drinking in solitude.

Brown noted that the findings may only apply to first- or second-year students who are trying to adjust to college life and build their social circles. Seniors might benefit from having more privacy as they prepare to enter the work force and deal with other stressors late in college.

“How an organization chooses to use and employ architecture for these facilities also has implications for … the academic outcomes of those students,” Brown said.

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Meharry accepts $7 million from Juul -- and faces criticism

Fri, 2019-06-21 07:00

Many advocates for African Americans as well as public health experts are questioning the decision of a historically black medical college to accept a $7 million donation from e-cigarette giant Juul. However, the college’s president has said the college knew exactly what it was getting into.

Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., recently announced the donation from Juul. Meharry president James Hildreth, in an essay in The Tennessean, said that the college accepted the grant with “eyes wide open.”

“We know exactly who we are,” Hildreth said. “We know exactly who we are dealing with. We know exactly what we are getting into. And we know exactly who we aim to serve: the six million African Americans who are smokers, even as we expect to impact a much larger swath of the population.”

With this grant, which will allow the college to open the Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health, Hildreth said Meharry will be at the “forefront” of e-cigarette research.

Juul has surged in recent years to lead the e-cigarette market, accounting for 68 percent of the market share in July 2018 according to CNBC, and Reuters found one in 20 American adults were using e-cigarettes as of August 2018. The company has butted heads with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a number of occasions amid suspicions Juul is encouraging youth e-cigarette use.

Backlash toward Meharry’s acceptance of the grant is based on evidence that black people are more likely than others to smoke and to experience negative health effects as a result. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black Americans have a higher risk than the general population of dying as a result of tobacco-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer or strokes.

The CDC also warns that the tobacco industry has historically targeted black Americans in advertising campaigns, directing larger amounts of advertising toward black Americans than other groups. The CDC specifically said the tobacco industry has attempted to maintain a positive image among black Americans by “making contributions to minority higher education institutions, elected officials, civic and community organizations, and scholarship programs.”

According to The New York Times, Juul has recently hired a number of black leaders to serve as lobbyists within the organization, including Benjamin Jealous, the former head of the NAACP; Heather Foster, a former adviser to President Obama; and Chaka Burgess, who serves on the board of the NAACP. Sharon Eubanks, an advisory board member of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times the idea that Meharry would be able to a maintain independence from Juul was a “fantasy.”

“Juul is cozying up to the black community, and that makes it harder for some parts of the black community to call them out on their targeting of African Americans,” Eubanks told the Times.

The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network has warned against the use of Juul, particularly because Juul offers menthol flavors, which the NAATPN says is more harmful than regular tobacco and disproportionately affects black Americans. The NAATPN fact sheet on Juul use calls on lawmakers to better regulate Juul.

"JUUL e-cigarette has a potent amount of nicotine with 5 percent of nicotine weight which equals the amount of nicotine in a pack of cigarettes or 200 puffs," the NAATPN fact sheet for Juul reads. "A combination of federal, state and local policy options can be pursued to strengthen regulation of Juul and other e-cigarettes."

Hildreth, in his editorial, said he was aware of the public health questions raised by the tobacco industry's philanthropy.

“This scourge on black America is not of black America’s making. Consider: the tobacco industry has intentionally and maliciously marketed cigarettes to minority communities over the past century. It has sponsored our cultural events and our elected officials,” Hildreth said in the editorial. “It has offered attractive price cuts and promotions. It has lured people in -- especially our young people -- with menthol cigarettes, which are considered even more addictive and damaging to health. It has taken our money and delivered sickness and death in return.”

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP, told the Times he was glad Meharry accepted the donation and he has faith they will use it well. Shelton also said he spoke with representatives of Juul and believed the donation was sincere.

Hildreth said the college will continue to pursue science and research vital to the health of the black community and protect the college’s autonomy from Juul.

“We at Meharry intend to advance the fight for better health and longer life by turning that insidious relationship on its head,” Hildreth said. “We are taking matters into our own hands with eyes wide-open. We welcome the opportunity to use significant grant monies from Juul to go where the science takes us and to publish those results no matter what we find.”

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India's draft national education policy outlines an ambitious -- and difficult to achieve -- agenda

Fri, 2019-06-21 07:00

A draft national education policy released by India's government this month calls for fundamentally restructuring the country's higher education system and boosting its research capacity, doubling the gross enrollment rate from 25 to 50 percent by 2035, and substantially increasing expenditures on public education, which currently account for 10 percent of all government spending. The draft policy from recently re-elected prime minister Narendra Modi's government envisions increasing that proportion to 20 percent over a 10-year period.

While the report focuses mostly on building up India's own higher education capacity, it also revives a long-stalled idea of inviting top-ranked foreign universities to operate in India and suggests legislation will be introduced to this effect. American universities have long watched with interest to see whether there will be a liberalization of rules regarding foreign universities' entry into the country.

Experts on Indian education welcomed the 484-page policy plan in principle, while emphasizing the immense difficulties the government would face in implementing it.

Mousumi Mukherjee, an associate professor and deputy director of the International Institute for Higher Education Research & Capacity Building at O. P. Jindal Global University, described the draft national education plan as “a welcome document. It has done a good job in thinking out of the box to reform Indian higher education by progressively seeking to dismantle the ‘two-boxed’ system of separate research institutes and universities … There has been little creation or circulation of new knowledge within universities. Over the years, the universities became increasingly distanced from societal needs and have been reproducing graduates without necessary skills required in the workplace, including academics with Ph.Ds. without necessary research skills.”

At the same time, Mukherjee said she agreed with an assessment from Oxfam India’s education specialist, Anjela Taneja, who wrote in an op-ed, “The sheer scale of changes expected, the rapid timeline, the absence of a strong mechanism for hand-holding states on this journey and the probable inadequate budget raises questions on the full implementation of this policy. India’s history is littered with ambitious education policies that have not been fully implemented. The National Education Policy risks following this tradition, unless the government addresses the reasons behind the past policy-practice implementation gap and makes conscious efforts to carry all of India on the same road towards improvement in education.”

The draft policy -- which addresses education at all levels, from early childhood to higher education -- calls for significant restructuring of India’s higher education landscape, which according to the document is currently made up of more than 800 universities and about 40,000 colleges. Forty percent of those colleges offer just a single program of study, and 20 percent have enrollments below 100 students.

“The main thrust of this policy regarding higher education is the ending of the fragmentation of higher education by moving higher education into large multidisciplinary universities and colleges, each of which will aim to have upwards of 5,000 or more students,” the draft policy states.

The policy calls for all higher education institutions to “evolve” into one of three types of multidisciplinary institutions: research universities, teaching universities and colleges. It also calls for building research capacities at all institutions and the establishment of a National Research Foundation.

“The separation in higher education between teaching institutions and research institutions post-independence has caused much harm, as most universities and colleges in the country today conduct very little research,” states the report. The report notes that the proportion of GDP devoted to research and innovation in India has dropped over the past decade, from 0.84 percent of GDP in 2008 to 0.69 percent in 2014 -- which is substantially lower than the percentages for Israel (4.3 percent), South Korea (4.2 percent), the U.S. (2.8 percent) and China (2.1 percent).

The draft policy includes a wide range of other proposals, including adopting a more liberal arts-oriented form of undergraduate education; moving away from rote learning in curriculum and pedagogy; improving faculty autonomy and developing a “robust and merit-based tenure track, promotion and salary structure”; increasing institutional autonomy, with institutions to be governed by independent boards; and revamping the regulatory system to only have one regulator for all of higher education.

In the international education arena, the draft policy re-ups a never-realized plan from almost a decade ago of inviting elite universities -- such as those ranked among the top 200 in the world -- into India. A bill that would have enabled this previously failed to clear India's Parliament, but the draft policy suggests that legislation to this effect will be reintroduced: "Select universities (i.e. those from among the top 200 universities in the world) will be permitted to operate in India," it says. "A legislative framework facilitating such entry will be put in place, and such universities will have to follow all the regulatory, governance and content norms applicable to Indian universities."

Also in the international arena, the report discusses encouraging twinning programs, in which students complete part of a degree at an Indian university and another part at a foreign institution; simplifying visa processes for visiting foreign students and scholars; and encouraging Indian students and faculty to go overseas for short-term programs and exchanges.

Over all, international higher education experts were skeptical in evaluating the draft policy. Alex Usher, the president of the Toronto-based Higher Education Strategy Associates, described the proposals on his blog as “massive undertakings, both in terms of changing institutional and professional cultures within higher education and changing government priorities.”

Usher wrote, “There have certainly been cases where we have seen doublings of expenditure [within] five years before -- including in India -- but these tend to occur during periods of rapid economic growth when all facets of public expenditure are expanding. Doubling expenditures on education as a proportion of total government expenditures is almost unimaginable (and, I am fairly certain, unprecedented) because it likely requires actual cuts in other areas of government expenditure, which makes it very hard to contemplate.”

Usher continued, “But there’s another, more fundamental reason to think this is never going to happen: most education spending isn’t under the control of the all-India government. In total, 85 percent of all education expenditures occur at the state level, and though it is closer to 50-50 in higher education, there is simply no way that an all-India government can credibly make this kind of spending commitment.”

Philip Altbach, the former and founding director of Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education and an expert on the Indian system, described the draft policy as “one of probably a dozen reports since Indian independence in 1947. All of them say variations of the same thing, and almost all of the recommendations over the years are, in a general way, good ideas.”

“There seems to be a lot of attention being paid to education at the moment and a heightened understanding in India that if India is going to take advantage of what they call the demographic dividend of having a big number of young people in the population, they have to be skilled up and educated,” Altbach said. “Everybody agrees in India that a) gross enrollment rates are insufficient and b) the quality of what’s being given out, I’m talking about higher education, but it’s true throughout the system, is by and large inadequate.”

“It’s good that they’re thinking these thoughts and hopefully it reflects increased emphasis on what’s happening in education at all levels in the country and that’s important, so one cheer for that,” Altbach said. “And two non-cheers for, it’s just very difficult to do.”

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Prominent actors criticize Bowling Green for removing name of Lillian Gish from campus theater

Fri, 2019-06-21 07:00

The film Birth of a Nation has been studied for years for its introduction of film techniques that went on to transform filmmaking. But the film is judged by more than its technique. The 1915 work is full of racist images. White people, many in blackface, portray (and denigrate) black people as dangerous and unintelligent. The Ku Klux Klan is glorified. The film was wildly popular with white audiences who cared nothing about its racism.

Last month, Bowling Green State University stripped the name of one of the film's stars from a campus theater. The university did so after students sought the change and a group of scholars studied the issue and urged the change in name.

This week, dozens of prominent Hollywood figures -- James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Martin Scorsese, plus a number of leading film scholars -- released an open letter calling for Bowling Green to keep the names of the late Lillian Gish (who was a star in the film) and her sister on the theater. (Gish and her sister grew up in Ohio but were not alumnae of the university.)

The letter has renewed discussion of how figures from the past should be judged -- in particular if they are associated with racist actions.

Gish shouldn't be judged by this one film when she made so many over a long career, the letter says.

"[D. W.] Griffith’s film takes an indefensible, racist approach to the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction. But as even the university admits in its task force report on the theater’s name, Lillian was no racist," the letter says. "Her work in many films, such as Griffith’s own Intolerance (1916), a dazzling four-part overview of world history in which she plays the symbolic mother figure rocking the cradle of humanity and tolerance; Griffith’s deeply moving 1919 interracial drama Broken Blossoms; the 1955 masterpiece The Night of the Hunter, in which she plays a beatific protector of endangered children; and the 1967 film of Graham Greene’s The Comedians, in which she challenges Haiti’s dreaded secret police and demonstrates her outspoken belief in universal brotherhood among races and nations."

The letter goes on to say, "For a university to dishonor her by singling out just one film, however offensive it is, is unfortunate and unjust. Doing so makes her a scapegoat in a broader political debate. A university should be a bastion of free speech. This is a supreme 'teachable moment' if it can be handled with a more nuanced sense of history."

The university has noted that its action has no impact on freedom of speech or the study of the history of the film or anyone's right to view the film. Further, the university is maintaining a scholarship in Gish's name.

The university quotes Gish's words to justify the decision. The board resolution removing her name states, "In a 1983 interview with a BGSU publication, Lillian Gish talked about actors being accountable for the roles they choose: 'I feel strongly that actors and actresses today need to take responsibility for what they say and do in film, even if they are only acting. They don’t have to do the script … Film is the most powerful thing that has been invented in this century.'"

Further, the resolution stated, "Upon reviewing the totality of Lillian Gish’s acting career, no evidence was found that she denounced or distanced herself from director D. W. Griffith or her link from the film The Birth of a Nation."

Bowling Green issued a statement this week in response to the letter from the actors in which it noted that campus leaders from various groups studied the issue -- and came to the view that the honor for Gish, given her connection to the film, sent a hostile message to some students.

"Bowling Green State University has a primary responsibility to serve its students, faculty and staff, and an obligation to create an inclusive learning environment. That obligation outweighs the university’s small part in honoring the Gish sisters’ legacy," the statement said.

In April, Chapman University removed posters of the film from prominent places in its film school after students objected to the centrality of a work full of racism.

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Professor develops new app for GPS tracking student attendance

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00

Tom Bensky was frustrated.

The physics professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, had tried every way he could think of to take attendance efficiently in his large classes. He used a good old-fashioned sign-in sheet. He attempted a bar code system, where he would scan students on their way out of the classroom. Both were too time-consuming and students would forget to mark themselves present.

Then, Bensky realized he had missed something. He could rely on a tool that most college students had practically welded to their hands: a smartphone. The result of this revelation was a new mobile application and website Bensky created that tracks students’ attendance using their cellphones’ GPS.

His product, which he created last year, is relatively lightly used, with just a couple hundred other professors and officials signing up, but Bensky said he’s gotten positive feedback. He’s also heard the concerns about privacy one might expect about a system that follows a student’s location. Students in his classes must use the app.

“That’s probably my biggest email dialogue with people,” Bensky said of his skeptics. “But I can’t convince them that I’m not going to do anything with the data I’m getting. It’s just the app, server and a database, but it is hard to convince people.”

The service works like this -- a professor (or a coach) signs up on the website The application is free to download, but after a certain number of student uses, the faculty member has to pay $20 for a year.

The user plots on a map where students are allowed to check in for attendance. For professors, this is most likely the part of the building where they hold classes, Bensky said. But Bensky has seen others such as coaches mark the center of a swimming pool or field. The space is usually narrow enough that someone couldn't just be in the building and sign in without being present in class.

Once students enter this radius, a “geofence,” they push a button on the app noting that they’ve arrived for class. The app, reading students’ cellphone GPS, won’t permit them to check in if they’re still slumbering in their dormitory or chowing down in the dining hall.

Students only have a certain amount of time to do this. Bensky said he’s set his system so students can check in five minutes before class begins and then up to 20 minutes after it starts. But users can adjust this window to their liking, he said. A professor can take students’ attendance manually if they forget their phones, Bensky said.

Bensky said he tries to limit the data he collects. He only keeps the students’ first and last names (not just his own) on a server that also includes the number of times they’ve checked in. He can also view the areas that his users have designated for check-ins. But Bensky stressed he doesn’t store any information about where his or any other students are on campus. He said he would be fascinated to research where students are when they miss class, but said “it would be too creepy.”

“I don’t know that,” Bensky, referencing students’ locations. “It would be interesting to study, interesting to see where they are when they are absent, but no.”

An instructor must choose to clear the data after the class has ended. Bensky plays no role in that, he said.

Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said he was unaware of the app until a reporter contacted him. Later, he said the university has no connection to the app and he could not provide comment.

Universities already collect an extraordinary amount of information, said Alan Rubel, an associate professor in the Information School and Center for Law, Society and Justice at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. When students use campus internet, their unique IP addresses are visible to administrators who can track what they're browsing, Rubel said. When they check in at the gym or at a dining hall, students typically use a card reader that tells a university what they're doing and who they're doing it with. The sort of attendance system Bensky has created is another form of surveillance. Generally, officials should be scrutinizing how much they are invading students' privacy.

Rubel also said that students could be downloading an app that does more than its publicly stated purpose (Rubel said he does not believe this is the case).

"It's often unknown, the quality or the usefulness of the information," Rubel said. "Sometimes we're just collecting information because we can, and students have claims to privacy."

Since he started the project last summer, Bensky has had about 200 people -- professors, coaches and others -- sign up, and during peak times during the academic year, about 5,000 to 8,000 students nationwide check in daily.

Bensky said he has paid for an advertisement for the service to appear on certain Google searches with the keyword “attendance,” for instance, but said it’s pricey, and he could easily spend $100 or $150 a day.

He’s also got competition. A company called Course Key offers similar check-ins through GPS or QR codes. The service was first created in 2015 and developed at the Zahn Innovation Platform Launchpad, an entrepreneurial center associated with San Diego State University. Its founders were frustrated by the significant number of students who would miss large classes every day, said Hannah Zwick, the director of special projects at Course Key. While the company has heard concerns around privacy, it assures its customers that the service tracks students only when they're checking in, Zwick said. The GPS and other forms of attendance taking are used on more than 90 campuses, both two- and four-year institutions, she said.

Professors who want to use the service charge students for it, between $25 and $65, depending on whether they want Course Key access just for a semester or a lifetime, Zwick said. Two-year institutions typically pay for all their students to use the services, between $8 and $11 per month per student, and then also pass on the costs to the students.

Top Hat, a student engagement platform that was founded a decade ago as an alternative to that remote-control clickers were being used in classrooms to take attendance, identifies several flaws with GPS-based attendance.

First, locations can be easily spoofed on a cellphone. Students can download other applications that allow them to fake their position, a loophole that Bensky acknowledges but said that “would require a computer science geek to put in some effort.”

And GPS locations on phones are not always accurate, which could lead to students not being able to check in even when they’ve attended class. Top Hat does not mention any privacy concerns.

Some institutions, such as at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, have also attempted Bluetooth-based systems. In this case, a professor installs a beacon, which picks up when a student is nearby and records their attendance. Bensky said he considered this option but found the range wasn’t large enough.

“For me, this is remarkable,” Bensky said. “I can walk into my class, welcome the class and say something like, ‘Don’t forget to check in, and then it just happens. I can just walk back to my office and take attendance for 65 check-ins, see who wasn’t here. No pencils, no roster, no check boxes.”

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Donations to colleges are up, but number of donors is down

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00

Higher education institutions are pulling in record dollars in charitable donations even though the number of individual donations are on the decline, indicating large donations are coming in from high-income individuals.

According to this year’s Giving USA report, which studied institutions for the 2018 calendar year, overall giving to educational institutions, including K-12 and higher education, declined for the first time after four years of growth by 1.3 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, adjusted for inflation. However, the report also indicates good news for higher education.

Citing the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Voluntary Support for Education (VSE) survey, which collects data from institutions all around higher education, Giving USA reports total contributions to higher education reached $46.73 billion in 2018, a 7.2 percent increase from the previous year. 

Charitable contributions specifically to colleges and universities in 2018 reached the highest levels ever recorded by the VSE. Seven different institutions each received at least one gift over $100 million, the largest number of institutions to reach that number since 2015. The specific case study took place during during fiscal year 2018, meaning Michael Bloomberg’s historic $1.8 billion gift to Johns Hopkins University was not included in the data. (This sentence was updated to correct the timeframe of the VSE study.) 

As larger capital campaign donations continue to rise, individual alumni donations continue to fall, according to a study from the Blackbaud Institute, cited by Giving USA. This study found that while there was more money raised, it came from fewer individuals. Individual alumni giving rates have declined, and the decline is expected to continue, according to the report.

Brian Flahaven, senior director for advocacy at CASE, said there are a number of reasons that could contribute to the rise in overall donations and the decline in number of individual donors. One such reason is the passage of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which eliminated the need for many middle-class people to itemize their deductions. Many have worried that, absent those itemized deductions, donations would drop.

“The tax law, for high-income donors, didn’t really increase the cost of giving, so they’re still likely itemizers,” Flahaven said. “It’s really the charitable sector of organizations that depend disproportionately on smaller donations from middle-income donors who will feel more of the brunt from the tax law changes, because that’s really the group that will transition from itemizers to nonitemizers and will no longer to be able to deduct charitable gifts. So they’ll still give, they just won’t give as much.”

Multiyear fund-raising campaigns, focused on large goals, appear to be part of a rising trend within higher education. A survey cited in the report said of 600 fund-raising professionals in higher education surveyed, 81 percent were involved in or about to start a capital campaign. Forty-nine institutions are engaged in billion-dollar fund-raising campaigns. Despite this, a Marts and Lundy report cited by Giving USA said both smaller and midrange ($10-$29 million gifts) were “healthy” but still represented a slight decline from 2017-18. Inside Higher Ed has compiled a database that tracks such capital campaigns.

“While the number of donors has declined, they’re giving more,” Flahaven said. “That’s why you still see these record numbers even though individual donations have gone down.”

Flahaven said there were some concerns with this trend, including that many institutions put smaller donations (the kind coming from middle-income donors) into annual funds for current operations, while larger donations go toward endowments.

Flahaven is concerned about any decrease in giving rates by younger alumni, as patterns they set while young may stick with them for life.

“What I think, and this is a hypothesis, is there’s going to be some softness in that annual fund and operations giving,” Flahaven said. “If younger donors aren’t being incentivized to give, and they don’t make that connection with their institution while they’re young … there’s a chance that connection won’t be as strong and when they became major givers way down the line, they may not have that same connectivity.”

Different donor groups identified in the CASE VSE saw increases in the amount given in 2018. Giving from nonalumni individuals went up 9 percent. The largest increase is in the category of “other” groups, where giving increased 13.5 percent. The CASE VSE defines these other groups as federated fund-raising organizations, religious organizations, some donor-advised funds and other organizations.

One of the biggest winners on the fund-raising front in 2018 was community colleges. Public two-year colleges saw an average of $1.7 million in private gifts, an 8 percent increase.

2018 also saw the largest individual gift to a community college -- Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Tex., received a $19 million gift from the estate of Virginia and Jim Gatewood, though this data was not included in the CASE VSE study as it took place outside the timeframe of the study. Another study cited in the report showed community colleges benefited from planned gift programs specifically, but found only 34 percent of community colleges surveyed had such programs active.

Flahaven said CASE has seen many community colleges start to recognize the strength of charitable giving, and they have begun to turn to it at higher rates.

“Those programs really are maturing,” Flahaven said. “They’re also doing a great job at attracting the major donors, which shows there’s been an increased level of investment and sophistication happening.”

As CASE has concerns with the decline in the number of donors, Flahaven said the group has made it a priority to address the situation with lawmakers by lobbying for a universal charitable deduction, which would essentially expand the deduction to all taxpayers regardless of whether or not they itemize.

“If Congress was to expand the deduction to all taxpayers, that would certainly provide an incentive for all taxpayers to give despite their income but also help address this overall decline in voters we’ve seen across the sector.”

CASE VSE Survey: Sources of Private Funds for Colleges

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Professor sues Wesleyan U, saying it failed to act against students who falsely called him a sexual 'predator'

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00

An associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Wesleyan University is suing the institution, saying that it failed to appropriately deal with a what he calls a defamation campaign against him.

Michael McAlear, the professor, says he has never been accused of sexual misconduct. But he says he was nevertheless labeled a "sexual predator" in campus fliers after he defended other employees against such claims. 

Several administrators initially told McAlear that the students behind the campaign had crossed a line and would he held responsible, according to emails he shared with Inside Higher Ed and court documents. But two years later, McAlear says, the students haven’t been disciplined in any way -- even though Wesleyan allegedly knows who some of them are.

“It’s an overreach,” McAlear said Wednesday of the student campaign against him. “Students were concerned about something and I thought I was engaging with them in a fine discourse, and it went off the rails. And their response was, 'We’re going to destroy you in this internet culture -- we’re going to destroy everybody.' It’s been horrific.”

He added, "I've been slandered with lies for two years. I want to get the truth out."

McAlear also said it's "ironic" that some of the very administrators handling his case are those he defended to students.

Lauren Rubenstein, university spokesperson, said via email that Wesleyan “denies the allegations contained in Professor McAlear’s complaint and intends to vigorously defend itself.” She declined further comment, citing the active litigation.

The Case Against Wesleyan

Sometimes students make sexual misconduct complaints public when they feel that institutions haven’t done enough to address them, absent outside pressure. That’s not what happened to McAlear at Wesleyan, according to his lawsuit, filed recently in a Connecticut court. Instead, he says, students began to target him when he questioned aspects of their on-campus demonstration about others.

McAlear says that in late 2016, he was passing through the university’s science center when a group of student protesters approached him and told him that Provost Joyce Jacobsen and President Michael Roth, along with several faculty members, were “sexual predators” and promoters of “sexual violence.” Banners and posters picturing the faces of the accused said the same.

Professors at Wesleyan and on other campuses had at the time been accused of sexual misconduct, and students there and elsewhere publicly questioned their administrations' commitment to protecting them. But McAlear says he told the students that their approach was “over the line and slanderous.” In an interview, he recalled telling the students that they could not call Jacobsen, the provost, in particular, a sexual “predator,” as she had not been accused of misconduct. (Roth has not been accused of misconduct, either. University emails to McAlear confirm that he also has not been accused of misconduct.)

McAlear says that immediately following the encounter with the students, he met with Jacobsen in the library and told her about the protest. A few days later one of the protesters allegedly sent an email to a student group describing McAlear as a predator.

Several days after that, McAlear says a dean told him that his own face was now included on campus posters about sexual predators. McAlear again met with Jacobsen and was assured that the administration would address the problem, he says. Jacobsen also allegedly told McAlear that she’d contacted the University Residential Life and Public Safety departments in an attempt to identify the students responsible for the posters.

Several months later, in early 2017, the same dean emailed McAlear to alert him that there were more posters with his name on them and that they’d been picked up by a campus blog. “I really think this is outrageous and will try to see if something can be done about it,” the dean wrote.

Roth, the president, also wrote to McAlear, saying he agreed that “this is outrageous. We will do our best to put a stop to it and hold those responsible accountable.”

Jacobsen later emailed McAlear a link to an online post about the campaign against “sexual predators” and said that it “makes pretty clear that reprisal is indeed why they have singled you out. This will be useful evidence for when we find out who the posting person is.” She soon emailed McAlear again to say that a “small set of students” were handing out more fliers about him at Roth’s “Wesfest” talk for incoming students and their families. “The students have been identified and will be questioned regarding this activity,” she wrote.

McAlear says he attempted several times to find out what the students had said during questioning and was eventually told that nothing of note had come up. Nearly a year, later, however, he says, he was told by another university administrator that one of the students had in fact admitted to putting up the fliers.

In the interim, more fliers labeling McAlear a sexual predator went up on campus and in the surrounding community. The campus public safety office also allegedly has a video of an identified student suspected of posting fliers in a university area. Posters with his name on them were seen in “stacks” in a student office space, as well, the lawsuit says. And McAlear’s student evaluations of teaching have since included references to his being a sexual offender.

No action has been taken against any student, according to the lawsuit.

Change of Heart?

In March of last year, Jacobsen wrote to McAlear about his case, saying that “this series of events is upsetting and [I] want to reiterate that the university has taken action when possible and appropriate.” While the university tried “to see if there was any way to identify students or others posting to date,” she said, “there is not.” 

McAlear says that’s a lie, based on what he now knows. Through his lawsuit, he wants to correct the record and assert that he is not a sexual predator, and to force the university to fairly deal with the defamation. 

In addition to his lawsuit, McAlear filed a complaint against Jacobsen with the Wesleyan Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee, alleging that she “failed to protect and defend his rights as a tenured faculty member by not taking sufficient concerted action to identify or stop the persons who were conducting the degrading poster campaign.” He also complained that Jacobson violated his campus right -- articulated in Wesleyan conduct policies -- to be “protected against actions that may be harmful to the health or emotional stability of the individual or that degrade the individual or infringe upon his/her personal dignity.”

McAlear alleges breach of contract, arguing that the campus conduct code is part of his contract. Other counts include negligence, recklessness and breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

McAlear told Inside Higher Ed that he agrees with the university’s initial assessment of the case -- that the fliers targeting him went way beyond free speech. 

But more important than that -- and crucial to his case -- he said, is that "I'm not the one who decided that this was an actionable violation of the standards of conduct. It was the dean and the provost and the president who told me it was too much and that they were going to hold them accountable."

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University of Central Arkansas president orders removal of Lady Gaga quote from library sign

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00

The library at the University of Central Arkansas has a sign that it places outside. Sometimes the sign shows routine information, such as hours. At other times, the sign includes messages celebrating various months or days that are special to some groups at the university. This month, as part of the Pride celebrations nationally, librarians placed on the sign a quote from Lady Gaga: "Being gay is like glitter. It never goes away." The library posted a photo of the sign to its Facebook page, with the message "We have so much love and respect" for "the LGBTQ members of our community." The library included a link to its compilation of relevant resources on campus and in the area.

The sign was up for one day before President Houston Davis ordered it removed.

Amid criticism, Davis sent out a campuswide email Tuesday explaining his decision.

Wrote the president, "It is a core university value that we support our entire community and its diversity. Advocating for our LGBTQ community is not only appropriate but very important. I believe that the intent of the message was to show support for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff, but it was not OK for the university sign to be used to make a personal statement or advocate for a personal viewpoint. That is the line that the sign itself crossed. Unlike our student groups or other organizations, the library is an official arm of UCA and when it 'speaks' on that sign which serves information regarding library hours, it speaks officially. We do have to be very careful that we walk the fine line between individual freedom of speech and institutional voice."

He continued by citing another problem he saw with the quote: "Timing of the sign in the summer also was considered. We have to be very mindful of the hundreds of minors that are on campus during the summer which further complicates an environment that is normally programmed for adults and our very meaningful conversations about ourselves and our world."

Reaction on the library's Facebook page has been intense and critical of the president. Students and alumni have noted that the quote was a gesture of support for gay people and asked how that was inconsistent with university policy. And the mention of young people on campus, critics wrote, suggested that the university's leader views gay equity as something from which minors should be shielded.

Wrote one alumna, "As an alum of UCA and LGBTQ, I am simultaneously proud of the library staff that created this sign and embarrassed of the administration for being so obtuse and tone-deaf. Apparently, glitter and gayness are so offensive to minors they must not be seen or spoken about. Shame on you, UCA!"

Wrote another, "Having minors on campus would actually be a perfect reason to show love, acceptance and support of all different people. Using them as an excuse to espouse bigotry is what should be banned on campus."

After many on campus criticized Tuesday's email, Davis sent another on Wednesday in which he said he was meeting groups of librarians, gay advocates and others to hear their concerns. He noted that the university supports a range of programs for gay students, even though it receives criticism from some in the state for doing so.

"It probably does not come as a surprise to many of you that we receive a limited amount of inside and a great deal of outside criticism regarding those programs," he wrote. "While I find myself defending them on a predictable annual cycle, I am proud to advocate for all of these programs and services and will always. While I know not to take the criticism personally, my professional record and the record of my leadership team does not merit some of the names that are being hurled nor the label of anti-LGBTQ."

Davis wrote that he was concerned about the way people viewed the prior day's email.

"I understand that the removal of this quote has caused fury and sadness across campus," he wrote. "My observation that the library sign is a university platform and should be reviewed as such has morphed into a debate about UCA’s values and commitment to diversity. I am very sorry that this has been the outcome and that anyone has felt unwelcome or silenced. That was certainly never my intention. We are absolutely committed to supporting our LGBTQ students and our entire campus community."

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Academic ties grow between Russia and China

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00

Growing scholarly collaboration between China and Russia could signal a shift in the balance of power in global higher education, according to researchers who suggest that it could have significant implications for academic freedom in the region.

China’s president, Xi Jinping, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, were present as a cooperation agreement was signed between Beijing’s Tsinghua University and Saint Petersburg State University this month in the Kremlin.

Some academics have suggested that China may be keen to build closer ties with Russian institutions because of U.S. universities’ increasing reluctance to collaborate with Chinese academics amid anxiety about intellectual property theft.

The number of co-authored publications involving Chinese and Russian academics increased by 95.5 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to data from Elsevier’s Scopus database, and the patronage of the two presidents indicated the importance of higher education to ties between the two countries. It was one of a number of agreements signed, in areas including trade and energy, as Xi visited Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the nations.

The agreement between Tsinghua and Saint Petersburg will lead to the creation of a Russian Research Institute at the Beijing university, which will conduct research on Russia-China relations in areas such as industrial development, education, science and technology. Saint Petersburg, which said it now has more than 2,000 Chinese students, also conferred an honorary doctorate on Xi.

Jonathan Sullivan, director of the University of Nottingham’s China Policy Institute, said cooperation between China and Russia has “not been smooth” and is “riven with mutual suspicion.”

But higher education was seen as a “safe issue to cooperate on,” he said, and restrictions on academic freedom in China, which might hinder collaborations with Western partners, were “not problematic” for Russia.

“Neither side needs to be mindful of issues around academic freedom and the separation of politics and academia,” added Sullivan. “The success of Chinese institutions in global rankings, while already weak academic freedoms are eroded, is not a good sign for higher education globally.

“The successful cooperation of Chinese and Russian higher education would further legitimize the erosion of academic freedom and the punishment of researchers who don’t toe the party line, and that would be a damaging message regionally and globally.”

China and Russia were “dancing uneasily together at present, a natural by-product of the deepening rift between the U.S. and China,” said Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Oxford. He questioned how significant the effect of increased collaboration would be, since the countries’ higher education systems were “in very different places, with China streets ahead.”

But Nadège Rolland, senior fellow for political and security affairs at the U.S.-based National Bureau of Asian Research, said “it is not just about China and Russia -- it is the entire Eurasian region that could be moved towards a different set of standards in terms of higher education.”

Rather than President Trump’s actions pushing China and Russia together, it was “their ideology pulling them together,” added Rolland, the author of China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative.

“Higher education is one layer of this really dense partnership that they are building,” she said.

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New presidents or provosts: Albany Colorado State Gwinnett Newberry NAU Pitt St. Norbert Utah Valley Youngstown York

Thu, 2019-06-20 07:00
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Two new bills take different approach to protecting U.S. research from foreign threats

Wed, 2019-06-19 07:00

Two bills introduced within the last month seek to address foreign espionage targeting academic research as Congress continues to pay more attention to this issue and collaborations involving China and Chinese nationals in particular have come under increased scrutiny.

The Protect Our Universities Act, introduced Tuesday by Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, would require students from China, Iran and Russia to undergo background screening before participating in designated “sensitive research projects.” An interagency task force led by the Department of Homeland Security would be charged with maintaining a list of sensitive research projects funded by the member government agencies.

Hawley plans to introduce the bill as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is currently being marked up in the House and Senate. He said in a statement that American universities are “key targets of espionage and intellectual property theft by not only China, but Russia and Iran.”

“For too long, these countries have sent students to our universities to collect sensitive research that they can later use to develop capabilities that threaten our national security,” Hawley said. “This bill takes much-needed steps to ensure our research stays out of the hands of foreign adversaries who are proactively rooting for our failure.”

Members of Congress, the White House, national security agencies and federal science agencies have all significantly stepped up scrutiny of foreign research links over the past two years, with much of the scrutiny focused on China.

Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in April, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray described China as posing a bigger threat than any other country. “China has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation in any way it can from a wide array of businesses, universities and organizations,” Wray said. “They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, through a variety of actors, all working on behalf of China.”

The increased scrutiny has raised concerns about racial profiling of Chinese students and scholars and about a chilling effect on collaborations with Chinese institutions. One Chinese American scientist fired by Emory University for allegedly failing to disclose Chinese funding and ties is publicly disputing the charges against him. Bloomberg Businessweek published an article last week about the resignation of a top cancer epidemiologist from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the targeting of ethnic Chinese scientists for extra scrutiny.

Higher education groups say they share the government's concerns about safeguarding U.S. research, but they warn that taking an overly restrictive approach will harm U.S. science, which is highly international.

Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the American Association of Universities, said he thinks the Protect Our Universities Act proposed by Hawley takes the wrong approach to addressing these issues.

“It ignores that we have mechanisms already in place to safeguard research,” Smith said. “Those mechanisms are classification, export controls and what we call controlled unclassified information. It seems to us that this would create a new category of sensitive research projects, which is very vague and hard to understand. Historically, National Security Decision Directive 189, issued by President Reagan in the '80s, said the primary mechanism for control of information should be classification system, and to the maximum extent possible fundamental research should be kept open.”

“This bill would require background checks of individuals who would be working on fundamental research that is intended to be published and made accessible to the public,” Peter McPherson, the president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said via email. “International students already go through a visa process. Creating another process would unnecessarily complicate research projects that will ultimately be published online and viewable across the world.”

Both AAU and APLU support a different bill, the Securing American Science and Technology Act, or SASTA, which was introduced in late May by Representative Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat from New Jersey and chair of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight.

A number of major higher education and scientific associations have endorsed SASTA, as have dozens of research universities, who wrote in a joint letter that the bill takes “a proactive and sensible approach to safeguarding federally funded research and development from growing threats of foreign interference, cyberattacks, theft and espionage.”

The bill would direct the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to establish an interagency working group “to coordinate activities to protect federally funded research and development from foreign interference, cyberattacks, theft or espionage and to develop common definitions and best practices for federal science agencies and grantees, while accounting for the importance of the open exchange of ideas and international talent required for scientific progress and American leadership in science and technology.” It also would establish a new National Science, Technology and Security Roundtable to encourage information exchange between academia and federal security and science agencies on these topics.

“There are serious and legitimate concerns about academic espionage at our universities,” Sherrill said in a statement. “That’s why we’re proposing a unified approach to protect research without creating overlapping or contradictory federal requirements. We have to get this right. We must protect our innovation and research while maintaining the international engagement and demonstrated value foreign students bring to our institutions of higher learning.”

AAU’s Smith said that SASTA has been included in the current House version of the NDAA, which appears poised to be the vehicle through which legislation affecting science and security issues will be advanced.

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Roosevelt U students take to social media to complain about a professor of theater they say has long been "abusive"

Wed, 2019-06-19 07:00

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

The floodgates opened at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts this month, with numerous students and alumni complaining on social media that a professor and longtime associate dean there had harassed them or their peers and had otherwise been "toxic."

Additional concerns have been raised about the climate within the college for underrepresented students.

Questions remain as to how the alleged behavior went unchecked, if it did, and when the university became aware of the allegations. Multiple students have said that more formal complaints against the professor, Sean Kelley, went nowhere or were dropped by the university.

Kelley did not respond to requests for comment. The university says it’s investigating the allegations.

Complaints about Kelley began to appear on social media after one former performing arts student, Netta Walker, wrote a lengthy public Facebook statement upon receiving a local Jeff Award for her work in Chicago-area theater. Walker, who is black, wrote that the fine arts program at Roosevelt is “abusive.”

“This university taught me that I was less than my peers in the following ways: they did not cast me, they chose white male-dominated seasons, they deliberately did not try to utilize me, they refused to cast outside both the racial and gender binaries, and taught exclusively white theatrical history,” Walker wrote. “This program is still heavily run by white men, and has not changed any of these practices.”

Walker said she didn’t care if her post upset her former professors or broke her ties with the college.

“I’m already comfortable not claiming the institution, and it seems they feel the same in regards to me,” she said. “I refuse to stay silent about the brainwashing that students are faced with daily.”

Tatyana Sampson, another former student, then started an online petition targeting Kelley, in particular. Kelley has “for years” been “known for his inappropriate sexual harassment and behavior towards many of the young men” at the college, Sampson wrote, sharing a photo of an allegedly underage person that Kelley had liked on Instagram. “It is not our job as students to have to fight this, our primary job is learning; but when other higher ups neglect to do anything I find it my duty, as an alum, to say something.”

Next, student Laney Yancey shared her own Facebook post about her experiences studying under Kelley.

“Going to acting school for me, was, and continues to be, a dream. I am from a small town in Kentucky, and have always longed for my college days when I could learn more and more about this art form that has given me a deeper purpose in this life,” she wrote. While her first year delivered on part of that dream, it also “opened my eyes to deep systematic issues that exist [within the college]. These issues had me often feeling enraged, deeply saddened, and confused.” Kelley, in particular, “has created and perpetuated a toxic culture and has been a figurehead in abusing his power in an environment that should be founded on trust, safety, and vulnerability.”

Roosevelt’s performing arts school is a conservatory-style program. And conservatories are known for their intense, demanding and sometimes unconventional teaching methods. But the behaviors that Yancey and others have described go beyond unconventional or demanding.

In Yancey’s acting class alone, she wrote, Kelley allegedly said that she and a classmate “looked like we would have great sex.” While preparing Yancey for a scene, Kelley also allegedly “screamed until he was red in the face, while repetitively calling me bitch. Both of these instances were in front of an entire classroom of my peers.” He allegedly told Yancey that she was a “walking counseling center” when she asked for help with a scene and, in another instance, “threw a chair, slammed several cabinet doors, and then used the exact words of, ‘Slap that cunt,’ while ‘coaching’ a male student in his scene with a female student.”

To other students who also shared their experiences in posts or comments on social media, Yancey said, “I am so proud of all the voices that have been vigilant in posting their own experiences. We do not live in a world where men in power get excused anymore.”

Kelley has not commented publicly on the allegations against him and did not respond to requests for comment over several days.

The college on its Facebook page said, “Please know that the university is now aware of the allegations and is in the process of investigating them." It added, “Please know that the university takes complaints very seriously and also that the university strictly prohibits retaliation.”

Roosevelt “values every member of its community, including current and former students, faculty, and other staff,” the college also said. “It is important to us that these matters be investigated promptly and thoroughly, and that members of our community feel comfortable voicing any and all concerns. We will provide updates on these matters when/as we are able.”

The post provided contacts to make formal complaints. Some students have complained that the contacts don’t yield responses. Others have asked if the university is also investigating the climate concerns raised, beyond Kelley specifically. Some also say that the university was previously notified about Kelley, directly, but did nothing.

Nicole Barron, university spokesperson, also said that the university recently became aware of the allegations on social media and takes them “very seriously.” She confirmed that Roosevelt is investigating but declined additional comment, including as to whether Kelley is on leave.

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Texas legislation contrasts with DeVos take on campus sexual misconduct

Wed, 2019-06-19 07:00

Last fall, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released a proposed Title IX rule that many observers said would lead to fewer reports of sexual misconduct on college campuses.

The state Legislature in Texas, however, has taken a starkly different approach. In the legislative session that wrapped up last month, lawmakers passed a flurry of bills that will put new pressure on colleges to address campus-based sexual harassment and assault.

One demands that colleges provide more resources to students and survivors of sexual assault. Another requires institutions to annotate a student’s transcript if they are asked to leave campus for a nonacademic reason.

The third, and perhaps most consequential, would add new criminal penalties for campus officials who fail to report sexual harassment or misconduct to their institution’s Title IX coordinator -- to the consternation of civil libertarians and some survivor advocate groups. They would face a misdemeanor and termination by their institution. Colleges would also have to compile and publicly disclose those reports. Institutions that fail to do so could also face fines of up to $2 million from the state’s higher ed coordinating board.

Texas governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, signed all three bills into law over the past week after each of them passed both statehouse chambers by wide margins. The mandatory reporting legislation passed without a single no vote.

The approach of that law in particular is being criticized by civil libertarians, who said it defines harassment in an overly broad manner and threatens due process. Advocates for sexual assault survivors, however, said the punitive approach to accountability is misguided and doesn't address the substance of the problem on campuses.

No state has gone so far as to demand reporting of sexual misconduct on campuses. And lawmakers in other Republican-dominated states have advanced bills over the past year to restrict colleges' response to sexual assaults or to reflect the proposed Trump administration rule.

The new campus reporting law also tees up a potential conflict with requirements outlined in regulations crafted by DeVos, who is expected to issue a final rule later this year.

“There isn’t any question that this is a distinct path from the approach taken under Obama and DeVos,” said Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

Under guidance issued by the Obama administration, colleges were expected to investigate complaints where they “reasonably should” have known about misconduct. In practice, that meant instructors were expected to report incidents they became aware of. But the proposed Trump administration rule says colleges only are liable for looking into incidents when they have an “actual knowledge” of misconduct. Students would have to report to an official like a Title IX coordinator with clear formal responsibilities. But a disclosure to a professor wouldn’t put a college on the hook for an investigation.

The new law in Texas goes the other direction.

The Baylor Effect

Campus sexual assault became a hot-button issue under the Obama administration, which pushed colleges to seriously address misconduct for the first time. And DeVos’s decision to roll back federal guidance issued in 2011 and 2014 and to craft new federal regulations on campus-based sexual misconduct has helped elevate the issue for many state legislators.

In Texas, however, the Baylor University sexual assault scandal that eventually led to the ouster of Baylor’s head football coach and president provided a special impetus for lawmakers to take tough action on campus sexual misconduct.

A 2016 report produced by the law firm Pepper Hamilton assigned much of the blame for mishandling of sexual assaults by Baylor football players to former president Ken Starr. Starr, the report said, failed “to provide consistent and meaningful engagement with Title IX.” A series of stories by ESPN found that the university had sought to keep quiet a number of physical and sexual assaults committed primarily by football players.

The transcript notation law was crafted in response to another Baylor case, in which a former fraternity president withdrew from the university after he was accused of sexually assaulting another student at a party in 2016 and later transferred to the University of Texas at Dallas. The student, Jacob Anderson, faced sexual assault charges but pleaded to a lesser charge of unlawful restraint.

After a public uproar over Anderson's case last year, UT Dallas president Richard Benson complained that the university had no knowledge of the accusations against Anderson at Baylor.

A version of the campus reporting legislation introduced in the previous legislative session would have added criminal penalties not only for campus officials, but also for student employees who fail to report sexual misconduct. College groups did not actively oppose the legislation and higher education leaders are examining their institutions’ policies to ensure they comply.

“It is critical that the public, including students and parents, are aware of any potential safety threats occurring on campuses,” State Senator Joan Huffman, the law’s author and a Republican from southeast Texas, told her colleagues during the session.

But advocates on campus misconduct issues fault the legislation for potential negative consequences and failures in its broad approach.

Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, called the Texas campus reporting law “egregiously problematic.”

“This is a perfect recipe to create an environment that is devastating to both campus free speech and due process,” he said.

FIRE had urged Abbott to veto the legislation. 

Cohn said the law uses an overly broad definition of sexual harassment that's at odds with the more narrow definition adopted in the Trump administration's proposed Title IX rule. And he warned that attaching criminal penalties would lead campus officials to report minor incidents to protect themselves from individual liability.

The law directs colleges to designate officials with whom students could speak confidentially about sexual misconduct. But Cohn and other critics said that doesn’t mitigate broader concerns about the language.

Laura Dunn, who founded the nonprofit SurvJustice and was instrumental in the crafting of federal guidance under the Obama administration, said she wasn’t opposed to accountability measures for campus officials who fail to report misconduct.

“It’s really going to come down to how schools implement it,” said Dunn of the mandatory reporting requirements. “It definitely provides an incentive for schools to have very significant training.”

But other survivor advocates rejected the approach of the legislation.

Jess Davidson, executive director of End Rape on Campus, said the campus reporting and transcript notation laws are solutions produced by well-meaning individuals who don’t understand potential unintended consequences of the policy changes. Adding more accountability for individual officials and institutions won't seriously address sexual misconduct without broader changes to policies and resources for survivors. Those policies could include more training for first-year students, due process for alleged victims and accused students, and accommodations on campus for survivors.

“We can’t just assume that if we add more accountability things will change,” she said. "We know reporting rates are extremely low. That's because so many pieces of the system are broken.”

Ashka Dighe, a University of Texas sophomore and vice president of the campus chapter of It’s On Us, a national organization that seeks to end sexual assault, said she was impressed with the bipartisan focus on tackling campus sexual assault during the legislative session.

“The overall goal of the bill was to protect survivors and prevent instances of sexual assault from happening,” she said. “I just think the way they approached this should have been different.”

Rather than adding criminal penalties to hold employees responsible for reporting misconduct, Dighe said the Legislature should push colleges to provide more resources to students who experience assault or harassment.

The American Association of University Professors has opposed mandatory reporting requirements, including in comments submitted to the Education Department on the proposed Title IX rule last year.

“These kinds of policies have a strong negative impact on faculty members in particular because of the negative effects on the teaching and advising relationship they have with students,” said Risa Lieberwitz, general counsel at AAUP.

Adding a criminal penalty for campus officials only exacerbates existing problems with the policy, Lieberwitz said.

Survivor advocates found more to like in the approach of another new law authored by State Senator Donna Howard, a Democrat from Austin, would mandate that colleges craft policies dealing with sexual harassment and assault, as well as dating violence and stalking. They would also have to lay out a process for reporting allegations and accommodations for victims. Davidson said by making small tweaks to various parts of the college system, the law could increase reporting without including tough penalties for individual campus officials.

Cohn of FIRE said that legislation also used overly broad definitions of harassment and said the procedural protections in the legislation were too sparse.

But Davidson said the law would have a positive impact by focusing on student experiences on campus rather than just an institution’s response to misconduct.

“Criminalizing school employees is not the kind of accountability we’re seeking when everything else in the system is set up to make it harder for survivors to report,” she said.

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Author skewers campus culture wars in new book

Wed, 2019-06-19 07:00

Politicians (mostly conservative) have perpetuated a narrative of college students, even before the election of President Trump. They have depicted campus activists as "snowflakes," overly sensitive, irrational and unbending in their beliefs. It is a depiction that has caused lawmakers to zero in on college campuses in a new way. Trump himself signed an executive order barring federal funds to colleges that do not meet free speech obligations.

Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump (St. Martin’s Press), the first book from Robby Soave, a rising young libertarian author and editor for Reason -- a libertarian publication -- does little to dispel these myths. The book is out this week.

In Soave's view, many of the causes for which these students fight are being marred by unnecessary infighting and political correctness, or with sexual assault issues and overreach by the federal government in telling institutions how to adjudicate such cases.

Soave delivers blazing critiques of progressive student activists -- their fondness for "trigger warnings," for instance, which he writes can be invoked regarding virtually anything uncomfortable. He said in a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed, though, that his intent is not to portray the situation on college campuses as a “crisis.” Rather, Soave said, he is trying to help moderate-to-center Democrats identify warning signs. Soave said he hopes these liberals will see the scenarios unfolding and will step in before free speech rights are further “trampled,” to ensure due process in college sexual assault proceedings is restored and no longer disregarded in “kangaroo courts.”

Soave said he was inspired to write about these issues following a series of incidents in 2015. The first were the racial protests at the University of Missouri at Columbia that exploded into the national forefront, and the second involved two Yale University professors. Nicholas A. Christakis, and his wife, Erika, resigned from their positions as head and associate head of Silliman College following an email Erika sent to students questioning whether Yale should be policing offensive Halloween costumes.

After he started writing about higher education more, Soave said with his libertarian background he was concerned by the language students were using in some cases -- particularly those attending elite colleges -- that seemed to suppress the views of those with which they did not agree. He said he was worried by the fact that some students consider free speech "harmful."

This manifested in a number of ways, in Soave’s opinion. He continually refers to the faults with intersectionality in his book, not as a concept generally but how it is applied to activism, he said.

For instance, if feminists do not consider a black woman’s view or a transgender woman’s view, then they are not “being intersectional” and can be excluded from the movement, Soave said. He identifies the Women’s March as an example of this conflict among feminists, in which certain advocates were angry more women of color and trans women were not involved in organizing it.

This unwillingness to hear out certain opinions is much more evident in Soave’s free speech chapter, though. Here, he discusses how the Free Speech Movement, which originated at the University of California, Berkeley, originally benefited liberal activists. He questions why students do not seem to support the concept of free expression.

He said that students seem to believe that free speech -- and in students’ views, offensive speech -- can actually inflict harm and jeopardize safety. Soave runs through some of the more significant shout downs of controversial speakers, namely Charles Murray, a social scientist many view as racist, who was drowned out at Middlebury College in 2017.

Soave also discusses how the anti-fascist movement, commonly referred to as antifa, has encroached on campuses in violent ways. This was most notably the case at Berkeley, where outsiders who subscribed to antifa caused widespread destruction, literally setting part of the campus ablaze when Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor, attempted to speak there in 2017.

Though Soave does note that many of these perpetrators were unaffiliated with the campus, the image he creates of Berkeley is particularly unflattering and consistent with conservatives who feel that free speech is being suppressed. Soave links the students to this behavior, saying they did not want Yiannopoulos on the campus.

In the interview, Soave acknowledged that the Berkeley students were the ones who were not violent -- but that didn't matter -- "they still didn't want him there," he said. Soave does not note that the administration publicly stated that Yiannopoulos had a right to speak on campus and devoted resources to trying to make that possible

Soave said he does not want to promote “absolute alarmism." He does not feel free speech has reached a crisis point (Soave disagrees with the Trump free speech order) but he also believes what is happening on college campuses might “trickle into” workplaces, such as media companies and elsewhere. Soave pointed out that The Atlantic swiftly cut ties with Kevin Williamson, a longtime National Review staffer and arch-conservative, following 2018 backlash against his public statements. Most notably, Williamson posted on Twitter that abortion should be treated like homicide and those who seek abortions should be subject to the death penalty, preferably, in Williamson's view, by hanging.

Soave is unclear where this crisis attitude comes from -- he said he does not believe, as some other pundits do, that liberal professors are brainwashing students. On the contrary, Soave said in his research he found that professors are terrified to broach certain subjects in the classroom for fear of running afoul of the more outspoken progressive students who might take exception to their lessons, even in an academic sense. But he does maintain that some disciplines are more “activist oriented,” such as gender studies and those that study other races.

“I have tried to convince conservatives that I think the liberal professor theory is wrong,” he said.

Soave is more harsh and absolute in his criticism of the Obama administration's rules around Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which were largely credited with providing more protections for sexual assault survivors. While Title IX practitioners have continued to defend Obama’s guidance around the federal sex antidiscrimination law, saying that the guidelines were strong but institutions may have misinterpreted them, Soave wholeheartedly does not support them. In the book, Soave writes that he does believe sexual assault "is all too common, on campus and off."

"The debate is over the size, scope and shape of the problem," Soave wrote. "With activists often taking the most extreme position that patriarchal forces systematically oppress and violate women, particularly women who are, for identity-based intersectional reasons, extra susceptible to marginalization."

He said that the guidance, which came in the form of a Dear Colleague letter in 2011, caused institutions and administrators to overstep and has resulted in some truly farcical Title IX cases. Obama’s guidance was rescinded by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who offered new draft regulations that have yet to be approved by the department. They largely undo the Obama rules and give more latitude to colleges and universities in investigating and adjudicating such matters. Soave said that he’s not particularly optimistic that administrators will change much of anything around Title IX -- in fact, they are likely to double down on their practices given the public’s sensitivity to sexual assault.

Soave said (without data to back this up) that the adjudicators who sit on Title IX panels have a natural bias and tend to side with those accusing others of sexual assault.

“Automatically believing the victim and the application of that mind-set to these cases is disastrous,” Soave said.

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Campus security officers work to inform freshmen on crime prevention

Wed, 2019-06-19 07:00

Living on campus and away from home for the first time, many college freshmen are susceptible to crimes like burglary and theft. But on some campuses, security personnel are trying to help students learn crime-prevention tactics early on.

In recent years, many campuses have started or expanded programs to prevent sexual assault of students. But the crimes many will experience relate to theft, which is why some colleges are stepping up programming on the issue.

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, there were 6,716 reported burglaries in campus residence halls and 5,299 reported in other areas of campus throughout the U.S. in 2016. There were also 1,106 total on-campus robberies. (Robbery is when an assailant induces someone to hand over their property, while burglary is when someone steals property while the owner is away.)

With all these in mind, some universities are working to ensure students have all the tools necessary to avoid theft when they arrive on campus.

At Winston-Salem State University, a historically black college, crime-prevention learning is incorporated specifically into a required freshman classes, taught by a campus police officer.

“Like many college campuses, larceny is the most reported offense on campus,” Winston-Salem spokesperson Jay Davis said in an email. “This includes students leaving or misplacing student ID cards. To address this issue, WSSU’s Police and Public Safety are taking a layered approach.”

The issue of stealing wallets -- not just in the hopes of finding cash but credit cards as well as student and government IDs for the purpose of identity theft -- has become an increasing trend at universities, according to John Ojeisekhoba, campus security chief at Biola University in California. Ojeisekhoba said along with increasing issues of identity theft, stealing wallets with student IDs can allow criminals swipe-in access to areas of campus where they can find more valuable items to steal. Consumer Reports found there was a 20 percent increase in reported identity theft among college students in 2017.

“The trend coming up is mostly wallets, because you can go easily to any store and use someone’s card,” Ojeisekhoba said. “From a student’s single wallet, there are financial gains -- if there’s money or a card in the wallet, if there’s someone’s ID, that’s icing on the cake for identity theft. Bad guys also know students keep their student ID card in their wallets. They can come back to the campus, access more areas and steal more stuff.”

In 2017 Ojeisekhoba was the recipient of the National Clery Compliance Award for his efforts at Biola. As at Winston-Salem State, Ojeisekhoba said informing students early is key to crime prevention, as freshmen are often targets.

“We do things in different phases,” Ojeisekhoba said. “The orientation information is generic but also has in-depth details. For the orientation, we cover the current crime trends on college campuses.”

At Winston-Salem State, the freshman experience is littered with moments of learning about crime prevention. In addition to the mandatory class, Davis said students periodically break into smaller sessions about crime prevention during the weeklong freshman orientation prior to the start of classes.

As Ojeisekhoba prepares for the arrival of a new freshman class, he plans to keep them up-to-date on the growing issue of bike theft, which he said is on the rise due to the ease with which bikes can be resold. Ojeisekhoba even tested as many available bike locks he could find on the market in order to determine which would be best for students to use and determined that a metal U-lock is preferable. Biola will now hand out 200 free U-locks to students who agree to register their bikes with campus security.

Ojeisekhoba said in his experience, informing students early on about crime trends at their university poises them to be more successful at crime prevention.

“Sometimes we’ll have events in dormitories to make sure we’re reaching freshmen beyond the orientation,” Ojeisekhoba said. “It’s helpful for us and for them to use this medium to educate freshmen.”

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Student debt cancellation pushes to mainstream of higher ed debate

Tue, 2019-06-18 07:00

As the for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain began to collapse in 2015, tens of thousands of borrowers were left with student loans they had no prospect of repaying. Debt activists turned to a novel solution -- they said they wouldn't repay the loans and argued the federal government should clear the student debt.

That campaign resulted in debt relief for thousands of former for-profit students until the loan forgiveness process became the subject of a regulatory rollbacks under the Trump administration. When it began, debt forgiveness was considered an extraordinary solution to a unique problem related to the for-profit sector.

Four years later, though, automatic debt cancellation for every student borrower is being taken seriously as potential policy to address the $1.5 trillion in outstanding federal student loans.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said last week she would introduce legislation to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for 42 million borrowers, mirroring details she outlined in a presidential campaign proposal estimated to cost about $640 billion.

And Washington-based think tanks are issuing new publications looking into the potential benefits of broad debt cancellation.

Where the 2016 presidential campaign pushed free college onto the national agenda, candidates and policy makers are getting pressure now to take a position on solutions for current student borrowers struggling to repay their loan debt. An idea that was previously relegated to the political fringes -- canceling student debt -- is gaining new momentum. That’s a reflection of just how many borrowers have student debt that is a major concern, observers say.

“Demands previously regarded as laughably unrealistic are now part of mainstream political discourse” thanks to grassroots efforts of student borrowers, said Ann Larson, an organizer with the Debt Collective, the activist group that began pushing for loan forgiveness in response to Corinthian’s collapse.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, is the only other candidate for the Democratic nomination to endorse massive student debt cancellation. But Warren's plan has reshaped the debate over higher ed in the Democratic primary.

Student debt is even drawing the attention of philanthropists and corporate brands. Billionaire investor Robert Smith's announcement that he would pay off the student debt of the entire Morehouse College Class of 2019 created new buzz around big solutions for student debt. It also highlighted the extent to which African American borrowers in particular struggle with student debt burdens.

Even corporate brands are looking to build marketing efforts on the issue, where a few years before they might have offered tuition assistance or free college courses to employees. Fast food chain Burger King last month announced it would pay out $250,000 in student loan payments to customers who use the company’s app. And bargain beer brand Natural Light said in January it would give $1 million for student loan payments.

Student organizers with the Debt Collective pushed the Obama administration to grant debt forgiveness to defrauded students who attended for-profit colleges through a provision of federal law known as borrower defense to repayment. That resulted in more than half a billion dollars in debt cancellation for students before the process ground to a halt under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Warren was perhaps the biggest champion of debt cancellation for defrauded borrowers in Congress. She took then Education Secretary John King to task in 2016 over the pace of relief for former Corinthian students. Her presidential campaign proposal, though, made the case for canceling debt on a much wider basis. The $1.5 trillion in student debt, she argued, amounted to a failed experiment to offload the burden of financing higher education onto students and their families.

Other Democratic candidates have rolled out policy platforms promising to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or allow student borrowers to refinance their loans at lower rates. But none have generated buzz like the Warren debt plan. Some polling has found that a majority of Democratic primary voters support the plan.

The proposal has also taken criticism from those who say it isn't targeted enough to borrowers most in need of assistance, that it's too expensive or that it isn’t fair to those who have already paid off their student loans. Warren's proposal would provide debt relief on a limited basis to borrowers with incomes of $100,000 or more. Less than half of borrowers in the top income quintile would receive full student loan forgiveness, compared to more than 80 percent of borrowers in lower income brackets, according to analysis from the campaign.

An analysis from the Brookings Institution, though, found that the proposal would be regressive, because the highest-earning households would receive the most benefits in dollar terms.

But Marshall Steinbaum, a professor of economics at the University of Utah, said arguments that the proposal is regressive understate the extent to which lower-income borrowers increasingly struggle to manage their student loan burdens. They also rely on outdated views of who holds student loan debt, he said, when a college degree has increasingly been a requirement to compete for good-paying jobs.

"Having student debt used to mean you were relatively privileged," he said. "Now it's the case that having student debt, at least among younger cohorts, means you're relatively deprived."

New Focus of Progressive Policy Groups

Steinbaum was the co-author of a 2018 paper from the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College that called for the federal government to wipe away all $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt, arguing it would stimulate the overall economy. That paper acknowledged that the largest loan balances are held by the highest earners but said that the degree to which student debt is held by high earners has diminished. Steinbaum said it's clear that there's been a shift in the policy discussions over the past year.

"The public is obviously interested in this. And because the public is interested, some policy makers are interested in at least exploring it," he said. "Then you've got the people supposedly responsible for formulating policy dragging behind to keep up with the changing political balance."

Other progressive policy shops -- the kind of places that generate many of the policies candidates run on -- have started to study broad debt cancellation more seriously as well. The Aspen Institute in April issued a paper assessing broad student debt cancellation. And in the past two weeks, Demos and the Center for American Progress have released separate papers examining the potential impact of debt forgiveness along with a range of other potential policies to assist student borrowers.

Both papers examined the equity implications for several potential policies designed to assist current student borrowers, including total debt cancellation, targeted debt relief, reform of various repayment options and student loan refinancing.

Mark Huelsman, associate director for policy and research at Demos, said the idea of loan forgiveness is politically salient for many voters because it addresses an issue they are dealing with today. The Warren proposal would also extend debt forgiveness on federal student loans to individuals who attended private and for-profit institutions, where free college plans address costs at public institutions.

“There was a pretty robust push for bold solutions on college affordability and expanding what was possible from a policy standpoint,” Huelsman said. “It’s taken a little longer to coalesce around a solution for outstanding student loans.”

One reason for that development is an evolving understanding of challenges with loan repayment among researchers who track student loan debt.

“There was an assumption that the student debt problem was concentrated among those at for-profit colleges or predatory programs. Or it was seen as a problem with repayment and not necessarily with debt itself,” he said. “That has shifted over the last couple of years.”

Ben Miller, vice president for higher education at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said new federal data on loan repayment released in recent years have revealed the extent to which even many borrowers who completed degrees struggle to repay student loan debt. Federal data in 2017 showed, for example, that nearly a quarter of black college graduates who entered college in 2003-04 defaulted on their loans within 12 years. Just 6 percent of white borrowers defaulted over the same period.

The various policy proposals from Democratic candidates would have particular benefits for specific groups of borrowers, the two papers found.

“Our hope is that policy makers understand that whatever their given solution is, that it should truly match the problem,” Miller said. “Circumstances for borrowers vary, so the right answer is probably a combination of these tools.”

Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at the Education Trust, said the growing focus on solutions for current student borrowers shows a recognition that there are challenges at every part of the higher ed system -- from unaffordable college costs to challenges repaying loans. But she said figuring out how those choices would affect different kinds of borrowers should guide how those solutions are crafted.

“The first step is asking the question, ‘Who is going to benefit?’” she said.

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