Inside Higher Ed

Fund-raising in times of crisis is a tough balancing act

14 hours 15 min ago

The confidential world of high-dollar college fund-raising doesn’t usually make national headlines unless a major donor makes a record-breaking gift. Interactions between those tasked with asking for large sums of money and those proffering it are largely the result of relationships built on tact and propriety -- and above all, privacy. Not doing anything to undermine the deep commitment and affinity alumni and donors have for a given college or university is sacrosanct.

Those normal rules of decorum were recently upended at the University of Maryland, College Park, with the death of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman for the Terrapins football team, and the subsequent firing of the team’s head coach. The events, which occurred during a $1.5 billion fund-raising campaign, roiled the campus and provided a rare public glimpse into the generally discreet practices of the institution’s main fund-raising foundation and a top benefactor.

The chairman of the foundation angrily complained about the actions of the university system’s Board of Regents in the wake of McNair’s death from heatstroke last June. Among other things, the board forced the university’s president, Wallace Loh, to reinstate the head coach, who had been put on leave. This move didn’t sit well with some students and alumni, and some of McNair’s teammates, who said the university was placing athletics over student safety. The foundation chairman characterized the board’s actions as a “fatal blow” to the campaign. A member of the foundation who'd given the university millions followed suit and said she would withhold any future funding because of the “unacceptable” way the controversy was managed.

The dustup exposed problems that can and do arise when the public relations goals of a carefully choreographed fund-raising campaign and a troubled athletic program collide: universities and colleges are left scrambling to repair their damaged reputation among alumni while also trying to keep sports-loving donors happy with the institutions’ athletic programs.

It’s a tough balancing act for any university with a popular sports program, especially those with nationally recognized football and men's basketball teams such as Pennsylvania State University, Baylor University, Ohio State University, Michigan State University and many others that have experienced all manner of scandals.

Of course, donors can also react to issues having nothing to do with college sports. Just last week, some prominent benefactors of the University of Southern California openly criticized a decision by the interim president to remove the dean of the business school. The dean is "not going anywhere, and neither are we," one donor asserted. Another donor, a billionaire who donated $85 million to USC, hired a lawyer to advocate for the dean.

“Universities have to maintain legitimacy with their stakeholders -- with students who pay tuition, donors/trustees who make contributions, legislators who appropriate funds, etc. Many of them are deeply invested in the institution's success, so they aren't neutral arbiters. Instead, they will bask in the reflected glory of the university's triumphs and find ways to distance themselves (and the university) from perceived failures,” Welch Suggs Jr., an associate professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, said in an email.

“In the face of scandal, how do such stakeholders respond? Given recent examples, it's surprising when they express concern that a university's response to scandal is not strong enough. More commonly, donors and other stakeholders get upset when they think university officials have been too punitive and are compromising their teams' competitiveness.”

The challenge of balancing these competing interests was made all the more difficult at Maryland after the widely criticized reinstatement and then bungled firing of the once popular coach, DJ Durkin. In the aftermath of McNair’s death, team members alleged that Durkin fostered a "toxic" coaching culture. In addition, an investigation of McNair’s death concluded that the athletic department staff didn't follow university procedures that should have diagnosed a heatstroke.

Even as the dust settled on campus, the accusations and recriminations that followed the imbroglio revealed a level of exasperation with the state of affairs not usually expressed so bluntly.

In a letter of complaint to the Board of Regents, Geoff J. Gonella, the foundation chairman, implied the board improperly commandeered the investigation of McNair’s death, bullied Loh to reinstate Durkin and even pushed Loh to announce his retirement.

“Let us remind you that we are in the middle of a $1.5 billion campaign to raise funds for the flagship of the system,” Gonella wrote. “And we are deeply distressed that you have not only dented our momentum, but you may have dealt our efforts a fatal blow.”

The head of the regents resigned soon after.

Suggs, the University of Georgia professor who is also a former associate director for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said the outspoken reactions were surprising.

“Most of the time, donors and other stakeholders value competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence more than penitence or corrective action, or even victim support. They want scandals to be over and done with so they can get on with being fans and supporters,” he wrote. “So, the Maryland situation seems to be a critical example: Will other donors expect universities to hold themselves deeply accountable for tragedies like the death of Jordan McNair? Or will they try to negotiate settlements and move on? It'll be interesting to see.”

Universities that do take prompt and unequivocal responsibility for tragic mistakes and embarrassing scandals are likely to fare better, said Brian Gawor, vice president for research and strategy in the fund-raising management division at consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

“What we find is if the university is standing up and taking responsibility, and is not shy about talking to and listening, really listening, to the alumni, and providing very clear plans as to what they’re doing to address the situation, they will be able to move on from the controversy,” he said.

Bruce Levenson, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who along with his wife is a major donor to the University of Maryland, agreed that acknowledgment of fault followed by tangible corrective action can help restore university boosters’ faith in an institution.

“The way Maryland reacts to this will affect how it’s judged in the broader academic community,” he said. “So how they react is very, very important.”

Levenson, former co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks and his wife, Karen, a Maryland alumna and member of the fund-raising foundation Board of Trustees, gave Maryland $75 million in 2016 to help launch the Do Good Institute at the School of Public Policy to promote philanthropy and entrepreneurial innovation among students. He said he was speaking for both himself and his wife.

Karen Levenson, who also co-chairs a campaign steering committee that helps Maryland administrators plan fund-raising campaigns, wrote the letter about withholding future donations to the university.

She said in the letter that she felt compelled to speak out after keeping “quiet about the extent of my very significant financial commitment” to the university.

“I have directed the halting of future funding to the university until such time as I am convinced the university will be governed in the manner I was led to believe it would be governed when I made my commitment,” she wrote.

Bruce Levenson said Maryland’s actions going forward would be key to determining future support from him and his wife. He said he was heartened that Governor Larry Hogan and other state lawmakers called on University of Maryland administrators to do more “to restore the public trust.”

“For me, assuming that there’s now follow-through, my inclination would be to be even more generous,” he said.

Another major donor who gave Maryland money to help build a $152 million computer science building and fund scholarships, also criticized the university's handling of the events and called on Hogan and lawmakers to protect Loh's job, according to The Baltimore Sun.

University of Maryland officials declined to make the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the College Park Foundation available for an interview. Instead, Jackie Lewis, vice president for university relations, issued a written statement.

“While a tragedy on campus has the potential to impact fundraising, it’s more important than ever that we continue to reach out to our stakeholders and supporters. We need to listen to their concerns, provide accurate information directly to our community, and be responsive,” she wrote. “During a campaign, our critical work of raising private dollars continues. It is our hope that our alumni and strongest supporters continue to believe in the transformative impact higher education and the University of Maryland has on our students, community and world. The campaign is raising private funds to provide academic scholarships, support faculty positions, build new facilities, and support research projects that discover new knowledge.”

Other Universities

When a shocking child sex abuse case rocked Pennsylvania State University’s hugely popular football program in 2011, the condemnations and repercussions were swift and far-reaching. The story was at the center of a media maelstrom for several weeks, and the fallout continues to this day. Like Maryland, Penn State was also in the midst of a fund-raising campaign when the scandal exploded.

Joe Paterno, the widely beloved longtime head coach of the Nittany Lions, was ousted in disgrace. (He died in 2012.) Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach, was eventually convicted of more than 40 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to a jail term of 30 to 60 years. The university president, vice president and athletic director were charged with various crimes, including obstruction of justice and child endangerment, for not intervening to stop the abuse, and given short prison sentences. Penn State's costs related to the scandal, including settlement payments to Sandusky's victims, have reportedly reached $237 million and counting.

The campus was emotionally riven by the scandal; students who supported the team and those outraged by the handling and attempted cover-up of the allegations protested on opposing sides. Alumni spoke out in defense of the school or harshly criticized it.

The university decided to proactively cease some of the activities of the seven-year, $2 billion fund-raising campaign. Development officers were advised "to move more slowly in major donor solicitations," O. Richard Bundy III, Penn State’s vice president of development and alumni relations, said in an email. Solicitation calls from the Lion Line, Penn State's "telefund" organization, were suspended for a time, and development staff members went on a “listening tour” in the months immediately after the crisis broke.

"As a result, there was a significant decrease in the number of major gift proposals we delivered in the first six months of 2012," Bundy wrote. "All of these measures were a significant departure from standard practice during any fundraising campaign."

The university also adopted “aggressive reforms in compliance and reporting protocols” focused on fighting child abuse and sexual misconduct, “all of which were key factors in maintaining donor support,” he said.

The campaign still managed to eventually surpass its fund-raising goal with the help of 167,500 alumni “at the time believed to be the most alumni donors to any campaign in the country,” said Bundy. He was not in his current position at the time of the abuse crisis, but he doesn’t believe it motivated donors to give as a way to show support for the university.

“I think there are more significant factors that drive our philanthropic success,” he said. “Our alumni and friends care deeply about this institution. Our alumni surveys have consistently demonstrated confidence in the university’s priorities.”

He said while Penn State football was likely a factor, it was not the only reason for donors’ largesse.

“It’s true that many of our donors also are fans of Penn State athletics,” he said. “At a minimum, our athletic successes give our development staff an icebreaker when starting conversations with prospective donors. Having said that, we’re a university with a depth and breadth of offerings, and there are many more motivations for giving that go well beyond athletics. That includes patrons of the arts, for example, and grateful patients, and first generation [students] to go to college, many of whom have no interest in sports.”

Bundy said Penn State’s donor base has increased by more than 20 percent since 2011 and is now at record highs. Donors to intercollegiate athletics have also returned to pre-recession highs.

The university’s current five-year, $1.6 billion campaign, launched on June 30, 2016, raised more than $713 million -- more than 44 percent of its goal -- in the first two years and now stands at $845 million. Bundy said more than 375,000 “alumni and friends” of Penn State donated.

Kenon A. Brown, an assistant professor in the University of Alabama’s program in sports communication, said what happened at Maryland is just the latest in a string of controversial incidents in college sports programs that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has not given sufficient attention.

“At what point does it become a systemic problem for the NCAA?” he said. “How many schools need to get in trouble like this before you say what you’re going to do as a governing institution to sort of minimize this? They’re not holding up their end of the bargain … They’re too lenient for their own good.”

Brown said the NCAA is not holding its member institutions accountable, and he questions whether Maryland would have reinstated a coach who ran a seriously troubled football program if the NCAA had stepped in and said, “This can’t happen -- you’re not going to reinstate this coach.”

Still, he said, there was plenty of blame to go around, including with administrators at the University of Maryland.

Brown said donors such as the Levensons stepping up and demanding accountability as a condition of their financial support is a result of NCAA inaction.

“The donors have a lot of power, and money talks as soon as they start pulling back their checks,” he said. “It’s like any business -- once you start losing revenue then you have a problem. That’s when institutions start asking themselves the hard questions.”

Linda Durant, vice president for development at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said donors often continue to support institutions despite scandals because the time and effort university administrators, particularly presidents and senior development personnel, spend cultivating and nurturing relationships with big donors often pays off over the long term.

“So when a controversy or scandal erupts, the donors are often willing to give the university administrators the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “The good news is when you’re talking about a major campaign, these donors are the individuals who are closest to the university. They have long-standing and trusting relationships with the leadership of the university, they care deeply about the university, and this is what inspires and motivates them.”

Durant, who formerly was senior vice president for advancement at Widener University in Pennsylvania and vice president for advancement at Dean College in Massachusetts, said universities facing a major scandal will often reach out to major donors and schedule meetings, phone calls and one-on-one conversations to reassure them that administrators “have the best interest of the university, alumni and friends of the university at hand, and are working to protect the mission of the university.”

“As someone who was in that world for a very long time, I know that the university is always aware that anything can happen during a fund-raising campaign,” she said. “There can be an economic downturn or a controversial event on campus. That’s why they’re always talking to donors. If there’s a time when they feel they can’t move in the direction they wanted to with the campaign, they may pause and say, ‘Let’s just stop for a while. Let’s assess the situation and let’s address it and communicate with our alumni and donors.’”

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New study says scientists are leaving academic work at unprecedented rates

14 hours 15 min ago

The “half-life” of academic scientists has shortened dramatically over time, says a new paper calling attention to the “rise of the temporary workforce.”

Following scientists in three fields, the paper’s authors found that it took about five years for a half of a science cohort to leave academic work in 2010 -- compared to 35 years in the 1960s.

The researchers also found a “rapid rise” in scientists who spend their careers supporting others and never leading a paper of their own -- from about 25 percent of scientists in the 1960s to 60 percent today.

“Entering graduate students should be aware of this, so that they would have realistic expectations and perhaps try to plan their lives accordingly,” lead author Staša Milojević, associate professor of informatics at Indiana University, said Monday.

While some scientists do survive and thrive, the paper says it remains somewhat unclear what drives that “survivability.”

This message is clearer: as supporting scientists become more and more essential, given the rise of team science, they’re “suffering from greater career instability and worse long-term career prospects in some fields.”

Milojević said part of the problem is postdoctoral positions, or “permadocs,” as they’re sometimes called -- supposedly temporary positions on which academic research increasingly depends.

“The existence of the postdoc role has definitely changed the lab dynamics,” she said. “It has also allowed individuals to stay longer in the field in the hopes of landing a more permanent position. I believe that the existence of so many postdoc positions is leading to the attrition picture we are seeing.”

The study focused on researcher cohorts in astronomy, ecology and robotics. Researchers drew their cohorts from scientists who had published in any of the principal journals in their fields, starting in the 1960s: some 71,000 authors in astronomy, 21,000 in ecology and 18,000 in robotics. These scientists remained active authors and therefore “in” science if they’d published in a journal in any role -- lead or supporting author -- in the last three years covered by the study.

The researchers determined that the share of all authors who are lead authors has been trending downward in all three disciplines since the 1960s, leading to a complementary increase in the share of supporting authors.

In early cohorts in the study, about 75 percent of entering authors had a lead author role, the paper says. That figure is now about 40 percent.

For authors who persist in science beyond their first publication, the study employed a “survival analysis” to study their career longevity. Graphed survival “curves” show that until the 1980s and, for astronomy, the 1990s, half of each cohort had a “full” 20 or more years in their academic careers. In recent decades, however, there has been a continuous decline in expected career length.

Expanding the survival analysis to every cohort, the authors decided that a “half-life” would be the time it took a group of scientists to lose half its ranks. Astronomy’s half-life dropped from 37 years in the 1960s to five years in 2007. The half-lives were even shorter in ecology and robotics. Part of that difference probably reflects better nonacademic job opportunities in the latter two fields.

Source: PNAS

Attempting to track when scientists leave a field, the researchers determined that there’s no “bottleneck” stage when they rush to leave, but rather a constant trickle.

Over all, scientists who have been lead authors have significantly higher production and collaboration levels than supporting authors. Their impact levels are similar, the study says. And supporting authors, “while working on fewer papers and with fewer direct collaborators, nevertheless contribute to projects of similar impact.”

A more advanced analysis suggests that for lead authors, number of publications has “consistently been a significant predictor of career longevity. We also see that citations reduced the hazard of exit in the early cohorts.” However, the paper says, more recently, the model is “dominated by publications, with citations having little independent effect.” And in contrast, for supporting authors, publications have “very weak effects until the most recent cohort.”

While their findings are linked to the rise of group science, they’re not an "inevitable outcome of the increasing sizes of teams," the authors say.

Going farther, the author says there is a need to reform career structures in universities to account for the changing nature of “composition and reproduction cycles in team science, with social insect colonies rather than parent-child reproduction as a more appropriate model.”

The increased need for both the “specialization and possession of specialized technical knowledge to manipulate increasingly complex instrumentation and data has created an essential group of supporting contributors to knowledge,” the paper says. “Unfortunately, the existing job roles and educational structures may not be responding to these changes.”

"Changing Demographics of Scientific Careers: The Rise of the Temporary Workforce" was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Columbia student goes on racist tirade at fellow students

14 hours 15 min ago

A Columbia University student shouted that “white people are the best thing that ever happened to the world” on Sunday evening during a racist tirade in front of students of color, who caught the rant on video.

“We invented science and industry, and you want to tell us to stop because ‘oh, my God, we’re so bad,’” the student said, skipping around the small crowd of students. “We saved billions of people from starvation. We built modern civilization. White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world. We are so amazing. I love myself and I love my people. [Fuck] yeah, white people! [Fuck] yeah, white men! We’re white men, we did everything.”

Disappointed, but not surprised. Twitter, do your thing@Columbia @CC_Columbia #ColumbiaWhiteExcellence

— Aala (@aalanasir) December 9, 2018

The white student in the video is Julian von Abele. Several onlooking students challenged his remarks; one asked, “What about slavery?”

In an email to students, Deans Mary Boyce, Lisa Rosen-Metsch and James Valentini assured students that the university was investigating the incident.

“Although we cannot comment on the proceedings, this incident is already under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and we want to assure you that it will be investigated thoroughly, beginning with interviews of witnesses,” the email read.

A spokesperson for Columbia could not confirm whether that investigation will result in disciplinary action for von Abele.

The Columbia University Black Student Union addressed the incident in a Facebook post and elaborated on what allegedly occurred after the camera turned off.

“Apparently after this encounter, [von Abele] continued to harass several students and Public Safety did nothing to help or protect the students when they were contacted,” the post read. “This came after he forcibly grabbed a black woman and asked black women if they liked to date white men, according to several individuals.”

Von Abele did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment.

Columbia’s student conduct policies specifically prohibit harassment, which is defined as “unwelcome verbal or physical conduct/threat of physical conduct that, because of its severity, pervasiveness, and/or persistence, interferes significantly with an individual’s work or education, or adversely affects an individual’s living conditions.” The university also has a nondiscrimination policy that, if violated, could result in a disciplinary hearing.

The university posted a Twitter thread in response to the incident.

“Statements of white racial superiority conflict with the university’s core value of inclusivity as well as the educational work and research that take place on our campuses,” it began.

The thread was met with some criticism.

“Actually, by teaching a Eurocentric core curriculum in which students study the modern world through the lens of solely Western societies, you are perpetuating the white supremacy that occurred on campus,” one user wrote. “I appreciate the tweeting, but it's time to diversify the core.” Columbia is known for a rigorous core curriculum with a strong focus on Western classics.

“There is only one socially acceptable outcome and that is to expel Julian von Abele from Columbia university,” another user tweeted. “You have to show there are serious consequences for his type of racist behavior.”

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Science advocates weigh in as HHS conducts review of fetal tissue research

14 hours 15 min ago

The Trump administration in September launched a comprehensive review of all research involving human fetal tissue, which has helped researchers make headway in studies of macular degeneration and infectious diseases like HIV and the Zika virus.

The review followed pressure from antiabortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List as well as members of Congress in recent months to end federal support for the research. Although university and research groups have said there appears to be a genuine interest in getting the science right at the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency has taken several steps recently to limit ongoing research and promote alternatives to fetal tissue that scientists say aren't viable.

Just after launching the review, the agency barred scientists from the National Institutes of Health from acquiring new human fetal tissue for research. The decision, which was made without any public announcement, only became public Friday thanks to a report in Science.

And on Monday, the National Institutes of Health said it would fund new studies to develop alternatives to human fetal tissue.

The announcement follows reporting that cast doubt on the long-term funding prospects for a multimillion-dollar research contract at University of California, San Francisco, to test new treatments for HIV.

The use of fetal tissue in federally backed research is extremely controversial among antiabortion groups, because much the tissue comes from aborted fetuses. The Department of Health and Human Services put a moratorium on federal support for research using fetal tissue from elective abortions in 1988. But President Clinton reversed the moratorium in 1993, and the same year Congress legalized federal funding for the research. The National Institutes of Health, which is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, provided $103 million to back fetal tissue research this year. It’s expected to provide $95 million in research funding in 2019.

While the HHS review is underway, the backers of fetal tissue research are hoping to have their say. Even as the administration take steps that appear designed to placate antiabortion groups, science groups say HHS hasn’t yet made a change of policy on the research.

“I think there is a genuine interest in getting a strong understanding of the science,” said Jennifer Poulakidas, vice president for congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

APLU is one of a number of higher ed organizations, research advocates and patient groups that are weighing in on talks with HHS as the agency carries out its review of the research.

“Science is changing very rapidly these days in any number of areas. It makes sense to get on top of that,” said Jennifer Zeitzer, director of federal relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “We’re taking HHS at its word, and we want to help them do that.”

In recent months, though, the administration has made changes suggesting skepticism of the research. Last month, President Trump appointed a University of Utah academic, whose views on “fetal pain” are far outside the scientific mainstream, to a White House scientific advisory board.

When it launched its comprehensive review in September, HHS also dropped a contract with laboratory research services firm Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc. to provide fetal tissue to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it said it was not "sufficiently assured" the material was obtained in a way that complied with federal law.

“As a result, that contract has been terminated, and HHS is now conducting an audit of all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue to ensure conformity with procurement and human fetal tissue research laws and regulations,” an agency spokeswoman said. “In addition, HHS has initiated a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

The agency also said it’s looking into alternatives to the use of human fetal tissue in federally funded research, a priority NIH delivered on with its announcement Monday.

"Research using these tissues has been important in shedding light on scientific questions fundamental to biomedical research, ranging from understanding basic physiologic mechanisms to understanding normal human tissue developmental and disease processes. However, new technologies raise the potential of reconstituting these model systems without fetal tissue yielding more replicable and reproducible system for broader uses," the notice said. That’s an objective that’s been pushed by antiabortion groups. But researchers say there currently are no viable alternatives for the research conducted with fetal tissue.

While opponents and backers are watching that process unfold, uncertainty over federal support for fetal tissue at UCSF appeared to signal a new approach on federal funding. The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump administration has sowed doubt over the continuation of an NIH contract with a university laboratory.

The investigator who runs that lab, which has tested most drugs to prevent or treat HIV infection, the Post reported, was given a 90-day extension instead of the typical one-year, $2 million extension.

But HHS after that story issued a rare and forceful statement pushing back on suggestions the contract would be canceled.

“Regarding the extension on the UC San Francisco contract, no final decision has been made. A decision will be made when the contract has been reviewed, pursuant to the ongoing audit/review process,” said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

Oakley did not provide details on a timeline for review but said, “When we have more to announce on the progress of the review, we will.”

The University of California System declined to comment on the status of the NIH contract. Spokeswoman Claire Doan said in a statement that fetal tissue material is vital to finding treatments and cures for a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions.

“This research is conducted in full compliance with federal and state law, as well as ethical standards, and is in keeping with the university’s education, research and public service missions,” Doan said.

The most vocal antiabortion groups for their part have called the ongoing HHS review "completely inadequate."

“Secretary [Alex] Azar must put an immediate moratorium on funding for research using aborted baby organs and tissue purchased from the abortion industry,” said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser after the agency announced the review in September.

Scientists say they are worried about the accuracy of information the administration is receiving from those groups.

“The pro-life community that’s pressuring the Trump administration is making claims that stem cells of various types can replace fetal tissue, and that’s scientifically untrue,” said Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. “As long as HHS relies on good, solid facts from knowledgeable sources, we welcome review.”

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LIU students want apology after 'berating' of editor

14 hours 15 min ago

The student government association at Long Island University’s Post campus is demanding an apology from President Kimberly Cline and members of her administration after a co-editor of LIU’s student newspaper said several officials turned a routine interview into a confrontation over the newspaper’s coverage.

Co-editor Jada Butler wrote that she had scheduled an interview with a Board of Trustees member who had been the subject of previous coverage, as well as with Michael Berthel, an LIU dean, and Gordon Tepper, LIU’s public relations director. Butler said that when she and a reporter arrived for the meeting, the trustee wasn’t there. Instead, Berthel and Tepper were joined via telephone by the university counsel, Michael Best.

Butler said Tepper and Best spent the first 20 or so minutes of the meeting “berating” the newspaper for covering a series of anonymous pamphlets that have been distributed campuswide this fall, criticizing Cline, among others, for staff cuts and changes to sports programs. Butler also spoke to Inside Higher Ed last month about the pamphlets.

“They never told us not to publish anything,” Butler wrote, “rather they speculated about our reasoning behind covering these pamphlets.” She said Tepper and Best “believed we were wrong for covering what they called falsehoods and details they said were exaggerated.” The newspaper had fact-checked the memos, Butler said, but the officials put her in the “awkward position” of having to defend her work at what was supposed to be an interview.

Tepper did not respond to requests for comment.

The student association last week demanded that Cline and the other officials make “written, public apologies” for the incident. It also asked for a written statement from Cline and LIU’s Board of Trustees “guaranteeing free speech throughout the university for all students, staff, and faculty” at LIU’s Post campus.

It set a deadline of Dec. 10 for publication of the notices, threatening that if “sufficient apologies” aren’t made, the group would “use the LIU Post network of students to make the entire country aware of your administration’s abuses.” The group said it would “let high school students everywhere know that LIU Post is the place to come only if you do not like thinking for yourself.”

In a letter sent to the student government association and shared with Inside Higher Ed, Cline said LIU “fully embraces the guaranteed right to freedom of speech, and is committed to upholding and encouraging open and constructive dialogue. We value all perspectives of our students, faculty and community, and we understand and respect that good people and bright minds may differ.”

But she said anonymous letters “eliminate the ability to speak openly and respectfully about our differences, with the give-and-take necessary to separate fact from opinions and emotion.” She also said the university “would never seek to silence dissenting perspectives -- even in cases where an opinion might be at odds with the policies of the university. But differing opinions must nonetheless be voiced respectfully, without misleading information, hyperbole or threats.”

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Are numbers of doctorates awarded finally starting to reflect the poor academic job market?

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

The number of U.S. doctorates awarded in 2017 fell slightly year over year, to 54,664 from 54,862, according to a new report based on data from the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates.

As in years past, science and engineering doctorates made up the vast majority of degrees awarded -- and actually increased in number by 249, to 41,438. But the number of non-science and engineering degrees awarded in 2017 fell by 356, to 13,226, the lowest figure since 2012. It is the latter category of disciplines in which job market has been tightest for years.

Taking a longer-term view, science (including social science and psychology) and engineering doctorates climbed from 58 percent of all doctorates awarded in 1977 to 76 percent in 2017. The number of non-science and engineering doctorates awarded in 2017, meanwhile, was slightly lower than the number awarded in 1977.

Every broad science and engineering field except for psychology and social sciences increased in number and share of doctorates granted over the past two decades, the report notes. Psychology and social sciences grew in terms of degrees granted, but declined in overall share of new Ph.D.s, from about 17 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2017. Engineering saw the biggest growth of all fields within the last 20 years.

Between 2016 and 2017, the life sciences held steady at about 30 percent of all doctorates granted, as did the physical and Earth sciences, at about 11 percent. Math and computer science represented about 7 percent of all degrees in each year. Engineering increased from 17 percent to 18 percent.

In nonscience fields, education doctorates fell steeply between 1998 and 2017, from about 15 percent of all doctorates granted to 9 percent. Arts and humanities degrees dropped from about 13 percent to 10 percent. Other fields, such as business management and communication, continued to represent about 5 percent of all doctorates awarded over that time period.

Foreign languages and literature Ph.D.s conferred increased slightly year over year, from 599 in 2016 to 624 in 2017. History fell from 1,148 to 1,066.

Story by Numbers

The survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Education Department, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other agencies, is an annual census of research degrees awarded in the U.S. Both annual and longer-term trends tell the story of who is getting advanced degrees and in what.

As the report says, “Annual counts of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are measures of the incremental investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research, and scholarship, and they can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains.”

The survey began in 1957. Since then, the gap between science and nonscience fields has continued to widen. The overall number of degrees awarded has ebbed and flowed, but the average annual growth is about 3 percent.

The changing characteristics of the new Ph.D. population over time reflect “political, economic, social, technological and demographic trends and events,” the report says. And, it warns, “continued preeminence of U.S. doctoral education is not assured. Other nations, recognizing the contributions doctorate recipients make to economies and cultures, are investing heavily in doctoral education. The world’s brightest students, including U.S. citizens, may go elsewhere for the doctoral degree, and they may begin careers elsewhere as well.”

That may already be happening: first-time international graduate enrollments in U.S. institutions fell 3.7 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017, according to a recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The new federal report says that the number of doctorates in science and engineering awarded to temporary visa holders was 14,166 in 2017, down 159 from 2016. Overall growth in this area was still up 77 percent since 1998 and 9 percent since 2008, however. The proportion of science and engineering doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders peaked at 41 percent in 2007, the report says, but has held steady at around 36 percent since 2011.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the number of science and engineering degrees awarded grew by 2 percent year over year, but experienced slower growth over all.

Asian Americans earned more doctorates than any other racial and ethnic minority groups in life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, and engineering. Blacks or African Americans were the largest U.S. minority population in education. Latinos earned a larger share of doctorates in psychology and social sciences and in humanities and arts than did any other minority group.

Women’s share of doctorates awarded has grown in the past 20 years in all broad fields. Women earned the majority of doctorates awarded in life sciences, psychology and social sciences education, and humanities and arts in 2017. They earned about one-fourth of engineering and mathematics and computer science doctorates. Still, their ranks in those latter fields have been growing, from about 13 percent in engineering in 1998 and 22 percent in computer science and engineering.

Interestingly, the parents of recent doctoral recipients are better educated than parents of earlier Ph.D. cohorts. The share of new Ph.D.s with a parent who didn’t graduate college, meanwhile, has declined in the past 20 years. Research assistantships are the most frequent primary source of financial support for all doctorate recipients, followed by fellowships or grants and teaching assistantships. Sixteen percent of doctoral students rely primarily on their own resources, such as loans, personal savings, personal earnings or spouse or family, and 5 percent relied on such other sources as employer reimbursement and foreign support.

Most students (71 percent) in the physical and earth sciences, math and computer science, engineering and life sciences reported having no education-related debt. In psychology and social sciences and the humanities and arts, along with other non-science and engineering fields, only half of students said that. The shares of doctoral students with debt burdens of more than $30,000 were education (37 percent), psychology and social sciences (30 percent), and humanities and arts (26 percent).

Time to degree in 2017 ranged from about six years in the physical and Earth sciences to double that in education. In the humanities and arts, it was more than nine years.

The share of 2017 doctorates with definite commitments for employment increased slightly from 2016 across fields.

Salaries for those with definite job commitments varied widely in 2017, however, from about $50,000 for postdocs in most fields to $125,000 for mathematicians and computer scientists employed in business. In every broad field, reported postdoc salaries were lower than salaries for doctorate recipients entering non-postdoc employment in industry or academe. The biggest starting salaries in academe in non-postdoc positions were seen in engineering and “other” fields, such as business.

Nearly half (46 percent) of doctoral recipients with definite employment commitments, excluding postdocs, reported plans to work in academe. Academic employment plans were most prominent among those in the humanities and arts (77 percent), and “other” fields (80 percent). The lowest rates were in engineering (14 percent) and the physical and Earth sciences (24 percent).

The overall rates of scientists and engineers taking postdocs has remained at about 47 percent over the last decade. Rates have increased in engineering and psychology and the social sciences but decreased in other sciences over that time. Rates of non-science and engineering Ph.D.s taking postdocs continue to increase over time, to about 12 percent in 2017.

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, studies Ph.D. outcomes. He said that whenever he gives talks around the country on the topic, "quite a few people” ask why the number of humanities Ph.D.s remains high, despite the sharp drop in academic jobs after the 2008 recession. The 3.5 percent year-over-year decline in arts and humanities Ph.D.s conferred indicated in the report is therefore interesting, he said.

Still, he cautioned, there are “notable splits between the disciplines, which makes it hard to discern a trend.” Foreign language Ph.D.s increased 4.2 percent, for example, after falling in recent years, and some even smaller fields saw double-digit increases. Conversely, Townsend said, there were "substantial" declines in history, along with American literature and philosophy.

Given that it takes an average of seven years to earn a Ph.D., and that tracking studies have only recently reported declines in program enrollment, he said, “I suspect a broad and sustained decline is still a few years off.”

Hironao Okahana, associate vice president for research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, said the annual survey is an “invaluable national data resource” for institutions and others interested in higher education.

Pointing to the findings about definite employment commitments, Okahana said said that after several years of “slow decline,” the council is “cautiously optimistic at the slight improvement.”  The uptick in employment in industry and nonprofits also seems to signal a "recognition of the value of doctoral of education across employment sectors,” he added.

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Dream Center colleges closing at year's end

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

About 30 colleges are shutting their doors at the end of this month, nearly a year after becoming the latest group of for-profit institutions to convert to nonprofit status.

The colleges, most of which are part of the once renowned Art Institutes brand, are owned by the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Dream Center Education Holdings, or DCEH. They were formerly owned by Education Management Corporation. Despite having a recognizable brand, EDMC struggled with decreases in enrollment and revenue and increased scrutiny by state and federal investigations before selling the properties last year to the Dream Center Foundation, a Christian missionary organization.

The Dream Center purchased Argosy University, the Art Institutes, South University and Western State College of Law, which together had more than 100 campuses, from EDMC and converted the large for-profit institutions into nonprofit entities. It was reported in July that DCEH would stop enrolling students at 30 campuses and shut down those locations. The campuses have about 50,000 students enrolled in total.

Officials at DCEH did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking more information about the closures of the colleges.

Trace Urdan, a managing director at the consulting firm Tyton Partners who follows and analyzes the for-profit sector, said several factors led to the closures.

“The challenge of turning the business around has proven to be more difficult than anticipated and that simply declaring it nonprofit has been insufficient to shake the negative associations with the brand,” he said in an email.

Urdan said the dwindling appeal and high costs of programs at the Art Institutes -- the programs include culinary arts, media production, fashion, animation and interior design -- also worked against the universities. These programs require students to buy expensive course materials and equipment, which are essentially investments with low returns since most graduates end up in jobs with low starting salaries.

“In the context of a full-employment economy, attracting students to what are effectively vocational programs remains very challenging,” Urdan said. “They have to be persuaded that spending or borrowing money will boost their earning power enough to justify the expense. And because [the Art Institutes] is primarily a four-year degree institution, the cost and hurdle involved are that much greater.”

Tuition at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, for example, ranged from about $48,000 for an associate degree in graphic design to about $93,000 for a bachelor's degree in graphic design. The Philadelphia campus is among the locations that are closing. Tuition at Argosy University's San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn., campuses, which are also closing, ranged from $445 per credit hour to more than $1,000 per credit hour, according to its website. The Argosy campuses offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

But it isn't just the cost of the programs that may be turning off potential students. The wages for the careers that the degrees lead to aren't high enough for these programs to be a good value, said Spiros Protopsaltis, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University and former deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration.

Employers don't seem to value these degrees, especially from a former for-profit, as much as they do when students are coming from a traditional public university or a nonprofit institution that hasn't undergone a conversion, he said.

"People see through some of these things for what they are, and at the end of the day, consumers realize that just because a school converted to a nonprofit, it doesn't mean that it necessarily changed its education model," he said. "If outcomes don't improve and quality doesn't go up and the value proposition isn't there, changing tax status doesn't change the underlying problems with the business model."

Prior to the Education Department's decision in August to drop the gainful-employment rule, which required for-profit institutions to prove they are preparing graduates for remunerative employment, and before the nonprofit conversion, career education programs like some of those offered at the Art Institutes failed to meet the guidelines. For example, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh charges more than $44,800 for an associate degree in graphic design, but only 12 percent of students graduated on time. And those graduates typically earned less than $22,000 a year and had more than $40,000 in federal student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

"Changing the tax status without changing the culture or changing the product is not going to lead to any different outcomes," Protopsaltis said.

When the Dream Center took over the struggling EDMC campuses, critics questioned whether the organization was equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to run one of the country’s largest for-profits. At the time of the sale, EDMC records indicated an enrollment of 65,000 students.

Critics also point to another example of a failed attempt to convert a for-profit institution into a nonprofit by the ECMC Group, a student loan guarantee agency. ECMC created the Zenith Education Group to turn some of the former for-profit Corinthian Colleges into nonprofit entities.

ECMC purchased 56 former Everest and WyoTech campuses in 2015 and together with Zenith spent more than $500 million to keep the former Corinthian Colleges operating. The company closed 21 of the campuses in 2017 but left three open.

Protopsaltis said these types of conversions need to be scrutinized more carefully.

Dream Center supporters dispute the assessment that the company doesn't understand the complexity of turning around former for-profit institutions. They point to Brent Richardson, who was previously the executive chairman of Grand Canyon University, a private, nonprofit Christian university in Phoenix. Richardson spent years investing in and helping to build GCU when it was a struggling for-profit entity.

Michael Clifford, a former board member of the Dream Center who has invested in for-profit colleges and describes himself as a “friend of the nonprofit,” said the campus closings are a sign that the Dream Center’s administrative teams are moving the company in the right direction and in the best interests of the students who continue to attend the institutions.

“They’ve done more positive things in six or seven months than anyone in this business,” he said while declining to give specific examples on the record. “I’ve never seen a management team turn around a nonprofit school center as this group has done.”

Clifford's appraisal of Dream Center's financial outlook did not include other challenges the organization is currently facing.

The Art Institute of Seattle, which was not on the list of campuses closing this year, laid off 10 of 13 full-time instructors this fall. The institute also employs 75 part-time instructors, none of whom were laid off.

Meanwhile, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which is the accreditor for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, recently ruled that Dream Center had to provide more evidence that it adheres to commission standards by March 1 in order for the institution to be accredited.

Middle States, along with other regional accreditors for the DCEH campuses such as the Higher Learning Commission, has also approved teach-out agreements for the 30 campuses slated to close. The Higher Learning Commission, for example, approved a plan that would allow Illinois Institute of Art and Art Institute of Colorado students to transfer their earned credits to Columbia College Chicago or Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, in Denver.

Students who attended the Illinois campuses last week launched a class action lawsuit with the National Student Legal Defense Network. They accused the institution of hiding the fact that HLC revoked accreditation in January while continuing to encourage students to pay for courses and to graduate with unaccredited degrees.

Clifford is optimistic that regulatory changes made by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will help put DCEH campuses on stronger financial footing. He points to the administration's accreditation overhaul and its concerns that accreditors may not be in the best position to properly scrutinize the financial health of institutions and nonprofit conversions. Clifford said he supports the idea of shifting oversight from the accreditors to the states.

"No one wants another Corinthian or ITT [Technical Institutes]," Clifford said, referring to for-profit chains that collapsed in recent years after being subjected to increased federal oversight.

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Fifty colleges sued in barrage of ADA lawsuits over web accessibility

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

Jason Camacho, a blind resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., is suing 50 colleges over the accessibility of their websites.

The 50 lawsuits, filed in November, say the colleges are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities. Camacho uses a screen reader and said he experienced barriers when trying to access the colleges' websites.

Despite the court cases being filed in New York's Southern District, the institutions targeted are located all over the country. Almost all are private colleges, universities or conservatories, and include large research universities such as Northeastern University and Drexel University. Both institutions said they do not comment on ongoing legal matters. Also being sued are Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, the California Institute of the Arts, Oberlin College, Loyola University New Orleans, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and many others

The lawsuits, which all appear to have similar wording, argue that because the colleges recruit students in New York, the colleges can be sued in New York. All the colleges recently took part in a college fair in New York City for prospective students interested in performing and visual arts, which Camacho says he attended.

Camacho’s attorney, Jeffrey Gottlieb of Gottlieb and Associates, declined to comment, but has previously indicated that the intention of the lawsuits is to ensure accessibility for all. “If the website is not accessible, you’re shut out,” he told the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.

Gottlieb and Associates describes itself as a “boutique litigation firm dedicated to representing disabled persons who’s [sic] rights have been violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The firm says on its website that it works “solely on a contingent fee basis” which means that clients do not pay if their case is unsuccessful.

This is not the first time Camacho and Gottlieb have worked together to sue higher education institutions over website accessibility. New York University, Adelphi University, Monroe College, Lim College and the New York Code and Design Academy were all sued by Camacho earlier this year. The cases were settled out of court. A New York University spokesperson said the terms of its settlement with Camacho were confidential.

Camacho was also the lead plaintiff in several other ADA lawsuits filed in 2017, including against companies such as Peet’s Coffee and Aldi.

While there are disability advocates who have single-handedly filed thousands of ADA complaints against colleges and universities to U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, there are few individuals who have taken so many colleges to court, said Chris Danielson, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. That group has sued many colleges and reached settlements with others over issues similar to those raised in the new round of lawsuits.

The litigation-first approach is not one the NFB advocates.

“We tend to worry a little bit when we see one individual filing a bunch of lawsuits at once like this, because it’s not usually the best way to get a good result and enter into a good dialogue with the institutions,” he said. “Our approach is usually to go to litigation only after all other approaches have failed.”

Filing a lawsuit as a first move “puts universities on the defensive and is automatically adversarial,” said Danielson. But he added “it’s not necessarily a bad thing that someone who isn’t attending a university yet is doing some advocacy.”

The NFB has created a self-advocacy toolkit for students who experience accessibility barriers at college but said it can be tough for them to deal with these issues on top of their schoolwork.

The trend of somebody finding an accessibility issue on a website, “however big or small,” and filing a lawsuit is not unique to college and universities, said Danielson. “There are plaintiffs and lawyers who just take a category of business, like wineries for example, and just sue a bunch of them all at once.”

Filing large numbers of similarly worded ADA lawsuits against one type of business is sometimes referred to as “drive-by” litigation. This activity is widely seen as a means to get a quick settlement, rather than improve accessibility.

Whether Camacho is a disability rights advocate or an opportunist is irrelevant, said Peter Blanck, University Professor of law at Syracuse University and chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute, which aims to advance the participation of people with disabilities in society.

“It’s beside the point whether there are 50 or 1,000 lawsuits,” said Blanck. “These cases are reflective of a larger systemic problem -- that there is a lack of a strong commitment by many institutions to try to be as inclusive as possible.”

It’s been almost 30 years since the ADA was passed, and we should have made more progress, said Blanck. “Way back in the '90s I was asked to testify whether or not websites would be subject to the ADA,” he said. “There is no question that universities have been on notice for a long time.”

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UNC teaching assistants go on strike over Confederate monument

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

Several dozen teaching assistants at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started a grade strike Friday, saying that they will withhold student grades as long as the university moves ahead with the idea of constructing a building to house the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. The strike comes after classes have finished for the semester and students are preparing for final exams and normally would be soon receiving final grades. Many students and faculty members are also speaking out against the university's plan for the monument, which they see as a reflection of white supremacy.

As of early Friday afternoon, the organizers said that they had nearly 80 teaching assistants on strike, and that they were holding back the grades of more than 2,000 students. The banner above was an early listing of the number of teaching assistants on strike and the number of students affected.

The organizers say that their move is an "action," not a strike, because they are working, grading student papers and so forth, and they are simply not handing in grades.

Silent Sam was toppled by protesters in August (at right). Protesters used ropes to take down the statue, which was then removed by the university, setting off a debate on whether and how it would return to campus.

The action came after years of debate. As many other colleges and universities removed Confederate statues and symbols, UNC officials said that they lacked the power to remove the statue, with the campus deferring to the system, and the system board in July saying that any decision needed to come from a state agency and that the system had no plans to ask that agency to act.

On Monday, university leaders announced a plan -- widely criticized by student and faculty groups -- to spend more than $5 million on a building on campus to house Silent Sam. They said this was necessary to comply with a state law that monuments not be moved off campus, although university leaders said that they would prefer to do so. University officials have also said that the building would house exhibits about the university's history with issues of race, which includes periods of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement.

Those organizing the strike said that the plan would amount to glorifying a monument to white supremacy and would waste money.

Many students are taking to social media to support the strike.

Undergrad action:

— #StrikeDownSam (@strikedownsam) December 7, 2018

Black Congress joins in solidarity with all Teaching Assistants and Faculty participating in the action to #StrikeDownSam.
Read the demands here:

— MiZ BDE (@Angummm_) December 7, 2018

Faculty members in education were among those issuing a call to the university to reconsider its plan.

A joint statement by 123 faculty members as of Sunday morning focused on the history of the statue and its impact on the campus.

"In speeches dedicating the monument, Silent Sam was erected as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and white supremacy. It was part of a movement that worked to suppress the political and economic power of black Americans, to establish structures to extend white dominance, and to suppress the aspirations of people of color," the statement said. "The monument’s continuing presence on our campus is contrary to our school's commitment to the transformative power of education. It is contrary to our belief, as embodied in our mission, that 'education has the power to break down barriers, lift up individuals, and empower communities to rise and thrive.' It is contrary to the ideas and practices that we and many of our alumni have worked to implement to dismantle the vestiges of a history that included laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them."

Black student leaders also interrupted a faculty discussion of Silent Sam on Friday and said UNC was failing them, saying that the university does not care about diversity if it pushes for the statue to remain. Many professors at the meeting stood and applauded the students.

Meeting briefly interrupted by student protesters - some of them leaders of UNC’s Black Congress and Black Student Movement. Many faculty members stand in agreement. #wral

— Candace Sweat (@WRALCandace) December 7, 2018

Bob Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost at Chapel Hill, sent an email to the campus objecting to the strike.

Said Blouin, "This type of action violates our university’s instructional responsibilities, which include: 1) to deliver instruction; 2) to evaluate student performance; and 3) to record/document performance and progress toward degree completion. Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten their eligibility. The proposed strike exposes the university and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students."

He added, "Finally, this afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike. The university has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law."

Meanwhile, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have put up a large Confederate flag beside a North Carolina highway and announced that they plan to put one in every county in the state to protest the toppling of Silent Sam.

Burke County- Sons of Confederate Veterans have put up a 20 by 30 flag on Interstate 40 near Hildebran in protest of Silent Sam being taken down at UNC. The group spent 6000 dollars to raise the flag on a 75-foot pole. Their hope is to place one in every county in NC.

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A review of MIT's Saudi partnerships recommends against severing ties

Fri, 2018-12-07 08:00

A review of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s collaborations with Saudi Arabia recommends continuing the university’s relationships with individuals and entities in the kingdom despite concerns about the government’s record of human rights abuses and its role in the war in Yemen that has put millions of people at risk of starvation.

The review, which was conducted by MIT’s associate vice provost for international activities following the killing of the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, recommends against terminating any of MIT’s relationships with private Saudi donors, a Saudi government research agency and Saudi state-owned companies.

An eight-page preliminary report provides a summary of MIT’s Saudi links, including funding from the Saudi government and state-owned companies for sponsored research in fields like energy and water management and private and corporate gifts from Saudi sources. The report does not give an overall dollar figure for Saudi-sourced gifts and sponsored research contracts, but a federal database shows that MIT has reported receiving more than $77 million in gifts and contracts from Saudi sources over the past six years.

“The bottom line of my judgment was that we have and have had for some considerable period of time activities, collaborations with people from the kingdom, good people from the kingdom who have aspirations to do good things in the kingdom, and those good things are embodied in the research projects and research collaborations that we’re carrying out,” Richard K. Lester, the associate vice provost for international activities, said in an interview.

“These are people, we know them, we’ve known these folks for some considerable period of time, maybe even decades, who are trying to modernize the country. I’d say the bottom line of my judgment was we’re not going to walk away from these people. We’re not going to cut and run from these people even despite the atrocious actions that have been taken by the leadership of the country.”

MIT’s links to Saudi Arabia have been under scrutiny since the spring, when the university hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a controversial visit to its campus. Demonstrators protested against the visit, and an online petition calling for its cancellation got more than 6,000 signatures. An editorial in the student newspaper, the MIT Tech, argued that by hosting the crown prince and seeking to deepen its relationship with Saudi Arabia the MIT administration was signaling its willingness to participate in an effort to rebrand Prince Mohammed “as a positive, transformative force for Saudi Arabia and consequently pave over his human rights violations … The administration is demonstrating that it is open to building relationships that empower war criminals, as long as it can expand its global influence in the meantime.”

Pressure on MIT mounted following the killing of Khashoggi, a crime that the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded was ordered by the crown prince. The killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, brought intensified scrutiny to American colleges' ties with the kingdom.

Making matters worse for MIT was the fact that one of the alleged perpetrators in the killing of Khashoggi, Maher Mutreb, was present for the March visit by the crown prince to the MIT campus, and can be seen in the background of a picture (at right) of MIT president L. Rafael Reif and Prince Mohammed shaking hands.

Lester announced a reassessment of MIT's Saudi connections at the request of President Reif on Oct. 15, about two weeks following Khashoggi’s disappearance. The preliminary report is now being circulated within MIT for comment through Jan. 15. Lester will subsequently send a copy of the report and a summary of the comments to Reif for him to decide on a course of action for the university.

Lester said that feedback he collected from MIT students, faculty, staff and alumni ranged widely. “At one end of the spectrum, we had people who argued very passionately and forcefully that in light of these egregious actions that the Saudi government has taken we should join, MIT that is, should join in efforts to try to isolate the government and censure the government’s behavior,” Lester said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we had people who felt that this was actually exactly the wrong time to decouple from the people that we have worked with and it’s exactly the wrong time to withdraw from the kinds of activities that our students, including our Saudi students, are engaged in.”

“Obviously, I came down not in the middle of the spectrum,” Lester continued. “I came down toward the end of the range of views that emphasized the value of continuity and that the people we work with are good people, our students are good people, who want to do good things and that we should not abandon those purposes that we share with those people from the kingdom.”

As for new potential partnerships, Lester's report recommends that MIT should refrain at this time from any "large overseas engagements that require the physical presence of significant numbers of MIT people" in Saudi Arabia, but that it should consider new opportunities involving Saudi sponsors or donors "that are primarily conducted at MIT … as long as the activities comply with MIT’s policies and principles and relevant laws and regulations, and as long as faculty are willing to lead them."

The report is likely to have many detractors at MIT. An editorial authored by three professors published in the latest edition of the MIT Faculty Newsletter called for an independent assessment of MIT's activities in the kingdom, saying that "having a committee constituted by the administration, to investigate the administration’s actions, is clearly not adequate."

"It's a report from Richard Lester, one person," Jonathan King, one of the authors of the editorial and an emeritus professor of biology, said Thursday afternoon during a panel discussion evaluating the relationship between MIT and the Saudi monarchy. "It's not from a committee of the faculty; it's not from a committee of the institute. He says he talked to lots of faculty; none of them are named. This situation needs some kind of independent body that doesn't have representatives of the administration sitting on it."

"This is not the end of the process," King added." It's the beginning."

Nicolas Dumas, a graduate student in political science at MIT who has called on the university to sever ties with the Saudi government, described the report as “incredibly disappointing.”

“I was hopeful that this was actually a sincere sort of effort that would really engage with the implications of working with and continuing to essentially serve as a PR campaign for the Saudi government. This collaboration has been phenomenal PR for Mohammed bin Salman,” Dumas said.

Dumas disputed the idea that MIT and the Saudi government have shared interests in areas like vaccine research (an area of collaboration between MIT and a Saudi research university). "The claim that Mohammed bin Salman cares about children getting access to vaccines is on its face absurd. There is no area of mutual interest, and I think it’s unfortunate that MIT was perpetuating these messages," he said.

“The Saudi government clearly thought that the MIT leadership would be willing to overlook some of the most morally hideous human rights violations on the planet in exchange for funding,” Dumas said. “And they were correct, and that’s profoundly disheartening.”

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Williams College cancels new play after students express concerns about content

Fri, 2018-12-07 08:00

The theater department at Williams College canceled all scheduled performances of Beast Thing after several students withdrew from the cast and others approached the department with concerns about the show the day before opening night.

The aborted play at Williams comes at a time of tension on many campuses over portrayals involving race and racial concerns over casting; plays were canceled at Knox College and Kenyon College after they were criticized for their portrayal of racial groups, and just last week the Asian American Alliance at Columbia University booted a comedian midshow after he made several racially insensitive jokes.

“The students objected to some of the representational material [in Beast Thing],” said Amy Holzapfel, associate professor of theater at Williams and chair of the department. “Some of the design elements that went into the production and some of the artistic choices, they wanted to be different, they wanted them to change. The artistic team felt really strongly that the decisions that they were making were the right decisions in order to best represent the work.”

According to the event description, Beast Thing is a “play-in-progress” by Aleshea Harris, and in it “the town Saint is charged with 'eating' the town’s sins. The townsfolk believe they can rid themselves of all their ugliness. In reality, they are emaciated by their own secrets.”

"The play is a critique of the radicalized national mythology that we call 'Americana.' It’s an attempt to step into and explode certain archetypal stories and characters in American culture that are inevitably marked as white," said Shayok Misha Chowdhury, a visiting professor of theater and director of the play. "[It includes] characters like the sheriff and the saint that the piece is explicitly attempting to poke fun at and explode in some ways."

The cast originally included six white students and five students of color. After rehearsals began, two of the white actors left the cast for personal reasons, but Chowdhury said their departures set the tone for the production.

"The rehearsal room felt very precarious very early on, because every day I would have to express to the cast that someone was leaving," he said.

Inside Higher Ed reached out to several cast members, who did not respond to requests for comment, but they have been quoted in the campus paper as saying that they felt uncomfortable in their roles and were worried about how their performance might affect audience members.

Looking back, Chowdhury wonders if putting on Beast Thing at Williams was a "fool's errand." Its downfall did not occur in a vacuum. Last year, the college brought Underground Railroad Game, a traveling performance that critiques race and desire in America, to campus. Several students were upset by the performance, and, according to Chowdhury, the resulting discussion left white students and faculty shy about performing work that deals with race.

"Their actions resulted in a culture of fragility and fear on campus, and particularly with white students and faculty on campus, about what students of color can and cannot handle," Chowdhury said.

Three students of color chose to leave the Beast Thing cast.

"There were three students of color who left the cast, and I don’t want to speak for them, but I think that they felt uncomfortable with the casting," Chowdhury said. "They felt uncomfortable with the fact that there were still majority white actors in the piece, and they felt uncomfortable with the fact that they were involved in creating a piece of theater that was very much a critique of whiteness with white students, which is real concern."

A cast that's almost 50 percent students of color was atypical for the small liberal arts college in Williamstown, Mass. According to federal data, white undergraduates make up 51 percent of the student body. Twelve percent of the students are Asian, 8 percent are black and 13 percent are Hispanic/Latino. After selecting Beast Thing, the department made an effort to recruit more students of color to audition.

“We reached out to many minority student groups on campus to share the project with them and encourage members to audition,” Holzapfel said. “Many students of color did audition, and the cast, in its original formation, included a diverse group of students.”

On the evening before opening night, students told Holzapfel that they were not comfortable performing the play as it was; unwilling to ask the artists to compromise their vision for the play, the department decided to cancel the show. All tickets have been refunded.

“It’s been devastating for everyone, it’s been awful,” Holzapfel said. “What was strange was it is almost like the campus became the town [in the show]. All of the sudden we were in this ghost space of this thing that might have been.”

Chowdhury sent a letter expressing his disappointment to the cast and creative team. It has also been posted to Facebook.

“This experience has been harrowing for me and, I imagine, for many of you. I believe the production we were building was a worthy exploration of Aleshea’s play, and I believe its cancellation constitutes a profound disrespect to everyone who contributed their artistry and worked tirelessly to realize the vision of this project,” Chowdhury wrote. “I am embarrassed to have brought my collaborators -- artists whom I respect deeply -- into the line of fire.”

As a result, Chowdhury has rescinded his candidacy for a tenure-track position at Williams, but he will remain a member of the faculty through the end of this academic year.

In an op-ed by the editorial board of the Williams Record, Williams College’s student newspaper, students wrote about their objections to the play’s cancellation.

“It is disappointing and counterproductive -- for the cast, the creative team and the campus as a whole -- that this revolutionary work by a playwright of color did not find an audience here at the college,” the board wrote. “The college is a predominantly white institution that must grapple with both the space it gives these voices and how it presents them. Simultaneously, the students involved in Beast Thing have a right to express their experiences and concerns regarding the rehearsal process and end product.”

Performing work by a black playwright that does not cater to a white audience was one of the reasons Chowdhury wanted to bring the play to campus in the first place.

“While white artists imagine themselves free to experiment and write whatever the fuck they want, artists of color are asked to speak for their entire community, to be less Black or less Mexican so that their work is legible to white audiences, to not air their community’s dirty laundry in front of white people, etc.,” he wrote. “Constantly having to jump through those hoops is paralyzing. Aleshea refuses to do so … I wanted to give students the challenge and the opportunity to be part of making a new play by a writer who, in my opinion, is radically re-imagining what is possible.”

In the end, student objections could not be reconciled with the artists' vision.

“We would never have made any students perform against their will; nor were we going to ask the artists involved to compromise their vision for the piece,” Holzapfel said. “What developed was a situation in which the Theatre Department felt it would be in the best interest of everyone involved to take the pressure off, so that we could regroup, take a step back, and reconsider how best to serve the interests of our pedagogical mission moving forward.”

As the department prepares to begin rehearsals for its next play, Beast Thing will remain a topic of conversation.

"We are engaging the opportunity of our next production to conceive of new ways of developing and nurturing art in our community, starting with initial and very honest and transparent conversations about what happened with Beast Thing," Holzapfel said.

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Grinnell administrators to appeal student workers' union

Fri, 2018-12-07 08:00

At Grinnell College, an unexpected and contentious fight has emerged between administrators of a proudly progressive institution and the country's only independent union of undergraduate student workers.

The case at Grinnell could have lasting implications, as officials plan to appeal an expansion of the union to a federal board -- its decision could affect whether other, similar units would be allowed to take shape.

Leaders of the college did not block the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers from forming in spring 2016, when, as the name suggests, the union only represented the institution’s student dining hall employees. The group was a grassroots effort with no affiliation with another union, and it lacked legal support, with the organizers relying on materials on the National Labor Relations Board website during its creation.

The college published a glowing news story in December 2016, after administrators and the union signed a one-year contract that raised wages for the dining hall workers from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour (their hourly pay has since reached $9.76). Officials trumpeted that the agreement between an independent student union and a private college was the first of its kind. Kate Walker, vice president for finance and treasurer of the college, in a statement called it a “win-win” that would benefit the students and attract new dining hall applicants for the college.

But the relationship soured after September 2017, when the union announced a campaign to triple the size of the unit by including all undergraduate workers -- the institution employs more than 700 student workers. In addition to the dining hall, students work at the Grinnell library, in college housing and the career center, among other places.

At least as far back as November 2017, administrators began hinting they would not back the union expansion. The union posted a statement then that its members learned the administration would oppose it expanding beyond the dining services and catering. Administrators said that the student workers should be considered students first, not employees.

“The message is clear: Grinnell is prepared to fight to stop students from organizing for fair wages and working conditions,” the union said in its statement.

In April, President Raynard Kington published a memo detailing his opposition. His argument: dining work was not bound to “the educational mission” of the college, but other positions were. The jobs were so diverse that a single union couldn’t adequately represent them all.

“If dozens of unions were formed to cover each of the groups of student positions that are related, it would be unduly burdensome and expensive to administer such a system,” Kington wrote. “The resources spent doing so would necessarily be drawn from the mission of the college. This could have an adverse impact on our students who receive financial aid through the work-study program. And given the need to reallocate budget to cover increased costs, other benefits to the student experience would be compromised.”

About $2 million, or 2 percent of the institution’s expenses, go toward student pay, according to filings with the NLRB.

In October, the union filed a petition to have a student vote on an expanded union with the NLRB, which a regional official of the board approved for a vote Nov. 27. The college railed against the concept of an election, hiring two separate law firms, Nyemaster Goode and Proskauer Rose, known for being hired by employers fighting unions. Proskauer Rose has represented all of the professional sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, during lockouts and other major negotiations.

Columbia University also hired the firm when it was battling against the formation of a graduate student union.

Prior to the vote, Grinnell requested that the NLRB stay the election or impound the ballots.

The college was unsuccessful.

In the election, the union earned 274 votes in favor of the expansion, with 54 against.

The college has laid out a frequently asked questions page online on why it disagrees with the expansion and has publicly stated it intends to appeal the election.

Grinnell said that expansion “harms the core mission” and impedes trust between professors and students.

“Expanding the union could effectively insert a third party whose priorities are economic, not educational, into learning outside of the classroom and alter the relationship between students and faculty,” the college wrote.

Officials also expressed concerns about federal privacy laws and disclosing financial information about other students to the union leaders.

“Given our values, it might seem that unionization of all student positions would fit naturally into Grinnell’s culture,” it wrote. “In reality, this expansion of the union would undermine the college’s ability to pursue its core educational mission and maintain its distinctive culture, where co-curricular, individually advised learning plays an important role.”

The college has not yet officially appealed yet. But the union has filed several complaints with the NLRB, including accusing the college and the Board of Trustees of intimidation and coercion.

Should the college succeed in its appeal with the Republican-controlled NLRB, the decision could prove influential at institutions across the country. In 2016, when the labor board was under Democratic watch, it ruled that Columbia’s graduate student assistants served as employees, which had allowed them to unionize. While opponents of graduate student unionization have also made the case that student work is part of an educational program, the NLRB declared that someone could both be a student and employee, and the work of graduate teaching assistants is arguably much closer to an institution's educational mission than the jobs that most undergraduates hold. (Student employees at public universities have their unionization rights governed by state laws.)

Andy Pavey, a first-year student and press secretary for the union, said its members are worried about the outcome of the decision. The expansion is necessary for all students because tuition has vastly outpaced wages offered on campus, Pavey said. The union would also like to institute a formal grievance process for students who have been fired and secure at least unpaid medical leave.

The pending appeal means that officials have refused to negotiate with the union outside the dining hall workers.

Because they’re just students, they don’t have the finances to hire a lawyer or pursue a lawsuit in the event that the appeal doesn’t go their way, Pavey said -- if someone were willing to work pro bono on their case, they would “really appreciate it.”

“We’re certainly concerned about national ramifications. If the college thinks it can scare us just by invoking this Trump board, they’re wrong,” Pavey said. “The battle for student workers is across the entire country, and we know that the labor community is keeping a close eye on this, and don’t want to jeopardize it. We’re going to continue to fight for the time being.”

Some alumni have also signaled their support for the union, writing to The Des Moines Register that unionization is a pillar of a healthy democracy and that the college should not appeal to the Trump-appointed NLRB.

“Grinnell students should be the ones to decide if they want to unionize,” the alumni wrote. “They have the right to a fair election, and to have the results of that election respected by their employer. If Grinnell College truly cares about social justice, it will respect its students, their election and the results.”

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Nevada officials see link between introductory math and 15 credit course loads

Fri, 2018-12-07 08:00

CHICAGO -- Colleges in Nevada have found a strong correlation between the success of students in college-level, introductory math courses and the number of credits they take in their first year of college.

Students who took 15 or more credits completed the math courses at higher rates than their peers who took fewer credits, according to Nevada higher education officials.

The officials presented their findings, based on data from 2013-16, on Wednesday during the national convention of Complete College America. CCA has been a longtime advocate of the 15 to Finish initiative and corequisite remediation, which places students who in the past may have been placed in traditional remedial courses in regular college-level math and English courses instead and provides them with additional academic or social support.

Crystal Abba, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the Nevada System of Higher Education, said these college-completion initiatives work best when they are implemented at the same time.

“This is really a testament to 15 to Finish as well,” said Linda Heiss, senior director of institutional research at the Nevada System of Higher Education. “The students enrolled in 15 credits the first semester were completing at a much higher rate, but also what made a difference was their initial placement.”

At two-year institutions, 62.5 percent of students who took more than 15 credits completed the math course within the first year and a half of college in 2016. Only 27.2 percent of students who took between six and 11 credits passed the math course in the same year, according to state data.

The positive effects of students taking more credit-bearing courses also occurred at the state’s four-year institutions. Seventy-nine percent of students who took more than 15 credits in the first semester completed an introductory math course within a year and a half compared to 70.8 percent of students who took between 12 and 14 credits in 2016.

The state adopted a policy in 2015 that required degree-seeking students deemed unprepared for college-level work to complete an introductory English or math course within the first year of enrollment. There are some exceptions to the policy for students enrolled in STEM or other programs. Researchers have found that even students initially placed in remedial math have a better chance of succeeding in college when they take college-level math and are given additional academic support. Those students also subsequently accumulate more credits toward graduation.

Some educators have been critical of the 15 to Finish initiative and warn that it can be overwhelming to students, particularly those enrolled at community colleges, if they have other familial and work responsibilities.

Abba agrees that taking 15 credits a semester isn’t for everyone, but she said there are ways to help those students through flexible course scheduling options and by providing them additional financial aid that may eliminate the need to work and attend college part-time.

She added, however, that the data also show that these students can handle taking a college-level math class and the additional course load.

Still, challenges remain for the colleges. Students who take remedial courses are dropping out at high rates and not making it to the college-level math course, said Theo Meek, director of advising at the University of Nevada, Reno.

And too many students are not enrolling in any math course in their first year. At the College of Southern Nevada, a community college and the state’s largest public institution, nearly 68 percent of first-time, degree-seeking students did not enroll in math during the first year of college, according to the state.

“We’re finding in Nevada that corequisite remediation works,” Meeks said. “Getting them completed or onto the gateway course if they’re in remedial is another significant problem.”

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Netherlands considers creating faculty positions based on teaching, not research metrics

Fri, 2018-12-07 08:00

The Netherlands will radically shake up how academics are assessed and promoted, including a shift away from relying on citations and journal impact factors.

Dutch universities also want to make it easier for academics to become professors on the basis of their teaching record, in a shift that will be closely watched by policy makers and unions across Europe.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and bodies for university medical centers and health research said that they would organize a raft of activities in 2019 designed to find a “new approach” to “recognizing and rewarding academics.”

According to Rianne Letschert, rector of Maastricht University and one of the leaders of the review, one of the aims is to scale back the use of citation metrics and controversial journal impact factors, an average measure of the citations papers in a particular journal receive.

These metrics are currently “dominant” factors in university promotion decisions and are used by the NWO when making grant decisions, she said.

Their use would be scaled back, and Letschert said she hopes that instead there would be an expectation that funders and university heads of department would read applicants’ work, rather than rely on metrics.

Another plank of next year’s review is to create “differentiation of career pathways,” meaning that universities and university medical centers should give academics “a choice for specific focus areas -- teaching, research, knowledge transfer and/or leadership,” according to a VSNU statement.

Workload for academics has ballooned as they are expected to fulfill all these roles, Letschert said, at a time of surging student numbers. “When does it end? How can we be excellent in all these tasks?” she asked.

Maastricht and Utrecht Universities have already brought in professorial positions where promotion is tilted toward teaching talent, she said, but this could now be rolled out across the country.

These positions would not be explicitly labeled “teaching professors” -- “it should not become a B track,” Letschert said -- and would still require the professors to conduct research, she explained. But the pressure to win grants would be relaxed, she added. One idea is to require these professors to have master’s degrees in educational science.

According to Rinze Benedictus, a policy adviser at University Medical Centre Utrecht, the Dutch rethink was spurred by a realization that, although the Netherlands performs very well when it comes to research metrics, the “unintended consequences” of this system have gone too far.

Benedictus previously warned that researchers in university medical centers were steering clear of publications that would benefit medicine because they were unlikely to rack up many citations. There was a “mismatch” between how scholars were assessed and the social relevance of their work, he said.

The Dutch reforms aim to boost the impact of research on society, and the NWO “will look for ways to increase the weight of research quality and anticipated impact in its evaluation of researchers and proposals.”

“Impact” has proved controversial in Britain, where the real-world effect of scholarship now determines a substantial chunk of university funding. How to measure impact is “a hot issue here as well,” Benedictus said.

There is no agreement so far on how to measure impact, he said, although one idea put forward by the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences was to judge researchers on whether they had followed the right dissemination processes, rather than whether or not impact had actually occurred.

“We can’t predict impact, but we can ask researchers to maximize the chances of it having impact,” Benedictus said.

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Closure of Education Corporation of America raises questions about oversight and support for students

Thu, 2018-12-06 08:00

After two years of an administration that has disavowed the Obama Education Department’s crackdown on for-profit colleges, there’s little sign of a comeback for the sector.

On Wednesday, one of the largest credential-granting for-profit operators still standing, Education Corporation of America, said it would close its roughly 70 campuses across the country.

Instructors and support staff at ECA chains, which include Virginia College and Brightwood College, suddenly found themselves out of a job after Friday. And students, who in many cases took out thousands of dollars in loans to attend ECA programs, were left with little information about how to continue their education elsewhere.

The shutdown happened after the company scrambled for months to shore up its troubled financial situation by closing a limited number of campuses, then attempting to overhaul its corporate structure with a court-approved receivership. But new restrictions by the Education Department on ECA’s access to federal student aid and a notice from its accreditor that recognition for its campuses would be suspended helped seal its fate, the company said.

The shutdown is the biggest to take place so far under the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And it will test whether the department has learned from the closures of for-profit behemoths Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech under the Obama administration.

Antoinette Flores, associate director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said it’s not clear any of the for-profit chain’s regulators had applied lessons from previous failures before ECA’s closure.

“In the past two months, they were really going downhill fast, and neither their accreditor nor the department took action soon enough,” she said.

Although the chain of colleges served fewer students than did Corinthian or ITT, there are multiple parallels with those previous failures, starting with the oversight from the same accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. Now, like students enrolled at those defunct chains, ECA students face uncertainty over how they will continue their education or deal with debt they took on to attend their programs.

The Education Department, which had been working with ECA to help students attending campuses already slated for closure continue their education elsewhere, slammed the decision by the company to suddenly close its doors.

“Education Corporation of America’s decision to suddenly close its campuses is highly disappointing and not best for its students. There were other options available,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department. “The department was in daily conversations with ECA and potential teach-out partners to assist as many students as possible to find a new institutional home. Instead of taking the next few months to close in an orderly fashion, ECA took the easy way out and left 19,000 students scrambling to find a way to finish the education program they started.”

The total number of students is likely even higher counting students who aren't first-time, full-time students. Hill said the department plans to work with students to either transfer their credits elsewhere or apply for loan forgiveness through a process called closed-school discharge.

At least one ECA institution, meanwhile, the New England College of Business, said Wednesday it will remain open. It was the only campus not accredited through ACICS.

Long-Term Challenges Behind For-Profit's Collapse

Although the department’s new restrictions on Title IV funds may have played a role in ECA’s demise, just last month DeVos appeared to grant a major reprieve to the chain. The status of the colleges’ accreditor, ACICS, had been unsettled for much of the past two years after the Obama administration sought to eliminate the agency’s federal recognition. But after a federal judge ordered that the department reconsider the decision, DeVos restored approval for the accreditor just before Thanksgiving.

Accreditors are the gatekeepers of federal Title IV money. And the decision meant that ECA chains like Virginia College -- which had sought without success to secure approval elsewhere earlier this year -- were assured of access to federal student aid funds for at least another year.

But the financial problems at the company were much deeper than the status of its accreditor. Student enrollment had declined significantly in recent years as the economy improved and demand for workers grew. As the company explained in a federal lawsuit it filed to keep access to student aid funds during its proposed financial overhaul, it had fallen behind on payments to creditors and actually faced eviction from several campuses.

That lawsuit was dismissed last month, but the appointment of a receiver triggered the most stringent type of financial restrictions, known as heightened cash monitoring. Under those restrictions, an institution must disburse student aid money from its own funds before seeking reimbursement from the Education Department. Corinthian and ITT were placed on the same restrictions before both eventually shut down.

The final nail in the coffin came Tuesday night when ACICS, the accreditor of Virginia College and nearly every other ECA campus, said it would suspend recognition of the campuses.

“The uncertainty of these requirements resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools,” ECA president and CEO Stu Reed told students in an email Wednesday. “It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools.”

ACICS faced major criticism for its handling of Corinthian and ITT. Its role overseeing both led in large part to the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw federal recognition from the accreditor.

The organization had already placed ECA campuses on sanctions in September over its concerns, including institutional management and employer satisfaction. Since then, the accreditor uncovered even more concerns involving student progress and staff turnover, said ACICS president and CEO Michelle Edwards. In response to those issues and the company's deteriorating finances, the accreditor suspended recognition of ECA colleges and asked for a teach-out plan for students still enrolled to complete their education.

Flores said there were multiple red flags that should have prompted the accreditor to get assurance there was a process in place for students if the chain closed. And the department should have held the ACICS accountable for taking those steps, she said.

“They should be holding accreditors accountable and making sure they’re doing their jobs,” she said. “Instead, they’re worrying about rescuing accreditors.”

ACICS didn't respond to a request for comment on why it hadn't sought a teach-out plan sooner.

The news of the closures came suddenly this week for most students and faculty members. Christina Hall, a medical billing student at Brightwood College’s Nashville, Tenn., campus, said classes on Wednesday began like any other day before her instructor was pulled into the hallway. Students were then asked to meet in a larger classroom, where they were told that their campus would close after Friday.

“And they basically just left it at that,” she said. “Of course we had questions. We were all asking questions about what do we do now.”

Among those unanswered questions -- what do students like Hall do about thousands in loan debt they took out before completing their programs? The medical billing program at Brightwood cost more than $16,000, she said.

Hall was weeks away from completing required classroom instruction before beginning an externship, basically on-the-job training, in a medical office.

“I’ve never had teachers be so dedicated to their jobs and their students,” she said. “It’s a sad thing to see it just go down the drain.”

In response to the closure of ECA, Representative Bobby Scott, the Virginia Democrat expected to be the next chair of the House education committee, said the news should cause the Education Department to rethink its recognition of ACICS and its regulatory agenda.

"This announcement captures many of the substantive issues we have raised about the department’s efforts to roll back accountability in for-profit education, lower standards for accreditors, and make it harder for defrauded students to be made whole," he said in a statement.

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New research on graduate student mental well-being says departments have important roles to play in fostering healthy environments

Thu, 2018-12-06 08:00

From impostor syndrome and other feelings of being out of place, to periods of isolation and to constant short- and long-term deadlines, graduate school presents serious potential challenges to students’ mental health. There’s also financial strain, navigating complex relationships with advisers and colleagues, the job market, and myriad other worries.

Despite that, there are relatively little large-scale data on graduate student mental health. There isn’t much research on the topic to begin with, and those studies that do exist tend to be small in scale or have low response rates, or both. Things are changing: a widely cited study from earlier this year involving several thousand graduate students found that they were six times more likely than the general population to experience anxiety and depression. It called the matter a "crisis." Still, most campus efforts at improving students’ psychological well-being have been focused on undergraduates.

New research on graduate students’ mental health at Harvard University calls for more attention to the issue and suggests that the battle can’t be fought by graduate students or campus health services alone. Departments, which are responsible for some of the environmental factors that impact students’ outlook and health, also must change, the authors insist.

“We can't build a counseling center big enough to deal with this problem,” said Paul Barreira, director of Harvard’s University Health Service, the Henry K. Oliver Professor of Hygiene and an associate professor of psychiatry. “Here we have 45 full-time-equivalent clinicians, or 55 people, for 20,000 students. That’s like one clinician for every 400 students. We’re overwhelmed, and that should tell us that the system is broken -- that our approach to this has been wrong and needs to be rethought. And there are many programs that aren’t as fortunate as we are.”

Suggested interventions included in a new working paper by Barreira and colleagues include encouraging students to take on research or activities that “provide a sense of meaning and usefulness to them in the short term,” to help students “hedge against failure.” Provide continuous engagement, “making clear to students that someone cares about their success in the program,” the paper says. “Support students in preparing the best possible job market paper and dissertation regardless of the students' ambitions or career preferences” and “make the coursework years as useful and relevant to the research years as possible.”

"Discuss failure with advisees early on" and “commit to being their supportive adviser first and their evaluator second,” the paper further suggests. “Partner with your university's counseling center to educate students and faculty and to publicize clinical services. Let students know that their mental health and wellbeing is a priority for you and should be a priority for them.”

Mental Health, by Program

Barreira and several colleagues set out to study graduate student mental health data at the department level. They wanted to establish rates of depression, anxiety and other measures, such as suicide risk, eating disorders, impostor syndrome (feeling secretly inadequate in a given milieu), attention deficits, self-esteem issues, loneliness, and sleep, exercise and alcohol consumption levels.

Next, the researchers wanted to identify critical environmental factors contributing to stress or well-being. And they wanted to involve students in the crafting of their survey instrument: beyond the prescreening questions on depression, anxiety and other issues, students -- initially from the economics department, and then others (the list continues to grow) -- helped draft questions about the environment. Departments in the natural sciences wanted to add questions about laboratory time, for example.

Barreira and his colleagues have found that levels of depression and anxiety vary widely across programs, suggesting that environmental factors are at play in graduate student mental health. An initial analysis involving five programs and hundreds of students, which Barreira presented at the American College Health Association -- and which saw notably high response rates, of between 44 percent and 79 percent of students -- found that depression rates varied from 15 percent in one department to 30 percent in another. Anxiety rates varied from 12 percent to 30 percent. Those rates are somewhat consistent with other graduate student-specific data and significantly higher than general rates of adult depression and anxiety.

In one unspecified program, 10 percent of students had moderately severe or severe depression symptoms. Twelve percent had severe anxiety symptoms. Four percent of respondents had both moderately severe or severe depressive symptoms and severe anxiety. About 13 percent of the sample was in treatment for anxiety, and 13 percent for depression. The five students suffering from moderately severe or severe depressive symptoms were not in treatment. One-third of the students with severe anxiety symptoms were getting treatment.

Lessons From Economics Departments

Barreira’s new paper is based on eight programs in economics, housed at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale Universities, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California campuses in Berkeley and San Diego.

About 18 percent of students experienced moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to about 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, among 25- to 34-year-olds in the general U.S. population, according to one 2013 study. Eleven percent of respondents, or 56 people, reported having suicidal thoughts on at least several days within the previous two weeks. One-quarter of students had been previously diagnosed with a mental health issue, about half of them before the Ph.D. program and half after.

Of those experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of depression, only 27 percent were receiving treatment for it. About 21 percent of those experiencing anxiety were getting treatment and only 27 percent of those who recently thought about suicide were getting help.

Moreover, the study says, “the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among economics Ph.D. students is comparable to the prevalence found in incarcerated populations.” Loneliness and isolation are major issues, too, as “the average economics Ph.D. student feels considerably lonelier and more isolated than a retired American.” Women and international students are most affected.

Interestingly, the majority of those who received mental health treatment didn't ping high on depression or anxiety. So, the report says, “contrary to social stigma, seeing a mental health professional is not the same thing as having poor mental health. Many of those who seek help are doing better than those who do not.”

Economics students tend to regret how they organize their time and engage with their studies, the paper says. Just 26 percent reported feeling like their work is useful always or most of the time, compared to 70 percent of economics faculty members and 63 percent of the entire working-age population. Yet 62 percent of students worried always or most of the time about work when not there. Twenty percent said they were too tired for activities in private life. Thirteen percent of students had seriously contemplated quitting their programs once in the previous two weeks.

Regarding advisers, 96 percent of students said they'd met with their main advisers at least once in the last two months. But they reported fearing making a bad impression, doubts about their work, and lack of progress as barriers to meeting more frequently.

Many students said they were unable to be honest with their advisers about the challenges they were experiencing. In order of frequency, these honesty “gaps” are due to nonacademic career options, preparing for the job market, research progress, issues with other advisers and issues arising from co-authorship with the faculty member. Almost half of students said they wouldn’t know where to go if they had an issue with their adviser.

Few students feel comfortable raising their hand in a seminar setting, and just 19 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing so, compared to 35 percent of men.

Sixteen percent of students had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Twenty-two percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, compared to 13 percent of men. Nearly two-thirds of the instances of sexual harassment were perpetrated by another graduate student, while 19 percent came from a professor.

That finding recalls recommendations included in a June report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The document centered on what it called “unchecked” sexual harassment and noted that sexual harassment has been found to negatively impact targets’ mental health and performance. Among other things, that study advised departments to adopt mentoring networks or committee-based advising that allows for a “diversity of potential pathways for advice, funding, support and informal reporting of harassment.”

Older cohorts tend to fare worse than younger ones in terms of mental health. In a parallel finding, 7 percent of first-year students reported contemplating suicide in the last two weeks, compared to 13 percent of those with five or more years in.

Twenty-seven percent of those who said they regret doing the Ph.D. and 20 percent of those who regret their choice of advisee reported recently contemplating suicide. Those who said they wished they’d engaged more with their studies and organized time more effectively have “substantially lower rates of suicidal ideation.”

Students who “perceive their peers as competitive, who do not have very good friends in the department, and who in general do not have many people with whom they can openly discuss their private feelings without having to hold back have worse mental health,” the paper says.

At the same time, mental health issues do not appear to affect students with disparate values differently. In particular, the study says, “students who believe that tenure at an academic institution is very important for their success in life are not more or less likely to have mental health issues than students who believe that income or recognition or a family are very important for success in life.”

Encouraging Interventions

Barreira and his co-authors wanted to foster conversations about interventions. Already, he said, he’s witnessed conversations within Harvard departments about a perennial stressor to students: advising.

“There are conversations about how responses on questions on advising correlate to responses on anxiety,” for example, he said. “This is not unique to us -- advising is an important topic at universities across the country. But what we’re seeing is that for departments, it’s all kind of theoretical until they have the data -- and then, suddenly, there’s an urgency to do something.”

Barreira and his colleagues continue to help departments survey their students. The plan is that data will be gathered annually, to gauge progress.

Several other institutions have attempted to tackle graduate student mental health on their own terms. A task force at Johns Hopkins University that looked at both undergraduate and graduate mental health found earlier this year that the university should promote a “climate of awareness and support” for student mental health, wellness and stress reduction, and improve access to services. Training for students, faculty and staff about resources must be improved, too, it said.

Margaret Daniele Fallin, co-chair of that task force and Sylvia and Harold Halpert Professor and chair of mental health, said this week that department climate is indeed “a big issue.”

“There needs to be a true sense that the department cares about the well-being of students and supports positive infrastructure and behaviors,” she said. “We focused on addressing stigma, creating an environment of inclusion and awareness, and promoting wellness practices, training and respect for time to do these things.”

That can include helping students understand they may miss a class for a mental health appointment, just as if they had the flu, Fallin said.

So far at Hopkins, as a result of the report, there have been more frequent interactions across divisions about student mental health, more exchanges about best practices, more support for student-led efforts and better coordination of disability services with health and academic services, Fallin said. A wellness committee actively adopts and monitors student mental health initiatives.

Asked about faculty resistance to mental health efforts at the department level, Barreira said “the way things have always been” is no excuse to perpetuate harm, and that it’s not clear that things have always been “this way” anyway. Before professors faced quite so much pressure to publish and win grants, there was more time for and emphasis put on positive mentorship.

“Faculty knew students better than they know them now.”

Student-Led Efforts

Some initiatives have been student-led. In 2014, the Graduate Assembly at Berkeley conducted a study of mental health among peers. Members found grave concerns about finances, social support, advising and career prospects. They found top predictors of depression among their ranks to be sleep, overall health and academic engagement. 

Graduate students wanted more help, including a designated space so that they wouldn’t have to encounter students they taught in campus health services. Last year, Amy Honigam, graduate well specialist on campus, became that someone. She sees students one-on-one in a graduate student suite but also works to promote awareness and change across campus. This semester alone, she’s spoken approximately 60 times about graduate student wellbeing. 

In one instance, she said, 150 students showed up to a science resilience talk on turning self-criticism into kindness. Another project of Honigman’s is identifying well-liked faculty mentors to train other faculty members to be better advisers. 

“These people are here because they love research and love their work, but they’re not all here to be teachers,” she said of faculty members. “There is a sometimes a boot camp mentality. And you don’t want to pander to students. But you don’t have to say to them, ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’”

The root issue, Honigman said, is that “students need to feel more valued. It could just be simple conversation or simply emailing somebody back.” They are not just on campus to help faculty members, she said, but rather to learn.

Honigman defined her philosophy like this: "Self-compassion is the foundation for resilience.” She added, “You have to be patient with the process. You don’t know everything yet -- that’s why you’re here.”

As for Barreira's research, Honigman said that departments need to help promote graduate student mental health, whether they like it or not. “We can’t hire enough counselors,” she said. “It can’t be all about intervention, it has to be about prevention. Places like Berkeley are so big, cultural change is not going to happen all at once, but at that ground level, departments can be so much more effective.”

Kaylynne Glover, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of Kentucky and director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students, said most graduate students struggling with mental health due to “poor relationships with their advisors and program directors. They feel overburdened, with little to no allowance for a life outside of work.” 

Many report working in the evenings and weekends on top of their every day work, she said, and the “constant criticism, designed to help us become better researchers and thinkers, has the side effect of making us feel worthless and inadequate." Such pressures don't exist to the same degree for undergraduates, but are "nearly universal as a graduate student," she added.

Similar to Honigman, Glover stressed the importance of distress prevention among graduate students, rather than responding “retroactively.” But she emphasized a need to rethink how graduate school works as a whole.

While undergraduate distress is often due to “a lack of social network and of being away from home for the first time,” she said, graduate student issues often stem from the “direct power relationships they have with their faculty advisors and supervisors.” And the only way to fix that, Glover said, “is by comprehensively addressing the nature of graduate school -- of academia itself -- and changing the culture,” to one where work-life balance is valued and power relationships between students and professors are more balanced. Glover and her colleagues at the association help to educate policy makers on these issues at the institutional, state and federal level.

Thomas Clements, a lecturer in biological sciences at Vanderbilt University who struggled with anxiety as a graduate student, said he was struck by Barreira’s findings on the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, which he said he never experienced. Loneliness seemed more familiar, however. Even though Clements was surrounded by people during my graduate school, he said, “I felt that I couldn't share my failures with others,” or could only socialize after periods of academic success -- further isolating him in times of intense academic stress.  

Clements agreed that advisors are a big part of the problem, including when they push the tenure-track career paths on students. While Clements was lucky that his advisor supported his teaching-oriented ambitions, he said, “I saw firsthand that other advisors hindered their students' experiences in these types activities, in the goal of maximizing research output for their own benefit.” 

He further agreed that advisors should check in with their students more, not just about work and even openly about mental health. As to the new paper’s recommendation on helping students “hedge against failure,” however, Clements bucked. 

Science is “so unpredictable” that one can’t hedge against failure, but should instead “put in the effort to help your student navigate through a difficult project that may not have many victories up front.”

FacultyHealth ProfessionsEditorial Tags: FacultyGraduate educationGraduate studentsImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Grad Student Mental HealthTrending order: 3College: Harvard UniversityJohns Hopkins University

Camp Fire brings turmoil, change to community college

Thu, 2018-12-06 08:00

On the morning of Nov. 8, as Michael LeMaster was getting his 13-year-old son ready for school, a neighbor knocked on their apartment door to warn him: the flames of a massive wildfire were bearing down on their tiny town of Paradise, Calif.

“I didn’t have a chance to grab anything,” LeMaster said. “I just grabbed my son and said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here -- now.’ ”

A computer science major at nearby Butte College, he climbed into the car, his son at his side, and drove. They fled to nearby Chico and haven’t been back since.

Variations of that story played out thousands of times as the Camp Fire descended on Paradise. The wildfire briefly threatened the college, located 10 miles south of Paradise on nearly 1,000 acres -- most of it a wildlife preserve. But the college escaped serious damage. The fire merely damaged a well and the solar array that powers it. The college reopened after 18 days, and final exams are fast approaching.

But it likely changed the course of the college forever as students, staff and faculty members figure out what comes next.

Several hundred students and more than 100 staff and faculty members lost their homes. College officials fear that many will never return to the area or the college. And, as it has before in the past two years, the state's community college system stepped in to help Butte adjust to the next few uncertain months, itself adjusting to a "new normal" of destructive natural cycles striking its campuses.

LeMaster, like many of his classmates, is struggling to finish the fall semester from Chico, and he doubts he’ll be back in January. A home he’d bought in Paradise with his now ex-wife burned to the ground. His apartment building is still standing, but authorities have yet to allow residents to return to the neighborhood. They were originally told they could return this week, he said in an interview, but rains and flooding postponed the all clear until next week.

For now, LeMaster and his two sons are staying with a sister in Chico “until I figure something out.” Both boys are in school -- the older one now attends class nearby, but the younger one, who’s 5, must go all the way to Oroville, 25 miles away. In their previous life in Paradise, the boys could walk to school.

“My priority is them,” LeMaster said. “Until I find stability for them, I don’t think I can devote any time to going to school.”

While he has just two semesters left until he earns a degree, LeMaster said he’s too distracted with putting his family’s life back together to concentrate on studying.

“I’m still enrolled,” he said, “but I don’t want to commit and not be able to do it.”

In an interview, Butte College president Samia Yaqub said many students will face similar choices in the coming months. She expects that many will bow out in January, after this semester finally ends.

“We will survive -- absolutely we will survive,” Yaqub said. But how, and in what form -- and in what new role in a devastated part of Northern California -- is “a big unknown,” she said.

Yaqub, who grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, and arrived at Butte fresh out of college 34 years ago as an instructional aide in an ESL classroom, said she’s certain that Butte will lose students, faculty and staff. “There’s just not enough housing for the displaced people in the short term,” she said.

Like others, she wonders how many will return.

“People will need to go where they can go -- and that will impact our students for sure,” she said. “The big question mark is what’s going to happen in January, after the break. Who’s coming back? Who isn't? And it’s too early to tell right now.”

Helping the Displaced

The fire burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures in rural Butte County, making it by far the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California’s history. It killed at least 85 people, with another 25, most of them from Paradise, listed as missing.

As many as 50,000 people evacuated from the county now need housing, the Monterey Herald reported.

Of 1,471 students living in fire-affected areas, about 1,300 responded to a survey Yaqub sent out just after the college reopened in late November. It revealed that about half “have lost everything,” she said. About one in four is staying with family or friends, and many have scattered to other cities or even other states -- Southern California, Wyoming, Utah or Oregon.

Others have been able to find temporary housing closer to campus. “It’s really amazing to see how people are taking people in, taking strangers in, just because there are so many evacuees,” Yaqub said.

Among faculty and staff members, about 130 have been affected -- 68 lost their homes, many in Paradise. Another 50 presume they’ve lost them but haven’t been able to get back to the area to see the devastation. And another 20 rent or own homes in areas that authorities have declared uninhabitable.

The displaced include Patrick Christensen, a Butte College accounting instructor whose family lost their house in Paradise. He called the experience “surreal” but emphasized that he feels lucky to have gotten out early -- and to have quickly found another house he can afford.

While he’s currently living with a colleague -- his wife and kids are staying with family members in Utah -- he’s scheduled to close later this month on a house in Corning, Calif., about 40 miles northwest of Paradise.

“We had a huge amount of staff living up there,” he said of the doomed town of Paradise. “We’re just struggling to figure out, ‘Can I afford to live in Chico? Am I willing to drive in from 30 or 40 minutes out each day?’”

Yaqub said “every single department” of the college has been impacted and many have lost everything, including two-thirds of Butte’s automotive program faculty and two-thirds of the college’s financial aid staff.

But in many cases, they have found a way to get to work since the college reopened Nov. 26. “They’re putting the needs of others before their own,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are showing up to work, even though they’ve lost everything.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, said he has been on the job just two years and has already been forced to visit three colleges plagued by wildfires -- not just at Butte but at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma County and at Shasta College in Shasta County.

“This is unfortunately becoming the new normal for us,” he said.

Oakley is able to give the colleges flexibility to change calendars and has sent financial aid officers to the affected areas to counsel students about their aid options. He has also pushed to bring in charitable contributions, and the system’s board has moved to help the colleges maintain revenue temporarily, despite losing students to wildfires as well as other natural disasters.

“If they do lose enrollment in the coming semester [or] in the coming year, they will receive the same amount of funding,” Oakley said. “For a place like Butte, it’s a very big deal.”

Christensen, the accounting instructor, pointed out that students have no such guarantee. Many, he said, will see wisdom in putting off college for a few years to earn high wages in what could be a booming construction cycle in Paradise.

“I think that’s really likely for many of our students,” he said.

Yaqub said the needs of Paradise will shape what Butte offers in the coming years, from training welders to builders to first responders.

“We might have some programs that get developed that are in association with the trades that are small now, that may turn into really large programs. It’s too early to tell,” she said. “I’m very confident that we will meet the challenge and we will continue to serve this community as we have. Short-term is the question mark, in terms of what we will look like, but we will be here.”

‘Hard to Endure’

The college was closed for 18 days as first responders used the campus as a staging area. When it reopened, Butte also opened a support center in Chico, where most students live -- the college has no campus housing. It offered advice in financial aid, mental health and academic advising. It also offered more basic necessities, like food and fuel.

Linda Fisher, a nursing student whose rental home in Paradise burned to the ground, said the offer of groceries during those first two weeks “was amazing.”

But Fisher, who has just a semester until graduation, doesn’t know where she’ll go next.

“We’re still somewhat homeless and very much displaced,” she said.

After they fled Paradise, Fisher and her sons, ages 9 and 4, lived in Sacramento for a few weeks, then Gridley, 70 miles north. On Tuesday night, she and the kids parked their trailer at a horse ranch near the college, but it has no hookups and is unsustainable for the long term.

“I don’t know -- I’m really lost,” she said, emotion rising in her voice. “Every week I’m at a new location.”

Housing prices were already high in the region, but Fisher said landlords are now simply gouging prospective tenants with rents she can’t afford.

The constant search for housing -- and the constant travel in pursuit of the next place to rest -- came to a head for Fisher last Saturday, when she and her sons survived a rollover accident that totaled her truck. “We’re fine,” she said, but added, “I don’t know how we made it out alive.”

Asked about her January plans, Fisher sighed. “I want to finish my last semester, but losing my home and losing my truck and not having any family up here … it’s going to be very complicated.”

She added, “I’m a really good student. This is very hard to endure this.”

Community CollegesEditorial Tags: FacultyCommunity collegesCaliforniaImage Source: Butte CollegeImage Caption: Smoke from the Camp Fire affected air quality at Butte College, located south of Paradise, Calif.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Butte College

Columbia students boot comedian off stage, citing offensive jokes

Thu, 2018-12-06 08:00

The Asian American Alliance at Columbia University last week interrupted an act by a relatively prominent Indian American comedian and former writer for Saturday Night Live, Nimesh Patel, during a cultural event the group sponsored.

His offense: jokes -- including some about black and gay people -- that alliance members perceived as insensitive. Organizers kicked Patel offstage in the middle of his set, criticizing his gags on race and sexual orientation but letting him deliver brief closing remarks before cutting off his microphone.

Patel was performing at cultureSHOCK, the group’s annual charity and display of Asian-related arts. The alliance was in charge of booking him. Patel did not respond to a request for comment.

The episode has prompted a campus debate about how to ensure an inclusive environment for students from all backgrounds and whether it was appropriate to kick Patel off the stage. Critics said it reinforces the stereotype of a liberal college kids -- derogatorily referred to as “snowflakes” -- who are unable to stomach mild jokes outside those that are “politically correct.”

Some professional comics, including Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, previously have said they will no longer work college circuits because they consider students to be too thin-skinned for their brand of humor. Yet up-and-coming comedians can find success at lucrative campus gigs by tailoring their acts to college audiences, which tend to not enjoy jokes that target minorities.

The alliance, which directed a request for comment to a statement on its Facebook page, apologized for bringing Patel to campus.

“Patel’s remarks ran counter to the inclusive spirit and integrity of cultureSHOCK and as such, the choice was made to invite him to leave,” the group said. “We acknowledge that discomfort and safety can coexist, however, the discomfort Patel caused was unproductive in this space. We ourselves are still processing the events of cultureSHOCK and maintain different perspectives on it even within our organization. We invite and welcome dialogue concerning his remarks and our actions.”

According to one student at the set, Patel was a “train wreck.” The student, sophomore Liberty Martin, wrote about her experience in the student newspaper, The Columbia Daily Spectator.

Martin said Patel started strong, but a majority of his act was uncomfortable. Patel appeared “strangely obsessed with black people,” wrote Martin, describing him as “blatantly anti-black.” He made a joke about his black, gay neighbor having not chosen to be gay because no one would wake up in the morning and say, “This black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it.”

“But if you’re black and gay, you don’t need a straight South Asian guy to point out that your life is hard because you’re black and gay,” Martin wrote. “That’s not insightful -- it’s painfully unoriginal. ‘I wouldn’t choose to live with homophobia while facing racism’ has crossed the minds of queer black people, probably in a moment of distress or when faced with homophobia in their own community.”

However, Martin wrote that Patel wasn’t booted offstage because he told offensive jokes, but that he “sucked the energy out of the room” and few found him funny.

“His routine was the antithesis of what cultureSHOCK stood for,” Martin wrote. “He stepped into an uplifting atmosphere and soiled it, which is the opposite of what he was meant to do as a hired entertainer performing at someone else’s event.”

Not every student thought Patel should be kicked offstage. Malia Simon, a first-year student, wrote in the Spectator that even though she did not attend Patel’s performance, she felt that offensiveness was “inherently subjective” and comedy serves an important purpose by challenging society.

“Similarly, it seems reasonable to believe that many of those who objected to Patel’s performance would embrace an equally provocative -- or perhaps even more aggressive -- joke about the Trump administration, conservatives or others on the right,” Simon wrote. “Calling on this hypocrisy is not to say that conservatives and Trump should be spared mocking. However, this mocking only holds up so long as we’re able to maintain consistency across the board -- even if it makes us uncomfortable sometimes. We can’t propose restrictions on one side of comedy and not on the other.”

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said speakers and other acts on college campuses generally are facing heightened scrutiny. And students likely will not be able to know the entirety of a routine before seeing it, he said.

At the same time, he said students who book comics and other acts should vet them and have a general idea whether the message of the performer aligns with the groups’ mission. He encouraged students to attend a National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) showcase event, where they can preview comedians, speakers and musicians who perform for college audiences.

“College administrators would do the same vetting for potential commencement speakers or other university-sponsored entertainment,” said Kruger.

Editorial Tags: CensorshipFree speechStudent lifeImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Nimesh Patel performs on "Late Night With Seth Meyers"Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Cutting Off a ComedianTrending order: 2College: Columbia University in the City of New York

Education Department says data dispute is behind failure to enforce gainful-employment rule

Thu, 2018-12-06 08:00

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced it would miss a key deadline to repeal an Obama administration rule that seeks to hold career-education programs accountable for producing graduates with unmanageable debt.

Doing away with the so-called gainful-employment regulation is a top priority of the Trump administration. But the blown deadline means the rule will remain on the books until at least 2020.

Even before the rule's sanctions could kick in, its first data release prompted some colleges to shutter poor-performing programs. Republican lawmakers, though, have long opposed gainful employment. And for-profit colleges complained that it was unfair to their sector. Missing the deadline was an embarrassment for the department, and it prompted an angry rebuke from the leader of the for-profit college lobby group.

However, despite that miscue, the Education Department hasn’t taken any steps to enforce the rule. And a top official last week said at a meeting of campus financial aid administrators that the department isn’t planning to produce new gainful-employment data any time soon.

The reason, department officials said, is that the agency that supplied essential data on graduates' earnings for the gainful-employment rule is no longer cooperating with the department. The U.S. Social Security Administration, which provided the data until this year, has let an information-sharing agreement with the department lapse.

“We’re in between a rock and a hard place,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department.

The Social Security Administration declined to comment. But the department indicated that objections to its use of the earnings data to calculate loan forgiveness for defrauded student borrowers played a role in the lapsed interagency cooperation, an assessment shared by Democrats in Congress.

As a result, the department has its hands tied, officials said. But critics said the department, which is facing a lawsuit from state attorneys general who are suing to have the rule enforced, has stumbled into a convenient excuse to not enforce a regulation opposed by Republicans.

“It's one thing to say we're struggling to implement this,” said James Kvaal, president or the Institute for College Access and Success. “But to say we're going to ignore this regulation because we’ve encountered logistical problems, I think it’s negligent and failing to carry out their responsibilities.”

Kvaal, as deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration, played a significant role in shaping the gainful-employment rule. He and other proponents of the regulation said that while the rule remains on the books, the department must carry it out.

Jordan Matsudaira, an associate professor of economics and education policy at Teachers College, Columbia University, said he found it hard to believe the department couldn’t strike a deal to restore access to the earnings data if the political will was there. (Note: this story originally misstated Matsudaira's employer.)

“It strains credulity a little bit,” said Matsudaira, who served as chief economist on Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 to 2015.

Producing the gainful-employment ratings requires the department to match data that colleges provide about their career programs with administrative earnings data from SSA. After making that match, the department produces a debt-to-earnings ratio for each program. If graduates’ annual loan payments exceed 30 percent of their discretionary income or 12 percent of their total earnings, the department would designated those programs as failing. Ones that fail the standards twice in three years would lose access to federal student aid programs.

More than 800 vocational programs were designated as failing in the first round of gainful employment last year, 98 percent of them at for-profit colleges.

But the change at the White House meant a reprieve for many career-education programs. Weeks after announcing she would undertake a regulatory overhaul of the rule, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delayed deadlines for career-education programs to make disclosures to prospective students and to file appeals of earnings data under gainful employment.

The department later announced it would seek to repeal the rule entirely. But because it missed a November deadline to issue a new rule, the department won’t be able to eliminate the regulation until at least 2020.

In the meantime, the department had sought to use SSA earnings data to create a system of partial relief for defrauded students who sought loan forgiveness through the borrower-defense rule. That plan was a major departure from the Obama administration, which had awarded full relief to defrauded borrowers. But in May, a federal court ruled the loan-relief plan had violated federal privacy law by using the earnings data to calculate debt relief.

Both the department and Democrats in Congress have identified the ruling as a factor behind the Social Security Administration’s new reluctance to share the earnings data. In an October letter to DeVos, Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, demanded an explanation for the delay in releasing new gainful-employment ratings, which are more than a year behind schedule.

“In reality, the department’s irresponsible and legally suspect delays and misuse of the data are to blame -- facts that no amount of scapegoating SSA can hide,” he wrote.

While the department said it has been shut out by the Social Security Administration, colleges that operate career-education programs are still obliged to submit data on program graduates to the feds. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees, said the group believes gainful-employment ratings provide important information to students who are selecting a career-education program.

“Thus, it is troubling that the department and the Social Security Administration no longer have an arrangement to compile earnings data,” he said in a written statement. “This lack of arrangement will withhold valuable earnings information from students and families even though colleges and universities are still reporting those data to the department.”

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Anti-Semitic incidents surge on college campuses after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

Wed, 2018-12-05 08:00

The reports of the Jewish psychology professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who walked into her office in late November to find bloodred swastikas and a slur, “Yid,” painted on her walls drew widespread attention and shock from the public.

After all, the episode came only a month after the fatal shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 Jewish men and women -- to date, the most deadly attack on Jews in American history.

But prior to and immediately following the massacre in Pittsburgh, such prejudicial displays have plagued college campuses, following a trend of anti-Semitism on the rise at colleges and universities -- and around the country -- since 2016.

Advocacy groups consider the recent spate of bigotry a reflection of the political mood of the entire country and say weak responses from college leaders can embolden the perpetrators of such hate crimes.

Administrators have been criticized for being too vague in their statements on the shooting, with students saying that they need to assertively identify the bloodshed as a strike against Jewish men and women. This occurred both at Columbia University, which published a revised statement after its initial one failed to mention Judaism, and at Dartmouth College, where the president publicly apologized for not more aggressively condemning the violence in an email he sent to the campus.

“In responding to these attacks, when you respond quickly and effectively and acknowledge the root causes … you send a message to Jewish students, Jewish parents, prospective students and the community that you just won’t tolerate this type of attack,” said Matthew Berger, spokesman for Hillel International, which has affiliates on campuses nationwide.

A (noninclusive) roundup of recent reports of anti-Semitism:

  • The spray-painted graffiti on the office walls of Elizabeth Midlarsky, the Columbia clinical psychologist and Holocaust scholar. The New York Police Department is investigating the vandalism. As a researcher of the Holocaust, Midlarsky has been targeted before. More than a decade ago, she discovered anti-Semitic fliers had been slipped into her mailbox and a swastika was painted on her office door.
  • A swastika was painted over a mural honoring the victims of the synagogue shooting at Duke University. Duke officials were quick to denounce the memorial being sabotaged, with the Duke president writing to campus that it was a “craven and cowardly act.”
  • Three swastikas were discovered at Cornell University. Two were reported in residence halls, and the other was drawn in snow on campus. Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, put out a statement to “express his revulsion” at the symbols.
  • A Jewish fraternity at Pennsylvania State University, Zeta Beta Tau, had its menorah vandalized and then stolen. The menorah was eventually recovered, but according to Penn State president Eric Barron, the menorah (and the Jewish community) had "lasting damage."
  • A University of Minnesota residence hall was vandalized with unspecified anti-Semitic messages. An email sent to the campus stated that the messages referenced Nazis and white supremacy, and that the university is unclear on who is responsible.
  • Swastikas were painted on a campus landmark called "the Rock" at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, including once after the students held a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting. Interim chancellor Wayne Davis released a statement: "I want to make it clear that the university does not condone these actions or other acts of intimidation or intolerance. No one should feel unsafe because of their religious beliefs."
  • A student at Goucher College, in Maryland, was arrested for racist and anti-Semitic graffiti found in a residence hall. Fynn Ajani Arthur, 21, had allegedly painted a backward swastika in a dorm and targeted Latinx and black students. Arthur, who is black, later drew more swastikas around the building and wrote the last names of four black students, including himself.
  • Fliers blaming Jews for the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were found on the University of California, Berkeley, and Davis campuses, and at Vassar College and Marist College. They depict caricatures of Jewish members of the U.S. Senate, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, surrounding Kavanaugh. The signs proclaim “every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it.”

As advocates have suggested, the Pittsburgh shooting and the visible collection of Jewish support has spurred displays of hate against them. This week also marks Hanukkah, a visible display of the religion on campuses.

The general response to these incidents by top administrators has been to condemn them, and in some cases, such as at Cornell, to hold gatherings to support the students who feel besieged, though this has dissatisfied some of them -- they wanted the university to be educating students on anti-Semitism more actively. Berger said that Hillel works with universities to create the best possible environment for Jewish students and educate the campus at large.

“We’re not going to prevent these incidents from occurring completely, but what we can do is … use them as an opportunity,” Berger said.

As the Anti-Defamation League has documented, incidents of anti-Semitism on campuses and nationwide have risen rapidly. It published a report that stated in 2017, there were more than 204 reports of anti-Semitism on campuses, which was an 89 percent increase from the previous year. ADL defined anti-Semitic incidents as harassment, vandalism or assault against Jewish students. From September 2017 to May 2018, its Center on Extremism also documented 292 general cases of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses -- including fliers, stickers, banners and posters.

Yael Rabin, an analyst with the Center on Extremism, said that students tend to feel frustrated over this type of prejudice when they don’t feel heard, particularly on large college campuses. Administrators need to be clear in identifying the intent behind these incidents.

“If by not calling out anti-Semitism, when anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish animus is clear, then you are minimizing the effect it has on the Jewish community,” Rabin said.

Editorial Tags: DiscriminationReligionStudent lifeImage Source: Chabad of Penn StateImage Caption: Penn State's chapter of Zeta Beta Tau had its menorah vandalized and stolen in November.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Anti-Semitism on CampusTrending order: 1


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