Inside Higher Ed

Trump administration gets agreement on accreditation agenda

Thu, 2019-04-04 07:00

WASHINGTON -- Trump administration officials opened champagne and shook hands with negotiators Wednesday after a lengthy rule-making process led to consensus on a broad array of changes to federal standards governing college accreditors and online education.

Those changes will allow colleges to get faster approval for changes to their programs, facilitate quicker federal recognition of new accreditors and allow for more targeted, less comprehensive federal reviews of accreditors. And they would give accreditors discretion over when to take action against a college that is out of compliance with standards.

Accreditors are the primary oversight bodies for college quality and act as the gatekeepers for federal student aid. But Education Department leaders said last year that too many burdens have been placed on accreditors at the expense of flexibility and innovation.

“We are being more respectful of accreditors for knowing their institutions and knowing their standards. And making sure that schools get to those standards in a way that's appropriate,” said Diane Auer Jones, principal deputy under secretary at the Education Department, who set the agenda for the process last year.

Wednesday marked the first time in nearly a decade that the process, known as negotiated rule making, ended in formal consensus on changes to federal rules sought by the department. Absent a unanimous agreement by negotiators, the Trump administration would write the rule itself.

The panel of 15 negotiators plus alternates assembled by the Education Department included representatives from college groups, regional accreditors, national accreditors and financial aid administrators, as well as two negotiator spots for student representatives, who were often at odds with other negotiators but ultimately voted for the package of changes.

The department got consensus in part by pulling back on its proposals that were most controversial with regional accreditors and college groups.

Consumer advocates, though, warned that the package of changes agreed to by negotiators took federal standards in exactly the wrong direction, given that the department’s own inspector general had recently warned that its oversight of the organizations fell short.

“This just reinforces for them that they don’t need to be doing much of anything to protect students,” said Beth Stein, vice president for the Institute for College Access and Success, after observing the negotiations.

The next step for the Trump administration is the release of proposed rule changes based on the consensus reached by negotiators. The department will then solicit public comments on the proposal before issuing a final rule.

“The work is just about to begin,” said Michale McComis, executive director at the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, who represented national accrediting agencies.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement that each person at the table was forced to challenge their own assumptions and examine best practices to serve students better.

“The committee recognized that higher education has changed in many ways since the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, including in the use of innovative technologies,” she said. “These changes will allow students to work at their own pace to earn a college degree, obtain credit for proving what they already know and earn a credential aligned with employers’ job requirements.”

In addition to loosening the rules for accreditors, the changes agreed to Wednesday include updates to federal distance education standards that sought to clarify requirements for faculty interaction with students. Negotiators also approved a fix to the TEACH grant program that will allow thousands of teachers whose grants were converted into loans to appeal those decisions. They agreed to keep language from a now delayed 2016 state authorization rule and convene a workgroup involving higher ed associations to address issues with the rule.

Negotiators also approved changes to restrictions on religious colleges' participation in federal aid programs.

Jones said changes to requirements for teach-out plans -- which help students at closed schools to finish their degrees elsewhere -- would also help the Education Department coordinate a response to closures of large institutions involving multiple accreditors.

The negotiators got the Trump administration to backtrack on two proposals that would have redefined the scope of regional accreditors and allowed colleges to outsource more than 50 percent of a program to a third-party entity. The final language clarifies the geographic scope of regional accreditors but likely won’t require them to significantly change either how they operate or the colleges they currently oversee.

The agreement also keeps the current cap on outsourcing of higher ed programs, although it would allow colleges to get faster approval for outsourcing arrangements from their accreditors.

Barbara Gellman-Danley, who as president of the Higher Learning Commission represented regional accreditors on the negotiating panel, said the consensus agreement would “strengthen our nation's higher education system while maintaining appropriate oversight, rigor and accountability.”

The package of changes the Trump administration said it wanted to pursue last year was so broad that most observers doubted the process would lead to a consensus agreement from negotiators. Many said the process appeared designed to fail.

In a public hearing last fall, most of the public comments warned the department that its agenda was too unwieldy and suggested it narrow its focus. But Jones said she continued to believe an agreement was possible.

“I never gave up hope,” she said. “The biggest thing we accomplished today is we restored faith in negotiated rule making.”

But critics said that student advocates faced pressure to go along in a process tilted toward the interests of accreditors and colleges. On Wednesday, frustrations mounted when Robyn Smith, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and student representative on the panel, said she wasn't sure she could go along with changes to current rules that would give accreditors as much 150 percent of a program's length -- six years for a four-year program -- to take action against colleges out of compliance with their standards.

Eventually, negotiators added language saying that accreditors should take action within that time frame or four years, whichever came first. But Smith was warned by other negotiators that students would get a worse deal if consensus was not reached.

"You could tell she was under intense pressure and was very conflicted," said Antoinette Flores, the associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress. "It's not necessarily surprising when you have the higher ed lobby writing the rules, and a very limited voice for consumer advocates, that they would come to agreement."

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Panelists suspect Turkish government pressure was behind Columbia's choice to cancel event

Thu, 2019-04-04 07:00

Columbia University abruptly called off a panel scheduled for this evening on the collapse of the rule in law in Turkey in what several panelists say was likely a result of pressure from the Turkish government.

Columbia -- which under the leadership of President Lee Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar, has fashioned itself as a bastion for free speech protections and famously defended a speaking invitation in 2007 to the then Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- denied the decision was a result of outside pressure. University officials did not answer questions posed about the panel but said there were "irregularities" in the planning process for the event and that several Columbia faculty and institutes had withdrawn their support. The event was originally going to be co-hosted by Columbia Law School's Human Rights Institute and Columbia's Global Freedom of Expression project, an academic initiative founded by Bollinger.

Panelists said the seeming source of the controversy was the inclusion on the panel of Y. Alp Aslandogan, the president of the Alliance for Shared Values, a New York-based umbrella organization for the Hizmet movement, which is led by Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic cleric whom Turkey’s government blames for a 2016 coup attempt (Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the U.S., has denied involvement). The panel was organized with an outside institution, the Human Rights Foundation, and in addition to Aslandogan included speakers from Columbia and Georgetown Universities, PEN America, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Everything seemed fine, and they were going through the final preparations for everything,” said Steven Cook, the Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the would-be moderator of the panel. “Then Monday night the folks from Human Rights Foundation called me saying they had a letter from the provost saying they were postponing the event because there wasn’t adequate consultation on the composition of the panel and it doesn’t meet Columbia’s academic standards and they look forward to working with them for another panel at another time. For me and everyone else, this was just an artful way of canceling the event.”

“The only conclusion that anybody can really draw is that Columbia came under significant pressure from the Turkish government,” Cook said. “As someone who works on Turkey, I’m not surprised that the Turkish government tried to bring this pressure to bear. What I am surprised is that Columbia said, ‘OK.’”

Cook said the pressure likely stemmed from the participation of Aslandogan. Aslandogan said that when he speaks in public forums, Turkish officials regularly protest the granting of a platform to a representative of what they consider to be a criminal movement.

“In the past few years, I spoke at many venues, and in each venue I think without exception when the event was announced the organizers were pressured to cancel the event or prevent me from speaking,” Aslandogan said. “Basically any public venue where my speech is publicized, Turkish diplomats in that city contact organizers try to cancel the event. They will use a carrot and stick approach to either cancel the event or drop me as a speaker, so I’m not surprised that this happened here as well.”

“If the co-host had objected to the composition of the panel at the beginning, I would understand that,” Aslandogan said. “But after the event is actually publicized and promoted on social media, I think is very suspicious.”

“Up until the last 10 days, there was no problem with the panel -- it was announced and it was planned and everything was going fine, I was preparing my comments and then -- I don’t know exactly when it started -- but then an objection came to my being the only Turkish voice, and there was a need of more diversity, and then to satisfy that concern, Sinan Ciddi” -- the executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Turkish Studies -- “was invited to the panel and he agreed. But then that did not satisfy that concern and as the process continued, it became apparent that my presence was the problem, not the lack of diversity.”

In a statement a Columbia spokesman said there was a lack of transparency and insufficient consultation in the planning process for the event. The university said it would reschedule the event, but officials declined to answer a question about whether Aslandogan would be invited to participate.

"The decisions of several Columbia faculty and sponsoring institutions to withdraw from Thursday’s panel discussion were a direct consequence of irregularities in the planning that occurred, including a lack of transparency concerning panel participants and insufficient consultation in the steps taken to rectify imbalances in the makeup of the panel," Columbia said. "Other reasons that have been publicly suggested for the postponement are mistaken. We will soon announce a date later this month for a rescheduled event at Columbia addressing the important subject of Turkey and the rule of law."

Sarah H. Cleveland, the Louis H. Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School, likewise said in a statement issued by Columbia’s media relations office that the institute withdrew from participating in the panel due to concerns about the planning.

“Objections by a government whose policies are being critically examined would never affect the Human Rights Institute's participation in any forum and played no role in our decision to withdraw from this particular conference,” said Cleveland, who on Wednesday published an op-ed in The Hill calling on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to address what she described as Turkey's descent into authoritarianism. “Rather, the planning of the conference lacked the consultation and transparency essential to the event’s academic integrity and produced a panel without the diverse perspectives required for our participation.”

“The speaker we identified to remedy this problem was unable to participate, while other panelists, who failed to address our concerns, were added unilaterally without consultation,” Cleveland said. “Under these circumstances, and despite our best efforts, the Human Rights Institute was obligated to withdraw.”

The outside organization that was involved in organizing the event, the Human Rights Foundation, did not comment on Monday beyond a tweet from its chairman, the chess star Garry Kasparov, criticizing Columbia's decision and calling for a full explanation.

PEN America issued a statement of concern in light of what the organization said was its understanding that Columbia was approached late last week by a representative of the Turkish government who objected to the event. The director of PEN America's Freedom of Expression At-Risk Programs was scheduled to speak at today's event.

“As an organization dedicated to the defense of freedom of expression and one that has been deeply involved in issues of free speech at university campuses, we are concerned that the outreach from the Turkish government may have played any role at all in Columbia’s decision to cancel the panel,” PEN America said. “While there may have been valid grounds to reconsider the makeup of the event and even to postpone it in order to ensure a more representative group of speakers, the direct intervention of the Turkish government in an effort to influence the event creates at the very least a perception that Columbia may have been influenced by Turkey in its decision to call off the event. The government of Turkey is notorious for its relentless crackdown on dissidents, writers, journalists and scholars, including many who are university-affiliated. Government intrusions in university decision making of this nature violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. Universities, scholars and free speech defenders must be vigilant in resisting such interference and avoiding even the perception that decisions may be shaped by government pressure.”

Inside Higher Ed has not independently confirmed whether Turkish officials exerted pressure on Columbia, and Columbia did not address a question from Inside Higher Ed about whether Turkish government officials had contacted the university in regards to the event. The Turkish Embassy in Washington did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment.

Panelists noted that Columbia has a center in Istanbul and also is home to a Turkish studies center founded several years ago with a $10 million gift from the family of a Turkish businessman.

“This event has been on the books as far as I understand for several weeks -- I think for months. Why are you canceling it at the 11th hour and secondly why is the provost stepping in?” asked Ciddi, the director of Georgetown's Institute for Turkish Studies and a panelist. “I’ve organized a whole bunch of events in my time at Georgetown. I’ve never seen a provost, a person of that high caliber, stepping in to not hold an event.”

“There isn’t a good explanation for this other than pressure,” Ciddi said. “It’s Occam’s razor.”

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Experts discuss uses of labor market data in postsecondary training

Thu, 2019-04-04 07:00

The tight labor market is helping prod employers and colleges to cooperate more closely to ensure that credentials pay off in the work force. And solid data on the labor market and student outcomes are key to this collaboration.

Matt Gee works on these issues as a senior researcher at the University of Chicago and as the co-founder and CEO of BrightHive, a technology company focused on work-force data. So does Yuanxia Ding, a former Education Department official during the Obama administration who is chief impact officer for Skills Fund, which provides student loans and quality assurance for the boot camp sector.

Inside Higher Ed sat down with Ding and Gee a few months ago to discuss developments with outcomes and labor-market data in higher education. Excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited for clarity, follow below.

Q: What’s driving interest in labor-market data in postsecondary education?

Gee: My organization, BrightHive, helps stitch together data from organizations. And one of the reasons to do that is to measure outcomes. So as a result, we spend a lot of time in conversation with state data holders, federal data holders, postsecondary institutions and others in the education space talking about data and why it matters.

We’ve seen in those conversations three big reasons that things are changing. People’s attitudes toward the use of data and outcomes measurement are shifting. And to understand how, and to understand those shifts, it’s helpful to understand what data is good for.

In the postsecondary space, data is good at three things: it’s good for mapping; it’s good for measuring and good for recommending. And you see this whether data is used to recommend movies in your Netflix queue or to recommend which program you should take next semester -- its uses are similar across settings. But one of the things that is shifting the views of data in both state policy settings and statehouses as well as postsecondary educational institutions is the cost gap -- this notion that postsecondary education is increasingly expensive, and learners and workers who are being asked to pony up that much, to take on that much debt, increasingly are wanting to know whether they’re going to get it back.

Second: consumer expectations because of their experience in every other aspect of their life besides education. It’s so easy now for us to know whether the product we’re going to on Amazon or the movie we’re going to watch on Netflix or the site we’re searching for on Google is going to meet our needs. We have rich recommendation systems. We have clarity in prices and value just about everywhere else in the marketplace, and we don’t have that in education. And consumers are now demanding it.

And third is shifts in the dispositions of policy makers themselves. Folks saying, "You know, we’ve been putting a lot of public money into these systems and it’s unclear whether we’ve been getting back what we’ve invested." So you’re seeing statehouses like the state Legislature in Colorado in 2017 passing a piece of legislation expressly saying that by the end of this year every postsecondary institution has to have a publicly available measure of return on investment. That’s a huge shift in state policy. And we’re seeing that not just in Colorado but across the country.

Ding: There is greater consumer demand for information. There’s also greater demand from businesses, in terms of thinking about our nation’s talent. We keep hearing about the skills gap. We keep hearing CEOs say, "I have to go overseas because I can’t find the skills I need here." Whether that’s because they’re not looking in the right ways or the right places, or whether that’s because we’re lacking the signals, or that’s because we’re lacking the data, that is a constant refrain.

And it is something we also need to be thinking about as we think about the use of data about postsecondary and labor-market outcomes. At the end of the day, it serves both the individual purpose of being able to determine what is ROI -- what do I get for what I put in? And, also, it determines a broader national purpose, which is, are we developing the globally competitive work force that we need to be the nation that we need to be? And that, unfortunately or fortunately, relies a lot on the way that businesses think about their talent, and the way in which they can assess that talent, the way they can recruit that talent, the way that they can retain that talent -- all of which also uses data.

Q: Can you give examples of how the data are being used in postsecondary education and training?

Ding: The biggest one is in competency-based education. That is a way to be more responsive to the labor market from an institutional perspective. To fill tech talent needs, tech and digital skills training programs, sometimes referred to as boot camps, have grown substantially to over 1,000 programs and about 100 schools, and traditional institutions have begun to take notice. For postsecondary institutions to be able to build a program in less than a year or two years, these alternatives to postsecondary education are partnering with traditional postsecondary institutions in order to be responsive to labor-market demand, in order to be responsive to what the data shows and is needed.

Gee: We’ve seen some great examples over the last couple of years. Historically, measuring outcomes has happened in two places: in state longitudinal data systems, mostly for research purposes, and at the Census Bureau, again to generate some higher-level policy answers and some public-use data sets. And those two historical locations for connecting data and measuring outcomes have already started to see, in several states and over the last couple of years, some really exciting forms of innovation within those uses of data. A lot of states are starting to use their state longitudinal data systems to generate not just research reports, but publicly available data that folks can build applications on top of. That’s powerful.

New Jersey has done this with their public outcomes data for all their work-force programs. And Code for America built, using their openly available data, a fantastic app that allows individuals to search for programs that meet not just their outcomes’ needs but also to know whether they have childcare on site and whether there are necessary support programs. So you’re seeing innovation on helping with decision making because of the use of that historical infrastructure.

The Census Bureau has paired with the University of Texas system to generate programmatic outcomes data for all its programs and has done it now in partnership with the Colorado Department of Higher Education and is moving on to several other states. So you’re seeing both scale and new use at the state level, and some at the national level.

And the third area of innovation on outcomes, that also has scale, is some private-sector actors are getting into the game. Folks like Emsi are taking millions of online profiles -- data that folks just make publicly available for anyone to see on the internet about themselves -- and saying, you know what, we can connect your alumni database to what your alumni are saying on the internet about themselves and help you, an institution of higher education, know those outcomes that you’ve struggled to know in the past. Where are they going to work? Who are they working for? What do they do after they get this degree? Do they get a job in the area that they got a degree in or the certificate?

Ding: What we do at Skills Fund is we finance students to go into skills training programs. And as part of that process we also essentially quality assure those programs to make sure that the students are getting the skills they need such that they can get a job and pay the loan back.

Part of what we use in that quality-assurance process is state-level data, where it’s publicly available. For example, the Texas Workforce Commission publishes some outcomes. Same thing with Wisconsin. Getting postsecondary institutions, whether they’re alternative schools like the ones we work with at Skills Fund or more traditional higher ed, to report that information -- how to get them to do that is a big question. The states certainly have the power to do that, to mandate it. We have some influence to do that, because we approve the programs for students to get financing or not. And making sure that those numbers match, where it’s publicly available, is great. Not every state does that. There are states that gather that information but don’t publish it and don’t make it available. And so while in addition to the complex back end of making sure the state systems are talking to each other and working correctly, the thing that I would love to see is all states at least making available what they are collecting, period, and, ideally, standardizing that somehow. That would be phenomenal for us to be able to know whether a placement rate in one state is the same as a placement rate in another. It would be great to see that at scale, coming from states that have far more authority to force that to happen.

Gee: Totally agree. We’ve already paid for it as taxpayers. The data’s already been collected. It’s been connected. We’re just not getting much value from it. If you’re a state department of education or a state work-force agency, you can generate millions of dollars in new value for all the people in your state who are making decisions every day about what programs to go into, what to pay for, by just making the data that you already have publicly available. That’s all you need to do.

Q: Can we measure student outcomes in a meaningful way at this point?

Ding: What you’re asking is an even deeper question, which is: At what level do outcomes matter? Because what we’re seeing in federal policy, in terms of what’s been done -- the College Scorecard, for instance -- has been historically at the institution level because that’s what we have. That’s what’s available. In many ways, at the state level that’s also what’s largely available. A lot of the pushback against outcomes and outcomes measurement comes from faculty members who think about outcomes as, “I know the outcomes, because I literally give the grades. That is the outcome.” And that doesn’t necessarily or even logically translate into labor-market outcomes.

There has to be some recognition for folks like us that yes, faculty are the closest to the students. And they do know the immediate outcome. And that institutional-level outcomes are almost meaningless because programs are what can change a student’s life. Understanding program-level outcomes, it just hasn’t been done. It’s just too hard. I’m very hopeful about the ability to do that in vocational and skills training programs that are intended to do that as a starting point. Because then maybe we can find a way of expanding that into programs that are not as directly skills and vocation oriented.

Gee: There are a lot of bogeymen that people can point to in the outcomes conversation. What ends up happening if we focus on those bogeymen is that we have the conversation about data misuse and not the conversation about [missed opportunities]. And that’s important because, yes, there are and always will be unintended consequences for making data available. That’s a feature of reality that we have to understand and be thoughtful about but embrace. But the potential costs of those unintended consequences are generally lower than the costs of the inaction. The costs that we are imposing, we are shifting from the institutions to the individuals right now. And that’s the choice that we’re making right now by not doing anything.

Q: What are some of the primary hurdles to doing more with outcomes data?

Ding: In K-12, with No Child Left Behind, there was a lot of pushback with the oversimplification of standards and assessments, and the use of adequate yearly progress (AYP). I would love for higher ed to have something even as basic and as terrible as AYP. We literally don’t have any standardized measure that we can apply. Completion rates, maybe? But that’s as close as we are right now. I would love to be able to see us do that with placement rates. That’s in many ways the holy grail. I would love to see us be able to do that with financial outcomes. There’s a lot of work being done on that right now. We have so far to go on this.

Gee: The biggest barrier is frankly culture. It’s the culture of the institutions of higher education and the culture of state offices. When you get down to it, there are very few non-overcome-able barriers that can prevent an institution that has data on its students who went through their programs from working together with a government agency to be able to measure what happened afterward. It’s something we have laws that support. It’s something that we have technology that makes simple to do. And so, the biggest barrier is culture.

There are some barriers to some things that would make it a lot simpler to do at scale. Like, for example, the current ban on the student unit record. This is a hotly debated topic. There are decent reasons for and against this. That is something that prevents national measurement in a way that we see in other national data sets. There is nothing equivalent at the state levels that would prevent states from being able to do this. We can do this and start at the states. Beyond culture, it’s often capacity that is the second biggest thing. Yes, some of the technical and legal challenges that you have to work through in order to do this well at scale require some specialized knowledge. And often there is maybe one person at a department who is capable of doing the few technical tasks that you need to do this well. And that person also has 15 things on their plate because they’re the only person that can do that same set of technical tasks for 20 other projects.

Ding: You said capacity. I was thinking it’s actually skills. Part of financing, part of supporting, part of promoting and encouraging skills training is the need for more technical skills across our work force to be able to do things like this. It’s ironic: we want to be able to do this better, but to be able to do this better we need more people who can be a part of it at all, to actually roll up their sleeves and do the data work. And that takes time and energy on the part of providers, students and all of us who support them. Bottom line is that we’ve got a long slog ahead of us, but it’s great to see the progress we’ve made over the past few years and the growing community of people that are aligned around this vision.

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University of Hartford drama student 'got into character' by stabbing two peers, police say

Thu, 2019-04-04 07:00

The University of Hartford students gathered Sunday afternoon to rehearse a movie scene as part of a class assignment.

Jake Wascher, a 21-year-old drama student, had been cast as the lead character in their interpretation of the science fiction thriller The Butterfly Effect, a 2004 movie starring Ashton Kutcher, The Hartford Courant reported.

Partway through a scene that involved a stabbing, screams erupted in the on-campus apartment where the students were practicing.

Wascher allegedly actually stabbed one of his classmates, another 21-year-old student who is the director of the film, with a 6- to 7-inch kitchen knife, in the chest, back and arm, according to a police report. During the attack, a third student participating in the project, a 19-year-old, yelled at Wascher to stop. Wascher “turned his attention” to the other student and drove the knife into his chest and back and then threw the knife at him, hitting his chest, where it remained lodged, according to witnesses quoted in the police report.

Police said the motivation for the bloody assault is unknown. The police report stated that when Wascher was interviewed, he said he “was not acting” and was curious about what it was like to stab someone and get “into his character,” the report said. He “acted a little to [sic] hard.”

Local media reported that the 19-year-old was listed as being in critical condition at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center’s intensive care unit until Tuesday, when he was upgraded to “stable.” The 21-year-old student, who suffered six stab wounds, was stable and was released from the hospital Monday, police said.

Wascher was charged with two counts of attempted murder and two counts of first-degree assault and is being held on $1 million bail.

University officials issued a statement on Sunday that said the “community is deeply saddened by the serious incident.”

“While there is no ongoing threat to campus, we recognize that this isolated incident is frightening and unsettling,” the statement reads. “The university will provide counseling services to members of our campus community in need of support or assistance.”

They followed up with a second statement on Monday that said university administrators were “in contact with the families of our injured students and they remain in our thoughts. At this time, we are focused on providing support services for our entire campus community.”

A university spokeswoman declined to provide further comment.

Police said they received a 911 call at around 1:30 p.m. on Sunday -- when they arrived on campus, they found only the two seriously injured students. Witnesses in the apartment identified Wascher as the attacker, and the campus was locked down while law enforcement scoured the grounds for him.

About two hours later, an officer spotted Wascher leaving a wooded area near the campus. Lieutenant Paul C. Cicero of the Hartford Police Department said during a news conference on Sunday that Wascher ran back into the woods but “immediately surrendered himself” when police approached him. He told them, “I’m going to comply,” and was promptly arrested, according to the police report.

Wascher does not have a criminal record, Cicero said.

The Hartford case is an “extreme scenario” likely anchored in challenges faced by one student and not a reflection on acting majors, said Harvey Young, president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education and dean of the College of Fine Arts at Boston University.

Acting programs teach students to portray characters on stage and at the same time separate themselves from the characters’ psychological turmoil, Young said.

Young said safety should be the top priority in staging intimate contact, including stage combat and any scene in which characters touch.

“Every so often, you will hear about an actor accidentally being slapped in a scene as a result of poorly timed preplanned choreography, but stabbing with an actual knife is something that never happens,” Young wrote in an email. “And should never happen.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Thu, 2019-04-04 07:00
  • Barnard College: Viola Davis, the actress.
  • Bates College: Jennifer Doudna, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is the co-inventor of the gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9.
  • Cape Cod Community College: John Silvanus Wilson Jr., senior adviser and strategist to the president at Harvard University and formerly president of Morehouse College.
  • Centenary College of Louisiana: John T. Edge, the writer.
  • Daemen College: Autry O. V. DeBusk, owner and chairman of DeRoyal Industries Inc.; and Catherine LePage Campbell, CEO of Envolve Maryland.
  • Gettysburg College: Jerry Spinelli, the author.
  • Linfield College: Oregon Supreme Court justice Adrienne Nelson.
  • Rocky Vista University: Scott Ellner, group president for physician alignment at Centura Health.
  • Rosemont College: Reverend James Martin, editor at large of the Jesuit magazine America.
  • Simon's Rock of Bard College: Jamaica Kincaid, the author
  • Springfield College: Jon Meacham, the historian; and Massachusetts lieutenant governor Karyn Polito.
  • St. John Fisher College, in New York: William G. Clark, outgoing president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Rochester.
  • State University of New York at New Paltz: Jane Delgado, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health; and Nina Smiley, director of mindfulness programming at Mohonk Mountain House.
  • Susquehanna University: Azar Nafisi, the author.
  • Tufts University: Alfre Woodard, the actress.
  • University of New Orleans: Sheba Turk, co-anchor of WWL-TV's Eyewitness Morning News.
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Full-time faculty members saw an overall median salary increase of about 1.7 percent within the past year

Wed, 2019-04-03 07:00

Full-time faculty members saw an overall median salary increase of about 1.7 percent over the past year, according to the "2019 CUPA-HR Faculty in Higher Education Report." Pay for full-timers off the tenure track increased by 1.8 percent. Tenured and tenure-track professors saw a 1.6 percent pay bump.

The American Association of University Professors will release its annual faculty salary survey data later this month. (Inside Higher Ed is the exclusive publisher of AAUP’s full salary database.) Early AAUP data indicate that the average year-over-year increase for full-time faculty salaries is slightly higher than what CUPA-HR found. AAUP’s data pertain to 952 colleges and universities, including community colleges. Unlike CUPA-HR's data, which is anonymized, AAUP's report includes professor pay by institution.

The “hottest” field for new faculty hires over the past year, by CUPA-HR’s accounting, is health professions. Some 1,410 new assistant professors picked up jobs. Health professions also saw the highest pay for non-tenure-track professors. Disciplines with the fastest rate of growth in new assistant professor hires include architecture (73 percent) and natural resources and conservation (72 percent).

CUPA-HR’s report also includes a breakdown of representation and pay equity for women and underrepresented minorities. Consistent with other research on the topic, representation varies by field and decreases with faculty rank.

Women make up 47 percent of the faculty across academe, but 58 percent of department chairs are men. Similarly, minorities are 21 percent of the faculty, but 85 percent of department chairs are white.

This is the first year that CUPA-HR included both two- and four-year institutions in the same survey, as many associate degree-granting institutions reportedly wanted to benchmark their professors’ pay by discipline and against other kinds of institutions.

Due in part to that change, CUPA-HR found that the representation and pay equity for both women and minorities are highest in associate degree-granting institutions.

Across institution types, community colleges have the largest percentage of part-time faculty, at 69 percent. Doctoral institutions have the largest share of full-time faculty, at 68 percent. Ph.D.-granting universities also have the highest share of non-tenure-track teaching faculty, at 19 percent.

This was also the first year that CUPA-HR asked about professors’ highest degrees attained. It found that professors with terminal degrees make up about four-fifths of all full-time professors across baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral institutions and earn “substantially more” than their colleagues with master’s degrees.

Nearly nine in 10 tenure-line professors have a doctorate, compared to five in 10 non-tenure-track teaching faculty members.

Adjunct instructors at doctoral institutions earn the most among part-timers, some $1,312 per credit hour.

CUPA-HR’s report is based on survey responses on 258,731 faculty positions from 847 institutions. Just under 300 of those provided aggregate data for adjuncts, in addition to data on full-time professors.

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As another for-profit giant collapses, critics of Dream Center deal wonder why feds didn't seek more protections

Wed, 2019-04-03 07:00

The Dream Center, a Los Angeles nonprofit that had agreed to purchase Argosy University and the Art Institutes chain just 24 months earlier, closed its doors in March amid finger-pointing and recriminations between a court-appointed receiver, congressional Democrats and the Education Department.

The Trump administration had blasted Dream Center management in a letter days earlier that announced it was cutting off federal aid to the chain of colleges. The receiver claimed he never saw millions in missing money for financial aid payments. And Democrats accused the Trump administration of dithering as major red flags appeared and closure of campuses became inevitable.

But many observers say the collapse of the college chain was foreseeable years ago because of the nonprofit's thin financial resources combined with the troubled history of campuses previously operated by the for-profit Education Management Corp.

The Dream Center deal moved forward, however, without objections from the department or some of the more stringent conditions that had been imposed on previous major for-profit transactions. And within months of closing the deal, Dream Center found that revenues at its new campuses fell millions short of projections by EDMC, creating shortfalls the nonprofit didn't have the resources to cover. Now most of the college chain is closed after the company failed to make millions in financial aid payments to students.

While students scramble to figure out how to complete their degrees, experts on college oversight, lawyers and former department officials are asking why the Education Department didn't do more to prevent just this kind of outcome for Dream Center. The seeds of the chain's collapse, many say, were sowed when the deal was allowed to proceed two years ago without major protections for students. And those critics say the administration doesn't appear to have learned from other recent failures of for-profit chains that closed their doors with little warning to regulators or their students.

As one for-profit company after another has faced existential challenges in recent years -- driven by a combination of economy-driven enrollment declines, misconduct and government scrutiny -- corporate leaders at entities like EDMC have sought to restructure or offload their college properties. The tribulations of those entities have tested the oversight capabilities of the Education Department in new ways.

“The department absolutely can say, ‘We will not approve you for federal financial aid if you consummate this deal.’ ”

Last year, Education Corporation of America made plans to close nearly 30 campuses to shore up its finances before abruptly announcing months later that it would close its entire chain of colleges, leaving the feds and accreditors to clean up the mess and help students resolve questions over credit transfer and loan-forgiveness options. Under the Obama administration, department officials gave their blessing to a 2014 deal in which Zenith Education Group, a nonprofit owned by loan-guarantee agency ECMC, would purchase the ailing Corinthian Colleges chain, but only after imposing a number of conditions on the sale. (Zenith eventually spent more than half a billion dollars to close down all but a handful of former Corinthian campuses.)

When ITT Technical Institutes later began looking for a buyer, potential suitors -- including Dream Center -- were warned they would have to meet similar conditions. No buyer meeting those standards emerged, and department officials instead began to make plans for ITT's eventual closure. The for-profit chain eventually shut down all its campuses in 2016.

Some former department officials were surprised to see the nonprofit resurface later in connection with EDMC. And since Dream Center’s collapse, consumer advocates have questioned why the kinds of demands imposed on suitors for Corinthian and ITT weren’t required for federal approval of the EDMC sale.

The department could have limited new enrollment at Dream Center campuses as part of the deal, critics have argued, or required that the chain secure teach-out agreements -- basically an arrangement with a comparable institution or institutions to accept students into their programs should the former EDMC campuses go under.

“The problem here is that there are dozens of cumulative warning signs for almost all of these massive for-profit closures that get ignored or underplayed or sidestepped by the department,” said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal policy at New America’s education policy program. “And then they fail to take action before it’s too late.”

An Education Department spokeswoman said that criticism amounted to Monday-morning quarterbacking.

"Department officials, throughout this process, have had a singular focus: doing what's best for students," said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department. "They acted on the best information they had at the time they had it."

Because of the department's work with Dream Center, she said, thousands of students at former EDMC campuses were able to finish their programs before the chain ultimately went into receivership.

Deal Scrutinized From the Beginning

The Pittsburgh-based EDMC’s sale of the Art Institutes, Argosy and South University chains was a sign of the downturn for the for-profit sector in recent years. The company, which had become one of the largest in the industry, was facing declining enrollment, lawsuits and crackdowns by regulators. The company agreed in 2015 to pay $95.5 million to settle claims of illegal recruiting after an investigation by the Department of Justice. The government found that EDMC was running a high-pressure sales business that rewarded recruiters based on the number of students enrolled and that EDMC improperly benefited from federal grants and loans.

Dream Center, though, saw operating a higher education system as a chance to further its enterprises assisting the indigent. Randall Barton, managing partner of the Dream Center Foundation, said in 2017 that the deal “aligns perfectly with our mission, which views education as a primary means of life transformation.”

Before the transaction closed in October of that year, it faced major criticism from consumer advocates, who called on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to seek public comment and hold hearings before ruling on the deal, and confronted hurdles getting approval from accreditors. The Dream Center addressed the organization's lack of experience in higher education by bringing on Brent Richardson, former chairman of Grand Canyon University, as an adviser.

"Department officials, throughout this process, have had a singular focus: doing what's best for students. They acted on the best information they had at the time they had it."

The Education Department also imposed several conditions as part of a preacquisition review of the deal: Dream Center would be required to submit a letter of credit, to file regular financial disclosures and to submit monthly enrollment reports so the department would have up-to-date information on student rosters.

After independent auditors found major shortfalls in revenues at the former EDMC schools, Richardson and Dream Center management decided to wind down roughly 30 campuses that accounted for a large chunk of the operating losses.

But by late 2018, Dream Center began defaulting on payments owed to creditors and pursued a receivership arrangement through a federal court. Within weeks, headlines began to pile up about failures by Argosy and other Dream Center colleges to pay student aid stipends. After DCEH and its court-appointed receiver, Mark Dottore, couldn’t explain what happened to millions in missing aid payments, the Education Department took the rare step of cutting off Title IV money to the chain of campuses, all but guaranteeing their eventual closure.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the situation was fairly straightforward: there was never enough money to keep the enterprise going. “This was somebody taking over what they thought would be an ATM,” he said, despite the chain being a “distressed toxic asset.”

"Of course this could have been prevented. It should have been prevented," Nassirian said.

What Happened Earlier

Hill, the department spokeswoman, said that the department didn't have the statutory or regulatory authority to block a deal in the first place. She said the department never gave preliminary approval to the deal; instead it only found no impediments for the change in ownership in a process called a preacquisition review. But Hill said an institution -- or chain of colleges, in the case of the former EDMC campuses -- keeps access to federal aid on a temporary basis until the department either issues final approval or denies a change in ownership, she said.

While the Education Department can't legally block the sale of a college, it can -- and often does -- tell a buyer that it won't keep access to federal aid if a deal goes through, said Aaron Lacey, a lawyer who advises higher education clients.

“The department absolutely can say, ‘We will not approve you for federal financial aid if you consummate this deal,’ ” Lacey said.

The department also has discretion when it comes to the conditions it imposes on new ownership in contracts to participate in federal Title IV programs. Most of the language in those contracts, known as program participation agreements, is standard boilerplate. But the Education Department can tailor requirements in the agreement to risks officials identify at the buyer or circumstances at the college. That may include requiring additional collateral through a letter of credit or caps on enrollment to limit growth.

"That's really an extraordinary amount of control," Lacey said.

Whether or not the department had the legal authority to block a deal outright, it has broad authority to impose conditions that would create a de facto denial, said Ben Miller, vice president for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

"There are things you can do to make a deal essentially untenable," he said.

The basic conditions the Education Department described for the Dream Center sale appeared to closely resemble those imposed on a 2016 deal that took the formerly publicly traded University of Phoenix private, suggesting the department relied at least in part on the framework for previous for-profit deals. In the Phoenix sale, the department also asked for 13-week projected cash flow statements as well as monthly enrollment reports.

But the requirements for Dream Center appeared to be less stringent, even though Phoenix was in better financial health and didn't have EDMC's troubled history with regulators.

Department officials, for example, required a letter of credit equivalent to 25 percent of federal financial aid funding for Phoenix. They sought only a 10 percent letter of credit from Dream Center. And the department actually released funds from an existing letter of credit it held from EDMC.

Phoenix was also required to cap enrollment at existing levels until it received final approval for the sale. And it was tasked with raising its retention and graduation rates within a year of getting department approval.

"A worse set of schools with less qualified ownership in every sense got a better deal," Miller said.

Dream Center also brought fewer financial resources to the deal than had the buyers of other for-profit chains. ECMC, the loan-guarantee agency that bought Corinthian Colleges in 2014, had the deep pockets to burn through half a billion dollars winding down those campuses. Dream Center had roughly $225 million in assets when it bought the Argosy and Art Institutes chains. And its leaders reportedly were betting on the colleges generating $30 million of revenue in the first year. The nonprofit's limited resources and the rosy financial projections should have led to more scrutiny of the deal, former officials said.

“It is really up to the department to put conditions in place to mitigate the consequences of the acquirer not being able to keep the organization going," said Jay Urwitz, a former deputy general counsel at the Education Department who retired in 2017 and is now a senior fellow at the American Council on Education.

The department should have said it would take its chances on EDMC or wait for another buyer, Urwitz said.

It's not clear how the Education Department used the information it required Dream Center to report on its financials and enrollment. The Office of Federal Student Aid has reached out directly to students about the cancellation of loans issued for the spring semester. But they will likely have to apply themselves to have other loans cleared.

Miller said with the regular cash flow reports, the chain's pursuit of receivership in December "should not have been a surprise to the department."

Web of Regulators Involved in Deal

The Dream Center transaction with EDMC didn’t just require the go-ahead from federal officials; it also had to get approval from three different institutional accreditors as well as several other professional accreditors for programs like law and psychology. Argosy, which is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, was told when the deal was agreed to in 2017 "it would be a very high bar" to clear for approval due to serious governance, independence and financial issues raised by the accreditor.

Jamie Studley, the WASC president, said that in 2018 there was some progress addressing those issues but not enough to get full approval for the conversion or have its accreditation reaffirmed.

The closing of roughly 30 campuses last year, followed by the installation of a receiver and the imposition of more stringent cash restrictions by the department, signaled a serious turning point in the finances of the enterprise. WSCUC requested teach-out plans from Dream Center in December when the receivership was imminent. And it followed immediately by putting Argosy on "show cause" status on Jan. 19, requiring the chain to demonstrate why its accreditation should not be withdrawn.

“The tension in this process lies in policing whether an institution meets standards while not undercutting students’ ability to complete or transfer their programs," Studley said. "In the future, as a policy matter, I believe we will need to look at more effective ways to decouple the two.”

Some consumer advocates have said the department should have required teach-out agreements at all Dream Center institutions as a condition of the original 2017 deal rather than deferring to accreditors. In a rule-making process currently unfolding at the department, some are pushing for automatic triggers for the agreements to be written into federal regulations.

McCann of New America said the Trump administration should have at least pressed the company to make those arrangements when its financial health began to deteriorate.

"When you know a school is in a precarious financial position, an important thing to do is first and foremost get a teach-out agreement," she said. "Once those 30 campuses closed, that was yet another sign you should request those agreements."

Democratic lawmakers have called on the Education Department’s top watchdog to investigate the missing student aid payments and the Trump administration’s handling of the Dream Center deal more broadly.

In a February letter to the department’s acting inspector general, Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said the deal “raised concerns from the very beginning about the risks it posed to students and taxpayers. Those concerns have certainly been realized.”

While DeVos never gave final approval to the deal, the department also never put appropriate protections in place, the Democrats argued. After the sudden collapse of the ECA chain and Vatterott College last year, it was again caught flat-footed, resulting in more chaos for students.

The saga suggested officials appointed by DeVos haven’t learned from previous experiences managing for-profit shutdowns, said Beth Stein, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success. More than any other change, Stein said, federal officials should have learned by now to communicate proactively to students about financial difficulties faced by their institution.

“Here we are, Argosy is essentially closed,” she said. “It’s not a surprise to me. It’s not a surprise to the department. But the students had no idea.”

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New PEN America report disputes notion of free speech on college campuses in crisis

Wed, 2019-04-03 07:00

A spike in campus activism -- some of it directed against speakers whose views offend -- has complicated free speech, says a new report. But the landscape is far from disastrous, as politicians, particularly in the Trump administration, depict it.

The 100-page compendium “Chasm in the Classroom: Campus Free Speech in a Divided America” from PEN America, a group of literary writers and editors, largely offers an encyclopedic look at the battles of free expression that have been waged on college campuses since the 2016 election.

Coinciding with President Trump taking office, many students have called for administrators to punish speech that they believe targets minorities in harmful ways. In some cases, most recently at Beloit College, students have blocked some speakers whose views they find objectionable.

These actions fueled Trump’s argument -- one supported by many other conservatives -- that universities are liberal bastions intent on squashing conservative perspectives. To address this perceived “crisis,” Trump last month signed an executive order that would cut federal research funding to institutions that do not comply with either First Amendment obligations -- for public universities -- or in the case of private colleges, their own stated policies.

But as the report states, many causes for which liberal students advocate (such as racial and LGBTQ equality) are legitimate and important. College leaders need not ban speech to take seriously attacks on these students. And students on both sides of the political spectrum have engaged in unhelpful and, for conservatives, intentionally provocative behavior, according to the report.

The responsibility of administrators, then, is both to try to understand these students’ grievances and to teach them about free speech and its historical importance in boosting progressive campaigns, such as the civil rights movement.

PEN disputes in the report Trump’s characterization of free speech as a “crisis.” Largely, the polarization on campuses reflects the greater mood of the country. But the PEN writers did “see a looming danger that our bedrock faith in free speech as an enduring foundation of American society could give way to a belief that curtailing harmful expression will enable our diverse population to live together peaceably.”

"Working with college leaders to promote education, understanding and dialogue will be key to ameliorating the deep polarization and distrust that have developed on college campuses," Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s campus free speech project director, said in a statement. "We are at an inflection point where the risk is growing that today’s students will become alienated from the principles of free speech, wrongly believing that they do little more than provide cover for bigotry. As a new generation comes of age in a time of division and anxiety in our country, commentators, college administrators and policy makers need to cultivate an understanding and appreciation of free speech as the bedrock of an open, democratic and equitable society."

A Rise in Hate

As numerous groups have documented, bigotry against minorities has pervaded campuses in the last three years. PEN partially attributes this to Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign -- calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and saying falsely that he observed Muslims cheering as the World Trade Centers toppled on Sept. 11, for instance.

The report notes that a mere mention of Trump can’t be equated to hate speech, but that his name has been invoked in many prejudicial episodes on college campuses. PEN refers to an incident shortly after the election, when a Latina student at Lindenwood University returned to her dormitory to find that her roommate had constructed a makeshift barrier out of stray items in their room. A note had been posted a note that read, “HEY Maria, Trump won so here is a little preview of what’s to come. #wall.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks bigotry nationwide, estimated that the number of hate groups in the United States grew from 917 in 2016 to 1,020 in 2018, according to the report.

Literature advertising and espousing white nationalism has proliferated colleges as well, often anonymously and largely thought to be promoted by off-campus actors. The Anti-Defamation League tracked more than 300 cases of white nationalist propaganda on campuses last year.

White supremacy has been exposed much more openly on college campuses, too, most notably when white nationalists invaded the University of Virginia campus and the city of Charlottesville in 2017, chanting Nazi slogans and carrying torches.

One of the leaders of that group, Richard Spencer, is a prominent white supremacist who once pledged to break the hold that he claimed liberals had in higher education by going on a speaking tour of public campuses. His visits, which he said were deliberately meant to rile students, inspired riots and forced universities to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for security. At the University of Florida in October 2017, the university hired armed guards to be stationed on the roof where Spencer was speaking.

"Far from taking place in isolation behind ivy-covered walls, today’s campus free speech controversies are inextricable from the social and political upheaval of this historical moment," Suzanne Nossel, PEN’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. "While we have never thought that there was a crisis per se when it comes to campus speech, there are legitimate concerns about ideas and viewpoints that have become hard to voice amid a climate of intense ideological rancor. While President Trump has spotlighted threats to speech emanating from the left, our analysis reveals that intolerance of opposing views cuts across the political spectrum."

The PEN report urges administrators to vociferously condemn this type of speech, even while permitting it. Their declarations can successfully communicate to students that while officials must abide by the First Amendment, they don’t agree with the message.

Tony Frank, the president of Colorado State University, forcefully condemned a series of incidents in the 2017-18 academic year, including a noose found in a residence hall and “Heil Hitler” written on a whiteboard. The president's statements eased student tensions, the report states.

And at Florida, during Spencer’s visit, President W. Kent Fuchs took to Twitter to disavow Spencer and advertised alternative programs the university was sponsoring that were intended to bring the campus together against Spencer’s ideas.

“Fuchs’s statement was powerful and unequivocal,” the report reads. “It clearly conveyed that although Spencer would be speaking in a university facility, the spirit of the institution would not be on his side. He left no question that the university and its administration were against Spencer’s message, and he encouraged students not to play into Spencer’s provocation game by trying to shut the appearance down and lending him a media spotlight.”

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Authors discuss their new book on English universities

Wed, 2019-04-03 07:00

Many Americans are watching the chaos in Britain as the country searches for a path forward consistent with the vote to leave the European Union. But for years now -- well before the Brexit vote -- English universities have seen turmoil as a result of a shift in government policy on higher education, imposing tuition and competition in ways that would seem familiar to many Americans. English Universities in Crisis: Markets Without Competition (Bristol University Press) explores the radical changes and debate within higher education in the country.

The authors are Jefferson Frank, founding head of the economics department at Royal Holloway, University of London; Norman Gowar, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of London; and Michael Naef, a reader in economics at Royal Holloway. They responded via email to questions about their book.

Q: What do you think were the prime motivations for the Conservative government to impose tuition?

A: The strong preponderance of universities in Britain, including [the Universities of] Oxford and Cambridge, are state funded and subject to arm's-length government regulation. This includes the level of fees chargeable to British students. Fees had gone up slowly over time and were at 3,000 pounds ($3,978) per year (for the British three-year honors degree), the same amount at each university. Lord Browne, the former chief executive of BP, was commissioned by the government to review higher education funding. His 2010 report, "Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education," recommended lifting the cap on fees to about £6,000 ($7,900), the perceived per student cost. Higher fees could be set by a university, but they would face a significant levy to be paid back into the system. The coalition government in 2012 allowed fees to go up to £9,000 ($11,900) for English universities. An income-contingent loan scheme would be available to students for fees and living expenses. Outstanding debts would be written off after 30 years. Under devolution of powers, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have independent governments/executives and make their own decisions on fees and funding. Scotland maintained "free fees" for eligible Scottish students attending Scottish universities.

Lord Willetts, then minister of state for universities and science, has explained the reasons in his book, A University Education. The government was motivated by a genuine desire to expand student numbers and particularly to widen participation of students from less advantaged backgrounds. It wanted to do this while providing sustainable funding for universities. It was the implementation, rather than the motivation, that proved problematic, although many now question the arbitrary notion that 50 percent of post-18-year-olds should go to university rather than other forms of advanced training or education.

Q: The government has claimed that the reliance on tuition would force universities to compete for students and improve the quality of education. You reject that argument. Why?

A: The Browne report envisaged a sectorwide cap on total student numbers. In that environment, universities would have to compete with each other for the fixed number of students. The government instead introduced the market for students in two steps. First it allowed fees to be set by individual universities at their chosen levels, up to £9,000. No one was surprised that virtually all chose the maximum level, since a lower fee would be taken as a signal of lower quality. It was only after £9,000 became nearly universal across universities that student numbers were uncapped. While universities could in principle have competed by lowering their fees, or by tightening the rigor and academic content of their programs, they found it expedient instead to compete on grounds of the "student experience," with grade inflation and unconditional offers of places that did not depend upon achieving particular results in the entrance examinations (A-levels), and with massive quick building programs. Simply put, the profit margin on expanding student numbers was such that universities wanted to expand capacity at speed, by any means possible.

In part, the lowering of standards came about because of a continued weakening of the external examiner system for maintaining national standards in degree examinations. The arm's-length regulator adopted a "light-touch" approach to the regulation of established universities and focused instead upon possibilities for encouraging and accrediting for-profit institutions. British universities do not have some of the forces for good governance that apply in the U.S. U.S. universities rely heavily upon the goodwill and donations of alumni and other contributors. Alumni don’t want to see the value of their own degree go down with grade inflation. British degrees are labeled first class, upper second, lower second and so on. Alumni who worked hard to achieve an upper second degree will not be pleased to see that firsts are now readily available without the same effort. But, since U.K. universities rely on public funds and not donations, they don’t have to take account of this stakeholder.

Q: The government has also argued that financial aid (including loans) makes universities affordable. What do you see as the flaws in this statement?

A: The income-contingent loan system is offered to students who don’t even meet the traditional expectations for entry. It is extremely forgiving in that -- in its current version -- students do not start repaying if their income is less than £25,000 ($33,000) (the median full-time income in the U.K. is under £30,000) and the entire remaining loan is forgiven in 30 years. It is expected that 50 percent of the loan amounts will not be repaid. Loans cover fees and living expenses, and none of this is "means-tested" on the basis of the student’s family income.

Given the intention to increase participation by those from working class or other nonprivileged backgrounds, the funding could be better targeted by making it dependent upon the student’s background. Instead, the subsidies go to those who do badly on their degrees or who choose inappropriate or poorly designed and executed degrees. It is a system that rewards "failure" rather than effort.

As in the U.S., the growth of student loans has a major impact on the life decisions of students. In Britain, this is part of "generation rent" that will not be able to afford to buy a house, given their student loan and other financial commitments. From the government’s point of view, student loans rather than up-front subsidies to less well-off students were attractive in that the funding did not enter into the government’s current accounts. However, a recent ruling from the Office of National Statistics has determined that the expected defaults must enter into the accounts. It is partially for this reason that the government is contemplating lowering fees and loans.

Q: Some Americans, used to the high sticker price of higher education in the U.S., seem less than sympathetic to the shifts in Britain. What should Americans understand about why this matters?

A: Economists in the U.S. have too long avoided the hard questions of why university education and, for similar reasons, health care are so expensive. The economist often just says, "They are high-labor and -human capital sectors" and will rise as a proportion of GDP, particularly as we seek to expand higher education to less-traditional students and the population ages. However, expansion of both services without efficient structures is leading to uncontrollable and unaffordable costs. The U.S. position is ironic from a European perspective in the sense that the taxpayer ends up carrying the burden, but any effective regulation is viewed as "socialism."

Britain has benefited from efficient institutional structures for providing higher education and health care. All the major parties in Britain, for example, view the National Health Service (despite being free at the point of service to all citizens, whether or not they are in employment and paying National Insurance) with an almost religious zeal. Universities and the NHS have been given "just enough" funding, which encourages efficiency in provision. Further, professors and doctors make a significant contribution in the sense that the monopsony government purchase of their services keeps these professional salaries down, with even the most distinguished practitioners in these fields making a fraction of the salary levels of their American counterparts. In return -- and leading scholars can vote with their feet if they don’t value the offer -- the best universities in Britain have given a strong voice in decision making to their academics. This is now being lost as universities devalue scholarship and challenging teaching in favor of less experienced adjunct and casual teachers.

The U.S. is learning that its current approach to higher education and medical care is simply unaffordable and inefficient. We feel that the U.S. could learn from the approaches adopted by Britain in the postwar period. Indeed, the U.S. in higher education followed something of the same positive path with the GI Bill and increased government funding of important technological and other research.

Q: Will Brexit make things worse?

A: The facile answer is that Brexit, if it occurs, will make everything worse. The high fees have already cut the numbers of European students in England, since they can generally attend free or low-cost programs in other European countries (and in Scotland). English students can similarly at the moment attend those free or low-cost programs in other European countries (where they have, under the rules, to be treated equally to nationals), but must pay full English fees in Scotland, even though Scottish and European students pay no fees. The complexity of the current situation is just one example of the many issues that will ultimately have to be worked out between Europe and the U.K., if Brexit occurs.

The bigger issues for English universities are the multinational nature of research; the high proportion of European staff (who may or may not feel welcome or even be allowed post-Brexit); the derivative effect on overseas students, particularly from China, who might see a lesser value to a British degree if we are not part of Europe; and the general state of the economy, if there is a post-Brexit recession.

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New presidents or provosts: Central Oklahoma CUNY Gardner-Webb Harper Hillsdale Hobart Roger Williams Rutgers Singapore Management Technion Wittenberg

Wed, 2019-04-03 07:00
  • Timothy Clark, pro vice chancellor (social sciences and health) at Durham University, in the United Kingdom, has been selected as provost and dean of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University.
  • William M. Downs, dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences at East Carolina University, in North Carolina, has been named president of Gardner-Webb University, also in North Carolina.
  • Joyce P. Jacobsen, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, has been chosen as president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in New York.
  • Michelle Mattson, associate vice president of academic affairs for institutional effectiveness at Rhodes College, in Tennessee, has been selected as provost of Wittenberg University, in Ohio.
  • Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Boston Museum of Science, has been chosen as president of Roger Williams University, in Rhode Island.
  • Christopher Molloy, interim chancellor of Rutgers University at New Brunswick, in New Jersey, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Patti Neuhold, vice president for finance and chief financial officer at the University of Central Oklahoma, has been appointed president there.
  • Avis Proctor, president of the North Campus of Broward College, in Florida, has been named president of Harper College, in Illinois.
  • Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, president of Queens College, part of the City University of New York System, has been appointed chancellor of the CUNY System.
  • Uri Sivan, a member of the Faculty of Physics at Technion, in Israel, has been chosen as president there.
  • Christopher VanOrman, dean of natural sciences and the William and Berniece Grewcock Chair in Chemistry at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, has been selected as provost there.
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Professors' reflections on their experiences with 'ungrading' spark renewed interest in the student-centered assessment practice

Tue, 2019-04-02 07:00

When it comes to grading, less is more. So say a number of scholars who have shared their recent experiments with “ungrading” in blog posts and on other social media, sparking renewed discussions about the practice.

“My core hypothesis was that student learning would actually be improved by eliminating instructor grading from the course,” Marcus Schultz-Bergin, assistant lecturer of philosophy at Cleveland State University, wrote of going gradeless this semester in a personal blog post that has since been shared on the popular philosophy site Daily Nous.

“My hope” for students, Schultz-Bergin continued, “is that the reflection they engaged in, and the discussions we had, will lead to a significant commitment in the second half of the course to really achieve what they set out for themselves so that when they tell me they earned an A they can really mean it.”

Thus far, he added, the experiment in his undergraduate philosophy of law course "has had its ups and downs. There are definitely some things I will change going forward, but I do think the gradeless approach can work well in a course like this.”

Experts in ungrading say it’s still relatively rare in higher education, due in part to inertia with respect to pedagogical innovation, the culture of assessment and professors’ anxieties about going gradeless. How will students respond? What will colleagues say? What will administrators think?

Still, ungrading is more common than one might think. And there are sound pedagogical reasons to do it, given the litany of research finding that grades play to extrinsic (not intrinsic) motivation, decrease enjoyment of learning and increase fears of failure. More than that, grades aren’t necessarily a good measure of student learning. And, based on additional research, we know they're subject to rampant inflation.

“There are a surprising number of faculty questioning grades in productive ways, and experimenting with alternative modes of assessment,” said Jesse Stommel, executive director of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at University of Mary Washington, and an early evangelist of ungrading. “If, as teachers, we just ask students why, when and how they learn, what we can get back is way more valuable than any standardized assessment mechanism can reveal.”

Ungrading “creates space for that kind of honest reflection and dialogue,” he said.

As Schultz-Bergin’s post indicates, going gradeless doesn’t mean that students won’t end up with a final grade. Most institutions require that students receive formal marks, after all. But the process typically means that students semiregularly reflect independently, with their peers and with their professors on their learning and performance in a given a course. Those reflections -- which experts say are important to metacognition -- all help students to eventually grade themselves.

Professors who have gone gradeless say that students sometimes give themselves higher grades than they deserve. But they report that it’s uncommon, and that they talk with the student about it when it does happen.

Maha Bali, associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, shared her experience with ungrading for the fourth time on her blog last month. An ongoing challenge is making sure that her grades aren’t inflated. While most students are “honest” and give themselves grades commensurate with their effort, she said, “there are always a few who give themselves A and don’t deserve it and we need to negotiate.”

Elaborating on that process in an email interview, Bali said that midsemester grades are “easy to negotiate via email with specific suggestions for improvement.” By the end of the semester, she said, it’s harder, as one final reflection is due only a few days before grades are filed.

Even so, Bali said, “I only ever had one student argue back and forth with me demanding a numerical breakdown of their grade.”

In general, Bali talks to students about grades being a combination of three things: a single standard -- which she describes as unfair because students arrive with different readiness levels, interests and strengths -- and against a curve or class norm and by growth or effort.

Bali wrote that she started talking about her ungrading approach with students early on in the semester. Unlike Schultz-Bergin, who is doing away with all numeric and letter grades all semester long, Bali gives students numeric and verbal feedback on small assignments. The numbers are “very insignificant in the large scheme of things,” she wrote in her post, “but I don’t want to ignore them completely, so students don’t get a huge cultural shock.”

Susan D. Blum, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame who hasn’t given grades in several years and doesn’t plan to again, is currently editing a book on ungrading. Stommel has contributed, as has Cathy Davidson, Distinguished Professor of English at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, whose reflection on her own ungrading experiment at Duke University, her former institution, caught much attention in 2009. (“I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning than by assigning a grade,” Davidson said at the time.)

It was easier for Blum to solicit chapters from those in the humanities and social sciences than in the natural sciences, technology, engineering and math, as the former broad fields more obviously lend themselves to ungrading (in Schultz-Bergin’s case, for example, a philosopher is doing what is arguably a philosophical exercise). But Blum’s book includes contributions from those in STEM and she believes that ungrading lends itself to any environment.

“It certainly fits well with writing, where revision is one of the primary techniques people use and all of the feedback tends to be formative, not summative -- writing and rhetoric people have done a lot of work on this,” she said. “And I know there are people who are working in, let's say, a science course with a common syllabus [across sections], and that would be an obstacle.”

But, in general, Blum said, in any context or discipline, the process is “so much more information than a simple grade could ever be.”

Reflections Across Classrooms

Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh, a chemistry instructor at Central New Mexico Community College, has written about her current ungrading effort in her organic chemistry class. Like many other professors who forgo grading students, Sorensen-Unruh offered students a sense of how they should assess themselves and their learning in her syllabus. Most ungrading processes are highly structured. And in Sorensen-Unruh's case, she wanted to make sure that her classes would be counted as prerequisites for students continuing their studies.

So far, she said last week, things are going well. Students are sometimes “thrown off” by being told to lead their own assessment processes, she said, since they're not used to it. But they "seem to realize that the agency I'm trying to encourage them to use regarding their grades is an opportunity to think about their assessment differently.”

As for teaching chemistry in particular, Sorensen-Unruh said she was “required to be a bit more creative when integrating this strategy." Her classroom already centers on active learning, she said, so making time to address individual student concerns in class isn't an issue. But her class is small -- 28 students. Doing this in class of 300 would be impossible without help, she said.

In STEM, she added, “I think ungrading requires a willingness to treat our classrooms as an experimental space where things might not go completely according to plan.” So mentoring, especially for newer professors, would be ideal.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, has previously gone gradeless in a graduate seminar. But she said that she's currently ungrading with undergraduates because her research demonstrates that "a culture of caring matters” to student success, "and it’s time to apply my research to my teaching.”

In her current general education course on caring about college, Goldrick-Rab has 70 students and three teaching assistants. The TAs had to learn the process and the class was "frankly shocked I wasn’t grading. It took them awhile to trust it.”

Then, she said, students "started to come to me, and write to me in self-reflections, things like 'I am so glad I can finally focus on learning rather than wondering if I’m hitting some specific mark. This is what I had hoped college would be.' Others have said it’s 'the first time I felt like a professor really cared about her class.’”

Students still get anxiety surrounding tests, which are scored but not graded, Goldrick-Rab said. "Some can’t quite let go of the idea that there will eventually be a final grade. And there will be -- I have to give one -- but it will be based on their review of their performance across the term, and unless we see something terribly off about their assessment we will use their recommendation.”

Another key concern among professors about ungrading is attendance, though many professors report it doesn’t make much of a difference, either way. Goldrick-Rab said that attendance remains a challenge, but that attendance lags as the term goes on "in every undergrad class every year.”

The key difference now, she said, is that "I know more about why they aren’t there. I get info from the reflections about their serious struggles to juggle the time required for heavy course loads, their work schedules, and their honest struggles to remain focused and committed when they are still sorting out why they are in college.”

Goldrick-Rab, who attributed her teaching shift to Stommel, has no plans to return to grading. "This has been the best semester I’ve had since I started teaching in 2004," she said. "I feel more connected to and motivated by my students, and am convinced I am finally becoming an effective teacher." 

Ungrading isn’t for everyone, however. Ken Bauer, associate professor of computing science at the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, recently tweeted that he was returning to something like traditional grading. 

In a blog post Bauer wrote in response to questions about that tweet, he said he believes that he “perhaps went ‘too far’ in giving the freedom and putting my role as 99.9 percent ‘the guide and mentor.’” Bauer said he gave his students some direct guidance and a list of topics to research” with the “intent to give them the freedom to explore.”

But during the first partial grading period, “I simply asked students on the exam to write about a selection of topics in the course so far and to give themselves a numeric grade on a scale of 1-100 (our official grading system).” And they “freaked out. Well, most of them.”

Bauer worked with his students after that to create a loose rubric, which he said seemed to relieve their stress. The results were great. 

“But then came pushback,” he said. “Some students expressed that ‘Hey, you can just do pretty much “nothing” and pass the course,’ or, ‘We students can't be trusted, we need to be monitored and graded.’” Subsequent discussions with students ended in Bauer adopting what he described as a more traditional class structure with ongoing deadlines. 

Bauer said he’s still flexible with students who want to resubmit work and that it’s all part of his learning process. But he’s still searching for what feels “right,” he said.

Schultz-Bergin said last week that he's received a good amount of feedback about his post -- most of it "positive but with a healthy and reasonable dose of skepticism." And "lots of good questions about execution."

Students have responded positively, too, he said, "but of course some more than others." A few have had issues with the "lack of assignment structure, but most have used it as an opportunity to practice important skills a lot without fear of poor grades." 

Schultz-Bergin made three main changes to his course for his experiment. He offered students what he called a "buffet" of learning opportunities which they could complete at their discretion, but required only three reflection essays on their learning, progress and goals. Students also meet with him for two learning conferences, to discuss their portfolio of work and, ultimately, report their grade for the course.

"For me, this is really just a further evolution of various ways I've been working to improve the teaching and learning experience," he said. "Before, I've used alternative grade systems that aim to be responsive to similar concerns that the gradeless classroom responds to. In all these cases it helps me better help students learn and help them reflect on their own learning." 

Blum said that ungrading has been part of the K-12 conversation for some time, in part because these educators tend to talk more with each other about their teaching. By contrast, college and university professors are doing ungrading -- and in similar ways -- but all tend to think they're on their own, she said.

If ungraders need better networks and professional development opportunities, Stommel also said that for ungrading and other novel assessment practices to “flourish, we need to push hard on the culture of assessment -- the reduction of students and their work to data points -- that has taken root across so much of education.”

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With new president in place, Goddard plots path out of probation

Tue, 2019-04-02 07:00

Foremost among Goddard College’s three principles is this: “The most fundamental fact of life is change.”

To survive amid a tumultuous time in higher education, the tiny private Vermont institution faces that very challenge: Change or die?

The well-known alternative college was founded 81 years ago when a group of educators, envisioning a democratic community built around “plain living and hard thinking,” bought a sheep farm in the northern Vermont town of Plainfield.

Goddard has produced several generations of artists, musicians and activists -- in its heyday, it educated the playwright David Mamet and the jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp. It was an early home base for the jam band Phish and has assembled a who's who of great American writers -- among them Raymond Carver, John Irving, Tobias Wolff, Frank Conroy and Richard Ford -- as instructors.

Goddard has spent more than half a century developing a low-residency model that brings most students to campus just one week each semester. The college, which hasn't used traditional letter grades since the 1930s, doesn't offer traditional courses -- students "co-create" their curriculum each semester with the help of advisers and spend most of their time in independent study.

Beloved among a set of artistic, civic-minded alumni, neighbors and admirers, Goddard is now at risk of closing, its auditors warning that steadily declining tuition revenue could doom it. The college is now in the thick of a budget-cutting, fund-raising fight for survival, months after its accreditor placed the college on probation, warning that it doesn't meet financial management and governance standards.

Goddard has a new president, Bernard Bull, who is steeped in the history of alternative, experimental education. And he accepts the realities of an accreditor that is getting tough with colleges that don’t take financial sustainability seriously.

“I’m approaching this with a measure of vigilance and awareness that we were on probation for real and important and legitimate reasons, just in terms of concern around our financial stability, long term, and governance,” said Bull.

“I think the main question with Goddard is: ‘If they’re a cat, are they on life seven, eight, nine or 10?’” --Virginia Sapiro, Boston University

The college has made “significant steps” since last September, he said, when the New England Commission of Higher Education voted to place Goddard on probation for up to two years. That followed NECHE's finding that the college “does not now meet the commission’s standards on Institutional Resources and organization and governance.” It remains accredited during the probation.

Since then, Bull said, Goddard has raised record amounts in donations from alumni -- as of March 6, the college had exceeded its fund-raising goal for the year and had raised more than in any year in the last decade, he said. He declined to provide specific totals.

“It’s not millions of dollars,” he cautioned. “And we’re a tuition-dependent institution. What that does speak to is the amount of support that we have from the alumni for Goddard’s future.”

He added, “We are not where we want or need to be for the long term yet, but we’re definitely on that track.”

Goddard has cut a handful of full- and part-time positions as it strategizes about how to build enrollment -- Bull declined to provide enrollment details, but the college’s marketing director late last year told the news site VTDigger that 409 students had enrolled last fall, about half as many as in 2010.

Despite its challenges, Bull, who arrived in November from Concordia University Wisconsin, where he was an education professor, vice provost of curriculum and chief innovation officer, said he plans to move his family, including two teenage children, to Vermont at the end of the school year. Bull took the job after Goddard's previous president, Robert Kenny, declined to renew his contract.

In an email, Kenny declined to talk specifically about Goddard's troubles but said it is "a tremendous asset and unique place for students to experience truly progressive, learner-driven education. I hate to see Goddard under the duress that many small colleges are experiencing, but it is a small college."

Kenny, who is now vice president for finance and administration at Randolph College in Lynchburg, Va., added, "I shudder to think of the adverse effect on the higher education landscape of a scenario in which truly progressive institutions are lost."

Highly Dependent on Tuition

These days, closures among small New England colleges are nearly endemic. In Vermont alone, three colleges have announced just this year that they will close: in January, Green Mountain College said the spring 2019 semester will be its last. On March 4, Southern Vermont College said it would close its doors, unable to bounce back from a January decision by NECHE that it was considering withdrawing accreditation based on the college's finances. Most recently, the College of St. Joseph announced that it will shut down at the end of the semester.

Boston University scholar Virginia Sapiro, who is writing a book on the “ecology” of higher education in the U.S., including the birth, death and rebirth of colleges, has written recently that demographics play a role: Vermont has seen the largest population decline of any state, she noted. Vermont is already a small state, of course, with a relatively large number of schools and colleges per capita, “some of them proudly iconoclastic, many with a history of resource challenges. It should not be surprising that Vermont has suffered a large number of losses.”

Sapiro said a few key factors determine whether small private institutions in Vermont and elsewhere live or die. Most colleges that fail, she said, are small, private and relatively nonselective, with “very particular or unusual missions” and graduation rates that are often as low as those at nonelite public universities. Federal figures show Goddard’s graduation rate at 39 percent, worse than the national average of 66 percent at private nonprofit institutions and 60 percent at all institutions. Goddard graduates' median earnings 10 years after entering were also lower than average, at $25,400.

In fiscal year 2018, the most recent available, Goddard reported $9.6 million in total revenue. Of that, $8.2 million came from net tuition, fees and housing, totaling about 85 percent of revenue.

It reported a $646,975 deficit. The college in 2017 borrowed $2.1 million to build a wood-chip plant, unveiled last November, that heats much of the campus. It replaces 23 oil-burning heaters, the college said.

Goddard's tiny $1.3 million endowment, created less than a decade ago, provided little income last year.

In its most recent financial disclosure, the college's auditors noted the deficit -- the previous year it totaled $116,581 -- and said a "steep decline in operating cash flow, as well as the loss in current year operations, can be attributed to steadily declining tuition revenue. Given this decline in the college's cash flow, there is substantial doubt about the college's ability to continue as a going concern."

Auditors said Goddard's plans to reverse declines in enrollment, deficits and cash flow would be essential to the college's continued operations. They noted that the college now has a fully staffed admissions department "after a year challenged by vacancies," and that enrollment had stabilized in the past year.

Sapiro said Goddard, like many colleges of its size and general profile, has survived past crises, but that it’s not clear how many more it can outlast. “I think the main question with Goddard is: ‘If they’re a cat, are they on life seven, eight, nine or 10?’”

NECHE probation allows Goddard to remain accredited for two years while it puts its finances in order -- and to retain the ability to remain eligible for federal funding, including student financial aid. That is key to Goddard’s survival, college officials said in their recent filings: federally funded student assistance, grants and loans represented about 75.2 percent of revenues from students in 2018, the college noted.

Goddard officials noted, “A reduction or related change in the federally funded student assistance programs could adversely affect the ability of the students to pay the tuition and other costs of attendance. This, in turn, could adversely affect the college’s revenues.”

‘They All Came Because of Goddard’

Goddard’s advocates would say there’s something about the place that can’t be replicated and shouldn't be lost.

“Goddard historically is very important to Vermont and to the community, not just in Plainfield but surrounding communities,” said Susan Stitely, president of the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges. Stitely also lives nearby and said Goddard has brought dozens of important artists to the area -- in addition to Mamet and Shepp, other alumni include novelists Piers Anthony and Walter Mosley and memoirist Mary Karr.

Journalist Jesse Jarnow, in his 2016 book Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, noted that most of the members of the psychedelic rock band Phish attended Goddard in the 1980s -- guitarist Trey Anastasio and drummer Jon Fishman transferred there from the University of Vermont, Jarnow wrote, and keyboardist Page McConnell, already at Goddard, earned $100 for bringing in the two new recruits.

The trio would go on, in Jarnow’s words, to take advantage of “the finest $5,400-a-year DIY education a loving parent can purchase for his or her curious, open-minded, self-motivated child.”

The band would take over the campus music building on the edge of the woods for several winters. Anastasio’s 1988 senior thesis, now a collector’s item among Phish fans, was an essay and hourlong art-rock concept album titled The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday.

“They all came because of Goddard,” Stitely said.

In 2014, Goddard students selected alumnus Mumia Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker. Abu-Jamal, who was imprisoned following his conviction for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, finished his bachelor's degree in prison, where he also recorded his videotaped speech -- despite protests from law enforcement groups.

While Goddard's self-directed, highly personalized education is not for everyone, Stitely said, “It’s important to have those options for people who are mature and know what they want to do and can craft their own type of degree.”

Seeking Partnerships

Avram Patt, a Goddard alumnus and former Goddard trustee, recalled arriving at the college in the early 1970s, after two years at Columbia University, which was then embroiled in strikes that closed the Manhattan campus. He'd dropped out of Columbia and was working at odd jobs but never stopped thinking about returning to college. He’d grown up in the Bronx but had spent summers in the country. Patt heard about Goddard from a friend, who described it as a different kind of education and a way to “get out of the city and into the mountains.”

Patt enrolled as what passed for an English major. At the end of his first semester, in 1970, the group Bread & Puppet Theater moved from its original home on New York City’s Lower East Side to a farm adjacent to the Goddard campus. They needed student apprentices, and he applied. He soon learned that what they needed most was a bus driver, so he learned to drive a bus. Patt graduated two years later, with a self-created major in the mythology of the American West. But his experiences with the theater troupe led him to an early career developing the public transportation system in central Vermont.

He’d go on to do antipoverty work in state government and ultimately to Washington Electric Co-op, where he'd become general manager -- “which is not what I thought I’d be when I grew up,” he said.

Patt recalled that after he took the job, he placed a notice in Goddard’s alumni newsletter that read, “I may be the only utility CEO ever to have graduated from Goddard.” He waited for others to say they, too, ran power companies. Nobody ever did.

Patt and his wife, also a Goddard alum -- she created a major in early childhood and environmental education and dance -- already make an annual contribution to the college “that’s very much on the high end” of what they can afford. But when the call went out for more, he said, they gave more.

Bull said alumni, as well as students, staff, faculty and friends of the college, “have stepped up and given -- some have given for the first time. Others who have given in the past have offered to help out more than they usually would. So it’s been wonderful. We’re continuing an aggressive fund-raising goal for this year.”

In addition to the cuts, Bull said he’s developing potential strategic partnerships with other institutions, including two-year colleges and professional associations -- he wouldn’t immediately say which ones -- whose employees or members “could really benefit from what we have to offer.”

“We don’t expect that we will do everything alone -- this is not a Lone Ranger endeavor,” he said.

Goddard is also considering offering noncredit continuing education and hosting events on campus, Bull said. “It’s certainly a diverse set of strategies that we’re leaning into.”

“There is no public debate that we need to win. There are ample people who are not satisfied with the traditional system who want something different, or better, or that better aligns with their own values.” --Bernard Bull

Bull said Goddard's survival matters. “If there are not colleges that have an alternative model that aligns with it, they may go into the standard system and do quite well, as many do. But maybe they want to find a community that resonates with those same values.”

Actually, he said, Goddard’s small size works in its favor: in a nation of more than 320 million people, each fall Goddard recruits fewer than a thousand prospective students. “So we don’t have to have the majority population.”

Perhaps most importantly, Bull said, he sees room for many different kinds of education models. “There is no public debate that we need to win,” he said. “There are ample people who are not satisfied with the traditional system who want something different, or better, or that better aligns with their own values.”

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Temple sees mumps outbreak with more than 100 cases

Tue, 2019-04-02 07:00

More than 100 confirmed or probable cases of mumps have been diagnosed at Temple University as an outbreak that began with just a few cases in February continues to spread across the Philadelphia campus.

City Department of Health officials believe that the close quarters in which college students live has accelerated the spread of the disease, and they expect more cases to be diagnosed.

Although mumps and other highly contagious viral diseases such as measles have largely been eradicated in the United States, there have been sporadic outbreaks in pockets of the country that have been largely attributed to so-called anti-vaxxers, or parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. College students are generally susceptible to outbreaks of all kinds of contagious diseases, including certain strains of meningitis and the flu.

The Philadelphia health department on Monday reported 18 confirmed mumps cases and 90 probable cases associated with the outbreak. The university already held a free vaccination clinic, administering booster shots for mumps to nearly 5,000 students and staffers as of last week. Other students and professors were vaccinated at the campus health center, which is still offering shots, said Ray Betzner, a university spokesman.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine (which stands for measles, mumps and rubella and protects against all three) during childhood. The first shot is generally given when a child is between a year and 15 months old and a second booster shot is given between ages 4 and 6, normally about the time when most children begin attending school.

Mumps is well-known for the characteristic severe swelling it causes in the cheeks and neck, but other symptoms range from a fever and headache to aches and loss of appetite. In some cases, deafness can occur, and more dangerous complications can happen after puberty, including inflammation of the testicles or ovaries.

A person who has received a single dose of the MMR vaccine has about a 78 percent chance of not contracting mumps and a 88 percent chance of prevention with the second dose, according to the CDC. Health officials said, however, that while the measles and rubella components of the vaccine are strong, the protection against mumps tends to fade as people age. Few people receive a third booster shot, they said.

Mumps is spread through spit and mucus, so college students who are often packed together in classes and dormitories or who share drinks and food are particularly susceptible, said Susan Even, chairwoman of the American College Health Association’s Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Advisory Committee and executive director of the University of Missouri at Columbia’s Student Health Center. Symptoms don’t usually show up until at least two weeks after someone is infected, but it can take up to a month, allowing the virus to spread undetected, Even said.

The outbreak at Temple is believed to have originated with a person who traveled internationally, said Jim Garrow, city health department spokesman. Garrow did not identify whether the person was a student. Mumps is a common disease in other countries such as in Japan, where people are not routinely vaccinated against it.

The university first announced the outbreak on Feb. 28 with just a few students testing positive. More and more cases were confirmed throughout March. An online petition, which has since been taken down, pressed for university administrators to close the campus until the outbreak was eliminated. Temple officials did not consider this option and the city health department did not recommend it because it would not halt the spread of the disease, said Betzner. A visitor to campus and even a student wouldn’t necessarily catch mumps merely by being in the presence of someone who had contracted it, he said.

Only about 20 percent of the cases occurred among students who live on campus, said Betzner. Students can ask for cleaning supplies for their dorm rooms if they are worried about contracting the illness, he said. And students whose roommates or suite mates have contracted mumps can change rooms. The city health department has said those who are sick should stay away from healthy individuals for at least five days.

The university did not require incoming students to have the MMR vaccination, but administrators have since revised the university's policies and will request verification that students received the vaccination beginning next academic year, Betzner said. The CDC recommends a third booster shot only for people who live in the area of an outbreak.

Many colleges and universities require students to receive the vaccine before coming to campus, Even said. She noted, however, that some institutions do not have the resources to check the health records of every first-year student.

College campuses have encountered mumps outbreaks before. More than 420 cases of mumps were diagnosed at the University of Missouri in 2016. All of the infected students had received the university’s required two doses of MMR. More than 450 mumps cases were diagnosed at the University of Iowa and the surrounding area from 2015 to 2016.

Even said that while every case is different, she doesn’t attribute the Temple outbreak to a rise in anti-vaccine sentiment, but rather just the circumstances of attending college. Measles cases surging nationwide have been linked to the movement, and some states have introduced laws to require parents to vaccinate their children.

“Even with just one dose of the vaccine, the complications are much milder,” Even said. “I feel like that’s important. It’s nothing like complications before the vaccine era, before the '60s, and mumps vaccine … we hear about an era in which no one had been vaccinated, and we don’t want to go back to that.”

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Colleges award tenure

Tue, 2019-04-02 07:00

Bowdoin College

  • Maggie Solberg, English
  • Leah Zuo, history and Asian studies
  • Manuel E. Diaz-Rios, neuroscience and biology

Converse College

  • Will Case, chemistry and biochemistry
  • Susanne Gunterm, art
  • Julie Jones, education
  • Chandra Owenby Hopkins, theater
  • Valerie MacPhail, music

Lawrence University

  • Allison Fleshman, chemistry
  • Alyssa Hakes, biology
  • Brian Piasecki, biology

Misericordia University

  • Anna Fedor, chemistry
  • Jessica Sofranko Kisenwether, speech-language pathology
  • Jodi Piekarski Loughlin, teacher education
  • Susan McDonald, social work
  • Ryan Weber, fine arts
  • Joshua D. Winneker, business

Pacific University

  • Anne Hogan, audiology
  • Steve Rhine, education
  • R. Brigg Turner, pharmacy
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Thirteen professors withdraw their labor from one of Yale's most diverse majors

Mon, 2019-04-01 07:00

Yale University announced with some fanfare in 2015 that it was devoting $50 million over five years to faculty diversity.

Three-plus years later, all 13 tenured professors who serve one of the university’s most diverse majors are withdrawing their labor from that program.

In a resignation announcement Friday, the faculty members said they can’t adequately serve the 87 declared majors in ethnicity, race and migration studies, or ER&M, under their current circumstances. The professors, who all have permanent appointments in other departments, say they lack the autonomy and resources that Yale has promised them time and again.

Yale disagrees with the professors’ assessment, saying that the program’s faculty size has enjoyed a “high rate of growth” and that the university “greatly values” ER&M.

The professors -- who say they essentially volunteer their time to ER&M -- won’t leave the program immediately. They intend to do what they can to help current junior and senior majors graduate on time. But Yale’s statement of its support for the program doesn’t match the facts, they say. And if nothing changes, the program will have no tenured professors serving it by 2020.

For more than 15 years, “faculty members have held dozens of meetings with upper administrators regarding the status of the ER&M program, emphasizing that the president and others should not expect faculty to volunteer their labor to support the academic unit,” reads the professors’ announcement. “In 2011, 2015 and 2016 the university president, the provost and the dean of the faculty repeatedly promised to change the status and funding of the program, but those promises were not kept.”

Yale’s program on race, ethnicity and migration was established in 1997 and has grown significantly in enrollments and numbers of majors in recent years. That’s due in part to Yale’s increasingly diverse student body and the rise of these key issues in discourses national and international. But Yale has failed to materially recognize that growth, professors say.

Because ER&M has no tenured faculty of its own, for example, professors say it’s a constant scramble to make sure that required courses for the major are staffed and that enough electives are offered. Similarly, professors in the program have no say in the tenure and promotion decisions of their colleagues, which all happen in their home departments.

“Even having this group of 13 tenured faculty contributing to ER&M our students don’t have a full set of courses in this program,” said Alicia Schmidt Camacho, program chair and professor of American studies. “We are not meeting the needs of majors because our faculty are overtaxed and performing labor across the university, principally because there is a shortage of people with our expertise and faculty of color.”

Echoing research demonstrating that professors of color are called up disproportionately (and without compensation) to mentor students of color and perform other diversity-related service tasks, the professors say they’re stretched thin beyond their research and teaching -- in ways that hurt students.

Stephen Pitti, onetime program chair and professor of history and American studies (and Camacho's partner), has served ER&M since it began. Pitti said that the growth of the major has of course been positive. Yet “the program has lost literally dozens of contributing faculty over the last 20 years, faculty who volunteered their labor to the program but did not see their efforts rewarded by the university.”

President Peter Salovey said in a statement that the university greatly values the work of faculty colleagues in the program, and regrets “their decision to withdraw from it, and in this manner.”

Yale “will make sure that affected students are given the resources and support they need, and we remain hopeful that an agreement can be reached that works well for everyone,” he said.

Last year Yale hired two new senior professors into the ER&M program and expects to hire two additional senior faculty members this year, Salovey said. That’s “a very high rate of growth, in keeping with the five-year, $50 million effort the university has undertaken to improve the diversity and excellence of its faculty.”

In that initiative’s first three years, he added, Yale has hired more than 60 new professors across campus, “who bring diversity and excellence to our ranks.”

Salovey said it’s his “great hope we can discuss the future of ER&M in a spirit of collegiality: the program and its wonderful students deserve no less.”

Still, professors in the program say university statistics about the program are short on transparency -- such as where the new professors are going on campus. Daniel Martinez HoSang, associate professor of American studies, came to Yale in 2017 and is presumably one of recent ER&M hires to which Salovey referred. But HoSang said that while his appointment letter said he’d split his time between American studies and ER&M, the university now lists him as an American studies professor with a courtesy appointment in political science.

The lack of clarity surrounding his appointment is a source of ongoing confusion, he said -- especially because his prior institution, the University of Oregon, had crystalline policies about how he was to split his time between appointments, and on tenure and promotion criteria for teaching, research and service in each program.

“Having worked for an institution like that for 10 years, coming to an institution where internal documents contradict each other on these key issues, it’s pretty shocking, frankly,” HoSang said.

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National Science Foundation's experiment on federal career trajectories

Mon, 2019-04-01 07:00

The National Science Foundation has completed the first phase of an experiment to tap outside expertise to design tools for a better understanding of the skills needed for jobs at the large federal agency, which employs 2,100 workers at its headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

The project, dubbed the Career Compass Challenge, aims to tap technology such as artificial intelligence to map the knowledge and skills its employees need and have earned. Its goal is to help employees plot a path for changing careers or moving up in their current job, and to assist them in continuously developing their skills.

The agency described its vision of this form of lifelong learning on a website about the experiment.

“Imagine a mechanism that rapidly enables an individual to match their skills and interests to current and future work opportunities, leveraging advanced technologies which incorporate learning and development needs (traditional, nontraditional and experiential) and that provides direct access to options for obtaining the relevant expertise to ready the individual for the chosen work,” it said.

A motivator for the NSF is its own struggle to have an adaptable and prepared work force.

“Federal employees no longer stay on a linear career path in the same field for most of their careers. Instead, many employees are branching out by making lateral moves into different fields,” the agency said.

The NSF said the HR challenges it faces are not unique.

“No industry will be immune to the way advances in technology change the nature of work. As a pressing example, we are facing critical gaps in matching people with data science and cybersecurity skills with the right mission needs,” it said. “NSF believes that, along with other agencies and organizations, the best way to maintain a work force ready to carry out its mission is to encourage a culture of continuous learning, and to empower each person to refresh and modernize their skills toward future work.”

A successful outcome for the project might be just to help to spur a national conversation about how to modernize the American work force through giving people more information about career trajectories, said Robyn Rees, budget lead and governance and strategy adviser for information technology at the agency.

“Might we stimulate the economy to respond to a need for the federal government?” she said. “The goal is to see what’s possible.”

Tool for the Federal Work Force

Even so, the experiment also is designed to create a specific, technology-powered application for defining job skills first at the NSF, then across the federal government. And the agency plans to share publicly what it learns and develops for possible use by the private sector.

Five Winner Papers

NSF selected five white papers to help guide the prototype tool's creation:

  • "A GPS for Learning and Work," by Peter Smith, which envisions a case-based approach to recording and validating learning and linking it to college credentials and job requirements;
  • "E-TAG: Employee Training and Growth Through Electronic Games," by April Edwards and Lynne Edwards, which describes an online gaming platform to evaluate workers' skills and give guidance on how to better apply and develop them;
  • "My Career Compass," by C2 Technologies and George Mason University, which examines how to use emerging technologies to help workers select customized career-path options;
  • "ACCESS: An Integrated Service Platform for Preparing Future Workforce," by Zhe Sage Chen, which describes a personalized, technology-driven career compass that provides data-driven job market recommendations and continuous learning strategies; and
  • "The Career CHARTING App," by Beverly P. Woolf and Andrew S. Lan, which envisions an application to analyze a worker’s skills, propose future careers, suggest growth paths and provide training options.

Rees said the NSF broke the work into two parts. First came a call for big idea concept papers from higher education, industry and beyond. The next phase, which it begins on April 15, is a competition for proposals to build a prototype. Authors of the winning concept papers each get a $5,000 prize from the NSF, while the prototype design comes with a $75,000 prize.

On Friday the agency released the five papers it selected from among roughly 60 submissions. Most of the authors work in higher education. And their papers generally envision a role for colleges in helping employees at NSF and other federal agencies develop their skills.

One of the winning papers was written by Peter Smith, endowed chair and professor of innovative practices in higher education at the University of Maryland University College. Smith’s paper describes a “GPS for learning and work,” which would use a case-based approach to validate and record learning by NSF employees, and link that knowledge and skill with college credentials and job requirements.

The GPS system would assess and map common skills needed for the hierarchical levels of federal jobs across agencies -- say a GS-7 -- as well as what an employee at that level knows and can do in a particular agency and role. Smith said the GPS also would determine what those skills should be worth academically, through college credits and credentials.

As a hypothetical, Smith said perhaps a GS-7 at the Environmental Protection Agency would have enough competencies to have earned half of a master’s degree.

Algorithms, AI and other emerging technologies make this form of prior learning assessment possible, said Smith, an author and former U.S. congressman who has held an unusually wide variety of jobs in higher education, including as the founding president of a community college and a regional public university, as well as a stint at Kaplan Higher Education.

“It comes down to the mapping,” he said. “That’s something we couldn’t do 20 years ago.”

Rees agreed that technology opens doors for the NSF in its “talent review process.” She said the challenge project seeks to crowdsource ideas for using AI and other tools to devise quicker and more intuitive ways to work with data about jobs.

“We want people to join the conversation,” said Rees.

The NSF’s stature and reputation for rigor could boost broader efforts to develop and use more granular skills data, Smith said. And it would be a big deal if the NSF succeeds in creating a careers app for the huge federal work force.

He described the experiment by the highly respected government agency as a “real potential lever.”

The NSF also wants its project to help prod broad change in work-force development.

“We want to spark the thinking of the best and brightest to co-create a solution that can enable individual skill matching and tailored training for the work force for the 21st century,” the agency said.

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Letter criticizing Notre Dame women for wearing leggings prompts campus debate

Mon, 2019-04-01 07:00

The fashion sense of a contingent of female Roman Catholic students at Mass one day at the University of Notre Dame was too much for one Maryann White, a self-described God-fearing mother of four boys. She wrote an essay urging women there to reject a dastardly kind of dress -- leggings.

The letter signed by White appeared last week in Notre Dame’s student newspaper, The Observer, describing how the writer had purportedly been aghast by the presence of leggings so tight they appeared to “had been painted on” their wearers at a university service last fall.

“I wonder why no one thinks it’s strange that the fashion industry has caused women to voluntarily expose their nether regions in this way,” the letter reads. “I was ashamed for the young women at Mass. I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds.”

The behinds, the letter went on to describe, were “blackly naked.” It ended with a plea: please, Notre Dame "girls," buy jeans instead.

Students on the campus -- one of the most prominent Catholic institutions in the country -- rallied against the letter’s arguments.

The words spawned multiple demonstrations around campus. This perhaps wasn’t an unforeseen consequence -- battles over the formfitting fashion outside the gym have been waged in local school districts, especially -- see here for a case of a Minnesota principal who emailed every family in the school, asking his female students to cover their behinds if they were wearing leggings because they were distracting. In another bizarre display, an assistant principal at a North Dakota high school used clips from Pretty Women to link leggings to being a sex worker.

And Notre Dame has already encountered a similar controversy. In 2011, a male student wrote to The Observer that he was appalled by a woman wearing tights in the dining hall, apparently exposing her private area to him in the process. “Ladies, Be Decent,” the headline read.

“My reasoning is that if a woman apparently doesn’t respect herself enough to present herself in a nonrisqué manner in everyday life, I cannot trust her to respect me. I’d be wary about pursuing anyone like that,” the student wrote at the time.

Throughout last week, students at Notre Dame donned leggings in protest of the new letter.

Notre Dame students protested Maryann White's op-ed in The Observer by wearing leggings today for #leggingsdayND. Here's why Nicole Waddick showed up: pic.twitter.com/t9DCX4aFRc

— The Observer (@NDSMCObserver) March 26, 2019

“Join in our legging-wearing hedonism!” the creator of one of protests last Tuesday, Love Your Leggings Day, wrote on Facebook. “Or not because what you wear is completely your own choice!”

A student group called Irish 4 Reproductive Health also deemed Tuesday Leggings Pride Day. On Facebook, more than 1,400 people expressed interest in the event.

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, members of the group described how the issues hit on in the letter were connected to much broader problems that affect women, such as sexual violence.

After news of the controversy spread around the country, some of the students publicly posted tweets that were subject to ridicule -- commentators shamed their weight, questioned why the group existed and threw foul language at the women.

A graduate student and group member, Chissa Rivaldi, said that the criticism around leggings may seem minor, but when women are constantly exposed to passing sexual comments or attacks on how they should dress, it shapes their worldview. She noted too how the letter placed responsibility on women to change how they dress, rather than chastising men for looking at them inappropriately.

“In some ways, it’s illustrating the very point that women are being attacked for just having bodies,” said Kate Bermingham, another graduate student and member of Irish 4 Reproductive Health. “This is feeding into that dangerous narrative.”

Rivaldi said even undergraduates who are not always as politically attuned to campus or broader issues have taken notice -- she said after the essay was published, she heard small clusters of women around campus chatting about it. Others have made leggings-related memes and posted them around social media -- a good measure of how much undergraduates are interested in something, Rivaldi said with a laugh.

And The Observer has been constantly pushing out responses to the initial letter all last week. Major news outlets, and Inside Higher Ed, failed to locate White or evidence of her four sons, perhaps lining up with theories online that she doesn’t exist and the opinion piece was an early April Fools’ Day prank or merely meant to incite debate through parody.

One male student, Shane Combs, wrote in The Observer that the women on campus should be able to wear whatever they like. He said he was raised with two sisters and feels a natural protectiveness, but that they should be allowed to express themselves how they wish.

“I, like my male classmates, know the responsibility to see a person for their whole self is my own. If either of my sisters are ever mistreated or disrespected by a man, at no time will I ask what they were wearing. It is simply not relevant,” Combs wrote.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Mon, 2019-04-01 07:00
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Beloit cancels Erik Prince talk after student protests

Fri, 2019-03-29 07:00

In a raucous performance-inspired protest, students at Beloit College on Wednesday shut down a planned speech by Erik Prince, an associate of President Trump and the controversial founder of the security company Blackwater.

Administrators canceled Prince’s chat following student protests in which they banged on drums and built a barricade of chairs on the stage where Prince was due to give his talk. The incident was the latest in a string of free expression occurrences on college campuses where students have intentionally drowned out speakers whose views they find distasteful. Most controversial speakers who seek to address campuses are able to do so, though episodes like this one have led to calls for colleges and universities to do more to prevent speech-interrupting protests.

Trump has spoken out about the issue repeatedly (ignoring challenges to free speech in which conservatives have shut down ideas they don't like). Trump recently signed an executive order that would deny federal research funds to those public universities that do not meet their First Amendment obligations. Private colleges are also subject to the order (not by First Amendment standards, but by their own stated policies).

The public focus on speaker shout-downs started more than two years ago with Middlebury College, where controversial author Charles Murray, who is often accused of being racist, was interrupted by hundreds of students -- at least 67 students were punished in some form because of the protests. While Trump has tended to attack public institutions over free inquiry, a number of these incidents have involved private institutions such as Middlebury and Beloit. And while Trump has said institutions have done nothing about these protests, Middlebury would be but one example of a college that punished those who blocked speech -- and Murray has spoken at numerous colleges since.

Still, the timing of the Beloit incident will likely add to the criticism of higher education on these issues.

Beloit has said it will investigate the incident, but it has not disclosed whether students could be punished.

Prince, the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, was invited by the Beloit chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a national conservative group, to discuss the private sector’s contributions to national security.

Employees at Blackwater, now known as Academi, were implicated in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007. Four former Blackwater guards were convicted in 2014 of murder, manslaughter and weapons charges. Many people continue to question Blackwater's role in U.S. foreign affairs.

Backlash was immediate after YAF’s announcement that it had invited Prince. One student was even briefly suspended from the college after writing a heated essay on Facebook criticizing the student chairman of YAF (though the student also was being judged on a number of other questionable social media posts).

Largely, the protests on Wednesday night were organic and planned separately, not in conjunction with a single student organization.

One group, Students for an Inclusive Campus, planned alternative activities during the Prince talk. Its members set up tables of food on a separate floor from where Prince was slated to speak at Pearsons Hall and arranged a show with drag queens in the building’s basement.

It also put together a walkout. About 200 attendees had gathered in the room prior to Prince’s talk, but a huge chunk left about 15 minutes before the event began, according to one student, Rose Johnson, who participated in the protests. Johnson uses they/them pronouns.

About five minutes before the talk, the drum line arrived, Johnson said -- part of a band that plays shows on the campus. Johnson and their friends had brought Bluetooth speakers to blare pop music on, which ended up not being in use because of the din.

Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, was supposed to speak at Beloit College more than 30 minutes ago. So far, protests seem to have delayed that. pic.twitter.com/JarR5EvVlF

— Angela Major (@angela_major_) March 28, 2019

Prince was delayed by at least 40 minutes, Johnson said, and in that time, the students started taking chairs and stacking them on the stage. From the wall of furniture, students hung a banner that read “Erik Prince = War Criminal.”

Shortly after that, Cecil Youngblood, the interim dean of students, announced to a room of cheering students that the college had canceled the event for safety reasons.

Wednesday night the college released a statement saying it would investigate the incident.

“As an institution of higher learning, open dialogue on all topics is one of our core principles. Tonight’s events fell unacceptably short of this core principle, and we condemn the behavior of those who disrupted the event,” the statement reads.

A representative for Beloit declined to comment further.

President Scott Bierman emailed campus on Thursday morning condemning the interruption, writing, “We need to be better than this.”

“The principles undergirding our free inquiry policies are fundamentally democratic,” Bierman wrote in the email. “To those who disrupted the talk: Do you really want to learn at an institution where there are self-appointed editors who shut down free inquiry because they believe they know what others ought to hear? I do not. That approach to education violates all that this college has historically stood for.”

Beloit's policy on demonstrations, which was revised in August, states that no person has the right to disrupt a speech or presentation. It does not list the consequences for infringing on that rule, though the student code of conduct lists a range of possible punishments for all violations from fines to expulsion.

The campus chapter of YAF did not respond to a request for comment. Spencer Brown, spokesman for the national office, said that the group "is closely watching how Beloit College handles the situation that unfolded on their campus last night."

Brown did not answer a question about who funded the event.

Johnson said they do believe that higher education should be an open forum, but they disagreed with allowing certain figures who make students feel unsafe onto campuses. They said they consider the (primarily) residential college their home and “wouldn’t feel right” about allowing or listening to someone such as Prince in their own space.

“There is a difference between that and safety and security, especially for students who are directly affected by his actions,” Johnson said of Prince. “Students who are Muslim, students who are people of color. At the end of the day it was a question of whose safety we are protecting. My friends did not feel safe with that person on campus.”

Prince told the local press, The Beloit Daily News, that legal action could be taken against the college -- whether that’s the case is unclear, given it’s a private institution not subject to the First Amendment.

"It's sad the president and the administration of this college lacked the moral courage to enforce free speech and to defend free speech," Prince said in an interview with the newspaper. "Fortunately, President Trump will defend free speech and I think the college will be hearing from the court soon on this, because enough is enough."

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Questions about response by Tufts to possible incident of grade hacking

Fri, 2019-03-29 07:00

Just four months before she was due to graduate, Tiffany Filler was expelled from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Leaders at Tufts say Filler hacked into university systems and changed her grades. Filler says she has proof she didn’t do it.

Tufts is standing by its decision. But an article recently published by TechCrunch identified possible holes in the university's investigation. A petition demanding fair treatment for Filler has since been signed by hundreds of Tufts students and alumni.

Both the TechCrunch article and the petition posit that Tufts failed to follow its own procedures by not telling Filler the nature of the allegations made against her at least seven days before she was called into a hearing with the university's Ethics and Grievance Committee. Filler said she only knew that the investigation had “something to do with her computer” and had no idea about the specific allegations.

A report from Tufts' IT department to the grievance committee, shared by Filler with Inside Higher Ed, said the university had reason to believe she created a university account under the name Scott Shaw in late 2017. This account, which has the username “sshaw02,” was used to change Filler’s grades multiple times and to look at assessments prior to tests, the report said.

The sshaw02 account was discovered by the institution last July, the report said, when two assessments were deleted from the learning management system. Scott Shaw is a former assistant professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts who owns the user account sshaw01, but he has not taught at the institution for several years.

After seeing a pattern of activity that benefited Filler and noting that the IP address used by sshaw02 was the same as the one used by Filler, Tufts' Educational Technology Services and its Office of Information Security identified her as the culprit.

But Filler believes her laptop was compromised. A scan of the computer found malware that may have granted someone remote access to it, she said. And several times when Filler was accused of hacking, she said she has proof she was asleep or traveling without her laptop. Filler also said she lives with several people who share the same IP address and that the phone she owns is a different model than the one that Tufts said she used to access the university system.

“I do feel that there was a burden on me to prove my innocence rather than on them to prove my guilt,” said Filler in an email. “The school wanted me to provide irrefutable proof that I could not have done this. However, they threw out any evidence I brought forward, including sleep-tracker data, pictures, payment times, hospital records, as well as witness statements. Their minds had already been made up.”

Filler received her expulsion notice on Jan. 16 and was advised to return to her native Canada as soon as possible. Now back in Toronto, she is wondering what to do next. The expulsion notice is on her transcript, she said, which will make it difficult to transfer to another university.

“I have considered taking legal action against the university, and I do believe that I have a case. However, I do not have the $5,000-$6,000 required to take on a giant like Tufts, which is why I am unable to do so,” said Filler. “I would hope to overturn their decision more than anything else.”

Patrick Collins, a Tufts spokesman, said in an emailed statement that the institution understood the story had “upset a number of people, including students and others, who have raised concerns about the university’s review.”

“We are confident in our determination, which was based on the totality of evidence uncovered during our extensive review,” said Collins. “We recognize the gravity of student disciplinary decisions, and we take action only after thorough and thoughtful deliberation.”

As a private university, Tufts is obligated to follow its established procedures when investigating misconduct, said Scott Johnson, a professor at Purdue University Global's Concord Law School. Students are not always entitled to the same due process protections they might receive at a public institution, he said, except in the case of Title IX investigations.

In order to bring a successful court case against Tufts, he said, Filler would need to prove that the university failed to uphold its contractual obligations or broke state law. Few students have been successful in such cases.

There is a “low evidentiary standard” that private universities have to meet in order to say that it is “more likely than not that someone did something,” said Johnson. “The standard is pretty low in terms of what has to be presented. It falls on the student to bring in other evidence.”

Samantha Harris, vice president of policy research at the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that in Massachusetts, where Tufts is located, all institutions are required to conduct disciplinary hearings with “basic fairness.” But Harris agreed with Johnson that students’ rights at private universities are primarily contractual.

“This case illustrates the problem with universities adjudicating complex matters that also have potential criminal implications,” said Harris. “Universities do not have the powers that law enforcement does to subpoena evidence, compel witness testimony, nor do university judiciaries generally provide students with the types of procedural protections -- access to and the right to present evidence, the ability to call expert witnesses, the ability to cross-examine adverse witnesses, etc. -- that individuals have in courts of law.

Despite this, universities have the power “to effectively end a student’s career, and to brand him or her for life as someone who has committed a very serious offense,” said Harris. “This is not to say that universities should not address these important conduct issues -- they should -- but university processes need to be conducted with the utmost concern for the rights of everyone involved, and that is too often not what happens.”

Several questions remain about the investigation that Tufts conducted, said Jonathan Rajewski, founder and director of the Senator Leahy Center for Digital Investigation at Champlain College in Vermont. He wonders what other information the hacker might have had access to if they were able to view assessment and change grades. Tufts did not address questions about whether it reported a data breach or experienced any Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act violations.

The best way to determine what really happened would be to bring in outside experts with digital forensics expertise, said Rajewski. But he acknowledged this could quickly become a very expensive undertaking. From what little information has been made public by Tufts, he said, “There just isn’t enough evidence to know what happened.”

Brad Judy, information security officer at the University of Colorado system, said that incidents of student hacking are rare -- at a large university there might be just one or two reports a year.

It’s difficult for security staff to discern whether changes to student grades are legitimate or not, said Judy. Student conduct offices typically make security teams aware of unusual changes. And investigations usually are conducted internally, he said. Most large universities employ staff members with some digital forensics expertise. But it’s not unheard-of for institutions to get help from outside experts, or perhaps even call the Federal Bureau of Investigation if the scale of the attack warrants it.

A key defense against grade hacking is log-in systems with two-step authentication processes, said Judy. But it might be a good idea for faculty to occasionally check that the grades they have assigned students have remained unaltered, much like financial information may be subject to audits. Institutions can also set up alerts for unusual activities, such as log-ins from outside the country.

Investigations into student conduct are different across institutions, said Judy. But he feels perhaps there is room for such probes to feature more guidelines. "Adjudicating borderline criminal cases is a weird space to be in."

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