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Ask any college student how their day is going and they’ll likely say, “It's busy.”
“My students have résumés and CVs that are longer than most adults' when they’re 18,” said Justin McDaniel, a religion professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “They have internships up the ass, they shadowed this person, they won on the debate team."
Taking time for silence, self-reflection and introspection doesn't top students’ to-do lists, and neither does seeking out mental health services, McDaniel said. "They look at it as taking up time.”
Several programs -- including McDaniel’s course at Penn, a student group at Princeton University and a contemplative studies course at Vassar College -- share a common goal: encourage students to slow down, relax and learn how to manage the problems they’ll face outside of college.
McDaniel teaches a course that meets once a week for seven hours, with no homework, no tests and no syllabus. Instead, every Tuesday he hands students a book upon arrival, which they read from cover to cover. After four or five hours of silent reading time, the group discusses the book.
The 300-level course, called “Existential Despair,” isn’t about anything, McDaniel said; it’s a place where students can “learn for the sake of learning, reflect for the sake of reflection and talk about issues that will actually come up as adults.”
Such issues include addiction, a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one or losing a job. In past semesters, McDaniel assigned Junkie by William Burroughs, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.
"They can all reflect upon [the book] because they’re all experts on that book,” he said.
Leveling the playing field was a priority for McDaniel, who noticed that students without a humanities background often shy away from taking literature courses for fun.
“They go into these classes and they feel intimidated because they don’t know Foucault’s latest theory on Shakespeare … then they get resentful of the people who actually didn’t do the reading but [participate] in discussion,” he said.
He’s noticed a huge difference in the quality of class discussions, in and outside class.
“In 17 years of teaching, there is no comparison,” he said. “It’s the best conversation I’ve ever had in a classroom.”
The students are graded on attendance and participation, and they’re required to write a two- to three-page journal entry each week, which they often complete in class. They also contribute to an online, weeklong discussion forum.
In his other classes, McDaniel said, “I pose questions online and people would write two or three lines to get their five points. Now, I’m getting five to six pages from each student, and they’re responding to each other.”
He also observed a gender flip during conversations. Women are speaking up more often than men, the reverse of the norm at Penn.
Each reading period includes a 20- to 30-minute dinner break, and McDaniel collects students’ cellphones at the beginning of class. Students spread out across three floors of a building and bring tea, coffee and food for a partner McDaniel assigns.
“We say these kids are addicted to technology -- they’re not. When I started this class I thought there was going to be tons of napping, and there’s not. It’s so rare, so rare,” he said.
Alec Gewirtz, a senior religion major at Princeton University, had a similar goal. Last February he founded Workshop No. 1, a student group that meets on Saturday mornings to work through questions and problems students confront outside of their academic lives.
“Students didn’t have a place where they could reflect on how to build more fulfilling lives,” Gewirtz said. “They often found that they couldn’t do that in the classrooms, and students who weren’t involved in religious groups didn’t have a place where they can do that.”
Gewirtz likened the workshop to religious communities that people lean on for support and guidance, but the group has no religious ties or requirements to join. At each meeting, a student presents on a topic or problem they are facing in their own life -- such as building a meaningful relationship with their parents as adults, handling the death of a loved one or navigating some part of their career. Then, others will chime in about how they’ve confronted a similar problem. Discussions last about an hour.
Over 100 students are part of Workshop No. 1, and about 60 to 70 students attend the hourlong meetings any given week. In addition, they have the option to break into small groups of four members that meet on their own time to identify goals, create a plan and hold each other accountable.
Sophie Steinman-Gordon, a junior politics major, joined the workshop earlier this fall.
“I love it. I think that especially at a place like Princeton where your day-to-day life can get so consumed with school and stress that comes from school, it’s really important to have a space to step back,” she said.
In one meeting, Steinman-Gordon recalled a member who spoke about relationships and how to be vulnerable without relying too heavily on another person.
“The member who presented … her boyfriend was in the room,” she said. “That just is indicative about how healthy of a space it is, if someone can share something about an intimate relationship while their partner is in the room.”
Jaime Cuffe, a senior computer science major, said the group has fostered a fierce sense of community.
“It can be difficult to get a group of 50 people to commit to anything at Princeton, but what Alec has been able to create here as been really, really powerful,” he said. “There’s a saying that ‘we’re the average of the five of our closest friends.’ When I look around the room in any of the workshop sessions, I think, ‘I would be lucky to be the average of any of these five people.’”
At Vassar College in New York, Carolyn Palmer, a psychology professor, debuted an Introduction to Contemplative Studies class this fall. Each week, students in the class are introduced to different methods of contemplation and introspection -- everything from social justice and pilgrimage to journaling and meditation.
“People are thirsty for the tools and the experiences that broaden our lives, and the ways in which we can keep asking important questions of ourselves and of each other,” Palmer said.
In addition to regular classroom periods, students meet for a “lab” period once a week, similar to science course schedule. One day, a music professor walked students through the “soundscape” and asked them move slowly, focusing on their balance and what they heard. During another lab, a staff member at the counseling center led the students through meditation.
Ten students make up the pilot class, which is a typical class size for Vassar, and Palmer hopes that more students will be interested in the course once word spreads.
“They’re experiencing a wide variety of practices, and they’re reflecting on this for themselves. They are also interviewing other people about those people’s experience with contemplative practice, and then they do half-a-semester-long personal project that they want to explore in more depth,” Palmer said. “They’re getting first-person, second-person and third-person experience with contemplative studies.”Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Student lifeTeachingImage Source: Vincent PoImage Caption: Workshop No 1. at PrincetonIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Princeton UniversityUniversity of PennsylvaniaVassar College
In the last several years, colleges have been criticized for their climbing walls and lazy rivers, which signal to some too much spending on nonacademic matters.
Wait until those critics hear about the latest trend: concierges for students.
New Mexico State University’s nearly one-year old concierge service -- the Crimson Concierge program -- offers students everything from help booking vacations, to, for an extra fee, doing their laundry.
New Mexico State relies on a popular vendor among colleges and universities, Sodexo, to carry out Crimson Concierge, and the company said it intends to expand to other institutions.
“We are very aware of the fact that a large percentage of students are making their ultimate selection on schools that really can fulfill the ‘college experience,’” said Steve Bettner, assistant vice president of auxiliary services at New Mexico State. “Places that have amenities.”
Forbes in a column over the weekend declared New Mexico State’s program “the only one in the country,” which is not the case. High Point University, a private institution in North Carolina, has since 2007 operated a concierge service even more expansive than New Mexico State’s. The author of the Forbes piece, Christopher Elliott, the founder of a consumer nonprofit, praised the concierge service as a way to alleviate student stress.
Bettner said that to appeal to new students, New Mexico State realized it needed to be more competitive with other institutions with flashier offerings. Without the immediate budget to improve some of the buildings that were a half a century old or more, administrators settled on expanding its dining contract with Sodexo to include the concierge service, the vendor’s first. It launched in January.
After a slow rollout, the program is being much more aggressively marketed toward potential students, Bettner said. It is paid for not through university funds, but instead through partnerships with outside companies and charging a fee or commission on services students obtain through the concierge.
The concierge will research travel plans both locally and abroad -- the Forbes article highlights a student who helped plan his entire trip to southeast Asia (completely unrelated to his academics). Crimson Concierge also finds and makes dinner reservations, locates events in the area, and, for a little extra money, cleans and folds laundry and does housework.
Both students and their families have loved the program, which is housed in the university union, Bettner said. One of the staffers there is referred to as a “mother away from home” who “would do anything a mother would do,” which delights parents, Bettner said.
He acknowledged the criticism in academe of too much focus on facilities and not on academics, but said that this will help remove a “to-do list” for students and help them focus more on their studies.
“This significantly contributes to improving [graduation] numbers,” Bettner said. “That’s the goal that will bear out over time. We’re using this as a tool to help students through their matriculation and graduating on time.”
Ronni Schorr, global vice president of marketing for Circles, the part of Sodexo that administers the concierge program, said in an interview that the program doesn’t coddle students, but merely helps improve their lives. This benefits both international and domestic students, such as those who may be from out of state, Schorr said.
“They are the future leaders and they are very stressed,” Schorr said. “They have a lot going on their lives. Often they are going to college and university not in their home area, and getting acquainted with the area … and we want to relieve some of the stress they might feel.”
Schorr said Sodexo intends to expand to other institutions, but declined to name them given that contracts are not yet signed.
At High Point University, the concierge handles phone calls to the university and communications with parents and gives students free rides to the nearby airport, as well as some of the services that Crimson Concierge offers, such as travel reservations, said Lyndsey Derrow, the chief concierge. It also sponsors some programs that might be more traditionally housed in a career center, such as taking pictures for a LinkedIn profile or teaching communication skills.
In addition to the six full-time staff members, the concierge service also employs students to teach them more about the hospitality industry, Derrow said. She declined to say how much money the university devotes to the concierge.
Derrow said that the concierge service has contributed to 96 percent of High Point graduates landing a job within six months after they graduate -- she said that some critics will conflate “being nice,” as the concierges are, with handing out A's in the classroom.
“We want to be that resource for them and feel fully comfortable,” Derrow said. “We want them to feel like they can go to us for answers.”Editorial Tags: Student lifeImage Caption: Concierge service at High PointIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
Just two years ago, Democratic candidates settled on for-profit colleges as a favorite political target on the campaign trail.
ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges had recently collapsed, and regulators were pursuing high-profile investigations of other colleges, making the sector a compelling target for political barbs. And political donations from for-profit higher education made an attractive cudgel to swing at GOP opponents.
During this campaign season, though, for-profits have received little mention. And they’re mostly staying on the sidelines themselves.
For-profit chains that were once big-time spenders -- mostly on GOP campaigns -- have once again dropped their campaign spending in the midterm elections, a downward trend that has continued for multiple election cycles.
Bridgepoint Education Inc. steered more than $443,000 through its political action committee to candidates, parties and fund-raising committees two years ago. But the company, which owns Ashford University, has spent about $252,000 so far in the 2018 midterms, according to data analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.
A political action committee for the University of Phoenix's owner, Apollo Education Group, donated more than $195,000 through its PAC in the 2016 election, but has spent $47,500 in the current cycle.
And Education Management Corporation, which gave close to $147,000 through its PAC in the 2016 elections, filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
Industry observers say the sliding numbers reflect both the changing political environment in Washington -- and the weakened position of the industry. While for-profit colleges have notched key regulatory wins, enrollment across the sector began declining long before the Trump administration started putting its stamp on higher ed.
“They are not swimming in cash the way they were in previous cycles,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “But there also may be a different political judgment and a different political dynamic at work. They are very active when they felt like they were under existential threat.”
Political spending by for-profits peaked in the 2012 election cycle, when the sector poured money into congressional campaigns and political action committees.
That year, a Senate investigation led by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin wrapped up an investigation into for-profits. The Obama administration was crafting gainful-employment regulations that would sanction career education programs with poor rates of loan repayment among graduates. And the movement to seek loan forgiveness through the previously little-used borrower-defense process was well under way.
Enrollment in for-profit colleges peaked in 2012 as well and has been on the decline as the economy has continued to strengthen. For a sector already on its heels thanks to that trend and federal and state investigations, the 2016 election was seen as critical to deciding whether or not Obama-era regulations targeting the sector would go forward.
Under the Trump administration, for-profits have found the U.S. Department of Education to be much friendlier to their priorities. For example, among the first major steps taken by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was rolling back the gainful-employment and borrower-defense regulations.
The department has also extended a second chance to ACICS, a national accreditor to many for-profit colleges, which the Obama administration sought to eliminate. That decision kept federal student aid money flowing to dozens of colleges that couldn’t find approval from other accreditors.
“The sense of urgency is definitely diminished,” said Trace Urdan, a managing director at Tyton Partners who follows the for-profit education industry.
After lawmakers failed to make serious progress on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act in the past year, there’s also little expectation that a new law with major implications for for-profits will be passed any time before 2020 at the earliest.
“Why spend money to influence something that’s just not going to happen?” Urdan said.
Even as officials in Washington have created a friendlier regulatory environment, though, the industry has undergone a major restructuring that has had implications for entities that once played a big role in funding campaigns. There is less regulatory pressure on colleges, said Jeff Silber, a managing director and senior research analyst at BMO Capital Markets, but at the same time Phoenix and many of the other largest for-profit entities are smaller, and others like Corinthian have gone out of business entirely.
Meanwhile, Grand Canyon University converted to nonprofit status earlier this year. Kaplan University stopped issuing credentials after it formed a new public-private venture with Purdue University. And the parent company of DeVry University has agreed to sell the chain of colleges to a California-based private equity investor.
The trend in the sector’s political activity also is reflected by trade association representing for-profit colleges, once a big-time spender but this cycle much less of a factor in campaigns.
Career Education Colleges and Universities’ political action committee spent close to $300,000 on campaigns in 2012. But CECU, which by 2016 had seen its membership decline, gave more than $87,000 to campaigns through its PAC in the last election cycle. So far for this year’s midterm elections, the PAC has spent $57,000, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. At the peak of the group's political spending, it gave more than $367,000 to candidates and political action committees.
But Steve Gunderson, CECU’s president and CEO, said those numbers shouldn’t be interpreted as the group declaring victory on its federal priorities.
“We have found our most successful political engagement today is organizing and hosting events for members rather than simply raising money for the PAC and sending checks,” he said. “Our members, like everyone else in America, want to have some personal control over where their dollars go. The PAC is not as popular as a political vehicle,” he said.
Gunderson said the organization now goes as far as asking candidates and officeholders to visit a member college before CECU will send donations to campaigns -- a requirement he said he cleared with the Federal Elections Commission.
CECU has been as engaged as any group on federal higher ed policy in the Trump administration -- it backed the department’s overhaul of Obama-era student loan rules and lobbied hard for ACICS to keep federal recognition. And the PROSPER Act, House Republicans’ bid to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, reflected many of the group’s priorities.
But Gunderson said CECU is focusing more on engaging its member colleges than contacts in D.C.
“This is really about the future of your constituents, not about the politic of Washington,” he said.Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Federal policyFor-profit collegesPolitics (national)Ad Keyword: For-profit collegesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending:
A new report identifies 294 reported "attacks" on students, scholars or higher education institutions in 47 countries between Sept. 1, 2017, and Aug. 31 of this year.
"The incidents covered by this report are only a small portion of all incidents involving attacks on higher education over the previous year," says the report from Scholars at Risk, an organization that monitors academic freedom violations worldwide and also arranges for temporary positions for threatened scholars. "Nevertheless, they are sufficient evidence of a global crisis of attacks on scholars, students, and other members of the higher education community requiring a robust, global response."
Among the attacks documented in the "Free to Think 2018" report -- the latest in an annual series of reports from SAR's Academic Freedom Monitoring Project -- are 79 violent attacks against campuses or “higher education communities” across 27 countries, resulting in at least 77 deaths. These include violent attacks by gunmen or bombers targeting campuses in four countries -- Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan -- as well as targeted attacks on scholars or students in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Turkey and Yemen.
SAR also documented 41 instances of state or private security forces using violence against student protesters, including eight cases in which students were killed.
Other categories of attacks on higher education discussed in the report include cases of imprisonment or prosecution of scholars “in apparent retaliation for their scholarly work or expression,” instances in which scholars were dismissed or students expelled in connection with their academic speech or conduct, and restrictions on academic travel, which were reported in nine different countries.
The travel restrictions, which are among the less extreme types of attacks on higher education profiled in the report, include seemingly targeted ones barring the exit or entry or ordering the deportation of individual scholars or students, instances of which were reported in Cameroon, China, Hong Kong, Israel and Russia.
In addition, several countries have taken broad actions limiting the movement of certain scholars. India blocked participants of Pakistani origin from participating in an Asian studies conference in New Delhi. Tajikistan just repealed a regulation that would have required scholars and students traveling outside the country for academic or other official university purposes to obtain advance permission from the Ministry of Education and Science and submit a report on their travels upon their return. And Turkey has barred thousands of higher education personnel from international travel as part of a broader set of punitive measures against individuals accused of supporting a cleric the Turkish government blames for a 2016 coup attempt (more on Turkey below).
In addition, the report discusses reported difficulties foreign faculty members have faced in obtaining visas from Israel to teach at universities in the West Bank, and notes that in June the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Trump’s travel ban restricting entry to the U.S. for nationals of seven mostly Muslim-majority countries.
While much of the report focuses on violent attacks, arrests or detentions of scholars and other severe infringements on academic and personal freedoms in authoritarian or conflict-ridden nations, this year’s report also includes a section discussing partisan political tensions on U.S. campuses, including pressures from external groups that have held controversial events on campuses and what the report describes as the “political targeting of campus speech.”
“Also in the United States, provocative off-campus groups and individuals have chosen colleges and universities as the sites of controversial speeches and rallies that frequently result in confrontations,” the report states. “In several cases, these confrontations became violent, endangering students, faculty, and others. Political actors seeking to expose alleged bias among scholars and students have taken a variety of public measures, including the creation of online watchlists, surreptitious audio and video recording, and advancing restrictive and potentially overbroad legislation, all of which have prompted concerns about a shrinking campus space for free, open inquiry and debate.”
"It's not a coincidence that where there are tensions in society and combat over what the future of a society should be like that we see those tensions manifest within university communities," said Robert Quinn, executive director of the Scholars at Risk Network.
"The pressures we see on U.S. campuses are less physically severe, thankfully, than they are in Pakistan," Quinn continued, "but fundamentally the dynamic underneath it is the same -- the attempt to delegitimize certain ideas, to delegitimize certain conduct" -- that conduct being "the legitimacy of asking questions and demanding better answers."
Specific countries and issues of concern discussed in the SAR report include:
- An increase on reported attacks on higher education in Iran, including a crackdown on student protests leading to the arrest and imprisonment of students and professors on charges related to “propaganda against the regime,” “action against national security” or “spreading false information.” The report also discusses cases of long-term detentions of both Iranian- and foreign-based scholars or students on espionage or other national security-related charges.
- The detention of students and scholars of the Uighur ethnic minority group by Chinese authorities in so-called re-education camps. Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have reportedly been held in the camps in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. "What we have is an ethnicity-based attack on an entire community and not surprisingly the university space is very much caught up in that," Quinn said.
- Violence against student protesters in Nicaragua, where protests against the authoritarian government of President Daniel Ortega began in April. Citing numbers from United Nations human rights experts, the SAR report says that police violence against protesters in Nicaragua has been frequent and that “clashes between protesters and security forces have resulted in at least 317 people killed and at least 1,830 injured, including many students.”
- Ongoing threats to academic freedom in Turkey, where there were widespread dismissals and prosecutions of scholars and higher education administrators following the 2016 coup attempt. The report says that during the 2017-18 reporting period “SAR reported imprisonments, prosecutions, and criminal investigations targeting hundreds of university scholars, students, and staff across Turkey. In the majority of these cases, the scholars and students have been accused, often based on unclear or undisclosed evidence, of affiliations with a movement led by the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen,” the Islamic cleric whom Turkish officials accuse of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. Gülen has denied involvement.
- Threats to the autonomy or continuing operation of institutions in Central Europe or Russia. These include threats to Central European University, which remains locked in a standoff with the Hungarian government over its long-term future in the country. The report also discusses the case of the European University at St. Petersburg, which in August regained its teaching license after slightly more than a year without a license, and the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, which in June had its accreditation revoked.
Not a week goes by without a racial incident on some campus or another. Court cases about affirmative action generate widespread debate. Many colleges struggle to diversify their student bodies. As Julie J. Park looks at these trends, she sees many misconceptions about race relations. Her new book, Race on Campus: Debunking Myths with Data (Harvard Education Press), seeks to enable educators and others to have a better-informed discussion on race. Park, associate professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, responded via email to questions about her new book.
Q: Why did you decide to frame your book as being about "debunking myths with data"? Why do you think so many people have incorrect ideas about race on campus?
A: I often hear offhanded comments like, “Well what good is diversity? Students just stick to themselves,” or “Affirmative action isn’t needed anymore; minority students are just as rich as white students.” Not true at all! I always knew that the data had a different story to tell.
It’s easy to think that you know what’s going on in colleges if you went to college, or you heard a sensational report about how higher education is falling apart. However, research on cognitive biases shows that it’s very easy for our brains to jump to conclusions that actually aren’t supported by evidence. In this book, I want to show people that evidence and also unpack why we’re so vulnerable to misinformation.
Q: You have a chapter about alleged self-segregation of black students. What is the reality there?
A: The reality is that students of color have higher rates of interracial engagement and friendship than white students, hands down. Also, participation in groups like ethnic student organizations (e.g., a Black Student Union or Asian American Student Association) is actually linked with higher rates of interracial engagement, particularly for black and Latino/a students. This finding is counterintuitive since most people think these groups promote separation.
Q: Many campuses, with sad regularity, see racial incidents. Why do you think this is?
A: Despite all of the good things that happen on college campuses, we still exist in a society where racism is part of everyday life. For many white students, it’s their first time ever being in an environment where there is a critical mass of students of color, and sometimes there’s pushback against that. All of this underscores why supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism are all the more important, because college is an opportunity for students to prepare for citizenship in a diverse democracy.
Q: You note the push by critics of affirmative action to focus on alleged discrimination against Asian Americans. Why do you challenge that narrative? How do you react to that charge as an Asian American?
A: I challenge that narrative because I’ve looked at the data and I don’t see evidence of discrimination. I’ve looked at the expert reports from Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University (for which I served as an expert consultant for Harvard -- all views here are my own), and I don’t agree with SFFA’s interpretation of the data. What I do see are key issues that have largely been ignored -- for instance, how low-income Asian Americans benefit from current policies, and how the Harvard personal rating is not some racist personality test. I also challenge that narrative because I know the research on how Asian American students benefit from diverse learning environments and have experienced that richness firsthand. As an Asian American, I am greatly frustrated that there is an orchestrated effort to exploit our community by spreading misinformation about affirmative action.
Q: What are two or three things that college leaders could do to improve race relations today?
A: First would be to get rid of the idea that diversity is some sort of linear process, something to be achieved and crossed off of the to-do list. Fostering diverse and equitable campuses is a deeply nonlinear process -- one step forward, two steps back. In my book, I compare higher education and racial issues to a patient who needs blood-pressure medication for the rest of their life -- it’s something that always needs constant attention and intentionality. No. 2 would be to add antiracism to the list of things we talk about wanting to support alongside diversity, inclusion and equity, and to think deeply about what that really means. No. 3 is to keep looking at the data and see where it points your campus in terms of what needs to be prioritized in advancing a more positive campus racial climate.New Books About Higher EducationDiversityEditorial Tags: BooksIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 2Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, October 23, 2018Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: ‘Race on Campus’Magazine treatment: Trending: