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New study pushes back on decades of studies suggesting that scientific productivity peaks early and declines thereafter
Conventional wisdom on faculty research productivity, backed by decades of studies, says that it’s all downhill after tenure. A new paper challenges that paradigm, suggesting great variability in peak research activity among individual scientists -- even if their aggregate productivity curve still feeds the posttenure “dead weight” myth.
“Despite the persistent conventional narrative and expectations about productivity, individual people have incredibly diverse careers,” said Samuel Way, a postdoctoral research associate in computer science at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the paper’s lead author. “This is a cautionary tale to administrators and other people in power in the sciences as to why they shouldn’t expect everyone’s career trajectory to look the exact same way.”
The majority of academics who don’t fit the mold “aren't errors, they’re people,” he added.
Way said the finding has implications for hiring and funding decisions and tenure and retirement policies. If only a fraction of academics -- approximately 20 percent in the study -- peak in productivity early in their careers, faculty search committees might do well to look beyond younger, prolific candidates, for example. Institutions, meanwhile, might worry less about older professors delaying retirement.
“The Misleading Narrative of the Canonical Faculty Productivity Trajectory” was published online Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Way’s co-authors are Boulder computer science colleagues Allison C. Morgan, a Ph.D. candidate, and Aaron Clauset and Daniel B. Larremore, both assistant professors.
While past studies have “firmly established that the conventional academic productivity narrative is equally descriptive across fields and time, their analyses are based on averages over hundreds or thousands of individuals,” reads the paper. “This raises two crucial and previously unanswered questions: Is this average trajectory representative of individual faculty, and how much diversity is hidden by a focus on a central tendency over a population?”
The new analysis is unlike previous ones in its scope and detail, encompassing virtually all tenure-track and tenured professors of computer science in the U.S. and Canada over the last 40 years. To compile their data set, the authors matched 200,000 publications with publicly available hiring information on nearly 2,500 tenure-line faculty members from all 205 computer science Ph.D. programs in the two countries.
While the professors' average productivity curve peaked early and declined slowly over time, resembling those in so many studies before this one, the picture looked very different when the authors mapped individual data against it. Just 20 percent of professors fit the curve, while the other 80 percent were all over the map, staying steady or even peaking late in their careers. That's regardless of their departments' prestige.
Source: Samuel Way
While the most common productivity peak among professors in the sample was five years after hire, just half the senior professors studied reached their peak by that time in their careers.
The authors’ attempt to explain that diversity led them to a second, significant finding: departmental prestige predicts overall individual productivity and the timing of first (lead) author publications to last (senior) author publications. That is, "researchers who graduated from or were hired by top-ranked institutions are significantly more productive at the onset of their careers, and, furthermore, productivity of high-prestige faculty tends to grow at faster rates and achieve higher peaks than researchers employed by other institutions."
Researchers' productivity grew by a median of about two additional papers per year while working at elite institutions (the top 20 percent of programs) compared with the rest of their peers. Researchers who earned doctorates from elite institutions also exhibited faster early-career growth than their peers from lower-ranked programs.
Way said that scientists from top Ph.D. programs likely have access to resources that have allowed them to set up labs and execute research agendas with relative speed. One potential area for future study, he said, is what policies enable such early-career research success, and whether they can be replicated at less prestigious institutions.
Similar to others, Way’s study notes that scientists now publish about four times more papers per year than they did in 1970; that was established as a control early in the study to more accurately study professors working then and now as part of the same sample. About half the papers in the study were published by about 20 percent of the professors in the sample.
Women were also found to publish significantly less than men early in their careers, to the tune of about 0.5 fewer publications, regardless of where they trained or were hired; the authors suggest this discrepancy is an area for future study.
Way’s isn’t the first study to push back on the prevailing view on productivity. A 2016 paper published in Science, for example, argued that scientific impact, at least, is randomly distributed within the sequence of papers published by a scientist -- so it’s not age dependent.
Bruce Weinberg, a professor of economics at Ohio State University, co-wrote another paper published in PNAS earlier this year on the aging scientific work force; he found that the average age of employed scientists in the U.S. increased from 45 in 1993 to nearly 49 in 2010. While the study had potentially negative implications for the job market for younger scientists, Weinberg said at the time that older scientists doesn't mean less innovative science, and he called the prevailing wisdom on that front “at best an oversimplification and maybe wrong.”
The new study is, therefore, broadly consistent with Weinberg’s research, he said Tuesday. “There are many people who are more creative later in their careers, and the tendency to do the most or best work early in the career is actually less common today than it had been in the past.”
Weinberg said he's found that people whose work is more empirical or experimental tend to do their best work later in their careers, while people whose work is more “conceptual or theoretical or abstract tend to do their best work earlier in their careers.” As knowledge accumulates over time, he added, “it takes longer for people to get to the knowledge frontier, and people tend to do their best work later in their lives.”
That said, Weinberg noted that Way’s emphasis on computer science is particularly interesting because the field often emphasizes abstract conceptual reasoning, which would seem to lead to earlier peaks.
As to how the findings might inform institutional policies, tenure decisions and resource allocation, Weinberg said it’s important to recognize systematic individual variations “because not everyone is going to follow the archetypical pattern.”
While Way’s paper focuses on computer science professors, he said there’s no reason to think his findings won’t apply to other fields, even those outside the sciences. Indeed, he and his colleagues are interested in applying their analysis to other disciplines going forward.
Cassidy Sugimoto, an associate professor of informatics at Indiana University at Bloomington, co-wrote a paper finding that professors in sociology, economics and political science (on average) remain highly productive across the span of the career. While productivity increases steeply until promotion to associate professor, her paper says, it remains stable thereafter. Collaboration, meanwhile, increases with age.
That eventual stabilization isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Sugimoto said Tuesday, since “one could question whether the drive for hyperproductivity in the pretenure era produces the highest-quality research.” It would be useful, therefore, to see Way’s data matched to citation counts, she said.
Sugimoto said she did question whether the posttenure "dead weight" argument has become something of a straw man. First-time recipients of major grants from the National Institutes of Health are 42 years old, on average, she said, and resources are strongly concentrated around senior researchers.
“In an increasingly collaborative age, scholars benefit by the size of their labs, which is associated with more senior scholars,” she said. “The tenure model certainly promotes high productivity in early years, but I have seen no strong data that demonstrates a general posttenure decline. Most of the conversation tends to revolve around isolated anecdotes.”DiversityFacultyEditorial Tags: HiringResearch universitiesImage Source: Samuel WayImage Caption: There's more than meets the eye to the typical faculty productivity curve.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
One of the loudest complaints about higher education these days is that prospective students lack good information about the value of college credentials and, likewise, that employers too often are left in the dark about the knowledge and skills they can expect of credential holders.
A sprawling new project seeks to change that by creating a centralized database of information about postsecondary credentials -- all 250,000 or so of them in the U.S., ranging from Ph.D. to badge, professional license to apprenticeship and certificate.
The nonprofit Credential Engine, which is planning a formal launch in December, has tapped a broad range of advisers to develop a common language about credentials, with a focus on the “competencies” people should have after earning them.
Credential Engine’s web-based registry allows colleges, professional associations, unions, other credential issuers and state governments to post public-facing information about credentialing programs. The site also plans to feature information about how credential earners fare in the job market, including wage data from state and federal sources.
The overarching goal of the project is to increase transparency about credentials, said Scott Cheney, Credential Engine’s executive director.
He said the registry seeks to be a “neutral repository that reveals the marketplace.” That would be an improvement from the current situation, Cheney said, where “people are making big decisions because of whatever marketing material comes to them.”
So far, roughly 160 organizations have uploaded information about 1,264 credentials to the registry. Some colleges are among the early adopters, including Elon University, which has uploaded descriptions of all 97 of its offered degrees and other credentials.
“It’s a time-consuming process,” said Rodney Parks, the registrar at Elon. “It takes time to understand the language.”
Even so, he said, Credential Engine has tremendous potential and is worth the work.
“This will be the one-stop shop for credentials,” said Parks.
Indiana, Washington and New Jersey are among a handful of state governments that are at various stages of participation in the project.
For example, the Indiana Commission for Higher Education has begun posting information about health-care credentials, including descriptions of academic and job-training programs, what assessments and training occur in those programs, and how the issued credentials are viewed by accrediting agencies and licensing boards.
“We have every health program that’s offered by a public institution in the registry,” said Ken Sauer, senior associate commissioner and chief academic officer for the commission.
At least seven Indiana state agencies are participating in the project, as are K-12 schools, public and private colleges, representatives from the U.S. military, and several industry associations. If the project is successful, Indiana plans to follow up with information about credentials in other industries.
Sauer said the goal is to make the site useful for students, colleges and employers.
“This is a way to signal to educational institutions and providers what skill sets need to be developed in their programs in order to align with the skill sets that employers need,” he said.
What Comes Next?
The Lumina Foundation and JPMorgan Chase are funding Credential Engine, which grew out of the Credential Transparency Initiative. It relates to other Lumina-backed efforts, including Connecting Credentials, which is attempting to create a common language for comparing credentials.
Credential Engine’s backers face a long, uphill climb, as supporters of the project acknowledge.
When plans for the registry were announced last year, some were skeptical about the project's scope and whether it was achievable. But most agree that a central repository for better information about credentials is needed. And if it’s not Credential Engine, experts said, another organization eventually will figure out how do it.
“The time is right,” said Jonathan Finkelstein, the founder and CEO of Credly, a digital credentialing company.
While Finkelstein said Credential Engine is a “mighty undertaking” that will take a long time, the potential payoff makes it worthwhile. “It’s to everyone’s benefit that their credentials are discoverable.”
The effort has the backing of several powerful organizations on the employer side. The Business Roundtable helped promote the registry’s launch and is part of Credential Engine’s business advisory group. So are representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Manufacturing Institute and the National Retail Federation, among others.
Ryan Craig, co-founder and managing director of University Ventures, a higher education investment firm, also is an adviser. Craig said the credentialing site has the potential to become what he calls a “competency marketplace,” a skills-based meeting point for employers, students, job seekers, policy makers and college curriculum planners.
And the biggest upside for Credential Engine is what others might do with the credentialing information, he said.
“Ultimately the competency marketplace is going to work not because a bunch of human beings have cleverly developed a taxonomy,” said Craig, but “because we have algorithms that are doing a good job of interpreting the data.”
As a result, Craig described Credential Engine as a “prototype of what could be done, algorithmically, at a larger scale.”
Bringing Clarity to a ‘Chaotic Ecosystem’
An algorithmic future is part of the plan for Credential Engine.
The nonprofit is working to create an open applications marketplace, which will allow outside organizations to build customized web apps to use the registry’s data. For example, a technology company could create a searchable database about credentials for prospective college students. Or employers could create applications to tap registry information for their HR systems, to better understand the skills and competencies job applicants should have based on their credentials.
Many industries provide easily searchable information about what they sell, with airline fare aggregators being a commonly cited example of Web 3.0 commerce. Backers of Credential Engine hope the registry can bring a Kayak-style approach to data on postsecondary education and job training.
Cheney said the goal is to enable people to "search and compare credentials just like you would SUVs."
If successful, the site would help make sense of a “chaotic ecosystem,” said Holly Zanville, senior adviser for credentialing and work-force development at Lumina. “Why can’t we do that in credentialing?”
Information on student outcomes, including job placement and earnings, will come from the states. Cheney said Credential Engine also may draw data from a federal agency, such as the U.S. Census Bureau or the Internal Revenue Service.
The site will not collect or work with information on individual students and graduates, however, instead using sources of aggregate, nonidentifiable data. As a result, Cheney said, Credential Engine will not pose privacy risks.
“We will have no individual records about people,” he said.
The group also might partner with nongovernmental data-collection organizations to bolster the registry, said Cheney, with the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center as a possibility.
Washington State’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board collects information about the market value of postsecondary training programs in the state that receive public funding. The board has posted data on wages of graduates, completion rates and enrollment for roughly 3,500 programs on its Career Bridge site. The audience is students, parents and lawmakers.
The goal for Credential Engine is to produce similar public-facing information for the broader universe of credentials, said Eleni Papadakis, the board’s executive director.
“We believe that’s the new communication channel in work-force development and education,” she said.
In addition to better data, supporters of the Credential Engine project hope it will bring clarity to the credential discussion by helping to create a standardized infrastructure.
“Conversations often suffer from a common-language problem,” said Finkelstein, who added that Credential Engine “standardizes and digitizes the descriptions of credentials.”
But for that to happen, the group will need to get information from many colleges and others on the credentials they issue.
Papadakis urged colleges to be pioneers by participating in the project.
“If not, we’re never going to learn to do this better,” she said. “This all goes away if we don’t have the data owners putting things in.”Editorial Tags: Adult educationCareer servicesCareer/Tech EducationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The University of Minnesota -- site of a high-profile case in which football team members reportedly gang-raped a female student -- has reworked its sexual harassment policies and conduct code, a move many have applauded but that some victim advocates say could allow students who were complicit in a sexual assault to escape unpunished.
The change approved by the university’s Board of Regents Friday follows the Education Department's decision to withdraw guidance from the Obama administration on how colleges should investigate and adjudicate campus sexual assault. Though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has given institutions more flexibility in sexual misconduct cases, none, including Minnesota, have publicly strayed from the Obama-era rules clarifying how colleges should interpret Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, the federal law barring gender discrimination.
By and large, the new policy out of Minnesota simply condenses the university’s many scattered procedures into a single document. This was a requirement of the agreement the institution made with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights in fall 2015 after a Title IX complaint against it.
The policy adds new definitions, laying out, for instance, what “incapacitated” means. That’s an example of an internal definition used by the university's Title IX office that was previously not made public, said Tina Marisam, director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and Title IX coordinator.
But one inclusion to the student code of conduct has concerned some advocates for sexual assault survivors -- it’s the new definition of “assisting or abetting” in prohibited conduct (which doesn’t apply only to sexual misconduct).
A student or group “assists or abets” when they help another person engage in misconduct and “they intend the misconduct to occur” or know that “their actions are significantly likely to help the other person,” which some advocates say is too high a bar to implicate anyone under the new policy.
This new provision likely would have come into play in the recent case when the university suspended 10 football players for their role in an alleged gang rape of a female student in September 2016. Only five of the 10 were disciplined, either with an extended suspension or expulsion. The case received widespread media attention because other members of the football team declared a boycott unless the 10 suspended or expelled players were reinstated, but they backed down after some of the more sordid details of the encounter were published in the press. Initially, some alumni were sympathetic to the boycott, accusing the university of a lack of due process in the case.
Kristen Houlton Sukura, executive director of the nonprofit Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis, called the “assist or abet” portion of the conduct code “ridiculous.”
She said that to a degree it alleviates the responsibility on bystanders to act if they witness circumstances that could lead to a sexual assault.
“Let’s say you see someone leading an incredibly intoxicated person to a bedroom,” Houlton Sukura said. “The burden is that you need to have wanted her to get raped? It’s an unreasonable standard. I find it extremely frustrating.”
The university at one point had released another draft of the policy that included different language, saying that a person who assisted or abetted was someone who “reasonably should know” misconduct would happen.
Marisam said the university received feedback that such a requirement would “capture more conduct than we intend to prohibit under this policy.”
Alyssa Peterson, representative of the national victim rights group Know Your IX, said she was unsure how such a standard could be enforced. She said she could not understand how a survivor could characterize the intent of bystanders -- whether or not the person intended the rape to happen or not.
“I’m not sure how this would even work,” Peterson said.
Others who work with victims, however, have lauded the university for its more detailed policy.
Katie Eichele, director of the campus’s Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education, which assists students affected by sex crimes and violence, said she was thankful that the regents passed a policy that outlines who should report sexual assaults, and when.
The regents thus far have only approved a broad-scope policy and the changes to the code of conduct. More comprehensive sexual harassment procedures, in a document more than 20 pages long, is still being reviewed by the public and the board intends to vote on it in December, Marisam said.
The chairman of the regents, David J. McMillan, did not respond to a request for comment.
Eichele said she was pleased that the new definitions both firmly hold students accountable if they don’t meet the new rules and help victims by clearly describing certain actions, such as sexual contact or consent.
The university is providing a fair process both for those accused of sexual assault and the victims, said Traci Thomas-Card, membership and advocacy services manager for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The policy isn’t a drastic departure from previous practices, Thomas-Card said.
“I think the university for the most part has done an extraordinary job in responding in a timely matter [to those] who have come forward,” she said.
Most of the advocates interviewed said they appreciated the university still using the standard of evidence required under the Obama guidance, even though DeVos has rescinded it. Obama’s department required “preponderance of evidence,” the standard used in civil cases, which means there’s a 50.1 percent chance that the accused is responsible. With the “clear and convincing” standard some have asked for, the threshold is closer to a 75 percent chance. New information from the Education Department now allows institutions to use either standard.
"In our perspective we have very strong policies now, and practices, that provide for a fair process and for robust procedural fairness protections," Marisam said. "We're not making our policy based on the new discretion that we have; we think it's wise to wait until the Office for Civil Rights issues its formal guidance and we'll reassess at that point."
All the changes approved so far take effect Jan. 1, as will Minnesota's lengthier sexual harassment policy if the regents approve it at their December meeting.Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assaultTitle IXIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Albright College has reversed its decision to kick a football player off the team after he knelt for the national anthem.
In a statement, President Jacquelyn Fetrow said that an “ongoing review of the details surrounding the game’s events has provided greater clarity.”
Gyree Durante, the quarterback, was dismissed from the team by John Marzka, the head coach, after he knelt during the national anthem before an Oct. 7 game. The team had agreed to take a knee during the coin toss and stand for the anthem as part of ongoing protests against police brutality and racism. Two students who “did not fully kneel” for the coin toss -- thus violating that part of the team's agreement -- were also kicked off the squad, although they have not been named. The students’ academic status and enrollment were not affected when they were dismissed from the team.
Fetrow expressed skepticism about the mechanics behind the team’s agreement to kneel for the coin toss and stand for the anthem, which she had previously defended.
“What we understood to be shared agreement among players, student leaders and coaches has not been adequately supported,” she said. “As a result, each of the students dismissed from the football team for failure to comply with the team’s shared agreement established for that day has been offered reinstatement to the team.”
It was a change in tone from the president's previous statement, which cast the agreement as being “supported by the coaching staff, was created as an expression of team unity and out of the mutual respect team members have for one another and the value they place on their differences.”
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a form of political protest over the last year, since Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, started kneeling during the anthem before National Football League games in an protest against racism and police brutality against African Americans. The movement has drawn supporters and opponents, with critics saying the protest disrespects the military or the flag.
Speaking to The Philadelphia Tribune over the weekend, Durante said he was looking to transfer from Albright following his dismissal from the team. It was not immediately clear whether he was still looking to transfer or had decided to return to Albright’s team.
“I understood the situation -- I knew it was a risk,” Durante told The Reading Eagle after being dismissed from the team. “I still have respect for the coach, for the program. But, at the end of the day, I had to do what I thought was right and I have no regrets.”
Professors at the Pennsylvania institution rallied around Durante, passing a resolution this month condemning his dismissal from the team.
“The assembled faculty of Albright College do not support the dismissal of Gyree Durante from the football team and believe that his dismissal is a threat to freedom of conscience and freedom of speech,” the resolution read.
Fetrow said she has asked the athletics department to work with Albright Student Affairs to “review policies and published practices, so that they are consistent, respect Albright’s core values and support all of our students.”
“I have been moved by the energy and commitment that this issue has demonstrated,” she said. “Our continued momentum will actively move us toward the community we aspire to be.”DiversityEditorial Tags: AthleticsImage Caption: Albright Lions logoIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
New presidents or provosts: Bowie State Carteret Georgia Great Basin John Jay Muhlenberg Portland Rockland UTEP Warren Wilson
- Michael A. Baston, acting provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at LaGuardia Community College, part of the City University of New York, has been appointed president of Rockland Community College, part of the State University of New York.
- Aminta Hawkins Breaux, vice president for advancement at Millersville University, has been selected as president of Bowie State University, in Maryland.
- Tristan Denley, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents, has been chosen as chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University System of Georgia.
- Kathy Harring, interim provost and vice president and dean of institutional effectiveness and planning at Muhlenberg College, in Pennsylvania, has been selected as provost and vice president of academic affairs there.
- John Hauser, vice president of applied career technologies and the Alleghany Center at Wilkes Community College, in North Carolina, has been named president of Carteret Community College, also in North Carolina.
- Joyce Helens, president of St. Cloud Technical and Community College, in Minnesota, has been selected as president of Great Basin College, in Nevada.
- Karol V. Mason, a former U.S. assistant attorney general in Washington, D.C., has been chosen as president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York.
- Lynn M. Morton, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Queens College, in North Carolina, has been named president of Warren Wilson College, also in North Carolina.
- Carol A. Parker, senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico, has been appointed provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at El Paso.
- Rahmat Shoureshi, interim president of New York Institute of Technology, has been chosen as president of Portland State University, in Oregon.
Follow-up to study on misconduct at academic field sites says clear rules of conduct and enforcement are needed
Many academics regard fieldwork -- the chance to make discoveries and come face-to-face with what they’ve spent years studying -- as a career highlight. Beyond that, it’s a crucial to career development. So a 2014 study highlighting widespread sexual harassment at academic field sites struck a chord -- or rather, was so discordant with many scientists’ perceptions of what fieldwork should be that it’s still frequently cited.
Last week, for example, Science offered the grim finding of that 2014 study as background in a major story on Boston University investigating its chair of Earth and environment for alleged sexual harassment of trainees in Antarctica. Some 71 percent of 512 self-selecting female respondents reported being sexually harassed during fieldwork, the overwhelmingly majority of them trainees at the time, according to the study.
Now the authors of the “Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault,” originally published in PLOS ONE, have more to say. Having recently seen their early findings replicated in two separate studies, one of archaeologists and one of social work students, they’ve published “Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories” in American Anthropologist. The new paper goes beyond the questions of where and how often harassment occurs in the field to what happens after harassment, and how it can be prevented.
“Signaling Safety” is based on 26 semistructured interviews of original SAFE study participants. Through a qualitative analysis of respondents’ thoughts, two themes emerge: variability in clarity of appropriate professional behavior and rules at field sites, and access, or lack thereof, to professional resources when in the field. Some students’ experiences, including with harassment and assault, ultimately disrupted their careers.
To promote change, the authors propose a “traffic light” construct of red, yellow and green climates to illustrate the field site harassment phenomenon and its consequences. The goal for any field site is to have clearly articulated rules about professional conduct that are actually enforced.
As social and life scientists, “we apply an integrated awareness of the fundamental role of the local physical and cultural environment in individual and community outcomes,” the paper says. “This awareness must also be applied to the way we conduct research. Those workplaces that are tolerant of alienating or harassing behavior, consistent with ‘red’ and ‘yellow’ contexts as described here, silence those targeted, while those with rules, enforcement and leadership, as in ‘green’ contexts, are expected to enhance productivity and innovation.”
In interviews, the authors wanted to know how experiences with fieldwork -- good or bad -- shape perspectives on the research climate in the sciences, affect individual motivation and ability to continue in fieldwork-based disciplines, and ultimately impact career trajectories.
The original SAFE study involved 666 respondents. Follow-up interviewees were selected to obtain a diverse group of participants, in terms of experiences (negative field site experiences were overrepresented by design, however). Subjects were mostly anthropologists and archaeologists, and the group was overwhelmingly female. Questions included, “How would you characterize your field experiences?” “Are there any particular incidents, good or bad, that you would like to share?” and “What about the climate at your field site contributed to your experience?” Interviews were then coded based on emergent themes such as alienation, tests, gendered divisions of labor, harassment and assault.
Experiences varied widely. Yet the authors found that field experiences tended to differ in nature -- good or bad -- based on the presence or absence of rules and consequences for any violations of the rules. Clarity over the rules or lack thereof was key: respondents described either a clear understanding of or ambiguity regarding appropriate professional conduct and procedures for recourse, if necessary. Of the 54 field contexts included in the analysis, 36 contexts were described by 21 interviewees as having ambiguous or absent rules. Eighteen field contexts recounted by 12 interviewees were coded as having clear rules or expectations for individual behavior.
Sites described as having clear codes of conduct offered rules, and field directors and researchers had explicit conversations or training sessions to establish site-specific policies. Senior researchers tended to model these desired behaviors and made themselves available for discussion. Consequences for violating these rules also were observed: in one site example, sexual harassment of a peer resulted in the offender being asked to leave the field site.
Sites with ambiguous rules, meanwhile, sounded different. Interviewees described an absence of consequences for breaking rules and an inability to gain clarity on these rules for themselves. Multiple respondents described experiences during which a field site manager systemically harassed the junior researchers at the site.
“I feel like they just see this divide between the field and at home,” said one interviewee, recalling a field site manager. “What happens to you in the field, it’s just like a different world, so the way you behave can -- it’s just completely separated from your daily life.”
Examples of sexual harassment included unwanted flirtation or verbal sexual advances, field site managers insisting on conducting conversations while naked, propositions, and jokes about physical appearance or intelligence that were sexually motivated or gendered, according to the study.
Sexual assault included cases of unwanted physical contact, including physical intimidation, forced kissing, pressing genitalia on the respondent’ s body, attempted rape and rape.
In an interview, the study’s lead author, Robin Nelson, an assistant professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University, said that while reports of assault made headlines in relation to the 2014 paper, the new study sheds additional light on less severe but nevertheless damaging violations of professional conduct.
“There are more hidden kinds of discrimination, such as gender tests and men and women being assigned different kinds of jobs at field sites -- that kind of thing is discrimination, as well, and is quite ubiquitous,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to point out that this is a range or continuum of behaviors.”
Clarity -- and Enforcement -- of Conduct Codes Matter
The authors found a link between rules and behavior, in that sexual harassment was described more often in conjunction with field sites that lacked clarity in rules or standards for behavior.
“The head of the site would systematically prey on women,” one respondent said. “I was in my bed one time and he was with a married master’s student and she was basically just crying and she had to leave the site because he was seducing her and she couldn’t say no … I had to serve as a kind of bodyguard for some of these women and some of them would sleep on the floor because they were afraid he was gonna come into the room at night.”
The director was reportedly undeterred by women leaving the site or hiding. The same respondent said that favoritism for certain men at the site also was present, in ways that advanced their research.
Field site directors at sites with ambiguous or no codes of conduct were also described as not knowing how to deal with reports of harassment or assault. In one instance, in which a trainee was assaulted by a local, the director allegedly said, “In different cultures that’s not abnormal.” The onus of boundary keeping therefore fell on the trainee, who “knew that the attempted rape was outside of the boundaries of appropriate behavior” but was nevertheless “forced to rebuff her attacker’s advances for the duration of the field season,” according to the study.
Access or entree to professional opportunities also came up over and over again. Examples of related, “alienating” behavior include unnecessary tests of physical prowess and gendered divisions of labor. Twenty-four respondents recounted 31 experiences of feeling alienation, stemming from the sense that their expertise or contributions to a field project were underappreciated or devalued.
Gendered divisions of labor were characterized by women and men being tasked with different kinds of responsibilities that “often mapped onto societal prescriptions regarding women’s physical limitations or natural inclinations,” the study says. Such tasks included women being required to do the cooking and shopping in team settings. Again, such behaviors were more often described in contexts where rules were absent than in contexts where they were articulated and enforced.
Tests to establish what the researchers call “in-group/out-group” dynamics also were reported. Those included going on long hikes for nondisclosed periods of time, denying trainees food, water or bathroom breaks during data collection, and sharing pornographic images with a respondent to gauge their reaction.
One respondent described physical tests like this: “We would do these really, really long days but we wouldn’t be warned when they were coming, they would just happen and so I wouldn’t bring enough food … And I would try to vocalize, ‘am tired. I can’t go any further. I need to eat.’ … The second time I spoke up, there were the other two girls who were quick to say, ‘Yeah, we’ve been out a really long time, it’s 8:00 p.m., let’ s go eat.’ We started getting snide comments like, ‘Oh, well, the ladies are hungry so I guess we have to leave.’”
The interviews didn’t by design touch on consequences to one’s career, but such stories emerged anyway. Some respondents described their “productive, enjoyable field experiences as reasons to pursue academic work,” according to the study. But many recalled instances in the field being the beginning of persistent problems. Several respondents described having to endure repeated encounters with those who had made their field environments hostile, even after leaving the site. Some decided to alter their career paths. One respondent said her adviser forbade her from urinating while conducting fieldwork, criticized her weight and took food from her, questioned her intellect and threw objects while angry. She tried unsuccessfully to report the abuse back at her home institution but had no recourse other than to leave the department. The professor in question, meanwhile, received three new advisees.
Egalitarian Behaviors and Enforcement
Positive experiences in the field enhanced the career, research and leadership trajectories of respondents. Many respondents described positive field experiences that intensified their interest in their research. And notably, respondents who stayed in the academic pipeline despite negative experiences described adopting procedures and paradigms to improve their fieldwork climates for their trainees and junior collaborators.
Twelve of the 26 interviewees who reported positive field contexts described sites that were fair or egalitarian in execution, living and working conditions that were intentional and safe, and directors who anticipated problems and outlined reporting lines and had time for conversations. Having women in leadership roles at these sites also was important.
Nearly everyone with positive experiences also described having all scientists’ perspectives valued. One former trainee respondent said, for example, “I was treated the same as people with Ph.D.s … with the same consideration as people with Ph.D.s and asked for input and not talked down to.”
“Conscientious field site directors explicitly established the culture of the site,” the paper says. “Among favorable contexts, explicit anticipation of potential problems appears to be a successful strategy to prevent problems or ameliorate conflict.” One respondent compared laying out ground rules to “having the sex talk with your kids” in terms of awkwardness, but also in necessity.
“I think it’s worth getting it out of the way and having an honest conversation, and I think it makes for a better experience overall for both the people who are running those field programs but also the people that are a part of the team,” the respondent continued.
Leading the Way to Reform
“Signaling Safety” says that leaders, including principal investigators of major field sites and those in positions of power in professional societies, can effect culture change “by prioritizing equal opportunity and inclusion as explicit values for the field sciences.”
Nelson said that since publishing the first manuscript in 2014, she and her co-authors have been talking to researchers who are actively working to change the culture at their field sites, and communicated with professional organizations “that are tuning in to the effects of gendered discrimination,” considering best practices for the promotion of more equitable professional spaces.
“While we are optimistic because there is a larger discussion occurring regarding gendered discrimination in academia,” she added, “we recognize that there is much work to be done particularly at the intersections of race, ability, sexuality, gender identity and class.”
Ed Liebow, executive director of the American Anthropological Association, said the group remains committed to a “zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and behaviors that contribute to a hostile work climate.” Enforcement is notoriously tough for professional societies, who can’t, say, suspend a professor from work for misconduct. Further, the anthropological association doesn’t accredit field schools. But Liebow said that his association, through a variety of means, and consistent with its Statement of Professional Responsibilities, is increasing member awareness of responsibilities to intervene as observers or bystanders, and awareness of resources available to victims of unwanted behaviors.
Of the new paper, Liebow highlighted the finding that rules and consequences reduce the incidence of professional misconduct.
Nelson said she didn’t necessarily think that abuse is worse at field sites than it is in other academic contexts, but that physical isolation and variety of other factors make field sites ripe for misconduct where rules aren’t articulated and enforced. Moreover, she said, fieldwork is so important to young scientists’ careers that “walking away” is as hard professionally as it can be logistically.
Jane Willenbring, a professor of geology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is among the women who recently reported the Boston professor, David Marchant, for alleged misconduct. She waited more than a decade to tell the university that he had pelted her with rocks while she was urinating the field, blew volcanic ash into her eyes on purpose, repeatedly called her names and pushed her to have sex with his brother during a trip to Antarctica, she said, because her fear of professional retaliation was so great. (Marchant has not publicly commented on the accusations, other than to say he is cooperating fully with the university's investigation; Science reported that some documents related to the case suggest Marchant has denied the allegations.)
Willenbring has said she switched her research to the Arctic as a direct result of working with Marchant in Antarctica. As to what contributes to misconduct in the field, Willenbring said she thought there’s a certain “what happens in the field stays in the field” mentality.
Many times, however, she said, “there also aren’t means of communication so you feel so isolated and there are only the voices of the perpetrators to listen to.” When a victim returns home, she said, it might seem easiest to “move on,” fueled by a sense of futility and fear of retribution.
Faculty members “very rarely get fired,” she added via email. “Institutions just 'pass the trash' to another university, and then the victims wonder what the point of it all was. The complainants ended up just being part of a faculty member’s move -- probably with a raise at the new institution -- to abuse students at a new place and likely take a hit to their own reputation."Editorial Tags: Graduate educationGraduate studentsMisconductTitle IXImage Source: Robin Nelson, et al.Image Caption: "Signaling safety" conditions at science field sites.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
It’s a popular time to try to raise a few billion dollars.
Over the last few weeks, several public flagship research universities have announced multibillion-dollar fund-raising campaigns running into 2022. Another private research university said it is trying to raise $1 billion. Even some institutions without the size and reach to set targets in the billions of dollars are stretching their goals to record levels.
In the competitive world of higher education fund-raising, there is likely an element of one-upmanship at play in some of the cases. Often one university will try to raise at least a little bit more than its competitors did in their last campaigns, leading to an upward march in announced fund-raising goals. Plus, universities are always hungry for more money for a myriad of priorities.
But the recent spate of lofty announced goals is also likely being driven by other factors. Colleges and universities have gotten more serious about planning for major fund-raising campaigns over the years. Supply and demand have ratcheted up as well, with recent gains in the stock market leaving donors feeling flush and ready to give at the same time as many public universities are seeking ways to make up for stagnant or falling state support.
Combined, those factors have contributed to some eye-popping campaign targets.
The University of Florida on Friday launched the public phase of an effort to raise $3 billion by the fall of 2022. The same day, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign publicly kicked off its campaign to raise $2.25 billion by the end of the same year. Those two announcements came a week after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed that it is attempting to raise $4.25 billion over the next four years. While private universities have long sought and achieved billion-dollar totals, such lofty ambitions have been much rarer in public higher education.
At the end of September, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee announced a $200 million goal for its fund-raising campaign. That’s twice the size of the goal for its last campaign, which aimed for $100 million but ultimately raised $125 million in 2008. The private Colorado College on Saturday launched a $435 million fund-raising campaign that will be the largest in its 143-year history.
Even some that aren’t shooting for record-setting fund-raising are still talking about numbers with plenty of zeros at the end. Another private research university, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York, kicked off a campaign on Friday that has a smaller goal than a $1.4 billion effort completed in 2008. Still, RPI is shooting for a gaudy $1 billion.
Experts warn against attributing the recent glut of big-dollar goals to current conditions.
“It’s hard to point to a causal factor,” said David Bass, senior director of research at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. “What you’re seeing with these announcements is the culmination of years, literally, of very careful planning, analysis and consensus building.”
That includes planning for a particular campaign, as colleges and universities spend years conducting market research, reaching out to wealthy donors and operating in silent phases before they ever publicly announce fund-raising campaigns. It also includes prior campaigns themselves.
A single public fund-raising campaign is not just about raising money immediately, Bass said. It is also about cultivating donors for future campaigns.
“What you’re seeing is not what’s going on right now but is the compounded returns of previous campaigns and sustained investment in fund-raising,” he said.
Even so, current conditions can have an impact on campaigns that are being announced. The wealthiest donors, those whose gifts are key to these campaigns, tend to be more willing to give when the stock market and the economy are strong. So if the last year’s stock market surge has helped donors forget the angst they felt in the years after the Great Recession, fund-raising is likely benefiting.
As a result, some colleges and universities might announce their campaigns earlier. Or they might be able to announce larger goals than they originally planned.
“Anecdotally, I’ve heard a lot about it, and it’s not surprising,” said Ann E. Kaplan, director of the Voluntary Support of Education Survey and data miner for the Council for Aid to Education. “Now that the stock market has not only recovered but has started performing quite well, it probably would speed you toward the end of your silent phase and toward announcing.”
The Council for Aid to Education tracks payments of gifts but not fund-raising campaign announcements. New batches of large gifts could indicate a departure from recent trends CAE has tracked -- it found a slowdown in the growth of charitable giving to colleges and universities in the fiscal year ending in June 2016. Giving to colleges and universities grew 1.7 percent, to $41 billion, that year, a much lower growth rate than 7.6 percent between 2014 and 2015. (The organization is still gathering data for the most recent fiscal year ending in June 2017.)
More recently, numerous examples of large gifts to both public and private institutions have surfaced. On the private side, the University of Chicago announced a $75 million gift to its Booth School of Business. Oglethorpe University in Atlanta announced a $50 million gift that is the largest in its history. Kenyon College in Ohio announced a $75 million gift, also the largest in its history. Boston University is receiving a $115 million gift for interdisciplinary research.
Among public institutions, the University of Hawaii recently received a cash and real-estate donation valued at $117 million, and the University of Maryland at College Park announced a $220 million gift from a foundation. The University of California, Irvine, announced a $200 million gift, although it has been criticized as giving sway to donors who advocate for junk science. (University officials have responded that the gift will fund evidence-based teaching and treatment.)
Announcements of large individual gifts aren’t the same thing as announcements of fund-raising campaign goals. But fund-raising campaign announcements often contain announcements of large gifts. And proliferating large gifts might reflect big-money donors becoming more comfortable opening their wallets.
Take the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s campaign as an example. The university started planning its campaign in 2012, according to Patricia Borger, vice chancellor for development and alumni relations. It changed its campaign based on economic conditions and prospective donor responses.
“We’d always thought about taking it public in 2017,” Borger said. “The big change for us is when we went public, we also could announce bigger goals.”
The university’s original working goal was $175 million, but it raised the goal to the announced $200 million. It is already 85 percent of the way to its goal, meaning it has raised about $170 million from more than 17,000 donors. Proceeds from the campaign will go to student success initiatives like scholarships, research efforts at an institution recently named a top-tier research university, and community engagement efforts.
A strong stock market can also help universities raise money because it means donors have a greater interest in avoiding taxes on stocks that have appreciated in value.
“They don’t have to pay capital gains that they would incur if they sold, and they would also get a charitable deduction to the extent permissible by law,” Borger said. “I just came from a donor meeting where somebody said, ‘My former company stock has done really well, and so we’ll be using that to make our gift.’”
Demographics could also be favoring higher ed philanthropy, said Tim Seiler, a fellow in philanthropic fund-raising at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and a former vice president of the Indiana University Foundation.
“On a general level, you’ve got a pretty big population of baby boomers who have reached the age where they have to do the required minimum distribution from their IRAs, and that is just a sweet way to make a charitable contribution,” Seiler said. Retirees can often receive a tax benefit by directly rolling over their IRA distributions as donations.
Meanwhile, many public universities are facing flat or declining state funding. All public universities need to try to move their financial model toward more private support, said the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s vice chancellor for university development, David Routh.
“Let me be very clear: we are one of the fortunate ones in that we get a substantial amount of state support,” Routh said. “That’s been very helpful, and we’re very grateful for that from the people of North Carolina. But it has been cut in the last several years.”
UNC is billing its $4.25 billion campaign as the largest in the Southeast and second-largest among public institutions in the country, behind a $5 billion University of Washington campaign. It’s substantially larger than the university’s last campaign, which wrapped up a decade ago, raising $2.38 billion from 194,000 donors.
No two campaigns are alike, according to Joe Mandernach, senior associate vice president and chief development officer at the University of Florida.
The university had its campaign launch date set well in advance of this weekend, Mandernach said in an email. But the timing turned out to be excellent.
“UF has benefited from strong public and private support in recent years,” he said. “We’re enjoying a strong, palpable sense of momentum on campus, one that our prospects and donors recognize. I sense our campaign is primarily about using private support to leverage public and other resources, to have gifts serve as a catalyst for UF’s continued national and international rise.”
The University of Florida’s $3 billion goal is nearly twice the $1.72 billion it raised during its last campaign ending in 2012. The new campaign raised $1.3 billion through 500,000 gifts during a three-year quiet phase, meaning it is about 43 percent of the way to its goal.
That’s about the same point the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had reached when it announced its campaign -- the university had raised $1.01 billion, or 45 percent, of its $2.25 billion goal. It is the fourth capital campaign in the University of Illinois System’s history but the first specific to a campus.
Colleges and universities want to announce campaigns after they have already raised a substantial sum of money toward their goals, said Brian Gawor, vice president for research at consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s fund-raising management division. Then they can strike a balance between having more donors to curate but already receiving commitments from large, transformational donors.
“Campaigns are about reaching the right donors at the right time with the potential giving opportunity that is right for them,” he said. “In these billion-dollar campaigns, there will be hundreds of examples where that was done between the donor and the institution.”
Experts generally agreed that colleges and universities have been spending more time in silent phases before announcing their campaigns, and that campaigns have been growing longer and larger. Institutions are also relying heavily on wealthy donors as the country’s wealth distribution tilts more toward the top.
Not every campaign makes its goal on time, of course. About 38 percent of institutions reported extending their campaigns beyond their original end dates, according to a 2015 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the most recent that is available.
In another notable fund-raising campaign development this year, the University of Southern California announced in February that it reached a massive $6 billion fund-raising goal nearly a year and a half ahead of schedule. USC said it would be extending the campaign for five additional years.Editorial Tags: Development/fund-raisingImage Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignImage Caption: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign kicked off a capital campaign Friday with an event at the State Farm Center.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Two analyses of newly released federal data on student loans reveal serious default problems for African-American borrowers.
Earlier this month the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics published a report on patterns of student loan repayment for two groups of borrowers who first enrolled in college in 1995-1996 and in 2003-2004.
Historically the department has not collected much data on student debt that can be broken out by the race or ethnic background of borrowers. The new report, however, included tools that researchers can use to compare how various groups are faring.
Two resulting analyses found a troubling picture for black students who take out loans.
Nearly half (49 percent) of all black borrowers in the 2004 group defaulted on at least one loan within 12 years, wrote Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. That default rate was more than twice that of white students (20 percent) and more than four times the rate of Asian students (11 percent).
“The differentials are still present across sector, with more than one-third of black students defaulting across all sectors while a relatively small percentage of Asian students defaulted across all nonprofit sectors,” Kelchen said. “Default rates at for-profit colleges are high for all racial/ethnic groups, with almost half of white students defaulting alongside nearly two-thirds of black students.”
The Center for American Progress on Monday released a report on the new numbers.
The federal data show that the typical black student who enrolled in 2004 and took on debt for an undergraduate education owed more on their student loans after 12 years than the amount originally borrowed, found Ben Miller, the senior director for postsecondary education at the center and a former department official during the Obama administration.
Likewise, 75 percent of black borrowers who failed to complete at a for-profit institution ended up defaulting, Miller said. And he said that disturbing figure could be even worse for black students who enrolled at for-profits during the sector’s peak, which was in the recession’s wake.
Default rates for students who dropped out before completing generally are high. But black students fared worse than their peers.
Miller’s analysis shows that 50 percent of white students who enrolled at for-profits but dropped out later defaulted, compared to 39 percent of white noncompleters who began at a public four-year institution. But 64 percent of black students who failed to complete at a public university ended up defaulting, compared to 50 percent of Hispanic or Latino borrowers.
Likewise, even black students who earned a bachelor’s degree were substantially more likely to default. Just 9 percent of all borrowers who earned a bachelor’s defaulted, on average, Miller said. Yet almost one-quarter (23 percent) of black bachelor’s-degree earners defaulted.
The default rates for black borrowers were worse than those for Pell Grant recipients over all, which Miller said means the results for black students cannot be attributed solely to lower average income levels.
Black students also were more likely to borrow, according to the new data. For example, Miller said 62 percent of black students who attended a community college took out a federal loan, compared to 46 percent of white students and 40 percent of Hispanic or Latino students.
“Seeing even African-American students who earned a bachelor’s degree struggle also reinforces that we cannot pretend the federal student loan program exists in a vacuum,” Miller wrote. “The median African-American household has just $1,700 in accumulated wealth. Racial discrimination in hiring has not improved over the past quarter century.”
Part of the solution to the serious, complex problem of default among black student loan borrowers is for the department to start collecting data on the race and ethnicity of borrowers, he said, adding that the feds should review completion, repayment and default rates to identify colleges with sizable gaps.
Likewise, he said states and colleges should consider if their policies might be driving more black students to borrow. One possible example could be well-meaning admissions practices that divert black students to colleges with less money to pay for grant aid.
“Perhaps it’s too much to expect student loans and postsecondary education to solve these structural problems,” wrote Miller, “but sending African-American students into an inequitable adulthood with large debts from college can put them even further behind than they already start.”Editorial Tags: Race and ethnicityFinancial aidImage Source: Getty ImagesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 1Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, October 17, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: Default Crisis for Black Student Borrowers
Drawing on decades of social science research as well as original analyses of campus race relations, W. Carson Byrd, an assistant professor of pan-African studies at the University of Louisville, paints a bleak picture in his new book, Poison in the Ivy: Race Relations and the Reproduction of Inequality on Elite College Campuses (Rutgers University Press).
Diversity programs at colleges aren’t doing enough, Byrd argues. The stated aim of exposing college students to people of diverse backgrounds might not be doing enough to break down social and racial divisions that still plague American society.
Focusing on elite and selective colleges -- since students from those institutions often go on to have an outsize role and influence in shaping policy and the national discussion -- Byrd finds that mingling in elite social worlds, even diverse ones, can result in students downplaying the consideration of systemic and structural racism. Instead, being among “the best and the brightest,” or at least being under the impression that is the case, might result in students overattributing things like merit or hard work for people’s success and failure, to the point where institutional racism is pushed under the rug.
Before the book goes on sale in November, Byrd answered some questions sent via email. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What did you see while doing research for the book that was most striking to you?
A: As I started digging into the research and talking with colleagues, I found, on the one hand, a general narrative that supports the overall findings of intergroup-relations research that prolonged social interaction between members of two groups under certain conditions could reduce a person’s racial prejudice and even their anxiety to enter social interactions.
On the other hand, there were some findings that did not fully support this narrative, and I took a cue from researchers who suggested more work needs to uncover how social interactions may reduce prejudice in some instances, but not in others. This led me to search for a way to examine how different forms of social interactions such as friendships, romantic relationships, who people roomed with and who were in their student organizations during college influenced what people believed about race and inequality more broadly.
As students who attend some of the most selective institutions also have access to resources and opportunities that position them well to be in leadership roles after college, I wanted to examine how these students’ social interactions and the college context of those interactions could shed light on what current and future leaders may think about racial inequality and what should be done about it.
Q: You write that, since you were young, when you started witnessing people from your small Virginia town go off to college, you noticed the themes that your research in the book touches on. You write, “I was confused how people who were given many opportunities to learn about the world could begin narrowing their explanations about the inequalities and life experiences that surrounded them, even for their childhood friends.” How long have you noticed this trend, and what has changed as you’ve worked to make sense of it?
A: This trend grew more pronounced for me when people discussed life after high school. Some conversations revolved around deciding whether they were able to attend college, and if so where, while other aspects of these conversations focused on why some people may or may not “make something of themselves” later in life. The conversations people would have after many began college were a strange mix of individual blame, structural blindness and apathetic prospects for the future for some groups of the community, and in some cases, people would write off the town altogether.
As I worked to unpack how these views around race and inequality interconnect with the college experience, I came across an important point noted in the 1960s that researchers are elaborating on more in research today with their studies on college students’ interactions and ideologies (i.e., frameworks to rationalize circumstances in society such as racial inequality). Social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew noted at a conference in 1965, “I think one of the great fallacies we have had in the field of race relations for many, many decades has been to worry about attitudes rather than about conditions. It is a crude but, I think, generally correct statement to say that attitudes are more often a result than a cause of most of our race-relations situations.”
Studies of college students’ interactions and ideologies are including more contextual information about the college environment to provide a window into how students make sense of race and inequality, and how their interactions inform these views. Two prominent recent examples that come to mind are [University of Maryland, College Park, associate professor of education] Julie Park’s When Diversity Drops, and [Harvard associate professor of education] Natasha Warikoo’s The Diversity Bargain. From this work, we garner more information about how cross-racial interactions may not reduce prejudice or the belief that individual efforts are the key to overcoming racial inequality based on the structure of programs such as intergroup dialogues, for example.
Further, when you put my study in conversation with Park, Warikoo and other research, the findings suggest how difficult learning about the realities of race and racism is for students whether it is through conversations with friends, in the classroom or in specific college programming. The learning process is neither linear in progress nor comfortable as students, particularly white students who are least likely to have such in-depth conversations prior to college, must confront how they individually relate to racial inequality around them.
In a sense, what have changed in this area of research are the multiple angles scholars are taking to examine the context of everyday interactions on college campuses to understand why sometimes cross-racial interactions and particular programming may work to reduce certain beliefs about race and inequality, while in other circumstances they do not.
Q: If students at these elite institutions tend to overcompensate or believe in merit and individual effort, what are the factors that they’re missing? And what risk does missing those factors hold?
A: One result people may find confusing is that students were less likely to attribute racial inequality to individual actions when they graduated college, and this was less often the consequence of their social interactions than some would expect.
However, this is not to discount the importance of their continued beliefs in merit or individual efforts, nor is it to suggest that students believe structural barriers are more influential on racial inequality in society. When we step back to examine the position of these students within higher education, it becomes more of a question of how does one connect individual efforts to racial inequality rather than ask if they support an explicit view.
This is an important point I elaborate in relation to how social interactions connect to both students’ racial ideologies [and] also their identities. For students at these institutions, they embody a certain view of individualism and diversity that elite institutions often trumpet. Everyone is framed as bringing their own version of “diversity” and “merit” to campus, and because they are recognized as a diverse group of students in a prestigious space, they identify most (not all) of their classmates as highly talented individuals who achieved their positions based on their hard work and intelligence.
This hyperindividualism is how the belief in meritocracy and the importance of individual efforts becomes immersed not only in ideological beliefs about racial inequality, but in students’ identities as well. My analyses suggest that some students, particularly white students, were gravitating toward a more individualistic conception of their identity disconnected from racial or ethnic identities. A similar reliance on diversity as individuality is noted in Warikoo’s research as well as by sociologists in studies of young elites in boarding schools, as is the case with [Columbia sociology professor] Shamus Khan’s Privilege, and also of universities’ specific rhetoric and policies around diversity, as noted by [University of Toronto associate professor of sociology] Ellen Berrey in The Enigma of Diversity.
Students in these institutions frequently benefit from being around other privileged peers that can blind them to the structural inequalities limiting people’s access to the same educational spaces they seem to “naturally” fit in, and how inequality may manifest on these campuses as well to hinder the achievements of their peers. It is a complex puzzle of how students rationalize their position in elite spaces with colorblind conceptions of merit and individualism they hold dearly, and the prospects that racial inequality can often be the result of something other than a person’s efforts.
Ultimately, students are at risk of truncating their explanations for inequality in our complex social world to a short “elevator speech” among their co-workers when they leave college, and reify the inequalities they can simultaneously find abhorrent.
Q: Do students at elite colleges have this worldview more than students at nonelite colleges?
A: Research finds that relying on a specific worldview to explain racial inequality is not relegated to those in elite social circles, including students attending highly selective colleges. Across segments of society, people find the argument that a person rises or falls on their individual efforts enticing, and echoes beliefs in the American dream. It is often to what degree do they support these views, how do they relate to such individualistic views, how much do they believe structural barriers can influence a person’s position in society and what, if anything, do they think could be done to address racial inequality.
What makes the case of elite college students important is the continual power and leadership opportunities acquired by graduates of many of these institutions, and how these beliefs can be enacted later in life. Graduates of these institutions enter policy forums wherein their beliefs about why racial inequality exists and how they, themselves, landed in the positions they are in can influence what solutions they identify as viable to alleviate these circumstances, or if these inequalities are fixable at all. These are relatively closed-off conversations among people with similar backgrounds, personally and educationally, that affect millions of people not able to participate in the conversations.
Q: You write that your findings throw a wrench in the notion that cross-racial interactions on their own can be an antidote to racism. How can cross-racial interactions be more effective? What needs to change, both at colleges and in society at large? What do you want a college president to take away from this book?
A: Too often people refer to racism as something in someone’s mind. That is, it is simply a matter of challenging the biases a person holds toward another group that will overcome racism in society. However, such a perspective puts too much of the onus on individual-level changes for institutional problems. Although individual change is important, both cultural and structural changes are warranted as well to make cross-racial interactions more effective among college students.
We must address inadequate curricula, policies and programs on our campuses to work beyond diversity toward conceptions of inclusion, which is much more difficult and requires a level of sustained, ongoing effort some institutions may be uncomfortable with, particularly as many face financial constraints that pose a false dichotomy of “diversity and inclusion” versus “educational quality and outcomes.” The straightforward answer is you need both, and [to] hold yourselves accountable for ensuring that beyond your rhetoric you provide each and every student on campus the needed support as they pursue their education.
Yet we cannot expect to identify a singular, universal solution to address what ails our campuses, because that solution may be effective for only one campus community, but not our own. Nor should we look for a 30-second sound bite for a 30-year conversation. The recent protests and demands issued around the nation reflect the need for sustained efforts on college campuses to tackle racially hostile environments for students and faculty of color. Increasing and sustaining conversations about historical connections to current realities is pertinent to prepare students for understanding how racial inequality persists after historical markers from the civil rights movement and the election of Barack Obama as president to our discussions of racial tension on and off campus under the current administration.
Not just college presidents, but everyone in positions of power and leadership on campus must avoid what is possibly occurring among many of our students and become apathetic, viewing racism and inequality as too big, too endemic to address. Although these conversations may vary in form and implementation, they should be based on self-reflection to identify what issues exist, who they impact and what resources are not available to address them. We must be frank with each other about what we are not doing to combat racism and inequality on our campuses rather than point to what we are doing. If our efforts were that successful, we would not need to ask ourselves why we are continuing to have these conversations as new students continue to enter our institutions year after year.New Books About Higher EducationDiversityEditorial Tags: BooksIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 3Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, October 17, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: ‘Poison in the Ivy’
Community college systems are finding they're under more scrutiny than ever before, especially when it comes to whether their students complete programs and graduate.
Take, for instance, a recent report out of Virginia that criticized the state's 23 community colleges for failing to get students associate degrees and certificates. The legislative report criticized the community college system, saying that only 39 percent of the state's community college students earned a degree or credential within seven years, and also expressed concerns about a lack of consistent dual-enrollment courses and a difficult transfer process.
The study found that the Virginia colleges’ completion rates were on par with the national rate. Thirty-nine percent of community college students nationally earn a credential or degree within six years, however, in other states, the rate exceeds 50 percent, according to the report. The report also found that the colleges are struggling to meet employers’ demands. For instance, there is a demand for employees in finance-related fields, but 13 of the colleges don't offer relevant programs. Ten colleges reported being unable to provide all of the work-force programs and credentials that can lead to employment in high-demand occupations such as certified nursing assistants, emergency medical technicians, pipe fitters and welders.
The report also outlined that the colleges don't have enough academic advisers to sufficiently help students, with 21 colleges reporting difficulties in providing academic advising because of an insufficient number of advisers and large caseloads. The report also pointed out that Virginia's community college students earned "a semester's worth of excess credits" by the time they earned a bachelor's degree. Across five types of credentials students could earn through the community colleges, 75 percent of students earned more than the typical number of credits required.
"People inside and out of the system want to see more people graduate," said Jeffrey Krause, assistant vice chancellor for strategic communications at the Virginia Community College System. "They want to see completions and see people acquire skills and credentials to succeed in the workplace."
"In many places, we are seeing state legislatures getting more involved with decisions that might normally be expected to be made by campuses or even the state systems," said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges, via email. Baime points to performance-based funding legislation, new tuition-free initiatives and remediation reforms as examples of policy makers weighing in on colleges' performance.
If state lawmakers are focusing their attention on completion, it could be because they see quickly approaching attainment goals on the horizon, said Lexi Anderson, a policy analyst with Education Commission for the States. While some states have created their own attainment goals, the Obama administration established 2020 as the goal for reaching 60 percent degree attainment for the country, while the Lumina Foundation established 2025 as the goal for 60 percent of working-age adults possessing a "high-quality" credential.
"The closer we get to those goals, the higher importance states and policy makers put on completing degrees and credentials," Anderson said, adding that two-year institutions may feel the pressure more intensely since they have an open-access mission and educate high numbers of "nontraditional" students.
But in addition to wanting to increase college attainment, state lawmakers have drawn a link between community colleges, work-force development and economic growth, she said, adding that legislators in states like Tennessee -- with its Drive to 55 initiative -- Indiana and Ohio have gone "all in" on pushing for reforms to increase the number of degrees as a way of increasing economic growth.
Scott Jenkins, a strategy director at the Lumina Foundation, said it isn't just attainment goals that are driving lawmakers.
"For the last 20 to 30 years, state legislatures have been underwhelmed when you look at the traditional completion metrics of enrollment, persistence and graduation at community colleges," he said. "What is new is that you have a lot of states that are investing in community colleges as a primary strategy around preparing people for the work force, and community colleges are more receptive to a small amount of dollars because they're much nimbler."
Jenkins said it's true that, if looking purely at general appropriations to community colleges, state funding to the institutions has decreased as a share of operating costs.
But instead, state lawmakers are pushing for tuition-free programs, which can drive enrollment growth, which in turn brings in more funding per student, he said.
But Krause said the focus by the Legislature on Virginia's completion, transfer and dual enrollment isn't unusual. This type of legislative review of the colleges was due to happen, and the General Assembly is "holding the colleges accountable to taxpayers," he said, adding that the last legislative review of the colleges occurred in 1991. Each year the Legislature makes a decision about which agencies will be reviewed.
In a blog post about the report, VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois said he was glad the Legislature evaluated the system.
"I think our colleges are well run, but it can be helpful to see ourselves as outsiders do and find things that we can do better," he said.
DuBois said that none of the Legislature's 21 recommendations were surprising and many of them reflected the system's own six-year strategic plan, known as Complete 2021.
"We agree with the report's conclusions that dual enrollment and college transfer can work better for students and families," he said. "But improving them requires working with our respective partners in K-12 school districts and universities."
The report also means the system will look to the Legislature to help implement some of these recommendations, by, for instance, making financial changes that allow the colleges to add more academic advisers.
"Accountability and scrutiny are the only tools in a Legislature's toolbox, and there is a heightened need and necessity for community colleges to be really good at serving the populations they have," Jenkins said. "Sometimes that comes across as being hard on a community college … from a positive side, it does reflect that everyone recognizes the absolute fundamental need of our community colleges to improve and serve students as quickly as possible."Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Career/Tech EducationGraduation ratesLegislationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: