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Is the public really losing faith in higher education?

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 24 mins

Last summer’s Pew Research Center and Gallup surveys showing sharply declining public support for colleges and universities -- especially among Republicans -- seriously rattled higher education leaders.

Understandably so: with the GOP running the federal government and two-thirds of the states, those trend lines can translate not just into fewer Americans willing to finance a college education personally, but also less favorable treatment of colleges and universities by politicians and policy makers.

A pair of new surveys conducted this fall offer a more nuanced picture of public attitudes about higher education. The surveys, by Civis Analytics and Echelon Insights, probably won’t make college leaders rest easy: they reveal meaningful public doubts about college affordability and the value of degrees. (More than four in 10 Americans agreed, for example, that “for most high school students today, pursuing a college degree is not a worthwhile investment because it will lead to student debt with little chance of finding a good-paying job.”)

But the new surveys may help focus the conversation on the issues on which higher education appears most vulnerable and on the audiences that are most skeptical.

The data suggest strongly, for instance, that Americans hold a much more favorable view of two-year colleges than of four-year institutions, and that Republicans and Democrats alike overwhelmingly believe that most students should pursue some kind of postsecondary education or training after graduating high school.

A Summer's Worth of Troubling Data

The release of the Pew and Gallup surveys in July and August stunned and troubled many college presidents and higher ed leaders.

Asked whether “colleges and universities have a positive/negative effect on the way things are going in the country,” 58 percent of Republicans said “negative,” up sharply from the 37 percent who answered that way just two years ago. Older Republicans and self-described conservatives had the most skeptical views. Among Democrats, meanwhile, positive views of colleges and universities continued to edge up.

Gallup’s question (which it asks about a range of American institutions) was phrased “Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in colleges and universities -- a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little.”

A majority of all Americans -- 56 percent -- said some (34 percent) or very little (22 percent), while 44 percent said a great deal or quite a lot. Democrats and those who lean Democratic took a more favorable view -- 56 percent confident and 43 percent less so -- while a full two-thirds of Republicans (67 percent) expressed some or very little confidence. (Thirty-one percent of Republicans said "very little.")

Gallup’s survey offered some insights into the why behind the public's doubts. Of those who said they had some or very little confidence, Republicans were mostly likely to cite political or cultural reasons (32 percent said the institutions were too liberal/political, and 21 percent said colleges were “not allowing students to think for themselves” or were “pushing their own agenda”).

Democrats who answered negatively were far likelier (36 percent) to say that the institutions were “too expensive” than to proffer any other reason.

How to Interpret?

The Pew and Gallup surveys share a few things. First, both surveys lumped all colleges and universities together, as so much public discussion of higher education does. That makes it impossible to know whether a particular respondent was thinking about Harvard and its $35 billion endowment, the cherished State U where the kids went, the community college downtown or a for-profit university that's been in the headlines.

Second, the questions posed to the public solicited respondents' attitudes in ways that were broadly defined -- in Gallup's case, their "confidence" in the institutions, and in Pew's case colleges and universities' "effect … on the way things are going in the country."

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president of social policy and politics at Third Way, a self-described "centrist" think tank, said she was struck by the extent to which the questions from Gallup and Pew (especially the latter) could be seen as focusing on cultural or political issues rather than economic ones. Because the surveys asked about the effect colleges are having on "the way things are going in the country," Erickson Hatalsky said, respondents may well be influenced by "whether you think we are going in the right direction as a country" -- in many ways a political question, she said.

In a blog post co-written with Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, Erickson Hatalsky questioned the idea that surveys like those from Pew and Gallup prove "that the country is giving up on higher education as a path to success  --  and that politicians who want to appeal to voters should follow that cue."

They drew attention to the Civis and Echelon surveys, which they said show "that Americans may have specific concerns about higher education  --  price worries, in particular  --  but they still highly value education beyond high school."

So what do the Civis and Echelon studies reveal?

Digging Into the Data

Civis Analytics, a data science company, surveyed 5,647 members of the public in August and September and weighted the results to the U.S. population. The margin of error is two percentage points.

It asked four main questions and some follow-ups, focused fairly narrowly on individuals' economic outcomes:

  • Presented with the statement "It's easier to get a good job with an education after high school -- like a college degree or trade certificate -- than it is to get a good job without one," respondents overwhelmingly agreed, 54 percent "strongly," and 32 percent "somewhat."
  • Presented with the statement "For most high school students, pursuing a college degree is not a worthwhile investment because it will lead to student debt with little chance of finding a good-paying job," 53 percent of respondents disagreed (26 percent "strongly"), and 42 percent agreed (33 percent "somewhat").
  • Presented with the statement "Most high school students should pursue career or technical training, community college programs and associate degree programs, OR a four-year college degree after they graduate high school," 89 percent of respondents agreed, 52 percent strongly.

The last of the four said, "Would you say you are satisfied or dissatisfied with the job _________ are doing in America today?" -- and filled in the blank both with "community and two-year colleges" and "four-year colleges."

The results were as follows:

Response Four-Year College Community College Highly Satisfied 8% 12% Somewhat Satisfied 44% 51% Somewhat Dissatisfied 27% 18% Highly Dissatisfied 11% 4% Not Sure 10% 15%

The roughly two-fifths of respondents who said they were dissatisfied with four-year colleges were asked to choose among five reasons why. A majority, 55 percent, said it was because they "cost too much to attend" and 43 percent chose "they don't provide students with useful real-world skills." Fewer said colleges "push students to a particular political viewpoint" (24 percent), "don't focus on useful subject matter" (11 percent) or "coddle students too much" (10 percent).

Civis then examined how different groups answered the questions. The lack of differences on many fronts stand out.

On the question of whether having some kind of postsecondary education or training improves job prospects, there was overwhelming agreement among Democrats and Republicans alike, and those with and without a four-year degree -- all were between 80 and 90 percent.

Ditto on the question of whether high school students should pursue some kind of post-high school education, be it vocational training or a four-year degree. Eighty-nine percent of Republicans and 86 percent of those with less than a bachelor's degree agreed.

Republicans were only slightly likelier than Democrats (44 percent to 40 percent) to agree with the statement that "pursuing a college degree is not a worthwhile investment because it will lead to student debt with little chance of finding a good-paying job." (Half of respondents without a four-year degree agreed with that statement, however, compared to 35 percent of people with bachelor's degrees. This group would include the Republican noncollege crowd that is often described as the "Trump voters.")

Support for community colleges crossed lines, as 64 percent of Republicans and Democrats alike expressed satisfaction with the job two-year institutions are doing.

The biggest differences came in the degree of satisfaction with four-year colleges, and the reasons for dissatisfaction. Just under half (49 percent) of Republicans said they were satisfied with the job being done by four-year institutions, compared to 60 percent of Democrats. Pluralities of both groups (40 and 45 percent of R's and D's who expressed dissatisfaction, respectively) said it was because colleges don't provide students with useful skills.

But the biggest reason cited by Democrats (by 69 percent of them) was that four-year colleges "cost too much to attend," while 46 percent of Republicans attributed their dissatisfaction to the colleges "push[ing] students to a particular political viewpoint."

One more set of data from the Civis study suggests that the stereotypical "Trump voters" -- Republicans without a college degree -- don't differ enormously from others on their views about college.

As seen in the table below, Republicans with and without four-year degrees differ little from each other -- and not all that much from Democrats -- in their answers to the question "which of the following best describes why you are dissatisfied with four-year colleges and universities?"

Reason Democrat --
No 4-Year Degree
Democrat --
4-Year Degree
Republican --
No 4-Year Degree
Republican --
4-Year Degree
They cost too much to attend 68% 68% 43% 39% They don't provide students with useful real-world skills. 42% 47% 40% 40% They push students to a particular political viewpoint. 5% 2% 46% 46% They don't focus on useful subject matter 13% 11% 9% 9% They coddle students too much 4% 7% 11% 18%

The other survey cited by Erickson Hatalsky and Miller was by Echelon Insights, which has produced a series of polls of 1,000 people in "Trump Country" (counties that went for President Obama in 2012 but President Trump in 2016, or where Trump's margin of victory was at least 20 points larger than what Mitt Romney captured in 2012).

The questions largely mirrored those asked by Civis, with the exception of the one on whether college is a good investment.

Eighty-four percent of the respondents strongly (59 percent) or somewhat agreed that "it's easier to get a good job with an education after high school, like a college degree or trade certificate, than it is to get a good job without one." Democrats (87 percent) were only slightly more likely than Republicans (80 percent) and self-described Trump voters (81 percent) to agree.

The proportions expressing satisfaction with two-year colleges (62 percent) and four-year colleges (56 percent) were similar to those in the Civis survey. Republicans actually were slightly more satisfied with community colleges than were Democrats (62.5 percent versus 59.4 percent), but far less satisfied with four-year institutions (52 percent versus 65.6 percent).

And the divide between the parties on the reasons for their dissatisfaction with four-year colleges was large: 73 percent of Democrats said the colleges cost too much to attend and 48 percent said they don't prepare students with useful skills, while 52.6 percent of Republican voters (and 54.2 percent of Trump voters) said they were dissatisfied with four-year colleges because they "push students to a particular political viewpoint." Roughly four in 10 GOP voters also cited concerns about price and skills preparation.

What It All Means

When layered on top of the Pew and Gallup studies, Erickson Hatalsky said, what the new data suggest is that "people continue to think that higher education is necessary for economic success and worth it -- there is no party split there."

The point at which "big shifts" in polling numbers occur, she said, like those in the Pew survey, is "when you embed other questions about cultural and political issues" into perceptions of higher education. Those political and cultural worries apply much more to four-year colleges than two-year institutions, as the more granular data from Civis and Echelon show. "Support for community colleges is off the charts," Erickson Hatalsky said.

That doesn't mean college leaders can afford to ignore the public opinion data, which include real warning signs, she and Miller said. The concerns about the price of college and student debt are real, and those concerns are likely driving the doubts about whether college is "worth it," they wrote. (A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published in September found Americans fairly evenly divided over whether getting a four-year degree was "worth the cost," with 47 percent agreeing that it wasn't "because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off." That number had risen sharply from four years earlier, primarily because of increased doubts from Americans with some college but no degree and those between the ages of 18 and 34, the Journal found.)

“Of the 38 percent of the general public who said they were dissatisfied [with four-year colleges], only four in 10 said that was because ‘they don’t prepare students with useful, real-world skills’ (which means a total of about 16 percent of the country expressed dissatisfaction for that reason),” Erickson Hatalsky and Miller wrote. “Questions on public polls that ask if ‘college’ is ‘worth it’ are likely capturing specific frustrations about rising prices (particularly at four-year schools), rather than a viewpoint that higher education generally offers no value over the long term.”

Much of the growing enmity for higher education from Republican political leaders has been aimed at wealthy research universities and elite colleges, such as criticism of $60,000 annual tuitions or large endowments (most recently in the tax reform legislation now before Congress), doubts about the value of research and the liberal arts, and escalating complaints about perceived political correctness and liberal bias.

The biggest worry in letting perceptions stand that Americans doubt the value of college generally, Miller and Erickson Hatalsky argue, is that politicians will seize on those conclusions to argue for cutting funding or other support for the various forms of postsecondary education and training.

"I find it frustrating that we're seeing politicians denigrate higher ed, and that it's really a tracking conversation," Erickson Hatalsky said. "You hear a lot of statements about how 'not everybody should go to college,' but usually it's 'other' people who shouldn't go to college -- and the other are usually low-income people, kids of color. Members of Congress aren't sending their kids to community college or vocational school. To me that is super problematic."

The bottom line on public attitudes about higher ed? Pay attention, but don't overreact, Erickson Hatalsky said.

"This is not the moment of the end of higher ed," she said. "People don’t shift opinions about their own life that quickly."

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New calls for clear, easily accessible data on Ph.D. program outcomes in life sciences

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 24 mins

Ten institutions on Thursday announced their commitment to providing life sciences Ph.D. students -- current and future ones -- transparent data on admissions, training opportunities and career outcomes. Most students aren't going to end up in faculty jobs, and the founding members of the Coalition for Next Generation Life Science want potential trainees to know that up front.

“Open data will allow students and postdoctoral fellows to understand fully the range of likely outcomes of their eventual training and career choices,” the chancellors and presidents of all 10 coalition members wrote in a co-authored article about the initiative in Science. More than that, they said, clear data will help universities better align their programs to Ph.D. students’ actual career outcomes -- and hold institutions “to account for their success in training and placing graduate students.”

The “cardinal goal” of such transparency is "making advanced training in the life sciences more efficient and humane,” the presidents added.

In February, the nine universities and one research center that make up the coalition will begin to publish reports on admissions and enrollment data on their doctoral programs in the life sciences, along with students’ median time to degree. Within the ensuing 18 months, they'll share detailed information on student demographics, how many years their graduates spend as postdoctoral fellows, and the jobs their Ph.D.s and postdocs eventually get.

“While many students come in with the expectation that they’re going to be able to have academic careers, that’s just not what the facts show,” said Peter Espenshade, project co-leader and professor and dean of graduate biomedical education at Johns Hopkins University. Indeed, the presidents’ article estimates that just 10 percent of life sciences Ph.D.s earn a tenure-track position within five years of graduation. Contributing to that downward trend, the article says, is a 22 percent decrease in federal research funding since 2003, adjusted for inflation. (Other factors not cited in the article include the increased hiring of professors off the tenure track.)

Espenshade said that students’ awareness of the poor academic job market seems to be growing, especially within the last 10 years. Yet many still see graduate school as “a next logical step after leaving undergrad,” he said, and don’t address the realities of that market “until it’s too late.”

The initiative is not, however, about discouraging graduate study, Espenshade said, arguing that it would be impossible to overeducate the U.S. population -- especially in terms of science. Rather, he said, “What we want to do is provide [trainees] the best education, based on the array of careers they’ll have.”

Elizabeth Watkins, coalition co-leader and dean of the graduate division and vice chancellor of student academic affairs at the University of California, San Francisco, also disagreed that there is a Ph.D. supply problem. Trained scientists and scholars who can think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and make sense of large amounts of data benefit society, she said. They also find “meaningful employment and make valuable contributions” not only in academe but in business, nonprofits and government.

The Coalition for Next Generation Life Science includes Hopkins and San Francisco, plus Cornell University; Duke University; the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

That’s for now. Members are confident that other institutions eventually will sign on.

“We see this as a tipping point for change,” Espenshade said. With increasing participation, “it’s not going to be a defensible position” to withhold data.

Beyond tracking and sharing data, Watkins said, she hopes institutions will use the information to adopt career exploration and preparation programs on their campuses for both graduate students and postdocs. That way, she said, “trainees can move into jobs that match their interests, values and passions,” rather than “default” into postdoc positions.

There have been many calls for increased transparency about Ph.D. program outcomes over the years, in the sciences and other fields. In September, for example, the chief academic officers of the Association of American Universities member institutions endorsed a statement calling on all Ph.D. programs “to make a commitment to providing prospective and current students with easily accessible information” on student demographics, time to degree, financial support and career paths and outcomes.

“AAU institutions should commit to developing the infrastructure and institutional policies required to uniformly capture and make public such data,” the statement said.

The association doesn’t have a plans to enforce the idea, however, so it’s up to individual institutions to make the first move toward transparency. For that reason, among others, similar calls for open data have failed, over time, to yield systematic results. The new life sciences coalition is hopeful that its you-show-me-yours-and-I’ll-show-you-mine approach -- originating from within institutions and not outside them -- will be more successful.

"Through conversations among peers, we are committed to working through open questions and obstacles with a goal of agreeing on common standards," the presidents wrote in Science. "And over time, we hope to establish a useful precedent that will promote easier and replicable modes of collection and publication, as well as drive down the costs and lower the barriers to this work for other institutions." They've got something of a head start: Michigan already offers detailed statistics on Ph.D. and master's programs. 

The presidents say the life sciences are a starting point for their open-data push, which could well extend to other disciplines in the future. Other coalition goals include enhanced mentorship for doctoral students and postdocs, and improved recruitment and retention aimed at diversifying biomedicine.

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Following cheerleader protest inquiry, Kennesaw State president resigns

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 24 mins

Sam OlensSam Olens (below left), the president of Kennesaw State University, named to the position over student and faculty protests just last year, has announced his resignation from the Georgia institution, effective in February.

The resignation marks a short term for the university leader who has been plagued by a cheerleader protest scandal this year and whose appointment as president in November 2016 came amid faculty leaders criticizing his lack of higher education experience and his defense of the state’s same-sex marriage ban as attorney general.

“I have decided that new leadership will be required for KSU to fully realize its potential,” he said in an email to students and employees Thursday. “Accordingly, I have advised the chancellor and the Board of Regents of my intention to step down as the president of Kennesaw State University.”

The resignation comes after a scandal dragged out during the fall semester over the way the university -- and Olens, specifically -- handled cheerleaders who protested during the national anthem before a football game. Olens didn’t mention the cheerleaders in his resignation, and instead congratulated the university for the challenges it has overcome in the past year.

In September, a handful of cheerleaders -- later dubbed the Kennesaw 5 -- took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before a football game. The university would later change its pregame ceremony, keeping the cheerleaders off the field during the anthem. The university said that the change -- though it came after the protest -- was logistical in nature and had nothing to do with the protest.

But holes would start to emerge in that story.

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. The protest has drawn supporters and opponents, largely split along Democratic-Republican party lines, respectively. Opponents of the protest have said it disrespects the military.

In the days following the game, both the local sheriff -- who is a Republican -- and a Republican state representative who chairs a subcommittee in charge of appropriations for Georgia’s public universities complained publicly in the press. Both said Olens -- a Republican attorney general before assuming the presidency -- had been helpful, and they expressed confidence that the situation would not happen again.

At the time, a university spokeswoman said that politics had nothing to do with the decision, and the timing and political intricacies of the narrative were all a coincidence. Olens had simply passed along information that was already decided upon by the athletics department to Sheriff Neil Warren and State Representative Earl Ehrhart, the university said.

The political intricacies of the situation raised eyebrows, and subsequent public records dumps placed things on even shakier ground.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution unearthed text messages from Warren and Ehrhart bragging about influencing the university’s decision to change the pregame ceremony. Following the publishing of the texts, the University System of Georgia issued a statement saying it would conduct a “special review” of the allegations that the decision to remove the cheerleaders from the field during the national anthem was a political one.

“Not letting the cheerleaders come out on the field until after national anthem was one of the recommendations that Earl and I gave him!” Warren said in one text message.

More texts, between Olens and his staff, would be unearthed in a public records request by one of the cheerleaders’ brothers.

“Not good. Can you help set up a [meeting] with them and me this week,” Olens texted K. C. White, the vice president for student affairs, the weekend the cheerleaders knelt. Olens expressed concern about the fallout of the situation with the media and in town.

A meeting between Olens and the cheerleaders never happened.

The records also disclosed the edits that went into the talking points created for university staff to respond to questions from the cheerleaders. At one point, though it didn’t make the final draft, the talking points warned cheerleaders that if donors stopped giving money to the school because of protesting, “that affects the university’s ability to provide need-based scholarships and support to your fellow students.”

In November, the university reversed its policy change, and the cheerleaders were back on the field during the national anthem. In a statement at the time, Olens said that he respected the First Amendment rights of the cheerleaders, although he disagreed with their manner of protest.

Later that month, the University System of Georgia’s review was released, pillorying Kennesaw State and Olens for not consulting the system on the changes, and questioning the explanation that the change was made coincidentally and not because of the cheerleaders’ protest.

“President Olens was aware of the proposed [pregame ceremony] change three days before it was implemented and did nothing to stop the change,” the report said. “President Olens also did not advise the University System Office of the proposed change, though he was instructed to do so earlier that week.”

The Journal-Constitution reported that last week that pressure was mounting on Olens to resign, and that he also felt his position as president wasn't a good fit.

Davante Lewis, the brother of one of the cheerleaders who filed the public records requests, said Thursday that Olens’s resignation provided an opportunity to correct the controversial process that led to his appointment in the first place.

“I think now it’s upon the University System of Georgia to do what they did not do a year ago: [create] an open, fair, honest, independent and national search for a president,” Lewis said. He added that he didn’t think the cheerleading scandal was enough to lead to Olens’s resignation, but it “brought together a major question of his presidency: Who is controlling Sam Olens?”

Indeed, Olens was a controversial pick before the scandal.

He was Georgia’s attorney general when he was appointed and had no higher education experience. A formal search committee for the presidential selection was never created, leading the Faculty Senate to criticize the process that led to his selection.

As attorney general, he defended the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, leading student groups to question his appropriateness as a university leader. Under his leadership, the attorney general’s office also joined a lawsuit seeking to block the U.S. Education Department from applying Title IX regulations and protections to transgender students.

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UC Davis professor stripped of status amid sexual assault allegations

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 24 mins

In 1987, his freshman year at the University of California, Davis, Danny Gray says, he was sexually assaulted by a professor.

He reported this incident to the university, but to no avail.

Now, 30 years later and in the wake of the #MeToo movement, which has spurred the firings of a number of high-profile men accused of sexual assault and harassment, Gray is ready to tell his story again.

That’s the narrative Gray laid out in a blog post published this week. In an agreement reached with the university, D. Kern Holoman, the former university symphony orchestra conductor accused of assaulting and later raping Gray, has relinquished his titles of professor emeritus and distinguished professor, though he denies Gray’s allegations.

Gray -- who now works at UC Davis himself as the director of academic employment and labor relations -- wrote a blog post detailing the allegations against Holoman, and showed a draft to the university last week. A spokeswoman said that the draft “helped spur some activity” leading to Holoman’s discipline.

Holoman, Gray wrote, sexually assaulted him in a hot tub at Holoman’s home, and later raped him. Gray said Holoman apologized, but the professor's unwelcome advances continued in the form of letters and correspondence sent to Gray, and Holoman assaulted Gray again.

“Although in hindsight I can see viable options for resolving this situation, at the time I felt I had no choice but to try to navigate my relationship with him,” Gray said. “I believe I responded to Holoman’s dozens of communications that summer with one or two letters, written in language that I hoped would be received as polite but not welcoming of his romantic and sexual advances.”

In a statement given to Gray by Holoman’s lawyer, Steven Sabbadini, Holoman denied the allegations.

“I am distressed and deeply apologetic for my role in any event that has harmed Danny Gray in any way, and heartsick at the thought of harm that has festered for 30 years,” Holoman wrote. “Our memories of that time differ markedly, but the remorse is very real. I continue to treasure memories of our long friendship and its focus on the beauties of art, literature and history.”

A representative from Sabbadini’s office said that neither Holoman or Sabbadini would be issuing further comment.

According to a disciplinary letter signed by Holoman and the university, provided by UC Davis, Holoman agreed to have his distinguished professor and professor emeritus titles removed in lieu of an investigation into the allegations, which, “if true, would have been a violation of the university’s sexual harassment policy.”

Per the letter, he is allowed to continue with his current projects with the university library, though he is not allowed to have in-person interactions with graduate or undergraduate students.

In a separate disciplinary letter signed by Holoman in 1997, also provided by the university, Holoman faced a complaint alleging “unprofessional conduct.” He agreed to receive counseling, according to the letter, and “any such future conduct” found to be a violation of the campus sexual harassment policy or the Faculty Code of Conduct “shall result in filing formal charges against you with a proposed sanction of dismissal.”

There are no records of Gray’s 1987 complaint to the university, though Gray said in the blog post that he made the complaints within the calendar year.

In a statement Monday, UC Davis Chancellor Gary May acknowledged that the university has not always adequately served victims of sexual assault.

“Many of the reports of abuse emerge after years and sometimes decades of silence and shame. In the past, few if any institutions had adequate reporting and investigative processes, UC Davis included,” May said in the statement. “Our protocols and processes have improved greatly over the years. I am encouraged that our team is dedicated to being thorough, fair to all parties and timely.”

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Colleges start new programs

Inside Higher Education - Hace 19 hours 24 mins
  • Columbia College Chicago is starting a minor in hip-hop studies.
  • Columbia University is starting a master's degree in business analytics.
  • Indiana Tech is starting an online bachelor of science in cybersecurity.
  • Manhattan College is starting a sports media production concentration for communications majors.
  • Marist College is starting an accelerated dual-degree accountancy program, allowing students to complete a bachelor of science and a master of science in professional accountancy in four years and four months.
  • Mississippi Valley State University is starting an online master of science in criminal justice.
  • Stonehill College is starting a master's program in integrated marketing communications.
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Some tax-bill provisions opposed by higher ed dropped in conference negotiations

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 14 Dic 2017 - 02:00

Senate and House negotiators meeting this week to craft compromise tax-reform legislation plan to exclude from a final bill some controversial proposals affecting students and colleges, according to multiple reports.

Lawmakers from the two chambers of Congress agreed to drop provisions that would treat graduate student tuition benefits as taxable income and repeal student loan interest deductions. Both provisions were included in House tax legislation passed last month but left out of a bill that narrowly cleared the Senate Dec. 2.

Another provision of that House bill that was reportedly excluded in negotiations would have eliminated interest-free private activity bonds, an alarming prospect for the many private colleges that use the bonds to save on construction of new campus facilities.

The reports will be welcome news for many in higher ed as congressional Republicans push forward on a rapid timeline to pass and send to the president’s desk this month a bill overhauling the nation’s tax code.

College leaders and higher ed lobby groups have warned for weeks about dire consequences for the sector of proposals in the tax-reform plans. And graduate students across the country have mobilized protests and other actions to oppose the new tax on tuition waivers. Last week, those protests reached the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan as 40 students and activists demonstrated outside and nine were arrested.

Their concerns appeared to register with some members of Congress ahead of the conference negotiations. Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, circulated a letter among colleagues calling on GOP leaders in the House and Senate to drop the tuition-waiver proposal from a final bill.

Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Senator Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, said the graduate tuition provision would be dropped from a final bill. And Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, told the publication that grad students would be pleased with the final bill. Other outlets confirmed that report.

Sam Leitermann, president of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, said that his organization was pleased lawmakers had listened to the students.

“We believe in the importance of graduate students to innovation and progress in our country and the need to ensure graduate studies are preserved,” he said in an email. “Graduate voices remain strong and we will continue to advocate with them for graduate rights.”

Students who organized against the provision argued that it would essentially tax them on money that never goes into their pockets in the first place. That's because graduate students typically receive a tuition waiver in exchange for work as teaching or research assistants, but don't actually receive that money as additional income. Student organizers said rescinding the tax-exempt status of those benefits would make graduate education unattainable for many by adding thousands to their tax bills.

Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said dropping the proposal from a final bill would be an enormously important development for graduate students.

“They've worked very hard around the country, thousands of them, to preserve this provision and talk about why it's important and how it makes graduate education more affordable,” he said.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said in a letter to top lawmakers on the House and Senate tax committees last week that about 55 percent of all graduate students made an annual income of $20,000 or less and nearly 87 percent made $50,000 or less in 2011-12, the most recent year for which data was available. Repealing the tax-exempt status of their tuition waivers would mean an unaffordable increase in taxable income, the group said.

Another proposal in the House tax bill reportedly left out of a final tax package, the elimination of student loan interest deductions, would exacerbate the debt loads of student borrowers, APLU said. Borrowers currently can deduct up to $2,500 annually from interest paid on student loans toward reducing their taxable income. Repealing that deduction could add hundreds to borrowers' tax bills. And repealing the deduction would mean the cost of student loans to borrowers would shoot up by $24 billion over 10 years, APLU said.

The Tax on College Endowments

Also Wednesday, a bipartisan group of nearly 30 lawmakers made the case in a letter to congressional leaders for dropping a proposed tax on the endowment income of private colleges.

House legislation would apply a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college investments valued at $250,000 per full-time student, while Senate legislation would apply the same tax to private college investments valued at $500,000 per full-time student.

That proposal, the lawmakers told Congressional leaders in the letter Wednesday, would jeopardize the financial aid of current and future students at a handful of institutions that already make generous need-based awards. And it would inevitably be applied to additional private colleges and public universities in the future, they said.

Moreover, the Senate endowment proposal would generate less than $2 billion in revenue over 10 years for a tax reform bill expected to cost more than $1.5 trillion, the lawmakers said.

The endowment tax, they said, “is unprecedented and poses a serious threat to higher education institutions and their ability to provide need-based financial aid to their students.”

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House GOP pushes innovation and deregulation with Higher Education Act overhaul

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 14 Dic 2017 - 02:00

The Republican-led Congress's early attempt at rewriting the federal Higher Education Act uses incentives and deregulation to encourage new twists on college, including competency-based education, short-term programs and nonaccredited providers.

Experts continue to absorb details about the complex bill from Republican leaders on the U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee, which on Tuesday voted to pass a 590-page version. Some applauded the innovation push but worry about the bill’s lack of “guardrails” that seek to keep low-quality offerings in check.

“We’re trying to not look at all the negatives, but rather be heartened by the fact that they’re having the right conversations,” said Lexi Barrett, senior director for national education policy at Jobs for the Future.

Likewise, the Business Roundtable, a CEO-led group that has the ear of the majority party in Congress and the White House, praised the bill.

“It wisely shifts policy to focus on the skills the American work force needs, reduces federal regulations and paperwork, and aligns closely with the CEOs’ priorities,” the group said this week in a written statement.

Relatively few colleges had given competency-based education a whirl in 2008, when the Higher Education Act got its last overhaul. But the bill attempts to give a boost to both the hundreds of institutions now at least mulling the creation of a competency-based program as well as to Western Governors University, the most established and largest institution in the space.

Perhaps most notably on this front, the House GOP’s plan would drop the law’s definition of a credit-hour standard.

This move would give competency-based programs that are self-paced and untethered from seat-time requirements access to federal financial aid programs. In recent years, a handful of these so-called direct-assessment programs have earned approval from the U.S. Department of Education and regional accreditors, but only after a laborious process.

Likewise, the bill would distribute Pell Grant funds more often, on a weekly or monthly basis, which would be particularly helpful given the flexible scheduling used by many competency-based programs.

Several experts said they appreciate the committee’s attempt to move beyond the credit hour and to create room within federal rules for competency-based education, which could encourage more colleges to offer the credentials. But they also said the bill, as currently written, could allow low-quality programs to cash in with federal aid.

For example, New America’s education policy program said in a written statement that the bill may be “too much, too fast.”

The group instead praised the approach of a bipartisan House proposal to create a “demonstration project” that would serve as a sort of laboratory for what works in competency-based education while also protecting students and taxpayers. That bill would require colleges to evaluate their competencies and translate them to credit hours.

“While competency-based education has significant potential to help students complete their degrees on their own (faster or slower) schedules,” New America said, “opening the floodgates too quickly presents a huge risk, to students and to the field.”

Faculty Interaction Requirements

The bill would drop the law’s definition of distance education, leaving only its current counterpoint definition, for correspondence-course providers. It also would remove federal rules that, beginning next year, would have required online providers to get authorization from each state in which they enroll students.

Likewise, the GOP’s proposal would no longer include the distance education provision’s definition of “regular and substantive interaction” between faculty members and students.

That requirement has caused headaches for Western Governors University because of a critical audit report released this year by the department’s Office of Inspector General (although experts have said no administration would act on the office’s recommendation that the popular university be labeled a correspondence-course provider).

Tweaked wording for regular-and-substantive interaction appears in the bill’s revision to the definition of competency-based education. It would require that such a program “provides the educational content, activities and resources, including substantive instructional interaction, including by faculty, and regular support by the institution, necessary to enable students to learn or develop what is required to demonstrate and attain mastery of such competencies, as assessed by the accrediting agency or association of the institution of higher education.”

The new phrasing appears to subtly address the inspector general’s line of critique of WGU and competency-based education more broadly, said Russ Poulin, director of policy and analysis at WCET, which is a division of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. One reason, he said in a written statement, is because the bill does not necessarily limit instructional interaction to a faculty member.

Over all, Poulin said, he likes the bill’s support for competency-based education and its move to drop the distance-education requirement.

“It’s time to come up with updated safeguards,” he said, that don’t “keep us from innovating.”

But Deb Bushway, who has worked on competency-based education as a former administrator at Capella University, the University of Wisconsin Extension and as a senior policy adviser to the department during the Obama administration, and others worried about how far the shift goes on regular-and-substantive interaction.

“Right now faculty interaction, as I read it, is completely optional,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a quality program.”

Alternative and Short-Term Programs

The bill would reduce the amount of time an academic program must last in order to qualify for federal financial aid, extending aid eligibility to more short-term certificates and subdegree credentials.

Currently, federal aid cannot be used for programs that are shorter than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. The GOP’s proposal would drop that requirement to a minimum of 300 hours or 10 weeks. A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill also seeks a shorter time requirement for Pell.

Such a change could be good news for community colleges, many of which offer short-term credentials.

“Providing federal aid to students enrolled in shorter programs has been one of our top reauthorization priorities,” the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees said in a joint letter distributed this week. “If enacted, this will dramatically enhance the ability of students who are focused on specific work-force and related aptitudes to take advantage of program offerings.”

Work-force-oriented groups and experts generally applauded the proposal. However, some worried about the bill’s lack of an attempt to ensure that short-term credentials have value in the job market.

For example, the bill does not include the terms “stackable” or “career pathway,” said Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition. “The fact that those terms show up nowhere is disappointing,” he said.

New America also criticized the bill’s lack of quality-assurance measures for short-term programs, such as minimum floors for student completion and job placement. That could be problematic, the group said, given data that shows many short-term credentials fail to lead to well-paying jobs.

“This provision will undoubtedly lead to more students taking on debt for credentials of little to no value,” New America wrote.

Another somewhat controversial piece of the House bill would allow colleges to tap alternative education providers -- meaning nonaccredited ones that are unable to access federal aid programs -- to offer all educational and instructional content of programs and courses.

Currently, colleges can only outsource half of the academic side of a program or course, except through the limited EQUIP experiment started by the Obama administration, which features eight partnerships between colleges and nonaccredited providers.

Poulin said he generally supports the move to drop the 50 percent requirement, but only with “more guardrails” than the current language includes.

Going farther was Barrett from Jobs for the Future. While she said EQUIP and nontraditional providers, including those that offer competency-based credentials, show plenty of promise, they also pose challenges to regulators and accreditors.

“Because these sorts of players are new … that makes the risks that much greater,” said Barrett. “We don’t want the door opened too wide.”

Editorial Tags: Adult educationCompetency-based learningDistance educationFederal policyOnline learningImage Caption: Representative Virginia Foxx (right) during a House education committee hearing this yearIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

Should professors talk about now-notable former students?

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 14 Dic 2017 - 02:00

Sometimes professors have positive memories of students, and sometimes they don’t. They usually don’t share their memories publicly -- at least with names -- either way. Yet sometimes they’re asked to weigh in on the intellect or character of a former student, or feel the need to do so -- particularly when those students become public figures.

Case in point: Guy V. Martin, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Alabama, wrote a deeply unflattering op-ed for AL.com earlier this year about the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Much of the piece was about teaching Moore -- or trying to, unsuccessfully.

“If Moore's analysis of a case was tantamount to thinking 1 + 1 = 3, and his classmates reasoned otherwise, there was no backing down by Moore,” Martin wrote. “The class was willing to fight to the death against illogic that no legal mind but one in America would espouse.” Moore never won a single argument, “and the debates got ugly and personal. The result: gone was the fulfillment a teacher hopes for in the still peace of logic and learning.”

Martin added, “I had no choice but to abandon the Socratic method of class participation in favor of the lecture mode because of one student: Roy Moore.”

The op-ed, published in September, didn’t stop Moore from winning his state’s Republican primary. (Rather, it seems an entirely different kind of specter from Moore’s past -- his alleged predatory behavior involving young teenage girls -- was his undoing in this week’s general election.) Martin’s impact aside, can and should professors talk publicly about their past students?

FERPA and Beyond

Institutions guard their students’ privacy, and indeed, they’re required to under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA, as it’s known, prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information gleaned from education records. Records, according to the U.S. Education Department, mean documents directly related to a student, maintained by an institution or agency.

Information obtained through personal knowledge or observation are not records under FERPA, however. So, legally speaking, professors are clear to talk about their students -- past or present -- as long as they’re not disclosing anything they’ve learned from official documents, written or recorded. They might say a student is bright (or not), but not disclose that students' grade, for example.

Brett Sokolow, an attorney and president and CEO of the campus safety consulting firm the NCHERM Group, said this week that FERPA-protected information remains so “even many years after graduation.” But professors and even administrators can share what they know about someone based on talk or direct interaction. That includes what “might leave a perception of someone’s intelligence,” Sokolow said.

Martin is not the first professor to talk about a student. Robert George, McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, talked to The Atlantic earlier this year about his former advisee, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But he did so, glowingly, in a joint interview with Cruz. The late William T. Kelley, former professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, also allegedly told a friend many times that a former student, one Donald Trump, was “dumbest goddamn student I ever had.” Yet Frank DiPrima, the friend, shared those comments in a piece for Daily Kos some six years after Kelley’s passing, after Trump became President Trump.

Laurence Tribe, a professor of law at Harvard University, once discussed former student Barack Obama in a National Public Radio interview, but probably not in a way that Obama would have minded. “He wanted to make a difference,” Tribe said of Obama. “He wanted to learn how the system worked.”

Mitt Romney also might have approved what Detlev Vagts, professor of business at Harvard, said about his time there in a parallel NPR interview, in 2012: “He had a very strong business school record, and a good but not outstanding law school record."

Biographers and reporters love to delve into politicians’ pasts, but they almost always quote fellow students from the time, not professors -- and probably not for a lack of trying. It was a fellow Baylor University swim team member who once told The New Yorker that Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky got high on laughing gas, via a scuba mask and nitrous oxide tanks procured from a dentistry classmate, for example. In any case, it remains the exception that professors publicly discuss their past students. But that appears to be a matter of ethics, not law or policy.

Law Versus Ethics

In an interview this week with Inside Higher Ed, Martin said he was within his rights in talking about Moore and ethically clear, if not obligated, to do so -- in the public interest.

“He’s a public figure,” Martin said of Moore. “If he’d stayed private, I would have strayed away from this. But several people asked me to speak out, and this is a matter of his fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution.” (Moore, a Christian, has argued that “God’s law” supersedes state and federal law; he was removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice, first for refusing a federal court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed in the Alabama Judicial Building, in 2003, and again in 2016 for telling state probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality.)

But to what extent does someone’s decades-old student performance inform their current abilities? In Moore’s case, very much so, Martin said, asserting that his former student has demonstrated time and again -- including as former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court -- that he hasn’t changed.

“He demonstrated the same inability to hear the other side, taking extreme positions and not listening to reason,” even when his court seat was at risk, Martin said. “Had he been a changed person, that would have been different.”

The American Association of University Professors takes a somewhat different view in its “Statement on Professional Ethics.” The document says, in part, that professors “respect the confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student.”

Greg Scholtz, director of academic freedom, tenure and governance for the association, said it “seems obvious” that that obligation would “discourage” teachers from disclosing information about the classroom performance of their students. Yet it’s doubtful that such a responsibility applies 30 or 40 years after a student has graduated, he said. (Moore is 70.)

Sokolow, of NCHERM, said he thought that professors and administrators each have to decide for themselves whether it’s appropriate to comment on a student who’s achieved some level of “notoriety.” Sometimes, he said, “doing so is providing a public service, and sometimes it is just gossip. It’s more ethical when it's a public service.”

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Footnote relishes fact that no one will read it

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 14 Dic 2017 - 02:00

This story is about a textbook, specifically a textbook on statistics, published in 2007.

Still reading?

Hoping to combat inattentive, lazy or uninterested students, the authors of Stats: Modeling the World titled their introductory chapter “Chapter 1: Stats Starts Here.” They explained their methodology in a footnote, found on the first page of the chapter.

The footnote boldly declares:

This chapter might have been called “Introduction,” but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.

But it appears that at least a few people have indeed read the footnote. The passage was recently pointed out by the Twitter account Academia Obscura, which aims to highlight the weird and obscure side of academe, often highlighting passages from books. The book was quickly identified in the replies to the tweet as the 2007 edition of Stats: Modeling the World. That identification was confirmed by a PDF version of the book found online, and in other instances it’s gone semiviral on other sites.

Nobody reads footnotes… pic.twitter.com/cTmlZIfiNX

— Academia Obscura (@AcademiaObscura) December 13, 2017

A sociologist picked it up on her blog in 2011 from College Humor, and the picture appeared on Reddit in 2013, where it was lifted from Imgur.com. Those weren’t the last times it was posted on Reddit or Imgur, though -- it appeared on both sites again in 2015. It’s also appeared on Pinterest.

It’s not clear who first posted the footnote. Like an introductory chapter in a college textbook, that part appears to have been skipped over in the never-ending race to post viral content.

Unlike an introduction chapter, however, people appear to keep reading the passage, spreading it around to different corners of the internet as they do. Based on Inside Higher Ed's rigorous research, there appear to be at least two different versions of the photo, based on the way shadows fall in the pictures depicting the passage. At least two students assigned to read the book, perhaps, were not fooled by the footnote.

But how well did the footnote work? How well did the authors really evade detection of their trickery before it was picked up by College Humor? Were they called out earlier?

Contact information for one of the authors, David E. Bock, was not immediately available, although he has posted a comment to this article. Richard De Veaux, a statistics professor at Williams College, replied in an email sent to him and the other co-author, Paul Velleman, of Cornell University, to say he couldn’t properly open the link, but he posited that “it’s important enough that we should write something together.”

By press time, and after a follow-up inquiry, no response had come.

It appears the origins of the footnote’s history prior to 2011 will remain a mystery. But who came up with it? Had the authors ever gotten feedback on it? How well did their strategy to rebrand the introduction as “Chapter 1” work? How long did it take for students to notice the footnote?

Answers to these questions -- much like a student’s will to read an introductory chapter of a statistics textbook -- remain nonexistent.

Update: In an email sent after this article's original publication, Velleman delivered some clarity on the footnote.

"Of course, our purpose wasn't to get students to read the footnotes, but to entice them into reading the book itself," he said in an email that he declared was "more useful than what you posted."

"Our gambit seems to have worked well. We’ve had many responses to this footnote, including emails from students assuring us that they do indeed read the footnotes. And more notes from students saying that they have read the book. Some even express wonder that they did that when they aren’t used to reading textbooks. We’ve even had notes from parents like the one that said, 'My daughter doesn’t read books. But she’s reading your textbook!'" he continued. "So it is a good example of how some well-placed humor can help instruction."

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Study finds gender gap in who asks questions in academic seminars

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 14 Dic 2017 - 02:00

Men are two and a half times more likely to ask a question in an academic seminar than women, according to a major study that offers further explanation of female underrepresentation in science.

Researchers who collected observational data from 247 departmental seminars at 35 institutions in 10 countries found that the two and a half times difference significantly misrepresented the gender ratio of the audience, which was, on average, equal.

In a paper published on the ArXiv preprint server, the authors argue that the lack of female visibility in seminars may be both a symptom and a cause of the “leaky pipeline,” which describes the high attrition rate of women in science fields, with a lack of female role models leading junior researchers to believe that the academy is not a place where women succeed and subsequently to choose a different career.

The observational data were backed up by an online survey completed by 638 academics in 20 countries, which found that 60 percent of women and 47 percent of men believed that there was bias in favor of men asking questions.

While the vast majority of both male and female survey respondents (92 percent) admitted that they did not always ask a question when they had one, women were much more likely to report that they “couldn’t work up the nerve,” that they found the speaker too “intimidating” or that they did not “feel clever enough.”

Alecia Carter, Alyssa Croft, Dieter Lukas and Gillian Sandstrom write that most men are simply “not aware of the bias” and most women “identify internal factors as holding them back from asking questions.”

Interestingly, the observational data indicated that if a woman asked the first question, the people who asked subsequent questions were generally representative of the audience. If a man asked the first question, however, men were disproportionately more likely to ask questions.

The length of time allowed for questions also had a significant effect, with the imbalance shrinking over time and typically disappearing at about 50 minutes of questions.

The paper suggests that moderators could play an important role in stopping questioners “showing off,” taking too much time or digressing.

But speaking to Times Higher Education, a number of academics argued that the problem was more deep-seated.

Leonor Goncalves, a postdoctoral research associate in neuroscience at University College London, said that asking questions in a seminar was a “minefield.”

“You find that a lot of men asking questions do it as a way of making sure people know who they are … It’s not about how good or pertinent you are, it is ultimately about how loud and confident you sound.”

Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, said that most men “are respectful of women and motivated to ensure balanced panels.”

But, she added, “The problem is it only takes one man in a room full of 500 to let out a wolf whistle, cackle, groan or other off-putting comment, and (to a young researcher who has just plucked up the courage to ask her first question) it feels like the whole room is against you.”

One of the authors, Carter, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Cambridge, said that the researchers did not aim to “imply that women should ask questions when they don’t want to or to discourage men from asking questions.”

“With these caveats, I do hope that if both men and women are aware of the imbalance in question asking that we highlight, then it could help to address the issue of women’s visibility at a local level, which would, hopefully, help to address the larger problem of gender imbalance in academia.”

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Killing The Golden Goose

Huffington Post - Mié, 13 Dic 2017 - 17:44
The GOP tax bill contains several provisions that will undercut America's colleges and universities.

University of Arkansas professors want to stall vote on changes they say would upend tenure

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 13 Dic 2017 - 02:00

It’s hard to build faculty consensus on anything, but professors across Arkansas and colleagues elsewhere are speaking out against proposed changes to the University of Arkansas System’s personnel policies -- changes they say would make them tenured or working toward tenure in name only.

Of particular concern is proposed language that would make being a bad colleague a fireable offense.

The university system says it’s not trying to limit tenure but rather make its terms clearer. Many professors remain unconvinced.

“Tenure would be kind of like a hollow shell, or the appearance of tenure without the actual protections” under the proposal, said James Vander Putten, associate professor of higher education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and vice president of the state’s conference of the American Association of University Professors.

He added wryly, “The impetus here is nothing more than a wish list for university attorneys, to make it easier to get rid of troublemaker faculty members like me."

Troublemaker or not, Vander Putten is far from alone in opposing the system Board of Trustees’ plan. The Arkansas conference of the AAUP and the executive committees of the Faculty Senates at the Little Rock campus and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville all have formally opposed the changes. The Faculty Senate at the University of Central Arkansas -- which is not even part of the university system and therefore not subject to board policy -- also has publicly condemned the proposal.

“If the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees adopts the proposed changes, our colleagues in the University of Arkansas System will lose the rights of academic freedom, hampering their effectiveness in teaching, research and service, and face severe hardship in recruiting and retaining qualified faculty,” reads the Central Arkansas faculty resolution. “Such weakening of tenure in Arkansas’s flagship school will affect all Arkansas public universities.”

Currently, system policy says that professors may be terminated for cause -- such as incompetence, neglect of duty, intellectual dishonesty or moral turpitude -- after administrative due process. That’s in line with many if not most institutions’ personnel policies and widely followed standards suggested by the AAUP. But the University of Arkansas wants to introduce new, more specific grounds for cause, including showing “a pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.”

That sounds a lot like collegiality to professors, and therein lies the rub. AAUP has long rejected collegiality as a distinct criterion for faculty evaluation, on the grounds that it is a vague, subjective concept that has over time been levied against professors with unpopular ideas or controversial research agendas. AAUP doesn't deny that collegiality matters, but says that a meaningful lack of it will manifest in one or all three pillars of faculty work: research, teaching and service.

“Historically, ‘collegiality’ has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm,” reads the association’s statement on Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation. “The invocation of ‘collegiality’ may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display ‘enthusiasm’ or ‘dedication,’ evince ‘a constructive attitude’ that will ‘foster harmony,’ or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.”

Two of the most vocal opponents of the changes, Robert Steinbuch and Joshua Silverstein, professors of law at the Little Rock campus, shared their own concerns about the changes in a post for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal’s blog. “The state of Arkansas is facing an existential threat to academic freedom,” they wrote, saying that a lack of collegiality would be “a stand-alone basis for termination” under the policy, placing such behavior “on the same plane as ‘threats or acts of violence.’”

In responding to faculty concerns, the Arkansas system has said that current board policies don't preclude dismissal for any of the proposed guidelines. “The intent of the revision is to add precision and specificity, thereby providing more explicit guidance to faculty and removing ambiguity as to the requirements of the policy,” reads an FAQ-style system document. “For example, there should be no ambiguity that engaging in racial discrimination or sexual harassment by a faculty member is cause for disciplinary action.”

Most importantly, the system says, “While the new definition was expanded to provide additional examples for which a faculty member can be disciplined or terminated, the new definition explicitly sets out the type of conduct for which Arkansas system faculty have always been subject to discipline or termination.” During the past five years, two tenured professors have been dismissed after trustees’ hearings for specific reasons, such as disregarding university and departmental policies, continued poor teaching, or frequent and excessive absences and unauthorized outside employment, according to the system.

Concerns Beyond Collegiality

Steinbuch and Silverstein nevertheless call the terms of tenure much more “narrow” under the proposal. They also criticize proposed policy language saying that professors may be disciplined or dismissed for “unsatisfactory performance,” another arguably vague standard. The draft policy says that an unsatisfactory performance evaluation must be reversed to satisfactory by the end of the following academic year to avoid risking dismissal, assuming the professor is “actively cooperating and engaged” in the process. Other timelines may be used if that’s not the case, it says.

The upshot of that change is “striking,” Steinbuch and Silverstein wrote, in that if a faculty member “resists a single negative review, appeals that decision internally, or objects to colleagues or administrators about that review, he can be fired for lack of ‘cooperation.’”

Steinbuch, Silverstein and their colleagues have a third major concern: that under the proposed policy, academic freedom would pertain to a professor’s scholarship and assigned teaching duties, but not necessarily service. Currently, the policy says that professors’ “mere expressions of opinion” are generally protected.

“This means, for example, that a professor could be fired merely for commenting publicly or internally about a school’s alleged financial improprieties or admission practices,” the law professors wrote, arguing that the faculty recruitment and freedoms would suffer under the policies. The changes would be most keenly felt by minorities, racial, religious and political, they said.

Steinbuch and Silverstein argue that board limitations on faculty rights are one of two main tools in an ongoing war on academic freedom, the other being the increased hiring of professors off the tenure track. Richard J. Peltz-Steele, a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, agreed in a separate post about the matter on his blog, saying that “what is happening at Arkansas, just one instance amid an alarming national trend, needs wider attention. Simply put, an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.”

To that point, Arkansas’s board also is considering new policy language saying that professors teaching off the tenure track are “at will” employees subject to dismissal for “convenience,” within 30 days’ notice. Professors across campuses have objected to these proposed changes, as well. The Little Rock Faculty Senate executive committee memo to the system calls such a policy disruptive to instruction and in conflict with the university’s mission, for example.

Professors also have objected to the system’s proposal to eliminate an initial faculty subcommittee in potential dismissal cases involving tenured faculty members. New language would place the decision to proceed with termination in the hands of the university’s chief executive, based on the recommendation or the professor’s chair or dean. “Faculty see this as a significant reduction in the due process afforded the faculty member,” reads the Fayetteville Faculty Senate memo of opposition.

The Fayetteville memo also objects to draft language saying that “formal rules of court procedure need not be followed” in hearings before a faculty committee in dismissal cases. “Faculty are concerned that this is a reduction in the flexibility of the Hearing Committee to provide protections to the faculty member facing dismissal,” says the Fayetteville Faculty Senate executive committee.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also has spoken out against Arkansas’s plan. Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense program, wrote on the organization’s blog that he’s seen through his work how collegiality-related charges are “easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick.” That’s because it’s “a difficult charge for faculty to fight -- just about any behavior could be subjectively cast as uncollegial, after all -- and therefore an easy charge with which to gain leverage,” he wrote. “If the Arkansas system’s policy were enacted, how would an ‘unwillingness to work productively with colleagues’ be defined? The policy provides no indication, so your guess is as good as mine.”

Beyond content, questions of process surround the board’s proposal. Faculty members have accused the body of being fly-by-night in its approach, releasing the proposed changes to faculty members just two weeks before a planned vote earlier this fall. The board eventually delayed the vote to late January due to faculty concerns, and it recently extended a faculty feedback period. Professors still have questions about the board’s attempts -- or lack thereof -- at transparency, however. Some at the Little Rock campus have even requested documentation on the issue, in the form of public records.

Just last week, the Academic Senate of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences started an online petition against the draft policy, recommending “in the strongest terms” that the board’s January vote be delayed. The current discussion should be tabled and a committee should be formed, representing professors across the university system, to allow for “proper consultation and discussion.” It’s gathered about 350 signatures so far.

Nate Hinkel, university system spokesperson, said that the process for revising the board policy is ongoing, and that Arkansas continues to welcome feedback from across the system.

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Barnard announces criteria for evaluating fossil fuel companies' investment worthiness

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 13 Dic 2017 - 02:00

Barnard College has decided on a set of criteria it will use as it attempts to divest its endowment from companies that dispute climate science and climate change, it said Tuesday.

The announcement comes about a year after a Barnard task force recommended the college divest from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or that try to undermine efforts to mitigate climate change. That recommendation was considered a new way to respond to divestment campaigns asking colleges and universities to keep their endowments from investing in fossil fuel companies. It was arguably a way for Barnard to divest from objectionable companies while still giving the college flexibility to invest in energy companies as it sought to maximize returns for its endowment.

But Barnard’s plan left much work to be done. It wasn’t clear what criteria the college would use to determine which companies were not worthy of its money. While a report issued last year suggested some criteria, they were not final.

The new criteria announced Tuesday were developed over several months by an internal divestment working group. They require asking the following six questions about investment options:

  • What is the company’s position on climate change?
  • What action is the company taking to reduce its carbon footprint?
  • Is climate science integral to the governance and oversight of the company?
  • What are the company’s affiliations with third parties that spread disinformation on climate science?
  • Does the company publicly support the need for climate policies and regulations?
  • Has the company been publicly transparent about their position, actions and affiliations with regard to climate science and climate change?

The ideas are largely consistent with criteria suggested in last year’s report despite some changes to specifics, said Robert Goldberg, Barnard’s chief operating officer, who chaired the college’s task force to examine disinvestment and served as its interim president last year. That report’s suggested criteria included examining whether a company made accurate and consistent public statements, whether it is affiliated with industry groups that spread misinformation, and whether it is committed to reducing net emissions.

Companies’ climate denial isn’t necessarily overt anymore, Goldberg said. Realizing that, the college’s working group tried to find a way that would best inform investment decisions.

“We needed to understand a total of company behavior around climate change and how that was consistent with our mission,” he said. “It’s really a lot about support for science and the kind of behavior these companies are exhibiting in this area.”

There is still work to be done before the criteria translate into actual investment decisions. Barnard considered developing a scoring system in-house but decided outside experts would have better access to data, have more expertise and lend the effort more credibility. So the college is turning to Fossil Free Indexes, a research and advisory firm, to refine the criteria and develop a scoring method. Fossil Free Indexes previously developed a list known as the Carbon Underground 200 to be used as a standard for divesting from fossil fuels.

The firm will use the expertise of the Union of Concerned Scientists to help it create a climate action list for Barnard. It will be vetting a set of oil and gas companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list.

The goal is for Barnard to be able to view a list scoring different companies. Leaders will then be able to decide where they want to draw a line -- which scores are acceptable for investment and which are not.

“Our efforts will enable Barnard to take a nuanced and thoughtful approach to the divestment question consistent with the college’s values,” Christopher Ito, CEO of Fossil Free Indexes, said in a statement.

Leaders have pointed out that they aren’t just penalizing companies that they feel behave badly. They would be rewarding companies judged to be responsible actors.

“Differentiating between companies is, in some ways, a more powerful way of ultimately changing behavior than a blanket divestment from the whole industry,” Goldberg said.

Barnard plans to release its climate action list publicly this spring. The college also plans to release information that colleges and universities can use to decide whether a company should or should not receive investments.

The idea that Barnard can serve as a leader in a new type of divestment movement is important. Many experts are skeptical about whether any one institution can have a direct effect on the fossil fuel industry through its investment decisions. A quick look at Barnard makes clear why.

Barnard’s endowment is considerable for a women’s college with about 2,500 undergraduates that is affiliated with Columbia University. But at $327.2 million, the college’s endowment is only a small fraction of the size of ExxonMobil’s $351.2 billion market capitalization. And Barnard’s endowment is not entirely invested in fossil fuels, let alone one single fossil fuel company. About 6 percent of its endowment portfolio is exposed to fossil fuel investments.

In other words, Barnard isn’t going to move markets on its own, even if it dumps all of its shares of a specific company tomorrow.

What the college can do is give institutions and consumers a way to evaluate their investments and spending.

“Ultimately, it’s very hard to affect the bottom line of the companies, but if you carry our approach out to a number of degrees, this could send signals, which could change consumer behavior,” Goldberg said. “I know that’s aspirational. But the theory around the approach we’re taking is to send some signals around positive actors and less positive actors.”

Oil and gas producers have argued that divesting from fossil fuels can be costly for endowments. A report issued this spring by the Independent Petroleum Association of America argued divesting would cut endowment spending by more than 15 percent on average. Environmental advocates disputed that idea, saying that fossil-free indexes can outperform stocks of oil, gas and coal companies.

Divestment advocates voiced support for Barnard’s newly announced criteria Tuesday.

“The original purpose of the divestment campaign when it launched in 2012 was to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and force our institutions to choose a side,” said Lindsay Meiman, U.S. communications coordinator for the group 350.org. “To see an institution like Barnard recognizing climate denial and the deception of these companies is truly a testament to the power that people around the world have built in questioning the role of the fossil fuel economy and the role and responsibility that our institutions have to author the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Meiman did have some questions about the criteria, however. She wondered whether a bullet could be added about lobbying -- one that would measure whether companies contributed to political candidates who deny man-made climate change. She also pointed out that companies can take a particular public stance while privately acting irresponsibly or sowing misinformation.

Criteria involving lobbying were considered, Goldberg said. But the criterion dealing with third-party affiliations would cover trade organizations and associations that could engage in some of the behavior a look at lobbying would examine. And criteria could be added in the future, because the scoring system is meant to be a living, updated resource.

“We felt that was a bridge too far for this particular exercise,” Goldberg said. “I wouldn’t rule it out down the road as we get more refined and better at this.”

Barnard has taken several other steps to reach the point where it could make Tuesday’s announcement. The college’s endowment had for years been pooled in a consortium, preventing it from excluding specific investments. In September it named a new outsourced chief investment office without the consortium limitations, allowing it to tailor investments.

Its Board of Trustees also had to approve the divestment plan. It did so in March.

Meanwhile, others are hoping the ideas applied in Barnard’s divestment decisions can be applied elsewhere. Sandra Goldmark is an associate professor of professional practice in theater and the director of sustainability and environment at Barnard. She is also a member of the college’s task force to examine divestment.

She noted the institutional tension between sustainability and needing to function. Some could see a slippery slope from divesting from fossil fuel companies and not being able to buy food, clothing and computers because of their impact on natural resources and the environment. Goldmark believes balance between immediate needs, long-term principles and impetus for change can be found.

“If we take a position that tries to leverage every action that we do take, I think we can apply this logic to a lot of things we do as individuals and an institution,” she said.

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GOP higher ed update clears committee after marathon markup

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 13 Dic 2017 - 02:00

After debating and voting on amendments all day Tuesday, the House education committee advanced to the full chamber on a party-line vote a rewrite of the federal law governing higher education in the U.S.

The legislation, called the PROSPER Act, would change accountability for colleges and universities, alter the student financial aid landscape, and loosen restrictions on short-term and for-profit programs.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the education committee, said Americans can't afford simply a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but need real reform of the law. Her Democratic counterpart, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, however, said Republicans chose to do so in a partisan manner, behind closed doors and with no input from committee Democrats.

He said the U.S. could support multiple pathways to higher education while adding support for programs that provide student aid and help colleges promote student completion.

"This is the latest battle in the majority’s war against students," Scott said. "That war began in earnest this year with the proposed tax bill."

The higher education bill would end some grant programs like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and benefits to student borrowers such as loan interest subsidies and Public Service Loan Forgiveness -- part of a larger effort to simplify the student aid system by offering one grant and one loan with the same repayment options for all students.

The committee considered more than 60 votes Tuesday. Democrats offered the vast majority of those with 40 amendments to the GOP legislation, nearly all of which were rejected on party-line votes. One would have made recipients of the new single federal student loan proposed in the bill eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. That amendment failed 20 to 19, with two Republicans -- Representative Glenn Thompson and Representative Lou Barletta, both of Pennsylvania -- joining the Democrats.

Another amendment would have made Pell Grant funding mandatory -- meaning it would be authorized in law permanently -- and boosted the maximum grant by $500 while indexing the value of the grant to inflation, an aim of many Democrats and student aid advocates. Under current law, Pell is funded through a combination of mandatory and discretionary spending and Congress must vote to approve any increases to the grant's value.

Other Democratic amendments sought to expand eligibility for federal student aid to those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, repeal the federal student unit record ban and restore Obama-era regulations on for-profit colleges.

Committee Republicans, though, had little interest in maintaining separate definitions of nonprofit and for-profit higher ed programs.

"If we want transparency, if we want accountability, if we want what you say you want, let's apply that to everybody," said Representative Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican. "The false dichotomy continues to devalue career and technical education, which is wrong in this economy."

Mitchell, a co-sponsor of the College Transparency Act, also expressed frustrations in a statement after the markup that the committee hadn't done more to make student outcome data available to low-income students. 

“With today’s legislation, we had a rare opportunity to make meaningful change, and we fell short," he said. 

Mitchell was absent from the markup when a Democratic amendment to repeal a federal student unit record ban failed to pass. 

Democrats and higher education groups on Tuesday continued to voice complaints over the speed of the process to mark up the legislation just over a week after the 542-page bill was introduced. The American Council on Education as well as the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees took issue with the time frame in letters to committee leaders this week.

As the markup unfolded, others said there hadn't been sufficient time to examine whether there are adequate safeguards in place, for example, where the bill would allow new higher ed programs to access federal aid.

"We are greatly concerned that the rushed process thus far has not allowed for thoughtful consideration by policy makers and stakeholders of complex policy proposals," said Craig Lindwarm, director of congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "The risks of getting this wrong are too great to not slow down and think through implications."

Foxx was dismissive of those complaints from Democrats in particular, even offering a list of bills -- and markup dates -- for legislation crafted by the previous Democratic majority.

"Our colleagues are suffering from amnesia when they say this process has been rushed," she said.

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Supporters say student was unfairly suspended from Hampshire College because of his autism

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 13 Dic 2017 - 02:00

On Friday evening, Iris Allen found himself homeless.

He had been kicked out of his dorm and ordered off campus following what Hampshire College has called a series of threats. A suspension hearing was scheduled for Monday, but until then, Allen wasn’t allowed on campus.

“Yes, I’ve developed social habits that aren’t acceptable, however, I have autism, and the school never looked in [to it],” Allen said in a video posted online by classmates to raise awareness of his situation. In the video, he was then escorted to a taxi by campus police and taken away. Coming from a background that has included homelessness, Allen had no family to turn to, according to supporters.

Hampshire has said that it removed a student -- without specifying a name, per privacy regulations -- from campus because of “a threat [that] was made to members of our campus community,” according to a message sent out by the administration Monday. Supporters of Allen say that he was unfairly kicked off campus and has since been suspended through the end of the spring semester, for outbursts and panic attacks that were related to his autism, and that those panic attacks did not constitute a threat.

Cameron Prata, a classmate and one of the organizers who have rallied support behind Allen, said that Allen was on the streets over the weekend but he and other supporters have since found a home for him to stay in off campus. The temperature dipped to a low of 29 degrees in Amherst, Mass., on Saturday, according to reports.

As Allen made brief on-campus appearances in suspension hearings held Monday and Tuesday, students gathered to stage sit-ins and rallies. There’s also been an increased police presence on campus this week.

“We understand that some students are upset about actions taken by the college in recent days, but the college makes all appropriate efforts to support and otherwise provide resources to students who need assistance,” Gloria Lopez, dean of students at Hampshire, said in an email sent to students Monday, provided by a campus spokesman. “The college has a process for handling these matters, which involves giving due consideration to all parties concerned. No decisions are made without providing hearings and other protections built into the college’s policies and procedures.”

Supporters of Allen are incredulous.

Prata described a series of events leading up to Allen’s suspension where he was reported to campus authorities for panic attacks or outbursts that occurred on campus and in public. While Allen's outbursts were possibly unnerving to onlookers, he said, they posed no threat.

“They’re making him out to be this criminal person,” Prata told Inside Higher Ed, adding that a suspension that leads to homelessness is “unacceptable.”

“He just wants an education and not to be homeless in the winter weather. There are just basic needs that have not been met and that are being neglected,” Prata said.

Allen was not available for comment.

Organizers have rallied around the hashtag #FreeIris on social media, where attention has focused on whether his autism or the fact that he is black are a factor in his treatment.

No matter what happened, what Hampshire College has done is reprehensible. Iris is #AutisticWhileBlack, which puts him at much greater risk of violence if he is out on the streets. #IrisDeservesBetter #FreeIris https://t.co/YJ6VCnYVoE

— Eryn Star (@NeuroCosmos) December 10, 2017

Given Allen’s history of homelessness, and, in Allen’s telling in the video, his past with an abusive family life, Prata said that Allen doesn’t have immediate family to turn to. The dorm was his source of stable housing.

“All they can provide me with is a taxi, to send me on my way,” Allen said at the end of the video. “I didn’t even get a chance to eat dinner.”

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