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Wesleyan College in Georgia apologizes for decades in which institution embraced Ku Klux Klan culture

Inside Higher Education - Hace 1 hour 24 mins

Numerous colleges and universities in the last decade have studied and acknowledged the role of slavery in building and running their campuses, or financing the institutions. Other colleges have changed the names of buildings that honored people with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.

During that time, Wesleyan College was silent. The college in Macon, Ga., talks about its history quite a lot, pointing with pride to its status as the first institution chartered (in 1836) to award college degrees to women.

But an unusual part of its history was revealed Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: decades in which the traditions of the Ku Klux Klan played a key role in campus life, with at least one tradition ending only in this century.

Wesleyan today is diverse: about a quarter of students are from outside the United States, and about one-third (most of them black) are American minority women. But only Thursday did the college acknowledge its past.

"Wesleyan College’s history includes parts that are deeply troubling, and we are not proud of them," a statement from the college said. "When Wesleyan was founded in 1836, the economy of the South was based on the sin of slavery. We are sorry for the pain that parts of our past have caused and continue to cause. We also celebrate how far our college has come and how we are striving to become the inclusive community we are called to be."

The statement goes on to note the Klan influence: "Wesleyan’s people were products of a society steeped in racism, classism and sexism. They did appalling things -- like students treating some African-Americans who worked on campus like mascots, or deciding to name one of their classes after the hate-espousing Ku Klux Klan, or developing rituals for initiating new students that today remind us of the Klan’s terrorism."

Among the details revealed by the Journal-Constitution:

  • Classes long gave themselves names, and the names selected by the classes of 1909, 1913 and 1917 were the "Ku Klux Klan."
  • The yearbook in 1913 was named "Ku Klux."
  • In the early 1900s, students marched in Klan garb through the streets to initiate students into the KKK.
  • For decades, through the 1990s, the athletic teams were called the Tri-Ks (for the KKK), later changing to the Tri-K Pirates before dropping the Klan reference.
  • In the 1950s (photo above), hazing rituals for new students (run by students) featured women with painted faces and carrying nooses.
  • As recently as 2006, a student group wore hooded purple robes for an initiation event for new students -- and that robed activity ended only around 2010 or 2011.

The first black students to graduate from Wesleyan were admitted in 1968.

The story in the Atlanta paper came about because Brad Schrade, an investigative reporter for the Journal-Constitution, was shown a copy of the college's 1913 yearbook. Wesleyan, which was starting to study its own history at the time, gave him access to archives that he used for his research. His article indicates that black student groups had periodically raised questions about the college's history and traditions before now.

A False Impression?

Vivia Lawton Fowler, Wesleyan's provost, will become president of the college on July 1. In an interview, she said that the article by the Atlanta newspaper was "fair and balanced," but that she viewed the Klan ties over the years as belonging to students, not the institution. Fowler said the college is nearing the end of a two-year period of studying its history and was planning to issue a statement at some point in the fall, as well as to update the college's history page on its website.

"It's going to appear that all of this work that we were going to roll out in the fall was in response to the article," she said, when that's not true.

Fowler said that she did not believe any student or college activities going on today reflect the Klan culture that was once a powerful force at the college.

The past semester has been one of significant discussion at the college about issues of diversity and inclusion, she said. Much of the discussion was prompted by incidents that took place the day after President Trump proposed his ban on travel to the United States by students from seven countries (after the ban was rejected by federal courts, Trump issued a revised ban, also now on hold due to court rulings, covering only six countries).

Amid discussion of the travel ban, the college reached out to its international students, Fowler said. None of them were from the countries covered by the ban, but the college wanted them to know that they were welcome and wanted at the college. As those activities took place, someone wrote "Go home" with "#Trump" on the whiteboard of an international student.

As word of that incident spread, someone wrote an inflammatory racial slur on a wall in a dormitory. The college then called off classes for the next day so students and faculty members could discuss the issues raised by the incidents. The college has investigated the incidents but has not found those responsible.

Fowler said that these discussions reinforced the view of college leaders to talk "about parts of our history that we are not proud of."

Other Colleges Debate the Klan

Klan history has come up at a number of other colleges in recent years. In most of the cases, the issue has been statues or buildings that honor people who had Klan ties. Among the developments:

  • The University of Oregon in 2016 removed the name of Frederic Dunn from a dormitory that has for years honored him. Dunn was a professor of classics at the university in the 1920s and 1930s and was respected for his teaching and scholarship. He was also a leader -- with the title “exalted cyclops” -- of the Ku Klux Klan in the region.
  • Middle Tennessee State University in 2016 announced plans to change the name of Forrest Hall, which honors Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate military leader who went on, for a time, to be a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 changed the name of Saunders Hall, which since 1920 had honored William L. Saunders, a Reconstruction-era leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Carolina board members said they believed it was a mistake for the board in 1920 to say that Saunders's Klan ties were worthy of honoring.
  • In 2010, after research conducted by a professor drew attention to the history of William Stewart Simkins, the University of Texas at Austin removed his name from a dormitory. Simkins was a longtime law professor at Texas, but before that, he and his brother helped organize the Florida branch of the Ku Klux Klan -- an organization he defended throughout his life, including while serving as a law professor.

Not Just the South

John Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky and author of A History of American Higher Education, said that the reports on Wesleyan did not shock him because the Klan was, for a time, quite active nationally. He stressed that Klan support was "very strong" in the Midwest.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had a student chapter of the Klan in the early 20th century. And Thelin noted that the Klan's bigotry had influence in higher education in the Midwest. Bias against Roman Catholics played a big role in the Big Ten's 1926 rejection of a membership bid by the University of Notre Dame, he noted.

Thelin also noted similarities in the Klan's views of socializing people and maintaining secret initiation procedures with the histories of some fraternities. But Thelin said that the Klan had limited scope in terms of influencing college students in part because the Klan was "initially an undereducated group."

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Appalachian College Association charts new course

Inside Higher Education - Hace 1 hour 24 mins

The Appalachian College Association could have disbanded.

The 35-member group of private liberal arts colleges and universities was providing a set of cornerstone services to its members -- professional development for faculty and staff members as well as a central library overseeing digital collections and group purchasing, databases and a reciprocal use program. But there was a sense that the association, traditionally focused on improving its members’ academic quality through programs like faculty fellowships and research grants, was drifting.

It had burned through several presidents and interim presidents in the years since longtime president Alice L. Brown retired in 2008. Some worried member engagement was low. Although the association has a sizable endowment, the foundations that had previously funded it were slipping away.

On Monday, the association’s Board of Directors -- made up of its member presidents -- approved a new mission statement and strategic plan. The move was geared toward having the association focus on serving home communities in its five-state region across the Central Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The new plan calls for the association to focus on improving education at all levels in the area and to convince students that private higher education is within their reach.

Early on, that will translate into work to bolster K-12 education throughout the region, according to presidents of several member colleges. But the association has a long way to go if it is to fulfill its new direction. It still plans to hire a new president, consider a branding change, seek new sources of funding and build programs.

Those steps will be worth watching in an era when private liberal arts colleges are under increasing pressure from all sides. The Appalachian College Association members are located in one of the most difficult regions in the country for higher education, one that is depressed economically, declining in population and facing steep social challenges like the opioid epidemic. Many of the member colleges are saddled with financial challenges of their own and doubts about the value of liberal arts education.

Questions remain about what’s to come. Will the different colleges connect more closely to take on major problems in the region, or will they ultimately scatter, leaving many to fight for survival on their own individual terms? Is the new direction attractive to foundations and sources of funding? Is it the right direction, or is it mission drift?

The change is a significant shift in focus, according to those who led it. David Olive is the president of Bluefield College, in Bluefield, Va., nestled along the state’s border with West Virginia. He was the chairman of the association’s Board of Directors for the last two years, leading it as it drafted the new mission statement and plan.

“We are making a commitment not only to changing the lives of our students who come to study our campuses -- some of those coming from Appalachia and some not -- but really being focused on having a significant impact in our communities beyond our campus boundaries,” he said.

At this point, the effort is being left “somewhat vague” so member institutions can pilot their own programs depending on local conditions. The economy is different around Bluefield than it is around Knoxville, Tenn., where another association member, Johnson University, has a campus, Olive said.

Member institutions also face significantly different circumstances. For instance, Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia this year offered early retirements and struck a deal to sell its campus to the local Roman Catholic diocese, efforts to balance its budget. In contrast, Berea College in Kentucky has a large enough endowment that it does not need to charge its students for tuition.

Broadly, however, many recognize that they face a common set of issues, according to Berea’s president, Lyle D. Roelofs.

“You can’t be in this part of the world and not realize that things are changing in the wrong direction fairly rapidly,” he said. “Recent political developments, recent economic developments -- coal versus natural gas -- all of these things make the situation bleak on a fairly short time scale.”

Some Appalachian College Association presidents said a boost to regional K-12 education could help them with enrollment or relieve some financial pressures in the future. Better-prepared students could limit the need to spend on remediation, for instance. Efforts could also create a pipeline for more students to enter college.

But none described the idea as a primary solution to enrollment and financial challenges. Many didn’t agree on the scope of future financial challenges they will face. But a focus on K-12 education cannot be the solution for a struggling small college, Roelofs said.

“To the extent we make progress on this strategy, we are not actually going to generate a whole lot of paying customers for the schools in Appalachia,” he said. “That’s because the people can’t really afford education.”

Any solution to the problems struggling small colleges face will have to come from decisions at the national and state level, Roelofs said.

Still, the question remains whether a group like the association could help its members band together to face any economic challenges, pooling resources or collaborating more closely. Its former president, Brown, described colleges in the Central Appalachian region as being both fiercely independent and part of a group that is “among the most fragile in the nation.” They are also critically important to their students, she said.

“There is a population of students out there who really need these kinds of colleges,” Brown said. “They are not going to thrive in an environment at Princeton, for example. They are not going to thrive even at the University of Kentucky. They need an environment where people understand them and their culture.”

That’s not to minimize the change in the association’s direction. Faced with a follow-up question about the traditional focus of the association, Brown said it was on strengthening members’ academics.

“The focus of the ACA when it was founded and during my 25 years directing it was on academic quality,” she said in an email. “The ACA provided faculty and students resources that strengthened the academic programs of the member colleges: such as fellowships for faculty to do independent research and study, faculty-student research grants, international study opportunities, and access to library and technology resources.”

Marcia Hawkins, the president of Union College in Kentucky, put the change in mission another way.

“It talked about the association serving the membership,” Hawkins said of the previous mission. “Now we’re at a point where our mission says we are the association. It’s not this outside thing taking care of us. We are it. So how do we make an impact?”

The association doesn’t plan to stop its traditional services like the central library and faculty fellowships. It has a $26 million endowment to support those legacy programs. Colleges and universities also pay membership fees that average about $15,000 per year per institution.

The association’s annual budget is about $5 million, said Anne Ponder, who worked with the association as a consultant as it crafted its new plan and is a former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Reorganizing association staff and improving governance could help the association do more, Ponder said.

“The idea is that the costs would be a steady state, but there is the opportunity for this new purpose,” she said.

Still, some presidents privately wondered how much individual institutions will buy in to the association’s new direction. Some of the association’s members are heavily dependent on the Appalachian region for students. Others draw from outside the area.

The association’s next step -- hiring a president -- will be critical, said Edwin Welch, president of the University of Charleston, in West Virginia.

“Because of, I think, pressure on presidents and provosts to take care of their own institutions, if you don’t have a strong consortia leader, they won’t come forth, and the organization won’t come forth and be successful and make a difference,” Welch said. “So the leadership of a consortium seems to be absolutely critical to its success.”

At the end of the day, many said the re-evaluation was preferable to drifting with no defined focus or disbanding the association. Olive said surveys indicated members wanted to keep the legacy programs in place while also exploring new ways to work together.

“Institutions who don’t constantly look at redefining themselves and assessing where they are, are going to be in trouble,” said Jake Schrum, president of Emory & Henry College in Virginia. “That’s a step we took. That was a smart step to take.”

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Education Department's 'regulatory relief' panel offers early look at its work

Inside Higher Education - Hace 1 hour 24 mins

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday offered a first glimpse at how it is carrying out the Trump administration's push to ease federal regulations -- and asked for advice on what rules it should eliminate.

In February President Trump signed an executive order "seeking to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people" by calling for federal agencies, including the Education Department, to create "regulatory reform" task forces. Those committees will evaluate existing regulations and then make recommendations about which ones to repeal, replace or modify. The order gives priority to curbing regulations that are seen as outdated, unnecessary, ineffective, costly, inconsistent or that inhibit job creation.

The department's task force issued its first progress report Thursday. While few decisions have been made so far, the 66-page document describes the next steps in the process. It also cites the administration's previously announced move to hit pause on two "burdensome" regulations: the borrower-defense and gainful-employment rules. The new task force said the looming rule-making process for those rules will be "arduous" and require significant resources and oversight from the department.

This fall the department plans to meet with higher education associations to discuss "regulatory relief," the task force said.

It cited likely meetings with the American Council on Education, historically black colleges and universities, and financial aid administrators. As Politico has reported, Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, recently told U.S. senators that the agency is relying in part on a report calling for less regulation of higher education that Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who leads the Senate's education committee, released in 2015 with help from ACE and a group of college leaders.

Also this week, the department published a request for public suggestions on regulations to be eliminated or pared back.

"The regulatory reform task force has been hard at work over the last few months cataloging over 150 regulations and more than 1,700 pieces of policy guidance on the books at the Department of Education," DeVos said in a written statement. "As their work continues, they have been tasked with providing recommendations on which regulations to repeal, modify or keep in an effort to ensure those that remain adequately protect students while giving states, institutions, teachers, parents and students the flexibility needed to improve student achievement."

The progress report lists 15 department staff members who are on the task force, including both political appointees and career officials. Robert Eitel, a lawyer who worked for a for-profit college company before joining the department, is leading the group. Eitel has recused himself from matters relating to gainful employment.

Relatively few decisions have been made by the task force on the 154 regulations listed in the report. However, the report calls for a partial modification to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that seeks to protect students' educational records. The report said FERPA needs updates to reflect changes made by Congress in recent years, as well as to "clarify provisions to reflect developments in the nature and use of education technology."

Eitel also is co-chair of a department steering committee that will make recommendations about possibly reorganizing the agency. As with the regulation reform task force, that group was formed in response to a Trump executive order.

It's unclear what role, if any, a possible group of 15 college presidents might play in advising the administration on regulatory issues. Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University's president and a Trump ally, in January said he would be leading a presidential task force on higher education. He said at the time that he was interested in working to limit micromanagement of colleges and accreditors by the department.

However, as Politico first reported this month, that task force has not been created. Falwell said he will instead be part of a White House-convened group of 15 college presidents that will address education issues. Previous administrations also have brought together advisory groups of college leaders.

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Microbiology society cuts back on small conferences

Inside Higher Education - Hace 1 hour 24 mins

The American Society of Microbiology last month announced plans to significantly scale back its small-conference organizing, putting more pressure on what some see as an already undervalued chance for networking.

As opposed to its large and medium annual conferences -- such as ASM Microbe, which is billed as the world’s largest gathering of microbiologists -- which draw thousands of professors, researchers and academics from across the field, ASM’s small conferences typically draw crowds in the hundreds. Those conferences are more narrowly focused to specific fields, such as biofilms or beneficial microbes. Attendees say the small sizes create more intimate spaces for networking among colleagues, especially for younger members. But they also can be costlier to run than their big-ticket counterparts. (Other large scholarly societies organize small conferences for people from certain regions or states.)

“Small conferences consistently trending down in attendance,” ASM CEO Stefano Bertuzzi wrote in a tweet to professors talking about the decision. “ASM not able to continue absorbing financial losses.”

David Hooper, chair of ASM’s meeting board, said that the society has organized eight to 10 small conferences a year, on average, but will be scaling back to about two -- including the conference on biofilms -- although the number isn’t set in stone. While the small conferences were costly, and attendance was decreasing, he said the decision to cut back on small conferences was part of a wide-ranging re-evaluation of the organization’s finances. Hosted in New Orleans over five days, ASM Microbe, which advertised bringing in about 10,000 people, featured an exhibit and poster hall, industry workshops and close to 600 speakers. The smaller conferences, held with less fanfare, also typically bring in fewer people and have to be subsidized by the society.

“With deficit budgets and a new CEO, we had to have a strategic relook at the whole sort of range of ASM programs,” Hooper said. “It wasn’t just meetings that were being looked at, but the spectrum of all the activities that ASM was doing.”

“Looking at the conferences program, we thought now’s the time to step back and restructure this in a way that our portfolio may be a bit smaller. Obviously there are positives to having smaller meetings -- people do like those. We want to keep having smaller conferences, but they need to be sustainable, of course, financially,” he said, adding that the smaller conferences will probably be tailored to “cutting-edge” topics in microbiology.

Joerg Graf, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Connecticut who has attended both large and small conferences over the course of his career, said he respected ASM’s clout in the field of microbiology, and that scaling back its small-conference organizing wasn’t a move the organization would take lightly.

“The American Society for Microbiology is a very important organization in this field, and I think ASM conferences were very important in how the American Society for Microbiology was able to reach out, especially to early-career scientists, and provide them with cutting-edge information and also provide opportunities to network with established investigators. Losing those conferences would restrict those opportunities,” he said. “But ASM really has to make difficult decisions.”

Graf said that throughout his years attending ASM conferences and meetings both large and small, the smaller ones provided an intimate space for young researchers to network and offered more specific programming focused on microbiology’s various fields.

“When there are 6,000 attendees, it is very challenging for a graduate student to find time to meet with a faculty member,” he said. At smaller conferences, by contrast, shared lunches, dinners and receptions can help young members make connections.

“Those are all opportunities where it’s very easy, and it’s not an intimidating environment for graduate students to interact with faculty,” he said.

Still, Graf said, large ASM conferences are useful for learning about fields outside one’s specialty. Offering some hope for younger scientists, he highlighted other ways outside ASM to find intimate settings, such as the Gordon Research Conferences and the Keystone Symposia.

Mark Mandel, a professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University, said he plans to keep holding a conference on beneficial microbes that has previously been affiliated with ASM, although it will most likely have to be outside the scope of ASM going forward.

“What we see is consistently 200 people attend, and they’re passionate, they’re energetic,” he said. “So now when we try to continue that energy, we’re now doing that outside of the organization of the larger society. It seems like there’s less energy to be poured into the organization.”

For his part, Hooper said that ASM has listened to feedback to improve the large and medium ASM meetings for younger faculty.

“We spend a lot of time focusing on both input and involvement from junior faculty and trainees for the programming and the presentation of these meetings,” he said. “They’re the future of any society.”

When pressures working against small conferences arise, however, so do pressures on small colleges’ budgets to send professors and students to conferences of any size. Jason Pickavance, director of educational initiatives at Salt Lake Community College, was a frequent attendee of the Two-Year College English Association’s conferences for its Western division during his days as an English professor. He said he still attends TYCA-West when it comes to Salt Lake.

Pickavance wrote in an essay for Inside Higher Ed that smaller conferences as a whole are often underappreciated for their value and the “authenticity” they provide for faculty, all at a relatively low cost.

“It’s not like [large conferences] are evil,” Pickavance said. “I don’t know what they would do to make it different. It’s less a critique of large conferences than it is praising small conferences.”

Geography can play a role in restructuring conferences, Mandel said. The Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Meeting consolidated its bouncing locations, settling on hosting the conferences only in Madison, Wis., instead of rotating between Madison and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, on New York’s Long Island, every other year. On the other hand, Mandel said, conferences aimed at specific regions can still benefit from rotating locations -- as the Midwest Microbial Pathogens Conference does -- without racking up huge expenditures for attendees, since the rotating location is never too far.

When it comes to travel, registration and lodging costs associated with attending conferences, smaller gatherings can be easier on a college’s travel budget. TYCA-West bounces between Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, keeping those costs to a minimum, Pickavance said.

And with higher education budgets being tight, those savings -- and the benefits smaller conferences can provide -- can mean an outsize impact on those who attend.

“That continued pressure on travel budgets makes small conferences all the more important,” Pickavance said. “The regional small conference, in my mind, is going to become more important in an age where, maybe, travel budgets become more scarce. You can’t go to Boston or San Diego -- expensive flight, expensive city, expensive registration. If I go to Phoenix, well, I have family there, so I can stay for free.”

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New presidents or provosts: Columbia Intl Cuyahoga Labette Lake Michigan Lane W&L WGU Washington Wesleyan Wittenberg

Inside Higher Education - Hace 1 hour 24 mins
  • Melody Blake, visiting assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan College, in Georgia, has been promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Marc C. Conner, interim provost and the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee Professor of English at Washington & Lee University, in Virginia, has been named to the provost job on a permanent basis.
  • Richard Cummins, president of Columbia Basin College, in Washington State, has been chosen as chancellor of WGU Washington.
  • Michael Frandsen, vice president for finance and administration at Oberlin College, in Ohio, has been appointed president of Wittenberg University, also in Ohio.
  • Margaret Hamilton, vice president for academic affairs, institutional effectiveness and planning at Camden County College, in New Jersey, has been selected as president of Lane Community College, in Oregon.
  • Trevor Kubatzke, vice president of student services at Milwaukee Area Technical College, in Wisconsin, has been chosen as president of Lake Michigan College, in Michigan.
  • Karen Miller, interim executive vice president of access, learning and success at Cuyahoga Community College, in Ohio, has been named to the chief academic officer job on a permanent basis.
  • Mark A. Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, has been selected as president of Columbia International University, in South Carolina.
  • Mark Watkins, dean of instruction at Labette Community College, in Kansas, has been promoted to president there.
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A better ranking system for university teaching?

Tony Bates - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 18:44

Who is top dog among UK universities?
Image: © Australian Dog Lover, 2017

Redden, E. (2017) Britain Tries to Evaluate Teaching Quality Inside Higher Ed, June 22

This excellent article describes in detail a new three-tiered rating system of teaching quality at universities introduced by the U.K. government, as well as a thoughtful discussion. As I have a son and daughter-in-law teaching in a U.K. university and grandchildren either as students or potential students, I have more than an academic interest in this topic.

How are the rankings done?

Under the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), universities in England and Wales will get one of three ‘awards’: gold, silver and bronze (apparently there are no other categories, such as tin, brass, iron or dross for those whose teaching really sucks). A total of 295 institutions opted to participate in the ratings.

Universities are compared on six quantitative metrics that cover:

  • retention rates
  • student satisfaction with teaching, assessment and academic support (from the National Student Survey)
  • rates of employment/post-graduate education six months after graduation.

However, awards are relative rather than absolute since they are matched against ‘benchmarks calculated to account for the demographic profile of their students and the mix of programs offered.’ 

This process generates a “hypothesis” of gold, silver or bronze, which a panel of assessors then tests against additional evidence submitted for consideration by the university (higher education institutions can make up to a 15-page submission to TEF assessors). Ultimately the decision of gold, silver or bronze is a human judgment, not the pure product of a mathematical formula.

What are the results?

Not what you might think. Although Oxford and Cambridge universities were awarded gold, so were some less prestigious universities such as the University of Loughborough, while some more prestigious universities received a bronze. So at least it provides an alternative ranking system to those that focus mainly on research and peer reputation.

What is the purpose of the rankings?

This is less clear. Ostensibly (i.e., according to the government) it is initially aimed at giving potential students a better way of knowing how universities stand with regard to teaching. However, knowing the Conservative government in the UK, it is much more likely to be used to link tuition fees to institutional performance, as part of the government’s free market approach to higher education. (The U.K. government allowed universities to set their own fees, on the assumption that the less prestigious universities would offer lower tuition fees, but guess what – they almost all opted for the highest level possible, and still were able to fill seats).

What are the pros and cons of this ranking?

For a more detailed discussion, see the article itself but here is my take on it.


First this is a more thoughtful approach to ranking than the other systems. It focuses on teaching (which will be many potential students’ initial interest in a university) and provides a useful counter-balance to the emphasis on research in other rankings.

Second it has a more sophisticated approach than just counting up scores on different criteria. It has an element of human judgement and an opportunity for universities to make their case about why they should be ranked highly. In other words it tries to tie institutional goals to teaching performance and tries to take into account the very large differences between universities in the U.K. in terms of student socio-economic background and curricula.

Third, it does provide a simple, understandable ‘award’ system of categorizing universities on their quality of teaching that students and their parents can at least understand.

Fourth, and most important of all, it sends a clear message to institutions that teaching matters. This may seem obvious, but for many universities – and especially faculty – the only thing that really matters is research. Whether though this form of ranking will be sufficient to get institutions to pay more than lip service to teaching remains to be seen.


However, there are a number of cons. First the national student union is against it, partly because it is heavily weighted by student satisfaction ratings based on the National Student Survey, which thousands of students have been boycotting (I’m not sure why). One would have thought that students in particular would value some accountability regarding the quality of teaching. But then, the NUS has bigger issues with the government, such as the appallingly high tuition fees (C$16,000 a year- the opposition party in parliament, Labour, has promised free tuition).

More importantly, there are the general arguments about university rankings that still apply to this one. They measure institutional performance not individual department or instructor performance, which can vary enormously within the same institution. If you want to study physics it doesn’t help if a university has an overall gold ranking but its physics department is crap or if you get the one instructor who shouldn’t be allowed in the building.

Also the actual quantitative measures are surrogates for actual teaching performance. No-one has observed the teaching to develop the rankings, except the students, and student rankings themselves, while one important measure, can also be highly misleading, based on instructor personality and the extent to which the instructor makes them work to get a good grade.

The real problem here is two-fold: first, the difficulty of assessing quality teaching in the first place: one man’s meat is another man’s poison. There is no general agreement, at least within an academic discipline, as to what counts as quality teaching (for instance, understanding, memory of facts, or skills of analysis – maybe all three are important but can how one teaches to develop these diverse attributes be assessed separately?).

The second problem is the lack of quality data on teaching performance – it just isn’t tracked directly. Since a student may take courses from up to 40 different instructors and from several different disciplines/departments in a bachelor’s program, it is no mean task to assess the collective effectiveness of their quality of teaching. So we are left with surrogates of quality, such as completion rates.

So is it a waste of time – or worse?

No, I don’t think so. People are going to be influenced by rankings, whatever. This particular ranking system may be flawed, but it is a lot better than the other rankings which are so much influenced by tradition and elitism. It could be used in ways that the data do not justify, such as justifying tuition fee increases or decreased government funding to institutions. It is though a first systematic attempt at a national level to assess quality in teaching, and with patience and care could be considerably improved. But most of all, it is an attempt to ensure accountability for the quality of teaching that takes account of the diversity of students and the different mandates of institutions. It may make both university administrations and individual faculty pay more attention to the importance of teaching well, and that is something we should all support.

So I give it a silver – a good try but there is definitely room for improvement. 

Thanks to Clayton Wright for drawing my attention to this.

Next up

I’m going to be travelling for the next three weeks so my opportunity to blog will be limited – but that has been the case for the last six months. My apologies – I promise to do better. However, a four hour layover at Pearson Airport does give me some time for blogging!

Boys Wear Skirts To Protest School's Anti-Shorts Policy Amid Heat Wave

Huffington Post - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 15:15

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Dozens of boys in southwest England have defiantly swapped their pants out for pleated skirts after being forbidden from wearing shorts to school, despite a heat wave.

The students at Isca Academy in Exeter said they borrowed the skirts from sisters and female friends to protest the school’s dress code policy, which requires boys to wear the leg-covering garments while girls have the option of pants or skirts.

“We’re not allowed to wear shorts, and I’m not sitting in trousers all day, it’s a bit hot,” one of the boys told the BBC on Thursday.

The boys’ protest ended up going viral, with a photo of them lined up in skirts scoring more than 71,000 likes on Twitter as of Thursday afternoon.

Boys at Isca Academy in Exeter wear skirts to school in protest at not being allowed to wear shorts in hot weather.

— Simon Hall (@SimonHallNews) June 22, 2017

Some of the boys’ mothers have sided with their sons.

“The girls are allowed to wear skirts all year round so I think it’s completely unfair that the boys can’t wear shorts,” Claire Reeves told Devon Live. “Boys just don’t have the option, and I am just really concerned about how the heat is going to affect him.”

As Reeves noted, the protest came as the country battles scorching temperatures that have reached the 90s.

Despite that potential health threat, Reeves complained that the school threatened to place her son in isolation all day if he showed up wearing shorts. If she kept him home, it’d be considered an unauthorized absence, she told Devon Live.

Students credited a teacher with suggesting they wear skirts instead of pants, though it’s believed that it was suggested in jest. After that, several boys showed up wearing the breathable garments, then dozens more followed.

When at least one of them said they were told that they couldn’t wear the skirts with hairy legs, they fetched razors and shaved them, the boys told Devon Live and The Guardian.

Fellow mom Claire Lambeth said she’s proud of her 15-year-old son, Ryan, who she said was one of the first to wear one.

“Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day – as did five other boys. This morning there were about 50-60 of them in skirts,” she told The Guardian. “I didn’t expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really – this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.”

Headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, wrote in a letter posted on the school’s website this week, that she would be “happy to consider a change” in the school’s dress code in the coming weeks, but not without consulting both students and their families.

In the meantime, students are allowed to remove their ties and undo the top buttons of their shirts, her letter said.

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El Govern extiende las becas a los másteres obligatorios para ejercer la profesión

El País - Educación - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 14:14
La Generalitat mantiene congelados los precios de matrículas universitarias y aumenta las bonificaciones solo a las rentas bajas

Standing Up When You Are The Silent Minority

Huffington Post - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 09:56

I write a lot about not only accepting your reality but embracing it. The good and the bad. The idea is to accept so that you can learn from your life situations and embrace so you can find value even when things feel unbearable. I call it The Gift of the Struggle. It’s what gets me through a lot.

But there are times when you should not accept. Times to stand up and speak out against that which is wrong and unjust. I work hard to teach my five kids to use their voices and stand for their beliefs. This balance between embracing your reality and knowing when it is time to reject it is sometimes a difficult line to walk.

Yesterday, however, the choice was clear. My son, an incoming senior in high school brought me a copy of his AP Government reading list.

“The reading list is pretty bad,” he said. “I think you need to take a look.”

Bad was an understatement. There were FIVE titles from Michael Savage. One from Ann Coulter. One from Sher iff Richard Mack. The list goes on and on – 31 options. They were anti-climate change, anti-liberal, pro-Christian, etc. This is a public school, by the way. Of the 31 choices, there were probably two that I found acceptable and they weren’t ideal. There was not one academic book on the list and zero historical/intellectual options.

Here is my point of view: I encourage my children to read things they disagree with. To listen to those with opposing perspectives. To be open to ideas other than theirs, but to stand up for their beliefs respectfully. This list did not encourage that philosophy. It presented one side. And one side filled with pop culture personalities who spew hate and rhetoric – not intellectual, respected authors who offer well-educated ideas from different points of view. And how is my 17 year-old son, who is the Southeast Regional Director for the State of Alabama for High School Democrats of America supposed to sit in this class and feel he has a voice?

Take a look at the list:

I posted this list in a closed progressive group in which I participate. The reaction was fierce. Outrage. Incredulity. Action. It was intense and it was immediate.

I immediately emailed the teacher and copied the principal on it asking questions. Giving the teacher a chance to offer an explanation. No response. Here is my email:

Mr. Ponder,

My son just printed the AP Government and Economics reading list and I have a few questions. The list is predominantly populated with one perspective. A conservative one. I would like to know your reasoning for choosing this list and what perspective you plan to teach these books from. Can you identify the value you hope to offer in terms of choosing this list?

Can you let me know why there are no titles that would offer an alternate perspective or a balance to the list you have provided?

If you had provided both points of view in your selections and had students chose one from each perspective, I would see the value in debating the points of view and showing students the presentation of opposing views. But that is not the case here.

Also, several authors are not those I would expect to see from an academic class. Those chosen are more pop culture type pundits rather than those who would offer academic, intellectual schools of thought on conservative policy.

There are several books on the list written by people I find truly offensive and believe are hateful in rhetoric and philosophy. How will these books/authors be handled in your class?

I welcome your discussion as I was truly shocked at the political slant in your selections.

I believe in giving people the chance to respond before I act. When the teacher did not respond, I called the principal. He said, and I believe he was sincere, that this was the first he had heard of the list and he was retracting the assignment and planned to speak with the teacher. I inquired about what I should do if this teacher taught his class from this perspective, and he told me he wants to know. I believe that.

Here is what I find interesting. As this post went around the internet, there were many who had experienced this teacher. Their children were not surprised about this list. They indicated that he taught class from his right-wing perspective for more than a decade and that this reading list had been used for several years. Many parents were uncomfortable and talked to their children about how to handle his class. But as far as I can tell, no one complained to the school. No one confronted the teacher. If they did, they did it quietly.

I have some thoughts on the reasons for this. I live in Spanish Fort, Alabama. It is a VERY conservative area of the country. I am not conservative at all. When I first moved here from Pensacola, FL five years ago, I did not realize I would not find any like-minded people – because they were all staying under the radar. If you are a liberal here, you tend to just be quiet to avoid conflict with pretty much everyone you know. When you unexpectedly find a fellow liberal, it’s a little private party where you jump up and down…on the inside.

This attitude of hiding has created a culture of a silent minority. Parents seem to hesitate to speak out. I think there is fear of a negative impact on our children if we complain about a list like this. That fear is not unfounded. But is that enough to remain silent?

The silver lining of the hostile political climate we are now enduring is that people are coming together for a cause. Through these closed political social media groups, I have discovered that there are a lot more people like me in lower Alabama than I ever knew. The support and common ground we have found in knowing each other has empowered more and more of us to become active locally and to speak up for our beliefs – even in the face of name calling (which has occurred to my own 19 year-old daughter in the discussion of this list). What has the world come to when a teenager is called names by a middle-aged man for expressing her point of view? Her point of view that the silent minority shared and became the vocal minority for?

I have to say, I am proud of the swift action the community took to right this wrong. And it goes to show that when people come together for a common cause and take action, change can be swift and decisive. Onward.

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¿Sabes qué es una factura sin IVA?

El País - Educación - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 07:25
El Parlamento vasco avala introducir un módulo de educación cívico-tributaria a los alumnos de cuarto de la ESO

Cinco alumnos detenidos por ‘hackear’ el correo de decenas de profesores para robar exámenes

El País - Educación - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 05:30
El pirateo masivo en un centro de Pontevedra afectó los correos electrónicos de los profesores del IES Manuel Barros de A Estrada

Aplazado el requisito de acreditar el B2 de inglés para obtener el título universitario

El País - Educación - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 04:33
La comunidad universitaria aprobará hoy una moratoria de cuatro años, después de las quejas de los rectores

El sentido del humor es un comodín fantástico a la hora de educar

El País - Educación - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:53
Los padres deben tomar conciencia de que instruir es una carrera de fondo y que son educadores 24 horas al dia, siete días a la semana

Colleges face challenges when producing historical theater

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:00

In a scene in the widely produced musical The Fantasticks, three men, one dressed as a stereotypical Native American, abduct a young woman and refer to what happens as a “rape.”

Both the show’s lighthearted treatment of the “rape” and the Native American costuming choices and depiction were likely not awkward to overwhelmingly white audiences back in the 1960s, when the musical was first produced and started to attract fans. But for contemporary audiences, such elements land differently.

Native American high school students walked out of a performance of The Fantasticks at the University of Wyoming last week.

Theater will sometimes shock and infuriate its spectators, and that includes those who protested the Public Theater’s run of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in New York. The titular character wore an elongated red tie and coiffed helmet hair indicative of President Trump, prompting outrage at his assassination.

Experts in the field of collegiate drama said institutions grapple with countless factors when selecting their seasons, among them how to handle racism, sexism and homophobia in plays with such biases evident, and how to cast shows that would have once had all white actors. They further must think about the political implications of productions.

Gregg Henry, artistic director of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival, said that institutions have become much more attuned to issues of equity and diversity when building their theatrical lineup, though some more homogenized areas of the country haven’t needed to yet. (By coincidence, a different Gregg Henry, an actor known for his work on Scandal and Gilmore Girls, played Caesar in the Public Theater's production this summer.)

In recent years, students have become much more resistant and won’t “put up” with insensitivity in theater, Henry said.

Henry empathizes with the students who walked out of the University of Wyoming production, because the struggles of Native Americans have been overlooked and the population has been underrepresented in popular culture, even as The Fantasticks plays into stereotypes amid a larger love story plot, he said.

“Wyoming has a huge population of Native Americans, and if the university is trying to open their doors to that population of students, this is probably not the best way to do it,” he said.

The rights to most shows must be purchased and explicit permission must be obtained to alter the script.

The cast, crew and production team of The Fantasticks noted this in a lengthy defense of the show in the Laramie Boomerang. Their challenge in producing the show, they said, was providing context.

“The use of ‘Indians’ as stock characters, alongside pirates and bandits, as a shortcut for exotic and dangerous outsiders, is now coming to the fore as problematic. Whether it is unquestioned, as in Peter Pan productions the world over, or painfully obvious, as it was for our audiences on opening night, this kind of portrayal deserves consideration. In this case, it is an actor playing a two-bit actor playing a stock character from his traveling troupe, and truly reductive and indicative: a caricature. With historical productions, we see a point in time that is different from our own, and character portrayals that can be painful to watch to 21st-century audiences.”

Inserts will be placed in the programs warning patrons about the controversial pieces of the show going forward.

Tony Hagopian, the business and communications director for the University Resident Theatre Association, an organization of 40 or so member graduate theater programs, said institutions try to deliver holistic education to their students, with experiences in everything from Shakespearean classics to contemporary work.

Students learn text analysis with Shakespeare, a lesson that extends far beyond a single production, and with more recent plays, they are exposed to current issues and how to work with contemporary playwrights, Hagopian said.

They can benefit from a show like The Fantasticks, which contains meaty roles perfectly catered to young college actors, and experience the magical realism concept becoming more popular in today’s shows -- where life is essentially portrayed as real-world with some surrealistic twists, he said.

“In some ways it’s tough, some of these things we may not think of as controversial or problematic, if you’re just considering a play on paper,” Hagopian said. “It’s pretty rare that we’re going to provoke our audience. So, it’s more about the process for handling these things when they arise, because it’s usually going to be a surprise to you.”

Colleges and universities know they must teach their students about these “foundational plays,” said Henry.

But performing plays that feature enslaved people on a plantation, for instance, could prove difficult, he said. Institutions want to provide diverse and challenging parts for students of color and not pigeonhole them.

Marketing also figures into decisions -- though it’s not the primary aim to sell tickets, programs “need to fill the house,” Hagopian said.

Shows have previously been canceled over community backlash.

Stanford University in 2014 canceled a production of the musical Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, based on the former president's life, after protests that the production was offensive to Native Americans. (Defenders noted that the bias against Native Americans in the show was largely an indictment of Jackson and other American politicians who treated them as less than human.)

Britain's University of Bristol in 2016 halted performances of the opera Aida after criticism that white actors had been cast in key roles designed for people of color.

Shakespeare's plays, which are in the public domain, can often be molded to fit an artistic vision, and Henry anticipates many iterations of Julius Caesar, and other politically geared productions, at the Kennedy Center’s fall festival in light of the partisan climate -- it’s impossible not to think of the current administration when producing Julius Caesar, because it’s a fallback play to anyone who wants to discuss the death of democracy.

Both Henry and Hagopian said they were frustrated by the hot-button Trumpian symbolism in the New York production overshadowing the message of the play. Caesar’s assassination happens at the end of the first act -- and the criticism has not focused on the aftermath of losing the leader, on which the second act centers.

“There’s a lot of interest in political theater,” Henry said. “I think we’re going to be running into a lot of it, whether that’s directly into it, or coming at it from the side, with contemporary playwrights grappling with it in a new way.”

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Survey of parent postdocs reveals lack of access to paid parental leave, pressures to return to work

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:00

Postdoctoral fellows hopefully enjoy close mentor-mentee relationships with the principal investigators on their research grants. Few would probably expect those investigators to show up at the hospital after a baby arrived, asking when they planned to return to the lab, however. Yet that’s what happened to one survey participant in a new study on parent postdocs from the National Postdoctoral Association and the Pregnant Scholar project of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings.

“So, what, about two to three weeks and you will be back?” the scientist reportedly asked the postdoc in her hospital bed. It’s the kind of “ridiculous,” professionally unacceptable treatment postdocs sometimes encounter due to a widespread lack of understanding or will to understand what their rights are, said Julie Fabsik-Swarts, executive director of the National Postdoctoral Association. And if you’re a father, Fabsik-Swarts said, “there’s no prayer you’re getting much time off in most places. You have to feel for this set of highly educated, highly trained people who have dedicated their time and resources to being a researcher -- in many cases, to help this country. They’re being treated awfully.”

The new report, called “Parents in the Pipeline: Retaining Postdoctoral Researchers With Families,” is based on the first-ever national survey of postdocs with children, which yielded responses from 741 postdocs about 800 birth and adoption experiences. A handful of participants participated in follow-up phone interviews, and the report relies on additional association data about postdoc benefit policies nationally.

The paper urges institutions to update outdated policies to reflect a new reality: that the average postdoc spends four to five years in that position and most are nearing 40 years old by the time they find a permanent job -- meaning postdocs increasingly are parents.

“The average postdoc today can’t postpone solving the puzzle of work-life fit until tenure,” the report says. “To add to the challenge, parents of this generation,” more than their parents' generation, “feel the need to be more present for their children. For postdocs, the buzzers on their biological and research clocks are undeniable -- and in conflict. Yet despite these shifts, many institutions make no provisions for parental leave or accommodations for postdoc parents.”

A primary finding concerns the climate for pregnant workers who need health-related accommodations. While postdocs who requested pregnancy accommodations were provided them 93 percent of the time, they were less likely than other kinds of workers to request them. Just 40 percent of postdoc mothers did, and those in university appointments were especially unlikely to ask for help.

“I was too scared to let my colleagues in the laboratory know that I was expecting until I couldn’t hide my pregnancy further,” one woman said.

And that postdoc who was visited at the hospital by her investigator? She didn’t feel she could say no, so she got a release from her doctor saying she could return to work after four weeks, despite having had a C-section birth with complications. Another respondent said lack of leave left her health “in tatters.”

While these postdoc mothers continued their research, other survey respondents said they were pushed out because of their pregnancies or postbirth needs. One mother reported losing her appointment after her boss said he was “so sorry” about having no more funding. But the investigator soon hired a new postdoc to replace her. Another mother said that her boss referred to her children as her “constraints” and withdrew funding from her contract to fund another postdoc.

Fathers also reported encountering hostility toward their new family roles. “Peers often phrase paternity leave as if it’s a ‘vacation’ or you’re at home doing nothing,” one father said, adding that the prevailing mind-set “can lead to a view that you ‘aren’t serious about science’ since you took time off.”

Men are less likely than women to have access to leave and family-responsive policies, according to the study. “There is no such thing [as] leave for fathers,” said one postdoc dad. “They won’t even allow use of sick leave.”

Respondents of all genders stressed that “family-responsive accommodations,” such as scheduling flexibility or the ability to work from home, were essential to their success. If such accommodations had not been provided to one engineer, for example, he would “strongly consider leaving.” Another “would not have been able to continue” and yet another “would just have to quit.”

Parents of color reported facing hostility due to their new-parent status or pregnancy more often than their white counterparts, surprising the study’s authors. Postdocs of color are less likely to ask for parental leave or accommodations and are twice as likely to be discouraged from taking leave when they do ask.

“The impact of the hostility and lack of support for new-parent postdocs is profound,” the study says. “One in 10 postdoc fathers and one in five mothers reported that their [principal investigator’s] response to their new-parent status negatively impacted the quality of their appointment over all. This number is far higher for postdocs of color. For some, the challenge wasn’t worth it; ‘Don’t bother doing a postdoc,’ a neuroscientist advised aspiring postdocs who want to have children. Instead, ‘Work at McDonald’s,’ which would pay you equally or more, would give you more respect and [offer] a ray of hope through promotion.”

Simple Fixes

What will it take to retain postdocs, who each represent decades of study and approximately $500,000 or more in educational investments? “Simple adherence to federal law would go a long way,” the study says, noting that data reveal numerous institutional violations of antidiscrimination laws.

“Much of what postdoc parents need is common-sense: formal pregnancy and parental-leave policies that follow the law, changes in scheduling, and an end to the hostility and stigma that all too often attaches to the basic human need to have a family,” according to the study.

Other major findings include little to no access for postdoc mothers to paid maternity leave. Over half of institutions surveyed (53 percent) provide no paid leave to postdocs classified as employees, while postdocs categorized as trainees and individually funded postdocs fare even worse. Externally funded postdoc moms have it worst of all, with 74 percent of surveyed institutions offering no paid leave to them. Paid leave time, when provided, was often described as too short. Many mothers reported having to “fight” for the leave they needed, and a smaller subset reported losing their jobs as a result of their investigators’ negative reaction to their pregnancy or need for time off. One in five mothers reported that their bosses’ responses had a negative impact on the overall quality of their appointment.

Well over half of institutions surveyed provide no paid leave for postdoc fathers. Eighty-five percent of institutions provide no access to paid leave for externally funded dads. Many postdoc fathers also reported having no access to other kinds of paid or even unpaid time off, such as sick or vacation days, to help welcome a new child home. One in 10 fathers said their investigators’ response to their new parenthood negatively affected their appointments. The rate for fathers of color was one in five.

Many postdoc mothers had no access to paid time off at all to care for children, including sick or vacation time. Externally funded postdocs, again, had it worst, with 53 percent of institutions excluding them from paid days off.

Regarding unpaid time off upon a child’s birth, a right in theory assured by federal law, benefits vary greatly by funding sources. Five percent of employee postdoc mothers do not have access to such time, compared to 23 percent of institutional trainees and 44 percent of externally funded postdocs.

Over all, postdocs reported confusion about whether or not their institutions had parental leave policies applicable to them -- even after having gone through the process themselves. Human resources offices reportedly often misinterpret relevant laws and “struggle to navigate the varying grant-related policies that apply to postdocs,” according to the study. This is complicated by different funders having different policies for leave.

Additional problems include investigators’ reported unwillingness to grant accommodation requests, such as postdocs’ ability to work from home until their children are old enough to attend child care, or to attend work on different days of the week. Several postdocs reported leaving their positions when these requests weren’t met.

On-campus child care was also scarce, with postdocs commonly reporting being on waiting lists for a year or more. Other care was also expensive, with it in some cases costing 50 to 100 percent of postdoc salaries.

Postdoctoral positions were originally intended to be temporary stops for advanced training on the way to a permanent position. Now, critics say, they’re the backbone of a system dependent on if not addicted to cheap labor, with postdocs often spending years upon years in such positions instead of months. The National Institutes of Health, for example, established a rule saying postdocs can’t work there for longer than five years, unless they’re promoted to research fellows, which gets them a maximum of three more years. Altogether, that’s longer than a tenure probationary period.

One of the report’s major recommendations is that every campus create an office for postdoc services and assistance. But does creating offices for postdocs and otherwise shoring up institutional policies regarding postdocs risk further institutionalizing what’s been called the “permadoc” problem? That's where young scholars linger in postdoc assignments, lacking the opportunities to truly launch independent careers. Those involved with the study said ignoring the problem does more harm than anything, and that centralizing services for postdocs may help prevent their exploitation.

“The postdoc position is supposed to be a training position, and having a postdoc office is just a natural extension for that, making sure that these graduates have everything they need -- whether it’s advice on maternity or paternity leave or advice on their benefits based on how they’re categorized on campus,” said Kate Sleeth, associate dean of administration and student development and professional education at Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope and chair of the National Postdoctoral Association’s Board of Directors. Sleeth spent seven years as a postdoc and said she found her own campus postdoc office helpful in that it made her aware of benefits she didn’t know she was entitled to.

“A lot of the time, rules and policies exist, it’s a just a matter of whether postdocs are aware of them,” she said. “They’re really there in an advisory role, to give the postdoc advice. If something should happen, they can advise the postdoc on what to do.”

Jessica Lee, the report’s lead author and a staff attorney at the Center for WorkLife Law at Hastings, said many of the problems identified in the report are linked to some institutions’ failure “to catch up to the new reality of longer-term postdocs and provide the formal support policies or structures they need.” Policies established when postdocs were more likely to be transient and male don’t meet current needs, and institutions that “turn a blind eye to postdoc needs, for fear of institutionalizing the postdoc, may be turning a blind eye to discrimination,” she said.

The hostility of many primary investigators toward postdoc parents, for example, is “unacceptable and in many cases illegal, and it is not only the [investigator] that is on the hook. Universities must prevent and respond to discrimination, and one of the best ways to start is by establishing clear policies that set the standard.” Whether a postdoc parent has a positive experience -- as many subjects did -- or leaves research entirely shouldn’t depend on the “goodwill” of the investigator.

There must be “structures in place to provide guidance and accountability,” Lee said. “We expect no less for our students and faculty and we should expect no less for our postdocs.”

ResearchEditorial Tags: Career AdvicePostdocsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 2Advice Newsletter publication date: Thursday, June 22, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: Helping Postdocs With Children

Three major publishers sue college store company over textbook counterfeiting

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:00

Amid other woes as their core business shrinks, textbook publishers say they lose tens of millions of dollars a year when students buy pirated versions of their works. Technology and improved distribution have made it easier for counterfeiters to make and sell their alternatives, and while publishers have ramped up their own defensive tactics, the producers of the faked texts are often faceless and nameless.

Some of the other players in the counterfeiting chain -- the producers frequently sell to wholesalers, who sell to distributors, who ultimately sell to consumers -- have names and faces, though, and the publishers have stepped up their efforts to encourage, or force, them to try to combat piracy. In recent months, Cengage and McGraw-Hill said they would institute new measures aimed at identifying pirated materials. And three publishers -- Cengage, McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education -- reached an agreement with the distributors Chegg and Ingram to embrace a set of Anti-Counterfeit Best Practices that will involve significant changes in how the distributors operate.

On Wednesday, though, after what the publishers said were unsuccessful negotiations, they sued another major company in the educational materials space, the bookstore operator Follett, for copyright and trademark violations involving "the distribution of unlawful counterfeit copies of educational textbooks" produced by the three publishers. "Defendants refuse to conduct due diligence on their suppliers and fuel the counterfeit market by relying on the process of buying and inspecting counterfeits instead of not buying them in the first place," the complaint alleges.

"They desire to have the largest possible margin on the books, and to do that, they're buying from the lowest-priced sources," which are illegitimate ones, said Matt Oppenheim, a lawyer representing the publishers.

In a statement, Follett said it takes piracy seriously but that adopting the publishers' preferred approach would "cripple the campus store’s ability to provide lower-cost course material options, leaving students little choice but to buy higher-priced texts from the publishers."

Battle of Behemoths

At a time of great public concern over rising tuition and student debt, there is some irony that both sides in this dispute between major companies cite the greediness of the other. Oppenheim conceded as much in an interview, up to a point. "Yes, all companies are profit minded," he said. "But there's a line you don't cross: doing things that are illegal."

The publishers assert that by selling students books that have been pirated, Follett is clearly violating federal copyright and trademark law, as one can be liable without having any intent or prior knowledge.

The publishing companies said they took a series of steps aimed at working with Follett before filing the lawsuit, including training its employees on avoiding buying pirated books and identifying them once they've been purchased. But ultimately, the parties ended up "at loggerheads," said Oppenheim.

"Defendants have continued their practice unabated, contending that they adequately ferret out many of the counterfeits they receive by inspecting at least some of the books for authenticity upon receipt," the complaint states.

The lawsuit claims that the publishers bought "counterfeit copies of at least 46 textbook titles" from Follett's stores and websites this spring, as well as receiving other pirated books from customers who had bought them from Follett. "But this is a mere snapshot," the complaint states. "The true scope of [Follett's] distribution of counterfeits is likely much greater and not precisely known to defendants, who fear that what they know to date is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg."

Follett took a very different approach than Chegg and Ingram did when the publishers approached those companies in a similar way, Oppenheim said.

Adopting the "best practices" -- which include requiring and revealing much more identifying information about whom they buy books from, and inspecting purchased books much more rigorously for counterfeits -- required Chegg and Ingram to "make changes in way they conducted their business. They squared up, took responsibility and took steps to address" the problem, he said.

Pushback From Follett

In its statement, Follett acknowledged that counterfeiting "hurts everybody in the industry" and said it had worked for decades to combat piracy. But the bookstore provider focused most of its response on explaining why the strategies the publishers are pushing on textbook resellers are self-interested.

"The publisher group had been pressuring Follett and other campus retailers and text distributors to adopt certain 'best practices' created by the publishers that Follett believes would effectively restrict access to low-cost used and rental course materials on campus," the company said. "Follett’s mission is to serve the physical and digital course material needs of its higher education institutional partners and their students through cost-saving options that include used textbooks and Follett’s text rentals that offer an average savings of nearly half the cost of new texts from publishers."

Asked in a follow-up email to respond to the lawsuit's allegations and to detail how it is combating counterfeiting, Follett said that "identifying books as counterfeits is as much art as science," but laid out its process for trying to do so. The company regularly inspects books, with special attention to those believed to be "frequently counterfeited"; quarantines "all similar textbooks" from any shipment found to contain a faked book; and either destroys or sends back to the publisher all such textbooks.

The company did not respond to any of the specific allegations made by the publishers, who are seeking monetary damages as well as an injunction to force Follett to stop buying counterfeited textbooks.

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Two more professors find themselves targets of physical threats and harassment

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:00

Trinity College in Connecticut shut down Wednesday over threats directed at an associate professor of sociology who shared a controversial article about race, violence and politics on social media. A professor at Syracuse University also is being targeting online for her involvement in a counterprotest to an anti-sharia event. They're the latest professors to face physical threats or harassment, or both, for their political speech.

Trinity College

The Trinity professor, John Eric Williams, last week shared a link to a Fusion piece called “Bigoted Homophobe Steve Scalise's Life Was Saved by a Queer Black Woman." It points to the fact that Scalise, the Republican congressman who was recently shot at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., has previously opposed extending protections to LGBTQ people and reportedly once spoke at a meeting of white supremacists, while one of the black law enforcement officers who rescued him is a married lesbian.

Williams shared the article through an embedded link in Medium, accompanied by commentary from an author called Son of Baldwin, entitled “Let Them Fucking Die.” Baldwin’s piece argues that “indifference to their well-being is the only thing that terrifies” bigots, and so people of color should “Let. Them. Fucking. Die” if they’re ever drowning, “teetering on the edge of a cliff” or caught in various other emergencies.

“Saving the life of those that would kill you is the opposite of virtuous,” Baldwin wrote. In sharing Baldwin’s link to the Fusion article, Williams also used his “Let them fucking die” comment as a hashtag, and wrote that it is “past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system.”

That post and a similar one prompted critical reports on conservative websites suggesting Williams was advocating violence against whites. “Less than one week after a gunman opened fire on more than a dozen Republican members of Congress on a Virginia baseball field, a Connecticut college professor said that first responders to the shooting should have ‘let them die’ because they are white,” The Blaze reported, for example.

Williams told the Hartford Courant that he was writing about white supremacy, police killings of unarmed black people and other forms of institutionalized racism, and not saying that members of Congress should have been left to die because of their race. "This is about free speech as well as academic freedom," he told the newspaper. "From my perspective, I'm considering whether I should file a defamation [claim] against these guys," he added, referring to news sites that suggested otherwise.

"The black community is beside itself all over the country with the constant killing. It doesn't matter what we do, we still be killed, we still go to jail. Just being black and living is a crime. That's what seems to be the problem," Williams added, saying his status as scholar obliges him to "speak up about the kind of destructive behavior that white supremacy is dealing on people on a daily basis."

The various reports led to threats against Trinity and death threats against Williams, according to the Courant, prompting the shutdown so that law enforcement officials could investigate what they described as “nonspecific, noncredible” threats. The campus is expected to reopen today.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity’s president, said in a statement that the dean of faculty is reviewing the matter to see if any college policies or procedures were violated, and that she’d personally told Williams “his use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment.” No matter its intent, she said, “it goes against our fundamental values as an institution, and I believe its effect is to close minds rather than open them.”

Two state lawmakers reportedly have called for Williams’s termination.

Syracuse University

Dana Cloud, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse, is also facing online harassment and physical threats for calling for protesters to stage a counterprotest against an “anti-Sharia law” rally in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this month, according to her supporters. Cloud, who believed that protesters were using unsubstantiated threats of rule by Islamic law to conjure anti-Muslim sentiments in the area, participated in a nonviolent counterdemonstration and on Twitter asked others to join her. When the opposing group started disperse, she tweeted, “We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off.”

Campus Reform, another conservative publication, later published an article about the tweet, alleging that “finish them off” was a “veiled call for violence.” Other websites and commentators have since followed suit, and Cloud has received threats. Hundreds of students and scholars have also expressed support for her in a petition that says, in part, that the “hate mail and threats directed against [Cloud] are not isolated phenomena, but part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against those standing in solidarity with Muslims and other oppressed groups. Professors who speak out against racism and bigotry around the country are being targeted by right-wing media and activists.”

The petition mentions other professors, including Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University, who have faced physical threats for their speech in recent weeks. In another example, Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa, faced harassment after Campus Reform reported that she said the equation of white marble with beauty contributes to white supremacist ideas today. In fact, she'd written that such statues were originally painted in different colors and that paying more attention to that fact might undercut how racist groups or individuals have over time pointed to white marble as the classical ideal.

“These attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists around the country,” reads the petition in support of Cloud. “We demand that Syracuse University and the broader academic community defend and protect her and all faculty in the exercise of their academic freedom, their right to extramural speech and the exercise of their conscience in civic life.”

Syracuse said in a statement that it “condemns, unequivocally, any threats directed” at Cloud, and that she has clarified that her remarks “were not intended to invite or incite violence.”

Cloud did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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New government system rates British universities on student outcomes and teaching

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 22 Jun 2017 - 02:00

Gold, silver and bronze.

The British government releases the results today of its new three-tiered rating system of teaching quality at universities. The government rating exercise sorting institutions into gold, silver and bronze categories has been controversial on a number of counts and echoes similar accountability movements in the U.S., including performance-funding initiatives at the state level and the Obama administration’s scuttled attempt to create a national college ratings system.

It remains to be seen how much influence the British ratings will have with students and their families, but results of the Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, as it is known, could eventually have financial consequences for universities. Future TEF results could be linked to universities’ abilities to raise tuition by differential amounts as early as academic year 2020-21, after the completion of an independent study.

In the meantime, it will no doubt be widely remarked upon that the results of the first round of the exercise do not follow traditional reputational hierarchies. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford both scored a gold, but so did many less well-known, regionally focused universities, while the internationally recognized London School of Economics and Political Science settled for a bronze. Two other members of Britain’s elite club of Russell Group universities, the Universities of Liverpool and Southampton, also were rated bronze. A total of 295 institutions opted to participate in the ratings, and, excluding those that earned provisional ratings due to insufficient data, about a quarter each of participating institutions earned gold and bronze awards, and the remaining half silver. No institution got anything less than a bronze.

The TEF ratings are based on relative, rather than absolute, measures of quality: universities are compared on six core quantitative metrics against benchmarks calculated to account for the demographic profile of their students and the mix of programs offered. In other words, a university rated gold doesn’t necessarily have better student satisfaction data, retention rates or employment outcomes -- all core metrics factored into the survey -- than a university rated bronze. Rather, a university with a gold rating may have been judged to perform better on those measures than would have been predicted based on the profile of the students they serve and the programs they offer.

All this means that some teaching-intensive universities that do a good job teaching students from a wide array of backgrounds but don’t factor into the international rankings, which largely reward reputation and research output, have a chance to rise to the top. Indeed, the British government says that its purposes for the TEF include raising esteem for teaching and recognizing excellence in the classroom. “The Teaching Excellence Framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching -- putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research,” Universities Minister Jo Johnson said in a statement.

But in the views of many observers, the TEF suffers from the same problem that perpetually plagues efforts to put in place meaningful university ranking systems, including in the U.S. -- a lack of adequate data about teaching quality and student learning gains.

“The Teaching Excellence Framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies,” said Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a British think tank. “It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings -- namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere.”

Hillman said the gold ratings are hard-won and well deserved. “Nonetheless, in this early guise, the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning,” he said. “While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls. I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision making, but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses.”

A Controversial Rating

The methodology for the TEF includes both quantitative and qualitative components. There are six core quantitative metrics: retention rates, student satisfaction data on measures related to teaching, assessment, and academic support taken from the National Student Survey, and data on rates of employment or postgraduate study six months after graduation taken from the Destination of Leavers From Higher Education survey.

Universities are judged on their performance on these metrics, both overall and in relation to various demographic groups, in a statistical calculation intended to control for different universities’ student characteristics, admissions requirements and academic programs. This process generates a “hypothesis” of gold, silver or bronze, which a panel of assessors then tests against additional evidence submitted for consideration by the university (higher education institutions can make up to a 15-page submission to TEF assessors). Ultimately the decision of gold, silver or bronze is a human judgment, not the pure product of a mathematical formula.

Chris Husbands, the chair of the TEF panel and the vice chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, acknowledged that the process has been controversial, with a number of different objections raised.

“The first is a philosophical one as to whether you can make reliable judgments about the quality of teaching across an institution,” he said. “The second has been the government’s decision to classify the institutions as gold, silver or bronze. You’ve got some very complex institutions. My own institution has 33,000 students across something like 20 different departments, and we’re expressing a single judgment.”

“And the third, this is not an inspection-based system. So the panel have not looked at teaching in any lecture room in any of these universities. What we have done is to look at the outcomes of teaching and to project what were the institutional processes that produced this outcome.”

All that said, Husbands argues that the rating process brings value. “What the TEF does is to focus attention on the relationship between institutional policies, what institutions say they do, institutional practices -- which may or may not turn out to be the same as policies -- and student outcomes,” he said.

“It’s forcing universities to think clearly about the relationship between the activities they undertake and the way they describe them and the outcomes the students achieve. And although I can be self-critical about many aspects of the metrics, that connection between what an institution says it does, what an institution actually does and what outcomes it achieves for its students seems to me to be worth having.”

Husbands added, “What the TEF has been is a massive pebble chucked into the pond of U.K. higher education. I suspect that though we could have had years of piloting, actually just making the decision -- 'we are going to do this and we’re going to make this happen' -- is the way to make real change happen.”

“What I do believe is the TEF says something about the environment that we create for our students, the sorts of students we can attract here and what we do in terms of adding value to them by the time they leave,” said Robert Allison, the vice chancellor and president of Loughborough University, which received a gold rating. Allison added that he has no doubt the U.K. government will make continual improvements to the TEF, as it has with a research-oriented equivalent, the REF.

Others are less convinced of the TEF’s value. The National Union of Students issued a statement describing it as "another meaningless university ranking system no one asked for, which the government is introducing purportedly in the name of students. Yet students have walked away from it, with thousands boycotting one of its key components, the National Student Survey."

The student union accused the government of having "ignored the concerns of students, academics and experts across the country who have warned against the introduction of the TEF, arguing that its measurements fail to capture anything about teaching quality. Until this is addressed, this ranking system is nothing but a Trojan horse to justify raised tuition fees and treat the higher education sector like any other market, to be ineptly measured and damagingly sold."

“Crucially, this is a pilot year for an exercise that is really untried and untested,” said Tim Bradshaw, the acting director of the Russell Group. “A lot of the measures that make up the fundamental baseline of the TEF are proxies, and not all of them proxies for anything to do with teaching excellence.”

Bradshaw pointed out that half of the quantitative metrics that feed into TEF come from a student satisfaction survey, and he said that a student who took a particularly challenging course might well be unhappy, but for a good reason -- “We were challenging them; we were stretching them.” Bradshaw also said he was concerned about the potential that the nuances of benchmarking and the fact that the ratings measure relative versus absolute performance might be overlooked by students, including prospective international students who just see a gold, silver or bronze rating attached to an institution.

“The TEF is a pilot year; it’s one amongst many different sorts of sets of data one can look at,” Bradshaw said. He noted for example the release last week of new graduate earnings data: the data, for example, show alumni of LSE, which got a bronze on the TEF, toward the very top of the income strata five years after graduation compared to other graduates of social science and economics programs.

Universities UK, the umbrella association for university leaders, also stressed in its response to the TEF that this is a trial year for the exercise. "These new Teaching Excellence Framework ratings are based on a number of publicly available data and are intended to complement the range of other information available to students. They are not a comprehensive assessment of a university's academic quality," the group's president, Julia Goodfellow, the vice chancellor at the University of Kent, said in a statement.

"It is important that the data used are appropriate, robust and take account of the considerable diversity within our university sector. The challenge will be to develop the system to ensure the information is properly communicated and helpful to students in the decision-making process."

A U.S. Perspective

Could -- should -- something like the TEF be replicated in the U.S.? Former President Obama's administration got major pushback from universities when it proposed creating a college rating system, an effort it eventually abandoned in favor of releasing a revamped and expanded consumer information tool called the College Scorecard.

Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who researches finance and accountability policies, said he sees parallels to state-level performance-funding formulas, which tie some funding to measures of outcomes, and to the push by some in Congress to set minimum quality standards for accreditors. "U.S. higher education policy has focused more on trying to identify the worst actors than [doing] finer gradation among higher-performing institutions," he said.

"It would be logistically difficult and expensive to do certain parts" of what the U.K. is doing, Kelchen continued. "For example, doing national surveys of former students would be expensive. We would need to be better at being able to track student outcomes. The College Scorecard was a step, the program-level gainful-employment data represents another step, and individual states have the kinds of data systems that are needed, but not all those systems talk across state lines. If the federal government wanted to do something like this and was willing to invest significant time and money, they could do this probably in about five years or so, but I don’t think anyone in the federal government wants to do this sort of systematic look at all colleges. I think it’s much more at the federal level about trying to identify the lowest-performing institutions, while maybe some states may try to be more nuanced in their approaches."

"If we ever tried to do red light, green light or they’re trying gold, bronze and silver, I think a lot of heads would roll," said Mark Schneider, a vice president and institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research and a former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics under the George W. Bush administration.

"Colleges and universities are really very powerful, and the organizations that represent them, especially the not-for-profits, are very powerful and they are trying very hard not to be judged. You saw what happened with the Scorecard. It was going to be a ranking system and then it turned into an informational system, and that was the end of that. Theoretically it was going to be tied to Pell Grant and Title IV [federal financial aid awards]; that got scotched almost immediately."

Jamienne Studley, a former deputy under secretary at the Department of Education during the Obama administration, said from her perspective the federal college ratings effort foundered on data limitations, specifically constraints having to do with data definitions that only captured first-time, full-time students who start in the fall and a lack of sufficient information about student preparation levels.

"Those two constraints meant that time and again, even when we had a good idea like clusters, like red, yellow, green, or gold, silver, bronze or any other permutations, as close as we would get to, 'oh, we could do it this way,' it would founder on the data that was available to us, and our fear that we would do something that would work backward for students and the schools we were trying to serve instead of forward," Studley said.

Backward, she said, in that “if you can't include information about student preparation that’s wide enough and informative enough, then the danger that places that can cherry-pick students would just not take students who are more challenging to educate or that cost more to educate was very frightening.”

"What we’re all looking for are ways to understand what people know and can do when they finish an educational experience, and that’s still very hard to get at," said Studley, who's now an independent consultant and national policy adviser for the nonprofit organization Beyond 12. "So many of the metrics that we look at have to be proxies for the basic know and can do: Is your employer satisfied, do you report five years later that you feel prepared for the things you’re called on to do in the workplace, did you pass the licensing test in your field that tests practical knowledge of nursing or engineering? It's very hard to get at that fundamental [question of] where do people learn important things and where do they learn them in ways that have the most effect and significance. That’s still the thing we’re circling around."

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The 395 Kids Philando Castile Left Behind

Huffington Post - Mié, 21 Jun 2017 - 14:23

It was a few weeks after his death in July 2016 when Sakki Selznick learned that her daughter had been giving imaginary high-fives to Philando Castile.

Castile ― or Mr. Phil, as students at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School would call him ― often greeted students with high-fives while they waited on line to get breakfast in the cafeteria. Now that Mr. Phil was gone, Selznick’s young daughter worried she’d never get one of his famous high-fives again. One evening, she explained, she was thinking about it and she’d started high-fiving the air, hoping Mr. Phil would respond somehow.

A magical high-five didn’t arrive. Through tears, Selznick explained to her daughter that she would not be getting one.

Jeronimo Yanez, at the time a St. Anthony police officer, shot and killed Castile last summer during a traffic stop. Castile, 32, left behind not only a girlfriend and her daughter, a mother and a family, colleagues and friends, but also 395 adoring students at the Saint Paul, Minnesota, elementary school where he worked.

The students have spent the past year mourning Castile, a loss that was felt anew last week with the news that Yanez had been acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Now that Castile’s killer has been found not guilty, the young children are grappling with another uncomfortable truth: The justice system doesn’t always deliver justice.

In a country where many schools are segregated by race and class, J.J. Hill is a small bastion of diversity, a Montessori school that draws from surrounding progressive neighborhoods. About 47 percent of the students are Asian, black or Hispanic, with a number of Somalian and Hmong immigrants. The rest of the students are white. For the most part, everyone gets along, parents say. The fact that this harmonious racial coexistence does not extend beyond the school’s four walls is a reality students had to confront when a cop killed their nutrition services supervisor last summer.

For some white families, it was surprising that an incident of stark police brutality could happen to someone in their circle. The shock mobilized them to action via protests and petitions. For some black families, the reality of police violence was something for which they had long prepared their children.

But the fact that it happened to Mr. Phil ― a man whom parents describe as exceedingly gentle and unfailingly kind, a man who did everything “right” ― was something no one could have prepared for.

Selznick, who is white, previously lived in an all-black neighborhood in Los Angeles. She says she isn’t naive about the harsh facts of police brutality. But when a jury found Yanez not guilty of second-degree manslaughter last week, she felt like she had been tricked into the idea that there would be some sense of justice. Earlier reports of a deadlocked jury had given her hope. “I got snookered,” she said.

When Selznick’s 10-year-old daughter learned of the verdict, she seemed overwhelmed. She said she could no longer remember Mr. Phil’s face. Selznick’s 16-year-old son, who also knew Castile, almost put a hole through the wall in anger.

“They’re right at the age where they believe there will be social justice,” Selznick said. “That’s a lie.”

Zuki Ellis’ son, entering fourth grade, isn’t likely to forget about Castile’s death any time soon. Ellis is black. She’s never tried to conceal from her son the realities of racism or police brutality. But this was the first time anything had happened to someone so close.

“He has the same question a lot of us have: How does something so awful happen and no one is accountable for that?” Ellis said. “How do you kill Mr. Phil and nothing happens?”

They’re right at the age where they believe there will be social justice. That’s a lie.
Sakki Selznick

This year, when kids at J.J. Hill had to face school without Mr. Phil, regardless of their race, some students emerged from the experience as changed individuals.

Tony Fragnito, a small business owner who is involved in local politics, says his two boys, one going into third grade and one into fourth, were noticeably different. They were more somber and had less energy when they got home from school. Then, in November, the election happened, building on the trauma of Castile’s death. After Donald Trump won, Fragnito’s younger son packed a suitcase and said he was moving to Canada with his Somali friends from school because “it’s not safe for them anymore.”

Andrew Karre, a children’s book editor, recalled that when his 9-year-old son found out about Castile’s death, he asked a simple but difficult-to-answer question: “Why was the police officer scared?” Karre’s son followed Yanez’s trial on public radio. When the verdict was announced, the family headed down to the Capitol to protest. Given the facts of the case, Karre said, his son was troubled by the outcome. 

John Horton, a teacher at J.J. Hill who also has two kids enrolled, said Castile’s death would often come up in class. The children drew connections to Castile when learning about civil rights issues. They tried to make sense of Castile’s death in relation to a larger context of injustice. But for many, he said, it still seemed senseless.

“I think a lot of the adults are still trying to work through it, and the kids see this,” Horton said. “They see the instability and the not understanding from the adult side.”

The school has mostly dealt with the grief head-on. Teachers got special training, and counselors were available for therapy throughout the year. A handful of teachers sported pins with Castile’s face on them. There is a bench in his honor, and a tree in his name.  

But some parents are still struggling to provide answers to questions they can’t figure out themselves.

“It has been a hard year,” Ellis said. “I don’t imagine the next year will be easier.”

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