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Essay about how white male students dominate discussions sets off debate at Dickinson and beyond

Hace 4 hours 17 mins

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

Leda Fisher didn't waste any time getting to the point in her recent essay in The Dickinsonian. The title was "Should White Boys Still Be Allowed to Talk?"

"When you ask a question at a lecture, is it secretly just your opinion ending with the phrase 'do you agree?'" asked Fisher, a senior at Dickinson College, at the start of her piece in the student paper. "If so, your name is something like Jake, or Chad, or Alex, and you were taught that your voice is the most important in every room. Somewhere along your academic journey, you decided your search for intellectual validation was more important than the actual exchange of information. Now how do you expect to actually learn anything?"

Fisher added, "From classes and lectures, to the news and politics, there is an endless line of white boys waiting to share their opinions on the state of feminism in America, whether the LGBTQ+ population finally has enough rights, the merits of capitalism, etc. The list of what white boys think they are qualified to talk about is endless … White boys spout the narrative of dominant ideologies and pretend they’re hot takes instead of the same misleading garbage shoved down our throats by American institutions from birth."

The willingness of white male students to dominate discussions extends to those in which they may not have personal knowledge, Fisher wrote. "I cannot describe to you how frustrating it is to be forced to listen to a white boy explain his take on the black experience in the Obama era. Hey, Brian, I’m an actual black woman alive right now with a brain. In what world would your understanding of my life carry more weight than my understanding?"

She closed her piece by saying, "So, should white boys still be allowed to share their 'opinions'? Should we be forced to listen? In honor of Black History Month, I’m gonna go with a hell no. Go find someone whose perspective has been buried or ignored and listen to them, raise up their voice. To all the Chrises, Ryans, Olivers and Seans out there, I encourage you to critically examine where your viewpoints come from, read a text that challenges you without looking for reasons to dismiss it and maybe try listening from now on."

The debate Fisher was seeking did take off -- and not just at Dickinson.

Breitbart and others denounced her. Fox News featured the column in a segment titled: "Have American universities become breeding grounds for anti-white hate?" Hundreds (most of them with no apparent connection to Dickinson) signed a petition calling for the college to expel her, and accusing her of having "spewed censorship, bigotry, racism and hatred." Others criticized the college for not doing so or for not preventing the newspaper from publishing the piece.

Hundreds of comments came in to The Dickinsonian. Some engaged in Fisher's arguments. Many said that she was trying to silence white men from speaking in class, and that view was racist. Some said her use of stereotypical white names was demeaning. Some parents of (white) Dickinson students wrote in to say that they feared for their children's ability to be treated equally. Others expressed their disagreement in ways such as this: "You people are freakin nuts … deranged … and VILE [sic]."

Fisher did not respond to an email request for a comment. She told The Carlisle Sentinel that she stood behind her piece. “I don’t regret how I wrote the article or the tone I took,” she said. “If anything, backlash to how angry or dismissive I seem just reveals how limited the range of acceptable emotion for a black woman is.”

Some minority students at Dickinson have been on edge after the posting of Ku Klux Klan leaflets in Carlisle, Pa., where the college is located. And the Fisher essay has added to a focus on racial issues at the college.

Fisher's mother, in a post among the hundreds of comments on her daughter's essay on the student newspaper's website, commented on the general environment for a black student who speaks out: "My daughter’s critics operate in the context of the national response to her op-ed in venues like Breitbart and internet forums such as 4chan. All of the responses prove the point of her piece.

"Sorry, not sorry that you cannot understand that my daughter is a little bit angry because she lives in a world where she is now being called a ‘fat kike mulatto pig’ ‘who will be hunted down and killed in the coming purge.’ Sorry, not sorry to the Dickinson mother who notes she fears for her white son in both the Dickinsonian and the Breitbart comment sections. My black child attends school on a campus in a town in which the KKK is handing out fliers. Where’s your outrage there? You think 4chan is a marginal group to which my daughter has no exposure? Individual female Dickinson students are known and discussed there. My daughter’s photograph is amplified there. The KKK is active there in cyberspace and there, up close and personal, in Carlisle."

The college has held several public forums for students on the issues raised by the piece (and of racial issues generally, in the wake of the Klan leaflets in town). Margee M. Ensign, the president, has defended the right of Fisher to have her views and of the student newspaper to publish them.

"I have heard from many of you about an opinion piece in The Dickinsonian. First, let me remind you that The Dickinsonian is a student-run newspaper that has editorial control over its content. It expresses the opinions of its writers -- it does not speak for the college," Ensign wrote. "Let me be clear. Dickinson believes in free speech. We also condemn stereotyping and prejudice. Dickinson values inclusivity. We expect our community members to engage in thoughtful dialogue and believe that no group or individual should be silenced. It is a fundamental policy of the college to respect pluralism and to promote civility and mutual understanding." Ensign did not express an opinion one way or the other on Fisher's views -- and has been criticized by Fisher's supporters and critics for not doing so (in ways they would approve of).

In response to inquiries, the college send out this statement widely: "Dickinson is a microcosm of the nation. Our campus community is composed of individuals who hold varied beliefs, opinions and life experiences. We engage in the hard work every day that is necessary to become a more inclusive community. This work is ongoing."

Some Dickinson students have followed Fisher's piece with essays of their own, defending her and saying that she was never truly trying to prevent white male students from talking in class, only to use satire and rhetoric to get them to think.

"Even if the article truly wished for all white men to be silent forever (which seems to be the goal only if you naïvely take its satirical tone literally), the author does not have the power to enforce this," wrote one student in an essay. "There is no actual threat on this campus to the domination of white, male voices. It is not that white men should never speak, or shouldn’t speak on issues of race and gender. It is that they are already speaking, and speaking so much that other voices -- often more relevant voices -- do not have the chance to be heard."

Common Frustrations

Julie J. Park, associate professor of education at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Race on Campus: Debunking Myths With Data (Harvard Education Press), said that she was not surprised that the essay has set off a debate. But she also said that the feelings Fisher expressed are far from unique.

"The piece probably reflects frustration about the racial climate at her campus," Park said. "This type of frustration is not uncommon among students of color at predominantly white institutions."

And indeed the issue of male or white domination of classroom conversations has been raised by others, as has the issue of favoritism toward white males in class. A 2018 study by Stanford University researchers found that instructors online, to the extent they are aware of the race and gender of students, are more likely to respond to the comments of white male students than of others.

In Inside Higher Ed's annual survey of provosts, one question is about the relative comfort levels of different groups of students in the classroom. In this year's survey, 93 percent of provosts said that white students "generally feel welcome in classrooms on my campus." The figure fell to 62 percent when asked about minority students. (Similarly, provosts felt more confident of liberal students' comfort in their classrooms than about conservative students.)

A 2014 research study in the journal Life Sciences Education explored women's class participation in introductory biology classes for students in the biology major. The prompt for the study was that biology, though previously a field in which a majority of students were male, now has a female majority of students. In the study of 23 courses, the analysis found that women made up 60 percent of the students, but 40 percent of those heard responding to questions posed by instructors in class.

Some faculty members, cognizant of patterns in which white male students dominate classroom discussions, advocate "progressive stacking," in which instructors call on students who want to talk in the reverse order that one might predictably do so, based on social biases.

A 2015 column in the student newspaper at North Carolina State University (which did not go viral as Fisher's piece did) was titled "Men, Stop Dominating Classroom Discussion."

Feeling ‘Invisible and Marginalized’

Raechele L. Pope, an expert on campus climate issues and efforts to promote inclusion in higher education, is associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York. She said via email that numerous studies have found that male students tend to dominate classroom discussions. Pope said that there have not been many studies on the role of race in classroom discussions but that "there is some preliminary evidence that white students participate at a higher rate than students of color."

She said that Fisher's essay was similar to "sentiments or something similar from students of color throughout my almost 40 years working on college campuses and consulting on campuses across the nation." Many are frustrated, she said, when "white male students speak about the experiences of students of color even though that is not their life experience." That doesn't mean, Pope said, that anyone should be left out of the discussion. "Let me be clear, everyone can and should participate in discussions on race and gender. However, for those conversations to be successful and lead to greater understanding, it is important for people to speak about their own experiences and not speak for other people or make assumptions about the experiences of others."

Reading the essay by Fisher, Pope said, "I sense the frustration that many students of color attending historically white institutions feel about their experiences on campus and in the classroom. They feel invisible and marginalized. They are either not seen or asked to speak for their entire racial group. When they do speak up and share their own experiences, they believe their comments are often denied and or negated by many white students and faculty and told how people of color really feel. This can be maddening and disempowering. The negative -- even vitriolic at times -- and viral reaction to an op-ed by an individual college student in a small college newspaper is astounding. The way her voice is being drowned out by the loud and angry voices of others, some even calling for her expulsion, may, in fact, prove her point that there is no room for her voice and her perspective."

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Study links faculty attitudes on intelligence to student success in STEM, with large impact on minority student success

Hace 4 hours 17 mins

A new study suggests that faculty members' attitudes about intelligence can have a major impact on the success of students in science, mathematics and technology courses. Students see more achievement when their instructors believe in a "growth mind-set" about intelligence than they do learning from those who believe intelligence is fixed. The impact was found across all student groups but was most pronounced among minority students.

The study -- by brain science scholars at Indiana University at Bloomington -- was published in the journal Science Advances and presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The researchers collected data on 150 faculty members in a range of STEM disciplines and 15,000 students over two years at a large public research university that is not identified. Faculty members were asked to respond to a general statement about intelligence along the lines of "To be honest, students have a certain amount of intelligence, and they really can’t do much to change it."

The study then looked at student performance in courses taught by those who agreed with that perspective and those who did not.

Students from all groups earned higher grades with faculty members who thought it was possible for people to experience intelligence growth. But the impact was particularly notable for black, Latino and Native American students (see bar chart at right).

The article argues that the faculty attitudes about intelligence carry over into the messages faculty members send to students, with those who believe in fixed intelligence suggesting to students that only the "innately gifted" are likely to succeed. Those who believe in intelligence growth are more likely, the article says, to share techniques with students on how they can become better learners.

Students with the latter group of faculty members are more likely to report that they are motivated to do their best work, and to recommend the course to others.

The researchers wanted to find out for the study whether some types of professors were more likely than others to hold fixed views of intelligence. But here the study didn't find patterns, even after looking for them within STEM disciplines and comparing professors by gender, race, generation or years of teaching experience.

Some studies have found that underrepresented minority students do better in courses taught by "same-race role models." But this study did not find that impact, even though it found a substantial impact on minority student performance based on attitudes about intelligence.

The paper acknowledges that there could be another factor at play. "It is possible that faculty who endorse fixed mind-set beliefs create more demanding courses -- requiring students to spend more time studying and preparing for their course," the paper says. "If this is true, then differences in students’ performance and psychological experiences might be explained by the demands of these courses (instead of professors’ mind-set beliefs)."

But the paper said that the researchers could not measure this. But they could identify the use -- by faculty members not holding to the view of fixed intelligence -- of a range of pedagogical techniques linked to improved learning by students in all groups.

Why would this divide based on views of intelligence have more of an impact on underrepresented minority students?

"Faculty beliefs about which students 'have' ability in STEM might constitute a greater barrier for [underrepresented minority] students because fixed mind-set beliefs may make group ability stereotypes salient, creating a context of stereotype threat," the paper says. "Recent research suggests that when stigmatized students expect to be stereotyped by fixed mind-set institutions, they experience less belonging, less trust and more anxiety and become less interested (27, 28), suggesting that fixed mind-set faculty might also engender these adverse outcomes among students."

Taken as a whole, the paper argues that its findings may suggest a different approach to those seeking to promote more success of all students, and especially of minority students, in STEM.

"Millions of dollars in federal funding have been earmarked for student-centered initiatives and interventions that combat inequality in higher education and expand the STEM pipeline. Rather than putting the burden on students and rigid structural factors, our work shines a spotlight on faculty and how their beliefs relate to the underperformance of stigmatized students in their STEM classes," the paper says. "Faculty-centered interventions may have the unprecedented potential to change STEM culture from a fixed mind-set culture of genius to a growth mind-set culture of development while narrowing STEM racial achievement gaps at scale."

The principle investigator on the project is Mary Murphy, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana. The other authors are Elizabeth Canning, a postdoctoral researcher in Murphy's lab; Dorainne Green, a postdoctoral researcher at IU; and Katherine Muenks, who was a postdoctoral researcher at IU at the time of the study.

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Alaska governor proposes 41 percent cut to higher ed

Hace 4 hours 17 mins

Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy, whose state faces a $1.6 billion deficit, is proposing to cut $310 million from the state’s education system -- including a jaw-dropping 41 percent cut to the University of Alaska System.

The planned reduction represents the largest of any state agency.

Dunleavy’s plan comes alongside a proposed $20 million funding increase for the state’s 13 public community colleges, known in Alaska as “community campuses.”

The new budget, announced Wednesday in Juneau, is part of Dunleavy’s plan to trim the deficit by $1.3 billion. The plan includes cutting nearly one-fifth of the budget of the state Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which includes the university system.

University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen told the Anchorage Daily News that the proposed cut is the largest in the university system’s 100-year history and could force its campuses to fire about 1,300 faculty and staff members. Johnsen said several research efforts would also be in jeopardy.

In a statement, Johnsen said Dunleavy’s budget, if approved, would devastate the university system, forcing him to propose “deep cuts for every UA campus.” He said the system had already been operating under leaner budgets in four of the last five years.

“Cuts at this level cannot simply be managed or accommodated,” he said. “If this budget passes the Legislature, it will devastate university programs and services, and the negative effects will be felt in communities across the entire state.”

The lower spending, Johnsen said, “will hurt Alaska’s economic competitiveness now and long into the future.”

A budget summary posted on Dunleavy’s official site said the reduced spending would allow the system to “focus on core programs and educational services” while encouraging it to focus on instruction in community campuses operated by the state's three system branches.

The proposal would also hit public K-12 education, slashing about one-fifth of operating expenses at the Anchorage School District, for example. Starr Marsett, president of the Anchorage School Board, called it “the dismantling of public education as we know it.”

Dunleavy also wants to zero out $3.1 million in state funding for a multistate medical education program run out of the University of Washington School of Medicine that trains physicians to serve in Alaska and elsewhere in the West. Alaska is one of several states without a medical school.

Over all, he wants to withdraw a $154 million state subsidy from the university system while carving out $20 million more for community campuses, which he said operate more efficiently, costing the state just $8,210 per student, compared to $25,336 per student at the state’s four-year campuses.

Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, the largest institution in the system, didn’t sugarcoat the proposed cut.

“It is very large,” she said.

Sandeen noted that legislators will almost certainly push back on Dunleavy’s budget proposal. But in the end, she said, she and other university leaders are preparing for leaner times -- they plan to meet today to discuss staffing and program reductions.

“A cut of this magnitude will undoubtedly result in work-force reductions and major restructuring of programs,” she said. “There are some things that this will force us to look at that will make us better, but we will definitely be smaller and we’ll definitely be doing things differently when we come out the end of this.”

Sandeen, who came to Alaska from the University of Wisconsin System, said she’s no stranger to statewide cuts to higher education -- while in Wisconsin, she recalled, her campus labored under both a tuition freeze and a 27 percent state funding cut. “I come into this with experience,” she said.

Alaska’s community campuses merged with the four-year system in the 1980s, Sandeen said, and the arrangement has worked well. “We like having a full arc of educational pathways available to our students.” But carving the community campuses out as a separate system “could certainly work” as well, she said, if the new system can do a better job offering shorter-term credentials that support work-force training. “If one believes in focus and specialization being a good thing, this new structure would enable that, perhaps, a little better.”

Sandeen noted that she’s a product of California’s once well-funded public university system and later worked in Silicon Valley. “I see the economic power of quality universities,” she said, “both in generating new knowledge, new industries and providing the workforce that employers need.”

‘A Big Step Backwards’

Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, warned against balancing state budgets “on the backs of students.”

“People need to remember that cutting higher education funding is a policy choice,” he said. “This is not inevitable.”

Harnisch predicted that the steep cuts will make it difficult over the next few years ”to lure the best and the brightest” to work in Alaska’s public universities. “Education is a community, and people certainly talk to each other.”

He recalled that in 2011, in the height of the recession, New Hampshire moved to make similar cuts to its higher ed system, slashing funding by nearly 50 percent in one year. “It took them some time to recover from that,” he said.

Dunleavy, a Republican elected last November, previously served as a state senator since 2012. He has described the new budget as “an open and straightforward approach to budgeting that works to tackle Alaska’s overwhelming fiscal challenges.” In online postings, he has called the proposal “An Honest Budget” that preserves state reserves and doesn’t repeat past years’ deficit spending.

But Harnisch said cutting higher ed so deeply will hurt the state’s efforts to diversify its economy, which relies heavily on oil revenues.

“Texas learned its lesson in the 1980s,” he said. “They made a conscious effort to go from a one-dimensional economy” to a diverse one that bolstered state spending on education. “If Alaska is going to grow and diversify its economy, it needs to invest in its public colleges and universities -- and this cut is a big step backwards.”

The medical training program, known as WWAMI, draws its name from the five states served: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

It trains 80 Alaska students at a time at the University of Alaska Anchorage, via digital instruction from he University of Washington School of Medicine. Students are dually enrolled at the University of Alaska and University of Washington. They complete foundational course work both on campus and in communities. Graduates who practice medicine in Alaska qualify for loan forgiveness if they work in rural areas of the state for three years or elsewhere in Alaska for five years.

Dunleavy has said that only about 55 percent of WWAMI borrowers are licensed physicians practicing medicine in Alaska, and that the program “has not proven effective at meeting the demand for new physicians, despite a significant state investment over the years.” He said the percentage of program graduates practicing in Alaska “continues to decrease.”

In a detailed budget analysis the governor posted online, he said that from 2014 to 2018, the percent of graduates practicing in Alaska dropped from 84 percent to 61 percent.

But the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Suzanne Allen said those figures are misleading, since many students who train with WWAMI elsewhere in the five-state region end up practicing in Alaska. The percentage of total WWAMI students who end up practicing in Alaska, she said, is closer to 80 percent, not 61 percent.

“We certainly feel like we make a significant contribution to the physician work force in that state,” she said. “Our focus is really on creating a rural primary-care work force to meet the needs of patients in Alaska.”

The program actually originated in Alaska in 1971, with 10 medical students. Since then, it has produced about 350 Alaska graduates, she said. “We feel like the training opportunities we provide for medical students contribute in a positive way to them coming back and actually practicing in the state.”

Johnsen, the system president, said today's emergency meeting with the chancellors will help them propose reductions to the Board of Regents, which meets Feb. 28.

“We are heading into uncharted territory with lots of uncertainty ahead,” Johnsen said.

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Appeals court rules on issue of university keeping rapist away from accuser

Hace 4 hours 17 mins

Iowa State University did not violate the federal law protecting students against gender discrimination when it declined to move a rapist from a dormitory near his victim, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit backed the decision of a federal district court to dismiss a lawsuit by a former student, Melissa Maher, who sued in 2016.

Maher reported her rape in March 2014 to the institution, which began investigating that May. The university barred the student she accused, Patrick Whetstone, from interacting with her.

When Maher came back to the university for the next academic year, she discovered that Whetstone was assigned to a residence hall close to hers. At this point, the university was still investigating Maher’s report and had not held a formal hearing to judge the allegations. Court documents state that Maher would see him an average of twice a week.

When Maher and her parents met with Iowa State officials to request that Whetstone be moved, they were told that he could not be until the investigation ended. Administrators offered to instead put Maher in a single-person room meant for emergencies, or she and her roommate could move to a converted den space with other women or a nearby hotel.

Maher declined these options, adamant that Whetstone be moved.

About a month after Maher and her parents met with administrators, Whetstone was found responsible for the rape and was eventually expelled.

Despite this, Maher suffered from anxiety from the assault and withdrew from the university shortly after. In 2015, police charged Whetstone with third-degree sexual abuse in the case, and in 2016, he pled guilty, being sentenced to two years of probation.

Maher, in her lawsuit from 2016, accused Iowa State of infringing on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for not moving Whetstone or providing her with acceptable alternatives.

A U.S. District Court judge eventually dismissed the case, finding that Iowa State hadn’t violated the legal standard of “deliberate indifference.” Maher took her lawsuit to the appeals court, which agreed with the lower court.

“While Maher’s preference was that ISU move Whetstone, it was not deliberately indifferent for ISU to wait to take such action until the hearing process concluded because ISU was respecting Whetstone’s procedural due process rights,” Judge Raymond Gruender wrote for the court.

Iowa State did not respond to request for comment but in a statement told the Gazette newspaper in Iowa it was pleased that the district court initially dismissed the case. Officials said their thoughts were primarily with Maher and other sexual assault survivors.

“We are deeply saddened that Ms. Maher experienced this traumatic sexual assault and the devastating impact caused by the criminal conduct of a fellow student,” the statement reads.

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges and universities on Title IX and security issues, said the ruling matches decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I recommend that institutions have means in place to minimize the impact on students reporting sexual assault by not requiring them to relocate, noting that any due process that may be required for an interim action or protective measure is going to be less than what may be required for final action,” Carter wrote in an email.

Taylor S. Parker, the compliance coordinator and deputy Title IX coordinator at the Ringling College of Art and Design, said that Iowa State in this case had “failed” both students.

She said that while the court bought in to Iowa State’s argument, Parker disagreed that moving Whetstone would be considered some sort of disciplinary measure. She said that while the university failed in meeting the “deliberate indifference” standard, in practicality, Maher saw her attacker regularly and the university didn’t step in to remedy that.

Iowa State could have avoided the entire lawsuit by being more proactive and making sure that the two were not placed near each in the first place, Parker said.

When a no-contact order has been issued, institutions should work with all offices -- housing, the registrar, even students’ professors -- to make sure that students don’t interact, Parker said.

Privacy advocates might question giving all those employees access to student information, but Parker said it’s a necessary step.

“Universities need to uphold their end of the agreement,” Parker said, referring to no-contact orders. “If they are making it challenging and difficult for a student to comply with those, then they have to start looking into the contact orders and not jut pay lip service.”

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NYU social work school admits to institutional racism in wake of student email

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:29

New York University has been stunned by a student's email stating that it would be "easier" for him without a "black presence" in class.

The incident has played out on social media as Shahem Mclaurin, a black student at NYU's Silver School of Social Work described his experience. He was in France and so was going to have to miss class. He had obtained permission from the faculty member in advance to use FaceTime to be in the class virtually, but when he emailed various students in the course, they didn't respond, so he was unable to see or participate in the class.

One student sent him an email that Mclaurin then shared on Twitter:

I’m in Paris and didn’t want to miss my classes. I emailed all of my classmates to FaceTime me in the course (professor approved) and they all ignored me. This is the response someone sent me. I want to drop out. pic.twitter.com/se1Ico5Ulp

— Shahem Mclaurin (@NotShahem) February 12, 2019

The email said in part that the student "found it easier to lead the discussion without black presence in the room, since I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the (perceived) threat that it poses."

Mclaurin wrote that the email made him feel like dropping out. Many responded on social media that they would feel the same way, and that this pointed to broader problems at the social work school. Given that social work schools pride themselves on training professionals who will be inclusive, the incident attracted much concern at the Silver School.

On Thursday, Dean Neil B. Guterman and two associate deans released an open letter in response to the incident. The letter said that NYU officials had reached out both to Mclaurin and the student who had sent him the email. "Both students involved in the email exchange indicated their desire to resolve the issues in the class, and the associate dean of academic affairs is working with the chair of practice and the instructor of the course to promote productive and restorative dialogue."

The open letter, speaking more generally, said: "No student should experience racism or otherwise be made to feel unwelcome here at NYU Silver. It is antithetical to our School and the social work profession. We are deeply sorry when we hear that students have experienced exclusion and bias when we should instead be hearing of inclusive, educationally uplifting, and supportive experiences."

Further, the letter said: "We recognize that this incident took place in a broader context of ongoing institutional racism at Silver, especially in classrooms. Notwithstanding efforts to actively address these issues, we clearly have significant work yet ahead. Addressing matters of racism, bias, and social exclusion require firm commitment and collective efforts of us all, and this work must be ongoing. As social workers we must continually examine our own biases as well as the social systems that perpetuate racism and other forms of discrimination and marginalization. In the wake of this painful incident, it is our hope that we will find an opportunity for self-reflection, learning, and professional and institutional growth."

Beyond the incident with the email, black and other minority students have been pushing for an improved climate at the social work school. A recent "call to action for social justice" at the school noted that major discussions on these issues took place in 2010, and said that far too little had changed since.

 

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Study documents economic gains from liberal arts education

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:00

You've read the stories about liberal arts college grads doomed to a life of poverty, paying back their student loans while living in their parents' basement. And if you've been reading Inside Higher Ed, you have read about studies questioning that narrative.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has now released a new analysis by two economists that examines the questions of the economic payoff of a liberal arts college education. The study makes no claims that liberal arts grads outearn those in, say, engineering. But the report says the claims that a liberal arts degree isn't worth its cost or will hurt a graduate's career prospects prove untrue. Specifically, the report says attending a liberal arts college for most students leads to meaningful economic mobility.

"Critics claim that a liberal arts education is worth less than the alternatives, and perhaps not even worth the investment at all. They argue that increasing costs and low future earnings limit the value of a liberal arts education, especially compared to alternative options such as pre-professional programs that appear to be better rewarded in the current labor market," says the report. "Existing evidence does not support these conclusions."

The report's authors -- Catharine B. Hill and Elizabeth Davidson Pisacreta -- are both at Ithaka S+R, which conducts extensive research on the economics of higher education. Hill is a former president of Vassar College.

Throughout the study, the authors draw attention to misconceptions about liberal arts education. They note that, to the extent some liberal arts graduates end up in relatively low-paying careers, this reflects their career interests and market forces, and would likely be the same even if they attended another kind of institution.

"If someone chooses to be a musician or elementary school teacher, their income is dictated by the labor market," said Hill in an interview. Further, she said that "students who choose to be artists or elementary school teachers may not be people who would want to be an engineer."

That distinction is important, the study says, because there is for many an income gap based on type of institution attended. What is false is the idea that the income gap is so large as to make a liberal arts college education not worthwhile.

The link of institution type and field of study is one of the myths about liberal arts colleges, the authors write. Many pundits and politicians bash liberal arts colleges, and say that the country needs more people with science, mathematics and technology degrees (which are widely seen as leading to more lucrative careers). Using various federal data sources, the study shows that those in private higher education outside liberal arts colleges are more likely to major in engineering (many liberal arts colleges, of course, don't have engineering programs). But for the rest of the STEM fields, liberal arts colleges (at various levels of competitiveness) award larger shares of STEM degrees than do comparable private, non-liberal arts colleges.

The data are why the report (and Hill in an interview) sometimes talk about students experiencing "liberal education," not liberal arts, even when the samples are of students at liberal arts colleges. Hill said that too many people equate liberal arts with humanities study alone, or imagine that "liberal" refers to politics. She said that one reason liberal arts graduates earn more than expected is the diversity of fields studied beyond the humanities. Many of the comparisons in the report are of private liberal arts colleges to other types of institutions. But Hill said she believed many of the findings would be similar if studying those enrolled in liberal arts programs at colleges and universities with a broad range of pre-professional programs.

With regard to actual income, the study relies heavily on the data of Opportunity Insights, which the study refers to by its former name, the Equality of Opportunity Project. Raj Chetty of Harvard University is the leader of the project, which the researchers used to compare the impact on economic mobility of liberal arts colleges graduates and those who attended other kinds of institutions. The important thing about that data is that they recognize that one of the best ways (regardless of what one studies in college, or where) to end up wealthy is to start out wealthy. Chetty looks at various institutions and tracks the movement of students from various quintiles of income in their family background to where they end up after graduation.

The data show that those who started out in lower quintiles and studied at elite private colleges show significant gains and entry into the top quintile of income, even if they are not as large as those gains achieved by those attending other kinds of institutions.

Other comparisons in the study look at the shifts for students, by entering economic quintiles, and those who end up in the top two quintiles, or the top 40 percent of American income. For some of these comparisons, the analysis also considered STEM-intensive institutions.

Not surprisingly, the STEM-oriented institutions do quite well in terms of lifting up the economic status of graduates, and for some groups they outperform other types of colleges.

But here again, there are substantial gains for those attending liberal arts colleges, such that more than 60 percent of them are ending up in the top two quintiles of income postgraduation, even if they started out in the bottom three quintiles.

Other parts of the analysis look at graduation rates (where private liberal arts colleges do better than do other private institutions, across levels of competitiveness). And the study looks at the availability of aid, which finds that actual costs are substantially lower than sticker price.

These figures are important, the authors say, in that questions of the "worth" of a college are based on cost and economic outcomes.

The authors acknowledge in the report the many limitations that remain -- and say that they would like to explore finer subgroups of students both at liberal arts and other types of colleges (including testing their assumptions about those who study the liberal arts at non-liberal arts colleges and universities).

But they point to the Chetty data they have applied to say that attending liberal arts colleges leads to economic mobility across income groups.

"All the evidence shows that the bashing of liberal arts colleges, and the liberal arts, just isn't well founded, just isn't based on evidence," Hill said.

Hill said that she hoped the study would counter some of the prevailing myths, such as the one that says going to a liberal arts college means one isn't studying STEM, when in facts such majors have seen gains at liberal arts colleges.

"If you think back 10 or 15 years, we worried that there weren't enough students in STEM fields, and we've actually succeeded" in changing that, she said.

But Hill said she realized that it would be a continued, uphill battled to argue against the view that studying the liberal arts is economically foolish. "The more evidence we can get out, the better," she said.

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Opposition hardens against one college seeking to merge and another planning to close

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:00

Protests were planned for today as Hampshire College prepares to put layoffs in place on the heels of its controversial decision to stop admitting additional students for the upcoming fall semester.

Alumni, staff, faculty, students and parents of students planned an on-campus protest to voice dissatisfaction with both the layoffs and what they see as a flawed decision by Hampshire’s leaders to seek a partnership with another institution, organizers said. They also planned to pressure the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to investigate Hampshire trustees’ decision not to admit a full entering class.

Their plans come as a diffuse opposition movement has been coalescing in the weeks since Hampshire -- a private liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., known as a great experiment in self-directed education -- announced in mid-January it was seeking a partnership in the face of intense enrollment and financial challenges. About two weeks later, Hampshire’s leaders announced a decision not to admit a traditional class of new students in the fall. Instead, the college will only enroll new students who had already been admitted under early decision or who had been admitted and deferred enrolling for a year.

Alumni are also attempting to raise millions of dollars they think can keep Hampshire operating as an independent institution. And those linked to Hampshire aren’t the only ones trying to find money to fight off a decision they don’t like about a private liberal arts college’s future. A group is attempting to enlist donors to keep Green Mountain College in Vermont from acting on plans announced last month to close at the end of the current semester.

The groups seeking to keep Hampshire and Green Mountain open and independent would appear to face nearly insurmountable challenges. Both colleges have struggled mightily in recent years and have signaled that they won’t admit any more freshmen for next fall, cutting off or curtailing their most important source of revenue.

But group leaders point to recent precedent after alumnae of Sweet Briar College in Virginia successfully prevented the women’s college’s board from closing it in 2015. A group called Saving Sweet Briar fought the shutdown plans in court and eventually won a deal to keep the college open under new management, even after its previous leaders had taken steps to wind down operations.

Some of those fighting for both Hampshire and Green Mountain have been in touch with those who fought to keep Sweet Briar from closing and rebooted the college.

Many higher ed experts remain extremely skeptical that the efforts to keep Hampshire and Green Mountain open and independent can be successful in the long term. Hampshire’s backers, however, believe that the college did not properly engage them before moving down a path that they think will eliminate its unique character. Now that they are engaging, they think they can find the resources to save the college. Those trying to raise money for Green Mountain, meanwhile, say they are making every effort to preserve the mission of an institution that is important to its small hometown of Poultney, Vt.

Despite their differences, the two situations demonstrate just how hard it can be to close or merge a college -- at least until it can't make payroll.

The technical steps needed to wind down operations or find a merger partner are hard enough. Then the human element can make efforts nearly impossible as alumni tightly clutch the memories of their alma maters.

Haggling Over Hampshire’s Future

Hampshire has not said how many of its employees it will lay off. The college currently has about 250 staff members and 150 faculty members. It plans to tell some of those whose positions are being eliminated on Tuesday. Then it will tell more on or around April 1 that they are being laid off.

The college expects some faculty members to be laid off later this year but has not made any decisions on that issue, according to a spokesman, John Courtmanche. Some layoffs would have been necessary even if the college hadn’t decided to stop accepting new students for the upcoming fall semester, he said. Hampshire was facing significant budget deficits because of decreased enrollment.

Some point out that the college’s president, Miriam E. Nelson, has written about layoffs being necessary as the college downsizes and doesn’t admit new students. They see circular logic -- the college is not admitting a new class because of enrollment and financial difficulties, creating further financial difficulties and requiring downsizing.

“Why not admit an entering class?” said Warren S. Goldstein, who graduated from Hampshire in 1983 and is now executive director of the Center for Critical Research on Religion in Newton, Mass. “By not admitting a new class, you’re losing about a quarter of your revenue.”

Goldstein is one of several people organizing Hampshire alumni to fight college leaders’ actions. In an interview, he discussed several options, including fund-raising, protests and possibly litigation. Hampshire’s outreach to alumni has been poor in the past, he said.

Now, many alumni feel that they weren’t kept up to speed on the college’s struggles and that they would have helped had they been given the right information. Instead, they believe college leaders announced a crisis after they'd already decided on a merger plan that would likely see Hampshire losing its unique identity after being absorbed by a large institution.

Hampshire’s historic identity as a college with no majors, no grades and students designing their own courses of study has likely contributed to a perception that its students and alumni would be difficult to tap in philanthropy. Although they may pursue careers that make an impact on society, they’re generally not viewed as among the wealthiest.

But Goldstein said he attended Hampshire alongside members of some of the country’s wealthiest families: a Rockefeller, a Newhouse.

“A lot of us have not pursued money,” Goldstein said. “But their families -- it’s inherited wealth.”

Hampshire’s president, Nelson, was not available for interview Wednesday. But the college pointed out that it is a young institution that only opened in 1970. Its alumni haven’t grown old enough to leave it money in their wills after they die.

Some donors have helped Hampshire balance its budget in recent years, the college’s spokesman said. But Hampshire hasn’t grown its endowment to a level that would shield it from falling enrollment. At $52 million, and assuming a common 5 percent draw, the endowment would generate $2.6 million per year for college operations. That’s only a fraction of the college’s operating expenses, which have been about $56 million in recent years -- and it doesn’t take into account that much of the endowment is restricted for specific purposes.

Hampshire has turned to layoffs, budget cuts and donations to close deficits in the past. In the 2016 fiscal year, it had a $1 million deficit, according to its administration. It went on to face gaps of $1.5 million in 2017, $2.3 million in 2018 and $5.4 million in the current fiscal year.

The college’s enrollment fell from 1,390 in 2014 to 1,120 in 2019. It struggled to enroll more students even while increasing its tuition discount rate for first-year students from 36 percent in 2012 to about 60 percent in 2018.

That discount rate was about five percentage points higher than a target under a financial sustainability plan, yet Hampshire still missed a target for new student deposits. It had been shooting for 345 but only received 286 deposits. The lower-than-targeted deposits came even though Hampshire exceeded its target of 2,200 applications by more than 100.

The financial sustainability plan had called for 400 or more deposits in each of the net three years while lowering discount rates.

Net tuition and room and board revenue dropped at Hampshire in each of the last four years. In 2014, 7 percent of the college’s students paid full tuition. By 2018, the percentage paying full price had fallen to less than 1 percent.

More can be done to attract students and to make the college less reliant on tuition revenue, Goldstein said. He suggested finding a wealthy board member and emphasizing programs that particular board member supports. He also suggested electing board members to make them less insulated from the alumni community.

Goldstein went on to argue that a decision Hampshire made years ago not to accept standardized test scores hurt the college by causing it to drop from national rankings. Another former Hampshire student, Steve Aronstein, also mentioned the effect the standardized test decision had on rankings.

Hampshire reported strong results in 2015, after its first full year of not looking at test scores and not being in U.S. News & World Report rankings. At the time, leaders pointed to a larger enrolled class, higher yield, more minority students and more first-generation students, even as high school grade point averages held steady.

But critics wonder whether the positive effects turned negative as the publicity wore off and successive classes of students didn't see the college's name when they looked at rankings. The test score change was the right thing to do, said Aronstein, who entered the college in 1989. But the college needed to work harder on marketing itself in the aftermath, he said.

Aronstein started a fund-raising effort that drew more than $250,000 in pledges as Hampshire was deciding whether to enroll a new class this fall.

Now, Aronstein is aiming to raise $10 million in the next several months. He thinks it would be an adequate down payment on $30 million to keep the institution open for the future.

Tens of millions of dollars would help the school in the short term. But Hampshire’s endowment would need to be boosted into the hundreds of millions of dollars for the college to be competitive into the future, said the college’s spokesman, Courtmanche.

Hampshire’s administration has said that donors wanted to support special projects but not operations. Aronstein retorts that he has spoken with major donors who had never been contacted leading up to the current crisis.

“We have donors who said they were contacted by people at the college this fall to give their usual donation,” he said. “They never said to them, ‘This is something existential, that we need to do this in October or in January we have to close.’”

Many of those connected to Hampshire feel they have been left out of the loop, Aronstein added. After the college made its decision on not admitting new students, grassroots efforts started growing quickly.

“Going forward, I think you’re going to see a more coordinated and cohesive effort,” he said.

Raising Money for Green Mountain

In Vermont, a group called SaveGMC is attempting to raise money to keep a much smaller institution from closing. Green Mountain College has enrolled about 500 undergraduates and collected about $18 million in total revenue in recent years. Budget deficits have been about $2 million or $3 million in recent years.

So far, SaveGMC doesn’t have a firm goal for how much it should raise. Numbers ranging from $5 million to $22 million have been discussed, said Kheya Ganguly, who is on the group’s strategic leadership team. The group’s website showed a short-term goal of $600,000 in pledges.

The group counted 197 pledges and 93 annual pledges as of Thursday night. It listed an annual five-year pledge total of $144,730.

“The message we’re giving the school is, yes, we need money,” said Ganguly, whose two daughters graduated from Green Mountain in the last five years. “We started out very small, trying to make this work. And now we’re starting to get people really jumping on board to be supportive.”

A few hundred thousand dollars in pledges might seem unlikely to materialize into an amount of money that can sustain a multimillion-dollar operation like a college. But the parents, alumni, students and other interested parties that are part of SaveGMC think it is important to preserve the college, which is critical to the health of its hometown of Poultney, Ganguly said. They also believe in Green Mountain’s environmentally focused mission at a time when climate change is becoming more and more of an issue.

“We went into this saying the only failure we see is not trying,” Ganguly said. “If we try and we don’t succeed, at least we’ll know we’ve given it our best shot to save the institutional values.”

Past Precedent?

Yet to be seen is whether those fighting to change the futures of Green Mountain or Hampshire can tap in to a similar energy -- or similar donor bases -- to what propelled Saving Sweet Briar’s success several years ago. Those who helped prevent Sweet Briar from closing can help the groups learn how to assess their situations, consider institutions’ viability going forward and marshal resources for potential legal battles, said Teresa Pike Tomlinson, who chaired the Sweet Briar board after it was overhauled.

Tomlinson thinks administrators at colleges that consider closing have sometimes been reluctant to take dramatic action like tuition resets or major curricular changes. Both have been deployed at Sweet Briar after the college’s reboot.

“People need to take heed and understand that this is a tough time for private higher education institutions,” Tomlinson said. “They offer a valuable resource in that they allow a very nurturing and rigorous educational environment for a lot of young people, and there’s no doubt these institutions are turning out leaders in their various fields. Yet we’re letting them sort of die on the vine, because the administrative leadership is not being bold and forthright about the threat they’re under.”

College officials are keeping their troubles too close to the vest for too long, she said.

“It is a stigma,” she said. “If the college is under distress, then it may discourage people from coming there and obviously would be counterintuitive to your efforts to keep the college open and healthy and growing. What seems to be happening is people get so closed that they don’t really open themselves up to their potential resources and alumni being able to give more robustly than they ever have before.”

Not everyone sees it exactly the same way. Brian Weinblatt is the founder and principal of Higher Ed Consolidation Solutions, a consultancy focused on college mergers.

“What we're seeing now at both Hampshire and Green Mountain Colleges is far too little, far too late,” he said in an email. “This applies both to the administrative efforts and those of the alumni, parents and others who are calling for external support for the institutions. The thoughts, well wishes and gestures of support are all well intentioned, however, they cannot realistically make a difference at this point.”

The institutions in question would have needed to make major changes much earlier if they were to survive, Weinblatt continued. A thoughtful leader should view discussions about mergers and consolidations as a chance to avoid closing the door on a storied institution with a rich history and not dismiss them as a failure, he said.

“Make no mistake -- for some institutions there truly will be no viable path forward,” Weinblatt said. “And some -- perhaps many -- will close in the coming years. But astute leaders who truly look at all available options can chart a path forward to continued existence and success and not find themselves in a place where they are announcing cancellations of incoming classes of students, desperation fund-raising campaigns or complete closures.”

At this point in time, perhaps Hampshire’s president, Nelson, put it best in a Feb. 13 letter.

“It’s been a painful month for the Hampshire community, to put it mildly,” she wrote.

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Judge says that U of Texas at Austin can't revoke former student's Ph.D. on its own, outside court of law

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:00

The University of Texas at Austin lacks the authority, express or implied, to revoke a former graduate student's Ph.D., a state court determined this week.

The brief judgment by Judge Karin Crump pertains to Suvi Orr, who has been fighting to keep her Ph.D. for years, following allegations of scientific misconduct that led the university to revoke the doctorate.

Orr, now a senior principal scientist at Pfizer, received her doctorate in organic chemistry at Texas in 2008. She saw her dissertation retracted in 2012 over unreliable data. Orr argued then and now that she misread the data and didn’t falsify anything.

Texas nevertheless tried to revoke her degree twice. Orr sued each time, arguing that she wasn’t given the opportunity to defend herself against the misconduct claim and that her former professor is to blame for her situation.

In 2017, a Texas appeals court weighing her second lawsuit granted Orr an injunction, saying that the university could not revoke her Ph.D. through its own disciplinary process -- what Orr called a “kangaroo court” -- outside a court of law.

Gary Susswein, university spokesperson, said via email Thursday that “we’ve read the opinion, respectfully disagree with the holding, and are currently planning to appeal.”

Orr’s attorneys, David Sergi and Anita Kawaja, told Retraction Watch in a statement that the decision is a first step toward restoring Orr’s “reputation and her standing in the scientific community.” The ruling also recognizes that relevant Texas law has been unchanged for decades, in that it ensures conferred degrees can only be rescinded through the “rigid due process” of a lawsuit, they said.

If the university “wants to take a degree away from a former student,” it must file suit in court, “not rely on a [sic] ad hoc process with little or no real due process,” the attorneys added.

Sergi and Kawaja said Orr has “always defended her research, and is frustrated that [Texas] chose support an academic who was, in our opinion, trying to shift the blame for his missteps to our client.” They said that it’s “time to wake up to the fact that they have to hold faculty accountable for their own failures.”

Orr’s dissertation was about synthesis and analysis of organic molecules. She says that she and her professor, Stephen S. Martin, M. June and J. Virgil Waggoner Regents Chair in Chemistry, decided that she would try to synthesize a molecule called Lundurine B. With Martin’s endorsement, Orr says, she presented and defended her dissertation to a committee of five Texas professors.

A paper based on Orr’s work was submitted to a journal three years later, in 2011. A postdoctoral fellow then began to question the data, according to Orr’s most recent lawsuit, leading him to “believe that what was submitted to the journal article was somehow erroneous or otherwise inaccurate.”

Only then did Martin bring a complaint against Orr alleging misconduct, the lawsuit says, noting that the claims against her center on three results of many more. Orr could have “easily excluded” these three from her dissertation with no negative impact on her paper as a whole -- but Martin consented to their inclusion, she said.

“The decision to revoke a Ph.D. is a harsh, severe and rare penalty,” the lawsuit says. “When presented with an otherwise impeccable record such as [Orr’s], who has enjoyed a successful career and maintained her good name and reputation in the face of these outrageous accusations, the university is required to afford the highest of due process protections,” which can only be had in court.

Martin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ph.D. revocations are indeed rare -- but they do happen. Jodi Whitaker, a scholar of communication, saw her Ph.D. rescinded in 2017 by Ohio State University. She was promptly demoted from tenure-track professor to lecturer at the University of Arizona. Whitaker's case also involved allegations of falsified data and a retracted paper. Her research was on the real-world effects of violent video games.

Whitaker co-wrote the retracted paper at Ohio State with her supervisor there, who said he was not aware of any inappropriate data manipulation. But some prominent scholars came to her defense at the time, saying she'd been sacrificed to protect the more senior faculty member.

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A decade after recession, colleges take divergent hiring paths

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:00

A new research review finds that since the recession, hiring patterns for new full-time faculty members have fluctuated considerably at public four-year doctoral and master's institutions, while they have barely budged at public baccalaureate institutions.

The study, released Thursday by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), based in Knoxville, Tenn., recounts the economic realities of higher education in the decade since the recession: enrollment that spiked and then fell for most types of colleges, government support that has failed to keep pace with enrollment, and a resulting shift in which institutional funding increasingly comes from tuition dollars.

In the new report, CUPA-HR said that before 2008, new hires of full-time faculty at public master’s and doctoral institutions were “rapidly growing.” But after the recession hit, there was a notable decline in full-time hires -- a decline that continued until 2016, when institutions began to increase new hires. By contrast, hires of these instructors at public baccalaureate institutions remained relatively steady, if limited, over the entire period.

For instance, from 2003 to 2018, the percentage of part-time faculty members in public baccalaureate colleges remained fairly stable, beginning at 33.7 percent and ending at 33.6 percent. In the same period, the percentage of part-time instructors at public master's colleges grew from 31.6 percent to 36.7 percent. At public doctoral colleges, it grew from 23.7 percent to 28.9 percent.

Jackie Bischel, the group's research director, said baccalaureate institutions "were not willing to compromise their teaching faculty based on the results of the recession.” While master's and doctoral institutions continue to hire more new assistant professors, the figures have fluctuated considerably. At both public and private baccalaureate institutions, Bischel said, the hiring has been "slow and steady."

“It just goes to, I guess, the steadiness of those baccalaureate institutions,” she said.

Meanwhile, doctoral institutions continue to rely more than others on new, part-time faculty. “It is almost like they’re more willing to compromise that teaching part in order to fulfill their budget goals,” Bischel said.

George Mehaffy of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which represents many regional, master's-level, four-year institutions, said it's difficult to make inferences from the statistics. While baccalaureate institutions are certainly not sacrificing high-quality instruction to balance budgets, he said, “We aren’t, either."

He said the hiring statistics actually show that "our institutions were hit harder than other sectors in terms of funding -- particularly state funding." Mehaffy, vice president for academic leadership and change at AASCU, noted that flagship public universities "aren’t as vulnerable as regional comprehensives to funding declines."

For public university leaders facing uncertain budgets, hiring more full-time, tenure-track faculty is risky because each new position is “potentially a 30-year commitment.”

Even at universities with large numbers of such faculty, tight budgets mean that many of these instructors are taking on more of the work of university governance, teaching less in the process.

Nonetheless, he said, the idea that hiring more part-time or non-tenure-track faculty sacrifices quality isn't necessarily true. While he'd admit that faculty turnover can affect critical faculty relationships that are "so important in student development," more factors come into play when talking about instruction.

“You have to approach the question of quality for teaching with a great deal of caution,” he said.

CUPA-HR noted that the number of full-time faculty per 100 students in public institutions “has remained relatively unchanged,” but that private institutions improved their full-time faculty-per-student ratio from 2003 to 2018.

In its annual survey of faculty compensation, CUPA-HR last year found that faculty salaries in 2017-18 increased by 1.7 percent over the previous year. Nontenured research faculty saw the highest increase, with tenure-track faculty seeing the lowest increase.

At a median age of 37, the group found, non-tenure-track research faculty tend to be “significantly younger” than tenured and tenure-track instructors, whose median age is 51. Nearly one-third of tenured and tenure-track faculty are age 60 or over.

For tenure-track faculty, the highest-paying disciplines in 2017-18 were legal professions, business, engineering, computer science and health professions. Low-paid adjunct faculty members made up nearly two-thirds of all instructors in associate’s institutions, though they made up only one-third of faculty at doctoral institutions.

The recession, the group said, “had profound impacts” on both students and faculty. Understanding the impacts could help colleges and universities better deal with future disruptions, budget cuts and enrollment shifts, it said.

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Shift in mission of Melbourne University press raises many issues

Vie, 15 Feb 2019 - 02:00

Contentious changes at Australia’s oldest university press have raised questions about the degree to which in-house publishers should produce general interest literature.

The decision to refocus Melbourne University Publishing as a “high-quality scholarly press,” announced last month, triggered bitter protests and the resignations of the chief executive and five directors of the press.

MUP’s parent institution was accused of censoring academic freedom and killing off one of its most effective arms of community engagement, by neglecting a compromise deal that would have allowed MUP to continue publishing popular nonacademic works while using the profits to cross-subsidize academic monographs.

But some academics lauded the University of Melbourne’s decision, saying that they had found it all but impossible to get their books produced by the publisher.

MUP’s website lists 1,629 books that it has published since early 2004. Just 135 are academic books, typically paperbacks retailing for 50 Australian dollars ($36), with some of these also available as separate ebook titles.

Meanwhile, it is not clear that profits from the 1,000-plus trade books have been cross-subsidizing the relatively few academic books. MUP posted a profit of (totals that follow are in U.S. dollars) $204,000 in 2017 and a preliminary profit of $157,000 in 2018, after pocketing an $889,159 annual subsidy from the university.

According to a report on the future of scholarly publishing, published in January by the European Commission, only a few universities own “robust and long-lived publishing presses that are also competitive in the commercial sphere.”

Australian National University anthropologist James Fox, who co-founded ANU Press in 2002 and now chairs its advisory committee, said that there was “nothing precluding” university presses from publishing quality trade books, but it should not happen at the expense of their core business of producing academic works.

He said that the notion that trade presses could be used to cross-subsidize academic publishing was a "furphy" -- a myth -- as demonstrated by a publishing house called Pandanus Press, which he helped set up at the turn of the century.

“The idea was that we were going to produce commercial books that would pay for the academic books. It didn’t work out that way. The commercial books didn’t raise enough money. The academic books were doing far better in many cases,” Fox said.

Canberra-based publishing consultant Andrew Schuller, a long-serving editorial director of humanities and social sciences in Oxford University Press’s academic division, said the subsidies flowed the other way at some universities in Britain and the Netherlands.

Schuller said that OUP had paid “huge sums” to its parent university, disbursing tens of millions of pounds over the past decade. He said that the academic division remained a contributor to OUP profits, which totaled 94 million pounds ($121 million) last fiscal year.

“When I came to Australia, I tried to suggest to the university presses that it wasn’t terribly difficult to publish academic books. You’ve got to not print too many, price them realistically and plug into the international library market -- none of which were particularly difficult things to do,” he said.

But Schuller conceded that Australian university presses were disadvantaged by the limited overseas appeal of their products. “Australiana and the Australian public aren’t necessarily going to be high on librarians’ priority list for purchasing,” he said.

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Democratic contenders' higher ed positions go well beyond free college

Jue, 14 Feb 2019 - 02:00

At least nine Democrats have declared themselves candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination or have made noises suggesting they’re making plans to run. And while the primary campaign will likely include a reprise of the 2016 debate over free college, several prominent candidates have unique track records in higher ed that they’ll bring to the campaign, potentially setting up a broader debate about priorities for postsecondary education.

The experience of figures like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren taking on postsecondary education issues could suggest the approach they would take as president. Each would present distinct opportunities to offer a contrast with Trump administration policies on for-profit colleges, student debt and campus sexual misconduct. And with multiple candidates attaching their names to ambitious college-affordability legislation, those track records would offer another chance to separate the candidates from primary competitors.

Other Democrats who have announced campaigns for the nomination, like New Jersey senator Cory Booker or former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro, are better known for positions on K-12 education issues. They'll likely be pushed to weigh in on higher ed issues, though. Here are the candidates whose policy agendas thus far have included higher education in a prominent role.

Kamala Harris: Critic of For-Profit Colleges

Under the Obama administration, cracking down on abuses in the for-profit college sector became perhaps the biggest focus of higher education policy makers. And many of the enforcement actions taken by the administration were enabled by the work of the California attorney general’s office under the leadership of now senator Kamala Harris.

Harris, who served as California AG from 2011 to 2017, sued for-profit giant Corinthian Colleges in 2013 alleging a predatory model that deployed falsified job-placement rates and other misrepresentations to students. While that lawsuit was underway, she asked a federal court to prevent Corinthian from enrolling new students -- a decision the chain said would be a death knell for its campuses.

The Education Department eventually fined Corinthian, which shut down in 2015, $30 million for those misrepresentations -- thanks in part to the investigative work of the California attorney general’s office. As attorney general and as a member of Congress, Harris has pushed for debt cancellation for former Corinthian students. As a senator, she’s also sought to block expanded access to military bases for for-profit colleges.

Bob Shireman, director of higher education excellence and a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said the Corinthian lawsuit “helped to alert law enforcement and regulators and policy makers to what these rapid increases in enrollment look like underneath those numbers. Underneath the increase in stock prices, there was a lot of abuse of consumers and misleading of potential students.”

Elizabeth Warren: Advocate for Defrauded Students

Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren has made student debt a signature issue since entering Congress in 2013. As a member of the Senate education committee, she’s been one of the toughest critics of for-profit colleges, student loan servicers and banks that offer financial products to college students. And after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as education secretary in February 2017, Warren established herself as the billionaire GOP activist’s biggest foil on the Hill.

She pushed, along with activists and state AGs, for the Education Department to set up a clear process for defrauded students to seek forgiveness on their student loans. And Warren took both the Obama administration and DeVos to task for slow progress issuing loan forgiveness to former Corinthian Colleges students.

Warren has also used her profile to launch attacks on companies she says have failed students. She blasted student loan servicer Navient last year over an Education Department audit that found the company steered tens of thousands of borrowers into higher-cost repayment plans. And last month she pressured college presidents to drop agreements with Wells Fargo in response to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report that showed the company charged higher-than-average fees to users of campus-sponsored debit cards.

As thousands of borrowers who expected loan cancellation saw their applications rejected for Public Service Loan Forgiveness last year, Warren secured $350 million in funding to pay for an eligibility fix for those borrowers. She’s also helped build bipartisan momentum in the Senate behind the College Transparency Act, legislation that would overturn the federal ban on student unit records and would provide more complete data on the outcomes of colleges and individual programs.

“She’s had a very comprehensive worldview when it comes to higher education,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “That’s not surprising because she comes out of higher ed. It’s natural that she would know the most about it and be aware of its many complicated features.”

Warren's version of a "free-college" proposal outlined in 2015 differed from the model adopted by Senator Bernie Sanders, the biggest proponent of free college in some key respects. It touted more funding from the federal government to states that provide a pathway to a college degree without debt. But it wouldn't make college tuition-free for all students. It also emphasizes accountability from colleges, which would face the loss of funds if large numbers of students didn't repay their loans.

Kirsten Gillibrand: A Focus on Campus Sexual Assault

While other candidates have focused on the costs of college and the role of companies involved in driving student debt, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has spent much of her time in the Senate pushing colleges to do more to respond to sexual assault on their campuses.

After Gillibrand sparred repeatedly with fellow Democrat Claire McCaskill on a response to sexual assault in the military, the two senators worked together to press colleges and the Obama administration to change the standards for handling complaints of sexual assault. Gillibrand and McCaskill also crafted legislation that would increase the penalties for colleges found to have violated federal civil rights law by improperly handling alleged sexual misconduct.

The bill, dubbed the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, won bipartisan support in the Senate, counting among its supporters Florida Republican Marco Rubio and Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. Although the legislation died in committee without reaching the floor in either the House or Senate, it helped put a spotlight on failures in addressing sexual assault.

The senators said they hoped to attach the bill to a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Serious progress on an HEA bill has yet to take place, though, and the election of President Trump in 2016 meant a reset of federal policy on campus sexual assault. Under Betsy DeVos, the Education Department has restricted the scope of civil rights investigations and rescinded guidance from the Obama administration on how colleges should handle misconduct cases. DeVos instead said she would issue new federal regulations. A draft rule released in November received major criticism from survivor groups for curtailing protections for students and limiting the number of cases colleges would be obligated to pursue.

Gillibrand said DeVos's decision to rescind the Obama-era guidance in 2017 “betrays our students, plain and simple.” And in a series of tweets last month, she said the draft Title IX regulation released by the department would weaken protections for survivors.

When someone reports sexual assault or harassment, as a first step, we must listen and believe them so all allegations can be investigated fairly and properly. But @BetsyDeVosED’s draft rules on Title IX weaken protections for survivors and discourage reports of abuse in schools.

— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) January 10, 2019

Gillibrand also directed attention to the work of advocates on the issue as well as survivors. Her guest at the 2015 State of the Union address was Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia University student who made headlines for a performance-art project in which she carried a 50-pound mattress to protest the university's decision not to remove her alleged attacker. A Columbia disciplinary panel cleared the student she accused of rape of wrongdoing, and the university later settled a lawsuit with the student in which he alleged harassment on the part of Sulkowicz.

Bernie Sanders: Free College

Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, has yet to officially announce a presidential campaign. But many still expect him to jump into the race. And his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination helped cement free college as a mainstream proposal to address access to postsecondary education and the growth of student debt.

Sanders went from backing two years of free tuition at any public college to campaigning on the elimination of all tuition and fees at public institutions.

Hillary Clinton, who eventually won the Democratic nomination, offered a free-college plan in 2016 that would make all two- and four-year institutions tuition-free to students with family incomes up to $125,000. The next year, Sanders introduced new free-college legislation in the Senate that adopted that framework. It got the support of 2020 contenders including Warren, Harris and Gillibrand.

And some Democrats have shown an appetite for going even further than Sanders to address college affordability. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, last year introduced “debt-free” college legislation that would cover the costs of attendance including transportation and housing. Warren, Harris, Gillibrand and Booker signed on to that bill.

The 2018 midterms also saw a number of progressive gubernatorial and congressional candidates campaign on free college, showing the idea’s political appeal as a solution for the growing costs of a degree.

“The debate has clearly shifted since President Obama proposed free community college back in 2014,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research at Demos.

But while some of the biggest names to enter the primary campaign have signed on to free or debt-free college proposals, other Democratic candidates have offered support for more moderate solutions. Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, endorsed two years of free college at any public institution. And Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, has endorsed free community college as well as student loan refinancing.

The free-community-college model was also backed by House Democrats last year in a proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act. But Ben Miller, director of higher education at the Center for American Progress, said voters may expect candidates to go bigger.

"It's very clear that there's a strong interest in bold ideas for making college more affordable," he said. "There's a broad understanding that elements of the economy relating to the American dream aren't working and that we need solutions for that."

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'Oregonian' reports on cases of Saudi students accused of crimes fleeing U.S. justice

Jue, 14 Feb 2019 - 02:00

One student was charged with manslaughter in relation to a hit-and-run that killed a 15-year-old girl. Others were accused of rape or sexual assault. Another was charged after his laptop was found to contain child pornography.

The Oregonian, a daily newspaper based in Portland, Ore., has been reporting a series of articles on Saudi Arabian students enrolled at American colleges who were accused of crimes but disappeared before appearing in court or serving their sentence, becoming fugitives from U.S. justice. The latest article in the series can be found here.

In at least four of the cases, according to the Oregonian's reporting, the Saudi government paid the accused students’ bail and legal fees. In the case of Abdulrahman Sameer Noorah, a Portland Community College student charged in relation to a hit-and-run that killed 15-year-old Fallon Smart in August 2016, U.S. law enforcement officials also believe the Saudis provided him with a fake passport to escape the country, likely via private plane, two weeks before his trial.

The Oregonian reported that despite unknowns in the investigation, "officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Marshals Service are all but certain who helped orchestrate the remarkable escape: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Noorah is reportedly now back in Saudi Arabia, a country with which the U.S. does not have an extradition treaty.

In response to the articles, Oregon’s two U.S. senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, introduced two bills that would investigate the Saudi government's involvement, punish countries accused of helping their citizens escape U.S. justice and require the Department of Justice to formally track such cases.

“When anyone within our nation commits a crime, they need to be held accountable -- especially when that crime results in the death of an innocent teenager,” Merkley said in a statement. “Saudi Arabia’s blatant disrespect for international norms cannot be allowed to stand. We need a wholesale rethinking of our relationship with Saudi Arabia -- and we should all be able to agree that any nation that helps their citizens escape from the law needs to be held fully accountable. After the shocking murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, this is yet another sign of Saudi Arabia’s flaunting of diplomatic norms.”

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment. A statement provided to The Washington Post in December said it was Saudi policy to post bail for citizens jailed in the U.S. when they request help. According to the Post, the embassy declined to answer its questions about whether government officials aided in the escape of Noorah, the student charged in the fatal hit-and-run, other than to say that “no travel document was issued by the Embassy or Consulate for Mr. Noorah.”

There are more than 40,000 Saudi Arabian students studying in the U.S., many of whom are studying with the support of generous scholarships from their government. The cases reported on by The Oregonian represent only a very tiny fraction of the many thousands of Saudi students who have come to the U.S. to study. And of course some American students commit serious crimes as well.

The Oregonian has so far identified 15 cases of Saudi students fleeing from U.S. justice, in eight different states, plus two similar cases in Canada. The oldest of the cases dates to 1988, and the most recent -- in Nova Scotia, Canada -- to December 2018. For some of the more recent cases, the universities students reportedly were enrolled in include Eastern Washington, Gannon, Montana State, Oregon State and Western Oregon Universities and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

“These do appear to be isolated incidents,” said Christina Luther, the director of international student and scholar services at Portland State University, where one of the students featured in the Oregonian coverage briefly attended. According to The Oregonian, the student, Suliman Ali Algwaiz, entered no-contest pleas in August 2016 to third-degree assault and driving under the influence of intoxicants after allegedly striking and critically injuring a homeless man. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, to be served on weekends, but disappeared before completing his sentence.

"I completely understand the concern that a foreign government may be assisting its citizens from facing justice in the United States," Luther said. "But I’m really concerned about the intense focus on the student population, because there are so many thousands of students who are here just doing what they’re supposed to be doing."

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Speaker at Cornell alumni event offends audience, and college quickly responds

Jue, 14 Feb 2019 - 02:00

At a time of heightened scrutiny of racial sensitivity by American colleges and their efforts to be more inclusive and welcoming of minority students, Cornell University is getting high marks for its handling of a recent incident that initially upset and angered black alumni and students.

During a dinner event at the Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference in Boston last Friday, Paul Blanchard, an active alumnus from the Class of 1952 and loyal booster of Cornell athletics, was given an award for being an “outstanding class leader.” During his acceptance speech, Blanchard said that Satchel Paige was one of his heroes and referred to the famed baseball pitcher as a "Negro" and added, "Now they call them blacks."

Heads turned and mouths dropped, said John Rawlins III, president of the Cornell Black Alumni Association. “It was kind of shocking.”

Rawlins was not at the event, which was first reported by The Cornell Daily Sun, but he was getting a stream of phone and text-message updates throughout the evening from association members who were at the dinner. He said several black alumni in the room told him they exchanged knowing glances, as if to say, "Did you hear that? Did he really just say what we think he said?"

It was a cringe-worthy moment that turned a “usually lighthearted conference” into something else.

“There was disappointment, sadness, anger or all of the above depending on who you ask,” Rawlins said. “The notion that this would be voiced over the microphone was shocking.”

Wilma Ann Anderson, the black alumni association’s vice president for student relations, was among those at the award dinner who were very disappointed by the comments.

“It was one of those moments when I wondered is this one of those bubbles that will float up in the air and pop far away or will it pop right here and have to be dealt with in a swift manner,” she said. “Sometimes bubbles flow away and we don’t catch them That one did not float away and I was gratified not only for myself but for others in the room who were impacted by the statement.”

Anderson said she didn’t recall ever hearing the word “Negro” until she was an adult.

“So when I grew to understand what the context of it was and the context in which the word was born, it made more sense to me why people would take offense,” she said.  “Negro was not a term of endearment, even though it was racial categorization, it was not a term for people who were highly regarded. I think everyone who has the ability to be aware of that context should be sensitive to it and respectful of it.”

Instead of ignoring what Blanchard said, or trying to brush over or minimize it, as some other institutions have done when speakers made controversial or offensive comments, the event organizers from the Office of Alumni Affairs addressed it head-on.

One of the organizers went onstage after Blanchard finished speaking and asked students and members of various alumni groups in the audience to stay after the dinner to talk. They spent more than an hour discussing what happened with the university’s top alumni officials and came up with a plan of action.

The next day, during a luncheon at the conference, a written apology from Blanchard was read to conference attendees.

“I was devastated to hear how my words hurt members of the Cornell community,” it said. “I’m sorry, as that truly was never my intention. This is a learning opportunity -- for me, as I hope it will be for others -- to do better.”

The board of directors of the Cornell Association of Class Officers then issued a long, written statement to the campus explaining what happened.

“The CACO Board was saddened that our honoree made comments that distressed members of the Cornell community,” the statement read. “This is not in alignment with our philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity. The CACO Board stands by Cornell University’s commitment to celebrate difference, and to create a culture of belonging.

“The CACO Board applauds the incredible students who showed leadership, tolerance, intelligence and respect throughout the discussions that followed at [the Cornell Alumni Leadership Conference]. Students were among our greatest teachers this weekend -- and we acknowledge the invaluable role that all students play in shaping our evolving alumni network.

“We should celebrate Cornell traditions while also understanding that our history was not always perfect -- nor are we. Together with students and alumni, CACO will help to build bridges toward an illuminated and diverse future.”

The four associations representing black, Asian, Latino and LGBT alumni issued their own joint statement expressing “disdain” for the “insensitivity” of Blanchard’s remarks.

“As a community of diverse alumni associations, we stand together to denounce his remarks,” the statement said. “In response to the incident, the Alumni Affairs staff immediately went into action to have a dialogue with the students, address alumni and utilize this moment as a learning opportunity. In addition, Paul Blanchard has issued an apology recognizing how his sentiments may have affected students, alumni, and all those in attendance. We applaud the Office of Alumni Affairs for responding quickly to mobilize toward dialogue and setting growth initiatives. We challenge Cornell University to continue to appropriately respond and implement initiatives that foster ongoing dialogue about incidents such as this toward accomplishing the goals of: bringing awareness, increasing understanding, growing sensibility, increasing tolerance, and respecting and celebrating diversity within the Cornell community.

“This incident illustrates the importance of our alumni associations in continuing to implement initiatives that foster intergroup dialogue and create a culture of inclusion and belonging after our time on campus as students has ended. We encourage all alumni to become part of these critical conversations by joining their respective alumni associations and helping to increase awareness and understanding of one another in celebration of diversity within the Cornell community.”

Cornell’s handling of the incident stands in stark contrast to how other institutions have dealt with verbal faux pas by guest speakers. Last May, the president of Sweet Briar College, a women’s liberal arts institution in Virginia, came under withering criticism for not challenging the controversial comments of a commencement speaker. The speaker, Nella Gray Barkley, an alumna and a major donor to the college, criticized feminists and implied she had little sympathy for victims of workplace sexual harassment.

Canada's Western University had to formally apologize to students last fall after remarks by a philanthropist, Aubrey Dan, at a building dedication. Dan said that he enrolled at the university in 1983 because Playboy magazine had declared women there "among the best in North America."

Rawlins said Cornell’s alumni affairs officials handled the Blanchard incident “very well.”

“What impressed me the most was the speed at which they went to have conversations with the students and other diverse alumni communities, and that they gathered all those individuals to talk through what happened. I think it was proactive rapid response,” he said.

Additionally, the next day, during what was supposed to be a strategic planning meeting by the alumni affairs office, the organizers used the first 30 minutes to again address what happened at the award dinner -- this despite the fact that there were already diversity and inclusion workshops scheduled for that day, Rawlins said.

For his part, Blanchard, who is 88 years old, said he thought the speech was going well with the audience until he hit that bump.

“I didn’t understand that some people took exception to the word ‘Negro,’” he said. And he certainly didn't think twice about using it in reference to Satchel Paige. “I didn’t know what else to call him; I mean, he was in the Negro Baseball League. It’s history.”

As for his other comment -- “Now they call them blacks” -- Blanchard said, “I followed up with a casual comment about … I probably should not have tried to explain myself.”

Blanchard said it was not his intent to offend.

“I’m the last person in the world that anybody would consider racist,” he said. “People interpret things in different ways, and sometimes you don’t say things in the right way. Most of the time you don’t have to worry about it because people know who you are. The world is very different now.”

Said Rawlins: “It’s a matter of intent versus impact. I don’t think he was necessarily speaking maliciously, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have an impact on the individuals in that room.”

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Franklin & Marshall College looks to close 6 percent budget gap

Jue, 14 Feb 2019 - 02:00

Franklin & Marshall College is moving to close a budget deficit that has developed in recent years, bringing its finances into focus after receiving accolades for financial aid policies designed to admit talented students regardless of economic background or ability to pay.

The small private liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pa., plans to close a 6 percent budget deficit over two years. It will address about three-quarters of the total deficit, which translates to about $8 million on a $133 million operating budget, in the first year and move on to the remaining quarter of the deficit in the second. Steps to be taken include cutting staff jobs and changing purchasing practices.

Leaders at the college cast the process as healthy for any institution seeking to make sure its financial picture lines up with its values, and they are adamant students’ experiences will not be affected. Franklin & Marshall has a new president, Barbara K. Altmann, who has been engaged in a review of budgeting and budget processes since she started.

But it is impossible to consider Franklin & Marshall’s current budget situation without acknowledging the symbol the college has become in a world of high college sticker prices, rising tuition discounting and struggles over which students should receive financial aid and why. Its former president, Daniel R. Porterfield, has been a leading advocate for bringing more top students onto the college campuses that graduate students at the highest rates -- even if many of those students come from low-income families.

Franklin & Marshall has been highlighted for reallocating funds from non-need-based aid to need-based aid. Today, it advertises itself as basing financial aid solely on need, and it is a member of the American Talent Initiative, a group of colleges and universities seeking to expand college access for low- and moderate-income students. It is not, however, need blind in admissions.

In recent years, the college has been spending more and more on financial aid. In the fiscal year ending in June 2011, just before Porterfield’s inauguration, Franklin & Marshall recorded $99.5 million in tuition and fee revenue and spent $28.6 million in student financial aid, its audited financial statements show. In 2018, it took in $132.6 million in tuition and fees against $56.1 million in financial aid.

That means that although its tuition and fee revenue rose by almost $33.2 million on paper over the seven-year period, the college actually collected only $5.6 million more in net tuition and fee revenue in 2018 than it did in 2011.

Altmann has said that the current budget deficit was partly caused by increased financial aid. But it is not the primary driver of the deficit, she said in a telephone interview Wednesday. The college is not backing away from its commitment to using financial aid to bring in the best and brightest students, no matter their origin, she said.

“One of the primary values here is we want to bring in the best class,” she said. “We are not backing off of that in any way. It’s one of the powerful things that is giving us motivation to clean up the rest of the financial house so we can continue to sustain that.”

However, leaders do want to slow the rate at which tuition and fees have been increasing and hold the college’s tuition discount rate at roughly its current level, between 42 percent and 46 percent, she added.

The cost of educating a student exceeds the amount that can be reclaimed by increasing prices, and that gap must be made up with other revenue sources like the college’s endowment, Altmann said. Realigning the budget can strengthen the college’s footing for the long term, she continued.

While Franklin & Marshall is far from the poorest institution, its endowment does not measure among the largest in the country. It has the 240th-largest endowment in the most recent study from the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The endowment’s market value totaled $352.1 million in 2018, up 3.4 percent from the year before. That works out to about $155,055 per student. A number of top liberal arts colleges comparable in size have endowments of $1 billion or more.

“We offer a really superb undergraduate education,” Altmann said. “The one thing that is holding us back at the moment is we have a smaller per-capita endowment than some of those other schools that are ranked more highly than we are. But there are other schools that are far better endowed than we are that are actually having similar struggles.”

A larger endowment would not be a panacea, of course. And Altmann acknowledged that other private colleges with larger endowments, like Oberlin College, have shown signs of financial pressures rocking the sector in recent years.

That would seem to raise serious questions about the long-term viability of the high-tuition, high-discount model -- particularly for institutions that award aid primarily based on need, instead of using non-need-based aid to chase students who may have less academic prowess but come from wealthy families and would generate more revenue for the colleges where they enroll. They are particularly explosive questions because they lie at the intersection of wealth, privilege, race and opportunity in higher education.

A Franklin & Marshall spokesman said he has heard no discussion of bringing back non-need-based aid at the college.

Franklin & Marshall has often been noted because its student body diversified as it focused on recruiting students based on talent above all else. In 2010, three-quarters of its incoming freshmen were white, 3 percent were African American and 6 percent were Hispanic, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted in 2017. That fall, 57 percent of freshmen were white, 7 percent were African American and 12 percent were Hispanic.

Yet college officials maintain that they focused on bringing in the best students, not on diversity. The fact that students from underrepresented populations enrolled in greater numbers is just a corollary to recruiting talent, Altmann said.

The interactions between talent, diversity, wealth and financial aid create significant challenges for institutions in a world where wealth is increasingly concentrated and the population of high school graduates is rapidly diversifying -- but where many of the new, diverse high school graduates are expected to come from families that are not wealthy.

So backers of educating more students from moderate- and low-income families wonder what else private colleges can do but adopt a model where sticker prices are steep and discount rates are also high.

“What would the alternative be?” asked Catharine Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R, which collaborated with colleges and universities and the Aspen Institute to create the American Talent Initiative. “To let these schools be high income and not very diverse?”

Doing so would seem to call into question how closely the institutions are following their educational missions, she said. It could also deny many students the chance to attend colleges that have good student outcomes.

“One of the advantages, if we have greater socioeconomic diversity and racial diversity in these institutions, is the really high graduation rates in these schools,” Hill said. “This is a place where students get through. They get a B.A. that really changes their lives.”

Hill was president at Vassar College last decade when it returned to a need-blind policy and adopted a no-loan plan for students from families with incomes up to $60,000. It did so right before the financial crisis, but Vassar stuck with its policies.

It meant adjustments to staffing size, but it was considered important for the overall mission of the institution, Hill said. Other colleges have to find ways to stick with their missions in light of unexpected financial shocks, whether they be recessions, unforeseen changes to admission rates or other variables changing.

“It’s a challenge, because schools are competing not just for talented students with financial need, but also for students who can pay the full price,” Hill said. “You’re deciding on the margin, with every dollar you spend, how this is going to work out for the full pool of talented students you’re trying to recruit. The rising income inequality has made this incredibly hard.”

Porterfield, who left Franklin & Marshall to become president of the Aspen Institute, was traveling and not available for comment Wednesday. Franklin & Marshall’s board chair, Susan L. Washburn, said in an email that the institution is working from a position of strength.

“Record applications,” she wrote. “Outstanding students, faculty and staff. Our goal is to assure financial resilience for the many years ahead.”

Franklin & Marshall hasn’t made a decision about how many positions could be cut to bring the budget in line. Some will be eliminated through attrition. Benefit levels are also being examined.

The college has committed to a recently adopted salary improvement plan designed to bring pay for faculty and professional staff members into the median range for peer groups.

Some trade-offs are off the table, Franklin & Marshall’s current president said.

“We could easily drop our discount rate, but that would compromise the quality of our class, and we’re not willing to do that,” Altmann said. “The quality of our academic programs and the power of our academic programs to launch young graduates into the world is absolutely our primary goal, and we do very, very well there.”

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New presidents or provosts: Citadel Elizabethtown Fordham Gonzaga MCCS Mines Oconee Saint Mary's Snow Westminster

Jue, 14 Feb 2019 - 02:00
  • Bradley J. Cook, provost at Southern Utah University, has been selected as president of Snow College, also in Utah.
  • David Daigler, vice president and chief financial officer of the Maine Community College System, has been promoted to president there.
  • Deena J. González, associate provost for faculty affairs and professor in the department of Chicana/o and Latina/o studies at Loyola Marymount University, in California, has been chosen as provost and senior vice president at Gonzaga University, in Washington State.
  • Erica Godbee Harden, executive vice president at Oconee Fall Line Technical College, in Georgia, has been promoted to president there.
  • Richard C. Holz, dean of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University, in Wisconsin, has been appointed provost at Colorado School of Mines.
  • Dennis C. Jacobs, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Santa Clara University, in California, been named provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Fordham University, in New York.
  • Cecelia M. McCormick, vice provost for academic strategy and special programs at Thomas Jefferson University, in Pennsylvania, has been selected as president of Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania.
  • Nancy Nekvasil, interim provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Saint Mary's College, in Indiana, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Sally Selden, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Lynchburg, in Virginia, has been selected as provost and dean of the college at the Citadel, in South Carolina.
  • Debbie Tahmassebi, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Santa Clara University, in California, has been chosen as provost at Westminster College, in Utah.
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What lessons can be learned from the Wright State faculty strike?

Mié, 13 Feb 2019 - 02:00

After striking for 20 days, Wright State University’s faculty union won some modest gains in a tentative agreement reached Sunday.

Professors were back to work Monday, trying to put things back in order.

Was sacrificing three weeks’ pay, braving picket lines in the polar vortex and now dealing with classroom chaos worth it?

Yes, striking professors and their supporters say. To many, it comes down to a few key issues -- namely retaining the right to bargain over health care in the future, even if this deal moves professors onto a single, universitywide employee benefits plan that they initially resisted. At first, the university wanted to remove the right to future bargaining.

Other key wins: keeping workload agreements, reasonable timelines for continuing contracts for professors off the tenure track, clear merit raise standards and summer teaching rights -- all of which the university sought to scrap. There are additional limits on retrenchment and furloughs in the deal.

The set of two, two-year agreements also includes 2.5 percent raises for the last two years.

Summer course pay was cut 15 to 20 percent, however. The battle over faculty contracts at Wright State, after all, took place at an institution that all sides agreed had not been adequately funded by the state.

Perhaps more than anything, the strike was about respect, including in future negotiations.

“Our faculty have taken an immediate and longer-term financial hit on this new five-year contract,” said Martin Kich, president of Wright State’s American Association of University Professors-affiliated faculty union and professor of English. “But we have reasserted our right to bargain, and we have preserved important safeguards on the conditions under which we are doing our work.”

It would be “naïve to think that such a strike will not have some very negative repercussions, especially in the shorter term,” Kich said. But the strike could be a deterrent against another “disastrous situation,” or insurance that subsequent contract negotiations are “more genuinely aimed at meaningful compromise.”

Imposed Contract

Wright State’s faculty union went on strike last month after the university’s Board of Trustees imposed a contract following protracted negotiations. Not only did the union not agree to the terms, but Wright State’s “last best offer” included major red flags for professors: no pay raises and a continuing-appointment timeline for non-tenure-line professors that the union argued would have almost doubled the current eligibility period, to 12 years.

And there was no ability to bargain for health care -- an important form of compensation for professors who haven’t received a raise in five of the last eight years. Professors also argued that that right was theirs under the Ohio Revised Code. This issue alone accounted for the last week of the strike.

Crystal B. Lake, associate professor of English, said imposed contract terms such as the health-care clause “seemed like they were less about saving money and more about achieving something political.”

That struck a nerve because she and most of her colleagues work at Wright State, a regional public, because they’re “passionate about making sure that a wide range of students can benefit from the advantages conferred by an affordable and high-quality college degree,” she said. The board's contract “threatened to undermine the value and quality of the education we could offer” students.

Professors also took umbrage at the university's insistence that it could not solve its financial issues without targeting the faculty contract. While Wright State is not a wealthy institution, the union pointed out that faculty compensation is just 17 percent of its budget, and that noninstructional expenditures and poor administrative decision making -- such as an unsuccessful bid for a presidential debate and million-dollar settlements in federal cases alleging that Wright State secured student visas for nonstudent area employees and paid loans to nonconfirmed students -- drained $130 million in university reserves in five years.

Drawing parallels to arguments behind recent K-12 teacher strikes in other states, Kich said faculty salaries and benefits are a relatively small share of the budget, “yet we produce the bulk of the university's revenue, and just about all of its net revenue.”

Wright State declined immediate comment on lessons learned. It's said repeatedly that it's happy to have the faculty back, and to return to serving students.

Not Bluffing (?)

Many times faculty strikes are threatened but don’t actually happen because a deal is reached at the last minute.

That wasn't the case in Ohio: the university did not withdraw its imposed contract on the eve of the strike, publicly insisted that things were under control during the strike, challenged the legality of the strike in a state process (and lost), and posted jobs ads for replacement adjuncts in dozens of fields -- even offering them housing.

Silvia Newell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, said the job ad came as a surprise, but that the faculty “largely interpreted it as a scare tactic to get faculty to cross the picket line.” The ads weren’t posted until only the ability to bargain for health-care terms remained unresolved, she said.

Despite Wright State's actions and rhetoric, Kich said, its lawyer admitted during the hearing about the strike’s legality that “they could not operate the university without us. That admission alone is a significant thing.”

“While [the board] did not rule this strike unauthorized as we had asked, the union’s actions to prevent the university from operating are having a significant toll,” President Cheryl B. Schrader said at the time.

Kich said that "some more evident sense of mutual respect has to be the result of all of this contention.”

Certainly the strike was unpleasant for all involved. While many students supported the professors with sit-ins and on picket lines, they and others had to deal with tentatively canceled courses and missed class time. Professors on the picket lines were visited by other local unions, hosted a “beard challenge” and welcomed animals to keep up morale. Lake said the solidarity she experienced was a kind of “kismet, but in all honesty, the strike was also hard and long, and I would say that I felt more urgency and seriousness than I did chemistry.”

As the strike wore on, she said, the “university used a variety of tactics that appeared like they were designed to do anything to avoid having to negotiate a fair contract.” And she and others “became increasingly convinced that the strike was necessary to restore a balance of power in our institutional culture -- to make sure that someone was holding our administrators accountable and that they adhered to best practices, as well as rules and regulations that define public higher education.”

Lake added, “I think the last three weeks at Wright State were just the beginning, in both good and bad ways.”

Resentment Remains

Newell said there remains “a lot of resentment on the part of the faculty and the students on the [board] and the upper administration for forcing this to drag out in an effort to break the union.”

William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said that move to hire replacement instructors might have been prompted by a “quirk” in Ohio law that prohibits part-time faculty members from collective bargaining -- and therefore makes them "most vulnerable.”

Over all, Herbert said, the strike at Wright State is “another sign that strikes are growing in higher education," as well as in primary and secondary schools.

There were a total of 11 strikes in higher education in 2018, compared to five in 2017 and seven in 2016, according to center data. Fifteen of the strikes in 2016-2018 involved faculty or graduate assistants.

Timothy R. Cain, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Georgia who followed the strike from afar, via news reports, said he wasn’t surprised that health care was such a central concern, considering “the broader societal issues about and problems with how we fund health care.”

It has become “such a large portion of compensation for both individuals and employers that it necessarily is a key negotiating issue,” he said.

Health care was at play in another recent faculty dispute and threatened strike at City Colleges of Chicago. The faculty union there said the administration tried eliminate a health insurance benefit for new hires that allowed for 10 years of coverage upon retirement, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Howard Bunsis, a national AAUP Council member and professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University, said the significance of the Wright State strike “is that a group of faculty stood up for what was right -- maintaining quality public higher education for their students.”

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Yale University sued over fraternity culture, and plaintiffs demand coeducation

Mié, 13 Feb 2019 - 02:00

A trio of Yale University students is suing the institution and nine of its fraternities, demanding that its Greek system be reformed and women be integrated into the all-male groups to fix a “sexually hostile” environment.

Legal experts said that the case has little chance of a ruling that all single-sex fraternities and sororities must become coeducational. This is largely because of an exemption for social Greek organizations carved out in the federal law that protects students against gender discrimination, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Where the case could be more significant is its claim that Yale's fraternities violate Title IX not just by being fraternities but by how they treat women.

The class-action lawsuit raises questions about fraternities’ role in sexual misconduct on the campus and beyond, especially in light of other litigation targeting Harvard University, which has attempted to stamp out single-sex organizations and dissuade students from joining them.

Three female undergraduates -- Anna McNeil, Ry Walker and Eliana Singer -- filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court Tuesday. The women all allege that they were groped at fraternity parties during their respective first semesters at Yale. Because the university lacked many other “social spaces,” fraternities and their members essentially controlled the social scene, including admission to parties and when and how much alcohol was served, creating conditions ripe for sexual misbehavior, the complaint states.

Yale, meanwhile, largely ignored the misconduct, according to the complaint, despite multiple public incidents. The women accuse the university of having a “symbiotic relationship,” in which fraternities provide social activities and Yale officials turn a blind eye to poor behavior. In 2008, pledges of one fraternity, Zeta Psi, posed outside the campus Women’s Center with a sign that read “We Love Yale Sluts.” Recruits for Delta Kappa Epsilon in 2010 paraded around the grounds cheering, “No means yes, yes means anal.”

The women alleged that the network of fraternities at Yale is also influential both socially and economically, with their members finding more career opportunities than do members of the campus sororities, which haven’t been around as long.

The three women, creating a student group called Engender, tried to join fraternities in both 2017 and 2018 but were rejected. One fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, did allow them to apply, but their national office told the local chapter it did not allow women. They met with Yale officials many times about the problems with the fraternities, but, the complaint states, their concerns were disregarded.

Their lawsuit names Yale, the campus fraternity chapters and their national offices, as well as the housing corporations of the university’s fraternities.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the lawsuit, instead sending a message about Delta Kappa Epsilon that was forwarded around campus last month from Marvin M. Chun, dean of the university.

About a year ago, administrators ordered a review of Yale’s broad “campus culture” and a potentially “sexually hostile climate” with Delta Kappa Epsilon. Students reported unregulated access to alcohol and behavior such as DKE brothers “ogling” others on the dance floor, according to the report.

“I condemn the culture described in these accounts,” Chun wrote. “It runs counter to our community's values of making everyone feel welcome, respected, and safe. I also offer some plain advice about events like these: don't go to them.”

DKE will not be punished, despite the findings. It had been banned from being associated with the university for five years in 2011, following the chanting episode from the previous year. But the punishment was ineffective, critics said, because the fraternities are already technically not affiliated with the institution and are quartered off campus.

The lawsuit notes that it may be difficult for Yale to regulate the fraternities, but the women and the law firm representing them, Sanford Heisler Sharp, pointed out in the lawsuit that Yale does allow them to use Yale’s name, email addresses and facilities for events and recruitment.

A lawyer representing the fraternities, Joan Gilbride, said in a statement that the accusations are “baseless and unfounded.”

Todd Shelton, a spokesman for the North American Interfraternity Conference, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed, “Single-sex student organizations should be an option -- a choice -- for students. And so should co-ed student organizations. Students should have the choice to join the groups that best fit their developmental needs.”

Plaintiffs have argued in lawsuits before that entire campus fraternity systems are fundamentally flawed, despite that only certain chapters have reported sexual violence, said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges on security matters and Title IX.

Utah State University, for instance, settled with a sexual assault survivor last year by reforming Greek life as a whole, requiring fraternity and sorority chapters to apply for recognition with the university and monitoring their social events. This broad settlement was backed even though the lawsuit was about one student who was raped by a single fraternity member.

What is new with the Yale case -- and could be groundbreaking -- is the request for fraternity life to go coed, Carter said.

“Their proposed remedy is unusual,” Carter said. “When I’ve worked on cases like this, developing a better structure for the university to have oversight of fraternities was the remedy pursued. That is typically the type of remedy pursued in these types of matters.”

In addition to the integration, the women want Yale to create a Greek Council that would monitor the fraternities, which they demanded should register with the institution as official student groups. They also have asked that “sober monitors” be appointed for every fraternity party off campus to monitor alcohol consumption, and bouncers be hired to ensure crowd control and “nondiscriminatory event admission.”

This is the second occasion in recent months involving Ivy League institutions, their Greek systems and a legal battle.

National fraternities and sororities sued Harvard in December over a rule introduced in 2016 meant to disincentivize joining single-sex clubs.

The groups aren’t banned per se, but students who are members can’t lead any other camps groups or captain sports teams. Administrators created the policy in order to restrict “final clubs,” historically all-male organizations that have been linked to sexual assaults and discriminatory practices in recent years.

The rule also affected all other campus groups -- among them fraternities and sororities. Harvard on Friday asked state and federal judges to dismiss these complaints.

But the arguments in neither the Yale nor the Harvard cases undercut the clear exception for social fraternities that was built into Title IX, said Timothy Burke, a lawyer and founding partner of Fraternal Law Partners. His firm helps fraternities in untangling complex tax law, zoning and land use, and other matters, but he is uninvolved in the Yale case.

Two years after Title IX was signed in 1972, the then Department of Health, Education and Welfare tried to apply the law to campus fraternities and sororities.

Realizing that certain Greek life organizations had not been exempted from the law, one of the original architects of Title IX, Democratic senator Birch Bayh, proposed an amendment, eventually enacted into law, that allowed colleges and universities to still recognize fraternities and sororities, despite their single-sex membership.

Business-related or other fraternity organizations are not exempted in the same way.

“If their members are engaging in misconduct, that needs to be dealt with, both by the groups themselves and the universities,” Burke said. “But that doesn’t become justification for attempting to eliminate Greek groups at Yale or at Harvard.”

The lawsuit links Harvard to Yale, saying that Yale “has fallen behind” its peer institution and rival by allowing discrimination to continue.

“I think the arguments related to Harvard are ethically persuasive, but not legally,” Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, wrote in an email. “Of course, courts may show unexpected sympathies for such claims, but I don’t see viable federal claims under existing law and precedents. A suit like this, with such a wide list of defendants and an attempt to certify a class action, is largely intended to garner publicity and shame the defendants with public pressure.”

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Creighton expands medical school presence in Arizona

Mié, 13 Feb 2019 - 02:00

It is based in Nebraska and its mascot is a blue jay -- and it's expanding to a high-rise in Phoenix.

But please, don’t call it Snowbird Medical School.

Creighton University, the Jesuit institution that dates back to 1878, is building a new, $99 million, 200,000-square-foot medical training facility a long way from its Omaha home. Its chosen location: an up-and-coming retail and office park in the Arizona capital, nearly 1,300 miles away. Creighton also plans to expand its nursing program there, among others, to keep up with booming demand in a region that experts say is badly in need of medical care. Though a partnership with three Phoenix medical providers will operate the medical school, Creighton is funding the construction itself via cash reserves, debt and fund-raising in the Phoenix area.

The move stands in stark contrast to Creighton’s 2016 sale of its Omaha hospital, a decision made because the university “really didn’t have the income and the clientele base” to support it, said the Reverend Daniel S. Hendrickson, Creighton’s president.

The former Creighton University Medical Center is now being developed into a $110 million complex of upscale apartments at the western edge of campus, Father Hendrickson said. The university is maintaining its Omaha medical school.

The new Phoenix facility is expected to open in the fall of 2021 in the city’s Midtown area with nearly 900 students by 2024. The property is at the edge of a large mixed-use office and retail complex called Park Central, which began life more than 50 years ago as Park Central Shopping City, one of the country’s first malls. Before developers purchased the 46-acre property and built a mall, which opened in 1957, it was a dairy.

In its most recent state-by-state analysis, the Association of American Medical Colleges ranked Arizona 42nd nationwide in the number of active primary-care physicians per 100,000 people, ahead of just eight states: Wyoming, Alabama, Oklahoma, Idaho, Texas, Nevada, Utah and Mississippi.

Negotiations for the project date back to 2016, when Creighton and several partners formed the Creighton University-Arizona Health Education Alliance. But Creighton has had a presence in Phoenix since 2005, when St. Joseph’s Hospital asked if Creighton's medical students would consider a monthlong summer residency there.

In 2012, Creighton began training third- and fourth-year medical students in Phoenix, and three years later it added pharmacy students. By 2018, it was educating a series of 48-student nursing student cohorts in an accelerated, 12-month program.

“In some ways Phoenix has been telling us two things: ‘Hurry up’ and ‘Do more,’” said Father Hendrickson.

Creighton eventually settled on three partners for the new medical school: St. Joseph’s; District Medical Group, a large nonprofit; and Maricopa Integrated Health System, the county’s longtime public hospital system.

Father Hendrickson said Maricopa Integrated’s commitment to caring for the poor in the Phoenix area made it an appealing partner. “We’re Jesuit and Catholic -- Maricopa is public,” he said. “And yet there’s this great sense of mission and outreach with the underserved.”

Maricopa Integrated already runs 10 residency programs with more than 350 residents -- it has trained doctors since 1952. Its CEO, Steve Purves, said it runs the oldest public teaching hospital in the state. But the hospital-based program was looking for a partnership with a university-sponsored one. At the same time, he said, Creighton “needed to provide a way to expand -- and a key part of that is access to clinical training sites, which hospitals provide.”

Purves called the partnership “a great strategic coming together -- the stars lined up.”

A Nationwide Doctor Shortage

While Arizona is particularly in need of doctors, AAMC data show that, over all, the U.S. faces a severe physician shortage. The most recent analysis by the medical education group shows a possible shortage of as many as 121,300 physicians by 2030. That’s considerably higher than last year’s projected shortfall of up to 104,900 -- the new estimates reflect “model updates,” as well as recently revised federal designations for primary care and mental health.

The group now predicts shortages in four broad categories: primary care, medical specialties, surgical specialties and other specialties. By 2030, it finds, we could see shortfalls of between 14,800 and 49,300 primary care physicians alone. It sees a “largely stagnant” pool of surgical specialists.

Much of the overall projected shortage comes courtesy of a growing population that is also aging, with “increasingly complex care” needs. By 2030, the U.S. population is expected to grow by nearly 11 percent, while the age-65-and-over population is expected to grow by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the under-18 population is projected to grow by just 3 percent.

But the group predicts that within the next decade, one in three active doctors will reach or exceed retirement age.

In Phoenix, Creighton already had access to St. Joseph’s, its longtime hospital partner. But by building its own school, it saw a chance to expand its available clinical sites beyond a single hospital. The state’s two large public medical schools -- both based at the University of Arizona -- are affiliated with Banner Health, a Maricopa Integrated competitor.

“There’s lots of open space for both health-care education and health-care practitioners for the Phoenix area at large,” Father Hendrickson said. He noted that Arizona State University gave its blessing to the Phoenix expansion -- actually, Creighton is also negotiating an agreement with ASU to train its occupational and physical therapists and pharmacists.

The university has also established a kind of informal undergraduate pipeline with Brophy College Preparatory, a private Jesuit high school in Phoenix, that it hopes will eventually provide students to the medical school.

“We have a golden opportunity to share the Creighton mission in a new part of the United States,” Father Hendrickson said.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Mié, 13 Feb 2019 - 02:00
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American Historical Association says letters of recommendation can wait until candidates pass a first look

Mar, 12 Feb 2019 - 02:00

The American Historical Association’s governing council recently approved changing the organization’s Guidelines for the Hiring Process to encourage hiring institutions to request reference letters only from candidates who have passed the initial screening, upon requesting additional materials or before video or conference interviews.

"Given the current academic job market, having applicants provide letters of recommendation only after the initial screening stage can reduce stress and unnecessary paperwork for candidates, letter-writers and hiring committees," the updated policy reads.

James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, said that students often have to pay their dossier system to have letters sent out, meaning they’re “shelling out money when the odds of being hired are long.” Graduate advisers and other references also write “a lot of letters for candidates who are eliminated quickly from a search,” and so are “better off spending more time on letters at a later stage, when the odds are higher,” he added.

Suzanne Marchand, Boyd Professor of History at Louisiana State University and a councilor for the AHA’s Professional Division, wrote about the problem in a column called “Letters of Rec: An Ancient Genre in Need of a Modern Update” for the association’s Perspectives on History in September. “Letters have grown so bathetic that in the last job searches I chaired, I confess, I hardly looked at the letters for the general pool of candidates (over 150 in each search, many of them, apparently, ‘our best student ever’),” she said.

Failing to read everything “was wrong of me,” Marchand wrote, “but I am quite certain that this is a general, if not universal, practice these days, especially with so many applicants who are fully worthy of obtaining a place in our ‘households.’ It is at least a trifle more democratic than one of the other regularly practiced alternatives: examining only the author’s letterhead.”

Marchand also lamented the complexity of submitting and accessing letters electronically, saying that if “the scale of searches, the length of letters, and the fear of damning with faint praise is making letters of rec less meaningful or valuable,” aren’t enough, committees also much “be experts not in history, but in data management and computing skills. Every letter seems to need to be submitted through some unique system, often with login and password protections; one has to convert, scan, download, upload.”

No one would want to return to typing letters one by one, she said, but the "very presumption that electronic systems make all of this simpler has perhaps actually enabled the world we have now, where everyone asks for and expects long letters, tailored to each occasion, sent yesterday.”

The Modern Language Association’s 2014 statement on letters of recommendation also cites concerns about costs to students and advises committees to consider whether they need “to see all letters for all applicants at the first stage of selection.” Some faculty readers of dossiers “don’t read letters of recommendation carefully, or at all, until the applicant is at the semifinalist or finalist stage,” it says. “Other faculty readers rely on recommendations in making initial decisions about candidates.”

The expected size of the applicant pool “could be one factor in your department’s decision about whether to request letters up front,” MLA’s statement continues, noting that reference letters are normally required only for the top four finalists in junior job searches in Britain and that that practice has been adopted by some U.S. institutions. Some American institutions no longer require letters of recommendation at all and instead call finalists’ references, it says.

Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, said, “My guess is that we’ll follow AHA’s lead on this.” Such a change would be “consistent with our recent recommendations to make the job search easier on the candidate, such as eliminating convention interviews, which are so costly for the candidates,” she added.

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