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- Tony Allen, head of corporate reputation for Bank of America, in Delaware, has been appointed provost at Delaware State University.
- Peggy F. Bradford, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Westchester Community College, part of the State University of New York, has been chosen as president of Shawnee Community College, in Illinois.
- Jeff Elwell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has been chosen as president of Eastern New Mexico University.
- Carol A. Fierke, dean of the Rackham Graduate School and vice provost for academic affairs/graduate studies at the University of Michigan, has been named provost and executive vice president at Texas A&M University.
- Dan Hocoy, associate vice chancellor of advancement at the Antioch University System, in Ohio, has been chosen as president of Erie Community College, in New York.
- Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, has been named provost and executive vice president for academic affairs there.
- Mark Rocha, senior program manager in the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, has been selected as chancellor of the City College of San Francisco, in California.
- Havidán Rodríguez, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has been appointed president of the State University of New York at Albany.
- Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, in Oregon, has been chosen as president of Lewis & Clark College, also in Oregon.
- Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for finance and administration at the University of Maine System, has been appointed president of the University of Maine at Augusta.
I have just completed two sub-reports on the 2017 national survey of online learning in Canadian post-secondary institutions. The first was on the responses from Ontario institutions, and the second on responses from institutions in British Columbia (also to be available shortly on the survey web site).
When the results from these two surveys, together with the response from Quebec institutions in the main report, are analysed, some interesting inter-provincial differences emerge, indicating the impact of different government policies towards online learning.Response rates
Responses to the survey varied considerably from province to province, although there was a response from at least one institution in every province or territory except Nunavut.
Responses were particularly high from Ontario, with 39 out of 46 (86%) institutions responding. On the other hand, institutions in Québec had a lower response rate on average. The response rate for Québec universities was slightly lower than the national average (two thirds responded compared with three-quarters nationally) but there was a much lower response from the equivalent of colleges in the Québec system, the CEGEPs (29 out of 50 – 58%).Institutions offering distance education courses
Distance education includes all forms of delivery to students off-campus, not just online. Of the 140 institutions responding to the questionnaire, 116 (83%) said they offered distance education courses, and 19 (13%) did not. In all provinces and territories except Nunavut, there was at least one institution offering distance education programs. Institutions responding that they did not offer distance education programs were smaller in size, with fewer than 7,500 students.
Of the 19 institutions who replied that they do not offer distance education, 16 were CEGEPs. This is not surprising in that there is a central distance education program for CEGEPs, Cégep à distance. Nevertheless, in addition to the Cégep à distance program, 12 of the CEGEPs surveyed also offered their own distance education courses. The lower response rate for CEGEPs is probably because a larger proportion do not offer distance or online courses compared with the rest of Canada.
On the other hand almost all responding institutions in Ontario and British Columbia offer online courses, as well as all ten responding universities in Québec (even though Téluq is a specialist fully distance university in Québec).Varying rates of growth
The most striking differences between the three provinces were in terms of the rate in which online course enrolments are growing. Table 1 provides a comparison of rates of growth in online enrolments.
It can be seen that for those institutions that provided data, online course enrolments grew across the country by an average of 13% per annum in universities and 15% per annum in colleges, between 2011-2015.
The growth rate though was much greater in Ontario (enrolments actually doubled in the college sector over the five years) and considerably less in British Columbia than the national average (especially low growth in the BC college sector).
However, in Québec, online enrolments in the CEGEP sector actually went down by 3% per annum between 2011 and 2015. The cause for this was a sharp drop in course enrolments at Cégep à distance during this period (see Table 4 below), although the change was volatile, Cégep à distance enrolments increasing in 2012 before declining in the remaining three years. More importantly, perhaps, though is the steady increase in online enrolments from the regular CEGEPs, which increased seven-fold over the five years, although they still constitute just a quarter of all the CEGEP enrolments.
Nevertheless it appears that there are major changes taking place in the CEGEP sector, which raises questions about not only institutional but also provincial goals and strategies in this sector.
However all the results regarding online course enrolments need to be viewed with caution. We were able to get online course enrolment data from only about a half of the institutions across the country, and some key institutions offering online learning did not or were unable to provide the data.
Also growth rates are heavily influenced by market maturity. It is difficult to grow if you have reached capacity. We are not able to tell from the overall course enrolment data exactly how many overall course enrolments there are in each province, so we don’t know if the slower rate of growth in BC is because it is reaching capacity quicker than the rest of the system because it started earlier and from a larger enrolment base. We are aiming to get better data in subsequent surveys.
Nevertheless because institutions who did provide data were able to provide consistent data internally for online enrolments between 2011 and 2015, the results should be considered reasonably reliable, although more and better data are needed in future years.Use of technology
There were also differences between the three provinces in their use of technology.
Institutions in all provinces used learning management systems.
However, institutions in Québec and British Columbia were more likely also to use web conferencing and Ontario less likely than the national average. On the other hand institutions in Québec made greater use of recorded video than institutions in other provinces.
Both BC and Ontario institutions were more likely to use social media and Québec less than the national average.
Both BC and Ontario used OER more and Québec considerably less than the national average, and the use of open textbooks was higher in BC than elsewhere.Benefits and challenges
Ontario institutions were more likely to see online learning as helping with a shortage of physical teaching spaces, and also this applied to institutions in British Columbia.
Institutions in British Columbia in particular complained of lack of training for instructors in teaching online.
Lastly, Québec institutions were much more likely to report lack of provincial government support for online learning as a barrier, and institutions in Ontario and to a lesser extent in British Columbia were much less likely to report this.Varying provincial policies
These results need to be set in the context of different provincial policies for online learning.
British Columbia was first to develop a provincial strategy for online learning. In 2003 it created BCcampus, a province wide organization that works with the post-secondary institutions. BCcampus offered a range of services, including shared services such as province-wide software licensing, a community of practice for those working in online learning, and significantly, funding opportunities for the institutions to develop online courses. This led to a growth of online courses up to about 2011, when there was a change of strategy and the resources for online learning were re-allocated to support open educational resources and open textbooks.
In Alberta, eCampus Alberta had a somewhat similar role to BCcampus, providing a portal for online courses, but was funded mainly through contributions from the provincial post-secondary institutions, and when there were severe budget cuts due to the sudden drop in oil prices in 2014, funding stopped and it closed in 2016. However Campus Manitoba is still active.
The big change though came in Ontario. First in 2013 the provincial government allocated funds to the Council of Ontario Universities to develop online courses and a portal for all the post-secondary online courses, then in 2015 the provincial government created eCampus Ontario, with funds to allocate to institutions for the development of online courses and programs and open educational resources, as well as a research and development fund.
However, Québec, the second largest province in Canada, has no equivalent service. Instead it has two fully distance institutions, Téluq in the university sector, and Cégep à distance in the college sector.Conclusions
While it is necessary to hedge these conclusions with concerns about the quality of the data, there does seem to be strong evidence that the growth of online learning is driven as much if not more by government policies and strategies as by institutional initiative. Basically, money talks. The recent rapid growth in online enrolments in Ontario coincide with the Ontario government’s funding of eCampus Ontario, whereas in British Columbia, the initial burst of online course development in the early 2000s has slowed as the funding for online course development has been switched to open textbooks and OER.
Québec on the other hand is (as usual) more complex and interesting. The regular universities appear to be moving into online learning at about the same pace as the rest of the country, but if anything the college sector is going backwards in terms of enrolments, mainly due to the dramatic drop in enrolments in Cégep à distance in the last two or three years. However there are signs that some of the regular CEGEPs are moving to fill this gap.
I am reluctant to comment on the CEGEP sector as it is very different and I live very far away. CEGEPs range from large urban colleges, to small regional colleges, and many place a heavy emphasis on engagement with their local community. However, the Québec Minstière de l’Education et de l’Enseignement supérieur is faced with a challenge here. How important is online learning to its college sector? If it is important, what needs to be done to strengthen it? Put more money into Cégep à distance to strengthen its online capacity, or encourage the other CEGEPs to move into space – or both?
In the meantime, what about British Columbia? Is it reaching capacity in its fully online enrolments? Is the focus on open textbooks the best place to put its resources?
These are all questions that more and better data could help answer – although more data may raise even more questions!
A federal jury on Monday rejected a lawsuit by a prominent conspiracy theorist who claimed Florida Atlantic University fired him for his views, and in doing so violated his First Amendment rights.
The university fired James Tracy, a tenured associate professor in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, in 2015, after years of controversy over his blog, but the university said that his writings were not the reason for his firing. Rather, the university said that he refused to follow university rules for all faculty members, such as requirements about filing reports about outside activities. The university also at various times complained that Tracy did not take reasonable steps to disassociate his blog from the university.
While Tracy endorsed a number of conspiracy theories, the dispute over his blog came to a head over his assertion that the 2012 mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School never took place. The parents of one of the children killed there drew attention to Tracy's writings and wrote that Tracy "is among those who have personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists."
Florida Atlantic was able to point out at the trial that it defended Tracy's right to free speech for years, and that -- when it fired him -- it cited rules he broke, not his writing. Tracy and his lawyers argued that the rules were just a pretext for his firing.
The Palm Beach Post reported that, after reporters followed Tracy and his lawyers from the courthouse Monday, one of the lawyers shouted "Shame on you fake news" at the journalists, whom he called "presstitutes."
During the trial, Tracy's lawyers tried to frame the case as about academic freedom, which at a public university such as Florida Atlantic is protected by the First Amendment. But FAU framed the case as about insubordination.
Florida Atlantic officials testified during the trial that Tracy's promotion of conspiracy theories brought negative publicity to the university and frustrated many, but that they resisted calls to fire him. They said that he violated rules about reporting outside activities for a two-year period before the university acted.
The jury foreman told The Sun Sentinel, "We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions."Editorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: James TracyIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Oberlin College has been showing signs of strain as leaders of the well-off liberal arts college in Ohio seek to close a multimillion-dollar budget deficit driven by lower-than-expected enrollment this year.
The strain became evident most recently when The Oberlin Review, the college’s student newspaper, obtained and published a letter written this summer by two faculty members objecting to a salary freeze. The letter, which the student newspaper published Friday as Oberlin’s Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet, said it is “inadequate and depressing that neither the board nor the administration has the leadership or imagination to address this crisis in any way other than by eliminating raises for faculty and staff.”
But the publication of the faculty letter was just the latest in a string of moves by a college grappling with a structural budget deficit. A group of trustees tasked with examining Oberlin’s financial model recently found that the institution -- which includes both a college of arts and sciences and a prestigious conservatory -- relies too heavily on cash from gifts. It does not draw enough of its cash from charging students for tuition, room and board, according to a letter publicly posted in October by Chris Canavan, the chair of the Oberlin Board of Trustees.
Oberlin will seek ways to reduce spending in the short term, Canavan wrote. That will allow it to develop long-term strategies like broadening its appeal to college-bound students, raising money through a new comprehensive campaign, offering early retirement plans and placing stricter conditions on funding for large capital projects.
“The conclusion may seem self-evident, but it’s important nevertheless: we can’t stop appealing to generous donors, we need to find ways to boost our operating revenues and we have to reduce our cash needs where possible,” Canavan wrote.
Canavan, who became board chair in July, is one of several new leaders at Oberlin. Marvin Krislov departed the Oberlin presidency this summer after a decade in the job and became president of Pace University. Carmen Twillie Ambar, formerly president of Cedar Crest College, took over as Oberlin president. Oberlin also has a new vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, Manuel Carballo.
Nonetheless, October wasn’t the first time Canavan had written about taking measures to shore up Oberlin’s finances. In June of this year, he wrote that Oberlin’s budget for 2017-18 had been dealt “an unexpected blow” because the incoming class would be smaller than expected and fewer students were returning for the upcoming academic year. Oberlin faced a deficit of approximately $5 million, even though it had already reduced budgets across the institution for the upcoming year, Canavan said in an email to faculty and staff that The Oberlin Review published in September.
In response to the enrollment and budget issues, the board approved a plan to hold nonunion salaries at current levels for the coming year, Canavan said in the June email. Doing so would not eliminate the deficit but would make a significant difference without cutting essential services and positions.
Not all faculty would agree with that assertion. Some have argued a pay freeze will lead to a loss of talent at Oberlin as professors pick other, better-paying jobs. Such a trend would hurt educational quality, an essential service for a college.
The board also asked administrators, faculty and staff members to find ways to shrink the structural deficit by bringing in more revenue or cutting spending. The goal laid out was to cut 5 percent of the cumulative budget over the coming 10 years.
“The enrollment shortfall is a sign that Oberlin’s long-term financial model must change with the times,” Canavan said in the June email. “The cost of running institutions like Oberlin gets more expensive every year, while the pool of high school graduates, which grew steadily beginning in the mid-’90s, will stay flat over the next decade. We must spend the next few years making important decisions that will ensure Oberlin’s financial strength well into the future. These decisions must be made thoughtfully and with broad consultation.”
The letter did not detail exactly how much the college’s enrollment had slipped. But Oberlin’s Office of Institutional Research lists 2,827 undergraduates enrolling in 2017, down from 2,895 in 2016. The 2017 enrollment is the lowest level of undergraduates reported since 2,762 in 2007.
First-year enrollment fell at both the conservatory and the college of arts and sciences. Applications rose at the conservatory by 135, to 1,396, in 2017. The conservatory admitted only 28 percent of those applications, its lowest level since 2013. It enrolled 120, down 19 from last year’s class as its yield rate slipped by four percentage points year over year to 31 percent.
At the college of arts and sciences, applications fell sharply, by 891 to 6,366, after setting a record in 2016. The college admitted a larger share of its applicants, 37 percent, than it had since 2009. About 27 percent of those applicants enrolled, the lowest yield rate since 1996. The college’s resulting freshman class numbered 644 in 2017, the lowest level since 2007.
(Dual-degree students applying, admitted and enrolling in both the college and conservatory are counted twice in the statistics above. A total of 36 dual-degree students enrolled in 2017, about the same number as in recent years.)
This spring, Oberlin reported admissions had only declined slightly. No one was available for an interview to discuss admissions Monday.
Oberlin provided a statement referencing the fact that expenses grow every year and saying the college will use broad consultation to make important decisions to set it up for the future.
“In short, some difficult decisions will need to be made, but we are fortunate to be in a position of relative financial strength and thus have the capacity to make careful and strategic choices,” the statement said. “Following this exercise, Oberlin will be well positioned for the long term.”
Oberlin had the 117th-largest endowment in the country in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the most recent study of endowments published by the National Association of College and University Business officers and the nonprofit asset management firm Commonfund. Oberlin’s endowment totaled $770.2 million, giving it an endowment value per student of more than $261,000.
To many liberal arts college leaders, an endowment of that size would be a dream. But the endowment had dropped sharply in market value, by 7.5 percent year over year -- a significant issue for an investment that is intended to last into perpetuity.
In its statement, Oberlin also pointed to the fact that the number of high school graduates across the country is not expected to grow in the coming decade.
Ohio has gone from being a net exporter of college students to a net importer, said C. Todd Jones, president and general counsel at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. Oberlin is an institution that draws many students from out of state, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it is destined to see an enrollment decline.
“Among my members, we have slightly shrunk in total enrollment over the last five years from about 134,000 to about 131,000,” Jones said. “There are different patterns to that, though. Our nursing-only colleges are growing; Case Western Reserve and the University of Dayton have grown. We also have colleges that have conscientiously shrunk.”
Still, Oberlin is in a part of the country where many institutions are expected to struggle with enrollment. Located about 35 miles to the southwest of Cleveland, it is anchored firmly in the Rust Belt. And Ohio is projected to have fewer graduating high school students in coming years, as are many states in the Midwest. But the college has long seen itself as one that recruits nationally and internationally with its strong academic reputation.
Conservative news outlets have delighted in Oberlin’s struggles. The college is generally considered one of the most liberal institutions in the country, and it is regularly the target of conservative media, some of the more extreme of which have attributed the college’s enrollment declines to politics. But they provided little in the way of firm evidence to support that link.
Nonetheless, Oberlin has found itself at the center of several politically charged events of late. The Associated Press recently reported that Oberlin has been sued by bakery owners who accuse the institution and a dean of slandering their bakery as a racist establishment following a shoplifting case in 2016 -- a charge the institution and dean denied. This fall, the college also put in place a policy under which it will not send out email notifications about hateful fliers unless there is suspicion of immediate danger or a larger pattern.
National politics aside, Oberlin’s plan was clearly not to shrink this year, at least to the degree it has. So the cost-cutting moves it has put in place have rankled some faculty members.
Chris Howell, a professor of politics, and Kirk Ormand, a professor of classics, wrote the July letter that The Oberlin Review published last week. Addressed to Board of Trustees Chair Canavan, it argues that the current pay freeze runs counter to moves Oberlin has made in recent years to raise compensation.
In 2013, the board approved a resolution intended to raise faculty compensation to a median level among a group of 16 colleges, they wrote. From there, plans were put in place to increase salaries over five years by creating salary pools of 4 percent annually, which was intended to match average increases among peer colleges, and by adding $400,000 to the pools each year in order to raise relative compensation.
Achieving competitive compensation was written into Oberlin’s strategic plan, the professors wrote. The strategy was working, only to be cut short after three years, they argued.
“Faced with a structural deficit that some people on the board have been well aware of for many years, and with a short-term deficit in next year’s budget of $5 million, the board has taken the only step that they ever seem capable of taking when faced with financial strain: all nonunion salaries will be frozen next year, a move that will not save even one half of next year’s deficit,” they wrote. “The results are entirely predictable, and will be poor. Our salaries will drop to near the bottom of our peer group within two or three years, and we will remain there as a matter of financial strategy. Hiring and retention will suffer. Our best early-career faculty will leave, as several have over the past three years. Morale will plummet.”
The professors declined additional comment Monday.
The pay freeze was not the only cost-cutting move Oberlin has tried in recent years. In 2016 it introduced a voluntary separation incentive program, taking a restructuring charge of $8.4 million, according to its 2015-16 financial report. It also introduced a consumer-driven health plan intended to cut health-care costs.
The financial world has taken notice of Oberlin’s struggles. In October, Moody’s Investors Service changed the outlook on $130 million in Oberlin bonds from stable to negative. In its rationale for the move, Moody’s cited unanticipated enrollment volatility and budget pressures. The college’s projected budget deficit for the 2018 fiscal year is $2.5 million, Moody’s wrote.
Still, the ratings agency kept Oberlin’s bond rating at Aa3, a high investment-grade level. In doing so, it pointed to Oberlin’s strong reputation as a liberal arts college and conservatory, strong fund-raising, and sizable wealth.Editorial Tags: AdmissionsLiberal arts collegesImage Source: Oberlin CollegeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
A predicted decline in local high school graduates. Being located in a region where competition between public and private universities is “among the stiffest in the country.” Shifting demographics. The increasing cost of attending college.
These are problems faced by institutions across America and throughout Northeast Ohio, but they are felt especially strongly at Hiram College, which hopes to address them with its strategic plan for a rebranding set to take place between now and 2020.
But as the private, liberal arts institution sets out to embrace “new liberal arts,” what will that mean academically? And at what cost will it come to faculty?
These are questions the college is still trying to answer.
As of now, exact details are fuzzy. The strategic plan calls for an examination of all academic programs, though the college has included a number of faculty and other stakeholders in the process, which has been underway since 2016, and has promised transparency. Indeed, President Lori Varlotta pointed out that the process so far has included multiple white papers and multiple committees -- which have included faculty members and alumni -- over the past 16 months.
Varlotta said she's tried to keep any potential academic or faculty shake-ups to a minimum, and put it off until now, after other cost-savings plans have been adopted. But with about $1 million in expenses that still need to be cut, the college has reached the point where faculty reductions are going to have to happen. An idea for the faculty to vote on suspending some of the faculty labor and tenure rules so that the college could act with expediency and flexibility was floated last week, although Varlotta said it "doesn’t seem like that’s going to be a viable option."
Generally, traditions of tenure hold that tenure can't be revoked unless a college declares financial exigency, which suggests it is fighting for its life. Hiram has not made that declaration, though it did have 13 layoffs and a smattering of early retirements taken last year, suggesting the college has seen healthier days, financially speaking. Varlotta said it was too soon to estimate how many faculty positions might be lost, and any decisions to cut programs “would be part of a very participatory process.”
“All academic programs need to be examined within the emerging New Liberal Arts framework,” the plan reads. “Thus far, there appears to be significant campus support for retaining many, if not most, of the ‘traditional’ majors (English, History, Philosophy, Theatre, Biology, etc.); however, open consideration of merging, modifying, or discontinuing some programs must be undertaken.”
The plan to make Hiram a “new liberal arts” college is inspired by the college’s founding, the administration says, and includes the addition of new programs at the college. If establishing a traditional liberal arts program was progressive and noble 167 years ago, the thinking goes, new programs are necessary to keep that mission and “pioneering history” relevant.
The strategic plan reads, in part:
At this point, faculty have also come to see that they must repackage or reframe some of these traditional programs in ways that both appeal to 21st-century students and align with workforce needs. As one example, Hiram’s current Communication major may be reconfigured to include tracks in journalism, multimedia production and/or sports information.
In addition to repackaging existing majors, faculty and administrators must identify new mission-driven and market-wise programs that Hiram should consider creating. Several such programs have been recently added to the College catalogue: Integrative Exercise Science (major), Public Health (major), and Natural History (minor). At present, faculty are considering the addition of an aging studies track in Sociology.
The strategic plan hasn't all been about cuts, however. A lot of it has also had to do with infrastructure improvements -- such as residence hall and Wi-Fi and technology upgrades -- needed to keep the campus not only relevant and competitive, but ideally ahead of the curve.
"New Liberal Arts is a combination of highly contemporary programs with the classical liberal arts programs that Hiram has been known for for 167 years," Varlotta said. A "mindful technology" program is focused on integrating technology into a traditional liberal arts curriculum and learning style. As part of an initiative that started in the fall 2017 semester, students are given iPads.
The faculty chair, Nick Hirsch, an associate professor of biology, said that while there was opposition to the tenure move (he also noted that the American Association of University Professors guidelines can be cumbersome), the mood of the faculty was cautiously optimistic.
"There's concern, not just for individual faculty but concern for our colleagues. But at the same time, we realize we need to be relevant," Hirsch said. "We're trying our best to kind of thread that needle."
While faculty cuts are likely, he said, faculty are appreciating the other efforts that are going into the strategic plan, especially given the tough market for small, private liberal arts colleges.
"Some of the stuff we've put in place the last two or three years is really starting to bear fruit now," Hirsch said, noting an uptick in this year's enrollment. "There's something to be concerned about, yes … But we’ve been here for 167 years. We’re not going anywhere."Editorial Tags: Liberal arts collegesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
The massive Higher Education Act bill that the House of Representatives education committee will begin debating today got a slight revision Monday, as the panel's Republican leaders offered a modest nod to greater transparency about student outcomes.
But advocates for a federal student-level data system say the additional language, part of a package of changes to the original bill text known as a manager's amendment, just kicks the can down the road on resolving transparency questions.
The new language would direct the U.S. secretary of education within two years to study the feasibility of having the National Student Clearinghouse, a private nonprofit entity, set up a third-party data system for analysis of institution- and program-level student outcomes. A bipartisan bill introduced this summer would direct the National Center for Education Statistics, the Education Department's research arm, to connect existing data maintained by several agencies for purposes of tracking, on a program-by-program level, issues such as graduates' employment prospects, earnings and typical student debt loads.
Higher ed research groups have argued that the data system would allow them to answer questions such as why students transfer and to examine how colleges and universities can better close equity gaps between demographic groups.
Representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has long opposed a federal student unit record system, citing concerns over privacy and data security. She wrote a ban on a federal data system in 2008, which the initial language of her Higher Education Act update, known as the PROSPER Act, recommended sustaining.
Ahead of a markup of the bill in committee today, Foxx said she continues to have "a lot of concerns with privacy" involving a federal student-level data system.
"We're going to have the clearinghouse look at the feasibility of what some people want to do," she said.
While Republicans have periodically offered the clearinghouse as a potential solution to greater transparency, data advocates say it wouldn't address many of the questions potentially answered by a federal data system because it doesn't track the income of graduates. And they say it doesn't have the standards of a federal agency for maintaining publicly accessible data.
Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America's education policy program and an advocate for a student-level data system, said that a federal statistical agency like the NCES has incredibly high standards for data collection and security.
"That's why folks were pushing for it to be there instead of FSA," she said of the Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid. "That's their job -- to work with very private data sets and keep them secure."
Laitinen said the clearinghouse has high rates of participation from colleges partly because its data are never made public. She also questioned how the federal government would connect graduate earnings data with other data maintained by a private entity.
"We're bending over backwards to make sure this isn't going to live at a statistical agency, so we can pretend like it's not a government function, when it is," she said.
Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said that when Congress doesn't want to take a stand on a difficult issue, it commissions a study.
"So it’s basically trying to let Congress punt on weighing in on the student unit record situation for two years by putting the ball back in the administration’s court," he said via email. "The suggestion of using the National Student Clearinghouse appears to be another way to provide an out. Of course, none of those approaches are sufficient."
Miller said the Department of Education already did a feasibility study of a student-level data system as recently as 2005.
Even as Foxx has maintained firm opposition to student-level data, there has been movement within her own party on the issue. In the Senate, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy have signed on as co-sponsors of the College Transparency Act. And in the House, Representative Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican who also sits on the education committee, has sponsored the legislation while a number of other Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors. (Independent colleges and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed a federal student-level data system on privacy and security grounds.)
Foxx's comments Monday, however, indicated she is no closer to embracing federal management of a student-level data system or, for that matter, reporting of outcomes for students who do not receive Title IV federal student aid.
Additional changes to the PROSPER Act released Monday include language barring colleges that recognize single-sex campus organizations like fraternities and sororities from imposing new requirements on those groups. Foxx said the committee wanted to make it clear that it upheld the First Amendment by including the language.
Some all-male organizations have been criticized by college leaders (Harvard University is one leading example) as incubators for sexual assault, heavy drinking and other bad behavior. A federal mandate to campuses on an issue like this would seem to conflict with Republicans' stated desire to minimize government intrusion into campus affairs.
Foxx also said Monday night she is prepared to work into "the wee hours of the morning" Wednesday to finish the markup of the Higher Education Act rewrite and vote on all amendments in one marathon session.
And she dismissed concerns raised by some higher ed groups Monday about the short time frame between the bill's introduction just over a week ago and the markup today. Foxx argued that her committee has held more than two dozen hearings ahead of the bill's introduction and said members had a range of issues beyond higher ed to get to in the coming months. Despite the 542 pages of the original bill and the 590 in the manager's amendment, she said advocacy groups and committee members shouldn't need extra time to process the changes contemplated for higher education in the legislation.
"This is not a rushed process," Foxx said. "It's not a complicated bill."Image Caption: Representative Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce CommitteeAd Keyword: Higher Education ActIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Catherine Gregory was arrested Monday by University of Connecticut police officers for her role in a chaotic speaking appearance at the university last week. The talk was by a controversial conservative pundit, Lucian Wintrich, who was trying to speak on the topic "It's OK to Be White."
Many in the audience shouted at Wintrich throughout his talk, which they viewed as a way to goad minority students by suggesting that all racial groups are equally likely to face discrimination. At one point in the event, Gregory has admitted, she grabbed Wintrich's notes. He then followed her back into the audience, where they had an altercation that led to his arrest by UConn police that night.
Wintrich charged that Gregory was the one who broke the law, by taking notes that were not hers. And authorities on Monday appeared to back his point of view, dropping charges against Wintrich on the same day they arrested Gregory.
She has been charged with sixth-degree larceny and disorderly conduct.
Wintrich took to Twitter to declare victory, while vowing to make sure that Gregory is convicted.
All charges against me were dropped outright. The leftist thug who stole my speech was arrested. The fight is still not over.— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) December 11, 2017
Jon Schoenhorn, Gregory's lawyer, said in an interview Monday that she would fight the charges against her. Schoenhorn said that Gregory never intended to steal anything and had no desire to keep the notes.
"It's ironic and hypocritical that the University of Connecticut is playing this as if it is about equal issues, and saying that racist hate speech should be treated the same as those who protest against it," he said. Schoenhorn said that Wintrich "was trying to incite reaction" that could have become violent. Gregory was trying to minimize such a reaction "in a mild and reserved way" by taking the notes, he said.
Adding to the controversy is that Gregory is associate director of career services and advising at Quinebaug Valley Community College. Wintrich and others have said that the college should be concerned about having someone advising students who tried to block a speech from taking place on a college campus.
After Gregory came forward to say she was the woman who took the notes, Carlee Drummer, president of Quinebaug Valley, issued a statement about the incident, without naming Gregory, suggesting that the incident had no relevance to Gregory's college role.
"Quinebaug Valley Community College confirms that one of its employees attended a speech given by Mr. Wintrich at the University of Connecticut," the statement said. "The employee attended on her personal time and QVCC learned about the incident when reported in the media. The college does not condone the behavior and encourages peaceful discourse and compassionate debate. The employee attended the event as a private citizen."
Drummer did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Schoenhorn said that Gregory has been on leave from the college due to the death threats she has been receiving, some of them coming to the college. He said that "nothing at the University of Connecticut had anything to do with her job."Editorial Tags: Academic freedomRaceImage Source: University of Connecticut Police DepartmentImage Caption: Catherine GregoryIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 4Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, December 12, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: Reversal in UConn FracasMagazine treatment:
- Northampton Community College, in Pennsylvania, is starting a campaign to raise $17 million by the end of 2019. A major focus -- and just under $12 million of the target -- will be aid for low-income students.
- Pacific University is starting a campaign to raise $80 million by 2020. Endowment growth is a top priority. The campaign has raised $44 million.
- Saint Vincent College, in Pennsylvania, is starting a campaign to raise $100 million by 2020. Four major building projects -- at a cost of $40 million -- are in the campaign plans.
- Tulane University has announced a campaign to raise $1.3 billion over the next five years. The university has already raised $820 million, including major gifts for scholarships, the creation of a center on entrepreneurship, the renovation of the business school and endowed chairs.
Saint John’s Abbey and University, in Minnesota, have finished a campaign that raised $190 million. The campaign launched in 2013 with a goal of $160 million.
The GOP’s proposed update to the law governing higher education would force a U-turn for long-standing federal policies on graduate student lending.
Students who pursue graduate degrees have been allowed to take out an unlimited amount in federal student loans since Congress authorized the Grad PLUS program in 2005. But the legislation proposed last week by Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the House education committee, would cap annual borrowing amounts for grad students at $28,500 annually. The bill also would change benefits for borrowers by altering income-driven repayment options and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Republicans said the proposed changes would put pressure on institutions to keep costs down and fits with their broader vision to simplify the federal student aid system.
But advocates for graduate education warned that the bill would limit less-well-off students’ access to advanced degrees. And they said public service-oriented fields in particular would be hurt by limits in federal loans and the end of PSLF.
Beth Buehlmann, vice president for public policy and government affairs at the Council of Graduate Schools, worked in the office of Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, who was the ranking Republican on the Senate education committee when Congress authorized Grad PLUS loans. That move was partly designed to reduce students’ reliance on the private loan market, she said.
“And it has done that,” she said. “It has been very successful in doing that.”
Republicans’ opening bid in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act signals just how much the party’s thinking on student aid has changed in the last decade. Not only do GOP leaders want more simplicity -- a departure from the current landscape that offers a number of repayment options for student loan debt -- but they also want a bigger role for the private loan market.
Many Republicans in recent years have argued for eliminating both Grad PLUS and another loan program that allows unlimited lending to parents of undergraduates, called Parent PLUS. The private sector, they argue, will do just as well as any federal regulation to weed out useless programs.
However, Buehlmann and others warn that leaving the private market to fill gaps in the cost of graduate education for certain service-oriented fields -- such as public-interest law, counseling and drug rehabilitation, and social work -- would make those careers unattainable. Grad students, Buehlmann said, can’t access grant funding. Lending is the only option to finance their education, and federal loans provide protections not available in the private market, she said. If the private lending market doesn’t fill the gaps in cost of graduate education, according to this argument, fewer students will be able to enter those professions.
Chris Chapman, president and CEO of AccessLex, said the elimination of PSLF and a cap on graduate lending would make it more difficult for underrepresented student groups to pursue graduate education.
“It would really take away a very strong benefit and strong tool to encourage graduates who go into public service professions,” he said. “Even more than that, it really eliminates the incentive to persist in the profession.”
Higher education groups and student aid advocates, meanwhile, are watching a federal tax reform process that could have major implications for graduate students. The House passed a tax plan last month that includes several provisions to strip current benefits in the tax code for students. One change would mean that graduate students’ tuition discounts effectively are taxed as income. Another would end student loan interest deductions, costing student borrowers an additional $24 billion over the next decade. That change would be particularly burdensome to grad students, many of whom are paying off undergraduate loans.
Those provisions were left out of a Senate bill earlier this month. But the details of the final tax reform legislation that emerges could weigh on whatever changes are made to graduate benefits in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
The GOP’s Rationale
Republicans have been critical of the increasingly high taxpayer cost estimates for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. And GOP lawmakers believe the benefit is poorly targeted. A committee aide pointed to one recent report arguing that in many cases public sector workers are no less well compensated than private sector workers. PSLF though would also provide loan relief to many low-salaried employees of qualifying nonprofit organizations.
Regardless of what wage data shows, the GOP says no worker should get special benefits on student loans based on their employer.
“Our proposal offers the same deal for everyone regardless of occupation and puts downward market pressure on institutions to keep costs down," a committee spokesman said. "We believe all work is valuable and should be held in the same high regard."
Republican bill writers also believe the unlimited availability of federal funds has led college to raise tuition and fees. The committee cited one UCLA study from last year examining the use of Parent PLUS loans that appeared to back that notion, commonly known as the Bennett hypothesis. But that study didn't look at the relationship between program costs and graduate lending (Parent PLUS can only be used to fund undergraduate education). And a recent paper from Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of education at Seton Hall University, found limited evidence of the theory’s relevance to graduate lending for legal education.
Kelchen said that in 2005, before Grad PLUS was authorized, federal graduate student loans typically did not cover the full cost of education. The proposed changes in the House bill, he said, would have implications for for-profit chains as well as a substantial number of private nonprofit colleges that have used professional and master’s degree programs to help subsidize undergraduate education.
“It could put pressure on colleges to try to get more revenue from undergraduates,” he said.
Students entering higher-paid fields likely would be able to find private loans at similar rates to Grad PLUS, Kelchen said, but students entering high-tuition, low-paid fields like social work could struggle.
While the evidence is limited of tuition increases linked to unlimited graduate lending, average borrowing amounts by graduate students rose sharply between the 2004-05 and 2010-11 academic years, before subsequently declining through 2014-15, according to a College Board tally of federal loans made to students and parents. But the loan amounts began to rise again in 2015-16.
Critics of unlimited graduate lending also have attributed the unexpectedly high costs of federal income-driven repayment programs to heavy use by graduate students. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year found that the expected cost of IDR plans has shot up to $53 billion from $25 billion, for federal loans issued during the 2009 to 2016 fiscal years, primarily because of the growing number of loans expected to be repaid through the program. And changes by the Obama administration to income-driven plans made the program more generous to grad students as it steered more borrowers into those plans.
Preston Cooper, an education data analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the research was clear that allowing unlimited borrowing by parents of undergraduates has led to increases in tuition. The evidence is much more mixed on unlimited graduate borrowing, he said, but capping that lending accomplishes another conservative goal by opening new space for private lenders.
“The rationale for having a federal student loan program is that there is a market failure, that basically no lenders are going to lend to an 18-year-old student who doesn’t have any credit history, doesn’t have any work history, because that’s just too risky,” he said. “Those arguments don’t really apply to the graduate lending sphere.”
Graduate students have ample opportunity to establish a credit history. And private lenders will lend only to students in programs with a reasonable chance of paying off loans, he said. Cooper also argued that income-driven repayment is adequate to ensure students in lower-paying public service fields can afford to repay their loans.
Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said institutions want students to be able to cover the full cost of their education with federal loans. Private lending has less generous terms and conditions, she said, and pushing students to take out those additional loans undercuts the Republican theme of greater simplicity in the student aid system.
“That’s really a step backward,” she said.
She said an aggregate limit on graduate lending could be preferable to annual limits and would reward shorter, more efficient programs.
Others have noted that in the case of legal education in particular, private lending would likely fill any gap in costs for students attending prestigious law schools, that may not be the case at lower-ranking law programs.
The bill does include higher lending amounts for students pursuing graduate education as doctors or other medical professional positions. And while it would otherwise limit graduate lending, it does increase annual lending limits for undergraduates and would raise the aggregate lending limit for federal direct loans from $138,500 to $150,000. Grad PLUS was authorized to meet gaps in need for students who had already reached their aggregate borrowing limit. So some see the higher limit as partially addressing the need met by the program.
Large for-profit college chains, among them Walden University, focus primarily on graduate education. Jennifer Blum, senior vice president of external relations and public policy at Laureate Education, Walden’s parent company, said the university supports efforts to streamline federal loan and repayment programs if the results are more efficient for student borrowers.
“As an institution focused primarily on graduate-level education, we are examining the legislation closely to determine the relationship between any loss of Grad PLUS funding to the other loan reforms and improvements proposed,” she said in a written statement. “We are hopeful that any final legislation will strike the right balance to ensure continued access and completion for graduate students who need educational funding.”
Some advocates for student aid recipients see graduate students taking it on the chin in the House bill. Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said grad students don’t just lose access to Public Service Loan Forgiveness in the bill. They would also be shut out of the federal work-study program.
Draeger said it’s important to be clear about the specific problems lawmakers are setting out to address in the higher education bill’s reauthorization. Loan repayment rates, defaults, tuition inflation and the cost of loan forgiveness are all separate issues, he said.
Graduate students typically aren’t the ones struggling to pay back their loans, said Draeger. To the extent Congress is looking to address the moral hazard of loan forgiveness -- too many students taking out large amounts of loans with the expectation that the government would pick up much of the cost -- it could cap future loan forgiveness, rather than capping borrowing and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness, he said.
“Sometimes I feel like these conversations are all going by each other,” Draeger said. “Our take is there are ways to address all these issues. Putting caps on the loans might be one of those ways.”Editorial Tags: Federal policyFinancial aidGraduate studentsImage Source: Getty ImagesAd Keyword: Student loansIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Lawsuit accuses American Studies Association officers of concealing their plans to boycott Israeli universities
It’s been almost four years since members of the American Studies Association voted by a nearly two-thirds majority to adopt a resolution backing a boycott of Israeli universities, but a lawsuit opposing the resolution filed by four of the association’s current and former members rages on.
In March, a federal judge dismissed the claims of the four members that the ASA operated outside the scope of its bylaws in endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but allowed the plaintiffs’ claims of corporate waste, breach of contract and violation of the D.C. Nonprofit Corporation Act to proceed. In a mixed ruling, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that it was reasonably within the scope of the ASA’s charter as an academic organization to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but found that the plaintiffs had presented a “plausible case for breach of contract” in regard to their allegations that the ASA had failed to follow its own rules in conducting a vote on the resolution in December 2013.
Now the plaintiffs are bringing new allegations.
Citing emails and other documents unearthed during discovery, the plaintiffs last month submitted a motion asking the court’s permission to file an amended complaint. The 87-page proposed amended complaint brings new charges that certain of the association’s elected leaders strategically kept their pro-boycott agendas secret when they stood for office, that they withheld “pertinent” information about the boycott resolution from voting members “unless it favored the resolution” and that they took what the court filing describes as the “unprecedented” action of freezing membership rolls prior to the announcement of the vote “with the specific intent to prevent members opposed to the resolution from casting votes.”
The proposed amended complaint says that one of the plaintiffs, Michael L. Barton, a professor emeritus of American studies at Pennsylvania State University and a member of ASA for approximately 44 years, had let his membership lapse in 2012 and was not allowed to vote on the boycott resolution when he attempted to reactivate his membership because of this "scheme to freeze the membership rolls."
The ASA is seeking to have the motion to amend the complaint denied. In a Nov. 27 court filing, the ASA describes the plaintiffs’ motion as “an improper effort to revisit plaintiffs’ prior losses and to resurrect derivative claims that have been dismissed” and said if accepted it would “cause undue delay” and “result in greatly expanded expenses to the defendants.” In regard to the specific allegations surrounding the freezing of membership rolls, the ASA legal response says, "There is nothing in the bylaws or statutes that" would "specifically prohibit" this.
"The plaintiffs’ proposed second amended complaint is a continuation of their public relations campaign through litigation, whose focus is not truly the well-being of the ASA, but punishment of persons and entities who dare take contrary positions regarding boycotts of Israeli academic institions [sic]," the ASA legal filing states.
A response filed by the plaintiffs last week contests the ASA's claims that the proposed amended complaint "merely resurrects derivative claims that were previously dismissed" and argues that it instead "presents entirely new claims that arise from facts uncovered in documents produced by defendants" during discovery. Further, it takes issue with what it describes as the ASA brief's "entirely unfounded and inflammatory claims of harassment and dilatory [delaying] tactics."
The New Claims
The lawsuit was originally filed in April 2015 against the ASA and six of its individual leaders at the time the boycott resolution was voted on, including Curtis Marez, then the president, and Lisa Duggan, then the president-elect, and several members of its elected National Council, whose members unanimously endorsed the 2013 boycott resolution before making the decision to turn it over to the full membership for a vote.
The proposed amended complaint seeks to add four additional defendants, including John Stephens, the executive director of the association. Four of the named defendants, or proposed defendants, are identified in court documents as members of the leadership of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, a group, largely comprised of scholars, that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
One person the plaintiffs are seeking to add to the complaint is Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University who, according to court documents, served on the ASA’s nominating committee from 2010 until June 2013, six months prior to the boycott vote, and who is also a member of USACBI’s advisory board. The complaint alleges that in her tenure on the nominating committee, Puar had an agenda of “packing the American Studies Association leadership with USACBI leadership, endorsers and other BDS advocates.”
The court filing quotes from several emails in an effort to support this, including one from Sunaina Maira, another defendant in the case: “Jasbir is nominating me and Alex Lubin for the council and she suggests populating it with as many supporters as possible.” It also quotes an email from the aforementioned Lubin: “In my conversations with Jasbir it’s clear that the intent of her nominations was to bring more people who do work in, and are politically committed to … the question of Palestine … we were nominated in order to build momentum for BDS even though the question of BDS in American Studies Association may or may not emerge while we’re on the council.”
The proposed amended complaint alleges that Puar and certain other of the defendants or proposed defendants did not disclose their pro-boycott positions in their candidate statements in standing for elected office within the association. And it provides evidence from emails that suggests that at least in some cases nondisclosure may have been a deliberate choice. The proposed amended complaint cites the following emails from Lubin (who is not a party or proposed party to the lawsuit), as well as from Maira, one of the original defendants in the case, about whether to position themselves as BDS supporters in running for National Council. Maira is a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California, Davis, and a member of USACBI's leadership.
Lubin: “I would welcome an expanded discussion of whether those of us nominated for the council should mention in our nomination statement our support for BDS … I wonder if it is strategic to be self-identified as a BDS candidate, or whether we should merely mention our support for human rights, academic freedom for everyone and international law.”
Maira: “I’ve been thinking this over and like Alex, I’m a bit unsure -- personally, I feel it might be more strategic not to present ourselves as a pro-boycott slate. We need to get on the council and I think our larger goal is support for the resolution, not to test support at this early stage from ‘outside’ the NC.”
Another party to the email exchange offered an alternative view. Nikhil Pal Singh, who was then a member of the National Council, responded, according to the court filing:
“My real question: What do we hope to gain from election of pro-BDS members to the American Studies Association national council if we have not made any of the stakes of their election clear to the membership? … I think that not revealing something this important and intentional and then hoping later to use the American Studies Association national council as a vehicle to advance our cause will not work and may well backfire, because it will lack legitimacy.”
According to the court documents, of the three candidates to the National Council who were party to this exchange, one, Lubin, mentioned support for “a pending resolution on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel” in his candidate statement. He lost. The other two, Maira and J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, who both won, did not mention support for a possible ASA boycott resolution against Israel in their candidate statements, though Kauanui’s candidate statement did reference her ties to the broader academic boycott campaign and USACBI in particular (the statement, available here, says she was “involved in a range of activist work for indigenous rights in the Pacific Islands, North America, as well as Occupied Palestine” and that she served “as an advisory board member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”) Maira’s candidate biography is more oblique but does mention that she then served as “co-chair of the Academic and Community Activism Caucus within ASA, which organized a resolution on the war in Iraq and discussions of boycott and divestment opposing the U.S.-backed occupation and violations of human rights and academic freedom in Palestine.”
"We do not believe that those brief references come close to meeting the fiduciary duties of disclosure," said Jennie Gross, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a staff attorney for the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. "Both Maira and Kauanui included statements discussing what they would do if elected; neither mentioned the boycott resolution, although we believe this was their primary intention in running, and the primary reason they were nominated to run."
“This case is about the illegal, hostile takeover of a nonprofit, academic association by leaders of an anti-Israel group,” Gross said in a November press release. “Through a series of misrepresentations and breaches of duty, USACBI activists obtained positions of trust in the ASA, and then abused those positions in order to capture and exploit the assets of the ASA to advance the agenda of the BDS movement.” An op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal Dec. 3 and written by two law professors who have advised the plaintiffs' lawyers similarly argues that anti-Israel activists "subvert[ed]" the ASA.
Others argue that the overwhelming results of the membership vote in favor of boycott of Israeli universities belie charges of takeovers and subversion. The sentiment at an open forum on the boycott resolution held at ASA's 2013 conference -- attended by Inside Higher Ed -- was heavily in favor of the boycott.
USACBI described the charge of an "illegal, hostile takeover" as "on its face ludicrous. It seeks to rebrand normal political process, including the work of established caucuses within the ASA, as conspiracy, thus labeling democratic deliberation and advocacy a suspect and sanctionable activity," the group said in a statement on its website.
"This lawsuit is a desperate attempt to bury the single most important fact: the ASA membership voted by an overwhelming democratic majority -- 66 percent -- after months of open debate, to support a boycott in support of Palestinian equality," said Palestine Legal, a legal advocacy group that has in the past provided legal advice to ASA and is advising Puar, who is not at this point named as a defendant in the case.
ASA reported that 1,252 members voted in the election, the largest number of voters in the organization's history. When asked how she reconciles the level of support for the resolution among the membership with the "hostile takeover" charge, Gross, the plaintiffs' lawyer, reiterated that there are "claims and allegations relating to efforts to deny the ability to vote to ASA members and scholars who would likely vote against the resolution, while at the same time inflating the votes known to be in favor of the resolution, with new memberships of people who were neither previous members of the ASA nor American studies scholars."
“I’m not saying the process was perfect, but if I had any concerns about transparency and legitimacy, they were satisfied by the National Council deciding to put the resolution to a membership vote,” said Nikhil Pal Singh, the National Council member who urged his colleagues to be forthright about their BDS ties in the above email exchange and who is an associate professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University.
Singh stands by what he said in that email exchange. "I do however understand why individuals would make the decision to represent themselves in the ways in which they chose to represent themselves," he said. "And the reason is this: there’s a politics of smear around this kind of stuff, so I think the concern probably was, if I say this I’m going to be completely misrepresented."
Singh said that anyone could have googled Maira and found that she was a member of USACBI's leadership. “I think for pro-Palestine activists, there’s a countervailing argument that people feel, which is, why are we always having to genuflect to the Israeli exception in a sense? Why are we always needing to bend over backwards to prove ourselves? We are legitimate scholars who have been nominated to the National Council. Our politics are well-known; they're a matter of public record. People can make the decision they’re going to make. The idea that there was some kind of concealment going on is just a fabrication of these lawsuits."
More broadly, Singh, who supported the boycott resolution, said he sat on the National Council from 2010 until November 2013, when the council decided to call for a membership vote on the resolution (his term ended then, so he wasn't privy to the further discussions about implementation of the vote). During his time on the council, he said, he saw increasing support for BDS within the membership.
"I was certainly not aware of any kind of nefarious plot to stack the National Council," he said. "The way I saw things was that in the years leading up to 2013, there had been a series of efforts to move the ASA toward a pro-boycott position. I had been a member of the ASA since the 1990s, so I’d pretty much been to every annual meeting up to that point and each year there was more and more conversation about this … the membership was getting younger, more progressive, and the concerns of the organization were becoming much more sharply focused around questions of colonialism, racism, state violence."
The various individuals named as defendants or proposed defendants in the case either declined interview requests or did not respond to messages seeking comment. “The plaintiffs in Bronner v. the ASA are clearly committed to trying this case in the media,” ASA President Kandice Chu said via email. “In contrast, the ASA retains its faith in the courts as the appropriate venue for litigation, and fully expects to prevail in that setting.” She said the association would not be making further comment.
John K. Wilson, co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, strongly opposes academic boycotts but sees the ongoing lawsuit against the ASA as “a meritless lawsuit aimed at suppressing freedom of speech.”
“It is not legally problematic for candidates to make a choice not to reveal everything they believe or even what they plan to do in office,” Wilson said. “It would be morally objectionable if candidates plotted to conceal a major part of their plans for the office. Although there’s not much evidence of that in this case, even if morally objectionable behavior was revealed, that would only justify criticism, not a lawsuit. And this has nothing to do with the main claim of this lawsuit, that the ASA should be legally prohibited from endorsing a boycott of Israel.
“If you don’t like what an academic organization does, you are perfectly free to persuade the members of that group to vote with you and to choose new leaders,” Wilson said. “You are perfectly [free] to denounce the group and boycott it. But you should not be able to ask the government to ban private organizations from taking a political stand.”Editorial Tags: EnglishHistoryIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Rutgers University at New Brunswick removed Michael Chikindas from teaching any required course and from a campus leadership role, following an investigation into the food science professor’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts.
Robert Barchi, Rutgers president, and Deba Dutta, campus chancellor, announced the suspension Friday in an email to faculty members, saying it was one of several actions the university is taking in the case.
“A fundamental expectation of a university is to provide an environment in which students can learn, discover their passions and do research free from fears of discrimination, harassment or disruption,” Barchi and Dutta said. “So, too, should our faculty and staff expect a professional environment that is welcoming and free from discrimination.”
Chikindas, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has previously said that his Facebook account was “hacked,” and that he couldn’t be sure he posted all the content that many called objectionable. (Examples of his posts, many of which include offensive language and images, such as the image at right, can be found here.)
After a university investigation based on relevant policies and the law, however, Barchi and Dutta said, Chikindas “was found to have posted extensive bigoted, discriminatory and anti-Semitic material” that “perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty and staff across our community.”
Aspects of the university’s investigation remain confidential. But Barchi and Dutta shared several outcomes, including that Chikindas will be removed from teaching required courses so that no Rutgers student “will be required to take a course that he teaches.” Rutgers also removed Chikindas from his leadership role as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, so that no employee will have to work for him.
Chikindas also will be required to participate in a cultural sensitivity training program and be subject to “ongoing monitoring if and when he returns to the classroom,” according to the announcement.
Rutgers is seeking further disciplinary action, in line with policies outlined in the American Federation of Teachers- and American Association of University Professors-affiliated faculty union contract.
“This has been a sad and deeply troubling situation for our students and our staff, and for our faculty, who stand for much nobler values than those expressed by this particular professor,” Barchi and Dutta said. “While the university is and should always be a place that challenges students to grapple with complex and even controversial ideas, this situation has threatened the trust between professors and students that is a prerequisite to learning.”
They added, “It is our hope that we can navigate these difficult conversations together and that, having been tested by these challenges, we can emerge stronger and with renewed appreciation of our common bonds.”
Rutgers’s faculty union had no immediate comment Sunday.
John Wilson, an independent scholar of academic freedom who has been following the Chikindas case, referred a request for comment to a post he wrote for AAUP’s “Academe” blog, of which he is co-editor. Wilson said that he agreed with Rutgers that Chikindas’s posts were indeed bigoted and anti-Semitic. “But “what exactly is ‘discriminatory’ about a social media post?” he asked. “Discrimination is an act against someone violating their rights. Social media opinions are not in themselves discriminatory.”
Such opinions might indicate that someone could act in a discriminatory way, he said, but it at least appears that Rutgers found no evidence of any action. Perpetuating “toxic stereotypes” is not a violation of any campus rules, he said, and therefore not grounds for disciplinary action.FacultyEditorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: Michael ChikindasIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Knewton, a pioneer in adaptive learning technology, will launch its first direct product for higher education in January. Previously the company provided the technology behind several other companies' adaptive learning products, but now Knewton is changing its strategy and selling its product to colleges directly.
The name of Knewton’s proprietary offering hasn't been announced, but it has been piloted at more than 150 institutions, the company said. The product, described as a complete textbook replacement, began piloting early this year and was tested in beta in 2016. Using open education resources, Knewton offers courseware that both instructs and assesses students using adaptive learning technology.
In data shared with Inside Higher Ed and now published online, Knewton presented results from a sample of more than 10,000 students who used the Knewton courseware and completed over 130,000 assignments (defined as "instruction and assessment in Knewton tied to course learning objectives") so far this year. The data also look at the correlation between successful completion of these assignments and performance in class quizzes set by instructors. The sample includes students who used the Knewton product for courses in mathematics, chemistry, statistics and economics. The students were told to complete the Knewton assignments as homework outside class, completion of which counted toward their grades.
In adaptive learning, students receive information that they are then tested on. The answers the students give to these questions determine the next instruction they receive. Those who demonstrate knowledge advance to the next topic, while those who don't get customized additional instruction until they succeed.
The Knewton data show that 87 percent of the time, students successfully completed the assignments. Among students who initially struggled to complete an assignment, 82 percent eventually did so -- an achievement referred to as “mastery."
In addition to a high level of assignment completion, Knewton said their product positively impacted performance in quizzes set by instructors. Students who completed less than 25 percent of their assignments achieved an average class quiz score of 55 percent, compared with 81 percent for students who completed more than 75 percent of the assignments.
Among struggling students (defined as students who started in the bottom 25 percent of the class) those who mastered more than 75 percent of the learning objectives achieved average class quiz scores of 70 percent, compared with 40 percent for those who failed to complete more than a quarter of the assignments. The data suggest that among those who completed the majority of their class assignments, the attainment gap between those who started at the top of the class and those who started at the bottom is closed significantly.
Knewton did not supply a full list of institutions that tested the product, but named a sampling of institutions currently using the Knewton course product, including: California State University at Los Angeles, Kellogg Community College, National Louis University, Central Oregon Community College, Park University, Collin College, Eastern New Mexico University, Hunter College and Front Range Community College.
Eyob Demeke, director of developmental mathematics at California State University at Los Angeles, said that his institution started using Knewton last summer as part of the trial. He said that so far, the reaction had been positive from both students and instructors, with courses reaching “impressive pass rates” in the 80s. Demeke noted, however, that as these courses had not been previously offered at scale, he did not have the historical data to compare results before and after using the Knewton product.
In institutional data shared by Demeke for two math courses using Knewton over two sessions, 69 percent of students rated their experience of the product as “good” or “very good.” Just under 10 percent of students rated their experience as “bad” or “very bad.” The rest described their experience as “neutral.”
A selection of student comments were included with the data from California State L.A., the majority positive, with some students saying the product had helped them to understand topics they had previously had difficulty grasping. Not everyone was convinced, however, with one student commenting that “having to pay to do homework is a rip-off.” Another expressed frustration at the amount of time it took to complete the assignments.
Asked whether his institution intended to keep using Knewton beyond this semester, Demeke said that it had not yet been decided. He noted the California State University system was considering free alternatives such as EdReady, a personalized math study program managed by the nonprofit NROC project.
Andrew Moore, assistant professor and math content lead at National Louis University, said that he had also had a positive experience with Knewton, which his institution started using as a supplemental instruction tool in January. He praised the ability of the product to highlight students who are struggling, saying that his institution had used this to intervene and offer extra support.
“Over all it looks like our current class are going to be performing at a higher rate than our students last year,” said Moore. As the statistics course using the Knewton product is a relatively new, Moore said he didn’t yet know whether this apparent increase in performance is linked to Knewton, or to faculty gaining greater experience of teaching the course. He said he would be reviewing the data closely over the winter break.
Illya Bomash, head of data science at Knewton, acknowledged that evidence of the efficacy of the product is limited by the lack of a control group. However, Bomash maintained the data were sufficient to suggest a causal effect between successful completion of assignments and high attainment in class. He said the results of the data were not particularly surprising, but a “confirmation” that the Knewton approach works.
Karen Vignare, executive director of the Personalized Learning Consortium at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said that the initial data from Knewton “looks good” but “there’s a lot more you want to know.” For example, Vignare questioned who and what exactly defines mastery -- “is it something the professor can set?” she asked. Vignare said she would also like to see more demographic information on the students, and a clear comparison of the levels of understanding before using the Knewton product and after.
Michael Feldstein, a partner at MindWires Consulting, and co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, said that the data demonstrate that students who are taught by instructors with knowledge of mastery learning methods, and who use Knewton-based products that support those methods, tend to achieve the learning objectives for the course and complete the course. “That’s all great,” said Feldstein. “Unfortunately, it’s also utterly generic. Knewton has essentially released data showing that mastery can be effective, which we have known for a long time.” (MindWires has done consulting for some textbook publishers that now have their own adaptive platforms.)
“I don’t see anything in what they’ve released that tells us anything new, and I certainly don’t see anything that makes a specific case for Knewton over the many other mastery learning-based products on the market (whether or not they have whizzy adaptive algorithms),” said Feldstein. He added that in order to gain credibility, Knewton “will need to release original findings in a fully fleshed out and peer-reviewable paper, preferably accompanied by enough of the source data that their work can be checked.”
Brian Kibby, CEO of Knewton, said that he felt confident that Knewton’s product would stand out from other offers on the market. “We are the only ones in that world that do what we do,” said Kibby. “That is, use openly available content in partnership with our powerful personalized learning engine.” Kibby added that a core difference between the Knewton product, and others on the market, is that every student is treated as an individual. “Some of the technology groups learners in pockets,” said Kibby. “We don’t. We approach every learner as a unique learner.”
However, several companies contacted by Inside Higher Ed, including McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson, said that their adaptive learning technology also treats students as unique learners, challenging Kibby's claim.
Heather Shelstad, vice president of marketing for Knewton, said that while most adaptive learning companies would agree that every student is unique, Knewton's latest product is different in that it applies this concept of personalized learning to "all elements of a course," including course content, homework assignments and testing.
"Every interaction a student makes in Knewton impacts the complete learning experience, including instructional content and assessments, to dynamically support the most effective path towards assignment completion and concept mastery," said Shelstad. She explained that there were three general types of learning technology being used in higher education today -- digital homework platforms without adaptive technology, digital homework platforms with add-on adaptive technology, and fully integrated adaptive courseware. Knewton, she said, falls in the latter category. Knewton "continuously diagnoses and evaluates a student's progress toward a concept mastery and assignment completion dynamically and in real time. No two students are ever on the same path," she said.
Kibby, who joined the company as CEO in July and previously held executive roles at McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson, said that Knewton’s previous strategy of leasing its technology to other companies “was misguided” and “flawed from the beginning.” Knewton previously powered Pearson's MyLab and Mastering suite, but Pearson this year decided to end this partnership and develop its own technology.
Erin Joyner, senior vice president of higher education product at Cengage, said that company had previously partnered with Knewton, but decided to go in a different direction after the pilots "didn't produce the results we'd hoped for." Cengage has since partnered with Cerego to offer an adaptive learning product for psychology courses, as well as in-house-developed product called Adaptive Test Prep.
While many partners have been commercially successful with platforms built on Knewton’s technology, none have fully taken advantage of its power, said Kibby. As Knewton has the deepest understanding of its own technology, it is in the best position to deliver it directly to faculty and students, he added. While scaling up Knewton’s proprietary product will now be the company’s main focus, Kibby said the company would maintain its existing commercial partnerships where they continue to make sense for both parties.
Looking forward, Kibby has set some ambitious sales targets. He said that within three years he expects every college and university in the country to be using a Knewton product. His vision is for global expansion, not only in higher education, but also in K-12 -- an area where Kibby foresees a great deal of growth for the company. “When you combine the impact of our product with the affordable price point, how can you not look at it?” said Kibby. He added that early feedback for the product has been “tremendous” and he fully expects the product to “scale up and take off.”
Adam Newman, managing partner of Tyton Partners, an education consultancy firm, said that one of the challenges facing Knewton would be reintroducing it to the market as a courseware provider. Given that Knewton was once known as a test prep company, Newman said that many people may “have impressions of who or what Knewton is that may not be what Knewton is today.” While Kibby’s sales target is a “good stretch goal,” Newman said it was not one he would bet on Knewton reaching, despite Kibby having the background to “understand what it would take to be in every college and university in the U.S.” As for Knewton’s shift in strategy, Newman said launching a new product under a new name could be a good move for the company. “There’s been a lot of hype relative to what’s been delivered historically,” said Newman. “The ability to create a new identity would not necessarily be a bad thing in the postsecondary marketplace,” he said.
Affordability is a key issue in a market where prices are being aggressively driven down by the competition, said Vignare. She said the Knewton product did indeed sound affordable at $44 per student per course for two years’ access or $9.95 per month (plus tax). The product is currently available for 25 courses, mostly concentrated in the areas of mathematics and science, but with plans to expand to all core areas at an introductory level. The basis for the content that is taught and assessed in the Knewton product comes primarily from OpenStax, a nonprofit OER textbook provider, with which Knewton announced a partnership in May 2016.
James Wiley, a principal analyst at Eduventures, said that he thought Knewton’s new direct-to-customer approach made sense, especially as some of Knewton’s former partners, including Pearson, have stated intentions to develop their own adaptive learning capability in-house. “I always think a B2B approach is risky, as your partner could simply learn your technology and develop it for themselves,” he said.
An early leader in the adaptive learning market, Knewton has struggled to capitalize on its head start, despite bold statements about the power of its technology from previous leadership, said Feldstein. “The good news here is that the company seems to be moving away from former CEO Jose Ferreira’s deeply unfortunate characterization of the product as “a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind,” he said. Wiley, of Eduventures, said that it seemed the original excitement around Knewton “has somewhat died down. Our clients, for example, don’t really ask us about it much.”
Two of the biggest hurdles Knewton will need to overcome are a lack of awareness, and inertia, said Kibby. To overcome this, Kibby said that he has built a strong sales team with experience in education, who will be spending a lot of time on campuses. Establishing these campus relationships will likely be key to Knewton’s success, said Vignare, as other companies will already have strong ties with institutions.
As awareness of adaptive learning technology grows, Vignare warned that institutions would start to ask vendors tougher questions. Wiley agreed, saying that he expected many institutions to want to be able to customize every aspect of the technology. “Institutions we’ve spoken to, for example, want to have full access to the content, assessment and sequencing of a given tool. As you can imagine, vendors in this space may be loath to provide this for fear that allowing this may reduce their products to just a configurable set of algorithms,” he said.
Vignare warned that using adaptive learning technology successfully requires work. “You have to integrate it into your pedagogy. It can’t just be a system that sits alongside your course,” she said.Teaching With TechnologyEditorial Tags: Adaptive learningIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment:
Colleges across Southern California are suspending or canceling classes -- and, in some case, final exams -- as wildfires continue to ravage the region and disrupt daily life for affected residents. In addition to keeping their campuses and students safe, colleges are also having to deal with logistical issues brought on by delayed homework assignments and commutes disrupted by fires far away from campus.
Closures have ranged in length and time, but perhaps the most disruptive to students and faculty alike was at Thomas Aquinas College, a small, private liberal arts institution in Santa Paula, where the Thomas fire has been raging nearby. The college evacuated its students last week and opened this past weekend so that students could retrieve their belongings, though it remains closed. Final exams were canceled, and after some back-and-forth -- and considering sending final exams to students over break to do at home -- the institution decided it would hold this semester's final exams at the start of the next semester.
To accommodate the move, one week will be removed from the second semester, and professors will have to update their syllabi accordingly. The university has also modified its schedule, and residence halls will open early so that students have time to get to campus and study. Even with those adjustments, making all the exams fit in one week poses a logistical challenge for the university and students alike, so some exams will be optional.
"By holding exams when students return from the Christmas break, the college can preserve the benefit of common study. Also, since many of you were unable to retrieve your books from the campus before returning home for the Christmas break, having take-home exams would unfairly disadvantage those students who left without their books. Finally, having exams soon after experiencing the fire and evacuation would unnecessarily add to the stress and anxiety associated with final exams," John J. Goyette, Thomas Aquinas's dean, said in a statement.
Students have been instructed not to return to campus -- with an exception to pick up their belongings -- until next semester. Those who cannot immediately return are being accommodated on campus through Saturday.
On Sunday, the University of California, Santa Barbara, announced that finals scheduled for this week would be rescheduled for January. The university cited concerns about power outages that are disrupting technology services, confusion about a false report of an evacuation and other problems to state that going ahead with final exams had become "untenable."
Though many colleges closed for some period of time last week, most were hoping to be open again Monday.
Mount St. Mary’s University's main undergraduate campus is set to be closed to the general public from Monday through the rest of the semester, though students are able to access the campus to retrieve their belongings. The Los Angeles institution held final exams Friday, with more scheduled for Monday, at the institution’s second campus, though “professors also have discretion in how to best complete their courses this semester.”
Take care and have a safe weekend, everyone!
If there are any #SkirballFire updates we need to convey over the weekend, those will come via E-Alerts to our Mount community and posted publicly here: https://t.co/0edJj6Jh5g pic.twitter.com/jCsZEy9BsZ
Fires also mean students and faculty have to deal with the logistical struggle of homework assignments, or even showing up to class.
“Students unable to attend class Friday should notify their instructors, and employees unable to report for work should contact their manager. Faculty and supervisors are asked to continue providing latitude to students and employees affected by the fires,” California State University, Northridge, announced in a tweet. The institution had closed Thursday, but reopened Friday.
The University of California, Los Angeles, was safe from fires, but had to close last week because of how the disaster was affecting those trying to get to campus. As for how to handle the academic disruptions, the institution left it up to individual professors and departments.
“While the campus itself is safe, difficult traffic conditions continue to prevent many students, faculty and staff from reaching UCLA,” the university said in a statement published Wednesday. “Consequently, UCLA is canceling classes today that begin on or after noon. Students should check with their instructors or departments about making up class time or class work. Depending on how conditions change during the day we will have further instructions this afternoon.”
Also disrupted at some point by fires were institutions in the Ventura County Community College District; California State University, Channel Islands; California State University, San Marcos; Los Angeles Valley College; Los Angeles Mission College; Los Angeles Pierce College; Santa Monica College; and Palomar College.Editorial Tags: SafetyImage Source: Thomas Aquinas CollegeImage Caption: Smoke rises behind Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: