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New simulation study says peer review is better at assuring quality than random publication choices, but that some systems of review are better than others
Is it peer reviewed? A yes generally means that some experts, somewhere, think a given piece of research represents the best in its field. But a new study of peer-review processes within political science found that the majority of accepted papers will be evaluated by the average reader as below a journal’s publication standards.
The study, which looked at multiple systems of peer review using computational simulation, also found that all such systems allow random chance to play a strong role in acceptance decisions. A peer-review system in which an active editor has discretion over publication decisions (and does not rely solely on reviewer votes) can mitigate some of those effects, however.
“Does Peer Review Identify the Best Papers? A Simulation Study of Editors, Reviewers and the Scientific Publication Process” was written by Justin Esarey, an associate professor of political science at Rice University, and published this month by PS: Political Science and Politics (yes, it was peer reviewed). Esarey doesn’t allege that peer review is broken, but lists some of its documented shortcomings: it can miss major errors in submitted papers, leaves room for luck or chance in publication decisions, and is subject to confirmation bias among peer reviewers. Given those factors, he says, it’s “natural to inquire whether the structure of the process influences its outcomes.”
Since journal editors can choose the number of reviews they solicit, which reviewers they choose, how they convert reviews into decisions, and other aspects of the process, Esarey continues, “Do these choices matter, and if so, how?” It would be helpful for editors and authors in political science to know which practices -- if any -- improve a journal’s quality, the study says; it defines quality of a single publication therein as the average reader holistic ranking relative to the distribution of other papers.
Esarey relies on some assumptions, including that an editor solicits three blind reviews for each paper. He further assumes that editors assign papers to reviewers at random, conditional on expertise, and that potential reviewers' refusal has nothing to do with a paper’s quality. His computer model explicitly includes multiple reviewers with different but correlated opinions on paper quality and an editor who actively makes independent decisions using review advice, or an editor who merely follows the up-or-down votes of reviewers.
System of Peer Review
The study looks at four peer-review systems for acceptance to a journal: unanimity among votes (in which all three reviewers have to approve of a paper for publication); majority approval among reviewers; majority approval with editor’s participation as a fourth voter; and unilateral editorial decision-making based on reviewers’ substantive reports -- ignoring their votes.
Esarey began his analysis by looking at how each system corresponds with journal acceptance rates, based on a simulation involving 2,000 papers. He found that the probability of a manuscript being accepted is always considerably less than any individual reviewer’s probability of submitting a positive review.
Source: Justin Esarey
Esarey next wanted to know whether peer review would accept the best papers, based on disciplinary standards, despite mixed opinions from reviewers. He conducted a simulation similar to the first, but with a much bigger population of 50,000 papers and 500 readers, with a journal acceptance rate of about 10 percent. He then computed the average reader rating for all papers that were accepted for publication, and plotted the distribution of these values.
He ran the simulation twice, once for every review system as described and again under a system when the editor rejects half of all submitted papers before sending them out for review; the editor in the simulation rejected any paper deemed worse than the median paper in the population.
All systems produced distributions of published papers centered on a mean reader evaluation near 0.8, or the 80th percentile. So under every peer review system, a majority of papers were perceived by readers as being below that 10 percent threshold. A significant share of the published papers also had “surprisingly” low mean reader evaluations under every system, according to the study: approximately 12 percent of papers published under the majority voting system without desk rejection had reader evaluations of less than 0.65. That means that the average reader believes that such a paper is worse than 35 percent of other papers submitted.
That result is "surprisingly consistent with what political scientists actually report about the American Political Science Review, a highly selective journal with a very heterogeneous readership," Esarey says.
The best-performing system in the study was the unilateral editor decision system without desk rejection, meaning all papers were read by reviewers but the editor had final say about publication: just 6 percent of papers published under that system had reader evaluations under 0.65 (meaning that just 6 percent of papers were believed to be worse than 35 percent of other papers in the simulation population). If editors desk rejected 50 percent of papers under the unilateral editor system, that share fell to 1 percent.
Esarey notes that this system is similar to ones in which reviewers provide a qualitative written evaluation of a paper, but no up-down vote is taken (or where such a vote is ignored by an editor).
Room for Improvement
Simulated peer-review systems tended to accept papers that were better (on average) than rejected papers, meaning that peer review remains a filter through which the best papers are most likely to pass.
However, Esarey found that luck still plays a strong role in determining which papers are published under any system. In all systems, the highest-quality papers are the most likely to be published, but a paper that the average reader evaluates as being near the 80th percentage of quality (or 85th percentile in a system with desk rejection) has a chance of being accepted similar to a coin flip.
Esarey also found that journals' readership and review pools affected publication decisions: journals with a more homogenous readership, such as subfield-specific journals, tend to publish more consistently high-quality papers than journals with a heterogeneous readership. Examples of the latter include general-interest journals, some of which are highly ranked.
“When readers and reviewers have heterogeneous standards for scientific importance and quality, as one might expect for a general-interest journal serving an entire discipline like the American Political Science Review or American Journal of Political Science, chance will strongly determine publication outcomes, and even highly selective journals will not necessarily publish the work that its readership perceives to be the best in the field," Esarey says.
However, he adds, “we may expect a system with greater editorial involvement and discretion to publish papers that are better regarded and more consistent compared to other peer-review systems.” In particular, the study found that the system in which editors accept papers based on the quality reports of reviewers -- but not their up-or-down judgment -- after an initial round of desk rejection tends to produce fewer low-quality published papers compared to other systems examined.
"Our finding suggests that reviewers should focus on providing informative, high-quality reports to editors that they can use to make a judgment about final publication (and not focus on their vote to accept or reject the paper)," the paper says. "When a journal does solicit up-or-down recommendations, a reviewer should typically recommend [revision] or acceptance for a substantially greater proportion of papers than the journal’s overall acceptance target in order to actually meet that target."
Beyond process, Esarey says the strong relationship between reader and reviewer heterogeneity and journal quality "suggests that political scientists may want to reconsider their attitudes about the prestige and importance of general-interest journal publications relative to those in topically and/or methodologically specialized journals." While it would be premature to "radically reconsider" judgments about journal prestige and the tenure and promotion decisions they inform, he added, "perhaps one study is enough to begin asking whether our judgments are truly consistent with our scholarly and scientific standards."
While Esarey used his simulation to talk about political science, he told Inside Higher Ed that there's no reason it wouldn't apply to other fields. That is, the analysis itself is "totally agnostic" with respect to discipline, he said. Still, Esarey said that his findings imply that more heterogenous fields without a settled paradigm -- namely political science -- will have a peer review system that is "less efficient that more homogenous fields that do have a settled paradigm, like chemistry."
Editorial Tags: Political sciencePublishingIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Outsiders might think students at Des Moines Area Community College can be sure of one thing when they take a class with psychology professor Jane Martino: don’t bring pomegranates to class.
“No pomegranates,” she screamed at the class, repeatedly, in a video that has gone viral on Twitter and Reddit.
“Say it -- ‘No pomegranates.’ No, no, no, no, no pomegranates,” she yells, jumping up and down.
Martino’s tirade in the video, however, isn’t related to an actual classroom rule. It’s a lesson in negative reinforcement, and the over-the-top antics, she said, were all part of the lesson. Of course, that part of her class wasn't videotaped and shared.
“If you only tell kids what not to do, all you’re doing is filling their heads with garbage. Instead, if you say, ‘Hey how about a kiwi, shouldn’t we have a kiwi now,’ the kid might go, ‘OK.’ If you tell them what not to do, then that’s what’s going in,” Martino told a local NBC affiliate.
The video, however, doesn’t convey the underlying psychological principles of the exercise. Cut up and posted on the internet, it's a perfect mix for going viral, being both bizarre and seemingly inexplicable.
Far-right news site Breitbart ran an article on the video -- titled "Iowa Professor Goes on Bizarre Rant About Pomegranates" -- where commenters pounced on the notion of a screaming liberal professor.
“In my personal experience, psychology professors are all nuts,” the top comment reads. “Sociology professors hate society, and psychology professors hate themselves.”
In a later reply, a commenter calls social workers “left-wing nuts” and labels psychology “a joke.”
Those who have actually taken Martino’s classes, on the other hand, had positive things to say, telling the NBC affiliate that she treats them like family.
“Don’t judge someone by a little 20-second video. Just be sure to know the full details, and then after that you can actually judge them and see what you think is right and wrong," said Bernardo Pantoja, one of Martino's students.Editorial Tags: LifeTeachingImage Source: WikipediaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
ICDE’s world conference lands at the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto this week.
I am very much looking forward to the coming week in Toronto. I am not usually a great fan of very large conferences, but this one seems to be somewhat different, with a huge number of smaller, interactive sessions and few if any large keynotes given by old white men (yes, people like me) with lots of ‘telling’ and not much discussion.
Nevertheless, this old white man is pretty busy at this conference. In all, I have four formal sessions, as well as several informal functions.The national survey of online and distance education in Canadian post-secondary education
What: We will be launching the report on the national survey, briefly presenting the results, then discussing the implications. This is the first pan-Canadian survey of online learning of all public post-secondary institutions in Canada, universities AND colleges.
When: Tuesday, October 17, 4.00 pm, Osgoode West Room.
For more information on the survey: Go to: https://onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca/ to download the report; see also: Responses to the Canadian survey of online and distance learning.Three sessions on my book: Teaching in a Digital Age
What: I am doing three seminar-type sessions on my open, online textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, under the heading of Guidelines for Designing Teaching and Learning. If you wish to attend you are advised to read first the recommended chapters from the book (click on time and place links below for the recommended readings) if you have not already done so, as this will be more a discussion of the issues than formal presentations.
Building an Effective Learning Environment – How to Enable More Flexible Models of Learning Design to be Created and Applied
Making the Choice – How to Choose between Online, Blended or Campus-Based Delivery for Effective Learning
Choosing Media – How They Differ and How to Make the Best Choices for My Teaching
How Open Education Will Revolutionize Higher Education: The Impact of Open Research, Open Textbooks, OERs and Open Data on Course Design and Delivery
Ensuring Quality – How to Design and Deliver Quality Courses in a Supportive Learning EnvironmentPresentation 2:
General discussion of the design issues raised in the book.Networking
Perhaps the most important part of any conference like this is networking. If you want to connect, try texting me at 604-418-7484. It will be great to meet in person any of my blog or book readers!
Try to make it a coffee or lunch break, though, as I want to go to many of the other sessions.
Hope to see you at the conference!
After the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sponsored fake classes for nearly two decades, giving students, many of them athletes, credit for courses never taught by instructors, it will escape all punishment by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The ruling the association announced Friday has been publicly panned as going light in response to one of the worst academic scandals in college sports history, adding to what some observers say is mounting evidence of the NCAA’s continuing weakness in controlling and punishing its member institutions.
But after a three-and-half-year investigation, and despite the institution even agreeing that it had engaged in academic fraud, the NCAA said it couldn’t definitively conclude that the “paper courses” in the department of African and Afro-American studies had been designed and offered as an effort to benefit athletes alone. Thus, according to the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, which adjudicates allegations of wrongdoing, they did not violate the group's rules.
The university aggressively fought the NCAA's efforts to assert its authority in this case, spending roughly $18 million on legal and other fees. The NCAA's enforcement division, which essentially acts as the prosecutor in infractions cases, had charged North Carolina with "lack of institutional control" and "failure to monitor" its athletes' academic courses, among the most serious charges in the associations' rule book. But the infractions committee said it could not reach those findings because it did not have evidence to prove the underlying academic fraud charge.
Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and leader of infractions panel, said in a statement that his panel was "troubled by the university's shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus."
“However, NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership," his statement said.
In a conference call with reporters, Sankey acknowledged that “more likely than not,” the classes had been set up to keep athletes eligible, said that the evidence put before the committee did not prove so definitively.
“I think it’s important to understand the panel is in no way supporting what happened,” Sankey said.
Instead, the NCAA will forward its decision to the university's accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, which can address academic inconsistencies. Previously, the body had placed the university on a yearlong probation in 2015, ending in 2016, for violating seven accreditation standards, one of them being academic integrity. It was the strongest punishment the accreditor could deliver besides revoking accreditation entirely.
The NCAA was examining whether UNC had violated the association's restrictions on “extra benefits,” which refers to certain advantages, such as financial payments or academic assistance, that are offered to athletes but not the wider student body.
A 2014 report UNC commissioned did find that nonathletes also benefited from the classes. That report, which cited a “woeful lack of oversight” and a culture that confused academic freedom with lack of accountability, concluded that more than 3,100 UNC students enrolled in the courses. About half of those in the 188 faux classes were athletes. Investigators concluded that university employees were aware of the fraud and actively steered athletes and other struggling students to those courses.
The report details a plan by Deborah Crowder, a former manager in the Afro-American studies department, who was sympathetic to struggling students ("particularly athletes"), to help them. Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the department, delegated her significant responsibilities, enabling Crowder to set up classes that required only a single research paper, which she graded without much regard to its quality.
"Crowder felt a strong affinity for student athletes in particular, and she gave them ready access to these watered-down classes to help them manage their competing athletic and academic time demands," the report states.
Nyang'oro was handed down a relatively meaningless five-year show-cause order from the NCAA, meaning the now retired academic will find it difficult to secure a job in college athletics.
Asked by a reporter what the NCAA would consider a breach of the “extra benefits” rule -- whether the UNC case would have qualified if significantly more athletes than nonathletes had enrolled in the classes -- Sankey didn’t answer directly, saying he wanted to avoid hypotheticals.
Another reporter questioned the availability of the courses; while nonathletes enrolled, interviews the reporter conducted suggested that the classes weren't widely known or advertised.
In a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon, Mark Merritt, UNC's vice chancellor and general counsel, characterized the classes not as fraudulent, but rather lacking professorial oversight with easy grading -- akin to an independent study model, he said.
The university was not proud of the behavior but argued that it did not violate NCAA bylaws, Merritt said during the call.
"The university does not minimize the extent of the academic irregularities it experienced, even as it emphasizes that those matters are beyond the NCAA’s purview," UNC's lawyers stated in a letter to the NCAA last year in which it strongly disputed the NCAA's charges. "These matters concern fundamental institutional, not athletic, integrity, and they are not the proper subject of an NCAA enforcement action."
UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt in the afternoon call said she “expected” this outcome after the NCAA had reviewed the case, despite intense clashing between the association and the university.
When asked by a reporter whether Folt would support prospective NCAA legislation to make shadow courses like UNC’s a punishable offensive, she refused to answer, saying that the college accreditors were well equipped to handle academic fraud.
Folt said in an earlier statement Friday, “Carolina long ago publicly accepted responsibility for what happened in the past. One of the highest priorities of this administration has been to resolve this issue by following the facts, understanding what occurred and taking every opportunity to make our university stronger.”
Despite NCAA assertions that it was bound by its bylaws, it stepped in and levied harsh sanctions in one infamous case in which the institution didn’t violate one clear rule: Pennsylvania State University. In 2012, when the child molestation scandal involving the former coach Jerry Sandusky was at its peak, the NCAA circumvented its usual process of an independent panel assigning punishment, and its executive committee instead slammed the university with $60 million in fines -- then considered about a year’s worth of football revenue -- and vacated wins from 1998 onward.
At the time, athletics experts said they believed the move could launch a new era of NCAA enforcement, though back then, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, denied that it was “opening Pandora’s box.”
Marc Edelman, professor of law at Baruch College and a sports law specialist, said that the NCAA errs on the side of stricter sanctions when it wants to. Because the Penn State case received such an avalanche of negative press, the NCAA perceived it was politically prudent to act. If the association had cracked down in this case, it likely would have opened the possibility of investigations into similar practices at other big-name institutions, which is almost certainly happening, Edelman said.
In this case, Edelman said, UNC probably benefited from the recent scandal in the college basketball world, in which federal prosecutors last month announced bribery and corruption charges against four assistant or associate coaches at top-tier institutions, and a bevy of Adidas executives and others affiliated with the company. The FBI is continuing its investigation in the case, with hints that the fraud is much more widespread. Edelman said the association doesn't want to be engaging in pricey legal battles with multiple of its members.
Dave Ridpath, president of the athletics ethics watchdog Drake Group, called the NCAA and its ruling "shameful," and said that it demonstrates institutions can get away with academic fraud and game the system.
Ridpath said according to athletics directors and former members of the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions he spoke with, this was a clear and atrocious example of academic fraud. But ultimately, Ridpath said, he wasn't surprised.
"I don't think that the NCAA enforcement committee ever would have the guts to punish North Carolina," he said.
Because of the severity of the scandal, Ridpath said UNC would be eligible for the NCAA's harshest sanction, the "death penalty," which would mean shutting down the institution's athletics for at least one season. Such a punishment hasn't been levied since the 1980s, when it was used against Southern Methodist University, however, making a death penalty in this case unlikely.
The NCAA back then "felt like" harshly punishing the next institution to break the rules, Edelman said.
"People have to remember NCAA is a private trade association that is run and operated by its members," he said. "Despite what the NCAA proclaims on paper, the primary objective of this association for upwards of the past 30 years is to keep the revenues from college sports in the hand of its own voting members -- coaches and athletics directors … One would like to believe the NCAA is primarily concerned about the education of athletes, but that seems to take a secondary role."Editorial Tags: AthleticsBreaking NewsAd Keyword: NCAAIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Plans to restructure the University of Wisconsin System and merge many of its institutions are generating controversy, with the system’s president saying they are necessary, faculty members worrying they are being rushed and one expert likening the proposal to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
But in a state university system constantly buffeted by budget pressures and political battles in recent years, some also hope that the latest in a long line of changes has the potential to help students, even if it is far from perfect -- or even fully formed.
The UW System officially unveiled the planned changes Wednesday, shortly after they leaked to the press. The state’s two-year UW Colleges would be merged into four-year institutions in the same general geographic areas. Programs in the UW Extension would be moved to UW Madison and the system administration, and UW Colleges Online would move to the system administration.
That would mean 13 two-year colleges being slotted under the umbrella of seven four-year institutions. No physical campuses would be closed, with the two-year campuses instead functioning as branch campuses after the mergers’ completion. Two-year campuses would maintain their current tuition levels, and officials say they would be able to offer more upper-level and general education courses.
The separate Wisconsin Technical College System would not be affected by the UW System proposal. Nonetheless, the plans stand out as among the most ambitious public system merger attempts seen in recent years.
While several states, like Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut, have flirted with or pursued the idea of merging state institutions in recent years, systematic changes are virtually nonexistent. The best known example of mergers taking place is Georgia, where leaders pursued aggressive timelines but have launched consolidations in waves, only announcing a handful at any one time. That’s a stark contrast to the all-at-once approach being pursued in Wisconsin.
The changes are necessary because of a combination of budget pressures on higher education, demographic changes in Wisconsin and declining enrollment at UW’s two-year institutions, according to University of Wisconsin System leadership.
“We explored a lot of options, including just closing a few of them,” Ray Cross, UW System president, said in an interview. “The problem there is that these communities are so dependent on these campuses. So one of our premises was we must be able to find ways to maintain and preserve the university presence in these communities. It may not be as exhaustive as it was, but we need to find a way to do it.”
Merging the institutions is intended as a way to improve students’ access to college, Cross said. Some two-year campuses could add third and fourth years under programs at their new four-year affiliates. Students should find it easier to transfer to four-year programs.
The plan will go before the state Board of Regents in November for approval. Cross is proposing making the mergers effective July 1 of next year. But changes would stretch beyond that date.
“It will be a couple of years at least before we know where the fallout will be,” Cross said. “It will take a while to get there.”
The amount of money saved, changes in faculty numbers and changes to staff levels resulting from the restructuring have yet to be determined. But there will be budget savings, Cross said.
UW System leaders said that by 2040, population growth in the 18- to 64-year-old demographic -- a range of ages covering most students and workers -- is only expected to be 0.4 percent. At the same time, enrollment has been declining at the 13 different two-year UW colleges.
None of the colleges grew enrollment between 2010 and 2017. UW Rock County posted the smallest percentage decline, 28 percent, to 661.3 full-time-equivalent students. UW Manitowoc had the largest decline, 52 percent, to 250.7. Only one of the colleges, UW Waukesha, enrolled more than 1,000 full-time-equivalent students in 2017.
Faculty members at both two-year and four-year UW institutions worried that the process will be rushed. Some felt blindsided by a proposal they learned about mere weeks before it is set to go before the Board of Regents. They wondered about a tight timeline for implementing that plan.
“My primary concern is that the UW System administration is proposing such a sweeping overhaul without any stakeholder input, with very few details known and with very little time before the regents are supposed to vote on it,” said Nicholas Fleisher, an associate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, via email. “This is the kind of major reorganization that is supposed to take years of careful planning, with appropriate feedback and approval from governance groups, in a transparent manner. What we're seeing right now is the opposite on all counts.”
Fleisher believes cost cutting is the administration’s only reason for pursuing the restructuring.
The new restructuring would come just a few years after a leadership consolidation at the two-year colleges driven by state budget cuts in 2015. The previous round of changes combined leadership positions for the 13 campuses into four regional leaders in an attempt to save money and cope with state budget cuts.
Meanwhile, some say that the talk of changing demographics misses a larger point about the population in Wisconsin. While projections show the number of traditional-age white college students declining, the number of nonwhite high school graduates is expected to grow in coming years.
“When you look at it, really, what’s the issue with enrollment?” said Noel Tomas Radomski, managing director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education at UW Madison. “My hypothesis is that the colleges in particular that are close to the villages, towns and cities, they are not reaching out in different ways to first-generation white students, low-income whites, first-generation Hispanics, largely because they haven’t had to do that before.”
When the leadership centralization took place at the two-year colleges several years ago, many functions that used to be local were pushed up to regional or central offices, Radomski argues. That could hurt campuses’ ability to recruit local low-income and first-generation students.
Radomski believes the changes made in 2015 were poorly planned and implemented too quickly. Those mistakes are being repeated with the new plan, he said.
“We have a lot of youth who are graduating who, historically, they and their family haven’t gone to college,” Radomski said. “That is the real issue. We’re focusing on how we’re going to have branch campuses, and wham-bam, we’re going to have enrollment increases. My argument is we’re just moving chairs on the deck.”
Not only is the university system not recruiting appropriately for new types of students, but it is also not distributing enough state money to the colleges that need it most, Radomski argues. Still, he thinks the proposal has some potential.
Faculty members in leadership positions at institutions being merged took a nuanced view. Faculty at UW Green Bay were surprised, said Patricia Terry, a professor of engineering technology at the institution and chair of its University Committee, which functions as the executive committee for its Faculty Senate.
“None of us really knew this was coming down the pipeline until we heard about it yesterday,” Terry said. “There are some concerns about how the faculty at the now-satellite campuses are going to merge with the faculty at UW Green Bay.”
Professors at UW Green Bay have different responsibilities from their peers at the three campuses that will be merging into the institution, UW Manitowoc, UW Marinette and UW Sheboygan, Terry said. There are also different requirements for being hired as a faculty member at the various institutions.
Yet Terry believes the mergers could present opportunities once the kinks are worked out. They could allow UW Green Bay to grow its enrollment without stressing supporting resources, for example. If the curricula can be standardized between UW Green Bay and the two-year colleges being merged with it, students could be able to start at the two-year colleges, save money, and more easily transfer to UW Green Bay for their final two years with specialized courses.
Holly Hassel is a professor of English at UW Marathon County, a two-year college to be merged into UW Stevens Point. She is also the chair of the senate for faculty, academic staff and university staff at all UW Colleges, including UW Colleges Online.
“There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of concern,” Hassel said. “We’ve been in this structure of a single unified institution, the UW Colleges, for 40 years almost.”
Faculty members wonder whether the tenure they have earned will be honored in the merger, according to Hassel. The concern resonates in a state system where faculty members in recent years lost a bitter battle against changes they saw as weakening tenure protections.
But Hassel also mentioned optimism that the changes could benefit students. At some level, faculty may be exhausted from other fights and changes, like the battle over tenure and the UW Colleges administrative changes.
“I am actually surprised by the lack of faculty outrage,” Hassel said. “We’re kind of shell-shocked about it, but we’re going to try to keep it together because we have students who need us to. We’re trying to make it happen.”Editorial Tags: WisconsinImage Caption: Students at the University of Wisconsin SheboyganIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Leading into September, conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos had built up his near week-long event at the University of California, Berkeley, as a monumental moment, one that would help relinquish the “leftist” grip on academe. The ex-Breitbart editor touted a contingent of speakers from the more extreme edges of the right -- including Ann Coulter, who intended to appear on the campus in April but never followed through, and Steve Bannon, the controversial now former adviser to President Trump.
Yiannopoulos posted on Facebook an image of a crowd of students, conjuring the idea that a similar throng would descend on the university known as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. He declared, “It’s time to reclaim free speech at UC Berkeley and send shock waves through the American education system to every other college under liberal tyranny.” His press conference the day prior to the event on Sept. 24 was titled “eve of battle.”
The university planned accordingly. It had already had been caught off guard in February with Yiannopoulos’s first planned speech. Protests turned violent, with fires lit and stones hurled at law enforcement. Security was escalated for the so-called free speech week, with the university spending at least $800,000, but likely far more, the bulk being additional police presence. Invoices are still rolling in, a Berkeley spokesman said.
Yiannopoulos spoke for no more than 20 minutes -- far cry from the war scene he invoked.
The gathered crowd dispersed.
Other speakers he had promised never showed.
The university called his appearance largely “uneventful” and “brief.”
By every account, Yiannopoulos’s strike against what he considers the academic establishment fizzled, but it cost the institution just shy of $1 million -- more than what it spent on similar safety measures in three fiscal years combined. Less than two weeks before that, Berkeley had spent about $600,000 to ensure right-wing writer and commentator Ben Shapiro could address campus.
Next week, white supremacist Richard Spencer will speak at the University of Florida. Officials there estimate a drain of at least half a million dollars on the institution’s coffers, also on security.
Representatives from public institutions said they are meeting their constitutional obligation to provide a space for these speakers, but they remain relatively lost for a long-term strategy for paying for security. Colleges and universities can adjust after these appearances and consider trimming costs, but none interviewed have settled on any financially viable plan. And, likely, the tours of these political lightning rods will not slow.
“We need to examine this,” said Dan Mogulof, a Berkeley spokesman. “There’s a delicate balance that has to be maintained. There are commitments -- legal ones, constitutional, ethical, moral, programmatic and operational -- all of those are factors, all of those elements have definitely [been] impacted by recent events.”
Though inflammatory speakers are nothing new on campuses, the tactics of Yiannopoulos, Coulter and others -- deliberately targeting colleges and their students -- seems to have intensified in the last year. Notably, in December 2016, Spencer, who helped coin the term “alt-right” to describe a movement characterized by racist, anti-Semitic and white nationalist views, came to Texas A&M University to launch a nationwide series of visits to colleges. The university shelled out about $60,000 for his appearance, said Amy B. Smith, Texas A&M spokeswoman -- not cheap compared to other events there, but not close to the hundreds of thousands other universities have paid, perhaps because it was one of the first.
“There were some of these things. This was one of the largest and most controversial out of the gate compared to other schools,” Smith said. “There were some before that, but all eyes were on us to get it right.”
Nine months later came Charlottesville, Va.
Spencer once again roiled a campus, the University of Virginia, in August, but this time he brought with him torch-wielding followers, who marched the grounds chanting Nazi refrains. One of the white nationalists is now charged with driving into a crowd in the city and killing a counterprotester the next day.
Afterward, Spencer would try to rally on campuses again -- among them Texas A&M and the University of Florida. They rejected him, with the institutions citing security concerns, in part because organizers of his prospective events had publicly linked them to the Charlottesville protests. “Today Charlottesville, tomorrow Texas A&M,” a press release read. Lawyers have said in interviews the institutions had legal grounds to block Spencer, though Florida eventually reconsidered.
To avoid a repeat of Charlottesville, college leaders have likely been overly cautious and want to ensure and pay for adequate security, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.
“The penalty for underpreparing is significant,” Kruger said. “If there are injuries, and there’s a reputational risk to campus, if you evaluate and you ask, ‘Why didn’t you do that?’ and the answer is ‘we don’t know’ or ‘it was too expensive,’ well, that’s not an appropriate response.”
UVA’s postmortem report on the rally in August found that the city and university didn’t have enough officers to handle the demonstration and that certain policies weren’t enforced that would have curtailed the white nationalists' activities.
The University of Florida, meanwhile, has prepped significantly for Spencer’s Oct. 19 talk -- and done so quite visibly. It published a question and answer page online that address everything from how much the event will cost to whether buildings will be shut down and the reasoning behind allowing him on campus.
Spokeswoman Janine Sikes refused to break down the more than $500,000 in expenditures, saying the details could reveal confidential security information. She cited exemptions in state public records laws that allow the institution to withhold such information. Sikes also declined to set up further interviews -- “in the throes of craziness, this is not something we’re going to talk about.”
But she said that the University of Florida's president believes that it’s important to permit outsiders to rent campus facilities. Few such large-scale venues exist in Gainesville, where the university is located, Sikes said.
“This university cannot sustain these kinds of costs going forward; some kind of decision has to be made on how that gets weighed,” Sikes said. “It hasn’t been argued and weighed at this point, and it’s an obvious question that needs to be answered.”
Colleges also can’t pass the bill along to the speaker, either. A Supreme Court case, Forsyth County, Georgia v. The Nationalist Movement, decided in 1992, ruled that the government can’t charge unreasonably high security fees -- it’s possibly a way to restrict speech based on its popularity.
“Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob,” Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote in the case.
Kruger, of NASPA, said institutions face a budgetary dilemma: paying for both their core educational mission and the new expense of these costly outsiders -- “it’s an expensive proposition, and there’s no easy answer.”
Institutions in theory could adopt some sort of policy that would cap spending for these types of events, but drafting a legally sound one could prove difficult, said Adam Goldstein, a lawyer and legal fellow with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a higher education-centric free speech watchdog group.
Public universities have restricted speakers, setting rules, for example, that forbid outside parties from renting a building without the sponsorship of a student group. Texas A&M added this requirement after Spencer’s appearance last year. Many speakers, though, however extreme, can often find a student group to issue an invitation.
A financial ceiling would need to be objective with regard to potential speakers, and be reasonable, narrow and defined, Goldstein said. Complicating matters is what is considered “reasonable,” he said.
“There are standards that can determine the likelihood of a disruption. Insurance companies have a pretty big list of these -- presence of alcohol, motorized vehicles -- any one of these might change the analysis for how many officers you might need,” Goldstein said.
Determining the number of personnel needed for an event isn’t formulaic, so nor will the cost be, said William Mathews, assistant chief of police for city of Auburn, Ala., which provides law enforcement for Auburn University. Spencer spoke there in April, backed by court order after the institution had canceled his talk and a student sued on Spencer's behalf.
Mathews said he could not identify how much was set aside for security and requested a reporter file a public-records request. He also said he could not discuss how many officers were needed for the event, only that additional men and women were pulled from agencies at all levels -- local and state. Auburn also relied on Federal Bureau of Investigation information on possible threats, he said.
Before Spencer’s arrival, the university anticipated and paid for the worst-case scenario, though that never materialized, Mathews said. Officials had heard that additional buses would arrive from both from the state’s capital and Atlanta -- they never did.
“You plan for the worst-case scenario based on what you know at the time,” he said. “Maybe you are going overboard and [will] not need them, but you might need them badly.”
Auburn’s event did not result in broad property damage or bloodied fists (though at least three people were arrested) -- a relative success, Mathews said. The officers allowed those supporting Spencer and those protesting him to mingle, to scream in the other’s faces to release a bit of tension -- but it’s not something he would advise in the current climate.
“The mood has changed,” he said.
Because most institutions, such as Florida and Auburn, hesitate to release detailed security spending because it could compromise future events, what exactly they’re buying can be a little unclear.
Berkeley though, offered a deeper analysis of costs associated with Yiannopoulos’s visit in February and preparation for Coulter’s planned April visit (see table) that indicate more and more is being pulled from the university budget -- and that policies are not designed to accommodate what Mogulof called a “quantum leap” in the money needed for these speakers.
The university spent almost $269,500 for Yiannopoulos and more than $664,220 on Coulter, largely on outside police.
Mogulof stressed, too, that the safety costs in the current fiscal year, which began in July, will far outnumber previous years -- and it’s only October. In fiscal 2016, for instance, Berkeley spent a little more than $142,000. Typically it sets aside about $300,000 in contingency money for security, Mogulof said.
In fiscal 2009, the university spent $1.5 million, but that record will likely be broken. That’s when the university accounted for the money spent on dealing with a sit-in for campus oak trees, in which protesters climbed among their branches to prevent them from being cut down to make way for a new athletic center.
Now the costs are being divided between Berkeley and the University of California System’s Office of the President, but Mogulof wasn’t sure of the split.
A commission will be formed to study the university response to controversial speakers, Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ announced last month -- and it could examine the option of a policy to limit spending, Mogulof said. For now, the university has reached a degree of calm as procedures require an eight-week notice for any campus speaker -- no one is in the pipeline.
In the interim, the university will consider different possible venues that could hold the possibility of reduced security for the future, Mogulof said, declining to elaborate further.
Berkeley owns buildings away from the main area of campus that could accommodate speakers, though historically some have publicly scolded universities for attempting to hide them away from students.
Mogulof also said that not every speaker will generate the same buzz -- liberal-leaning figures simply tend not to attract the same level of divisiveness, he said, and some speakers come with a more insidious mission, to ignite campus fury rather than a dialogue. Shapiro, spoke, took questions and simply left, Mogulof said -- not so with Yiannopoulos.
“Spending -- it’s really a Band-Aid, it’s spending on security that’s a symptom of a deeper and more profound problem,” Mogulof said. “For many of these speakers, it’s the backlash they generate. The security is necessitated not by the words themselves, but reaction to the rhetoric and the speaker.”Editorial Tags: Student lifeImage Caption: White nationalist Richard Spencer addresses Auburn University students in April. He will speak at the University of Florida next week.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Randall Stross earned his bachelor's degree from a liberal arts college and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Chinese history. His career path, however, does not fit the stereotype offered up regularly by politicians and pundits that those who focus on the liberal arts are destined for careers as baristas. He is a professor of business, teaching courses on business and society and on strategy at San Jose State University. And Stross believes a liberal arts education is the best preparation for college students -- including those who aspire to work in business and other areas seemingly far from the liberal arts.
He makes the case in A Practical Education: Why Liberal Arts Majors Make Great Employees (Stanford University Press). In the book, Stross particularly focuses on the career success of humanities majors. Via email, he answered questions about his book and the state of the liberal arts.
Q: What prompted you to write this book?
A: Once I arrived for the first day of kindergarten, I never left school. I went to Macalester College and received an outstanding education, double majoring in history and in Chinese and Japanese languages and cultures. But I knew I was headed to a Ph.D. program in modern Chinese history at Stanford and I never confronted the Great Unknown After Graduation. The book arises from my recent wish to learn about the experiences of those braver than me, who major in the liberal arts and with nothing more than a bachelor’s degree in hand, head out in the marketplace. For this project, I selected graduates who had overcome a higher degree of difficulty in landing well than would economics majors: I ended up only looking at humanities majors, who had sought professional jobs outside of teaching and that had no visible connection to the content of the major. No English majors who ended up in corporate communications, for example. I sought out those like the religious studies major profiled in the first chapter, who would end up as a professional programmer and today is the chief executive of a cloud software company.
Q: Many admissions leaders at liberal arts colleges report increasing difficulty in making the case for the liberal arts. What is your advice for them?
A: If it seems difficult to make the case now, imagine how difficult it would have been in the depths of the Great Depression, when the unemployment rate was 16 percent and headed for 24 percent and market demand for liberal arts majors had evaporated. The talk in the air was of the need for more vocational education. Yet William Tolley, in his inaugural address as the president of Allegheny College, did not falter. He made the case for a broad liberal education in 1931 whose contemporary relevance should hearten all of us who advocate for liberal education. “Specialists are needed in all vocations, but only as long as their vocations last, and vocations have a tendency now to disappear almost overnight,” he observed. He reasoned that in an ever-changing world the broad knowledge covered at a liberal arts college is “the finest vocational training any school can offer.” The argument is no less powerful today. But to make it seem well grounded, admissions leaders should have at their fingertips stories to share of graduates who left their schools with liberal arts majors and have gone on to interesting professional careers.
Q: Politicians seem to love to bash the liberal arts, asking why various majors are needed. How should educators respond?
A: Many politicians -- perhaps most politicians -- view the labor marketplace in terms defined entirely by “skills”: employers need workers equipped with specific skills; students either arrive with those skills or lack those skills. This is new, historically speaking. In a bygone era, 60 years ago, many large corporations hired college graduates in bulk, paying little heed to their majors, and spent the first years training the new hires themselves. So the defense of the liberal arts today must be delivered using the vocabulary of “skills.” Fortunately, conscientious students in the liberal arts can demonstrate great skill in many things: learning quickly, reading deeply, melding information from diverse sources smoothly, collaborating with others effectively, reasoning logically, writing clearly. I will resist the temptation to point out the apparent absence of these skills among those who are doing the bashing.
Q: What information about career options should liberal arts colleges (or departments with liberal arts majors at institutions with a range of programs) provide?
A: I’ve become convinced that conventional career counseling -- setting out the most traveled paths for a given major -- has not been particularly helpful to students. The well-trod destinations are obvious to students anyhow, and the opportunities that they remain unaware of are best uncovered by the students’ own investigations in the real world. Career centers can best help by redoubling their efforts to enlist alumni to serve as peer counselors: current students listen to recent graduates with the greatest interest. In the book, I call attention to how a number of the students I followed found first jobs via connections that were not found through the career center, or even through roommates or the closest of friends, but from less than closest of friends. (This was nicely anticipated long ago in sociologist Mark Granovetter’s “The Strength of Weak Ties” published in 1973.) One student, a history major, would be most helped in landing a job at Google by a woman for whom she babysat.
Q: Many employers say they care more about skills such as critical thinking, ability to work in a team, ability to write well, etc., more than a major. These factors should boost confidence in liberal arts study. Why hasn’t that been the case?
A: Chief executives tend to advocate for hiring graduates with the analytical and communication skills that a liberal education sharpens, but the managers or teams who make the actual hiring decisions have in recent years sought instead something else, what they like to call the ability of a new hire “to hit the ground running.” This drastically shrinks the pool of prospective candidates. It’s also shortsighted in its failing to acknowledge the usefulness of having more people who, once they have learned what they need to about the particularities of an entry-level position, are going to be able to make more creative, or more clearly explained, contributions on day 180 compared to many of their running-on-day-one peers. I hope that the detailed stories of 10 humanities majors who were able to make outsize contributions in their first professional jobs will serve to nudge more hiring teams at other companies to expand their nets and give liberal arts majors the chance to show how quickly they can learn and what they then will be able to do.New Books About Higher EducationEditorial Tags: BooksLiberal artsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The way kids these days dance is, quite frankly, indecent and without any modesty. It’s a reflection of the times, and how the world and its governing morals are degrading.
The above is not about the year 2017, but rather is paraphrased from The London Times’s description of the introduction -- and growing popularity of -- the waltz, more than 200 years ago.
“We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the ‘waltz’ was introduced (we believe for the first time at the English Court on Friday last),” the Times wrote in its warning about the new, crass dance which involved “the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure of the bodies.”
“This is a circumstance which ought not to be passed over in silence. National morals depend on national habits,” the paper wrote, according to an excerpt from 1816 reprinted in the 2009 book The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances.
Older generations have been complaining about younger generations for all of human history, argues Brent Roberts, a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In a new study, co-authored by Roberts, his research pushes back against the assertion that there is a wave or epidemic of narcissism among younger generations, particularly college students.
Young people do tend to be more narcissistic than their older peers, the paper found. But according to the study, titled “The Narcissism Epidemic Is Dead; Long Live the Narcissism Epidemic,” to be published in the journal Psychological Science, people grow out of those higher levels of narcissism. Higher levels of narcissism are not so much generational as they are related to static age groups, no matter which generation is currently in them.
Current college students, who on average score a few points higher on the Narcissism Personality Inventory, Roberts said, will likely eventually grow up to become the older, less narcissistic generation, and perhaps themselves scowl at future youngsters.
Growing up in the 1970s, Roberts remembers being a member of what was called the “Me” generation by cultural critics at the time.
“We didn’t have any values and mores like the great generation which came before us and fought the world wars. We were running around during the ’60s and ’70s being indulgent,” he said, describing the commentary at the time. Then, in the 2000s, there was another narcissism epidemic, according to some researchers, and the generation coming of age was full of unusually narcissistic individuals as well.
But rather than generation upon generation of narcissists, Roberts said it’s just a facet of youth. In fact, according to his study, narcissism among current college students has slightly decreased since the 1990s, when controlling for different interpretations of questions on the Narcissism Personality Inventory.
The NPI pairs two statements next to each other -- such as "I insist upon getting the respect that is due me" and "I usually get the respect that I deserve" -- and asks the user to pick which one applies best.
Roberts and the co-authors used data collected in 1992 and 1996, combining for a total of just over 1,150 students from the University of California, Berkeley, for the cohort of students from the 1990s. For the 2000s, the researchers used data from about 33,650 students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of California, Davis. For the cohort of students in college between 2010 and 2015, data from 25,412 students at those same two institutions were used.
The average NPI scores of all three cohorts were relatively similar -- scoring about 15 or 16 points on a scale that goes up to 40. Grandparents, on the other hand, score around 12.
“By average, you’re going to be more narcissistic than most people who are older than you,” Roberts said of traditional college-age students. “But your generation is no more narcissistic than prior generations at the same age.”
Additionally, the study found, when controlling for potential changes in interpretations of the NPI questions over the years, there has actually been a slight decrease in narcissism among college students since the 1990s.
W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia and co-author of the 2010 book The Narcissism Epidemic, said that Roberts’s research was interesting, although it wasn’t an exact replica of his and Jean Twenge’s research. Twenge is a psychology professor at the University of San Diego and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic.
“The term ‘narcissism epidemic’ is from a book Jean and I wrote that spent about five pages on increases in trait narcissism and the rest on cultural changes (changes in word use in books and song lyrics, changes in naming practices toward more individualism, increasing rates of cosmetic surgery, larger home sizes, etc.),” Campbell said via email. “This research is irrelevant to these cultural changes, most of which are simple to replicate with open data.”
The answer to why older generations have repeatedly judged younger generations negatively, of course, is another question altogether.
While there are generational differences in how people think and act, Roberts said, older people can often conflate those actual differences with differences that are simply factors of youth, such as, he would argue, narcissism. And while some displays associated with the narcissism and shallowness of youth are particularly visible these days, such as smartphones and social media, for example, Roberts points out that they are often used the same way that rotary phones or mail were used: to communicate with friends.
“We’re using these tools the same way we use old tools,” he said. “To check in with our friends. The fact that we check in with our friends more often, does that make us more narcissistic?”Editorial Tags: Student lifeImage Source: Getty ImagesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Tens of thousands of people have applied for or expressed interest in New York's free public college tuition program since it was announced earlier this year. And now that the academic year has started and those who qualified for the Excelsior Scholarship have begun classes, some colleges and universities are beginning to see the early effects of the program.
But those impacts may depend on how much one requirement of the program -- attending full-time -- plays out at different institutions. Even though part-time enrollments predominate at many two-year institutions across the country, the opposite is true in New York State. In the City University of New York system, more than 58,000 students attended full-time last year compared to more than 26,000 part-time degree-seeking students. At the State University of New York’s 64 campuses, 54 percent of students attended full-time last year compared to 46 percent of students who attended part-time.
"Excelsior is a very new program and its impact is emerging," said Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College, part of CUNY, via email. The scholarship covers families with annual incomes of up to $100,000 this year, but by 2019 it will cover students from families with incomes of up to $125,000 per year. At the state's community colleges, the income cap is not expected to be much of a factor.
LaGuardia had 494 students qualify to receive the last-dollar scholarship, of which 229 students will actually receive the award. Last dollar means students receive Excelsior after all other federal and state aid has been used. In total, nearly 2,500 students at CUNY's seven community colleges applied for the scholarship, with 1,081 students likely to receive the award.
Although the college cautions that it's too early to make direct correlations, there are some early signs pointing to a possible Excelsior effect on enrollment. Full-time enrollment at the college has increased by 5.2 percent compared to this time last year -- going from 12,641 to 13,298. At LaGuardia, 54 percent of degree-seeking students attend full-time.
New York's focus on offering free tuition to full-time students only highlights a national trend to encourage and incentivize students to pursue more than 12 credits a semester, because research has indicated that full-time status is a great indicator of graduation.
"We have seen an uptick in student interest in LaGuardia and more and more students asking about Excelsior at high school fairs and college tours," Mellow said. "It is helping to create a college-going culture."
Mellow said the program will need to be refined to fully address the needs of low-income students who can't attend full-time because they have to work or attend to other responsibilities.
But that impact on enrollments isn't visible everywhere.
"We're noticing the Excelsior Scholarship program is more beneficial for students going to four-year institutions," said Manuel Romero, executive director of public affairs for the Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of CUNY. "We are continuing to promote and support Excelsior, so, of those students who self-reported [as] Excelsior eligible, we want to provide them with the information they need."
At BMCC, 772 students received the scholarship, but 68 percent of the college's students already attended full-time last year, compared to 32 percent who attended part-time.
Meanwhile, just north of Binghamton is the State University of New York's Broome Community College. That institution saw nearly 400 students qualify for the scholarship, but after other financial aid was distributed, only 185 students were awarded Excelsior. The college has more than 6,000 students.
"We haven't seen a big change yet," said Broome President Kevin Drumm.
The college averages about 60 percent full-time enrollment and 40 percent part-time, he said, adding that Broome, along with other upstate community colleges, has seen slight increases in part-time enrollments among non-degree-seeking students, but they attribute that that to the good economy.
Drumm said the larger question will be the cultural effects the scholarship will have on long-term demographics. Because despite community college being tuition-free for a long time for many low-income students, now whole families, neighborhoods and communities have gotten the "free message."
The state's legislators didn't approve the program until April, which for many students was in the middle or toward the end of their college search and application process, so many had already made decisions about whether they were going to college, Drumm said.
"Next year at this time will be much more telling, because students now have a whole year to think about it," he said. "This year the guidance offices are up to speed and families will have an entire college application season."Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Financial aidImage Caption: SUNY Broome Community CollegeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
There has hardly been an easier target for disdain in higher education circles than the federal graduation rate produced through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The federal government's primary data collection vehicle for higher education is both essential and subpar, particularly when it comes to measuring how students move into and through the postsecondary ecosystem.
The graduation rate, whose importance as an accountability measure for institutions has spiked along with the U.S. government's spending on student financial aid, has been rightly derided as flawed because it has included only those students who enroll full-time and are entering college for the first time (leaving out the ever-increasing numbers of part-time students and those who switch colleges or return as adults). At many community colleges and other institutions that serve large numbers of older students, particularly, the graduation rate has ranged from misleading to virtually useless. ("Flawed" is one of the kinder things you'll hear it called.)
Today, the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics unwraps a revision of the IPEDS database that will expand the government's tools for measuring postsecondary outcomes, especially for the students who, for lack of a better term, are frequently called "nontraditional" (even though they now outnumber the "traditional" 18- to 22-year-olds).
While the changes are partial and leave many policy makers wanting more -- most of which cannot be accomplished unless and until the federal government ends its ban on collecting student-level data -- they are widely seen as a vast improvement.
"This is a step in the right direction, and it's a big step forward for community colleges, particularly," said Andrew Nichols, director of higher education research and data analytics at the Education Trust, which advocates for low-income and minority students.
Among the most significant changes: for the first time, the government is publishing completion data for part-time and non-first-time students at every two- and four-year degree- or certificate-granting institution, providing a new tool (beyond the existing graduation rate) for gauging institutions' performance. In addition, IPEDS will supplement the existing graduation rate data by providing information on Pell Grant recipients at every college or university that awards federal financial aid.
And in perhaps the most interesting finding from this first (preliminary) release of data, students who were enrolled full-time (but were not first-time enrollees in college) and were seeking a degree or certificate were likelier to earn a credential within eight years than were full-time, first-time students at public four-year, public two-year and for-profit institutions. In other words, transfer students appeared to outperform their peers who started at their colleges right out of high school.
Decade in the Making
The just-released government data have their roots in legislation from nearly 10 years ago. The 2008 bill that extended the Higher Education Act of 1965 created a panel called the Committee on Measures of Student Success, which was charged with advising the Education Department specifically on how to improve the measures of success for two-year institutions. Community college leaders had long complained that by counting only full-time, first-time students, the federal graduation rate ignored many if not most of their students, and that by gauging success only by the awarding of a degree or credential, the government shortchanged a significant part of their mission -- preparing students for transfer.
The panel's recommendations set in motion a years-long process in which federal officials worked with researchers and higher ed leaders to refine a set of measures to capture more fully the extent to which students with different backgrounds and traits navigate higher education.
The result can be seen both in changes to the graduation rate and, most significantly, in the brand-new Outcome Measures section.
Beginning today, the downloadable IPEDS data for every degree- and certificate-granting college or university will include the six-year graduation rate for recipients of Pell Grants and subsidized Stafford Loans as well as for other types of students. This is designed to give policy makers a better sense of how colleges are faring with students whose educations the federal government is helping to subsidize.
"Adding Pell students to this was critically important to understanding the outcomes for economically disadvantaged students," said Richard Reeves, chief of the postsecondary branch at the National Center for Education Statistics.
The broader changes, however, are in the new Outcome Measures section, the data for which are available for every degree- and certificate-granting institution.
Each public, private and for-profit two-year and four-year institution is now reporting data about all students who entered a degree or certificate program, whether or not they are enrolled full-time or are first-time students. For each of those cohorts -- full-time first time, part-time first time, full-time non-first time, and part-time non-first time -- institutions report after eight years the number and proportion of students who (a) completed the credential, (b) were still enrolled, (c) had enrolled at another institution or (d) had unknown whereabouts.
The national data that emerge from those institutional reports are interesting. First, many more students are captured by the expanded analysis; public four-year institutions report 1,059,814 full-time, first-time students in the 2008 cohort, and 1,722,764 students over all. "This gives us a lens to look at about 650,000 additional people at those institutions alone," said Reeves.
Second, as seen in the table below, at most types of institutions, students who are enrolled full-time but are not enrolled in college for the first time are likelier to earn a credential within eight years than are their peers. That's true for two-year and four-year public institutions and two-year and four-year private for-profit colleges, but not for private nonprofit institutions. For instance, while 56.4 percent of full-time, first-time credential-seeking students at four-year public institutions earned a credential from that institution within eight years, 66.4 percent of non-first-time, full-time students did.
That might be because the returning students had transferred significant numbers of credits from their previous institutions or were more experienced at navigating through higher ed than their peers who started fresh. But this is likely to be a finding -- assuming the data are accurate, since these initial reports haven't been fully scrubbed by NCES -- that researchers are going to want to dig into.
What Hasn't Changed, and Can't (Without New Laws)
The IPEDS changes have been a long time coming, and experts on higher education data generally praised them. "We applaud the Education Department for doing what they can," said Elise Miller, vice president for research and policy at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (and a former expert on IPEDS at the Education Department).
Implicit in Miller's response -- echoed in the reactions of numerous analysts interviewed Wednesday -- is the reality that the department has done as much as it can given the constraints it is operating under.
While praising these changes, all of them cited various limitations of the data. Nichols, of Education Trust, for instance, noted that the outcome measures gauge whether students completed the credential they were specifically seeking (in other words, for example, whether students who came in seeking a bachelor's degree settled for a certificate).
Miller, of APLU, pointed out that unlike the Student Achievement Measure (SAM) -- a collaborative student-tracking effort among higher education associations and the National Student Clearinghouse -- even the updated IPEDS does not offer any insights into what happens to students who transfer across institutional and state lines. And also unlike the SAM effort, how institutions track students isn't done in a consistent way. "Progress but not perfection" is how she described the IPEDS improvements.
What would produce something closer to perfection? "You can't get there from an outcome measure survey," she said. Colleges and universities "can't report what they don't know," and the only way they could really know where students go after they leave the institution is through some kind of national student-level data system -- which Congress years ago barred the federal government from creating, citing privacy and other concerns.
"They're doing what they can within the current statute," Miller said. "But if we really want to report on student outcomes, we need to change the statute."Assessment and AccountabilityNational Accountability SystemsEditorial Tags: AssessmentEducation DepartmentIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Chief Justice John Roberts calls data on gerrymandering 'sociological gobbledygook.' Sociology fires back
When you come for the social sciences, you’d better come correct. That’s what the president of the American Sociological Association telegraphed to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts this week, in response to Roberts’s recent reference to social science data as “sociological gobbledygook.”
In an era when “facts are often dismissed as ‘fake news,’ we are particularly concerned about a person of your stature suggesting to the public that scientific measurement is not valid or reliable and that expertise should not be trusted,” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, president of the association and a professor of sociology at Duke University, wrote to Roberts in an open letter. “What you call ‘gobbledygook’ is rigorous and empirical.”
Roberts’s jab at sociology came during Oct. 3 oral arguments in the high-court case Gill v. Whitford, which relates to partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Paul M. Smith, a lawyer for the appellees, a group of state Democrats opposed to what they deem to be excessively partisan drawing of electoral districts, argued that “this is a cusp of a really serious, more serious problem as gerrymandering becomes more sophisticated with computers and data analytics and a -- and an electorate that's very polarized and more predictable than it's ever been before.”
Smith added, “If you let this go, if you say this is -- we're not going to have a judicial remedy for this problem; in 2020, you're going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen.”
In his eventual reply, Roberts said that “the whole point is you’re taking these issues away from democracy and you're throwing them into the courts pursuant to, and it may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook.”
Later, Justice Stephen Breyer echoed Roberts when he asked, “Can you answer the chief justice's question and say the reason they lost is because if party A wins a majority of votes, party A controls the Legislature. That seems fair. And if party A loses a majority of votes, it still controls the Legislature. That doesn't seem fair. And can we say that without going into what I agree is pretty good gobbledygook?”
Both the phrasing and the sentiment were perhaps surprising for Roberts, a Harvard College alumnus who majored in history, which straddles the humanities and the social sciences. In any case, the idea of sociological data as “gobbledygook” annoyed a number of academics, who took to Twitter in rebuke. Some pointed out that data on gerrymandering was political science, not sociology.
Justice Roberts: Political science is “sociological gobbledygook.” We MUST learn more effective public engagement. https://t.co/FSG3SaQq8v— Jennifer Victor (@jennifernvictor) October 4, 2017
The gobbledygook Roberts was talking about was pretty simple math of segregation and representation, not complex or experimental methods— Philip N Cohen (@familyunequal) October 11, 2017
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Philip Rocco, an assistant professor of political science at Marquette University, wrote that Roberts's comment suggested that Americans don't trust a judicial decision based on social science. But Roberts's questions "downplay how social science has helped the court understand complex and historically significant issues," he said. In the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education opinion, for example Chief Justice Earl Warren relied heavily on social science research by Kenneth Clark to refute the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal."
More recently, he said, "a study of judicial reasoning in same-sex marriage cases concluded that 'most judges appeared to be savvy consumers of social scientific evidence, not easily duped by the misleading operationalization of core concepts, analytic procedures that failed to include proper statistical controls or easily disproved claims of lack of scientific consensus.' Social science can indeed make the difference at the Supreme Court."
Bonilla-Silva went old-school, opting for an open letter. In it, he included “just a few examples” -- contributed by association members -- of the impact sociological research has had on the lives of Americans. They include evidence that separate is not equal (to Rocco's point), early algorithms for detecting credit-card fraud, mapped connections between racism and physiologic stress response, and network analysis to identify and thwart terror structures and capture terrorists.
Some additional evidence, according to ASA: pay grades and reward systems that improve retention among enlisted military personnel, modern public opinion polling, data on gender discrimination in the workplace, family factors that impact outcomes for children, guidance of police in defusing high-risk encounters, and strategies for combatting public health crises such as drug abuse.
The “gobbledygook” comment is not the first time people in government have challenged the legitimacy or the value of the social sciences. But most policy makers tend to reserve their criticisms for the humanities. Then-presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s “We need more welders and less [sic] philosophers” and former President Obama’s “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree” come to mind, for example. (Obama subsequently apologized.)
In closing, Bonilla-Silva wrote that ASA was sure social scientists and legal scholars at Roberts’s alma mater “would be disappointed to learn that you attributed your lack of understanding of social science to your Harvard education.” Should Roberts be interested in furthering his education, Bonilla-Silva added, “we would be glad to put together a group of nationally and internationally renowned sociologists to meet with you and your staff.”
And given the “important ways in which sociological data can and has informed thoughtful decision making from the bench, such time would be well spent, he added, directing Roberts to ASA’s executive director, Nancy Kidd.
Kidd said Wednesday that Roberts had yet to take ASA up on the invitation.FacultyEditorial Tags: SociologyImage Source: TwitterIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Columbia University has become the latest institution to have an invited speaker interrupted by protesters, with a speaker invited by the College Republicans chapter being effectively shut down Tuesday night. Wednesday evening, students at the University of Michigan blocked part of a talk by Charles Murray, the social scientist whose spring appearance at Middlebury College -- where he was shouted down -- set off national discussions of tolerance for controversial speakers.
Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islam activist from the United Kingdom, was slated to speak via video chat at an event open to anyone with a Columbia ID. Protesters both shouted him down and peppered him with questions.
Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, bills himself as anti-extremist but has been affiliated with various anti-Islam activist groups over the years, and called the Quran “a violent and cursed book” on Good Morning Britain over the summer. Currently, he’s a contributor for The Rebel, a conservative media outlet.
Video of the protest, posted to YouTube and embedded below, show protesters chanting “Go home Nazi scum” and holding signs reading “Stop pretending your racism is patriotism.”
Answering questions from protesters, Robinson alleged there were only 50 Nazis in Britain, while there were “23,000 Muslims on the terror watch list.” The 23,000 number appears to have come from the number of people designated as “subjects of interest” at some time by anti-terrorism authorities in the U.K., although the range of time that number covers, as well as the religious affiliations of those people, are not clear.
Statements like that, as well as Robinson’s comments on the Quran, are what critics of Robinson have latched onto, saying he often conflates terrorism and extremism with the religion at large.
What will happen to the protesters at Columbia, however, is unclear, as is the case with student protesters across the country.
Columbia students appear to have run afoul of the student code of conduct, which has provisions against “disruption of university events.” A spokeswoman said that any disciplinary actions, if applied, would be confidential.
Murray at Michigan
At the University of Michigan Wednesday, students stood up and shouted, played music and used an overhead projector to point an arrow with the label "white supremacist" at Murray, MLive.com reported. Criticism of Murray centers on a book he co-wrote years ago, The Bell Curve. Its examinations of race and intelligence have been widely denounced as faulty social science with racist implications. But Murray and supporters deny that there is anything racist about what he wrote -- and he repeated that denial at Michigan.
Some students in the audience pushed back at those disrupting and said that they wanted to hear Murray.
After a period in which Murray was unable to present his lecture, many of those disrupting left -- and he was able to talk and answer questions.
Some video of the disruption was posted to Twitter:October 11, 2017
On Twitter, Murray posted his reaction to his Michigan appearance, writing: "Mich lecture: 1st half same old SJWS caterwauling. They left. Interesting discussion with the remnant. Martini just arrived. Later."
Columbia is not the only college not talking in public about potential punishments. That was the same response Inside Higher Ed received last week from the College of William & Mary after students in September shut down a talk set to be delivered by a speaker from the American Civil Liberties Union. The students were found to have violated the code of conduct, although a William & Mary spokesman said that any punishments would be protected under federal privacy laws.
"We do take what happened very seriously and are taking appropriate action," spokesman Brian Whitson said in an email Wednesday.
At the University of Oregon, where student protesters shut down a speech by the university president last week, a review of the incident was still ongoing as of Wednesday afternoon, meaning disciplinary actions were still up in the air, a spokesman said.
On Monday, Texas Southern University canceled a speech set to be given by a conservative lawmaker after protesters gathered at the historically black university before the event started. The university said the event was pulled at the last minute because it was not registered properly, but State Representative Briscoe Cain blamed the protesters. It was not immediately clear if the university was weighing any disciplinary measures.
Punishing students can be a controversial act itself, however.
Earlier this month at the University of Wisconsin, the System Board of Regents voted into place a set of punishments for protesters who repeatedly disrupted university events, with suspension and expulsion on the table. The policy mirrors Republican legislation that has stalled in the statehouse, and opponents of the measure said it would chill free speech itself and overstep the First Amendment rights of protesters by being too vaguely written.
Columbia, it should be noted, is a private university, and isn’t under the same regulations as public universities when it comes to giving space for controversial speakers. However, in an email sent to Columbia students Tuesday afternoon, before Robinson’s speech, Suzanne B. Goldberg, executive vice president for university life, said it is “foundational to Columbia’s learning and teaching missions that we allow for the contestation of ideas.”
The university, Goldberg said, did not want to be in the position of dictating which ideas were allowed on campus. Goldberg added that the university also has an obligation to reiterate its stances against white supremacy and Islamophobia.
“We reject those views and maintain our commitment to fostering a vibrant community founded on the fundamental dignity and worth of all of our members,” Goldberg said.Editorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: Protest during talk at ColumbiaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
A handful of Kennesaw State University cheerleaders took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before a football game Sept. 30.
In the following days, both the local sheriff -- who is a Republican -- and a Republican state representative who chairs a subcommittee in charge of appropriations for Georgia’s public universities complained publicly in the local press. Both said the university president, Sam Olens -- a former Republican attorney general for the state -- had been helpful, and they expressed confidence that the situation would not happen again.
“During a recent conversation, Olens assured me that this will not happen again,” Sheriff Neil Warren told the Marietta Daily Journal in a story published Friday. “I hope he is right, because I stand with America, I stand to show respect to our military and all those that serve in public safety.”
State Representative Earl Ehrhart said that he suspected a directive regarding protests during the anthem would “come from the athletic department to the coaches to the team from the president.”
At the football game the following day, indeed, no one took a knee. In the days following the kneeling incident, a policy change was made to the pregame activities that kept the cheerleaders off the field during the playing of the national anthem.
But even though the new policy went into effect after two local Republicans complained to the university president, a former Republican attorney general, politics had nothing to do with the decision, a Kennesaw State spokeswoman said. According to Kennesaw State, the timing and political intricacies of the narrative are all a coincidence.
“The decision was made to change the pregame scripting by athletics. It is part of a number of changes that have been made by a new athletics administration as we continue to refine and enhance the game-day atmosphere for our fans,” Tammy DeMel said in an email.
Cheerleaders at Kennesaw State taking a kneel during the national anthem. pic.twitter.com/7vdSyLZ2JR— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) October 8, 2017
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a form of political protest over the last year, since Colin Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, started kneeling during the anthem before National Football League games in an protest against racism and police brutality. The protest has drawn supporters and opponents, largely split along Democrat-Republican party lines, respectively. Opponents of the protest have said it disrespects the military.
Repercussions for kneeling during the national anthem aren’t unheard-of. On the same day that cheerleaders at Kennesaw found themselves off the field during the anthem, a football player at Albright College, a private institution in Pennsylvania, decided to take a knee during the anthem and was subsequently kicked off the team. The team had agreed to kneel during the coin toss and stand during the anthem, the college said in a statement. After the player knelt during the anthem, head coach John Marzka kicked the player off the team.
Presented with the timeline of the protest, the complaints and the implementation of the policy, DeMel said that the changes were organizational and logistical rather than political or related to the protest. Olens did not meet with either Warren or Ehrhart, she said, merely passed along information about the decision to change the pregame ceremonies to the sheriff after the change had been already been decided upon.
The decision was made by the athletic department Tuesday, DeMel said. Although the decision came after the protest, it was a logistical decision, she said.
As for how the decision “enhanced the game-day atmosphere,” DeMel said that the new pregame ceremonies filled a two-minute gap between the time when the national anthem finished and when the football teams took the field. Additionally, the new pregame ceremonies “afforded the Spirit Squad and mascot a more prominent introduction by being able to run out of the tunnel in a similar fashion as the football team.”
Cobb County political activists weren’t exactly sold on the university’s explanation.
“This is political, and it’s the politics of Cobb County enacting their power that they’ve used for years to silence minority students and silence those they disagree with,” said Davante Lewis, the brother of one of the cheerleaders, who added that the policy change “absolutely” seemed like a partisan decision.
The fact that there was not a national search for Kennesaw’s president before Olens was appointed -- a move that was controversial at the time, especially given Olens's lack of higher education experience -- made the decision even more suspicious for Lewis, who has been a part of four presidential search committees.
“He’s a former Republican attorney general. And when you hear a Republican state representative and a Republican sheriff issuing Republican talking points, I don’t think it’s very far-fetched to connect it and say, ‘Yeah, this was a political decision,’” said Lewis, who organized a protest against the decision Wednesday.
Deane Bonner, president of the Cobb County NAACP, called it a “very sad situation,” while praising the cheerleaders.
“We know it’s a political thing,” Bonner said of the university’s changes to the pregame ceremony. “We think [the cheerleaders] are heroes, as far as we’re concerned.”
Bonner also said calling attention to the flag and veterans, rather than focusing on the reason behind the protests, was misleading.
“If we’re talking about a free country, and equal rights under the law, constitutionally they have done nothing wrong,” she said. “When Rosa Parks sat on the bus, she wasn’t fighting public transportation.”DiversityEditorial Tags: AthleticsRaceImage Caption: Kennesaw State cheerleaders taking a kneeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Winning a Nobel Prize may seem like an absurdly ambitious goal for most scientists to even contemplate, but some researchers will admit to daydreaming about it.
So, how do you achieve this accolade? Is it a matter of intelligence, hard work or just sheer luck? Can researchers really take practical steps toward achieving science’s greatest honor, which has been bestowed on fewer than 700 people since the first awards were made in 1901?
Those who are likely to know best are the Nobel laureates alive today -- perhaps the most elite club in global science, whose members number fewer than 300 people, even after the Swedish Academy named the latest clutch of winners in Stockholm last week.
As part of a unique survey by Times Higher Education, we asked 50 Nobel winners in science and economics -- about 20 percent of all living laureates in these fields -- to offer the best advice they could give to early-career researchers to maximize their chances of making a Nobel-worthy breakthrough.
Some laureates were, of course, highly skeptical that any useful advice could be offered.
“My big tip is to be lucky,” said Richard J. Roberts, the English biochemist who shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1993 for work on gene splicing. “There is no strategy that you can adopt to win a Nobel prize -- a lot depends on whether you end up in the right place at the right time.”
For Roberts, one stroke of luck that aided his career actually seemed like a disaster at the time. “I had just finished my postdoc at Harvard University and had applied to the University of Edinburgh, but they lost my application,” said the University of Sheffield-educated scientist, who admitted that he “would have liked to go back to the U.K. at the time."
Instead, he was hired by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island in New York, which was then led by DNA pioneer James Watson, where he carried out the work that would lead to his Nobel-recognized breakthrough.
Luck was mentioned by several other laureates -- a surprisingly modest bunch, it seems -- although it is clear that most prizewinners do not ascribe their success simply to good fortune. Many advise today’s early-career researchers to be bold, determined and resilient.
“Do the research that you are passionate about,” advises Brian Schmidt, an astrophysicist who shared the 2011 physics prize and is now vice chancellor of Australian National University.
“Don’t worry too much about the constraints … If you do something well, it will open up lots of opportunities, in and out of academia,” said Schmidt.
“Even if you don’t make a Nobel-worthy breakthrough, you will have lots of great opportunities in life to do fulfilling work,” he added.
That view is echoed by Jean-Pierre Sauvage, the University of Strasbourg academic who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016, who urges scientists to “have confidence in their ability to do high-level science and look for novelty rather than following trendy routes.”
“Look for the unexpected, and do not enter crowded fields where you will not be noticed,” advised Peter Agre, director of the Johns Hopkins University Malaria Research Institute, who shared the chemistry prize in 2003.
Scientists might also consider working in smaller “not-so-famous places” where they can pursue their own interests and carve out a reputation for themselves, added Agre.
He credits much of his own success to his development under his first supervisor at Johns Hopkins University, Vann Bennett, who was a classmate at medical school and was actually younger than him.
Cultivating a diverse range of interests, rather than relentlessly pursuing your research, will also stand graduate students in good stead, Agre explained.
“I did not feel that I had incredible scientific talent [as a student]. I was interested in journalism and politics, among other things, and I think that this helps,” he said.
Like many other respondents to our survey, Agre advises ambitious young researchers to put aside thoughts of a Nobel prize for some time.
“Never care about prizes -- only quality counts,” agreed another Nobel laureate, who is based in Switzerland and who, like many respondents, wanted to comment anonymously.
Several Nobel winners also point to the crucial importance of having a good mentor, with one California-based laureate recommending that researchers “go [to] a nurturing atmosphere with really smart, collaborative people.”
“All major steps in my career were enabled by individual people who took an interest in me and my ideas,” explained John Mather, a senior scientist in cosmology at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, whose work on satellites earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2006.
Other advice ranges from the mundane (“get a permanent job so [that you] can concentrate on the research [that you] would like to do,” advises one Swiss laureate) to the ethically dubious (“be prepared to lie when applying for funds to optimize [your] chances [of success],” recommends a Britain-based laureate). Another rather dubious tip, simply stated, is “cheating."
Meanwhile, a laureate based in Germany called on scientists to be “stubborn with respect to the goal but not with respect to the ways of reaching it,” adding that researchers should “think carefully about unexpected results that could lead to an important serendipitous discovery.”
One Nobel winner advised younger scientists to “take on problems that look as though they will require a lot of work, and where you don’t know the answers.”
“Do it with one or two people who are also good enough to have a fairly good chance of solving the problem, and really want to,” he added.
Having ambition, an open mind, a good mentor and lots of luck seem to be the recipe for a Nobel prize, but even that is not enough, suggests a Japanese laureate.
“Young researchers must be curious and stupid, while public research systems should guarantee their freedom and the general public must be generous and patient,” he concluded.Editorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/MathTimes Higher EdIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: