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Sociologists seek systematic response to online targeting of and threats against public scholars

Inside Higher Education - Lun, 14 Ago 2017 - 02:00

MONTREAL -- Race, religion, gender, inequality. They’re all central to sociology, the study of social relationships and institutions. They’re also topics over which scholars -- Johnny Eric Williams, Dana Cloud, Sarah Bond, Tommy Curry, to name a few -- have been targeted in recent months. It’s no wonder, then, that a number of sessions at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association discussed the troubling trend of threats against professors engaged in public scholarship.

One such session, "Protecting Public Scholars From Backlash," was actually pitched 18 months ago, before the newest round of hate mail and threats of violence filled professors’ inboxes. At the time, session co-organizer Eric Anthony Grollman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond and a columnist for Inside Higher Ed, was concerned about scholars like Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology at Boston University whose sociologically sound online comments about young white men sparked ire in 2015 (she kept her job).

In the interim, Grollman said in introducing the panel, public backlash against scholars has only grown. There’s also plummeting public confidence in higher education and what Grollman described as a new level of anti-intellectualism infused with racism, legitimized by the Trump administration.

Yet while personal attacks can feel isolating and shocking, they and other panelists said, they’re part of a well-funded, systematic attack on progressive academic ideals.

“Our goal here is to think sociologically about this problem,” Grollman said, noting that marginalized scholars -- people of color, women and LGBT scholars -- are disproportionately targeted. “These attacks are not isolated incidents, but they’re actually part of a larger conservative assault on higher education, and it’s not limited to what we call our extramural utterances … There are scholars who’ve been attacked for what they teach in the classroom, for the type of research they do.”

Grollman and others described a common cycle of a professor’s comments on a politicized topic first appearing on a right-wing website such as Campus Reform, which is supported by the conservative Leadership Institute. It’s soon followed by other, similar websites and news outlets and, finally, Fox News. Then, they said, “ensue the death threats, the threats of sexual violence, calls for them to be fired and lose their jobs. This is not a whimsical thing -- there’s an actual system in place.”

If threats against scholars are organized where, then, is sociology’s organized response? Other panelists asked this question and offered thoughts on how the discipline should both support threatened scholars and proactively work to prevent such targeting.

A Systematic Problem Needs a Systematic Response

Borrowing a term from Prudence L. Carter, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, panelist Jodi O’Brien, professor of sociology at Seattle University, asked whether sociologists want to be “interventionist scholars.” O’Brien, who lost a deanship at Marquette University in 2010 after accusations that she was anti-family (what O’Brien and many of her supporters allege was a ruse for rejecting her for being a lesbian), said she’s deeply interested in the idea. Indeed, she said, another problem with and goal of anti-academic trolls is that they detract from the faculty mission of fostering “democratic equality in creating citizens.”

Yet as a profession, O’Brien said, “we are ambivalent about public scholarship … We talk a good talk, but we don’t support it in a myriad of institutionalized ways. We don’t support it in our training of graduate students, we don’t support it in the tenure process.”

If sociologists want to be “interventionist public scholars,” she said, amending Carter’s original phrase, they must challenge their elitism and “train, facilitate, value and support one another” in systematic ways.

Picking up on Grollman’s and O’Brien’s assertion that those in the crosshairs are often the most vulnerable, Marisa Allison, a graduate student in sociology at George Mason University, said adjuncts need extra support from their peers. She cited the case of Lisa Durden, a pop culture commentator who lost her job as an adjunct instructor of communications at Essex County College this summer after defending Black Lives Matter on Fox News.

Some More Vulnerable Than Others

“There’s a concerted thing happening here, and we need to wrap our heads around it, while also recognizing those who are the most vulnerable need the most help,” said Allison, who studies non-tenure-track faculty members. Among other recommendations, she said professors need to push for a full faculty review of scholars under threat of termination for their public comments and to start supporting scholars across disciplines.

Allison also said it’s important for scholars to know what their colleagues are working on, to be aware of any possible fallout ahead of time.

Adia Harvey Wingfield, a professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis who has contributed to Inside Higher Ed, also linked threats against scholars to the adjunctification and general neoliberalization of the university, saying labor -- even academic labor -- doesn’t carry the weight it once did. At the same time, she said, institutions are keen to “extract” public scholarship work from their faculty members to advance their brand, even if the they’re not prepared to support those faculty members in the face of controversy.

“The irony is that a lot of times universities want to bring, highlight or take advantage of the work of academics who are able to put their work into that public sphere,” she said. “But then what happens when people come after you for that public profile? There’s not that same match there.”

Wingfield said she’s faced public criticism before for her work. She advised against the urge to purge inboxes of hate mail, arguing that it’s important from a legal perspective to save and document everything. That’s after cluing in one’s administration to backlash before the “outrage machine” really gets going.

“That puts you in a pre-emptive position to protect yourself a little bit,” she said. That way, she added, one is in the position to later say, “See, you know what’s been going on. Don’t act all ‘brand-new’ now.”

R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, associate professor of sociology and black studies at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said he’s coached himself and colleagues through the public attacks and warned that when the coast looks clear, it’s not.

The Coast Is Not Clear

“It only calms down so it can start up again,” he said, advising scholars to “understand the cycle.” Namely, he said, “It ain’t over till it’s over and it gets worse before it gets better.”

More specifically, Lewis-McCoy said there’s the initial incident: the tweet, the mention, the comment, the reference. That then gets amplified by the “outrage machine.” Then the professor’s institution is contacted by members of the public, which prompts a meeting with administrators.

That meeting is the beginning, not the end, said Lewis-McCoy, noting that institutional responses to controversy are distinct from the faculty member’s individual response. Because one response is “never enough,” he said, the cycle typically ends only after solution or sanction. For this reason, he advised scholars in the cycle to obtain their own legal counsel, as the campus legal team will protect the institution’s interests (the same goes for union counsel, he said).

For colleagues, Lewis-McCoy advised contacting affected scholars to show personal -- not just public -- support. Ask them if they’re OK, he said, and offer to take over their social media feeds to upgrade their passwords to prevent hacking and off-the-cuff responses.

Over all, he said, “It’s not about avoiding what we do, but doing what we’re doing and getting greater support.”

Support for Affected Scholars

Panel co-organizer Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at CUNY’s Hunter College and Graduate Center, recently co-wrote a book called Going Public: A Guide for Social Scientists (University of Chicago Press). She said that even scholars who aren’t on social media can be targeted and it’s up to professors to educate their administrations about systematic attempts from well-funded ideological corners to discredit liberal and progressive professors. Sometimes, she said, they may even find sympathetic ears.

Abby L. Ferber, a professor of sociology and women’s and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and president of Sociologists for Women in Society, attended Saturday’s session ahead of a panel she’s leading here today on protecting scholars from right-wing attacks. Ferber’s been targeted for online harassment in relation to her participation in the annual White Privilege Conference, via videos distorting her public comments and more. The changing environment for educators involved in such work has led her to teach more classes online, out of safety concerns, she said.

Ferber recently published an article in the Humboldt Journal of Social Relations based on conversations with five other women attacked in strikingly similar ways for their research, including that on climate change. Ferber says that the elements of the political right have begun to attack individual faculty members in hopes of striking from the curriculum historically overlooked subject matter. The overall effort, she wrote, is to silence these professors, with obvious implications for academic freedom.

Of her subjects, Ferber said those who had allies -- especially those who read hate emails and threats of violence for them -- felt least vulnerable. Only one faculty member said she felt supported by her university based on its response to the respective controversy.

Ferber's paper suggests various suggestions for institutional responses, based on feedback from subjects. They include:

  • Be proactive, not reactive. Have a protocol in place.
  • Put safety first. Then ask faculty members what they need.
  • Publicly condemn the form of the attack itself. Support civil dialogue by naming abuse and harassment for what it is.
  • Provide faculty members with resources for help and information about what they might experience next.
  • Honor professors’ wishes about being kept in the loop or not.
  • Do not individualize the problem.
  • Suggested responses for faculty members include talking to local and campus police, forwarding threatening messages to police and federal authorities, saving every message, denying trolls the response they seek, and seeking support from those who know your work.

Numerous attendees at ASA have asked what the association might do further support affected scholars. Michèle Lamont, professor of sociology and African and African-American studies and the Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies at Harvard University, and association president, said its governing council will this week discuss a number of concrete agenda items for action.

Concurrently, and not only because the attacks, the ASA is working to increase public engagement. It asked the Trump administration earlier this year to rescind the travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, for example. The annual gathering also offered a several how-to-style panels on public scholarship.

“Sociologists are not a unique target for these types of attacks, but we do study topics which people do often feel the most passionate about, such as family, religion and race,” Lamont said. “We do hope that demonstrating the value of sociology to a public audience will serve as a tool in mitigating these attacks, but there are all sorts of positive, proactive reasons to engage with the public.”

Lamont said there will always be those who react negatively to the sociologists’ work, but that “they should not be the ones who get to dictate this work through threat and intimidation.”

Looking Ahead

And what of scholars who have already lived out their intimidation cycles? Williams, the associate professor of sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut who was placed on leave (later lifted) this summer for online comments on race, backed out of ASA this year. He and his family had to leave the state due to threats, and it was simply too soon to attend the meeting and talk about his experience, he said via email.

Grundy, of Boston University, attended this year’s meeting, with two years between now and her outrage cycle. Does she think the climate for scholars will improve? No, she argues in a recently published article in Ethnic and Racial Studies called “A History of White Violence Tells Us Attacks on Black Academics Are Not Ending (I Know Because It Happened to Me).” Grundy says that attacks on black academics are fundamentally anti-black attacks and do two things: attempt to stall black progress and reinforce white identities, particularly in newly digitized spaces.

“My assessment is that we have no reason to think this will get better and, in fact, the routinization and ritual of these attacks is part of the point,” Grundy said this week. “Histories of terroristic white violence have shown us the same.”

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Report shows improving finances at private colleges, even though some small institutions struggle

Inside Higher Education - Lun, 14 Ago 2017 - 02:00

Time after time, the fiscal struggles of small private colleges are bursting into headlines.

Institutions from the College of New Rochelle in New York to Mills College in California have decided to lay off faculty members this year in the face of steep budget challenges. Others have taken more drastic steps, such as Marygrove College in Detroit, which last week announced plans to end its undergraduate programs and become a graduate-only institution after the fall semester.

The headlines come after a prominent 2015 prediction from Moody’s Investor Service of a coming uptick in the number of institutions closing, with small private colleges facing particular pressure. They also come as Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen continues to predict that as many as half of all American universities will close or go bankrupt within a decade or so. But some say the rhetoric about small private colleges’ struggles has grown overheated. In their opinion, the situation just isn’t as bad as it sounds.

Now, a new report from one of the country’s major associations of independent nonprofit colleges attempts to measure the financial health of small private institutions and how that health has changed since the turn of the century. The report, which is being released today by the Council of Independent Colleges, calculates several key financial metrics for a sample of 559 institutions of varying size and classification from across the country.

CIC leaders hope the report strikes a blow against the idea that large numbers of small and midsize private colleges are on the brink of financial ruin. Its findings reflect general strength in some financial areas -- and show that individual institutions of all types and sizes can be financially healthy.

“We think the prevailing public view is wrong,” said Richard Ekman, CIC president. “We come up against this all the time. The best way to counter that perception, we believe, is to have good, reliable data. This study is drawn from all public sources of data. You can’t imply that we cooked the books.”

The report does, however, indicate that a group of the smallest private colleges -- those with fewer than 1,000 students enrolled -- have posted consistently weaker financial performance than larger peers through both good times and bad. It also indicates certain classifications of colleges -- those with a Carnegie classification of baccalaureate arts and sciences institutions -- have recorded better financial metrics over the years than their peers.

CIC officials maintain that their findings don’t reveal any single indicator of whether a college is likely to struggle financially.

“As the person who did the on-the-ground research for this, I was hoping for a clear result -- this is the factor that determines whether an institution is financially resilient,” said Hollie Chessman, CIC director of research projects. “What you have in front of you is the true message: there’s a lot of different factors that come into play.”

Other experts said the report still supports the argument that some institutions are in trouble.

“People who think there’s information here which shows we are a resilient industry are perfectly defended,” said Kent John Chabotar, former president of Guilford College and founding partner of the higher education consulting firm MPK&D. “And those who believe that schools are going to gradually close will find ample evidence as well.”

Reading Ratios

CIC looked at 14 years of financial data, from the 2000-01 fiscal year through the 2013-14 fiscal year. Its sample of 559 private baccalaureate and master’s-level colleges and universities represents a majority of its member institutions. Data came from institutions’ Internal Revenue Service filings and the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The report is based on a well-known set of metrics for analyzing higher education finances: a primary reserve ratio measuring the sufficiency of resources, a viability ratio gauging debt management, a return on net assets ratio measuring performance in endowment and investment returns, and a net operating revenues ratio measuring operating surpluses or deficits. The ratios were also combined into a marker of financial health called the composite financial index, or CFI. All of the ratios and the CFI have a recommended threshold for financial health.

CIC calculated sample institutions’ median performance and measured it over time. The medians over time of all four individual ratios and the CFI show colleges and universities hit hard during the Great Recession and recovering significantly since then -- albeit to different degrees, and with some bumps along the way.

The primary reserve ratio has a financial health threshold of 0.4, which would mean a college had enough reserves to cover expenses for about 40 percent of its fiscal year without taking in additional revenue. The median primary reserve ratio for CIC’s sample colleges and universities fell below that line in 2008-09, dropping to 0.37 amid falling expendable net assets. But it recovered afterward, rising above 0.6 in 2013-14.

 Median Primary Reserve Ratio of the Sample Private Colleges and Universities, 2000-2014. Graph starts with 2000-01 fiscal year with median primary reserve ratio near 0.70. It drops below 0.55 in 2002-03 before rising above 0.70 in 2006-07. The low is 0.37 in 2008-09, rebounding above 0.6 in 2013-14.

A viability ratio of 1.0 means that expendable funds equal long-term debt. Viability ratios generally should come in above 1.25, a level judged to show expendable funds are adequate to manage debt. But the median viability ratio in the CIC report’s sample has not been above that cutoff since 2000-01. It fell sharply from 2006-07 to 2008-09, bottoming out at about 0.6 before climbing back up in recent years. It remained below the 1.25 threshold in 2013-14.

That shows institutions haven’t had sufficient expendable funds to adequately manage their debt since 2000-01, the report says. It goes on to note that some institutions took on debt during the recession, using low interest rates as a way to cheaply finance new buildings or the addition of academic programs.

 Median Viability Ratio of the Sample Private Colleges and Universities, 2000-2014. Graph starts with the 2000-01 fiscal year with median viability ratio near 1.40.  Ratio drops below 0.60 in 2008-09 and returns to just above 1.0 in 2013-14.

The return on net assets ratio is recommended at 3.5 percentage points above inflation -- a level considered to show a sufficient return for endowments and other assets. Institutions’ return on net assets ratio fluctuated significantly over the study’s time period as the financial markets have gone through their ups and downs. CIC -- and many in the investment world -- argue this ratio is best measured over time to account for year-to-year volatility and institutions’ needs to invest some years and grow assets in other years.

The median return on net assets ratio finished above the threshold line in the two most recent years covered by the report. It’s worth noting, however, that other data have shown college and university endowment returns falling in 2015 and 2016.

 Median Return on Net Assets Ratio of the Sample Private Colleges and Universities, 2000-2014. Graph starts with 2000-01 fiscal year with threshold line around 5 percent and median return around 1 percent. Median return drops near negative 10 percent in 2008-09 and rises to 8 percent in 2013-14.

A net operating revenues ratio of 4 percent is considered to show colleges and universities living within their means. Like many of the other ratios, the median net operating revenues ratio bottomed out in the harsh economic climate of 2008-09 before recovering. It also dipped below its 4 percent threshold in 2011-12 before coming in above the line in the two subsequent years.

 Median Net Operating Revenues Ratio of the Sample Private Colleges and Universities, 2000-2014. Graph starts with 2000-01 fiscal year with threshold line around 4 percent and median net operating revenues ratio around 0 percent. Median ratio drops below negative 10 percent in 2008-09 and rises to 5 percent in 2013-14.

The four ratios shown above were weighted before being combined into the CFI. The primary reserve ratio and viability ratio were each weighted at 35 percent. The return on net assets ratio was weighted at 20 percent, and the net operating revenues ratio was weighted at 10 percent.

The threshold for a healthy CFI is considered to be 3.0. A review of the median CFI over the study’s 14 years shows a massive drop during the recession bottoming out in 2008-09, followed by recovery, a dip below the threshold line in 2011-12, and a settling in above the line in the two most recent years studied.

 Median Composite Financial Index of the Sample Private Colleges and Universities, 2000-2014. Graph starts with 2000-01 fiscal year with threshold line of 3.0 and median CFI of 3.4. Median CFI rises above 5.0 in 2006-07 and drops to 1.0 in 2008-09 before recovering to 4.0 in 2013-14.

The median of all institutions in the study don’t tell the story for each individual college, of course. The report says that 88 percent of the colleges in its sample had maintained or improved their CFI scores over the course of the 14 years examined. It adds that 67 percent of colleges and universities were at or above the CFI threshold in the most recent year analyzed.

Some observers weren’t convinced those statistics show overwhelming strength among private colleges, however.

“Two-thirds of the schools meet the financial viability ratios,” said Douglas Webber, an associate professor in Temple University’s economics department. “That means that a third of schools don’t, which is kind of striking.”

Small Colleges Struggle

The report goes on to slice CFI results by institutional characteristics. It found unsurprising results when breaking institutions down by financial resource level -- the poorest institutions posted the lowest CFI scores.

 Composite Financial Index by Financial Resources, 2000-2014. Graph breaks down CFI by quartiles, showing in 2013-14 the national median CFI was above 4.0, but for the fourth quartile it was below the threshold line of 3.0.

More interesting results came from looking at CFI by Carnegie classification and enrollment size. The 149 institutions with a Carnegie classification of baccalaureate arts and sciences institutions consistently outperformed other classes of institution. The 111 with a classification of baccalaureate diverse fields struggled to break the CFI threshold on a consistent basis.

CIC noted that baccalaureate arts and sciences institutions tend to be highly selective and wealthy with clear missions. Baccalaureate diverse fields institutions have a wider range of programs and include professional programs. They often have lower endowments, are less selective when offering students admission and rely more on tuition to meet their budget demands.

“Those colleges that have remained pretty pure in their curriculum also happen to be the ones who are pretty affluent and selective,” Ekman said.

 Composite Financial Index by Carnegie Classification, 2000-2014. Graph breaks down CFI by classification, showing in 2013-14 the class with the highest CFI was baccalaureate arts and sciences. The lowest was baccalaureate diverse fields, coming in close to the 3.0 threshold.

Meanwhile, those with fewer than 1,000 full-time-equivalent students regularly underperformed those with larger enrollments.

 Composite Financial Index by Enrollment Size, 2000-2014. Graph shows in 2013-14 institutions with 2,001-3,000 full-time equivalent students had the highest CFI, close to 5.0. The smallest institutions, those with fewer than 1,000 students, had the lowest CFI, at the threshold of 3.0.

Many feel it is important to emphasize that the institutions with the smallest enrollments posted the lowest financial performance.

“The colleges that are struggling the most are the ones with fewer than 1,000 students, which matches up pretty well with the colleges that have either closed or have been threatening closure,” said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

Even so, the analysis does not show that smallness is a predictor of financial weakness or health, said Hal Hartley, CIC senior vice president.

“What you find are institutions, and not just one or two, but a significant number, that beat those kinds of generalizations,” he said.

Also noteworthy was that institutions with 2,001 to 3,000 full-time equivalent students consistently posted the highest CFI scores. That runs against the idea that the largest institutions are the most financially stable.

CIC pointed to small institutions including Nebraska Wesleyan University as examples of organizations that can be financially healthy even in difficult circumstances. The university’s president, Frederik Ohles, said the study shows that as higher education is challenged, most institutions are working to adapt.

“Most of us are working hard and responding to the challenge, and the financial results are reasonably good,” said Ohles, who is a senior adviser to CIC’s presidential vocation and institutional mission program. Nebraska Wesleyan uses some of the same ratios highlighted in the CIC report as metrics to show to its university Board of Governors, Ohles said.

The university, which typically enrolls about 1,500 traditional undergraduates along with another 500 to 600 adult and graduate students, saw its net tuition per student fall and then recover after the recession, Ohles said. Student revenue accounts for 90 percent of the university’s operating budget, making it a good example of a tuition-dependent institution.

Nebraska Wesleyan just finished its 2017 fiscal year with a surplus of 2 percent on a $40 million operating budget. It has discontinued some master’s programs and added others in the last several years and tried to refinance long-term debt when it was advantageous.

“We have effective budget discipline,” Ohles said. “That’s kept us out of difficulties.”

Another small institution reporting budget surpluses is New England College in New Hampshire. The college posted an operating surplus of about $800,000 last year on an operating budget of $57 million, according to Michele Perkins, New England College’s president. It anticipates growing that surplus to $1 million in the 2018 fiscal year.

The college wants to grow its traditional residential undergraduate enrollment from an expected 1,060 this fall to 1,500, said Perkins, who formerly served on CIC’s Board of Directors. Its residential undergraduate program doesn’t currently generate a surplus -- the institution’s surplus is driven by other programs, like online education and graduate programs, which push total enrollment to about 2,700. Traditional undergraduate programs would break even at about 1,300 students, the college estimates.

To grow, New England College will have to fight against projections of declines in the number of high school graduates in the Northeast. It’s started recruiting in secondary markets like the mid-Atlantic, and Perkins emphasizes that it has a diverse student body.

Over the years, the college has kept its debt levels low, left some faculty positions unfilled and offered voluntary retirements, Perkins said. The college has strengthened its financial standing, she said.

“We’re much less fragile than we were 15 years ago,” she said. “Necessity is the mother of invention, and we learned to be very frugal in our budget, and we learned to be resourceful and creative.”

The stories of small colleges and universities successfully navigating budget pressures contrast with those of institutions that have been unable to bring their finances under control. For example, last week when Marygrove College announced its decision to end undergraduate enrollment, it did so after trying to control its budget for years.

The college in Detroit thought it could balance its budget in 2014-15. Despite cutting expenses by about 20 percent to $20 million, it still ran a $4 million deficit last year. The deficit came as enrollment plunged from 1,850 graduates and undergraduates in 2013 to fewer than 1,000 last fall.

“I need money, but I also need students,” Marygrove President Dr. Elizabeth Burns told Inside Higher Ed last week. “We need volume, and we need a lot of students in class.”

Gainers, Maintainers and Decliners

The CIC report includes another analysis of the way colleges’ and universities’ financial health has changed over time. It subtracted institutions’ average CFI scores from the 2000-04 period from their average scores from the 2010-14 period. It classified those whose CFI scores increased by two points or more as “gainers,” those with scores dropping by two points or more as “decliners” and those in between as “maintainers.” It then removed any gainers from its analysis that did not post a CFI above the threshold of 3.0 in 2010-14. It removed decliners that did not post a CFI below 3.0.

The result is an analysis of 360 institutions. It evaluates colleges and universities whose financials improved or deteriorated to the point where they crossed the CFI threshold. It also evaluates those holding relatively steady. But it doesn’t reflect any movement among institutions that saw significant changes without crossing the key CFI threshold.

Those rules were intended to prevent mislabeling, according to Hartley. Unless the analysis was limited to only gainers and decliners crossing the CFI threshold, it would have been possible for an institution dropping from a high CFI score of 9.0 to a still-high score of 6.0 to have been labeled as a decliner. Such an institution would still have been in a very different ending financial situation than one that dropped from a CFI score of 4.0 to a score of 1.0.

A total of 104 institutions, 29 percent of the remaining sample, were labeled gainers. Another 213, or 59 percent, were labeled maintainers, and 43, or 12 percent, were labeled decliners. That means 199 institutions were thrown out of the analysis of gainers, decliners and maintainers. CIC did not provide data showing how many institutions would have fallen into each category without the CFI threshold requirements.

A full 40 percent of decliners in the analysis were institutions with an enrollment of fewer than 1,000 full-time equivalent students. Only 12 percent of decliners had enrollments of 2,001 to 3,000.

Yet there were still more institutions with enrollments under 1,000 labeled as gainers, 26, than as decliners, 17.

Meanwhile, 79 percent of all decliners were in either the third or fourth quartile when institutions’ financial resources were measured. More institutions in the fourth quartile were decliners, 15, than gainers, 12.

Only 5 percent of the 43 decliners were in the first quartile when institutions were split by their level of financial resources. Just 16 percent were in the second quartile.

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Georgia professor whose syllabus was mocked and criticized says he was aiming to start a conversation in class

Inside Higher Education - Lun, 14 Ago 2017 - 02:00

In an era when professors complain that no one reads the syllabus, Rick Watson had more attention than he wanted on his.

And now he says everyone missed the point -- including the University of Georgia, which criticized the syllabus of the business school professor and is still criticizing it now that it's better understood.

Regardless of what one thinks of the syllabus, the incident may illustrate how easy it is these days for a professor -- even one who is not engaged in political discussion -- to become the subject of online ridicule.

The controversy concerns a “stress-reduction policy” section of the syllabus for a business course for the fall, which said that students could change their grade if they felt “unduly stressed” by the one they received, and leave group work at any time, without any explanation, if they felt stressed by the situation.

The policy also said that “only positive comments about presentations will be given in class.”

Conservative news sites such as Campus Reform, The College Fix and Media Research Center mocked the syllabus. CSC Media Group, which first reported on the syllabus, called it “a stunning but not-to-surprising [sic] example of the deteriorating quality of education and discipline in America’s universities.” The story went viral. Inside Higher Ed reported on the syllabus when it was removed from the university website.

Watson didn't comment at that time.

Via email this weekend, however, he told Inside Higher Ed that the syllabus was never intended to be taken literally. It was intended to start a conversation with his class, and not as a statement on grading policy.

He said he was "embarrassed by the damage I have done to reputation of the University of Georgia."

A spokesman for the university said that Georgia is now aware that the syllabus was not intended to set policy. "The primary issue, however, was not the professor’s intent. It was the way the professor presented this information on a public website, which was poorly executed and led to widespread misinterpretation," said the spokesman.

Benjamin C. Ayers, dean of the Terry College of Business, released an additional statement after the university confirmed that the professor never intended for his syllabus to be taken literally. "This statement never should have been included in the syllabus regardless of the professor's intent. The syllabus statement violates the university's strict guidelines and academic policies and is completely inconsistent with the reality of the outstanding education and opportunities that students receive at the Terry College of Business," Ayers said.

Rudy Fichtenbaum, professor emeritus of economics at Wright State University and national president of the American Association of University Professors, said via email that the original syllabus made sense to him as a conversation starter, since it addressed the kinds of issues that professors hear about from students all the time. If university administrators had a problem with the syllabus, they should have asked faculty members to review it, he said, rather than making judgments themselves.

"It certainly seems that the administration was more concerned about its public image than it was about insuring that faculty have academic freedom," Fichtenbaum said. "If this was really just a conversation starter, instead of reacting critically, the administration would then be in the position of defending this faculty member who was attempting to deal with a serious issue that impacts students and faculty."

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Study suggests big difference between how college men describe affirmative consent and apply it to their own sexual experiences

Inside Higher Education - Lun, 14 Ago 2017 - 02:00

MONTREAL -- Many institutions have launched what they consider to be effective affirmative consent campaigns based around the idea that only “yes means yes” when it comes to sex. Some states require such a view. Findings from a new study presented here this week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association challenge the success of such campaigns, saying that college men are still using ambiguous physical cues to secure what they think is consent before sex.

“Moaning and Eye Contact: College Men’s Negotiations of Sexual Consent in Theory and in Practice” was written by Nicole Bedera, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. Bedera recruited study participants from high-enrollment introductory courses across disciplines at a large mid-Atlantic university with an affirmative consent policy and related education efforts. Focusing on heterosexual undergraduate men who described themselves as sexually active -- the targets of so many proactive campus rape prevention campaigns -- Bedera wanted to know how and if consent policies were being put into practice.

The answer was frequently no.

“Over all, the way the respondents sought consent in their sexual encounters did not match up with the strategies they claimed to invoke,” she says. “Respondents were much less likely to ascertain explicit verbal consent and relied on their partners to initiate a conversation about sexual expectations. Most commonly, respondents relied on physical and nonsexual cues like eye contact or an accelerated heart rate to indicate consent, despite the many nonsexual scenarios in which these actions commonly occur.”

Although the respondents used physical sexual indicators of enthusiastic participation at a frequency similar to what they had claimed, reads the study, “they often assumed consent to one sexual activity communicated consent to all sexual activities. In general, the men in this study did not reliably apply what they had learned about affirmative consent, even though they insisted that they did when expressly asked.”

In semistructured interviews with 25 men, Bedera asked questions about sexual experiences in long-term relationships and hookups, as well as attitudes toward consent policies. Seventy-five percent of the sample was white and nearly half were in the second year of college, with a more even distribution of participants across other years. The average age was 20, and participants came from a variety of religious backgrounds. No one was an athlete.

Bedera later coded responses to analyze attitudes toward definitions and indicators of consent, as well as indicators of nonconsent and strategies to get consent. Again, she found that while male students approve of, understand and generally say they follow campus policies about affirmative consent, they don’t consistently apply known strategies to secure that consent in their own sex lives.

Defining Consent

Affirmative consent policies differ from campus to campus but are all based on the idea that consent must be given knowingly, voluntarily and affirmatively, according to the study. Most policies favor verbal consent, but some also include enthusiastic participation in sex as a green light, it says. No-gos include scenarios in which consent cannot be given, such as incapacitation or while under duress, or assumptions of consent based on a lack of protest or a pre-established sexual relationship.

While most subjects struggled to define consent, they generally described it as all parties being willing participants in a particular sexual act -- which Bedera says meets the standard definition. Yet some also matched the definition to their own sexual experiences, such as by saying that because verbal consent was “awkward,” they relied on a partner to physically signal nonconsent, such as by “moving my hand away.”

All but one respondent said they used what they’d learned about consent in their own sex lives, but they reported different means of getting it. Some 34 percent mentioned using sexual verbal signals, 22 percent mentioned physical signals, 19 percent used signals to guess at a partner’s frame of mind, and 16 percent included signals hinting at a revocation of consent.

Most commonly, respondents said they explicitly asked for consent. Two respondents said they ask for consent every time, while another said he typically asks if he should get a condom. Among those who used physical cues, many often conflated enthusiasm for any sexual act with intercourse. Seven respondents used the absence of objection or revoked consent as consent. Students were consistent in their application of strategies and generally pointed to that consistency as proof they’d never raped anyone. Two respondents said not all their sexual encounters had been consensual.

Another Story

Interestingly, the picture changed when Bedera asked participants to explain their most recent sexual encounters -- without using the word “consent” in her prompt.

While verbal sexual signals comprised 34 percent of the strategies mentioned in responses to her previous question, they made up only 13 percent of the signals used by respondents recounting specific sexual encounters.

“When a couple did have an explicit dialogue about sexual expectations, the woman tended to initiate the conversation,” Bedera says. “Men only claimed to initiate an explicit conversation about sexual intentions 20 percent of the time when such a conversation occurred.”

Moreover, some of those men who did initiate a conversation about consent already assumed it. As one participant said, “I was like, ‘Hey, we don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. Or if we start and you change your mind, we can stop.’ And she was like, ‘OK.’”

Physical sexual signals typically involved kissing and taking off clothes. But by far the most common indicators of interest mentioned by respondents in recounting their own experiences were physical and nonsexual. Moaning -- which Bedera notes can signal pain -- was the most commonly used physical nonsexual signal. Such a signal does not meet the standard of voluntary, affirmative consent, the paper says.

Eye contact also stood out as the most commonly invoked evidence that a woman wants to have sex before it begins, according to the study. Yet when pressed for details, most respondents struggled to explain how this kind of eye contact was different from ordinary eye contact (the study notes that none of the face-to-face interviews ended in sex, after all).

Bedera recalls one respondent’s explanation like this: “After giving ‘eyes’ as his one-word answer about how he could tell his last hookup would take place, he eventually added, ‘It’s like an interest -- a curiosity. It’s like when you look at someone with a curiosity to know more about them … I can see them like, “Hmm … What is that guy like in bed?”’ I asked Ray to physically demonstrate what this type of eye contact would look like. He narrowed his eyes slightly. In fact, the difference was nearly imperceptible to me even when I explicitly looked for it. He explained, ‘It’s subtle.’”

For respondents who didn’t make such a distinction, the study notes, “they usually included eye contact on a list of traits commonly associated with someone actively engaged in a conversation, such as laughing at jokes, listening carefully and not looking for an excuse to leave the situation.”

Putting Policy into Practice

Asked how her findings square (or don’t) with many colleges’ perception that affirmative consent campaigns have been successful, Bedera said this week that “college men are receptive to the idea of affirmative consent, but struggle to apply it in their sexual encounters.”

In many cases, she said, men may believe they’re meeting the standard of consent set by their institutions but are actually falling short. For example, Bedera added, men are using “entirely physical and typically nonsexual social cues, like making eye contact or sustaining conversation, as cues that are not reliable indicators of sexual interest -- much less sexual consent.”

Bedera’s paper attributes some of the problem to cultural perceptions of masculinity as being sexually aggressive. It also asserts that if colleges and universities are to blame for the disconnect between policy and students’ practices, it’s not a problem of educational quantity, since -- at least on the unnamed campus in her study -- there’s ample mandatory training. Rather, she said, it’s the training approaches that may need tweaking.

"Many of the men in my sample seemed to believe they were incapable of sexual assault, especially if they didn't belong to a high risk group like fraternity men or athletes," Bedera said. And since they already believed that rape was wrong and that they were "good men," they didn't analyze their own behaviors.

​In her own volunteer work with fraternities, Bedera said she found that asking men to reflect on their past sexual behaviors, including a time when consent was ambiguous and they could have done to ask for it, "went a long way." 

Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assaultImage Source: University of South CarolinaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Charlottesville: The One Truth Trump Will Not Speak

Huffington Post - Dom, 13 Ago 2017 - 12:16
When I was a freshman in a parochial school in Louisiana in the early 1960s, Father Elsner, my English teacher, assigned

Not All Sides Are Right

Huffington Post - Dom, 13 Ago 2017 - 09:45
It is hard to convince a young kid to be hopeful in a world where white supremacists are recognized as just “another side” of our national debate about equality.

White nationalists rally at University of Virginia

Inside Higher Education - Sáb, 12 Ago 2017 - 04:54

Hundreds of white nationalists marched and rallied at the University of Virginia Friday night. They carried torches and chanted, "You will not replace us and "Jews will not replace us."

A major rally by various white nationalist groups -- under the name "Unite the Right" -- is planned for Charlottesville today. The city is progressive and not at all a center of white nationalism. But various groups have made Charlottesville a target because the city plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park. The Ku Klux Klan and supporters rallied in the city in July, causing concern at the university, but Friday night's march was on campus and ended at the Rotunda, a hallowed space at the university.

The site of hundreds of white nationalists -- most of them white men -- with torches stunned many at the university, even as they were preparing for Saturday's rally.

Counterprotesters against a white nationalist gathering hold a sign saying "VA Students Act Against White Supremacy." The counterprotesters are at the foot of a statue of Thomas Jefferson and are surrounded by torch-bearing white nationalists.Skirmishes broke out near the Rotunda between the white nationalists and counterprotesters, including some students.

Teresa A. Sullivan, president of the university, issued a statement late Friday.

"I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our grounds this evening. I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including university personnel who were attempting to maintain order," she said. "Law enforcement continues to investigate the incident, and it is my hope that any individuals responsible for criminal acts are held accountable."

Mike Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville, issued this statement: "I have seen tonight the images of torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia. When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights. Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here's mine: not only as the mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus."

UPDATE: A university spokesman said Saturday that university police arrested one protester, who was charged with assault and disorderly conduct. Several injuries were reported, including one university police officer who was injured while making the arrest. The university permits demonstrations without permits on open spaces on campuses, and does not ban open flames during such events. University police declared the event an "unlawful assembly" only after "physical altercations" began to escalate at the event, the spokesman said.

Some in Charlottesville have been trying (without success) to get courts to ban Saturday's rallies. Sullivan, in statements prior to Friday's march, condemned the ideas behind the planned rallies, but also defended the right of the white nationalists to express their views.

"UVA is public in the most profound and meaningful sense of that word; we are committed to the public good, and we seek to recognize and represent the great diversity of the public in our commonwealth and in the country," said one earlier statement. "We believe that diversity is an essential element of excellence, and that intolerance and exclusion inhibit progress. We also support the First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. These rights belong to the 'Unite the Right' activists who will express their beliefs, and to the many others who disagree with them."

Sullivan also urged students to stay away from the protest (then expected to be off campus).

"One may stand up for one’s beliefs without physical confrontation. I urge students and all UVA community members to avoid the Aug. 12 rally and avoid physical confrontation generally. There is a credible risk of violence at this event, and your safety is my foremost concern," she wrote.

Sullivan added, "Moreover, to approach the rally and confront the activists would only satisfy their craving for spectacle. They believe that your counterprotest helps their cause. One advocate of the rally said, 'We should aim to draw the SJWs [social justice warriors] out in Charlottesville and create a massive polarizing spectacle in order to draw as huge a contrast as possible. They will reveal themselves to be violent, intolerant, opposed to free speech, the insane enforcers of political correctness, etc.' The organizers of the rally want confrontation; do not gratify their desire."

The university had planned a series of discussion and talks for Saturday on the theme of "reflective conversation." Topics of talks include “Enfranchising Citizens in the United States: A Short History,” “The Importance of Public Space for Perpetuating or Reducing Social Inequity” and “What’s Right About Conservatives Today.”

UPDATE: Those programs and other university academic and athletic events were called off Saturday after the city of Charlottesville and Albemarle County declared a local state of emergency. The university's medical center remains open.

Image Source: Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesImage Caption: Rally at University of VirginiaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Here's What College Students Really Want On Their Back-To-School Shopping Lists

Huffington Post - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 15:03
Is it really a dorm room if it doesn't have LED string lights?

Sexual Assault Survivors React To Steubenville Rapist Joining Their College’s Football Team

Huffington Post - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 13:36
Ma'lik Richmond recently walked on to Youngstown State University's football team.

Charlotte School of Law missed deadline to remain open

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 13:16

The embattled Charlotte School of a Law missed deadlines yesterday that state regulators had imposed in order for the for-profit to stay open. The institution has asked for an extension, according to state officials.

In December the U.S. Department of Education suspended the law school’s access to federal aid, citing its failure to adhere with standards set by the feds and the American Bar Association, which is the school’s accreditor.

The ABA had placed the law school on probation, where it remains, over its failure to admit applicants who are likely to succeed and pass the bar exam. Department officials also said at the time that the law school had made substantial misrepresentations to students about the program’s accreditation and bar-passage rates. North Carolina's attorney general, Josh Stein, also is investigating and reviewing its state license.

However, the law school’s leaders and its parent company, InfiLaw, which owns two other for-profit law schools, were able to keep the Charlotte School of Law open this year while they sought to have federal aid eligibility restored. While it was not allowed to enroll new students, the law school found money to help some current students stay.

In recent weeks, the law school has been negotiating with the department over the terms for possible reinstatement, including how much money it would be required to set aside to protect taxpayers and students in case the school closed.

"Negotiations are ongoing with Charlotte School of Law regarding reinstatement of eligibility for Title IV funds,” a department spokeswoman said on Friday.

In the meantime, the school has created a teach-out plan to allow students to finish their degrees at another InfiLaw institution.

Yet to remain in operation, the state had required the school to have its federal aid eligibility restored and that the ABA sign off on its teach-out plan, both with deadlines this week. That didn’t happen. And it appears that the school remains open while it seeks an extension.

The University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors is responsible for licensing non-public degree issuing institutions in the state. The system’s general administration office performs compliance reviews to make sure institutions meet statutory and regulatory standards.

In June the board decided that the Charlotte School of Law could use a restricted license to operate in the state, but only if it met requirements by August 10.

“CSL may continue to conduct postsecondary degree activity in North Carolina at this time and on a limited basis while it develops and seeks ABA approval of an appropriate teach-out plan that fully protects the interests of CSL students who may wish to complete their CSL degree programs, and/or approval for continued operation as an accredited law school,” the system said, adding that “the U.S. Department of Education must determine no later than August 10, 2017, that any CSL student who remains enrolled may participate in Title IV federal loan programs.”

Neither of those conditions have been met. The ABA is meeting today and presumably could sign of on the school’s teach-out plan.

A spokesman for the UNC system said the law school had asked for an extension.

“It’s our understanding that CSL is actively working with U.S. Department of Education to ensure the school can participate in the Title IV loan program, but that CSL has not yet met all of the requirements of Education Department,” he said via email. “CSL has requested that the university now consider extending the time to meet the conditions in the restricted license, which would require further action by the Board of Governors.”

The department said that if North Carolina does not reinstate the school's expired license, it will be unable to access federal financial aid. But negotiations between the school and the department will continue until a decision on the license is made.

A spokeswoman for Stein, the state's attorney general, said the office had reached out to the law school to request that it demonstrate compliance with the licensure statute.

"Along with all other licensure requirements, the [North Carolina] Department of Justice is monitoring whether Charlotte School of Law met the U.S. Department of Education’s requirement for a $6 million letter of credit to benefit students," the spokeswoman said in an email. "Our office will do everything possible to enforce state law and protect students."

InfiLaw did not respond to a request for comment.

Clare McCann is deputy director for federal policy at New America, who specializes in education policy and is a former department official. She said InfiLaw’s delay in shutting down Charlotte School of Law is bad for students.

"Charlotte School of Law has been providing an egregiously bad legal education, where students have worse than a 50-50 shot at passing the bar,” she said via email. “And at the same time, it has been evading any potential costs of closed school discharge liabilities by dragging out its inevitable closure, meaning students can't get their loans cancelled and start fresh."

-- Andrew Kreighbaum contributed to this article.

For-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: AccreditationFor-profit collegesLaw schoolsNorth CarolinaIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Why Does The Trump Administration Have Such Terrible Spelling?

Huffington Post - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 11:45
It's almost starting to seem like Trump hasn't been hiring the "best people."

Another Side Of The Evergreen State College Story

Huffington Post - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 09:15
10 realities about the campus tumult that are being ignored.

In harassment cases, could institutions be cracking down on even big-name faculty members?

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 02:00

The University of Washington, for the first time ever, has fired a faculty member over findings of sexual harassment. The termination surprised some not only for the what, but also for the who: Michael Katze, a professor of microbiology. Well funded and a major player in infectious disease research, Katze appeared to some as exactly the kind of professor who might have been protected by his (or any) institution in the past.

Also this month, Christian Ott, a professor of theoretical astrophysics at California Institute of Technology, resigned following a drawn-out suspension over the university’s finding that he sexually harassed two graduate students.

Professors on two other campuses have left this summer over allegations of sexual misconduct: Jason Fruth, an assistant professor of education, resigned from Wright State University during an investigation into claims against him, while the University of Nebraska at Lincoln ended the visiting professorship of photojournalist Bill Frakes.

The departures could be a mere coincidence of timing. But they could also be a sign that even big-name institutions are holding their big-name scholars to a higher standard of conduct.

Brett Sokolow, president and CEO of the NCHERM Group, a campus safety consultancy, and executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said it’s not that campuses are now speedier to discipline faculty members found to have harassed students or others. That process still tends to be "painfully slow," he said. Rather, some campuses are now more "willing" to terminate faculty members for harassment.

The reason, Sokolow said, “is that more and more campus mind-sets have shifted, and the culture is shifting as a result from one of permissiveness [or] privilege -- or looking the other way -- to what is more like a zero-tolerance mind-set.”

It's simply too costly, in terms of public relations and crisis management, to try to "shield faculty anymore," he said, "and campuses are finally figuring that out.”

Negative Publicity

Indeed, negative publicity was a major factor in both Katze’s and Ott’s cases: they were the subjects of separate, lengthy stories on BuzzFeed ahead of their departures. Katze actually sued BuzzFeed and the university, to prevent the release of investigation details. (That was his second suit against Washington; another unsuccessfully alleged violations of due process related to his suspension from campus.) The effort failed, and BuzzFeed went ahead with its story -- backed by university documents -- on how Katze sexually harassed two female lab employees and misused university funds.

Specifically, Katze was found to have paid a lab administrator an unusually high salary in exchange for sexual favors. He allegedly harassed another lab worker by making sexual comments and trying to kiss or touch her while he was drunk, and by asking her to email escorts and place personal ads, buy drugs, clean his apartment and schedule his spa services. The university received prior complaints about Katze’s behavior.

Katze has not commented publicly on his case, and an attempt to reach him through his former attorney this week was unsuccessful. He in his lawsuits denied allegations of misconduct and said that a lab employee filed the most recent claim against him just days after he expressed concern about her job performance.

Katze reportedly told Washington’s investigator, "My job is to get grants. I am singularly focused on training scientists. This kind of shit is completely unimportant to me."

The sentiment might have been sincere. But in light of recent events, it recalls, at the very least, an antiquated way of thinking about faculty responsibilities.

Victor Balta, a spokesperson for the University of Washington, said Katze’s termination was the result of a faculty disciplinary process that confirmed “violations of university policies and executive orders, including conduct counter to the core values of our university.” Specifically, Katze was found to have violated campus policies related to sexual harassment, conflict of interest, use of resources and professional conduct, along with state ethics laws.

The decision to terminate any employee is one Washington takes “extraordinarily seriously,” Balta added via email. “The investigation and adjudication process is designed to ensure thorough consideration before a conclusion is reached.”

Ott, meanwhile, was found to have become infatuated with one of his graduate students and then to have fired her because of his feelings, according to documents first obtained by BuzzFeed. He also repeatedly discussed the matter with a second student. Ott was first placed on a nine-month leave and assigned extra training and supervision, but students and faculty members complained about what they perceived as a slap on the wrist for Ott possibly derailing a student’s career over romantic entanglements. His leave was extended after he was found to have contacted one of the students involved in his case, and he eventually resigned. The move is effective in December, but he won’t be back on campus between now and then.

Ott didn’t respond to a request for comment about his departure, but he’s previously challenged the notion that he “fired” the student in question.

Caltech didn’t provide comment as to how many professors it’s terminated over harassment. A spokesperson referred requests for comment to an earlier statement saying that Ott resigned after hearing that a faculty committee found he’d made “significant progress” toward his rehabilitative goals but remained “a divisive element on campus.”

Jason Fruth, at Wright State, resigned earlier this summer, following accusations that he raped a graduate student who worked for him and harassed others, according to the Dayton Daily News. A related criminal investigation did not result in charges; Fruth denied the claims but left his faculty position two weeks before a months-long university investigation was completed. Wright State documents first obtained by the Dayton Daily News say the investigation turned up 29 allegations of inappropriate behavior, such as Fruth sending students messages and photos of himself shirtless, telling them they were attractive and making sexual jokes. The university found that he’d violated campus policies by having sex with someone unable to give consent due to intoxication and engaging in a sexual relationship with a student whose work he supervised.

At Nebraska-Lincoln, the university confirmed that Bill Frakes’s appointment was cut short but did not provide details on the sexual harassment claims against him. Frakes told the Lincoln Journal-Star that those accused of violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit sexual harassment or gender bias in education, are entitled to a hearing. "The university has directed that the process be confidential and I intend to honor that request,” he said.

More Attention to Title IX and Harassment

Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and moderator of the Title IX Blog, said it’s clear, in general, that institutions “are paying more attention to their responsibilities under Title IX to address sexual harassment.” Real evidence of that shift would include institutional changes to sexual harassment policies applicable to faculty members, and whether such policies played a role in faculty members’ terminations, she said.

In one major example, the University of California System has recently strengthened its policies and procedures regarding faculty misconduct; sexual harassment and assault, for example, are now explicit violations of faculty responsibilities. Those changes came after a group of scandals, including the Berkeley campus’s nonfiring of astronomer Geoff Marcy, who was found to have harassed multiple female graduate students (he eventually resigned, in 2015). The Los Angeles campus, in another example, settled with two graduate students who sued over its handling of a sexual harassment case against Gabriel Piterberg, a professor of history. He’s still teaching, after a short suspension and other sanctions, but his return to campus last semester drew protests.

In making the policy changes, the UC System has said it wants to be a national leader in preventing and responding to sexual misconduct.

Sokolow said the greater awareness of Title IX and attendant publicity does have some campuses “jumping the gun” over things that aren’t, in his view, actual misconduct. As one example, he cited what he called "witch hunts" at Northwestern University, where media studies scholar Laura Kipnis was investigated under Title IX for writing critically of the grounds for a harassment case against a professor on her campus.

Whether most campuses can ride the line, then, remains to be seen.

Legal CasesEditorial Tags: FacultyGraduate studentsSexual assaultImage Source: University of WashingtonImage Caption: Michael KatzeIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

For-profits seek legislative overhaul of gainful employment as bureaucratic review unfolds

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 02:00

When the Department of Education gathered comments this summer ahead of an overhaul of its gainful-employment rule, it heard a litany of familiar refrains from representatives of the for-profit college sector.

They argued that the rule, which holds career programs accountable for graduating students with debt they can’t repay, should apply to all programs regardless of tax status, that it should reflect long-term earnings, and in some cases that it should not be tied to federal aid.

Whether the department crafts a new gainful-employment rule that reflects those broad goals will have implications for the accountability measures currently in effect for career programs and the kind of data it would provide students.

It’s broadly understood both by advocates and administration officials that Congress would have to rewrite current law for the rule to apply more broadly -- unless it is turned into a pure transparency measure, akin to the College Scorecard. And publishing typical earnings for a given profession by region, as for-profit representatives are seeking, would mean an end to publication of program-level outcomes. That's information consumer advocates say is essential to understanding which programs are doing well (or not).

A new rule from the department is a long way off -- an appointed negotiating panel won’t be seated until later this fall and it will likely be another year before new regulations are finalized -- but the for-profit sector isn’t waiting on the administration for a friendlier outcome. While Career Education Colleges and Universities, the sector’s biggest trade group, makes its case at the department, it’s also pushing for redress on Capitol Hill.

CECU throughout the summer has shopped legislative language to lawmakers that would make the changes it’s advocating in the rule-making process. Steve Gunderson, the group’s president and CEO, acknowledged that legislation altering the rule likely won’t move forward soon and, even if it found wide support, was unlikely to be passed before the rule-making process concludes.

But the group hopes that a gainful-employment bill would inform the committee’s process -- and the rule the department eventually issues.

“We are moving forward on parallel tracks for all the right reasons,” Gunderson said. “We believe until there’s a clear regulatory solution, we should pursue a legislative solution. Until there’s a legislative solution, the regulatory provisions of rule making are equally important.”

Regulatory Overhaul

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in June after months of speculation that she would overhaul gainful employment and borrower defense, another Obama administration higher ed rule, via a bureaucratic process known as negotiated rule making.

DeVos suspended the borrower-defense rule before it was set to take effect in July. Although gainful employment remains on the books, she has delayed several provisions of the rule this year. And the department reported to Senate Democrats last week that it had “no timetable” for sending institutions data that are a first step to producing graduates' debt-to-earnings ratios that determine the ratings for programs subject to the rule.

When the department held the first of two public hearings on the overhaul of both rules last month, consumer advocates, traditional higher ed groups and representatives of the for-profit sector jumped at the chance to weigh in.

The chief complaint from the for-profit sector about gainful employment, which applies to all programs at for-profit colleges and nondegree programs at public and nonprofit colleges, has been that the rule does not apply uniformly to all sectors of higher ed. CECU has insisted it would support any rule that applied to all higher ed institutions; Gunderson offered that the department could do so if it made gainful employment an informational tool without federal student aid attached.

But the for-profits' problems with the rule don’t stop there. CECU argues that it's unfair to rate the success of programs based on graduates' income three years after leaving.

"The premise that income in year three ought to guide a student's career decision is without merit," Gunderson said.

Instead, the department should use Bureau of Labor Statistics data for a given career in a given region. Students could then compare the costs of programs in their field with that figure in mind, Gunderson said.

Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America's education policy program and a proponent of the gainful-employment rule, said by advocating for BLS income data, for-profits are pretending to seek transparency with a metric that masks real differences between programs.

“The whole point of program-level data is precisely so programs can’t hide behind averages,” she said. “Students aren’t going to average programs. They are paying for particular programs.”

Laitinen said she’s open to the idea of a gainful-employment measure that applies to all higher ed programs, if Congress considers such a change in the course of a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. But she said the broadly applied gainful rule CECU is advocating for would just water down the current regulations.

“For a lot of the folks who are saying ‘gainful [employment] for all,’ what they really mean is gainful for none,” she said.

Laitinen’s New America colleague Kim Dancy found in May that chefs in the Chicago metropolitan area averaged $48,870 per year, according to BLS data. Yet earnings outcomes of graduates who attended programs in that career pathway were significantly lower. And studies on career earnings have shown that graduates who earn less early in their careers are likely to have lower midcareer earnings as well.

The first set of gainful-employment data released in January found 98 percent of programs failing the current gainful-employment standard were at for-profit institutions.

The Department of Education received more than 1,700 submissions in a public comment period preceding the appointment of rule-making panels to consider changes to both borrower defense and gainful employment.

An Education Department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said she couldn't address specific input but said each comment will be reviewed by staff and taken into consideration before the rule-making committee begins deliberations about the regulation.

"Under the previous administration’s rule-making process, too many voices were left out of the discussion, which led to a set of rules that targeted schools by tax status," she said. "It is this administration’s intention to ensure that all appropriate stakeholders are at the table and as a result rules are developed that protect students from predatory practices while treating all institutions of higher learning equitably."

Gunderson said he believes the department has the legal authority now to expand the rule to all higher ed programs. But answering whether gainful employment should continue to be an accountability tool or only be used for transparency purposes would help resolve many other questions about how to modify the rule.

Different Critics, Different Suggested Changes

Whether CECU gets significant support for its point of view on Capitol Hill remains to be seen. The group is still seeking bipartisan co-sponsors for legislation but hopes to see a bill introduced when lawmakers return from recess.

A Democratic aide on the House education committee said expanding application of the rule would be hard without rewriting the definition of gainful-employment programs in current law.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican and chair of the House education committee, has long been a vocal critic of the gainful-employment rule.

"We continue to have serious concerns regarding the gainful-employment rule, and we are pleased the department has recognized and considered the concerns voiced by the committee," a GOP committee aide said. "We look forward to addressing these concerns through the [Higher Education Act] reauthorization."

And a spokeswoman for Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee, said he "looks forward to reviewing the outcome of the Education Department’s rule-making process and working with the department on holding all schools accountable to their students and taxpayers.”

Representative Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican who sits on the education committee, is a former for-profit college president and has taken an interest in improving federal data on higher education outcomes. He said he doubts that a bill addressing gainful employment could clear Congress before the department's rule-making process concludes. But he's highly critical of the regulation because it assesses only vocational programs.

"I think consumers should make the decision, not the government," he said. "Let's empower the people who pay taxes, who need the education, to decide what's in the best interest of them and their family."

Supporters of the rule, however, say that empowering consumers with information is exactly what the rule does.

Even among conservatives and others sympathetic to career education programs, there isn't a uniform assessment of the current gainful-employment rule or how it should be modified.

Beth Akers, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, argued in January that standards should not be rolled back, but expanded to institutions regardless of tax status. She said while gainful-employment metrics could be better calibrated, the idea of holding programs accountable for poor student outcomes such as high loan default rates was the right one.

And Trace Urdan, an independent analyst of the sector, has argued that the regulations went too far but says investors want more, not less, information about the performance of individual programs. Relying on BLS data is what led schools to create poor programs in the first place, he said.

"It's imprecise, trailing and essentially irrelevant in any particular geography," he said. "From an investor perspective, the program-level, school-level data is vastly superior. If it's BLS data, it turns [gainful employment] and specifically consumer disclosure into mere window dressing."

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A new journalism degree from Columbia, with a $150K catch

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 02:00

For those with an extra $147,514 lying around, there is a new a master of science in data journalism from Columbia University’s School of Journalism.

For everyone else, dropping just over $106,000 for tuition and fees -- plus $41,232 in living expenses, per Columbia’s estimate -- for a master’s degree in an unstable, layoff-ravaged industry where the median annual salary is less than $40,000 might seem ludicrous, or at least deserving of mockery.

“The higher ed Institution is crumbling,” journalist Josh Sternberg wrote on Twitter. “A $100,000 master's of science in data journalism degree?”

Chicago Tribune editor Charlie J. Johnson put his feelings more succinctly.

“A $100,000 master’s degree in journalism is a stupid thing,” he tweeted.

The new degree promises to “provide students with practical, hands-on training essential to producing deeply reported data-driven stories in the public interest,” according to a news release from Columbia.

The fourth master’s degree in the prestigious journalism program’s portfolio, it also comes with the highest price tag. Before fees, the institution's master of arts tuition is roughly $40,000 cheaper than the data journalism degree, with tuition at about $55,000. The master of science, as well as the master of science in journalism and computer science, both boast tuition at just more than $60,000.

The Ph.D. program has a tuition of $55,800.

For about $100K, Columbia Journalism School will make you about $100K poorer via @poynter

— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 5, 2017

Unpaid internships are problematic in well-known ways but paying $100,000 for a master's degree in journalism is much worse.

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 3, 2017

Steve Coll, the dean of Columbia’s graduate journalism program, told Poynter that the new degree's high price is worth it, saying data literacy is in high demand at news organizations.

"You would be a highly literate candidate to participate in the modern newsroom, where you have technologists working alongside journalists to create new engagement with the audience in the digital age," Coll said. "So the idea is, you could take these skills and be a world-beating investigative reporter in this era of big data, or you could equally apply your journalism vision to the newsroom of the future."

For those wishing to catch a break on tuition, Preston Cooper wrote an op-ed for Forbes, in which his math showed that if a student used government-backed loans and only paid the minimum amount on them, they could get away with paying just over half of the amount borrowed. The math assumed that the student would be making $45,000 after graduation, with the salary increasing 5 percent every year, and paying the balance over 20 years. After that period, the loan would be forgiven, leaving taxpayers to foot the remaining $177,857, interest included.

"Not everyone's going to get the Panama Papers," Giannina Segnini, data journalism program director at Columbia Journalism School, told Poynter.

"But if they did” -- and, he might add, if they have $150,000 -- “they would be able, from the technical side and the judgment side, to handle bulk data with this.”

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Does bill against Israel boycott pose threat to academic freedom?

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 02:00

A bill in Congress that would prohibit U.S. persons or companies from participating in or supporting boycotts of Israel organized by international governmental organizations like the United Nations or the European Union has been roundly criticized by civil liberties groups as an infringement on First Amendment rights to free expression.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which enjoys wide bipartisan support and has 48 cosponsors in the Senate, isn’t directly focused on higher education, but opponents of the bill say it would have implications for scholars and academic organizations to the extent they’re involved in boycott-related activism -- as many individual academics and some academic groups are. Although the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the country of Israel, supported by many academics and others, is organized by nongovernmental organizations and seemingly would not fall under the purview of the bill, opponents of the legislation say BDS supporters could be ensnared by it if they, as part of their activism, participated in or otherwise supported a boycott organized by an international governmental body like the United Nations.

“This bill would impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies,” the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a July 17 letter opposing the bill. Those penalties, the ACLU wrote, could include civil fines of up to $250,000 or criminal penalties of up to $1 million and a 20-year prison sentence.

“There are millions of businesses and individuals who do no business with Israel, or with companies doing business there, for a number of reasons,” the ACLU wrote. “Some, like those who would face serious financial penalties and jail time under the bill, actively avoid purchasing goods or services from companies that do business in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories because of a political viewpoint opposed to Israeli policy. Others may refrain from Israeli-related business based on political beliefs, but choose not to publicly announce their reasoning. Still others do no business with companies in Israel for purely pragmatic reasons. Under the bill, however, only a person whose lack of business ties to Israel is politically motivated would be subject to fines and imprisonment -- even though there are many others who engage in the very same behavior. In short, the bill would punish businesses and individuals based solely on their point of view. Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

Supporters of the bill say criticism of it on free speech grounds is misplaced. They say it is intended merely to amend existing law that already bars Americans from complying with the boycotts of Israel imposed by foreign countries, such as the boycott imposed by member states of the Arab League, by making it illegal to comply with boycotts organized by international governmental organizations, such as the U.N., as well. The text of the bill explicitly discusses a March 2016 United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that calls for the creation of a database of businesses -- in the bill's parlance, "a blacklist" -- that operate in Israeli settlements.

“This law is simply a minor tweak and updating of the existing anti-boycott legislation,” said Eugene Kontorovich, a professor of law at Northwestern University and an opponent of the BDS movement.

“We don’t really need to speculate about how this law will affect higher education, because we already know. Just like the existing anti-boycott legislation has never been used in any way that even vaguely has been thought to implicate free speech or higher education, the expansion of it is going to have equally zero effect,” Kontorovich said.

In a letter in response to the ACLU, the Senate bill’s two main sponsors, Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, and Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, wrote that the bill poses no threat to free expression.

They wrote that “nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies" and that the bill is “narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.”

“The bill does not prevent U.S. companies and individuals from expressing their points of view, speaking in favor of boycott, divestment or sanctions (BDS) activities, engaging in boycott activity of their own accord, or being critical of Israel," the senators wrote. "Individuals who 'actively avoid purchasing goods and services' because of their own political viewpoint would not be subject to the bill. Similarly, the bill does not regulate civil society organizations who are critical of Israeli policies or prevent them from speaking in favor of BDS. The legislation does not encourage or compel persons to do business with Israel, nor does it punish individuals or companies from refusing to do business with Israel based on their own political beliefs, for 'purely pragmatic reasons,' or for no reason stated at all."

The ACLU argues, however, that the bill’s proposed amendments to the Export Administration Act of 1979 would change the nature of that law, which they argue was originally intended to prevent American companies from being coerced by Arab trading partners into joining their boycott of Israel as a condition of doing business. In an information sheet on its website, the ACLU writes that the proposed amendments “would significantly expand the 1979 law’s prohibitions, untethering them from Congress’s original concern about foreign governments coercing U.S. businesses into boycotting friendly countries in exchange for commercial relations. Instead, the bill risks penalizing U.S. individuals and companies that support a U.N.-led boycott movement by refusing to purchase goods made by certain companies.”

"You’ve now transformed the law into something in which individuals who choose to engage in even consumer boycotts because they’re persuaded by the U.N. human rights resolution and say so are swept within the ambit of the law, and that is a really troubling expansion with huge implications for First Amendment rights," said Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney for the ACLU. The ACLU holds that the bill as written would prohibit a U.S. person from "adhering to the U.N.’s request to cease business relationships with a company operating in Israel," from "providing information to the U.N. about whether it does business with Israel to support any U.N.-fostered boycott of Israel," and from "requesting information about whether any person is doing business in Israel if doing so is intended to help a U.N.-fostered boycott of Israel."

The board of the Middle East Studies Association has also issued a statement expressing its strong opposition to the bill. “In addition to punishing persons who choose to exercise their constitutional right to free speech by supporting an international boycott in order to protest Israeli government policies, this bill poses a grave threat to academic freedom,” the statement says. “It is not difficult to envision its provisions being used to punish faculty, students, student groups and/or academic organizations who advocate for some form of boycott of Israel, as well as the colleges and universities which house and partially fund them. It would thus have a chilling effect on the free and open exchange of opinions and perspectives at institutions of higher education and severely compromise their educational mission.”

Kontorovich, the Northwestern professor who opposes BDS, argues however that "this is a great disservice to claims of academic freedom and [the] First Amendment. They’re really crying First Amendment wolf."

In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kontorovich focused on the distinction between expression and commercial activity, pointing out, for example, that while hate speech is constitutionally protected, "if a KKK member places his constitutionally protected expression of racial hatred within the context of a commercial transaction -- for example, by publishing a For Sale notice that says that he will not sell his house to Jews or African-Americans -- it loses its constitutional protection."

"If the anti-boycott measures are unconstitutional, as the ACLU argues, it would mean that most foreign sanctions laws are unconstitutional," Kontorovich wrote. "If refusing to do business with a country is protected speech because it could send a message of opposition to that country’s policies, doing business would also be protected speech. Thus, anyone barred from doing business with Iran, Cuba or Sudan would be free to do so if they said it was a message of support for the revolution, or opposition to U.S. policy, or whatever."

​Cary Nelson, a leading opponent of the movement for an academic boycott of Israel and the Jubilee Professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that he is "in print strongly objecting to legislation that limits or penalizes individual speech advocating boycotts. But I believe the ACLU’s claim that this bill imperils that First Amendment right to be misinformed, misguided and a serious black mark against an organization that all progressive Americans will increasingly have to rely on for legal advocacy over the next few years."

"The bill’s practical consequences, if any, will be to discourage corporate boycotts of Israel, something companies are already disinclined to do," said Nelson.

Other academics who support BDS argue the Senate bill -- and a companion bill in the House of Representatives -- would have a chilling effect.

"They effectively use the U.S. government to silence its citizens and others for refusing to do business with Israel," David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and a professor of comparative literature at Stanford University, wrote in an op-ed in the left-wing publication In These Times. "Importantly, this legislation would dole out punishment for refusing to do business with companies operating in the occupied Palestinian territories -- companies that are thereby acting illegally under international law. Astonishingly, an individual or business could be convicted for obeying international human rights rulings."

“I think it’s important to understand the bill is part of a larger campaign to collapse criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism," said Katherine Franke, the Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia University, a member of the executive committee of the Academic Advisory Council for Jewish Voice for Peace and chair of the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which along with nine other civil rights groups issued its own statement opposing the bill Wednesday. "For the Congress to enact a bill that creates criminal penalties for engaging in protected constitutional speech is part of the larger political mission by the right-wing defenders of Israel to characterize any kind of criticism of the state of Israel as a bias toward Jews."

Franke described being the target of hate mail and intimidation due to her work on behalf of Palestinian rights. “When these sorts of bills get introduced in Congress or in state legislatures across the country, it emboldens the folks who push back against people like us who are engaging in constitutionally protected speech and defending human rights globally,” she said.

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Colleges award tenure

Inside Higher Education - Vie, 11 Ago 2017 - 02:00

Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

  • Heather Cathcart, arts and sciences
  • Thomas Grant, English and communication
  • Jan Gregus, mathematics
  • Chris Kiser, forest resources
  • Robin Crumley, nursing
  • Shawn Seat, physics

McDaniel College

  • Corey Wronski-Mayersak, English

Saint Peter's University, in New Jersey

  • Jill Callahan, biology
  • Brian Royster, criminal justice

University of Houston Victoria

  • Linda Autry, education, health professions and human development
  • Justin Bell, arts and sciences
  • Armando Chavez-Rivera, arts and sciences
  • Xiabo Dong, business administration
  • Shengsheng “Charlie” Huang, business administration
  • Rachana Kalelkar, business administration
  • Yingxu Kuang, business administration
  • Diana López, arts and sciences
  • Joann Olson, education, health professions and human development
  • Barjinder Singh, business administration
  • Beverly Tomek, arts and sciences

William Woods University

  • Jennifer Petterson, equestrian studies
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How Charter Schools Buy Political Support

Huffington Post - Jue, 10 Ago 2017 - 05:25
In Florida, the Miami Herald calls state ethics laws a “joke” for “failing to protect Floridians from legislators who profit

Google memo reflects familiar bias for women in STEM

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 10 Ago 2017 - 02:00

A leaked internal memo at Google, written by a now-fired male employee, has raised serious questions for women looking to enter Silicon Valley tech companies or to join academic STEM departments, both known for allegations of being hostile environments for women.

The memo questioned whether discrimination is a factor in gender disparities in tech and at Google, and instead largely attributed those disparities to biology. The memo also railed against Google’s programs aimed to recruit and aid women and minorities, calling those programs themselves discriminatory.

“Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive and bad for business,” the memo read. “I’ll concentrate on the extreme stance that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and the authoritarian element that’s required to actually discriminate to create equal representation.”

For female and minority employees in the tech industry, however, actual discrimination is well documented, and while the memo was widely condemned, it was another sign for some that tech culture -- and STEM education -- still has a ways to go in regard to how women and underrepresented minorities are treated.

“It is a universal problem. It’s not just industry, you have to remember, it’s connected to higher education,” said Karen Panetta, an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers fellow and dean of graduate engineering at Tufts University.

“That’s where it grows. It should be wiped out by higher education,” she said. “Where are these people coming from? They’re coming from higher education.”

The memo’s message isn’t just limited to the search giant itself, either, advocates said.

“Part of what the Google memo was calling out was some of the work Google has been doing around unconscious bias, and [the memo writer] kind of grabbed ahold of that language and flipped it in a problematic way,” said Heather Metcalf, director of research and analysis at the Association of Women in Science.

“Everyone holds different kinds of biases that are influenced by the values and the hierarchies … we have in society, and social stereotypes,” Metcalf said. “What that does over the course of a lifetime -- not only does it limit the possibilities that we think that we have available for ourselves, but it also influences the appropriateness we think a person has for taking on a role, how we evaluate them as a candidate, how we evaluate the effectiveness they have as an employee or a student.”

A Familiar Feeling

For some women with engineering backgrounds, the memo -- though offensive -- wasn’t necessarily surprising, and it fit with what they’ve experienced in and outside academe.

“There’s definitely disciplines, industries and fields that still haven’t made the progress that is needed in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion. In that regard, I’m not surprised,” said Olga Pierrakos, chair of Wake Forest University’s new undergraduate engineering program, where three out of the four faculty members are women.

Pierrakos, previously a program director at the National Science Foundation, said she hopes that starting an engineering program with a fresh slate at Wake Forest will give her a chance to build an inclusive program.

“Knowing the engineering and higher ed landscape a little better, I would say there’s been effort and there’s been a chance to improve things in engineering education,” Pierrakos said, although sometimes, she noted, efforts and programs are more talk than action. “That’s where change occurs.”

Panetta, of Tufts, who previously worked in consulting, also emphasized higher education is a good starting point to change the culture in STEM. “If [higher education wants] to retain and attract women, we need role models,” she said. “The majority of faculty were trained mostly by men -- they really never worked with women faculty in engineering.”

“You’re training people the way you were trained,” she said. “If you can’t break that cycle, it persists.”

Silver Linings

As disappointed as she was when she learned of the memo, Laurie Leshin, president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said she had reason to hope after seeing some of the responses to it.

“While the memo clearly demonstrates that there is still significant work to be done to dramatically shift the tech culture, the overwhelmingly negative response it has received gives me hope that we are moving the needle,” she said via email. “Hopefully by exposing the pervasiveness of these demonstrably incorrect opinions, acceleration of change will be possible.”

For Panetta, the memo was a sign of validation. After it leaked to the press, the biases that women in STEM talk about facing were revealed to a wider audience.

“This actually exemplified that the problem exists everywhere, even at progressive companies like Google,” she said. “The problem persists because too many people, too many companies, too many academic institutions want to stick their head in the sand and don’t want to acknowledge that it’s there.”

“It validates that this is really happening,” she said.

Moving Forward

Solutions to discrimination against women and minorities in STEM are not necessarily simple or swift. Pierrakos pointed out structural and cultural norms at the root of companies and institutions often make real change difficult.

“[Change] starts with conversations to unite around common values, and then it has to be continuously drawn out in every aspect of that organization, and in everyday operations,” she said.

Culture is also an important part of Leshin's curriculum at WPI, she said.

“We strive to teach all (not only women and minorities) entering the tech world through WPI that the kind of skills they need for the future go far beyond just coding, or whatever relatively narrow set of skill they obtain in their major,” Leshin said. “Tech workers today need to be able to work in teams with people of all sorts of backgrounds to solve real-world problems, not just homework problems (or simple coding problems).”

Still, some solutions can seem impractical for individuals on the ground level.

“The big solution is for companies and academic institutions to take ownership,” Panetta said.

“Google is a data giant -- they know darn well what their women are making, they know darn well what their numbers are,” she said in reference to a Department of Labor accusation of “systemic compensation disparities against women” at Google (the company has denied the charges, and the Labor Department’s access to company data is currently held up in court.)

“This is happening,” she said. “What are you going to do about it?”

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