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Study finds evidence of racial and gender bias in online education

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:27

Many proponents of online education have speculated that the digital learning environment might be a meritocracy, where students are judged not on their race or gender, but on the comments they post.

A study being released today by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University finds that bias appears to be strong in online course discussions.

The study found that instructors are 94 percent more likely to respond to discussion forum posts by white male students than by other students. The authors write that they believe their work is the first to demonstrate with a large pool that the sort of bias that concerns many educators in face-to-face instruction is also present in online education.

The study looked at discussion forums in 124 massive open online courses (all were provided on a single MOOC platform that the paper does not identify, citing confidentiality requirements). The researchers created fake fictional student accounts, with names that most would identify as being either white, black, Indian or Chinese, with male and female names for each racial/ethnic group.

Overall, instructors responded to 7 percent of comments posted by students. But for white male students, the response rate was 12 percent.

"[O]ur results show compelling experimental evidence that instructor discrimination exists in discussion forums of online classrooms," says the paper. "Simply attaching a name that connotes a specific race and gender to a discussion forum post changes the likelihood that an instructor will respond to that post."

The gap in instructor response rates was the same in courses in science and technology, and in other subject areas.

In course discussion forums, students also respond to fellow students. Here the study found that female, white and Indian students were more likely to respond to the fictional students who were from their own group. But the impact was modest, with one exception. White female students were significantly more likely to respond to posts by white women than were other students.

The authors of the study are Rachel Baker of the University of California, Irvine; Thomas Dee of Stanford; Brent Evans of Vanderbilt University; and June John of Stanford.

Their paper acknowledges limitations of the study. They note that they are uncertain about how instructors or students react to postings from people whose names are not as identifiable by race, ethnicity or gender as the names used in the study. Further, they note that because the students they created are fictional, they could not study the impact on students of the varying response rates by instructors.

They conclude by stating that their findings are important, given the increasing use of online education.

"Because online courses are typically asynchronous, these forums provide a uniquely important venue for instructor-to-student and student-to-student engagement," the paper says. "Our field experiment produced evidence that the comparative anonymity granted by asynchronous, digitally mediated interactions in online discussion forums does not eliminate bias among instructors."

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Ball State University poised for historic takeover of school district in Muncie, Ind.

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:00

Muncie Community Schools enrollment peaked at 19,808 students in 1967, a time when the shine had yet to wear off the rust belt and manufacturers were near the apex of their power as employers hiring in Indiana.

School enrollment has declined since then as the region’s manufacturing jobs moved away, population fell and students shifted to other schools. Today, the school system enrolls 5,215 students.

Despite the declines, the school system has built two new high schools, another middle school and a new elementary school since its heyday. As of 2017, the district’s facilities were less than 75 percent occupied. By some estimates, their occupancy rate was on track to fall to 68 percent by 2030. In that case, the school system would have 100 excess classrooms.

Just three school buildings were labeled in good shape in an assessment of facilities performed in 2015. Six needed significant maintenance. But $10 million from 2014 general obligation bonding intended for school repairs was spent instead on operating expenses, drawing the ire of state legislators. Last year, the state put emergency managers in place to address the district’s finances. Then in December, the state decided to take full control of Muncie Community Schools, giving the emergency managers full control of academic and financial operations.

Now Ball State University is poised to take control of the embattled school district in its home city.

Legislation advancing through Indiana’s General Assembly would permanently replace Muncie Community Schools’ five-member elected board with a seven-person board appointed by Ball State, giving Indiana’s fourth-largest public university full control of the school district. The idea, advanced by Republicans and likely to pass in Indiana’s GOP-controlled state government, has drawn support from Ball State’s administration.

University leaders hope to reverse a long financial slide at the school district, boost its academic offerings and attract new students in a state where laws allow for neighboring public schools and charter schools to compete fiercely with each other for enrollment. They point to the university’s roots as a teachers’ college and connections Ball State already has with Muncie schools, arguing the new arrangement would allow them to do more to help students.

The proposal remains rife with risks. Area politicians have howled about the pending loss of voter control over Muncie schools. Teachers’ unions objected because Ball State would not be required to recognize collective bargaining, and the university could face conflicts of interest related to its newfound taxing power.

The idea of a university controlling its local public school district is also nearly untested. One point of comparison might come from the private Boston University, which ran Chelsea Public Schools for 20 years ending in 2008. The partnership ended with mixed results.

Only one thing can be said for certain: Ball State is about to test the limits of optimism about higher education’s power and role in society.

Why Wade In?

Ball State's first-year president, Geoffrey S. Mearns, walks a narrow path when it comes to talking about the university taking over Muncie schools. The university has resisted labeling the idea a takeover. Mearns tries to cast the decision at hand not as a choice between a local school board controlling the district or Ball State running it, but as a choice between the university operating Muncie Community Schools or the schools being run by an emergency manager.

“We are local, as opposed to an emergency manager, who is in it pursuant to a contract and may or may not be local,” said Mearns, who joined Ball State in May after five years as president at Northern Kentucky University. “Another fundamental difference is we have a long-term interest that the emergency manager doesn’t.”

Ball State’s fortunes are intertwined with Muncie’s, Mearns argues. As a public university, Ball State also has an obligation to support its surrounding community.

Although the local schools are not in academic distress at the moment, Mearns said, academics will deteriorate if the school district's financial struggles continue indefinitely. If such a paradigm plays out, struggling schools would hurt the local economy as employers struggle to attract talent. Ball State would feel the pain, too, if faculty members choose to live in another district so their children can be closer to strong schools -- or if employees decide not to come to the university at all.

Nonetheless, the legislation would keep certain firewalls between Ball State and Muncie Community Schools. The two entities would be legally and financially independent. The university would not be managing the schools in the way it manages two other schools it directly runs, the K-12 Burris Laboratory School and a residential high school for gifted juniors and seniors called the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities.

Instead, Ball State would appoint a seven-member board that would in turn be charged with running the school district. Five of those members would be nominated by the university's president and appointed by Ball State's governor-appointed trustees. The president would also appoint one board member from a list of three people nominated by Muncie’s city council. And the president would appoint the final member from a list of three people nominated by the mayor of Muncie.

The particulars of the appointments have changed as the bill worked its way through the legislative process and lawmakers raised concerns about a potential lack of local voices running the school district. Many pointed out that board members would not have to live within the district.

In the latest version of the bill, at least two of the five board members appointed by trustees would have to live within the Muncie Community School Corporation district. So would the two people appointed by the president. Starting in 2022, the presidential appointments would be replaced with two board members elected from within the school corporation boundaries on an at-large basis.

Appointments should “strive to” reflect the “geographical and socioeconomic composition” of the district, the proposed law says. Current school board members would also become members of an advisory board with no governing power existing until their terms expire.

If the legislation passes, Ball State trustees would still have to vote to assume control of the school district. It is too early to say who might be appointed to the board afterward, Mearns said.

“I’ve received some suggestions, some self-nominations and some nominations of others,” he said. “If the bill passes and if our board accepts this responsibility, we will develop a process by which we will consult with the community to receive nominations and evaluate those nominations.”

If the university doesn’t know whom it would have running the schools, it’s worth asking why administrators think they can change the schools’ trajectory. In response, Mearns and faculty members in Ball State’s Teachers College say the university is already deeply involved in local classrooms. If Ball State can scale existing programs or start new ones, it can build an innovative academic environment to attract students.

And attracting students is of the utmost importance in Indiana, where local taxes go toward capital and transportation costs but the state pays school districts for operating costs on a per-student basis. Indiana pays districts an average of $6,500 per student. But students can choose to attend public charter schools, and the state also pays for vouchers for private schools. Perhaps most critically for Muncie, students can also choose to attend other public school corporations in the state. Between 2005 and 2015, Muncie Community Schools’ enrollment fell by 26.1 percent. About half of that drop was students choosing to attend other local public schools, according to a 2017 report by Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research. University administrators say neighboring school districts send buses into Muncie to pick up students.

In other words, optimists at the university hope their involvement stops a death spiral at Muncie’s public schools and turns them into an in-demand destination. Doing so would bring students, money and, hopefully, the ability to climb out of decades of decline.

“The thinking is that this presents an opportunity to design some innovative programming in the district that would attract families and potentially increase the extent to which faculty at Ball State are more likely to live in the community, which is a significant population,” said Eva Zygmunt, a professor of elementary education at Ball State.

Zygmunt and others can point to the university’s heavy existing involvement with Muncie Community Schools. In 2016-17, 688 Ball State students volunteered a total of 11,300 hours for agencies serving the schools. Over three years, Ball State has placed a total of 159 student teachers there.

Pat Clark is a professor who chairs Ball State’s Department of Elementary Education. She is also on the Board of Directors for BY5, a nonprofit organization focused on improving opportunities for early childhood development in Muncie and its surrounding county. She would like to see Ball State facilitate early childhood programs after it is in control of Muncie schools. She also said parents have voiced interest in starting a Montessori school.

Clark and others repeat, again and again, that Muncie Schools are not failing academically.

“We’re not thinking we’re coming in to save the Muncie school district academically,” Clark said. “We’re coming in because we already have a strong relationship with the Muncie schools, and we’re hoping this opportunity can garner resources for us to work together to come up with programs that will attract families.”

The state is dangling some additional resources for Muncie’s public schools if Ball State agrees to assume responsibility for them. Indiana would essentially take the amount it could have spent paying a private company to be the district’s emergency manager and send it to the district. Such a payment could total as much as $11.4 million over three years, according to state estimates. The state would also pave the way for making an interest-free loan to the Muncie Community Schools Corporation that would essentially backstop the misappropriated 2014 bond.

Questions at Hearings

Critics of the proposed takeover tend to say they aren’t condemning Ball State. Still, the legislation has plenty of detractors. The two issues of local control and unions have emerged as sticking points in particular.

Those issues played central roles as a state Senate Appropriations Committee debated the bill recently. Union leaders and Democratic senators hammered the legislation for not requiring Ball State to recognize collective bargaining rights, effectively meaning the university would be able to choose whether or not to recognize the local teachers’ union.

To some, that represents another in a series of blows against union rights in Indiana. Many policies seem to be removing the collective voice of teachers from the discussion about learning conditions for children, Gail Zeheralis, director of government relations for the Indiana State Teachers Association, told state senators in a committee hearing in February.

She argued teachers are an example of those who should not be disenfranchised. Muncie teachers have already sacrificed, agreeing to pay back health insurance premiums after it was learned that Muncie school administrators had been underbilling for those premiums, Zeheralis said.

Perhaps more pressing, Zeheralis asked what happens if Ball State takes over July 1 as proposed.

“Will the current Muncie teachers be retained?” she asked. “Will teachers work under a contract? Will teachers be licensed? Will teachers have a right to be represented by their union as every other public school teacher, including those in Gary, are provided? This bill became more than fiscal distress very quickly.”

Muncie Teachers Association president Pat Kennedy told lawmakers that teachers were frightened, anxious, concerned and confused because the bill removed rights from 359 teachers, according to The Star Press.

Mearns has said teachers were not the cause of the problem in Muncie, but that they need to be part of the solution. Asked directly if Ball State will recognize the union, he said the university is prepared to work directly with any organization, including the teachers’ association, if it is willing to work with the university "in partnership" to make decisions in the interest of children. Ball State’s faculty members are not unionized, but the university does have 699 unionized staff members.

Senator Tim Lanane, who represents Muncie, told the Senate committee his constituents are worried about the fact that the takeover is an experiment. He also worried about the loss of local control.

“We disenfranchise the people who are living within the community school district, because they’re not going to vote to put these people on the board,” Lanane told the senate committee. “And we do it on a permanent basis.”

Republican senator Liz Brown dismissed concerns over a loss of local control.

“Muncie school system, to the best of my knowledge, has operated under an elected school board,” she said. “And, clearly, they couldn’t get the job done. So people had representation, and the school district was not going in the right direction.”

In another hearing March 1, Brown said she would love to put a timeline on when Ball State control over the schools would end but is unable to do so.

“Looking at the chronology of the Muncie school district, this cesspool didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “And it’s not going to be righted any time soon.”

That drew a rebuke from Senator Karen Tallian, a Democrat, who said almost everyone in charge of Muncie schools has been replaced since improprieties were found. The emergency manager currently in place seems to think the district has turned around, Tallian said.

“The cesspool language is a little over the top,” Tallian said. “I think that’s an insult.”

The bill passed the Committee on Appropriations on a 9-to-4 party-line vote. It passed the full Senate Tuesday and is now likely to go to a conference committee to iron out differences between House and Senate versions. Ball State expects it to receive final votes by March 14.

Support From School Board

A majority of Muncie’s current school board -- four of five members, according to supporters -- are in favor of handing over control of the schools to Ball State. Three of the board members confirmed their support to Inside Higher Ed, and a fourth confirmed his opposition.

Board members who support the move hope Ball State can turn the page at a district saddled with historical missteps and difficulty moving beyond memories of its past size and strength. Some say the board has no control under the current setup with an emergency manager, so a Ball State takeover would be a positive change. A few supporters voiced reservations about local control, saying members of the university-appointed board should have to live within the Muncie school district.

Over all, school board members who back the takeover see it in an aspirational light. It represents a broad range of their hopes and dreams for Muncie schools.

Initially, the board’s reaction was that a Ball State takeover was an overreach, said Debbie Feick, who is in her sixth year on the board and is its president.

The board could argue Muncie has taken steps to rightsize and correct its finances. The district has worked to untangle several bookkeeping issues and taken action to cut costs: it has turned to private vendors, redone its busing deal and closed schools. Three elementary schools were closed in 2017, and the number of teaching, administrative and staff positions was cut. The district has sold several schools, including one to Ball State.

But when board members looked around the state capitol, they saw lobbyists for teachers and superintendents talking about the proposal. None were representing families and children, Feick said.

“Given our mission as a board and the fact that there were so many hot-button issues surrounding all of this, we thought maybe our best role was to advocate for our kids and families,” she said. “If we look exclusively at opportunities for our students, we are better together with Ball State.”

Students will have new opportunities and teachers will have new chances for professional development under Ball State’s leadership, said Rob Keisling, the newest board member, who was appointed to fill a vacancy that opened in January.

“Ball State has, literally, the ability to look at someone from age 3 to postgraduate,” Keisling said. “What could be done in terms of educational program from early childhood all the way to postgraduate and everywhere in between could really be transformative.”

Muncie schools have been locked into a pattern of deficit spending since 2007, he said. The only year they did not post a deficit budget since then was 2008, when federal stimulus spending flowed into the district.

Board member Kathy J. Carey said in an email that the current emergency manager plans to cut programs, but she thinks Ball State will have the ability to keep those programs running and even enhance them. She believes Ball State will be able to improve the district in ways the current board was unable to.

“I have said in recent weeks that as long as our children and their families reap the benefits from this change, I am willing to sacrifice my board seat,” Carey said.

The question is whether it is Carey’s seat to sacrifice. Are the board seats the property of individual elected officials, or do they represent the collective rights of the people who live in Muncie?

Currently, it’s a moot point, because the Muncie school board can’t vote to hand over its authority. The state law that would allow the Ball State takeover was written by legislators who do not live in the Muncie community, argues Jason Donati, the school board member who does not support the takeover.

Although Donati says he is willing to step aside to allow Muncie schools to focus on what’s best for students, he is deeply troubled by the loss of local elected representatives having a say in its operations.

“I believe in democracy,” he said. “I believe in people’s ability to elect their representation. I look at what is happening as disenfranchising our community.”

Donati raises other concerns: Ball State will be appointing a board with taxing power, he points out. Some members of the board could theoretically be individuals who do not live in Muncie, meaning appointed officials from out of the area will have control over local taxes. While the school district already levies taxes at a rate capped by state law, that fact doesn’t change the principle to which Donati is objecting.

Others have raised another issue related to Ball State and property taxes. The university is a tax-exempt entity. If it runs Muncie schools, it will be in the awkward position of taking property off the tax rolls any time it buys a new building -- and cutting into Muncie schools’ revenue in the process.

Donati is a parent of two children in Muncie Community Schools, and he worries Ball State will be handed the school district before it has a plan for managing it. The state legislation only calls for the university-appointed board to have a plan in place for long-term fiscal viability and “academic innovation” by 2020 -- two years in the future. He also questions the idea of not securing collective bargaining for teachers.

“We could lose a lot of teachers,” Donati said. “I hear from a lot of teachers saying, ‘That’s the last straw. Why would I continue in an experiment like this?’”

Boston University’s Experience

While there is very little history of universities running entire school systems in the United States, one past example stands out as comparable. Boston University ran schools in the nearby blue-collar city of Chelsea for two decades ending in June 2008.

News coverage when the arrangement ended pointed to successes like improved facilities for Chelsea schools, higher graduation rates and additional academic offerings like Advanced Placement classes. But some test scores remained low, and less than 30 percent of high school graduates planned to attend a four-year college, The Boston Globe reported in 2008.

A key difference between the Boston University case and the setup proposed for Ball State is that the locally elected Chelsea School Committee reserved power to override Boston University on policy matters affecting the whole district. Residents could call their school committee members with worries, and those members could act in extreme circumstances. Also important is that Chelsea officials voted to give Boston University control of governance.

A similarity between the cases is that Boston University had a firewall between its finances and those of the school district. Nevertheless, Boston University officials ended up investing vast amounts of time and energy into the schools.

Doug Sears is vice president and chief of staff to the president at Boston University. He is also a former dean of the university’s school of education and was for five years superintendent of the Chelsea Public Schools while they were under university administration. He was the fourth superintendent under Boston University’s governance.

“There are some cautionary lessons,” he said. “You have to know what you are getting into. You have to know, clearly, what your authority is, but you have to have a ton of respect for the community.”

Sears shared several other takeaways that may be applicable to Ball State and Muncie. Perhaps the most eye-opening is the corruption he said he found in Chelsea. Facilities were misused, vendors were being shaken down and jobs were for sale, he said. Cleaning up the situation was not easy.

While Ball State may not find corruption in Muncie schools, the example goes to show how the university will need to be prepared to handle a wide range of entrenched problems.

What worked for Boston University? Sears cites successes improving financial practices, improving operating practices and building private fund-raising for the schools. Negotiating labor contracts in a way that was both professional and fiscally prudent was key, he said, as was creating alternative certification rules for administrators and teachers, which expanded the pool of candidates for important positions.

As for what didn’t work, Sears warned against bringing in too many ideas too quickly in the early days of university control. Schools ended up flooded with conflicting philosophies and ideas, some of which sounded good in the ivory tower but weren’t effective in practice. Importantly, teachers were caught in the middle of sometimes competing ideas.

Chelsea schools also found themselves under an extreme level of scrutiny, Sears said. Regulators took an intense interest in the situation. Time spent managing their visits cut into attempts to improve instruction.

Talking with Sears, it becomes clear the experience took a personal toll. Some on Boston University’s campus still dislike him because he had to say no to idealistic professors who wanted to go into Chelsea schools, he said. He also chafes against what he sees as unfair coverage in the local press and has come away with a negative view of the labor model for public higher education. Boston University did not have a choice but to recognize unions. But Sears calls the labor model an obstacle to change.

To this day, Sears still says public sector unions are too entrenched. At the same time, he said trust with teachers improved over time as Boston University delivered improvements.

“We fundamentally upgraded all basic operations in Chelsea,” Sears said. “A ton of what we did was basic operational stuff. The reason Chelsea got new buildings is Boston University. Even though technically people will say it’s a state project, we did the initial study, we helped with the politics and legislative work and, frankly, the local PR campaign.”

The experience seems to stand as both an example of what can be achieved and a warning of the bruises that can be inflicted when a university runs a school district.

“My biggest cautionary tale is that a lot of ideas in higher ed right now just aren’t very good,” Sears said. “I’m very proud of what we did. I think we did not get the credit for it.”

Where Does That Leave Ball State?

It’s not clear anyone at Ball State has had a chance to fully internalize lessons from Boston University. In the telling of Feick, the Muncie school board president, the state initially asked Ball State to take over as emergency manager. The university said no but ultimately endorsed a plan to appoint a board and keep the two entities separate. Ball State points to a meeting just a few months ago, in December, as the start of the idea. At that meeting, the leader of Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board asked community partners including Ball State for ideas about how to help the schools.

Some signs point to Ball State treading carefully. The interim dean of the university’s teachers’ college, Roy Weaver, believes its first step should be to reach out to principals and teachers in Muncie.

“We envision an opportunity with each of the schools to sit down with some of our folks, some of their folks, and just get to learn or understand what’s happening there,” he said. “The vision is to just smash any barriers between the community, the schools and the university.”

Education experts wonder if the situation is set up for disappointment, however. Kate Rousmaniere is a professor at Miami University in Ohio, where she teaches in the department of educational leadership. She has published several books on the history of American education, is also a former high school social studies teacher and is the mayor of the city of Oxford, where Miami University is located, all of which gives her a unique insight into the convergence of university, schools and local politics.

She was surprised at the idea of the Ball State takeover.

“My first reaction is I can’t believe the university would want to take this on,” she said. “That’s a big venture.”

Professors and staff members typically think of universities first and foremost, Rousmaniere said. They aren’t as experienced with thinking in depth about city regulations, state laws and local politics that impact public school districts. If anyone can navigate the waters successfully, Rousmaniere said, it’s probably those with experience training teachers. She still sees many potential challenges.

Ken Saltman, a professor specializing in education policy and politics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said Indiana state policy appears to have engineered a failure in schools like Muncie. Funding restrictions and promoting charter schools set the stage for Muncie schools to be defunded, he said.

“There’s a really big question about why creating an arrangement that defunds the schools and incentivizes flight from the schools -- which is a series of economic decisions -- why does that justify a radical political governance action?” he asked. “In a way, I would tend to look at this as part of a broader effort to privatize and dismantle public education.”

It is a leap to think a university can run a K-12 school system because of its experience educating college students or students in a laboratory school, Saltman said.

Ball State’s experience, from laboratory schools to university classes, is largely in serving students that exhibit some ability and interest in education. Running a public school is a different beast. Administrators don’t have the choice to only admit certain students.

“In general, I’m not too enthusiastic about the evidence I see with these kinds of arrangements,” said Christopher Lubienski, a professor at Indiana University who researches the intersection of public and private interests in education. “It’s a very different animal. But they have people who study this and should hopefully know what strategy is going to be effective.”

Ball State’s president, Mearns, does acknowledge that some will see Ball State assuming control of Muncie Community Schools as a development in ongoing political battles over public schools. His response: the university is acting in the best interest of the children of Muncie.

“We’re not trying to establish either a statewide model or a nationwide model,” he said. “What we’re attempting to do is address a significant, profound challenge in Muncie and bring together the experience and expertise of our campus.”

Mearns maintained that Ball State isn’t taking legal or financial risk if it assumes control of Muncie schools. It is taking reputational risk, though.

“I don’t think this will fail, but if it does, it could be a drag on the university’s reputation,” he said. “But I believe that there is a risk of doing nothing.”

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Tenure votes are usually private, but some accuse Dixie State of using breach of confidentiality claims to fire two professors

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:00

While institutions are beginning to take more action on faculty misconduct, tenured faculty terminations remain rare and typically follow reports of serious misconduct. So the mysterious firings of two longtime, tenured professors of music at Dixie State University in Utah last week are attracting attention -- including a petition to bring them back.

“Both are widely loved and known in their community and were fired for minor policy violations,” reads the petition, organized by a group called Full Disclosure DSU. “We believe that termination should be saved for the most severe actions, and their punishment does not fit their ‘crimes.’”

Even in scare quotes, “crimes” is probably too strong a word for the main claims against Glenn Webb, chair of music, and Ken Peterson, director of vocal activities: not liking a colleague and then discussing the vote on that colleague's tenure bid.

Peterson, who did not respond to a request for comment, posted on Facebook his notice of dismissal, dated Friday. It accuses him of “professional incompetence, serious misconduct or unethical behavior" and "serious violation” of university rules and regulations.

Specific charges include disclosing “confidential information” about the employment, including the tenure-review process, of Mark Houser, an assistant professor of theater and program chair, to “unauthorized third persons.” At least one such “unauthorized conversation” took place at a campus cafe, the letter says.

Peterson is also accused of “improperly representing” the music program in telling an unnamed faculty member in the music and theater department that he wanted Houser “terminated.” He’s accused, too, of “slandering” Houser in commenting -- to someone -- that he was “destroying” the theater program, “a direct impact on Houser’s professional reputation.”

Without direct evidence, the letter says that Peterson’s (presumably low) scoring of Houser’s tenure rubric shows his “biases towards Houser.”

The dismissal letter links Peterson’s case to a third, also questionable faculty termination in 2014 -- that of Varlo Davenport. The former tenured professor of theater was fired after a student said she’d been physically hurt in a theater exercise. A faculty committee recommended against dismissal after Peterson and Webb spoke on Davenport's behalf during the appeals process. But Dixie State fired Davenport -- who was acquitted in a related criminal case and is now suing the university in civil court -- nonetheless.

Several years after the incident in the theater class, Dixie State has accused Peterson of “slandering” both Houser and President Richard “Biff” Williams in saying “loudly in a public place” that both were corrupt and had conspired against Davenport.

Peterson is charged with generally failing to demonstrate “professional standards of behavior, including collegiality and the open exchange of ideas through civil discourse.”

Webb, meanwhile, declined to share his letter of dismissal. But a group of his colleagues past and present -- most of whom declined to be named, citing what they described as an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on campus -- say his main transgression was telling a family member overseas that he believed his department had rejected Houser’s tenure bid. The family member had no affiliation to Dixie State and colleagues say Webb based his assessment on the tenor of the music and theater faculty's conversation before the vote.

Houser did not respond to a request for comment, and the university did not provide Houser’s tenure status when asked.

A spokesperson for Dixie State said the university was limited as to what it could say, due to strict state privacy laws. He referred requests for comment to a statement issued this week. It says, in part, that Dixie State wants the “campus and community to understand that such decisions are deeply difficult, meticulously investigated and carefully weighed.”

Dixie State “takes all personnel matters seriously,” the statement says, and if a policy is found to be violated, the employee is subject to disciplinary action.

All parties have a right to appeal, it says, and for that reason the campus president is not involved in personnel decisions before that time.

Both Peterson and Webb have 30 days to appeal their terminations. In the meantime, their classes have been reassigned, their faculty profiles have been removed and their campus email accounts have been disabled.

Jim Haendiges, a professor of English and Faculty Senate president, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the case.

'More to the Story'

Davenport in an interview reiterated that a faculty review panel recommended against dismissal. But even before that, he said, administrators on campus attempted to sway that vote -- including by repeatedly insinuating to members of the senate that there was “more to the story” in his case. He said that many tend to assume that the allegations against him involved sexual assault, but they did not. He was accused of pulling a student's hair as part of a physical resistance exercise sometimes used in acting classes to make students uncomfortable and thereby tap into new emotions to better identify with the characters they play.

Davenport has said that he pushed down on the student's shoulders for approximately 30 seconds to hold her in her chair and put some of her hair in her face, but did not pull her hair or hurt her. Student witnesses in the criminal trial all denied having seen Davenport pull the student's hair.

As for what might have motivated the university to target him for termination, Davenport said he believed it was typical “academic politics” -- he and Houser did not get along -- and a possible fear of litigation by the student involved in the incident. Dixie State was previously sued by student athletes who said their basketball coach discriminated against them on the basis of race, made them participate in religious activities and questioned their sexual orientation.

Davenport's pending lawsuit against Dixie State says that he warned all his students that they could ask him to stop an exercise at any time. It also accuses Houser of keeping private files on him in order to build a disciplinary case against him in cooperation with unnamed administrators, purposely working to elevate the student's complaint to have him fired and -- interestingly, given the language in Peterson's termination letter -- telling a faculty member that he intended to "take Davenport out." 

Beyond a personality conflict, the complaint says that Houser objected to some of Davenport's artistic choices on the basis of his religious beliefs, irrespective of Davenport's academic freedom. It cites a document allegedly written by Houser and obtained as part of the legal process saying, “We now have a standing reputation of doing nothing but Dark Shows [emphasis Houser's] with language and Varlo's name is [sic] attached to it because he is our leader/chair." 

All shows "need to be held to a standard which suits the maximum audience -- no nudity, no sex, minimal violence/blood/gore, very minimal language if any (absolutely no GD, F-word) -- and they should only be used so many times before it is deemed unfit for our audience," the document says.

Meanwhile, Davenport said, “my career is over.”

Webb said he misses his colleagues and “working with students -- helping young people is my life’s passion.”

Dixie State faculty policy prohibits talking about tenure cases “indefinitely.” Most campuses do put a premium, whether by culture or policy, on confidentiality in these matters. Yet no academic department is free from gossip. And even the most discreet colleagues would probably question whether telling a family member about a tenure vote is a meaningful breach of privacy -- let alone a terminable offense.

The American Association of University Professors doesn’t define what is and is not a fireable offense and maintains that faculty peers should make such decisions. It opposes the use of collegiality in personnel decisions, on the grounds that it's a murky concept that can be used to punish professors for political reasons.

John T. Jones, an associate professor of psychology at Dixie State who said he has been following the dismissals as a matter of public concern, not as a representative of his program or the university, described the faculty as “angry and fearful” at the moment.

Students, meanwhile, “are speculating about which of their professors could suddenly disappear from campus and what that would mean for their educational experiences,” he added via email. “Are these fears exaggerated? They frequently are. Are these concerns justified? I think so.”

Saying that no one, in his experience, was out to “destroy” Houser, Jones said Peterson may have been “simply been exercising his rights in ways that others find discomforting.”

Calling Davenport, Peterson and Webb “esteemed members of the faculty and the broader community,” Jones said “there is nothing positive to be accomplished through these suspensions and terminations. There is no upside and it didn't have to be this way. I certainly believe that policy violations need to be addressed, but in ways that are equitable, progressive, measured and just.”

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Administrators still waging campus free speech wars

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Many higher education professionals agree -- the way to counter speech that students find repugnant (but is legally protected) is with sound policy, education and statements from administrators that both condemn offensive speech and defend the right to make it.

These strategies, espoused and repeated many times over at the yearly NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conference, reflect the tumult around free expression that college leaders across the country have contended with in different forms.

White supremacists seek out campuses to speak and stoke the rage of students. They, along with other controversial speakers, have been shouted down. Fliers championing racism and anti-Semitism have cropped up with frequency. The partisan climate has sometimes split campus conservatives from the rest of the student body. Some administrators haven’t even been sure even how to handle political posters (and other decorations) in dormitory windows.

The struggle of college officials -- who want to both make students feel comfortable and safe and uphold their legal obligation -- was best illustrated during a major NASPA panel discussion on free speech. In the last question of the event Tuesday, one attendee, with a catch in her voice, accused the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties watchdog group in academe and a panel participant, of defending hate speech.

She questioned the balance -- how would higher education uphold its historical mission of defending free expression when students are in pain?

First Amendment battles spur emotions both among administrators and students. Monday, the white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University. The institution, in an apparent attempt to mitigate the disturbance caused by a Spencer talk, scheduled him during spring break when most students would be away and housed him at the edge of campus in a pavilion used by agricultural students. As one Michigan State employee at the conference described it, “It smells like horse shit.”

Still, students protested the event, though college presidents have often told them to avoid these speeches for fear of giving the white nationalists, Islamophobes or provocateurs more attention. Fights erupted outside the venue where Spencer spoke and more than 20 people were arrested, some on felony charges. (In many of the cases where protesters have been arrested at college speaking events, those people have not been affiliated with the institutions hosting the events.)

These controversial speakers can “flame out” or fade from view, said Penny Rue, a panelist and the vice president for campus life at Wake Forest University. She referenced Milo Yiannopoulos, the inflammatory former Breitbart editor who was frequently courted by campus GOP groups to speak but has since retreated somewhat from college appearances, likely related to backlash against his comments defending sexual relationships between adults and teens. Yiannopoulos’s first visit to the University of California, Berkeley, last year resulted in riots, but his second, in September, fizzled despite his promises to rattle the institution -- Berkeley spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for security for his second “Free Speech Week” event.

The University of Florida handled Spencer well when he spoke on campus, Rue said, though it was “painful.” Florida also shelled out at least $600,000 on police and security, complete with snipers watching over where Spencer addressed the campus.

As is somewhat common, Florida also promoted some campaigns leading up to and during Spencer’s talk, pushing the values of the university. The president also made strong statements against Spencer, rejecting his rhetoric, as the panelists pointed out is always allowed. University presidents have progressively been bolder to call out Spencer as a racist -- when he and his followers marched on the University of Virginia campus last year, the precursor to the deadly Charlottesville demonstrations, President Teresa Sullivan at first didn’t even mention him or his movement -- the alt-right -- by name. In contrast, at the University of Michigan, where Spencer has tried to speak, the President Mark Schlissel called his speech “sickening” and stressed that legally, the institution couldn’t block him.

During the panel discussion, Sigal R. Ben-Porath, a professor of education, political science and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, said it is incumbent on institutions to create an inclusive environment before any legal concerns are raised.

Students often feel that college leaders won’t act on racism or other slights against minority students because they are more concerned with free speech considerations -- but it’s not just one or the other, Ben-Porath said. An institution should encourage students to weigh in on these problems before they occur, she said.

Colleges also can teach students in a nonpunitive way about harassment before an incident occurs, said Traevena Byrd, the general counsel at Towson University.

Sometimes, though, institutions have overstepped when dealing with cases of more individualized harassment. Crafting rules around harassment has proven difficult for the legal arms of some colleges, too.

FIRE hears about cases in which college administrators pledge to “investigate” speech that is allegedly offensive, but still protected, but that act in itself can chill free expression, Samantha Harris, FIRE's vice president of policy research, said.

A lengthy inquiry and being called in for interviews can lead to students not speaking out, she said.

Institutions have been simultaneously blamed for not acting aggressively enough against hurtful speech and suppressing students’ First Amendment rights. It can happen over issues as insignificant as dormitory windows -- Ohio State University, for instance, completely banned window decorations.

As was pointed out in a separate NASPA session on First Amendment issues in student housing, some institutions have prohibited window hangings, but related it to fire codes and other safety -- same for whiteboards, a staple on college dorm room doors.

Ohio State’s neighbor, Ohio University, put a blanket ban on indoor protests in September, a policy change that resulted in so much backlash it was promptly reconsidered. A spokesman at the time said the Charlottesville riots made them move forward with a policy more quickly.

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Survey finds global boom in private higher education enrollments

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:00

One in three students globally is enrolled in private higher education institutions, according to research that reveals the huge growth and wide reach of private providers.

The analysis, the first study based on comprehensive data on the size and shape of private higher education internationally, finds that private institutions have 56.7 million students on their books, or 32.9 percent of the world’s enrollment.

Times Higher Education logoWhile the U.S. has historically towered over the rest of the world in terms of the size of its private sector, the proportion of students in the country in private higher education stands at 27.5 percent, lower than the global average, and it now accounts for only a tenth of global private enrollment.

Private universities’ share of enrollment is highest in Latin America (48.8 percent) and Asia (42.1 percent), but the sector is far from limited to a small number of countries: 97.6 percent of the world’s total tertiary enrollment is in higher education systems with “dual-sector provision,” and in all regions at least 10 percent of students are in the private sector, according to the research.

The research draws on a data set developed by the Program for Research on Private Higher Education, a global scholarly network founded by Daniel Levy, distinguished professor in the School of Education at the State University of New York at Albany. The data cover 192 countries and were sourced primarily from the Institute of Statistics at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, as well as other cross-border agencies and national organizations.

A paper describing the data set, newly published in the journal Higher Education, says that while higher education has “long and overwhelmingly [been] seen beyond the U.S. as an essentially public sector function with no or only marginal private presence,” it has become “very much a dual-sector phenomenon globally.” This has occurred despite unprecedented growth in public enrollment and indicates how governments have been unable to meet soaring demand for higher education via the creation of public university systems.

Private Enrollments in Selected Countries

Country Percentage of Enrollment in
Private Higher Education
India 58.3% U.S. 27.5% Brazil 72.7% China 19.6% Japan 78.6% Indonesia 58.2% South Korea 80.7% Iran 44.9% Philippines 60.8% Russian Federation 14.7%

Source: Program for Research on Private Higher Education. Countries listed in order of total number of students in private higher education.

Of the 179 countries showing enrollment by sector, only 10 nations appear to have no private higher education, according to the analysis.

Despite the wide dispersion of private higher education, enrollment in the sector concentrates mostly in developing regions. Compared with the higher figures for Latin America and Asia, private providers account for less than a sixth of total higher education enrollment in Canada, Australia and New Zealand (10.1 percent) and Europe (14.9 percent).

Levy’s analysis indicates that the developing world holds 69.8 percent of the world’s private higher education, versus 30.2 percent in the developed world. Put another way, in the developed world, 25.2 percent of enrollments are in private higher education, compared with 37.8 percent of the developing world’s enrollment.

The country with the largest private sector is India, which is home to 21.9 percent of global private enrollment, with more than 12 million students -- more than twice the size of the sector in the U.S.

Countries with very high shares of private enrollment tend to have small higher education systems.

Levy told Times Higher Education that his expectation is that while private higher education enrollment will continue to increase in absolute terms, the sector’s share of enrollment will “level off.”

He said that this is partly because as the sector gets larger, the “challenge of increasing share becomes more difficult.”

Liz Reisberg, an independent higher education consultant and research fellow at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed), said that private higher education is “both inevitable and necessary” as the “public sector will never have the resources to meet either the scale of demand or its diversity.”

However, she said, the quality of the private sector “remains an urgent concern.” In Latin America, for example, “while nearly every nation in the region now has an accreditation agency, none have adequate capacity to address poor quality in either the private or public sector.”

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside Higher Education - Jue, 08 Mar 2018 - 02:00
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Florida Legislature Passes Bill Allowing Guns On Campus

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 18:59
Gov. Rick Scott has expressed hesitancy over the bill and hasn't ruled out a veto.

College Faculty Member Caught On Video Telling Asian-American Man To 'Go Back To Your Home Country'

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 17:52
Tarin Olson is on leave from Golden West College after the video emerged on Facebook.

Florida Teacher Keeps Job After Telling Students Not To Date Anyone 'Acting Like A N****r'

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 17:51
"He loves to talk about politics and Donald Trump," one student said.

Former Yale Student Found Not Guilty In Rare Campus Sexual Assault Trial

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 16:18
Taking the stand for three days, the accuser maintained she had been too drunk to consent.

What Nutritionists Give Their Kids For After-School Snacks

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 16:05
Experts share their recipes and tips.

Teachers Like White Nationalist Podcaster Dayanna Volitich Are Nothing New

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 15:43
Growing up as a black student in a primarily white school, I regularly faced racism.

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade Pays Surprise Visit To Parkland High School

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 13:33
“I just wanted to come and say I’m inspired by all of you,” he told students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, where a gunman killed 17 people last month.

The West Virginia Teacher Strike Was Rare, Militant And Victorious

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 13:00
Any state that's been telling teachers to tighten their belts for years has been put on notice.

Survey of college presidents finds worry about public attitudes, confidence in finances

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 12:02
Cover of Inside Higher Ed's 2018 Survey of College and University Presidents

One in eight campus leaders say their college could close or merge within five years, half agree that academe is disconnected from society and most feel badly misunderstood by the public.

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Parkland Students Disappointed In Betsy DeVos' Brief Visit To Their School

Huffington Post - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 11:09
Stoneman Douglas students said on social media that the education secretary met with few students and barely responded to their questions.

Accreditor backs Purdue University Global as more for-profits seek to convert or sell

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 02:00

Purdue University Global has cleared its third and final regulatory hurdle, with the Higher Learning Commission following state and federal agencies in backing Purdue’s acquisition of the for-profit Kaplan University.

Yet questions remain about the final structure of the boundary-pushing Purdue Global, which has drawn both strong praise and criticism. The online university will combine aspects of public, private nonprofit and for-profit higher education after its anticipated launch in April.

Meanwhile, experts said more nonprofit entities, including some colleges, will seek to acquire for-profits. And the tax-status conversion of Kaplan University has stoked interest among for-profits, many of which are hemorrhaging students and money, to follow suit with their own bids to become nonprofits.

“There’s going to be a lot of activity between now and 2020,” said Trace Urdan, an expert on the for-profit industry and a managing director at Tyton Partners.

Also this week, Grand Canyon University, a publicly traded for-profit that enrolls roughly 70,000 students online and has a growing physical location in Phoenix, got a green light from the Higher Learning Commission to convert to a nonprofit. It’s the second attempt for the university, which still needs approval from the feds and state regulators. And officials from Grand Canyon have cited Purdue Global in their latest bid.

Industry analysts and lawyers said as many as 12 proposed for-profit conversions or sales are in the works. While most of those attempts will be smaller in scope than the ambitious Purdue deal, some could involve other public universities, experts said. And another blockbuster deal is possible.

Several conversion bids languished at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, said Neil Lefkowitz, a lawyer with the firm Loeb & Loeb LLP, who focuses on mergers and acquisitions.

Congressional Democrats and some state attorneys general have generally opposed for-profit conversions and sales, according to Lefkowitz and other experts. But the environment has changed under the deregulation-minded Trump administration, although the department required some changes to the arrangement between Purdue and Kaplan as part of its approval of the deal, including a limit on some fees the for-profit can charge.

“People will try to finish them up because there’s a limited political window,” Lefkowitz said. “The political winds will change again.”

Purdue is expected to formally close the deal with Kaplan before April, when the new online university is slated to become a separately accredited nonprofit within the public Purdue system. Kaplan University’s roughly 30,000 students and 2,000 faculty members will join the new university, along with Kaplan’s 15 campus locations and its 80 or so degree programs, which range from associate to doctoral degrees.

Kaplan Inc., however, isn’t going away. The company’s international and test preparation divisions brought in more than half of its $1.5 billion in revenue last year, according to a corporate filing. And Kaplan will continue to run a large portion of the nonacademic operations of its former university under a complex 30-year contract with Purdue.

The public university is paying only a nominal fee for the acquisition. Kaplan will be paid for handling Purdue Global’s marketing, admissions support and financial aid administration, as well as other services (see the box below for a list of responsibilities under the partnership).

Kaplan is guaranteeing that Purdue Global will generate at least $10 million a year in new revenue for the first five years, chipping in money to cover any shortfalls. The company will be reimbursed for its support activities and will receive a fee of 12.5 percent of the university’s revenue.

As a result, Kaplan’s role with Purdue Global in some ways will resemble that of an online program management company, albeit one that charges a relatively small fee and with a long-term contract that Lefkowitz said “transcends outsourced program management agreements prevalent in U.S. higher education in complexity, anticipation of future changes, operational control and payments to Kaplan in most termination scenarios.”

Under the contract, Kaplan gets an enviable big client in Purdue and could expand by offering similar services to other universities.

Shared Services for Purdue Global

Purdue Global oversees: student admissions, academic standards, curriculum, student records, academic reporting, faculty and faculty support, student support services, degree-granting procedures, career services, educational approvals and related matters.

Kaplan will provide: marketing and advertising, front-end student advising, admissions support, financial aid and student finance, international student recruitment, test preparation, business office, technology support, human resources, finance and accounting functions, and related services.

In exchange, Purdue immediately becomes a major national player in online education -- joining a growing group of nonprofit colleges with the largest online enrollments, including Western Governors University, Southern New Hampshire University, Liberty University, the University of Maryland University College and Arizona State University.

Mitch Daniels, Purdue’s president and Indiana’s Republican governor from 2005 to 2013, has said Purdue is far behind in distance education and lacked a competitive means of delivering online courses.

“The chance to acquire overnight that delivery competence was an opportunity not to be missed,” he said in a January open letter to the university.

Purdue anticipates that the former Kaplan University’s enrollment will increase by an estimated 13 percent this fall semester, according to a Higher Learning Commission report from January.

Faculty members, particular at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, have been fiercely critical of the Kaplan deal. More than 300 in November signed a petition to the HLC that opposed the acquisition, with much of the criticism centering on Kaplan’s role in the new university. (Professors at Purdue also have complained about not having an adequate say in Purdue Global’s creation.)

The acquisition will be expensive in the long term and pose reputational and other risks to the university, its students and faculty members, said David Sanders, an associate professor in Purdue’s department of biological sciences who is a past chair of the University Senate. He said Kaplan’s involvement threatens Purdue’s priorities in several areas, including its commitment to academic rigor and keeping students’ debt levels in check.

“We no longer have the high moral ground,” said Sanders. He asked of Purdue Global, “Is it an educational entity or is it a corporation?”

Purdue officials, most notably Daniels, have pushed back hard on the faculty criticism. A centerpiece of the president's argument for the new university is that it will help Purdue better fulfill its land-grant mission by making high-quality degrees available to working adults who have some college credit under their belts but no credential. (Roughly 750,000 people in Indiana fit that profile.)

“The democratization of higher ed, and its broader accessibility to wider sections of society, has always drawn detractors from within the incumbent system of the day,” Daniels said in his January letter.

Unresolved Questions and Faculty Concerns

The Higher Learning Commission approvingly cited Purdue’s desire to reach adult students in its 60-page January report about the proposed university, which the Journal & Courier obtained last month. The report also included results from a commission team’s visit to the university.

Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said the HLC’s decision sends a “very powerful message” that accreditors are adapting to exciting innovations.

“It’s an acknowledgment of significant change in higher education,” she said of the accreditor’s decision.

However, the commission, which is the regional accreditor for Purdue and Kaplan, also identified several ambiguities and unresolved questions about Purdue Global. In the letter this week about its decision to approve the transaction, which Purdue opted to release, the accreditor said it will conduct a focused evaluation of Purdue Global during the next six months.

Specific areas of interest during that review, the commission said, include questions about how students might transfer credit from Purdue Global to other universities in the Purdue system, an as-yet-unestablished code of conduct for students and employees, and the autonomy of Purdue Global’s governing board.

Kaplan’s suite of degree programs is unlikely to change much in the immediate future, according to the HLC report. But the university has said it may add programs in human resources, social work and marketing and management.

Purdue Global’s new board voted to approve a tuition discount of approximately 45 percent for Indiana residents who enroll in undergraduate programs at Purdue Global -- at $220 per credit hour, the total sticker price for a bachelor's degree would be $39,600.

Daniels also told the accreditor that Purdue plans to tighten admissions requirements for graduate programs, including increasing the minimum grade point average required for admission to 3.0 from Kaplan’s 2.5.

“The process for aligning educational quality is just beginning,” the commission said in January.

Likewise, HLC said Purdue and Kaplan’s approach to shared services “seemed ambiguous” to the site visit group.

“The team could not determine if Purdue officials embraced the philosophy of the shared services or were simply accepting the proposed shared services as a part of the agreement to compensate Kaplan Higher Education for the market value of Kaplan University,” according to the commission’s report.

However, the accreditor largely dismissed concerns Purdue faculty members shared with the site team. For example, it pushed back on worries about the qualifications of Kaplan University’s faculty members.

“Purdue has numerous full-time and part-time non-tenure-track faculty, as well as graduate students, who teach an appreciable amount of total student credit hours on the campus. Teaching loads and research expectations for tenured and tenure-track faculty are very different on Purdue’s two existing regional campuses than at Purdue, further demonstrating that existing teaching roles are already differentiated across Purdue University,” the commission’s report said. “Significantly, KU faculty meet HLC’s assumed practice expectations for faculty quality and the team heard no evidence to suggest that KU faculty would not be qualified to assume non-tenure-track positions at any of Purdue’s existing campuses.”

Sanders said faculty members at Purdue were not given much time to prepare for the commission’s site visit, just as he and others complained about the university giving them an hour’s notice before it announced the transaction.

“The Higher Learning Commission wasn’t ultimately interested in faculty opinions about the deal,” he said. “We weren’t really listened to.”

‘A Different Animal’

Purdue officials said they are working on the outstanding questions the commission identified.

For example, a university spokesman said Purdue is working with Kaplan to review course catalogs at Purdue’s three branch campuses to evaluate them for transfer to Purdue Global. And the university will use its current process to evaluate the transfer of Purdue Global courses to the university’s other campuses.

Purdue will use learning outcomes to determine equivalency between those courses. If a Purdue Global course meets those equivalencies, “it will be treated the same as a Purdue course and applied toward meeting the degree requirements of the program,” the spokesman said, although he added that Purdue Global’s adult learners mostly will be place bound and unlikely to transfer to another Purdue campus.

Bob Shireman has been a prominent critic of Purdue Global, even drawing a personal rebuke from Daniels. In particular, Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former senior Education Department official during the Obama administration, has questioned the public-university status of Purdue Global.

For example, he has criticized Purdue’s decision not to publicly release several attachments to its contract with Kaplan, including a policy manual that describes how and when Purdue could owe money to Kaplan for making academic changes that hurt Purdue Global’s enrollment and bottom line.

Purdue Global is exempt from some open-records laws that apply to Indiana’s public universities and to others around the country. That’s because of language the state’s Legislature inserted into a bill that paved the way for the university’s creation.

The Higher Learning Commission said it inquired about those exemptions. Purdue told the commission that it selected an existing statute that is “not open to public records” and that the “goal was not to facilitate hiding information; rather the statute in question requires this approach, at least for the time being.”

Shireman called that reasoning disingenuous. He also cited the commission’s letter this week, which said Purdue Global’s tax status is a legal matter outside its purview, and one that state and federal governments should determine.

“It is telling that HLC explicitly says it is not taking any position as to whether Purdue University Global is for-profit, nonprofit or public,” Shireman said via email. “Purdue University Global really is a different animal, and HLC, the federal government and Purdue will need to grapple with what it is and what really drives it.”

Purdue said in response that Indiana’s Commission for Higher Education, in its letter granting approval to Purdue Global, said the university is considered to be a public university because it is under the supervision and control of Purdue’s Board of Trustees, which the Education Department considers to be a “governmental entity equivalent to the state.”

Beyond Purdue Global, higher education’s regulatory “triad” likely will be forced to grapple with more line-blurring conversions and partnerships.

Urdan said nonprofits will continue to look for new sources of enrollment and revenue, particularly given serious worries about demographics and a declining number of college-bound high school graduates. Like Purdue, he said some will pursue a “buy versus build strategy” when it comes to online programs.

Meanwhile, even big for-profits might be looking to make a change, Urdan said, in part because their brands have taken a big hit in recent years. While a Republican-dominated Washington has substantially eased the regulatory pressure that contributed to the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, he said many in the for-profit sector expect the pendulum to swing back.

“Nobody wants to invest in a company that you can only own when there’s a Republican in the White House,” Urdan said.

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Study finds sharp decline in foreign language enrollments

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 02:00

Foreign language enrollments dropped 9.2 percent from fall 2013 to fall 2016, according to new data from the Modern Language Association. The drop is the second largest since the MLA started tracking such information in 1958.

Decades of increases ended after 2009, the MLA found. Since 2009, enrollments are off more than 15 percent. These findings, a report from the MLA says, suggest that the declines reported in 2013 were "the beginning of a trend rather than a blip."

In recent years, many smaller language programs have found themselves targets of elimination at private colleges without significant endowments and at regional public universities that are lacking in consistent state support. Just this week, the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, as part of a retrenchment of many liberal arts programs, announced that it was eliminating its majors in French, German and Spanish.

While Spanish remains, by far, the most widely taught foreign language, it saw declines from 2013 to 2016. All of the 15 most widely taught languages in 2016 saw declines from 2013 except for Japanese and Korean. The top three foreign languages are the same as in 2013: Spanish, French and American Sign Language. But there have been some changes in these ranks. Japanese is fifth, jumping ahead of Italian. Korean is now 11th, having passed ancient Greek, biblical Hebrew and Portuguese.

The following table from the MLA report shows how enrollments were going up in most languages until 2009, only to then start dropping.

More than three times as many students study foreign languages at four-year colleges as at two-year colleges. But the decline from 2013 to 2016 was greater at community colleges (a drop of 15.9 percent) than at four-year institutions (a decline of 7.3 percent). The MLA report urges more study of why this was the case.

Another data point that the MLA views with alarm is the sharp decline in enrollments per student in American higher education.

The MLA found only 7.5 foreign language enrollments per 100 students enrolled in American colleges in 2016. That was down from 8.1 three years prior, 9.1 in 2006 and figures over 10 in the 1960s and 1970s.

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College says professor is on leave after telling Asian-American family 'go back to your home country'

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 02:00

A professor of career counseling at Golden West College is on leave for the next two weeks after she was recorded telling an Asian-American man and his family to go back to their “home country.”

The college declined to say whether the professor, Tarin F. Olson, was suspended or took voluntary leave, saying it was a “personnel matter.”

Letitia Clark, a spokesperson for the diverse community college in Southern California, said a surface review of Olson’s 25-year career at Golden West does not suggest that she ever shared racist or anti-immigrant views in the classroom or with the students she counseled. But given that the case has attracted widespread attention and concern from students, among others, Clark said, “it’s important that the review continue.”

Olson could not immediately be reached for comment. But she has publicly offered to share her thoughts on the “displacement of European-Americans.”

Tony Kao, a Long Beach, Calif., resident, late last week shared on Facebook a video of part of the incident, which has since been viewed over 500,000 times on that platform alone. Kao said that he, his wife and his young daughter were out walking in their neighborhood when a woman told them go back to their country.

Kao’s wife began recording the incident, at which point the woman -- later identified as Olson -- turned and walked away quickly, saying, “You’re disgusting.” As she fled, Kao asked Olson to “tell everybody why you told us to go back to our country.” Olson responded, “You need to go back to your home country.”

Source: Facebook

Kao expressed disbelief, telling Olson that and he and his family members were born and raised in the U.S. Olson said, “I never voted for you,” before the video cut out.

Golden West initially responded to the incident with a statement saying that it does “not condone or support” Olson’s comments. The college “believes in an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students,” it said.

Olson has declined to explain her comments to local media, telling CBS2 News off-camera that “my perspective will be twisted if discussing the skewed video, which cut out part of the incident.”

She reportedly said that her students know she is not a racist. However, she added, “If you would like to have a full normal interview about the displacement of European-Americans then I gladly am available to enlighten the public.”

It appears she hasn't made good on that offer, thus far.

Clark, a spokesperson for the entire Coast Community College District, said administrators reviewing the case were operating in somewhat “uncharted territory,” given that Olson made her comments off-campus, not in the classroom. That makes for some policy “ambiguity,” she said.

The district dealt with another recording controversy in 2016, when a student at Orange Coast College secretly recorded Olga Perez Stable Cox, a professor of psychology, telling her class that President Trump’s election was an “act of terrorism.” Cox received death threats and temporarily left the state; she was later voted full-time colleague of the year by a joint faculty-administrative committee. Orange Coast first said it would suspend the student who recorded Cox for violating a related college policy. It later backtracked.

The American Association of University Professors says professors should only be removed from the classroom during a conduct review if they pose an immediate threat to students or others on campus. The main principle of the AAUP's statement on extramural speech is that "a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness to serve."

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Higher ed groups want end to student aid restrictions for applicants with drug convictions

Inside Higher Education - Mié, 07 Mar 2018 - 02:00

If Republicans and Democrats can agree on one priority for reauthorizing the law governing higher education, it’s cutting down the lengthy application for federal student aid. Student advocacy groups hope that a FAFSA simplification push will include eliminating a question about drug convictions while receiving federal aid -- and a corresponding section of federal law denying aid to students with such convictions.

At least one Democrat on the Senate education committee plans to reintroduce legislation soon to eliminate the question, a statutory remnant of some of the most punitive steps taken by Congress during the War on Drugs.

Data from the Department of Education show that about 1,000 students each year lose full or partial access to Title IV aid because of a drug-related conviction. Organizations supporting the change, however, argue those numbers don’t capture how many students never apply for aid because they expect they won’t qualify.

“Our research has shown there’s a drastic deterrent and discouraging factor by the question even being on the FAFSA,” said Julie Ajinkya, vice president for applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

Access to federal aid has a huge bearing on whether students are able to attend and succeed in college, Ajinkya said. And because drug convictions disproportionately affect students of color -- who, research shows, use illicit substances at comparable rates to white peers but are disproportionately charged with drug-related offenses -- the denial of federal aid poses a racial equity issue, she said.

Question No. 23 on the FAFSA, which asks about student drug convictions, was originally added in 1998. At the time, lawmakers voted to deny federal aid to students who had ever been convicted of a drug-related offense.

Restrictions on student aid come into effect whether an applicant is convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor, whether the offense involved the sale or merely the possession of a drug, and apply to convictions under both state and federal law. That means no or limited funding from Pell Grants, Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and Federal Work-Study as well as federal student loans.

After the restrictions took effect, tens of thousands of students began losing access to federal grants and loans each year. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that in the 2003-04 academic year, more than 41,000 FAFSA applicants were ineligible for aid because of drug-related offenses. Of those, 29,000 would otherwise have been eligible for federal student loans and 18,000 would have been eligible for Pell Grants. (Because the FAFSA does not collect data on students’ race, GAO was unable to determine how minority groups in particular were affected by ineligibility issues.)

The George W. Bush administration in 2005 proposed narrowing eligibility restrictions and Congress the next year changed the law to only deny Title IV funds to applicants who were convicted of a drug offense while they were receiving student aid. Representative Mark Souder, the Indiana Republican who first introduced the student aid ban for applicants with drug convictions, wrote the revision to the law. But the Department of Education’s numbers indicate that thousands of students have continued to lose out on aid in the intervening years. During the 2016-17 student aid cycle, 1,032 FAFSA applicants were deemed fully ineligible because they had a drug-related conviction or failed to answer the question about convictions. Another 254 received a partial suspension of eligibility.

Aid Eligibility Status 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016 2016-2017 Partial Suspension of Eligibility 257 242 273 254 Eligibility Suspended for Full Award Year (Due to conviction) 572 474 564 657 Eligibility Suspended for Full Award Year (Left question blank) 535 504 308 375 Total 1364 1220 1145 1286

Policy observers like Jared Bass, senior counsel for education and strategy at New America's education policy program and a former Department of Education official, have noted the inconsistencies involved in attaching aid eligibility to one type of crime, regardless of the severity of the offense and with many different laws from state to state. A student going to college in a state like California, where marijuana is legal for recreational purchase, for example, could still lose federal aid eligibility if convicted of a drug offense in a state like Texas. And a student convicted for crimes such as burglary or a forcible sexual misconduct would still be eligible for federal aid, while a student convicted of a nonviolent drug offense would not. "That's still time you're not taking classes and not enrolled in school," said Bass. While students lose federal aid, they are still eligible for state or institutional aid programs. And individuals who lose access to federal aid can restore their eligibility sooner by completing a drug rehabilitation program.

“That’s highly problematic,” Bass said.

Applicants are required to self-report -- there is no federal database of such convictions. A first offense for possession means a one-year period of ineligibility; a second offense results in two years of ineligibility; and a third offense means a student loses access to aid indefinitely. For convictions involving the sale of a controlled substance, a first offense leads to two years of ineligibility for student aid, and a second means an indefinite loss of eligibility.

Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who sits on the Senate education committee, in 2016 introduced the SUCCESS Act to eliminate the statutory language restricting aid as well as the drug offense question on the FAFSA.

“Forcing students to drop out of college for committing a youthful mistake does nothing to reduce drug abuse or crimes on campus,” Casey said in a statement. “Repealing the Aid Elimination Penalty will reduce recidivism, over-criminalization, and tax-payer burdens by stopping the suspension of college aid for young people who made a mistake but want to get their lives back on track.”

With reauthorization of the Higher Education Act standing its best chance of passage in years, lawmakers could see some movement on small tweaks to federal law, like Casey's bill, that can be difficult to advance without a larger legislative vehicle. Casey’s office is still seeking a GOP co-sponsor for its legislation this time around but in 2016 the legislation counted Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, among its co-sponsors, as well as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Thirty-eight advocacy groups and individual researchers concerned with equity in higher ed recently urged Senate education leaders to reinstate Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated students as part of reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. Those groups are also backing an elimination of the drug offense question on the FAFSA as part of efforts to expand access to postsecondary education.

Those groups drew a link between the Pell Grant and FAFSA issues to recent “ban the box” campaigns on college campuses. Institutions like the State University of New York and lawmakers in states like Louisiana and Maryland have dropped requirements from admissions applications asking students to declare prior felony convictions.

Marc Cohen, president of the State University of New York Student Assembly and a student trustee on the SUNY Board of Trustees, said the assembly passed a resolution in support of “ban the box” because of research showing those policies affect historically marginalized communities.

“Now instead of admissions, we're talking about financial aid, and the same logic applies,” he said.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy was originally formed in response to the FAFSA question on student drug convictions. The group won a significant victory in 2006 when the aid restrictions were scaled back by Congress. Executive Director Betty Aldworth said HEA reauthorization is a chance to push for its complete elimination.

SSDP believes the ongoing opioid crisis, which has drawn bipartisan interest in crafting a federal solution, should add even more relevance to the FAFSA issue. And the group says that rehabilitative resources should go to individuals actually struggling with drug abuse, Aldworth said.

She said the vast majority of college students caught using drugs don’t have a problem with abuse. Having them go through a rehabilitation program to restore student aid eligibility is a misuse of resource, she said. But for students possibly dealing with legitimate drug problems, losing the ability to pay for college hurts their chances of succeeding, Aldworth said.

“What we do know for sure is one of the most critical factors for any person who is teetering on that edge between occasional use and chronic misuse of drugs is having solid connections and hope for the future,” she said.

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