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Why one academic spends hours a week putting together a spreadsheet of documented harassment cases, names and all

Hace 6 hours 31 mins

Julie Libarkin is a passionate advocate for women in academe, specifically their right to study and work without being sexually harassed or assaulted. She’s also a scientist who loves data.

So two years ago, before much of the country had heard the words “Me Too” in reference to sexual misconduct, Libarkin began to meticulously collect information on -- and, most significantly, the names of -- publicly documented harassers.

Her list of more than 700 cases differs from others created in the Me Too era in that it includes only substantiated reports, based on strict criteria, including institutional findings and admissions of misconduct, settlements between institutions and accusers, and legal findings of fact. Cases where the accused resigned or died during an investigation also are included. This is not a “Shitty Media Men” list for academics, though the men (and the significantly smaller share of women) on it have done shitty things.

“This is a lot of work. I spend hours a week on this," Libarkin said. "But I'm trying to make the hidden visible."

Still, Libarkin is frustrated by all that remains invisible: it’s well-known that most sexual misconduct goes unreported, and much that does get reported doesn’t make it to the public sphere. So strict are Libarkin’s research parameters, both out of scientific integrity and a fear of possible legal action against her, that she won’t publish cases she learns about from institutional paperwork handed over to her by accusers -- at least not without requesting and verifying it herself through open-records channels.

“This is very biased sample,” Libarkin said of her list, cautioning against drawing hard conclusions from it, thus far. Additional research is in the works, however, to try to get a "clearer picture of the nature of sexual misconduct in academia. We often say that sexual harassment is mostly perpetrated by men and towards women, but this sample provides empirical data to begin to let us understand gender makeup more deeply." Libarkin said she and a colleague also are interested in determining "whether or not consequences for misconduct are far-reaching, or if those who engage in sexual misconduct are able to move on to positions of power," receive awards, or more.

Given that many academic harassment conversations focus on unwanted attention or contact by faculty members, Libarkin did note that her list includes  high-ranking administrators. There are also staffers for sexual harassment and assault compliance offices, gender studies professors, and those who “are supposed to know better.” She observed that some cases go beyond common conceptions of harassment, to involve stalking, murder and suicide.

“This started as an advocacy project. I was really just researching and documenting cases, and within days and weeks it just kept growing,” she said. “And as I was looking for sexual harassment, I realized there’s a whole category of behaviors that we understand as misconduct, from violation of pornography policies to stalking. Sexual misconduct is this umbrella term, so I came up with a research protocol for exactly what to look for.”

 1. An institution found a faculty/administrator guilty of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations; and/or 2. There is an admission on the part of the accused faculty/administrator regarding sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations. 3.The accused faculty/administrator resigned or died before an institution could complete an investigation into sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations; and/or 4. A faculty/administrator accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations or an institution settled with their accuser, often with a binding confidentiality agreement and no admissions; and/or 5. There is documented evidence of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations by a faculty/administrator (often in the form of texts or emails); and/or 6. A court made a finding of legal fact that sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, stalking, violations of dating policies, violations of campus pornography policies, or similar violations had occurred, with or without legal punishment.

Source: Julie Libarkin

Along with legal accouncements, Libarkin relies heavily on news stories to build her database. Yet she began the document mostly due to annoyance at the news media and its tendency to cover misconduct as what she described as “one-offs” at “institutions that are deemed special for some reason.”

Every once in a while Libarkin reads a piece about whether a particular discipline has a “problem,” she said, while the reality -- both publicly documented and based on experience -- is that harassment happens across fields, too often.

“These cases are presented as unusual,” she said. “But they are not unusual.”

Those observations are similar to what Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor and founder of The Professor Is In, found in her massive crowdsourced document of harassment in academe. That database does not include names in most cases, and many reports are unsubstantiated.

Misconduct is not new: Libarkin’s database includes a recently documented case from 1917. She also noted there was surge of public cases in the 2000s, when there was a rising consciousness about harassment. Nowadays, she said, reports surge when there are public-records requests.

Libarkin said she’s received mostly positive feedback about her spreadsheet, which 89 people were reading late morning on Wednesday. Some of the responses are “traumatizing,” she said, recalling how a colleague pressed his pelvis into her back at a work-related party in 2010 -- the first day in a year she’d worn a dress, out of fear of something like that happening. She later reported the incident, but as the professor already was emeritus, the consequences were, to her mind, few. 

That professor's name is not incuded in the document.

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Growing needs and changing demographics strain college fund-raising

Hace 6 hours 31 mins

A look at the student bodies and the development staffs of many colleges and universities might make evident the demographic mismatch occurring at institutions across the country -- the students are more diverse in race and income; the development staff members are largely white.

This was not a problem when deep-pocketed donors were mostly white and male, but it will likely present fund-raising challenges at many colleges going forward. A new generation of moneyed philanthropists has come of age -- women, people of color, people who identify as LGBTQ -- who not only want to support their alma maters but specifically want to help people who look like them or share similar backgrounds or life experiences. Their numbers are expected to keep growing and surpass the limited pool of fund-raisers that reflect the increasing diversity of donors.

Meanwhile, a shortage of fund-raisers overall is exacerbating the problem. Colleges are relying more heavily on donors to help defray the costs of rising tuition for a student body with less ability to pay, but data projections indicate the shortage of fund-raisers will increase over time with retirements. Experts say the problem will worsen if replacement workers aren't demographically representative of a changing donor base.

"People in the industry, especially higher ed chief advancement officers, deeply feel the crunch in fund-raising," said Liz Rothenberg, managing director of EAB Strategic Research, an education best practices research, technology and services firm. "They don't feel that they have the pipeline to replace those senior fund-raisers, especially diverse fund-raisers."

"Several factors are driving this need," said Brian Gawor, vice president for research at consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

"Very few people know that being a fund-raiser is a profession, and that's because our profession is relatively young," he said. "The massive increase in registered nonprofits has also indicated a huge need."

Rothenberg said 20 percent of senior fund-raisers plan to retire in the next four years. She also noted that only 11 percent of front-line fund-raisers or gift officers are people of color, according to Association of Fundraising Professionals estimates. And just 12 percent of people from diverse backgrounds work in the profession over all, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE.

"College fund-raising is not keeping pace with changing student demographics," Rothenberg said. "There's a lot of worry, especially if you consider that the U.S. will be a majority-minority country in 2045."

CASE recently launched a national effort to address those very challenges. It started a yearlong fund-raising residency program for college graduates as a gateway to fund-raising careers in higher ed.

The program is part of CASE's larger plans to grow and diversify the shrinking ranks of institutional fund-raisers, said Bob Henry, the organization's vice president of education who oversees global strategy on talent management.

"It made sense for us to build a pipeline and enhance diversity," he said, noting that a summer internship program CASE has run for the past three years is also part of the effort. "Some of those interns will graduate and be able to roll right into the residency program."

Henry said the residency program addresses a key concern of alumni donors who "expect to see a diverse work force" on college campuses.

"We think that it's important that alumni are interacting with people who are like themselves," he said. "You're getting voices now that can resonate with your alumni, your community and your student body."

Fund-raising experts widely agree that alumni are more likely to donate to their alma maters when approached by fund-raisers who are of the same race or gender, belong to the same affinity group, or share similar life experiences.

"Demographics is important because a lot of fund-raising is about building relationships and trust," Rothenberg said. She said trust building works when the donor knows the fund-raiser shares a similar background or life story and understands how it may have influenced the donor's experience on campus.

"This is not because donors are racists," said Gawor. "It's because they are looking for a connection. How are you going to get people to give when they're not seeing people who look like them benefiting?"

Although there is more diversity today among philanthropists, the majority continue to be white men, which "matches the demographics of our current fund-raisers," Rothenberg said.

"That's not a problem today, but it's going to be a problem down the road when the younger alumni or students of today are in a position to make a donation 10 or 15 years down the road," she said. "We're seeing that with women donors, black and Latino donors, and LGBT donors."

Until relatively recently, however, most people who went into philanthropy work did not follow a set academic or career path. Instead, they "fell into" fund-raising by happenstance after a friend or a mentor introduced them to the world of philanthropy or helped them land a related job.

"Just hoping people fall into the profession is not a talent recruitment strategy, and it's not a sustainable one," Rothenberg said.

Jesus Rangel is among those who initially entered the profession unintentionally. He's now one of 18 recent college graduates -- people of color, first in their families to attend college, children of immigrants -- placed in fund-raising-related jobs at colleges and universities across the country as part of the CASE residency program.

Rangel, 23, attended Texas State University intending to eventually become a lawyer. He majored in political science, planned for law school and got "super involved" on campus at the start of his freshman year.

He became an official "university ambassador," led campus tours for prospective students and took part in donor events, alumni award banquets, tailgate parties and more. He met the university's vice president for advancement during one of those social gatherings.

"We kind of made a connection," Rangel said.

She became his mentor and invited him to fund-raising events and introduced him to donors and prospective donors with whom she had cultivated relationships. Rangel knew nothing about her line of work but found it interesting.

"Seeing the work that she did and the impact these donors had on students made me want to have an impact, too," he said.

Rangel, who grew up in rural Texas, is a first-generation college student from a working-class family. He said he realized he could help other young people like him attend college by raising money to fund scholarships.

By the time he graduated last May, he'd changed his mind about becoming a lawyer.

Last month, he started his residency at Oregon State University as a social media specialist and fund-raiser. He's currently helping plan the university's first Day of Giving campaign scheduled for next April and is seeking out current students and alumni among various affinity groups, including African Americans, people who identify as LGBTQIA and members of Greek organizations, to get involved.

"Students giving back isn't very big here," Rangel explained. "Just looking at the analytics of student giving, you can see it's a very small percentage. I think it can be brought up."

He said the university is considering a Philanthropy Week of events leading up to the Day of Giving to get students, prospective donors and community members energized about giving.

"We're trying to develop ways to get that culture of philanthropy in their mind-set," Rangel said. "Articles that I've read about fund-raising say that some institutions introduce that culture of philanthropy the moment you walk in the door as a freshman so by the time you graduate you have that mind-set of donating your time, talent or treasure," he said.

Rangel is now on a completely different career track than when he first started college. "My current path is to get my master's degree in business and then get my Ph.D. in higher education and become president of a university one day."

Viet Nguyen, 23, who is doing his fund-raising residency at his alma mater, Ohio State University, also hopes to become a university president. He was also a university ambassador and then became a presidential host at his campus. Both opportunities brought him into contact with university leaders, alumni and donors. Still, he didn't consider fund-raising as a career option until his senior year.

"I never saw myself as a fund-raiser," he said. "I did cold-calling in high school and always hated that. The university ambassador program really helped me shape my future career."

Nguyen was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. His parents are immigrants from Vietnam. After graduating with dual bachelor's degrees in strategic communications and business administration, he will work in different areas of the university's advancement department during his residency.

Now he spends his days talking with alumni "and trying to get them to give back to the university." At the end of those conversations, he shares "a perspective story" of why he chose to attend Ohio State in hopes of making that connection that might lead to a donation.

Zachary Price was also introduced to fund-raising through a mentor, an administrator in the advancement office of North Carolina A&T State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering.

Price now works as a strategic analyst in Dartmouth College's office of Development Research and Prospect Management, where he supports front-line officers performing wealth assessments of potential donors.

"It's been great," he says of the job. He and the other program participants met over the summer at CASE's annual Summer Institute in Educational Fundraising held at Dartmouth.

"As a cohort we have a lot of potential to learn from one another," Price said. "There's a lot of diversity among us."

He considers himself "a product of philanthropy" because he attended North Carolina A&T on a full academic scholarship. He also understands the financial hardships faced by friends who didn't have scholarships.

"I saw so many students who just didn't have the resources to stay in school even though they had the ability to do well," Price said.

He tried to help those students when he became president of the campus chapter of the Alpha Lambda Delta national honor society and created three $500 scholarships that have since been increased to $500, $750 and $1,000. He did something similar as president of the Black Graduate Student Association at Indiana University, where he helped raise money to create a $600 scholarship to help a graduate student fund research.

Those experiences, he said, "Let me know that there was a skill set there that needed to be tended to and help me understand that I really had a passion for it."

At Indiana, Price met more people involved in fund-raising who became mentors, including a professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, who suggested he attend an African American Development Officers Network conference in Cincinnati.

Price graduated from Indiana in May with a master's degree in higher ed and student affairs and a graduate certificate in institutional research. Since immersing himself in fund-raising, Price sees how little knowledge people outside the field, particularly students, have about fund-raising work.

"If you don't know the right people and don't ask about it, you wouldn't know about it," he said.

That lack of knowledge may change over time as fund-raising and philanthropy are integrated into more higher ed curricula.

"There are now over 50 philanthropy masters' programs," said Gawor of Ruffalo Noel Levitz. "A few years ago there were just a couple."

In the interim, people like Price are encouraging former grad school classmates to consider fund-raising careers that develop skills "that are very transferable to other fields."

Nikia Washington found that external motivation at Bowling Green State University long before she was accepted into the residency program. During her time at the Ohio institution, she helped raise money for the Children's Miracle Network, a nonprofit organization that supports children's hospitals.

After graduation, she worked as an au pair in France for a year, traveled and did some "soul-searching." She returned to her native Detroit and got a job in 2015 as an executive assistant to the president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

Washington's boss knew that she'd done a short stint as a campaign manager for the United Way and allowed her to do some development work for the museum, which happened to be marking its 50th anniversary as it struggled to keep operating.

"I had some ideas from my work at the United Way and my work on campus in Ohio," she said. She did "prospect research," which involves finding potential donors to the museum.

"And that's what pushed me into thinking how to go back to school to do more work in philanthropy," Washington said.

Washington, 28, is now a CASE resident at the University of Washington, where she works in the advancement office. She's also a full-time graduate student at the university studying public administration with a focus on philanthropy.

She's researching how to build strategic philanthropic models to serve underresourced and underserved communities. She's particularly interested in black philanthropy but wants to build models that can also apply to Muslim philanthropy and other groups, and that will also engage young people.

"That stems from being at the museum and seeing this fabulous museum almost having to shut its doors in a majority-black city," she said.

Her specialized approach is indicative of how fund-raising is changing as the field is being transformed by new people with different perspectives.

"More and more fund-raising will be controlled by women and people of color," said Gawor. "We have to build that pipeline and we have to be deliberate about it."

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UCLA student sues fraternities, says they should do more to protect against rape

Hace 6 hours 31 mins

More than a year ago, a female student at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the institution she was raped in August 2016. Her attacker, she alleged, had already sexually assaulted another of her sorority sisters.

The university found her accusation credible. It expelled the young man, a campus fraternity member, in 2017. In February, he lost his appeal to return to campus.

But the student who filed the complaint was not satisfied. She maintains that the expelled student's fraternity -- and UCLA's fraternity system as a whole -- should have known the assault could occur and should have protected her. The fraternity had hosted a party that August night during which she drank until she couldn't walk, she said.

Last month, the student anonymously filed a lawsuit against her alleged rapist, Blake Lobato (who is named in court documents and whose identity has been widely reported), and his fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, as well as Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the UCLA Interfraternity Council, the governing body of the university's 22 fraternities. Though the council is a registered student group, it is independent from the institution, which is not named as a defendant.

Her lawsuit comes at a time when the Trump administration intends to overhaul the regulations around Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal gender antidiscrimination law that bars sexual misconduct at colleges and universities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last year rolled back Obama-era rules around Title IX, declaring them unfairly slanted against accused students. The Education Department's proposal on Title IX, a draft version of which was leaked to Inside Higher Ed, likely would not even have allowed for an investigation into Jane Doe's case, as institutions would no longer be obligated to investigate assaults that occurred off campus. Title IX experts are debating whether this provision would pass legal muster, as the law is triggered when a hostile environment in present on campus -- such as the presence of a rapist -- regardless of whether an incident occurred on the grounds or not.

Lobato’s lawyer has argued that UCLA's findings against his client were flawed and has requested that a Superior Court judge overturn the sanctions.

A particularly prominent part of the lawsuit are the allegations that fraternities' misconduct isn't isolated to just UCLA -- that alcohol abuse and sexual assaults run rampant among other chapters nationwide, with recent incidents at SAE's chapters at the University of Missouri, Clemson University, Oklahoma University, Northwestern University, the University of Southern California, California State University, Long Beach, and others, as well as ZBT's chapters at Cornell University, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Michigan.

The local and national chapters of the fraternities and the Interfraternity Council have either not responded to requests for comment from Inside Higher Ed or declined to comment on the lawsuit. However, the national chapter of ZBT, through spokeswoman Risa Morris, provided a statement:

Zeta Beta Tau was recently notified of a lawsuit against a former member of the Alpha Rho Chapter at the University of California, Los Angeles, which involves serious allegations against that former member. Though the alleged incident did not occur in connection with any fraternity event, Zeta Beta Tau is deeply disturbed by these allegations. We continue to work with our chapters and with universities to prevent campus sexual assault, provide allies for survivors, and encourage healthy relationships.

That is why, contrary to recent news reports, both chapter presidents and Irving Chase, the chapter advisor to whom the plaintiff described her allegations, advised her to report those allegations to the proper university authorities.

In August 2016, Doe alleges she attended a party sponsored by SAE, where its members served copious amounts of alcohol -- a violation of UCLA and fraternity rules. Despite the fact that both Doe and Lobato were intoxicated, they were continually served without anyone checking their IDs -- SAE members hadn't hired security or supervision for the party.

The lawsuit states that around midnight, Doe was tired and tried to leave the party, but was too drunk to walk home on her own, so she went back to wait for the gathering to wind down. On her walk back to the party, she encountered Lobato, who encouraged her to "hang out" with him at the ZBT house.

Once there, Doe said she saw multiple brothers, but none of them intervened to prevent the assault, even though she was obviously drunk.

Doe lay down, slipping in and out of consciousness. She alleges that Lobato raped her and that she told him "No" multiple times and tried to push him away.

The lawsuit states that she was visibly bruised and sore days after the purported attack.

"ZBT had no mechanism of supervision or security to prevent a fraternity member from bringing an obviously drunk girl upstairs and raping them," the lawsuit states.

Doe alleges that ZBT should have known Lobato was a serial offender, as he had reportedly sexually assaulted another UCLA student earlier in 2015, an attack that the university's Title IX office confirmed. In the lawsuit, she maintains that the fraternity also should have known that students were drinking before the SAE party and should have taken steps to prevent it.

Though Doe reported the rape to the ZBT president and one of its board members, who is a lawyer, she alleges that the board member dissuaded her from filing a Title IX complaint. She did not do so until early 2017. She also told the new ZBT president about the episode that January. He promised to kick Lobato out of the fraternity.

She is suing the Greek entities -- both the UCLA and national chapters -- and the Interfraternity Council for negligence. She is suing Lobato for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Ricardo Vazquez, a UCLA spokesman, said the institution's Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life works with the Interfraternity Council to "integrate values into their respective councils and chapters." Vazquez said Title IX investigations are confidential, but that the Title IX Office investigates allegations "carefully and impartially."

"The goal is to continually strengthen student safety within the Greek community," Vazquez said, adding that since 2014, the Campus Assault Resources and Education Office and Title IX office have trained all fraternity and sorority members on sexual assault.

In January, the Interfraternity Council approved a six-week ban on alcohol on events at fraternity houses while it developed a new risk-management policy. The new rules require a licensed third-party security guard to check IDs at the door of house parties and to give out wristbands to designate who can drink alcohol. Fraternity members at the houses cannot take visitors into a room privately unless they have reserved a space in advance. And at least two members have to patrol each party as "sober monitors" to care for those who are drunk.

Laura Dunn, founder of sexual assault survivor advocacy group SurvJustice and now a lawyer with the Fierberg National Law Group in Washington, said her firm routinely sees blame shifted about who should handle risk-management policies -- local or national branches of Greek organizations, or the institutions. She said fraternities, like many male-only groups, "self-insulate" from liability -- forming a brotherhood that protects them and perpetuates harm.

"But the reality is, it is left to 'young adults' whose lives are forever changed when they engaged either directly with criminal conduct through Greek life … or indirectly through working to cover up such misconduct after the fact. To break the cycle, nationals and universities need to work together. Lawsuits like this will force that accountability until society responds," Dunn said.

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New report encourages use of multiple measurements for student placement

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New research shows more community college students pass college-level courses in math and English when multiple measurements are used to determine their placement rather than relying solely on a single placement exam.

The report from the Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness at Columbia University's Teachers College found that when colleges use multiple measurements, such as grade point averages, the placement of students into college-level math instead of developmental courses increased by five percentage points. That increase was more than 30 percentage points for college-level English.

Students who placed into these college-level courses were also more likely to pass them in their first semester compared to remedial students. In the college-level courses, students could receive additional support to help them pass. Meanwhile, it may take remedial students an additional semester or two before they can enroll in the college-level course.

“We’ve got enough evidence now for people to move in the direction of using multiple measurements,” said Elisabeth Barnett, the lead researcher on the project from the Community College Research Center and a co-author of the report. “One thing becoming clearer is that high school GPA is an especially good measurement.”

The researchers followed 13,000 students at seven State University of New York community colleges who took courses in 2016 and 2017. At SUNY colleges, the College Board’s Accuplacer exam is used to determine placement. Students in the study were either assigned placement using Accuplacer or were placed using alternative measurements such as high school GPA, performance on state exams or high school class rank.

Preliminary results for about 5,000 of those students show that 14 percent were placed higher with multiple measurements than they would have been with a single assessment, while 7 percent placed lower. In English, 41.5 percent of students were placed in a higher-level course and 6.5 percent placed lower.

The use of multiple measurements for placement also had an impact on course completion. Students were 3.1 percentage points more likely to enroll in and complete a college-level math course in the first semester after being placed with multiple measurements compared to those who were placed with a single assessment. In English, students were 12.5 percentage points more likely to enroll in and complete the college-level course.

College-level course outcomes in math and English

The research also found impacts related to gender and racial equity. More women than men were placed in the higher college-level math course under multiple measurements, while black and Hispanic students benefited more than their white peers with placement in college-level English.

“What we’re learning is that it’s hard to capture what students have the potential to do with a single test,” Barnett said. “There are so many factors that determine whether and why students will be successful in a course, and high school GPA is capturing noncognitive factors like, did they turn in an assignment? Did they show up? Did they follow through?”

While the CAPR study will continue to evaluate the performance of these students for more semesters, Barnett said the body of research has been clear that using a single placement exam does not work.

Placement Changes in California

A few states and college systems have in recent years enacted policies that require institutions to use multiple measurements. A survey earlier this year found that in 2016, 57 percent of two-year colleges used this approach for math placement, compared to 27 percent in 2011. North Carolina’s community college system, for example, has been using multiple measurements for placement. Last year, California passed a bill requiring the state’s 114 community colleges to begin using multiple measurements for placement in corequisite remediation courses by next year. Corequisite is the popular form of remediation that places students in college-level courses but gives them additional support.

The Public Policy Institute of California found that a large number of students never took or completed college-level courses when a single placement exam put them in traditional remedial courses.

For example, of the students who placed four levels below college-level courses in remedial math, only 8 percent eventually completed the college-level courses.

Math cohort progression by starting level

"It’s pretty appalling and compelling data that students in many cases were starting not just one level below, but two or three or four levels below college level,” said Hans Johnson, senior policy fellow and Higher Education Center director at PPIC. “But strikingly, the share of students who made it out of remediation was much lower. When we’re talking remediation in this lesser system, it would be a year at best for students placed two levels below to reach a college-level course.”

Although a few of California’s two-year colleges started using multiple measurements years ago, there are still many that are starting this system or revamping remediation courses to comply with the law. And some colleges are not looking to make any changes, said Katie Hern, an English instructor at Chabot College and the co-founder and executive director of the California Acceleration Project, which has been helping colleges make the remedial changes.

“Some colleges are very ready and some are looking for loopholes,” she said. “I know colleagues at other institutions who believe this kind of change will undermine the quality of student learning; they fear teachers may dumb down the curriculum, they mistrust the data and there is this disbelief that comes from their pre-existing understanding of what is good for students.”

Geoff Hagopian, a professor of math and computer science at College of the Desert, said he’s opposed to the changes because they eliminate the basic skills curriculum for new students and populate college-level courses with students who are not ready. The idea that students will pass college-level courses because they were placed closer to that course is false, he said.

“The California Community Colleges have managed to compress into three or four semesters of remediation a process that often entails unlearning bad algorithms and reformulating poor study habits: an amazing feat, if you can pull it off,” Hagopian said in an email. “To expect that these same students are going to be more successful … without remediation is disingenuous and cynical.”

Hagopian fears that the state’s new outcomes-based funding formula, which will reward the colleges for student completions of college-level math and English, will lead to more instructors passing underprepared students in the college-level courses instead of placing them in remediation.

Hern said the financial implications of these changes in California are still unknown, because of the new performance funding metrics and because each college will differ in how they implement the changes or reallocate resources.

However, the move to multiple measurements does come with costs for some colleges. In New York, for example, the CAPR study found that across five of the SUNY colleges, building the alternative placement system added $110 per student to the current cost of using a single placement exam. Ongoing costs averaged about $40 per student.

Barnett said the next area to study will be the cost-benefit analysis of using multiple measurements to determine if it’s worth the extra expense colleges incur.

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Students want to pursue law to give back but are discouraged by high costs

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Undergraduates considering a law degree are motivated by a desire to contribute to the public good, but high costs and work-life balance concerns deter some of them, according to a study released today.

The study, conducted by the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and Gallup, utilized survey responses from more than 22,000 undergraduates at 25 four-year institutions and more than 2,700 first-year law students at 44 different law schools. (Note: Inside Higher Ed works with Gallup on some surveys but had no role in this one.)

Researchers administered the survey during a dramatic dip in law school applications: between 2011 and 2016, the number of law school applications fell by 38 percent, from 87,900 to 54,500. According to Judith Areen, AALS executive director, applicant numbers plateaued in 2016 and 2017 and increased by 8 percent in 2018.

“[The application decline] brought home the need to better understand what college students think about law schools,” Areen said. “For students, the more we understand about them, the better law schools can do in meeting their expectations.”

Parental education plays a major role in student decisions about law school. Only 12 percent of American adults age 45 to 64 have an advanced degree, but 55 percent of undergraduate students considering law school had at least one parent with an advanced degree. Family members are also the primary source of advice for undergraduates considering law. To Areen, this indicates that law schools need to work harder to reach first-generation students who might not have that family network.

“Law schools and graduate schools have to do a better job of getting more information to first-generation students so they know about the possibilities and they apply on time and get all the information they need,” she said.

Law school isn't a last-minute decision. Over half of undergraduate respondents said they had considered law school before college, and one-third had considered it before high school.

“[Law schools] need to start reaching out, not just during college but even before,” Areen said.

When asked why they wanted to pursue a law degree, undergraduate students most often reported that law school would be a “pathway for a career in politics, government or public service,” that they had “a passion for or high interest in the type of work,” that a law degree would provide “opportunities to help others or to be useful to society” and that they wanted to “advocate for social change.”

“We think the reasons they give are pretty interesting and will be a surprise to people who think of lawyers as only interested in money and greed,” Areen said.

Law school tuition continues to rise. Data from Law School Transparency, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, shows that between 2011 and 2017 the average annual sticker price for a U.S. public law school increased by about $4,500, or 17 percent, while tuition at private law schools increased by more than $7,000 -- 15 percent. Undergraduates considering law school cited high costs/potential debt and work-life balance as the greatest deterrents. So did the first-year law school students.

“Cost and work-life balance are cited by undergraduates who are still making up their mind, but the same two are cited by first-year law students,” Areen said. “So that shows us that the same two are barriers, but they still came to law school anyway.”

Jim Greif, director of communications for AALS, added that the same two deterrents were cited by students considering other types of advanced degrees, such as master's programs, Ph.D.s or medical degrees.

Other notable findings include:

  • Women are more likely than men to say that law school is too hard and that they don’t want to defend guilty people, while men are more likely to say that three years is too long and that too few jobs in the field pay enough money.
  • Fifteen percent of undergraduates considering an advanced degree reported hearing about law programs, while 55 percent of students considering law school reported hearing about them. This may be due to confirmation bias, that students who are interested in law degrees will seek out and remember information about law school.
  • Students with a lower grade point average are more likely to pursue law school because it could lead to a higher-paying job rather than because they're passionate about the work or see law as a path to a career in politics or public service.
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Editors discuss new book on Rhodes Must Fall movement at Oxford

Hace 6 hours 31 mins

When a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British mining magnate and colonizer, came down at the University of Cape Town, it was just the beginning of a now worldwide conversation about colonization in higher education. Rhodes was instrumental in founding universities and scholarship programs around the world, but he was also a noted imperialist who acted with disregard for the people who lived in much of the world. Since the statue fell in 2015, students and faculty at a number of universities have begun to argue for decolonization at their own institutions, in part by removing honors for Rhodes.

At the University of Oxford, where another statue of Rhodes still stands, student and faculty activists find themselves pushing back against those who tell them that "the past is the past" and to be grateful for Rhodes's contributions to higher education (notably, the Rhodes scholarship). Having each been involved in Rhodes Must Fall Oxford in different ways, editors Roseanne Chantiluke, Brian Kwoba and Athinangamso Nkopo put together a comprehensive story of the movement in their new book, Rhodes Must Fall (Zed Books).

All three editors answered questions about the book via email.

Q: Instead of writing one narrative about the Rhodes Must Fall movements, you strung together a series of primary accounts, interviews, poetry and writings from the protests. Why did you decide to put the book together this way?

Kwoba: We wanted to give expression to a wide range of different voices and experiences, because that is ultimately what made up the movement as a whole. Not “me” but “we.”

Nkopo: The varying accounts we put together in the book are also a reflection, to a great extent, of what the movement Rhodes Must Fall has inspired and made possible not just in South Africa but throughout higher education the world over.

Q: Why did you decide to get involved with Rhodes Must Fall at Oxford?

Kwoba: I co-founded the Rhodes Must Fall Oxford movement because I was inspired by the action that black students took at the University of Cape Town. They made the statue of Cecil Rhodes a focal point for a much larger conversation and mass movement against the white coloniality of that institution. Oxford has its own statue of Rhodes, so after our initial solidarity demonstration, we came to realize that Oxford, too, needed to be decolonized in a similar way.

Chantiluke: I decided to organize for Rhodes Must Fall Oxford because I was inspired by the fact that the movement did not seek to work within the university’s structural framework, but sought to work outside of it, in solidarity with students from across the globe.

Nkopo: I went to Oxford from the University of the Witwatersrand, and there I had already gotten involved with the Decolonise Wits movement and in organizing some of what would result in the Fees Must Fall movements. Rhodes Must Fall Oxford was a welcome and natural step in my career as an activist intellectual. It was also very appealing that the movement in Oxford was a global one in terms of the students involved and organizing in the small city.

Q: Several voices in the book, including Roseanne and Athinangamso in your "Skin Deep" interview, discuss the need to focus on decolonizing higher education rather simply implementing greater diversity and inclusion initiatives. Can you explain how those two goals are different?

Chantiluke: Diversity operates on the higher education institution’s public facing level only. It is a marketing ploy that convinces external stakeholders that a university is doing all that it can to improve the lives and experiences of brown, differently abled, LGBT+ and nonbinary people by virtue of inviting them to study there. Meanwhile, the university is allowed to operate as normal without reforming the systems, structures and attitudes that are hostile to such people. On the other hand, decolonization operates at the political, epistemic and ideological heart of the university, with reformative implications for every facet of a university’s operation. It involves the decentering of Eurocentric value systems and knowledge production, the overhaul of the hierarchy of European ideologies and the reappraisal of whitewashed history. Decolonizing the university is a prerequisite for true diversity of thought and peoples to exist there fully.

Q: What’s the biggest difference you observed between the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa and the protests at Oxford?

Nkopo: In a sense, there was no great difference in terms of the structure and complexity of the university. The formerly white universities in South Africa are dominated by white academic staff and the curriculum is no different in terms of representation. The perspectives, histories and epistemological outlook of universities like UCT, where I am now a TA, are Eurocentric … Similarly, students of color there experience the kind of impostor syndrome students at Oxford experience, perhaps for slightly different reasons. The institutional culture of formerly white universities in South Africa, like in Oxford, remains white and the configuration of those spaces still uphold and glorify villainous white men and women such as Cecil John Rhodes, Jan Smuts and the like.

Kwoba: We were both up against educational institutions of white supremacy and coloniality, but in Oxford we were a tiny minority of black and Asian students in a majority-white imperialist country, whereas in SA black students are in a majority-black neocolonial country. Internally, Rhodes Must Fall in South Africa had a much clearer articulation of its political boundaries, basing itself on black consciousness, black feminism, the black radical tradition and pan-Africanism. Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford structured itself more loosely (and less politically) around decolonizing the iconography, curriculum and racial representation of the university.

Q: What do movements like Rhodes Must Fall need to do to be successful?

Kwoba: One thing we need to do better is to build links with university workers and working people in the larger urban environment in which the university is housed. The support and mobilization of community organizations, political parties, trade unions and oppressed people on a larger and extracurricular scale is what it took to kick the colonizers out historically.

Chantiluke: The demands for action and organizing can often leave very little time for a movement’s internal education. Internal education refers to conversations that relate to the ethos and ideology of a movement: What are the core principles of a movement and why/how are they formed? Should they be open to adaptation as a movement’s trajectory develops? How do we develop our thought and how do we learn? Time must be made to ensure that organizers engage in internal education as a collective with an end to ensuring consistency of ideology and ethos across organizers. Otherwise, assumptions are made about the ideological cohesiveness of organizers, which is extremely problematic.

Nkopo: We need to decentralize movements away from individuals, while preparing for a time when an organizing group have left the university as students.

Q: Similarly, where do you typically see movements falter?

Kwoba: One place that student movements often falter is by failing to train and prepare the next generation (e.g. first- and second-year students) to continue the movement. The university administration knows it can just stall until the most vocal and active students eventually graduate, and that is what often happens. Also, as one of our book chapters explains, Rhodes Must Fall Oxford really faltered on place of blackness and its relationship to feminist politics within the movement.

Chantiluke: Patriarchy always finds a way of blocking progress in these movements through the toxic social dynamics of the movement, the gendering of work and the ideas of "leadership" and hierarchy that it brings. Also, to challenge a powerful white institution as a nonwhite student involves an incredible amount of physical and psychological exertion that can be extremely destructive if left unchecked. The demands for action and organizing often appear to trump the individual demands for rest, wellness and self-care. Movements need to ensure that their organizers are looked after as much as possible and must operate on a politics of radical compassion.

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Professor cites boycott of Israeli universities in declining to write recommendation letter for student

Mié, 19 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Does a professor have a right to refuse to write a recommendation for a student due to his own political convictions?

 As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine. This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there. I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter. Let me know if you need me to write other letters for you, as I’d be happy, John. John Cheney-LippoldA professor at the University of Michigan declined to write a recommendation for a student to study abroad upon realizing the student’s chosen program was in Israel. In an email to the student, which was posted as a screenshot (at left) on Facebook by the pro-Israel group Club Z and was first reported by Israeli media, the professor cites support for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions as the reason why he was rescinding an offer to write a recommendation letter. At the same time he indicated he would be happy to write other letters for the student, who is identified only as “Abigail.”

"As you may know, many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine," says the email from John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor in the American culture and digital studies department at Michigan. "This boycott includes writing letters of recommendation for students planning to study there."

"I should have let you know earlier, and for that I apologize. But for reasons of these politics, I must rescind my offer to write your letter."

"Let me know if you need me to write other letters for you, as I'd be happy," the email concludes.

“I firmly stand by the decision because I stand against inequality, I stand against oppression and occupation, I stand against apartheid and I use that word very, very seriously," Cheney-Lippold said in a phone interview with Inside Higher Ed.

He confirmed that he sent the email but clarified that he made a mistake in saying that many university departments have supported the boycott against Israeli universities. What he should have said is that many individual professors do.

Cheney-Lippold said it is appropriate for professors' political and ethical stances to inform their choices of whether and when to write letters on their students' behalf. "The idea of writing a letter of recommendation is a part of being a professor where your own subjectivity comes into play," he said. "I don’t want professors to be seen as just rubber-stamping … A professor should have a decision on how their words will be taken and where their words will go."

"I have extraordinary political and ethical conflict lending my name to helping that student go to that place."

The University of Michigan, for its part, issued a statement affirming its opposition to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and clarifying that no academic department or unit has taken a stance in support of it.

"Injecting personal politics into a decision regarding support for our students is counter to our values and expectations as an institution," the university said in a statement issued Tuesday. An earlier statement from the university described the faculty member's decision as "disappointing," but that language was removed from the subsequent statement, which a spokesman said was revised for purposes of concision.

The case raises complex questions for professors about academic freedom and faculty obligations. Generally, most would probably agree that principles of academic freedom give a professor every right to refuse to write a letter on the basis of a student's poor academic performance. But to what extent is writing recommendation letters a faculty duty such that refusing to write one for nonacademic reasons breaks an unwritten social contract? How should institutions balance academic freedom with the expectation that faculty will write letters to support their students' academic goals -- that is, when their performance in the classroom merits it?

The questions at issue are not settled ones, even from the perspective of the main body that advocates for faculty freedoms and rights, the American Association of University Professors. The AAUP has a long-standing policy of opposing academic boycotts.

“In general, AAUP policy does not address whether faculty are obligated to write letters of reference,” said Hans-Joerg Tiede, the associate secretary of the AAUP's Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. “I think that it's generally understood that writing such letters falls within the professional duties of faculty members. I also think that it's generally understood that faculty members may decline to write a particular letter in particular instances, for example, because they believe that they have insufficient information on which to base such a letter. In general, refusing to write a letter of reference on grounds that are discriminatory would appear to be at odds with the AAUP’s Statement on Professional Ethics."

John K. Wilson, the co-editor of the AAUP's blog, "Academe," said, "Writing a letter of recommendation is not like teaching a class; it is a voluntary activity, and not a necessary part of one’s academic work. Professors are given broad discretion to decide how, and if, to write a letter. And they can decline if they think the opportunity is not in the best interests of the student, even if the student disagrees."

"However, I think it is morally wrong for professors to impose their political views on student letters of recommendation." Wilson stressed however, that the professor should not be punished. "If a professor was systematically refusing to write letters of recommendation because they are time-consuming and unrewarded in academia, it might be appropriate for colleagues to judge it as a small mark against them on the service criterion. But a singular case like this certainly should not be punished in any way," he said.

Cary Nelson, a former AAUP president and an opponent of the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions, argued on the other hand that the professor could be punished. "What the professor did violated the student’s academic freedom -- the right to apply to study at any program anywhere in the world," said Nelson, a professor emeritus of English and Jewish culture and society at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Nelson said he believes it is a violation of professional ethics for a professor to decline to write a letter for a student on the basis of politics. A faculty member has the right not to write a recommendation, but not based on political objections to the university or nation in which the student is interested in studying, or the student’s own politics, Nelson argued.

Max Samarov, the executive director of research and campus strategy for StandWithUs, a pro-Israel organization, accused the professor of dereliction of duty. StandWithUs opposes the spread of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel on campuses and views BDS as an "expression of the new anti-Semitism that targets the Jewish state instead of Jewish people."

"This professor's job is to help students educate themselves about the world. Refusing to do his job simply because it conflicts with his personal politics is reprehensible. The fact that he did this in service of a discriminatory agenda like BDS only makes it worse," Samarov said.

Reflecting a different view, David Klein, a professor of mathematics at California State University, Northridge, and a member of the organizing collective of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, argued it was the professor’s prerogative not to write the letter. Klein, who opposes study abroad programming in Israel, said he agreed with Cheney-Lippold's decision.

"First of all, a professor has a right to decline a request to write a letter of recommendation under any circumstances: that’s a choice a professor makes about a student and a goal. In this case I think it’s the ethical thing to do. The study abroad program for Israel is really a propaganda program to legitimize the apartheid system in Israel and I think it’s proper for a professor to object to participate in that," Klein said.

Asked whether a professor’s political views can constitute valid reasons not to write a recommendation, Klein said, “I think that’s a complicated question, because politics is a very broad category. But within politics there are ethical principles, too. Antiracism is a political position, and I think antiracism is a legitimate political position to invoke in situations like this, whereas other more superficial political considerations like Republican versus Democrat would not be appropriate.”

"Study abroad programs in Israel are not open to all U.S. students," said Cynthia Franklin, another member of USACBI's organizing collective and a professor of English at the University of Hawaii. "Israel can and does deny entry to diasporic Palestinian students, as well as to non-Palestinian Muslims and Arabs. Palestinian students are not free to travel in or out of the country to pursue their educational goals."

"Israel's antiboycott laws also mean that they can bar entry to any students who are known for their work supporting the BDS movement," Franklin said.

"As a supporter of the academic boycott, like John Cheney-Lippold, I would decline to write a letter of recommendation for a student applying to a study abroad program in Israel. I could not write such a letter in good conscience, as that would mean that I would be supporting and legitimating an academic program that is discriminatory. This student would, of course, be free to ask for a letter of recommendation from another faculty member."

Cheney-Lippold said he was uncomfortable with the focus being on him and the decision of whether or not to write a recommendation rather than the conditions he sought to draw attention to. "I never wanted to be the story," he said. "I want to be able to use the tactic of a boycott to highlight the apartheid system, to highlight the discrimination that’s happening, to put the spotlight not on a single professor at the University of Michigan, but why might a professor have done this.”

He said he has not heard from the student since he sent the email Sept. 5.

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UMBC students protest over sexual assault, university response

Mié, 19 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Students at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, stormed the administration building and confronted the president this week, irate over the institution’s handling of sexual assaults. They accused officials of defending rapists and demanded that a contingent of students be removed or suspended.

The display stems from a federal lawsuit filed last week by two former UMBC students who said they were raped but that their reports were bungled or ignored. In one case, a student alleged that UMBC police discouraged her from filing a formal complaint and that the institution rushed the investigation. The other student said she was gang-raped by three UMBC baseball players who, she said, escaped punishment. A lawyer for the two women (whom Inside Higher Ed is not naming as victims of sexual assault) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In addition to suing UMBC administrators and the University System of Maryland, the plaintiffs have named as defendants several Baltimore County officials, including the Baltimore County state’s attorney. They also named the county police department, which was the subject of an explosive 2016 BuzzFeed investigation that found it did not thoroughly investigate rape cases and had labeled 34 percent of them “unfounded.” The national average is only 7 percent. BuzzFeed’s report prompted a review of department practices and cases.

Students began their protest on the UMBC grounds Monday evening and moved to the administration building -- over the weekend, the campus had been papered with posters proclaiming, “UMBC protects rapists.”

The activists had printed out a list of demands, among them that Paul Dillon, UMBC’s chief of police, be removed “for his failure to enact justice” and “fear tactics” against sexual assault survivors. The students also pressed for the suspension of multiple other officials, including a coordinator of campus sexual assault investigations, the head baseball coach and a program associate for diversity and inclusion.

As they piled into a tight conference room on Monday night to meet with UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski III -- an impromptu move, as a sit-in was not planned -- the students read their demands and asked for an apology from all upper-level administrators. For more than an hour, students questioned and criticized Hrabowski -- in one particularly tense exchange, a former UMBC student and local reporter for the Baltimore Post-Examiner, an online news outlet, accused him of knowing of the sexual assault issues on campus for more than a year, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Hrabowski offered an apology and told the group he was proud of them.

“Clearly we have not done a good enough job,” he said.

Among the group's other demands: that the university hire a nationally recognized sexual assault survivor group to consult on new policies, that all students undergo mandated sexual assault prevention education, that students accused of sexual misconduct be suspended from athletics and other leadership roles and that health services be revamped to stay open 24 hours. The students also want nurses to be trained in administering rape kits.

University spokeswoman Dinah Winnick did not immediately answer Inside Higher Ed’s question (via email) about whether the president would honor the students’ demands.

“Over the past few days, we have had important dialogue with students about campus response to sexual misconduct reports,” Winnick wrote in an email. “Our focus now is on listening so that we can build relationships and work together to develop and implement solutions that help us live out our community values.”

UMBC junior John Platter, who is also executive director of the LGBT Student Union, was one of the protest leaders. Platter, himself a sexual assault survivor, said the institution mishandled his case -- though he was intoxicated and said he couldn't consent at the time of the incident, officials didn’t have enough evidence to find the accused student responsible, he said. Platter met with Hrabowski and other administrators over the weekend and said he and the activists had walked away feeling “anxious.”

Platter said he believes Hrabowski was “intrigued” by the number of students who protested on Monday and that they will effect some change.

“Obviously we can’t leave the university to its own devices,” Platter said. “Any change the university makes on its own may not be enough. We have to make sure that the university prioritizes the safety of survivors.”

Platter has met with the Undergraduate Senate, which will consider drafting legislation to support the student coalition, Platter said. He intends to do the same with other university governing bodies.

Officials have already scheduled a town hall for Thursday to discuss sexual misconduct on campus. UMBC posted a statement over the weekend acknowledging the lawsuit. While officials could not comment on specifics of the case, the statement said, “it is essential to state that our campus is committed to safety and respect for all people and takes matters related to sexual misconduct very seriously.”

Last week, the university had sponsored a training for students, professors and staffers on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal gender antidiscrimination lawsuit barring sexual violence on campus. The university said 125 people attended.

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Alamo Colleges see improvement with summer momentum experiment

Mié, 19 Sep 2018 - 02:00

A program that began as a unique initiative to eliminate “summer melt” has also led to increases in the number of students returning to campus and taking on larger course loads to get to graduation quicker.

The Alamo Colleges District is two years into its Summer Momentum Program, which officially started in 2017 and provides scholarships for free summer courses at its system of five Texas community colleges to students who earned at least 18 credit hours in the preceding fall and spring. Students who carry between 18- and 24-credit course loads can receive up to six free credit hours in the subsequent summer.

The program was created to counter what some academics call “summer melt,” which occurs when students who were enrolled in the spring don't return for the fall semester, and to encourage more students to attend full-time. So far, more than 7,000 Alamo students, about 34 percent of the total student population, have participated in the program each year, according to the district's data. The free courses cost the system about $3 million a year.

“We did see higher levels of persistence and we saw slightly higher grade point averages as they persisted compared to those who did not take advantage of the summer momentum program,” said Diane Snyder, Alamo’s vice chancellor for finance and administration and interim vice chancellor for economic and work-force development.

At San Antonio College, 42.5 percent of students in the summer program were enrolled during the following fall semester in 2017 compared to 28 percent of students who did not receive the scholarship. Northwest Vista College also saw significant gains in persistence in the first year of the program, with 63.6 percent of students in the summer program enrolling the subsequent fall compared to 43.2 percent of their peers who did not participate in the summer program.

The system also saw students taking more classes in the summer than the scholarships covered. For example, of the more than 3,700 students who qualified for three free credits in the summer, about two-thirds of them enrolled in more credit hours. Among those who qualified for six free credit hours -- about 3,800 students -- about one-third of them enrolled in more than six credits. This year for the first time, students could choose to use summer Pell Grant funding to cover the costs of courses that weren't covered by the scholarship.

Davis Jenkins, a senior research associate with the Community College Research Center at Teachers College at Columbia University, said the numbers indicate a consciousness among program administrators and participating students about the time and work it takes to earn a degree.

“Most community college students nationally don’t have a plan or know how far they have to go, or even know they need to get through quickly,” he said.

Jenkins said the increases Alamo is seeing reflect the work the district is doing as part of its guided pathways effort, which helps students identify the credits they have, the credits they need and how long it will take them to graduate.

“Colleges are increasing their full-time enrollment even in some cases where head-count enrollment is declining because students are taking more courses,” he said. “And they’re able to take more courses because every student is on a plan.”

Despite the early successes of the summer initiative, some challenges remain.

“We had thought perhaps in the second summer we’d see more students taking advantage of the program, and so far, we’re seeing about the same,” Snyder said. “So we need to peel that onion a little more.”

About 50 percent of eligible students who earned 18 to 24 credits over the fall and spring semesters have participated in the program each year. In 2017, more than 14,200 students qualified for the scholarship, and in 2018, 14,290 students were eligible for the program. The number of students participating in the program has remained relatively the same since it began. A total of 7,256 students participated in 2017, but this past summer only 7,225 students received the scholarship.

District officials suspect that some students who are eligible for the scholarship may graduate from Alamo before they can take advantage of it, or they may not be interested in taking more courses in the summer regardless of whether it’s free or not, Snyder said.

The colleges plan to dig into the data to understand why eligible students are not enrolling in the free courses. The system also plans to follow the students for longer than two summers to see whether they graduate or transfer, but so far, it’s too early for that level of detail, Snyder said.

There have been several popular initiatives around the country to help students increase the number of courses they take each year so they can graduate sooner. For instance, Complete College America, a nonprofit organization, promotes a 15 to Finish initiative that encourages students to pursue at least 15 credits per semester. And California has a new program that awards qualified community college students up to $4,000 a year if they take 15 credits or more per semester. Meanwhile, in Ohio, Marion Technical College has a new program that awards students a tuition-free second year -- or 35 credit hours free -- if they complete at least 30 hours of college-level courses in the first year while earning a 2.5 grade point average.

The next step for Alamo will be examining the data to determine who is taking advantage of the program and whether they’re closing racial equity gaps, Jenkins said. He noted that the gains at Palo Alto College are significant because it’s also a Hispanic-serving institution.

“This could be big in community colleges,” he said. “All of the colleges over all are improving and that’s really impressive … but how is this benefiting older students, low-income students and students of color?”

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Summer probations raise the question of when an accreditor should disclose a college's status

Mar, 18 Sep 2018 - 02:00

On Aug. 23, the regional accreditor for New England announced that Lincoln College of New England had been placed on probation because it did not meet seven standards.

The college in Southington, Conn., had decided to stop enrolling new students, its interim president said in the same statement. It will close Dec. 31.

Lincoln had told faculty members and students on Aug. 20 that it had been placed on probation and would be closing. And an Aug. 11 Boston Globe article mentioned the for-profit college as one of three New England institutions that had presented information to their accreditor in June to argue why they should not be placed on probation.

But investors who were paying close attention knew much earlier that Lincoln had been flagged for possible probation.

Lincoln College of New England is a part of the publicly traded Lincoln Educational Services Corp. Its parent company disclosed in a May 15 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that Lincoln College of New England had been told the previous day to show cause why it should not be placed on probation.

That filing spelled out the process for the college going forward. It would have a chance to respond with evidence showing it was in compliance with standards of accreditation by June 13. Then it would have the opportunity to present its response in person at a June 28 commission meeting.

The responses proved unsuccessful. The accreditor’s commission voted at the June 28 meeting to place Lincoln on probation for not meeting standards on planning and evaluation; organization and governance; academic programming; students; teaching, learning and scholarship; institutional resources; and educational effectiveness.

Lincoln’s parent company disclosed that it had been placed on probation in another public filing for investors dated Aug. 10. In other words, the college told investors about its probation case twice before it ever told students, although even they learned about the accrediting body's decision nearly six weeks after it was made. It told shareholders about the accreditor’s action before the accreditor publicly posted about it.

“Lincoln met all the requirements to notify investors and students,” a spokesman for the college said.

The for-profit college’s case is especially noteworthy because it is closing and because it is part of a publicly traded company that’s required to tell shareholders about material events that could affect its stock price. It is not, however, unique -- and this is not an issue only among for-profit institutions. It is one for nonprofits as well.

Weeks often pass between the day an accreditor places a college on probation and the day that probation is made public. In several cases this summer, accreditors and the institutions they approve only announced probationary actions days before key dates for enrolling students.

Disclosure practices are not standard across the board -- both what is revealed, and when. Timing varies from case to case and between accreditors. Some accreditors’ policies and practices result in disclosure of a probation decision almost immediately. Others have effectively allowed the better part of two months to pass between vote and public notification.

That’s because some accreditors allow colleges and universities to appeal the vote placing them on probation on procedural grounds -- and they don't share news of that probation until the appeal is off the table. The setup prevents higher ed institutions from being harmed by news breaking about a probation that will later be struck from the record in the rare case of a probation being overturned.

But the rules surrounding appeals and disclosure are far from uniform. Not all accreditors allow for an appeal. Not all that do call an appeal an appeal.

The hodgepodge of terms and policies makes it difficult to compare accreditors’ actions in different regions. It also arguably prevents students and parents -- the parties investing their time and money into colleges and universities -- from having all of the information they might want when making decisions.

“The actions of accreditors can be complicated to interpret, but at the same time, the information should not be hidden: instead, it should be available as soon as possible so that a counselor, other regulator, or knowledgeable consumer is not kept in the dark,” Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and former Obama administration official, said in an email.

Might a student deciding whether to enroll in a particular college or university this summer like to have known as soon as possible that it was being placed on probation?

“I see this all the time, these scenarios where there is a ton of wiggle room,” said Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the left-leaning think tank the Center for American Progress, who has written critically about accreditors’ practices in the past. “But the instances you’re describing to me seem like going above and beyond to protect the institution at the expense of the students. I think if there’s a problem, students should know, especially if they’re deciding to enroll in a college.”

Ask for Appeals First, Disclose Probation Later

This summer, the timelines for students who wanted to make informed decisions about attending some institutions would have been very, very tight. The accreditor for New England voted to place two private nonprofit colleges on probation at the same time it did Lincoln. Both the College of St. Joseph, in Rutland, Vt., and Newbury College, in Brookline, Mass., were placed on probation at the accreditor’s June 28 meeting for not meeting its standard on institutional resources. That could signal to students that they need to pay closer attention to the institutions' financial viability.

St. Joseph notified students, faculty and staff Aug. 13, and the accreditor posted a statement on the action two days later. Tuition was due for full-time students on Aug. 13.

That timing was a coincidence, a college spokeswoman said. The college and its president tried to make an announcement as quickly as it could, she said.

“President Scott worked with the president of NEASC to release the announcement as soon as possible after receiving notification,” she wrote in an email, using the acronym for the New England accreditor's former name. “It took a few days to draft the materials, and have NEASC review and approve. NEASC directed the timing of the announcement.”

In St. Joseph's case, students and prospective students who were paying attention to the news had warning about the college's financial situation, no matter what the accreditor announced. The college publicly weighed closing this spring amid enrollment shortfalls, budget deficits and a drawn-down endowment. Its Board of Trustees voted to remain open in May.

Newbury College, meanwhile, emailed students to tell them about its probation Aug. 9, three days after telling the accreditor if would not appeal its probation. The college sent letters to registered and deposited students that were postmarked no later than Aug. 13. The accreditor posted the probation announcement to its website Aug. 20.

Newbury had a fall deposit deadline of May 1 but operates under rolling admission with deposit deadlines every two weeks after that. One of those deadlines was Aug. 7, two days before Newbury announced its probation internally.

A spokesman said in an email that Newbury’s “deposit date becomes less important as August rolls on as students will need to meet their financial obligation for the fall semester.” Students could enroll for classes up until Sept. 11 this year. The spokesman declined to say when in the enrollment cycle most of the college’s students tend to enroll.

Newbury declined to release the accreditor's report about the college's probation. The spokesman provided a statement from Newbury’s president, Joseph Chillo, saying university leaders were making decisions to address the accreditor’s concerns. Those decisions include exploring real estate transactions to improve the college’s finances and strategic partnerships with other institutions. Chillo’s statement also pointed to a large freshman class and high retention rates as evidence of the college’s “level of success,” saying they speak volumes about Newbury’s student experience.

“A number of private colleges, both locally and nationally, are finding it necessary to explore new financial and collaboration models in today’s marketplace because of financial challenges,” Chillo’s statement said. “Newbury’s concern is a financial one, not one of academics or student experience. During the probation period, the college will work closely with NEASC and the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education to ensure a high-quality experience for our students.”

After Newbury College’s probation was announced, one commenter on Facebook said she considered enrolling there after the closure of another small private college in Massachusetts, Mount Ida College. Instead, she opted for the Wentworth Institute of Technology.

“Newbury College is on probation,” she wrote. “I thought of possibly going there after Mount Ida closed, as they were accepting all Mount Ida interior design students. I made the choice to go to WIT but I’m imagining where I would be right now if I decided to go to Newbury …”

The timing of this summer’s probation announcements at the New England accreditor was stretched out because of summer vacation schedules and the process of issuing joint press releases, said Barbara Brittingham, president of the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Further, it is unusual for the accreditor to vote on probation in June, Brittingham said. The commission could have waited until the fall to vote but decided instead to act as soon as possible. The presidents at each institution seemed to take seriously the need to tell students about the probations.

“I think they felt a responsibility to let students know as soon as they could,” Brittingham said. “Was it later than parents or students would have hoped? I’m sure that’s true in some cases. But they really worked hard.”

The accreditor’s policy on the status of probation says that it makes probation public when the decision is final -- after the institution being placed on probation does not appeal, or when the appeal process is completed and the decision is upheld. But the accreditor can make information about the probation public earlier “at its discretion.”

A college is placed on probation when its accreditor finds it fails to meet standards for accreditation. Probation signals serious concern from the accreditor. Colleges can be placed on probation for up to two years as they work to correct problems. If they cannot fix the issues in time, they can lose their accreditation -- and access to federal student funding under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Although it is rare for a college or university to forfeit Title IV funding, losing access is a likely death knell for most institutions.

Colleges, accreditors and regulators are under heightened scrutiny in the New England region in the wake of some institutions’ high-profile struggles. Discussions are already under way in Massachusetts about the extent to which regulators, accreditors and administrators should disclose a college’s problems.

After Mount Ida unexpectedly closed this spring, its board chair, Carmin Reiss, testified before a Massachusetts Senate Committee that the college’s accreditation reports made its financial challenges very clear. Accreditation documents and other audited financial reports were posted on the college’s website and were publicly available, although Mount Ida did not draw “specific attention” to them, Reiss said.

“I certainly reject the notion that we were deceptive,” Reiss said. “We made all the public disclosures that we needed to make, and we were honest with our community about our need to have a strategic plan and to build our financial health.”

Students testifying at the same hearing said they felt “betrayed, lost and heartbroken” and that “there are hundreds of students with thousands of dollars in school debt who don’t have a home for their academic future in the fall.”

Mount Ida went before the New England accreditor in April 2018 as part of its regular comprehensive evaluation. But it was never formally placed on probation. At meetings this week, the accreditor plans to evaluate ways it can strengthen its review of financially fragile institutions, according to Brittingham. It will also look at possible improvements to public disclosure.

The issue of when to notify students could easily come up in other regions. The accreditor for the West Coast, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, has a similar process to NECHE’s appeals process. WASC Senior College and University Commission-accredited institutions that are placed on probation can request a review of the action.

Under timelines spelled out in the accreditor’s handbook, the WASC commission must notify an institution within “approximately 14 calendar days” of a decision on probation or other sanction. Then the institution has 28 calendar days to decide whether to ask for a review. After a final decision is reached -- after an institution decides not to request a review, or after that review is complete -- the accreditor must notify several parties, including the public, within 30 days. That means the rules allow for as many as 72 days between an accreditor's vote and a public disclosure, if a college chooses not to pursue an appeal process that would add even more time.

The WASC commission’s process played out this summer after it voted to place the Master’s University and Seminary of Santa Clara, Calif., on probation at its accreditation meeting June 29. The accreditor flagged issues with board independence, personnel and management practices, operational integrity, and leadership. They included concerns that many members of the institution’s governing board were employed by the institution or another organization for which the president had authority; “a climate of fear, intimidation, bullying, and uncertainty”; an audit finding institutional aid awards exceeding typical amounts being awarded to friends and relatives; and some leaders lacking higher education experience and knowledge.

The accreditor sent a letter to the university’s president dated July 18 about the action. The university announced the probation on Aug. 16 with an email and posting on its website. It was four days before new students were scheduled to check in.

A statement from the institution’s Board of Directors said the accreditor’s primary concerns were not related to academic quality.

“WSCUC recognized and commended the excellence of the academic programs of the university and the seminary,” it said. “Rather, the areas of noncompliance primarily relate to issues of corporate governance and operational matters, which the TMUS Board of Directors is proactively addressing. During the probationary period, TMUS remains accredited and all forms of state and federal financial aid remain available to students.”

Leaders at the Master’s University and Seminary took the entire 28 days allowed under the accreditor’s guidelines to decide whether it would appeal. They also used the time to prepare for a follow-up meeting with the accreditor and to take steps toward addressing the accreditors’ concerns, they said. Students normally pay deposits well in advance of the dates in question, and classes started on Aug. 27, so the timing of announcements should not have trapped students into attending, they added.

“During that 28 days, we were already working toward compliance with what WASC was asking of us,” said Kevin Hill, vice president of administration. “It’s one thing to make an announcement that something is going on. We thought it much more beneficial to make an announcement along with steps that we’re already taking to address the issue. We thought that would be far more productive and welcome to our constituencies -- to see that we had already jumped on this and were addressing WASC’s concerns.”

Whom Does Accreditation Serve?

The case and others like it highlight a fundamental tension at the heart of the accreditation process: Whom, exactly, is it intended to serve?

Colleges and accreditors will say a process allowing time between probation and public announcement is more collaborative between institution and accreditor -- it helps institutions improve their practices and encourages those with problems to correct themselves. That, in turn, can help students.

“I fully support the way we do accreditation,” said John Stead, provost at the Master’s University. “They, in reality, have been a big help to us. Prior to this we had a 10-year accreditation, so we had not been visited for 10 years. This was really kind of a wake-up call for us in some areas. In the long run, it will really help us do a better job for our students.”

But in some cases, helping students might mean telling them when an institution is having problems.

“The process for notifying an institution and the public of a sanction reflects a balance between ensuring appropriate transparency for students and others while allowing for a fair appeal process for the institution,” said Jamienne S. Studley, president at the WASC Senior College and University Commission. “We regularly review our policies to assess whether we have struck a reasonable balance.”

What exactly constitutes a reasonable balance can change with time. A lengthy disclosure process that once seemed to protect students from undue worry might seem overly secretive and parental if students have started acting like consumers who want to be able to make informed decisions about where they’re spending their tuition dollars. It could also come to seem naïve if bad actors begin to find ways to exploit the system.

“How we balance the information to the public and due process here is the challenging thing,” said Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. “Would I turn around and change that overnight? No. I would not, because of the potential harm that could be done. I don’t know that a four- to six-week period of not knowing is going to harm the student. I really don’t. It’s a question I’m asking.”

Probation is not a status signifying an institution is going to close down immediately, Eaton pointed out. It is serious, but it does not mean a curriculum is nonfunctional or a college can’t provide support services.

“It is something the accreditor wants the institution to improve, and they are saying, ‘Look, you need to pay some particular attention to this,’” she said. “It’s more than saying, ‘OK, just work on this over the next few years.’ It’s saying, ‘Work on this now and fix this.’”

Other accreditors have tilted their processes toward faster public disclosure, though.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education typically has a public announcement up about a week after a probation decision, said Brian Kirschner, director of communications and public relations. If the commission has a meeting ending on a Thursday, it will have processed the action, reported it to the Department of Education, reported it to the institution and then posted about it online by the next Wednesday or Thursday. Middle States categorizes probation as a "non-compliance action," and its policies state noncompliance actions are not appealable.

“For us, the institutions want to hear about it,” Kirschner said. “And of course the public, if you include the students and whatnot, we want to put the information out there for their purposes.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges doesn’t allow colleges and universities to appeal probation decisions. Neither does the Higher Learning Commission, the largest of the accreditors, which is responsible for institutions from West Virginia to Arizona.

“Only being dropped from membership is appealable,” said Belle S. Wheelan, SACSCOC president. “Our policy says that we notify the institution’s president before we announce it to the public. Usually, the board will vote in the morning, we will call the president right away, and as soon as the staff notifies me that the president is aware, then we let the press know.”

An argument can be made that accreditors give colleges and universities time to respond to concerns even if they post notice about probations without waiting for an appeal. The commission vote isn't the first time an institution learns it might be on probation. Colleges and universities have a chance to present information before the vote takes place.

“We often go through months of internal due process -- discovery and evaluation -- that feed into the Board of Trustees considering a sanction,” said Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission, in a statement. “After that decision is made, our focus shifts outward. Within two weeks, we inform the institution and then post a public disclosure notice that clearly explains the issues, the HLC action, and its impact on students.”

Even the shorter timelines wouldn’t necessarily stop students from learning about a probation shortly before they’re scheduled to head to campus.

The Higher Learning Commission decided at its June 28 meeting to place Wilberforce University in Ohio on probation over concerns about teaching and learning, and resources, planning and institutional effectiveness. Wilberforce received an email from the accreditor about the change on July 10. It held a universitywide meeting about the move July 17, just 10 days before new student orientation was scheduled. The university posted an HLC-approved statement on its website on July 31, a day before classes were scheduled to start.

Looking at it from an institution’s perspective, it’s possible to see why a college or university might want to have time to make an announcement on its terms. Universities have used gaps between the date of a probation decision and when they publicly disclose that decision to inform key constituencies about an accreditor’s action.

The University of Providence, in Great Falls, Mont., was placed on probation when the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities met this June over concerns about requirements related to public disclosure and its relationship with the accreditation commission. It received a formal letter from the accreditor July 30 and had until Aug. 7 to appeal under the accreditor’s policies. It decided not to, according to Katie Carpenter, interim director of communication.

Leaders then wanted to tell faculty about the probation in person, but faculty members did not have to report to campus until Aug. 15. Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 15, the university told board members and key donors. Then on Aug. 15 it told faculty and staff members and sent an email to students and parents. The local newspaper did not report on the probation until Aug. 15 under an agreement with the university, Carpenter said.

“We really wanted to inform our constituencies, especially faculty, in person,” she said. “It couldn’t have come at a trickier time because faculty wasn’t back on campus until the 15th.”

For responsible colleges, the extra time can mean an opportunity to find the right way to deliver the news, add context and answer questions. Of course, skeptics could argue it allows for institutions to find ways to massage the message and make critical problems sound less serious. The playbook for colleges and universities that are on probation for financial reasons seems to be to issue public statements arguing the situation has no bearing on their academics, for example. Many experts would say financial problems can affect a student's academic experience, though -- ask a Mount Ida student how the college's financial problems changed their classroom experience.

Those who have spent time studying accreditation called the question of probation disclosures a classic example of a system with features in conflict. The goal of reviewing quality so an institution can pursue self-improvement conflicts with the goal of accountability and consumer protection, said Kevin Kinser, a professor of education and head of the Education Policy Studies department at Pennsylvania State University’s College of Education and editor of a recent book about challenges facing accreditors.

“Here accreditation agencies are being deliberative in their decision-making, and giving institutions the opportunity to respond to findings in a confidential forum before they are made public,” Kinser said in an email. “In the meantime, however, they are potentially allowing poor-performing institutions to continue operation without consequences. The problem is that under the current system, no one has the authority to insist on one priority over the other, leaving accreditors to make their own judgment calls.”

His co-editor on the book, Susan Phillips, concurred. Phillips, a professor in the department of educational administration and policy studies at the State University of New York at Albany, added that another system is in the mix as well: the federal government. It requires accreditors to afford institutions due process and spells out timelines under which accreditors must notify different parties about some actions.

“The combination of those two provisions, plus the consumer protection concerns and the quality improvement concerns, end up making nondisclosure seem in some instances like a required due process not yet complete, in others like an appropriate opportunity to improve, and in yet others like consumer-endangering secrecy,” Phillips said in an email.

What students don't immediately know won't hurt them. Or will it?

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New national survey finds generally positive views of higher education, but with weak points as well

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

In 2017, national surveys by Gallup and the Pew Research Center found significant public doubts -- more than in previous years -- about higher education and its role in American society. While the questions in the two polls were not identical, both polls pointed to doubts about how higher education is run. And the skepticism was greatest among Republicans (although there were also doubts among Democrats and Independents).

Today, WGBH (Boston's public radio station) is releasing a national survey of adults (conducted with ABT Associates) that generally finds a more positive outlook among the more than 1,000 people surveyed. But in key areas, such as the use of affirmative action, the public does not support the policies favored by most higher education leaders.

And the survey found doubts on how colleges respond to sexual assault and student mental health issues. The survey found the public thinks more highly of public than private institutions, and that Ivy graduates are seen as elitist. The public is split on the idea of taxing the endowments of wealthy private colleges.

In the Gallup and Pew surveys, partisan divides were evident in many of the key responses. WGBH released such data on some, but not all questions, in its survey, and not for some of the top-line questions.

Favorable Views

On a number of broad questions, the survey featured answers that may reassure educators. (Totals do not add to 100 percent as "don't know" and non-answer percentages are not included here.)

  • 41 percent of those surveyed said that they had a strongly favorable view of American colleges and universities, while 26 percent had a somewhat favorable view, 11 percent had a somewhat unfavorable view, and 11 percent had a strongly unfavorable view.
  • When the question was rephrased to be about "the college or university nearest to where you live," the percentage with a strongly favorable view went up to 46 percent.
  • 77 percent said that colleges and universities have a positive impact on society, compared to only 14 percent who see a negative impact.
  • 81 percent said that colleges and universities have a positive impact on their local community.
  • Asked whether, "considering the costs," college was worth attending, 43 percent said they agreed strongly, and another 25 percent agreed somewhat.

Despite those generally positive views, only a minority of those polled said that graduating from college was "necessary to get ahead in life." Forty-two percent agreed while 55 percent disagreed.

When it comes to attitudes about certain colleges, the public view is mixed. The public is more likely to have a favorable view (and any view) of public than of private higher education.

Public vs. Private Colleges

  Favorable View Unfavorable View No Answer/Don't Know Public 76% 16% 9% Private 59% 24% 17%

How Elitist Are College Graduates?

  Agree Disagree College graduates are elitist 31% 59% Ivy graduates are elitist 54% 34%

Public Funds for Higher Education (and Taxes)

The strong support for public higher education is matched by attitudes about state support for higher education, but only up to a point. And only among certain groups, the WGBH survey found.

More than three-fourths of those surveyed (78 percent) said they would be concerned if their state decided to reduce funding for public colleges. But asked about raising taxes to support public higher education, only 47 percent said they would be willing to pay more, while 49 percent were opposed.

Willingness to pay higher taxes varied by racial/ethnic group, with 56 percent of African Americans willing to pay more, and only 46 percent of white people saying that.

Support for raising taxes to avoid cuts to public higher education was strongest among liberals (70 percent) and people aged 18-29 (60 percent). Those most likely to be opposed were conservatives (69 percent), white evangelical Protestants (62 percent), and women without a college degree (58 percent),

Split Views on Endowment Tax

The tax bill adopted by Congress last year imposed a tax on the endowments of wealthy private colleges. While the exact details are not clear until pending regulations are issued, the tax has been seen as a major shift in federal policy, and has been opposed by most higher education associations.

A small majority of Americans (50 percent to 43 percent) oppose the tax, WGBH found.

But there were differences by party affiliation and other factors. While 46 percent of Republicans favor the tax, only 38 percent of Democrats do so.

Support for the endowment tax is stronger among those who are younger (18-29), among whom 54 percent support the tax, and among those without a college degree, among whom 47 percent favor the tax.

Opposition to Consideration of Race

The survey also included a series of questions about admissions policies and diversity. The results may concern higher education leaders, who overwhelmingly are backing Harvard University as it defends itself in a lawsuit charging that its affirmative action policies result in discrimination against Asian American applicants.

The survey found that the public supports the idea behind "holistic" admissions (although that term was not used in the survey). Only 27 percent of the public said that college admissions decisions should be based exclusively on high school grades and standardized test scores. Seventy percent said that admissions decisions should be based on a "variety of factors."

Further, 64 percent said that it was extremely or very important that colleges have racial diversity in their student bodies. Another 22 percent said it was somewhat important.

But the results were striking when members of the public were asked if it was appropriate for colleges to consider certain factors in admissions decisions:

  • 60 percent said that athletic talent should be considered.
  • 72 percent said that musical talent should be considered.
  • 73 percent said that leadership should be considered.
  • 83 percent said that "overcoming hardships such as poverty or health problems" should be considered.

But then came the question on race. "The Supreme Court has decided colleges can use race as one factor in deciding which applicants to admit. Do you agree or disagree with this ruling?" Twenty-four percent said they agreed while 72 percent disagreed.

While opposition to consideration of race was strong, there were some differences of opinion by educational attainment and party affiliation.

College graduates were more than twice as likely as non-college graduates (40 percent vs 17 percent) to agree with the Supreme Court that colleges should be allowed to consider race and ethnicity. The only group WGBH identified in which more supported than opposed the Supreme Court ruling was among those with graduate education, where support for the ruling outpaced opposition 49 percent to 45 percent.

Defenders of affirmative action have noted that certain words in questions in surveys tend to yield more opposition, but the phrasing of this survey did not use those phrases (notably those with the word "preferences").

The results are in some ways similar to the findings of a 2016 survey of the public by Gallup (with questions drafted by Inside Higher Ed, which works with Gallup on surveys, but played no role in the survey referenced at the top of this article). In that survey, 61 percent of the public said that family economic circumstances should be a factor in admissions, 55 percent said that athletic ability should be a factor, and only 36 percent said that race or ethnicity should be a factor.

Free Speech, Politics and Student Life

  • A solid majority (57 percent) of Americans believe that colleges should stand behind invitations to speakers whom some on campus find offensive. While support for this view is stronger among Republicans than Democrats, a plurality of Democrats also share this view. White people are more likely than non-white people (61 percent to 50 percent) to believe colleges should stick with such invitations.
  • Fifty-nine percent of the public in the WGBH poll said that colleges lean to one political view. Of those, more than three-fourths identified that view as a liberal one, and nearly half saw that as a problem.
  • Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that colleges fail to do a good job of protecting students from sexual assault. Among women, the share with this view was 59 percent.
  • Half of those surveyed (50 percent) said that colleges are not doing a good job of meeting the mental health needs of students. Among women, the share with that view was 57 percent.
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Julie Schumacher resurrects Jason Fitger for a -- slightly -- more sentimental sequel to 'Dear Committee Members'

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

It's been four years since Julie Schumacher, professor of creative writing at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, went Office Space on academic work with her hit epistolary novel, Dear Committee Members. Well, four years for us, and just a summer for snarky protagonist Jason T. Fitger, professor of creative writing and English at the fictional Payne University -- as we quickly learn in Dear Committee Members' sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement (Doubleday).

Just a summer and yet Fitger, who is in his mid-50s, has grown up -- a bit. Acting on prior advice from his ex-wife, Janet, with whom he is still hopelessly in love, Fitger runs for department chair and suddenly finds himself not just critiquing the neoliberal university but trying to help run it. It's a thankless and virtually impossible job, but it reveals new contours in a Fitger's personality and, of course, lots of material.

Fitger's central task? Herding cats (of the English professor variety) into drafting the much-delayed, departmental vision statement on which their budget depends. And so much depends on that budget, since the Darth Vader of rival department chairs, Roland Gladwell, is seeking to absorb English's already scarce resources into his evil economics empire.

In discussing the vision statement, English faculty personalities, interests and punctuation preferences clash -- an "I've been there moment" for any academic, to be sure. But the real resistance comes, somewhat unexpectedly, from the department's creaky Shakespeare scholar, Dennis Cassovan, who uncompromisingly demands that English students spend a semester studying Shakespeare. (Wasn't a manga comic version of Macbeth in a class on the graphic novel enough Shakespeare, another colleague wonders?)

"We don't have a budget, Dennis," Fitger, who wants to envision now, and "tweak" later, tells Cassovan. "You might not appreciate the fact that I'm fighting here for the department's existence."

"Perhaps you should also fight for its soul," Cassovan retorts.

And so Fitger finds himself the villain in a campus fight between "Killing Will" and "Saving Our Shakespeare," as reported by the enterprising Campus Scribe: "To be or not to be: That is the question that Payne's department of English is debating in regard to the teaching of Shakespeare."

It's an interesting place for Fitger to be, since, in other arguments about the value of humanities, he and Cassovan would be on the same side. But this is academe, where a real debate rages as to the role of the canon in English. And, as the bard might say, "Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

If Fitger is facing professional hell (however topical it is), he's facing a personal version of it, too: Janet is dating an uppity dean, he's temporarily housebound while caring for the sick colleague for whom he is inexplicably an emergency contact, and he's plagued by various physical ailments of his own. There's the cracked molar, wasp stings (an occupational hazard) and prostate-induced insomnia, for example.

All the characters in The Shakespeare Requirement are in fact very … bodied, in a particularly middle-to-older-age kind of way: colleagues experience thinning hair, gastrointestinal issues, sensitive skin, tampon wrappers attached to their shoes and even (a very well written) death. There's a dog named Rogaine, to boot. It's all somewhat tickling, as it's easy to imagine that academics are all brains. But, like any good writer, Schumacher pulls the veil way back, revealing her subjects as -- surprise -- humans.

Asked about that recently, Schumacher told Inside Higher Ed that she liked thinking of the novel as a nod to middle age.

"Fitger in particular has reached the point in his life when he feels he needs to look holistically at what he has accomplished, both personally and professionally -- it's a moment of reckoning," she said. "I am roughly his age, and feel the same impulse."

Indeed, Schumacher said that of all her characters (and The Shakespeare Requirement has many), she most identified with Fitger.

"Creating him was like molding an evil little version of myself, who was able to say things I would never say, and behave in ways I would never behave," she said. That's one of the reasons Schumacher revisited Fitger for a sequel, which abandons the slim format of Dear Committee Members, told through letters of recommendation Fitger writes, for a more traditional, longer format.

Did Fitger's lack of filter, in either book, get her in trouble with her colleagues at Minnesota? Apparently not. Schumacher said they've been "wonderfully supportive," throwing her a "coloring party" after she published Doodling for Academics, a comedic adult coloring book, in between novels, and a reception when she won the Thurber Prize for American Humor in 2015.

Colleagues have even "cheered me on by offering ideas for another sequel," she said. "But I think I will leave Jason Fitger where he is."

That doesn't mean there's a dearth of material in Schumacher's everyday life -- or anyone's, if they know where to look for it, she said.

"It's a matter of learning to see it, and to appreciate that amid the seriousness and the challenges, comedy can often be found lurking."

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Congressional spending bill means increases for student aid, research

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

An appropriations deal reached by House and Senate negotiators last week largely reflects the priorities of the upper chamber, including higher spending on student aid, career and technical education, and university-based research.

The spending bill for fiscal year 2019, which begins October 1, would increase the Education Department's total budget to $71.5 billion -- a second year in a row Congress has boosted funding, despite calls for heavy cuts by the Trump administration.

The maximum Pell Grant would be raised by $100 to $6,195 in the agreement.

Perkins Career and Technical Education grants will get $1.26 billion -- a $70 million increase from the previous year.

Funding for an eligibility fix for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was extended to the tune of $350 million. The money is targeted to borrowers whose qualifying payments were counted as ineligible because of errors by their loan servicers.

And the National Institutes of Health would get $39.1 billion, a number sought by Senate appropriators and a $2 billion increase over the previous year.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican and chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and related agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said the agreement is a bipartisan effort to invest in the U.S. workforce and support students at each stage of their academic careers.

"I urge all of our colleagues to join us in getting this bill across the finish line," he said.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate appropriations committee, cast the agreement as a rebuke to the Trump administration.

"The message of this bipartisan agreement couldn't be any clearer: Democrats and Republicans once again reject Secretary DeVos's extreme anti-public-education agenda and are fighting back against her attempts to undermine our students and public schools," she said.

(The text of the legislation can be found here. And a detailed explanation of the agreement is here.)

The agreement, which is being packaged with a defense spending bill and other short-term funding legislation, averts the possibility of a government shutdown. Lawmakers have until September 30 to pass the bills and send them to the White House for the president's signature.

Unlike this past spring, when they passed a giant omnibus spending bill that drew the ire of President Trump, who complained about the legislation's size, Congressional leaders have been moving a series of smaller bills forward since earlier in the summer.

Student advocate groups had hoped to see larger Pell Grants that did more to cover the cost of paying for college. But they expressed optimism about the increase nonetheless and praised the inclusion of other items dealing with college access.

"This budget deal continues to invest in programs that remove barriers for students seeking higher education access. After years of declining or stagnant funding, this deal solidifies the investments we saw a bipartisan Congress approve earlier this year, expanding on-campus childcare and work opportunities for students," said Reid Setzer, government affairs director at Young Invincibles.

In addition to the PLSF funding, the bill would let student borrowers who are diagnosed with cancer defer payments during treatment without accruing interest.

Another provision would limit the Office of Federal Student Aid's plans to overhaul the student loan servicing system, directing that the so-called Next Gen servicing system include multiple servicers each managing a portfolio of student loans from disbursement to repayment.

And the deal also meets House priorities on spending for the TRIO program, bumping spending up to $1.06 billion for the college access program. Senate appropriators had sought $1.01 billion.

The new bill includes a $5 million appropriation for the creation and distribution of open educational resources, mimicking the initial $5 million pilot in the fiscal year 2018 budget. Proponents of open education have pushed for the renewal, arguing that the currently ongoing program is only a starting point toward achieving lofty goals for the proliferation of openly licensed course materials.

The bill delivers another win for proponents of career training just months after Congress passed an update to the Perkins Career and Technical Education law. Kermit Kaleba, director of federal policy at the National Skills Coalition, said the group was encouraged that the bill had rejected steep cuts proposed in the White House FY 2019 budget request.

"We hope that Congress will continue to build on the bipartisan support for education and workforce programs in FY 2020 and ensure that federal investments are brought in line with historic funding levels," Kaleba said.

Mark Lieberman contributed to this article.

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Husband of UW-Whitewater chancellor banned from events, removed from advisory position

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Pete Hill, associate to the chancellor at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, was removed from his position after an internal investigation determined that sexual harassment allegations against him were credible. Hill is the husband of Beverly Kopper, university chancellor, and served alongside her in an unpaid, advisory role for the university. Kopper addressed his removal on Friday in a message to the campus.

"Although we typically do not discuss personnel issues publicly, I feel it is important to make this one exception and I have UW System's permission to do so," she wrote. Ray Cross, university system president, wrote Kopper to say that he had decided to end Hill's honorary appointment immediately and that Hill will be restricted from attending any UW-Whitewater events, including those held in his own home. Cross wrote that "the purpose of these restrictions is to make sure that Mr. Hill does not have contact with UW-Whitewater employees."

Kopper said that she supported the system's decision.

"As you can imagine, this is a challenging and unique set of circumstances for me as a wife, as a woman, and as your chancellor," she wrote. "As your chancellor, I have worked diligently to ensure each of you has the supportive environment you need and deserve in which to do your amazing work."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the news after obtaining documents from the investigation. According to the Journal Sentinel, three women came forward with allegations against Hill. Hill was found not responsible after the first complaint, but directed to take a training course on how to avoid sexual harassment. An outside investigator heard the second and third complaints and determined that Hill's behavior was "unlikely" to change.

In one incident, an employee was seated between Hill and Kopper during a dinner, and Hill repeatedly put his hand on the employee's knee. That same employee did not report unwanted hugging or kissing incidents she said she experienced in 2015 for fear that she would lose her job. On another occasion, Hill put his hand on an employee's lower back and whispered a comment about her appearance.

A student worker who filed a complaint against Hill reported that he would rub students' shoulders and make comments about their appearance. The student co-worker first reported the problem to a supervisor who confronted Hill, but little changed as a result.

Hill denies any wrongdoing, according to the documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

UW-Whitewater did not respond to a request for comment.

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Campuses start to resume operations in wake of Hurricane Florence

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Colleges in North and South Carolina are starting to resume operations that were shut down by Hurricane Florence.

East Carolina University said it would resume operations on Wednesday. Buildings management staff are currently working to get water off of rooftops (at right) and to deal with flooded areas of the campus (above).

At places like East Carolina, officials said that the threat now is from flooding on campus and of routes used by students and employees to reach the campus.

Other campuses announcing plans to re-open include Barton College (opening Wednesday), Charleston Southern University (opening Tuesday), Claflin University (business operations today and classes Tuesday), College of Charleston (opening Tuesday), Elizabeth City State University (campus opening today and classes starting up Tuesday), Fayetteville State University (hoping to open Wednesday), Trident Technical College (resuming classes today) and University of South Carolina (open today).

Many students from College of Charleston were briefly housed at South Carolina when their campus was evacuated. The University of Mount Olive announced on social media that campus damage has been more minimal than expected, but that there is no power on campus.

Our home is your home! Welcome to campus @CofC students!

-- UofSCStudentLife (@UofSCStuLife) September 12, 2018

For some campuses that were in the area more severely hit by Florence, no dates or more distant dates have been set for reopening classes. Craven Community College, which has a campus in New Bern, N.C., an area experiencing extreme flooding, announced that it will be closed this entire week.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, in an area with extensive flooding, announced that it has been unable to assess campus damage, and pledged to give ample notice before resuming operations. The university has also created a relief fund for students in need.

Many colleges in the region have also been reaching out to parents. As attached comments from the Davidson College Instagram account show, some parents have been appreciative as they can't necessarily count on timely information from other sources.

Below are some more photographs posted to Facebook by East Carolina University.

Inside Higher Ed wishes the best to all colleges hit by the hurricane and associated flooding, and invites campus officials to post updates in the comments on this article.

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Updates on college fund-raising campaigns

Lun, 17 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Starting Up:

  • St. John's College, in Maryland and New Mexico, has started a campaign to raise $300 million by 2023. The major purpose is to allow the college to substantially reduce tuition rates. So far, the college has raised $183 million.
  • University of Kentucky is starting a campaign to raise $2.1 million. More than $1 billion has already been raised in the campaign, which does not have a set end date.

Increasing a Goal:

  • Northwestern University announced that it is raising the goal for its campaign to $5 billion by 2020. The campaign launched in 2014 with a goal of $3.75 billion and has already topped $4 billion.

Finishing Up:

  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design has finished a two-year campaign, raising $12.5 million to renovate two galleries. The original goal was $12 million.
  • Sterling College has raised $11.6 million in a campaign that had an original target of $9 million. The campaign, started in 2015, focused on the college's mission of environmental stewardship.
  • Washington University has raised $3.378 billion in a campaign that started in 2012 with a goal of $2.2 billion. More than $591 million was raised for scholarships.

Check out the status of college fund-raising campaigns in Inside Higher Ed's databases.

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Purdue blocks access to Netflix, Hulu, Steam in four lecture halls

Vie, 14 Sep 2018 - 02:00

Purdue University students who were hoping to sneak in an episode of Queer Eye during their economics lecture are out of luck. The university recently debuted a pilot program that restricts access to five popular streaming sites -- Netflix, Hulu, Steam, Apple Updates and iTunes -- during class time in four of its biggest lecture halls.

The new restrictions are an attempt to free up much-needed bandwidth in four lectures halls located in the Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, the Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry, the Electrical Engineering Building and the Class of 1950 Lecture Hall.

"We're faced with rapid increases in traffic demands in our biggest classrooms," Gerry McCartney, executive vice president and chief information officer at Purdue, said. "These are rooms holding typically hundreds of students, and they're coming into class with multiple devices. When we look to see the sites those devices are going to, there are some sites without academic connection."

A 2016 study cited in the Journal and Courier of internet use in Lilly Hall of Life Sciences revealed that 4 percent of internet traffic went to "academic" sites, 34 percent went to sites that were "likely non-academic," such as Netflix, Steam and Hulu, and 64 percent went to "mixed" sites like Google, Apple and Amazon.

The pilot restrictions have been in place since the fall semester began in August and the wireless system has seen "immediate relief" since. Lawrence DeBoer, an agricultural economics professor who teaches in two of the affected lecture halls, appreciates the increased speed and bandwidth.

"I support the restrictions for practical reasons, that there is limited bandwidth and I use that bandwidth in class," he wrote in an email. "[Students] sign on to software called 'Hotseat,' which is a website that allows them to answer questions in class in real time. I know that some students follow along with the notes I post online as well. If the bandwidth is taken up with non-academic high-intensity uses, it interferes with the classroom software."

The university has received almost no criticism from faculty and students about the restrictions, save for one professor who "asked why her classroom wasn't included in the pilot," McCartney said.

He doesn't expect that to change, but if students do begin to complain, they're welcome to step out into the hall.

"[The restricted sites] are available in the corridor, and if you desperately want to play a Steam game, just go outside and do it," he said.

DeBoer also hasn't heard any complaints.

"What would they say to me," he wrote. 'I'm upset that I can't watch Big Bang Theory re-runs in your class?'"

Kelly Blanchard, an economics lecturer, also teaches in two of the lecture halls. She's heard mixed reviews from students.

"I've heard from both students who are for it and students who are against it. For students who were already attentive (or are at least trying to be attentive), it means there are fewer distractions, or it doesn't make much difference since they were already paying attention," she wrote in an email. "However, I understand students might not be happy about having the choice taken away from them."

Blanchard believes that the restrictions will have the biggest impact on students in classes with mandatory attendance.

"Students who are watching Netflix in class are likely students who wouldn't be coming to class if they didn't have to," she wrote.

The restrictions are limited to instructional hours, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Every other access point on campus -- Purdue has nearly 9,500 of them -- are fair game for streaming. If professors need students to visit one of the blocked sites during class, they can do so. The university is able to open up a "pinhole" that allows temporary access.

Neither DeBoer nor Blanchard have noticed a difference in student attentiveness since the pilot began, but Blanchard hopes that results from an upcoming exam might show otherwise.

If the pilot remains successful, McCartney said that the university will likely expand it to other instructional spaces on campus. Residence halls will never be affected.

"When you're in the classroom, you're there to do classroom activities," he said. "When I was an undergraduate, you sometimes read newspapers or books or something, but now there are a lot more attractive nuisances, which are taking up resources."

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She spoke out against the termination of her campus's only mental health counselor. A student died, and she got canned.

Vie, 14 Sep 2018 - 02:00

An assistant professor of engineering at Florida Polytechnic University is suing the institution for alleged violations of the First Amendment, saying it failed to renew her contract because she publicly criticized its mental health services -- both before and after a student suicide.

Christina Drake's lawsuit, filed this week in a Tampa court, says that she has received positive performance reviews, teaching awards and grant funding at Florida Poly since she began teaching there in its inaugural year, 2014. But she says things changed this summer when she felt compelled to speak out against numerous staff terminations, including the university's sole librarian and -- crucial to her case -- the sole campus mental health counselor.

In June, Drake spoke at a meeting of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida, linking decreased on-campus mental health services to an increased risk of student suicides. While most campuses struggle to meet student mental health demands, Florida Poly presents particular challenges: it is a new, rural institution with relatively few opportunities for extracurricular activities on campus or off, and the entire male-dominated student body is pursuing demanding degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering and math.

"I pleaded with the board," Drake said in an interview Thursday. "This place is a pressure cooker. Mental health is not an area that we can afford not to make a priority."

Then, in August, a Florida Poly student fatally shot himself while sitting on a campus bench.

The Tampa Bay Times subsequently published a news story called "At Florida Poly, a Student Suicide and a Question: Could It Have Been Prevented?" The article quotes Casey Fox, the laid-off campus counselor, as saying she knew the late student, Kevin Masculine. (She said she could not disclose whether Masculine was a patient of hers.) "There's no way to tell if that student would have reached out," Fox told the Times. "There's no way to know because there was no one there. There was no one on campus to be that person."

Drake, who was interviewed for the article, was quoted as saying, "We have a campus makeup that is a ticking time bomb" for mental health issues. The newspaper also noted Drake's previous warning to the board, which she paraphrased as, "You cannot put students in this high-stress situation and outsource it and say, 'Hey, call this number.'"

That was a reference to the university's new plan for mental health: outsource campus counseling to an off-campus, network service with scalable delivery hours and a maximum wait time, overseen by an on-campus case manager who works for the university.

"Our decision to shift to an on-campus case-manager and the BayCare Student Assistance Program is based on what is best for our students," a university spokesperson said via email. "The new model offers students access to face-to-face counseling care, no matter the day or time. This model also offers a broader scope of services and access to a much larger network of mental health professionals with diversity in experience. This is not possible with one counselor on staff. Students can also take advantage of phone-based care and self-guided wellness modules, none of which were possible when we only had a single campus counselor.

Florida Poly has attributed the recent layoffs to various organizational changes, such as the outsourcing of mental health -- which it says was not a cost-saving measure. But Drake, Fox and others have said that the university targeted employees who were involved in union activity. Drake is supported in her lawsuit by the National Education Association-affiliated United Faculty of Florida. In certain ways, her case resembles one at Georgia State University in 2012, in which the university outsourced mental health jobs; some former employees said that only happened after they complained about relevant policies they said hurt students.

Drake alleges that university administrators immediately expressed "anger" at her over the Times article. She told Inside Higher Ed that she was repeatedly encouraged in person by various supervisors to stop being so "negative" about the university.

Attributing some of that to gender discrimination, Drake also said it was "crazy" for her colleagues to suggest that speaking out about student mental health was "negative."

"We have this unique campus situation and we have to take mental health seriously," she said.

Days after the article appeared, Provost Terry Parker informed Drake that her contract would not be renewed for next academic year. That's despite the fact that annual contracts are automatically renewed for professors in good standing, Drake says.

"No one has sat down and told me why I was laid off."

Beyond losing her job, Drake said it's hard, as an "educator and a mother" to see a campus in crisis. She said students have cried in her office over Masculine's suicide and what they perceive as the institution's indifference to mental health.

"This is sad for multiple people, not just myself."

Numerous legal cases have demonstrated the limits of free speech for public employees, especially regarding comments that are pursuant to their official duties. Drake's lawsuit says that her interest in speaking out about mental health concerns and other campus issues "outweighs any legitimate interest that the university might have in suppressing free speech." She says that Florida Poly's retaliatory actions have damaged her reputation, and she's seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury.

The university said in a statement that it is its policy not to comment on pending litigation, but that it had not yet been served a copy of the complaint. A spokesperson denied that Drake had been not renewed due to her public comments, but she did not provide a reason for non-renewal when asked.

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University of Maryland criticized for white support group flier

Vie, 14 Sep 2018 - 02:00

The counseling center at University of Maryland, College Park sponsors a group called "White Awake" -- it's a weekly meet-up for white students who want to better understand race and ask questions to be better "allies" for minorities.

But a flier advertising the group is earning criticism for being tone-deaf and vague. "Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities?" the flier asks.

The counseling center has decided to discontinue the ad -- though it is not shutting down the group.

"We agree with the feedback that the flyer was not clear enough in conveying the fact that the purpose of this group is to promote anti-racism and becoming a better ally," the counseling center said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. "We didn't choose the right words for the flyer, and we are going to incorporate the feedback we have received into a revision of it."

It's unclear how long the group has been around or how it began -- a university spokeswoman attempted to arrange an interview with counseling center officials but was not immediately successful. The flier said the group offers a "safe space for White students to explore their experiences, questions, reactions, and feelings."

"Members will support and share feedback with each other as they learn more about themselves and how they can fit into a diverse world," the flier reads.

The counseling center called race relations "an incredibly difficult, nuanced issue, and that's the reason we need to discuss it." The group aims to help white students become more "culturally competent, so they can better participate in creating a more inclusive environment at the University of Maryland," according to the statement. "This group is based on research and best practices, and we believe in it."

But as the flier and the purpose of the group spread around Twitter, backlash was swift: "This cannot be real" one student tweeted.

Another student, Alysa Conway, tweeted that she was "ashamed" by the execution of the group.

"Why do they need to attend therapy sessions on how to be a decent human being in society? Why do they need to have these sessions to learn how to coexist?" Conway wrote.

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University of Florida will end tradition of calling graduates' names at university-wide commencement

Vie, 14 Sep 2018 - 02:00

In August, the University of Florida announced changes to its December graduation ceremony, but has yet to formally notify students. Instead of one ceremony in which students have their names called and personally receive a diploma, the celebrations will be split in two: a university-wide ceremony where degrees are conferred without student names, and a smaller college-specific ceremony where students will have their names called and walk across the stage.

"We have three commencement time frames. We have the summer, which is pretty small, only about 1,500 graduates," Stephanie McBride, director of commencements at the university, said. "In May, we have a significantly larger number of students, we have closer to a little over 7,000 students that are going to graduate in that timeframe. The model that we were using previously was just not sustainable."

Last spring, the university had scheduled 10 two-hour graduation ceremonies back-to-back over the course of four days where all students' names were called. During one of the fast-paced ceremonies, several black graduates were physically rushed across the stage by a faculty graduation marshal while they attempted to perform their fraternity's "stroll," a modified version of the organization's dance, while receiving their diploma. For many black fraternities and sororities, the stroll is tradition. Many black students said that white students were never treated that way when they celebrated their achievement.

Black University of Florida graduates were forcibly and physically rushed off stage while celebrating their graduation. Apparently, white students who celebrated in different ways were not treated in the same unfair fashion.

— Lawyers' Committee (@LawyersComm) May 9, 2018

"That really unfortunate ceremony was a result of the reality that we were trying to do too much at our ceremonies … In May, we did 10 ceremonies in four days, back to back to back to back," McBride said. "Unfortunately, that May incident was a product of worrying too much about efficiency, and then that was misconstrued by a faculty member."

At the time, Kent Fuchs, university president, apologized for what happened and the faculty marshal was placed on administrative leave while university officials conduct a review of the incident. While many large universities follow a two-ceremony format, students say the change is the wrong response to what happened in May.

Anthony Rojas -- a University of Florida masters student who started a petition to reinstate the original graduation format that has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures -- didn't buy McBride's reasoning.

"In reality, it was the UF staff, university administration, and the university president that acted in a manner inconsistent with what this university stands for," Rojas wrote about the May incident. "UF officials were not properly trained on how to treat graduates of all backgrounds with respect, and as a result, they inappropriately handled graduates celebrating their hard-earned accomplishment."

The petition cites a number of additional reasons to keep the old graduation format, such as the added financial and scheduling stress put on families to accommodate two ceremonies, students' right to have their moment walking across the stage at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, where graduation is typically held, and the fact that the university didn't solicit any student input for the change.

"Unfortunately there was never a survey done, student opinions were never asked," Rojas said. "One thing that angers us is them thinking they know what best. When it comes to celebrating students, students should have some input about what they want."

McBride confirmed that no students were involved in or consulted about the change.

Other petition-signers gave their own reasons for protesting the new format. One student signed "because I'm a first [generation] student who wants a real graduation ceremony" and a parent wrote "I'm signing so my son can experience a true Gator graduation ceremony."

Kristen Sandsted, a senior at the university, wrote an op-ed for the university's independent student newspaper to express her concerns.

"I think of the students who are the first in their families to receive a college education. The students who are the first to graduate college fully paid for by scholarships. The students who have fought and are still fighting to be seen and appreciated in this country. The students who have fought and are still fighting terrible battles with mental illness, not knowing if they'd make it up to that stage. The students whose families need nothing more than to see the glowing face of their graduate out in front of them, to ease the painful memories of the family members who could not be there beside them," she wrote. "For those students, it is so much more than a stage."

After the fall graduation ceremony in December, the university will review the new format and decide whether to use it again in the spring.

"The fall, the December ceremony, is sort of the wild card because it's somewhere in the middle, it's much bigger than August and much smaller than May," McBride said, making the ceremony a good test candidate.

She said she understood why students were upset, but thinks that soon two ceremonies will become the "new normal."

"Change is really hard, especially when you have something that you have had in your head, pictured what it's going to be. I think that's true for all of us, for a lot of things," she said. "In a year from now, two years from now, do I think that what we're doing will be the new normal? It will be the new normal."

Graduation dates on the website have been updated to include the second ceremonies, and the university published a press release in August about the changes. Students will be formally notified via email next week.

"I think once we get past this sort of fear of the change and the unknown and the newness, these students will be part of a new tradition at UF, and that's really exciting," McBride said.

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