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Academe sees a new wave of faculty-student relationship restrictions in the era of Me Too

Hace 19 hours 52 mins

A number of colleges and universities banned faculty-undergraduate dating or otherwise shored up their consensual relationship policies after the Education Department published a reminder letter about sexual harassment liability, in 2011. Other institutions had adopted such policies earlier.

Now, in the era of Me Too, another wave of institutions has moved to restrict consensual relationships between students and their professors. And while many involved in or affected by these decisions support them as preventing potential abuse, others remain critical of policing connections between consenting adults.

“There’s still wide variation in terms of policies,” said Tara Richards, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Baltimore. “But more and more universities are moving toward policies that go beyond a sentence or two discouraging these relationships, to actually having thoughtful conversations among stakeholder groups -- faculty, students government and administrators -- discussing what’s going to work.” 

Most successfully, Richards said, institutions have “proactive” discussions, taking into account their own student populations, norms and shared governance structures. Less successfully, she said, institutions change their polices in response to incidents on their campuses or elsewhere, “out of fear of liability.”

Richards co-wrote a 2014 study of 55 institutions’ student-faculty dating policies saying that consensual relationships were viewed in previous generations as "private matters” and ignored by administrators, except where harassment was alleged. Fear of legal liability and increasing acknowledgement of academic power structures changed that, leading institutions to adopt a mix of policies regarding these relationships. That mix led to subsequent “confusion” about community norms, however, according to the study.

At the time, within Richards's sample, only Yale University banned undergraduate-faculty dating. But as institutions increasingly came under scrutiny for their enforcement (or lack thereof) of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, other campuses followed suit. In one example, Northwestern University -- which saw a case of alleged assault involving a professor and an undergraduate (and, later, a graduate student) -- banned dating all undergraduates in 2014. Its rationale for doing so, stated in the policy itself, sums up much of the thinking behind blanket bans on undergraduate-faculty dating. 

“When undergraduate students are involved,” the policy says, “the difference in institutional power and the inherent risk of coercion are so great that no faculty member or coaching staff member shall enter into a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship with a Northwestern undergraduate student, regardless of whether there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship between them.”

Northwestern’s policy on graduate student-faculty dating restricting relationships where an evaluative authority exists reflects a Title IX-era trend, as well. Northwestern previously banned relationships between graduate students and faculty supervisors. But the new policy said that relationships between a faculty member and a graduate or professional student in the same department or program must be disclosed to the department chair, to manage the potential conflict of interest. 

There is no hardfast rule about these policies. Richards’s institution, Baltimore -- a traditionally non-traditional student-serving institution -- has no policy against student-faculty dating, for instance. Somewhere in the middle of the policy mix, the University of Wisconsin System in 2016 banned faculty-student dating (graduate or undergraduate) where an advisory or supervisory relationship, or the potential for one, exists. Pre-existing relationships must be reported. The University of California System’s policy against professors dating the students they supervise academically has been in place since 2003. In terms of trends however, there was movement toward restricting student-faculty relationships in what might be called the Title IX era, and there’s new movement now. 

New Wave of Restrictions

In the spring semester alone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia and Duke Universities adopted prohibitory policies against dating undergraduates across the board, not only where a supervisory relationship exists. Syracuse University is considering something similar.

Just this week, Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack announced that that she’d largely accepted campus input on student-faculty relationships, and that the institution was banning sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and undergraduates altogether. Romantic relationships between professors and graduate or professional students “whenever the faculty member exercises direct academic authority over the student or is likely to in the foreseeable future,” also are prohibited. The latter policy was a compromise, following debate over an ealier version that would have banned dating between graduate students and professors in the same program. 

Additionally, “Any member of the Cornell community who has, or has had, a sexual or romantic relationship with a current student or current postgraduate is prohibited from exercising academic or professional authority over that student or postgraduate.” 

Most sweepingly, Berklee College of Music -- which has faced recent allegations that it tolerates a culture of harassment -- adopted a ban on all romantic or sexual relationships between employees and students, graduate or undergraduate, this month. Such a strict policy remains rare, since even other relatively restrictive codes allow for graduate students to date professors where no evaluative authority exits.

Apart from blanket bans on dating undergraduates, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the first time this spring banned student-faculty dating where an advisory relationship exists. (A standing policy at Amherst College merely “discourages” these relationships and requires that professors remove themselves from any advisory role.)

Similar to Richards, Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and moderator of the Title IX Blog, said that policies probably depend on a student populations. 

“I can imagine some institutions, particularly large publics with age-diverse student bodies, permitting consensual relationships -- especially pre-existing relationships -- between faculty and undergraduates with whom they have no contact,” she said, noting that a friend recently went back to college to to take care of her university employee husband's tuition remission. In a blanket ban scenario, that wouldn't be possible, she said, even if they had no contact on campus. So a policy such as UMass’s make sense to Buzuvis.

“There should be a professional norm in teaching just like there is in other professions, that regards dating as incompatible with the objectives of the profession,” she said. “Just like a counselor-client relationship is compromised by the introduction of a romantic component, so too is a faculty-student relationship.” 

Still, faculty-student dating constraints remain controversial. Richards said that they’re notoriously difficult to enforce, since they typically rely on the couples’ disclosure. It's hard to get the details right: outstanding faculty questions about what a proposed policy on consensual relationships at DePaul University really means delayed a vote on it. Bamshad Mobasher, professor of computing and president of DePaul's Faculty Council, said council members had questions about what constitutes a “romantic” relationship and the potential impact of some policy language on  "opportunity hires" involving spouses of faculty candidates. 

Other legal experts say it is costly — up to $250,000, on average — to get rid of a faculty member found to have violated a policy, whether in quiet agreements or litigation. Some raise ethical arguments about agency and consent, even calling blanket bans anti-feminist.

Neil McArthur, a professor of applied philosophy at the University of Manitoba wrote a paper last year arguing against blanket bans (while urging caution to those who engage in such relationships), “because adults have a fundamental right to engage in intimate relationships without interference,” for instance.

Brett Sokolow, who advises campuses on security and legal issues as executive director of the Association for Title IX Administrators, also opposes blanket relationship bans.

“Quid pro quo harassment is already prohibited on every college campus" and behaviors “that cross the line are already addressable under existing policies,” he said. "Perhaps there is some value in consensual relationship policies for their ability to protect the institution, but the Draconian rules being implemented on many campuses now are both infantilizing and over-broad.”

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Philip Roth's relationship to academe? It's complicated

Hace 19 hours 52 mins

The great American novelist Philip Roth, who died Tuesday at 85, had what might be described as a complicated relationship to academe.

Several of Roth’s 30-plus novels and story collections -- especially the trilogy that comprises American Pastoral, The Human Stain and I Married a Communist, called out academics as misguided, hyper-political or overtly ambitious.

“He certainly had a love-hate relationship -- more of the latter, I guess, less of the former -- with the academy,” said Ezra Cappell, an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso.

But in real life, said Aimee Pozorski, an associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University, “He was really supportive of us.”

Roth, she said, “was happy to know that he was being taught” in English departments nationwide, he once told her. Over the past few decades, she and others said, his work has found a ready audience in immigrant and first-generation college students who reflect his own journey from middle-class Newark to a position as one of America’s most honored writers.

Roth graduated magna cum laude from Bucknell University in 1954, and a year later earned a master’s degree at the University of Chicago. After a stint in the U.S. Army, he worked on a Ph.D. in English at Chicago, but dropped out in 1956, after one term, The New York Times reported.

Three years later, his short story collection Goodbye, Columbus brought him a first taste of critical success, winning a National Book Award. The title story is about a working-class Jewish youth from Newark who falls in love with a wealthy, more assimilated Jewish Radcliffe College student from upscale Short Hills, N.J. The novella takes its name from the lyrics of a song sung at Ohio State University's commencement, played over and over again by the woman's brother, depicted as assimilated because of his connection to Ohio State athletics. "We will miss you, in the fall, in the winter, in the spring, but some day we shall return. Till then, goodbye, Ohio State, goodbye, red and white, goodbye, Columbus."

A decade later, in 1969, the raunchy and ground-breaking Portnoy’s Complaint made Roth a household name.

In its obituary, The Times on Tuesday called him "the last of the great white males” who dominated American letters in the second half of the 20th century, along with Saul Bellow and John Updike.

But Pozorski said her students don’t necessarily see him through the lens of race. “They’re not thinking about him as this old white guy who doesn’t have anything to say.”

Actually, she said, her students -- many of them the first in their families to attend college -- find him speaking directly to them. Though Roth often took criticism for his depiction of women, Pozorski said her students admire his portraits of vulnerable women who are abused, ill or even dying.

Cappell, the UTEP professor, agreed, saying his students -- many of them immigrants, "have found his work extremely relevant.” 

Roth’s fiction, he said, often explores conflicts between older and younger generations of immigrants in which the younger generation pulls away from the older one. “My first-generation college students often here at UTEP really embrace Roth and his incredible body of work. I do think he’s extremely relevant to our society. We’ve just lost one of the great voices and one of the great chroniclers of our culture and our society -- perhaps when we need him most, actually.”

Though he taught seminars in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania and at New York's Hunter College, among others, much of Roth’s work “stood against these institutions, which tend toward a belief in their infallibility, Cappell said.

Among the most notable examples: Roth’s 2000 novel The Human Stain, in which a classics professor at Massachusetts’ fictional Athena College finds himself in hot water after students accuse him of racial insensitivity, a plot line in political correctness that could play out nearly word-for-word on a U.S. campus today.

Roth began writing the book around the time of Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Clinton, which led to Clinton’s impeachment. “I felt there was something afoot in the late ‘90s, just a great explosion of righteous moralizing, which Americans are gifted at,” he told The Times in a recent interview.

Roth later said the incident actually happened to a friend who taught at Princeton. Writing in The New Yorker in 2012, he said the book was actually inspired by “an unhappy event” in the life of his late friend Melvin Tumin, a longtime professor of sociology, whom he’d met as a writer-in-residence in the early 1960s.

He wrote that more than 20 years later, in the fall of 1985, Tumin was “meticulously taking the roll” in a sociology class in the middle of the semester and realized that two of his students hadn’t attended a single class session. Tumin queried the class about the two mystery students, asking: “Does anyone know these people? Do they exist or are they spooks?”

The two students, it turned out, were both African-American. Though Tumin meant the remark as a joke about ghosts, students understood it as a degrading racial term. Summoned before an administrative tribunal, Tumin defended himself, but a “witch hunt” ensued in which “the powers of the moment sought to take down Professor Tumin from his high academic post for no reason at all.”

The book was made into a 2003 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman.

Dean Franco, an English professor at Wake Forest University and director of the university’s Humanities Institute, said he taught The Human Stain this semester, “and boy, was I nervous teaching it in the Me Too moment, because it’s a novel about a lot of surprising sex.”

For one thing, the main character is an older male professor who sleeps with a 30-something janitor at the college. “There are all of these power disparities and imbalances,” Franco said. 

But his students -- including his female students -- “felt that Roth was able to get at the many, many facets of sexual encounter. So we were not offended by it. We were not calling Roth sexist. Rather we were examining the complexities, almost moment-by-moment, of sexual encounter.”

The novel, he said, presented a disarmingly honest depiction of a relationship between two unlikely characters. It also offered a clear-eyed look at “academic pretension and academic politics” in a small New England college.

“Roth got it right,” he said. “He got a lot right.”

Franco and others said Roth was also a quiet booster of young writers -- he noted that while researching Roth, he found letters from the novelist Louise Erdrich, who thanked him for being a mentor, and for offering blurbs for her book jackets. 

Though he was not necessarily a fan of literary criticism, Franco said, Roth made exceptions when it pleased him. In 2013, when Roth turned 80, an academic conference in his honor at the Newark Public Library became a raucous birthday party after Roth "basically hijacked the conference and said, ‘Let’s turn this into my 80th birthday party.’ So there was an academic conference on Day 1, and on Day 2 there was a massive banquet and blowout party for Roth and all of his friends -- and the academics were all invited. He lined up and chatted with us. It was good times.”

The conference included an improbable tour of Newark filled with “all these academics driving around on a bus looking at all these Philip Roth sites,” Franco recalled.

But nearly 50 years after his breakout novel appeared, do literature classes still read Portnoy’s Complaint, with its well-known scenes of masturbation? The Washington Post has called it “a provocative hand grenade rolled right into the literary and Jewish establishments,” noting that novelist Irving Howe in 1969 slammed it, saying, “The cruelest thing anyone can do with Portnoy’s Complaint is read it twice.”

Cappell said the novel’s “ruthless intimacy” still holds lessons for aspiring writers.

“That is what his work does,” he said. “It is ruthless in terms of its ability to get into the depths of his characters and try to understand the world through their experiences. And sensuality is a major part of that, just as it is in the lives of all of us.”

Wake Forest’s Franco noted that The Wire creator David Simon is adapting Roth’s 2004 novel The Plot Against America into a six-part TV miniseries, and said he hopes the series will prompt readers to pick up Roth’s novels.

“I think he’ll be around for a very long time,” Franco said.

For his part, Simon on Wednesday tweeted that he’d recently met Roth to discuss the adaptation: “At 85, he was more precise and insightful, more intellectually adept and downright witty than most any person of any age,” Simon wrote. “What a marvelous, rigorous mind.” 

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UCLA will limit how much it will pay in security on outside speakers

Hace 19 hours 52 mins

The University of California, Los Angeles, will cover only $100,000 in total security costs each academic year for speakers who are not invited by a student group, a spending cap on certain events that appears to be the first of its kind among high-profile colleges and universities.

This policy -- which legal experts say was carefully crafted to balance the First Amendment obligations of a public institution with the potentially high costs of hosting controversial speakers -- took effect on an interim basis this month.

It comes after nearly two years of hot-button individuals testing the boundaries of college free speech practices. Most notably, the white supremacist Richard Spencer toured universities nationwide last year in a deliberate attempt to rattle the campuses, but institutions have also faced protests inspired by visits from the ex-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and the conservative commentator Ann Coulter (though in her case, she didn’t end up showing up at UC Berkeley as she publicly stated she would).

Administrators have struggled with how to accommodate these instigators while not taxing their budgets to cover hundreds of thousands of dollars in security. Spencer's trip to the University of Florida in October cost it upwards of $600,000 in security, university officials said at the time. A spending cap for certain events has been oft-debated in higher education, but never materialized until now.

The UCLA policy ensures that the university will pay, without any limits, for security for speakers invited by student groups associated with the institution, as long as they follow certain procedures, such as registering the event at least three weeks before it occurs, and meeting with campus police at least two weeks before.

These rules don’t apply to all events – just the ones the university deems “major,” meaning more than 350 people are anticipated to attend and there may be a security risk or a chance it would interfere with campus day-to-day activities.

For campus outsiders not brought in by a student group, the university has set aside $100,000 for the same type of events per academic year. Once that money is used up, generally a speaker would be denied. Outdoor events are still allowed, meaning Spencer could still shout on the UCLA grounds with a megaphone if he wanted to, but he probably couldn’t rent a space if the $100,000 budget had been exceeded.

A UCLA spokesman told Inside Higher Ed an administrator was unavailable for an interview.

Civil liberties advocates and experts expect that the UCLA rule will be both tested in court and replicated in some form at other institutions, given the likelihood that provocative speakers won’t disappear anytime soon.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a watchdog group that normally rails on institutional attempts to limit free expression, gave a much more measured response after learning about the policy.

FIRE’s lawyers debated the constitutionality of the policy, but ultimately, they found it had been so smartly written that it’s unclear whether it would fail under legal scrutiny, said Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy. Had the university applied the $100,000 maximum to student group-organized events, or also extended it to outdoor spaces, it would likely clash with free speech principles, he said.

“The law does not provide great clarity here in terms of what the obligation is,” Creeley said, noting that universities are allowed to impose restrictions on free expression that don’t discriminate based on viewpoints or content.

Peter Lake, director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University, likened the potential legal challenges to the policy to the arguments in a Supreme Court case on charging student fees, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth, decided in 2000.

The court ruled that universities could impose a mandatory student activities fee and use it to fund groups that individual students found offensive -- as long as that money was distributed in a viewpoint neutral way.

“It has the same texture,” Lake said, referring to the Supreme Court case. “But I would worry if I were a speaker, if my great idea pops up in April, that I would be disadvantaged if someone else had a great in September. Without some system to plan ahead for the year, I have a feeling you’ll see some kind of balancing process.”

Colleges and universities will likely be adopting some form of this policy, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

He said it does not clash with the traditional mission of universities serving as open forums.

“Philosophically, it makes sense, with the disruptive new world order of what speech can look like on campus, this is a reasonable way to reduce the negative consequences,” Kruger said. 

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Oxford and Cambridge both turn to bonds as major tool in finance

Hace 19 hours 52 mins

The University of Cambridge is facing internal criticism over plans to borrow up to £600 million ($801 million), in a move that suggests the emergence of a borrowing “arms race” with the University of Oxford.

Cambridge’s plans for a new bond, which follows a £350 million ($467 million) bond issued in 2012 and Oxford’s raising of £750 million ($1 billion) via a bond launch last December, is intended to finance income-generating investments in “non-operational estate” such as housing and retail developments. It could be seen as a sign of the huge fund-raising power of Britain's top-tier higher education institutions -- and of how they are seeking to keep pace with American rivals that boast huge endowments.

Nine British universities have now issued bonds, but all of them apart from Oxford and Cambridge had their credit ratings downgraded last September in the wake of Brexit, with Moody’s warning of lower international student recruitment and increased competition.

Cambridge’s council, its executive body, last month said that it wanted to seek approval from the governing Regent House for further borrowing of up to £600 million (Regent House had already given approval for extra borrowing up to £300 million).

Two members of Cambridge’s council have signed a “note of dissent” expressing concern about the plan, which has yet to go before Regent House for approval.

“We have yet to see a sufficiently clear business case with enough detail on the funding model and how repayments for a new bond will be achieved,” says the note of dissent.

The council responded in a report published May 10 in the university’s official journal, The Reporter, saying that “specific business cases are indeed immature at this stage," but that it has “a high degree of confidence in the collective potential of such projects."

Duncan Maskell, pro vice-chancellor for planning and resources, said at a Regent House discussion of the new plans  that the university “needs capital” for purposes including “the potential commercial elements of development schemes such as Old Press/Mill Lane [where a retail development is planned]” and “the development of commercial research facilities at West Cambridge," as well as to invest in housing for staff.

He added that “approval for a bond issue is being sought now so as to lock in currently low interest rates."

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge, one of the two signatories of the note of dissent, told Times Higher Education: “The question here is, quite simply, ‘Should we back the university as a property developer?’ The answer, from experience, is ‘No more than we have to.'”

Gill Evans, emeritus professor of medieval theology at Cambridge, said that she was concerned by a plan “to borrow a gigantic sum speculatively on the stated basis that interest rates are currently low."


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New presidents or provosts: Georgia Southern Golden West Lock Haven Mississippi Rochester St. Cloud St. Edward's

Hace 19 hours 52 mins
  • Jeffery Boyd, provost at Tidewater Community College, in Virginia, has been chosen as president of Rochester Community and Technical College, in Minnesota.
  • Annesa Cheek, vice president for school and community partnerships at Sinclair Community College, in Ohio, has been named as president of St. Cloud Technical & Community College, in Minnesota.
  • Scott Cook, vice president for quality assurance and performance funding at Motlow State Community College, in Tennessee, has been appointed as provost at Madisonville Community College, in Kentucky.
  • Tim McGrath, vice president of instruction at San Diego Mesa College, in California, has been selected as president of Golden West College, also in California.
  • Robert M. Pignatello, senior vice president for finance and administration and chief operating officer at Hunter College of the City University of New York, has been appointed as president of Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania
  • J. Andrew Prall, vice president for academic affairs at the University of Saint Francis, in Indiana, has been selected as provost of St. Edward’s University, in Texas.
  • Alfred Rankins Jr., president of Alcorn State University, in Mississippi, has been appointed as commissioner of higher education in the state.
  • Carl Reiber, senior vice provost at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Georgia Southern University.
  • Ann Vendrely, associate provost and associate vice president for academic affairs at Governors State University, in Illinois, has been chosen as vice president for academic affairs and academic dean at Goshen College, in Indiana.
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Following latest scandal, professors demand firing of president of Southern Cal

Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

C.L. Max Nikias has raised billions of dollars for the University of Southern California, and used that money to recruit top faculty members and students.

But his hold on the position of president is being challenged in ways that it never has since he took office in 2010. On Tuesday, more than 200 faculty members released a letter calling for his resignation. Their letter follows revelations of numerous instances of abuse of students by a campus gynecologist. And that scandal broke just months after scandals involving medical school deans. In all of these cases, questions have been raised not only about the conduct of those involved but whether university leaders acted to prevent or respond to misconduct.

"President Nikias' own actions and omissions amount to a breach of trust," the letter says. "He has lost the moral authority to lead the university, and in addition, to lead the investigation of institutional failures that allowed this misconduct to to persist over several decades."

USC trustees promptly released a statement expressing support for Nikias, and the board decides whether he stays in office. But a series of investigative reports in The Los Angeles Times have left many on campus and elsewhere questioning whether the university is being well led.

The Times broke the news of the most recent scandal last week. It reported on the case of George Tyndall, who worked as a gynecologist in USC's student health clinic for nearly 30 years. The article detailed complaints that he photographed female students while examining them, touched them inappropriately and made sexually suggestive comments while examining them. Many of the female students were from China, and may have felt particularly vulnerable to him. Tyndall denied wrongdoing. But much of the anger on campus isn't just about him, but about how the university handled the allegations.

A USC inquiry confirmed reports of inappropriate behavior on his part last year, but he was allowed to resign, and USC did not inform his patients or state medical authorities of its findings. The university now says that, "in hindsight," it should have reported him. Suits are already being filed against USC by former patients.

Many of those criticizing the university over the Tyndall case are also noting the case of Carmen A. Puliafito, the now former dean of the medical school, who lost his job amid a series of stunning reports in the Times. Prior to resigning as dean, the newspaper reported, he had spent considerable time socializing with criminals and others who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.

The newspaper also reviewed photographs showing the dean partying with these companions in a variety of locations, including his USC dean's office. He resigned as dean shortly after a woman overdosed while with him in a hotel room, but he maintained his faculty role.

In back-and-forth statements between the university and USC after the newspaper broke the story about Puliafito, the university suggested that it had only recently learned of the accusations against him. But the Times described a series of inquiries over 15 months it made to the university seeking information about the then-dean's conduct.  In one case, a reporter delivered a sealed note requesting an interview about the matter to Nikias's home, only to have the note returned, unopened, the next day by courier with a letter from the university's vice president for public relations and marketing saying the reporter had crossed the line.

Then the university faced another scandal over the professor selected to succeed Puliafito as medical school dean.

In October the university announced that it had lost confidence in Rohit Varma and that he was no longer dean. The university acted after the Times told officials it was about to publish an article about how Varma treated a female medical school fellow. According to the Times: "The woman accused Varma of making unwanted sexual advances during a trip to a conference and then retaliating against her for reporting him, according to the records and interviews. USC paid her more than $100,000 and temporarily blocked Varma from becoming a full member of the faculty, according to the records and interviews." Later, however, the university promoted him to dean -- at least until the newspaper called with its story.

The faculty letter calling for Nikias to be ousted focuses on what professors see as a pattern.

"The university administration's actions have been wrong at every turn, and not only in hindsight," the letter says. "In this case, as in prior cases, faced with an ongoing pattern of serious wrongdoing by a powerful university official, the university has kept the wrongdoing quiet, settled financially with the wrongdoer in secret, and denied any responsibility on the part of the university. There has been no public report on the two cases involving USC medical deans, nor any visible attempt to determine what university administratioors knew and when they know it and why they waited as long as they did to take action."

A petition by alumni -- also calling for Nikias to step down -- also references what those signing see as a pattern. "We do not know how many more cases of abuse have yet to be exposed, but it is clear that the university is unwilling to confront the toxic environment for women they have cultivated over years of neglected accountability," the petition says.

Amid the criticism, leaders of the university's board issued a statement backing the president. The statements said that board leaders found the reports about the abuse of students to be "distressing."

But the statement went on to say that Nikias was putting in place a "comprehensive action plan" tp prevent such abuses. And as to the president, the statement said: "The executive committee of the board has full confidence in President Nikias’ leadership, ethics, and values and is certain that he will successfully guide our community forward."

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Trump administration says it will re-examine rules for higher ed oversight bodies

Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

In drafting a regulatory agenda for the oversight bodies for higher education institutions, the U.S. Department of Education is paying special attention to previously published recommendations that suggest reorienting accreditation toward its original focus of academic quality, a key adviser to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday.

Diane Auer Jones, a special adviser to the secretary, offered the remarks in a briefing before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which oversees the country’s higher ed accreditors, on how the department is looking to reduce the regulatory burden on those organizations. 

The activity of accreditors is often less well publicized than enforcement by federal agencies. But their decisions to authorize or withdraw recognition from a college determine its ability to receive Title IV federal student aid. 

“Secretary DeVos has challenged all of us to rethink education,” Jones said. “We must challenge our current assumptions, we must evaluate our current practices, and we must question everything to be sure we do not limit the ability of any student to reach his or her full potential. In that spirit, we are examining the accreditation process.”

Helping to guide that review of the rules for accreditation are recommendations including those drafted by NACIQI as well as a 2015 white paper issued by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee. 

Those recommendations call for, among other steps, restoring a clear separation in the roles of the so-called “triad” that oversees colleges and universities -- the federal government, accreditors, and the states. They also call for giving more priority in accreditor reviews to activities directly related to student experience or quality of education and giving more autonomy to accrediting agencies themselves. 

The Department of Education placed accreditation issues on its spring agenda of regulatory activities. Jones said that was done so that if department officials determine that regulatory changes are necessary in that area, it can “move forward swiftly and without delay.” 

She said afterwards that the department isn't necessarily pushing for accreditors to abandon an outcomes-based approach to accreditation, which measure institutions on measures like graduation and job placement rates as well as the content of their curriculum. Instead, she said the themes she mentioned represent the issues raised by major higher ed organizations.

"We just started having conversations," she said. "These are the documents we read and these are the themes we extracted." 

While Jones updated NACIQI on the department’s regulatory agenda, DeVos herself spoke to House lawmakers in a hearing on her policies and priorities that ran the gamut from school safety and civil rights to college accountability and job training. 

She told members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee that she planned to work with members of Congress and other executive agencies to advance opportunities for students to get a postsecondary education outside of a traditional degree. 

DeVos said she is working with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and industry leaders on plans to boost the number of apprenticeships and other credential options. And she said she is eager to see the Senate take up a reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education bill already passed by the House. 

“We need to build in flexibility for these programs to meet the needs of students today and to meet the needs of industry,” she said. 

But DeVos on other issues said the department would defer to the courts and lawmakers, particularly on enforcement of civil rights for transgender students. The department has said federal Title IX law bans discrimination on the basis of sex but not gender identity. DeVos told lawmakers that won’t change unless Congress makes its position on the issue clear, or until what she says are conflicts in court rulings are resolved. 

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, pointed to two rulings -- Whitaker v. Kenosha and Glenn v. Brumby -- that he said make clear educational institutions' obligations to uphold those students' rights. But DeVos insisted other court cases conflict with those. (After the hearing Tuesday, a Virginia federal court sided with Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who had sued his school district over the right to use the boys’ bathroom.)

“Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I am not going to make up law from the Department of Education,” DeVos said. 

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New student coalition alleges press is suppressed at Christian institutions

Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

You probably wouldn’t know if a scandal broke out at Taylor University, a Christian institution in rural Indiana.

Based on reading the student newspaper online, the university appears successful in many measures – donor money for scholarships skyrocketing, a new campus museum opening, an alumna taking a high-profile job.

But a several years ago, after a former professor sued Taylor for alleged racial discrimination, the story didn’t make it to the website of the student newspaper, The Echo, though it did appear in the print edition. Administrators blocked its publication.

As Taylor’s policy states: “the university cannot afford for questionable or negative Echo reporting to reach a worldwide audience.”

A university spokesman, Jim Garringer, said that the institution never censored The Echo’s website this academic year, and the policy as written is more “a formality” and will likely change or be struck down entirely.

But every week, Garringer still vets all the The Echo copy before it’s posted online.

Iterations of the same anecdotes can be heard at other Christian institutions nationwide, as some disillusioned Taylor journalists discovered in an informal survey of the student press at these places. They found that Christian college and university administrators often pressured student reporters to drop scoops, or guilted or dissuaded them from a story in subtle ways, perhaps insinuating pursuing controversial pieces would break with the values of the institution.

One former Taylor editor described this as pulling “the Jesus card.”

Religious institutions certainly don’t monopolize censorship in higher education. As some civil liberties experts have pointed out, some of the most egregious cases of free speech violations occur on public campuses from leaders concerned with public relations fallout. And legally, private colleges and universities aren’t even bound by the First Amendment. But reporters said that the culture on Christian campuses particularly discourages hard-hitting reporting that would sully their wholesome images, as the Taylor students have exposed.

Frustrated by Taylor’s policies, a group of current and former Echo staffers decided earlier this year to survey other student editors who attend Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) member institutions.

The students called themselves the Student Press Coalition. Initially, they wanted the answers to their questions kept private – they thought they could use the information to lobby the Taylor administrators to shift away from the current rules.

But after about 50 student journalists from 49 colleges and universities responded, and the group found widespread reports of suppression, it took the information public, said Cassidy Grom, a creator of the coalition and a former Echo editor. What was particularly startling: about 75 percent of those reporters and editors indicated that in some way, a university representative has encouraged them to change or remove an article after it was published.  

CCCU declined interviews and provided a statement to Inside Higher Ed:

“CCCU institutions are committed to the academic and professional growth of their students, including those studying journalism and communications. Student newspapers are a valuable tool that allow students the opportunity to develop their interviewing, writing, editing and publishing skills, often under the mentorship of faculty advisors. Our institutions seek to balance student leadership and initiative with responsible mentorship and advising in the operations of their student newspapers to ensure sound journalistic principles and professional outcomes.”

Even when the Taylor students were researching the other CCCU campuses, alarmed administrators, professors and advisers pushed back against their work, Grom said. She and others received emails (reviewed by Inside Higher Ed) asking about the contents of the informal study and warnings of going live with the Student Press Coalition website. Grom didn’t want to discuss details of meetings with college leaders about the project, but only said they entailed “lots of tears.”

“We were under a lot of pressure not to move forward with this,” Grom said. “We were up against people we depend on for job recommendations, worked with for four years, our mentors, who we thought was our family. And they tried to use that in a lot of ways to make us feel inadequate.”

Grom said that during her junior year, when she was co-editor of The Echo, university officials blocked online publication of five or six articles that appeared in print. The case of the former professor suing Taylor in federal court happened before Grom was even the editor (the lawsuit was eventually settled) but it stuck out to her because the student reporter who worked on the story had researched it so well.

“But it was vetoed,” she said.

The Taylor spokesman, Garringer, said because the case will still be adjudicated, the university didn’t “want to comment,” acknowledging that the student journalists wouldn’t be implicated simply by writing about it. The lawsuit was and remains public information.

Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism, who became the adviser to The Echo in August, wrote in an op-ed in the paper that students have “great latitude” in selecting and writing stories “within generally accepted journalistic best practices.”

He wrote that the press freedoms students enjoy working at a college paper might exceed those in their professional career – even a newspaper owner or publisher can squash a story, “sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not.”

Though Taylor’s policy is being debated, it still remains, and includes a line about stories not being published online that would “taint the public image of the university.” Garringer said that in the last couple years the university “has veered away” from the policy, though it hasn’t been changed, and he couldn’t pinpoint when it would other than “the not too distant future.”

This academic year, Garringer said administrators accepted it when he told them that he intended to allow stories to go online regardless of the content. The university wants to recreate a realistic experience as possible to a newsroom, adding that several journalism alumni have found success, including one who won a Pulitzer.

At other institutions, the purported censorship can range from explicit from simply cultural pressures to cease reporting.

Sometimes, administrators at the King’s College, based in New York, would step into the newspaper’s office and tell the staff to change a story or stop pursuing it, said Jessica Mathews, a former editor there.

“I have said we will keep it or continue to pursue it every time,” Mathews said, one of the more than dozen anecdotes the coalition made public.

Robin Gericke, an editor at the Asbury University student publication, told Religious News Services that when it published an interview with a gay alumnus about his experiences there, administrators confiscated the papers. They kept them locked up until the staffers showed them a letter from the man giving explicit permission to run the interview.

Several censorship cases at religious institutions have made national headlines.

In 2016, administrators at Saint Peter’s University, a Jesuit institution in Jersey City, shut down the student newspaper after it published a sex and love-related issue.

And Liberty University, where the president, Jerry Falwell Jr., is a staunch Trump loyalist, stopped the student newspaper from publishing a column critical of Trump. Falwell at the time denied the move was political, saying another, similar column had already run, and a sec ond column would be  "redundant."

But Courtney Murphy, a student journalist from Whitworth University, said that the student newspaper tempered its coverage not based on intimidation from administrators, but because the university was so small.

“Most people know and like each other,” she said on the coalition website. “Because of this it often feels like we can't cover stories about RAs getting fired, athletes suspended, etc., because we don't want to hurt their reputation or they feel uncomfortable speaking with us.”

In a later interview, Murphy added that often students wouldn't want to talk to the paper during controversial events because it felt like everyone would know them. Murphy said she was surprised by the results of the survey because her experience had been so positive -- and pleased that an adviser never had to approve her copy. She added that CCCU institutions need to do work "across the board." A Whitworth spokeswoman, Nancy Hines, said the university was pleased the paper had autonomy and it could support student journalists.

Many students seek out Christian colleges and universities for the persona; attentio, and, of course, the religious aspects, even if Constitutional protections on freedom of the press aren’t extended to them, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. As the coalition survey revealed, most Christian student publications (nearly 90 percent, according to the coalition data) are mostly or entirely funded through university dollars, giving the administrators even more control. Higher education professional associations, among them American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities declared in 1967, that whenever possible, student press should be financially and legally separate from a university. If this isn't possible, then they should be allowed autonomy.

Some have argued, such as in this New Republic piece on censorship in religious institutions, that because their students receive some public dollars – Pell Grants and more -- that they should be obligated to give their students the same free speech rights as if they were on a public campus. The courts have ruled against this idea, said LoMonte, adding that he supports universities both public and private operating as "public trusts" under different rules than a private business. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties watchdog, noted that while accreditors often require institutions to pledge to protect free speech, but too often those rules go unenforced. 

While religious institutions may not be censoring any more than their public counterparts, the overlay of church doctrine can complicate free expression on campus, LoMonte said. While some college administrators are often apologetic when they’re caught quashing student speech, religious leaders sometimes have little remorse in doing so because “they’re promoting a religious message,” he said.

“They can say with a straight face and feel justified that with the censorship, they’re doing something good,” LoMonte said.

But having a student newspaper that serves as public relations vehicle for the university won’t help the graduating students, he said – it won’t give them the clips they need to find a journalism job.

Grom, who graduated and will work at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, said she ideally would love to see Christian universities mimic the processes of the publics. They could set up channels to file records requests and relinquish all editorial control, she said. Right now, she questions the value of a journalism degree from these institutions.

“From their perspective, from a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to give us that much freedom,” Grom said. “Maybe it will result in negative coverage, or less dollars from donors. But anything less is to lying to us. It’s giving us a journalism that’s not mimicking the world. If we had more clear guidelines and freedom of press we could get Christians into these mainstream markets and do good work.”

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Bachelor's graduates whose first job doesn't require the degree often stay 'underemployed'

Mié, 23 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

The image of the recent college graduate working as a Starbucks barista or a rental car clerk has become a cliché in the national debate over student loan debt. Studies of the underlying validity of the stereotype over time have offered mixed results, with various methodologies counting anywhere from single digit percentages to 45 percent of recent graduates as "underemployed." But most have found that some people will always be what economists call "underemployed," and that the proportion of Americans in that position stays relatively constant over time.

For students and parents, having a graduate take a job that might appear beneath his or her qualifications might beat the alternative in an especially tight job market.

But a study released today by the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass suggests that graduates who take such jobs pay a lasting price.

Bachelor’s degree graduates whose first job does not require a bachelor’s degree (which is how the study defines the underemployed) are significantly likelier than those whose first job did require such a degree to still be underemployed five years later. (Many of those workers remain underemployed by this definition 10 years after leaving college.)

As is true of so many overarching statistics like this, enormous variation occurs among the graduates. Degree holders in many science and technology are less likely to be underemployed – and notably, women are quite a bit more likely than men to face that fate: 47 percent of them are underemployed, versus 37 percent of male graduates, found the report, "The Permanent Detour: Underemployment’s Long-Term Effects on the Careers of College Grads."

The data in the Burning Glass report, which was done in conjunction with the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, are likely to be seized on by the growing number of people questioning the value of a bachelor’s degree, and by extension the wisdom of college-going generally. (Some analysts said they believe the data and the report's conclusions from them overstate the extent of the problem and the reasons for it -- more on that below.)

Matt Sigelman, Burning Glass’s chief executive officer, says the data suggest that “there are too many schools producing bachelor’s degrees that are not taking into account the last-mile skills graduates need to get a good job, and too many graduates getting bachelor’s degrees that aren’t aligned with the job market.”  

But the report’s findings do not suggest a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” problem, Sigelman said, because the difference in the capabilities and skills of “the employed and the underemployed is not necessarily a big gap.”

By being “a bit more mindful about” how to prepare their graduates for a first job, many colleges and universities should be able to “layer more preparation on top of the traditional education they offer," he said, preparing their graduates better for today's workforce.

Defining Underemployment

Everyone knows what unemployment means, and why it's a problem for the individuals involved. But underemployment is a murky term.

The federal government doesn't formally calculate underemployment in its regular surveys of Americans' working lives, largely "[b]ecause of the difficulty of developing an objective set of criteria which could be readily used in a monthly household survey," the Labor Department explains. (In other words, underemployment is too hard to measure accurately.) But scholars have typically mined federal and other data to try to define underemployment as being in the labor force but employed either at less-than-full-time jobs or at positions that don't match workers' skills and training or meet their economic needs.

Estimates of underemployment for recent graduates are often pegged at between a third and 45 percent, although a 2015 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce -- defining underemployment as "those who want a job but don’t have one as well as those who want a full-time job but only have a part-time job" -- found rates much lower, even in the single digits.

Burning Glass mined its distinctive database of online job advertisements and résumés to define underemployment according to how employers hire workers. The company analyzed job postings and defined as a "college-level job" any position for which more than half of job postings requested a bachelor's degree. Using that measure, it added dozens of job types (such as insurance adjustor, radiation therapist and paralegal) to the standard job lists used by the Labor Department, and excluded some others. (Burning Glass acknowledges that these shifts in employer expectations, known as "upcredentialing," could inflate the amount of underemployment revealed by the report.)

Using that definition, Burning Glass found that 43 percent of recent graduates had jobs that did not request a bachelor's degree, while 57 percent held positions for which employers sought workers with a bachelor's. The 43 percent who the company deemed as underemployed earned an average salary of $37,330, compared to the $47,470 earned by the majority who were appropriately employed.

The initial hole was tough to climb out of. Two-thirds of the 43 percent were stull underemployed, by Burning Glass's definition, five years after graduating. And almost three-quarters of those were unemployed 10 years after they began their first job, as seen in the graphic below.

By comparison, the vast majority of the 57 percent whose first jobs were deemed "college-level" positions were in such jobs 5 and 10 years later.

Significant differences surfaced by major and choice of professional field. No surprise, but engineers (29 percent) and computer scientists (30 percent) were least likely to be underemployed in their first job, followed at a significant distance by communication majors (39 percent) and mathematics majors (39 percent). More than half of graduates in nine categories of graduates (including those majoring in psychology, general studies, biology and education) were underemployed right out of college. There was a similarly wide range of outcomes by job fields.

And strikingly, Burning Glass's analysis finds a large gender gap in underemployment. Nearly half of women (47 percent) are underemployed in their first job by its definition, compared to 37 percent of men.

These findings, the report says, "undercut a long-held assumption, that female underemployment is the result of work-life tradeoffs often expected of women.... While women are more likely than men to later slip into underemployment, what is most concerning is that women fall behind at the very outset of their careers, in their first jobs -- at the very point when, presumably, they have the fewest familial obligations."

"The initial job a younger worker takes can profoundly influence the direction of a long-term career," the report concludes. "Graduates who accept or are forced into subbachelor's-level jobs early in their careers suffer significant long-term consequences; they may be consigned to underemployment for years to come. The first job is a high-stakes decision, and both educators and graduates should treat it accordingly."

Questions and Critiques

Not everyone is convinced that the situation is as dire for recent graduates as Burning Glass portrays it to be.

Nicole Smith, a Research Professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, questions Burning Glass's decision to judge which jobs are "college-level" based purely on the fact that many employers are asking for (not even requiring) a bachelor's degree. "Employers can ask for everything under the sun, especially in an employer’s market," she said. "They assume that employers are actually going to hire based on that.... I care about what the person has who actually gets the job, who actually seals the deal."

Letting employers' desires dictate which positions get characterized as "college level" -- and treating as "underemployed" everyone who doesn't get one of those elevated jobs -- "would by definition result in higher levels of underemployment," Smith said.

In addition, she says, the analysis fails to account for the "voluntary" nature of some of what Burning Glass paints as forced underemployment. Some of the workers the analysis assumes to lack skills or preparation for the workforce may just lack the motivation; others may choose to work in a lower-stress position, in a "caring" profession, or to sacrifice a better job to stay near family or a loved one.

And even right out of the gate, she said, "women still bear the burden of child rearing," so for the age 22-27 group in the Burning Glass analysis, some may be choosing one job over another for that reason.

A 2016 study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found roughly similar levels of recent graduates to be underemployed, even though it defined jobs as "bachelor's level" based not on whether at least half of employers asked for candidates to have that degree, but because at least half of people in the positions said the degree was necessary to do the job. 

But as Smith suggests, the New York Fed researchers concluded that many of the 40-some percent of recent bachelor's degree graduates who took jobs typically done by people without such degrees actually fared quite well.

"[C]ontrary to popular perception, our work reveals that most of these newly underemployed workers were not forced into low-skilled service jobs. In fact, many of the jobs such graduates took, while clearly not equivalent to jobs that require a college degree, appeared to be more oriented toward knowledge and skill when compared to the distribution of jobs held by young workers without a college degree," wrote Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz.

Abel's and Deitz's analysis also found that while some number of recent graduates did stay "stuck" in true underemployment, many others moved into jobs they were satisfied with, especially over time. Their assessment might challenge the use of the word "permanent" in the Burning Glass report's title to describe the impact of graduates' early stumbles.

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Most institutions say they value teaching but how they assess it tells a different story

Mar, 22 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

Research is reviewed in a rigorous manner, by expert peers. Yet teaching is often reviewed only or mostly by pedagogical non-experts: students. There’s also mounting evidence of bias in student evaluations of teaching, or SETs -- against female and minority instructors in particular. And teacher ratings aren’t necessarily correlated with learning outcomes.

All that was enough for the University of Southern California to do away with SETs in tenure and promotion decisions this spring. Students will still evaluate their professors, with some adjustments -- including a new focus on students’ own engagement in a course. But those ratings will not be used in high-stakes personnel decisions.

The changes took place earlier than the university expected. But study after recent study suggesting that SETs advantage faculty members of certain genders and backgrounds (namely white men) and disadvantage others was enough for Michael Quick, provost, to call it quits, effective immediately. 

'I'm Done'

“He just said, ‘I’m done. I can’t continue to allow a substantial portion of the faculty to be subject to this kind of bias,” said Ginger Clark, assistant vice provost for academic and faculty affairs and director of USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching. “We’d already been in the process of developing a peer-review model of evaluation, but we hadn’t expected to pull the Band-Aid off this fast.” 

While Quick was praised on campus for his decision, the next, obvious question is how teaching will be assessed going forward. The long answer is through a renewed emphasis on teaching excellence in terms of training, evaluation and incentives.

“It’s big move. Everybody's nervous," Clark said. "But what we've found is that people are actually hungry for this kind of help with their teaching."

SETs -- one piece of the puzzle -- will continue to provide “important feedback to help faculty adjust their teaching practices, but will not be used directly as a measure in their performance review,” Clark said. The university’s evaluation instrument also was recently revised, with input from the faculty, to eliminate bias-prone questions and include more prompts about the learning experience. 

Umbrella questions such as, “How would you rate your professor?” and “How would you rate this course?” -- which Clark called “popularity contest” questions -- are now out. In are questions on course design, course impact and instructional, inclusive and assessment practices. Did the assignments make sense? Do students feel they learned something? 

Students also are now asked about what they brought to a course. How many hours did they spend on coursework outside of class? How many times did they contact the professor? What study strategies did they use? 

While such questions help professors gauge how their students learn, Clark said, they also signal to students that “your learning in this class depends as much as your input as your professor’s work.” There is also new guidance about keeping narrative comments -- which are frequently subjective and off-topic -- to course design and instructional practices.

Still, SETs remain important at USC. Faculty members are expected to explain how they used student feedback to improve instruction in their teaching reflection statements, which continue to be part of the tenure and promotion process, for example. But evaluation data will no longer be used in those personnel decisions. 

Schools and colleges may also use evaluations to gather aggregate data on student engagement and perceptions about the curriculum, or USC’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, Clark said. They may also use them to identify faculty members who do “an outstanding job at engaging students, faculty who may need some support in that area of their teaching, or problematic behaviors in the classroom that require further inquiry.” 

Again, however, SETs themselves will not be used as a direct measure in performance evaluations. 

More Than a Number

While some institutions have acknowledged the biases inherent in SETs, many cling to them as a primary teaching evaluation tool because they’re easy -- almost irresistibly so. That is, it takes a few minutes to look at professors’ student ratings on, say, a 1-5 scale, and label them strong or weak teachers. It takes hours to visit their classrooms and read over their syllabi to get a more nuanced, and ultimately more accurate, picture.

Yet that more time-consuming, comprehensive approach is what professors and pedagogical experts have been asking for, across academe, for years. A 2015 survey of 9,000 faculty members by the American Association of University Professors, for instance, found that 90 percent of respondents wanted their institutions to evaluate teaching with the same seriousness as research and scholarship. 

The survey gave additional insight into the questionable validity of SETs: two-thirds of respondents said these evaluations create pressure to be easy graders, a quality students reward, and many reported low rates of feedback. 

Echoing other studies and faculty accounts, responses to the AAUP survey suggested that SETs have an outsize impact on professors teaching off the tenure track, in that high student ratings can mean a renewed contract -- or not.

The AAUP committee leading the 2015 study argued that faculty members within departments and colleges -- not administrators -- should develop their own, holistic teaching evaluations. It also urged “chairs, deans, provosts and institutions to end the practice of allowing numerical rankings from student evaluations to serve as the only or the primary indicator of teaching quality, or to be interpreted as expressing the quality of the faculty member’s job performance.”

Faculty committees at USC also have worked to address teaching excellence for the past five years, recommending that the university invest more in teaching, adopt incentives for strong instruction, and move toward a peer model of review.

USC’s teaching evaluation plan reflects some of those recommendations -- as well as a new emphasis on teaching excellence.  

“We must renew our focus on the importance of teaching and mentorship, putting into place the systems necessary to train, assess, and reward exceptional teaching,” Quick, the provost, and Elizabeth Graddy, vice provost, said in a March memo to the faculty. “In short, let’s make USC the great research university that expects, supports, and truly values teaching and mentoring.”

Clark, at the campus Center for Excellence in Teaching, is helping USC put its money where its mouth is. She said its new model of peer evaluation involves defining teaching excellence and developing training for the faculty, from graduate students who will become professors to full professors.

Peer Review Instead

Peer review will be based on classroom observation and review of course materials, design and assignments. Peer evaluators also will consider professors’ teaching reflection statements and their inclusive practices. 

Rewards for high quality teaching will include grants and leaves for teaching development and emphasizing teaching performance in merit, promotion and tenure reviews, Clark said. Most significantly, thus far, the university has introduced continuing appointments for qualifying teaching-intensive professors off the tenure track.

Trisha Tucker, an assistant professor of writing and president of the USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Faculty Council, said different professors have had different reactions to the “culture shift.” But she said she applauded the institution’s ability to resist the “easy shorthand” of teacher ratings in favor of something more meaningful -- albeit more difficult. (USC also has made clear that research and service expectations will not change.)

“It does take work to do this peer review,” she said. “But teaching is important and it takes a lot of time and resources to make that more than just empty words.”

As writing is a feedback-driven process, Tucker said her program already emphasizes pedagogy and peer review. But professors in some other programs will have to adjust, she said.

“For the many faculty who haven’t been trained in this way or hired based on these expectations, it can produce some anxiety,” she said. So an important measure of this new approach’s success is how USC supports people who “initially fall short.” 

Clark said the teaching center offers a model for peer review that individual programs will adjust to their own needs over the next year. That kind of faculty involvement in shaping peer review should make for a process that is less "threatening" than representative of an "investment in each other's success," she said. 

In the interim, professors’ teaching will be assessed primarily on their own teaching reflections. And while the center avoids using words such as “mandatory” with regarding to training, it is offering a New Faculty Institute, open to all instructors, for 90 minutes monthly over lunch for eight months. Sample topics include active learning, maximizing student motivation and effective, efficient grading practices.

Not Just USC

Philip B. Stark, associate dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and a professor of statistics at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied SETs and argued that evaluations are biased against female instructors in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible, called the USC news “terrific.” 

“Treating student satisfaction and engagement as what they are -- and I do think they matter -- rather than pretending that student evaluations can measure teaching effectiveness is a huge step forward,” he said. "I also think that using student feedback to inform teaching but not to assess teaching is important progress.”

Stark pointed out that the University of Oregon also is on the verge of killing traditional SETs and adopting a Continuous Improvement and Evaluation of Teaching System based on non-numerical feedback. Under the system, student evaluations would still be part of promotion decisions, but they wouldn't reduce instructors to numbers.

Elements of the program already have been piloted. Oregon’s Faculty Senate is due to vote on the program as a whole this week, to be adopted in the fall. The proposed system includes a midterm student experience survey, an anonymous web-based survey to collect non-numerical course feedback to be provided only to the instructor, along with an end-of-term student experience survey. An end-of-term instructor reflection survey also would be used for course improvement and teaching evaluation. Peer review and teaching evaluation frameworks, customizable to academic units, are proposed, too.

“As of Fall 2018, faculty personnel committees, heads, and administrators will stop using numerical ratings from student course evaluations in tenure and promotion reviews, merit reviews, and other personnel matters,” reads the Oregon’s Faculty Senate’s proposal. “If units or committees persist in using these numerical ratings, a statement regarding the problematic nature of those ratings and an explanation for why they are being used despite those problems will be included with the evaluative materials.”

The motion already has administrative support, with Jayanth R. Banavar, provost, soliciting pilot participants on his website, saying, “While student feedback can be an important tool for continual improvement of teaching and learning, there is substantial peer-reviewed evidence that student course evaluations can be biased, particularly against women and faculty of color, and that numerical ratings poorly correlate with teaching effectiveness and learning outcomes.” 

More than simply revising problematic evaluation instruments, the page says, Oregon “seeks to develop a holistic new teaching evaluation system that helps the campus community describe, develop, recognize and reward teaching excellence.” The goal is to “increase equity and transparency in teaching evaluation for merit, contract renewal, promotion and tenure while simultaneously providing tools for continual course improvement.”

Craig Vasey, chair of classics, philosophy and religion at the University of Mary Washington and chair of AAUP’s Committee on Teaching, Research and Publications, said the “most pernicious element” of quantitative student evaluations is that the results “get translated into rankings, which then take on a life of their own and don’t really improve the quality of education.”

Review of syllabi and classroom observation by peers are both more “useful means of evaluating,” he said. “And I think asking students how engaged they were in the class -- and especially if they also ask why -- gets “better input from them than the standard questionnaire.”

Ken Ryalls, president of The IDEA Center for learning analytics and a publisher of SETs, told Inside Higher Ed earlier this year that not all evaluations are created equal. 

“Our advice: Find a good SET that is well designed and low in bias; use the data carefully, watching for patterns over time, adjusting for any proven bias, and ignoring irrelevant data; and use multiple sources of data, such as peer evaluations, administrative evaluations, course artifacts and self-evaluations, along with the student perspective from SETs,” he said via email.

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For-profit chain falls short in attempt to get new accreditor's approval

Mar, 22 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

The biggest chain of for-profit colleges that is still overseen by an accreditation group axed by the Obama administration -- and given a second chance by Betsy DeVos -- failed this month in its initial bid to get recognition elsewhere.

Virginia College, which operates campuses across 11 states, has already said it will appeal the decision from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training. The ruling appears to raise the stakes for the Trump administration’s latest review of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the chain’s current accreditor and a focal point in the fight over accountability in the for-profit sector.

ACICS oversaw Corinthian Colleges, which collapsed in 2015, and ITT Tech, which closed its campuses in 2016. The Department of Education responded by withdrawing federal recognition from the organization in the final months of the Obama administration, setting off an exodus of colleges -- most of them for-profits -- that sought approval from other accreditors so they could maintain access to federal financial aid funds. 

Among those institutions was Virginia College, which enrolled just under 30,000 students as of the 2015-16 academic year. 

The failings cited by ACCET in a letter detailing its decision focused on outcome measures such as poor graduation and job placement rates. But it also mentioned more basic problems with programs themselves, such as students not having access to proper supplies and high faculty turnover rates.

Diane Worthington, a spokeswoman for Education Corporation of America, the Virginia chain’s parent company, said that the ACCET review covered less than half of its campuses and the institution had just two weeks to respond to multiple reports, some of which it believes contain errors or inconsistencies. 

She added that most of the outcome issues noted by the report involve old programs, while new academic programs haven’t had time to produce measurable outcomes. 

“In the meantime, Virginia College remains an accredited institution by ACICS,” she said via email. “Our students are continuing to work toward completing their programs and receiving their diplomas and degrees without disruption, and this will not impact those students who are eligible to receive federal student financial aid.”

Bill Larkin, executive director of the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, said he could not comment on Virginia College while the decision is being appealed.  

ACCET is in the process of reviewing other ACICS-accredited schools and has so far approved one for recognition. The organization is one of several national accreditors that have ramped up activity to review a flood of new applications from ACICS-accredited institutions. 

A Center for American Progress analysis in February found that just a handful of ACICS-accredited programs had not taken any steps to seek approval elsewhere. The rest had either gained a new accreditor, begun the process to do so, closed, or merged with other institutions. 

That process in most cases has continued despite two major recent developments in the fight ACICS has waged to restore its federal recognition.

First, in March a U.S. district court judge ruled that the Obama administration had failed to review key documentary evidence submitted by the accreditor before withdrawing recognition in 2016. The ruling sent the case back to the Department of Education for a final decision on recognition. Then last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she would restore federal recognition to ACICS pending a final review by the department. 

Antoinette Flores, a senior analyst of postsecondary education policy at the Center for American Progress, says the review raises questions about how the campuses were accredited to begin with.

“After months of back and forth, and giving the institution the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to contest information in the report, it still comes up failing the majority of the standards,” she said. “For me, it’s a question of how can they be accredited at all.” 

Flores said the failure of Virginia College to get recognition elsewhere -- and the serious nature of the findings -- make the department’s ruling on ACICS even more critical for those campuses.

“At this point they don’t have an accreditor at the ready that is willing to approve them,” she said. 

The negative review from ACCET also has implications for the chain’s ongoing accreditation. A week after the denial letter was issued, ACICS placed Virginia College-Birmingham, the chain’s main campus, on show-cause status, citing adverse information. The status requires than an institution demonstrate within one year why it should retain accreditation. 

Worthington said ACICS has made “a laudable effort to introduce a new process for verifying placements.”

But she said the company’s internal data better reflect the job placement rates for graduates, and ACICS has provided an opportunity to submit those rates for verification. 

Since April 24, the accreditor has placed at least 50 campuses on show-cause status. The Brightwood College and Brightwood Career institute chains, which are also operated by Education Corporation of America, had four campuses placed on show cause just this month. 

Those actions, along with the findings of other accreditors, signal just how many colleges recognized by ACICS don’t meet basic standards, Flores said. 

“That kind of massive failure is not something that happens overnight,” she said. 

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Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education to be led by former Gates official

Mar, 22 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has hired as its new chancellor a former University of California official who managed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on postsecondary education from 2012 until early this year.

Daniel Greenstein, 57, will be the next chancellor of the Pennsylvania state system, known as PASSHE.

Before stepping down from Gates in February, Greenstein was credited with shifting the foundation’s higher education approach from arrogant to collaborative.

Greenstein, who has written occasionally for Inside Higher Ed, worked with higher education leaders nationwide to raise attainment levels and promote economic mobility, especially among low-income and minority students. He is credited with creating and implementing a national strategy to reduce attainment gaps.

The move is an unusual one: Greenstein jumps from a comfortable, well-funded and nationally prominent foundation to a rough-and-tumble state university system that has struggled to keep all of its 14 universities afloat. And the Pennsylvania system, which has

Speaking to reporters on Monday, he said the system’s biggest challenge -- reduced public funding -- represents its biggest opportunity. “That’s not uniquely a feature of Pennsylvania public higher education,” he said.

Drops in public support for college -- as well as shrinking high school classes -- are “major social public policy challenges with significant consequence for the health and the economic well-being of our society," he said. "So let’s be clear: that’s what we’re up against. At the same time, it is not a set of challenges that we can simply leave unaddressed. The stakes are too high.”

In a statement released by PASSHE on Monday, Greenstein said the universities that make up the system “are the lifeblood of countless who live in communities across Pennsylvania.” He noted that nearly 90 percent of the system's 100,000 students live and work in the state after they graduate, making the universities “the engines that drive economic development and strengthen the very fabric of our society.”

But a few have seen their fabric fray. Last year, PASSHE loaned $8 million to Cheyney University, its smallest, to help keep its doors open. The loan came on top of five other lines of credit over four years to the historically black university near Philadelphia, which put Cheyney more than $30 million in debt to the system. Its annual budget virtually matches its obligations to PASSHE. 

Cheyney has the lowest four-year graduation rate in the system.

Greenstein on Monday balked at questions about closure or merger plans for Cheyney, saying only that other similarly “challenged” universities, such as Paul Quinn College in Texas and National Louis University in Chicago, “have leveraged their existing strengths and their histories and their ties to various communities and turned themselves into exemplars of what higher education can and really ought to look like in the 21st century. So I’m excited by the opportunity.”

Speaking more broadly about closures, Greenstein said they’re a lousy idea. “You can’t just eliminate educational opportunity from whole regions.”

In many areas of Pennsylvania, he said, “Campus closure is really not an option, because the communities that are in that great degree of distress are the ones that need educational opportunities most.”

Sally Johnstone, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), which completed a strategic system review last July for PASSHE, said the system is “at a point where they have no option but to make some major changes -- and the changes they need to make, that we recommended they strongly consider, are in line with the philosophy that Dan has been guiding institutions to take seriously.”

In its review, NCHEMS recommended that the system share resources among institutions -- not just business functions but academic ones as well. “You can have a very high-quality system maintaining local representation,” Johnstone said. “So you’re not going to necessarily close campuses, but the campuses will operate differently.”

Sharing services is “not consolidation in the typical way of thinking about it -- it’s behind-the-scenes consolidation, of both academic and administrative resources.” 

Closing campuses, by contrast, would amount to “basically writing off the populations they serve.” 

While Greenstein could easily have taken a less stressful, more remunerative job in business or as a college president, Johnstone said, he made “a choice for service, as opposed a choice for personal gain.”

​Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties, said his members welcomed Greenstein's arrival. He noted that the state was recently ranked 47th out of 50 in public support of higher education. “We need an articulate spokesperson for what higher education does for kids and for the commonwealth,” Mash said. “He clearly gets that."

Noting that Greenstein comes to the job from a foundation that has had its share of run-ins with unions, Mash said his members would cautiously listen to his ideas. 

“We’ll hear him out, but my colleagues and I share solidarity -- and what I do know is that we share the primary interests of the new chancellor and the board in trying to provide high-quality, affordable education to students," he said.

Greenstein on Monday said he had no immediate plans for big changes to the system. Instead, he insisted, “I really want to spend as much time as I possibly can on the campuses,” meeting with students, faculty and staff. “Listening and learning are my two number-one priorities.”

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Scrutiny of ties between Mount Ida donor and president

Mar, 22 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

Fallout from the closure of Mount Ida College continued this week with new revelations of personal and business ties between the college president and a benefactor who loaned the college money to try to keep it operating.

The disclosures, outlined in an article by The Boston Globe on Sunday, suggested  to some experts a conflict of interest between Barry Brown, president of the Newton, Mass., institution, and Rosalie K. Stahl, a 98-year-old New York City real estate investor and longtime personal client of Brown.

Brown, is a trustee of Stahl’s personal trust, according to the article.

Among other findings, the article highlighted the existence of a shell company through which loans to Mount Ida totaling more than $16 million were made by Stahl. The article noted that Stahl stood to benefit financially from interest collected on the loans, as well as tax deductions for an $8 million donation she made to the college in 2015.

Despite attempts to use the loans and gifts to keep the struggling college open, it closed Thursday. Mount Ida’s trustees announced last month that the college would close amid mounting debt and other financial pressures and that its campus would become e part of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The announcement angered and disappointed students and faculty who were not given prior notice of the closure.

“The entity that loaned Mount Ida $16.5 million is listed publicly as Carlson Property LLC,” The Globe reported. “Brown’s name does not appear on any public filings by the college nor does the name of his client, but after questions from the Globe, trustees acknowledged that Stahl’s trust funded Carlson.”

Additionally Carlson Property holds a mortgage for about 15 acres of the campus in return for the loan, the Globe reported public documents show.

According to the Globe, the loans from Stahl raised questions about Brown’s professional allegiances and whether he used his position as president and personal trustee to provide a business opportunity for Stahl, and whether he put her financial interests ahead of the interests of students.

The article noted that Mount Ida trustees said Brown, who is a lawyer, disclosed his connection to Stahl and they were comfortable with the relationship.

But not everyone agreed, James Finkelstein, professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University and an expert on the role of university presidents, said the relationship was troubling nonetheless.

“There is certainly a conflict of interest, no doubt about that,” he said. “The question is how it was dealt with, what was the level of details disclosed to Mount Ida trustees, and what actions they specifically took to either wave the conflict or mitigate the conflict? Mount Ida has been unwilling to share any documentation other than to say ‘take our word.’ ”

Finklestein said he has unaware of a similar situation elsewhere.

“I’ve never heard of university president who is a trustee for an individual’s affairs also using their role as trustee to benefit the institution where they serve as president,” he said. “It’s a pretty significant issue and to my knowledge unique in higher education.”

Finklestein was not alone in his assessment. Eight experts in nonprofit ethics and college governance who reviewed the financial arrangement for the Globe also found it problematic, the news outlet reported.

Administrators of the college, which had about 1,500 students enrolled, had been looking for new options. In February it announced discussions with Lasell College about a possible merger. But those discussions ended in March. While a statement issued by the college at the time suggested it would continue operating on its own, only weeks later administrators announced it would close.

With the college now closed, university administrators have refused to make public documents that would shed light on the loan arrangement.

“The board declined to release its conflict-of-interest policy, Brown’s contract, or disclosure forms, board meeting minutes, or any other documents to back up its assertions that Brown disclosed his conflicts, recused himself, and did not profit from the deal,” according to Boston Globe article.

“As Mount Ida negotiated the sale of its campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Reiss said Carlson Property agreed to forgive nearly half the loan balance.”

Finklestein said the college’s refusal to make public the documents, especially its conflict of interest policy, only made things seem murky.  

“Do they have a policy? Was there a violation of the policy?” he asked.  “We can’t answer any questions without seeing it. There’s no reasons for any nonprofit to withhold that information from the public.

“It could be that when this president was hired he fully disclosed his relationship and there was language in his contract that waived the conflict. Unfortunately in the absence of transparency people tend to assume the worse.”

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a professor of public service and president emeritus of George Washington University, also found the details of the relationship between Brown and Stahl troubling but said it was difficult to fully judge or understand the loan arrangement without seeing the documentation.

“There are just too many questions outstanding for anybody at this point to make judgments except to say that it seems highly unusual,” he said. “That said, if you have a school that’s about to go under and you’re desperate, you grab hold of anything you can. It may well be the president was doing the best he could under the circumstances. He seems to have acted with the consent of the board of trustees.”

Still, Trachtenberg would like to know the fair market value of the land used as collateral and “whether some bargain was struck or whether it was a straight forward business deal,” and whether anyone was personally profiting from it. He also wonders if the interests of the University of Massachusetts are being protected.

“I’d be curious to ask the benefactor what her motive was,” he said. “Was she fully informed of what was happening? It may have simply been an effort to do good and keep the school alive. On the basis of the information we read, we can’t easily come to any conclusions, I’m afraid.”


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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Mar, 22 Mayo 2018 - 02:00
  • California State University, Stanislaus: Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and others.
  • Ithaca College: Daniel Weiss, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Kettering University: Latondra Newton, senior vice president and chief diversity officer of the Walt Disney Company.
  • LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York: Shaun King, the journalist and activist.
  • Maryland University of Integrative Health: Rovenia Brock, nutritionist and author.
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Republicans are generally positive about higher education in new survey

Lun, 21 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

A pair of surveys last year from the Pew Research Center and Gallup showed deep skepticism about higher education among Republican respondents.

While subsequent, less publicized surveys painted a more complex picture, many college leaders and academics remain worried about whether Republican scrutiny could lead to (more) budget cuts or policy crackdowns.

New America is the latest on the scene with the release today of its second annual survey on Americans’ attitudes about higher education. The Washington, D.C.-based think tank tweaked several of the questions this time around. But both installments found that respondents largely believe it’s easier to be successful with a college degree than without one. And Republicans were generally positive about higher education and even their tax dollars going to support it, according to the new survey.

For example, 80 percent of the 1,600 adults surveyed agreed strongly or somewhat with the statement that “there are more opportunities for people who pursue education after high school" -- so did 77 percent of Republicans.

The survey results aren’t all good news for colleges, however, as it found that just one in four respondents think higher education is just fine the way it is. And New America also uncovered a substantial divide between Republican and Democratic respondents on who should pay for college.

There was little partisan split among the roughly 68 percent of respondents who feel that higher education needs to change.

“Republicans and Democrats are in total agreement here,” Rachel Fishman, deputy director for higher education research at New America, said in an interview.

One notable divergence, however, is over who should pay for college.

The survey asked whether respondents felt the statement “government should fund higher education because it is good for society” or “students should fund their own education because it is a personal benefit” were closer to their point of view.

Fully 76 percent of Democratic respondents backed the government support statement, compared to about 34 percent of Republicans. Just 13 percent of Democrats agreed that students should fund their educations (because it’s a personal benefit) compared to about 52 percent of Republicans.

Likewise, the survey found fairly large partisan splits on questions about whether respondents were comfortable with their tax dollars supporting higher education or whether states and the federal government should spend more to make college more affordable. Even so, almost two-thirds (63.5 percent) of Republicans were comfortable with their tax dollars going to higher education.

New America also asked if respondents had positive views of nearby colleges. This one had broad support from backers of both political parties -- almost 78 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of Democrats.

Going Local

Fishman compared the apparent contradiction of people liking their local colleges but being more skeptical about higher education broadly with the axiom of people “hating Congress but loving their member of Congress.” That phenomenon also gels with common findings in Inside Higher Ed’s surveys of college administrators, who tend to see good things on their campuses and problems with the industry at large.

Among all respondents, a majority said community colleges and four-year public institutions are worth the cost (81 percent and 65 percent, respectively). Those numbers dip substantially for private nonprofit colleges (44 percent) and for-profits (40 percent).

Yet on the whole, New America’s survey findings -- which include demographic breakouts based on income, race, region and other factors, as well as for the swing state of North Carolina -- should be far less alarming for college leaders than the results from Pew and Gallup.

“While past studies have suggested Republicans feel negatively about higher education, the new Varying Degrees survey tells a slightly different and much more complex story,” Fishman said in a written statement. “The priorities of either party cannot be reduced to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in terms of government investment in education beyond high school. That insight opens up a great deal of opportunity for continued discussion and collaboration.”

Likewise, results from a new survey Pew released last week also found partisan agreement on the benefits of higher education.

The survey found “no partisan or ideological gaps in evaluations of American colleges and universities.” Roughly half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents (54 percent) agreed with 51 percent of their Republican counterparts that U.S. colleges and universities are above average or the best in the world, Pew found.

Still, don’t expect some Republican politicians to stop challenging traditional higher education.

For example, President Trump has questioned the name and purpose of community colleges while championing vocational education (which most two-year colleges offer) during four public events in recent months.

Respondents to New America’s survey, however, are clear on the missions of community colleges.

“People absolutely know what community colleges are,” Fishman said. “They feel very positive about community colleges.”

Meanwhile, Adam Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor in Florida, last week rolled out an ad about his plan to expand vocational training, the Tampa Bay Times reported, arguing that college is not the only path to success.

“Today liberal elites look down on people who work with their hands,” Putnam said, “pressuring too many kids into student loan debt, leaving them with degrees they can’t use and bills they can’t pay.”

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Research universities quietly collaborate with Facebook. What are they working on?

Lun, 21 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

At the end of 2016, 16 universities entered into an agreement with Facebook to help the company quickly develop new technologies.

Now, a total of 30 institutions have signed up to the Sponsored Academic Research Agreement, or SARA, according to Facebook. But little is known about what they’ve been working on.

Contacted by Inside Higher Ed, none of 16 original universities in the agreement disclosed any details of their work with Facebook, nor identified any researchers involved. Many did not respond to requests for comment. But those that did, such as Princeton University, made statements such as "unfortunately we don't have anything on this for you now."

Some institutions, such as California Institute of Technology, said they did not have any active projects under the agreement at this time. Asked for details of any past projects, Caltech suggested we direct our questions to Facebook or institutions with active projects. 

It’s possible that the institutions working with Facebook may have been concerned about violating non-disclosure agreements. Some may have joined the agreement but never conducted any research. Given recent political scrutiny of Facebook, it’s also possible that the institutions involved were simply trying to keep a low profile.  

Institutions With Facebook Agreements

Arizona State University*
California Institute of Technology*
Carnegie Mellon University
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Georgetown University
Georgia Tech*
Harvard University*
Johns Hopkins University*
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab*
Linköping University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology*
Northeastern University*
Princeton University*
Purdue University
Rice University*
SRI International
Stanford University*
Technical University of Madrid
Texas A&M University*
University of California, Berkeley*
University of California, San Diego
University of California, San Francisco*
University of Central Florida
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign*
University of Michigan
University of Texas at Austin
University of Washington
University of Waterloo*
Virginia Tech*
Washington University in St. Louis

(*original members)

Under the SARA, institutions can apply for funding from Facebook to develop technologies led by a division of the company called Building 8 – a unit frequently described as "secretive" in the news media.

According to descriptions from Facebook, Building 8’s charge is to develop “seemingly impossible products” as quickly as possible. Areas of development include augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and connectivity.

Pressure to innovate quickly was a driving factor in the development of the agreement, which was led by Regina Dugan, Building 8’s soon-to-depart director, and former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as well as Google’s product development and research team.

When the SARA was announced, Dugan posted on Facebook that it would make it “easier and faster” for Building 8 to establish collaborations with university researchers -- not in the 9-12 months that’s typically required, but “within weeks.”

A spokesperson for Facebook explained that all members of the SARA sign “a universal agreement with terms that are project-by-project and designed to be fair and appropriate for universities.”

This universal agreement, which presumably addresses the intellectual property rights of the research partners, allows Facebook to build relationships with research partners “quickly, and at scale,” the spokesperson said. Asked if it would be possible to see a copy of the universal agreement, Facebook said that all contracts are confidential and cannot be shared.

One of the aims of SARA is “to seed continuous conversation between our research groups and the academic community” in order to help Facebook identify “new areas and investigators to invest in,” the spokesperson said. 

Recently, Facebook has started using the SARA network to solicit advice from academics on how to solve the company’s most pressing research questions by sharing “request for information” documents with SARA members. Conversations from these RFI documents can lead to funding for researchers with good solutions, or more formal requests for proposals.

In the future, Facebook plans to share internal documents outlining areas of technology interest with SARA members so that any investigator at a SARA university “can read that document, get a good sense of what we work on and where we need help, and find the right point of contact within the company to start conversations about how their tech might help solve our problems.”

Asked for examples of work conducted under the SARA, Facebook said that current projects include the development of brain-computer interfaces to turn thoughts into text. Researchers are also working on haptics with the aim of helping people to hear sound through their skin. Facebook identified two researchers working on the brain-computer interface project for interview, but unfortunately neither were available prior to publication.

Though a growing number of universities are lining up to work with Facebook, Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy (Oxford University Press), said that universities should think carefully before collaborating with the company in developing technologies.

“We know that Facebook depends on user data to make its products work and work well,” said Vaidhyanathan. “We have seen that Facebook’s accumulation of data is a serious problem. One that legislators are finally taking seriously. Universities should therefore be careful about the prospect of being implicated in the development of any product that could cause harm.”

Given national research funding constraints, Vaidhyanathan said he understands that industry collaborations are necessary for universities, adding that he doesn't think universities should write off working with tech companies like Facebook. But Vaidhyanathan does think that universities should be more transparent about their partnerships with these companies and the emerging technologies that come from them.

“It worries me and it saddens me that universities have been less than forthright in explaining the terms of these deals, and the safeguards that they are taking,” said Vaidhyanathan.

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Yale being investigated for discrimination against men in unusual Title IX complaint

Lun, 21 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

The U.S. Education Department is investigating whether Yale University discriminates against men, stemming from an unusual complaint from a doctoral student completely unaffiliated with institution.

The Office for Civil Rights’ investigation into whether the university violated the federal gender discrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, began last month. Generally, the bulk of these complaints deal with institutions mishandling sexual assault cases or athletics issues, but not so with the complaint filed by Kursat Christoff Pekgoz, a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.

Pekgoz argues that women no longer are an underrepresented group in higher education, given that they make up the majority of students. As of fall 2017, more than 56 percent of college students were women. Because of this, certain Yale programs and scholarships that exclusively advantage women are against the federal statute, he asserts. (Yale itself has an undergraduate student ratio of 51 percent men to 49 percent women, according to federal data.)

In his complaint, Pekgoz targets different Yale initiatives that he believes are discriminatory against men; the federal agency decided to only take up some of those, among them some scholarships for women, a faculty network designed just for women, and a program to train women in political campaigning. The department declined to investigate Yale’s Women’s Center or its Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies because they do not exclude men, it said.

A department spokeswoman did not respond to questions from Inside Higher Ed.

The university also declined an interview. Yale “is committed to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in all its programs,” a spokesman, Thomas Conroy, wrote in an email.

In an email, Pekgoz wrote that he filed the complaint – and a similar one against his own institution – because of “civil rights advocacy,” though he described his campaign in his email as a “disinterested pursuit.” He had considered filing a complaint against Harvard University, but settled on Yale, with the goal of creating some sort of precedent.

Other news media have reported that Pekgoz is a Turkish native who once identified as a feminist but soured on the concept.

“Women are an ever-increasing majority in colleges,” Pekgoz said via email. “Male students are far more likely to drop out. Also, younger men are making less money than women despite working in more hazardous jobs.” (His latter statement is at least partly inaccurate. A 2016 report from the Census Bureau revealed that despite significant strides by women, the median pay of young women is still $11,000 lower than that of young men.)

Though he said he does not intend to pursue any more complaints, Pekgoz said he would like to see others file their own. To that end, he prepared a mock “Dear Colleague” letter, a parody of the kind the department sends out to inform the public about major initiatives.

His is titled “How to abolish affirmative action for women.” In this document, Pekgoz walks through what he considers to be a violation of Title IX and even offers a template of his complaint to those interested.

Pekgoz noted that the department dismisses a majority of the complaints it receives and that he could not predict whether his would be successful. The fact the department would pursue it at all is a “good sign,” he said.

The department last investigated Yale after an alumnus accused the institution of discriminating against him when he was accused of sexual assault. Ultimately, Yale put the man on probation and banned contact between him and the two women accusing him. The alumnus also sued Yale in federal court, which led to the department dropping the inquiry because of a rule barring it from investigating cases that were being adjudicated in court. 

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Colleges award tenure

Lun, 21 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

Indiana University Northwest

  • Yuanying Guan,  mathematics
  • Daniel Kelly, chemistry
  • David Parnell, history
  • Crystal Shannon, nursing

Kenyon College

  • Chris Bickford, biology
  • Will Luther, economics
  • Pashmina Murthy, English

St. Joseph's University, in Pennsylvania

  • Elizabeth Becker, psychology
  • Christopher Close, history
  • Clare Conry-Murray, psychology
  • Laura Crispin, economics
  • Mark Lang, food marketing
  • Elena Lvina, management
  • Elizabeth Morgan, music, theater and film
  • Stacy Olitsky, teacher education
  • Stephanie Tryce, marketing
  • William Wolff, communication studies
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Advocates push for stronger Pell Grant as appropriations cycle begins

Vie, 18 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

With Congressional talks over next year's spending package having just begun, higher education groups are zeroing in on a stronger Pell Grant as a key demand for this funding cycle.

But while student aid advocates want major new investments in the primary form of grant-based aid for low-income college students, they expect only modest gains to happen before an update to the Higher Education Act, the law overseeing federal financial aid.

The groups are looking to build on successful efforts to raise the maximum value of the Pell Grant in the spending bill passed by Congress in March, which boosted the maximum grant award by 3 percent to $6,095.

Observers say a similar increase is possible this year. But longer-term goals for the program, such as significantly increasing the purchasing power of the grant or even pegging its maximum value to inflation, are viewed as more likely objectives for a comprehensive higher ed bill. Likewise, work-force training proponents view Pell eligibility for short-term programs -- a top priority of business groups -- as better suited for reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, although they also would welcome the change in a spending deal.

Yet over all, higher education advocates may find themselves fighting for more of the same.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, of another grant increase this year.

That’s partly because a February budget deal lifted broad spending caps that had been in place for close to a decade, giving lawmakers more wiggle room for priorities like boosting the Pell Grant. But after automatic annual increases to the program expired last year, advocates will have to scratch out another increase for the program in each appropriations cycle. Boosting the grant each year is critical for students, several groups said, because otherwise inflation will erode the value of the grant over time. 

“If it’s not keeping pace with inflation, it's in effect a cut because students’ purchasing power went down,” Draeger said.

Mamie Voight, vice president of public policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, told members of the U.S. House of Representatives' appropriations committee last month that the grant covers the lowest proportion of college expenses in its 50-year history. However, the institute's recommendations to Congress reflect a defensive approach to Pell -- keeping up with inflation, continuing support of year-round grants and opposing efforts to reduce or rescind the grant. 

“Pell is the foundation of our financial aid system and it’s really well-targeted aid,” she said in an interview. “There’s certainly a big push from the higher-ed community to make sure the maximum award can keep pace at least with inflation.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, said the committee does not comment on policy items that may or may not be included in future legislation. 

But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and ranking Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, said she she will push to increase the grant in the next round of appropriations. 

"Financial aid is not keeping pace with rising college costs, resulting in students having to bear more of the burden," she said. "At the same time, we know that the majority of jobs are requiring at least some education or training beyond high school. Affordability is more important than ever. That is why I will continue to fight tooth and nail to increase the maximum grant threshold to build on the progress we made in last year’s funding bill. It is an important investment in our next generation and the future of our country.” 

Higher-education organizations also have proposed a less incremental approach to the program. In a recent letter to Congressional appropriators, the National College Access Network requested a 12-percent increase for the maximum grant in fiscal year 2019-20 -- the first step in what would be an ambitious multi-year process to raise the value of the grant to 50 percent of the annual cost of attending a four-year public institution, or just under $14,000.

Kim Cook, NCAN's executive director, noted that the grant originally covered 79 percent of the cost of attending a four-year public college. In the current academic year, it covered only 18 percent of the cost.

Yet the proposal from NCAN has as much to do with shaping discussions of a broader higher education bill as it does in seeking to influence the spending bill for next year.

“I think we may hold the same number or perhaps increase it a bit to keep track with inflation,” Cook said. “The bigger conversations around Pell, I imagine, are coming in a year or two when we get into reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.”

Other Long-Term Changes

While traditional higher-ed advocates are calling for a grant that goes further for the typical low-income college student, business and work-force groups have sought to open up Pell eligibility to more short-term programs that are designed to quickly train students in new skills and land them a higher-paying job.

Dane Linn, vice president at the Business Roundtable, said those so-called work-force grants are important to job training that is needed to fill vacancies at member companies.

“We would support funding for workforce Pell grants in the appropriations bill," he said via email. "However, we strongly encourage Congress to focus their efforts on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act."

The Trump administration, which released a report on apprenticeships last week that was sharply critical of higher ed, has also called for opening Pell to short-term programs.

The National Skills Coalition, like the Business Roundtable, isn’t actively pushing for eligibility for short-term programs as part of a spending deal, said Kermit Kaleba, the coalition's federal policy director. But they aren't taking the issue off the table, either.

“The challenge would be whether you can reach some sort of consensus around which version of short-term Pell you’re talking about,” he said.

In the Senate, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Ohio Republican Rob Portman have offered one proposal for short-term programs to get access to Pell funding -- a sign of growing bipartisan interest in a major shift in the program. And last year the PROSPER Act, House Republicans’ bid to reauthorize the federal higher education law, included its own version of Pell for short-term programs.

Traditional higher-ed advocates likely will require some convincing, though, as any change to the Pell program will have ramifications for its traditional uses. Those groups are also concerned about quality controls for new programs and potential uses of the grant that would eat into a student’s lifetime grant eligibility, without getting them closer to a degree.

“We’re watching those conversations carefully and specifically watching for the details of proposals,” Cook said. “Right now we have more questions than answers.”

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U. of Denver settles with EEOC, agreeing to pay $2.66 million to seven female law professors who alleged gender-based pay bias

Vie, 18 Mayo 2018 - 02:00

The University of Denver must pay a group of female law professors $2.66 million and make significant changes to its law faculty compensation policies, based on a settlement approved Thursday.

In a relatively rare move, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Denver in 2016 for violations of the Equal Pay Act and federal non-discrimination laws. It did so in response to seven female law professors’ complaints that they were paid less than their male colleagues for the same work. 

The original complainant, Lucy Marsh, a longtime professor at Denver's Sturm College of Law, told the EEOC in 2013 that she was paid less than all of her full-time, male colleagues -- even those who were hired long after her. The EEOC found evidence of a pay gap in the college going back to at least the 1970s and engaged in talks with Denver about it. But the university did not take steps to remedy the situation, according to the lawsuit. 

Six other women joined Marsh in the complaint. In 2013, it says, the university employed nine female full professors whose average annual salary was about $140,000, compared to about $159,700 for male full professors. No female full professor earned more than the average salary for male full professors.

Marsh became concerned about a pay gap in 2012, when her dean wrote a memo about a faculty pay initiative, according to the complaint. The median salary for female full professors was $7,532 less than that for male full professors before a round of raises, the dean wrote, and $11,282 per year less than that for the men after the raises. The average salary for female full professors was $14,870 per year less than that for men before the raises and $15,859 less than that for men after the pay increase.

At a meeting with Marsh and other female professors, the same dean allegedly said that female professors may be paid less because they underperformed, relative to male professors. Yet he had not studied the issue at the time, according to the complaint.

Denver has consistently defended its position in public statements about the case, saying that it operates on a merit-based pay system. 

In a statement Thursday, the university said that one of its “cornerstone commitments is to ensure that our academic community compensates faculty and staff fairly, equitably and based on merit.” So while it was “confident” in its legal position, it said, “we were motivated to action by our strong desire to heal our community and move forward together.” 

The settlement “will allow us to collectively focus on a present and a future in which the law school -- and the DU community as a whole -- can unite under our common values of equity, integrity and opportunity,” Denver said.

In addition to the $2.66 million in back pay, legal fees, compensatory damages and raises for the complainants, Denver agreed to provide annual salary data to faculty members about similarly situated colleagues, and to notify professors of criteria used to determine raises ahead of time. An outside consultant also will help the university revise its non-discrimination policies and conduct annual reviews of salary dynamics. 

Jennifer Reisch, Marsh's lawyer, said in a statement that the gender wage gap “exists in nearly every profession and corner of our economy,” and that the Denver settlement “should send a message to employers that they need to take pay equity seriously.”

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