Inside Higher Education
Wesleyan College in Georgia apologizes for decades in which institution embraced Ku Klux Klan culture
Numerous colleges and universities in the last decade have studied and acknowledged the role of slavery in building and running their campuses, or financing the institutions. Other colleges have changed the names of buildings that honored people with ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
During that time, Wesleyan College was silent. The college in Macon, Ga., talks about its history quite a lot, pointing with pride to its status as the first institution chartered (in 1836) to award college degrees to women.
But an unusual part of its history was revealed Thursday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: decades in which the traditions of the Ku Klux Klan played a key role in campus life, with at least one tradition ending only in this century.
Wesleyan today is diverse: about a quarter of students are from outside the United States, and about one-third (most of them black) are American minority women. But only Thursday did the college acknowledge its past.
"Wesleyan College’s history includes parts that are deeply troubling, and we are not proud of them," a statement from the college said. "When Wesleyan was founded in 1836, the economy of the South was based on the sin of slavery. We are sorry for the pain that parts of our past have caused and continue to cause. We also celebrate how far our college has come and how we are striving to become the inclusive community we are called to be."
The statement goes on to note the Klan influence: "Wesleyan’s people were products of a society steeped in racism, classism and sexism. They did appalling things -- like students treating some African-Americans who worked on campus like mascots, or deciding to name one of their classes after the hate-espousing Ku Klux Klan, or developing rituals for initiating new students that today remind us of the Klan’s terrorism."
Among the details revealed by the Journal-Constitution:
- Classes long gave themselves names, and the names selected by the classes of 1909, 1913 and 1917 were the "Ku Klux Klan."
- The yearbook in 1913 was named "Ku Klux."
- In the early 1900s, students marched in Klan garb through the streets to initiate students into the KKK.
- For decades, through the 1990s, the athletic teams were called the Tri-Ks (for the KKK), later changing to the Tri-K Pirates before dropping the Klan reference.
- In the 1950s (photo above), hazing rituals for new students (run by students) featured women with painted faces and carrying nooses.
- As recently as 2006, a student group wore hooded purple robes for an initiation event for new students -- and that robed activity ended only around 2010 or 2011.
The first black students to graduate from Wesleyan were admitted in 1968.
The story in the Atlanta paper came about because Brad Schrade, an investigative reporter for the Journal-Constitution, was shown a copy of the college's 1913 yearbook. Wesleyan, which was starting to study its own history at the time, gave him access to archives that he used for his research. His article indicates that black student groups had periodically raised questions about the college's history and traditions before now.
A False Impression?
Vivia Lawton Fowler, Wesleyan's provost, will become president of the college on July 1. In an interview, she said that the article by the Atlanta newspaper was "fair and balanced," but that she viewed the Klan ties over the years as belonging to students, not the institution. Fowler said the college is nearing the end of a two-year period of studying its history and was planning to issue a statement at some point in the fall, as well as to update the college's history page on its website.
"It's going to appear that all of this work that we were going to roll out in the fall was in response to the article," she said, when that's not true.
Fowler said that she did not believe any student or college activities going on today reflect the Klan culture that was once a powerful force at the college.
The past semester has been one of significant discussion at the college about issues of diversity and inclusion, she said. Much of the discussion was prompted by incidents that took place the day after President Trump proposed his ban on travel to the United States by students from seven countries (after the ban was rejected by federal courts, Trump issued a revised ban, also now on hold due to court rulings, covering only six countries).
Amid discussion of the travel ban, the college reached out to its international students, Fowler said. None of them were from the countries covered by the ban, but the college wanted them to know that they were welcome and wanted at the college. As those activities took place, someone wrote "Go home" with "#Trump" on the whiteboard of an international student.
As word of that incident spread, someone wrote an inflammatory racial slur on a wall in a dormitory. The college then called off classes for the next day so students and faculty members could discuss the issues raised by the incidents. The college has investigated the incidents but has not found those responsible.
Fowler said that these discussions reinforced the view of college leaders to talk "about parts of our history that we are not proud of."
Other Colleges Debate the Klan
Klan history has come up at a number of other colleges in recent years. In most of the cases, the issue has been statues or buildings that honor people who had Klan ties. Among the developments:
- The University of Oregon in 2016 removed the name of Frederic Dunn from a dormitory that has for years honored him. Dunn was a professor of classics at the university in the 1920s and 1930s and was respected for his teaching and scholarship. He was also a leader -- with the title “exalted cyclops” -- of the Ku Klux Klan in the region.
- Middle Tennessee State University in 2016 announced plans to change the name of Forrest Hall, which honors Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate military leader who went on, for a time, to be a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 changed the name of Saunders Hall, which since 1920 had honored William L. Saunders, a Reconstruction-era leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Carolina board members said they believed it was a mistake for the board in 1920 to say that Saunders's Klan ties were worthy of honoring.
- In 2010, after research conducted by a professor drew attention to the history of William Stewart Simkins, the University of Texas at Austin removed his name from a dormitory. Simkins was a longtime law professor at Texas, but before that, he and his brother helped organize the Florida branch of the Ku Klux Klan -- an organization he defended throughout his life, including while serving as a law professor.
Not Just the South
John Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky and author of A History of American Higher Education, said that the reports on Wesleyan did not shock him because the Klan was, for a time, quite active nationally. He stressed that Klan support was "very strong" in the Midwest.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had a student chapter of the Klan in the early 20th century. And Thelin noted that the Klan's bigotry had influence in higher education in the Midwest. Bias against Roman Catholics played a big role in the Big Ten's 1926 rejection of a membership bid by the University of Notre Dame, he noted.
Thelin also noted similarities in the Klan's views of socializing people and maintaining secret initiation procedures with the histories of some fraternities. But Thelin said that the Klan had limited scope in terms of influencing college students in part because the Klan was "initially an undereducated group."DiversityEditorial Tags: DiscriminationImage Source: Photo of archival photo by Bob Andres / Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionImage Caption: Image of hazing at Wesleyan College in the 1950sIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The Appalachian College Association could have disbanded.
The 35-member group of private liberal arts colleges and universities was providing a set of cornerstone services to its members -- professional development for faculty and staff members as well as a central library overseeing digital collections and group purchasing, databases and a reciprocal use program. But there was a sense that the association, traditionally focused on improving its members’ academic quality through programs like faculty fellowships and research grants, was drifting.
It had burned through several presidents and interim presidents in the years since longtime president Alice L. Brown retired in 2008. Some worried member engagement was low. Although the association has a sizable endowment, the foundations that had previously funded it were slipping away.
On Monday, the association’s Board of Directors -- made up of its member presidents -- approved a new mission statement and strategic plan. The move was geared toward having the association focus on serving home communities in its five-state region across the Central Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The new plan calls for the association to focus on improving education at all levels in the area and to convince students that private higher education is within their reach.
Early on, that will translate into work to bolster K-12 education throughout the region, according to presidents of several member colleges. But the association has a long way to go if it is to fulfill its new direction. It still plans to hire a new president, consider a branding change, seek new sources of funding and build programs.
Those steps will be worth watching in an era when private liberal arts colleges are under increasing pressure from all sides. The Appalachian College Association members are located in one of the most difficult regions in the country for higher education, one that is depressed economically, declining in population and facing steep social challenges like the opioid epidemic. Many of the member colleges are saddled with financial challenges of their own and doubts about the value of liberal arts education.
Questions remain about what’s to come. Will the different colleges connect more closely to take on major problems in the region, or will they ultimately scatter, leaving many to fight for survival on their own individual terms? Is the new direction attractive to foundations and sources of funding? Is it the right direction, or is it mission drift?
The change is a significant shift in focus, according to those who led it. David Olive is the president of Bluefield College, in Bluefield, Va., nestled along the state’s border with West Virginia. He was the chairman of the association’s Board of Directors for the last two years, leading it as it drafted the new mission statement and plan.
“We are making a commitment not only to changing the lives of our students who come to study our campuses -- some of those coming from Appalachia and some not -- but really being focused on having a significant impact in our communities beyond our campus boundaries,” he said.
At this point, the effort is being left “somewhat vague” so member institutions can pilot their own programs depending on local conditions. The economy is different around Bluefield than it is around Knoxville, Tenn., where another association member, Johnson University, has a campus, Olive said.
Member institutions also face significantly different circumstances. For instance, Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia this year offered early retirements and struck a deal to sell its campus to the local Roman Catholic diocese, efforts to balance its budget. In contrast, Berea College in Kentucky has a large enough endowment that it does not need to charge its students for tuition.
Broadly, however, many recognize that they face a common set of issues, according to Berea’s president, Lyle D. Roelofs.
“You can’t be in this part of the world and not realize that things are changing in the wrong direction fairly rapidly,” he said. “Recent political developments, recent economic developments -- coal versus natural gas -- all of these things make the situation bleak on a fairly short time scale.”
Some Appalachian College Association presidents said a boost to regional K-12 education could help them with enrollment or relieve some financial pressures in the future. Better-prepared students could limit the need to spend on remediation, for instance. Efforts could also create a pipeline for more students to enter college.
But none described the idea as a primary solution to enrollment and financial challenges. Many didn’t agree on the scope of future financial challenges they will face. But a focus on K-12 education cannot be the solution for a struggling small college, Roelofs said.
“To the extent we make progress on this strategy, we are not actually going to generate a whole lot of paying customers for the schools in Appalachia,” he said. “That’s because the people can’t really afford education.”
Any solution to the problems struggling small colleges face will have to come from decisions at the national and state level, Roelofs said.
Still, the question remains whether a group like the association could help its members band together to face any economic challenges, pooling resources or collaborating more closely. Its former president, Brown, described colleges in the Central Appalachian region as being both fiercely independent and part of a group that is “among the most fragile in the nation.” They are also critically important to their students, she said.
“There is a population of students out there who really need these kinds of colleges,” Brown said. “They are not going to thrive in an environment at Princeton, for example. They are not going to thrive even at the University of Kentucky. They need an environment where people understand them and their culture.”
That’s not to minimize the change in the association’s direction. Faced with a follow-up question about the traditional focus of the association, Brown said it was on strengthening members’ academics.
“The focus of the ACA when it was founded and during my 25 years directing it was on academic quality,” she said in an email. “The ACA provided faculty and students resources that strengthened the academic programs of the member colleges: such as fellowships for faculty to do independent research and study, faculty-student research grants, international study opportunities, and access to library and technology resources.”
Marcia Hawkins, the president of Union College in Kentucky, put the change in mission another way.
“It talked about the association serving the membership,” Hawkins said of the previous mission. “Now we’re at a point where our mission says we are the association. It’s not this outside thing taking care of us. We are it. So how do we make an impact?”
The association doesn’t plan to stop its traditional services like the central library and faculty fellowships. It has a $26 million endowment to support those legacy programs. Colleges and universities also pay membership fees that average about $15,000 per year per institution.
The association’s annual budget is about $5 million, said Anne Ponder, who worked with the association as a consultant as it crafted its new plan and is a former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Reorganizing association staff and improving governance could help the association do more, Ponder said.
“The idea is that the costs would be a steady state, but there is the opportunity for this new purpose,” she said.
Still, some presidents privately wondered how much individual institutions will buy in to the association’s new direction. Some of the association’s members are heavily dependent on the Appalachian region for students. Others draw from outside the area.
The association’s next step -- hiring a president -- will be critical, said Edwin Welch, president of the University of Charleston, in West Virginia.
“Because of, I think, pressure on presidents and provosts to take care of their own institutions, if you don’t have a strong consortia leader, they won’t come forth, and the organization won’t come forth and be successful and make a difference,” Welch said. “So the leadership of a consortium seems to be absolutely critical to its success.”
At the end of the day, many said the re-evaluation was preferable to drifting with no defined focus or disbanding the association. Olive said surveys indicated members wanted to keep the legacy programs in place while also exploring new ways to work together.
“Institutions who don’t constantly look at redefining themselves and assessing where they are, are going to be in trouble,” said Jake Schrum, president of Emory & Henry College in Virginia. “That’s a step we took. That was a smart step to take.”Image Source: Appalachian College AssociationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday offered a first glimpse at how it is carrying out the Trump administration's push to ease federal regulations -- and asked for advice on what rules it should eliminate.
In February President Trump signed an executive order "seeking to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people" by calling for federal agencies, including the Education Department, to create "regulatory reform" task forces. Those committees will evaluate existing regulations and then make recommendations about which ones to repeal, replace or modify. The order gives priority to curbing regulations that are seen as outdated, unnecessary, ineffective, costly, inconsistent or that inhibit job creation.
The department's task force issued its first progress report Thursday. While few decisions have been made so far, the 66-page document describes the next steps in the process. It also cites the administration's previously announced move to hit pause on two "burdensome" regulations: the borrower-defense and gainful-employment rules. The new task force said the looming rule-making process for those rules will be "arduous" and require significant resources and oversight from the department.
This fall the department plans to meet with higher education associations to discuss "regulatory relief," the task force said.
It cited likely meetings with the American Council on Education, historically black colleges and universities, and financial aid administrators. As Politico has reported, Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, recently told U.S. senators that the agency is relying in part on a report calling for less regulation of higher education that Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who leads the Senate's education committee, released in 2015 with help from ACE and a group of college leaders.
Also this week, the department published a request for public suggestions on regulations to be eliminated or pared back.
"The regulatory reform task force has been hard at work over the last few months cataloging over 150 regulations and more than 1,700 pieces of policy guidance on the books at the Department of Education," DeVos said in a written statement. "As their work continues, they have been tasked with providing recommendations on which regulations to repeal, modify or keep in an effort to ensure those that remain adequately protect students while giving states, institutions, teachers, parents and students the flexibility needed to improve student achievement."
The progress report lists 15 department staff members who are on the task force, including both political appointees and career officials. Robert Eitel, a lawyer who worked for a for-profit college company before joining the department, is leading the group. Eitel has recused himself from matters relating to gainful employment.
Relatively few decisions have been made by the task force on the 154 regulations listed in the report. However, the report calls for a partial modification to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that seeks to protect students' educational records. The report said FERPA needs updates to reflect changes made by Congress in recent years, as well as to "clarify provisions to reflect developments in the nature and use of education technology."
Eitel also is co-chair of a department steering committee that will make recommendations about possibly reorganizing the agency. As with the regulation reform task force, that group was formed in response to a Trump executive order.
It's unclear what role, if any, a possible group of 15 college presidents might play in advising the administration on regulatory issues. Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University's president and a Trump ally, in January said he would be leading a presidential task force on higher education. He said at the time that he was interested in working to limit micromanagement of colleges and accreditors by the department.
However, as Politico first reported this month, that task force has not been created. Falwell said he will instead be part of a White House-convened group of 15 college presidents that will address education issues. Previous administrations also have brought together advisory groups of college leaders.Editorial Tags: Federal policyEducation DepartmentIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The American Society of Microbiology last month announced plans to significantly scale back its small-conference organizing, putting more pressure on what some see as an already undervalued chance for networking.
As opposed to its large and medium annual conferences -- such as ASM Microbe, which is billed as the world’s largest gathering of microbiologists -- which draw thousands of professors, researchers and academics from across the field, ASM’s small conferences typically draw crowds in the hundreds. Those conferences are more narrowly focused to specific fields, such as biofilms or beneficial microbes. Attendees say the small sizes create more intimate spaces for networking among colleagues, especially for younger members. But they also can be costlier to run than their big-ticket counterparts. (Other large scholarly societies organize small conferences for people from certain regions or states.)
“Small conferences consistently trending down in attendance,” ASM CEO Stefano Bertuzzi wrote in a tweet to professors talking about the decision. “ASM not able to continue absorbing financial losses.”
David Hooper, chair of ASM’s meeting board, said that the society has organized eight to 10 small conferences a year, on average, but will be scaling back to about two -- including the conference on biofilms -- although the number isn’t set in stone. While the small conferences were costly, and attendance was decreasing, he said the decision to cut back on small conferences was part of a wide-ranging re-evaluation of the organization’s finances. Hosted in New Orleans over five days, ASM Microbe, which advertised bringing in about 10,000 people, featured an exhibit and poster hall, industry workshops and close to 600 speakers. The smaller conferences, held with less fanfare, also typically bring in fewer people and have to be subsidized by the society.
“With deficit budgets and a new CEO, we had to have a strategic relook at the whole sort of range of ASM programs,” Hooper said. “It wasn’t just meetings that were being looked at, but the spectrum of all the activities that ASM was doing.”
“Looking at the conferences program, we thought now’s the time to step back and restructure this in a way that our portfolio may be a bit smaller. Obviously there are positives to having smaller meetings -- people do like those. We want to keep having smaller conferences, but they need to be sustainable, of course, financially,” he said, adding that the smaller conferences will probably be tailored to “cutting-edge” topics in microbiology.
Joerg Graf, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Connecticut who has attended both large and small conferences over the course of his career, said he respected ASM’s clout in the field of microbiology, and that scaling back its small-conference organizing wasn’t a move the organization would take lightly.
“The American Society for Microbiology is a very important organization in this field, and I think ASM conferences were very important in how the American Society for Microbiology was able to reach out, especially to early-career scientists, and provide them with cutting-edge information and also provide opportunities to network with established investigators. Losing those conferences would restrict those opportunities,” he said. “But ASM really has to make difficult decisions.”
Graf said that throughout his years attending ASM conferences and meetings both large and small, the smaller ones provided an intimate space for young researchers to network and offered more specific programming focused on microbiology’s various fields.
“When there are 6,000 attendees, it is very challenging for a graduate student to find time to meet with a faculty member,” he said. At smaller conferences, by contrast, shared lunches, dinners and receptions can help young members make connections.
“Those are all opportunities where it’s very easy, and it’s not an intimidating environment for graduate students to interact with faculty,” he said.
Still, Graf said, large ASM conferences are useful for learning about fields outside one’s specialty. Offering some hope for younger scientists, he highlighted other ways outside ASM to find intimate settings, such as the Gordon Research Conferences and the Keystone Symposia.
Mark Mandel, a professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University, said he plans to keep holding a conference on beneficial microbes that has previously been affiliated with ASM, although it will most likely have to be outside the scope of ASM going forward.
“What we see is consistently 200 people attend, and they’re passionate, they’re energetic,” he said. “So now when we try to continue that energy, we’re now doing that outside of the organization of the larger society. It seems like there’s less energy to be poured into the organization.”
For his part, Hooper said that ASM has listened to feedback to improve the large and medium ASM meetings for younger faculty.
“We spend a lot of time focusing on both input and involvement from junior faculty and trainees for the programming and the presentation of these meetings,” he said. “They’re the future of any society.”
When pressures working against small conferences arise, however, so do pressures on small colleges’ budgets to send professors and students to conferences of any size. Jason Pickavance, director of educational initiatives at Salt Lake Community College, was a frequent attendee of the Two-Year College English Association’s conferences for its Western division during his days as an English professor. He said he still attends TYCA-West when it comes to Salt Lake.
Pickavance wrote in an essay for Inside Higher Ed that smaller conferences as a whole are often underappreciated for their value and the “authenticity” they provide for faculty, all at a relatively low cost.
“It’s not like [large conferences] are evil,” Pickavance said. “I don’t know what they would do to make it different. It’s less a critique of large conferences than it is praising small conferences.”
Geography can play a role in restructuring conferences, Mandel said. The Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Meeting consolidated its bouncing locations, settling on hosting the conferences only in Madison, Wis., instead of rotating between Madison and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, on New York’s Long Island, every other year. On the other hand, Mandel said, conferences aimed at specific regions can still benefit from rotating locations -- as the Midwest Microbial Pathogens Conference does -- without racking up huge expenditures for attendees, since the rotating location is never too far.
When it comes to travel, registration and lodging costs associated with attending conferences, smaller gatherings can be easier on a college’s travel budget. TYCA-West bounces between Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, keeping those costs to a minimum, Pickavance said.
And with higher education budgets being tight, those savings -- and the benefits smaller conferences can provide -- can mean an outsize impact on those who attend.
“That continued pressure on travel budgets makes small conferences all the more important,” Pickavance said. “The regional small conference, in my mind, is going to become more important in an age where, maybe, travel budgets become more scarce. You can’t go to Boston or San Diego -- expensive flight, expensive city, expensive registration. If I go to Phoenix, well, I have family there, so I can stay for free.”ResearchEditorial Tags: ResearchScholarly associationsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
New presidents or provosts: Columbia Intl Cuyahoga Labette Lake Michigan Lane W&L WGU Washington Wesleyan Wittenberg
- Melody Blake, visiting assistant professor of psychology at Wesleyan College, in Georgia, has been promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
- Marc C. Conner, interim provost and the Jo M. and James M. Ballengee Professor of English at Washington & Lee University, in Virginia, has been named to the provost job on a permanent basis.
- Richard Cummins, president of Columbia Basin College, in Washington State, has been chosen as chancellor of WGU Washington.
- Michael Frandsen, vice president for finance and administration at Oberlin College, in Ohio, has been appointed president of Wittenberg University, also in Ohio.
- Margaret Hamilton, vice president for academic affairs, institutional effectiveness and planning at Camden County College, in New Jersey, has been selected as president of Lane Community College, in Oregon.
- Trevor Kubatzke, vice president of student services at Milwaukee Area Technical College, in Wisconsin, has been chosen as president of Lake Michigan College, in Michigan.
- Karen Miller, interim executive vice president of access, learning and success at Cuyahoga Community College, in Ohio, has been named to the chief academic officer job on a permanent basis.
- Mark A. Smith, president of Ohio Christian University, has been selected as president of Columbia International University, in South Carolina.
- Mark Watkins, dean of instruction at Labette Community College, in Kansas, has been promoted to president there.
In a scene in the widely produced musical The Fantasticks, three men, one dressed as a stereotypical Native American, abduct a young woman and refer to what happens as a “rape.”
Both the show’s lighthearted treatment of the “rape” and the Native American costuming choices and depiction were likely not awkward to overwhelmingly white audiences back in the 1960s, when the musical was first produced and started to attract fans. But for contemporary audiences, such elements land differently.
Native American high school students walked out of a performance of The Fantasticks at the University of Wyoming last week.
Theater will sometimes shock and infuriate its spectators, and that includes those who protested the Public Theater’s run of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in New York. The titular character wore an elongated red tie and coiffed helmet hair indicative of President Trump, prompting outrage at his assassination.
Experts in the field of collegiate drama said institutions grapple with countless factors when selecting their seasons, among them how to handle racism, sexism and homophobia in plays with such biases evident, and how to cast shows that would have once had all white actors. They further must think about the political implications of productions.
Gregg Henry, artistic director of the Kennedy Center’s American College Theater Festival, said that institutions have become much more attuned to issues of equity and diversity when building their theatrical lineup, though some more homogenized areas of the country haven’t needed to yet. (By coincidence, a different Gregg Henry, an actor known for his work on Scandal and Gilmore Girls, played Caesar in the Public Theater's production this summer.)
In recent years, students have become much more resistant and won’t “put up” with insensitivity in theater, Henry said.
Henry empathizes with the students who walked out of the University of Wyoming production, because the struggles of Native Americans have been overlooked and the population has been underrepresented in popular culture, even as The Fantasticks plays into stereotypes amid a larger love story plot, he said.
“Wyoming has a huge population of Native Americans, and if the university is trying to open their doors to that population of students, this is probably not the best way to do it,” he said.
The rights to most shows must be purchased and explicit permission must be obtained to alter the script.
The cast, crew and production team of The Fantasticks noted this in a lengthy defense of the show in the Laramie Boomerang. Their challenge in producing the show, they said, was providing context.
“The use of ‘Indians’ as stock characters, alongside pirates and bandits, as a shortcut for exotic and dangerous outsiders, is now coming to the fore as problematic. Whether it is unquestioned, as in Peter Pan productions the world over, or painfully obvious, as it was for our audiences on opening night, this kind of portrayal deserves consideration. In this case, it is an actor playing a two-bit actor playing a stock character from his traveling troupe, and truly reductive and indicative: a caricature. With historical productions, we see a point in time that is different from our own, and character portrayals that can be painful to watch to 21st-century audiences.”
Inserts will be placed in the programs warning patrons about the controversial pieces of the show going forward.
Tony Hagopian, the business and communications director for the University Resident Theatre Association, an organization of 40 or so member graduate theater programs, said institutions try to deliver holistic education to their students, with experiences in everything from Shakespearean classics to contemporary work.
Students learn text analysis with Shakespeare, a lesson that extends far beyond a single production, and with more recent plays, they are exposed to current issues and how to work with contemporary playwrights, Hagopian said.
They can benefit from a show like The Fantasticks, which contains meaty roles perfectly catered to young college actors, and experience the magical realism concept becoming more popular in today’s shows -- where life is essentially portrayed as real-world with some surrealistic twists, he said.
“In some ways it’s tough, some of these things we may not think of as controversial or problematic, if you’re just considering a play on paper,” Hagopian said. “It’s pretty rare that we’re going to provoke our audience. So, it’s more about the process for handling these things when they arise, because it’s usually going to be a surprise to you.”
Colleges and universities know they must teach their students about these “foundational plays,” said Henry.
But performing plays that feature enslaved people on a plantation, for instance, could prove difficult, he said. Institutions want to provide diverse and challenging parts for students of color and not pigeonhole them.
Marketing also figures into decisions -- though it’s not the primary aim to sell tickets, programs “need to fill the house,” Hagopian said.
Shows have previously been canceled over community backlash.
Stanford University in 2014 canceled a production of the musical Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, based on the former president's life, after protests that the production was offensive to Native Americans. (Defenders noted that the bias against Native Americans in the show was largely an indictment of Jackson and other American politicians who treated them as less than human.)
Britain's University of Bristol in 2016 halted performances of the opera Aida after criticism that white actors had been cast in key roles designed for people of color.
Shakespeare's plays, which are in the public domain, can often be molded to fit an artistic vision, and Henry anticipates many iterations of Julius Caesar, and other politically geared productions, at the Kennedy Center’s fall festival in light of the partisan climate -- it’s impossible not to think of the current administration when producing Julius Caesar, because it’s a fallback play to anyone who wants to discuss the death of democracy.
Both Henry and Hagopian said they were frustrated by the hot-button Trumpian symbolism in the New York production overshadowing the message of the play. Caesar’s assassination happens at the end of the first act -- and the criticism has not focused on the aftermath of losing the leader, on which the second act centers.
“There’s a lot of interest in political theater,” Henry said. “I think we’re going to be running into a lot of it, whether that’s directly into it, or coming at it from the side, with contemporary playwrights grappling with it in a new way.”Editorial Tags: ArtsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Survey of parent postdocs reveals lack of access to paid parental leave, pressures to return to work
Postdoctoral fellows hopefully enjoy close mentor-mentee relationships with the principal investigators on their research grants. Few would probably expect those investigators to show up at the hospital after a baby arrived, asking when they planned to return to the lab, however. Yet that’s what happened to one survey participant in a new study on parent postdocs from the National Postdoctoral Association and the Pregnant Scholar project of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings.
“So, what, about two to three weeks and you will be back?” the scientist reportedly asked the postdoc in her hospital bed. It’s the kind of “ridiculous,” professionally unacceptable treatment postdocs sometimes encounter due to a widespread lack of understanding or will to understand what their rights are, said Julie Fabsik-Swarts, executive director of the National Postdoctoral Association. And if you’re a father, Fabsik-Swarts said, “there’s no prayer you’re getting much time off in most places. You have to feel for this set of highly educated, highly trained people who have dedicated their time and resources to being a researcher -- in many cases, to help this country. They’re being treated awfully.”
The new report, called “Parents in the Pipeline: Retaining Postdoctoral Researchers With Families,” is based on the first-ever national survey of postdocs with children, which yielded responses from 741 postdocs about 800 birth and adoption experiences. A handful of participants participated in follow-up phone interviews, and the report relies on additional association data about postdoc benefit policies nationally.
The paper urges institutions to update outdated policies to reflect a new reality: that the average postdoc spends four to five years in that position and most are nearing 40 years old by the time they find a permanent job -- meaning postdocs increasingly are parents.
“The average postdoc today can’t postpone solving the puzzle of work-life fit until tenure,” the report says. “To add to the challenge, parents of this generation,” more than their parents' generation, “feel the need to be more present for their children. For postdocs, the buzzers on their biological and research clocks are undeniable -- and in conflict. Yet despite these shifts, many institutions make no provisions for parental leave or accommodations for postdoc parents.”
A primary finding concerns the climate for pregnant workers who need health-related accommodations. While postdocs who requested pregnancy accommodations were provided them 93 percent of the time, they were less likely than other kinds of workers to request them. Just 40 percent of postdoc mothers did, and those in university appointments were especially unlikely to ask for help.
“I was too scared to let my colleagues in the laboratory know that I was expecting until I couldn’t hide my pregnancy further,” one woman said.
And that postdoc who was visited at the hospital by her investigator? She didn’t feel she could say no, so she got a release from her doctor saying she could return to work after four weeks, despite having had a C-section birth with complications. Another respondent said lack of leave left her health “in tatters.”
While these postdoc mothers continued their research, other survey respondents said they were pushed out because of their pregnancies or postbirth needs. One mother reported losing her appointment after her boss said he was “so sorry” about having no more funding. But the investigator soon hired a new postdoc to replace her. Another mother said that her boss referred to her children as her “constraints” and withdrew funding from her contract to fund another postdoc.
Fathers also reported encountering hostility toward their new family roles. “Peers often phrase paternity leave as if it’s a ‘vacation’ or you’re at home doing nothing,” one father said, adding that the prevailing mind-set “can lead to a view that you ‘aren’t serious about science’ since you took time off.”
Men are less likely than women to have access to leave and family-responsive policies, according to the study. “There is no such thing [as] leave for fathers,” said one postdoc dad. “They won’t even allow use of sick leave.”
Respondents of all genders stressed that “family-responsive accommodations,” such as scheduling flexibility or the ability to work from home, were essential to their success. If such accommodations had not been provided to one engineer, for example, he would “strongly consider leaving.” Another “would not have been able to continue” and yet another “would just have to quit.”
Parents of color reported facing hostility due to their new-parent status or pregnancy more often than their white counterparts, surprising the study’s authors. Postdocs of color are less likely to ask for parental leave or accommodations and are twice as likely to be discouraged from taking leave when they do ask.
“The impact of the hostility and lack of support for new-parent postdocs is profound,” the study says. “One in 10 postdoc fathers and one in five mothers reported that their [principal investigator’s] response to their new-parent status negatively impacted the quality of their appointment over all. This number is far higher for postdocs of color. For some, the challenge wasn’t worth it; ‘Don’t bother doing a postdoc,’ a neuroscientist advised aspiring postdocs who want to have children. Instead, ‘Work at McDonald’s,’ which would pay you equally or more, would give you more respect and [offer] a ray of hope through promotion.”
What will it take to retain postdocs, who each represent decades of study and approximately $500,000 or more in educational investments? “Simple adherence to federal law would go a long way,” the study says, noting that data reveal numerous institutional violations of antidiscrimination laws.
“Much of what postdoc parents need is common-sense: formal pregnancy and parental-leave policies that follow the law, changes in scheduling, and an end to the hostility and stigma that all too often attaches to the basic human need to have a family,” according to the study.
Other major findings include little to no access for postdoc mothers to paid maternity leave. Over half of institutions surveyed (53 percent) provide no paid leave to postdocs classified as employees, while postdocs categorized as trainees and individually funded postdocs fare even worse. Externally funded postdoc moms have it worst of all, with 74 percent of surveyed institutions offering no paid leave to them. Paid leave time, when provided, was often described as too short. Many mothers reported having to “fight” for the leave they needed, and a smaller subset reported losing their jobs as a result of their investigators’ negative reaction to their pregnancy or need for time off. One in five mothers reported that their bosses’ responses had a negative impact on the overall quality of their appointment.
Well over half of institutions surveyed provide no paid leave for postdoc fathers. Eighty-five percent of institutions provide no access to paid leave for externally funded dads. Many postdoc fathers also reported having no access to other kinds of paid or even unpaid time off, such as sick or vacation days, to help welcome a new child home. One in 10 fathers said their investigators’ response to their new parenthood negatively affected their appointments. The rate for fathers of color was one in five.
Many postdoc mothers had no access to paid time off at all to care for children, including sick or vacation time. Externally funded postdocs, again, had it worst, with 53 percent of institutions excluding them from paid days off.
Regarding unpaid time off upon a child’s birth, a right in theory assured by federal law, benefits vary greatly by funding sources. Five percent of employee postdoc mothers do not have access to such time, compared to 23 percent of institutional trainees and 44 percent of externally funded postdocs.
Over all, postdocs reported confusion about whether or not their institutions had parental leave policies applicable to them -- even after having gone through the process themselves. Human resources offices reportedly often misinterpret relevant laws and “struggle to navigate the varying grant-related policies that apply to postdocs,” according to the study. This is complicated by different funders having different policies for leave.
Additional problems include investigators’ reported unwillingness to grant accommodation requests, such as postdocs’ ability to work from home until their children are old enough to attend child care, or to attend work on different days of the week. Several postdocs reported leaving their positions when these requests weren’t met.
On-campus child care was also scarce, with postdocs commonly reporting being on waiting lists for a year or more. Other care was also expensive, with it in some cases costing 50 to 100 percent of postdoc salaries.
Postdoctoral positions were originally intended to be temporary stops for advanced training on the way to a permanent position. Now, critics say, they’re the backbone of a system dependent on if not addicted to cheap labor, with postdocs often spending years upon years in such positions instead of months. The National Institutes of Health, for example, established a rule saying postdocs can’t work there for longer than five years, unless they’re promoted to research fellows, which gets them a maximum of three more years. Altogether, that’s longer than a tenure probationary period.
One of the report’s major recommendations is that every campus create an office for postdoc services and assistance. But does creating offices for postdocs and otherwise shoring up institutional policies regarding postdocs risk further institutionalizing what’s been called the “permadoc” problem? That's where young scholars linger in postdoc assignments, lacking the opportunities to truly launch independent careers. Those involved with the study said ignoring the problem does more harm than anything, and that centralizing services for postdocs may help prevent their exploitation.
“The postdoc position is supposed to be a training position, and having a postdoc office is just a natural extension for that, making sure that these graduates have everything they need -- whether it’s advice on maternity or paternity leave or advice on their benefits based on how they’re categorized on campus,” said Kate Sleeth, associate dean of administration and student development and professional education at Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope and chair of the National Postdoctoral Association’s Board of Directors. Sleeth spent seven years as a postdoc and said she found her own campus postdoc office helpful in that it made her aware of benefits she didn’t know she was entitled to.
“A lot of the time, rules and policies exist, it’s a just a matter of whether postdocs are aware of them,” she said. “They’re really there in an advisory role, to give the postdoc advice. If something should happen, they can advise the postdoc on what to do.”
Jessica Lee, the report’s lead author and a staff attorney at the Center for WorkLife Law at Hastings, said many of the problems identified in the report are linked to some institutions’ failure “to catch up to the new reality of longer-term postdocs and provide the formal support policies or structures they need.” Policies established when postdocs were more likely to be transient and male don’t meet current needs, and institutions that “turn a blind eye to postdoc needs, for fear of institutionalizing the postdoc, may be turning a blind eye to discrimination,” she said.
The hostility of many primary investigators toward postdoc parents, for example, is “unacceptable and in many cases illegal, and it is not only the [investigator] that is on the hook. Universities must prevent and respond to discrimination, and one of the best ways to start is by establishing clear policies that set the standard.” Whether a postdoc parent has a positive experience -- as many subjects did -- or leaves research entirely shouldn’t depend on the “goodwill” of the investigator.
There must be “structures in place to provide guidance and accountability,” Lee said. “We expect no less for our students and faculty and we should expect no less for our postdocs.”ResearchEditorial Tags: Career AdvicePostdocsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 2Advice Newsletter publication date: Thursday, June 22, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: Helping Postdocs With Children
Amid other woes as their core business shrinks, textbook publishers say they lose tens of millions of dollars a year when students buy pirated versions of their works. Technology and improved distribution have made it easier for counterfeiters to make and sell their alternatives, and while publishers have ramped up their own defensive tactics, the producers of the faked texts are often faceless and nameless.
Some of the other players in the counterfeiting chain -- the producers frequently sell to wholesalers, who sell to distributors, who ultimately sell to consumers -- have names and faces, though, and the publishers have stepped up their efforts to encourage, or force, them to try to combat piracy. In recent months, Cengage and McGraw-Hill said they would institute new measures aimed at identifying pirated materials. And three publishers -- Cengage, McGraw-Hill and Pearson Education -- reached an agreement with the distributors Chegg and Ingram to embrace a set of Anti-Counterfeit Best Practices that will involve significant changes in how the distributors operate.
On Wednesday, though, after what the publishers said were unsuccessful negotiations, they sued another major company in the educational materials space, the bookstore operator Follett, for copyright and trademark violations involving "the distribution of unlawful counterfeit copies of educational textbooks" produced by the three publishers. "Defendants refuse to conduct due diligence on their suppliers and fuel the counterfeit market by relying on the process of buying and inspecting counterfeits instead of not buying them in the first place," the complaint alleges.
"They desire to have the largest possible margin on the books, and to do that, they're buying from the lowest-priced sources," which are illegitimate ones, said Matt Oppenheim, a lawyer representing the publishers.
In a statement, Follett said it takes piracy seriously but that adopting the publishers' preferred approach would "cripple the campus store’s ability to provide lower-cost course material options, leaving students little choice but to buy higher-priced texts from the publishers."
Battle of Behemoths
At a time of great public concern over rising tuition and student debt, there is some irony that both sides in this dispute between major companies cite the greediness of the other. Oppenheim conceded as much in an interview, up to a point. "Yes, all companies are profit minded," he said. "But there's a line you don't cross: doing things that are illegal."
The publishers assert that by selling students books that have been pirated, Follett is clearly violating federal copyright and trademark law, as one can be liable without having any intent or prior knowledge.
The publishing companies said they took a series of steps aimed at working with Follett before filing the lawsuit, including training its employees on avoiding buying pirated books and identifying them once they've been purchased. But ultimately, the parties ended up "at loggerheads," said Oppenheim.
"Defendants have continued their practice unabated, contending that they adequately ferret out many of the counterfeits they receive by inspecting at least some of the books for authenticity upon receipt," the complaint states.
The lawsuit claims that the publishers bought "counterfeit copies of at least 46 textbook titles" from Follett's stores and websites this spring, as well as receiving other pirated books from customers who had bought them from Follett. "But this is a mere snapshot," the complaint states. "The true scope of [Follett's] distribution of counterfeits is likely much greater and not precisely known to defendants, who fear that what they know to date is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg."
Follett took a very different approach than Chegg and Ingram did when the publishers approached those companies in a similar way, Oppenheim said.
Adopting the "best practices" -- which include requiring and revealing much more identifying information about whom they buy books from, and inspecting purchased books much more rigorously for counterfeits -- required Chegg and Ingram to "make changes in way they conducted their business. They squared up, took responsibility and took steps to address" the problem, he said.
Pushback From Follett
In its statement, Follett acknowledged that counterfeiting "hurts everybody in the industry" and said it had worked for decades to combat piracy. But the bookstore provider focused most of its response on explaining why the strategies the publishers are pushing on textbook resellers are self-interested.
"The publisher group had been pressuring Follett and other campus retailers and text distributors to adopt certain 'best practices' created by the publishers that Follett believes would effectively restrict access to low-cost used and rental course materials on campus," the company said. "Follett’s mission is to serve the physical and digital course material needs of its higher education institutional partners and their students through cost-saving options that include used textbooks and Follett’s text rentals that offer an average savings of nearly half the cost of new texts from publishers."
Asked in a follow-up email to respond to the lawsuit's allegations and to detail how it is combating counterfeiting, Follett said that "identifying books as counterfeits is as much art as science," but laid out its process for trying to do so. The company regularly inspects books, with special attention to those believed to be "frequently counterfeited"; quarantines "all similar textbooks" from any shipment found to contain a faked book; and either destroys or sends back to the publisher all such textbooks.
The company did not respond to any of the specific allegations made by the publishers, who are seeking monetary damages as well as an injunction to force Follett to stop buying counterfeited textbooks.Books and PublishingEditorial Tags: PublishingTextbooksIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Trinity College in Connecticut shut down Wednesday over threats directed at an associate professor of sociology who shared a controversial article about race, violence and politics on social media. A professor at Syracuse University also is being targeting online for her involvement in a counterprotest to an anti-sharia event. They're the latest professors to face physical threats or harassment, or both, for their political speech.
The Trinity professor, John Eric Williams, last week shared a link to a Fusion piece called “Bigoted Homophobe Steve Scalise's Life Was Saved by a Queer Black Woman." It points to the fact that Scalise, the Republican congressman who was recently shot at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va., has previously opposed extending protections to LGBTQ people and reportedly once spoke at a meeting of white supremacists, while one of the black law enforcement officers who rescued him is a married lesbian.
Williams shared the article through an embedded link in Medium, accompanied by commentary from an author called Son of Baldwin, entitled “Let Them Fucking Die.” Baldwin’s piece argues that “indifference to their well-being is the only thing that terrifies” bigots, and so people of color should “Let. Them. Fucking. Die” if they’re ever drowning, “teetering on the edge of a cliff” or caught in various other emergencies.
“Saving the life of those that would kill you is the opposite of virtuous,” Baldwin wrote. In sharing Baldwin’s link to the Fusion article, Williams also used his “Let them fucking die” comment as a hashtag, and wrote that it is “past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be ‘white’ will not do, put end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system.”
That post and a similar one prompted critical reports on conservative websites suggesting Williams was advocating violence against whites. “Less than one week after a gunman opened fire on more than a dozen Republican members of Congress on a Virginia baseball field, a Connecticut college professor said that first responders to the shooting should have ‘let them die’ because they are white,” The Blaze reported, for example.
Williams told the Hartford Courant that he was writing about white supremacy, police killings of unarmed black people and other forms of institutionalized racism, and not saying that members of Congress should have been left to die because of their race. "This is about free speech as well as academic freedom," he told the newspaper. "From my perspective, I'm considering whether I should file a defamation [claim] against these guys," he added, referring to news sites that suggested otherwise.
"The black community is beside itself all over the country with the constant killing. It doesn't matter what we do, we still be killed, we still go to jail. Just being black and living is a crime. That's what seems to be the problem," Williams added, saying his status as scholar obliges him to "speak up about the kind of destructive behavior that white supremacy is dealing on people on a daily basis."
The various reports led to threats against Trinity and death threats against Williams, according to the Courant, prompting the shutdown so that law enforcement officials could investigate what they described as “nonspecific, noncredible” threats. The campus is expected to reopen today.
Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity’s president, said in a statement that the dean of faculty is reviewing the matter to see if any college policies or procedures were violated, and that she’d personally told Williams “his use of the hashtag was reprehensible and, at the very least, in poor judgment.” No matter its intent, she said, “it goes against our fundamental values as an institution, and I believe its effect is to close minds rather than open them.”
Two state lawmakers reportedly have called for Williams’s termination.
Dana Cloud, a professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Syracuse, is also facing online harassment and physical threats for calling for protesters to stage a counterprotest against an “anti-Sharia law” rally in Syracuse, N.Y., earlier this month, according to her supporters. Cloud, who believed that protesters were using unsubstantiated threats of rule by Islamic law to conjure anti-Muslim sentiments in the area, participated in a nonviolent counterdemonstration and on Twitter asked others to join her. When the opposing group started disperse, she tweeted, “We almost have the fascists in on the run. Syracuse people come down to the federal building to finish them off.”
Campus Reform, another conservative publication, later published an article about the tweet, alleging that “finish them off” was a “veiled call for violence.” Other websites and commentators have since followed suit, and Cloud has received threats. Hundreds of students and scholars have also expressed support for her in a petition that says, in part, that the “hate mail and threats directed against [Cloud] are not isolated phenomena, but part of a campaign of intimidation and harassment against those standing in solidarity with Muslims and other oppressed groups. Professors who speak out against racism and bigotry around the country are being targeted by right-wing media and activists.”
The petition mentions other professors, including Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University, who have faced physical threats for their speech in recent weeks. In another example, Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa, faced harassment after Campus Reform reported that she said the equation of white marble with beauty contributes to white supremacist ideas today. In fact, she'd written that such statues were originally painted in different colors and that paying more attention to that fact might undercut how racist groups or individuals have over time pointed to white marble as the classical ideal.
“These attacks are evidence of a disturbing rise in the confidence of right-wing extremists around the country,” reads the petition in support of Cloud. “We demand that Syracuse University and the broader academic community defend and protect her and all faculty in the exercise of their academic freedom, their right to extramural speech and the exercise of their conscience in civic life.”
Syracuse said in a statement that it “condemns, unequivocally, any threats directed” at Cloud, and that she has clarified that her remarks “were not intended to invite or incite violence.”
Cloud did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Academic FreedomEditorial Tags: FacultyImage Caption: John Eric WilliamsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Gold, silver and bronze.
The British government releases the results today of its new three-tiered rating system of teaching quality at universities. The government rating exercise sorting institutions into gold, silver and bronze categories has been controversial on a number of counts and echoes similar accountability movements in the U.S., including performance-funding initiatives at the state level and the Obama administration’s scuttled attempt to create a national college ratings system.
It remains to be seen how much influence the British ratings will have with students and their families, but results of the Teaching Excellence Framework, or TEF, as it is known, could eventually have financial consequences for universities. Future TEF results could be linked to universities’ abilities to raise tuition by differential amounts as early as academic year 2020-21, after the completion of an independent study.
In the meantime, it will no doubt be widely remarked upon that the results of the first round of the exercise do not follow traditional reputational hierarchies. The Universities of Cambridge and Oxford both scored a gold, but so did many less well-known, regionally focused universities, while the internationally recognized London School of Economics and Political Science settled for a bronze. Two other members of Britain’s elite club of Russell Group universities, the Universities of Liverpool and Southampton, also were rated bronze. A total of 295 institutions opted to participate in the ratings, and, excluding those that earned provisional ratings due to insufficient data, about a quarter each of participating institutions earned gold and bronze awards, and the remaining half silver. No institution got anything less than a bronze.
The TEF ratings are based on relative, rather than absolute, measures of quality: universities are compared on six core quantitative metrics against benchmarks calculated to account for the demographic profile of their students and the mix of programs offered. In other words, a university rated gold doesn’t necessarily have better student satisfaction data, retention rates or employment outcomes -- all core metrics factored into the survey -- than a university rated bronze. Rather, a university with a gold rating may have been judged to perform better on those measures than would have been predicted based on the profile of the students they serve and the programs they offer.
All this means that some teaching-intensive universities that do a good job teaching students from a wide array of backgrounds but don’t factor into the international rankings, which largely reward reputation and research output, have a chance to rise to the top. Indeed, the British government says that its purposes for the TEF include raising esteem for teaching and recognizing excellence in the classroom. “The Teaching Excellence Framework is refocusing the sector’s attention on teaching -- putting in place incentives that will raise standards across the sector and giving teaching the same status as research,” Universities Minister Jo Johnson said in a statement.
But in the views of many observers, the TEF suffers from the same problem that perpetually plagues efforts to put in place meaningful university ranking systems, including in the U.S. -- a lack of adequate data about teaching quality and student learning gains.
“The Teaching Excellence Framework would have comprehensively failed if it had simply replicated existing hierarchies,” said Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a British think tank. “It was always designed to do something different to other league tables and rankings -- namely, to show where there are pockets of excellence that have been ignored and to encourage improvements elsewhere.”
Hillman said the gold ratings are hard-won and well deserved. “Nonetheless, in this early guise, the TEF is far from a perfect assessment of teaching and learning,” he said. “While it tells us a lot of useful things, none of them accurately reflects precisely what goes on in lecture halls. I hope university applicants will use the results in their decision making, but they should do so with caution, not least because the ratings are for whole universities rather than individual courses.”
A Controversial Rating
The methodology for the TEF includes both quantitative and qualitative components. There are six core quantitative metrics: retention rates, student satisfaction data on measures related to teaching, assessment, and academic support taken from the National Student Survey, and data on rates of employment or postgraduate study six months after graduation taken from the Destination of Leavers From Higher Education survey.
Universities are judged on their performance on these metrics, both overall and in relation to various demographic groups, in a statistical calculation intended to control for different universities’ student characteristics, admissions requirements and academic programs. This process generates a “hypothesis” of gold, silver or bronze, which a panel of assessors then tests against additional evidence submitted for consideration by the university (higher education institutions can make up to a 15-page submission to TEF assessors). Ultimately the decision of gold, silver or bronze is a human judgment, not the pure product of a mathematical formula.
Chris Husbands, the chair of the TEF panel and the vice chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, acknowledged that the process has been controversial, with a number of different objections raised.
“The first is a philosophical one as to whether you can make reliable judgments about the quality of teaching across an institution,” he said. “The second has been the government’s decision to classify the institutions as gold, silver or bronze. You’ve got some very complex institutions. My own institution has 33,000 students across something like 20 different departments, and we’re expressing a single judgment.”
“And the third, this is not an inspection-based system. So the panel have not looked at teaching in any lecture room in any of these universities. What we have done is to look at the outcomes of teaching and to project what were the institutional processes that produced this outcome.”
All that said, Husbands argues that the rating process brings value. “What the TEF does is to focus attention on the relationship between institutional policies, what institutions say they do, institutional practices -- which may or may not turn out to be the same as policies -- and student outcomes,” he said.
“It’s forcing universities to think clearly about the relationship between the activities they undertake and the way they describe them and the outcomes the students achieve. And although I can be self-critical about many aspects of the metrics, that connection between what an institution says it does, what an institution actually does and what outcomes it achieves for its students seems to me to be worth having.”
Husbands added, “What the TEF has been is a massive pebble chucked into the pond of U.K. higher education. I suspect that though we could have had years of piloting, actually just making the decision -- 'we are going to do this and we’re going to make this happen' -- is the way to make real change happen.”
“What I do believe is the TEF says something about the environment that we create for our students, the sorts of students we can attract here and what we do in terms of adding value to them by the time they leave,” said Robert Allison, the vice chancellor and president of Loughborough University, which received a gold rating. Allison added that he has no doubt the U.K. government will make continual improvements to the TEF, as it has with a research-oriented equivalent, the REF.
Others are less convinced of the TEF’s value. The National Union of Students issued a statement describing it as "another meaningless university ranking system no one asked for, which the government is introducing purportedly in the name of students. Yet students have walked away from it, with thousands boycotting one of its key components, the National Student Survey."
The student union accused the government of having "ignored the concerns of students, academics and experts across the country who have warned against the introduction of the TEF, arguing that its measurements fail to capture anything about teaching quality. Until this is addressed, this ranking system is nothing but a Trojan horse to justify raised tuition fees and treat the higher education sector like any other market, to be ineptly measured and damagingly sold."
“Crucially, this is a pilot year for an exercise that is really untried and untested,” said Tim Bradshaw, the acting director of the Russell Group. “A lot of the measures that make up the fundamental baseline of the TEF are proxies, and not all of them proxies for anything to do with teaching excellence.”
Bradshaw pointed out that half of the quantitative metrics that feed into TEF come from a student satisfaction survey, and he said that a student who took a particularly challenging course might well be unhappy, but for a good reason -- “We were challenging them; we were stretching them.” Bradshaw also said he was concerned about the potential that the nuances of benchmarking and the fact that the ratings measure relative versus absolute performance might be overlooked by students, including prospective international students who just see a gold, silver or bronze rating attached to an institution.
“The TEF is a pilot year; it’s one amongst many different sorts of sets of data one can look at,” Bradshaw said. He noted for example the release last week of new graduate earnings data: the data, for example, show alumni of LSE, which got a bronze on the TEF, toward the very top of the income strata five years after graduation compared to other graduates of social science and economics programs.
Universities UK, the umbrella association for university leaders, also stressed in its response to the TEF that this is a trial year for the exercise. "These new Teaching Excellence Framework ratings are based on a number of publicly available data and are intended to complement the range of other information available to students. They are not a comprehensive assessment of a university's academic quality," the group's president, Julia Goodfellow, the vice chancellor at the University of Kent, said in a statement.
"It is important that the data used are appropriate, robust and take account of the considerable diversity within our university sector. The challenge will be to develop the system to ensure the information is properly communicated and helpful to students in the decision-making process."
A U.S. Perspective
Could -- should -- something like the TEF be replicated in the U.S.? Former President Obama's administration got major pushback from universities when it proposed creating a college rating system, an effort it eventually abandoned in favor of releasing a revamped and expanded consumer information tool called the College Scorecard.
Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who researches finance and accountability policies, said he sees parallels to state-level performance-funding formulas, which tie some funding to measures of outcomes, and to the push by some in Congress to set minimum quality standards for accreditors. "U.S. higher education policy has focused more on trying to identify the worst actors than [doing] finer gradation among higher-performing institutions," he said.
"It would be logistically difficult and expensive to do certain parts" of what the U.K. is doing, Kelchen continued. "For example, doing national surveys of former students would be expensive. We would need to be better at being able to track student outcomes. The College Scorecard was a step, the program-level gainful-employment data represents another step, and individual states have the kinds of data systems that are needed, but not all those systems talk across state lines. If the federal government wanted to do something like this and was willing to invest significant time and money, they could do this probably in about five years or so, but I don’t think anyone in the federal government wants to do this sort of systematic look at all colleges. I think it’s much more at the federal level about trying to identify the lowest-performing institutions, while maybe some states may try to be more nuanced in their approaches."
"If we ever tried to do red light, green light or they’re trying gold, bronze and silver, I think a lot of heads would roll," said Mark Schneider, a vice president and institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research and a former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics under the George W. Bush administration.
"Colleges and universities are really very powerful, and the organizations that represent them, especially the not-for-profits, are very powerful and they are trying very hard not to be judged. You saw what happened with the Scorecard. It was going to be a ranking system and then it turned into an informational system, and that was the end of that. Theoretically it was going to be tied to Pell Grant and Title IV [federal financial aid awards]; that got scotched almost immediately."
Jamienne Studley, a former deputy under secretary at the Department of Education during the Obama administration, said from her perspective the federal college ratings effort foundered on data limitations, specifically constraints having to do with data definitions that only captured first-time, full-time students who start in the fall and a lack of sufficient information about student preparation levels.
"Those two constraints meant that time and again, even when we had a good idea like clusters, like red, yellow, green, or gold, silver, bronze or any other permutations, as close as we would get to, 'oh, we could do it this way,' it would founder on the data that was available to us, and our fear that we would do something that would work backward for students and the schools we were trying to serve instead of forward," Studley said.
Backward, she said, in that “if you can't include information about student preparation that’s wide enough and informative enough, then the danger that places that can cherry-pick students would just not take students who are more challenging to educate or that cost more to educate was very frightening.”
"What we’re all looking for are ways to understand what people know and can do when they finish an educational experience, and that’s still very hard to get at," said Studley, who's now an independent consultant and national policy adviser for the nonprofit organization Beyond 12. "So many of the metrics that we look at have to be proxies for the basic know and can do: Is your employer satisfied, do you report five years later that you feel prepared for the things you’re called on to do in the workplace, did you pass the licensing test in your field that tests practical knowledge of nursing or engineering? It's very hard to get at that fundamental [question of] where do people learn important things and where do they learn them in ways that have the most effect and significance. That’s still the thing we’re circling around."GlobalEditorial Tags: Federal policyBritainInternational higher educationImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Essex County College hired pop culture commentator and producer Lisa Durden as an adjunct professor of communications, in part for her past appearances on such networks as Fox News. She’d also built a relationship with the college over the years by inviting students to intern with her, assisting on TV and documentary production projects. But it took just one angry phone call about her recent appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight for her to lose teaching job, she says.
“I was publicly lynched,” she said Tuesday about being escorted from her summer-term class earlier this month to a meeting with administrators, who told her she was being suspended and investigated. “They wanted to send a message. ‘See what happened to Lisa Durden? You know it could happen to me.’ Free speech doesn’t matter if you’re a professor, make people mad and you’re in trouble."
Durden says she was told that an unnamed person had called Essex to complain about her comments to Carlson the night before. The complaint surprised Durden because, in her words, she’s a regular commentator on Fox and elsewhere on everything from “Kim Kardashian’s ass to tough issues such as Black Lives Matter.” She’d appeared on a panel at Essex called Radical Women in Media, at the college’s request, earlier this year. And she'd satisfactorily -- to her knowledge -- taught two other courses in the spring term.
Pressed further, officials allegedly told Durden that she’d improperly identified herself on the show as an Essex professor. But Durden didn’t. The clip, in which she argues in favor of the right of Black Lives Matter protesters to claim all-black protest spaces on Memorial Day, includes no reference to Essex by Durden, Carlson or anyone else. In fact, Durden at one point says, "I'm speaking for Lisa Durden."
Durden is outspoken, but her comments aren't necessarily out of the ordinary for her, or for debate segments on cable news these days. When Carlson asked her why it was acceptable to exclude whites from a black gathering, she said, for example, "Boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are just angry you couldn't use your white privilege card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter all-black Memorial Day celebration." (She makes clear that she is not speaking for Black Lives Matter but rather defending supporters' right to hold the event.) Carlson argues that racially exclusive events are hypocritical and calls Durden "disgusting." She argues back that mainstream culture is implicitly exclusive of racial groups on regular basis; the Bachelorette TV show took 11 seasons to cast a black bachelorette, for instance, she says.
Despite not naming Essex during the show, Durden says she’s still being investigated. Someone else has taken over her course. She believes the college is “kowtowing” to a “racist,” publicly unidentified critic, rather than standing up for the free speech rights of a well-liked professor dedicated to working with students from the Newark area.
Many professors appear as commentators across networks, write op-eds or otherwise express their views as private citizens. The American Association of University Professors recognizes their right to do so and says that "professors should be free from institutional censorship or discipline." Yet relevant AAUP policy cautions that "their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution."
Durden, of course, is a not a typical scholar in that she was an outspoken media personality before coming to Essex.
The experience has been eye-opening, she said, as she’s learned the hard way about the lack of due process rights for adjuncts across the country. But this time Essex may learn a lesson, too, she said. “I’m a media person."
Durden and her supporters held a press conference Tuesday, calling for her reinstatement next academic year and for equitable working conditions for all instructors, for example. She and faculty and student allies also attended a Board of Trustees meeting on campus Tuesday evening.
They’ve also circulated a petition that’s gained hundreds of names and attracted national attention. Questioning why a "predominantly black institution" would "effectively fire" Durden, the petition says she is a lifelong Newark resident "who has given her time and expertise generously to the youth of the city. She has provided highly competitive internships in New York media for Essex County College students for a decade. She was recently honored by the city of Newark for her outstanding work in media with women and young people."
Durden has braved "racist death threats from the alt-right movement to speak truth to power on national television," it says. "Why is Essex County College firing a beloved professor for exercising her First Amendment right? In Trump’s America, are black women professors not allowed the right to free speech?"
Essex did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Jeffrey Lee, vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement to NJ.com that the college “promotes a community of unity that is inclusive of all” and that “general counsel has handled this matter in a way that complies with New Jersey state law.” He provided no further details.
A number of Durden's campus colleagues have written letters to the college, expressing support for her.
"For those of us who are involved in advocacy, politics, who may hold opinions which differ from those in different spaces, this kind of thing has a terrible chilling effect,'' wrote Rebecca Williams, an assistant professor of humanities. "As this suspension will become public in the world of academia -- and especially in black public intellectual circles -- it will bring more negative publicity to our institution even as we are trying to move forward with our new president," Anthony Munroe, who was appointed last month.
Jennifer Wager, professor of communications, wrote in another letter that she'd already asked Durden to teach courses in the fall and needed to know if she was returning.
"Durden has done amazing work for Essex County College for over a decade without ever getting paid," she said. "She has secured communications students coveted internships in New York media with top documentary producers and organizations[.] ... I find it shocking that an African-American woman would be so disrespected at her place of employment for merely exercising her First Amendment right to free speech."Editorial Tags: LifePoliticsImage Source: Lisa DurdenImage Caption: Lisa Durden speaking at Essex County College's Radical Women in Media panel in MarchIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Bill Cosby dodged punishment last week in the sexual assault case against him in Pennsylvania. Jurors couldn’t make up their minds whether “America’s dad” had drugged and assaulted a staffer of the Temple University women’s basketball program whom he mentored as a trustee there.
Though many focused on the powerful testimony of Andrea Constand, the team’s former director of operations, the defense from Cosby’s lawyer -- claiming that Cosby and Constand maintained a consensual sexual relationship -- also deserves some scrutiny.
If the two had forged a romantic connection, that’s not illegal, but it certainly breaches ethical lines that an institution’s governing board must preserve, experts and advocacy groups say. Temple has stood by Cosby, noting the lack of legal finding that he assaulted anyone. But the ethical issues raised by Cosby's defense -- let alone what he's accused of -- may raise questions about Temple's continued support of him.
Such a relationship could jeopardize the neutrality of the trustee, said Richard Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. If the other party was a college or university employee, they could influence a board’s agenda, Legon said.
“And the fallout of relationship gone bad, especially in high-profile cases, can create all sorts of problems the institution need not tolerate,” Legon said.
Constand denies romantic involvement with Cosby -- she said she considered him a guide and a friend. But that dynamic shattered in 2004 when Cosby, more than 30 years her senior, invited Constand over to his home, she said, and gave her pills that left her “frozen” while he touched her breasts and genitals and forced her to touch his penis.
The pressures surrounding Constand and her job were quite high, said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a civil rights lawyer and founder of Champion Women, an advocacy group for girls and women in sports, who has closely followed Cosby's case. Constand, who identifies as a lesbian, was in her 30s when Cosby made his advances, and likely many were vying for her position. As is common, she sought a mentor, Hogshead-Makar said.
Wherever there is a power dynamic like the one between Constand and Cosby, there should be a certain level of oversight, Hogshead-Makar said.
"From the standpoint of should we blame her for trusting him, for taking the three pills, should we blame her?" she said, saying that Constand was putting trust in a mentor. "No -- that’s kind of what mentors are expected to do, act on your best interests."
She noted that the federal law protecting against gender discrimination, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, does include all members of a university community, not just the students or employees.
If a governing board member enters a personal relationship with a university employee, they should resign, Legon said. He called any prospective romantic relationship “inappropriate” and said it could result in a hit to an institution’s reputation. In the cases that Legon was privy to, trustees stepped aside if they wanted to continue the relationship. He declined to name the institutions where he knew of such relationships, but said it wasn’t many.
Legon said he was unaware of any policies at individual colleges or universities that forbid personal relationships between employees and trustees. A specific policy addressing this issue may not be necessary, though, he said.
Boards carry a fiduciary responsibility and must hold themselves accountable even in the absence of a formal policy addressing every possible scenario, Legon said. Board bylaws often outline broadly what is deemed acceptable.
Legon saw no harm in adopting a policy around romantic relationships, though he still questioned its usefulness. Still, boards sometimes draft policy in response to a crisis to demonstrate their commitment to fixing certain problems, he said -- the obvious example being the changes prompted by the Pennsylvania State University sex abuse scandal.
“The key takeaway is boards have to monitor, have to oversee, their own behavior,” he said.
Temple -- Cosby’s alma mater -- has not severed ties with the revered comedian, who now has been accused of assault by more than 60 women.
A spokesman, Brandon Lausch, confirmed via email Cosby earned his undergraduate and an honorary degree from Temple. Cosby resigned from the Board of Trustees in December 2014 amid the assault allegations. At least 25 institutions have rescinded their honorary degrees to Cosby, though Temple has not done so.
The university’s policies or trustee bylaws do not mention any conflicts of interest regarding personal relationships between trustees and employees. Lausch wrote in a follow-up email that no such policy exists.
The chairman of Temple’s trustee board, Patrick O’Connor, did not return phone calls to his office. O'Connor represented Cosby when Constand originally sued him for the 2004 episode -- she brought a civil lawsuit that was settled in 2006 after Pennsylvania authorities could not collect sufficient evidence for criminal charges.
Though the jury deadlocked in the current trial, the county's district attorney said he will continue to pursue charges against Cosby.
He did not speak after the judge declared a mistrial.
Cosby was a high-profile donor to Temple, and in addition to his degree, a $3,000 scholarship is named for him and his wife: the Camille and Bill Cosby Scholarship in Science. Lausch in his email refused to discuss Cosby’s donor history, but The Boston Globe has reported he gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to his other alma mater, the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Temple’s Faculty Senate had approved a resolution “condemning” the university’s continued links to Cosby, which also called for officials to recall Cosby’s honorary degree. The Faculty Senate has not discussed Cosby in more than a year, its current president, Michael Sachs, wrote in an email.Editorial Tags: Trustees/regentsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
WASHINGTON -- The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission just happened to be the two agencies whose turn it was to appear before the federal panel on accreditation that met here Tuesday.
It hardly mattered, though, as the discussion before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity had relatively little to do with the two agencies' actual performance or perceived failings (with a couple of exceptions, including how the Southern accreditor responded to academic wrongdoing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
Rather, members of the panel mostly raised systemic issues that reflected the general view that accreditors are not doing enough to push colleges to graduate more students and improve their postgraduation outcomes.
With the Education Department's acting under secretary on Tuesday passing up a chance to signal what the Trump administration's incomplete, interim team of leaders wants to do about higher education quality assurance, the committee's questions are all that tea-leaf watchers have to go on right now in gauging what the executive branch, at least, has in mind for accreditation.
The federal accreditation panel, known as NACIQI (nuh-SEE-kee), has for more than a decade now been a surprisingly important locus of federal higher education policy making. Ever since then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings decided in the mid-2000s to use the process by which the federal government recognizes the peer-governed quality improvement agencies to try to drive change in higher education, the twice-yearly meetings at which NACIQI assesses the performance of accreditors have often signaled the priorities of the powers that be in Washington.
Under President Obama, the panel, echoing an Education Department that contemplated creating a rating system to hold colleges accountable, ramped up pressure on accreditors to assess colleges based on student outcomes, to general dismay from higher education leaders.
The first NACIQI meeting of the Trump era was in February, less than a month after the new president was sworn in, and most of the work had been done by the Obama administration. None of the panel's members (who are on staggered six-year terms, appointed by the executive branch and Congress) are Trump appointees.
Many accreditation watchers looked to Tuesday's meeting as the first that might show some impact from the new administration, which has made noises about deregulating higher education and other sectors. The meeting featured introductory remarks from Jim Manning, the acting under secretary -- but he offered only brief platitudes about the importance of the committee's work for the nation's students and said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos "values this body's collective knowledge."
If colleges and accreditors were hoping that NACIQI members themselves might ride the deregulation wave and pull back, they were disappointed.
The Education Department staff gave the first accreditor up for review, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a clean bill of health and proposed giving it five full years of recognition. But that didn't stop several of the panel's members from raising a series of concerns, echoing several third-party comments and a critique by the Center for American Progress.
Most of the heat came from two members who have been the steadiest critics of accreditors in recent years, Anne D. Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and Simon J. Boehme, a student member of the advisory committee.
Neal blasted the accrediting commission for setting too low a bar for when to give increased scrutiny to colleges with low graduation rates, accusing the agency of setting its own standard far below the average federal graduation rate. Officials from DEAC made the case that she was inappropriately judging its members, most of which have many more part-time and adult students than the full-time, first-time students on which the federal graduation rate is based, triggering a commonly heard discussion in higher education policy circles about the inadequacy of much federal data about student and college outcomes.
Boehme noted that the distance education commission accredited institutions with "among the highest number of complaints" from veterans and military service members. While DEAC officials did not dispute the fact that five of its accredited members had been identified as such by federal agencies, they noted that the actual numbers were not high: "There were two complaints out of 10,183 students with the GI Bill at Columbia Southern [University]," Leah Matthews, the commission's executive director, said in response to Boehme.
The Southern association, the second largest of the regional accrediting agencies, was next up, and several members of the panel (including its chairman, Arthur Keiser of Keiser University) recused themselves because SACS accredits their institutions.
The Education Department staff's assessment of SACS found mostly minor procedural flaws, but committee members (again, mostly Neal and Boehme) pressed much harder.
Listing SACS-accredited institutions with poor graduation rates (echoing a 2015 Wall Street Journal article that called accreditors the watchdogs that “rarely bite”), Neal said she worried that the "federal government is pouring millions of dollars into colleges and universities that are not performing," and that accreditors like SACS may not be a "reliable authority on educational quality." Boehme made much the same point about SACS institutions with poor student loan repayment rates.
Those persistent advocates for accreditors to set firm floors in holding colleges accountable were joined in this line of questioning from a surprising source: John Etchemendy, the former provost at Stanford University, which itself has a history of bristling at efforts by accreditors to hold colleges like it accountable.
Etchemendy, now a member of the federal advisory panel, said he was "on Anne's side on the importance of something like bright lines" on certain metrics. "Perhaps we should be demanding [certain] graduation rates -- not necessarily the same for every institution, but maybe the same for different types of institutions," Etchemendy said. "If an institution is not achieving that, then perhaps the institution needs to work harder with those students to help them get through. We have an obligation not to bring in students who are going to fail."
Members of the audience responded to Etchemendy's comments with various iterations of "Easy for him to say given that Stanford accepts fewer than 5 percent of its applicants."
And several panel members bristled at the idea that setting minimum standards would be a panacea -- if it were even allowed, which it isn't under current law. Not only is there no legal requirement that accreditors set minimum standards, said Ralph S. Wolff, former president of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges' senior college commission, but current law "prohibits accrediting agencies from defining specifically what standards should be."
Wolff said he believed accreditors were dealing with a shifting landscape in which expectations for them were being ramped up while the laws and regulations that govern them lag. "This is an area where the quality of the conversation needs to be moved forward at a greater level of depth than a singular 'bright line,'" he said.
Belle S. Wheelan, the SACS president who is sometimes combative in such settings, said she and other accreditors were increasingly accepting responsibility for student outcomes -- and weren't waiting for the laws and regulations to change.
She noted that SACS and the other regional accrediting agencies agreed late last year to apply special scrutiny to those institutions with low graduation rates. "This is not something on which regional accreditors have focused, but we have begun to wholeheartedly, so that the tax dollars that both you and I pay for students to attend will benefit those students," Wheelan said.Editorial Tags: AccreditationFederal policyIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
After serving 35 years as president of New Jersey’s only university that primarily serves adults, George Pruitt is retiring.
Before becoming Thomas Edison State University's president, Pruitt was the executive vice president of the Council for Adult and Experimental Learning. As one of the longest-sitting college presidents in the country, Pruitt spent decades focused on educating nontraditional students long before many other educators began to focus on the issue.
Pruitt plans to take a one-year sabbatical before serving as a distinguished fellow at Thomas Edison’s John S. Watson School of Public Service and Continuing Studies. He spoke with Inside Higher Ed last week about the state of adult education. This interview has been condensed.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing adult education, and what innovations or new initiatives do you see addressing those challenges?
A: I've seen an entire education movement created around specialty institutions focused on providing high-quality work for a population the traditional sector didn't know how to address. But it hasn't come a long way. Thomas Edison has been doing competency-based education and focused on learning-based outcomes for 40 years, so we have to laugh at the current discussions. The day we opened our doors, we had all of these different methods focused on the needs of adults, and as an innovator, we had to demonstrate the quality of this model. We're obsessive about new metrics. Every student here has earned credit that is valued by a metric or an assessment. But it's trying to mix that into the rest of traditional higher education that was and still is focused on the 18-year-old -- that is the challenge, and trying to get them to acknowledge a new reality and have policies catch up to that new reality.
A lot of the debate in Washington is wrong because adult students are referred to as nontraditional, but the majority of students in the United State are over age 25 and are going part-time. The real nontraditional student is the 18-year-old expected to graduate in four years. Society has not come to grips with the diversity of higher education, and that’s a real challenge.
I’ve spent 35 years at Thomas Edison and more than 40 years in higher education, and it’s true for all that time that fads come in and out of education. Someone writes a book that gets a lot of attention, someone gives a speech that gets a lot of attention or politicians glom on to something they think is sexy. We go through the whole fad or innovation of the month, but the real innovation takes place when people in higher education focus on what are the needs of society and the needs of the learners out there and figure out how to serve those needs. Society is changing, and in some fairly dramatic ways, and public discussion has not caught up.
The last political campaign we talked about manufacturing sector needs and both parties talked about companies going overseas, but if you look at what’s happening to manufacturing, in most areas the jobs haven’t left chasing cheap labor. Automation has changed jobs. Ford is making twice as many cars with half the work force, and they’re better cars because they’ve embraced automation. Anthony Carnevale at Georgetown University found that we have millions of jobs vacant because we can’t find the people with the skill set to fill those jobs. The challenge before the country now is to have an educated citizenry capable of recreating itself and to do that constantly. Even if you go to college for a job, the things you learn as an undergrad are obsolete three years into a job because things are changing. We're in a society now where we have to constantly recreate ourselves, and that means education never ends.
Q: What do you think of public institutions moving more aggressively into the online marketplace?
A: The rest of higher education is discovering what we were doing for 40 years. A lot of it is motivated by diversifying revenues. There’s been a disinvestment in higher education, particularly from states to public institutions, and as the state and federal levels cut back, costs have escalated. Consultants visit universities and talk about diversifying revenues, but those things have been proposed and failing for 25 years. Most are not successful because they misunderstand the whole concept of applied technology to student learning. Online distance education is just one more tool, it’s not a means unto itself, and like any tool, if appropriately applied to the right clientele it can be successful, and if it’s not it will fail.
The strength of Thomas Edison is that we have never been defined by what we do. We define ourselves by who we are, and there’s a big difference. People keep trying to define us as an online university, but that’s not true. It’s one of the things we do, but not who we are. I believe we’re one of the first regionally accredited programs in the United States to offer a degree online. It’s one of the things we do, but it’s not who we are. We have a one-sentence mission: Thomas Edison University was created to provide flexible, high-quality, collegiate learning opportunities for self-directed adults. That’s who we are, and we’re focused on that. We’ve never aspired to be the largest institution of our kind, but the best of our kind. We have to understand that the really good and excellent institutions know what they’re good at and know what to stay away from. The successful institutions of high quality understand and know their mission and focus on being really good and not spreading themselves too thin chasing enrollment or resources.
Q: What do institutions or boards need to do to attract high-quality leaders, and how can institutional leaders better prepare future presidents?
A: I’m going on a one-year sabbatical to get out of the way, because the worst thing I could do to a successor is let the old guy hang around. I’ve seen presidents have a hard time letting it go, and I want to get out of the way to let whoever comes in be free to put their own vision on this place. I was one of the founders of the Millennium Leadership Initiative at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities to help groom the next group of presidents.
I know this is controversial, but I have spoken out against the governance in many colleges and universities in trying to get consensus and buy-in on presidential candidates. Right now the contemporary presidency is like running for office. They parade them on campus and don’t keep it confidential. The kinds of presidents who come through that process are compromised the day they come in, and at the same time many of the transformational leaders you want to attract won’t get near a campus if their candidacy is going to be public. Senior leadership has to be recruited. Once you identify strong, well-qualified leaders and persuade them to take on your institution, they aren't going to do that if their reputation is at risk and their name is going to be in the paper and they’re paraded before university constituency.
I’ve mentored people who have aspired to be presidents and currently serving presidents, particularly young presidents. After my sabbatical, I do want to influence the issues around leadership and preparation.Online LearningEditorial Tags: Adult educationPresidentsImage Caption: George PruittIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Arkansas State University
- Deanna Barymon, diagnostic medical sonography
- Koushik Biswas, physics
- Lisa Bohn, theater
- Ross Carroll, physics
- Jeonghee Choi, teacher education
- Cheryl DuBose, magnetic resonance imaging
- Annette Hux, special education
- Sarah Labovitz, music
- Amanda Lambertus, mathematics education
- Karen R. McDaniel, management
- Larry Morton, social work
- Susan Motts, physical therapy
- Asher Pimpleton-Gray, counseling
- Virginie Rolland, quantitative wildlife ecology
- Stacy Walz, clinical laboratory sciences
- Robert Knight, art
- Chinthaka Kuruwita, mathematics
- Scott MacDonald, art history
- Xavier Tubau, Hispanic studies
Northeastern Illinois University
- Wilfredo Alvarez, communication, media and theater
- Brandon Bisbey, world languages and cultures
- Karen Hand, health, physical education, recreation and athletics
- Francisco Iacobelli, computer science
- Hanna Kim, teacher education
- Brooke Johnson, sociology
- Shayne Pepper, communication, media and theater
- Deepa Pillai, management and marketing
- Joshua Salzmann, history
- Suresh Singh, management and marketing
- Shedeh Tavakoli, counselor education
- Chunwei Xian, accounting, business law and finance
University of Kansas
- Ferhat Akbas, business
- Ryan Altman, medicinal chemistry
- Mazhar Arikan, business
- Peter Bobkowski, journalism and mass communications
- Jody Brook, social welfare
- Hongyi Cai, civil, environmental and architectural engineering
- Hyesun Cho, curriculum and teaching
- Joe Colistra, design
- Jacob Dakon, music
- Elizabeth Esch, American studies
- Germain Halegoua, film and media studies
- Trent Herda, health, sport and exercise science
- Yunfeng Jiang, mathematics
- Michael Kirkendoll, music
- Melinda Leko, special education
- Fengjun Li, electrical engineering and computer science
- Adi Masli, business
- Erik Scott, history
- Shuanglin Shao, mathematics
- Suzanne Shontz, electrical engineering and computer science
- Randy Stotler, geology
- Jason Travers, special education
- Yang Yi, electrical engineering and computer science
- Jiso Yoon, political science
The traditional model for a college president has remarkable staying power.
Despite years of talk about increasing diversity, chatter about interest in hiring from outside academe and buzz about a coming wave of retirements, college and university presidents in 2016 looked much like they did five years before. They still tended to be aging white men. And they kept getting older.
Those are some key takeaways from the latest version of the American College President Study from the American Council on Education, which is being released today. The study, which has been released every few years dating back to 1986, provides a closely watched, comprehensive look at the makeup of the college and university presidential work force.
The newly released study found some small gains in the number of women and minority presidents -- but increases took place at a slow pace that surprised many observers. Women are a majority of all undergraduates in the United States, and the number of minority students is projected to grow considerably in the future. Yet less than a third of college presidents were women in 2016. Less than a fifth were members of a racial or ethnic minority group -- and that low portion is driven up significantly by presidents at minority-serving institutions, who tend to be members of minority groups in greater than average numbers themselves.
Meanwhile, the average president was 61.7 years old, up from 60.7 years old in 2011 and 59.9 years old in 2006. Almost a quarter of presidents, 23.9 percent, had held presidential or chief executive officer positions in their job before their current presidency. That’s up from 19.5 percent in 2011 and above the 21.4 percent reported in 2006.
The data suggest colleges and universities are prioritizing experience when they have to hire a president, according to ACE. But because presidents have historically been white men, the emphasis on experience comes at a cost to hopes of increasing diversity.
“As college and university presidents seem to be chosen as much for their experience as anything else, that is going to narrow the pool,” said Jonathan Gagliardi, associate director of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy. “It will certainly work against diversifying the pipeline in a more expedient fashion.”
Slow to Diversify
Only 30.1 percent of presidencies were held by women in 2016, up from 26.4 percent in 2011 and 23 percent in 2006. The rate of increase has slowed considerably in recent years -- it grew from 9.5 percent in 1986 to 21.1 percent in 2001.
Public institutions had a higher percentage of women presidents than private nonprofit institutions. Almost 33 percent of public colleges and universities had women presidents in 2016, compared to 27.3 percent of private nonprofits. Community colleges were the most likely to have women presidents, with about 36 percent headed by women.
The portion of minority presidents across the board grew to 16.8 percent in 2016, up from 12.6 percent in 2011 and 13.6 percent in 2006. Almost all of the growth came from African-American presidents. The portion of African-American presidents grew to 7.9 percent in 2016 from 5.9 percent five years earlier. The portion of Hispanic presidents stayed roughly steady -- rising to 3.9 percent from 3.8 percent -- as did the portion of American Indian and Alaska Native presidents, which was 0.7 percent in 2016 and 0.8 percent in 2011. The percentage of Asian-American presidents grew slightly, rising to 2.3 percent from 1.5 percent.
Public colleges and universities were more likely to have a minority president than private ones -- public institutions were led by minority presidents 22.3 percent of the time in 2016, while private nonprofit institutions had minority presidents just 10.6 percent of the time.
An important wrinkle is that many minority presidents work at minority-serving institutions. Excluding minority-serving institutions, just 11 percent of all colleges and universities in the ACE survey were headed by minority presidents.
Further, fewer minority-serving institutions were led by minority presidents in 2016. About 36 percent of minority-serving institutions had minority presidents in 2016, compared to 53 percent in 2011.
Slow growth in diversity concerned many experts and former presidents. Alvin Schexnider, a senior fellow with the Association of Governing Boards and a former chancellor of Winston-Salem State University, said the data indicate increases in diversity are unlikely without major efforts.
“Positions are held mainly by white males, and the need to diversify is self-evident,” he said. “I just think that, given the history, that’s going to be a tough climb unless there are some aggressive steps.”
The larger diversity trends obscured some other significant changes. The percentage of Hispanic presidents who were women dropped significantly from 2011 to 2016, falling from 38.7 percent to 21.7 percent. The percentage of white presidents who were women rose from 25.1 percent to 30.1 percent. The portion of African-American presidents who were women held steady at about one-third.
Breaking down growth in minority presidents by institution type shows community colleges posting the largest growth and highest percentage of presidents who were racial or ethnic minorities. Slightly more than 20 percent of community college presidents were minorities in 2016, up from 12.7 percent five years earlier. Doctorate-granting institution presidents were 18 percent minority, up from 12.9 percent. Fifteen percent of presidents at master’s-granting institutions were minorities, up from 12.5 percent, and 14.9 percent of presidents at bachelor’s-degree granting institutions were minorities, up from 11.9 percent.
Other Age Findings
The top-line finding on presidential age also obscures some important developments related to age and tenure. College presidents are getting grayer in large part because of growth in the numbers of the oldest presidents. They are also getting more experienced and staying in jobs for shorter stints.
The increasing average age of college presidents is driven in large part by a sharp increase in the number of presidents over age 70. The portion of presidents age 71 or older jumped to 11 percent in 2016, up from 5 percent in 2011. That came even as the share of presidents older than 60 held steady at 58 percent.
College presidents are also spending less time in each job. The average tenure of a college president in their current job was 6.5 years in 2016, down from seven years in 2011. It was 8.5 years in 2006.
More than half of presidents, 54 percent, said they planned to leave their current presidency in five years or sooner. But just 24 percent said their institution had a presidential succession plan.
“The amount of years that individuals spend as presidents has declined dramatically over the course of the last couple of decades,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. “And so I think this is the clearest signal of the impact on leaders in the face of the dramatic kinds of change we are experiencing in today’s world.”
The trend of hiring presidents from outside higher education took a step back, according to the ACE study. It had grown from 13 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2011, and many boards and search committees have reported interest in hiring from outside the halls of academe. But the share of presidents coming from outside higher education dropped to 15 percent in 2016.
The percentage of presidents who had ever worked outside higher education rose from 47.8 percent in 2011 to 58 percent in 2016. But the percentage who had never been a faculty member fell from 30.4 percent to 18.8 percent. The most popular career pathway for new presidents continued to be through academic administration, as 42.7 percent of presidents said their most recent prior position was as a chief academic officer, provost, dean or other senior executive in academic affairs.
“They’re coveting experience explicitly in higher education,” Gagliardi said. “And I think that’s to be expected given the major funding challenges that many colleges and universities are experiencing and the level of entrenchment they may feel they’re getting from the internal constituents that you kind of need experience to have legitimacy with.”
ACE asked presidents about their top challenges. Their top answer was never having enough money, named by 60.8 percent of presidents. Next was faculty resistance to change, listed by 45 percent, and a lack of time to think, named by 44.1 percent.
Presidents were asked about their top internal constituencies that understood institutional challenges the least. They first named students. Second, they named faculty.
ACE also asked presidents about their top uses of time. Almost two-thirds, 64.9 percent, named budget and financial management as a primary use of time. That was closely followed by fund-raising, cited by 58.1 percent of presidents.
Asked to predict the future of key revenue sources, presidents were most down on government funding and most optimistic about external funding. More than 41 percent said they expected state government funding to decrease in the next five years. Almost 28 percent expected federal government funding to decrease.
A vast majority, 84.7 percent, expected private gifts, grants and contracts to rise. Three-quarters expected tuition and fees to increase. And 63.7 percent anticipated endowment income to increase.
The predictions caught the eyes of some as being overly optimistic.
“I'm particularly struck that, as a group, we think we will see increased revenues from virtually all sources -- tuition, endowments, gifts and grants,” said Kathleen Murray, president of Whitman College, in an email. “I just don't see how that is possible.”
Under 20 percent of presidents said strategic planning was an area of importance for the future. Only 12 percent said using institutional research to inform decision making was an area of importance.
That raised worries that presidents will be jumping from issue to issue without ever addressing the long term.
“Without a clear set of institutional strategic priorities that are informed by data, both financial decisions and fund-raising goals are based on a whim,” said Susan Resneck Pierce, former president of the University of Puget Sound and president of SRP Consulting. “In addition, without a clear set of strategic goals informed by data, the annual operating budget becomes the de facto plan.”
The survey also included some data on the personal lives of presidents and the perks they receive. Most presidents -- 85 percent -- were married. Another 1 percent had domestic partners.
A president’s college or university employed his or her spouse 12 percent of the time. An additional 38 percent of presidential spouses worked outside the institution.
Many presidents, 84 percent, had children. Yet only 22 percent had children under age 18.
Most presidents, 81 percent, said they received a written contract with their job offers. Three-year contracts were most common, reported by 34 percent of presidents -- although three-year terms were also most common among community college presidents. Contracts of five years or more were more common for doctorate-granting, master’s and bachelor’s institutions, as well as special-focus institutions.
Two-thirds or more of all presidents said they received benefits like pension or retirement benefits, an automobile, and life insurance. At least one-third said they received benefits like deferred compensation, an entertainment budget, health and wellness benefits, a presidential residence, memberships to professional associations or social clubs, and merit-based salary increases.
Presidents at private colleges and universities were more likely to receive such perks.
Many saw those benefits as a reminder that the presidency has its advantages, despite being a job filled with pressures.
“While it is surely true that being a college or university president can be a stressful job, it is also true that there is no lack of applicants for every open presidency,” said John Lombardi, former president of the University of Florida and the Louisiana State University System, in an email. “It is also clear, as emphasized in the data here, that at least for those who responded to the survey, the perks of being president are significant and much greater than the perks enjoyed by most of those within the institutions the presidents serve. Presidents are paid well by and large, they have many benefits not available to others in the university community, and while the job is surely difficult, so too are many other jobs within the academic world.”Editorial Tags: College administrationDiversity MattersIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 3Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, June 20, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Email Teaser: The Slowly Diversifying Presidency
Scholar who is popular speaker nationwide ousted from center directorship at Ohio State, amid allegations of misconduct
Terrell Strayhorn made a name for himself by writing about college students, belonging and race. He is a popular speaker at campuses around the country, drawing audiences with his knowledge, charisma and obvious passion for his subject matter.
The combination of expertise and ability to engage with the public eventually won Strayhorn the directorship of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State University, where he was already a professor of higher education. The job, described in part to Strayhorn in a 2014 offer letter as “promoting Ohio State’s leadership in this area” and “contributing to policy proposals that genuinely benefit both students and society,” seemed a great match.
Three years later, Strayhorn is out at Ohio State. Terminated as center director for financial misconduct and managerial concerns, he also resigned from his professorship after being put on indefinite leave in the face of possible disciplinary action.
Strayhorn denies deliberate wrongdoing, attributing any missteps to a lack of training for his administrative role. But the university says his ignorance defense is thin, since he was allegedly warned multiple times to adhere to campus policy.
At the center of Ohio State’s case against Strayhorn is how he handled paid external speaking and consulting jobs -- at least tens of thousands of dollars’ worth, and up to $200,000 within two and a half years, according to university estimates. He was also found by the university to have neglected his professorial duties in using the center’s name to pursue personal gain, and to have engaged in inappropriate conduct concerning a center employee. Complaints about Strayhorn were supported by center staff members who complained of a poor climate, according to university documents obtained through an open-records request.
Strayhorn denies that finding, too, saying that he put his ideals into practice as a center director -- one who traveled frequently and trusted that things were handled well in his absence.
“We operated like a family,” Strayhorn said. “It did take time to get there, but I reject the idea that people did not feel cared for and supported and a sense of collegiality.”
Strayhorn came to Ohio State in 2010 and became its youngest full professor in 2014, helped by such publications as College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students. In 2014, after he started to gain acclaim for his talks on ensuring success for underserved students, Ohio State asked him to lead its three-year-old Center for Higher Education Enterprise on a half-time appointment. The group works to improve academic access, affordability and engagement for all students, toward its lofty stated goal of becoming the nation’s “pre-eminent higher education research center, solving issues of national significance.”
Strayhorn said yes to the four-year gig, agreeing to the following job responsibilities, among others: developing affiliations with academic units on campus in order to become a central think tank for solving higher education challenges; working closely with faculty advisers and others to put strategy proposals in place at the state and national levels; and defining the land-grant tradition in today’s world, “specifically how public universities can be leaders of outreach and engagement efforts that strengthen communities and economies.”
Strayhorn retained his professorship at half time. With the pay for leading the center, he earned a total starting salary of approximately $172,100 in fall 2014, and seemingly performed well through last summer. In awarding Strayhorn a 2 percent raise in August, Michael Boehm, vice provost for academic and strategic planning, included a handwritten note, saying, “Terrell, thanks for your leadership. Mike.”
Then things changed. Strayhorn was notified in the fall that he was the subject of an internal audit, based on administrative concerns about his speaking engagements on behalf of the center and the frequency of his travels. By January, the university says, he’d formally been told not to accept honoraria for center-related activities and to submit business travel requests through a new supervisory channel.
In February, auditors who investigated one year’s worth of travel found that while Strayhorn’s trips were “properly supported and approved,” he routinely accepted honoraria that he did not submit or disclose, including on conflict-of-interest forms -- potentially in violation of university policies and Ohio ethics law. The audit report noted that Strayhorn said he was confused about payment protocols for faculty members versus center directors, and it recommended new oversight measures for center-related travel requests and formalized training for all faculty members moving into administrative roles.
To Strayhorn, the February audit report is the key document in his case, since it found, in his words, that “perceived concern was the result of a misunderstanding.”
“I want to be clear, for the years in which I traveled for invited speaking engagements and received honorarium, all of my travel was properly disclosed though the channels designated and outlined in policy by the university,” he wrote in a follow-up email to Inside Higher Ed. “Each travel request included an attachment of my itinerary and contract for the speaking engagement and the amount of compensation. Not only were the travel and honorarium approved every time I submitted -- it went through a multitiered approval process with as many as four levels of sign-offs.”
A Damning Review
A March administrative follow-up to the audit -- which the university says contextualizes the earlier report and so holds more weight -- is much more damning, however. Noting that center staff reported Strayhorn had removed files from his office and the full audit was thus incomplete, it enumerated more than $51,000 in speaking fees Strayhorn had negotiated and accepted since January alone. That’s after he’d already twice been warned not to accept any more honoraria as center director, according to the university.
Strayhorn, meanwhile, noted he was told not to accept honoraria as a center director. That didn't preclude him from paid speaking engagements altogether, in his view.
“I was not told to stop all speaking at that point,” he said. “I was instructed not to collect honoraria ‘in my role as [center] director,’ which I made clear was not the case. I had been speaking as a faculty member since joining Ohio State in 2010 and the vast majority of my speaking was based on my faculty research,” not center work.
Most sponsoring organizations for talks early this year were other universities and community colleges, though Strayhorn had also agreed on terms with the Higher Learning Commission ($2,500) and Achieving the Dream ($2,500), among others. An email from Strayhorn negotiating payment terms with the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, for example, said, “Typically I receive $7,500 for a full day visit that includes a keynote/campus address, plus 2-3 smaller group sessions … Of course, we have no hard and fast numbers and can always negotiate by adjusting the number of talks/sessions …”
Strayhorn’s executive assistants at the center did much of the legwork in arranging his appearances and affixed the center logo to related memos through February, when Strayhorn took over such duties. A related report says that Strayhorn later established an LLC for his consulting but still provided a center assistant with a credit card bearing the new business’s name, presumably to continue to arrange speaking engagements for him.
As of March, according to the university, Strayhorn hadn’t sought permission for the compensated events or provided any evidence that he declined an honorarium or asked that payments be made to Ohio State. The audit follow-up also says that Strayhorn’s self-identification as center director during paid talks and engagements raises conflict-of-interest policy and ethics law compliance issues. Strayhorn completed required conflict-of-interest training as recently as 2015, the report says, but failed to disclose a $15,000 agreement to consult for EducationPlus, a professional development organization, for example.
Administrators also found that Strayhorn violated the university’s travel policy by not disclosing numerous paid speaking trips within the previous year and by completing trips that had already been rejected by supervisors for various reasons. Strayhorn maintains that he was transparent and thorough in his travel reports to the university.
He was also allegedly away from campus much more than what’s considered appropriate by the university’s external consulting policy of about one day per week. Between January and March, for instance, Strayhorn was off campus for 22 of 42 working days, 19 of which included paid speaking engagements, according to the university follow-up report. Students allegedly noticed and remarked on his absences, which the university said amounted to an apparent “conflict of commitment” to his teaching duties, as well, Ohio documents state.
Strayhorn was terminated as center director the day the audit follow-up was released. He was also placed on indefinite leave and notified that he faced possible disciplinary action as a faculty member. Several university documents show that Strayhorn continued to use his center affiliation in emails even after he was terminated as center director, and was asked to stop.
On May 3, in a short memo, Strayhorn resigned his faculty position.
“At some point in consultation with my attorney and as a man of faith I began to ask myself, ‘Do I spend my time trying to figure out what is behind this?’” he said recently, arguing that he performed his duties the same way for years until something suddenly changed. “I likely will never know the answer, but it’s probably not one single factor, and I have to respond and manage the situation.”
Strayhorn emphasized that his resignation as a faculty member was voluntary, and that ultimately he has nothing but good things to say about his time at Ohio State. Simply, he reiterated, the university told him to stop collecting honoraria as a center director, and he proceeded to collect as he had previously done, in his capacity as a faculty member presenting what was largely his own research.
“Once the interpretation of policy was brought to my attention in a way that would no longer allow for the work I do in speaking with groups around the country from my research in ways that ensure all students to succeed,” he said, “I chose to remove myself from teaching and the work I loved very much at Ohio State to be able to make an impact on a larger scale.”
In resigning, however, Strayhorn signed a release agreement saying he’d pay Ohio State approximately $29,000 as “restitution for issues identified in the course of his employment.” The agreement releases Strayhorn from future causes of action by Ohio State, but the university specifically reserves the right to make “any criminal or ethics law reports, complaints, and shall not be prohibited from cooperating with any related federal, state, local or other governmental agency investigation or proceeding.”
Further, the agreement says, nothing prevents Ohio State from “investigating and taking appropriate action for any allegations of research misconduct or other misconduct relating to or arising out of research” Strayhorn conducted while working on campus. Strayhorn also reserves the right to challenge such charges, according to the document.
Strayhorn did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the release agreement, which the university released soon before publication in response to a follow-up open-records request.
Questions About Leadership
A day after his resignation, the university published one more report pertaining to additional allegations of behavioral misconduct against Strayhorn. An investigation involving interviews with 10 center employees cited consistent reports of favoritism toward one subordinate, a former doctoral student of Strayhorn’s, to the detriment of the office as a whole.
“The witnesses reported feeling fearful of retaliation if they were to be in opposition with [the employee] and, as a result, this caused most of the employees to avoid contact” with both him and Strayhorn, the report reads. Center staff members complained that the two seemed unusually close, sometimes sharing hotel rooms when they traveled together, and that personal conflict between them was apparent and awkward for those around them when it happened.
The university found insufficient evidence to support a prohibited romantic or sexual relationship between Strayhorn and his employee, which they both denied to the investigator. But Ohio State concluded that Strayhorn engaged in inappropriate conduct through the appearance of favoritism and possible conflict of interest related to the student. It also noted that Strayhorn seemed to have placed the subordinate, who has since left the center, in a difficult position with his co-workers.
Strayhorn said he and the former student are great friends and that their relationship says something about his calling as a teacher. So it hurts him to think that his students are most affected by his departure, he said.
“All of them are impacted,” he said. “This just doesn’t seem necessary. Why didn’t they just say, ‘Hey, let’s train you, let’s figure out a new way to do this differently here and there’? … Nothing’s going to stop me from meeting people at a coffee shop or using my research tools or being on committees. Me doing those things was not just about Ohio State -- it’s deeper than a contractual relationship.”
Strayhorn noted that Ohio State actually encourages professors, including those with administrative appointments, to engage in extracurricular consulting via its Faculty Paid External Consulting policy.
“Participation by faculty members [in] activities of government, in industry and in other private institutions generally serves the academic interests of the university,” reads the policy. “As a result of such activities, the people of Ohio benefit from the dissemination of knowledge and technology developed within the university and students benefit from experiences faculty bring to the classroom. Moreover, the professional experience and recognition that such participation brings to the faculty member is shared indirectly by the university.”
Yet the policy also stresses prior approval and says that faculty members should “avoid any conflict or appearance of conflict between consulting and university responsibilities.” The disruption of formal instructional activities because of consulting, in particular, must be avoided. Faculty members also may not use university letterhead in connection with paid external consulting, “nor may they use university facilities and other resources to support consulting” unless permission is obtained and the university is appropriately compensated.
A university spokesperson said that Ohio State had additional concerns about Strayhorn promoting himself as holding an M.S.L. degree in an academic bio and in his promotion process to full professor. Strayhorn had previously been enrolled in a master of law program at Ohio State, he said, but did not finish. Strayhorn did not respond to a request to waive his federal student rights to privacy for Inside Higher Ed to obtain documents related to his departure from the program.
Some of his past speaking bios still online include the law degree, and the university provided additional internal documents suggesting misrepresentation: a screenshot of Strayhorn's credentials from the center website and a CV provided to an external reviewer in the promotions process. Both mention the master's degree with no indication that it was in progress. Strayhorn adamantly denies claims that he misrepresented his credentials, however, saying he always indicated that the law degree was in progress and that any confusion is attributable to staff members or other third parties. He forwarded a CV he said was automatically generated by the university, which listed the M.S.L. under the degrees section.
The university challenged that account and provided a 2014 memo to Strayhorn documenting that he had been asked to address the problem. “As is the case at every other university, at Ohio State all faculty members are individually responsible for the accuracy of their CVs and making sure they don't list degrees that they have not earned,” said Chris Davey, a spokesperson for the university.
As for the alleged financial misconduct, Ohio State does allow professors in some cases to accept preapproved “nominal honoraria” for speaking. But Davey said that Strayhorn’s administrative role “was to be a resource and advocate in higher education policy, and he was out doing that job and receiving supplemental compensation for it. That’s totally impermissible.”
It’s any public employee’s responsibility to know Ohio ethics law, Davey added, and opportunities for administrative training are available. Again, conflict-of-interest training is required of faculty members every four years.
Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary for academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors, said the group doesn’t have a formal policy for or against honoraria but recommends that universities adopt conflict-of-interest policies that require faculty members to disclose such payments if they exceed a certain limit. AAUP cites $5,000 in the context of health fields and generally for consulting contracts, he said.
Keeping Things ‘Clean’
Mary Beth Gasman, the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor of Education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, is a friend of Strayhorn’s and admirer of his scholarly work. She described him as a “highly productive scholar who has championed ideas around sense of belonging on college campuses through his empirical research, articles, books and public lectures.” He is an “excellent speaker” who has mentored many young scholars, especially students of color, she added.
Gasman, who also does some external consulting and public speaking when she has the time, said Strayhorn’s story is an interesting case study but noted that her situation is very different from his. She founded her center while retaining a full-time faculty appointment, for example, and supports the Penn center through grants; it would cease to exist if she could no longer do so, she said.
As a rule, Penn’s center does not charge minority-serving institutions for its programs, but Gasman sometimes accepts honoraria from other kinds of colleges and universities, or does small consulting projects if time permits. Not necessarily because she has to, but to keep things neat, Gasman said she does not run her individual talks through her center and arranges travel and files related paperwork herself.
“Keep in mind that I could easily have my assistant process these items, as all my talks pertain to minority-serving institutions,” she said, “but I choose not to in order to keep a clean line between things I do as a faculty member and things I do for our center.”
Penn encourages professors to share their research with others through talks and consulting, and “understands that the institution benefits from our national exposure,” she said. Yet Penn also communicates that outside work can’t “overshadow our work as a faculty member,” through clear policies.
At the same time, Gasman noted she has crucial experience as an administrator and has worked in fields including fund-raising and nonprofits. So she worries about faculty members with none of that experience leading centers. That’s because the job is “an enormous amount of work if you do it well,” she said. Saying that it can’t just be “a mere extension of your research agenda,” Gasman explained that directors must care for staff, plan, budget and raise funds, plus hire an operations person to understand campus policies, for example.
“Universities need to provide training and help faculty understand what is allowable and what is not,” Gasman added. “These kinds of discussions are not part of faculty on-boarding at most institutions. I have told many faculty to think twice before starting a center given the enormous commitment, and I think the faculty should have to go through some kind of administrative training to ensure that they understand policies.”DiversityFacultyEditorial Tags: College administrationImage Caption: Terrell StrayhornIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The Trump administration’s pick to oversee higher ed policy at the Department of Education is out of the running.
In an email last week, Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, said he was withdrawing his name from consideration for the job of assistant secretary for postsecondary education.
It’s the second time in recent weeks that a candidate for a high-profile role at the department has said “no thanks” to the department deep in the vetting process. And it underscores the slow progress since January in making key political hires to round out Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s team.
Pressnell said in the email to presidents of TICUA member institutions that he and DeVos had discussed since April the possibility of his being appointed to the assistant secretary position by President Trump.
“Whereas it was a great honor to be approached about accepting the appointment, after arduous consideration I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration,” he wrote. “The TICUA Board of Directors very graciously worked with me through this process. This was one of the most difficult decisions of my career, but I am thrilled to continue my work with TICUA.”
Pressnell declined to comment on the email or the reasons for his decision.
The department declined to comment about its hiring efforts. Some well-connected Republicans cautioned that filling senior staff positions doesn’t always happen quickly and said several experienced officials are helping manage the department on an interim basis.
But others have expressed frustration with the slow pace of the personnel moves five months into the administration. And it doesn’t appear that there is a pipeline of other candidates to fill the assistant secretary job or the deputy secretary position turned down by the E&A Industries co-founder Allan Hubbard earlier this month.
“It’s depressing, and they really need to get somebody and get somebody soon,” said Vic Klatt, a principal at the Penn Hill Group and a former education staff member for Republican lawmakers in the House. “Particularly with an upcoming negotiated rule-making process scheduled and the fact that they’re supposed to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this Congress, we need somebody and we need them quickly.”
Kathleen Smith is currently serving as the acting assistant secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education. Smith previously was the higher ed policy adviser for Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate education committee.
Several other recent hires are filling senior roles on an acting basis -- among them, Under Secretary Jim Manning, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Candice Jackson and Jason Botel, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. The under secretary's job is widely expected to be eliminated in the new administration.
The acting designation means those officials won’t immediately require Senate confirmation. But having personnel filling key roles on an acting basis may signal difficulty in filling those roles long term.
Klatt said he knows both Manning and Smith personally and seeing either nominated for Senate confirmation would be “great.”
“If they’re not going to do that, we need to have people filling those roles in permanent positions,” he said.
The department announced last week that it would overhaul two major Obama higher ed regulations via the negotiated rule-making process. The first set of public hearings in the rule-making process is set for next month. That means a department that has been slow to take major policy initiatives in higher ed will likely find itself very busy over the second half of 2017.
Senate confirmation allows officials to have the full authority of the office, Klatt said, but right now officials are in a kind of limbo.
“I don’t think that’s good for anyone,” he said. “I think you get your people in place and charge forward.”
The administration has only nominated one department official, the general counsel pick, Carlos Muniz, for Senate confirmation so far. Many of the roughly 150 political appointments at the department remain vacant entirely.
Every new administration can face challenges filling key positions at federal agencies. But even prominent conservatives have acknowledged the difficulty finding officials with the right combination of credibility and experience who are also willing to work for an administration that is perceived to lack stability and a president who demands personal fealty.
The apparent selection of Pressnell before he removed himself from consideration may signal the kind of person the department is looking for to fill the assistant secretary position.
He’s a widely respected veteran of higher ed who has testified before Congress and provided input to lawmakers and the executive branch as a member of the now-defunct Advisory Committee on Student Financial Aid. The department recently appointed him to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which oversees accreditors.
Pressnell is also from Tennessee, home to Alexander, who as head of the Senate's education committee is widely seen as the most influential higher ed policy maker in the nation's capital right now.
Tennessee is also a state seen by many as a laboratory for experiments in higher ed. Before free college became a major issue in the Democratic presidential primary last year, Republican Governor Bill Haslam pushed a plan to make community college free in the state. This year, the state expanded the program to include adult learners as well.
Private institutions in Tennessee initially reacted skeptically to Haslam’s proposal, but Pressnell was viewed as a deal maker, helping to ensure that students taking advantage of the program would be able to transfer to private colleges to complete four-year degrees.
Jamienne Studley, former under secretary of education under President Obama, served for about two and a half years as under secretary on an acting basis from the point her predecessor resigned early in the president’s second term until the Senate confirmed her replacement.
“That’s different from the very beginning of an administration, not bringing people forward in these high-level jobs,” she said.
Studley, who now works as a consultant and as national policy adviser at Beyond 12, said she was surprised at how few officials in this administration had even been nominated for Senate confirmation.
While career officials have the capacity to handle operational issues, she said political appointees have an important role to play in deciding direction at the department and listening to outside input.
“Not having folks who are in a position to hear external ideas and draw on internal experience and recommendations can be a serious limitation,” Studley said.Editorial Tags: Education DepartmentImage Caption: Claude PressnellIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
When news surfaced recently that Oregon State University’s star baseball player was a convicted sex offender, the local newspaper asked the institution: When did you know?
At age 15, Luke Heimlich molested a 6-year-old girl -- a family member -- The Oregonian unearthed. Heimlich, one of the nation’s top pitchers, hadn’t properly registered his status when he moved from Washington State, and so law enforcement flagged him in public court records, which alerted the paper. Reporters investigated, uncovering Washington court documents.
The baseball coach and athletics director at Oregon refused to comment. The university only released a statement.
Their silence raises concerns among sexual assault prevention advocates, as some have accused college athletes of receiving preferential treatment and being shielded from consequences, even for an offense as severe as sexual assault.
Athletes, particularly at larger, Division I institutions, often are campus pseudocelebrities, and advocates argue that they should not be revered or given special privileges if they committed a sex crime. Federal guidance suggests students should not be barred from an education because of criminal records, but because of their campus positions, athletes are often held to a higher level of scrutiny -- and should be, advocates say.
Obligations for Institutions
Officials are under no obligation to investigate athletes to any particular degree, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association has never issued a blanket mandate to its membership.
Legal experts say institutions rely on all students to be truthful and disclose past indiscretions, and federal law demands they do so for some sex offenses. Running formal background checks would prove pricey and cumbersome -- they’re also imperfect. Crimes committed when the person was a minor, or incidents in other states, could go undetected.
Athletics departments are vetting their recruits, though, at least through conversations with the student’s family and coaches to gauge their personalities and backgrounds when an athlete is interested in a program. The purpose is not necessarily to check for a criminal record. In some cases, a quick internet search could reveal a criminal past, particularly with high-profile students.
Most court orders for sex crimes force the offender to inform law enforcement where they’ll be living. The 2000 federal Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act also requires those sex offenders, both prospective employees and students, who were already supposed to register with the state to tell an institution of their conviction. Colleges must also publicize where students can find information about registered sex offenders on campus.
An institution’s responsibility is to ask about convictions and adjust to ensure the student complies with the stipulations of the court order, said Scott Lewis, a lawyer and partner at the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management Group, which advises colleges on legal matters.
Some courts have forbidden an offender from being within a certain number of feet of a minor or a school or day care, and so in that case, a college would need to accommodate the order if, for instance, a younger student was enrolled in the same class, Lewis said.
That can grow more complex for athletes who may travel for games -- again, the college must ensure that any court restrictions aren’t violated, Lewis said.
Though many coaches and administrators take time to learn about their players, there’s an incentive for them to stay oblivious to prior sex offenses, said Laura Dunn, founder and executive director of SurvJustice, a nonprofit dedicated to sexual assault prevention.
The standard for being found liable under the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law prohibiting gender discrimination, is actual knowledge of events. Thus, an institution could theoretically claim ignorance and escape punishment if it is accused of violating Title IX, Dunn said.
“Unfortunately what we assume is true -- that institutions care about their students and care about safety -- is actually not always true. Intentionally not caring keeps you from being sued. It’s an outrageous kind of circumstance,” Dunn said.
For athletic officials to purposefully avoid questions about sexual assault would be odd, since typically they want to know about other potential barriers with their athletes, like a learning disability or drug use, Lewis said. He said it is “bad faith showing” if colleges dodge their duties.
Often, athletes are showered with free gear and meals and perks like special classes, workout areas and tutoring, Dunn said. A former athlete herself, Dunn was sexually assaulted during her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Once someone has finished jail time or their sentence, they should be allowed to reintegrate back into society and attend a college, but be banned from its sports team, which Dunn called a “privilege.”
“The university is elevating you,” she said.
Universities are not legally obligated to publicly make statements regarding sex offenders, particularly considering that they could run afoul of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, said Joseph Storch, associate counsel in the office of the State University of New York’s general counsel.
Oregon State, in its statement about the situation, did not name Heimlich but referenced news coverage of his offense. At his request, Heimlich did not pitch in a recent game against Vanderbilt University, but he remains on the team. Once considered a top pick for Major League Baseball, he has so far not been drafted.
The statement calls the Oregonian account of the crime “disturbing.” It states that when a student is a registered sex offender, the student affairs and public safety offices meet with them to “mitigate risks.”
“I want to make clear that each day the safety and security of our students at Oregon State University is our No. 1 priority. Our policies and procedures provide a safe learning environment for our community and seek to ensure that all prospective and current students are treated fairly and equitably,” Oregon State President Ed Ray said in the statement.
The statement did not mention if or when the university learned of Heimlich’s conviction.
“My philosophy,” said Matt Gregory, the dean of students at Texas Tech University, “is what did you know, when did you know about it and what did you do with it? That’s how to handle it properly.” Gregory served as a conduct officer for most of his career and participated in a Southeastern Conference work group that examined the rules for athletes who had committed sexual assault.
Gregory said he would always welcome public records requests about an incident to ensure his institution was operating “above board.”
No one in a student conduct office would want to show favoritism to athletes, Gregory said. He said he wanted to separate students from their campus affiliations, like student government or athletics, and focus only on behavioral infractions.
“I see them as my students,” Gregory said.
The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance indicating that universities should try to reduce the scope of questions on criminal background. A 2016 report details the disproportionate rate at which people of color are convicted and points out that an institution could unintentionally discriminate by barring anyone with a criminal history.
The report notes that criminal background checks are never comprehensive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation maintains a records repository, but it is drastically incomplete. States do not always publish such information digitally, either.
"It’s complicated -- there’s no … perfect product off the shelf for background checks,” Storch said.
There have been efforts to both remove barriers for offenders and make institutions more vigilant of their status.
SUNY will no longer ask about felony convictions on its admission applications, but it’s not quite in the mold of the “ban the box” movement. Instead, some are calling it “moving the box,” because SUNY will still inquire about convictions if a student wants to live on campus or participate in certain internship or clinical programs, said Storch.
Storch helped advocate for a new comprehensive campus safety law In New York. In part, it forces institutions to note on transcripts if students committed violations that would also count as certain crimes under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, and was suspended, expelled or has a punishment pending against them.
The violation is not described on the transcript, a deliberate choice, Storch said, because it forces the institution to find out more information from the college where a student transferred from.
Institutions across the country are supposed to alert another college if a student is found guilty of sexual misconduct and attempts to transfer out, Lewis said. He advises his clients to note any pending investigations against students.
“My athletics clients ask, some coaches ask -- ‘Do I have to call that school?’ No one wants to be the bearer of bad news,” Lewis said.
The Southeastern Conference no longer allows its member institutions to accept transfer athletes with a history of violent acts, including sexual assault. Gregory, of Texas Tech, served on the SEC work group that proposed the rule change and said all the representatives agreed that this was a part of institutions doing their due diligence.
But the NCAA hasn’t issued any associationwide decrees regarding vetting of athletes.
An NCAA spokeswoman, Gail Dent, referred Inside Higher Ed to the association’s sexual violence prevention guidance. She advised a reporter to talk with individual institutions about their policies.
The NCAA was already disinclined to act on sexual violence policies, but under President Obama, it was pressured to do so, said Dunn of SurvJustice. Less incentive exists under the new administration, Dunn said.
Only institutions like Baylor University and Pennsylvania State University, both of which have been rocked by sexual assault scandals, have any motivation to reform, she said.
Athletes modeling positive behavior and education can combat sexual crimes, Storch said. SUNY athletes participated in the Yards for Yeardley program, named for Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player who was killed by her ex-boyfriend just weeks before she was due to graduate in 2010. Sports teams are charged with running one million yards in a 30-day span while promoting information about relationship violence and the One Love Foundation, which runs the yards program.
“Progress may come from athletes, too,” Storch said.Image Caption: Luke HeimlichIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
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