Higher Education News

Trump administration civil rights officials promise colleges fairer regulatory approach

Inside HigherEd - 8 hours 15 min ago

CHICAGO -- Candice Jackson and Thomas E. Wheeler Jr. received modest applause when the head of the National Association of College and University Attorneys introduced them to the roughly 1,700 lawyers attending the group's annual meeting here Tuesday afternoon.

Seventy-five minutes later, the two top Trump administration officials overseeing civil rights enforcement for higher education were treated to a warm, even grateful, ovation. That's because in between, Jackson and Wheeler told the crowd of higher education lawyers much of what they wanted to hear.

The basic message: we’re the government and, unlike our predecessors in the Obama administration, we’re here to help.

Jackson, the acting assistant education secretary for civil rights, and Wheeler, the acting assistant attorney general overseeing the U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division, won the crowd over by rather artfully walking a tightrope that administration officials -- and many college leaders -- appear to be on when it comes to certain aspects of higher education regulation, particularly those related to the treatment of students.

Many college and university officials felt overregulated by the Obama administration, and have expressed interest in seeing that oversight eased. But few if any college administrators can afford to be seen as advocating for more latitude that might appear to come at the expense of their students -- in the form, say, of less protection for students from sexual assault, which they would roundly oppose.

So the question many of the lawyers at the NACUA conference were asking was what signals the Trump administration’s new civil rights officials would send about how to balance regulatory relief and continued, vigorous enforcement. While Wheeler and especially Jackson made clear that they have had multiple meetings with higher education groups in recent weeks, these were their first public comments to a college group, and were therefore much anticipated.

Jackson and Wheeler said unequivocally that they were fully committed to upholding federal civil rights laws. "Before we talk about the things that are changing in OCR, it's important to highlight the things about OCR’s role that won’t change. We're charged by Congress with a specific mission: to enforce the civil rights guaranteed to our nation’s students by certain civil rights laws, and we are fulfilling that charge," Jackson said.

"For those in the press and my friends with other political perspectives who have been expressing fear that … OCR is scaling back or retreating from civil rights, that's just not the case," she added. (Democratic lawmakers and advocates for sexual assault victims have accused the department of pulling back enforcement with recent changes that direct OCR employees not to automatically look for systemic patterns when investigating individual complaints, and were concerned by the Justice Department's February withdrawal of guidelines that specifically protect transgender students from discrimination and ensure that they have access to the bathrooms and other facilities of their choice.)

What will change, she and Wheeler both said, is how the Trump administration will go about fulfilling that charge -- less confrontationally and more cooperatively than how the Obama administration did. "We will reorient ourselves at OCR as a neutral, impartial investigative agency," Jackson said.

"We feel as an administration, and particularly Candice and I feel, that it is very, very important to adopt these positions, work these issues through in a collaborative approach with the people out there in the field," Wheeler said to growing applause.

Both of them offered pointed criticism of how their predecessors had dealt with colleges and universities.

"OCR has fallen into a pattern and practice of overreaching, of setting out to punish and embarrass institutions rather than appreciate their good faith and genuine desire to correct legitimate civil rights problems," Jackson said.

She pointedly accused the Obama administration's civil rights office of taking a "gotcha" approach to enforcing civil rights laws, of approaching "every complaint as a fishing expedition through which our field investigators have been told to keep searching until you find a violation rather than go where the evidence takes them."

That expansive approach, combined with OCR leaders' disinclination to let investigators in the agency's regional offices exercise their judgment, Jackson and Wheeler argued, created a huge backlog of cases, keeping colleges -- and the students who brought the complaints as well as those accused -- in limbo for "months if not years."

"I've heard from activists on all sides that they no longer recommend going to OCR because the long investigations mean that an OCR complaint is virtually worthless in terms of actually correcting a violation for a complainant," Jackson said, repeating several times: "Justice delayed is justice denied."

And all the while, much to colleges' chagrin, the Obama administration's OCR regularly published lists of institutions that had been accused of -- but not yet found to have committed -- civil rights violations, Jackson said.

She called that the "list of shame," and said that "our job at OCR is to do our job; our job isn’t to threaten, punish or facilitate drawing media or public attention" to the parties it regulates. She suggested that the publication of the lists is "high up on that list of things that will soon be addressed as the agency reconsiders various regulatory efforts as part of President Trump's administrationwide regulatory review.

Jackson and Wheeler did not take questions directly from the audience. Instead, NACUA's chief executive officer, Kathleen Santora, asked a series of questions she said had been culled from the association's members.

Most of them were aimed at teasing out what Wheeler and Jackson have in store going forward. Among the issues they addressed:

  • Jackson said that OCR is "committed to discontinuing the legally dubious practice of issuing subregulatory guidance that is then treated through enforcement as binding mandates," and that OCR would no longer impose new regulatory requirements without going through negotiated rule making or other "mandated procedures."
  • She stopped short of vowing to withdraw the most contentious recent guidance, the 2011 Dear Colleague letter regarding Title IX and sexual assault, though Jackson suggested that the agency might engage in negotiated rule making to do "what should have been done the first time around": seek input from a variety of parties to decide on a fair system for all parties.
  • Jackson was also noncommittal about whether the agency would reconsider the standard of proof that colleges must meet in their sexual misconduct disciplinary proceedings. The 2011 letter was seen as requiring colleges to meet only a "preponderance of evidence" standard instead of a more stringent "clear and convincing" evidence approach, and many Republican lawmakers have argued that the federal government should not be setting a uniform standard. "It is unavoidable that OCR will take a position," she said, and "whether or not the end result will be that the federal government mandates that particular standard of proof is actively under consideration."
  • Jackson said that the agency would open up more ways to adjudicate sexual misconduct and other civil rights cases, including making use of "early complaint resolution" processes for sexual violence and racial discrimination cases.
  • Wheeler and Jackson both insisted that, despite criticism to the contrary, the Trump administration fully intends to defend the civil rights of transgender students. "There is no doubt that [transgender students] are protected" by existing federal civil rights laws, Wheeler said. The withdrawal of the Obama administration's 2016 guidance requiring educational institutions to make their facilities available to transgender students "does not leave those students without [civil rights] protection."
  • Wheeler, citing Justice Department policy, said he could not say much about the status of federal guidance on web accessibility, which led the University of California, Berkeley, to pull video content from the public domain, citing the costs of complying with the new rule. He did say, however, that the Trump administration's regulatory review could subject rules and regulations to a cost-benefit analysis, and that that could imperil the web-accessibility standard. "We get it -- there's a tremendous burden," he said. "That’s money that ought to be spent on students."

Reactions From the Crowd (and Beyond)

Catherine Lhamon, who headed the Office for Civil Rights during the Obama administration's second term, was not in the audience at the NACUA conference (she did speak there several years ago, and was roundly booed). But Wheeler singled her out for criticism by name on one occasion, and many of the criticisms that he and Jackson leveled at OCR were aimed at her.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, she disputed Jackson's assertion that OCR was "fishing" when it looked at an institution's history when investigating individual complaints. "OCR's charge from Congress is that it must act whenever it has information that civil rights may be violated, and if one student has been harmed, it's incumbent on OCR to look to see if there's another student who is similarly situated," she said.

She also disputed Jackson's statement that the Obama-era guidance on Title IX and other matters made new law or exceeded the agency's authority. And she said that her successors would be "abdicating the role of OCR" if they stopped issuing subregulatory guidance when questions arise about what a particular law does or doesn't do or say.

"If OCR does not tell students and the regulatory community how they’ll apply the law, then they’re playing gotcha with students’ lives," said Lhamon, who is now chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Of those in attendance Tuesday afternoon, the reaction to Jackson and Wheeler seemed largely favorable.

Scott Roberts, a lawyer for Hirsch Roberts Weinstein who represents numerous colleges on Title IX and other issues, said he was heartened by a lot of what Jackson said.

He said her comments "indicated that her office will start from the premise that institutions of higher education have long had a commitment to the protection of civil rights, and that OCR is looking to work with colleges and universities in a cooperative and proactive manner to address issues that may arise.

"I appreciated her perspective that OCR will act as a neutral, impartial investigator, not as a prosecutor of presumed wrongdoing," he added, a sentiment shared by many in the crowd.

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University of Louisville pursues different strategies for different scandals

Inside HigherEd - 8 hours 15 min ago

When the University of Louisville responded to a June 8 report detailing millions of dollars in unbudgeted spending, unapproved activities and endowment losses at its foundation, leaders made no attempt to defend what had gone on and pledged themselves to transparency.

A week later, the university found itself responding to more critical news. The National Collegiate Athletic Association issued sanctions against Louisville stemming from the case of a former men’s basketball employee who was found to have arranged for strippers and prostitutes to provide dances or sex acts for 17 recruits and student athletes as well as some of their associates over a four-year period -- when some of the recruits were minors. But officials weren’t quite so contrite.

They acknowledged the events shouldn’t have happened. But they pointed out the university had already imposed penalties on itself. They quickly pledged to appeal additional NCAA penalties that they considered excessive.

“Not only is it unjust, unfair, over-the-top severe, but I’ve personally lost a lot of faith in the NCAA and everything I’ve stood for in the last 35 years with what they just did,” said Rick Pitino, the university’s head men’s basketball coach, in a press conference immediately after the NCAA penalties were handed down.

The difference in tone was hard to miss. Louisville faculty members certainly took note.

“The disconnect or the disparity between the two responses was something that a lot of people noticed right off the bat,” said Susan Jarosi, an associate professor of art history and visual studies who is the president of the American Association of University Professors chapter at the University of Louisville.

“It’s really frustrating, I think, for the faculty,” Jarosi said. “If people really are concerned about restoring the reputation of the university, comprehensively restore it. Appealing these sanctions isn’t going to help. It’s just going to drag it out.”

To some, Louisville seems to be taking its medicine in the foundation case while belligerently fighting against its prescription in the men’s basketball case -- promising to fix its financial improprieties while refusing to take full punishment for its moral transgressions. But it’s important to note that the details of the two situations are significantly different.

Putting aside moral judgments, examining those details shows the university has several incentives that could be driving its seemingly disparate responses. Different power dynamics are at play regarding the foundation and men’s basketball, as university trustees and administrators have largely turned over since the foundation issues took place, while the athletic department and men’s basketball program are headed by longtime leaders in Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville may also have more money at stake in the resolution of the men’s basketball crisis than in how it fixes its foundation. And while many may cringe at the details of the cases and the optics involved in fighting athletic sanctions in a case involving prostitution, management experts say the athletic department might have calculated that the upside outweighs the risk from a public relations standpoint.

Before fully exploring all of those dynamics, though, it’s important to examine the two situations and where they stand today. The University of Louisville Foundation’s operations have for some time been the subject of scrutiny, including how much it paid top leaders. Although technically a separate legal entity, the foundation was led by longtime university president James Ramsey.

Ramsey stepped down as president of the university and its foundation last year under pressure from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin. The governor also drove an overhaul of the university’s Board of Trustees, and the foundation’s board has been revamped as well.

Still, several reports have detailed issues during Ramsey’s tenures. A state auditor’s report released in December listed problems including ineffective governance at the university and its foundation stemming from indistinguishable administrative operations. It also found an environment of distrust between board members at the two entities and above-contract compensation for Ramsey.

Then this month a university-commissioned report found a host of additional issues. That report’s findings include that the foundation loaned money without board approval, that it overstated endowment pool market values, that it spent far more than called for under its endowment’s policy, that it purchased properties for athletics and that it spent large sums of money on athletic association employees. The report also examined a deferred compensation plan that cost the foundation nearly $22 million between 2005 and 2016. Officials worked to conceal the details of that plan from open-records requests, the report said.

When the university-commissioned report came out, the university board chair released a statement saying that the board was reviewing policies and procedures and would consider if it should take legal action in the future. The university’s president, Greg Postel, issued a statement pointing out that the report showed activity happening under a previous administration and foundation board.

“As I have said since I took this position in January, I am committed to being transparent and to operating above board,” Postel said. “I also am committed -- and I think our recent actions confirm this -- to returning this university to solid financial footing. The steps we are currently taking will position us well for the future.”

Since then, the university has fired Ramsey’s former chief of staff, Kathleen Smith, who was a key figure in the June report and who had been on paid administrative leave since September. (Smith’s attorney has denied wrongdoing and called her the “fall girl.”) The university also decided to pay $200,000 to the firm that produced the report in order to answer additional questions. It paid $1.7 million for the original review.

A Tell-All Book

The men’s basketball scandal has also been brewing for years. It became public in 2015, when a book written by an escort alleged former men’s basketball staff member Andre McGee paid women to dance for players and recruits and have sex with them in a dormitory. The university went on to penalize itself, self-imposing a postseason ban on its men’s basketball team in 2016.

That ban wasn’t enough for the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions, which placed the university on probation for four years, reduced the number of scholarships the men’s basketball team can offer, suspended Pitino for five conference games and put in place some recruiting restrictions. More notably, the NCAA declared players who took part in the acts in question ineligible, calling on Louisville to vacate wins between December 2010 and July 2014. More than 100 games and the university’s 2013 men’s basketball title could be vacated.

The NCAA also penalized Louisville $5,000 and called on it to pay back money received from conference revenue sharing related to the 2012-2015 men’s basketball tournaments, which could amount to millions of dollars.

The NCAA issued a decision describing 10 different occasions when McGee, the former director of men’s basketball operations, arranged for one or more sex workers to visit a residence hall when recruiting prospects were staying there, where the women “performed sex acts on and/or with prospects, an enrolled student athlete and a prospect’s friend.” At least seven of those prospects were under the age of 18 at the time. Twice, the former director of men’s basketball operations arranged for prostitutes to have sex at local hotels with basketball coaches of prospects Louisville was recruiting, the report said. Some prospects were surprised and uncomfortable and declined sex, the report said.

Pitino has denied knowing about the events and said he was unaware of what happened in the residence hall between 10 p.m. and the following morning. But the NCAA found that the head coach failed his responsibility to monitor the activities of his former operations director. NCAA bylaws create the presumption that head coaches are responsible for the actions of their subordinates, the group’s Division I Committee on Infractions wrote.

Postel’s statement after the NCAA penalties were announced said that the university was “saddened” by what took place. He went on to point out that the university penalized itself and said the NCAA had gone beyond what Louisville considered to be fair and reasonable.

“The person responsible for these activities, Andre McGee, long ago left the university, and he has yet to cooperate with investigating officials,” the statement said. “In contrast, [Louisville] did cooperate. We wanted the NCAA enforcement staff to uncover what happened. We have been open and transparent throughout this process.”

On Wednesday, Kentucky Sports Radio reported on a letter Pitino sent to supporters urging them to “keep their spirits high.” Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban took away a chance for an experienced and highly ranked team to win a national championship, Pitino wrote. He went on to attack the NCAA’s process.

“I was told during the process that I didn’t ask pointed questions,” the letter said. “Well what does that mean exactly? I asked our staff if the recruits enjoyed themselves. What did they do? How did they like everything? I then met with their families for breakfast and asked the same questions. No, I did not ask the staff if they saw any strippers last night. I can assure you that if I asked Andre any difficult question, he would have lied to my face to avoid immediate termination.”

Pitino went on to write that he is not concerned about the “outside world and what they think.”

Asked whether administrators were available for interview on the difference in reactions to the foundation and men’s basketball reports, a university spokesman referred to the official statements released by Postel and university board chair J. David Grissom. Kenny Klein, an athletics department spokesman, said in an email that the athletics department has chosen to appeal the NCAA’s ruling because it believes its penalties to be excessive.

Klein declined to address which wins Louisville would have to vacate or how much money it would have to pay back if the university’s appeal is not successful. No one has been fired since the NCAA sanctions were handed down, he said.

Some see the situation as highlighting the contrast between expectations and responsibility in the worlds of university finance and athletics.

Looking the other way in athletics has become second nature, said Charles Clotfelter, a professor of public policy studies at Duke University who studies college athletics. Clotfelter spoke generally about college athletics.

“In the case of commercial sports, it’s just become truly unexceptionable,” he said. “In that world, it’s like there are no standards of truthfulness or consistency that there would be in the world of finance and the running of foundations.”

Still, there is a financial bottom line for Louisville’s men’s basketball team. It is substantial, and it represents real value the university could lose if its program takes a hit.

Louisville’s men’s basketball team brought in $45.6 million in revenue in 2015-16, according to statistics collected by the federal government. Its expenses totaled $17.9 million. It was a major part of the university’s athletic department turning a $2.8 million surplus on $112.1 million in revenue.

It’s a substantial amount of money on the line, even when compared to the university’s foundation, which manages a quickly dwindling endowment. The endowment’s value declined from $844.3 million to $715.7 million between 2015 and 2015.

That endowment faces further pressure because of the foundation’s troubles. The university-commissioned report on the foundation said restricted endowment programs were underwater -- had a market value below the size of initial gifts -- by $23.7 million as of the end of June 2016. In April the foundation said pledged gifts dropped by $32 million in a nine-month period, driven in large part by a $20 million one-time gift. Additionally, one foundation arm owes $9.8 million to the university.

Still, key stakeholders like board members and donors might view the two situations differently. The basketball program might be seen as a revenue generator that needs to be protected from the NCAA, an outside body, said Simon Barker, managing partner of Blue Moon Consulting Group, a reputational risk management and crisis consulting firm with a focus area in higher education. In contrast, the foundation might be seen as an organization that has been hurt by a lack of financial controls that could scare away donors.

Aggressively fighting the NCAA sanctions does not fit with the classic public relations playbook, Barker said. It’s likely to keep the issue in the news cycle, rather than minimizing the amount of coverage it receives.

But some leaders in the athletic department and university may simply support Pitino, Barker said.

“It doesn’t feel like they have a strong hand to play, yet they’re being quite aggressive in their defense,” Barker said. “I think they’re really trying to protect, most likely, certain hard-core board members and probably people who genuinely think Pitino has done a good job for the program and is getting a bad deal.”

Additionally, the university has already received a large amount of negative press coverage tied to the issue. Leaders probably weighed the likelihood that they would tarnish their image further with an aggressive appeal against the likelihood that such an appeal could be successful.

“They probably feel they have nothing to lose,” Barker said. “Knowing how passionate board members are, and sometimes the community is, and alumni are about these sports that define their college, I can see it happening. ‘What have we got to lose? Let’s go out and defend it.’”

It raises the question of how much the institutional culture has actually changed, even with board and presidential turnover. Faculty members are certainly wondering.

The answer isn’t clear when it comes to most university operations, according Jarosi, the professor and AAUP chapter president. But it doesn’t seem to have changed when it comes to athletics, she said.

“You’re under this kind of scrutiny and you’re trying to say the new paradigm for how we operate at U of L is transparency and openness and oversight,” Jarosi said. “It went out the window.”

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Books on race, social justice issues dominate selections for summer reading for freshmen

Inside HigherEd - 8 hours 15 min ago

As summer gets underway, books centering on racial and social issues are again popping up on incoming-freshman reading lists at colleges across the country. Although it might be easy to correlate that trend with the presidential election -- and the heightened racial and social tensions seen during and since -- books focusing on those areas have been popular with many colleges for a few years now. In what may be a shift, however, working-class and rural white people are the focus of a book that has been assigned by several colleges, J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, as well as The Other Wes Moore, by Wes Moore, saw popularity at colleges in 2015, as relations between African American civilians and police were thrust into the national spotlight after the deaths of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, in New York, among others. Those books are still being assigned this year. Incoming students at Northeastern University will be reading Just Mercy this summer, as will students at Goucher College, in Baltimore, and at Ohio State University. The Other Wes Moore was assigned at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as well as Virginia Tech and University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Freshman book assignments vary by college. Many institutions assign one book, hoping for a common intellectual experience for new students. Others, such as the University of California, Berkeley, put together a large list for students to pick through. (This year's selection ranges from the cast recording of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton to Disposable People, which investigates modern slavery.)

“We want to tackle issues of community and also engage students at the point of … making choices and defining who they are,” said Jonathan Wynn, one of two co-chairs of the book selection committee at UMass, about The Other Wes Moore, a nonfiction book which tells the story of two black boys growing up in Baltimore, both named Wes Moore, who experience very different outcomes in life. “Being in the political and cultural climate that we’re in, it’s important to note there are significant barriers to the success of the individual.”

The trend isn’t necessarily limited by geography, or whether a college is private or public. Students at the University of South Alabama will read The Complete Maus, a graphic novel on the Holocaust, while students at the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, will read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Writings on the Wall. At California State University at Northridge, this year’s book is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes about the intersection of race and culture for The Atlantic.

Not in a Vacuum, but Not Politically Motivated

While Wynn said that The Other Wes Moore can be fitting for modern political and social issues, the book -- which made its way through a campuswide recommendation period and then through the committee’s multiple selection rounds -- “isn’t explicitly political,” nor was it chosen for political purposes.

“The common read [program] is engaged with those wider conversations. Do we sit in a room and we say, ‘How can we address this issue?’ No,” he said.

“In this era, it just feels like everything is politically charged. I don’t know how we could not” be politically relevant, he added.

At the University of Nebraska at Omaha, officials also said that, while the committee choosing the books doesn’t live in a vacuum, The Other Wes Moore was chosen on merits outside its possible application to today’s political climate.

“Really, no,” Lucy Morrison, director of the university honors program, said in an email. “We are not oblivious, as a committee, to those elements of the text, but the emphasis Moore places upon education and mentoring are really what the committee found important.”

Cheryl Spector, director of academic first-year experiences at Cal State Northridge, where Between the World and Me was assigned, said that outside factors could have played a part in the book’s selection, but no more so than they would in any year. Ultimately, she said, the selection committee sticks to its criteria, which include questions such as “Does this book engage freshmen and draw them into reading and reflection?” and “Does this book address significant issues?”

“It’s certainly true we have a diversity of political positions on the selection committee,” Spector said. “I think the sort of drumbeat of news stories of young black men being shot gave this book a heightened urgency for anyone who was reading it on the selection committee. We are in California, in Los Angeles -- I’m personally glad to have a book that seems unafraid to ask questions.”

Morrison and Spector both said that their institutions’ books were chosen for their ability to get incoming freshman reflecting and thinking critically, regardless of those students’ political views.

“We want [students] to look back on how they have arrived at UNO and what choices they have made have brought them to this point,” Morrison said. “Then we want to help them consider what will be required to take that next step, including making good choices and seizing new possibilities.”

Conservative Pushback

This focus on social and racial issues, however, has drawn criticism from those who advocate for more a traditional curriculum, such as the National Association of Scholars. The group bemoaned the lack of classics, and in a 2014-16 trend report on summer readings called the majority of books assigned “recent, trendy and intellectually unchallenging,” containing “progressive political themes -- illegal immigrants contribute positively to America, the natural environment must be saved immediately.”

That critical attitude is “not dissimilar to [attitudes held by] some of my colleagues,” Spector said, although she defended the assigning of modern books over classics.

“I empathize with the hesitation [of colleges] to enter into it and make a political stand,” Wynn said of freshman reading assignments, although he also said that the committee has chosen more explicitly political books in the past. “It gives me pause that the common read is deemed a political tool.”

“The common read is such as powerful tool to get the conversation going,” he said.

Many of those involved with summer reading programs also say the NAS critique seems to view these books as part of a formal curriculum, whereas summer reading advocates say they elevate the intellectual content of orientation, rather than replacing the curriculum on a given campus.

At Wooster, where Abdul-Jabbar’s Writings on the Wall was assigned, the college was aiming to be relevant for incoming freshmen, but not to push a political agenda, said Hank Kreuzman, an associate professor philosophy and dean for curriculum and academic engagement. As far as the book’s recency, part of Wooster’s selection criteria -- as at other institutions -- is whether the author of the book will be available to speak at the campus and engage with the students.

Abdul-Jabbar “is all in on the American dream and the U.S. Constitution,” Kreuzman said. “At the same time, he’s willing to say we haven’t achieved it yet, and we need to make ourselves better. It’s not a critique of the U.S., but saying, ‘This is what I really believe in, and we can continue to improve.’”

“In today’s political climate, it’s either you’re for us or against us. It’s a lot of polarizing talk.”

Hillbilly Elegy

At least one popular assignment this year, however, while recent and trendy, focuses on a population that proved crucial for conservatives in the 2016 election. Viewed by many as a window into the lives of rural voters and working-class whites, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy became a New York Times best-seller, driven in part by those reading it in an attempt to understand President Trump’s base. At least seven institutions -- including Augustana College, Bowling Green State University, Flagler College, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison -- have assigned the book or put it on a larger suggested reading list for incoming freshmen. Students reading it will attend institutions in locations as disparate as Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio -- a half hour away from where Vance grew up -- and UC Berkeley (where it is optional), located in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988.

“There’s some recognition that it is not an easy book, and it is not a book where everybody is going to read it and say, ‘I completely agree with what’s going on there,’” said Rich Taylor, director of Miami’s office of liberal education.

Despite the book’s popularity among opinion columnists and political pundits, however, Taylor said that the committee in charge of assigning summer reading, which he chairs, didn’t pick the book to highlight any specific political issues or because of the election.

“I don’t like to think of us trying to follow the trends too much,” Taylor said. “What we really like to have is a book that touches on important things but doesn’t tell people what to think.”

Speaking at Miami last year, Vance said he tried to avoid traditional politics in the book, focusing instead on economic troubles.

“I wanted to answer, or explain, this lack of upward mobility,” he said during a visit to the campus just after the election, according to The Miami Student. “If I put personal faces on these ideas, they might be easier to digest, to understand.”

Taylor said that, depending on the discussion facilitator students get after following the university’s convocation ceremony, the topics they talk about after reading the book could vary widely. The convocation speaker is set to be Stephen T. Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.Va., and Taylor is hoping that discussions are based on the problems highlighted in the book, as well as potential solutions.

“There have been some local responses to this book, of people saying, ‘Well, my community isn’t like that.’ The danger of this book -- we don’t want this to be an anthropology text, like, ‘Look at these other people who aren’t like us,’” he said. “There’s some common ground that can be reached here, and I’m hoping that will come through.”

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TSA ends pilot program of asking passengers to remove books from carry-on luggage

Inside HigherEd - 8 hours 15 min ago

The Transportation Security Administration has abandoned a pilot program in which some passengers were asked to remove books from their carry-on luggage during screening. A spokeswoman for the agency said there are no plans to restore the pilot or to expand it.

Civil liberties and faculty organizations were concerned about the pilot program and the possibility that it could be expanded.

Many academics believe the government has no business knowing what books one carries. And some fear inappropriate heightened scrutiny of those who may carry books in Arabic or other foreign languages, or books that might be seen as critical of the Trump administration.

For example, a professor at the University of California, Davis, wrote a column about having TSA ask for her reading material, and how invasive this felt.

John Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, said in May that the pilot (involving not only paper goods, but also food and various small electronics) might well be expanded, and that its goal was to have TSA agents see more of what people are bringing with them. He said passengers are packing more and more in carry-on bags and "the more stuff in there," the more difficult it is for agents to see everything.

The agency spokeswoman said the test on book screening was appropriate, but was limited. "This test protocol was designed so X-ray operators could have a clearer view of carry-on baggage at checkpoints. Like many tests TSA performs at checkpoints around the country, we collected valuable data but, at this time, are no longer testing or instituting these procedures."

She added that "TSA understands privacy concerns and only inspects items to clear them of dangerous/prohibited items."

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - 8 hours 15 min ago
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Carl Wieman makes an evidence-based plea for better science instruction in new book

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 07:00

As a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Carl Wieman could probably get away with being a mediocre teacher. Yet he’s devoted much of his career to improving the ways colleges and universities teach science, in his own classrooms and in one of the grandest experiments of his life: the multicampus Science Education Initiative.

Wieman’s new book chronicles the latter effort and makes a strong, evidence-based case for pursuing broad changes in science instruction: out with lectures and in with active learning. It’s also an easily digested how-to guide for interested parties, including deans, department chairs and other faculty members. The project has major implications for administrators, too. Spoiler alert: if institutions want better science teaching, they have to value it alongside research.

“The Science Education Initiative showed that it is possible for large, research-intensive science departments to make major changes in their teaching,” says Wieman, a professor of physics and education at Stanford University. “Most faculty adopted innovative research-based methods, and as a result experienced teaching as a far more rewarding activity than they had found it to be using traditional lectures. Their students attend class more and are far more interested in learning the subjects and benefiting from instructors’ expertise.”

Moreover, he concludes, “Advancing the craft of teaching has become much more of a shared goal and focus of collaborative intellectual activity in these departments, with faculty sharing methods and results and seeking out ideas from others of novel ways to solve instructional challenges.”

Faculty members did find learning to teach anew takes time, he wrote, but “given suitable support, the time investment is not much greater than that required to create a new course. The results are perceived to be worth the effort.”

Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons From the Science Education Initiative (Harvard University Press) details Wieman’s experiences leading the program across 13 science departments at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of British Columbia. Wieman used to teach at both campuses, and his goal to was to adopt, at scale, the most promising research-based approaches to science teaching.


After many years of doing research on bettering undergraduate science education, Wieman says, “I became convinced that it was time for broad-based change.” Despite overwhelming evidence that “new research-based methods were superior to the lecture instruction found in most college science classrooms,” he wrote, professors “were mostly unaware of this superiority, even in the situations where active research on improving science education was talking place within their own departments.”

Wieman sums up the literature on science education like this: no one develops a true understanding of such a complex field by passively listening to explanations alone. Instead, they must “actively construct their own understanding via a process of mentally building on their prior thinking and knowledge” through what’s been called “effortful study.” Experts, eventually, have not only factual knowledge but distinctive mental organizational structures and problem-solving skills. They also have the metacognitive wherewithal to evaluate and correct their own thinking processes.

While there’s a growing need for technical literacy and skills across the work force and in public policy decisions, Wieman says too many students today are learning that “‘science’ is a set of facts and procedures that are unrelated to the workings of the world and are simply to be memorized without understanding, and they learn to ‘solve’ science problems by memorizing recipes that are of little use other than passing classroom exams.”

What to do? Wieman devised a six-year plan to get active learning to the masses, via new incentives for good teaching and science education specialists embedded within each participating department at Colorado and British Columbia. Wieman and his collaborators tried to operate within the typical financial and organizational constraints of the contemporary research university, so that their project -- if successful -- could at least inspire change (if not exactly be replicated) on additional campuses. So it wasn’t overwhelmingly costly and it didn’t supersede the departmental structure that Wieman concludes is necessary because the human brain can only be expert in so many fields.

What Should Students Learn? What Are They Learning? How Will They Learn Better?

At the heart of the initiative was a course transformation process, guided by three questions: What should students learn, what are students learning and which instructional practices will improve student learning? Education specialists worked with individual faculty members to help them rethink their courses and, at the same time, impart to them new teaching methods, in accordance with the principles of the initiative. Active learning techniques include worksheet-based activities, clickers to answer questions in real time, whole-class discussions and solo and paired work. Specialists working with small groups of faculty members at the same time was found to be a less successful approach.

Each campus had central program oversight, to pursue and make decisions about funding, give feedback on how to improve departmental results and to train education specialists; the specialists learned not only pedagogical skills but also how to work with faculty members. Data collection on student achievement initially proved more difficult than expected, largely because there was little incentive for faculty members to test students to establish a baseline against which to measure change. But the data eventually gathered are compelling.

A 2011 study using data from the British Columbia program published in Science, for example, found that students in a transformed physics class were nearly twice as engaged as their peers in a traditional lecture course. Students from the experimental course scored almost twice as well on a test of complex physics concepts, 74 percent vs. 41 percent, respectively. Attendance in the more active class was 20 percent higher.

The initiative involved nearly 300 instructors in 235 courses over 200,000 credit hours. Major portions of the faculty in participating departments adopted new methods -- up to 90 percent in the most successful units -- and the level of teaching transformation was “substantial,” the book says. The sustainability outlook is strong, though there was wide variation across departments in terms of successful innovation.

Wieman underscores the finding that virtually all faculty members say they want to teach well and can learn new teaching methods effectively. In the most successful departments, however, several things stood out: the success of competitive grant programs for improving undergraduate teaching (by unit, not individual faculty member) and use of the embedded specialists, who were trained in both the relevant discipline and effective teaching. Department culture, organization and management also affected success in innovation. “Persistence and flexibility” also were key, as some initial program assumptions proved flawed.

The largest barrier to faculty change, meanwhile, was the formal incentive system. Faculty members tended to see that system as penalizing time taken away from research, even to improve teaching. When faculty members did embrace new methods, the book says, “it was usually because they valued the greater personal satisfaction they would experience with students’ improved engagement in learning.”

Andrew Martin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Colorado, was the learning initiative lead in his department. He and his colleagues used postdoctoral fellows as teaching specialists and, in the process, “learned a lot about how the teaching mission is central to the departmental culture.”

In the long term, he said, it seems that the initiative “kicked off sustained and beneficial changes in our culture such that we place a high value on effective teaching and are looking for ways to make it better.” Consequently, students are getting a better education.

Wieman in his book proposed something called the “optimized university,” which doesn’t look all that different from the typical modern research university -- just better, in his view.

Faculty members are still central to the educational endeavor, but instead of working in “isolation to set their own goals and agendas,” for example, professors within a department establish by consensus learning goals related to program goals. And instead of departments offering courses defined by topics reflective of faculty members’ interests, each academic program in the optimized university “has a series of courses that are carefully aligned and sequenced to progress toward the program goals. Each course is defined by explicit and detailed learning goals that identify the full set of student knowledge and competencies provided by the course.”

It’s also not assumed in the optimized university that faculty members know how to teach a subject well just because they’re expert in it.

Wieman told Inside Higher Ed that universities today are in a similar position to where hospitals were in the 19th century, “when they had many traditional practices, but research was coming along revealing completely new and better ways to think about disease and treatment.” Research findings forced these hospitals to abandon tradition and rethink “how they hired and evaluated doctors, but it was not done easily,” he said, citing the hullabaloo surrounding the newfangled practice of washing one’s hands between patients. Even though it was proven to dramatically reduce the rate of infection, Wieman noted, it took 50 years before most hospital required doctors to wash their hands.

“If it is that hard to give up tradition when corpses are piling up in the corridors, it should not be surprising that universities are slow to abandon tradition when their failures are far less conspicuous,” he said. Yet as Improving How Universities Teach Science demonstrates, it “is possible for a major university to make a large-scale improvement in its teaching methods, and I am confident that the research on the greater effectiveness of these teaching methods, and the demonstration that change is possible, will result in many others eventually doing the same.”

Wieman added, “I just hope it doesn’t take another 50 years.”

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Trinity College in Connecticut puts Johnny Eric Williams on leave over controversial comments about race

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 07:00

Trinity College in Connecticut put Johnny Eric Williams on leave, it announced Monday evening.

Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Trinity, previously said he’d left the state amid physical threats that followed his use of racially charged language on social media. The college also closed down for a day last week over such threats. Reached via email Monday, Williams said he was “heartbroken” over the college’s decision, which came without a faculty review.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, Trinity's president, said in a statement that a leave “is in the best interest of both [Williams] and the college,” and that a dean’s review of Williams’s case continues.

Meanwhile, she said, “the principles that underlie this particular set of events go far beyond the actions of any one person. These involve principles that concern how we think about academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the responsibilities that come with those fundamental values.”

As “scholars and citizens, and as individuals and as a community of higher learning,” she added, “our roles in and relationship to social media and the public sphere are complicated. We must be able to engage in conversations about these difficult and complex issues, and Trinity College and other places like it are precisely where such conversations should occur.” A college spokesperson said Tuesday the leave is paid.

Williams’s case has attracted the interest of academic freedom and free speech advocates, partly because the sociologist is among a number of other scholars who have been physically threatened or harassed online in recent months for their public comments. Most of those comments concerned race in some way.

Williams last week shared an article from Medium called “Let Them Fucking Die.” The 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 in peril. The Medium piece linked to another Fusion piece about Republican Representative Steve Scalise, who was shot earlier this month in Alexandria, Va. It says Scalise 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.

In sharing the Medium piece, Williams used the “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 white people.

“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 has since apologized for his remarks and said he was not advocating violence against whites, only drawing attention to systemic racism.

Berger-Sweeney previously said she’d 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.”

Several state lawmakers also called for Williams’s termination. Other scholars have rallied around Williams, however, saying that his speech is clearly protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom.

“Williams included the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie in his comment as a provocative way to get readers to pay attention to his own points on white supremacy,” reads a petition signed by Trinity students, alumni and faculty members. “More effort is being put into criticizing how [Williams] presented his message than condemning the violent threats being sent to him. This is similar to calling out Black Lives Matter protests; we spend more time criticizing the protesters than the oppressive systems they are exposing. The exact system [Williams] has called out in his posts, a system of violence and bigotry toward marginalized people, is violently retaliating against him. We need to stick up for him.”

The American Association of University Professors also has said it is “dismayed” by the threats against Williams.

“We condemn the practice, becoming all too common, of bombarding faculty members and institutions of higher education with threats,” it said in an earlier statement. “When one disagrees with statements made by others, threats of violence are not the appropriate response. Such threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment. Targeted online harassment is a threat to academic freedom.”

Henry Reichman, chair of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said Monday that putting Williams on punitive leave amounted to a “clear violation of the professor's academic freedom.” The association considers involuntary leaves of absence as severe sanctions that should only be imposed absent a faculty review when the professor in question poses an immediate safety threat.

Calling Berger-Sweeney's announcement “one of the most mealymouthed statements I've ever read,” Reichman in an email said he wondered, “What on earth does ‘we must be able to engage in conversations about these difficult and complex issues’ mean? Conversations about race, like the one in which [Williams] was participating on social media (and not in his capacity as a Trinity faculty member)? Or the conversations about academic freedom and freedom of speech to which Berger-Sweeney refers? These freedoms are not simply topics to ‘discuss’ and ‘converse’ about; they are first and foremost principles to defend.”

Sadly, he added, “there is nothing in this statement suggesting that Trinity will come to their defense.”

Reichman also contrasted Berger-Sweeney’s statement with one offered recently by Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud regarding Dana Cloud. The professor of communication and rhetoric was the subject of threats and harassment after she tweeted for counterdemonstrators to join her and “finish off” a dispersing group protesting against Islamic law.

Saying he’d received messages insisting that he “denounce, censor or dismiss” Cloud for her speech, Syverud said, “No. We are and will remain a university. Free speech is and will remain one of our key values. I can't imagine academic freedom or the genuine search for truth thriving here without free speech” up to “the very limits of the law.”

Williams said he was told by a dean that he was taking leave whether he wanted to or not, and that Trinity made its decision in “the best interest of the college, not for my family and me.” It’s “not in the interest of safeguarding academic freedom and free speech,” he added. “It is my hope the administration corrects its course.”

Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut and a friend of Williams’s, said Williams “was merely the latest target of a campaign by the right-wing white supremacist outrage machine with the goal of silencing academics” working to eliminate oppression.

Berger-Sweeney threw “Williams under the bus by refusing to confront what is happening,” he said.

While some institutions have expressed support for scholars accused of making controversial public statements about race, Essex County College this week also said it won't rehire pop culture pundit Lisa Durden as an adjunct communication professor over her recent appearance on Fox News. In it, Durden defended Black Lives Matter protesters' right to all-black protests on Memorial Day during a heated conversation with host Tucker Carlson.

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Leader in digital humanities discusses forthcoming move from MLA to Michigan State

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 07:00

In 2011, the Modern Language Association created a new office, focused on scholarly communication in the digital age. Kathleen Fitzpatrick is now ending her time leading that office to move to Michigan State University as director of digital humanities and a professor of English. In her role at the MLA and as an author, Fitzpatrick has been a leading voice on digital humanities issues. She answered some questions from Inside Higher Ed about the field and her next steps.

Q: In your blog post on your departure, you noted changes in MLA author agreements to make them more friendly to online sharing. Why is that important? Was it difficult to pull off?

A: It was important for us to find a way to support our members in increasing the impact of their work, and work that is openly available has been demonstrated to receive more attention and more citations than work that is not. But current models for “flipping” subscription-based journals more often than not require authors or their institutions to cover article-processing charges, which risks restricting who can afford to publish. So we decided instead to focus on permitting our authors to deposit preprints without embargo, enabling them to make their work as widely accessible as possible -- and even, through Humanities Commons, providing the platform on which they can share that and other work.

Q: You also noted changes in MLA style. MLA is a well-respected arbiter of style -- how did you and your colleagues try to deal with digital issues in ways that would promote clarity? Any example come to mind of a challenge?

A: Today’s publishing and communication landscape is both blessed and beset by a proliferating number of formats, and the sources that students and scholars cite in their writing are often available on multiple platforms, each of which may present subtle but important differences. On the one hand, we needed to move away from a structure for MLA style that required us to devise and publicize a new works-cited entry for every new format that came along. On the other, we needed to ensure that authors were able to use their citations to guide future readers to precisely the sources they consulted. As a result, we focused on creating a flexible template that will allow future writers to cite sources that are published in formats we can’t today even imagine, while at the same time providing the specificity that enables those writers to indicate that they are quoting from this text, in this version, found on this platform.

Q: While you were at MLA, the association also worked to promote new ways for departments and colleges to evaluate digital teaching and scholarship, since many of the traditional ways just don't work. Do you see enough colleges acting on these recommendations, or do you still hear from scholars who are frustrated?

A: I have heard anecdotally from a number of scholars who have told me that their departments or colleges relied on our guidelines for evaluating digital work in rethinking their tenure and promotion guidelines, or in their own particular tenure cases. I hear much less frustration than I used to about institutions failing to accept or recognize or adequately consider digital work, and that’s a great thing.

But there are still concerns out there. I have heard in particular from a number of junior scholars whose digital work -- the work they were hired to do -- is being included in their tenure portfolios, but who are also expected to put forward a full suite of traditional publications as well, in effect asking them to do double duty. I have also heard of challenges in assessing collaborative work (as committees want to pin down who is responsible for what in projects for which everyone is often responsible for everything), and in selecting external reviewers (as committees want to ensure an arm’s-length objectivity in a field in which broad collaborative relationships are how the work gets done). All of this means that there’s more work ahead, at the levels of both the institution and the discipline, to ensure that review processes really reflect the ways our fields work today.

Q: Many colleges and universities -- including many with a lot of activity in the digital humanities -- don't have someone whose job it is to lead those efforts. Do you see more colleges doing this? What does a director of digital humanities do?

A: I haven’t seen other positions quite like this one, but it’s likely that they’re out there under another name or in another structure. Michigan State University has, both within the College of Arts and Letters and across the university’s other colleges, a wealth of programs and centers and initiatives in the digital humanities, but as at many institutions, those units have developed and are administered independently, by and large. The goal for my new position is to bring those units together and to develop a shared, collaborative vision that will enable both parts and whole to thrive.

Q: What are some of the big challenges ahead to encourage continued growth of the digital humanities?

A: There are two major challenges that I have my eye on right now, though no doubt there are many others. The first is sustainability: over the last decade, support has been available for the development of new tools and platforms to enable digital scholarship -- but now that software all needs to be maintained and updated, and doing so requires ongoing resources of a kind that aren’t usually compelling to funding agencies. So in the same way that we have long encouraged scholars to think (usually in collaboration with folks in their libraries) about preservation from the very beginning of a digital project, we also need to encourage ourselves to think about how software projects will be sustained beyond the period of their initial release.

The second challenge is more immediate, and more dangerous: one of the key funding agencies that has enabled the development of the digital humanities as we know it today is the National Endowment for the Humanities. Programs across the agency -- including, of course, programs in the Office of Digital Humanities, but also programs in research, education and preservation and access -- have supported both institutions and individual scholars in studying and teaching at the intersection of technology and the humanities, and have collectively made possible an extraordinary percentage of the digital humanities work being done today. We must work together to fight the dismantling of the agency’s legacy and the elimination of its future.

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California and Pennsylvania create new alternative community colleges

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 07:00

Across the country, many students still lack access to a college option that fits their needs.

It’s a problem that two very different states are looking to solve.

Despite having 114 campuses in California, Governor Jerry Brown wants the state’s community college system to explore expanding its programs through a new online-only college. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s education department has given its approval for the creation of a new alternative type of community college to serve the northwestern part of the state.

“Community colleges across the country are suffering from decreasing enrollments, so they’re out there trying to figure out what are the options to reach students who they haven’t reached in the past and retain the ones they have,” said Elisabeth Barnett, senior research scientist at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University.

California’s move to try to reach more students with an online-only alternative could boost enrollment statewide. The two-year system has about 2.4 million students, although about 10 years ago enrollment stood at 2.9 million, according to the chancellor’s office.

Barnett said for more rural areas, like in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan or rural New York, community colleges will offer everything from satellite campuses and distance learning to hosting classes in high schools as a way of reaching as many students as possible across large geographic areas.

New College in California

“Part of this is the governor’s desire to reach more students in California through a technology platform,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community College system. “The 114 campuses are designed in a traditional manner, so we’re reaching a traditional population that is students coming out of high schools.”

But a new online-only college could reach students those traditional brick-and-mortar campuses are currently missing -- adults who are unemployed or underemployed, he said.

“We’ve really spent some time looking at the demographics of returning veterans, displaced workers and working adults with some college and no credential to see if this gives us an opportunity to reach that demographic, which at this point we don’t serve well,” Oakley said.

The state’s two-year system already has the Online Education Initiative, which debuted last year. The OEI is a collaborative program that allows students to register and participate in online courses across multiple degrees. The initiative provides online counseling and allows students to find and take online courses that may be overbooked on their home campus.

There’s also the California Virtual Campus. That website, which works alongside OEI, to help students find transferable courses to California State University campuses. The system particularly makes it easier for students pursuing an associate degree for transfer.

Under an online-only college, neither the virtual campus nor OEI would go away.

“We don’t want to cannibalize the system, and we wouldn't want to create a college to take enrollment from other colleges,” Oakley said. “Any solution would have to complement what we do, and it has to have an opportunity to share revenue with the colleges and really enhance their ability to serve students.”

The idea would be to leverage the content and capabilities of the virtual college and OEI, as well as look into the state’s Open Education Resource initiative, which uses free materials and textbooks for students, as part of the online college solution.

The governor has given the chancellor’s office until November to submit a proposal that would include a number of options for how the online college would be formed and how much it would cost. From there the governor will decide which option the state will invest its money into.

Oakley said the system is looking at Arizona State University, Rio Salado College and even other online universities that have recruited potential community college students away from the California public system.

“We’re pushed and threatened by other online colleges throughout the country,” he said, adding that the proposal would seek not only to recapture the enrollments the system is losing but to go after new students.

In Northern California, particularly the northern inland Shasta County region, about a third of adults have some college and no degree. But there are also significant equity gaps with the tribal population in that area, said Julie Ajinkya, vice president for applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. That's why institutions should be mindful of the types of strategies and interventions they use to target the particular barriers rural populations face beyond access, she said.

"It's important to keep in mind that some of these solutions don't work for everyone when we look at certain opportunities for disconnected populations like those in rural areas," Ajinkya said, referring to online or distance learning solutions. "We want to make sure they're underscored by quality assessments to make sure these are programs that connect these students to high-quality learning outcomes that connect to high-quality job opportunities."

Alternative College in Pennsylvania

While California is seeking to provide more options for residents, Pennsylvania officials want to give an option to people who live north of Interstate 80.

That’s because, for about nine counties in the northwestern region of the state, there isn’t a single public community college. So last month Pennsylvania’s Department of Education approved the creation of the Rural Regional College of Northern Pennsylvania.

“It’s a really unique system,” said Duane Vicini, project executive for the college. “We’ve always had students going to four-year schools … but we’ve always had that segment of the community that could not go to a four-year, but we didn’t have anything to offer them in a two-year associate degree or technical training.”

The new college won’t be online or delivered in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting.

“It’s not online and we want to make clear that this is all interactive television,” Vicini said. “We have live professors who teach courses at any one of the locations where we have satellites and a hub. Students are watching them live and can interact with them -- they’re just not within the same classroom.”

RRC has been operating under a pilot program since 2012 through a partnership with Gannon University, a private Catholic institution in Erie. That program has grown from four locations to 15, with about 80 students. For now, until RRC is accredited on its own, Gannon provides the curriculum and employs the instructors.

Vicini said now with the department’s approval to seek Middle States Commission on Higher Education accreditation, he expects about 100 students to enroll this year. Tuition at the college will cost $180 per credit and $60 per credit for dual-enrolled high school students.

“One of the first charges is to work through the accreditation with Middle States,” Vicini said. “And it’s important to legislators that we begin to offer a technical or certificate program as soon as possible.”

Right now, RRC is offering degrees in interdisciplinary studies and business administration. They’ve already begun to hire new administrators, who have a year to develop RRC’s own curriculum and certificate offerings.

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Supreme Court partially reinstates Trump’s travel ban

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 06/27/2017 - 07:00

The Supreme Court on Monday partially lifted the injunction on President Trump’s ban on entry for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries, allowing it to take effect except for in the cases of "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

The ruling indicates that students admitted to U.S. universities, workers with job offers from U.S. companies and lecturers with invitations to address American audiences all would qualify as having such a "bona fide relationship," and therefore would not be subject to the reinstated travel ban.

The nation’s highest court agreed to hear arguments in October over Trump’s executive order barring travel for 90 days for nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In indicating it will fully consider the merits of the case at that point, the court also directed the parties involved to address the question of whether the dispute over the 90-day ban has become moot.

The Supreme Court opinion partially overturns injunctions upheld by two lower courts blocking enforcement of the travel ban, in one case on the grounds that it amounted to religious discrimination, in violation of the Constitution, and in the other on the grounds that the president had exceeded his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act in issuing it.

The Trump administration has justified the March 6 order -- which also suspended admission of refugees for 120 days -- as needed to prevent the entry of terrorists into the United States while the government conducts a review of screening and vetting procedures. Civil rights groups have condemned the travel ban as a pretext for barring the entry of Muslims, a step Trump called for in his campaign. Many higher education groups also have spoken out against the ban, arguing that it undermines principles of inclusion and internationalism in higher education and could prevent talented students and scholars from the six countries from coming to U.S. campuses.

The good news for universities is that international students and scholars who can establish a “bona fide relationship” to an American university should still be able to travel to the U.S. even with the Supreme Court's partial stay of injunctions imposed by two lower courts. In ruling that the ban on travel “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” but that it can be applied to all other foreign nationals, the Supreme Court goes some way toward defining what such a bona fide relationship would look like -- and specifically mentions as an example students admitted to the University of Hawaii. (The state of Hawaii is a plaintiff in one of the cases under consideration by the court.)

“A foreign national who wishes to enter the United States to live with or visit a family member … clearly has such a relationship,” the unsigned ruling states. “As for entities, the relationship must be formal, documented and formed in the ordinary course, rather than for the purpose of evading [the executive order]. The students from the designated countries who have been admitted to the University of Hawaii have such a relationship with an American entity. So too would a worker who accepted an offer of employment from an American company or a lecturer invited to address an American audience.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities described the Supreme Court opinion as “welcome news for colleges and universities … The court specifically recognizes the status of admitted students and employees as constituting such a bona fide relationship. We expect that the administration will comply fully with the court's ruling in its visa decisions and hope that citizens of the countries in question will continue to participate in, and contribute to, American higher education as appropriate.”

Still, immigration lawyers and international education professionals expressed concern about continued uncertainty and confusion over the travel ban -- and a potential chilling effect on would-be applicants.

Continued Confusion and Uncertainty

“This order is going to create a lot of confusion,” said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law practice at Cornell University.

“On the one hand, the Supreme Court expressly indicated that a student who has been admitted to a U.S. university should be deemed to have a kind of bona fide relationship required to be able to enter the United States. The court also indicated that a lecturer invited to address a U.S. audience at a college should be allowed to enter. But much will be left to the discretion of consular officers at U.S. embassies overseas and to Customs and Border Protection officials at ports of entry.”

Mark Hallett, the senior director for international student and scholar services at Colorado State University, said of the opinion that "the language is good; it comes down to the implementation." Hallett said he'd be closely watching how admitted students from Iran -- which sends more students to Colorado State than the other five countries -- will fare in the visa application process this summer.

“The wording of the SCOTUS decision makes me cautiously optimistic that this is a group that’s sort of protected rather than temporarily suspended from travel,” Hallett said. “The optimistic part is the language [of the court order]. The cautiously part is what is going through the mind of the consular officials as they are vetting these visa applicants. There’s already been an awful lot that they’ve had to think about -- the broader context of issuing a visa, and security concerns over the last how many years -- but on top of that, you have a new administration who has expressed a very tough stance that we’re not doing enough. So does that make it a little bit harder now for the consular officials to say, ‘Yeah, I’m confident about this one’?”

Trump has called for what he describes as "extreme vetting" of visa applicants in order to better screen for would-be terrorists. The executive order under consideration by the Supreme Court involves the second of two travel bans that the president issued: the first order, which has since been revoked, differed from the second in that it applied not only to new visa applicants but also to current holders of visas, and covered a seventh country, Iraq. Some students and scholars from the affected countries who happened to be overseas at the time the first order was signed -- it went into immediate effect Jan. 27 -- found themselves stranded outside the country, while those who were here reported feeling stuck, unable to return to their campuses if they were to travel abroad for personal or professional purposes.

"It looks like our students and scholars and faculty would meet that definition of a bona fide connection or relationship, but when the first executive order was signed, it was just chaos," said Adam Julian, the director of international student and scholar services and outreach at Appalachian State University and chair of a NAFSA: Association of International Educators subcommittee on travel.

"We’re working under the assumption that lessons have been learned and the consular affairs division of the Department of State and CBP will have some information and know how to handle this when they’re faced with students. That’s the wait and see -- what’s going to happen with the actual implementation on a case-by-case basis at the points of contact with students and scholars," Julian said.

Deborah Pearlstein, a professor of law at Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law who focuses on constitutional and international law, observed that the court had created a whole new standard in distinguishing between individuals who have a "bona fide relationship" with a U.S. person or entity and those who don't. It’s “not as if that has some existing legal meaning. The people who work for the government in the front lines are going to have to make a determination on a case-by-case basis what that means," she said.

"In the near term, this is not a good thing for refugees with no previous connections to the United States seeking admission," Pearlstein said. From a higher education perspective, Pearlstein said the opinion is not a total win "for at least two reasons. No. 1, this is just a stay -- a partial stay at that. We have yet to see how this is all going to play out. Is the administration going to issue some more permanent order; if it does, will it be upheld by the court? There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty here still that’s related to the second point, which is it’s hard to assess the sort of chilling effect of all of this uncertainty on students and families who might be sending a student to the United States to study."

"If I were a family contemplating sending a kid here to school now, I’d worry a lot more about what’s likely to happen in the next two, four years, and I’d be a lot less certain about what kind of environment they’ll be coming into," she said.

"If you are a person thinking about applying, is this going to make you feel confident -- 'oh yeah, if I’m admitted, everything will be cool?' No, it will have a chilling effect," said Wim Wiewel, the president of Portland State University. He noted that the Supreme Court agreeing to take up the case in October means there will be many more months of uncertainty until the court issues a final decision on the ban's merits.

"In March [when the second travel ban was issued] nothing was allowed. Now all of a sudden [after the injunctions], everything’s OK. Now it’s the end of June and it’s OK for some people but not for everybody. In October the Supreme court is going to hear it, so what’s going to be true in October?" he asked. "Any person who looks at it would say we’re not very welcome. And second, it’s unclear what will or will not be OK, so why will I gamble with my future, especially if there are alternatives? If you can go to the United Kingdom or Australia or Canada and you have a similar kind of opportunity or funding, why take a chance?"

NAFSA, the international educators' association, also noted in a statement that the court's order "continues to inject uncertainty into the scope of the travel ban and has added a new distinction between those who have ties to the United States and those who have none."

“International educators are relieved to be able to tell our international students and scholars that they should not be afraid to come to our campuses to study, work and exchange ideas. We are pleased the court acknowledged that students and scholars and others with connections to the United States could not be barred from our country simply because of their nationality or religion, at least while the underlying litigation continues,” said Esther D. Brimmer, NAFSA's executive director and CEO.

“Unfortunately, individuals from the affected countries with no ties to the United States will be subject to the ban on the grounds that a lack of connection to the United States somehow provides evidence of a national security threat,” Brimmer said. “If that is the case, then we should be making every effort to create connections and ties through robust international exchange and travel, and we call on the administration to make clear in its guidance that prospective students and scholars should not be afraid to seek admission to the United States regardless of their current ties.”

A ‘Solomonic’ Opinion

Three conservative justices on the court partially dissented in the case, saying that while they agreed with the decision to stay the preliminary injunctions, they would have stayed them in full, not in part. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, wrote that he fears "that the court’s remedy will prove unworkable. Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding -- on peril of contempt -- whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country."

Thomas's dissent continued, "The compromise also will invite a flood of litigation until this case is finally resolved on the merits, as parties and courts struggle to determine what exactly constitutes a 'bona fide relationship,' who precisely has a 'credible claim' to that relationship and whether the claimed relationship was formed 'simply to avoid §2(c)' of Executive Order No. 13780 … And litigation of the factual and legal issues that are likely to arise will presumably be directed to the two district courts whose initial orders in these cases this court has now -- unanimously -- found sufficiently questionable to be stayed as to the vast majority of the people potentially affected."

Trump, in a statement today, described the Supreme Court's opinion as “a clear victory for our national security. It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective.”

"My No. 1 responsibility as commander in chief is to keep the American people safe," the president said. "Today's ruling allows me to use an important tool for protecting our nation's homeland."

Both Pearlstein and Yale-Loehr independently described the opinion as "Solomonic," however, in its split nature. "They basically split the baby in half by allowing part of the travel ban to go forward and yet allowing people who are directly affected by it because of their relationship to the United States to still be able to theoretically enter the United States," Yale-Loehr said.

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Professors are often political lightning rods but now are facing new threats over their views, particularly on race

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/26/2017 - 07:00

Professors have long been political targets. But a spate of recent threats against scholars -- including two that have led to campus closures -- is raising fresh concerns about safety and academic freedom.

The American Associations of University Professors “is definitely concerned about this trend, which I think is a fair description of what is happening,” said Hans-Joerg Tiede, senior program officer for academic freedom and tenure at AAUP. “We will continue to monitor it and consider what other actions we can take.”

First, a roundup of cases:

  • In early May, Tommy J. Curry, associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, faced death threats and race-based harassment for talking about violence against whites in a 2012 podcast interview about the gory Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained. Portions of Curry's opinions were quoted in right-wing publications, where he was portrayed as advocating violence.
  • Bret Weinstein, a professor of biology at Evergreen State College, was in May warned to stay off that campus by security officials after he questioned the logic of a student request that all white students and faculty members stay away during a day of protest. The college temporarily shut down after further threats and demands from some students that Weinstein be fired.
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, canceled planned public talks this month, saying she received hateful messages and death threats for criticizing President Trump in a commencement speech at Hampshire College.
  • Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa, faced threats and harassment -- some of it anti-Semitic -- after publishing a piece in Hyperallergic. She argued that classicists should do more to highlight the fact that statues were often painted and so not necessarily reflective of the “classical ideal” now equated with white marble. Bond's views are widely backed by scholars in her field.
  • At Syracuse University, Dana Cloud, a professor of communication and rhetoric, was the subject of threats and harassment after she tweeted for counterdemonstrators to join her and “finish off” a dispersing group of protesters against Islamic law.
  • Most recently, Johnny Eric Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut, said he had to flee town due to threats -- and the campus shut down for a day -- after conservative news websites shared Facebook posts he made about race. He used the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie in response to an online article about racism of the same name. Some have argued he was advocating violence against whites, but he's since said he was referring to systemic racism.

The AAUP has condemned such threats against scholars and asked some individual institutions to support targeted faculty members. It also earlier this year published a set of institutional recommendations for dealing with online harassment of professors. Several faculty-led petitions express support for colleagues in the crosshairs, and the American Sociological Association also weighed in to defend Williams.

“The ability to inject controversial ideas into [the public] forum is paramount to a better understanding of our society and essential to ensuring a robust exchange of ideas on college campuses,” reads the sociologists’ statement. “In principle, ASA does not take a position on such ideas themselves but does take the position that all individuals have the right to express themselves. In that context, we expect thoughtful consideration regarding the way in which the ideas are expressed. We also expect the safety of those expressing them.”

Threatening the lives “of those whose rhetoric we oppose undermines the robust and democratic exchange of ideas,” ASA said. “Ideas -- regardless of how controversial -- should only be attacked by alternative ideas. Mutual understanding requires more discussion rather than a stifling of discourse.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has long advocated answering offensive speech with more speech, not less. Calling threats against professors as “depressing” a trend as violent responses to campus free speech, Will Creeley, an attorney with FIRE, said Friday that such threats require “unequivocal condemnation from all Americans who care about the health of our democracy.”

Threatening violence “against those who hold opinions different from one’s own is a particularly evil form of censorship,” Creeley wrote on FIRE’s website. “To be clear: responding to speech with threats is morally repugnant, illiberal and potentially illegal.”

In each recent case, Creeley added, “the faculty member who received threats had engaged in plainly protected political speech, typically involving contentious issues like race relations. If our nation’s faculty members cannot evaluate and express opinions on the issues of the day without being subjected to violent threats, the U.S. Supreme Court’s stark warning in Sweezy v. New Hampshire will prove prophetic: ‘Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.’” (In that 1957 case, the high court found that a state investigation into the alleged Communist affiliations of a guest lecturer at a university was unconstitutional.)

Colleges and Universities Respond

Creeley also endorsed AAUP’s statement earlier this year in which it said campus governing boards "have a responsibility to defend academic freedom and institutional autonomy, including to protect institutions from undue public interference, by resisting calls for the dismissal of faculty members and by condemning their targeted harassment and intimidation.”

Institutions, meanwhile, have had mixed responses to threats against scholars. Texas A&M, for example, first condemned Curry’s comments but then softened its tone against him. That followed criticism from colleagues who said the university needed to back Curry and his right to academic freedom.

Syracuse first clarified that Cloud’s comments were not intended to provoke violence, but Chancellor Kent Syverud offered more support in a follow-up statement last week.

Saying he’d received messages insisting that he “denounce, censor or dismiss” Cloud for her speech, Syverud said, “No. We are and will remain a university. Free speech is and will remain one of our key values. I can't imagine academic freedom or the genuine search for truth thriving here without free speech.”

He continued, “Our faculty must be able to say and write things -- including things that provoke some or make others uncomfortable -- up to the very limits of the law. The statement at issue is, I believe, within those limits. I intend to act accordingly.”

Many scholars and civil liberties groups have engaged in protests like those Cloud encouraged. They have argued that since there is in fact no movement to impose Islamic law in the U.S., protests against it are really designed to encourage more general anti-Muslim sentiments.

Trinity’s administration, meanwhile, said it is looking into Williams’s comments and expressed disapproval of his hashtag.

Williams has since said he’s left the state to protect his family. He also issued a campuswide apology, saying, “I am sorry … I regret that the hashtag that I quoted from the title of an article was misinterpreted and misperceived as inciting violence and calling for the death of 'white' people.”

The professor said he never intended to “invite or incite violence.” His only aim, he said, “was to bring awareness to white supremacy and to inspire others to address these kinds of injustices.”

In another case, Essex County College doubled down last week on its suspension of Lisa Durden, a communications adjunct and pop culture pundit, after she appeared on Fox News to defend Black Lives Matter protesters' right to all-black protest spaces on Memorial Day. She has now been terminated, NJ.com reported.

“The college was immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a college employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus,” Anthony Munroe, the college’s president, said in a statement Friday. “I fully believe that institutions of higher learning must provide a safe space for students. … The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion and unity. Racism cannot be fought with more racism.”

The University of Delaware also distanced itself from Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor of anthropology, who said on Facebook that Otto Warmbier, a college student who recently died after imprisonment in North Korea, “got exactly what he deserved.” Warmbier was “typical of a mind-set of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males” Dettwyler teaches, she wrote, prompting the university to call her remarks “particularly distressing” and not in line with its values, according to the Associated Press. The university subsequently said that Dettwyler would not be rehired.

Questions About Self-Censorship

A number of professors facing threats have attributed the deluge to slanted coverage of their public comments by various conservative news websites. Many of those reports have since been cited by Professor Watchlist, which launched earlier this year “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Asked about threats facing professors on the list, Matt Lamb, a spokesperson, said via email that harassment “against anyone for their views, whether it be professors, students or politicians, is terrible. Whether it is Lars Maischak threatening President Trump for assassination, Eric Clanton throwing bike locks at Trump supporters or John Griffin saying Republicans should be lined up and shot, harassment and death threats are terrible and should be widely denounced. Likewise, threats against professors are just as bad as when leftist professors threaten other people. We oppose all forms of violence.”

Cloud, at Syracuse, said she hasn’t apologized “or made excuses for what I said, because that would serve a narrative that is blaming these faculty, rather than understanding these campaigns as right-wing political strategy on the part of people who do actually espouse violence.”

The emergence of the “hard right, including bona-fide fascists, is a product of the Trump moment,” she said, since “his rhetoric emboldens them, and this latest wave of attacks is scarier as a result, even if the messages I and other professors have received share features with earlier waves.”

Tiede, of AAUP, said that Professor Watchlist and its ilk are part of a broader attack on the “core values” of higher education, such as “serving as spaces where ideas can be explored, where dissent can occur and where the truth can be investigated," which is "how they support our democracy.” All these functions have been attacked in the past, he said, but are now enabled with new technology.

As for self-censorship, Tiede said some professors probably do censor themselves due to reports of harassment. Given that faculty members have been targeted for comments “concerning difficult social problems, including racial justice, it is worrisome that public discourse on important topics to which faculty members can bring their expertise may be curtailed as a result,” he said. It’s worrisome as well that some campuses have shut down over threats, he said.

Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, recently wrote about his own experiences with threats in an op-ed in The Huffington Post.

“In early 2017 I was scheduled to give a talk that examined the role of overt and subtle racialized messages to magnetize white support for particular political parties and political platforms and how those strategies played a role in the 2016 election,” he said. Various conservative publications misrepresented some of his arguments, even after an appearance on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, leading to a few death threats, online name-calling, “over 400 emails, nearly 50 voice mails and even a couple dozen snail-mail letters. … Campus detectives got involved. Local police had to patrol my home.”

Echoing the underlying argument of his Huffington Post piece, Hughey wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the common thread in many harassment cases is race -- specifically “that folks seem to be getting attacked when they critique whiteness.”

What Do Critics Want?

A few of the aforementioned cases have little to do with whiteness, or critiques of what being white means as a social construct. But most do focus on issues of race.

Hughey said he felt supported by UConn. As for self-censorship, he said professors “always have an obligation to speak wisely (regardless of what’s going on), but they also have the freedom to use their personal social media as they see fit.”

If universities are going to “praise and link to faculty Twitter accounts when we publish an article, win an award, etc.,” he added, “then they need to have our back when the attacks start on Twitter or when we say something less than popular and/or provocative, or share something that people might disagree with.”

Hughey and others have argued that attacks on scholars appear coordinated. If that's true, a shared strategy speaks to a shared goal. So what do critics who resort to intimidation want? Tiede said it was hard to define clearly, but he thinks certain groups and individuals clearly would "prefer not to have the expertise of faculty members publicized when those run contrary to their interests."

The AAUP observed in 1915 that the social sciences in particular faced a "danger of restrictions upon the expression of opinions which point toward extensive social innovations, or call in question the moral legitimacy or social expediency of economic conditions or commercial practices in which large vested interests are involved," he added. "I don’t see any need to modify that observation today."

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Academics alarmed by TSA plans to require books to be removed from carry-on luggage

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/26/2017 - 07:00

The Transportation Security Administration is testing and plans to expand a program in which airline passengers will be asked to remove books from carry-on luggage.

The plan has been discussed by TSA for several weeks now, but it attracted attention this weekend when the American Civil Liberties Union released an analysis of the proposal that noted concerns about passengers having to reveal what they are reading. Some academics object to the idea on the principle that what they read should not be anyone's business. But many others are worried about what could happen to those reading Arabic or other foreign language literature or books whose covers indicate a point of view that is critical of the Trump administration.

TSA officials have said that their intent is not to judge passengers by what they are reading but to flip through the pages of books to see if anything is hidden there.

But many in academe know the stories of students and faculty members delayed or detained for some combination of their appearance and what they were carrying with them. There was the Pomona College student who was detained over his Arabic flash cards. And there was the Italian-born professor of economics at the University of Pennsylvania whose flight was delayed after security officials interviewed him based on the complaint of another passenger. The professor was writing out complex mathematical equations that his fellow passenger assumed were some sort of terrorist communication.

On social media, some academics joked Sunday about being sure to pack pornography or The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in their carry-ons, alongside their other books, so that TSA guards would have plenty of material to flip through.

But they and others say that this is a serious issue of civil liberties -- especially for academics, who travel with more books than the average passengers. And before people assume that they can just switch to ebooks, academics should be aware of concerns about reviews of electronic devices on international flights.

The ACLU analysis of the new TSA program notes that books "raise very special privacy issues," and that "there is a long history of special legal protection for the privacy of one’s reading habits in the United States, not only through numerous Supreme Court and other court decisions, but also through state laws that criminalize the violation of public library reading privacy or require a warrant to obtain book sales, rental or lending records."

The analysis continued: “A person who is reading a book entitled ‘Overcoming Sexual Abuse’ or ‘Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction’ is not likely to want to plop that volume down on the conveyor belt for all to see. Even someone reading a best-seller like 50 Shades of Grey or a mild self-help book with a title such as ‘What Should I Do With My Life?’ might be shy about exposing his or her reading habits. And of course someone reading Arab or Muslim literature in today’s environment has all too much cause to worry about discrimination.”

Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said via email that the screening raised particular issues for academics.

"Academics are unsurprisingly big readers, and since we don't simply read for pleasure, we often read materials with which we disagree or which may be seen by others as offensive," he said. "For instance, a scholar studying terrorism and its roots may well be reading -- and potentially carrying on a plane -- books that others might see as endorsing terrorism. In addition, because scholarship is international, I suspect academics are more likely than others to be reading and carrying material in foreign languages, which might arouse some suspicion … Finally, academics (as well as editors and journalists) may well be carrying pre-publication materials -- drafts for peer review or comment, etc. -- and these could raise special concerns."

Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, also shared concerns via email.

"Scholars of literature and related fields carry books, some of them published by the MLA in languages other than English, and it's definitely a concern how those travelers will be treated if TSA forces them to remove books from carry-on luggage," Feal said. "We all remember the deplorable treatment of the college student who was arrested for carrying Arabic-English flash cards and a book critical of U.S. foreign policy. Since the purported reason for the proposed new scrutiny is to detect weapons and explosive material, the TSA should be required to protect the privacy of travelers. The content of ereaders won't be examined (not so for your baloney sandwich), so books should be allowed to be screened with a cover or, dare I say it, in a plain brown wrapper."

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California travel ban highlights dilemmas facing some academic conferences

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/26/2017 - 07:00

When Shaun Harper assumed the presidency of the Association for the Study of Higher Education in November 2016, the group had already started planning its 2017 annual conference, which was to be held in Houston. These things are planned out long in advance; ASHE’s website already lists conference locations through 2019.

“We had not been to Texas before, so we were thinking this could be an exciting opportunity to take the ASHE annual meeting to a state where it had never been,” said Harper, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Over the past couple of months, however, Harper’s confidence in holding ASHE’s conference in Texas has eroded. The board is currently “scrambling” trying to figure out if it’s going to hold its conference, scheduled for Nov. 9-11, in Houston or not.

On Thursday, California banned all state-funded travel to Texas, citing recently enacted laws that allow discrimination against LGBT people. The move spells trouble for ASHE, as well as the American College Personnel Association -- College Student Educators International, which also has an upcoming conference scheduled in Texas, since public California institutions won’t be able to pay for travel costs for their professors or administrators. The California travel ban also complicates athletic events scheduled between California teams and those in other states falling under the ban.

Last year, 12 percent of ASHE’s membership at the conference was from California, Harper said, although members from private institutions wouldn’t be affected. If Californians don’t come, that’s a huge financial hit for the conference, and that doesn’t take into account any members who also agree to boycott the conference, standing in solidarity with California and LGBT individuals in Texas.

For Harper, who is gay and black, however, the moral implications of hosting the conference in Texas far outweigh the financial costs, and troubles in Houston have been brewing for months.

“It’s a presidential nightmare,” he said.

Travel Ban

California’s travel ban -- which blocks state-funded travel to states that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity -- became law on Jan. 1, but the attorney general can update destinations where state-funded travel is banned. On Thursday, Texas was added to the list, along with Alabama, Kentucky and South Dakota. Already on the list were Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee.

“Our country has made great strides in dismantling prejudicial laws that have deprived too many of our fellow Americans of their precious rights. Sadly, that is not the case in all parts of our nation, even in the 21st century,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the additional states to be included in the ban.

According to the California attorney general’s office, Texas was added because of a recently enacted law that allows foster care agencies to discriminate based on the sexual orientation or gender identity of people wishing to adopt a child. Harper, in a March email to ASHE members, also spoke out against a restroom-access bill -- similar to the one enacted in North Carolina, which garnered widespread condemnation from LGBT groups and would bar transgender students from using bathrooms other than those that correspond with their legal gender assigned at birth -- which has been progressing through the Texas Legislature and could pass in a special session to be held in July.

“Deciding against going to a city or state for a few days is a privilege denied to people who must live their lives there every day. We have ASHE members who live and work in Texas. Some students and faculty members whom we study -- including those in large state and federal data sets -- do not have the luxury of opting out of living in Texas. Some are trans and gender nonconforming,” Harper wrote to ASHE, fearing the bill could be passed before the November conference. “If SB 6 passes, they will be forced to reside and learn in dangerous contexts that deny their full humanity.”

Harper said in the email that ASHE is working to make sure that its facilities have restrooms available for use by any and all attendees, regardless of their gender identity. At the time, he argued for hosting the conference in Houston as a way to protest anti-LGBT laws in Texas. Now, however, he’s not sure what the best decision is.

“My own view on this is that Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders didn’t say, ‘We’re not going to Selma, because there’s injustice in Selma,’” he said. “They stared injustice in its face.”

Going to Texas, he said, would be an opportunity to use ASHE’s “arsenal” of members and research to show politicians, and LGBT Texans, where the organizations stands. In response to the letter he sent in March, he said he received nearly 300 responses, estimating that about five of them were negative. In one instance, Harper said, a transgender high school student reached out to him after seeing the letter on Facebook, thanking him for “not abandoning us.”

Now, however, Harper isn’t sure whether keeping the conference in Texas or relocating to a different state is the right call. A boycott would send an economic message, but going to Texas could send a message of solidarity. At the same time, the lack of Californians -- and others who might boycott the conference -- would hurt the success of the conference, in addition to any negative financial issues that might arise.

The ASHE Board of Directors is currently talking to members and its attorneys about the best course of action.

“I still feel that way now,” Harper said of his stance of going to where he sees injustice. “But I think I’m in this weird, very tough conundrum, where I’m trying to weigh my personal activist stance alongside the fiduciary responsibility to the association I was elected to lead.”

ACPA -- College Student Educators International

As is the case with Harper and ASHE, California’s travel decision wasn’t the first time questions were raised about hosting conferences in Texas. Norm Pollard, dean of students at Alfred University in New York and a member of ACPA -- College Student Educators International, raised questions about hosting the group’s annual conference in Texas, citing civil rights concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union when Texas passed an anti-sanctuary city law. He said the adoption law and pending bathroom bill further his belief that the organization should boycott the state.

“It troubled me when we as an organization chose to have our national conference in a state that discriminates against the members of our organization, as well as the students that we interact with everyday,” Pollard said.

Pollard said he appreciated Harper’s strategy of going to Texas and showing opposition to LGBT discrimination, but said he believed economic boycotts have the best chance of making lawmakers reconsider. Harper said members of ASHE have also expressed that view, which he is sympathetic toward.

“It may not make a huge economic impact, but [if] enough professional organizations do so, it can create change,” Pollard said.

In a statement on its Facebook page, ACPA -- College Student Educators International said it was monitoring the situation.

“We are aware of the updated legislation in California prohibiting state employees from using state funds to travel to Texas. The #ACPA18 team will continue to monitor the situation and provide opportunities for ACPA members to engage with legislators in Texas,” the statement read. Representatives from ACPA -- College Student Educators International were not immediately able to be reached for comment.


On the sports side, the addition of Texas to California’s travel ban complicates matters but is unlikely to actually change any of the scheduled matchups, since those contracts are often signed years in advance, and the travel ban only covers commitments made after it went into effect in January. For example, Fresno State University will still travel to play the University of Alabama in football, since that contract was inked in 2015, Al.com reported.

Postseason play, however, might cause scheduling problems, and there are other unanswered questions about sports-related travel. The 2018 NCAA men’s basketball Final Four is scheduled to take place in San Antonio, which could pose problems if a team from a public California institution makes it that far in the tournament. However, the issues aren’t clear-cut even then, because some colleges’ athletic programs -- and in some cases, travel budgets -- don’t use state funds, even if the coaches are state employees.

The California attorney general’s office is currently considering whether the ban applies to college coaches, The Texas Tribune reported.

Moving Forward

Even if ASHE decided to pull out of Houston, Harper said, the prospect of finding a replacement for Texas, and venues for future events, isn’t a simple process.

“Injustice exists everywhere. And the unfair treatment of people of color; of gay, lesbian and trans people; of Muslims; of people with disabilities, that happens everywhere across our nation, not just in Southern states, and not just in Texas,” he said. “There is Islamophobia in California, in New York State, in places we tend to think of as much more liberal … There are -isms and phobias everywhere. I think that that’s where I’m struggling.”

He said that on some level, he would feel hypocritical pulling out of Texas and relocating to a more liberal state, such as Massachusetts, when “there is still transphobia” in parts of the state.

A decision from ASHE’s Board of Directors on relocating or staying in Houston could come as soon as this week. As chairman of the board, Harper gets one vote.

“If our board were convening today for a conference call, I do not know how I would vote,” he said. “And it has absolutely nothing to do with finances.”

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College lawyers hear discussion about tension between free speech and inclusivity

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/26/2017 - 07:00

CHICAGO -- Greg Lukianoff has spent much of his career making life miserable for college and university lawyers. So some members of the National Association of College and University Attorneys might have been surprised to hear the head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education suggest that students -- not campus officials -- are increasingly the people he worries most about in campus free speech debates.

“For most of my career, we were usually running up against administrative overreach” -- campus leaders “doing things that were a bad idea, or were sometimes well intentioned” but still flawed, Lukianoff said during a panel discussion about the tension between free speech and inclusivity on campuses at the association’s annual conference here.

Students, he said, were traditionally “the best constituents for freedom of speech." But that’s no longer the case, with “many more students demanding that speakers be disinvited,” calling for the firing of professors or suspension of fellow students whose speech they deem hurtful, and the like.

And, even more recently, using tactics up to and including violence to shut down speech entirely, which he said in turn is sometimes leading outsiders to threaten violence against protesting students or the professors who defend them, a practice FIRE has condemned.

“Campus threats are not protected speech,” Lukianoff said. "We’re in very quick backlash stage … Things are spiraling in a way that has me very worried for our society.”

Lukianoff and his fellow panelists -- two lawyers, a student affairs administrator, and a law professor -- discussed a range of issues during the 90-minute session, including the role of higher education institutions in modeling the civil exchange of ideas and where the traps are for institutions in balancing free speech and inclusivity on their campuses.

But much of the conversation was spent wrestling with how evolving student expectations are changing the landscape facing college lawyers and other administrators.

The panelists were in general agreement that students are coming to campuses both with less tolerance for differing points of view and less respect for free speech than used to be the case.

Geoffrey Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, said students are much more likely to encounter public hate speech today than they were before, given that talk that used to be relegated to the locker room is now readily found on the internet and cable television.

That free-flowing speech affects not just the students “who are the targets of that hate speech, who feel the power of that, the marginalization, in a pretty dramatic way,” but also other students who “see it as outrageous that friends of mine should have to be subject to something like that … and are becoming very defensive on their behalf,” Stone said.

Today’s students are also both growing up in a technology bubble “that allows you to surround yourselves 24 hours a day” with opinions that match their own, said Lukianoff, and having come through an education system that has given them “shockingly little understanding of the importance of freedom of expression,” said Penny Rue, vice president for campus life at Wake Forest University. “They don’t teach civics as much anymore.”

Traevena Byrd, vice president for legal affairs and human resources and general counsel at Towson University, acknowledged that growing up in an environment where they “put a picture of their lunch” on the internet and “expect a bunch of likes by dinnertime” makes many of today’s students feel that if something is making them uncomfortable, “you should care and should do something about it.”

But she also said she believes minority students, in particular, come by their desire for safe and inclusive environments honestly, having grown up in an era of Ferguson, Mo., and finding themselves in situations where they are made to feel they “don’t belong in this classroom.”

If today’s students are ever likelier to come to campuses with expectations that they will be protected from hurtful speech -- 40 percent of millennials surveyed by the Pew Research Group want the government to prohibit such speech -- are colleges obliged to provide such an environment, and how far should they go?

“Students do come to college expecting to be in environment that supports them,” said Rue. To the extent they “come to college expecting safety, I can guarantee them physical safety. But psychological safety and leaning into learning moments are not always aligned.”

Lukianoff and Stone were unequivocal in arguing that while the law does prohibit forms of speech that cross the line into intimidation or threat, hate speech that does not rise (or sink) to that level is protected speech.

Just because it creates hurt is not enough, Stone said. “Almost all controversial speech harms people, upsets or offends them … The First Amendment does not allow you to restrict speech because it harms them.” (Byrd noted that some speech may not breach the Constitution but may violate a federal law by creating a hostile environment, for example.)

Advice for in the Moment

It's well and good for college officials to wish that students understood the First Amendment more or to be more willing to tolerate dissent -- but if they don't, what should they do about it when students are demanding action or threatening to block a speech?

Don't cite the First Amendment, most agreed. When we do that, "we're seen as part of the problem," said Byrd. "They want us to affirm in an appropriate way that their feelings are something they're entitled to have, and to direct them to processes where they can air their grievances."

Lukianoff agreed. "To say that free speech is important because the First Amendment guarantees it" is a circular argument that isn't likely to be persuasive, he said. "I'm always urging people to talk about it from a philosophical perspective."

Colleges do have an obligation to try to remediate the civics deficit that students may have emerged from high school with, Rue and Stone said.

Stone said that when he talks to students who favor disrupting speeches, "who endorse the whole concept of the heckler's veto," he tries to remind them that free speech is most important to the least powerful in society. "If you had allowed Southern towns to shut down civil rights protests because white people threatened violence … that would have crippled the civil rights movement," he said. "It's a reminder of how fragile free speech is, and how essential to the civil rights, women's rights, gay rights movements."

The panelists generally agreed that many constituents on campuses have a role to play in building understanding of the importance of free speech. While many colleges try to address the issues in orientation or with speakers in residence halls, said Rue of Wake Forest, the topic won't be addressed in sufficient depth if faculty members don't find ways to build it into the curriculum. "This belongs in the classroom," she said. (Lukianoff and Stone said they weren't sure professors could be counted on to be students' teachers on this matter: A surprising number of faculty members, said Stone, "think hate speech shouldn't be allowed on campuses.")

Ultimately, colleges and universities are likeliest to succeed in helping their students understand the importance of free speech by modeling it, the panelists agreed.

Stone discussed how the University of Chicago drafted its 2013 statement that argued for protecting free speech even if it "promotes or expresses ideas that are offensive, even loathsome." He said he frequently reminds students that attention to controversial speakers helps them sell books and get more campus invitations, and that "the best thing they could do if they want to undermine the speaker is to not go, ignore it."

Rue advised her colleagues to consider following the approach taken by Texas A&M University in offering alternative programming when the white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke there last November. "More speech is one of our best friends," she said.

Added Lukianoff, "Universities are uniquely capable of fostering discussion along lines of difference. I'd like them to do a better job of it."

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Advocates say department inaction, forced arbitration leave defrauded borrowers in bind

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 06/26/2017 - 07:00

As the U.S. Department of Education readies for an arduous bureaucratic process to overhaul the rule allowing defrauded students to discharge their debt, advocates are wondering when thousands of borrowers who are seeking relief will get a resolution.

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, earlier this month said she would delay implementation of the rule, known as borrower defense, and begin rewriting it and gainful-employment regulations for nondegree vocational programs. But she promised that the department would deliver on promises of loan relief it previously made to other students and would continue processing the 16,000 borrower-defense applications still awaiting a decision.

Organizations that advocate for students and work with borrowers are anxious to find out when that will happen. Many applicants have waited months or years for an answer on their applications while they remain on the hook for thousands of dollars in student debt. Since the Trump administration arrived, gradual work on those claims has appeared to slow to a complete halt. And an unfortunate aspect of the rule delay, advocates said, is that it will block a provision that would ban institutions from enforcing mandatory arbitration clauses. That means students who haven’t gotten relief from the department can’t seek help from the courts, either.

The Obama administration crafted the borrower-defense rule after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges in 2015 to clarify how to handle a flood of claims under the little-used previous version of the borrower statute. In its most recent update, the department said in January that it had approved borrower-defense claims for more than 28,000 Corinthian students. But few details have been forthcoming since.

Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University's law school, said the department still has the tools it needs to process those claims even after delaying the new rule.

“The department’s processing of all borrower defenses has essentially stopped,” she said. “While that’s not an acceptable state of affairs, that’s the state of affairs they’re facing.”

And by blocking the arbitration provision as part of the rule delay, Merrill said the department has prevented students from pursuing another avenue to have their loans discharged absent action from the administration.

Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman, said the process is relatively simple for most borrowers -- the department notifies servicers, who then move to discharge the loan and notify the borrower. Other claims are more complex, she said, such as for borrowers with multiple or nondirect loans.

She said no decision has been made about a shift in handling of claims and that the new chief operating officer of the department's office of Federal Student Aid would be consulted on changes. The department also didn’t have an update on whether it would consider discharging loans for entire cohorts of students at an institution where the department determined fraud had occurred. The final borrower-defense rule would have made it easier for the department to provide loan discharge to groups of students -- even those who have not filed an application -- where common facts and claims exist that indicate fraud or misrepresentation occurred at a program.

The borrower-defense regulations were crafted with the for-profit college sector in mind, but they were opposed by a broad swath of higher ed institutions, notably including historically black colleges. The week of the delay, two HBCU groups urged DeVos in a letter to rewrite the regulation through another rule-making process.

In announcing the delay, the department cited pending litigation by a group of California for-profit colleges. Two former for-profit students intervened the next day as defendants in the lawsuit and said they had planned to sue their institution over misrepresentations after the ban on mandatory arbitration went into effect.

“The reason why arbitration is so critical and why this is a key part of the rule making in my view is we hoped for the courts to resolve disputes and address harms that are posed to victims even when regulators are unwilling or unable to act,” said Joe Valenti, director of consumer finance at the Center for American Progress.

The inclusion of arbitration language in the vast majority of for-profit college contracts mean individual borrowers are not able to take their claims to court -- or band together in a class action lawsuit, he said. The Century Foundation has urged for-profits to not restrict students in contracts from going through to courts to pursue complaints. Two large for-profit chains, University of Phoenix and DeVry University (now Adtalem Global Education), said last year they would not enforce arbitration clauses in anticipation of new federal regulation.

When announcing the rule would be delayed, the department did say it would carry out provisions involving administrative forbearance for Federal Family Education Loan borrowers, provisions relating to documentation for discharges for death, consolidation of nursing student and nursing faculty loans, and some technical corrections. But Betsy Mayotte, director of consumer outreach and compliance for American Student Assistance, said over all the burden to receive relief under the existing rule is much higher than it would have been under the Obama regulation.

For one thing, the current rule is based on state laws that in many cases include a statute of limitations for borrower claims, she said. The new rule includes a six-year statute of limitations for payments already made by the borrower but no limitations for payments still owed but not paid.

“Now that the rule has been delayed, the FFEL borrowers are up the creek,” said Mayotte.

Young Invincibles, a progressive advocacy group focused on millennial issues, called on the department to act quickly on existing claims and to be transparent about the progress it’s making.

“The department’s faltering commitment to providing these young people, who were taken advantage of in their pursuit of a higher education and a better financial future, the relief that they are entitled to, is alarming,” said Reid Setzer, Young Invincibles’ government affairs director, in a written statement. “We would like to see the department's recent promises to provide relief honored, old applications resolved, group discharges issued where justified and a thorough public accounting of just how many applications were processed, their outcomes and what schools were involved.”

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Wesleyan College in Georgia apologizes for decades in which institution embraced Ku Klux Klan culture

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:00

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 shortly 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."

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Appalachian College Association charts new course

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:00

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.”

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Education Department's 'regulatory relief' panel offers early look at its work

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:00

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.

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Microbiology society cuts back on small conferences

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:00

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.”

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New presidents or provosts: Columbia Intl Cuyahoga Labette Lake Michigan Lane W&L WGU Washington Wesleyan Wittenberg

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:00
  • 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.
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