Higher Education News

George Mason Faculty Senate asks university to hold off on Koch-funded law school renaming

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago

The Faculty Senate at George Mason University took its concerns about renaming its law school after late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia one step farther on Wednesday, asking administrators to put the plan on hold. Senators also expressed additional concerns about the agreement behind the renaming, asking the university for more transparency about just what’s being promised to an anonymous donor and the Charles Koch Foundation in the $30 million deal. The university acknowledged the senate's concerns but nevertheless signaled that it's moving forward.

“The grant agreements require the university to make complex organizational changes the exact nature and implications of which are not clear,” reads one of two statements passed Wednesday. “For instance, it seems problematic, given the university’s limited resources and the law school’s declining enrollment, to commit taxpayer monies to create two new centers affiliated with the law school and to hire 12 new law professors (some at tenured, senior levels), as well as an unspecified number of support staff. … Such a large financial commitment to this one project has the potential to distort the university’s future development by denying funds to other equally important academic programs.”

Wednesday’s resolutions amend another more general statement passed by the senate last week. That resolution didn’t ask the university to halt the renaming process but rather expressed concerns about some of Scalia’s public comments about historically marginalized groups, such as that minority college students may excel at “slower-track” institutions. Similar debates over Scalia’s legacy ensued elsewhere in the wake of his death, including at Georgetown University.

George Mason’s senate also last week wondered how the new Antonin Scalia Law School would be funded after an initial agreement ends in 2020 or is otherwise voided. The resolution passed 21-13, but some senators opposed it because they wanted an even stronger statement. They called a special meeting to debate the matter further.

In the interim, Ángel Cabrera, George Mason’s president, reached out to members of the Faculty Senate, saying in a letter that he understood Scalia’s legacy was polarizing and that the renaming didn’t signal agreement with his views.

“We are not endorsing his opinions on any specific issue,” Cabrera wrote. “We are recognizing a man who served our country at the highest level of government for 30 years and who many experts of diverse ideological persuasions -- from faculty colleagues in our law school, to his peers on the Supreme Court, to the president of the United States -- consider to have been a great jurist who had a profound impact in the legal field …. Rejecting a major naming gift in honor of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice on the basis that some of us disagree with some of his opinions would be inconsistent with our values of diversity and freedom of thought.”

Cabrera also addressed faculty concerns that the $10 million pledged to the law school by the conservative Koch foundation alongside a $20 million grant from an anonymous donor compromised the college’s academic integrity, or at least perceptions thereof.

Referring to a recent New York Times report that valued Koch donations to George Mason at $50 million over the last decade, Cabrera wrote, “To put things in perspective, that would amount to about 0.6 percent of our average annual budget over this period. The suggestion that gifts of this magnitude can shape the ideology of the largest public research university in Virginia is far-fetched to say the least.”

George Mason is far from the only institution to accept funds from Koch, whose donations to higher education are only growing -- namely in the form of centers promoting the study of free enterprise. But George Mason is, by some counts, the most Koch-funded institution in the U.S., with major support going to the Institute for Humane Studies for the “advancement of freedom” and the Mercatus Center for the study of “market-based ideas.” The distinction has caught the attention of major news outlets in recent years, and a last month an undergraduate publicly “quit” the economics department via a column in the school newspaper for being too tied to Koch. Yet overall, Cabrera said George Mason’s problem is that it doesn’t benefit enough from philanthropy -- not too much.

“With the continuous decline in public funding, philanthropy plays an increasingly important role for public universities, as it has always been for private ones,” he wrote. “However, compared to our research university peers, philanthropy is still a very small percentage of our budget. In fiscal year 2017, all forms of philanthropy will account for almost 5 percent of our $920 million budget. Four years ago when I arrived at Mason, philanthropy provided 3 percent of our $730 million budget.”

Cabrera also said that the $30 million will go entirely toward funding scholarships, and that the revenue generated from tuition associated with those scholarships will be used to pay for the faculty, staff and other costs associated with the deal. The president’s comments didn’t do much to stop members of the Faculty Senate from pursuing further action against the plan, however, nor did they address details to which some have pointed as most troubling.

One of the resolutions passed Wednesday, 25-12, for example, notes that the grant agreements “link the funding of the promised scholarships to the ongoing service of the current [law school] dean, Henry N. Butler: ‘if the individual holding the dean position changes, the university shall immediately notify the donor.’” Such a stipulation constitutes “a violation of longstanding practices of faculty governance,” according to the senate.

The grant agreements also appear to be “risky for the university and to give too much leverage to the donors,” reads one resolution. “All of the money is not given up front: it is to be made in five annual installments. If the donors decide the foundation and/or university are not living up to any of the ‘provisions set forth in the agreement,’ then the donors can end the agreement within 30 days and demand the return of ‘all unexpended contributed amounts’ within an additional 15 days.”

“Especially troubling,” the resolution continues, is the provision in the agreement with the anonymous donor “that if s/he ‘determines that the school or any academic unit bearing the school name is no longer principally focused on the school’s mission, then the donor has ‘the right to pursue any remedy available at law or equity, and has the right to terminate this agreement.’”

In other words, linking vague concepts of donor satisfaction to such significant sums is financially unwise, the faculty resolution says.

Another resolution passed by a voice vote alleges that the university’s agreement with the anonymous donor violated its own gift policy saying that names will be conferred only after 50 percent of the total gift has been received. Under the current agreement, that won’t happen until May 2018 -- nearly two years after George Mason plans to rename the law school in honor of Scalia.

The resolutions ask the university to put the renaming agreement and associated terms on hold “to allow for a more careful discussion of the many serious concerns expressed by faculty, students, staff, alumni, state legislators and the general public.” The resolution also calls for the senate to draft a conflict of interest policy concerning private gifts, which George Mason currently doesn’t have, and the creation of a committee charged with monitoring the activity of affiliated centers.

It's probably worth noting that none of the biggest -- or at least biggest public -- critics have come from the law school. In fact, Scalia knew a number of scholars there personally. Several shared their best memories of the justice upon his death. Lloyd Cohen, a professor of law and member of the senate, spoke out against the resolutions before the senate. Prior to the meeting, Cohen told The National Law Journal that opposition to the renaming is “an affront, an intrusion and a hostile act. ...University administrators and law deans are in the business of raising money, and you raise money by naming things."

Charlene Davis, associate professor of nursing and past chair of the senate, described the meeting as  "collegial, though clear and sharp differences were aired. ...There was no vitriol, order was maintained and differences were aired in the spirit of the academy."

Craig Willse, an assistant professor of cultural studies who initiated a recent letter signed by 140 faculty and staff members opposing the renaming, applauded the senate's move. "How can an institution that links itself to Scalia hope to successfully recruit and retain African-American students?," he said, referencing Scalia's comments in an affirmative action case suggesting that black students might be better served at "less advanced" institutions. The administration "has failed to address the impact of this renaming on the members of our community, especially students of color and LGBT students, who were the targets of Scalia's racism and homophobia," Willse said.

Renell Wynn, university spokesperson, said in a statement after the vote, “Building a diverse and inclusive community is critical to George Mason’s success. This gift provides $30 million for scholarships and that money will help hundreds of students attend law school -- students who otherwise might not have had that chance. That is why this gift is so important to Mason, and why we believe we should continue to move forward.”

Wynn said the university was nevertheless “fortunate” to take recommendations from the senate. “We strongly believe the university should not be aligned with any single ideological position and should be a friendly home to people who embrace diverse points of view,” she said. “We are committed to explaining the university’s plan to manage its responsibility for future funding of new law school faculty and centers without detriment to other units at the university.”

Academic FreedomEditorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: Antonin Scalia

Sweet Briar falls short of initial enrollment target, but leaders remain optimistic

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago

About 125 accepted applicants sent deposits to Sweet Briar College by a May 1 deadline, falling short of an administration goal in the first admissions season since a scrubbed attempt last year to close the all-female liberal arts college.

New leaders at Sweet Briar had initially targeted as many as 250 students for its incoming freshman class before settling on a goal of 200. The college’s administration has yet to give up on that goal, saying it plans to accept deposits through the end of June. Leaders are also seeking to turn attention to the number of applications received -- 1,390, a record, up from the low 900s in recent years -- as showing increased interest in the college.

Additional students sending deposits in the next two months are possible, experts said. But many think it unlikely Sweet Briar will be able to meaningfully close the gap between in-hand deposits and its stated goals. Meanwhile, other indicators of the college’s health are mixed. It has avoided drawing down its endowment this year to fund operations. Yet the president tapped last year to lead its reboot recently announced he will retire in the summer of 2017.

So while Sweet Briar has to some extent climbed back from its near closure, the college still has much to do to assure its long-term survival.

Recruiting has been a challenge after operations were essentially shut down last year, President Phillip Stone said. Sweet Briar’s former board moved to close the college in March 2015, citing difficulties persuading students to come to a women’s liberal arts college in a rural area of Virginia, rising discount rates on tuition and enrollments falling despite efforts to increase applications.

Alumnae fought the move, eventually winning a deal to keep the college open that was announced by Virginia’s attorney general in late June 2015. The deal included alumnae agreeing to raise $12 million to keep the college running in the 2015-16 year, and also freed $16 million from restricted funds in Sweet Briar's endowment to go toward operations. In addition, it brought in new trustees, clearing the way for Stone to take over as president.

The near closure hit Sweet Briar’s enrollment, which dropped from 561 in 2014-15 to 245 in 2015-16 as students transferred. The current freshman class numbers 24.

Against that backdrop, Stone called his goal of 200 freshmen this year ambitious. Yet he maintains the college can still meet that goal, even after the May deadline by which students were to have submitted $500 deposits passed. Sweet Briar is being flexible with deadlines and aggressively trying to persuade students to come to campus, Stone said. If the college does not bring in 200 incoming students, it will focus on boosting next year’s recruiting class.

The time for a pivot toward next year won’t come until after June, Stone said.

“It may be that we do need to give ourselves a little more time than we were willing to at the beginning,” Stone said. “I’ll make that analysis after we see how many students come.”

Fewer than 10 percent of committed students are legacy students -- the children and grandchildren of alumnae. That’s consistent with previous years, according to Stone. Sweet Briar accepted more than 800 of this year's 1,390 applicants. Fewer than half of accepted students came from Virginia, although the state was still the most common home for accepted students.

Sweet Briar’s move to extend deadlines and offer admissions flexibility is a familiar tactic, said Bill Hall, founder and president of Applied Policy Research, an education consulting firm for midmarket institutions. Only the most selective liberal arts institutions consistently hold to a firm deadline, he said.

Still, others believe it is unlikely an institution of Sweet Briar’s size can overcome a 75-student gap during the summer melt period -- what college admissions officers call the months when some decide not to enroll at colleges to which they’ve already committed.

“That’s a long way to try to come back from,” said David Strauss, a principal at Art & Science Group, a Baltimore-based consulting strategy firm. “No one is going to make up from that much over the course of a summer.”

Art & Science Group performed research for Sweet Briar’s former Board of Directors in 2014 and 2015 before the decision to close. The work ended when the board moved to close the college. Strauss agreed not to discuss specifics of its research, other than to say that Sweet Briar could have made changes that would have required time, money and political capital that did not appear to be available to the board at the time.

“The marketplace would seem to have been demanding significant changes,” he said. “More broadly, institutions in its kind of location and institutions of its sort are generally challenged.”

Underlying the questions about whether Sweet Briar will draw students next year is a debate over whether it is changing enough to keep up with the trends. Some see the college as taking steps to explore new programs and attract international students, while others believe its current leaders are influenced too much by memories of the past.

The college is looking into adding to its current graduate programs in education and teaching, said Teresa Pike Tomlinson, a 1987 graduate who is the mayor of Columbus, Ga., and chairs Sweet Briar’s board. It also wants to build on computer science and engineering degrees with more science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The college in March added a women’s leadership program for Chinese students that leaders think could bring more than 20 students to campus in coming years.

“You’ll see us pushing more on those fronts, looking at graduate programs, looking at how we can partner with other colleges and universities,” Tomlinson said.

But Alice Brown, former president of the Appalachian College Association, said in an email that she is not optimistic about the college’s direction. She sees Sweet Briar as focusing too much on liberal arts and personal student-faculty relationships rather than changing its strategies.

“While the efforts of the alumnae to raise the image of the college and money to support it are admirable, the fact that the board is composed primarily of alumnae whose vision of the college is colored by their memories of what it was in previous decades does not bode well for a realistic look at its future,” Brown said.

Sarah Clement, an administrative judge in Washington, D.C., and a Sweet Briar alumna who chaired a Saving Sweet Briar effort that legally challenged the college’s plans to close, sees things differently. Alumnae rallied to save the college last year and remain highly engaged, she said, arguing they are pursuing a new model of alumnae engagement not tried at other colleges.

Alumnae support has been critical to Sweet Briar’s operations this year. More than 50 percent of revenue came from fund-raising in 2015-16. Alumnae raised the required $12 million in three months last summer to keep the college open. The college has raised $7 million toward another goal of $10 million by June 30.

Clement thinks it will be important to find foundational support so alumnae aren’t being asked to raise $20-30 million per year to keep the college operating. Alumnae will continue to volunteer at high rates, but the college needs to focus on money and students, she said. She thinks the goal of 200 incoming students year is still achievable.

“I don’t think it’s overly ambitious,” Clement said. “I think the college needs 800 students to be sustainable, and in recent years, efforts at marketing, recruiting, enrollment weren’t made to the degree they were needed to be made.”

Money will be a critical point at Sweet Briar, which has an endowment of $77.4 million. The college’s budget for this year called for using $3.5 million from the endowment, down from $11 million the year before. Stone said that with two months to go in the fiscal year, the college had yet to spend anything from its endowment fund -- although a draw will be needed by the end of the year. Stone did not predict the exact size of the draw, only saying it will be less than 5 percent of the endowment. Sweet Briar will not have to spend any of the $16 million of restricted endowment funds freed in the deal to keep the college open, he said.

The college’s expenses are running a few percentage points under its $29.5 million budget, Stone said. In the future, pressure on the revenue side could mount, however. The college is graduating 82 on May 14. Its discount rate for incoming students -- the amount that quoted tuition and fees are reduced for the average student -- will likely be between 60 and 70 percent, Stone said. That would keep with recent trends set by a 61.9 percent rate in 2014-15 and a 62.8 percent rate in 2013-14.

Further, the college faces higher costs for retirements and capital expenditures. After years without a capital budget, Sweet Briar set aside $500,000 in its 2015-16 budget for capital expenses. It will seek to increase the size of that allotment by $100,000 per year going forward, Stone said. Plus, in a change from the current year, Sweet Briar anticipates contributing to its pension plan under its upcoming budget.

Sweet Briar’s faculty numbers roughly 75 today, down about 40 percent from before the attempt to close the college. The departures caused a spike in costs, as Sweet Briar was required to pay 60 percent of the salary of departing faculty members, for a total of about $5 million.

Now Stone plans to hire back some departed faculty members, although he said he would be conservative in doing so.

One other major issue to watch will be Stone’s retirement. The president, 73, is a lawyer and former president of Bridgewater College, in Virginia. He boosted enrollment at that rural college by 78 percent in his first 10 years as its leader after taking over in 1994.

Stone plans to stay for another academic year as Sweet Briar’s board appoints a selection committee and hires a search firm to find a replacement to start July 1, 2017. His retirement date will give him one more year to put Sweet Briar on solid footing before a new leader sets a long-term vision for the future, he said.

“We are more and more confident that we will be here in perpetuity,” Stone said. “We’ve done the steps that could be taken this year.”

Evaluating the college’s current status has to take into account its recent history, said Richard Staisloff, founder and president of rpkGroup, a higher education growth-strategy consulting firm. Applications are up all over the country, so the number of applications a college receives is not a good indicator of its health, he said. Even if deposits do miss administration goals, turnaround plans take a minimum of two years to develop and execute.

“While the deposit information is not what the leadership and the field would hope for at an institution like Sweet Briar, I think it would be too early to say that their change plan is not going to be successful,” Staisloff said. “I think you have to really give it another year to really see if they’re able to successfully turn around the institution.”

EnrollmentEditorial Tags: AdmissionsImage Source: Sweet Briar CollegeImage Caption: Sweet Briar College is still working to recruit students after receiving 125 deposits toward a 200-deposit goal.

U.S. finds U of North Carolina in violation of Title IX over treatment of transgender students

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago

As soon as people realized that a new North Carolina law barred public colleges and other state agencies from letting transgender people use the bathrooms associated with their gender identities, critics of the law said it violated a federal statute, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department backed that criticism and told the system president and board of the University of North Carolina that they were breaking the federal law by enforcing the state law.

A letter from the Justice Department gave UNC until the close of business on Monday to tell the agency that the university "has remedied these violations." Such demands are serious, as the government could seek to bar federal funds from UNC campuses over the issue, although that is not a step the government would be likely to take in the near term.

Margaret Spellings, president of the UNC system, issued a statement late Wednesday about the Justice Department letter: "We were notified this afternoon that the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has determined the UNC system is in violation of federal nondiscrimination law as it relates to the N.C. Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, commonly known as HB2. We take this determination seriously and will be conferring with the governor’s office, legislative leaders and counsel about next steps and will respond to the department by its May 9 deadline."

The letter to UNC came the same day that the Justice Department told Governor Pat McCrory, a Republican who backs the law, and legislative leaders that the law is illegal. State officials as well were given until Monday to respond.

It is not clear that Republican legislative leaders will agree to changes in or repeal of the state law. Tim Moore, speaker of the House of Representatives, told The Charlotte Observer that the Justice Department letter was “a huge overreach," adding that "it looks an awful lot like politics to me …. I guess President Obama, in his final months in office, has decided to take up this ultra-liberal agenda.”

The North Carolina law was introduced and passed quickly in March, with no public discussion until after the bill was signed into law. The bill has a number of provisions that limit the ability of local governments to bar discrimination against LGBT people.

But the provisions on bathrooms have set off immediate concerns for many in higher education. In North Carolina, many public and private colleges have declared some bathrooms gender neutral and have allowed transgender students and employees to use the bathrooms that reflect their identities, not their legal gender assigned at birth. The new law has already led to lawsuits against the state by university employees and decisions by some higher education groups to relocate events that had been scheduled for North Carolina to locations elsewhere. (Private colleges are not covered by the law, but many officials at those institutions have condemned it nonetheless and worried about its impact on recruiting students and faculty members.)

Spellings has made several statements about the new law -- and the Justice Department letter said that they were contradictory. For example, the letter noted that Spellings said on April 13 that the UNC system "will not tolerate any sort of harassing or discriminatory behavior on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation."

But on April 5 and again on April 11, Spellings told campus chancellors that UNC "is bound to comply" with the law.

The law constitutes illegal discrimination, the letter said, and so does enforcing it. Under the law, the DOJ letter says, "non-transgender individuals at UNC and its constituent universities may access campus restrooms and changing facilities that are consistent with their gender identity, while transgender individuals may not."

The letter adds that UNC, in saying it will enforce the North Carolina law, also violates other federal statutes, which protect employees and apply to those receiving grants under the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, said via email that Spellings should reverse course now. "The UNC president should immediately stop enforcing the HB2 law and comply fully with the DOJ ruling," he said. "The UNC system should speak out loudly in agreement with this ruling and demand that the governor and the state Legislature fully repeal HB2."

DiversityEditorial Tags: Sexual orientationImage Caption: Margaret Spellings

The stories of the students not counted in federal graduation rates

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago

After two years at the University of Richmond, Susannah Haisley felt her education was getting too expensive. So she transferred to Clemson University, in her home state of South Carolina, with a generous scholarship package.

She graduates on Saturday. But in federal databases, her diploma will not count.

The federal graduation rate includes only first-time, full-time students. More than half of all bachelor’s degree recipients attend more than one college, and millions of students who transferred or enrolled part time are excluded every year.

“I've done everything just like a normal student has,” Haisley said. “I just don't understand why I wouldn't be counted.”

Now, as graduation season approaches, an initiative led by several major higher education groups wants to put faces to the statistics. A new campaign, called #CountAllStudents, will compile stories of students like Haisley -- those who are set to graduate in 2016 but aren’t counted in federal data.

Critics argue that the federal data misrepresent colleges’ success rates and favor some colleges over others. Institutions with traditional students -- just out of high school, studying full time, planning to stay in one place -- are at an advantage.

Right now, the federal data are widely accepted: prospective students use federal graduation rates during the college search. Policy makers use the data to make judgments about colleges’ performance, and institutions use the data to guide their own policies.

“If they aren't able to use the accurate metrics, they won’t really have any idea if their rates for transfer students are better than their peer institutions,” said Christine Keller, executive director of the Student Achievement Measure, which is coordinating #CountAllStudents.

A few years ago, the six major groups that represent college and university presidents created the Student Achievement Measure as an alternative to the federal graduation rate. For colleges that participate, the Student Achievement Measure tracks full-time, part-time and transfer students, and captures the outcomes of an additional 600,000 students compared to the federal graduation rate each year.

Now, the idea is to make a point through stories, rather than numbers. Instead of listing the statistics, #CountAllStudents includes names, photographs, career goals.

“It's not just a data conversation,” said Keller, who is also a vice president at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, which is one of the groups behind the Student Achievement Measure. “These are real transfer students and real part-time students. We want to connect the need for better metrics with the students who are not being counted.”

There’s Crystal Hagerman, a transfer student and business management major at Doane University, who plans to get a master’s in leadership or project management. There’s Demian Brunty, who started working toward a degree in 1997, put his education on hold and will graduate next week from Indiana University Northwest. These students’ diplomas don’t mean anything less, the higher ed groups argue, and their stories deserve to be told.

But in the meantime, the data are getting less valuable by the day, because student demographics are changing, and more nontraditional students are pursuing degrees. When the federal graduation rate’s methodology was created, back in the ’90s, greater proportions of students followed a traditional path.

“At that point,” Keller said, “the federal graduation rate was a more accurate representation of the students attending our campuses.”

Right now, nearly 600 colleges participate in the Student Achievement Measure. Most of those are four-year publics, while an additional 81 are two-year publics and 56 are four-year private nonprofits. Participation is voluntary -- but if all institutions used the tool, nearly two million students that the federal graduation rate excludes would be counted.

But individual stories are personal, and many nontraditional graduates have had to navigate more obstacles along the way, Keller said. After reading students’ stories, she hopes colleges will be more motivated to sign up. “When you start tying the need for better metrics to real, live students who have graduated,” she said, “I think that can only help.”

Editorial Tags: Graduation ratesImage Source: The Student Achievement Measure

Barcelona's research efforts show success as Spanish higher education struggles

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago

Surely few laboratories can match the views from Barcelona Biomedical Research Park on the city’s busy beachfront.

From the sun-dappled balconies of the modernist €120 million ($138 million) institute, scientists can watch boats sail out from the Olympic Port, swimmers take a dip in the Mediterranean and tourists zip along the seafront promenade on motorized scooters.

“It’s a wonder we get any work done at all,” joked Angel Lozanos, vice president of research at Pompeu Fabra University, on the view from the institute, which was established by the university alongside Barcelona City Council and the Catalan government in 2006.

But plenty of work has been done at the institute, which celebrates its 10th anniversary later this month. About 1,500 staff from seven independent research organizations are based at the institute, which has become one of the largest biomedical research centers in southern Europe, producing 1,130 scientific publications last year, double its 2006 total.

With more than 100 research groups working in close proximity to each other -- investigating everything from cancer and neuroscience to evolutionary biology and epidemiology -- there are some similarities to London’s Francis Crick Institute, which aims to foster the same ethos of cross-disciplinary work found in the Barcelona lab.

With scientists from about 60 countries at the institute -- almost a third of researchers are international -- it is one of the few places in Spanish academia with a truly international workforce, said Lozanos.

“We can’t compete on wages with places like Switzerland, where they seem to have almost infinite money, but people want to come here, partly due to the quality of life on offer,” he explained.

“People are willing to take a 20 percent salary cut to come here because it’s Barcelona.”

That success in recruiting internationally is also due to the institute’s ability to sidestep some of the more restrictive state bureaucracy that critics say is hampering Spain’s ability to attract top talent.

Under Spanish law, foreign academics must have their Ph.D. ratified by the education ministry -- a process often lasting years, which stops many top international scholars from moving to Spain.

As a research organization created outside the rules binding most universities, Barcelona’s research park can employ international staff more freely, and also pay them higher salaries than normal academics, whose civil service status makes them subject to national pay structures.

“When I did my Ph.D. here in Barcelona, there was one foreign Ph.D. in my cohort, but now the problem is recruiting enough Spanish candidates,” said Cristina Pujades, associate professor at Pompeu Fabra’s department of experimental and health sciences, and a research delegate at the institute.

“My six Ph.D. students are all foreign, including two Indian students,” Pujades added.

The institute’s lingua franca is now English, with the international research community pushing one another to succeed, she explained.

“It’s fantastic to hear people say, ‘I’m having a paper published in Science,’ as it pushes people on to work that bit harder.”

Having such a vibrant international research community -- it has its own orchestra and annual beach volleyball competition -- is one of the main reasons why Barcelona outperforms the rest of Spain in terms of research and higher education, many argue.

Three of the city’s universities are ranked in the top 200 of Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, with the Autonomous University of Barcelona (146th) just ahead of Pompeu Fabra (joint 164th) and the University of Barcelona (174th), whereas no other Spanish university makes the top 300.

If Catalonia were assessed in its own right, it would be the third-best country judged on European Research Council success rates (behind Belgium and Luxembourg), said Arcadi Navarro, secretary for universities and research for the Catalan government and a professor in genetics at Pompeu Fabra.

“This is an enormous achievement when you consider the [relatively youthful] history of our institutions,” said Navarro. Indeed, Barcelona’s universities have improved their performance in spite of cuts brought about by Spain’s economic crisis, which has led to a brain drain of many of its top scientists.

However, Catalonia’s universities are still held back by rules dictated by Madrid, said economist Andreu Mas-Colell, a former ERC secretary-general, who spoke to THE earlier this year about the potential benefits of Catalonian independence from Spain.

Proposals to reform university governance -- including the end of rectors elected by staff and students -- suggested by a commission led by Luis Garicano, a London School of Economics and Political Science economist, have not progressed in any way since they were put forward three years ago, Mas-Colell said.

“Universities would progress much better if they could choose their own form of governance, moving to a board-led system as seen in places like Finland,” he said.

Reforms are unlikely to occur anytime soon given Spain’s current political gridlock: the country is entering its fifth month without a government since elections in December produced no clear winner.

“We know where we need to go to improve, but the legal framework binding universities leaves us in a straitjacket,” said Mas-Colell.

GlobalEditorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/Math

New presidents or provosts: Alverno Aston Athens Carl Albert Cumbria EWU Lesley Lowell UNLV

Inside HigherEd - 13 hours 2 min ago
  • Alec Cameron, deputy vice chancellor (education) at the University of Western Australia, has been appointed vice chancellor of Aston University, in Britain.
  • Diane Chase, vice provost for academic program quality at the University of Central Florida, has been named executive vice president and provost at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.
  • Joe Delap, vice provost and dean of graduate studies at Jacksonville State University, in Alabama, has been appointed provost at Athens State University, also in Alabama.
  • Jay Falkner, associate vice president of enrollment management at Carl Albert State College, in Oklahoma, has been promoted to president there.
  • Scott Gordon, dean of the Pott College of Science, Engineering and Education at the University of Southern Indiana, has been selected as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Eastern Washington University.
  • Andrea Lee, president of St. Catherine University, in Minnesota, has been chosen as president of Alverno College, in Wisconsin.
  • Julie Mennell, deputy vice chancellor (development) at the University of Sunderland, in Britain, has been named vice chancellor at the University of Cumbria, also in Britain.
  • Michael Vayda, dean of the University of Arkansas Bumpers College of Agriculture, has been selected as provost at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
  • Jeffrey Weiss, co-leader of the Alliance Practice and Healthcare Group of Vantage Partners, in Massachusetts, has been appointed president of Lesley University, also in Massachusetts.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Controversial accreditor ACICS tried to shut down a for-profit but was blocked by judge

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 07:00

A chorus of powerful critics wants to shut down the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, a national accreditor, for allegedly being too lax with Corinthian Colleges and other controversial for-profit institutions.

In December, however, ACICS tried to slap the most severe sanction available to accreditors on a small for-profit, Bristol University, by denying Bristol’s bid to renew its accreditation. ACICS’s final decision in March, which resulted in the university shutting down immediately, was based on 24 identified deficiencies, touching on all of Bristol’s academic programs and administration.

Yet a federal judge last week blocked the accreditor’s move, citing “irreparable harm” to the university if it permanently lost accreditation. The judge said Bristol now may operate as it did before the sanction and can enroll new students.

The drama shows that even when an accreditor moves aggressively, as many accuse them of doing too rarely, they often hit a brick wall with the courts or politicians who are sympathetic to colleges.

The tiny Bristol, which is located in two floors of an office building in Anaheim, Calif., enrolled 120 students two years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The university had just changed ownership, and crafted the business model that led to its regulatory problems. Bristol offers certificates and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, legal studies and hospitality.

In court filings, Bristol’s lawyers said the university enrolls mostly “underserved, low-income, international and underperforming students who have been unable to obtain admission to other institutions of higher learning.”

The university said a “large proportion” of its students are international, hailing from India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam. In addition, it enrolls a “sizable population of student athletes.” 

Indeed, Bristol touts 16 varsity sports teams, evenly split between men and women. Despite its petite size, both the men and women’s basketball teams have during the last two seasons played opponents from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I. (Oddly, Bristol shares its name with a fictitious university in a former advertising campaign for ESPN, the national sports TV network that is based in Bristol, Conn.)

For example, the university's men’s hoops team traveled to play five Division I teams during the 2014-15 season, including California State University at Fresno and Utah’s Weber State University, both of which played in the NCAA tournament this year.

Bristol plays what are called “guarantee games,” meaning a guaranteed fee paid to the visitor, allowing an easy win for the home team and revenue from its crowd. Fresno State said it paid Bristol $5,000 for the Nov. 17, 2014, game, which the home team won 91-55 over Bristol.

Every dollar counts for the university. ACICS said Bristol lost $268,590 during the first nine months of 2015. Its total revenue during that period was $1,223,593, the accreditor said, and the university had a deficit of $2.1 million.

Bristol reported charging $47,400 in total tuition and fees for a typical bachelor's degree program, which it said took an average of 31 months to complete. It received $340,000 in federal financial aid during the 2015 academic year, according to the Education Department. However, the university flunked a federal program review in early 2015, due to “severe findings,” the department said. And Bristol did not tell the feds about its change of ownership for eight months. (Note: This paragraph has been change from a previous version to correct a tuition figure.)

As a result, the department last September told Bristol it was no longer eligible to receive federal aid, including Pell Grants. The department had previously placed the university on a sanction called heightened cash monitoring, where aid payments are delayed. (A form of that penalty essentially led to Corinthian’s collapse.)

As of this week, however, Bristol said on its website that “all Pell Grants awarded from other schools may be honored.” It’s unclear what that statement means, but experts said it almost certainly isn’t legal.

State regulators are the third leg of higher education's regulator triad. Bristol remains approved by the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education.

Lourdes Cruz, an administrator at Bristol, declined to comment for this article. She deferred to the law firm Saul Ewing, which has represented the university in its legal challenge to ACICS.

Bristol has not challenged the accreditor’s findings of a slew of serious problems.

The university, under its former ownership, in 2012 received a three-year grant of accreditation from ACICS. (Bristol's current owner is Patrick Doan, according to a city tax document. The corporation’s name is Kensington College Inc.) Colleges often go a decade between accreditation reviews. When Bristol’s short-term approval came up last year, the accreditor’s findings were clear.

ACICS’s list of 24 deficiencies at the university includes evidence of an inefficient and ineffective administration, lack of written evidence that faculty and staff understand their duties or have been properly trained, insufficient evidence about compensation practices for recruiters of athletes, a lack of appropriate learning materials in all five academic programs, some faculty members' lack of appropriate qualifications to teach their assigned courses, and much more.

Yet the university is back in business as of last week because of the court ruling.

“While ACICS is disappointed to learn the U.S. District Court has preserved Bristol University’s accreditation for the time being, we stand by the decision and the due process that led to the council’s denial of reaccreditation,” the accreditor said in written statement. “ACICS takes quality assurance of its accredited institutions very seriously. The council will deny or revoke accreditation from schools that show an inability to meet the academic, financial and operational criteria required of them.”

Due Process

Bristol in March sued to block ACICS’s “unreasonable” denial of its renewal application, claiming the accreditor violated its own procedures and denied the university due process.

“It’s clear that ACICS in this case acted in a way that was a rush to judgment,” Josh Richards, a lawyer with Saul Ewing, said in an interview. “The fact that ACICS is under pressure from Congress and the Department of Education to improve its own performance doesn’t give it licenses to disregard the rights of the institutions it accredits.”

Last week a federal judge agreed with Bristol, finding that the university “made a sufficient showing” with its legal arguments. The judge also cited the high costs Bristol would suffer from losing its accreditation.

The “plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of immediate injunctive relief since without accreditation,” wrote Anthony Jenga, a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Virginia, where ACICS is based, “it will cease operations and its currently enrolled students will no longer be able to attend classes.”

The court previously had issued a preliminary injunction that prevented ACICS from revoking Bristol's accreditation. In issuing the preliminary order, the judge did not rule on the merits of Bristol's due-process claims but found that the university would likely prevail in a full-fledged hearing.

As the outsourced gatekeepers of federal financial aid and the ultimate arbiters of academic quality in higher education, accreditors theoretically should have the power to impose the death penalty. But in reality, that almost never happens.

Courts tend to be cautious about shutting down colleges. And two lawyers who are experts on accreditation said the balance between preserving due process and being "reasonably prudent" about cracking down on poor-performing colleges is out of whack.

Politicians with ties to colleges often join the fray, too, leaning on accreditors and the feds to keep an accreditor from imposing sanctions on a local college. And while Bristol appears to have hired capable lawyers to plead its case, the legal firepower of a deep-pocketed Corinthian or ITT Educational Services, another controversial for-profit chain accredited by ACICS, is much more imposing.

Pulling accreditation should not be done lightly, said William Ojile, Jr., a lawyer at the firm Armstrong Teasdale, who has a specialty in accreditation. But ACICS appears to have gotten a raw deal with the court's decision on Bristol, he said, after putting in a lot of expensive effort.

"These are huge efforts," Ojile said. "It's an extreme amount of work in a short time."

A key argument by Bristol’s lawyers was that the accreditor moved too fast to yank the university’s approval.

For example, it issued a “final decision” last December to deny Bristol’s renewal application, basing that call on the university’s item-by-item response to more than 37 deficiencies identified in an August letter from the accreditor. Those concerns arose in part because of the findings of a team of volunteers selected by ACICS, a standard practice in higher education accreditation, which had visited Bristol in May.

However, the accreditor's December decision did not give Bristol a “compliance warning” or time to fix those problems, the judge wrote. And ACICS rejected the university’s appeal of its final decision just 90 minutes after a hearing on it concluded.

And, in a bizarre turn, the university in March offered to submit to “intensive ACICS monitoring” for six months, in exchange for pledging to not challenge the accreditor’s final decision. The accreditor didn't take the deal, and moved quickly, at least in a relative sense, as its critics had charged that ACICS should have acted with other for-profits.

The judge, in his final ruling, said problems the accreditor identified about Bristol “raised serious questions as to whether Bristol could or should continue to operate as an academic institution.” But he found that the university likely was denied due process and that “ACICS failed to abide by its own procedures for assessing Bristol’s application for accreditation renewal.”

Paul Gaston, Trustees Professor at Kent State University and an expert on accreditation, called the judge’s ruling narrow and procedural. In a book he recently wrote on accreditation, Gaston said "due process should embody both fairness and urgency."

The court’s blockage of a decisive move by the accreditor is “enormously frustrating,” Gaston said. “It’s the ultimate damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Sanctions Without Teeth

The Obama administration and several Democrats in the U.S. Senate have been scathingly critical of ACICS for keeping Corinthian in good standing until it collapsed, despite the former for-profit chain's fraudulent behavior in lying about job placement rates, among other problems.

Likewise, attorneys general in 12 states wrote to the federal panel that oversees accreditors, urging it to remove ACICS’s recognition as a federally approved accrediting agency. The council, which accredits roughly 900 institutions with a collective enrollment of 800,000 students, is up for review by the panel next month.

Perhaps most spectacular was the grilling Senator Elizabeth Warren gave Albert Gray, ACICS’s longtime president, during a hearing on Capitol Hill last year.

“If accrediting agencies aren’t willing to stand up against colleges that are breaking the law, colleges that are cheating their students, then I don’t know what good they do,” the Massachusetts Democrat said then. “And I sure don’t know why we would let them determine which colleges are eligible for federal dollars.”

Gray resigned abruptly last month.

Ben Miller is senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress and a former official at the U.S. Department of Education. Miller has been a vocal critic of ACICS’s lackluster oversight of Corinthian and other for-profits.

For example, he wrote last September that “one out of every five borrowers at an ACICS-accredited college defaults on his or her loans within three years of entering repayment -- a mark that is 50 percent higher than the national average.”

Miller said the “ridiculous” Bristol saga “shows why it’s so hard to kick colleges out.” The extreme due process accreditors and the courts grant institutions, he said, is one reason why sanctions often lack teeth.

“You want due process rules … but not entitlements for the schools,” he said, which often allow “incapable operators to continue forever, rather than just cutting the cord.”

Likewise, Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education, said last November that accreditors are "watchdogs that don't bite."

On its surface, Miller said ACICS appeared justified in its decision to move relatively quickly to nix Bristol’s renewal application. “Much like a child,” he said of accreditors, “you need to encourage them when they do the right thing.”

For its part, the department appears unlikely to reinstate Bristol's federal aid eligibility.

"This case highlights again the need for strong oversight and swift action by all stakeholders responsible for higher education accountability," said Kelly Leon, a department spokeswoman, in a written statement. "The department is doing its part by building up its own enforcement efforts and by increasing oversight of accreditors."

Bristol is far from being out of the woods. The federal judge last week said the university’s accreditation will remain subject to ACICS’s further review and evaluation. Given the range of problems the accreditor has found, the university has plenty of work to do.

Yet ACICS also faces an existential challenge. And its time on the hot seat comes next month, likely much sooner than the timeline due process will grant to Bristol.

-- Michael Stratford contributed to this article.

For-Profit Higher EdThe Policy DebateEditorial Tags: AccreditationFor-profit collegesImage Source: Bristol UImage Caption: Bristol U, a for-profit with 120 students and 16 varsity sports.

AAUP report condemns College of Saint Rose for cutting more than 20 tenure-line faculty positions with insufficient faculty input

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 07:00

The College of Saint Rose rendered tenure “virtually meaningless” in program cuts resulting in the termination of 23 tenure-line appointments, according to a new report from the American Association of University Professors. The report paves the way for the association to possibly vote to censure the college at AAUP’s annual meeting next month.

“Under the current administration and governing board, the faculty has repeatedly been left out of deliberations or had its reasoned objections ignored, creating conditions for shared academic governance that can only be described as deplorable,” reads the report. “The program eliminations and faculty layoffs were ultimately the result of a lack of responsible stewardship at the board and presidential levels,” leading to a recent faculty vote of no confidence in President Carolyn Stefanco.

The college, meanwhile, says the cuts were necessary to ensure Saint Rose’s future viability. In an April response to a preliminary version of the investigation, Stefanco told AAUP that this “was a critical time for the college as it faced financial challenges that needed to be addressed without delay. Your investigators -- and unfortunately a subset of our faculty -- seem to have little understanding of the perils that face the college as a tuition-dependent institution of higher education today.”

At issue are actions taken by the college last semester to close a reported $9 million budget deficit, including shuttering a number of units and eliminating faculty positions to funnel resources into other, more popular programs. The college called the process an “academic reprioritization.” But professors, in multiple protests and in the course of the AAUP investigation, said Saint Rose’s process lacked sufficient faculty input, and that the liberal arts in particular took the brunt of it.

Bridgett Williams-Searle, an associate professor of history and politics, for example, told the Albany Business Review in February that Stefanco's “disruptions promised to materially damage the curriculum and community at the College of Saint Rose.”

According to the AAUP report, the trouble began in 2014, several months after Stefanco become president. During a series of “finance convocations,” she informed faculty and staff members that the college was not on sound financial footing and blamed previous administrators for "improper" accounting. She said there was an $18 million structural deficit and longer-term debt of $56 million (with 70 percent of college property mortgaged) -- in addition to 9 percent and 27 percent declines in undergraduate and graduate enrollment, respectively, the report says.

Stefanco soon announced the elimination of some 40 staff positions, reductions to the college’s health care benefits and tuition remission and other changes. Then, last summer, the college’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously -- and, according to the report, without faculty input -- to raise the number of transfer credits accepted from students from outside four-year institutions from 62 to 90 -- ostensibly to put the college at a competitive advantage in terms of recruitment of transfer students. The Undergraduate Academic Committee soon voted to counter the move, establishing its own new ceiling of 70 credits. In response, the board reaffirmed its original vote.

In late August 2015, faculty members were informed that retrenchment would occur, in an attempt to close a now $9.3 million structural deficit caused in part by declining enrollment. Stefanco told faculty members the college sought to identify through academic reprioritization areas of high student demand (and meet that demand with investment in faculty and program quality), areas not currently in high demand but with future potential, and those areas not in demand with little near-term potential. She also stated via email that the college would follow its own policies and procedures, and invited the faculty to participate through the Representative Committee of the Faculty.

Yet the body did not meet until the end of September, leaving just about six weeks for it develop a prioritization plan. Stefanco allegedly said she was creating a separate plan, as a backup.

Over the next few weeks, AAUP says, Stefanco and the committee sparred about whether such a task could be accomplished in so short a period, and whether it was necessary to talk to deans and department chairs about potential cuts (the committee wanted to do so). Eventually the committee resolved not to participate in a “rushed and superficial” reprioritization, which put “the institution at risk of destabilization by sanctioning cuts without regard for accreditation standards, degree requirements or the mission of the college.”

The college in the interim announced that it was seeing near-record enrollment in its first-year class and had received $2 million in donations. Yet Stefanco wrote in an open letter that a $9 million deficit persisted. The root cause was “significant and sustained enrollment declines in certain programs, without concomitant change in the number of faculty,” necessitating a process for discontinuing programs and terminating appointments, she said. So the prioritization was to continue, with or without the faculty committee’s involvement.

Academic cuts and closures were announced in early December. They include eliminating or curtailing undergraduate degree and certificate programs in American studies, art education, economics, geology, philosophy, religious studies, sociology, Spanish, and women’s and gender studies. Graduate degree and advanced certificate programs in art education, communications, educational psychology, English, history/political science, music education and studio art also suffered.

Twenty-three tenure-line faculty members, about half of them tenured, received notices of termination, to take effect after one year.

AAUP reached out to Saint Rose on behalf of concerned faculty members. The college eventually declined to participate in the association’s investigation, saying it believed it was one-sided with an apparently predetermined outcome. Representatives of AAUP visited the campus in January 2016 and met with about 30 faculty members and a dozen students.

Investigators determined that Saint Rose violated widely followed AAUP standards regarding tenure, specifically that tenured appointments may only be eliminated in extraordinary cases involving bona fide financial exigency or discontinuance -- not just a reduction -- of a program or department based on educational reasons. Saint Rose’s repeated declarations of “serious fiscal challenges” due to lowered enrollment (which is now on the rise) simply don’t meet that standard, the report says. And nearly half of the terminated professors weren’t in discontinued departments.

Moreover, the report says, faculty members haven’t seen enrollment data that back college claims about why it cut the programs it did. Some faculty members interviewed by AAUP said that while their programs weren’t necessarily growing, they weren’t shrinking, either.

Saint Rose also violated AAUP and its own standards for shared governance and academic due process, according to the report. Faculty members serving on additional shared governance committees said they were not consulted on the college’s program cut plans.

“We did no deliberating whatsoever,” one faculty representative said.

AAUP says it considered whether the original representative faculty committee was right to withdraw from the prioritization process, after an overall faculty vote in favor of the move. It decided it was.

“Ultimately, the faculty asserted that it had no choice given the constraints -- of time, information, authority and purview -- under which the administration was requiring [the faculty committee] to operate,” the report says. “The evidence compels the investigating committee to reach the same conclusion.”

In her response to AAUP’s draft report, Stefanco alleged numerous inaccuracies and “misrepresentations” of the situation. For example, she wrote, the report implies that the college put off meeting with the faculty representative committee between late August of last year, when it announced the prioritization process, and late September. In fact, Stefanco wrote, the body was not available to meet until that time due to leadership changes. (The deadline for a plan for cuts was Nov. 2, 2015, regardless.)

“As was true at the college this fall, sometimes action is required on a shorter timeline than we all would like,” Stefanco wrote. “We are saddened by each and every faculty member who received a layoff notice. The college has already reinstated five faculty without an adverse budget impact.” Stefanco also noted that any claims about an unfair faculty appeals process is premature.

Saint Rose in a statement on Tuesday that echoed Stefanco's earlier sentiments, saying, in part, that the college "is making necessary, though difficult, changes to reduce a $9 million deficit, increase enrollment, keep tuition sensible and better serve the changing needs of our students. The reality at Saint Rose is that 75 percent of our students are enrolled in 25 percent of our academic programs. We have an obligation to enable our students to pursue the degrees they want. To do so, the college will shift resources from low-enrollment academic programs to high-enrollment programs. The programs to be reduced or eliminated affect 4 percent of our students. They entail the elimination of faculty positions with 12 months’ notice and other assistance -- a regrettable but unavoidable step.”

Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic freedom and governance for AAUP, said academic prioritization without financial exigency seems to be happening at a number of institutions, including National Louis University, the University of Southern Maine and Felician College. Maintaining the highest standard for getting rid of tenured faculty positions also has been central to the ongoing debate over changes to faculty layoff policies in the University of Wisconsin System. Faculty members at smaller, tuition-dependent institutions seem to be particularly at risk, he said, though he noted a number of such colleges in recent years have avoided their own "bloodbaths" by eliminating faculty positions through early retirement or other alternatives to termination.

“Small underendowed private colleges are an increasingly endangered species,” he added. “I hope we don’t see more and more Saint Roses in the years to come.”

FacultyEditorial Tags: TenureImage Caption: Protest over cuts at College of Saint Rose

Wyoming community college to close journalism program at center of dispute

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 07:00

The tiny journalism program at Wyoming's Northwest College has been a burr in the saddle of administrators for years. Its faculty members advised the student newspaper, The Northwest Trail, which regularly published articles that explored controversial issues on the campus, and twice in the last decade, first in 2010 and again this year, administrators took aim at those advisers' jobs.

Now Northwest officials appear to have adopted a new strategy: get rid of the pesky journalism department altogether.

President Stefani Hicswa told the college's governing council Tuesday that she would urge the Northwest Board of Trustees to eliminate three academic programs, including journalism, because of an "impending imbalance between the cost of operation and expected revenue," according to Mark Kitchen, the vice president for college relations. The other two programs are film/radio/TV and farrier business management (which, for those like the author who are city folk, mixes business skills and the art of shoeing horses).

Kitchen provided additional information on the budget situation Wednesday morning, saying via email that Northwest was seeking to shave about 10 percent from its $22.5 million operating budget, and that the state's governor had requested another cut that could amount to $1.6 million more.

Asked if the elimination of the journalism program would affect the Trail, which has been overseen by instructors in the program, Kitchen said via email that "[Hicswa's] intentions are to retain the student newspaper, The Northwest Trail, assuming students remain interested in doing so."

In response to a follow-up question about who would oversee the student newspaper in the absence of a journalism program, Kitchen said, "At this early stage, no decisions have been made re: oversight, advising, etc."

Others at Northwest have their suspicions. Rob Breeding, whose position as a journalism instructor (and adviser of the Trail) has been threatened, he and supporters believe, because of critical articles published by the newspaper, said via text message Tuesday that he assumed the administration would take control of the student newspaper once the journalism program is eliminated. Breeding was out of pocket and could not provide any further comment.

Steve Thulin, a professor of history who is president of the campus union and incoming president of the faculty association, said that "there were a great many faculty questioning the decision to eliminate the journalism program from a number of angles." Thulin said that "the question of whether or not there is animosity" toward the journalism faculty "has certainly been brought up."

But Thulin said his own concerns revolved around whether administrators, in judging programs for elimination using a quantitative scale based on various factors, had taken into account whether "journalism has a more special place" than do other programs because of its link to the student newspaper and the role of the First Amendment.

Thulin said campus administrators had told him that they ignored the program review criterion related to whether academic departments have "cultural or other significance" because it was "too subjective" to be used to apply points.

Breeding's tenure review has been delayed as Northwest officials added requirements that they say were needed to comply with accrediting standards. His lawyer has accused Northwest of retaliating against him illegally, a charge college officials have denied.

Six years ago, Ron Feemster’s contract as a journalism instructor at the college was not renewed because, he said at the time, administrators balked at the sometimes unfavorable stories he encouraged his student reporters to pursue. He chronicled years of pressure from officials to publish only benign, positive articles in a 2010 post for Inside Higher Ed.

Editorial Tags: Academic freedomJournalismImage Caption: Students in Northwest College's journalism program

Study: Recreational physical activities increase odds of academic success

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 07:00

College is a balancing act, and it can be hard to manage the demands of classwork while staying healthy and fit.

But spending an afternoon at the gym might yield positive results in the library, a new study finds. When college students exercise more, they don’t just get healthier -- they are also more likely to succeed academically.

The study, conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University, looked at 20,000 students’ recreational activities during the 2013-14 school year. For every extra hour that students exercised, their odds of graduating (or returning the following year) increased by 50 percent.

And even in small amounts, exercise can help: for every one-hour increase in weekly physical activities, researchers found, students’ GPAs increased by 0.06.

“It’s a somewhat small increase,” said Jason DeRousie, co-author of the study and NC State’s assistant director of assessment. “But a small increase in activity does have a positive impact.”

Students’ class years also mattered. The relationship between exercise and GPA was stronger for freshmen and sophomores, and weaker for juniors and seniors.

Recreational activities included time spent on the recreation center, group fitness and intramural sports. Nearly half of students participated in recreational activities less than once a week, while 19.1 percent participated between once and twice a week. Only 1.4 percent participated five or more times a week, while 16.7 percent never participated.

The findings fit well with the cultural moment on college campuses: students are particularly focused on mental health, and many understand how exercise affects their well-being, said Heather Sanderson, co-author of the study and NC State’s associate director of university recreation.

“We see the benefits of exercise on anxiety and depression and stress,” she said. “There has to be a connection to academic success.”

While past studies have looked at similar trends, the researchers say that most don’t control for other factors that contribute to academic success. The new study controls for factors like high school GPA, SAT scores and demographic factors.

Going forward, Sanderson and DeRousie hope to delve deeper into that connection: Does the type of activity matter? Does playing an intramural sports boost grades more than an afternoon at the gym?

And in the meantime, they hope administrators will use their findings to create resources for students. Many students may see a link between exercise and academic success, but perhaps they’ll be more motivated seeing their instincts backed up by numbers.

“We can take these findings and promote these things that students probably knew were good,” DeRousie said. “It gives us a systematic way to give students the extra nudge.”

Editorial Tags: Graduation ratesHealth CareImage Source: North Carolina StateImage Caption: Students lift weights in North Carolina State's recreational facilities.

Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/04/2016 - 07:00

The following colleges have announced their commencement speakers for spring 2016:

  • Boston University: Nina Tassler, former chair of CBS.
  • Buffalo State of the State University of New York: Kyle Bradstreet, writer and producer of Mr. Robot; and Catherine F. Collins, a New York State regent.
  • Cheyney University: Sheryl Lee Ralph, the actress.
  • Cooper Union: Denise Young Smith, vice president of worldwide human resources at Apple.
  • CUNY School of Professional Studies, Sonia Manzano, Emmy Award-winning actress, writer and author (Maria on Sesame Street).
  • Heritage University: Bonnie J. Dunbar, retired NASA astronaut.
  • Loyola University Chicago: Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa, the neurosurgeon; Bill Plante, the journalist; and others.
  • Marian University, in Indiana: The Reverend Joseph W. Tobin, archbishop of Indianapolis.
  • Morris Brown College: U.S. Deputy Postmaster General Ronald A. Stroman.
  • Northwestern College, in Iowa: The Reverend Jill Ver Steeg, of the denominational staff for the Reformed Church in America.
  • Oakwood University: General Dennis L. Via.
  • Quinnipiac University: Jahana Hayes, U.S. Teacher of the Year, and others.
  • Ripon College: Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. women’s national soccer team coach.
  • University of Hartford: Kennedy Owiti Odede, the co-founder of Shining Hope for Communities; and Donna Randall, chief executive officer of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California.
  • University of Rio Grande and Rio Grande Community College: Megan Wise, Miss Ohio USA 2016.
Editorial Tags: Commencement speakers

Minority students at U of Kansas create parallel student government

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:00

A common complaint among minority students participating in campus protests in the past year has been a lack of representation in their student governments. Last month, students at the University of Kansas came up with a possible solution: create a separate government to represent students of color.

The move has drawn criticism from those who argue a parallel government is a form of segregation and that students would be better off seeking election to student government. The move has also drawn praise from researchers who study race on college campuses and from activists who say minority students are frequently shut out of student government.

Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, said while few -- if any -- other institutions have separate governments for minority students, the concept of creating a new structure specifically for minority students on campus is not new.

“Historically black fraternities were born out of this same sense of exclusion,” Harper said. “That’s true for ethnic cultural centers, too. We wouldn't need them on campuses if the campuses themselves were much more culturally inclusive of students of color. These students are not trying to just segregate themselves. That is not their motive. They’re just tired of waiting for this larger, longstanding structure to be responsive.”

Those behind the creation of the new Multicultural Student Government at Kansas say the change is necessary after years of neglect and discrimination. Inaction on those issues, including concerns that the government's election code was biased against low-income students after the Senate raised the spending cap for candidates, led to an intense meeting between activists and the student government, the Student Senate, in November. The meeting ended with the Student Executive Committee asking that the senate’s president, vice president and chief of staff -- who, along with most of the executive branch, are white -- resign over what was seen as a lack of support for minority students.

At the same meeting, the Student Senate Rights Committee passed a resolution in support of a list of demands created by student demonstrators. That list included the creation of a parallel student government for marginalized students. The president, vice president and chief of staff later said they would not resign, releasing a statement in support of minority students.

“Black lives matter,” they wrote. “Black lives matter at the University of Kansas.”

Last month, the senate formally approved of the new Multicultural Student Government, though many details of how it will function and work in tandem with the original Student Senate are still being worked out. At the moment, the Multicultural Student Government functions ostensibly as a student club, albeit one with a far larger budget than other student organizations on campus. Its funding will come from the Student Senate's budget.

The University Senate Code only allows for three governing bodies on campus: the Faculty Senate, the Staff Senate and the Student Senate. Altering the code to officially allow for a fourth governing body could take several semesters.

Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, said he’s never heard of a campus operating two parallel student governments and questions whether such an arrangement could work. Noting that voter turnout at most campus elections is typically very low, Oxendine said students may be better off rallying their supporters and running for student government offices themselves, rather than create a new government. 

“They’re very passionate about not being represented, and I totally understand that,” he said. “But I don’t know that this is the way to get what they want. To me, this hearkens back to separation and Jim Crow days. It’s going backwards in time, not moving forward. I don’t see any assurance that a smaller, separate government would have any influence over the existing body. Why not work within the system and then try to get the current government to evolve and change?”

Researchers like Harper and Eddie Comeaux, an associate professor of higher education at the University of California at Riverside, however, said many minority students have already tried working within that system, and feel that it’s a structure that refuses to respond to their concerns no matter their attempts. Students have long claimed that student governments and their elections are biased against minority students, instead favoring white students and members of fraternities and sororities.

Earlier this year, a student at the University of Florida -- a former chief strategist for a prominent student government party -- posted a video online that quickly went viral, in which she criticized the student government there as being rigged against minority students. The student, Sabrina Phillips, explained how a coalition of Greek chapters collude to choose who should run for open positions and then pressure chapter members into voting a certain way.

“No one that’s a part of this system can change it from the inside,” Phillips warned.

The predominantly white Greek chapters are divided into three powerful voting blocs, she said, while non-Greeks typically run as independents. The three Greek-led blocs, which do sometimes feature a handful of students of color agreeing to run for lower-level positions, come together to vote as one during elections, using their 2,500 votes to overpower any independent slates.

The former strategist's claims were an open secret of sorts at Florida. The coalition of predominantly white, fraternity-led voting blocs, which students at Florida liken to a shadow government, is known as "the System.” It has operated on campus since the 1960s.

In 2010, leaked recordings of a meeting with one prominent party revealed that some fraternities and sororities withheld dinner from their members until they voted for the preferred candidates. “You guys cannot let the Greek system down,” a voice said on the tapes. “This is what we live for. This is what we pledge. Everything about it is why we run this campus and why we have been for the last century.”

In 2008, the private emails of top Florida student government officials were leaked, including a list of students who applied for open government positions. Twelve names were highlighted in green. “Green means go,” the student president wrote. Ten of the 12 names won seats in the government that election.

A similar shadow government exists at the University of Alabama, known as “the Machine.” A brochure published by the group in 1989 noted that in the Student Government Association's 75-year existence, the Machine successfully elected its choice for president 68 times. “This is because the SGA is ours,” the brochure reads.

“When inequities are made to be institutionalized, it's so much harder to disrupt them,” said Demetri Morgan, a University of Florida graduate who is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “It takes a couple of years to learn about the system, and then when you get to a point where you can and want to do something, your time there is almost up. The system keeps going, but the people who want to disrupt it are only on campus for a finite about of time. The system always outlasts them.”

A group of minority student activists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison hope to be an exception to the rule. Coming from several organizations on campus -- including the UW Blackout Movement, the Wisconsin Black Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine -- 23 students created a new slate this year called the Blind Side.

Piggybacking off their activism and the attention their protests received last year, 17 of the students were able to win positions on the Associated Students of Madison Student Council. That’s a majority of council's open positions. The slate nabbed two of the three open seats on the Student Services Finance Committee, the body that allocates $45 million in student fees per year.

Voter turnout increased by 53 percent over last year, Associated Students of Madison said in a statement.

“I think on one end you can try taking the traditional route of running for office and serving in that leadership role, having a voice where you can effect change,” Comeaux said. “But I don’t think students necessarily have to be confined to that traditional route. Every now and then you have to take alternative routes that might be more effective for addressing your cause on your particular campus.”

DiversityEditorial Tags: Student lifeImage Caption: Minority students protest student government at U of Kansas.

What a new tax bill means for Yale

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:00

In the eyes of the law, private colleges are just like charities.

Just like any other nonprofit, private colleges and universities provide a public service. And because they serve the public good, they are exempt from certain federal and state taxes.

But that rationale doesn’t always sit well. The wealthiest universities have tens of billions of dollars in their endowments -- so why, critics wonder, shouldn’t they pay taxes?

“There’s a pushback in different sectors around the country around the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities,” said Richard Jacob, Yale University’s associate vice president for federal and state relations. “It’s a worrisome trend.”

With an endowment totaling $25.57 billion, Yale has been the target of two bills in the last two months alone that could change the way the university pays its taxes.

The first bill would have allowed the state to tax the earnings on Yale’s endowment, a move that echoed conversation on the national stage. Earlier this month, the bill died in the Legislature.

But a second bill, which would allow New Haven to tax certain commercial properties at Yale, was approved earlier this month by the Legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and will soon face a full Senate debate.

‘Just a Clarification’

SB 414 focuses on an obscure piece of Connecticut legislation, written in 1834: under the law, Connecticut colleges and universities don’t have to pay taxes on buildings that generate for-profit revenue under $6,000 a year.

At the moment, some of Yale’s buildings are clearly academic, while others are clearly commercial. But some are used for both purposes, and it’s harder to determine how they should be classified. The spells out what kinds of revenue count toward the $6,000, making it easier to determine which mixed-use properties should be taxed.

State Representative Roland Lemar, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, insists that the bill is only a “clarification.” The law in question is 182 years old, and Lemar hopes the new bill will shed light on what the law should mean for Connecticut’s colleges and universities in 2016.

“I think that what this bill tries to get to is a firmer understanding of what types of activities are being conducted, where it is private, commercial, profitable outside of an academic mission,” Lemar said in a recent legislative hearing.

Yale leaders have argued adamantly against the bill, saying that it is both illegal and counterproductive. They see the bill as an erosion of its charter, a legal contract between the university and the state.

But the bill won’t change the current law, supporters say. In fact, it won’t technically add any new taxes.

“Whatever tax ability that the state had, it has had since the 1800s,” New Haven Mayor Toni Harp said in an interview on WNHH radio, “so this is just a clarification.”

Both Harp and Lemar have pointed to a travel program for alumni that Yale runs out of one of its buildings. From Yale’s perspective, the tours are educational and therefore should not be taxed. But as Lemar told the New Haven Independent, “You go with other Yale alums on European tours. It looks like a vacation. It’s an income stream for them.” Under the new bill, gray-area buildings and programs would become easier to classify.

It’s unclear how much the bill would cost Yale; its backers and its critics have different interpretations of how much the bill would change. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said that the university doesn’t have an overall estimate, but that the taxes on Woolsey Hall, an auditorium, would be around three-quarters of a million dollars a year. Right now, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra pays to rent Woolsey, and Yale has said that the orchestra may lose the space if SB 414 goes through.

“There is obviously no point in the sponsors proposing a tax bill that wouldn’t generate significant property tax revenue for the city,” Conroy said.

Taxing the Wealthiest Colleges

Colleges are protective of their tax-exempt status. As nonprofits, they are used to a legal system that affirms their value as a public good, and proposals to change that system are viewed as threats to their core mission.

“Taxing a large university would set a precedent for taxing not only other private colleges but also every nonprofit, from local churches and soup kitchens to the Red Cross and Salvation Army,” the Association of American Universities, the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities wrote in response to the Connecticut bill. “Nonprofit charitable organizations are part of the foundation of American society. If we begin to tax them, we erode that foundation.”

But some say that Yale actually has a leg up over New Haven’s other nonprofits. In a letter to the General Assembly last week, more than 100 New Haven clergy members and community leaders voiced their support for the bill. Churches pay taxes on their commercial properties, they argued, and Yale should be subject to the same rules.

At the national level, wealthy colleges have been a target of similar movements for years. Earlier this year, for instance, Congress sent letters to several dozen of the wealthiest colleges, asking for more information on how they spend their money. Since 2011, Princeton University has been fighting a lawsuit filed by a group of residents who argue that the university's tax-exempt status drives their taxes up.

Karin Johns, director of tax policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said that similar state-level proposals aren’t unusual -- and that movements at the federal level tend to spur them on.

“When there are accusations at the federal level that there’s too much money not being used properly,” she said, “states take notice of those accusations and see a potential revenue source.”

Yet Yale’s commercial pursuits help New Haven’s economy, Jacob, the Yale VP, said, and the legislators pushing these bills are misjudging the contributions that colleges make to their communities.

“No other institutions are being taxed for successfully contributing to economic development in their hometown,” he said.

And Yale also has donations to think about, which are typically restricted for specific purposes, said Peter McDonough, the general counsel at the American Council on Education. As a result, even the wealthiest colleges could struggle to come up with the extra cash.

“We can talk about the multiple billions of dollars Yale has, but it can’t allocate them to property taxes,” he said. “It has to find them somewhere else.”

Editorial Tags: EndowmentsImage Source: Yale UniversityImage Caption: Yale's Woolsey Hall, one of the buildings that could be taxed under SB 414.

Higher ed groups say teacher prep rules 'discriminate' against distance education providers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:00

University administrators and higher education groups are urging the U.S. Department of Education to regulate all teacher preparation programs according to the same rules, regardless of whether students learn in the classroom or online.

The department is still tweaking its proposed rules on how states should evaluate teacher preparation programs. Since April 1, the department has collected input specifically on how those rules would affect distance education programs, in which education is delivered in some setting other than a brick-and-mortar classroom -- a growing segment of teacher education. The comment period closed on Monday.

The rules, which have been in the works for years, have been a source of controversy because of how they seek to connect student outcomes to federal funding in the form of Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. Some critics have cried federal overreach, saying that complying with the rules will be more expensive and time-consuming than the department estimates. Others have said the rules will grant states themselves too much power, as a teacher preparation program could lose its TEACH Grant if a single state rates it “low-performing” or “at-risk.”

Nearly 5,000 individuals and organizations have commented on the proposed rules. A few dozen submitted their thoughts during the one-month period when the department reopened for input on regulating distance education programs. While many of those who submitted comments repeated concerns heard during the first comment period, many of them wondered why the department is singling out distance education.

“Why is it necessary for the proposed regulations to discriminate against distance education or any mode of instruction by creating separate criteria or measures?” asked Pamela Shay, senior vice president for accreditation and institutional effectiveness at Franklin University in Ohio. “The need for multiple measures can be simplified by treating all teacher education candidates the same regardless of how they obtained their skills. This would avoid the confusion of creating additional measures for distance education or other modes that are difficult to distinguish from each other.”

Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, echoed those concerns. In his comments, he said the department should focus on the needs of future teachers and their students, not the organizations that provide the education.

“Whether a traditional bricks-and-mortar institution or a virtual online prep program, any teacher preparation approach must ultimately demonstrate its effectiveness by showing that its graduates know and can do what it takes to advance students’ learning,” Levine wrote. “The years ahead are likely to bring a dramatic expansion in the number and types of education providers. Building on the existing providers, we will continue to see for-profit and not-for-profit; brick, click, and brick and click; local, national and international; and combinations thereof.”

The Woodrow Wilson Foundation is one of the organizations pushing for such a development. The foundation is working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to help teachers use digital tools to teach STEM courses.

The Online Learning Consortium, the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) -- three organizations that deal primarily with online education -- previously commented to say the proposed rules focused too strongly on face-to-face programs. The department, they wrote, had not “sufficiently considered the ramifications for the growing community of students learning at a distance.”

The proposed rules for distance education programs fixed that problem, but created another, Russell Poulin, WCET director of policy and analysis, wrote in blog post. Enforcing different regulations depending on a program’s mode of delivery “discriminates against distance education,” he wrote. “There should not be a distinction between distance education, face-to-face instruction, blended learning or any other mode of learning.”

WCET was also among the organizations questioning the federal government’s definition of distance learning. According to that definition, those programs involve settings where students are “separated from the instructor.”

“This creates a large loophole for students enrolled in programs that are neither fully ‘distance’ nor fully ‘brick and mortar,’” wrote Poulin, referring to blended programs that combine face-to-face and online education.

Other organizations interpreted the definition differently. The American Council on Education, for example, said in its comments that it believed the definition “would include hybrid or blended models of instruction.” The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, meanwhile, said it “seems to apply to courses rather than to complete academic programs,” which, if correct, would cause confusion for programs that offer both face-to-face and online courses.

The final rules are expected in September.

Online LearningEditorial Tags: Distance educationImage Caption: Arthur Levine of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation

Study finds comparatively good outcomes for community college transfers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:00

Students who enrolled in community colleges were significantly less likely to earn bachelor's degrees and had lower early-career earnings than peers who went directly to four-year institutions, but those who ultimately transferred to four-year colleges performed equally to those who went directly into four-year institutions, a new study has found.

The research, conducted by the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College, examines terrain that has become increasingly important as more students (often encouraged by policy makers) consider enrolling in two-year institutions because they are less expensive. 

The better financial deal that community colleges may seem to be on paper only pans out, though, if students who choose that path fare well academically and in the workforce.

Like most studies on this topic, the new one -- which is based on data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and from the National Student Clearinghouse -- presents mixed results.

Students who enrolled in Virginia's two-year institutions in 2004 were significantly less likely to earn a bachelor's degree within eight years than were their peers who enrolled in a four-year institution that year.

They also had somewhat lower average earnings in 2012, though the gap shrank to a nonstatistically significant amount when the two populations of students were compared to students most like them. (The researchers acknowledge that the four-year students who remained in the state might have weaker earnings potential than those who left Virginia, and therefore wouldn't have been reflected in the state's wage records.)

Fewer than a quarter of the students who started out in community colleges in 2004 and aspired to earn a bachelor's degree eventually transferred to a four-year institution. When the researchers compared the transferring students to similarly situated "native" four-year-college students (those who enrolled directly into those institutions), they found that "vertical transfer students are much more likely than their similar native peers to graduate within eight years of college entry, and suffer few or no negative labor market impacts at that time."

The researchers dug into the data to try to gauge the validity of some of the traditional explanations for community college students' perceived underperformance.

They found that community college students took lower course loads in their second year than did their peers who started at four-year institutions, and were four percentage points less likely to complete the courses in which they enrolled in that second year. That suppressed the number of completed credits for community college students by three, on average.

The data also supported the idea that the "idiosyncratic path" to a four-year institution deters many students who might have transferred. Only 68 percent of those who earned associate degrees and 57 percent of students who earned more than 60 college-level credits at two-year institutions transferred. Additionally, 15 percent of those who transferred did so in their first or second year (presumably before having earned the 60 credits generally expected for transfer), and another 15 percent transferred seven or eight years after entering the two-year institution. And the number of college-level credits accumulated by transferring students ranged from zero to 184.

"Those patterns seem to suggest there is no well-trodden, highly structured pathway for transfer students to follow," the authors write.

When the lower costs of attending two-year institutions are taken into account, the researchers write, "vertical transfers reap strong financial benefits from the community college pathway -- in part due to two-year colleges' lower expenses, but also in part due to these students' stronger attachment to the labor market during their community college enrollment period."

The authors acknowledge the possibility, though, that the positive short-term labor market outcomes the community college transfers show might plateau if studied over a longer period of time.

The paper's authors are Di Xu, an assistant professor at the University of California at Irvine, Shanna Smith Jaggars, director of student success research for the Office of Distance Education and E-Learning at Ohio State University, and Jeffrey Fletcher, a doctoral student in economics and education at Columbia.

Editorial Tags: Community colleges

New presidents or provosts: Fitchburg Houston Miami New Mexico Tech Rockford St. Andrews Southern Whitewater

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/03/2016 - 07:00
  • Sandra L. Boham, interim president of Salish Kootenai College, in Montana, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Alberto J. F. Cardelle, dean of the College of Health Sciences at East Stroudsburg University, in Pennsylvania, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fitchburg State University.
  • Gregory P. Crawford, professor of physics and vice president and associate provost at the University of Notre Dame, in Indiana, has been chosen as president of Miami University, in Ohio.
  • Rodney Ellis, a consultant and former chancellor of Central Louisiana Technical Community College, has been appointed chancellor of Southern University Shreveport, also in Louisiana.
  • Susan Elrod, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University at Chico, has been selected as provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
  • Eric Fulcomer, vice president for enrollment management at Rockford University, in Illinois, has been appointed president there.
  • Sally Mapstone, currently pro vice chancellor for education at the University of Oxford, in Britain, has been chosen as principal of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.
  • Vic Morgan, interim president of the University of Houston-Victoria, in Texas, has been promoted to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute, in Nevada, has been appointed president of New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Why colleges’ brands look so similar

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 05/02/2016 - 07:00

In its brochures, a college is never just a college. A college is a gateway, or a launchpad, or a training ground.

Condensed into a few words, colleges’ missions are similar, and the concrete elements of college life become less so: “Attending SF State is more than an education -- it’s an experience,” the university’s website reads. “Leadership isn’t just an elective. It’s a way of life,” reads the University of Virginia’s.

But it’s that brevity -- a tagline, a logo, a mission statement -- that sells. Colleges want to stand out, but they also want to be pithy. The effect is often grandiose, stylized and crushingly clichéd.

Start here. Go anywhere.

Start here. Get there.

Going anywhere starts here!

Beyond tagline language, higher education marketing has its own aesthetic: students under trees, throwing Frisbees, wearing lab coats. And so it makes sense when colleges on opposite sides of the world produce nearly identical marketing materials.

Take the University at Buffalo, which rolled out a new marketing campaign earlier this month:

The campaign, the result of a $314,000 contract with the firms Ologie and Marshall Strategy, is centered around the phrase, “Here is how,” and it plays up the university’s location in Buffalo, N.Y. The goal of the campaign, the university writes on its website, is to “establish a distinctive, compelling and relevant position in the minds of our university stakeholders and key publics.”

But 9,000 miles away, the University of Sydney, in Australia, had similar ideas:

Sydney’s design isn’t a branding campaign; the white script “here” features prominently on a 360-degree video tour. The two designs were created by different firms.

Still, they are striking. How could two universities, on opposite ends of the world, come up with such similar designs?

"The presentation is very alarming,” said Peter Hahn, creative director at the public relations agency Finn Partners. “It really feels like they bought a campaign off a shelf.”

Yet Hahn can see why the theme works for both universities. Beyond the word “here,” the script lettering gives the design a more personal touch. Both universities knew what they were going for, and they ended up -- innocently -- at a similar place.

Ologie declined to comment on the apparent similarities.

Slogans, themes and images go in and out of style all the time; for a while, Hahn says he “felt like everyone and their mother used the ‘we are.’” We are Penn State. We are UMB. We are Mizzou.

Colleges want their brands to be stylish, catchy, vibrant. But when style trumps substance, colleges start to look just like their competitors, said Bill Tyson, president of Morrison and Tyson Communications.

“Sometimes holding on to tradition and identity isn’t the most stylish -- but it still conveys a message,” he said. “When I look at the Texas longhorn, it all fits. I don’t have to guess.”

‘Looking for a Lifestyle’

Most branding experts will say that a degree is an emotional purchase. During the college search, prospective students are told to walk the campus, to stay overnight with a current student, to really get a feel for the place. They are asked: What does your gut say? Does it feel like this place really fits?

Savvy marketing is a big part of that feeling. But too often, colleges’ branding experts look to other colleges for inspiration, and similar ideas take hold across institutions, said Darryl Cilli, founding partner at the branding agency 160over90.

“When you’re a prospective college student, you’re looking for an education and you’re looking for a lifestyle,” he said. “You want something that is completely customized to you.”

A few years ago, 160over90 published a book on the clichés that plague higher education marketing, called Three and a Tree. A college suffers from Three and a Tree (or TAAT) when its brochures feature pictures of “three students of varying ethnicities and gender, dressed head to toe in college-branded merchandise.”

Then there are the worst cases, which suffer from TAATPTDPF: Three and a Tree plus Two Dudes Playing Frisbee.

A college degree is the second most expensive purchase most people make in a lifetime, Cilli said. Prospective students want to go somewhere they feel connected to, intellectually and emotionally. When a college’s marketing feels uninspired, those students won’t feel that connection.

“If you're a student,” Hahn said, “the university is a huge portion of who you are.”

Brands reflect character -- or at least they’re supposed to -- and even after enrolling, students care about their colleges’ branding. They want it to accurately reflect their institutions, the institutions they’ve chosen to represent themselves.

Earlier this month, Emerson College rolled out a new logo: a lowercase script “e,” with a long, horizontal swoosh. But students were less than impressed. They derided the logo on Twitter. They asked random passersby for their thoughts in a man-on-the-street YouTube video. They created a Change.org petition, writing: “This new logo does not represent the dedication, hard work and creativity of the students, alumni, teachers and faculty of Emerson College.”

“I always feel like brands are very much like people, very much like human relationships,” Hahn said. “The logo has to carry so much weight. It’s the very symbolic embodiment of everything.”

That’s why major rebranding efforts are often controversial from the start. But even the most ambitious, original campaigns can go too far, said Michael Stoner, president of the marketing agency mStoner.

“In buying a product like higher education, you have to establish trust in the consumer of that product,” he said. “I’m not necessarily sure that you do it by being radically different from every other college on the face of the earth.”

Editorial Tags: MarketingImage Source: Wikimedia Commons

A professor's 'Failure CV' prompts discussion of what constitutes academic success

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 05/02/2016 - 07:00

By most measures, Johannes Haushofer has successfully launched his academic career. After earning degrees at the University of Oxford, Harvard University and the University of Zurich, he landed a postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he's now an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University. You can check out his CV here.

But the CV academics have been talking about the past few days isn't standard. It is Haushofer's CV of Failures, listing all the rejection he has faced in his academic career, from programs of study to jobs to grants.

Haushofer introduces his failure CV by explaining its rationale: "Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots and selection committees and referees have bad days. This CV of Failures is an attempt to balance the record and provide some perspective."

He notes that others have done the same and credits an article in Nature by Melanie I. Stefan for giving him the idea.

Others have argued over the years that academe would be a better place for all with more understanding of failure, and how it may lead to success.

In a 2012 essay in Inside Higher Ed, Edward Burger, then a professor at Williams College and now president of Southwestern University, described how he required students to engage in failure in his courses, by trying things that would not work, and that part of their grades were based on the quality of the failure.

The CV of Failure is generally winning good reviews on social media:

This is great! A professor publishes her CV of failure. We all fail sometimes and you must be brave to admit it https://t.co/m0Mu0VujDB

-- Benedetta Argentieri (@benargentieri) April 28, 2016

Thought provoking pick-me-up for job application season. Latest item on my CV-of-failure, ironically, is applying to work for @jhaushofer!

-- Abraham Gutman (@abgutman) April 28, 2016

Not everyone has been impressed. Some have noted that Haushofer's failures were fairly quickly followed by success. Sure, he was turned down for assistant professor jobs at Harvard and MIT, but he landed one at Princeton. He cites five papers that were rejected for publication, but has far more on his official CV that were published.

A column by Sonia Sodha in The Guardian argued that "only successful people" can afford to share such a failure CV, and that such a document could send the false message that one needs only try and try and success will follow. The column suggested it would be better for successful people to publish "CV of good fortune." She explained: "It’s not to say that I can’t take any credit for any successes I might have had, but I think my own good fortune CV would contain more hard truths about how the world works than my failure CV."

Of course, success and failure are relative. The last item on Haushofer's document, added after he posted it originally: "This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work."

Image Caption: Johannes Haushofer

David Horowitz's new campaign sets off protests and condemnations

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 05/02/2016 - 07:00

David Horowitz is known for incendiary campaigns against what he sees as political correctness or anti-Israel activity on campus. His latest campaign features a typically unsubtle name: Stop the Jew Hatred on Campus. The effort is setting off debates over whether what he calls free speech is intimidation (and some say it could be both).

In the campaign, Horowitz's group puts posters up on campus (as at right) that criticize student and other groups pushing for a boycott of Israel. He has focused so far on large California universities. While skirmishes over Israel boycotts are nothing new, these posters go a step farther than advocacy for one position or another. They list the names of students and faculty members who are involved in the boycott movement, and say they are supporting a "Hamas-inspired genocidal campaign to destroy Israel."

Supporters of the movement to boycott Israel say these posters distort their views and are designed to scare people off of supporting their efforts. Defenders of the posters say if students back the boycott movement, they shouldn't be shocked to have their names associated with it.

At issue on several campuses has been not only the campaign but the responses of administrators to it.

At the University of California at Los Angeles, administrators took a tough stance, saying the posters violated university rules that limit what unaffiliated groups can put up on campus without permission. UCLA officials did not say the content of the posters violated university rules. But Jerry Kang, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, issued a statement that took issue with the tactic of posters that linked student and faculty members, by name, with Hamas and others just because these groups favor an Israel boycott (which UCLA and the University of California as a system have rejected).

"Listing people by name raises the stakes," Kang said. "The chilling psychological harm cast by such blacklist campaigns, especially when pushed into our physical campus grounds, cannot be dismissed as oversensitivity. If you don’t find these posters repulsive, consider your own name on them with whatever ludicrous stigmas that outsiders could conjure up. And if this isn’t enough, consider what might follow. What will you say when the next round of posters on campus includes photos, phone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, names of parents, names of children? These are not just hypotheticals. They have happened in other political contexts, such as the website called the 'Nuremberg Files,' which targeted individual doctors who provided lawful abortions."

A statement sent out by the president of San Diego State University, in response to similar posters, placed more emphasis on the free speech rights of those who created the posters, and angered many pro-boycott students on campus.

The statement from Elliot Hirshman, the president, said, "We recognize and fully support the rights of all parties to voice their positions on political issues, whether supportive or critical. We also understand that when parties adopt a specific political position they become responsible for their actions and these actions may produce criticism."

Then the statement went on to raise issues about the use of names, but the San Diego State response was quite different from the one from UCLA.

"At the same time, we wish to raise an issue for our community to consider. It is possible that the practice of identifying the names of individual students who participate in controversial political discussions, solely for the purpose of identifying them as proponents of a viewpoint, could discourage students from participating in political discussions," the statement said. "In this context, we write to encourage all members of our community to present their positions on important political issues, regardless of the nature of their position. We also wish to explicitly note that we strongly endorse our university policies protecting freedom of expression. We raise these issues to strengthen our tradition of vibrant discourse about ideas and issues and encourage all members of our community to participate in these discussions."

A group of San Diego State students, angry the response was not stronger, surrounded a car carrying Hirshman late Wednesday and wouldn't let it move for two hours. They said what they considered a weak response suggested he agreed they were terrorists.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that at one point Hirshman got out of the car and gave something of an apology to students, saying, "If we have done things inadvertently that have upset or hurt people, we are sorry for that."

Horowitz has issued a response to Kang's statement about the posters at UCLA, saying, "The posters don’t cast those listed on them as murderers and terrorists, just activists from Students for Justice in Palestine who supported the boycott campaign." Horowitz added: "This disgraceful performance by a top university official demands a retraction and apology from the University of California and some serious reflection by Vice Chancellor Kang about the hateful content of his letter and the focused, personalized intimidation directed at myself and all those involved in putting up posters he happens to disagree with."

Editorial Tags: ActivismImage Caption: Students surround car carrying San Diego State's president.

U of Utah scrubs references to antigay groups in biography of honorary degree recipient

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 05/02/2016 - 07:00

Students and pro-LGBT groups on and off campus are unhappy with the University of Utah for two reasons.

First, the university plans to award an honorary degree this week to Lynette Nielsen Gay, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who has worked with the groups Family Watch International and the World Congress of Families, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled as anti-LGBT hate groups.

Second, after the university’s LGBT Resource Center raised concerns with the administration about Gay’s connection to those two groups, the university didn't change its plans, but did delete the references to Gay's involvement with the two groups from her bio on the university’s website.

“Honorary degrees are given for a number of reasons,” said C. Kai Medina-Martinez, director of the LGBT Resource Center. “To honor people’s work in humanitarian and social justice areas, to acknowledge what they’re doing. I think there should be an expectation that they hold the same mission as the University of Utah does,” which includes a commitment to inclusion and diversity, said Medina-Martinez.

The SPLC, on its website, calls the World Congress of Families “one of the key driving forces behind the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism.” The Human Rights Campaign linked the organization to the so-called kill the gays bill in Uganda and antigay legislation in various other countries. The organization has pushed back against the hate group designation, though plenty of other groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, have denounced its actions.

Family Watch International, according to its website, works in the United Nations and various countries to “preserve and promote the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman,” and it too appears on SPLC’s list of Active Anti-LGBT Groups for its "aggressive anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice" activism in the United Nations and around the world.

On whether or not the award ought to be given in the first place, Medina-Martinez (whose prefers the pronoun they) said, “That’s a really hard one. On the one hand I might say, yeah, they shouldn’t. On the other hand, I think there’s very honorary things this person has done, advancing health care in other countries.”

Gay, a former president of the Ghana West Africa Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helped start Ensign College of Public Health in Ghana, according to her bio, in addition to similar work in a number of other African countries. She did not respond to requests relayed through the university to comment.

“Altering the bio makes it appear that the university is dishonest and trying to hide something,” Medina-Martinez said. “I don’t know what the goal was, but perception is hard to change … That piece concerns me -- that perception -- regardless of what the intent was.”

Others are much less conflicted about giving Gay an honorary degree. Students for a Democratic Society, a progressive student group on campus, is planning a rally on graduation day in protest of the move.

“Both of these organizations that she’s heavily involved in, they’re both anti-gay marriage, anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortions, and they promote these positions internationally,” said Theresa Nielson, the group’s president. “We think it’s preposterous for the university to be giving an award to Gay, because what does it say to LGBT students and what does it say about our campus?”

Nielson said her group also plans to ask graduates to turn their backs in protest as the award is given.

“The campus needs to use a more thorough vetting process in how it chooses to honor individuals with these degrees,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride. “It’s obvious that there was a mistake made in honoring an individual with an affiliation with an anti-LGBT organization of any kind. It flies in the face of what the University of Utah has been trying to do for a decade when it comes to LGBT inclusion.”

“The University of Utah has always been a campus community that has been a leader in the state of Utah and even in the Northwest when it comes to its LGBT office and center and its commitment to LGBT issues,” he said. “There should be serious consideration about whether or not this honorary degree should be awarded if at all to this individual.”

As of Friday, the university plans to move forward with the degree.

“Lynette Nielsen Gay is being recognized by the University of Utah with an honorary degree because of her important humanitarian efforts creating health, education and economic development programs in Africa,” the university said in a statement sent to Inside Higher Ed. “Ms. Gay is affiliated with two organizations whose involvement in anti-LGBTQ campaigns around the world does not reflect the values of the University of Utah. We heard concerns, and we removed the references because they were not part of the committee’s deliberations. We were concerned that by leaving them in, it suggested otherwise.”

Editorial Tags: Gay rights/issuesImage Caption: Lynette Nielsen Gay
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