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Higher Education News
New York State's attorney general plans to announce a deal today that will substantially change the governance of Cooper Union and could create a path back to restoring the institution's longstanding but recently abandoned policy of being free to students.
The deal would require Cooper Union to add two students as voting members of the board and between five and nine (depending on the size of the board) alumni-elected trustees. In addition, four faculty members will be elected as nonvoting observers of board meetings. The board will also be required -- in a move that is unusual for a private college -- to publish all board minutes and reports, and to provide detailed reports on the university's finances, with some exemptions for information that must remain confidential. These provisions all reflect criticisms from many students and alumni that the board has in the past mismanaged the university's finances.
The agreement does not -- by itself -- require Cooper Union to return to free tuition. But the deal does require the board to create a committee, including student and alumni trustees and led by an alumni trustee, to try to find a way to do so by 2018. That year is significant because it is when rent Cooper Union receives on the Chrysler Building is due to increase from $9 million to more than $32 million a year, potentially creating a major improvement in Cooper Union's troubled finances. According to a statement from Cooper Union, any plan to return to free tuition must also maintain “Cooper Union’s strong reputation for academic quality within its art, architecture and engineering programs at their historical levels of enrollment.”
Today's news marks a stunning reversal of policy at Cooper Union, founded in New York City in 1859, and for most of its history, free to students. Peter Cooper, the founder, was committed to educating the working classes, not just the wealthy -- a radical idea when Cooper Union was founded. Over time, free tuition attracted many top students, some of whom might have gone elsewhere. The 2013 plan to impose tuition set off a huge protest -- including a lengthy occupation of some offices by students.
Cooper Union's leaders argued that they could not preserve the quality of the institution without tuition revenue, and pledged to use some of that revenue to preserve access for low-income students. Generally, private colleges have considerable leeway to set their tuition and financial strategies, however unpopular.
But in the case of Cooper Union, students and alumni said the board was violating its obligation to preserve the mission of the institution not only to offer a high-quality education, but to be free to students. Further, they charged that bad decisions by board leaders and administrators had violated their fiduciary duties.
While litigation failed to block the imposition of tuition, the movement attracted the interest of Eric T. Schneiderman, New York State's attorney general. He started investigating Cooper Union and reportedly pushed board members not to renew the contract of President Jamshed Bharucha, the architect of the plan to charge tuition. Then in June, five trustees who were supporters of Bharucha quit, and he left office well before the end of his contract.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Tuesday that Schneiderman will today issue a "scathing rebuke to the board and Mr. Bharucha," that will state that increased spending and the "risky" decision to borrow $175 million for a new academic building endangered Cooper Union's finances.
The Cooper Union Alumni Association issued a statement pledging support for the new governance system and the push to restore free tuition. "We are direct beneficiaries of Peter Cooper’s gift of free education, and understand -- on a deeply personal level -- the importance of the full tuition scholarship in making our alma mater a vibrant and unique environment for learning," the statement said. "Our most recent election results confirm that 98 percent of voting alumni support free education at Cooper Union."
Statements coming out of the university were measured in tone, but supporters of Save Cooper Union, the group of students, alumni and others that organized opposition to the tuition plan, were jubilant. Many messages on social media noted that few outside the protest movement expected it to prevail, but it did.
On Twitter, Mike Essl, associate professor of art, wrote: "So um, you know how we’ve been fighting Cooper Union’s board of trustees? WE WON."Editorial Tags: College administration
Students at the University of Central Florida are fighting for seats in the institution's crowded lecture halls. Those who can't find a spot have to tune in online.
Live-streaming lectures is not a new idea. Some institutions have broadcast lectures live for more than a decade, lecture-capture providers pointed out. But a recent story in The Orlando Sentinel, which featured “mega-classes” in the College of Business enrolling in one case nearly four times as many students as their assigned classrooms can seat and students sprawled in the aisles, has highlighted a particular use of the technology.
UCF, like many of Florida’s public institutions, has more qualified applicants than it has room for. To address the issue of overcrowded introductory courses, UCF has opted for a “first-come, first-served” strategy: pile as many students into lecture halls as possible, and use lecture-capture technology to both live stream and record sessions for students who can’t find a seat.
The university's neighbor to the north in Gainesville, the University of Florida, is also experimenting with using technology to enroll more students. The university earlier this year invited thousands of students to enroll in Pathway to Campus Enrollment, or PaCE, a program where students complete 60 credits online before coming to campus as upperclassmen. Even though the students invited to join PaCE would not have been accepted into residential programs because of space issues, many students were confused by the offer.
The situation at UCF is different, however. Students there have been accepted into and paid to attend residential programs and registered for classes, yet some are finding that doesn’t guarantee them a physical seat in their classes.
The practice has been around for years, but the number of mega-classes continues to rise. This spring, the university offered 111 such courses, according to an official count. And new students continue to give mixed feedback -- some welcoming the convenience, others expressing frustration.
“Thanks, UCF, for having lecture-capture courses so I don’t have to go to class ever,” one student tweeted last month.
Another student, seemingly in response to complaints about the format, tweeted, “Bunch of rookies at UCF complaining about no seats available in a class. It's a lecture-capture course. Watch it online. Overachievers …”
When lecture capture started to gain popularity a few years ago, proponents took care to describe the technology as an enhancement, not a replacement, for face-to-face instruction. A UCF promotional video from 2010, for example, promoted recorded lectures as a way to improve retention and test scores -- with students able to show up in person when they wanted, while having video available as well.
A spokesperson for the university said it was "fair" to make an ethical argument about the mega-classes, but added that students are informed that attending lectures is optional when they first register for the courses. Attendance in the mega-classes typically drops after the first two or three weeks of class, after which there are "more than enough seats" for the students who wish to attend, the spokesperson said.
"There are benefits to lecture capture -- you can review the material over and over again with stop, rewind and pause options," the spokesperson said. "Students also have the visual material presented during the class, such as charts, available for closer inspection multiple times at their convenience. Another point worth mentioning is that for the past few years UCF students who take blended classes perform as well and sometimes better than those who take only face-to-face courses."
Companies that provide lecture-capture technology said live streaming is a rapidly growing trend among the colleges they serve, although most universities still prefer to record lectures so students can review them on their own time after having attended in person first.
“From a technology perspective, the use of lecture capture for live streaming mega-classes is a logical extension of what lecture capture was originally envisioned for,” said Ari Bixhorn, vice president of marketing for Panopto. The company, which spun off from Carnegie Mellon University in 2007 after five years of incubation, provides lecture-capture technology to UCF.
The trend is being fueled by improvements in streaming technology, Bixhorn said. As recently as two years ago, live streaming courses meant college IT offices had to tweak their firewalls to avoid the stream being blocked, he said, but now, live streaming functions more or less similarly to recording lectures. “You check one additional button, and the recording you’re making will also be live streamed,” he said.
Bixhorn declined to talk about the ethical implications of enrolling more students in a course than can fit in a classroom, but called it an “interesting scenario.”
At UCF, students who watch the live stream can still ask questions in real time, which appear on the lecturer’s computer. The Panopto platform also collects data on student viewing patterns, including how many students tuned in to the lecture and how much of it they watched, Bixhorn said.
Fred Singer, CEO of the lecture-capture company Echo360, said future versions of the software need to capture more than numbers of viewership. He suggested institutions such as UCF ask themselves, “How do I take advantage of the fact that my campus is extended with technology?”
In addition to letting students ask questions, lecture-capture platforms could also be used to determine whether students watching the live stream are taking notes and understanding course concepts, Singer said. That information could in turn help colleges improve retention rates and student outcomes, he said.
“Whether you’re streaming video or capturing it, the next generation is really about capturing the responses and the engagement of students,” Singer said. “Live streaming itself is great … but in and of itself it doesn’t improve outcomes.”
This story has been updated with comments from the university.Online LearningEditorial Tags: TeachingImage Source: U of Central FloridaImage Caption: A still from a promotional video
AAUP report alleges violations of academic freedom, due process in new report on professor's termination by LSU
After 18 years of service, 24 peer-reviewed articles and the creation of a new-teacher education program, Teresa Buchanan was sailing toward promotion to full professor of education at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. Did a few swear words and sex jokes really derail her career? That’s what the American Association of University Professors alleges in a report out today. The report makes it unlikely that the university, which earlier this year was close to moving off AAUP’s censure list for past concerns about its commitment to academic freedom, will do so anytime soon. But the university accuses AAUP of misinterpreting the principles at play in Buchanan’s case, ignoring the way she allegedly treated some students, and of betraying its own values.
“Obviously there are institutions where one person says a dirty word and everybody faints, but those places don’t really exist anymore,” said Jordan Kurland, associate general secretary of the AAUP. “The everyday language in the average administration building is far worse than Buchanan at her worst.”
Buchanan’s story goes something like this, according to AAUP: she was hired as an assistant professor in 1995 and awarded tenure in 2001, centering her research on early childhood education. She earned strong reviews as a teacher and researcher and helped establish a new-teacher education program encompassing prekindergarten through third grade. Several graduates earned honors such as teacher of the year during their first years on the job. Buchanan’s service also was rated excellent.
By the spring of 2013, Buchanan was applying for promotion to full professor, which would have been effective this academic year. As Buchanan worked on a statement for promotion, the director of the School of Education, Earl H. Cheek, solicited outside reviews -- all of which were favorable. The school’s Promotion and Tenure Committee voted in the fall of 2013 to promote Buchanan, as did the college dean’s advisory committee. The dean, Damon P. S. Andrew, in his recommendation noted that Buchanan had brought in $1.2 million in research funding and received several teaching awards. The graduate school dean also approved Buchanan’s bid.
But in December of 2013, Buchanan received an email from Andrew that changed everything. Titled “Unacceptable performance,” the email said that “multiple serious concerns” regarding Buchanan’s performance in the classroom and in the field had been brought to light: she’d been accused of making “inappropriate statements” to students, teachers and administrators.
Andrew said Buchanan had been banned by a local school superintendent from locations in his district, and as a result of these concerns, she wouldn’t be able to teach during the spring 2014 semester. The university would pursue an investigation into whether she’d violated any of its policies, including that against sexual harassment.
Buchanan, according to AAUP, was known for having “occasionally used profanities in her speech,” but no complaint had ever found its way into her performance file -- until Andrew's letter.
The charges against Buchanan are somewhat vague, but The Advocate reported that she occasionally said “Fuck, no” to students, once used a slang term for female genitalia to imply cowardice and joked that the quality of sex with one’s partner wanes over time. All of these incidents involved college students, not young children.
In an interview with The Advocate, Buchanan said she used sharp language on occasion to get students’ attention, and that her recent divorce might have affected her tone and sense of humor. But, essentially, she said, the allegations against her amount to a “witch hunt.”
“The occasional use of profanity is not sexual harassment,” Buchanan said. “Nor is the occasional frank discussion of issues related to sexuality, particularly when done in the context of teaching specific issues related to sexuality.”
No one from the university’s human resources office was able to meet with Buchanan until early the next semester, according to AAUP, and no one from her college spoke to her until the end of the semester, in June 2014. But over the course of the spring she was informed that Provost Stuart Bell was not recommending her for promotion, even though a university faculty committee had approved her bid.
She received a memo saying that the university's investigation had found her guilty of sexual harassment and of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act -- the first she’d heard of the latter charge.
After a meeting with Andrew, the education dean, he informed Buchanan that he was considering pursuing her dismissal because she’d admitted to using profanity -- which he could not condone, especially as she was an educator of teachers of young children.
Buchanan remained out of the classroom, with pay and focusing on research, until a dismissal hearing before a faculty body in March of this year -- over a year after she was first placed on leave.
After a nearly 12-hour hearing, the five-member faculty committee unanimously decided that Buchanan should not be dismissed for her alleged offenses. Although Buchanan did violate the university’s sexual harassment policy “with her use of profanity, poorly worded jokes and sometimes sexually explicit ‘jokes’ in her teaching methodologies,” the committee wrote in its report, the language wasn’t “systematically directed at any particular individual.”
The committee found the claim that Buchanan had violated the ADA was “not substantiated by testimony.” It recommended a written reprimand and statement from Buchanan that she wouldn’t repeat the behavior in question. The stress of the “hearing process itself is seen as an adequate punishment given the nature and apparent infrequency of the noted behaviors,” the committee concluded.
But Chancellor F. King Alexander ignored the committee’s recommendation and notified the university’s Board of Supervisors that Buchanan should be dismissed for cause, since she’d committed sexual harassment and therefore violated a federal law.
Buchanan appealed in writing, to no avail. She was offered a retirement deal in exchange for promising not to litigate, which she rejected, according to AAUP, and was later dismissed for cause.
AAUP quickly advocated on behalf of Buchanan earlier this summer, saying in a letter to Alexander that the professor had a long, sterling record until “vague” complaints from a local superintendent and a student teacher brought about a year-and-a-half-long suspension.
AAUP said it would resist making further remarks “on how distant the [university] administration has placed itself from the mainstream of our secular research universities by dismissing a professor for misconduct simply for having used language that is not only run-of-the-mill these days for much of the academic community but is also protected conduct under principles of academic freedom.”
But after a summer of silence from Louisiana State, AAUP is releasing its supplemental report on the university’s pre-existing censure.
The report is a marked change in tone for AAUP regarding Louisiana State, since as recently as June, at its annual meeting, the organization was hopeful that the university’s three-year censure would soon be lifted. That’s because the university had expressed interest in addressing AAUP’s remaining concerns about its commitment to academic freedom stemming from two protracted cases -- including one in which a professor who was critical of Louisiana’s flood prevention systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina said he suffered professional retaliation.
Kurland, of AAUP, said Louisiana State performed a good “housecleaning" of administrators involved in those two older cases, but that the Buchanan case signaled more administrative turnover may be needed. Specifically, he questioned how the accusations of a local superintendent “managed to take a big flagship and turn it on its head.”
AAUP says that Buchanan’s statements are protected by academic freedom, and that the university should stand by her, regardless of political pressure. It also asserts that Buchanan should not have been removed from her classroom pending investigation, which by AAUP and Louisiana State policy is a serious punishment to be reserved only for those who immediately threaten the well-being of their students.
The report notes a preliminary response from Louisiana State alleging unspecified factual errors and general imprudence on the part of the AAUP for releasing a report on a matter about which few details have yet been made public and which is likely to be litigated. AAUP says it reviewed the transcript of the 12-hour hearing, so there’s little left to be discovered.
Louisiana State said in a previously released statement that Buchanan “created a consistently hostile and abusive environment in the classroom. Additionally, she was asked not to return to more than one elementary school in the Baton Rouge area within the last three years because of her inappropriate behavior. Based upon this consistent pattern of hostile and abusive behavior that negatively impacted [our] students, we believed it was necessary to terminate her employment.”
The statement continues: “This case is not about the rights of tenured professors or academic freedom, as some of the press have reported. [The university] had an obligation to take action on this matter. We take our responsibility to protect students from abusive behavior very seriously, and we will vigorously defend our students’ rights to a harassment-free educational environment.”
In a statement released Tuesday addressing AAUP’s report specifically, the university said it had four major complaints: that the facts are wrong, that it ignores and misinterprets federal and state law, that it fails to follow AAUP’s own statement of principles, and that it ignores the interest and well-being of students.
“Possessing only limited information pertaining to this issue, the AAUP should not advocate for the continuance of teaching practices that potentially violate university policy, state and federal law,” the university said. “The AAUP continues to diminish its relevance by violating its own Statement of Principles, which holds that: ‘University faculty, as scholars and educational officers … should remember that the public may judge their professional institution by their utterances. Hence, they [faculty] should at all times exercise appropriate restraint, [and] should show respect for the opinions of others.’”
On Tuesday evening, the university released an additional statement saying that evidence suggests that Buchanan over several years “had berated, embarrassed, disparaged, maligned and denigrated young, primarily female students who aspired to become elementary school teachers. The investigation further revealed that at least one K-12 school principal forbade this faculty member from being in contact on school grounds with that school’s teachers and children, which significantly damaged her ability as a supervisor of student teachers to perform her duties.”
Louisiana State added that the number of student complaints about Buchanan’s “abuse likely would have been even higher had there not been fear by students that reporting the faculty member would lead to retribution,” since student teachers are especially vulnerable.
Buchanan’s lawyer, Floyd Falcon, said he hadn’t seen AAUP’s report and therefore couldn’t comment. He said he believed Buchanan still wanted her job, and that she might sue the university over her termination, but declined to answer additional questions.
Peter Bonilla, associate director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said earlier this summer that specifics aside, Buchanan’s is part of a string of similar cases he’s seen in recent years.
“FIRE has seen multiple faculty members in recent years investigated, suspended from teaching, removed from campus and even fired from their positions over similar complaints,” he said. “Their universities have regularly shown remarkable indifference to their academic freedom rights even when their speech at issue was demonstrably germane to their teaching or were themselves direct applications of the assigned course materials.”
Even though Louisiana State has framed the Buchanan issue as one of student welfare, not academic freedom, faculty members on campus are nevertheless concerned. The Faculty Senate is scheduled to vote today on a resolution that Alexander, Bell and Andrew, the chancellor, provost and college dean, respectively, be censured “for their failure to adhere to due process standards in faculty review proceedings and for their pursuit of confusing, dangerous and untenable standards for dismissal of a tenured faculty member at Louisiana State.”
Kevin L. Cope, a professor of English and president of the senate, said he thought the AAUP report “pretty much captures faculty concerns,” and that the resolution had a relatively strong chance of passing.
While there’s a wide variety of sides to Buchanan’s story, Cope said, the report pins down “the faculty feeling that procedures were somehow interrupted in this case and that the story culminates a long history of faculty-adverse behavior” at Louisiana State.Editorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption: Teresa Buchanan
A nontraditional candidate. Concerns about faculty input. A lightning-quick final round of interviews. Each of these factors is present in the hunt for the University of Iowa’s next president, a search that is underscoring tensions common today over executive searches in higher education.
The Board of Regents that governs Iowa’s three public universities is in the process of interviewing four finalists for Iowa's top spot and is expected to make its choice on Thursday, just 24 hours after the last finalist’s campus visit.
Sally Mason, Iowa's president for eight years, retired last month. The search for her successor has many faculty members concerned about the transparency of the process and the choice of a finalist with limited academic experience.
On Tuesday, that finalist, Bruce Harreld, a consultant and former senior vice president of marketing and strategy at IBM, visited the Iowa City campus to meet with faculty members and students. Aside from spending eight years as an adjunct business professor at Harvard University and Northwestern University, Harreld has no experience working in higher education.
Without that experience, how will he go about evaluating faculty or academic programs, how will he chose a provost, and how will he participate in shared governance, asked Michael O’Hara, a psychology professor and former leader of Iowa's Faculty Senate, in an interview.
“I doubt if he had to really worry a lot about his employees because they didn't have an independent source of power, so someone like him is going to come in and find that working in this environment, given his experience, is going to be very, very difficult,” O’Hara said. “I don’t know why we would be interested in essentially jumping off a cliff and hoping that the parachute opens up … I don't know why we’d want to take that kind of risk.”
Other finalists include Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College; Michael Bernstein, provost of Tulane University; and Joseph Steinmetz, provost at Ohio State University. Each has also visited campus in recent days.
Iowa is one of a shrinking number of states that require universities to publicly announce multiple finalists (other universities, such as Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota, have in recent searches announced just one finalist).
Yet faculty members at Iowa are concerned that the search committee was disbanded after the finalists were announced and therefore won’t have the opportunity to give a final summary of the finalists to regents, as previous presidential search committees have. Faculty members interviewed for this article also say there’s insufficient opportunity to offer feedback on candidates -- in part because of the rush of choosing a president within days of publicly announcing the finalists.
“The process was a little unorthodox and certainly not like previous searches, and that has a lot of people in the university upset,” said Paul Muhly, a mathematics professor who has taught at Iowa since 1969. “There’s very limited faculty participation.”
Added Bob McMurray, a psychology professor: “We didn't feel like there was a strong mechanism for collecting the opinion of students and faculty and staff on campus.”
The university originally asked faculty members to offer feedback directly to the search firm, Parker Executive Search. When this didn’t sit well with many faculty members -- who said they didn't trust the search firm to accurately convey concerns -- faculty members were also given the option to submit comments directly to the Faculty Senate, which would summarize the feedback in a report to regents.
Yet Harreld, the last finalist, visited campus on Tuesday and regents expect to make their final decision on Thursday. Though the 21-member search committee included seven faculty members, some faculty say the quick timeline marginalizes the impact of faculty feedback.
“If we want to hire a new faculty member, it takes a really long time,” said Kembrew McLeod, a professor of communication studies. “To have a decision made in two days is crazy for such a significant decision that’s going to affect the university long-term … everyone I know is scratching their heads.”
Jean Robillard, Iowa's interim president and chair of the search committee, pointed out that while the final stage of the search is moving quickly, the search itself has been taking place for months. The search firm was hired in February.
He highlighted the fact that faculty members have multiple avenues to submit feedback -- through both the Faculty Senate and the search firm -- and noted that at many other flagship public universities, faculty don’t have the opportunity to hear from multiple finalists publicly.
“The process has been transparent and open at every corner,” Robillard offered. “Many, many searches at universities, even public ones, are not that open. This is probably one of the most open searches that’s done in the country.”
William Funk, head of a Texas-based search firm that specializes in higher education, agreed that Iowa's search process is a relatively transparent one, given that most searches at major public and private universities take place behind closed doors.
He said that once finalists are chosen, search committees generally have limited influence, and the power shifts to a university’s governing board, so the case of Iowa’s search committee not meeting past the finalist stage is not uncommon. He also said it’s common for universities to ask faculty to offer feedback directly to the search firm, and to want to minimize the amount of time between when a candidate’s name is public and when the final decision is made.
“They’re unusually open about their process,” he said of Iowa. Funk has facilitated two past presidential searches at Iowa.
Seconds after businessman Bruce Harreld finished his talk on Tuesday about why he should be the University of Iowa’s next president, audience members flocked to the microphone: What’s the place of tenure, academic freedom and shared governance at the university? Would he ever take money from Iowa's coffers and put it in another state university? Why did he even apply for this job?
The questioning, at times contentious, reflected the widespread concern on campus about a possible president who has little experience in academe. Harreld addressed those concerns head-on during the forum.
“Let me tell you why I am here. I am here because I have helped other organizations … go through transformational change,” he said, adding that Iowa needs to undergo its own major changes. “It’s completely legitimate for you to ask, ‘What the hell is this guy doing?’ ”
Though many faculty members were surprised that Harreld was named a finalist, the Board of Regents early on in the search requested that the search committee interview nontraditional candidates.
Robillard said regents directed the search committee -- which included three regents, including the board’s president -- to “present them a group of candidates that are different” from one another. They wanted to hear different approaches to the “challenges of higher education today,” such as tuition and student accessibility, he said.
“It was very clear that was the mandate we got,” he said. “They want a choice and they want a different group of people and that’s what happened.”
Funk said governing boards are seeking nontraditional candidates with increasing frequency.
Recent years have seen some high-profile selections of nontraditional candidates -- such as Mitch Daniels, a former governor, as president of Purdue University and William McRaven, a former military leader, as chancellor of the University of Texas System. But such placements still remain relatively uncommon, despite the increased interest.
“Boards and search committees are increasingly asking us to include in the pools some nontraditional candidates. That was something we saw beginning within the past five to ten years, but it seems an increasing request on the part of boards for sure,” Funk said. “Our experience is that, at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to get those candidates through the search committees. There is such an intrinsic hesitation from faculty on these search committees to someone who they perceive doesn't understand the academic community.”
Such hesitations were apparent during Tuesday’s forum.
“Universities are very complex organisms. Ours is definitely complex, and if you don’t understand what makes certain parts of it tick … it’s very hard to develop a sensitivity for,” said Muhly.
Choosing an outsider might work, but it could just as easily backfire, he said: “That’s a real gamble. And the question is, is it worth that gamble?”Editorial Tags: College administrationImage Source: University of IowaImage Caption: Bruce Harreld's background is in business, not academe.
Rutgers survey, using broad definition, finds 1 in 5 female students have experienced sexual assault
For years, advocates pressing colleges to do more to prevent campus sexual assault -- including the White House -- have cited a 2007 statistic that claims one in five female students experiences a sexual assault in college.
That statistic, based on a survey of only two colleges, has been questioned for as long as it has been cited, with a particularly strong backlash emerging in the last year. But, by broadly defining sexual assault in a way similar to the 2007 study, a number of surveys at individual campuses in recent months have started to reach the same conclusion. The most recent research to bolster the statistic comes from Rutgers University at New Brunswick, which was asked by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault to pilot a climate survey developed by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The university announced the results of the survey today, and provided a list of recommendations to the White House about how to better implement it.
The survey found that one in five female students at Rutgers has experienced “unwanted sexual contact” since arriving on campus. In May, the University of Michigan reached roughly the same conclusion with its survey. At both universities -- just as in the 2007 study -- the surveys used a broad definition of sexual assault that included not only incidents involving rape but also unwanted kissing and touching.
When surveys at the University of Kentucky and the Harvard School of Public Health used a narrower definition limited to unwanted or forced penetration, the rate of assault was far lower.
At Kentucky, 5 percent of both male and female students said they had been assaulted. At Rutgers and Michigan, where broader definitions were used, about 12 percent of both male and female students said they had experienced an assault. At Michigan, 22 percent of female students said they had been assaulted in the last year. Kentucky has not yet released a breakdown of its numbers by gender.
Settling on one definition for use in climate surveys will be a crucial step in understanding the prevalence of campus sexual assault, said Sarah McMahon, associate director of the Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children and the lead researcher on the survey.
“We think the one-in-five statistic is important,” McMahon said. “We know sexual violence means different things to different individuals, so we used a broad definition. We know all forms of sexual violence are problematic and have serious repercussions.”
In their recommendations to the White House regarding the pilot survey, McMahon and her team stopped short of suggesting that all colleges use the broader definition, however, noting that the phrase “unwanted sexual contact” made it “nearly impossible” for researchers to distinguish among types of sexual violence that differ in severity. “Our recommendation does suggest that we need to have more discussion about how to define and measure sexual violence so that we can compare institutions,” McMahon added.
Discussing the one in five statistic last year, Laura Dunn, executive director of sexual assault prevention group SurvJustice, said the fact that some still balk at the idea of unwanted kissing being considered sexual assault is a result of the criminal justice system frequently focusing on only the worst kinds of sexual violence. It has caused a particular image of sexual assault to form in people’s heads, she said, and it's an image that ignores the existence of a much broader expanse of offenses.
“People who deny this issue don’t believe something like an unwanted kiss is harmful, but it is,” Dunn said. “I think there’s an idea in our society that says if a man’s not using a gun or beating a woman, then it’s OK to be pushy and aggressive, or to wait until she’s drunk. We really think of some sexual aggression as really not that bad, and that mentality extends to the survivors as well.”
The Rutgers study -- which included survey responses from about 11,000 students and details from 21 focus groups featuring about 200 students -- also expanded its victimization questions to ask if students had been assaulted prior to coming to the university. Those findings support yet another oft-discussed statistic: that at least one in four college women has been sexually assaulted at any point in her life.
Nearly 25 percent of female students reported that they had been sexually assaulted before enrolling at Rutgers.
“That’s making a difference in the references we share at new student orientation and throughout our first-year experience programming,” said Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor for student affairs at Rutgers. “It’s an awful epidemic that often begins long before a student steps foot on campus. We’ll be modifying some of our efforts based on that awareness.”
In response to the survey, Rutgers is modifying much more than that. The university has rewritten its sexual assault policies to include an affirmative consent definition. It has launched a new awareness campaign called “The Revolution Starts Here: End Sexual Violence Now,” and has created new prevention programming aimed at male students.
A new website will serve as a “one-stop shop” for information and resources about campus sexual assault and include the results of the climate survey. Student affairs staff members will receive updated training, and counseling center staff members will learn about post-traumatic stress disorder and how it pertains to sexual assault victims.
A yearlong schedule of events about bystander intervention is also being planned for students. While only 7 percent of undergraduate women reported their assault to university officials, more than three-quarters said they had told a friend. This, McMahon said, could mean that “peers have an important role to play” in prevention efforts.
The steps amount to what the university is calling its “action plan,” and one of the university’s main suggestions to the White House task force is to remind institutions that climate surveys are pointless if they don’t lead to changes on campus.
“Information must lead to action,” McMahon said. “Survey tools alone are not enough.”Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assault
Seven months ago free community college was the higher ed policy idea with the most buzz, with everyone from President Obama to families with no college experience talking about the appeal of eliminating the cost of tuition.
Yet movement on two years of free tuition has only happened at the state and institutional level. The national conversation -- particularly in the Democratic presidential race -- has shifted instead to the debt-free movement as concerns over the student loan crisis at four-year public institutions has grown. The bulk of this conversation has shifted from getting more people into higher education, like through community colleges, to the best way to help those coming out of college with as little debt as possible.
But the shift doesn't seem to bother advocates of two-year free community college initiatives, who don't see either idea as divorced from the other.
“I don't think it's as clear-cut a distinction,” said Morley Winograd, president and chief executive officer for the Campaign for Free College Tuition, which is a nonprofit group. “Over all, even though there are lots of differences of opinion about the right way to approach college affordability, the fact that people are embracing and debating how to do something about it is great.”
The debt-free movement, which is broader than just free tuition at community colleges, is an ambitious policy proposal. Both are tied together. For instance, Hillary Clinton's proposal focuses on a debt-free solution, but also embraces free tuition for community colleges. Senator Bernie Sanders's debt-free plan also calls for two years of free college.
Instead the conversation has shifted to affordability in general with Republican presidential candidates talking about lowering the cost of higher education -- or providing higher education in innovative ways -- and Democrats focused on how to pay for college, Winograd said.Tuition-free community colleges are just one step toward accomplishing the debt-free solutions, said Martha Kanter, a professor of higher education at New York University and former U.S. under secretary of education, adding that pulling down the cost for the first one or two years is the right first step to make.
"I'm trying to restore the fundamental need for this country to invest in higher education in a smarter way," she said. "If we can get a debt-free model for the first two years, that's great. But are they really debt-free? Because students are probably paying for other things …. We have to look at the full cost of college at a minimum."
Free, of course, isn't free, but most advocates say part of the issue is communicating who will shoulder the burden of the cost. Kanter said it should be treated the same way people view K-12 education.
That requires a hard look at how resources are spent and figuring out which costs are important, Kanter said.
Community college leaders are still pushing the two-year free conversation, and those discussions are still happening at the state and institution level, said David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research for the American Association of Community Colleges. "They feel the basic concept behind the president's proposal and program is a valid one."
And for the most part, the debt-free conversation doesn't involve community college students as much as those in the four-year realm.
"For our institutions … fewer than 20 percent of our students borrow," Baime said.
But there may be some underborrowing happening with community college and low-income students. Although fewer community college students are borrowing, it's because they're at part-time status in order to work in other places and pay for the full cost of accessing higher education, such as transportation expenses, housing or books, said Debbie Cochrane, research director for the Institute for College Access and Success.
"The simplicity of free tuition is trying to solve an access problem where debt-free is trying to solve an affordability problem. In a lot of ways people assume tuition-free must be about making college more affordable, but in many ways it's not," Cochrane said. "Low-income students at community colleges and public universities are more likely to take on debt when they don't pay tuition because students paying tuition are low income enough to get grants, but they can't pay for other costs. A plan that only considers tuition isn't going to help students with those other costs."
Debt-free has been able to capture the issues and encourage people to deal with making college as free as high school, Winograd said. "But we're at the beginning of those debates and a long way before everyone comes to a solution."
In order to tackle both access and affordability, Cochrane said, a proposal would need to be tuition-free, reduce student debt, increase grant aid for low-income students and is a first-dollar program.
Winograd said the campaign has been working to promote all of the state, community and institutional ideas and activities that have actually built tuition-free initiatives. Even statewide programs like those in Tennessee and Oregon will force Congress to take action on a national free tuition program, he said.
"As these national proposals come forwards, it's states that offer the best solutions," said Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise. "Financial aid is complex and there will be a range of solutions. In Tennessee this is what works and we'll continue to move forward and make sure our students have the opportunity."
But free across the board isn't necessarily a good idea.
Education in the U.S. has become a privilege instead of a right, which is why Shai Reshef, founder of University of the People, said he supports plans to offer free tuition, like President Obama's. But Reshef cautions against a broader free tuition plan. U of the People is a nonprofit, tuition-free, online institution.
"Tuition-free is the option that should be there, but I do not believe tuition-free should be for everyone," Reshef said. "The top research universities should be there and they will continue charging what they charge."Community CollegesEditorial Tags: Community colleges
As recently as three years ago, it seemed unlikely that the existing system of accreditation would survive the next renewal of the Higher Education Act in anything remotely resembling its current form.
From across the political spectrum (right and left) and from various segments of higher education itself (particularly community colleges in California and elite universities across the country), many asserted that the system of peer-reviewed quality control was irretrievably broken and in need of replacement.
In some ways little has changed today. Accreditors still have enemies aplenty, and the twin (and in many ways conflicting) critiques that accreditors go too easy on poorly performing institutions (as asserted by foes of for-profit colleges and in a recent takedown in The Wall Street Journal) and that accreditation is a barrier to innovation (an argument made by President Obama and candidates on the 2016 presidential campaign trail) are not going away.
For all the protestations about accreditation’s limitations, though, a new consensus has emerged, even from tough critics of the system like Kevin Carey of New America Foundation, who sums up the view this way: “No one really likes accreditation but no one knows what else to do.”
That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. But accreditors now perform so many functions -- historical ones like helping institutions improve themselves, plus an ever-growing array of regulatory demands imposed on them by Congress and the Education Department -- that jettisoning them would almost certainly require the federal government to take on a much stronger role in higher education, which most observers see as a distasteful outcome.
What that means is that as politicians and policy makers seek solutions to what they see as the underperformance of American higher education, they are likely to try to supplement and challenge the existing accreditation system -- layering in other ways of trying to measure quality and value in higher education -- rather than replace it.
What Is Accreditation?
Any discussion of accreditation probably requires a quick primer, as accreditation is neither well understood by most people nor simple.
Most generally, accreditation is a process by which groups of postsecondary institutions agree to judge and monitor themselves using a set of commonly agreed-upon standards. There are essentially two types of accreditors: those that judge whole institutions (the regional and national accreditors), and those that judge programs or schools (programmatic or specialized accreditors).
“No one really likes accreditation but no one knows what else to do.”
The latter group includes coalitions of education or law schools, say, and earning this type of accreditation typically does not qualify students at those schools or programs for federal financial aid programs. Although the work of these accreditors produces some complaints, mostly about burden on institutions and conflict of interest, it is not the main focus of this article.
Most of the public and policy discussion about accreditation revolves around institutional accreditors, of which there are two types: seven regional accreditors and seven national ones. On balance, the regional accreditors are older, having been established in the 19th and early 20th centuries by regional collections of public and private nonprofit colleges. The agencies' initial focus was on improving articulation between secondary schools and colleges, but they quickly began to focus on the institutions' quality more broadly. The national agencies began to spring up in the early 20th century, often created by institutions that felt shut out by the regional agencies.
The indisputable transformative moment in the history of accreditation was in 1952, when the federal government and the accreditors struck a deal in which the government made the regional agencies a key arbiter of whether individual colleges and universities should be eligible to have their students receive federal student aid. (The federal government itself, through the U.S. Education Department's reviews of individual institutions, and state governments are the other part of the three-headed quality assurance process known as the triad.)
The alliance between the feds and the institutional accreditors essentially made the agencies federal subcontractors, imposing a set of requirements on them in exchange for the authority they wielded. That arrangement both elevated the agencies’ importance and turned them, uncomfortably, into a kind of quasi government entity that typically satisfies neither the colleges and universities that are their members nor the government whose approval they must win. "They are damned if they do and damned if they don't," says Peter Ewell, vice president at the National Center for Education Management Systems.
A Decade of Scrutiny
The tension over accreditors has flared occasionally through the years (here's a piece from 1996 called "Accreditation at a Crossroads," about one such conflagration), but the current period of scrutiny -- perhaps the most intense ever -- has its roots a decade ago, when the commission impaneled by then Education Secretary Margaret Spellings made the case that accreditors held the key to fixing the many problems the panel identified as besetting higher education at the time.
Then, as now, there were multiple complaints that largely conflicted with one another. Accreditors vigorously protected the status quo, the panel asserted, making it difficult for new entrants that might shake up higher education to earn approval and, hence, access to federal student aid. (Of course the commission members making the case then were leaders of Kaplan University and Western Governors University, both of which had earned accreditation -- reflecting the reality that accreditors are not always the innovation squelchers they are accused of being.)
The Spellings panel's report also made the case that accreditation process was too burdensome and too opaque.
And, most pointedly for the commission, the agencies spent far too much time focused on processes and "input measures" like faculty credentials and library holdings, and precious little on "performance outcomes, including completion rates and student learning," which it said should be at the core of their assessment of quality.
The Education Department under Spellings undertook an aggressive campaign (by trying to impose new rules on accreditors and toughening its process for recognizing their authority to approve colleges for federal aid) to compel the agencies to pay more attention to student learning and to adopt minimum levels of acceptable performance for institutions.
The pressure from the Bush administration prodded accreditors, in turn, to put significantly more pressure on the colleges they reviewed to ensure that they were paying attention to how much their students learned. In other words, it had some of the intended effects, and is just one example of accreditors changing what they do.
But the administration's campaign to directly compel accreditors to adopt new standards on student learning was stopped in its tracks by lawmakers such as U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and former secretary of education -- not so much because they adored accreditation, but because they believed the executive branch was using regulatory vehicles to encroach on Congress's authority. This was less a fight over a principle than a turf battle.
The Current Critique
Spellings and Bush couldn't leave office fast enough for most college and university officials, and accreditors surely celebrated, too.
But if they thought the emphasis on outcomes and accountability would leave town with Spellings, they have certainly been disappointed. President Obama has been more supportive of higher education in his spending priorities and his view of its centrality to the economy and society, but his administration has been just as aggressive as its predecessor (if not more so) in using its powers to try to reshape higher education.
The emphases have changed only modestly with the turn of administration. The Spellings commission's core concerns -- access, affordability, quality, accountability and innovation -- remain central today, although the 2008 economic downturn and its aftereffects have largely shifted the discussion about higher education outcomes from one aimed at student learning to a more economy-driven focus on job prospects and student debt.
And many of the problems in higher ed have continued to be laid at the feet of accreditors.
To the extent that consumer advocates and liberal politicians attribute much of the student debt problem to for-profit colleges, they have accused accreditors of doing too little to rein them in. The watershed moment on that front came in 2011, when a Senate hearing purportedly about the excesses of for-profit Bridgepoint Education became (when the company's CEO took a pass on attending) a referendum on the failings of accreditors like the Higher Learning Commission, which had approved the takeover of a small Iowa college from which the fast-growing for-profit company took off.
As well-funded philanthropies like the Lumina Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have persuaded policy makers that higher education is inadequately preparing sufficient numbers of Americans for work and life, they have encouraged the view that accreditors stifle innovative practices (like competency-based learning) and potential alternative providers (coding academies and noninstitutional providers like StraighterLine) that might bolster postsecondary education and training. (Various voices within the U.S. Education Department promulgate both points of view -- accreditors as barriers to innovation, and accreditors as lax enforcers of poor institutions -- at the same time, often confounding officials at the accrediting agencies.)
Education Secretary Arne Duncan in 2010 directed his advisory committee on quality assurance to take a broad look at accreditation's effectiveness in the run-up to the next renewal of the Higher Education Act, which was scheduled for 2013. (And yes, it's 2015 and it still hasn't happened.) The panel held several meetings at which a broad array of alternatives were put forward, with Anne Neal, one of its members and president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, advocating for breaking the link between the accreditors and federal financial aid, ending their role as federal quality assurers and letting them focus instead on their original mission of institutional improvement.
Documents supporting President Obama's 2013 State of the Union speech -- perhaps the first ever to mention accreditation -- said he would "call on Congress to consider value, affordability and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results."
Two presidential candidates, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have talked about accreditation on the campaign trail, with Rubio famously referring to the system as a "cartel" that he wanted to "bust."
It is not as if accreditors are taking heat only from politicians and others outside the academy; many college leaders complain that the agencies penalize them too often or impose too many burdens on them.
California's community colleges have been at odds for years with the regional accreditor who oversees them, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, with the state's community college system going so far as to call last week for them to part ways. And officials at some of the country's most elite universities, led by Princeton University, have publicly said that the accreditation system has little to offer institutions like theirs, which they have characterized as needing relatively limited oversight. (The recent academic integrity scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has led more than a few people to question whether elite institutions are truly immune from the need for quality assurance.)
"What's been interesting to me is that so many different people are unhappy about" accreditation, says Ben Miller, an analyst at the Center for American Progress who formerly worked at the Education Department. "You've got people on the left unhappy from a consumer standpoint, the whole 'standing in the way of innovation' argument from the right and the most powerful colleges in the middle, largely annoyed. That's quite a feat to pull off."
The Search for Something Better
So with all those perceived flaws in accreditation, surely the country can come up with a better approach, right?
Not necessarily, says Lamar Alexander, who heads the Senate's higher education panel.
"I have had a hard time thinking about another way to do this," the Tennessee senator said at a June hearing about accreditation. "If accreditors don't do it, I can assure you the Congress can't, and the Department of Education I don't believe has the capacity or the knowhow. It could hire 1,000 bureaucrats to run around the country reviewing 6,000 colleges, but you can imagine what that would look like."
Like many observers, Alexander largely dismisses the idea of replacing accreditation not out of deep warmth for the job accreditors do, but for lack of an alternative. The agencies are now held responsible for monitoring so many things -- and lawmakers stand ready to add items to their lists, such as colleges' sexual assault policies and student debt burdens -- that multiple someone elses would likely have to be created to fill the shoes of the accreditors.
And virtually any true replacement for accreditors' gatekeeping function for federal student aid would either require the federal government to spend a lot more money than it now does in supporting the work of the accreditors (virtually zero) or have the Education Department take on the role itself, immersing the federal agency much more directly in judging the performance of colleges and universities than it already is.
(Another replacement favored by U.S. Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, would let the states serve as accreditors for federal financial aid purposes as well as licensing bodies. But the states' own record of quality assurance in higher education is spotty, which was partly what prompted the Obama administration to recently try to toughen state authorization procedures.)
"But one way or the other, I think the accreditors' role is going to change, in ways that take us away from some of our current practices."
That, in some ways, is what the Obama administration just tried to do in its failed effort to create a federal rating system. That effort -- promoted personally by President Obama, driven in part by his frustration at his own family's student loan debt -- collapsed of its own weight this summer, and the department is preparing instead to release a system aimed at giving consumers better information about colleges' performance, without judgments.
What Comes Next?
If replacing accreditation with something else -- "blowing it up" -- isn't viable, is the status quo likely?
While that effort fell short, it points the way to what most observers see as the likeliest scenario going forward: multiple efforts to find other ways to hold institutions accountable, which may supplement both accreditation and the government's other existing quality assurance tools and, possibly, force the accreditors to better compete and change.
The Education Department is deep in discussions about creating an experimental program that would provide federal aid eligibility -- as an alternative to accreditation -- to partnerships between accredited colleges and alternative providers, such as job skills boot camps, coding academies and MOOC providers. That could lay the groundwork for a true alternative accrediting agency that would grant federal approval to the kinds of emergent education and training providers that Rubio and even President Obama have said are dismissed or dissuaded by traditional accreditors.
Carey, of New America, cites that as one kind of "additional architecture" that could be layered onto the existing system of federal, state and accreditor oversight to strengthen the entire accountability system -- and ultimately diminish the relevance of traditional accreditation. That gradual approach of creating alternatives to deal with new segments or new problems "gets you around having a big fight that's hard to win," Carey says.
"I do think there is still a strong desire for alternatives, but nobody's been able to concretely articulate what that might be," says Miller of the Center for American Progress. "It's clear we do not have the processes, structures, entities to replace the accreditation system tomorrow, and we probably won't in two years. But if you extend that time frame, and encourage experimentation in the space, the outlook changes a little bit."
Neither Carey nor Miller says he is a fan of accreditation, but supporters of the enterprise see similar scenarios as possible. Judith S. Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, which represents colleges on accreditation issues, believes that the increasing push by federal officials (of both parties) to "tie accreditation status more closely and explicitly to evidence of institutional performance" will, in one way or another, put pressure on accreditors to move in that direction.
That pressure could come in the form of direct federal attempts to create a "different path" to federal aid based on performance indicators (as the Obama administration has done with its gainful employment regime, and tried to do with its ratings system), or less drastically, to just demand that accreditors adopt more "bright line" indicators of performance.
"But one way or the other," she says, "I think the accreditors' role is going to change, in ways that take us away from some of our current practices."
It wouldn't be the first time. In fact, the history of accreditation is that it has changed, as even most of its critics will admit.
The change has not usually come fast enough to satisfy those bashing them, but there is a track record: the increased attention about learning outcomes in the Spellings era, the crackdown on purchases of accreditation by for-profit companies in the late 2000s, the greater transparency exhibited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges senior commission, and the recent collaboration by the seven regional accreditors in crafting statements on common language and competency-based education.
"They really are being responsive to some of these public concerns," says Ewell of NCHEMS.
"The spotlight that has been on the integrity of higher education generally has prompted at least some of the accreditors to be more rigorous," says Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and, as a top higher ed official in the Obama administration's first term, a tough critic of accreditors' ability to prevent abuses. "But we've seen the story before -- when the attention and spotlight are gone, will we see a weakening of the oversight?"
Ralph Wolff, who as president of the Western accreditor's senior college commission from 1996 to 2013 pursued significant changes, said he and his (now former) accrediting colleagues have "not fundamentally changed" or responded aggressively enough. "Accrediting agencies should be more transparent and far more proactive on the completion agenda," he says. The issue raised by the Education Department in its rating system and The Wall Street Journal articles on institutions that graduate few students demand more action.
For their part, leaders of the accrediting agencies have no illusions about the situation they're in. At a meeting last week of the Council for Regional Accrediting Commissions, officials of the agencies repeatedly expressed frustration at the conflicting messages they receive ("get tougher," "back off or we'll sue," "stop blocking innovation") from their various masters -- Congress, the Education Department, their college and university members.
But they also discussed the additional ways they might work together, a partial response to the oft-made assertion that having colleges accredited regionally in an era when geographic boundaries matter less and less makes little sense.
Most of the agencies' leaders pushed back against the idea of having one common set of standards for all of them, mostly because the process of debating and drafting the standards within a region every few years "helps to develop a feeling of ownership and buy-in" from each accreditor's member colleges, says Barbara Brittingham, president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges higher education commission.
But whether it's working more closely together or making other changes that respond to the growing demands and pressures on them, "we have to change, and we are," says Mary Ellen Petrisko, who succeeded Wolff as president of the WASC senior college commission. "We need to be really careful dismissing anything out of hand, or being defensive. When you're defensive, you're closed, and that's dangerous."Editorial Tags: Accreditation
About 5 percent of students -- more than 1,000 students in total -- at the University of Kentucky experienced a sexual assault in the past year, according to the results of a new survey that researchers say could provide one of the most expansive looks yet at gender violence at an individual college.
Where many other campus surveys rely on responses from a sample of a few thousand students, Kentucky’s survey was sent to every student and the results include data from more than 24,300 respondents, or more than 80 percent of Kentucky's students. The survey will be conducted annually for at least four more years.
“This is what we must do as we undertake our sacred trust to care for the health and well-being of our students,” Eli Capilouto, Kentucky's president, said in a statement. “Because we surveyed the entire student population, we have a clearer understanding of our strengths and areas where we need to improve.”
Though all students were required to take the survey, about 5,000 did not participate in time for this preliminary round of data and students could opt out of certain questions if they felt uncomfortable answering them. Still, the number of respondents to the Kentucky survey dwarfs that of similar efforts, such as the recent survey at the University of Michigan that was sent to 3,000 students, or about 7 percent of students. The University of Texas System recently started conducting a large survey about campus sexual assault, as well. Like Michigan's, the study will select a sample size of students, but it will pull its respondents from every campus across the statewide system.
The results of the Michigan survey, released in June, found that about 11 percent of students experienced a sexual assault in the past year. About 22 percent of female undergraduate students and 7.6 percent of male undergraduate students said they had experienced a sexual assault in that time frame.
The report based on the Kentucky survey that was provided to Inside Higher Ed last week does not break the numbers down by gender, though the university said it will eventually release that data. Kentucky also used a narrower definition of sexual assault than Michigan’s and similar surveys that include unwanted kissing or sexual touching, and thus often show a higher percentage of students -- about one in five -- who say they have been assaulted.
“There are research studies that for very good reasons will broaden that definition because they want to understand the vast range of negative experiences students can have,” Diane Follingstad, executive director of Kentucky's Center on Violence Against Women, said. “That’s why we’re trying to very carefully show not only that these are our numbers, but here’s how we got them, exactly. It’s very important knowing what’s being assessed.”
The Kentucky survey asked students about “unwanted sexual experiences,” and defined that as completed or attempted intercourse, oral or anal sex, and used federal guidelines for defining physical force, threat of force and incapacitation. Kentucky's findings were similar to other surveys that have defined sexual assault in this way, including studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Harvard School of Public Health.
The Kentucky survey found that 4.9 percent of students experienced an assault in the last year. That's 1,052 students who said they were assaulted, a far larger number than the 144 cases reported to university officials or the counseling center. More than 60 percent of the assaults occurred off campus and 27 percent occurred in university housing. About 6 percent occurred in what was designated as "UK affiliated off-campus" housing, which includes fraternity and sorority houses. Nearly three-quarters of students who were assaulted said the assault was committed by a fellow Kentucky student.
“We looked at that data a little more and most of the off-campus assaults appear to be happening in student houses or apartments,” Follingstad said. “It seems to be where people are living is where these things are happening. While many of them are not on campus, the vast majority are still committed by UK students.”
The survey also asked students about other kinds of intimate partner violence. Out of students who said they were in a relationship, 7.3 percent reported being physically abused and 17.2 percent reported “serious psychological abuse” from a partner.
Nearly one-quarter of students said they had been sexually harassed in the past year. The harassment included receiving unwanted sexual comments, messages, images, gestures and touching. More than 6 percent of students said they had been stalked.
In addition, students were asked about their perceptions of safety on campus and how the university responds to sexual assault. Nearly all students said they felt safe on campus during the day, and more than three-quarters said they felt safe at night. About 94 percent of students said they felt the university cares about their safety.
More than half of students said that sexual violence was a problem on campus. Generally, students said they had a positive perception of how the university handles sexual assault allegations, but half of the respondents said they worried about retaliation from other students if they were to report an assault.
A quarter of the surveyed Kentucky students were not aware that the university has both mandated reporters and confidential sources, or who on campus falls into each category. Almost 40 percent of students did not know that Kentucky officials must investigate claims of sexual assault or that the campus offered accommodations to victims, such as changing their dorm room assignment or moving them into a different class.
Michigan’s survey reached a similar conclusion: too few students are aware that their institution has policies about and resources dedicated to campus sexual assault.
“When I talk to campus police or Title IX officers, they say that ‘we do tell students about this and we give them this info,’” Follingstad said. “It’s talked about when they first arrive at UK, but there’s something about the way they’re getting the information that’s just not registering. We may need to find better ways to communicate, perhaps improving the way it’s presented on our websites. There’s something happening that’s saying we might need better modes of communicating this to students.”Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Sexual assault
Washington State University on Monday announced that it would not allow instructors to make "blanket" bans on the use of certain words or phrases in class, even if those words and phrases offend people. Further, the university said that instructors could not punish students for use of such words or phrases.
The announcement followed a barrage of criticism of the syllabus for Women & Popular Culture, a women's studies course, that banned specific words and phrases and set out punishments for their use.
Here is the language on the syllabus:
"Gross generalizations, stereotypes and derogatory/oppressive language are not acceptable. Use of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, classist or generally offensive language in class or submission of such material will not be tolerated. (This includes 'The Man,' 'Colored People,' 'Illegals/Illegal Aliens,' 'Tranny' and so on -- or referring to women/men as females or males.) If I see it or hear it, I will correct it in class since it can be a learning moment for many students. Repeated use of oppressive and hateful language will be handled accordingly -- including but not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and -- in extreme cases -- failure for the semester."
This summer has seen several instances in which websites of various college or university groups have featured language discouraging the use of words and phrases that many find offensive. There was much discussion in July about the "bias-free language guide" at the University of New Hampshire, but UNH never actually banned any words or phrases. One office published some recommendations for those seeking to avoid offending others, and most people at UNH didn't know that the guide existed until it was debated nationally -- and the university affirmed that there was no requirement to follow its suggestions.
In the Washington State syllabus, however, there was a specific statement that the instructor could punish any students using the banned words and phrases. And that appears to have led the university (which, as a public institution, must provide First Amendment protections) to get involved. The university statement said that it was asking all faculty members to review their policies "to ensure that students’ right to freedom of expression is protected along with a safe and productive learning environment."
The statement said: "Over the weekend, we became aware that some faculty members, in the interest of fostering a constructive climate for discussion, included language in class syllabi that has been interpreted as abridging students’ free speech rights. We are working with these faculty members to clarify, and in some cases modify, course policies to ensure that students’ free speech rights are recognized and protected. No student will have points docked merely as a result of using terms that may be deemed offensive to some. Blanket restriction of the use of certain terms is not consistent with the values upon which this university is founded. Free speech and a constructive climate for learning are not incompatible. We aim to cultivate diversity of expression while protecting individual rights and safety."
Selena Lester Breikss, the instructor, referred questions on her syllabus to the university's public relations office.
Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay and chair of the American Association of University Professors' Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, said via email that there are multiple issues at play in the debate over the Washington State syllabus.
"Faculty members have the right to take measures designed to ensure a classroom atmosphere conducive to free and open discussion and debate," Reichman said. And he noted that the syllabus doesn't just ban some words or phrases, but references the value of civilized debate. He pointed with favor to a part of the syllabus that says: "We all have differing opinions, beliefs and practices. The course materials may challenge your personal beliefs or opinions, and this is an open space to discuss these disagreements in a civilized, academic manner."
The problem, Reichman said, is that "blanket bans on specific words or expressions that some may find offensive would seem actually to contradict the true spirit of open and free discussion."
The AAUP opposes speech codes, Reichman said. And while AAUP policy specifically condemns institutional speech codes, he said that "the underlying principle itself should also apply to individual faculty members insofar as the views or words expressed by students in class are relevant to the course material."
He praised Washington State for saying that it was working with faculty members on these issues. "I am confident that the appropriate educational aims of the faculty members involved, and their academic freedom to control curriculum, can and will be consistent with protection of their students' rights to free expression and open debate," he said.
Follow me @ScottJaschik.Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Teaching
Humanities professors spend a lot of time debating trends in humanities enrollments. Are they really down or does it just seem that way because women have more options than they did a few generations ago? Is interest down or are students being scared off by (generally ill-informed) stereotypes that today's English major is tomorrow's barista? Are data being collected by colleges to really understand the humanities or to look for reasons to gut programs?
A new analysis published late Monday by the Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences may point to a key paradox for those trying to predict the future behavior of college students. The data show a decline in the proportion of high school students (as they take the SAT and as they prepare to graduate) who say they plan to major in the humanities. But something seems to be happening to those students when they actually enroll in college -- and interest in majoring in the humanities goes up.
First consider the bad news (from the perspective of humanities advocates). The table that follows comes from a survey of college-bound high school seniors (the Freshman Survey, a national study by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles) and a survey of those taking the SAT.
But then consider this figure from the study, not extending as far in time as the first one, but covering some of the same years. These data -- from National Center for Education Statistics datasets -- show that even as high school students reported declining interest in humanities, consistent with the UCLA and College Board surveys, the number of freshmen expressing interest in being a humanities major was going up.
So what's going on?
Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, offered a few theories.
One is that high school students are encountering "a Common Core era of humanities, very test driven," that may not be encouraging the passion and excitement that the humanities disciplines generate with many others.
Then the numbers may go up once students arrive in college and, even if they don't intend to major in the humanities, they take an introductory course to fulfill a general education requirement. "They are jazzed by it and it engages them," he said.
If this theory is correct, Townsend said, it becomes more important for humanities professors and their advocates to focus on entry-level courses and to fight changes in requirements that allow students to avoid or have only minimal exposure to the humanities.
Follow me @ScottJaschik.Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Humanities
The following individuals have recently been awarded tenure by their colleges:
Frostburg State University
Saint Peter's University, in New Jersey
State University of New York at Delhi
Trinity University, in Texas
“Incorrect.” Halfway through the practice quiz, I get a question wrong. I matched two terms to the wrong examples, and the quiz tells me they should be swapped. “Do you know why?” it asks.
I don’t, and the course doesn't tell me. But the quiz will soon give me the same question, which I can then answer simply from memory.
After approaching the course as I would any other course -- reading, taking notes, quizzing myself -- I opted for a brute-force strategy. Instead of reading the lecture notes or, when available, watching the video lectures, I started skipping directly to the practice quiz.
Through inferring the correct answers, lucky guesswork, and trial and error, I completed 40 of the course’s roughly 240 units. I have a perfect score in all but two. I have never taken a course or worked in marketing.
If I keep this up and pass a proctored multiple-choice exam, I can take my results to the American Council on Education, which recommends colleges should grant me three credit hours toward a degree.
Inside Higher Ed agreed to test JumpCourse after Daniel F. Sullivan, a sociologist and president emeritus of St. Lawrence University, completed JumpCourse’s Introduction to Sociology course and passed a proctored exam.
Sullivan (at right), also a former president of Allegheny College and faculty member and administrator at Carleton College, shared his concerns in an op-ed. The course, he writes, contained “unclear or contradictory” definitions and distinctions that “didn’t seem sensible,” and didn’t challenge him “to think through any complex problems or to use any quantitative reasoning skills.” Although he said the final exam was structured better, he ultimately felt as though the course amounted to “CliffsNotes for credit.”
In follow-up interviews, Sullivan said the course left him “stunned” by the lack of quality. JumpCourse stressed its courses have been independently evaluated. ACE, which has approved the courses for credit recommendation, won’t share the standards it uses to review courses.
The case highlights the larger debate about the role of introductory courses and the skills they should impart to students. It is also case of conflicting expectations: Should a $149 self-paced fully online course be directly compared to a traditional face-to-face course, even though both can award credit?
Alternative Providers and Unbundling
JumpCourse, like StraighterLine and other alternative or nontraditional providers, sprang up outside the boundaries of traditional higher education. For entrepreneurs, the incentives are clear: if, as some critics say, academe moves too slowly to tackle the issues of how to make higher education more accessible and affordable, then moving outside that structure creates opportunities to experiment without maneuvering through federal regulations, accrediting standards, shared governance and institutional review boards.
Inside Higher Ed explores alternative providers:
In other words, alternative providers offer courses without being accredited or awarding credit, and learners aren’t eligible for federal financial aid. Some providers award only certificates or badges, but others have had their courses approved for credit recommendation -- a process in which an organization reviews the course and vouches for its quality. Colleges then decide if they will accept the recommendation and award credit.
The call to bring alternative providers into the fold of higher education has grown more vocal in the past year.
Presidential candidates across the political spectrum have endorsed the idea. In her higher education plan, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposed using federal funds as “a lever to ensure accreditors are open to low-cost, technology-enabled programs,” but noted that the programs should be “rigorously evaluate[d].” Florida Senator Marco Rubio took a more confrontational position in a policy speech, promising to “bust this [accreditation] cartel by establishing a new accreditation process that welcomes low-cost, innovative providers.”
The idea also has support within the Obama administration. The U.S. Department of Education is considering an “experimental sites” project in which certain colleges and alternative providers would work together to offer financial aid-eligible programs. More details are expected in the coming weeks.
An expansion of federal financial aid to alternative providers would help enable a concept known as unbundling, in which students would combine smaller modules of education -- for example, massive open online courses and programs offered by coding academies -- into degrees, bypassing general education as traditionally offered.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities, for which Sullivan is a senior adviser, has struck a cautious tone about unbundling. In an interview Sullivan, who stressed that he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of AAC&U, amplified his criticism, comparing alternative providers to the use of human subjects in research.
Sullivan collected examples of lecture notes and practice questions from the sociology courses -- and his comments on them -- in a document. In a section on the women's movement, for example, the lecture notes state, “The first wave of feminism began at the end of the 19th century and continued into the 20th century.” As Sullivan points out, the notes do not mention the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, a pivotal event in the early days of the movement.
“When you’re experimenting with new technologies to build something cheaper or to provide a service in a cheaper way, you’re not experimenting with future lives of the people who you’re testing these innovations on,” Sullivan said. “People are essentially asking the government to accredit way before we understand the risks and benefits of this kind of stuff and to allow corporations to entice unsuspecting naïve people into thinking this is actually going to be a benefit, and it’s not going to be a cost.”
Faculty Tested, ACE Approved
Mark Brodsky, CEO of Adapt Courseware, defended JumpCourse and its course offerings, but said he welcomed constructive criticism. While not everyone may agree with its approach or methodology, he said, the company has received mostly positive feedback since JumpCourse introduced its first five courses in May 2014.
“Dan [Sullivan] is not the first person to say this in an academic setting,” Brodsky said. “Academics that we’ve had review our courseware … are definitely much more critical than students are. To be honest, I don’t know when some of that is really constructive criticism or almost a fear that this type of thing that’s going to replace the traditional role of faculty members teaching this course.”
Brodsky compared the course design process to how a publisher creates a textbook. On its website, JumpCourse writes, “While we can’t tell you all of our little secrets, we can say that each JumpCourse is created by instructional designers, writers, video producers, professional storytellers, subject matter experts, and otherwise passionate and talented individuals who want to help expand access and affordability of college education.”
The subject matter experts “typically have advanced degrees in their field,” and the courses are peer-reviewed by other academics before launch, Brodsky said.
In addition to faculty members reviewing the courses, JumpCourse has conducted “hundreds” of focus groups and paid learners to take the courses to the end. The results have been “stellar,” with JumpCourse learners more likely than the average learner to pass standardized tests that award college credit in areas where they have existing experience or knowledge, said Rebecca Ferraro, director of client services.
“We’ve done our own window shopping and comparison,” Brodsky added. “We know the quality of the content that we put in our courses is absolutely unmatched.”
Adapt Courseware can also point to support from outside organizations such as ACE, which has recommended its courses -- including Introduction to Sociology and Principles of Marketing and nine others -- for credit.
To be approved for credit recommendation, each course had to be reviewed by a faculty committee, said Deborah Seymour, assistant vice president for ACE’s Center for Education Attainment and Innovation. The reviewers, who represent all sectors of higher education and are trained by ACE, are tasked with reviewing the courses’ assessments and outcomes and how they compare to equivalent college courses, Seymour said.
“The process that they use is a rigorous one,” Seymour said. “There are a number of courses that don’t achieve the credit recommendation, and it’s not the case that every time we send a faculty team to look at a course, it’s automatically branded yes.”
When reviewing online courses such as the ones offered by JumpCourse, faculty are expected to go through the entire course. As a general guideline, reviewers should “stick to our standards around teaching quality and assessment,” Seymour said. But those standards are “proprietary” and not available to the public, she said.
JumpCourse has also promoted its connection to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (see above), writing in its About section that it has “been recognized by the [foundation] for adaptive learning.” After being notified of that language by Inside Higher Ed, however, a Gates spokesperson said the foundation was “perplexed” and would ask JumpCourse to remove the claim from the website, which the company later did.
“This idea that they would market as recognized by us is inaccurate,” the spokesperson said. “It’s really kind of misleading.”
The foundation in October 2013 awarded North Carolina State University a $100,000 grant through its Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program. The university chose to work with Adapt Courseware on a psychology course. JumpCourse wouldn’t launch its first courses for another seven months.
The JumpCourse Experience
At the beginning of Principles of Marketing, learners are greeted with the following introduction:
“As you will soon see, this course is different from anything you have experienced before. You'll have a lot more choice in how you learn, and a lot more real-time feedback about how you are doing. Because you are in control, you learn more efficiently, retain more of what you learn and have more fun learning. The course responds to you, providing learning activities keyed to your level of understanding. We call it adaptive learning.”
JumpCourse now offers 11 introductory courses in disciplines such as math, American government and psychology. Each course is divided into several sections, and each section is further broken down into modules known as units. In Principles of Marketing, a single unit may contain a page of lectures notes on product research with definitions of key terms, a five-minute video and a dozen practice questions.
Learners have three attempts to answer each practice question correctly. A correct answer on the first attempt fills a part of the mastery bar, which must be filled to at least 90 percent to unlock the next unit.
Answering incorrectly three times in a row -- which is in many cases hard to accomplish, given that the questions are multiple choice, matching or simple fill in the blank -- forces the learner to move on to the next question. After enough wrong answers, the same questions will reappear. Repeat the process enough times, and the mastery level eventually reaches 90 percent.
That method of completing a course is “highlighting a strength and not a flaw,” Brodsky said. How learners decide to interact with the content depends on their motivation, he said. Some may prefer to watch the video lecture, others read the lecture notes, and others yet dive into the practice section. “We’re not trying to prescribe learnings to meet certain learning styles, but we are allowing for students to learn the best way they learn,” he said.
Sullivan questioned whether those three methods of taking a course sufficiently prepares students for college-level studies. “The implication is that watching, reading and practicing -- and here they mean answering practice questions -- represent the varieties of ways people learn,” he wrote. “But aren’t engage, write, debate, analyze, critique, research, encounter, participate and other activities also ways of learning that might be best for a given student?”
JumpCourse plans to review and refresh the courses on a regular basis, Brodsky said, and newer courses include more ways of evaluating learners. In Foundations of Reading & Writing, for example, students are required to submit samples of their writing (though that course has not yet been approved for credit recommendation by ACE). Other courses include case studies or require students to participate in the forums, he said.
Sullivan also challenged the notion that the courses should be considered adaptive, a claim he called “narrow and vacuous.”
Some companies define adaptive learning as technology that sends learners on personalized paths through content, suggesting new resources if learners get stuck. For JumpCourse, the adaptive part happens during the assessment. The course, the company says, “slows down or speeds up the delivery of the material depending on your pace of learning.”
Practically speaking, this means the practice section will reproduce questions from units where the learner scored lower than 100 percent -- for example, asking a question about the history of marketing philosophies in a practice section on Internet marketing. It will also occasionally ask review questions. Answering questions from previously completed units correctly bumps the mastery score in that section up to a perfect 100.
The Role of Introductory Courses
Brodsky said JumpCourse’s goal is to “augment” higher education, not “replace” it. He said he hoped students who pay several hundred dollars a credit hour “get a heck of a lot more” from their courses compared to what JumpCourse offers for $149.
Adapt Courseware originally built its courses with two concepts in mind, Brodsky said. First, the courses should be flexible enough to be used in a supplementary role, for example, as content students could consume on their own time in a flipped course that combines face-to-face and online instruction. Second, the courses should prepare learners to pass standardized tests such as the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exam, offered by the College Board.
A preparatory version of the courses costs $99, but learners have to sign up for one of the standardized tests on their own. The $149 ACE-approved version includes a proctored exam. For another $40, learners who pass the exam can register to receive “one transcript, data housing, technical support and advocacy on behalf of the student” from ACE.
“There’s a healthy debate in academe about what an introductory course should be, and I don’t think we set out to try to change that paradigm,” Brodsky said. “If you take our Introduction to Psychology course, is it preparing you to be a major in psychology? I’d probably go as far as to say no, not necessarily. Are they designed for a student to get college credit? That is for sure the case. Is it designed for them to be able to … complete a higher-level course? I think to some extent for sure, but I’m not sure if we thought about it in that exact context.”
Organizations such as AAC&U, in comparison, have focused on importance of communication, rigor, writing and subject-matter learning in introductory courses. The AAC&U has for more than a decade has been engaged in Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP), a campaign to promote liberal education. The campaign argues introductory courses help students “acquire the broad knowledge, higher order capacities and real-world experience they need to thrive both in the economy and in a globally engaged democracy.”
“What JumpCourse says about introductory courses is that they’re really not intended to lead students to higher learning,” Sullivan said. “They’re treated as an occasion to learn the names and dates and basic concepts, and not as a place to start students on the path of developing their critically important liberal education skills. … As an aspiration for introductory students, that’s dishearteningly low relative to where college graduates have to be by the end [of their studies].”
JumpCourse and others have taken a more pragmatic approach. The Gates Foundation, for example, has been a strong promoter of the “college completion agenda,” spending hundreds of millions of dollars on initiatives intended to help more students graduate and join the workforce. Many of those efforts have targeted introductory courses, which traditionally have had high dropout and failure rates.
The ACE Alternative Credit Project, one such initiative, ties the Gates Foundation, JumpCourse and ACE together. The foundation in August 2014 awarded ACE a $2.1 million grant to review alternative providers and “promote greater acceptance of alternative credit.”
JumpCourse applied to and was accepted into the program, which means its courses will once again be evaluated. The quality assessment rubric is available online. ACE hopes to begin publishing results this fall, Seymour said.
Brodsky remained confident that the courses will still be recommended for credit.
“Look, I don’t think anyone who’s in online learning will say that -- for all learners -- an online course is the best experience when there’s clear evidence that hybrid courses and classroom-based courses still offer a lot of value to a lot of students for a lot of reasons,” Brodsky said. “We offer this as a way for people who are trying to finish their college education who have the challenges of a lot of adult learners in an alternative way and at a much lower cost.”ViewsTeaching and LearningHot IdeasTechnologyEditorial Tags: Distance education
The future looks murky for the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges.
For three years the regional accreditor has sparred with supporters of City College of San Francisco, including faculty groups, San Francisco’s city attorney, state lawmakers and Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. The commission also drew criticism from the U.S. Department of Education over its handling of City College’s sanctions.
The tension goes deeper, however. For many years officials with California's community college system office, campus leaders and faculty members around the system have complained that the commission has been too quick to punish colleges, among other gripes.
During the recent tumult over City College, the system's chancellor has for the most part refrained from directly challenging the accreditor’s authority. That changed Friday with the release of a report from a task force the system convened.
The system and its 113 colleges “have lost confidence in the ACCJC,” the report said. It also found that the commission, which is the only one of seven regional accreditors to specialize in two-year colleges, may no longer be a good fit for a system that has begun issuing four-year degrees.
“The task force concluded that the structure of accreditation in this region no longer meets the current and anticipated needs of the California Community Colleges,” the office of the system’s chancellor, Brice Harris, said in a written statement. “Furthermore, the task force concluded that several past attempts to engage with the ACCJC to make the accreditation process more effective and collegial have yielded very little in the way of progress.”
The commission is reviewing the report and plans to issue a response in the next week, Barbara Beno, ACCJC's president, said in a lengthy written statement.
However, Beno said the system office-issued report "certainly contradicts" feedback the accreditor recently received from individual member campuses across the state. Last year the commission updated its eligibility standards -- adding new emphasis on quality improvement. Beno said the ACCJC received input from hundreds of people at California's community colleges during the overhaul process, which took three years.
"There was to a great extent little call for change in the content of standards, but a request for simplification, clarification and elimination of redundancies," said Beno. "The task force report appears to not take into account the review and changes ACCJC has made."
It won't be easy for the system to take the task force's advice and make the switch to a new accreditor. Officials with the huge system, which enrolls 2.1 million students, said such a move could take up to 10 years to complete.
State lawmakers have proposed legislation to help make the change. But Harris will not take a position on those bills, the system said, adding that the discussion about whether, and how, to seek a new accreditor will take much longer than this legislative session.
The report calls on Harris to investigate all alternatives. But it specifically suggests two possible options.
One would be to form a combined, single accrediting commission under the umbrella of the WASC Senior College and University Commission. All other regional accreditors oversee both two-year and four-year colleges. ACCJC and WASC senior, as it is called, were separate but connected for decades, only splitting fully a few years ago. At this point, WASC senior only accredits institutions that offer at least two bachelor's degree programs.
Another approach, the report said, would be to identify another one of the five existing regional accreditors that could take on the job. Such a change likely would require approval of the U.S. Department of Education and maybe even of federal law.
Losing the state’s community colleges would deal a heavy, perhaps fatal, blow to the ACCJC. The accreditor’s total membership includes roughly 135 institutions, so fewer than 25 would remain if the California colleges were to move on. The commission accredits institutions in Hawaii and elsewhere in the West.
Harris said Friday that he generally agrees with the task force’s findings. He will bring the report to the system’s governing board next month and beginning discussing the possibility of finding a new accreditor.
History of Tension
Trouble between the system and the ACCJC predates the long-running tussle over City College.
The task force report cited a state audit from last year, which found that the ACCJC issued sanctions for roughly 53 percent of the actions it took during a recent five-year period. In comparison, the other six regional accreditors have an average sanction rate of 12 percent.
Some critics, however, say accreditors aren't tough enough on their members.
Beno cited that tension, pointing to recently updated regulations from the Education Department that "put great pressure on accreditors to take negative action on institutions when they are found to be out of compliance and have not quickly come into compliance." (Click here for those guidelines.)
Furthermore, she said the evaluation teams that make the call to penalize California community colleges are largely made up of academics and administrators from across the system itself. So if the system doesn't like the sanction rate, it's rejecting the work of its own constituencies, she said.
Beno also said California has handed the commission the task of pointing out the many problems funding cuts have created at its community colleges, including fiscal instability, lack of professional development for staff and leadership turnover.
"In the vacuum of state oversight of college financial conditions, it's too often an accreditation team that comes and finds ongoing severe financial problems that compromise educational quality," she said. "More state oversight and leadership is needed."
The heavily politicized dispute over City College took controversy over the accreditor’s approach to a new level.
In 2012 the commission identified a wide range of administrative and financial problems at the college. For example, it found that City College was running dangerously low on money and had only 39 administrators on staff for a college that enrolled 90,000 students.
The ACCJC’s sanctions threatened to shut down the college. But City College and its supporters fought back, alleging that the accreditor’s review of the college was deeply flawed.
A federal judge agreed with some of those allegations, ruling in January that the ACCJC violated laws and federal regulations by not giving City College an adequate chance to fix its problems.
The system’s task force described in its report what it said are the “ideal attributes” of an accreditor. Those qualities include a focus on improvement rather than compliance, collegiality and consistency, avoidance of conflict of interest or its appearance, and a transparent accrediting process.
The report said the ACCJC has consistently failed to meet those expectations.
The California Federation of Teachers (CFT), a union that represents many faculty members at California’s community colleges, called the report a validation.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Fred Glass, a spokesman for the group. “This is now a mainstream view within the system -- that the ACCJC has got to go.”
Glass said the CFT would push for a faster change in accreditor than the possibly decade-long transition that Harris’s office predicted.
“Ten years is too long for the system to suffer,” he said.Accreditation and Student LearningEditorial Tags: AccreditationCommunity collegesCalifornia
Could a medical school at Syracuse University be the ticket the institution needs to radically ascend the ranks of research universities? Or are its uncertain plans to fund the school and a crowded local market too much to overcome?
In his year and a half as chancellor, Kent Syverud has prioritized research programs in an effort to raise the university's stature among research universities and in the rankings.
Now Syracuse is exploring a medical school that would graduate doctors into the Veterans Administration Hospital pipeline -- a move that, if executed, would likely add significantly to the university's research grant total, reaching levels beyond where it was four years ago when it left the American Association of Universities in order to avoid being kicked out.
Syverud’s goals are seen by some on Syracuse’s campus as a tweaking of mission for the university, which in the past decade has tried a number of strategies with different definitions of excellence.
Syracuse’s previous chancellor, Nancy Cantor, who left in 2014 to lead Rutgers University at Newark, grew the Syracuse footprint in downtown Syracuse, expanded racial and socioeconomic diversity on campus, and largely ignored rankings. Cantor pushed the idea that professors' research should help the community and promote good teaching. Accessibility and social justice were at the forefront of her vision.
Yet in her efforts, Cantor was criticized for enrolling classes that were too large and not competitive enough. During Cantor’s tenure, some faculty and alumni complained when Syracuse fell from No. 52 to No. 62 in the U.S. News & World Report undergraduate rankings (the university is now ranked No. 58).
In contrast, Syverud has from the beginning been an advocate of Syracuse improving its academic reputation, measured in ways rankers value, and research enterprise.
“Chancellor Cantor’s emphasis was on scholarship and action … but it included a lot of elements of community outreach and a broader definition of research,” said Harriet Brown, a magazine journalism professor at Syracuse. “The board and the new chancellor have decisively turned away from that and definitely want to up our academic research.”
Brown has been at the university for eight years and says that now more than ever faculty are being encouraged to apply for research grants and are being given support in putting those grants together. “It’s definitely become a hot issue,” she said.
Added Patrick Mather, director of the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute, “We have this sort of anticipation and this excitement about going to the next level.”
Syracuse thus far has offered few details on the idea of creating a new medical school, which administrators say is still in the nascent stages of development. The cost, the funding and the exact location are all mysteries at this point.
What Syracuse would like to do is create a medical school that would partner with the Department of Veterans Affairs System -- which has some 1,700 hospitals and care facilities throughout the U.S. and which predicts a shortage of doctors in the near future.
Students would ideally receive their medical educations for free, and then be obligated to serve a certain number of years as a VA doctor. Presumably, the cost of providing medical educations for the 180 to 200 students at the school would be covered by federal, corporate and foundation funding -- although Syracuse officials don’t yet have funding partners for the project.
Syracuse officials have presented their ideas to VA administrators, but at this point the VA has not committed to a partnership. Yet Syracuse’s proposal very much relies on partnering with the agency.
Syracuse Provost Elizabeth Liddy said the project can’t go forward without some level of significant funding from the VA, and that no plans exist to pursue a medical school with a more traditional funding model.
At this point, the university is trying to solidify the idea enough to compete in a regional initiative started by Governor Andrew Cuomo aimed at making upstate New York more competitive. Some $500 million over five years is on the table to support a range of projects.
Syracuse administrators say their latest idea is in part a response to VA projections that there will soon be a shortage of doctors in the expansive medical system. They say a medical school could create as many as 1,500 jobs in the region. Yet a nearby medical school says the market in upstate New York is already crowded enough. And nearby doesn't mean in the region. It means across the street.
The president of the Upstate Medical University, a part of the State University of New York system, wrote to Syverud that a new medical school would likely harm his institution by overcrowding the local market. About 100 of the college’s 450 residency positions are with the VA, and most of the doctors at the local VA are on faculty at Upstate, which is also located in Syracuse.
In a letter to colleagues, Upstate’s interim president, Gregory Eastwood, emphasized what a large and expensive undertaking it is to open a new medical school.
“Operating a medical school is enormously expensive. It requires not only a lot of money, but also buildings, equipment, people, and relationships with hospitals and practitioners,” he wrote. Upstate’s medical school used to belong to Syracuse, which in the mid-1950s sold it to SUNY.
Yet administrators at the neighboring Crouse Hospital say their hospital actually has capacity for more residents, and are supportive of Syracuse exploring the idea of creating a new medical school.
Administrators at Syracuse say if their idea goes forward, their medical school would have a national focus and send residents to VA hospitals throughout the country. The impact on Upstate, they say, would be minimal.
“Our lens is not a local lens. Our lens is a national lens. The VA anticipates a doctor shortage of up to 22,000,” said J. Michael Haynie, Syracuse’s vice chancellor for veteran and military affairs. “So whether or not there is a shortage in the local area is in a lot of ways not relevant to the vision we have here.”
Administrators emphasize that they are still very much in the exploration phase. Syracuse is assembling a faculty committee to advise administrators on the project.
Syverud and Cantor denied requests for interviews for this article. The Veterans Administration did not respond to requests for information.
Samuel Gorovitz, a philosophy professor and former dean of Syracuse’s College of Arts and Sciences, says he’s waiting to pass judgment on the idea.
“No one should see this vague idea as a good or bad plan,” he said. “It would require much honest work to develop it into a plan one could assess as having pros and cons.”
Gorovitz, who has taught bioethics at Upstate, did say another medical school in the region would have a negative effect on Upstate, and to claim otherwise “is, on its face, not credible.”
Yet not everyone is reserving criticism.
“People who have been here a long time roll their eyes at this kind of thing because they’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said a Syracuse professor who asked not to be named. “There are fears about what the priorities of the board and the chancellor are … there’s been a huge amount of skepticism.”
Liddy, the provost, said Syracuse is focused not only on expanding its graduate research offerings, but also on making sure there are research opportunities for undergraduates as well. A recent planning process resulted in a strategic plan that is heavily focused on research, she said.
Some are wondering if an increased emphasis on research will mean less emphasis on teaching and diversity. Administrators at Syracuse say that’s not the case.
Students in 2014 staged a sit-in at Syracuse’s administration building that lasted more than a week. Their fear? That Syverud was backing off from Syracuse's commitment to diversity.
It’s still early to tell if Syracuse’s quest to become a more prestigious research university will affect its accessibility. In fall 2014, 25 percent of Syracuse’s students received Pell Grants, which are only available to low-income students, compared to 27 percent the year before.
“I’ve been at senate meetings where there was heated debate among the faculty and the administration about that tension [between] diversity in the student body and in the faculty body and rankings,” Brown said. “It makes me nervous for sure, and it definitely made the students nervous last year.”
Yet Brown said in the effort to increase its research and overall profile, Syracuse’s emphasis on veterans makes sense. The VA hospital in downtown Syracuse is near campus. And veterans, by virtue of their experience, bring a diverse set of views to the classroom, which is important to Brown, who is the chair of the diversity committee in Syracuse’s University Senate.
Haynie, the vice chancellor for veteran affairs, agrees.
Veterans are already the university's biggest area of research: more than half of Syracuse’s sponsored research dollars last year flowed through the institute, he said. In the five years since the institute began, its staff and affiliated faculty have grown from four people to 60.
In the years following World War II, Syracuse offered admission to all veterans, and enrolled some 10,000 students on the G.I. Bill. It has for decades operated programs for military personnel, including training for military comptrollers and photojournalists. Syracuse doesn’t require veterans using the G.I. Bill, which offers tuition assistance for veterans, to pay tuition beyond what the benefit covers.
“When Kent Syverud arrived as our chancellor, [one of his] goals was to elevate the importance, the impact, the quality of research that we do at this institution,” Haynie said, adding that another goal is be “the best” university when it comes to the academic study and support of veterans.
“There are lots of folks who are spun up in a silo about a medical school. But that’s not necessarily the right framing of this narrative,” he said. “We see an opportunity … to create a national hub of thought leadership, programming and policy analysis [for veterans].”
During her decade-long tenure, Cantor did make gains in research. She hired Mather as director of the Biomaterials Institute -- Mather recalls Cantor being enthusiastic about the social good his research could bring about -- and she began the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which has in many ways set the stage for the veterans-centered approach of Syverud’s medical school proposal.
She’s also credited with hiring talented assistant professors who, over time, are expected to increase the university’s research performance.
Yet Cantor had a broad view of research that’s not shared by many in higher education -- she viewed much of Syracuse’s outreach with its home city as research. And she expressed clear displeasure when Syracuse was forced to leave the AAU, arguing that the prestigious organization focused too much on “a particular slice of science R&D” and federally funded research, but didn’t capture areas such as environmental sustainability, urban education and other work important to its city and region.
“At some point there was an aha moment about what our strengths are and that they would add up to this,” Mather said, adding that the ingredients for a research university were there before Syverud came to Syracuse, but he’s the one who attempted to put them together in an effort to amplify research at the university. “That’s what he brought to the table: a realization that to be a really good university you have to be strong at research.”
Mather hopes that one day Syracuse can rejoin the AAU.
A medical school would be an integral part of raising Syracuse’s profile and accomplishing that goal. The vast majority of institutions in the AAU have medical schools that drive a large chunk of their research.
“If you do not have a medical school, it’s hard to compete,” Liddy said.Medical EducationEditorial Tags: College administration
Are women more likely than men to include works by women on a syllabus? A new study of international relations courses for Ph.D. students finds that they are.
Jeff Colgan, the Richard Holbrooke Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Brown University, analyzed 73 syllabi of international relations courses for doctoral students at American universities. Women taught 35 of the courses, and the syllabus selections of men and women together reached 4,148 required readings (which could be an article, a book or a book excerpt).
International relations is a field that has long been dominated by male professors, and readings by male authors (either individually or in teams of men) make up a majority of the readings, regardless of who prepares the syllabus. But there is a statistically significant difference in those prepared by men and women.
In courses taught by men, 79.1 percent of readings were by men, either individually or as part of a group of men. The rest were by women, groups of women, or groups of men and women. In courses taught by women, only 71.5 percent of readings were by all-male authors.
Framing the comparison, Colgan writes that “female instructors assign 36 percent more readings by women (including coed teams) than male instructors do, or about 5 readings per course.”
Colgan described his findings in a post on the political science blog The Duck of Minerva. A full analysis is forthcoming in the journal International Studies Quarterly.
The gender gap in readings would have been larger but for another finding: men are more likely than women to assign readings of which they are the authors.
Female faculty members in the study assigned an average of 1.68 readings of which they were authors or co-authors. Male faculty members assigned roughly twice that number, or an average of 3.18 readings of which they were the author or co-author. (This finding may be consistent with research presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association indicating that, across disciplines, male scholars are more likely than female scholars to cite their own work in papers.)
In his description of his findings, Colgan acknowledges that “correlation is not causation” and that there may be factors beyond gender at play. For example, female faculty members may be, on average, younger than male faculty members, and their choices could be related in part to their generational perspective.
But he also cites American Political Science Association data that women are 42 percent of graduate students in the discipline, and only 24 percent of full-time professors.
In this environment, he writes, faculty members who want to see the field diversify should think about it if they plan a syllabus with relatively few female authors.
“Is this type of analysis a case of political correctness gone mad? Some would argue that instructors should just assign the best readings,” Colgan writes. “I agree with that. But ‘best’ is partly subjective, and gender affects such judgments. My own experience is that revising my syllabus with gender in mind was not only feasible, it made it better.”
Follow me @ScottJaschik.FacultyEditorial Tags: Political science
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Friday abruptly fired its head football coach, Tim Beckman, after an external review into the coach’s behavior revealed that he put his players at risk by deterring them from reporting injuries and pressuring them to continue playing when hurt.
The preliminary findings of the ongoing investigation -- which included a review of 200,000 pages of documents, interviews with 90 people and a “large volume” of practice and game video -- were presented to Mike Thomas, the university’s athletic director, earlier this week.
“It showed me enough evidence that Tim Beckman needed to be dismissed as the University of Illinois head football coach,” Thomas said during a press conference Friday, adding that the findings left him “shocked and angry.”
The full investigation, which is being handled by an external law firm, will continue throughout the season. Beckman will not receive the remaining $3.1 million he is owed on his five-year contract or the $743,000 he was meant to receive if his contract was bought out. He served as head football coach at Illinois for three years.
The preliminary findings of the review mirror many of the accusations that a former player posted to Twitter in May. It was those tweets that prompted the investigation into Beckman’s behavior.
The player, Simon Cvijanovic, alleged that Beckman and his staff pushed the athlete into playing with an injured shoulder and knee and lied to him about how long his recovery would take. He said that the coaching staff frequently berated injured players, threatening to take away their scholarships if they did not return to practice quickly after an injury.
Cvijanovic tweeted that athletic medical staff withheld information from him regarding the extent of his knee injury, and that he now faces a "lifetime of surgery" related to the deterioration of an injured muscle that was largely left untreated. The staff called hurt players derogatory names and dressed them in a rival team's colors during practices in an attempt to shame them, the former player said.
“If I'm hurt, I'm hurt,” he tweeted. “I don't need to be called a pussy to make me make bad decisions for my body.”
In a call with reporters when Cvijanovic first tweeted his complaints, Thomas was bullish in defending Beckman, calling the Twitter comments “a personal attack” against the coach.
At the time, Thomas said that Beckman put the welfare of his players “above anything else” and that exit interviews with the team’s senior players didn’t “correspond” with Cvijanovic’s complaints. A number of current and former Illinois football players (and fans) also defended Beckman on Twitter, chastising Cvijanovic for quitting and telling him to “man up.”
Some college athletes from other institutions, however, praised Cvijanovic for bringing attention to what they said are common but rarely discussed issues in college athletics. One former player tweeting his support was a member of Beckman’s team from when he coached at the University of Toledo prior to coaching at Illinois.
"I appreciate all the support I have received," Cvijanovic tweeted after hearing the news of Beckman's firing. "Huge step in bettering athletics and in helping us prevent future wrongdoings."
Despite his initial backing of Beckman, Thomas said on Friday that the investigation began immediately after the former player's complaints were posted on Twitter. “We took action, but reserved judgment,” he said. “The health and well-being of our student athletes is our top priority and this decision was based on the health and well-being of our student athletes.”
Beckman denied the allegations in a statement sent to reporters, calling the investigation "a rush to judgment" and saying that he was "shocked and extremely disappointed by the decision" to fire him. “First and foremost, I firmly deny the implications in Mike’s statements that I took any action that was not in the best interests of the health, safety and well-being of my players,” Beckman stated. “The health and well-being of our student athletes is of paramount importance to me, and any statement made to the contrary is utterly false.”
The allegations about Beckman are not the only accusations of impropriety made against the university’s athletic programs this year. Last month, seven former women’s basketball players sued the university, accusing the team’s head coach of abuse and racism. In June, a former women’s soccer player also sued, alleging that she was wrongly cleared to play after suffering a concussion.
With the football team’s first game of the season just eight days away, Bill Cubit, the team’s offensive coordinator, has been tapped to serve as interim head coach. Thomas said that Cubit and other members of the coaching and medical staff have so far not been implicated in the external review.
When asked during Friday’s press conference whether he had talked to Beckman, Cubit said he briefly spoke to the fired coach earlier in the day and expressed his appreciation for Beckman’s support over the years.
“I thanked him,” Cubit said. “You know, I’m a loyal guy.”Editorial Tags: AthleticsImage Source: University of IllinoisImage Caption: Former University of Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman
Imagine this scenario: a presidential search is underway at a college. A candidate visits campus and is perceived by a board member as being overly ambitious and narcissistic. The trustee is ready to cut the candidate from the short list, but a subsequent test reveals that while the candidate is ambitious, that ambition is reserved not necessarily for self but channeled into whatever organization he or she is affiliated with.
The candidate is hired.
The test in question? A personality assessment.
Though the practice remains unusual, more colleges and universities than in the past are considering using psychological assessments or personality tests as they search for the next leader of their institution. The scenario above isn’t fiction, but an example cited by seasoned search consultant Lucy Leske of how such assessments can aid the often arduous search process.
Leske’s firm, Witt/Kieffer, now offers leadership assessments as a standard part of their presidential search package. And though search committees decline the service more often than not, Leske says more and more are beginning to embrace the practice.
Other search firms also report increased client interest in assessments. Yet that interest is often superseded by concerns over whether personality assessments are accurate predictors of a candidate's behavior. The practice, while common in the corporate world, remains an outlier in higher education, although it appears to be slowly gaining ground.
Jessica Kozloff, president of higher education search firm Academic Search, said in the last year at least three clients have expressed interest in personality assessments.
That's likely because search committees want candidates to possess an ever-broadening set of skills. More and more governing boards are “equally concerned about evaluating the soft skills of somebody, as well as trying to evaluate the hard skills,” she says.
“In the days before YouTube and social media and all that, a lot of people made mistakes in their positions but it didn't get that much attention. Today it does. So every failure or every misstep has the potential to ruin someone's career,” Kozloff said. “People are becoming much more interested in how you lead and your temperament and your ability to roll with the punches, as well as these impressive things you've done in the past.”
Kozloff's firm doesn’t offer an in-house assessment service -- only a few do. Instead Academic Search suggests firms that specialize in such tests, and tries when possible to integrate the assessment of soft skills into the interview and reference checking process. So far none of her clients have ended up pursuing an assessment, but interest nonetheless is increasing.
“We’re seeing the train trying to leave the station on this,” she said. “We’re all trying to figure out how this impacts us.”
Witt/Kieffer declined to share how many clients have used personality tests in their presidential searches, and only said that there’s been a dramatic increase since the firm first began offering the tests three and a half years ago.
Leske attributes the uptick in interest to “the increased scrutiny and risk of these hires.” Standard references and interviews, she said, don’t always reveal how a candidate will respond to controversy.
“Just look in the newspaper. Look at these people. The skills and competencies that they’re required to bring to the table have to be so well developed to handle today’s jobs,” she said. “All boards are concerned about risk when hiring a chief executive and this is an additional way to assess the risk in an environment where the landscape is changing so rapidly that you’ve got to rely on competencies now, not just experience.”
The assessments measure everything from interpersonal behavior to reactions to stress, behavioral risks, core values, interests and goals.
Witt/Kieffer uses an assessment developed by Hogan Assessments, a firm that specializes in developing personality tests. Witt/Kieffer had about 100 sitting presidents take the assessment themselves and compiled the results to create a benchmark for higher education leaders.
One Witt/Kieffer personality assessment aims to measure the following qualities:
Another assessment aims to determine if the subject has these personality types:
Faculty Members Skeptical
Though more governing boards and search committees are embracing personality tests, skepticism about the practice is prevalent in higher education.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who spent two decades as the president of George Washington University, is a consultant with search firm Korn Ferry. He’s worked on about 30 searches for the firm, and in each one boards have declined to have their finalists undergo a psychological assessment.
Trustees are often interested in an assessment -- after all, many trustees hail from the corporate sector, where personality assessments are common when hiring for a leadership position -- but faculty members usually express concern, the consultants interviewed for this article reported.
“The professors on the search committees, most of the time, see it as somehow totalitarian, a variation on Big Brother, and an intrusion into the inner mind,” Trachtenberg said. “They don't trust it even though we believe we can demonstrate, empirically, the validity of the test.”
Leske recalls similar concern when her firm began offering the assessments.
“At first it was, ‘Oh, no, we don’t do that in higher education. We don’t value this kind of psychometric quack kind of stuff,’” she said. “There was a lot of suspicion from faculty whether these had any value. But the trustees started saying to us, ‘We’re really interested.’”
Some of the concern stems from the methodology used to create the assessments, said Jan Greenwood, owner of the higher education executive search firm Greenwood-Asher and Associates and a licensed psychologist.
“You just have to be careful and responsible in the use of the [company] you hire to do this type of psychological evaluation and the instruments they use, because it might affect a person's career,” she said.
The American Psychological Association offers guidelines for developing psychological assessments. Concerns also stem from the way in which a university uses assessment results: Are they used to eliminate candidates, or as tools to coach a finalist once chosen? Greenwood recalled an instance when an institution chose one candidate over another after an assessment revealed differences in the management styles of the candidates.
Kozloff says assessments are better suited as tools used to assess a finalist's strengths and weaknesses and provide coaching. Witt/Kieffer shares test results with an institution's governing board -- not the search committee -- and also goes over the results with the chosen finalist in a two-hour session. Leske underscored the fact that a personality assessment is just one element of a sweeping search process.
“Our assessments are about potential. It's not etched in stone. People can surprise you,” she said. “It's one tool that should be used in a range of evaluative processes and tools. You still need to do the referencing. You still need to do the interviewing. You still need to spend time with people.”
Kozloff says developing an assessment in-house is cost prohibitive for her midsize higher education-specific search firm. The price tag could be as much as $400,000.
“If we were to ever offer our own assessment tool, it would really require a great deal of product development and also hiring people who can really evaluate it, and we don’t have that kind of economy of scale,” said Kozloff, whose firm conducts about 80 searches a year.
Plus, there are other ways to evaluate a candidate's personality and behavior, she said.
“We try to train our search committees to ask questions that really get to a description of how you would approach something,” she said. “Philosophically we are most comfortable with trying to embed assessment of soft and hard skills within the search process. That’s really what we believe is the right way to go.”Editorial Tags: College administrationImage Source: iStock
Science is a process, not a product -- often a long one. And key to the process of organizing and creating knowledge is replication, or reproducing even the most credible-seeming results to help confirm their validity or to expose flaws in the work. Too often, however, for a variety of reasons and competing interests -- why test someone else’s results when journals favor original research, for example? -- replication becomes the missing step in the scientific process. That leaves the door open to research misconduct or fraud or, worse and much more common, promising data gone untested.
While the replication problem is widely acknowledged, it is largely unexplored. So a new landmark study suggesting that the results of the vast majority of major recent psychology studies can’t be replicated stands out, and poses important questions that stretch beyond psychology to the other sciences: What do poor reproducibility rates mean, and how can scientists and publishers help put a bigger premium on replication?
“Credibility of the claim depends in part on the repeatability of its supporting evidence,” said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia who led the study and is executive director of the Center for Open Science. Despite that, he said, “little is known about the reproducibility of research in general, and there's been growing concern that reproducibility may be lower than expected or desired.”
Hence, “Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science,” in today’s Science. The four-year study involving 270 co-authors replicated 100 social and cognitive studies published in three top psychology journals in 2008. Nosek said he was expecting about a 50 percent reproducibility rate, but the actual results were much lower: while 97 percent of the original studies produced significant results (a p-value of 0.05 or less) for whatever theory was being tested, just 36 percent of replications did. The effect sizes or magnitudes of the original studies were about half in Nosek’s project, too.
Nosek said there were three possible reasons for his results: that the original effect could have been false positive, that the replication was a false negative, or that both the original and replication results are accurate but that each experiment’s methodology differed in significant ways.
Correlational tests suggest that replication success was better predicted by the strength of the original evidence, however, than by characteristics of the original and replication teams. Plus, Nosek’s team tried to minimize error by obtaining all original materials from the study authors, getting feedback from them about the replication designs and making all protocols and data public.
Different results also may have been observed because the phenomenon being studied isn’t yet well enough understood to anticipate sampling differences.
E. J. Masicampo, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, both replicated a study and had his own study replicated. Masicampo successfully reproduced results of a paper suggesting that people prioritize instrumental or useful emotions when confronted with a particular task, as opposed to prioritizing pleasant emotions all the time. The set-up tested whether people preferred listening to angry music or recalling angry memories in anticipation of playing a violent video game, for example.
His original study of how people make effortful decisions, however, was not successfully replicated. Masicampo found in his own 2008 study of Florida State University undergraduates (while he was a graduate student there) that a sugary beverage provided a boost of energy that helped those who were previously mentally fatigued to avoid taking unhelpful mental shortcuts in deciding between hypothetical apartments that traded off on space and distance. But for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the methodology didn’t “translate” at the replication site, the University of Virginia, he said.
“We were trying to be really faithful to the original study in using the original materials, but it became immediately clear upon looking at the results that this simply wasn't an effortful decision for participants,” Masicampo said. “So it really highlighted the issue of how exact these replications should be and how much things change going from one place to another.”
Of course, sometimes irreproducibility comes from possible research fraud. One of the more notorious cases in recent memory is that of a Diederik Stapel, the former head of the social psychology department at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, who was accused of making up science he wanted the world to believe -- for example, that litter and trash in a public area made people more likely to think racist thoughts. Marc Hauser, an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard University, left academe in 2011 amid charges of scientific misconduct. And Daryl Bem, a professor emeritus at Cornell University, blew the roof off social psychology in 2010 when he claimed that humans had some psychic powers -- something colleagues immediately denounced as untestable. (In the midst of all this, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist at Princeton University, wrote an email to his colleagues studying social priming, warning of the looming “train wreck” that could only be avoided by more replication.)
Nosek acknowledged various controversies in the field but said the replication project was motivated more by genuine curiosity than anything else.
“We don't know the reproducibility of our work, so let's start to investigate,” he said. “Let's do a project to get some information and then use that to help stimulate improvements in the field.”
Nosek said there are many contributing factors to the reproducibility problem, but a major one is “incentives.”
“Publication is the currency of science,” he said. “To succeed, my collaborators and I need to publish regularly and in the most prestigious journals possible, however, not everything we do gets published.” While novel, positive and tidy results are more likely to survive peer review, he said, “this can lead to publication biases that leave out negative results and studies that do not fit the story that we have.”
One major implication of the study is that the sciences as a whole need to value and support replication, he said -- including journal publishers and peer reviewers.
Marcia McNutt, editor in chief of the Science family of journals, said she was especially struck by the finding that highly resolved effects in the original studies were more likely be replicated -- suggesting that “authors and journal editors should be wary of publishing marginally significant results, as those are the ones that are less likely to reproduce.”
In terms of transparency and “trustworthiness,” McNutt said Science and other journals are working with researchers to raise standards. For example, she said, Science in June published Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines regarding data availability and more. Some 500 journals already are signatories to TOP, she said.
Issues Throughout the Social Sciences
Replication isn’t just problematic in psychology, and researchers who have looked at the issue through other disciplinary lenses applauded Nosek’s project.
Matthew Makel, a gifted-education research specialist at Duke University, co-authored a 2014 paper saying that only 0.13 percent of education articles published in the field’s top 100 journals are replications (versus 1.07 percent in psychology, according to a 2012 study). He said that Nosek’s project was more proof that psychology -- despite its flaws -- was “years ahead” of education in terms of recognizing and remedying a problem shared by the social science research community.
“Replication results may not grab headlines, but they help us understand what results stand the test of time,” he said. “And that is what educators, policy makers, parents and students actually care about.”
Recent research controversies in sociology also have brought replication concerns to the fore. Andrew Gelman, a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University, for example, recently published a paper about the difficulty of pointing out possible statistical errors in a study published in the American Sociological Review. A field experiment at Stanford University suggested that only 15 of 53 authors contacted were able or willing to provide a replication package for their research. And the recent controversy over the star sociologist Alice Goffman, now an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, regarding the validity of her research studying youths in inner-city Philadelphia lingers -- in part because she said she destroyed some of her research to protect her subjects.
Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, recently wrote a personal blog post similar to Gelman’s, saying how hard it is to publish articles that question other research. (Cohen was trying to respond to Goffman’s work in the American Sociological Review.)
“Goffman included a survey with her ethnographic study, which in theory could have been replicable,” Cohen said via email. “If we could compare her research site to other populations by using her survey data, we could have learned something more about how common the problems and situations she discussed actually are. That would help evaluate the veracity of her research. But the survey was not reported in such a way as to permit a meaningful interpretation or replication. As a result, her research has much less reach or generalizability, because we don't know how unique her experience was.”
Ethnographic research, such as Goffman’s, is particularly hard to replicate, making its usefulness in regard to other settings a “perennial debate” in sociology, Cohen said.
Fabio Rojas, an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, recently wrote about replication on the popular blog orgtheory.net. He said that sociology can “do better,” and suggested that dissertation advisers insist on data and code storage for students. He said journals and presses should require quantitative papers to have replication packages, and institutional review boards should allow authors to make public some version of their data.
Rojas said he actually didn’t think the psychology replication success rate was that low, considering that experiments involving human subjects are much messier than, say, a high school chemistry lab. For the most part, he said, “personal blame” isn’t at play when studies don’t replicate.
Cristobal Young, an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford who co-wrote the field study on replication packets, said that some of the articles published in top journals present compelling scientific evidence, while “others are just distracting noise that have no contribution to the advancement of knowledge.”
“The troubling thing is,” he continued, is “it is very difficult to know which kind you are reading. As a readers of scientific work, all we can do is be more skeptical of everything that is published. As social scientists, clearly we need to do more to demonstrate the validity and strength of our findings.”
Rather than be regarded as an insult, as it sometimes is, Young said, replication should be seen as the “natural next step for new empirical findings.”
Over all, Nosek said, his paper means scientists “should be less confident about many of the original experimental results that were provided as empirical evidence in support of those theories.”
More generally, he added, the paper says that science doesn't “always follow a simple straight line path from theory to experiment into understanding, and instead, there is a continual questioning and assessment of theories and of experiments -- and all of that is essential as we move towards understanding.”ResearchEditorial Tags: Research
Like most community colleges that enroll large numbers of low-income students, Essex County College has a serious graduation rate problem, with remedial math being a primary stumbling block.
Essex, located in Newark, N.J., had a graduation rate of 8 percent a couple years ago. About 85 percent of the college’s incoming students place into the lowest level of developmental math, and only 10 percent of those students end up completing a college-level math course.
So the college’s new leadership decided to give adaptive math software a whirl. Adaptive learning is an increasingly trendy form of instruction, typically featuring computerized courseware that adjusts to students’ learning styles and levels of achievement.
The college’s new president, Gale E. Gibson, made the call to spend $1.2 million on two new math labs for the project -- with work stations for 100 and 85 students. Essex got money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for some of the work, which included training for faculty members and the addition of new student support systems.
Essex chose ALEKS, an adaptive math learning system from McGraw-Hill, which experts say is one of the most battle-tested forms of adaptive software.
“ALEKS has zero multiple-choice questions,” said Douglas Walcerz, vice president of planning, research and assessment at Essex, who has led the adaptive work there. “It’s a very mature product. You don’t get software glitches.”
The college also went farther than some by designing an additional element of the curriculum for the two remedial and three entry-level math courses that feature ALEKS. It brought in John Hudesman, a psychologist and senior principal investigator at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, to help design a “self-regulated” learning group approach for students.
This segment of the courses features two 50-minute sessions a week, where students discuss strategies that have worked for them. They also must maintain a workbook with learning goals, discussing them with instructors.
“I never believed that just giving them content was going to be enough,” said Walcerz. “We really wanted students to form a learning community.”
Yet despite all the hard work, and the money spent, the adaptive project at Essex isn’t working.
“At the end of the first year our pass rates were worse than the pass rates in our conventional courses,” Walcerz said. “That hurt.”
So far, roughly 1,000 students have taken the adaptive math courses. Typically about 50 percent of students pass the first level of developmental math at Essex. That number dropped to 35 percent in the adaptive version of the course in 2014. This year it crept closer to 50 percent, said Walcerz, but the adaptive version's success rate still lags behind that of the traditional version of the course.
Walcerz this week joined a group of experts on adaptive learning at a meeting the National Education Initiative hosted in Washington, D.C. He brought a somewhat glum tone to the discussion, which featured many executives from adaptive software vendors.
For example, during the meeting Walcerz called the project’s first semester “disastrous.” He also said the adaptive courses provide less “accountability.” That’s because students move through content at different paces and it’s harder to make sure they master concepts by a certain point. “There is no classwide mile post.”
Dror Ben-Naim attended the meeting. The founder and CEO of Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning company, said Walcerz offered a “realistic” take on the hard work it takes to make adaptive learning work on a campus.
“There is this hope that this will be plug and play,” said Ben-Naim. “It’s really nonsense.”
He said adaptive learning “reconceptualizes the core product of higher education, which is the course.” As a result, it’s not a surprise that colleges like Essex would face some challenges while trying out the technology.
The news isn’t all bad for the adaptive courses at Essex. The college remains committed to the pilot project, which it is seeking to refine. Walcerz also stressed that ALEKS is holding up its end of the bargain.
“The technology does great,” he said. “I’m convinced it does a better job of delivering the content, given the constraints of having 24 students per instructor.”
Human elements pose the challenges, he said.
“Our problem is not content. Our problem is both student beliefs and behaviors,” said Walcerz.
For example, keeping students on task with the self-regulated workbooks has been a struggle for faculty members. About 90 percent of developmental math instructors at Essex are adjuncts. And the college leaned heavily on graduate students from nearby Rutgers University at Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to teach parts of the adaptive courses during the first year.
That didn’t work, Walcerz said. Students often said they were on track in the sessions, even when that was far from the truth. So for the second year, Essex switched back to having its own faculty members run the self-regulated learning sessions.
“We underestimated the skill that you would need as a teacher to deliver that content,” he said.
Faculty buy-in has also been a challenge. In adaptive courses, instructors do not give lectures or teach in the traditional format. Instead, they circulate among students who are working on computer-based courseware, offering help when needed, much like tutors.
That feels like a job "below faculty status" for some instructors, Walcerz said. But he said others like the new format.
Staying the Course
Essex is hardly the first community college to use ALEKS or other adaptive programs in a computer lab-style course. This approach, called the “emporium” model, goes back decades and has had plenty of success. Many instructors at colleges where it has worked said they grew to like the model, and wouldn’t go back to the traditional format.
Phil Hill, an education technology consultant and expert on adaptive learning, traveled to Essex last year. He interviewed faculty members and students about the adaptive courses, including several who praised the format. (See below for a two-part web series Hill produced about his visit.)
The adjustment to adaptive can indeed be tough on faculty members, Hill said, because it forces them to rethink their role. But he has seen converts at several colleges. “For the ones who have done it, they like it,” he said.
Several students at Essex told Hill they appreciated that they had more ownership of the learning process in the adaptive courses, and more responsibility.
“They actually felt empowered to take control of their own educations,” he said. “They weren’t just learning math. It was a whole awakening of their education.”
Failure to improve developmental math success rates might not be an option for Essex. Hill called the challenge an “existential” one. That’s particularly true as colleges face increased pressure from policy makers at the state and federal levels to improve graduation rates.
For his part, Walcerz said Essex is sticking with the adaptive math project, which he said was largely his idea. And he said the college is even looking at other adaptive providers they can bring in to soup up the self-regulated pieces of the courses.
One plus for adaptive learning, he said, is that it requires a higher standard of mastery than a conventional course does.
“The students who get a C in the ALEKS-based math are prepared to succeed,” said Walcerz, which isn’t always the case with C students in conventional math courses. “Everybody has to learn the content, period.”
Another advantage is that adaptive courses provide data on student performance, which faculty members and administrators can use to tweak their approach with course design and teaching, what Ben-Naim called a “continuous improvement process.”
Over all, Walcerz said adaptive software is a tool that can help fix some problems. But improving student performance in developmental math is a particularly difficult challenge.
“You can’t learn for them,” he said. “It takes time and it’s hard.”Teaching and LearningCommunity CollegesTeaching With TechnologyEditorial Tags: Community collegesRemedial educationNew Jersey
The Old Dominion University chapter of Sigma Nu was suspended this week after members living in an off-campus house hung signs that many found offensive and sexist. “Rowdy and fun, hope your baby girl is ready for a good time,” read one banner. Another advertised that the house was designated as the “freshman daughter drop-off” point, and a third sign added, “Go ahead and drop off Mom too.”
The banners have led to widespread condemnation and a number of critical essays and defenses of the behavior. But -- like the college controversy du jour earlier this month involving sorority recruitment videos -- the signs are not an uncommon sight on and near college campuses. Old Dominion students were completely in line with a tradition of many fraternities -- a tradition that angers many but has historically gone unchallenged most of the time.
Residents of a house near Ohio State University also hung similar banners this week, advertising their “daughter day care” services, and letting fathers know that they could “take it from here.” These kinds of signs seem to appear outside fraternity houses or off-campus male group houses every year as new students arrive.
Last year, the Faculty Senate at Bowling Green University passed a resolution asking the dean of students to “impose sanctions” on students who post sexist signs. Banners with phrases like “daughter drop-off” and “we’ll trade beer for girls” have been commonplace during move-in week for decades, the faculty group said.
Signs reading “thank you, fathers, for your freshman daughters” and “21 to drink, 18ish to spend the night” have been seen at several fraternity chapters across the country for years. Last year, the Georgia Southern University chapter of Delta Sigma Phi posted a sign with the latter phrase, followed by the hashtag #momsdrinkforfree.
Recently, some syntactically confused students at West Virginia University posted a banner with the phrase “she called you daddy for 18 years, now its our turn” [sic].
Erin Hennessy, vice president of TVP Communications, a public relations agency focused on higher education, said the growing awareness around issues related to campus sexual assault and rape culture may mean that offensive or questionable content like sorority recruitment videos or fraternity signage is now less likely to go unnoticed or un-commented on.
“We’re at a point in college campuses where there’s a heightened sensitivity around gender and gender-based violence, and those conversations happening in larger society have become very intense on our campuses,” Hennessey said. “It’s really a mix of external factors and timing as to why some of these seemingly random stories take off this way.”
Whatever the reasoning for the extra attention, the signs at Old Dominion were swiftly condemned on campus and online.
“A further breakdown of the messaging of these Sigma Nu signs also shows a concerning notion of consent,” Ms. Magazine noted. “‘A good time’ is a clear reference to sexual activity, and ‘hope your baby girl is ready’ implies that this activity is going to happen -- regardless of whether she wants it or not. It has been widely proven that first-year students, specifically first-year women, are particularly vulnerable to rape and sexual assault on college campuses.”
The national headquarters of Sigma Nu suspended the chapter, and Old Dominion officials promised that the university would investigate the signs and punish those responsible for hanging them. "I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street," John Broderick, president of Old Dominion, said in a letter sent to students. Ohio State made a similar statement about the signs hung there.
Just what the universities will do to punish the behavior is unclear, however, and the Foundation Individual Rights in Education said any sanctions against the students would be unconstitutional, as both Ohio State and Old Dominion are public institutions.
“These statements are troubling,” said Sarah McLaughlin, a program associate for FIRE. “ODU and OSU, like all public universities, are not the arbiters of what students can and cannot say off campus. They can’t even ban crude speech on campus. If students are found to be in violation of student codes of conduct solely for the content of these banners, ODU and OSU will have run afoul of the Constitution.”Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Fraternities/sororities
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