Higher Education News

U of Chicago calls off classes due to threat of gun violence and other campus safety developments

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 09:14

The University of Chicago on Sunday announced that its main campus would be largely closed today, with classes called off, due to a threat of gun violence. The development comes amid worries at many colleges about threats as well as incidents of actual violence. Western Washington University called off classes last Tuesday due to threats that the university's president has now detailed. And Sunday evening, two film students in Los Angeles set off a panic -- and were arrested -- when they appeared with replicas of weapons on a freeway overpass. During the day on Sunday, a former employee of Ohio State University killed himself in a campus arts center.

Here are details on these developments:

Threat to University of Chicago

University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer announced on Sunday the plan to close the Hyde Park campus today.

“The university was informed by FBI counterterrorism officials today (Sunday) that an unknown individual posted an online threat of gun violence against the University of Chicago, specifically mentioning ‘the campus quad’ on Monday morning at 10 a.m. Based on the FBI’s assessment of this threat and recent tragic events at other campuses across the country, we have decided, in consultation with federal and local law enforcement officials, to exercise caution by canceling all classes and activities on the Hyde Park campus through midnight on Monday,” said an announcement from Zimmer posted on the university's website and sent to all students and employees.

Faculty and staff members without emergency duties are being discouraged from coming to the campus today.

Zimmer added that "the university will have an increased police and security presence on and around campus, including police personnel with visible weapons and other additional measures. University security personnel are keeping in close contact with the FBI, which is continuing to investigate the threat."

UPDATE: A student at the University of Illinois at Chicago has been arrested in the threat, The Chicago Tribune reported. The Tribune also reported that the threat was to kill 16 white male students or employees at the university in retaliation for the shooting death last year -- by a Chicago police officer -- of Laquan McDonald, 17. The police officer -- now facing murder charges -- shot McDonald 16 times. The online threat said: “This is my only warning. At 10 a.m. Monday morning, I'm going to the campus quad of the University of Chicago. I will be armed with an M-4 carbine and two desert eagles, all fully loaded. I will execute approximately 16 white male students and or staff, which is the same number of time McDonald was killed. I will then die killing any number of white policeman in the process. This is not a joke. I am to do my part and rid the world of white devils. I expect you do the same.” The Tribune cited a police report it obtained as the source for the information. The Tribune report may be found here.

Historically, colleges receive numerous threats and have been hesitant to close campuses, in part because of the volume of threats, and the pattern of finding many of them to be by people who aimed only to scare, not to carry out their threats. But this year has been a tragic one, with shooting deaths at several campuses, including the October murders at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, in which a shooter killed nine people and injured others.

In November, during a period of protests over racial tensions on many campuses, more than a dozen colleges reported threats of gun violence or bombs. Washington College, in Maryland, closed for several days before Thanksgiving because of a police search for a missing student who was believed to be armed. The student’s parents told the college that he had retrieved a rifle case from his family’s home earlier in the week and disappeared. On the weekend before Thanksgiving, authorities found the body of the student, Jacob Marberger, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Western Washington Explains Its Response

Western Washington University called off classes last Tuesday, citing hateful online comments made about minority students. On Friday, President Bruce Shepard released new details about the online comments, explaining why he felt the need to call off classes and efforts made to protect students. He said his first statement was "incomplete," because of concerns about not saying anything to hurt ongoing police investigations. In his new statement, Shepard said he was cleared by investigators to share more information. He noted that some of the comments threatened violence and cited specific students by name. He said that security was being beefed up, and that the university was committed to protecting all students.

"As a social scientist I know the strong empirical bases for the unequivocal conclusion that our society remains characterized by potent forces of racism, structural oppression, systemic inequity and exclusion," Shepard said. "Our university, inextricably embedded as we are in that society, is affected by those societal forces. And, higher education's own culture and organization cannot help but also reflect those same problematic attributes. As I always preach, though: there is nothing wrong in acknowledging that there are problems here at Western; we should only be embarrassed if we try to sweep them under the rug. Or, do nothing about them."

Panic in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles on Sunday night, two film students were arrested when they appeared in a highway overpass, with one dressed in military-style fatigues and one holding what appeared to be a rifle. At least 10 motorists called 911, believing that a real attack might be about to take place, and the highway was shut down.

When police arrived and detained the students, they were found to have a replica assault rifle, a replica handgun, military uniforms, cameras and a gas mask (photo at right). The students told authorities that they were working on a college project.

The two were arrested on charges of displaying a replica firearm and causing a false emergency.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department released this statement from Captain Patrick S. Davoren: "While the intentions of these two individuals might have been harmless, the fact that anyone would appear in a public place displaying a replica firearm is troubling. These two men put themselves and our community at risk. This does reflect the fast actions of our community in notifying law enforcement and reminds everyone that if they see something, they should say something."

The statement did not identify the students' college, but The Los Angeles Times reported that they said they were completing a project for a film class at Moorpark College.

In February, a highway in Atlanta was shut down for two hours as officials first investigated and then blew up a device that had been attached to a bridge. Authorities feared it could be a bomb. But it was an art project of a student at Georgia State University. Students in an art class had been told to place cameras in places that would yield interesting photographs. The university has since removed other cameras from public places. That incident was one of a number involving art students.

Suicide at Ohio State

At Ohio State University on Sunday, a former employee shot and killed himself in the university's Wexner Center for the Arts, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The individual, who last worked at the university in 2009, vandalized art before killing himself.

Students and ViolenceEditorial Tags: Safety

Student activists want more black faculty members. But how realistic are some of their goals?

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 08:00

Increasing faculty diversity has long been a priority on college campuses, but the recent, widespread student protests over race relations have made the issue all the more urgent. And while a number of institutions already have pledged additional resources to increasing faculty diversity, questions remain about how realistic some of these goals are -- at least in the near term.

That’s because black students remain underrepresented in a variety of Ph.D. programs. Even trickier, experts agree, is getting more black students to stay in academe after they earn their Ph.D.s., given climate concerns and the fact that they are also in demand elsewhere, including the much better paying corporate world. So any successful diversity plan, those experts say, will involve not only bringing more black faculty members to campus, but also address the climate issues that will influence whether they stay there.

“Getting to a certain percentage of black faculty by a certain time is a tough road,” said Kimberly Griffin, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Maryland at College Park and co-author of several studies that shed light on the choices of early-career academics of color. “Especially when we're talking about doubling or tripling a population. Increases that significant often require more faculty lines either through retirements and other departures or the creation of new lines, which requires funding” that institutions may not have.

And while that “doesn't mean that it shouldn't be a goal by any means,” Griffin added, “I worry about narrow strategies that focus on short-term recruitment and hiring.”

The university facing the biggest diversity demand is also ground zero for the recent protests about race, and the treatment of black students in particular. Students at the University of Missouri at Columbia have called on administrators to increase the share of black faculty members to 10 percent by 2017-18, roughly mirroring the share of black undergraduates (8 percent). Campus activists and others outside Mizzou say students need more professors who reflect an increasingly diverse student body, and that the academy itself benefits from a greater range of perspectives.

Mizzou hasn’t yet formally responded to that demand. A university spokesperson said it was under discussion. Data suggest it would be difficult. Mizzou’s faculty is currently 3 percent black, according to 2013 data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, meaning that it would have to more than triple its share of black professors within about two years.

If Mizzou somehow did meet that goal, it would be way ahead of most of its peers, since just 6 percent of faculty members nationwide are black. Averages are even lower in Mizzou’s immediate peer group, the Southeastern Conference: of 14 universities, just two -- the University of Alabama and the University of Mississippi -- meet the national average of 6 percent black faculty. Mizzou fares worst, but the group average is just 4 percent. A wider analysis by the Associated Press found that no state’s flagship public university campus had a black faculty population approaching 10 percent, and that only a few topped 5 percent. Most campuses were between 2 and 4 percent.

Numerous other colleges and universities have received similar but more general student demands for faculty diversity in recent weeks -- meaning that students want to see change but haven’t cited a specific percentage. In response to the student protests on its campus, Yale University announced a $50 million initiative to fund the hiring of faculty members from historically underrepresented groups. The provost’s office will provide $25 million, and the individual schools and colleges doing the hiring will match an additional $25 million.

That approach is similar to one taken by the University of Pennsylvania in 2011, in which the central administration pledged $50 million for faculty diversity hiring and other initiatives. That amount was to be matched by individual colleges and schools.

Beyond that, Penn purposely avoided setting a specific diversity goal. That’s primarily because not meeting it might seem like a failure -- even if good was achieved.

“The challenge of a specific target like that is of course we’re talking about a finite pool of new Ph.D.s and new professional school graduates and continuing scholars,” Anita Allen, vice provost for the faculty, told Inside Higher Ed earlier this year. “I just don’t know that it’s wise to present those kinds of goals as being imperative to the real goal, which is making the faculty diverse and inclusive.”

Brown University, on the other hand, did establish a hard target earlier this year: doubling its percentage of underrepresented minority faculty by 2025, from 9 percent to 18 percent. Like Penn, Brown’s preliminary plan included hiring initiatives, as well as efforts at increasing the number of minority students in the Ph.D. pipeline to the professiorate. Funds also were earmarked for climate and mentoring programs to keep them in academe.

This month, in light of recent events, Brown President Christina Paxson announced additional elements to the diversity plan -- including support for undergraduates -- as well as the price tag, previously undisclosed: $100 million.

Brown’s updated plan was “profoundly informed, and substantially improved by, recent campus conversations about structural racism,” Paxson wrote in a letter to students, faculty and staff. “The deep pain that we have heard expressed by students of color in the past weeks and months -- a pain that has been affirmed by faculty and staff members who work closely with and care deeply about our students -- is very real.”

She added, “Although we cannot solve these problems globally, we can ensure that all members of our community are treated with dignity and respect, and are provided the opportunities they need to reach their full human potential. We can make sure that Brown is a place where these issues are acknowledged and better understood through the courses we teach and the scholarship we conduct. And we can prepare leaders who make significant positive changes in the world throughout their lives.”

How realistic are these goals? Penn proves informative. Even with its prestige and an arsenal of cash, progress has been steady but relatively slow -- at least compared to the Mizzou timeline. Between 2011 and 2013, the percentage of new hires who were underrepresented minorities grew from 9 to 14 percent. But the total percentage of underrepresented minorities on the faculty jumped just 1 percent, to 7 percent, from 2010-13. Minority professors over all increased from 13 percent in 2013 to 16 percent in 2014.

Part of the problem is that black students are underrepresented in a majority of Ph.D. programs and among Ph.D. holders.

While black people make up 14 percent of the U.S. population, they’ve earned roughly 6 percent of the research doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens and permanent residents each year since 2003, according to the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies' Survey of Earned Doctorates. While blacks hold a relatively high proportion of education doctorates, earning about 13 percent of such degrees awarded in 2013, they’re underrepresented in other fields. According to 2013 data, the most recent available, they earned 6 percent of life sciences doctorates, 3 percent of physical sciences doctorates and 5 percent of engineering doctorates. In the social sciences, blacks earned 7 percent of doctorates. It was 5 percent in history and about 4 percent in the humanities. In business, it was 9 percent.

According to the survey, 2,167 black citizens or residents earned research doctorates in 2013. Compare that number to 130 -- that's how many full-time black faculty members Kevin Eagan, interim managing director at the Higher Education Research Center at the University of California at Los Angeles, says Mizzou alone would need to hire in the next two years to meet the 10 percent demand.

Or consider another stat: of the 128 new faculty members Mizzou hired in 2013, according to IPEDS, just 14 were black, Eagan said.

Beyond supply, there are concerns about retention among minority faculty members in higher education. Griffin’s own research suggests that female and minority Ph.D.s in biomedical fields are more likely than others to lose interest in faculty careers while earning their doctorates.

A missing piece of the puzzle is “whether the black graduates of doctoral programs actually want to stay in academia, despite their abilities and commitment to their communities,” Griffin said, noting that interest in academic careers among underrepresented minority women in particular still wanes in relation to their peers even when controlling for scholarly productivity, prestige of program and quality of advisers. “Something is happening to career interests in graduate school that we must address to see change.”

Climate is one area of concern. There is a growing literature on the experiences of faculty of color that suggests that they face many challenges in terms of how they and their work are perceived in the tenure and promotion system, Griffin said. And they may also be subject to stereotypes and microaggressions -- subtle slights based on race -- which are at the heart of many of the student protests.

Beyond just talking about numbers, Eagan said it’s important to define “faculty” in diversity plans in ways that will actually enhance the student experience -- not just look good on paper.

“Having faculty status can mean very different things across campus contexts,” he said. “Will these new hires have contact with the undergraduates engaged in the ongoing dialogue on these campuses, or will they be hired as research faculty, potentially limiting their exposure and visibility to students?”

Griffin said students “often expect a great deal from these faculty in terms of mentorship,” and that some have described a “revolving door” of black faculty members, in which one leaves due to climate concerns to replaced by another faculty member of color, and so on.

Richard Greggory Johnson III, an associate professor of public administration who studies social justice and higher education issues at the University of San Francisco, said it’s “unrealistic for college to suggest that they will achieve 10 percent of black faculty by a certain date,” due to pipeline issues, possible discrimination in hiring decisions and climate concerns at predominately white institutions that may leave black faculty members to feel isolated, overworked and underappreciated for their research interests.

“Ten percent sounds like a quota system that should never be used when targeting black faculty hires,” Johnson added. Instead, there should be “an institutional system in place that goes beyond 10 percent or any other arbitrary percentage.”

Shaun Harper, a professor in the Graduate School of Education and executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said he was less interested in specific faculty diversity targets than broader questions about how to eliminate bias in hiring decisions and fixing climate concerns.

“Conversations concerning faculty diversity are terribly lopsided,” he said via email. “Emphasis is often placed on hiring more faculty of color, which is incontestably necessary. But not enough attention is paid to raising the consciousness of white faculty members about how their implicit biases shape their interactions with students and colleagues of color.”

Faculties at most predominantly white colleges and universities “will always be overwhelmingly white,” Harper added, so institutional diversity efforts must include professional development experiences that “help white professors become highly skilled at teaching diverse populations and fostering classroom environments where students from all racial groups feel included.”

Targets aside, accountability for diversity initiatives also is necessary, since “investing financial resources into recruiting more faculty of color is only a small part of the solution,” Harper said. “It is entirely possible that only a tiny fraction of funds committed will be spent, especially if deans and department chairs are not held accountable for taking advantage of faculty recruitment and retention resources that have been made available.”

DiversityEditorial Tags: FacultyDiversityHiring

Education Department receives many complaints about racial harassment in higher education, but makes relatively few findings

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 08:00

In an op-ed this month on rising racial tensions on campus, Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted that in his seven years in office, the department's Office for Civil Rights has received more than 1,000 complaints about racial harassment in higher education. He said this statistic was an indication that the current concerns about race on campus are "no small issue."

Duncan didn't note how small a proportion of those complaints have resulted in findings of discrimination. Most of the complaints, in fact, never result in a complete investigation by OCR, let alone a finding. That isn't necessarily a sign of weak complaints or of poor enforcement by OCR. A review of more information provided by the Education Department, however, may illustrate why students are turning to campus protests and not to Washington with their grievances.

The Data on Complaints

During the Obama administration, the Education Department has received 1,073 complaints about racial harassment in higher education. Generally, the number of complaints a year is up, compared to prior years. Since 2010, the smallest number of complaints in a fiscal year is 137 (in 2010). In the five years prior to the Obama administration, the number of complaints never exceeded 95 and was generally smaller than that (in the 50s). An increase in complaints does not necessarily mean that the situation on campus is worse, since a variety of factors (such as outreach to encourage complaints, or the government signaling interest in enforcement) can be a factor in the number of complaints.

Of the 1,073 complaints, 227 have been closed -- either by a resolution letter or by being dropped for lack of evidence. The department declined to provide a breakdown between those two very different outcomes. Another 34 complaints remain under investigation. But that means that more than three-quarters of the complaints filed in the last seven years have gone nowhere.

So where do those complaints go? A senior department official who spoke anonymously said there are many reasons why complaints don't get pursued. Among the more common reasons: the person who filed the complaint decides to withdraw it, the complaint involves something that took place in a context for which a college has no legal responsibility or the complainant has filed with another avenue (for example, suing in court).

The official said that a number of the complaints that come in do reflect some of the issues being raised in campus protests, namely the allegation that many fellow students and faculty members make comments that are insensitive at a minimum and that create a hostile environment for learning, or that there is active discrimination against minority students. Among the typical kinds of cases, the official said, "a security guard" whose questions to minority students make them feel they are seen as criminals simply on the basis of their race or ethnicity, or "faculty members speaking in disrespectful ways and not treating students of color the way white students are."

With regard to issues of free speech, the official said that OCR looks "very carefully" at comments that set off complaints, and is looking for more than just whether someone said something that offended someone else. The question is whether comments "rise to the level of a hostile environment."

"We practice in our enforcement work that free speech and academic values must be reconciled with the obligation not to operate a racially hostile environment," the official said.

The Education Department released 10 letters of finding made in the last two years, and a few included allegations that were based on comments of faculty members.

One involved allegations against an unnamed faculty member at Cuyamaca College, a community college in California. A student filed a complaint with the college president last year reporting that a faculty member engaged in a "comedy routine" in class, in which the professor made jokes and shared insults about black people. The original complaint didn't identify the course or the faculty member, but when another student complained, the college was able to identify the instructor and the subject (oceanography). Documents from the college indicate that the college decided to drop the instructor for reasons unrelated to the incident.

The OCR finding against the college was that its complaint procedure was ineffective in part because it didn't inform the student who filed the original complaint of the findings of the investigation -- and that the instructor wasn't returning.

The college, in a resolution agreement, agreed to fix its procedures so that complainants in the future would be informed of findings.

Other complaints also cite remarks by faculty members and fellow students. Some of the complaints about students include allegations of physical violence accompanied by racial slurs by individual students. Others are allegations involving groups.

Former students (all African-Americans) on the football team at Jamestown College (now the University of Jamestown), in North Dakota, complained to OCR about harassment by white students and staff members, and said that they were falsely accused of vandalizing a building and accused of being in a gang, and that they were expelled from the college without a disciplinary hearing.

OCR documents indicate that the college settled the complaints of the individual students before the civil rights office drew a conclusion on all of the charges. (An email to the president of the college, who signed the agreement with OCR, seeking details, was not returned.)

The resolution agreement between the college and OCR is largely about policies -- requiring the college to strengthen policies and train people on policies to prevent racial harassment and discrimination. (The only provision about the former students themselves requires that tuition bills to them be cleared so that they can obtain transcripts of their work.)

That is typical of many of the cases OCR handles -- the college agrees to "early" resolution, which ends the actual investigation if the college agrees to take various steps. Many of the steps involve clarifying antidiscrimination rules, and not necessarily the specific grievance that led to the complaint, for which evidence may or may not exist.

The Education Department official stressed that the department also does work beyond the investigation process. It recently convened college officials to discuss ways to promote a better campus environment for all students. The official said that such efforts are important, and that "we will continue aggressively to enforce" the law.

DiversityEditorial Tags: Race

Idaho direct enrollment program automatically admits high school seniors to public colleges

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 08:00

Earlier this year, the University of Idaho's president, Chuck Staben, wondered what would happen if he applied to his own university. So he gave it a shot.

The web portal could be a lot better, he discovered. But that’s a relatively easy fix. More importantly, he came away thinking, why did I have to apply at all?

Now, even if he didn’t already run the place, he wouldn’t have to. Beginning this year, prodded by a proposal from Staben stemming from his experiment, the state of Idaho is automatically admitting all its public high school seniors to college. One of two letters went out last week, notifying all 20,171 graduating seniors that they were welcome to attend some or, depending on their academic performance, any of the state’s public colleges and universities.

The new automatic or “direct” enrollment initiative is designed to increase the number of Idaho high schoolers who go on to enroll in college, a metric by which Idaho lags far behind other states.

“One of the main priorities [of the initiative],” said Blake Youde, a spokesman for the Idaho State Board of Education, “is the student who would be on the fence or think they’re not college material, to show them they are.”

Last year, only half of Idaho’s roughly 20,000 public high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year institution within a year. That number crept up after a 2010 study found Idaho ranked dead last among the 50 states, but began to drop again in 2013.

Of the half that went on to college in 2014, almost two-fifths, or 18 percent of all graduates, enrolled out of state. The hope is this initiative will also keep more Idaho students in Idaho, Youde said. “If they stay here to go to school, they’re more likely to stay here afterwards and contribute to the state of Idaho.”

Whether that happens will remain a mystery for years, and even short-term outcomes won’t become clear for months yet. But the program is part of a larger statewide push to ensure that 60 percent of people between 25 and 34 have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020.

Because of a quirk in its state government structure, Idaho is in a unique position to more easily implement such sweeping reform. Idaho is one of two states in the nation (alongside Rhode Island) not to partition its education governance. One entity, the State Board of Education, oversees all aspects of public education from kindergarten to college. Without barriers to record sharing between agencies, it was relatively easy to gather and share the relevant student records such as grades, names and addresses.

“We can share that information across institutions,” Youde said, “because at the end of the day, they’re all our students.”

Access to grades and test scores is important because three of the state’s public postsecondary institutions -- the University of Idaho and Boise State and Idaho State Universities -- have competitive rather than open admissions. High school seniors who meet an academic performance threshold receive a letter of acceptance to all eight public colleges, whereas students who miss that mark receive a letter accepting them to those institutions with open enrollment that offer certificate or two-year degree programs.

A 3.0 GPA is good enough to get in anywhere, and students who don’t quite hit that can make it up with adequate math and reading scores on the SAT or ACT. And students without the requisite grades or test scores can still apply the old-fashioned way or enroll in a two-year program and transfer.

The state is still “adapting the former process to the new one,” Youde said, so students still have to fill out an application and pay an application fee like they would before the new program. But the application is a technical formality (you’re in if you have the grades and want to go), and the fee, meant to act as “a sign of commitment,” is refunded via a one-time deduction on the first tuition bill.

The board allocated $230,620 out of its own budget and divvied it up among the eight universities to make up for lost application fee revenue this year. It may not work that way in the future, but, Youde said “certainly the credit back is something we’ll always want to continue, and certainly we’ll want our institutions to be made whole.”

It’s still too early to know how fall enrollment numbers will change, but the colleges themselves are confident they have the resources to support at least some level of increased enrollment.

“We have empty beds in our residence halls,” said Staben. We can handle “a significant bump in enrollment.”

Staben's university has seen largely declining enrollment since 2004. “If you make any step hard or harder than it needs to be, you’re going to lose people,” he said.

The College of Southern Idaho, one of the system’s three community colleges and one of the six open enrollment institutions, is also eager for more students. The college more than doubled its own recruitment and marketing team in the last five years in pursuit of the same goal.

“We think that it’s good that every student sees that, yes, I have options and there’s a place out there for me,” said a college spokesman, Doug Maughan. But direct enrollment is only one part of that. “I believe the true impact will be seen through the person-to-person contact we make with hundreds of thousands of students in high schools,” he said. “Each college and university is going to have to make this happen for themselves.”

AdmissionsAlternative ApproachesEditorial Tags: AdmissionsState policyStatesImage Caption: University of Idaho

U.S. loosens part of its ban on college recruiter pay

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 08:00

After two lawsuits by for-profit colleges, the Obama administration is backing down from its ban on colleges paying recruiters bonuses based on graduation rates.

The Education Department formally announced Friday that it had reconsidered its position and will no longer prohibit colleges from paying commissions to recruiters that are tied to students’ graduation or completion rates.

The reversal comes after federal courts have twice sided with for-profit colleges in ruling that the administration did not provide a sufficient justification for the rule.

The announcement does not change the federal law that prohibits colleges from paying recruiters bonuses based on the number of students they enroll. But it does roll back part of the Obama administration’s efforts to tighten the incentive compensation rules, which were aimed at cracking down on abuses in the for-profit college industry.

A federal appeals court in 2012 largely upheld the administration’s package of stricter incentive compensation rules. But the court singled out the ban on bonuses tied to students’ graduation as not properly justified. A federal judge in 2014 again ruled that the department didn’t provide a sufficient rationale for the ban.

The administration argued in court that colleges were making an end run around the ban on bonuses tied to enrollment numbers by instead doling out bonuses based on graduation rates.

But on Friday, the department said it had changed its position because it "lacks sufficient evidence to demonstrate that schools are using graduation-based or completion-based compensation as a proxy for enrollment-based compensation.”

The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, the for-profit college association that had sued to block the rules, applauded the department's decision. In a statement, Steve Gunderson, the group's president and chief executive officer, said it was "a victory in APSCU's larger mission to achieve good outcomes for the students served by our members."

"This aspect of the compensation regulation was improperly adopted five years ago," Gunderson said. "And only our pursuit of a legal remedy in federal court led to the department’s belated corrective action."

Meanwhile, some advocates for tough incentive compensation rules said they were disappointed in the administration’s reversal. 

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, called the change “a significant setback” for the integrity of federal student aid programs.

“I am perplexed and disappointed that the department has made this decision,” Hawkins said in an email. “Abuses related to incentive compensation have persisted throughout the history of the federal student aid programs, a lesson that the department has unfortunately already forgotten.”

Effect on Minority Student Recruitment

Some for-profit colleges have argued that tighter limitations on how they can pay recruiters would harm their efforts to recruit minority students.

Last year, a federal court said that the administration had not properly considered how the incentive compensation rules would affect minority recruitment efforts or minority student enrollments.

The department’s announcement on Friday addressed that concern. The administration conceded that its restrictions on bonus pay may reduce minority student enrollment at some institutions, though it said it was difficult to quantify that reduction.

“Although the ban on incentive compensation may cause minority student enrollment numbers to decline, we expect that the minority students who do ultimately enroll will have a better chance at success, because they will have enrolled based on a decision made free of pressured sales tactics, and they presumably would be a good fit for the school they select,” the department wrote.

The administration said that it would not provide any special dispensation to colleges that want to pay bonuses to recruiters engaged in minority student outreach.

Editorial Tags: Financial aidFor-profit colleges

New presidents or provosts: Blackburn Cumberland Daytona Indiana Northwest Saint Peter's SEMO Trident WKU Worcester

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 08:00
  • Travis Allen, interim chancellor of Argosy University, in California, has been chosen as president and chief executive officer of Trident University, in California.
  • David Lee, dean of the Potter College of Arts & Letters at Western Kentucky University, has been promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Thomas LoBasso, interim president at Daytona State College, in Florida, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • John V. McClusky, associate vice president for academic affairs at Texas Lutheran University, has been named provost at Blackburn College, in Illinois.
  • Mark McPhail, dean of the College of Arts and Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has become executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Indiana University-Northwest.
  • Gerard O’Sullivan, vice president for academic affairs and professor of English and theological studies at Neumann University, in Pennsylvania, has been appointed provost and vice president for academic affairs at Saint Peter’s University, in New Jersey.
  • Paul Stumb, dean of the Labry School of Science, Technology and Business at Cumberland University, in Tennessee, has been promoted to president there.
  • Carlos Vargas-Aburto, acting president at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as president of Southeast Missouri State University.
  • Lois A. Wims, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the Community College of Rhode Island, has been chosen as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Worcester State University, in Massachusetts.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Study finds drop in percentage of low-income students enrolling in college

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 09:25

Since 2008, student aid from federal and institutional sources has increased. Political and foundation leaders have also focused on the importance of a postsecondary education, and the need to increase college attainment.

But in the years since 2008, the proportion of low-income recent high school graduates who enroll in college has seen a significant drop, according to a new analysis from the American Council on Education.

In 2008, 55.9 percent of such high school graduates enrolled in college. By 2013, that figure dropped to 45.5 percent. While overall enrollment rates increased just after the economic downturn hit in 2008, they have fallen for all income groups since. However, the drop for those from low-income families has been the greatest.

College Enrollment Rates for Recent High School Graduates

  2008 2013 All 68.6% 65.9% High income 81.9% 78.5% Middle income 65.2% 63.8% Low income 55.9% 45.5%

The analysis is based on U.S. Census Bureau data. For the above comparisons, the ACE study defined low-income families as those from the bottom 20 percent, high income as from the top 20 percent and everyone else in the middle group.

The trends are particularly troubling, the analysis said, because they come at a time when high school graduation rates are going up, meaning that the country has the potential to see a higher share of its population earn a college credential.

While cost may be a factor in the decision of whether to enroll in college, the analysis notes that the change in average net price (what students actually pay, as opposed to sticker price) has dropped at two-year colleges during the period studied, and has increased relatively modestly at four-year institutions.

But one possible theory offered by the analysis to explain the drop is that the perceived cost of college may be the issue at play here. "The rapid price increases in recent years, especially in the public college sector, may have led many students -- particularly low-income students -- to think that college is out of reach financially," the report says.

Other possible explanations, according to the study, include a possibility that more of these graduates are entering the workforce without a degree, that these graduates may not see the economic value of higher education or that the data reflect the shift in enrollment patterns seen at the end of an economic downturn.

Whatever the explanation, the analysis says the trend is troubling.

"These data are even more worrisome with this fact in mind: while the percentage of low-income students in elementary and secondary schools is increasing, the percentage of low-income students who go on to college is falling," the analysis says. "Said a bit differently, at the same time that low-income individuals are enrolling in college at lower rates, the majority of young adults in the precollege education pipeline are from those same low-income communities."

The authors of the report are Christopher J. Nellum, a senior policy research analyst at ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, and Terry W. Hartle, ACE’s senior vice president for government and public affairs. The analysis will appear in the winter issue of The Presidency, an ACE magazine.

AdmissionsEditorial Tags: Admissions

What it might mean when a college's discount rate tops 60 percent

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 08:00

Is a high discount rate a guaranteed trouble sign for colleges? Not necessarily, experts say -- sometimes colleges can leverage discounts to increase revenue, at least if they are increasing enrollment. But maintaining very high discount rates can be a risky strategy and an indicator a college is in distress.

The average discount rate offered by colleges to first-year students has risen significantly in recent years. In 2014 it was 48 percent -- the highest level ever, according to a survey of 411 private colleges by the National Association of College and University Business Officers -- up one-fifth from 2007’s average of 39 percent.

Many private college leaders say they needed to raise the rate, even beyond their comfort level for such decisions in prior years, to respond to family concerns about paying for college after the economy tanked in 2008. But if 48 percent is one thing, what about 60 percent or higher? And it's not lost on many higher education finance experts that Sweet Briar College decided to close when it topped a 60 percent discount rate, even if the college's alumnae subsequently intervened and the college revived itself. But some colleges are going to large discounts as part of enrollment strategies they think could reshape their institutions.

And of the 411 colleges surveyed, 39 -- or 9.5 percent -- had discount rates at or above 60 percent. That marks a near doubling from five years earlier, when 5 percent of colleges surveyed had discount rates at or above 60 percent.

In many ways, tuition discounting has become par for the course in today’s pricing structure for colleges. In 2010, 62 percent of colleges surveyed by NACUBO offered 90 percent or more of their students some level of discount. By 2014 that number had grown to 69 percent, according to figures provided to Inside Higher Ed by NACUBO.

In many areas of the country, the number of high school graduates is shrinking and colleges are having to do more -- programmatically, academically and financially -- to attract students. For many colleges “it might be the case if you discounted more deeply, you might end up with more kids and more net revenue,” explains David Strauss, a principal of the higher education consulting firm Art & Science. In cases where discounting is successful, a college may increase its discount rate and charge less per student, but enroll more students, meaning the overall financial picture is rosier than the discount rate might suggest.

Oftentimes colleges participate in discounting because the market demands it: students and their parents react better to a college with a large sticker price that offers them a large scholarship than they do to a college that is simply cheaper and offers no or little scholarship funds.

“Parents and students are not expecting to pay full price,” says Lucie Lapovsky, a higher education financial consultant who used to help NACUBO compile its tuition discounting study. “This is an industry that’s known for being on sale.”

A more expensive college is perceived to be more valuable by students, and students often see scholarship offers as proof a college values them as an applicant. More and more, families are expecting colleges to offer them a “discount” off a college’s sticker price when their child is offered admittance. It’s far from unusual for families to try to leverage a scholarship offer from one college to seek more money from another potential college.

Tuition discounting can be a way to increase interest in a college and perceived value, and therefore enrollment. More and more colleges are engaging in the practice -- with many of them ticking their discount rates up a little each year.

“You [can have] a situation where you’ve got a college in a highly competitive area, people are shopping around for the best deal -- or the student body that has gone to that college just can’t afford it -- and the college starts to offer more and more of a discount just to get students through the door,” Edith Behr, a Moody's analyst, said. “The competition has grown to a point where the college is lowering its price to attract students. If that process is accelerated, it may mean the college is approaching, or [is] in, a financial stress situation.”

High Tuition Discounting Over Time Year

Number of colleges with
discount of 60% or more

Percent of surveyed colleges 2010 20 5.2% 2011 24 6% 2012 35 9.1% 2013 39 9.7% 2014 39 9.5%

Negative Side of Discounting

Discounting has a negative side as well -- one that becomes even more perilous the higher a college’s discount rate creeps.

Oftentimes colleges struggling with enrollment will discount their tuition more and more each year in an effort to entice students to enroll. Yet in many cases these colleges are unable to adequately increase their enrollment enough to also increase their overall net revenue -- a necessity if struggling colleges are going to dig themselves out of financially strained circumstances. Thus, if enrollment isn’t increasing -- or if the discount required to get students to enroll is just too steep to be sustainable -- then ultimately discounting can hurt these colleges financially.

“There's a lot of people out there who talk about putting more aid out there to bring more people,” Strauss said. “There’s an old-fashioned notion that more people means more revenue. Not necessarily. If you have discount so much more deeply to get a few more kids, than you lose money on the transaction.”

Yet once a student population is used to paying a certain price, it can be very difficult for colleges to walk back their discount rates. So, more often than not, extremely high discount rates -- when a college is sacrificing 60 percent or more of its potential tuition revenue through discounting -- are a sign that a college is in distress. And, equally often, high discount rates can further contribute to that stress.

The result of extreme discounting is often an academically weaker class. Sometimes colleges, in an effort to sustain their discount rates, spend so much money on financial aid they don’t have enough resources to remain competitive in other areas that contribute to student success and satisfaction, like residence life or advising. And many students are swayed to attend these colleges because of the high discount offered to them as applicants, not because they necessarily think the college is the best fit. So colleges with high discount rates often suffer from poor first-year student retention rates.

David W. Breneman, a higher education finance expert and former dean of the University of Virginia’s education school, said the practice of families that “shop their child around” is “a game that can cause people to make the wrong choices in the college they attend.”

Breneman was a trustee at Sweet Briar College in Virginia when the college decided to shutter earlier this year -- a decision that has since been reversed after a group of alumnae raised enough money to keep the college alive another year.

Sweet Briar’s discount rate for first-year students had risen from 48 percent to 62 percent in six years -- Breneman said the college was essentially buying students, and the result was hurting, not helping, the struggling college. And despite the increased discounting, during that six-year period Sweet Briar’s enrollment declined by 50 students, to 560.

“We were just simply finding that we were getting less academically qualified students as a result, and therefore we were having more difficulty. And the retention rate was dropping. You get into this downward spiral,” he recalled.

So as Sweet Briar’s discount rate grew, its net revenue declined. It was spending more and more from its endowment and nevertheless getting so small that it wasn’t benefiting from the economies of scale that save larger universities money. Financially struggling small colleges, Breneman says, “are running up a set of economic realities that I'm not sure discounting is going to get them out of any longer.” Raising one’s discount rate year after year is not sustainable, he said.

“If your discount rate is at 60 percent, that's a very dangerous warning sign,” he continued. “If you were any other business of any other sort [you wouldn’t] think you were in a very good position.”

Canisius College in upstate New York has, in recent years, offered average first-year discount rates above 60 percent, according to a 2014 Moody's rating. In 2013 a consultant warned the high rate wasn't sustainable and said Canisius needed a new strategy, according to a Buffalo News article from May. The next year Moody's downgraded the institution, citing increased tuition discounting as one of the reasons. Though tuition was published at $34,000, the college was collecting less than $16,000 per student.

Moody's said the practice of overdiscounting “resulted in a decline in net tuition per student, reflecting the college's very limited pricing power and representing a significant challenge to increasing total revenue as Canisius is heavily dependent on student generated revenue.”

In the News article, Canisius President John Hurley admitted the practice of recruiting increasingly larger classes through such high levels of aid was too expensive, but said some level of discounting was expected by students. Canisius has shrunk from 3,280 undergraduates in fall 2012 to 2,670 undergraduates this fall, according to institutional data. Officials with Canisius declined requests for an interview.

And Canisius is far from the only college rated by Moody's where discounting is spiraling and having a negative effect on overall tuition revenue. Earlham College in Indiana was downgraded by Moody's in 2014 and the credit agency again cited weak tuition revenue as a result of high discounting as a factor. As the college's discount rate approached 60 percent, its net tuition revenue shrank by more than one-fifth over the course of five years.

Moody's said the college needed to reduce its deficit by growing its net tuition revenues -- but admitted it would be a tough row to hoe. “One of Earlham's strategic goals is to increase enrollment to 1,400 to 1,600 students from the current 1,100. Another is to manage its tuition discount. Effectively executing this strategy will prove challenging in the face of a highly competitive market and the need to provide substantial financial aid,” Moody's wrote in the 2014 report. Yet this fall the college's enrollment had actually declined, hitting 1,070 undergraduates.

Net Revenue Important

A college’s discount rate is only part of the story. Over and over again, higher education finance experts interviewed for this story said a college’s discount rate means little if considered outside the context of that college’s net tuition revenue. For example, Princeton University and Grinnell College both have discount rates above 60 percent, according to Moody’s. But both are among the upper echelon of financially healthy universities, and their discount rates are purposefully high because they leverage large endowments to offer generous aid packages to a large number of their students.

Whether the overall money a college is getting from tuition is growing or shrinking reveals whether that college’s financial strategy -- including discounting -- is working successfully.

“Even if an institution has a very high discount rate, you have to peel back the onion a little more just to see what facts are participating in that strategy,” says Erin Ortiz, an analyst with Moody’s.

Birmingham Southern University has a discount rate of over 60 percent, yet in 2014 Moody’s upgraded the college’s credit rating and characterized its financial outlook as stable. The university was able to grow its enrollment 29 percent in three years, and though Moody’s characterized its net tuition revenue as “stagnant,” it praised the institution’s diverse set of revenues, including sources like fund-raising and the endowment. In the 2014 report, Moody’s said its Birmingham rating “incorporates expectations that enrollment will gradually recover and support growth of net tuition revenue.”

Yet while Birmingham’s most recent rating is an improvement from past ratings, Moody’s nonetheless gave the college a B3 rating, which is considered “not prime” and among the lowest ratings Moody’s awards. Moody’s said a “inability to increase net tuition revenue” would eventually cause the college’s rating to suffer. The college in 2010 was found to have erroneously awarded millions in financial aid, further deepening its financial difficulties.

Lapovsky said she’s seen cases where a college benefits from increasing its discount rate. The key, she said, is to do so temporarily.

Small colleges that want to grow in size, and perhaps want to increase their academic portfolio, might for a short time offer high-ability students hefty scholarships in an effort to entice them to enroll.

“In one year a strategy like that can significantly change the composition of your class,” Lapovsky said, calling a short-term strategy that requires a high discount rate a financial investment akin to any other, including investments like a climbing wall or new academic building.

Yet the dilemma for many colleges that try this strategy is making sure the increased cost of sustaining a high discount rate is temporary.

“It’s always hard to start rolling the discount rate back. There’s just insecurity as to what’s going to happen. How well will you attract students, or will you not get the quality of students you had, if you cut back this rate,” Lapovsky continued.

Marlboro College is in the early stages of trying such a strategy. The college has fewer than 200 undergraduates, and enrollment has been steadily declining in recent years. It plans to offer a full scholarship to a highly qualified student in every state -- enticing potentially 50 new students to its Vermont campus and likely skyrocketing its discount rate to around 65 percent. At the same time, Marlboro plans to spend more from its endowment and increase fund-raising in an attempt to sustain the high discount rate.

These changes are aimed at increasing enrollment and increasing the academic portfolio of Marlboro’s freshman class. Officials are hoping more students will hear about Marlboro through the scholarship program, and also that more will be interested in attending as the college raises its academic strength. They want enrollment -- specifically of students who are paying some measure of their tuition bill -- to increase to the point of overall revenue gains. Once the college gets to this point, officials are hoping they can accomplish the difficult task of walking back the discount rate.

Marlboro President Kevin Quigley understands the move could be seen as a Hail Mary, but he says the college can’t afford to get much smaller. Marlboro’s fall enrollment of 179 students was its lowest level in three decades. “It’s a bold experiment,” he says.

Moody’s earlier this year predicted that the number of college closures would triple -- from about five annually to 15 -- by 2017. The credit rating agency predicted that the closures would, in large part, be due to institutions’ tuition dependency.

Among the colleges that do close, expect to see a trend: growing discount rates paired with shrinking enrollments.

“You’ve got situations, which are growing, particularly with small private colleges, where they’re running structural deficits, they have a high discount rate and, in a lot of cases, are dipping into the corpus of the endowment,” said Richard A. Hesel, a partner at Art & Science. “In some cases you can do something, and in some cases it’s maybe hopeless. We haven’t seen too many hopeless cases, but we’ve seen a few.”

AdmissionsEditorial Tags: Business issues

U of California at San Diego's student government pulls funding for all student publications

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 08:00

This article contains explicit language.

In an attempt to starve out a controversial student publication without violating the First Amendment, the student government at the University of California at San Diego voted last week to cease any funding of student media.

The move -- which First Amendment experts said does not pass constitutional muster, despite the student government's maneuvering to avoid targeting a specific group -- came after UCSD administrators condemned the most controversial of the university's publications amid student protests about racism on campus. At a recent Black Lives Matter protest on campus, black students cited the student-run humor magazine, the Koala, for content they view as racist.

A recent article published by the Koala mocked the idea of safe spaces, saying that the university would now provide “dangerous spaces.”

“Too long has the no-blacks rule been removed from our campus,” the article read. “Too long have students not been free to offend their hypersensitive peers.” The article suggested that in the era of safe spaces, students were talking about their excitement over a new Starbucks rather than chanting a common racist slur for black people, a word the article repeated five times.

On Nov. 18, the university’s administrators responded to student complaints, condemning the Koala in a statement. “We, the UC San Diego administration, strongly denounce the Koala publication and the offensive and hurtful language it chooses to publish,” several administrators, including the university’s president, stated. The Koala responded to the denouncement by publishing a series of profanity-laden and slur-filled fictional emails meant to be written by administrators.

Student leaders appear to have been worried that if they just ended funding for the Koala, and did so based on its content and language, they would be violating the First Amendment. So later that day, the Associated Students Council voted to defund all student media by removing a section from its constitution about financial support of student media organizations.

The Associated Students provides about $15,000 per year, drawn from student fees, to several student media organizations, including student-run research journals and magazines. The twice-weekly student newspaper, the Guardian, is independent and was not affected.

"When this was brought to council floor, I made it a point to address that this issue was not to be tied to any particular organization," Dominick Suvonnasupa, the student government’s president, said in an email. "The question was whether to fund media at all, and at the end of the meeting, council decided not to. AS decided to discontinue print media funding as it was determined that there were other areas of campus that could better benefit from the limited resources of the Associated Students. All campus media organizations have received suggestions of alternative funding sources.”

Gabe Cohen, the Koala’s editor-in-chief, declined to comment, citing a policy that prevents Koala staff members from conducting any interviews unless they are given alcohol. “We demand beer,” he said in an email. The publication made similar demands from news organizations in 2011, when it published an essay calling a female student leader a “square-chinned, thick-necked uppity skank” and a “fat whore.”

The Koala has a long history of controversy on campus, and has survived several attempts to stop it from publishing.

In 2002, the university’s judicial board held a hearing in an unsuccessful attempt to dissolve the publication after it mocked the president of a Mexican-American student group. Five years later, the Koala was evicted from the university’s student center when officials found alcohol and drug paraphernalia in its office. The following year, several local printers refused to print an issue that included “racism, sexism, pornography and general crudity.”

In 2010, the publication used its television program to defend students involved in an event called the “Compton Cookout,” which many decried as racist. In the program, Koala staff members used racial slurs. Then, in a scenario reminiscent of this week's decision, the Associated Students Council voted to stop funding all student media in an attempt to squelch the Koala.

“You have been trying to shut us down for 28 years and you have failed for 28 years,” former Koala editors said in an open letter at the time. “There is no reason to think it will be any different this year. We are smarter then [sic] you. We are slicker then [sic] you. We are quicker then [sic] you. We are defiantly [sic] funnier then [sic] you. And believe it or not, a large percentage (if not a majority) of the student population supports us.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education intervened, as it has in other Koala controversies, and funding was restored to all 33 student-funded media organizations by the following month. Greg Lukianoff, president and CEO of FIRE, said the student government’s new attempt to cut funding will likely end in a similar fashion.

“It’s become something of a pattern that has repeated over the years at UCSD,” he said. “And it’s almost certainly unconstitutional. It’s difficult to claim your decision to cut funding was content neutral when it’s really clearly about a particular magazine and its viewpoint. It’s wrong and foolish to cut all media funding, and ironic because by cutting funding to all publications, you’re getting rid of the funding that allows for some of the best counterspeech.”

One of the affected publications is the Muir Quarterly, the Koala’s rival humor publication. Over the years, the Muir Quarterly has used some of its funds to produce issues parodying and critiquing the Koala and its questionable attempts at humor. The publication and its staff received no advance notice about the decision to cut its funding.

Andrew Deneris, the Muir Quarterly’s editor-in-chief, said he shares the student council’s concerns about the effect certain “hateful, offensive publications” have had on campus. But cutting funding to all student-funded publications, he said, is not the answer. The Koala, he said, will likely survive by using its long history and controversial status to find new funding sources. Other publications may not be as fortunate.

“The end result, then, could well be a significant decrease in the availability and diversity of student-produced media, which will strengthen the Koala's influence rather than weaken it,” Deneris said. “In essence, they're trying to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but the bathwater isn't leaving.”

Editorial Tags: censorshipStudent journalismImage Caption: Logo of 'The Koala'

Studley to leave her position at the Education Department

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 08:00

Jamienne S. Studley, who with Under Secretary Ted Mitchell engineered the Obama administration's surprisingly ambitious second-term higher education agenda, will leave her job this month, the department said Tuesday.

Studley said she was resigning because she had grown weary of living bicoastally and will return to the Bay Area, where her husband has remained during her two and a half years at the Education Department. Her decision comes six weeks after Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he would resign, and can be seen as part of a typical exodus in the final stretch of a presidential second term.

Mitchell praised Studley's work at the department as "extraordinary." "Jamie brought to all of her work a profound understanding of how the department could positively affect the lives of students," the under secretary said in an email to his colleagues Tuesday. "On all projects big or small, Jamie always kept students at the heart of all of her decision making. She pushed me and the team to think about the practical implications of our policies on students, and our work has been much better for the prodding."

Studley joined the Obama administration as an adviser to Under Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter early in the president's second term, became a deputy under secretary in September 2013 and filled in as under secretary from when Kanter resigned until the Senate confirmed Mitchell to replace her in May 2014. President Obama was the third Democratic president Studley served, having been a special assistant on food and health issues under President Carter and a lead lawyer in the Education Department under President Clinton. In the years between her last two government stints, she was president of Skidmore College, in New York, and president of Public Advocates, a consumer law and advocacy group. (Note: This paragraph has been updated from an earlier version to correct what Studley did in the Carter administration.)

Her two and a half years in the current go-round at the department have been characterized by a remarkable amount of activity. Much of that work has been of the agency's own choosing, including the ratcheting up of regulatory oversight of for-profit colleges and campus responses to sexual assault, as well as an ill-fated effort to rate colleges' performance. Some of it, however, was driven significantly by external circumstances, such as the collapse of the giant for-profit Corinthian Colleges chain.

On many of those issues, Studley's work frequently put her at odds with college officials, most notably on the proposed ratings system, which many people in higher education disliked from the start. Studley and Mitchell engaged in an intense road show around the ratings system, explaining tirelessly (if not always persuasively) why President Obama was so enamored of the concept and how it might work in actuality. (Ultimately they decided it couldn't work, at least not with the data available now, so the administration opted for a much more limited approach in the College Scorecard.)

But even amid the contention, Studley won high marks from college lobbyists for her tendency to seek advice and to listen.

"Obviously we didn't always agree with her, especially on regulatory issues," said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. "But she was always willing to listen and engage with us. She was anxious to get advice, and you don't always get that from political appointees."

Mitchell said the department had not yet identified someone to succeed Studley as deputy under secretary. He did say her other current role -- as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education since the departure of Ericka M. Miller for the College Board -- would be filled in the short term by Lynn Mahaffie, deputy assistant secretary for policy, planning and innovation.

Much remains on the department's to-do list for the final year of the Obama presidency. A lot of it is carrying out existing initiatives -- refining the College Scorecard, implementing the gainful employment rules and teacher education regulations, turning up the pressure on accrediting agencies, and developing policies for when borrowers should have their student debt waived because of malfeasance by colleges.

The biggest unknown for department officials, and a potential successor to Studley, is whether legislation to renew the Higher Education Act will move through Congress in the relatively minimal time that lawmakers will actually have to legislate during an election year. It is hard to picture Congress rewriting an 1,100-page law before Labor Day, but the heads of both congressional education committees are insisting that is their goal.

Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Education Department

Early glimpse at student achievement at College for America, a competency-based degree provider

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 08:00

A preliminary snapshot of the academic skills of students who are enrolled in a new, aggressive form of competency-based education is out, and the results look good.

Southern New Hampshire University used an outside testing firm to assess the learning and skills in areas typically stressed in general education that were achieved by a small group of students who are halfway through an associate degree program at the university’s College for America, which offers online, self-paced, competency-based degrees that do not feature formal instruction and are completely untethered from the credit-hour standard.

The university was the first to get approval from the U.S. Department of Education and a regional accreditor for its direct-assessment degrees. A handful of other institutions have since followed suit. College for America currently enrolls about 3,000 students, most of whom are working adults. It offers associate degrees -- mostly in general studies with a concentration in business -- bachelor’s degrees and undergraduate certificates.

To try to kick the tires in a public way, College for America used the Proficiency Profile from the Educational Testing Service. The relatively new test assesses students in core skill areas of critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematics. It also gives “context-based” subscores on student achievement in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The results could be notable because skeptics of competency-based education fear the model might not result in adequate learning in these areas.

“We wanted to be able to have a way of examining where the students are,” said Jerome L. Rekart, the program’s director of research and analytics. He added that they went with ETS for “external validation.”

Colleges can benchmark their results on the Proficiency Profile against those from other institutions. ETS features comparative data based on results from 7,815 students at 27 associate degree-issuing institutions, representing a wide range of colleges, programs and students.

Matthew Soldner, a senior researcher in the higher education practice at the American Institutes for Research, said the benchmark guide from ETS looked reasonable. (Soldner and AIR are working with a small group of institutions to gather early evidence about competency-based education’s effectiveness.)

The overall results from College for America placed its group of students at the 67th percentile (see chart, below). The students scored at the top -- the 100th percentile -- in reading and the natural sciences. College for America also looked good on the measure of critical thinking. It only lagged behind average in mathematics, and not by much.

“The students did quite well,” Rekart said. “It suggests we’re pointed in the right direction.”

Seeking Proof

College for America cautioned against reading too much into the results, which are based on a small sample from a program that was created less than three years ago.

“This really just scratches the surface of what our students are asked to do,” said Rekart, noting that the college’s academic programs are project based and that many of its students have not taken traditional examinations for years or even decades.

Even so, both critics and boosters of competency-based education are watching closely to see results from College for America and other direct-assessment programs. And Southern New Hampshire is eager to provide evidence about student achievement at its subsidiary. As Rekart said, the ETS comparison “speaks about transferability of the competencies.”

Amy Slaton, a professor in the department of history and politics at Drexel University, has written skeptically about the rise of competency-based education. She said the heavy workforce focus of some competency-based programs -- College for America relies on partnerships with employers as funnels for its enrollment -- makes it hard to glean much from benchmarking with traditional degree programs.

“This is not comparable,” she said. “We’re seeing a false equivalency.”

For example, Slaton said, the lack of traditional grading in direct assessment changes the calculus for students’ risk of failure. In a self-paced, self-directed environment, she said, students don’t fail, they just keep muddling along.

“You see definitions of learning that have really been gutted,” Slaton said. “That’s not higher education.”

Supporters of competency-based education, however, say their degree programs have the potential to be more rigorous. For example, a “gentleman’s C” isn’t possible in a competency-based program that requires mastery of a topic. If a student doesn’t demonstrate that competency, he or she doesn’t move forward.

Either way, competency-based education programs face plenty of pressure to show evidence of student learning.

“Everybody wants it. Everybody needs it,” said Alison Kadlec, senior vice president and director of higher education and workforce programs at Public Agenda.

And, as Soldner said, competency-based programs may have to clear a higher bar to gain acceptance. So the good news for College for America is that its preliminary student outcomes appear similar to (and even a little better than) those of more traditional associate degree tracks.

“Traditional programs have had years, decades and centuries to refine their pedagogies. Competency-based education programs are building from the ground up. Given how new so many competency-based education programs are, how reasonable is it to expect they’ll dramatically outperform traditional programs?” Soldner said in an email. “The curious thing isn’t that competency-based education programs are being challenged to show student learning outcomes; it is that an overwhelming number of traditional programs still aren’t.”

Teaching and LearningHot IdeasEditorial Tags: AccreditationAdult educationCompetency-based learning

President of Minnesota's Rochester College faces backlash in her first year

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 11/25/2015 - 08:00

It's gone downhill quickly for the new president of Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota.

The concern over decisions President Leslie McClellon has made in her 18 months in the position culminated Monday in an open letter from the college's student senate and faculty and staff unions to the Minnesota State Colleges and University System, calling for a change in her leadership.

"Without quick and decisive change, we fear McClellon's administration will irreparably harm the reputation of RCTC, lower the quality of education we offer our students and alienate our community partners. In her 18 months as president, her management has harmed virtually every corner of the campus," stated the letter, which was signed by the Minnesota State College Faculty Union in Rochester; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4001; and the Minnesota State College Student Association in Rochester.

The three groups detail a number of ways McClellon and her administration have, in their view, harmed the campus of about 12,000 students. They allege that the president created a position on the RCTC Foundation board and filled it with a personal acquaintance, that she failed to address a list of concerns from faculty members months ago, and that she spent tens of thousands of dollars on ornamentation and a celebration for the college's centennial. In particular, there were concerns over spending $6,800 on a baroque, ceremonial mace and $3,200 on a custom-made gold chain for the celebration.

The faculty and students also question McClellon's hiring of Anthony Brown, a former administrator at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, as vice president of student affairs and enrollment management. A RCTC search committee for that position forwarded the names of three other applicants to McClellon, all of whom she subsequently declined to hire in favor of Brown. Michael Wenzel, the RCTC student senate president, demanded Brown's offer be rescinded around the same time the campus learned from news reports that there was criticism of Brown's handling of sexual assault complaints on the North Carolina campus. McClellon later announced that Brown wouldn't take the position.

"The students are relieved that McClellon reversed her decision to bring Anthony Brown to campus," Wenzel said. "Unfortunately, this was simply the latest in a long train of poor decisions and abuses of power that faculty, staff and students have had to endure during McClellon's tenure. The working and learning environment at this college has become toxic."

In an emailed response, McClellon said she's been "encouraged" by the discussions taking place with both groups and individuals on campus.

"College leadership and I appreciate the questions and concerns and continue to welcome the opportunity to discuss issues that affect our campus," she said. "I acknowledge there are people in our campus community who have not agreed with all the decisions that have been made. My commitment has been and continues to be open dialogue and honest communication with the college community so that we may address concerns and move forward with our work. The students and the communities we serve deserve our attention and excellence in providing a skilled workforce and transfer opportunities."

McClellon wrote that she and her administration have been focused on carrying out a strategic plan and preparing for the college's reaccreditation with the Higher Learning Commission.

As for the questions that surround her spending decisions during the college's centennial, McClellon responded, "We are very proud of our 100-year history of providing outstanding educational opportunities to our community. [RCTC] is the oldest public two-year college in the state of Minnesota and one of the oldest in the country … RCTC's centennial is a milestone in the history of the college and these pieces are tangible representations of our college leadership, our promise and our commitment to the students and community."

Students still remain concerned about the spending on the ornamental mace and other ceremonies McClellon organized.

"It seems rather tone-deaf of college administrators to spend so wildly when the college is facing a $2 million budget deficit, a mandatory tuition decrease and falling enrollment," Wenzel said. "Less than a week or two after the centennial celebrations, they were announcing faculty layoffs and other cuts to boot."

But Jennifer Erwin, the steward of the Rochester AFSCME Local 4001 chapter, said communication with McClellon has been nonexistent since nearly the first day she arrived on campus, and she isn't sure if the relationship between the employees and the president can be fixed so easily. McClellon has repeatedly failed to meet with the union that represents the college's support staff, and she has shown up to meetings she has attended late, Erwin said.

"I fear she's ruining what this college has been for the last 100 years for the community and the success of students. There's so much bad going on that we're not celebrating our success," Erwin said. "Ultimately our goal will be to remove her, but we also need to make sure we are taking the proper steps within the system. We don't want this to look like we just can't get along with her, or don't like change, or that it's a personality conflict. It's taken a long time to have all our ducks in a row."

Erwin said the culture of the campus has changed as well, with some employees afraid of retaliation, however, a number of upcoming meetings have been scheduled, including with McClellon, to address these problems.

Wenzel also said that the student senate will send another letter to the MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone today detailing again the problems with McClellon.

"I am aware of the concerns that have been expressed," Rosenstone said, in an email. "From my perspective, the campus community is engaging in open and honest discussion about some very important and very sensitive issues and I support the ongoing dialogue. RCTC is in sound financial health and will continue to play a critical role in the region, providing an opportunity for students to have a brighter future and helping to deliver the talent that both Rochester and Minnesota need."

Rosenstone hired McClellon in April last year. She took the presidency in July after serving as a vice president at the Community College of Denver.

McClellon did have widespread support from faculty and students when she first arrived on campus, said Darci Stanford, vice president of the Minnesota State College Faculty Association, adding that the joint letter from all three representative campus groups was a first.

"There's always a transition when you get somebody new and you have to learn some new things, but it sounds like the faculty has tried through different measures and shared governance to steer and help her acclimate to the climate and she's gone off making decisions on her own," Stanford said, adding that faculty tried to resolve these issues with McClellon privately months ago before going to the system office and the media.

Wenzel said students remain optimistic that someone will step in and fix the situation.

"Our hope is that something can be resolved without trying to damage the reputation of the college or damage the reputation of the system," he said. "A no-confidence vote would be a last step."

Community CollegesEditorial Tags: College administrationImage Source: RCTCImage Caption: Leslie McClellon

Cal State Northridge professor says he's being targeted for his conservative social views

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:00

Is academic freedom only for liberal professors? That’s what a controversial professor of English at California State University at Northridge says, as he faces possible disciplinary action for allegedly retaliating against a student who opposed his stance on adoptions by gay couples.

“This isn’t even chilling to free speech, it’s made it so that I can’t relate to my students -- I can’t trust them,” said Robert Oscar Lopez, an associate professor at Northridge who was accused of discrimination and threatening the learning environment of a student with whom he’d clashed over social issues. “I don’t know where the snipers are. … I don’t want to say anything that could be interpreted in any unintended way.”

Lopez’s trouble began in 2012, upon the publication of his essay, “Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View,” by the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank. The piece details Lopez’s childhood with his bisexual mother and her female partner, and how he says it set him back in terms of not learning certain social norms.

“Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models,” Lopez wrote. “My home life was not traditional nor conventional. I suffered because of it, in ways that are difficult for sociologists to index. Both nervous and yet blunt, I would later seem strange, even in the eyes of gay and bisexual adults who had little patience for someone like me.”

Lopez, who now identifies as bisexual, says peers thought he was gay for decades, and that, as a result, he spent time in the “gay underworld” at great personal cost. He also partially defends the work of Mark Regnerus, whose controversial study of the children of gay parents has now largely been discredited. (While individuals raised by gay and lesbian parents have a range of feelings about their families, scholars generally have said that there is no evidence that such children are more or less well adjusted than are the children of straight parents.)

“I cherish my mother’s memory, but I don’t mince words when talking about how hard it was to grow up in a gay household,” Lopez wrote. “Earlier studies examined children still living with their gay parents, so the kids were not at liberty to speak, governed as all children are by filial piety, guilt and fear of losing their allowances. For trying to speak honestly, I’ve been squelched, literally, for decades.”

Lopez said in an interview that the essay was a kind of public acknowledgment of his longstanding views on adoption by gay parents: that it treads on the rights of children in that they may be denied the right to know their biological parent and may be expected not to criticize their families.

The essay generated immediate backlash on blogs, with some calling it hate speech. Lopez kept writing, however, including on his own blog, English Manif, where he refers to himself as a children’s advocate. Much of the content has been deleted, but Lopez used to blog frequently about his opposition to gay marriage and adoption. Some of his archived posts go far beyond mainstream positions against gay marriage.

“The basic precepts of gay male politics in our times require that we, in order to satisfy the central aims of the ligbitist movement, liberate the innate homosexual attraction to pederasty, going all the way back to antiquity,” Lopez wrote in response to an antigay opinion piece in 2013, for example. “Therefore, this community is by its nature ill equipped to be tasked with mentoring, raising or tending to children in unsupervised, vulnerable conditions.”

That year, the gay rights group GLAAD put Lopez on its Commentator Accountability Project list. Lopez said it was a blacklisting of sorts, and that he was no longer welcome to speak at conferences in the U.S. and Canada as a result. So he traveled abroad and continued to write legal briefs for gay marriage cases. His activities landed him in the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 “Exporters of Hate” report naming antigay activists.

Lopez said that while peers and students criticized him, and he became a “pariah” of sorts at Northridge, his academic freedom remained intact -- largely as a result of a former provost, whom Lopez described as a free speech purist. He also earned tenure in 2013, despite the tumult.

But that provost retired just as things on campus came to a head for Lopez. In fall 2014, Lopez offered students in all four of his courses -- those on American literature and the classics, respectively -- a choice between two assignments. The first was to answer 10 questions based on course readings. The second was prepare a presentation on the readings to share at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library during a conference Lopez was organizing on modern family issues. Lopez said he was surprised that most of his students wanted to attend the conference, but that some later said they wanted to attend because it was the perceived easier option.

He warned all attendees in advance that there would be talk about adoption generally at the conference, called Bonds That Matter. But he said he purposely organized the conference to avoid discussions of gay marriage or anything that students might feel was antigay. All participants were required to stay for the entire session, which featured talks on divorce, adoption and surrogacy, and how they affect children and, to a lesser extent, women. Speakers didn't necessarily take typical conservative positions on social issues. One speaker talked about the physical and psychological effects of surrogacy on repeat surrogate mothers, for example.

Asked how course content related to the conference, Lopez said the both assignments were a “thematic engagement” worth 20 percent of the students’ grades. The idea in both the written and the conference options was to relate class readings and discussions to modern-day issues in some way, an idea he outlined in the course syllabus.

Lopez said that one student in attendance raised the issue of sex and parenthood among gay couples with a speaker -- Alana Newman, who questions the effects of surrogacy and egg and sperm donations on children -- who had not planned on discussing it. Back in class, the student criticized the conference as antigay. Lopez said he told the student that if she felt uncomfortable with his teaching methods, she could finish the class remotely.

More than six months later, days after the student graduated, Lopez was informed by the university that the student had filed a complaint about him related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prevents discrimination based on sex. The student accused Lopez of creating a “hostile learning environment on the basis of gender and sexual orientation,” according to correspondence from the university. Lopez said the student also said he retaliated against her by not recommending her for a merit award. Several other students informally complained about the event, according to correspondence from Susan Hua, Northridge’s Title IX coordinator.

Lopez initially objected to the timeline for the complaints, saying that the student had failed to file her grievance in a timely manner. But Hua said it was acceptable for a student to wait months or even to graduate before lodging a complaint.

An investigation ensued. Lopez said it took place largely without his participation, and that he still has yet to see explicit charges against him or to defend himself. He says nothing about the content of the conference was antigay -- although he admitted a pamphlet with antigay literature was stacked on a side table, and a flyer on being a “survivor of the sexual revolution” was circulated -- and that he never threatened the student with not getting an award. Lopez said there’s no record of any such discussion on the student’s archived course work or in emails, and she wasn’t even eligible, for various reasons, for any of the awards he would have nominated students for that year.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education appealed to Northridge on behalf of Lopez in August.

“FIRE is deeply concerned by the threat to academic freedom presented by [Northridge’s investigation] on the apparent basis of student complaints related to the content and viewpoints expressed in a conference the students themselves elected to attend in conjunction with a class assignment,” the organization said in a letter to President Dianne F. Harrison. “That the mere exposure of students to potentially controversial opinions can result in a professor’s investigation of such a serious charge is intolerably chilling to faculty expression and anathema to our deeply ingrained understanding of the university campus as a ‘marketplace of ideas.’”

FIRE requested that the university promptly and definitely close its investigation, “consistent with its moral and legal obligations as a public institution of higher education,” to no apparent avail.

In October, the university informed Lopez that while there was insufficient evidence that he’d discriminated against students on the basis of sex, there was sufficient evidence that he had “attempted to intimidate and prevent” students from disagreeing with him about the conference.

The October letter from Yi Li, provost, is the most detailed accounting of the charges against Lopez, and of the findings of the investigation. It says that the student complainant said Lopez misrepresented the conference by calling it a “women’s and children’s rights conference” and not disclosing the “bias” of the speakers. Students also claimed Lopez coerced them into attending the event because the other assignment option was too lengthy, and by expressing his strong preference that they attend the event, according to the letter. Students in different course sections all described similar events during the investigation.

California State’s academic freedom policy protects controversial content in the classroom, but notes that a professor should be careful not to introduce controversial subject matter which has “no relation to his subject.” The American Association of University Professors policy is similar. Ultimately, the university determined that while the relationship between Lopez's classroom content and that of the conference was tenuous at best, there was still enough of a possible link for the assignment to be covered by academic freedom. But it said that Lopez misrepresented the conference enough to students to possibly be in violation of unspecified professional conduct policies.

The university definitively determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude, based on a preponderance of evidence standard, that Lopez had engaged in intimidation against students who complained about the conference by asking them via email and in person to seek to resolve their issues with him before making a formal complaint.

The primary complainant said Lopez said he would be “less inclined” to nominate her for an award over the conference controversy, and another student corroborated the account. Lopez denies it, saying the students must be conspiring, possibly with the help of outside groups.

Li concluded that he was consulting the Office of Human Resources to see out the most “appropriate action to address this violation.”

Lopez is still teaching, but he said he’s been told that the university seeks to pursue some kind of discipline against him. Li has declined to meet with him or offer other additional information, Lopez said.

Li said in an emailed statement that Northridge takes issue with the “accuracy of the allegations currently circulating relating to this investigation, but as this is a confidential personnel matter that involves confidential student information, we cannot discuss or disclose the details.”

Instead, Li shared what he called the university’s core principles. “We have a long history of welcoming a diversity of perspectives and championing free thought and discourse within our academic environment, while ensuring that this environment is free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation,” he said.

Lopez said that he feels not only in limbo but isolated on campus, since it’s hard to drum up sympathy for a conservative professor. And while his case has been covered by various conservative news outlets, he said, conservatives aren’t traditionally sympathetic to college professors -- especially tenured ones.

Relating his case to the current campus protests across the country and increasing concerns about professors’ rights, Lopez said it “puts to rest the notion that safe spaces, trigger warnings or other supposed diversity measures are compatible with academic freedom.”

Ultimately, he said, “the students, or whoever coached them, wanted to punish me for opposing gay adoption in my off-campus scholarly life. There is no way, with so much organized trolling, for the calls for safe space to allow for dissenters from orthodox positions on things like same-sex parenting.”

Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University who reviewed Lopez’s book, The Colorful Conservative, said it would be hard to comment on Lopez’s case directly, since there’s so much that isn’t known. For example, he said, were students coached to complain by outside groups who’ve opposed Lopez? Generally, however, Bauerlein agreed with Lopez’s claim that it can be isolating to be a conservative professor -- although he said he knows many liberal professors who are now fearful of saying the “wrong thing” in class for fear of angering their even more liberal students.

“Something is going on today on college campuses, where the most overt signs of aggression are coming from the denizens on campus, and it’s not the administration -- it’s the undergraduates,” he said. “These young people are being fooled through the general progressive position of educators today that the greatest sins are racism and sexism and homophobia.”

But that position has come home to roost, he said, in that “there has never been more timidity or fearfulness or uncertainly or anxiety of the ideological kind that I see today on college campuses.”

Asked if Lopez’s views amounted to something more than ultraconservatism or homophobia -- even hate speech, as some critics have alleged -- Bauerlein said the answer wasn’t to shut Lopez down but rather to engage him, especially since many of Lopez’s views are derived from his own experience. Bauerlein said he personally had never experienced Lopez, who is a professional acquaintance, to be hateful.

Bauerlein, who has previously defended the Regnerus study, said that outcomes of children of gay parents relative to their peers with straight parents -- while controversial and scientifically challenging to study -- are worthy of inquiry. In his view, however, he said, it ought to be studied empirically before it’s studied from an ethics perspective.

Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park and author of The Family: Diversity, Inequality and Social Change, has been a vocal critic of the Regnerus study.

Cohen said that while he considered Lopez’s political views “repugnant,” they were free speech. Therefore, he said, boycotting Lopez’s classes or lectures, or picketing in opposition of his views -- in other words, generating more speech -- was preferable to seeking his termination.

“I’m against firing tenured professors because of their political views,” Cohen said, adding that while he couldn’t speak to the discrimination or retaliation charges for lack of knowledge, “I lean toward defending the rights of professors if the issue is the harmfulness of their views.”

Good teaching “requires being open to opposing views and making accommodations for students with different perspectives,” Cohen said. “If he's not letting students express their own views, then that's bad teaching and may be actionable. But we should remember that virulent opposition to gay rights is still mainstream. You shouldn't get fired as a tenured professor for agreeing with a sitting Supreme Court justice, as long as you practice your trade according to reasonable standards. We're still having this debate.”

Cohen noted with some surprise that he’s had no vigorous debate on gay marriage in his classes for years, even though he’s tried to encourage it. He guessed that was because students who oppose marriage equality don’t take his family sociology course, or that if they do, they don’t speak up for fear of being ostracized. Cohen said that’s all right, as long as they have the opportunity to speak.

Generally, he added, “Social change on marriage equality and gay and lesbian rights has been incredibly rapid, but is far from settled, and the rapid change has left many raw wounds. We should all be mindful of the sharp culture clash that persists.”

That means that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students on campus are “not yet as secure as they should be,” and that intolerance of more traditional views can be “pernicious,” as well, Cohen said. “The safety of a college campus should be in the right to learn and debate new ideas, and the right to protest and free expression.”

Editorial Tags: LifeImage Caption: Robert Oscar Lopez

Promise program sharply lifts Tennessee college freshman enrollment

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:00

In Tennessee, officials now have a clearer picture of the impact of the country's first statewide, free two-year college program.

For more than a year state officials, with money and rhetoric, have been encouraging high school seniors to help increase Tennessee's population of adults with a college degree or certificate. And as of last week, new enrollment data show 16,291 of them have enrolled in the state's community, technical and private colleges this fall because of the new Tennessee Promise program. The Promise is one of the initiatives Governor Bill Haslam implemented to make sure at least 55 percent of the state's populace has a degree by 2025.

"In the first year of a 10-year initiative to increase degrees, this is the kind of trend you would want to see," said Mike Krause, executive director of the Tennessee Promise program. "When we launched our Drive to 55, our central goal was to increase the number of Tennesseans graduating from college, so obviously we needed to increase Tennesseans' access to college."

Promise programs have existed in one form or another for a long time, but Tennessee and now Oregon currently offer statewide versions. Tennessee's program is one of a number of free two-year college programs the Obama administration regarded as the basis for the America's College Promise initiative. In Tennessee, high school seniors must meet a number of requirements in order to qualify for the Promise program, including participating in community service. The program will also follow and track the academic careers for each Promise participant to see if they complete college and with what type of degree or certificate.

Over all, the freshman class in Tennessee's public colleges has increased by 10.1 percent this fall -- due in large part to the effect of Tennessee Promise in the state's technical and community colleges and despite decreases at the state's public universities. The community colleges saw a 24.7 percent increase in enrollment of first-time freshmen and the technical colleges experienced 20 percent growth, according to the state's higher education commission report.

There are about 50,700 freshmen enrolled in the state's colleges or universities this year, compared to about 46,000 in 2014.

The state's universities are down in freshman enrollment, although no one can say for sure if the Promise program has affected those institutions, and some believe it hasn't had an effect at all. But the institutions overseen by the Tennessee Board of Regents are down 8.4 percent and University of Tennessee campuses are down 4.6 percent.

Krause said the biggest surprise has been the increase at the technical colleges.

"Our technical colleges, like many others in the country, often suffer from a lack of visibility with students," he said. "We deliberately never wanted to say 'free community college.' It's always 'free community or technical college.' It was important to the governor that the core initiative was always workforce development."

Fewer than 500 Tennessee Promise students, or about 2 percent, are enrolled in the state's independent or private colleges, said Emily House, executive director of policy, planning and research for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

The report also details the net cost of the last-dollar scholarship program. The Promise is offered to qualified graduating high school seniors and covers all tuition and fees that federal grants, state scholarships and assistance programs do not. This academic year the program will cost the state about $10.6 million, with the average award per student at $1,020, according to the commission's report. About 53 percent of Promise students are eligible for federal Pell Grants for low-income students.

Effect on Four-Year Institutions

Despite the increases at community and technical colleges, House said it's uncertain what role the Promise program played at the state's four-year institutions.

In August, at the start of the academic year, there were about 22,500 Tennessee Promise freshmen. But the program has lost about 6,000 of those students since that time.

House said about 1,500 of those students enrolled at a four-year public institution.

"Maybe they were wait-listed or maybe they changed their minds or maybe they used the Promise as a plan B," she said. "Other than that, we're not certain. We'll need to match with [the National Student Clearinghouse] to see if they didn't enroll at all, or if they went private. Enrollment at the four-years is down a little bit, but we're not quite sure if it's a direct relationship with Promise."

At the University of Tennessee at Martin, enrollment is down about 3.6 percent for all undergraduates and about 13 percent among freshmen, said Bud Grimes, director of university relations there.

"We're not attributing Tennessee Promise as the cause for enrollment decline in freshman numbers. We see that as an opportunity down the line that we're going to get more qualified transfer students from the community colleges," he said.

Instead, the university is attributing the decrease to other factors -- poor marketing and sparse population in the western area of the state.

"Earning a UT degree is strong for us, and we're the only UT campus in this part of the state," Grimes said. "Certainly some opted for the community college experience, but I don't know those numbers and I don't think those numbers are high in those who considered UTM."

Boost in the Middle

The community colleges that saw some of the largest gains from the Promise program are located in middle Tennessee, House said.

There was growth in the western and eastern regions of the state, but not as much as the middle region. Tennessee Achieves -- on which the Promise was based -- was already established and started in the eastern region, and so the Promise had less of an effect as it did in the middle region, she said.

Motlow State Community College, which is located in the middle part of the state, saw a 74.8 percent increase in full-time freshmen this year -- the highest of any two-year institution in the state. Volunteer State Community College experienced a 54.8 percent increase, as well.

"There was a close relationship between the college and our affiliated high schools in our service area," said Eric Melcher, coordinator of communications and public relations for Volunteer State, adding that they also had a high number of mentors coming from the college to work with the high school students, although he didn't have the exact number immediately available.

The college also recognizes that it will have to work to retain this increase in freshmen, so it brought in "completion coaches," or advisers connected to specific academic areas who meet with students regularly to help them understand the paths they're on and to help them meet their goals, he said. The college also hired extra faculty members due to increased class sizes.

It won't be long before many of these colleges will see the next influx of Promise students, who will graduate high school this spring.

More than 59,600 high school seniors -- 2,000 more students than this time last year -- have met the first deadline for participating in the Promise program next fall, House said.

AdmissionsCommunity CollegesEnrollmentStudent Aid and LoansState PolicyEditorial Tags: AdmissionsCommunity collegesTennessee

U of Kentucky will cover up and relocate a mural whose depiction of black people has upset many

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:00

In 1934, Ann Rice O'Hanlon painted a fresco -- then the largest one ever painted by a woman -- in the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall. Ever since, thousands of students have walked past it on their way to and from various events each semester. Some have been oblivious to the work, which depicts Kentucky's history, while others have admired it and considered it an outstanding example of the Depression-era Public Works of Art program, which paid for the fresco.

Many black students over the years have noticed the mural, which offers a version of history that includes black people working in tobacco fields, black musicians performing for a group of white people and a Native American holding a tomahawk. As campus protests over issues of race have spread in recent weeks, black students at Kentucky held a meeting with President Eli Capilouto and talked about how the fresco hurt them by relegating black people to roles as slaves or servants, without portraying the cruelty of slavery and Jim Crow. On Monday, Capilouto announced his agreement that the mural's location is inappropriate.

While moving the fresco to a more appropriate location will take time, Capilouto said in an online essay released by the university, Kentucky will cover up the 45-by-8-foot fresco for now and add a sign explaining why the mural is obscured.

Capilouto's decision comes at a time when many colleges are debating building names, statues and other ways that they honor individuals or institutions seen as praiseworthy by academic leaders in generations past, but that frustrate and anger many black and other minority students.

In explaining the decision, Capilouto tried to put the fresco's creation in context. He noted that the fresco "is considered by some to be one of the most important artworks of its kind in the commonwealth," and that it was a "product of the 1930s perspective of the artist and her times."

And the president described being moved by the black students he met with recently to discuss the mural. "One African-American student recently told me that each time he walks into class at Memorial Hall he looks at the black men and women toiling in tobacco fields and receives the terrible reminder that his ancestors were enslaved, subjugated by his fellow humans," Capilouto wrote. "Worse still, the mural provides a sanitized image of that history. The irony is that artistic talent actually painted over the stark reality of unimaginable brutality, pain and suffering."

Adding to the problem, he said, is that Memorial Hall is one of the university's "signature and busiest venues" and that "this is often the first exposure people have to our campus, our culture and our values."

He said that it is wrong to continue to let the mural be displayed as it has been. "In spite of the artist's admirable, finely honed skill that gave life to the mural, we cannot allow it to stand alone, unanswered by and unaccountable to the evolutionary trajectory of our human understanding and our human spirit," he wrote.

The black students who met with Capilouto could not be reached for this article.

But one of the students, Rashad Bigham, told The Lexington Herald-Leader: “I think the president has done a very good job voicing our concerns. This is a good first step toward creating a place where some people don’t have to be reminded about something as horrible as slavery.”

Editorial Tags: Arts

Author discusses book analyzing massive open online courses from a social science perspective

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:00

Where are massive open online courses now, and where are they going? Robert A. Rhoads, professor of education at the University of California at Los Angeles, tackles those questions in MOOCs, High Technology and Higher Learning (Johns Hopkins University Press), in which he places MOOCs in the broader context of open courseware.

In the book, Rhoads formulates seven theses about MOOCs to frame his arguments, writing that the loosely defined “MOOC movement” presents problems of diversity, faculty life and academic freedom, among others.

“I see MOOCs as constituting a social movement on the basis that multiple social actors and organizations have aligned their actions to such an extent that the phenomenon takes on the classic characteristics of a loosely coordinated activity with common lines of action and similar definitions of the situation,” Rhoads writes. “As a complex and loosely coupled assemblage, the MOOC movement evidences a variety of tensions and uncertainties, including little agreement about where the movement may actually be heading.”

Rhoads answered questions about his book, billed by its publisher as the first book to explore MOOCs from a social science perspective, by email. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity.

Q: In just a couple of years, we've gone from some MOOC advocates saying there will only be 10 universities in the future to where we are now, where most MOOC providers seem to be leaning on professional development courses to make some money. To someone who hasn't been paying attention to MOOCs, that trajectory looks like a flop. Where in higher education should someone look to see the impact MOOCs are having on faculty roles?

A: Based on the early projections and proclamations of the MOOC advocates mostly tied to venture capital and likely driven by profit, the MOOC movement has been and is a flop. But their claims were never taken seriously by most professors and the lifelong education folks who created MOOCs in the first place. When a select group of professors described their ambition to “democratize higher education” while creating for-profit companies to do so, many within the bowels of the university knew what they were up to. It was odd to many of us that The Chronicle of Higher Education gave them such a powerful platform to advance a profit-driven model of MOOCs. When some of them failed and turned to “corporate training” as their new form of “disruption,” it didn't surprise me one bit.

So this form of “democratization” rhetoric did undermine the MOOC movement in some sense, but not in terms of die-hard adult education folks who knew MOOCs would neither replace the need for brick-and-mortar universities nor supplant face-to-face classrooms; for them, MOOCs were another vehicle for advancing and extending learning. These were educators and scholars committed to the most creative forms of online learning, stressing social and connectivist learning. From this perspective, the MOOC movement has been hugely successful and continues to grow. Here, I think of George Siemens, Stephen Downes and a host of others who really led this movement.

But the for-profit folks cast a negative shadow over the movement with their far-fetched claims. We are lucky and should thank the professors in the department of philosophy at San Jose State University who were some of the first to step up and challenge efforts to supplant face-to-face courses at underresourced public universities with MOOCs organized by companies such as Udacity, all in the name of “democratizing” higher education. To suggest that students at universities such as SJSU were better off watching video recordings of a “famous” professor at Yale University lecturing to privileged Yale students (who get face-to-face lectures) was grossly antidemocratic. Further, some of the for-profit folks actually pushed for a redefinition of the role of professors at nonelite universities, suggesting they could turn their lectures over to faculty working at elite universities, while refashioning their role along the lines of a teaching assistant. Another antidemocratic aspect of their rhetoric. Anyone who knows anything about teaching and learning research knows that students from underprepared and disadvantaged educational backgrounds need more face-to-face contact, not less.

Now, with that said, MOOCs have shown to have quite powerful effects when used as supplements to face-to-face instruction, as opposed to being replacements. The idea of “replacing” face-to-face learning with MOOCs was an idea that early on was quite attractive to the for-profit folks as they saw an opportunity, but unfortunately, it also appealed to some legislators and administrators caught up in trying to reduce the costs of course development and delivery, and more generally, public higher education as whole. But this strategy has not worked, and this is in part why some see the MOOC movement as having failed. But it hasn't -- only the narrow “profit-driven” or “cost-savings” models have faltered. MOOCs as an innovative supplement to traditional face-to-face teaching and learning are still moving forward.

Q: You name copyright (and ownership disputes between colleges and faculty members) as one of the ways MOOCs can be used to exploit faculty labor. If you replaced references to MOOCs with “textbooks,” does your criticism still work? If not, how are MOOCs different when used in a course?

A: Comparing MOOCs with textbooks makes little sense to me, as textbooks are copyrighted and faculty maintain some semblance of compensation for their intellectual work -- their academic labor. This is less clear when it comes to the world of the MOOC, but of course for anyone concerned about faculty being adequately rewarded for their intellectual contributions (such as the American Association of University Professors), [it] supports the position that professors need to maintain high levels of control over MOOCs as intellectual property. In my book, I actually highlight how two democratic ideals sometimes clash within the context of the MOOC movement: the ideals associated with the “knowledge commons” (that knowledge and information should be readily available, including courses and course materials), and the ideal that laborers ought to be justly compensated for their work -- in this case, academic laborers and their development and delivery of courses.

Q: You write that “the discourse surrounding MOOCs has largely ignored diversity issues,” which you predict is going to be a “significant barrier to the success of the MOOC movement in the coming years.” Then again, one could argue MOOCs -- based on their sheer size -- offer a tremendous opportunity to let people from all over the world work together on a single topic. What can MOOC instructors and providers do to unlock that potential?

A: First, MOOCs have not attracted the forms of diversity early advocates claimed they would. Most notable here is the fact that the vast majority of MOOC takers already have a degree, as high as 80 percent in some studies, and hence they hardly represent the kinds of educationally disadvantaged students early advocates of MOOCs, often employing a “democratization of higher education” discourse, supposedly were seeking to serve.

Second, the MOOC movement largely ignores the “digital divide” and the fact that not everyone has access to a computer and high-speed Internet.

Third, the MOOC movement mostly ignores a whole host of diversity issues that the field of higher education has been wrestling with for years, including efforts to enhance campus climates for underrepresented student populations. As we've witnessed time and time again, especially in recent weeks, racist and sexist microaggressions are common on college campuses. Are we to believe the MOOC online learning environment would be immune to verbal assaults and microaggressions, as well as more overt forms of discrimination? Of course they would not be, and yet very little has been done to anticipate and address such concerns.

All of the above is not to suggest that I do not support MOOCs in some manner or form. But proactive steps need to be taken, including MOOC designers and instructors addressing the following: develop clear guides for communications among MOOC takers including in terms of group work, online chat rooms, bulletin board postings, etc.; provide clear channels for MOOC users to be able to report discriminatory behaviors and/or practices by other users; consider the ways in which MOOC users' diverse backgrounds may shape understanding and interpretation of materials (one size does not fit all and instructors' own biases are often projected by the materials they select); develop strategies for encouraging empathy among users, such as encouraging MOOC users to “interview” other online learners in relation to a course-related assignment (when possible).

Q: You conclude by writing that MOOCs are here to stay, even though serious unsolved problems remain. What's your advice to faculty members at any institution who want to get involved in solving those problems?

A: MOOCs should not be primarily framed as a way to save money in efforts to expand access for low-income populations. This was the most antidemocratic aspect of the early MOOC movement -- that the wealthiest students at elite universities could continue to reap the benefits of face-to-face contact in the most highly funded teaching and learning environments, while students at less-resourced universities would be increasingly served through online formats.

MOOCs and other forms of online learning aimed at serving low-income and disadvantaged students should be framed as supplements, not substitutes for face-to-face learning.

Institutionalized MOOC initiatives need to engage faculty at the earliest stages of development and in the most serious ways, with faculty actually having much say in the ultimate direction; without such grassroots support, administratively led MOOC initiatives are likely to fail and be perceived as potentially exploitative.

In terms of particular college or university initiatives to develop MOOCs, intellectual property issues need to be worked out early on. This should not be an afterthought.

MOOCs should be viewed as a particular kind of teaching and learning tool -- good for some things, but not so good for others. Just as we would not use a hammer to dig a ditch, we should not use MOOCs to solve the broad public policy problem of building and supporting accessible public higher education.

New presidents or provosts: Armstrong Cecil Colgate Cuyahoga Daytona Hamline Marymount Michigan Tech Pacific Oaks Sierra

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:00
  • Mary Way Bolt, vice president for academic programs at Cecil College, in Maryland, has been promoted to president there.
  • Patricia Breen, provost at Pacific Oaks College & Children's School, has been promoted to president there.
  • Brian W. Casey, president of DePauw University, in Indiana, has been chose as president of Colgate University, in New York.
  • Craig Foltin, interim executive vice president of access, learning and success at Cuyahoga Community College, in Ohio, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the graduate school and associate provost at Michigan Technological University, has been promoted to provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Thomas LoBasso, interim president of Daytona State College, in Florida, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Fayneese Miller, dean of the College of Education and Social Services and professor of leadership and developmental sciences at the University of Vermont, has been appointed as president of Hamline University, in Minnesota.
  • Robert T. Smith, dean of the School of Science and Mathematics at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, has been chosen as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Armstrong State University, in Georgia.
  • Kerry Walk, interim president of Otis College of Art and Design, in California, has been named president of Marymount Manhattan College, in New York.
  • Alan G. Walker, interim provost at Ohio's Shawnee State University and former president of Upper Iowa University, has been selected as president of Sierra Nevada College, in Nevada.
Editorial Tags: College administrationNew presidents

Middle East Studies Scholars Discuss the Academic Boycott of Israel

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 08:00

DENVER -- Should the Middle East Studies Association take a stand on the academic boycott of Israeli universities?

Two panels at MESA’s annual meeting on Sunday focused on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel. The discussions at MESA came on the heels of a vote by attendees at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting to back a boycott of Israeli universities. The full membership of the anthropology association will vote this spring on whether support for the boycott should become association policy.

Discussions of the academic boycott within MESA have not progressed as far, though hundreds of individual Middle East studies scholars have signed on to the academic boycott movement as individuals. MESA members approved a resolution earlier this year affirming “the right of MESA members to engage in open and transparent discussion of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the context of the annual meeting and other forums.” The resolution also strongly urged “MESA program committees to organize discussions at MESA annual meetings, and the MESA Board of Directors to create opportunities over the course of the year that provide platforms for a sustained discussion of the academic boycott and foster careful consideration of an appropriate position for MESA to assume.”

Many in attendance expressed disappointment with the composition of a panel here Sunday organized by MESA's leadership in response to that resolution. Speakers on that panel did not offer arguments for or against the academic boycott of Israel but rather provided broader historical and legal perspectives. The panel featured Zachary Lockman, of New York University, who provided an historical overview of MESA’s engagement in political issues; David J. Frantz, a lawyer who serves as counsel to the American Anthropological Association; and Lorraine J. Haricombe, of the University of Texas Libraries, who presented on the effects of the apartheid-era boycott of South African universities on that country’s academics.

Lockman outlined the history of MESA, founded in 1966 by leaders who were anxious about whether political disagreements on the Israeli conflict would destroy the new organization. “The founders and early leaders of MESA were determined to avoid or suppress discussion of what they saw as divisive issues at all costs,” Lockman said -- so much so that for its first three conferences, from 1967-69, there was not a single panel about Israel. That, Lockman said, is “pretty remarkable given the period we’re talking about.” (The Six-Day War, which pitted Israel against Egypt, Jordan and Syria -- and which ended up redrawing the map of the Middle East through the present day -- was in 1967.)

MESA’s bylaws describe the organization as being “nonpolitical." Lockman discussed, however, how MESA’s definition of nonpolitical has evolved over time to permit it to protest academic freedom violations around the globe (as the association’s Committee on Academic Freedom regularly does). The association has also taken critical stances on the role of U.S. military or intelligence agencies in funding social science teaching and research.

Even so, Lockman said, “the association insistently refused to speak out on conflicts in the Middle East itself,” with the exception of a fall 1990 resolution condemning the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

“There’s no hard-and-fast definition of what’s nonpolitical,” said Frantz, the lawyer on the panel. “Your organization and your board has struggled with that over time.” Frantz focused his comments on the need for MESA to take the constraints of its own bylaws into account in adopting any boycott stance, as well as federal, state and local antidiscrimination laws.

Haricombe, meanwhile, focused her presentation on the boycott of South African universities. She stressed that her research did not seek to determine the efficacy of that boycott in helping bring about the end of apartheid. Rather, her survey of 513 South African academics explored how they were affected.

South African academics felt isolated, she said, but carried on with their work nevertheless. “They all reported some effect of the boycott but they were quick to add that the academic boycott had very limited effects on their research; they were able to progress, although at a slightly slower pace,” she said.

Some attendees felt the panel was overly cautionary and were frustrated that it did not include any explicit pro-BDS arguments. In his analysis of the three speakers, Abdel Razzaq Takriti, of the University of Houston, detected underlying anxieties about 1) whether BDS will break up the field, 2) the potential legal ramifications of a boycott for the association and 3) whether the boycott would be effective or how it would affect scholars at Israeli universities (as it did South African academics). “If we plan correctly, if we think, if we organize properly, as many other organizations have done, we can overcome these issues,” Takriti said.

“The real question is actually a moral question,” he continued. “Once we understand where we feel morally about this then we can overcome all the anxieties put forward by the panel.”

Sondra Hale, of the University of California at Los Angles, said she didn’t think the panel lived up to the spirit of the resolution approved by MESA's membership. “I thought in good faith there would be somebody speaking on behalf of the boycotts, and we didn’t hear that,” she said.

Citing the AAA’s recent action, Hale criticized MESA’s comparative slowness on adopting a stance. “My question is why has MESA not entered the 21st century,” she asked. “Why is MESA an exception to what has become a movement within academia? How can we account for that and how can we respect an organization that won’t take a moral stand on this issue?”

On the question of whether or not MESA should take a stand on the issue of boycott, Jens Hanssen, of the University of Toronto, said that perhaps up until 2005, when Palestinian civil society organizations put out the call for BDS, the association could have stayed out of it. But now, he said, “We have no choice. We are political by being nonpolitical. And we are political by being political. That is the quandary we are facing.”

Hanssen, a boycott supporter, organized the second of the two MESA panels on Sunday about BDS. That panel featured a full hour of discussion, in which audience members discussed the moral case for boycott and considerations for moving a pro-boycott resolution forward within MESA.

Proponents of the academic boycott described it as a tactic for putting international pressure on Israel -- described as a “rogue settler-colonial state” guilty of violations of international law -- and as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Palestinians. Other questioned whether MESA might lose credibility if it were to take the political step of supporting a boycott, or whether a boycott of universities would even be productive.

Nir T. Boms, of Tel Aviv University, argued that Israeli academe “is one of the more progressive parts of society” and briefly mentioned a program he created with a Palestinian colleague to jointly teach Israeli and Palestinian students history. “I can give you many more examples of this type of activity,” he said.

Boms’s comments were countered by another scholar in the audience who criticized his rhetoric of partnerships and reconciliation. “You cannot be a partner with someone you are colonizing,” this scholar said. The scholar added that you cannot reconcile with people to whom you deny justice.

In an interview, Boms said that he worries MESA is getting pulled into a politics of rejection -- rejection of hope, of coexistence, of a two-state solution (“So what is the solution?” he asked. “No Israel? Decolonize everything?”) “The prism of justice negates the prism of compromise,” he said.

Several U.S.-based scholarly associations have already endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli universities, most notably the American Studies Association. The American Association of University Professors opposes organized academic boycotts as violations of academic freedom and free exchange of ideas.

Editorial Tags: Academic freedomIsraelScholarly associations

U of Kansas professor is on leave after comments on race result in 5 complaints

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 08:00

Several administrators have lost their jobs in the last month amid campus protests over issues of race. Now a faculty member at the University of Kansas finds her job status uncertain after five graduate students filed complaints against her and organized a public campaign for her to be fired -- over comments she made in discussing recent campus protests.

The faculty member is Andrea M. Quenette, assistant professor of communication studies, who is now -- at her own request -- on paid leave, pending an investigation.

There is some dispute over exactly what she said in a course for graduate students about teaching undergraduates, but the discussion was about the recent protest movement of black students at Kansas and elsewhere.

An open letter calling for Quenette's dismissal says that she said: “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism. … It’s not like I see ‘nigger’ spray painted on walls. …” Via email Quenette said that she did use the slur, but did so in comparing the University of Kansas to the University of Missouri, where many students reported seeing and hearing the word -- and citing that as an example of the discrimination they face. Quenette stressed that she never directed the word at anyone and used it as an example of a slur, not to hurt anyone.

Quenette also raised questions about a complaint made by many black students at Kansas: that the discrimination they face is one reason why their graduation rates lag those of other groups. (According to the latest Education Department data, the six-year graduation rates at Kansas are 64 percent for Asian students, 61 percent for white students, 53 percent for Latino students and 45 percent for black students.)

While the exact phrasing is in dispute, Quenette and her critics agree that she questioned the discrimination explanation for the graduation rate variance, and said that academic preparedness might also be a cause.

Reaction to the class session was intense and immediate. Five students filed complaints with the university, charging Quenette with creating a hostile environment.

The students and others drafted an open letter detailing their view of what happened, as well as concerns that the students said they had prior to the recent class session that set off the controversy.

Here's how the aftermath of the use of the n-word was described: "As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief. Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself. After Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented strong evidence about low retention and graduation rates among black students as being related to racism and a lack of institutional support, Dr. Quenette responded with, 'Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.' This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful and blatantly discriminatory."

The letter goes on to say: "Dr. Quenette indicated that because she has not experienced or witnessed discrimination, it is not happening at KU. She asked for more evidence, and was dismissive of the multiple examples provided. These comments demonstrate not only an unwillingness to accept evidence contrary to her own ideas and experiences but also exemplify the dismissal and questioning of minority students’ experiences that has reinforced the very structural discrimination they seek to destroy by speaking up. These comments betray a lack of empathy and care for students of color who are facing academic struggles, which is particularly troubling for our incoming cohort of graduate teaching assistants as we are crafting our own teaching pedagogy. Furthermore, it denies the necessity for social and academic institutional programs in support of disenfranchised students."

Quenette's conduct was particularly troublesome, the letter said, because she was training graduate students to teach. "The goal of the course is to produce practitioners, so by imbuing racist language, remarks and viewpoints into the pedagogy her students were meant to replicate, Dr. Quenette was training us to perpetrate acts and ideas violating the policies of the university," the graduate students wrote.

"Therefore, her speech is not protected by the First Amendment and employer discipline for her remarks is not only legal, but necessary based on her breach of contract. We want to be absolutely clear that we will not attend this class, we will not accept being graded by Dr. Quenette … and we will not feel safe to learn and grow as teachers and scholars while under the supervision of Dr. Quenette."

The open letter's headline makes clear the students' desired outcome: "An Open Letter Calling for the Termination of Dr. Andrea Quenette for Racial Discrimination."

Critics of Quenette followed with a Twitter hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette, although many of those posting there are defending her comments as free expression covered by academic freedom. Twitter is also being used to promote a crowd-funding campaign to help her with expected legal expenses. As of Sunday afternoon, $2,878 had been raised, with many people posting notes that Quenette's academic freedom should protect her rights to offer the opinions she shared in the class.

In an email interview, Quenette said she requested the leave because "I felt uncomfortable coming to campus and concerned about what people might say or do to me while in the department." (According to a university spokesman, the leave means that she is relieved of all teaching and service responsibilities and is to remain off campus while the situation is investigated.)

"I believe academic freedom is an important issue in this situation," Quenette said. "This topic was already the focus of the readings in class for this day, and issues of race and discrimination are current issues our campus is focusing on. I did not call anyone this word, nor did I use it to refer to any individual or group. Rather, I was retelling a factual example about an issue elsewhere."

She added, "Later in the discussion we discussed low graduation rates for African-American students at KU. I was trying to point out that there are a number of factors that contribute to graduate rate statistics for all students, among them varying levels of academic preparedness. The university needs to identify ways to provide additional academic support for students who may need greater resources to be successful. I believe it is well within the purview of my job to discuss these issues and indeed, it was related to the focus of the class for the day. My words were not intended to hurt anyone but rather to make a larger point that the solutions to race and diversity issues on our campus must directly address the specific problems our campus faces."

Asked if she had anything to add, Quenette said, "Classrooms should be spaces for everyone to discuss issues openly and honestly, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow."

DiversityTeaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Academic freedomImage Caption:  Andrea M. Quenette

Thomas Jefferson is next target of students who question honors for figures who were racists

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 08:00

In the last week, Princeton University students who object to having Woodrow Wilson's name on an academic unit and a residential college occupied the president's office and left only when promised that the university would review its use of the Wilson name. The students pointed out that Wilson was a racist who, as president of the United States, had federal government agencies segregated, reversing progress toward civil rights for black people. Many observers have wondered which historical figure honored on American campuses would next capture critical attention.

The answer appears to be Thomas Jefferson. At both the University of Missouri at Columbia and the College of William & Mary, critics have been placing yellow sticky notes on Jefferson statues, labeling him -- among other things -- "rapist" and "racist."

Once again, students are raising the question of whether men seen as heroes in American history were decidedly unheroic when it came to issues of race -- and black students are demanding that colleges consider the impact of various honors for people whom they do not consider heroes. While Princeton has said it is considering the issue of the Wilson name, which could well remain, the student protest movement has led to widespread discussion of Wilson's record on race, which even fans of his idealistic internationalist vision admit was horrible. Publications such as Vox and Salon are running articles detailing just how bad Wilson was with regard to issues of race -- and giving prominence to a part of the historical record many have never considered.

How will colleges respond to questions about the prominent place some institutions give Jefferson?

At William & Mary, Jefferson's alma mater, the notes on the statue just appeared, without an individual or group claiming responsibility or formally asking for the statue to be removed. Officials have noted that the protest has not actually damaged the statue, so they are not treating the incident like vandalism.

"A university setting is the very place where civil conversations about difficult and important issues should occur. Nondestructive sticky notes are a form of expression compatible with our tradition of free expression," said a spokesperson via email.

Students have been debating the issues raised by the notes on social media and in columns in the student paper.

At Missouri, the Jefferson statue became an issue last month as tensions were rising over a range of issues raised by black students, who cited incidents of racial harassment as well as campus culture issues, such as the prominence given to a Jefferson statue.

A petition is circulating calling for the statue to be removed. The petition notes the history of Jefferson's involvement with slavery. "Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. Jefferson's statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus," the petition says.

College Republicans countered with a #standwithJefferson hashtag on Twitter, demanding that the statue remain in place. Defenders of the statue have also draped an American flag around it (at right) for events at the site of the monument.

As Missouri and William & Mary are dealing with statues, there are of course institutions where Jefferson has an even greater presence. While black students at the University of Virginia, like their counterparts on many other campuses, have been pushing a range of issues, there has not been a public debate on Jefferson's role on campus, in light of the recent discussions elsewhere.

The conservative blogosphere has widely mocked the student campaigns against honors for various historic figures, including Jefferson.

The Scholarly View

Scholars of Jefferson and his record on race and slavery have been watching the debate with great interest. There is no consensus among researchers on whether Jefferson's accomplishments (the Declaration of Independence and his advocacy for religious toleration, among others) are outweighed by a record on race and slavery that many argue wasn't just bad, but was bad even for his time. Scholars have a range of views on whether Jefferson statues and other honors should be reconsidered, but they generally agree that the public doesn't know enough about Jefferson's poor record on issues of race.

Paul Finkelman, author of Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson (Routledge), said that he couldn't judge how colleges should deal with Jefferson statues, but he said the history is clear.

"I don't think you go around honoring people for behavior that was truly awful, and Jefferson's relationship with slavery and race was truly awful, even from his own times," Finkelman said. "This is not looking back from now," he stressed.

Finkelman, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Program on Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism and the Ariel F. Sallows Visiting Professor of Human Rights Law at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, compared Jefferson to George Washington.

"George Washington ceased using white overseers to manage his plantations before he became president," and gave the positions to slaves "as a prelude to emancipating them in his will," Finkelman said. Jefferson never took such a step. "Washington famously said that he did not take men to the market like cattle, but Jefferson sold nearly 100 slaves in the 1790s," Finkelman said.

Henry Wiencek, author of Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), said via email that his approach to the issue of statues and other honors for Jefferson (as well as Wilson and others) would be based on a Jefferson quote: "The earth belongs to the living."

Explained Wiencek: "If the rising generation finds the actions of these men to be repugnant, then the new generation has the right to demand the removal of memorials to them. There should be informed and reasoned discussion and debate -- universities are the ideal forum. Let the defenders of the memorials make their case on behalf of the enslavers."

Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor of history and the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History at Harvard Law School, is the author of two books -- Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (University of Virginia Press) and The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W. W. Norton) -- that have criticized previous generations of scholars for ignoring evidence or downplaying the story of Jefferson's relationship with one of his slaves.

Via email, Gordon-Reed said that she didn't think Jefferson statues should be taken down. Further, she said it is important to distinguish Jefferson (whatever his record on slavery) from figures associated with the Confederacy or Jim Crow, for whom there may not be any reason for honors on campuses to continue.

"I understand why some people think his statues should be removed, but not all controversial figures of the past are created equal," Gordon-Reed said. "I think Jefferson’s contributions to the history of the United States outweigh the problems people have with aspects of his life. He is just too much a part of the American story … to pretend that he was not there. This conversation about statues and symbols really got going with calls to take symbols and figures from the Confederacy out of the public sphere. Then it shifted to every famous person who was an enslaver and/or white supremacist, basically letting the Confederates off the hook. That's a lot of people to be disappeared. There is every difference in the world between being one of the founders of the United States and being a part of group of people who fought to destroy the United States."

She added: "It’s a line-drawing function, but we draw lines all the time. Statues and buildings for Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun? No. Statues and buildings for Thomas Jefferson? Yes, but with interpretation and conversations about all the meanings of his life and influences -- good and bad. The words of the Declaration of Independence that blacks have made use of over the years and Monticello, his home, a slave plantation that has now become a site for substantive discussions about race and slavery, exist together as a part of our history, just as he was. He drafted the declaration, he was a president, he founded a university, he championed religious freedom. The best of his ideals continue to influence and move people. The statues should be a stimulus for considering all these matters at William & Mary and the University of Missouri."

DiversityEditorial Tags: Student lifeImage Source: The Flat HatImage Caption: Jefferson statue at William & Mary
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