Higher Education News

Analysts, colleges question Blackboard's all-of-the-above strategy

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 07:00

California State University at Sacramento, like more than a thousand other institutions in the U.S., uses the learning management system Blackboard Learn, but likely not for much longer.

Sacramento State is getting ready to upgrade. And like many institutions in its situation, the university is looking at systems that are hosted in the cloud and delivered as software as a service (SaaS).

Moving to the cloud normally means paying more, but it does come with some benefits. Virtually no downtime is a big one. Software providers can push new features and critical patches to all its customers in the cloud, instead of colleges having to take their systems offline for maintenance. Colleges also don’t need to worry about servers if their systems are hosted in the cloud.

Faculty members at Sacramento State are this spring testing out different systems. A committee plans to make a recommendation about which system to upgrade to before the end of the academic year, said Christine E. Miller, interim vice president for information resources and technology and chief information officer.

In an interview, Miller suggested the university will move to a different software provider. She said that during the demonstration phase, some faculty members had difficulties distinguishing between features currently available for Blackboard Learn and its new user experience, known as Ultra, and ones that will be introduced in the future. (Note: This paragraph has been updated to clarify the LMS selection process at Sacramento State.)

Blackboard isn’t winning among IT staffers, either. Miller suggested that moving to another Blackboard product won’t be any easier than to a product offered by one of its competitors, saying, “Most of those leading products all have migration tools that are pretty robust.”

She added, “Based on our progress to date with our project, I wouldn’t say that [Learn] is a front-runner at this point.”

More alarming for Blackboard is Sacramento State’s reason for upgrading. Despite the company’s assurances to the contrary, Miller said she believes Blackboard will soon end support for versions of Learn that aren’t hosted in the cloud.

“While they haven’t announced a specific sunset date for it, I think a sunset date is imminent,” Miller said.

Strategic and Internal Challenges

Between competition, the cloud and unclear messaging, the situation at Sacramento State is a microcosm of the situation Blackboard finds itself in.

Make no mistake: the company is still the market leader in the U.S. in terms of the number of colleges and students served. It also does far more than develop a learning management system. Blackboard has a significant presence in the payment system market, a respected analytics team and a service portfolio that includes accessibility planning, competency-based education, web conferencing and more.

In the learning management system market, however, Blackboard is being pulled between serving the needs of customers using its legacy software and proving that it can deliver a cloud-hosted, cleanly designed and feature-rich product. And the company’s decision to do everything and support everything is raising concerns about whether it is spreading itself too thin.

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, analysts and industry sources in the learning management system market said they are seeing progress from the education giant but remain unconvinced.

“They’ve got a real challenge that they can prove to customers that moving to the SaaS model is much quicker and easier than switching LMS's, and I haven’t seen that yet,” said Phil Hill, an ed-tech consultant.

However, competing in the SaaS market creates a new set of challenges.

As some Blackboard customers move to the cloud-hosted version of Learn, the company faces the same issue plaguing companies such as Microsoft and Google: fragmentation, where users simply don’t update to the most recent version of the software (in fact, a survey released this month showed 52 percent of businesses across the world are still using Windows XP in some way. The operating system was released in 2001, and Microsoft ended support for it in 2014).

Any attempt to phase out support for older versions in an effort to force customers to upgrade will undoubtedly draw the attention of Blackboard’s competitors, as it has in the past. After the company in October 2014 announced a final end-of-life date for Angel Learning, which it acquired in 2009, it lost many of those customers to rival companies.

On top of those strategic challenges, Blackboard has dealt with internal changes. The company has carried out several waves of layoffs during the last several years. Last year, the company also replaced its CEO.

“I don’t envy the position they’re in,” said John Baker, CEO of D2L, one of Blackboard's competitors. “I envy the client base they have. Of all the transitions I’ve seen in the space, they’re probably going through the biggest and hardest one that they’ve had to go through. But at least they’re trying.”

Waiting for Ultra

Why is the cloud important? For one, Blackboard’s competitors -- companies such as D2L and Instructure -- have been there for years. Blackboard first announced its cloud-hosted version of Learn in 2014.

Edutechnica, an ed-tech blog, found an “encouraging trend” for Blackboard in its latest look at the learning management system market in the U.S.: More than 50 colleges are using the cloud-hosted option this spring, up from a mere seven last fall.

Running the cloud-hosted version of Learn is also the only way colleges can activate the optional Ultra experience, Blackboard’s long-in-the-works redesign, which the company hopes will help it shed its image as an uncool, inflexible software giant whose system faculty members and students inevitably end up wrestling with.

Yet after multiple delays, the Ultra experience is still missing features compared to the “Original experience” that most colleges are familiar with. Assessment and grade-book features, in particular, are keeping some colleges from using the Ultra experience full-time.

“It’s got what certain schools need but not what everybody needs,” Katie Blot, chief strategy officer at Blackboard, said, estimating that the Ultra experience covers 70 to 80 percent of colleges’ use cases. Blackboard is issuing regular updates to add new features, she said.

While some colleges have completely made the switch to the Ultra experience, most of them moved from homegrown systems with limited feature sets, Blot said.

Blot said she anticipates that the Ultra experience will be “ready for everybody other than some super-fringe cases” come summer 2018.

'Trying to Do Too Many Things'

Like the cloud-hosted version of Learn, the Ultra experience is intended as an additional option, not a replacement. Blackboard has committed to support both user experiences -- it has recently introduced new features to the latter to make it look and act closer to the former -- and all three deployment methods: self-hosted, managed hosted and cloud hosted.

Ending support for versions of Learn not hosted in the cloud “is absolutely not in our plans,” Blot said. Blackboard isn’t worried about fragmentation; in fact, the company sees its range of hosting options and user experiences as a “key differentiator” in the market, she said. Some of its government or private-sector customers, for example, want the security of running their own servers, she said.

To simplify its product range, Blackboard explains that understanding Learn is “as easy as 1-2-3.” Broadly speaking, the company offers one learning management system (Learn), two different interfaces (Original and Ultra), and three different deployment options -- self-hosted, managed hosted and cloud hosted.

“Each institution has their own needs, so we’re not going to decide what’s best for them,” the company said in a 2016 blog post. “That’s why we provide multiple deployment options -- and it’s why we are going to continue to support our self-hosted and managed-hosted implementations indefinitely. When (and if) a move to SaaS is right for you, that’s up to you. If you prefer hosting Learn yourself, or you like the managed-hosted solution we’re providing, we’re not going to force you to change.”

But Blackboard has used the term “indefinitely” in the past before changing its mind. When it first announced the acquisition of Angel Learning, the company detailed plans to sunset the system after five years. Then in 2012, the company changed course, saying it would support Angel “indefinitely.” Two years later, Blackboard again changed its mind, announcing plans to end support for Angel in October 2016.

Glenda Morgan, a research director with Gartner who specializes in ed-tech strategies, said “a lot of clients are anxious” about whether Blackboard can deliver on its promises and worry that its plans could change in the near future.

Morgan, who speaks with officials at hundreds of colleges a year about learning management systems, said cases such as the back-and-forth on whether to end support for Angel has created a trust problem. “Blackboard hasn’t always been as clear in their messaging as we’d like them to be,” she said.

She compared Blackboard to Instructure, whose cloud-based learning management system, Canvas, has in less than a decade captured about one-fifth of the market in the U.S., according to Edutechnica’s data.

Other than its technology, Instructure also brought a different corporate culture to the market, including an “honest and straightforward” way of interacting with customers, Morgan said.

“Instructure is really blunt with clients, and that can be annoying,” Morgan said. “The upside is that when they actually say ‘Oh, yes, that’s a problem -- we’re going to fix it,’ they actually go and do it.”

Blackboard, in comparison, “is trying to do too many things and not disappoint many people,” Morgan said. “Down the road that means a fragmented and unsustainable model. … They need to figure out what the strategy is and just be really clear about it, and then if they end up changing it, be really honest about it.”

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Vocational education surges but continues to struggle with image and gender imbalance

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 07:00

NEW ORLEANS -- Career and vocational education is en vogue, as Republicans who dominate Washington and most state capitols have been touting job training over the bachelor’s degree. But community college leaders say vocational training is sorely in need of an image makeover.

“It is considered a second choice, second-class,” said Patricia Hsieh, president of San Diego Miramar College. “We really need to change how people see vocational and technical education."

Hsieh was speaking here Monday during the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. She and other speakers described the stigma career programs still face compared to academic paths that lead to transfer and a bachelor’s degree.

Parents and students tend to prefer that more traditional pathway and are skeptical about the work force value of vocational credentials, said community college leaders. And that skepticism often extends to many people in higher education.

“This kind of misconception is across the board,” Hsieh said, noting that parents from all racial and ethnic groups have doubts about vocational credentials.

In addition, career and technical training has a severe gender imbalance. Most of the decent-paying vocational jobs go to men, who dominate middle-skill (less than a four-year degree required) fields such as information technology, welding and advanced manufacturing. Women, however, are overrepresented in in lower-paying, middle-skill health professions, such as jobs as nursing aides.

Just 36 percent of middle-skill jobs that pay at least $35,000 are held by women, Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment at earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said during a session here. Women also hold only 29 percent of IT jobs above that pay level, she said, with just 7 percent of those in advanced manufacturing jobs and 3 percent in construction.

While there are substantial gender imbalances in vocational training programs at community colleges, they aren’t typically as large as the gaps among jobholders, said Lynn Shaw, an electrical technology professor at Long Beach City College. For example, at California community colleges, women account for 45 percent of student enrollments in IT programs.

“In the work force, there’s a huge drop-off,” said Shaw, a former miner, steelworker, longshore worker and electrician, who is a visiting faculty fellow at the California community college system chancellor’s office, where she is helping lead the implementation of a work force program. “Somewhere between women showing interest in nontraditional careers and getting into the work force, something happens.”

In recent decades, little progress has been made in breaking the extreme gender segregation in technical jobs, said Hegewisch. And the lack of female role models in these professions contributes to the logjam.

“My sense is that we’ve all kind of given up,” she said. “We’re still very uncomfortable with crossing gender roles.”

Creating Partnerships to Make a Better Pitch

The shortage of women in career and technical jobs is a contributor to the nation’s biggest skills gap challenge. And while enrollments in vocational programs are generally up nationwide, employers face deep shortages of skilled workers.

The tough sell of vocational jobs to students, particularly women, is part of the problem. Many have outdated notions about dirty, physically demanding jobs that don’t pay well. Yet in many cities and states, most of the open jobs are middle-skill ones in career and technical fields, often that come with a good salary.

For example, 30 percent of California’s projected job openings by 2025 will be of the middle-skill variety, Shaw said -- a total of 1.9 million jobs. Many will be technical jobs such electricians, mechanics, radiology technologists or computer support specialists.

“I call it the California community college sweet spot,” Shaw said of training for those jobs. “That’s what we do. That’s what unlocks social mobility.”

It’s a similar story in Arizona’s Pima County, Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, said during a different session.

“We’ve got to do a better job of convincing our students that there’s an opportunity here,” he said.

Community colleges themselves deserve some of the blame, according to Lambert and other college leaders, who said administrators and faculty members sometimes look down on vocational training.

“We can’t have this minimal focus on career and technical education,” Lambert said. “It has to be as prominent as our transfer focus.”

Part of the problem is that American higher education largely developed around four-year degrees in the liberal arts. And academic systems have been slow to adjust to the growing prominence of vocational programs. For example, several college leaders here said career and technical programs tend to be overlooked by accreditors in comparison to their focus on general-education requirements.

Seeking Solutions

Sessions here included advice on common-sense solutions to both vocational education’s image and gender imbalance problems.

A key to making progress, speakers said, is for colleges to develop strong, meaningful partnerships with employers. That means working with them on curricular development while encouraging paid internships, and prodding employers to pay for up-to-date training and technology.

“We can’t do career and technical training without our industry partners,” said Jianping Wang, president of Mercer County Community College, in New Jersey.

Wang said she reached out to several local employers for help. It paid off, she said, as companies have sent employees to teach classes, paid for labs and, in one case, even provided drones for students to use in training programs.

“It’s in our mutual interest,” she said of the partnerships.

Colleges also can try to chip away at the gender imbalance through their work with employers, speakers said.

For example, they can push for employers to include women on work force advisory boards or among the experts they send to teach in labs, Lois Joy, a senior research manager at Jobs for the Future, said during a session. Another good approach is to send a cohort of female interns to a partner employer.

“It’s very important for women to see role models in these fields,” Joy said.

The bottom line, experts said, is to show students -- men and women alike -- that career and technical fields include plenty of rewarding, well-paying jobs.

Pima has taken that philosophy seriously, creating a new vice president position for work force development and several new programs aimed at touting vocational education. For example, the district now conducts a national signing day for star student recruits in technical fields.

“These students are just as important as athletes,” said Lambert.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 04/25/2017 - 07:00
  • Bunker Hill Community College: Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.
  • Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine: David O. Barbe, president-elect of the American Medical Association.
  • Marian University: Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health; and John Lechleiter, chairman of the Board of Directors of Eli Lilly and Company.
  • New Mexico Highlands University: Javier Gonzales, the mayor of Santa Fe, N.M.
  • New York Law School: Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; and Laura Ricciardi, co-creator of Making a Murderer.
  • Palm Beach Atlantic University: Jay Strack, president and founder of Student Leadership University.
  • Pennsylvania College of Art and Design: Aaron Blaise, the acclaimed artist and animator.
  • Saint Mary's College of California: John Diaz, editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle; and Deborah Richardson, senior adviser for partner engagement at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
  • St. Catherine University, in Minnesota: Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig.
  • St. Lawrence University: U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins; and others.
  • University of Pikeville: Irene Trowell-Harris, former director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans.
  • University of Virgin Islands: Iyanla Vanzant, the author.
  • Walsh University: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States.
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Making a case in the streets for federal support for science

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00

Organizers of the March for Science said that the event in Washington, D.C., and the satellite marches across the country this weekend were just the beginning of a movement to champion science.

Those statements would seem to caution against early assessments of the march’s success or failure. Key supporters of the event and participants who trekked to the march in D.C. said the goals of the event went far beyond any immediate effects on policy and included communicating with the public about the state of federally funded research and energizing scientists about advocating for their field.

Others were concerned with pushing understanding by the public and Congress of the importance of science in shaping federal policy.

Scenes From the March
Researchers, students and others
explain why they participated.
Read more.

About 15,000 came out for pre-march events including teach-ins and speeches on the Washington Mall, Reuters reported -- firm estimates for the full march crowd had not yet been released -- while crowds attended hundreds of satellite marches elsewhere in the country. About 40,000 walked Columbus Drive in the Chicago event, according to The Chicago Tribune. The Los Angeles Times reported that thousands showed up for the march that went from Pershing Square to City Hall in L.A.

Fred Lawrence, secretary of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, said the March for Science was “a watershed moment in American cultural and social history.” He said the participation of so many scientists in the demonstrations has helped make clear to members of the public that they themselves have a stake in policy decisions like funding of the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

"It takes the issue from being abstract and makes it very present, very concrete and very urgent," Lawrence said.

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that the march has already been a success, citing the conversations it has created about science and its role in policy making.

“Scientists -- who have been often reticent to go public -- showed up for the march and used stories to talk about the importance of their work. We were encouraged to see so many scientists speaking up and expect it will continue in the days ahead,” he said.

AAAS, one of the country’s largest nonpartisan science and research organizations, was a major backer of the event. Holt emphasized in comments ahead of the event that it would not be a protest of the White House but would make a positive case for science.

Although march events were sprinkled with the occasional anti-Trump message, they were spared the wrath of the president on Twitter over the weekend. In a statement Saturday, Trump said his administration was focused on both reducing regulations and protecting the environment.

“Rigorous science is critical to my administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” he said. “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

Those claims, many scientists would say, run counter to the facts of Trump’s own budget proposal, which called for major cuts to National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation research spending -- and to his Environmental Protection Agency chief’s open disregard for climate science.

But even though the White House likely helped the spur the marchers into action, many attendees spoke to issues of federal policy that long predated the current administration.

Justin Steinfeld, a fifth year M.D./Ph.D. student at Columbia University, said that since the Clinton administration, NIH funding has failed to keep pace with inflation. An increasingly competitive environment to win grant funding has pushed scientists to constantly publish, leading to sloppier work and a “bad culture” within research, he said.

Trump’s budget proposals would accelerate those years-long negative trends, scientists said this weekend.

“It shows a disrespect for what science is and what it can provide,” said Steinfeld, who is also a member of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local.

He said that communicating about the importance of science was part of the march, but that the real promise of the event was spurring people in his generation to action.

“It's about motivating the people who came to push themselves a little more, to get more involved,” he said.

Sarah Joseph, a Columbia doctoral student studying genetics and the president of the graduate student advisory council, said one measure of the march's success would be seeing people without connections to the profession asking scientists like her about their research.

"Now they're seeking knowledge they didn't seek openly before," she said. "It's small, but it's going to be really important."

Organizations such as AAAS hosted workshops last week to train newly active scientists in how to communicate about their work. Advocacy organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists saw the event as an opportunity to sign up more members for ongoing activism. Academics at the Washington event conveyed a hope that it would highlight the ongoing challenges funding university-based research -- and the threat posed by more cuts.

Steven Hanes, a professor at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, also said researchers struggled in an increasingly difficult funding environment for years before Trump. With the exception of a spike driven by the stimulus package, NIH funding has essentially been flat since 2008, he said.

That’s affected both the graduate-level education at his university -- Hanes hasn’t been able to train new graduate students for several years -- and faculty hiring decisions.

“We don’t even hire faculty who don't already have their own funding,” he said.

Hanes said he hopes the public and Congress will get the message about how important it is to maintain scientific funding to continue making progress in every area of research. His lab studies how genes are switched on and off, or gene regulation. The most common disruption of gene regulation is in cancer, he said.

But having steady sources of federal funding turned on and off is incredibly inefficient for research, Hanes said. Layoffs forced by funding cuts mean he has to train a whole new set of researchers later.

“I lose institutional memory,” he said. “It sets you back years.”

Hanes said that increasing NIH funding by just a few percentage points would have a huge positive impact, while cuts would mean no new grants into important areas of inquiry and no further progress on projects due for grant renewal.

Researchers marched not just to highlight issues of funding but also to bring attention to the role that science should play in shaping policy. Melanie Killen, a professor of developmental science at the University of Maryland and a representative of the Society for Research in Child Development, said she hasn't heard research and evidence talked about so dismissively in more than three decades in the profession.

"I'm very concerned about the rhetoric we have heard in the last six months," she said. "It's not possible to have democracy if you don't believe in facts and in scientific evidence."

Matthew Walhout, a physics professor and dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, said he joined the march to speak up for the importance of science in the social discourse and as part of the decision making that shapes policy.

He said the message of the march transcended party politics and that the turnout would demonstrate that there is a huge number of people supporting scientific research and the role it plays in society.

“I would say that over all it was generally uplifting to see a lot people gathered around an issue and treating each other well,” Walhout said. “Even though the weather was bad, the spirits were high.”

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New round in debate over Ann Coulter and her right to speak at Berkeley

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00

The fight over whether and when Ann Coulter will speak at the University of California, Berkeley, did not end with the university's invitation to her to speak there May 2.

Before that invitation was extended, the university had said it could not allow campus Republican groups to host her talk April 27 because of security concerns, and that she would have to wait until the fall semester. Amid charges that it was denying Coulter a platform due to her views (charges Berkeley officials repeatedly denied), officials regrouped and said they had found a location on campus where she could appear with security assured, on May 2.

But the fight is not over. Coulter is vowing to show up Thursday. And she's suggesting that she will sue Berkeley for insisting that she appear May 2 instead. The university, meanwhile, is accusing Coulter and her campus fans of distorting free speech principles, and putting the safety of Coulter and any who might attend her talk in danger.

Further, the university is arguing that a commitment to free speech does not mean that it has to agree to let Coulter appear at any time or any place -- and that its objections to her plans have nothing to do with her political views.

A letter from a lawyer representing Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation -- two groups seeking to bring Coulter to campus -- says that May 2 is an inappropriate date because it comes during the study period after classes end and before final exams. This date was selected, the letter says, to depress attendance and because Coulter will no longer be in the area to give a talk.

Further, the letter accuses Berkeley of a pattern of "similar silencing" of guest appearances of conservative thinkers. It cites the planned appearance of former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos in February, which the letter says was "canceled at the last minute on the pretext of being unable to provide adequate security."

Berkeley officials defended the right of Yiannopoulos to appear (amid considerable criticism from campus groups for not blocking him from appearing). The university called off the event as it was about to start, as noncampus groups engaged in violent protest and vandalism while student groups engaged in nonviolent protest.

In a letter back to the conservative groups' lawyer, Berkeley defended its actions. The Berkeley letter said that the campus groups bringing in Coulter signed contracts with her before conferring with the university about security issues. When Berkeley learned of the invitation, officials were concerned because of the violence that accompanied the Yiannopoulos visit to campus, and violent clashes among protesters in the city of Berkeley more recently. The university rejected the April 27 event based on "mounting intelligence that some of the same groups that previously engaged in local violent action also intended violence at the Coulter event."

Further, the university said that -- when security issues are involved -- student organizations don't have an absolute right to host events whenever they want. "Student organizations’ access to event venues on campus is subject to the availability of venues of appropriate size and the ability of the university to provide adequate security," the letter said. "Security risks of each event are evaluated independently. Differences in the management of event security have nothing to do with the university’s agreement or disagreement with the opinions of the speakers, but are based entirely on [the police department's] assessment of the security risks and the measures needed to minimize them."

Finally, the university said that it is untrue to say that Berkeley hasn't worked to allow conservative student groups to hold events, even those requiring security. "This semester, UC Berkeley has dedicated more resources -- in the form of staff time, administrative attention, police resources and cash outlay -- to facilitating BCR's [Berkeley College Republicans'] expressive activities than have been devoted to any other student group in memory. Dedicated staff and administrators have spent countless hours, including during weekends and vacations, working to enable BCR’s planned events and to maximize the possibility that those events can occur safely for the participants, the speakers, our students and others in our campus community."

Yiannopoulos Plans Return

Whatever happens with Coulter this week, Berkeley appears likely to continue to be the focus of debates over free speech and security. Speakers known for their inflammatory statements -- and for attracting both violent and peaceful protests -- are vying to visit the campus.

Since Yiannopoulos tried to speak on campus in February, he has gone from a conservative hero to (in some circles) a conservative embarrassment. In February videos circulated in which Yiannopoulos appeared to defend sex between boys as young as 13 and older men. Yiannopoulos has since said that his views were distorted and that he was talking about older teenagers, and that he opposes the sexual abuse of children. But the Conservative Political Action Conference withdrew an invitation for him to speak there, and Yiannopoulos all of a sudden became someone not just opposed by many campus groups for his rhetoric, but by conservatives as well.

But Friday, Yiannopoulos on Facebook announced his plans to return to Berkeley.

"I am planning a huge multiday event called Milo's Free Speech Week in Berkeley later this year. We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment," he wrote. "Free speech has never been more under threat in America -- especially at the supposed home of the free speech movement. I will bring activists, writers, artists, politicians, YouTubers, veterans and drag queens from across the ideological spectrum to lecture, march and party.

"Milo's Free Speech Week will include events on the UC Berkeley campus. We will stand united against the 'progressive' Left … Free speech belongs to everyone -- not just the spoiled brats of the academy … Each day will be dedicated to a different enemy of free speech, including feminism, Black Lives Matter and Islam. If UC Berkeley does not actively assist us in the planning and execution of this event, we will extend festivities to an entire month. We will establish a tent city on Sproul Plaza protesting the university's total dereliction of its duty and encourage students at other universities to follow suit."

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NLRB official rules that resident advisers at private colleges may unionize

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that resident advisers at George Washington University have the right to unionize. The ruling could apply to other private colleges and universities, potentially opening a new part of private higher education to unions.

At the same time, the ruling could open the door to legal fights that could block the union. Friday's decision orders an election at GW. But if the RAs at the university vote to unionize, GW could challenge the ruling, and it has indicated that it may do so. Many higher education groups are also lining up to oppose unionization. (Collective bargaining rights of resident advisers and other employees at public institutions are governed by state law and will not be changed by whatever the outcome in this case.)

The ultimate outcome could depend on how soon President Trump has openings to fill on the NLRB, whose members serve staggered terms that do not end automatically with a new president. The current board has a majority sympathetic to unions, but that is unlikely to be the case with more Republican appointees.

The decision in the GW case was based largely on an NLRB board decision last year that said that teaching assistants at private universities could unionize. In that case, based on a union drive at Columbia University, unions argued that the TAs were employees, while universities said the TAs should be seen primarily as students who should not be entitled to collective bargaining. The NLRB ruling said that TAs were both students and employees and that they were entitled to unionize.

The regional director who heard the GW case, Sean R. Marshall, wrote in his decision that he looked at the definition of "employee" in the teaching assistant case and found three criteria. Employees, he wrote, "(1) perform services for the employer; (2) are subject to the employer’s control; and (3) perform these services in return for payment."

And Marshall then outlined how RAs meet all of those tests. They are paid (both a stipend and in the form of free housing) and they must follow specific rules.

Further, he rejected GW's argument that the undergraduates who work as RAs "reside in the university’s residence halls in order to have an informal, peer-to-peer mentoring relationship with, and serve as role models for, their fellow undergraduate students.”

"The employer’s characterization of the RAs’ duties tellingly omits any explanation about why these duties are performed by RAs, and why undergraduate students serve as RAs," Marshall wrote. "Plainly, the RAs are not providing these services voluntarily -- the RAs unquestionably receive something of value in exchange for their services. Further, since there is no suggestion that RAs receive academic credit in exchange for serving as RAs, I find no basis to conclude they provide these services as part of their educational relationship with the employer. Rather, I find that the RAs provide these services based on an economic relationship with the employer -- the RAs exchange services desired by the employer in return for compensation from the employer and desired by the RAs."

Marshall added that just because RAs may value their experiences for reasons beyond compensation that doesn't mean they aren't employees. "I do not doubt that when current and former RAs reflect on the time they spent as RAs, they believe the experience was educational and was instrumental in their future career accomplishments," he wrote. "However, the same can be said for many of one’s life experiences, whether they are educational, social, religious or occupational. Employment experiences can simultaneously be educational or part of one’s personal development, yet they nonetheless retain an indispensable economic core. Here, the evidence shows, and no party contends otherwise, that an economic exchange between the RAs and the employer is the sine qua non of their relationship."

GW released this statement Friday: "While the university will continue to cooperate with the NLRB in this process, the university continues to believe that the NLRB’s union election process should not be applied to students in our residential life program, which is an integral part of the educational experience of our undergraduate students. We will continue to share our views with resident advisers as this process moves forward."

Steven M. Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said via email of the decision, "A regional office administrator deciding to let undergraduate resident advisers unionize is a major and unprecedented change in federal labor law. This really is a bureaucracy run amok. This represents the kind of step that we feared after the Columbia decision, which opened the door to this deeply troubling extension of federal labor law to undergraduates. We hope a future NLRB overturns this decision."

ACE and other higher education groups filed a brief with the NLRB opposing the union drive.

Service Employees International Union is the group seeking to organize RAs at GW. SEIU has had success of late in higher education organizing non-tenure-track faculty members.

GW students who are among the RAs seeking a union wrote an op-ed last year in The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, outlining why they want a union. They said that some contract terms are ambiguous, and that they consider others unfair. Further, since anyone fired as an RA loses housing and a stipend, the consequences are serious, they wrote. These are the kinds of issues, they wrote, on which a union could help.

"We look forward to embracing our rights under federal law to democratically bargain with our employer," the op-ed said. "Ultimately, we look forward to coming to the table … to negotiate a contract that will allow us to continue to better the student experience."

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More colleges look to replicate CUNY's accelerated two-year program

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00

The City University of New York’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, has been widely praised for turning out promising results and doubling graduation rates.

That’s why more than a few community colleges are interested in bringing it to their campuses.

Westchester Community College, which is part of the State University of New York System, and Skyline Community College in California are the latest campuses that are gearing up to try ASAP for the first time.

The program helps community college students get to graduation by providing additional academic support and financial incentives like free tuition, textbooks and public transportation.

“The ASAP model was one achieving results that appeared to be unprecedented in regard to helping students in the developmental education sphere,” said Belinda Miles, president of Westchester, which is located roughly 30 miles north of New York City.

CUNY requires participating students to enroll full time and to take developmental courses immediately and continuously. The goal of the program is to double graduation rates. ASAP nearly did just that at CUNY -- after three years, 40 percent of ASAP students graduated compared to 22 percent of control group students, according to MDRC, a nonprofit research organization.

Three years ago, three community colleges in Ohio became the first other institutions to try the ASAP approach, despite having a slightly different demographic in a very different location. Last year MDRC found that those three colleges -- Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Lorain County Community College -- were seeing early improvements in enrollment, retention and completion.

“We believe the ASAP Ohio demonstration and CUNY demonstration are remarkable, and this is something people should seriously consider,” said Colleen Sommo, a senior research associate at MDRC. “We were able to get findings in Ohio very much in line with what we saw in New York, and that was very reassuring, but it’ll be helpful to have Westchester as a third proof point.”

The program’s costs are in addition to each institution’s typical costs per student. CUNY's version costs about $3,700 more per year for each student, according to MDRC. The Ohio programs are estimated to cost about $3,000 more per student.

At Skyline, officials are estimating the cost per student will fall between $1,200 and $1,400 a year. If the program goes full scale, or grows to about 500 students, the college estimates it will cost $1.5 million a year. Westchester estimates its ASAP model will cost between $3,000 and $4,500 a student. But with outside grants, funding from the college and tuition from increasing student persistence, Westchester is hopeful the program will become sustainable.

Westchester ASAP

In addition to tuition waivers and textbook vouchers, CUNY students received New York City MetroCards to use on public transportation. At Westchester, officials overseeing the proposed ASAP pilot are considering $500 for books and $500 annual stipends for food, housing, transportation and other needs for students, Miles said.

But there’s an additional dynamic the college is taking into consideration -- New York’s new free-tuition proposal. Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the state’s Legislature reached a deal this month to offer free tuition in the CUNY and SUNY systems for families with annual incomes up to $125,000.

“It’s important to distinguish between the price of tuition and the cost of education,” Miles said. “So we think the incentive will be significant, and we know these mandatory elements have proven successful for students, so we anticipate the effort and reward cycle will be strong.”

Westchester is planning for 150 students to be in the first group to participate in the program, with plans to grow to 450 students by the third year, said Sara Thompson Tweedy, vice president for access, involvement and success at the college. The college enrolls approximately 13,000 students.

The college is the most diverse two-year institution in the SUNY system, Tweedy said.

Many of the students at Westchester are low income and about 50 percent use financial aid to fund their education. But officials at the institution are optimistic that the stipend will help close financial gaps.

ASAP and a Promise Scholarship

Unlike the New York and Ohio programs, Skyline Community College in San Bruno -- south of San Francisco -- is moving toward scaling up ASAP to about 500 students. Both Skyline and Westchester received start-up funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation -- Skyline received $800,000 and Westchester $1 million -- but both institutions are using a combination of institutional dollars and money from other grants to help cover the program's costs.

The college had success with an early pilot version, which included 138 students. The persistence rate for participants from the fall semester to spring was 96 percent, compared to 82 percent among full-time students who were not enrolled in the program, said Angelica Garcia, vice president of student services at Skyline.

“The ASAP data was just compelling, and it was compelling [that] they were working with full-time, degree-seeking students,” Garcia said. “We wanted to get what has been effective out there … and we have a lot of similarities in being incredibly diverse and having students with low socioeconomic status. We are trying to do everything we can to bring to our college and students what we know is working.”

While California isn’t offering a free tuition program like New York, Skyline last fall launched a free tuition, or Promise, program. Garcia said the ASAP program would combine with the Promise scholarship and the work the college is doing with building guided program pathways and meta-majors. Skyline’s last-dollar Promise scholarship covers tuition and fees for the first year for full-time students.

Skyline is still experimenting with the types of incentives to offer ASAP students beyond free textbooks and tuition. Public transportation near the campus isn’t the same as in New York City, but the college is considering a mixture of shuttle service to the Bay Area’s subway system, bus passes or gas cards. ASAP students would also receive priority access to register for courses.

“We want our students to get in, get through and get out on time,” she said. “We’re asking students interested in doing this to commit. And with our programmatic components, it’s our hope that we make this as seamless as possible for students.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00
  • Big Sandy Community and Technical College: Tony Skeans, a Kentucky prosecutor.
  • Borough of Manhattan Community College, of the City University of New York: U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat; and Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of Tribeca Productions.
  • Broward College: Keith Koenig, president of City Furniture.
  • College of Saint Rose: Eve Burton, senior vice president and general counsel of Hearst.
  • Cooper Union: Sacha Pfeiffer, the journalist.
  • Dominican University, in Illinois: Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871 Chicago; and Lina Fruzzetti, filmmaker and professor of anthropology at Brown University.
  • Edinboro University: Rachel Levine, physician general for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  • Juilliard School: Stephen McKinley Henderson, the actor.
  • King University, in Tennessee: Katherine Paterson, the author.
  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design: Diane Paulus, the Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
  • Otterbein University: Jane Grote Abell, board chair of Donatos Pizza; and David Blom, president and CEO of OhioHealth Corp.
  • Providence College: Roy Peter Clark, the writer.
  • Spelman College: Valerie Jarrett, who served as a top adviser to President Obama.
  • Suffolk University: Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Carol Fulp, president and CEO of the Partnership Inc.; and Robert D. Putnam, the Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University.
  • University of Maryland at Baltimore: William P. Magee Jr., co-founder and CEO of Operation Smile.
  • University of Rhode Island: The journalists Vladimir Duthiers and Thomas Farragher.
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March for Science participants say why they rallied

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 04/24/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- Eric Schultz, an associate professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, hopped on a bus at 1 a.m. Saturday and headed here with about 50 students and faculty members from the university.

He said the March for Science was about communicating with the general public, which he said does not appreciate what science does and why it’s valuable.

Assessing the March's Impact
Organizers and participants say
the event's legacy may be told
in federal funding levels for
science programs. Read more.

Schultz’s work is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation, with some support from the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency. Were the cuts to those agencies in the White House budget released last month to become reality, he said, his department could lose the ability to support graduate students.

“That means we’re selling out our future essentially for the sake of weapons,” Schultz said.


John Kilbourne, a professor in the department of movement science at Grand Valley State University, couldn’t go far on the National Mall Saturday without a request for pictures. Kilbourne came to the march dressed as Galileo, who he said spoke up for scientific truths even though he knew he would be persecuted for it.

Kilbourne studies the traditional games of indigenous people in the Arctic and looks for lessons to help moderate conflict in that region today. He said he was motivated to come to the march partly because of the administration’s disregard for the science of climate change, the effects of which indigenous people are experiencing firsthand.

“For the most part, scientists have stayed on the sideline,” he said. “We need to speak up.”


More than a hundred Cornell University graduate students traveled via bus Friday to participate in the Washington march. Gael Nicholas and Kofi Gyan were among them.

Nicholas, who is studying biochemistry with a focus on the microbiome, said the effects of cuts in federal support of research trickle down from labs to the ability of graduate students to pursue research.

Gyan, who is studying computational biology, said he is an optimistic person and hopes to see Congress continue federal funding of research.

“You can’t be red or blue with science,” he said. “I’m just here supporting science because I love it.”


Steven Hanes, a professor at State University of New York Upstate Medical University, wore a cardboard sandwich board reading “Want Cures? Support Basic Research” to the march Saturday.

Hanes, who studies molecular genetics, has been unable to train any new graduate students in his lab for the past three years since his NIH funding lapsed. He said he was marching this weekend because of the proposed further cuts to NIH and NSF research funding the White House proposed in its “skinny budget.”

If Congress votes to keep research funding flat, it will be seen as a victory by many -- but it will still essentially be a cut because funding has not kept up with inflation, Hanes said. The tight budget environment for university-based funding means winning grants to pay for science and train graduate students is already extremely competitive, he said.

“If we don’t train the next generation and support that research, we’re going to lose them,” he said.


Four women, most of whom are pursuing their doctorates at Indiana University, drove 11 hours to the march.

Olivia Ballew, Annie MacKenzie, Tiffany Musser and Ali Ordway all were selected and given stipends by the university to cover their travel costs. They said they were pleased to represent the university.

All but Musser are in the midst of earning their Ph.D.s in Indiana’s genome, cell and developmental biology program.

Their signs were sketched out on poster board -- one carried a Neil deGrasse Tyson quote: “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

Soni Lacefield, a biology professor at Indiana, also traveling with the group, said the demonstration places science in a positive light and brings awareness to legislators.

The march breaks down stereotypes and stigmas associated with the scientific community, and helps put a face on scientists.

“It’s not just old white men sitting in a dusty laboratory,” Ballew said. “We are diverse.”


In a dark green T-shirt, Charles Agosta almost seemed to blend in with the vast swaths of grass on the National Mall, especially compared to the highlighter-yellow ponchos and massive protest signs that dotted the landscape.

But up close the text on the shirt was much bolder: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, a facility at Florida State University where the Clark University professor of physics does some of his work on superconductivity. He came to the D.C. march with his son -- they stopped along the way to look at colleges in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

His curly hair fluffy from the continued drizzle, Agosta explained how the age range of the attendees impressed him -- students, but also the more “mature” crowd, scientists of his generation.

Among the young people was Agosta’s 17-year-old niece, a high school junior who wants to be an astronomer, he said.

Agosta’s not sure how she caught the science bug, as her parents aren’t oriented in the sciences.

A movement like the march is something that scientists should be organizing more and more, not just as a demonstration for the Trump administration, but to celebrate the sciences, Agosta said.

These types of gatherings among scientists are fairly unusual, he said.

Debate has arisen about whether “politicizing” the sciences is appropriate, he said. But everything is political -- everyone lobbies for federal funding -- but science shouldn’t be partisan, he said.

“Stay curious!” a speaker from the main stage screamed in the background.


As she stood in the rain clutching her stark sign on a white board that read “Science is crucial for democracy,” Toni Bell said she was disgusted.

The professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is fed up with funding being pulled from scientific organizations. She can’t “wrap her head around” science money being channeled toward other parts of the federal government.

In an interview, she hesitated. “Well, to fund the military. I wasn’t going to say it outright,” Bell said. “But to pull money from science education and the arts to fund the military. That just hurts me to my core.”

“We have to do something about it. We cannot let it stand.”

She traveled to D.C. from Pennsylvania with a bus full of people from Bloomsburg -- a relatively rural, conservative area anchored by the university -- along with a Bloomsburg chemistry professor, Kristen Lewis.

Because Bell is rooted in a university environment, people respect the sciences, she said. But she was heartened to see so many community members from the area travel here.

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Recent suicide by professor sparks renewed discussions about access to mental-health services for faculty members

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00

Will Moore, a professor of political science at Arizona State University, typically used his blog to comment on -- in his words -- “human rights, conflict, teaching, life as an aspie [someone with Asperger's syndrome] and whatever else strikes my fancy.” Earlier this week, however, he used it to share a suicide note.

“Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke,” he wrote.

Attempting to explain his decision, Moore said that he’d long struggled feelings of social isolation. Far too often, he said, “I angered, insulted, offended and otherwise upset people, without expecting or intending to,” and “I rarely felt that I was successful explaining my ideas, perceptions, understandings to others.” He said he’d considered suicide off and on since he was a teenager, and learned early on that the topic was “taboo” and not to be discussed.

In closing -- what he called “punching out” -- Moore thanked “each and every one of you who interacted with me, in person and/or virtually, and especially those who I interacted with frequently and came to know. … Though I chose to exit rather than persist, I have been very privileged, and I thank you for being a part of my life.”

A reader immediately alerted authorities to the blog post, but it was too late. Moore had already taken his life.

Friends and colleagues in political science struggled to make any sense of the news in their own blog posts. Several touched on the emotional toll studying Moore’s specialty, political violence, can take, even from a physically safe distance.

Steve Saideman, Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University, in Canada, described Moore as a brilliant peer who was zany enough to have once attended the Burning Man music and art festival dressed as a Republican pollster. Sometimes harsh, Moore “was fierce in his pursuit of understanding,” Saideman wrote. “His focus was mostly on the denial of human rights, a topic that could be stressful to study. His passion for justice carried over into how he acted within the profession. Will was very protective as he mentored several generations of students.”

Joshua Busby, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote that he didn’t know Moore well but that his death struck many international relations scholars “especially hard, as he was known to be a dedicated mentor to others, particularly junior scholars, in ways that go above and beyond just befriending and reading someone’s work. … These sorts of tragic events remind us that the human condition is hard and that aspects of our profession can be unkind to our mental health.”

Christian Davenport, professor of political science at the University of Michigan and a close collaborator of Moore’s, said via email that there was some truth to the idea that one’s professional passions can hurt. But they can also heal, he said.

“The study of political conflict and violence does take a toll on the individuals that do it, but at the same time this pales in comparison to the toll it would take on those who were aware of what was taking place but did not address it,” he said. “My particular way of dealing with it has been to talk and later write about my experiences and, to a lesser extent, feelings.”

Beyond self-care, Davenport said scholars need to practice some “communal care.” There isn’t enough of it, and “I will make sure that this is one of the positive things that emerges from this tragedy,” he added.

Stigma Persists

There's no research to suggest that professors have higher than average rates of suicide, and in fact most possess certain risk-reducing traits, such as high levels of education. And for those who aren't adjuncts, quality health care coverage typically includes mental health. But even when scholars aren’t dealing with potentially traumatic material, their lives are high stress. The carefree academic way of life (if it ever existed) has been replaced by new funding pressures, increased administrative work, the decline of the tenure track and a more corporate, consumer-driven model of education. And while student mental-health issues have received much attention and destigmatization in recent years, it’s unclear how much of that has translated to the professoriate, where there’s a premium on clarity of thought.

“Stigma with regard to mental health seems to be strong in the faculty community,” said Negar Shekarabi, coordinator for faculty and staff mental-health care and respondent services at the University of California, Irvine. “The very specific pressures that faculty experience around work expectations and their ability to think, foster knowledge and ideas, and be academically productive causes a particularly threatening vulnerability should they disclose that they have mental-health issues.”

Many worry about losing their jobs, status or the confidence of their colleagues and students in their abilities if they're public about the challenges they face, she said. “This creates some additional silence around mental-health concerns in the faculty population.”

Still, a number of individual faculty members have outed their mental-health challenges. Kay Redfield Jamison, Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders at Johns Hopkins University, wrote about her struggles with bipolar disorder in her 1995 book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. More recently, Peter Railton, Gregory S. Kavka Distinguished University Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of philosophy at Michigan, revealed his struggles with depression in a major 2015 lecture, to much praise. Santa Ono, now president of the University of British Columbia, last year shared that he’d twice attempted suicide as a young man. John W. Belcher, Class of '22 Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, also shared his experiences with depression in the student newspaper, in 2013, after an undergraduate wrote a piece about similar challenges.

“There is a stigma attached to having been clinically depressed and being on antidepressants (as I am),” Belcher wrote. “That stigma is undeserved, and many people who should embrace such treatment instead avoid it. The more open people like [the student] and I are about our experiences in dealing with depression, the more acceptance of those treatments there will be.”

Belcher said this week of his disclosure, “I would do it again in a heartbeat. It makes a tremendous difference to students when they see you can deal with this sort of thing, recover from it, and not be ‘permanently broken,’ as a student once said to me.”

He’s experienced no negative repercussions from his admission, either, but he said that as a senior faculty member nearing the end of his career, it involved minimal risk. In general, he said, “I don’t think there’s particularly less stigma surrounding faculty mental health these days.”

Railton, of Michigan, also said this week that he’s been “deeply moved by the number of younger people in this country and abroad who have written to me to say that my talk was helpful to them in contending with their own difficulties, or in understanding the difficulties of others.”

However, he said, these are “complicated times,” in that “I myself am far enough along in my career that I have been able to accept the wonderful support many colleagues have shown, without having to worry excessively about other effects.” More junior faculty members “unfortunately do not have this luxury,” though, “and academic life is deeply tied up with how others view one's mind. There's much more to be done.”

Robert E. Brown, now a professor of communications at Salem State University, shared his account of depression and a suicide attempt early in his career several years ago in The Boston Globe.

Like some students today, he wrote, “I felt like an impostor. What right had I to the title of professor? With each passing week that summer, darkness deepened in me. I feared facing my classes every Tuesday and Thursday. As soon as the students left, I’d drive to a quiet place in the hills near my apartment to sit and stare for hours. On Tuesday afternoons, I dreaded Thursday. Thursdays, I obsessed about the next Tuesday.”

Brown recently told Inside Higher Ed that he didn’t seen any evidence of professors being increasingly open about considering suicide, though professors and administrators, including his president, thanked him for his piece. “I assumed her gratitude was for my being willing to open an issue shrouded, so to speak, in silence and stigma,” he said.

Asked whether academic culture was moving more toward acceptance of mental-health issues, Shekarabi said yes -- at least in her own “little corner of the world.” Shekarabi’s coordinator position is relatively new. The idea is that having someone on campus to talk to before navigating other resources will lead to increased use of services, she said.

Shekarabi’s office is also tasked with identifying the need for and developing mental-health training for professors, “not just from the perspective of what to be aware of in their students, but how to recognize and respond to distress in their colleagues, how to manage their own mental-health concerns, and how to create a more inclusive environment in their departments and schools.”

Creating a Culture of Access and Inclusion

As to how campuses can better support faculty members struggling with mental-health concerns, Shekarabi said accommodations and awareness matter, but so too does inclusivity. Is mental health integrated into standard, mandatory training and policies for all faculty members, for example, she asked. Do those policies prohibit stigma and harassment?

Margaret Price, associate professor of English and director of disability studies at Ohio State University, and Stephanie L. Kerschbaum, associate professor of English at the University of Delaware and coordinator of its faculty development program, recently published a resource guide and set of suggestions for practice on promoting supportive academic environments for faculty members with mental illnesses. Based on a survey of 323 self-identified professors with mental-health histories, the report takes the view that mental illness is not a problem to be “fixed.”

Rather, it says, “efforts to improve campus climate should be directed primarily toward environments and attitudes," over individual people. "Most importantly, we advocate going beyond the notion of passively ‘supporting’ mental health through compartmentalized campus counseling and wellness services.”

The report encourages everyone on campus, especially those in leadership roles, to increase “access” via effective policies for inclusivity, and against stigma and harassment; supportive structures for hiring, performance review and promotion; and a proactive, centrally located service infrastructure, among other recommendations.

Here are some reasons (verbatim) that professors in the survey gave for not disclosing their mental health concerns.

  • Fear of losing all credibility. When my child was younger, fear of losing custody.
  • I have seen a colleague with a serious mental-health issue subjected to constant gossip, originating with administrators, and I believe such would seriously damage my ability to work.
  • Because academic work requires a very sharp, functioning mind, I've been terrified that revealing my mental-health problems would cause others to respect me even less than they already do.
  • I am exhausted and overworked, which doubles the difficulty in hiding symptoms.
  • I’m very worried I won’t be seen as capable of doing the job if I disclose that I’ve suffered from major depressive episodes in the past.

Kerschbaum said that disclosure narratives provide an important function in acknowledging that disability exists within academe. They also provide affirmation, she said, but it’s important to note what people are comfortable sharing and leaving out, and who’s talking.

“Willingness to disclose is often tied to institutional status, employment stability, gender and even academic discipline, as some fields are more accepting or hospitable while others remain hostile,” she said.

Faculty mental-health issues often stay hidden because there are far fewer professors than, say, students, who have “critical mass” enough to generate movement toward disclosure. Faculty members also have trouble accessing services, she said, since campuses rarely have “a single recognizable space where faculty with disabilities negotiate accommodations and access.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Auburn, Berkeley incidents illustrate how difficult it is for public colleges to bar speakers

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00

Citing safety concerns, two universities this week attempted to block planned appearances at their campuses -- one from white nationalist Richard Spencer at Auburn University, the other from conservative political commentator Ann Coulter at University of California, Berkeley.

Both right-wing figures defied the universities, boasting they would show up regardless, and the institutions, both public, eventually said that they would allow the events, in Auburn’s case because a federal judge backed Spencer’s right to speak.

Spencer addressed Auburn’s campus Tuesday. Coulter has been invited to appear May 2, not April 27 as originally scheduled. Berkeley on Thursday reversed its initial announcement that Coulter couldn't come until the fall. Late Thursday, Coulter was tweeting that she was going to come on the original date, with or without the university's approval.

The decisions to cancel had been panned as a violation of free speech protections considered paramount on college campuses and protected, at public institutions, by the First Amendment.

Legal experts and academics say that public colleges and universities need to prove a real threat and meet a high standard of proof before invoking student and attendee welfare as a reason to curtail expression protected by the First Amendment.

“We have always been clear that colleges and universities bear the obligation to ensure conditions of peaceful discussion, which at times can be quite onerous. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances can strong evidence of imminent danger justify rescinding an invitation to an outside speaker,” the policy of the American Association of University Professors reads.

Recently, though, security issues have grown more complex at colleges as campus protests in some cases have devolved into preventing people from speaking and, in few cases, to violence. Last month, with the visit of controversial scholar Charles Murray to Middlebury College, the audience consistently interrupted Murray’s lecture with catcalls, eventually forcing him to live-stream it from a private room. Afterward, a group donning bandannas cornered Murray and a Middlebury political science professor, pulling her hair and injuring her neck. When Murray was in a car, they climbed, jumped and stomped on it. The university said later the aggressors did not appear to be students.

At Berkeley in February -- explaining part of its concern with hosting Coulter -- a riot erupted ahead of a planned talk by divisive Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, with protesters lighting fires and hurling rocks at police. Those protesters were also  not affiliated with the university.

Demonstrating evidence of a true threat to the campus falls to the university, said Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center, and an expert in higher education law. Suing Alma Mater: Higher Education and the Courts (Johns Hopkins University Press) is among the books Olivas has written on higher education law.

Using safety or the cost of security as an excuse to bar a speaker, when the real reason concerns what the person might say, must be guarded against, Olivas said.

Contentious speakers like Spencer, a leader of the “alt-right,” a radical movement characterized by its white supremacist views, can exploit systems like Auburn’s to appear on campus, Olivas said. Auburn allows those not connected to the university to use its facilities, and indeed, the man who rented the auditorium for Spencer, Cameron Padgett, said he was a student from Georgia. He did not explain why he booked Spencer other than he wanted to create discourse. Student groups at Berkeley invited Coulter.

“It invites mischief … and certainly provides a much easier mechanism to give them a platform,” Olivas said of Auburn’s rules for using campus buildings. A public college could limit use of its facilities to an individual or organization with a connection to the institution, provided that the rule is applied equitably.

Judge W. Keith Watkins ruled in favor of Spencer's right to appear on campus, writing in his decision that Auburn didn’t present evidence that suggested Spencer advocated violence.

“The court finds that Auburn University canceled the speech based on its belief that listeners and protest groups opposed to Mr. Spencer’s ideology would react to the content of his speech by engaging in protests that could cause violence or property damage,” Watkins wrote. "However, discrimination on the basis of message content 'cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment,” and “listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation.”

Berkeley was slammed by many for restricting Coulter from campus. Greg Lukianoff, president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, released a statement before the university backpedaled, and said it would set a “chilling and dangerous precedent.”

“The Berkeley administration is incentivizing anyone who doesn’t want a particular speaker to be heard to threaten (or even engage in) acts of violence. This all but guarantees that controversial speakers on a particular campus will be silenced, and teaches a generation of students that resorting to violence will be rewarded. Students are learning deeply illiberal lessons. I can think of few things that are more corrosive to higher education or a pluralistic democracy,” Lukianoff said in his statement.

Criticism of Berkeley came from a range of sources.

Robert Reich, a prominent liberal thinker and Berkeley professor who was U.S. secretary of labor under Bill Clinton, wrote in a Facebook post the university had made a “grave” mistake.

“Coulter should be allowed to speak. How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter’s arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?” he wrote.

In addition to widespread social media scorn, the satirical publication The Onion published a faux article Thursday mocking Berkeley for going on lockdown after littered pages from a Wall Street Journal were found on bench. "At press time, a black-clad group of 50 students were throwing bottles at the bench while chanting, 'No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA!'" the article reads.

Right now, college administrators face an extremely challenging balance in these types of scenarios, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. They will collect intelligence from law enforcement that suggests a danger, but must weigh this with free speech rights, which are at “the core” of universities’ missions, Kruger said.

“It’s just a hard thing to balance,” Kruger said. “I don’t have any inside information, but the last time at Berkeley [in February] there were a lot of people from off campus and not affiliated with the university that might have a different agenda for the event than members of your own community. If you have intelligence around that, you may not feel like you’re prepared. I’m not saying this is the case for Berkeley, but in the higher education community, we should not use security and or the cost around security as a way to indirectly inhibit free speech.”

Controversial speakers have visited campuses for decades, but recently, demonstrations against them have “amped” up, which Kruger attributed to the most recent political cycle that invited people to spout “horrible” rhetoric on race and gender, he said.

In conjunction with this rise in activism, protesters can now access information via social media about other incidents in an unprecedented way, Kruger said. During the 1960s, it took months to figure out the details of such demonstrations. Now video clips of protests are passed around the internet for anyone to observe and mimic, he said. If a demonstration shuts down a campus and is subject to media attention, that would interest some protesters, who could copy those tactics, Kruger said.

Protecting campuses, which in some cases sprawl and function as their own cities, has proved quite daunting with these protests, said Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA).

At least nine states have green-lit “campus carry” laws that in some form allow guns on campus, Riseling said, and when someone arrives at a protest with an intimidatingly large firearm slung across their back, if makes police alert. Law enforcement can’t know whether this individual intends to use the gun or not, she said.

Vandalism or problems won’t necessarily be confined to the site of a speaker, either, Riseling said. Reports of protesters instead targeting buildings or other areas of campus have become more common, forcing law enforcement to strategize.

IACLEA has trained campus law enforcement heads recently on protests, and advised new approaches on meting out officers -- instead of placing all resources in one place where nothing might happen, adjusting and planning to tackle possible scenarios, Riseling said.

Dynamics of protests on college campuses differ from those outside, said Riseling, who was charged with security for the Wisconsin capitol in 2011 when more than 125,000 union representatives converged and shut it down in a show of force against Republican Governor Scott Walker. Walker had enacted anti-union measures, including limiting the collective bargaining rights of most state employees.

Traditionally, such uprisings represent constituent dissatisfaction with some aspect of government, like the war in Vietnam or the bitterness against Walker, Riseling said.

These college protests represent a move to stifle free speech, essentially pitting citizen against citizen, she said.

Few times have colleges successfully limited a speaker appearance. In 2008, however, then University of Nebraska Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman, citing threats of violence, successfully rescinded an invitation to Bill Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground.

Robert M. O'Neil, a law professor at the University of Virginia, and its former president, said he knew Perlman, who had cataloged enough threatening messages that proved “an ominous situation” could arise, according to O’Neil.

“I find it difficult to accept that the actions of a few individuals can deprive this university of its right to select speakers who can contribute to the education of our students. Nonetheless I take seriously the responsibility I have for the safety of members of this community, particularly the students. It seemed cancellation was the most responsible action,” Perlman wrote in an email to the campus in 2008.

Kruger, the NASPA president, doesn’t believe colleges have acted recklessly in banning campus speakers. Instead, sometimes they sponsor alternative activities, he said. Spencer spoke at Texas A&M University in December, but administrators set up another talk coinciding with his.

Such conflicts on college campuses will continue, Riseling said. Unlike prominent political protests, these sorts of demonstrations don’t appear to have an end, a resolution.

“This is an emerging issue,” Riseling said. “We’ve got to secure these things so they can occur. The highest law of the land is the Constitution. It pre-empts a lot of things, short of life safety. How do we do hold these events and ensure they can go on and everyone participating can be safe?”

Editorial Tags: Academic freedomLegal issuesImage Caption: Violence at Berkeley on the night a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos in FebruaryIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

University researchers and scientists make rare political engagement over fears about federal role

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00

Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez, a professor of biology at New Mexico State University, had plans set to attend an academic conference in Amherst, Mass., this week along with two graduate students. Spurred partly by the release of a White House budget proposal that included massive cuts to federal research funding, they decided to make a postconference detour to Washington, D.C., to join the April 22 March for Science.

“When the budget thing happened, we knew we definitely had to be there,” Lopez-Martinez said. “We had to make our presence felt because scientists never really do.”

The national march in D.C. this Saturday, along with satellite events across the country (and around the world) likely won’t match the turnout of the Women’s March on Jan. 21 -- a protest some observers speculated was among the largest in U.S. history. But the March for Science has received intense levels of interest since organizers in January began discussing the possibility and subsequently launched Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said those efforts by first-time organizers grew out of the Women’s March, where many participants brought messages in support of science to an event with an ostensibly separate purpose.

Marching Throughout the World
Researchers in Europe, Canada,
Asia, Australia and elsewhere 
join their U.S. counterparts to
advocate for science. Read more.

Despite those origins, Holt said this week that the March for Science is a nonpartisan event that will focus on a positive message about what’s needed for science to thrive.

“This is, I think, a once-in-a-generation occasion where friends of science and scientists have shown not just a willingness but an eagerness to step into the public square,” Holt said.

Anxiety about the role of science in society and public policy has led members of the profession to engage the larger public in a way they haven’t before, he said.

As the momentum for the march grew over the last few months, large mainstream academic and research organizations like AAAS have joined more traditionally activist groups to make the event a success. AAAS today is hosting a series of workshops at its headquarters in Washington. And the march Saturday will be preceded by teach-ins on the National Mall.

The motivating issues are both specific to the Trump administration -- concerns over researchers’ freedom of movement due to travel bans or other immigration restrictions, and an open disregard for established climate science -- as well as long-term negative trends in areas like federal support for research. The new administration's first budget blueprint released last month, which proposed slashing NIH funding by nearly 20 percent, punctuated those concerns.

Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center for Science & Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the nonprofit advocacy group has long worked with scientists who want to learn how to engage better with policy makers, the media and the broader public. But she said the group has seen incredible excitement in recent months from scientists who say they want to do more than add their names to a letter to Congress. Between January and mid-April, 3,000 new members joined UCS, Goldman said.

“We’re really looking to harness that and turn it into action,” Goldman said. “We want to really effect change in a bigger way than we might have been able to do up till now.”

Sabrina Solouki, a Cornell University doctoral student in the field of immunology and infectious disease, is organizing a contingent of nearly 150 graduate students and postdocs to attend the march. She said she is concerned that federal policies on issues like science should be guided by scientific research.

But Solouki, president of the student group Advancing Science and Policy on campus, said she doesn’t see the march as a protest against President Trump.

“Scientists realize that maybe they’re not doing the best job engaging with their communities,” she said. “Maybe this a way to start.”

Students from Solouki’s group will participate in communication workshops organized by AAAS at their headquarters Friday, where scientists will receive training on how to present their research to the public.

Bruce Monger, a lecturer at Cornell who teaches earth and atmospheric sciences, is organizing another busload of about 50 undergraduates heading to the march in Washington from the university's main campus in Ithaca, N.Y. He said it’s time that researchers speak up and make the public aware of the value of science. But the march’s biggest impact could be on the participants themselves, Monger said.

“For the people who go and attend these things, it deepens their resolve to follow through the next day,” he said. “It enriches your belief in your cause more after you see yourself surrounded by all these people with similar worries and concerns about what’s happening.”

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March for Science events happening Saturday around the world

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00

Evan Savage, one of the organizers of Saturday’s March for Science in Toronto, looks at what’s happening south of the border in the U.S. and is reminded of what Canadian scientists faced under the previous Stephen Harper government, specifically cuts to science funding and the alleged muzzling of government scientists.

“We’ve seen this playbook before,” Savage said, “this playbook of, let’s go after the people who work on the environment, who work on climate, who work on science in general. Let’s cut their funding; let’s tell them they can’t speak. And we have also seen that it can work to raise our voices as scientists, to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK.’”

The main March for Science is happening tomorrow in Washington, D.C., but the march in Toronto is one of more than 100 satellite marches happening outside the U.S. -- and one of 18 officially affiliated events in Canada alone. “We share many of the concerns of the other marches worldwide,” said Savage. “We want to speak out against the muzzling of government scientists, we want to advocate for evidence-based policy making, we want to see better and more inclusive STEM education. We also want to send a message that science is not and must not be mischaracterized as partisan.”

March for Science events are happening all over the world this weekend, from Greenland to Germany, South Korea to South Africa. Some of the marches are being organized by American academics based overseas, while others are homegrown. Some are expected to be large gatherings of a thousand or more people, while others will likely be no more than a few dozen participants strong.

The Main March on Science
A preview of tomorrow's event
in Washington, D.C. Read more.

Although the organizers of the main march in Washington have stressed that the event is nonpartisan, the context of the Trump presidency -- including his proposed cuts to research funding and the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency and his actions to undo Obama-era regulations combating climate change -- will no doubt loom large in D.C. The marches abroad are taking on their own local flavors, but the American political context is very much a part of the overall global picture.

"The lines between national and global science are blurred, and increasingly so," said Savage. "A lot of fields depend on international collaborations; a lot of fields depend crucially on data sets that are held within national jurisdictions.”

In Malawi, Terrie Taylor, a professor at Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine who spends six months of every year in the country, said the Trump administration’s proposals to cut the National Institutes of Health budget by nearly 20 percent and to eliminate the NIH’s global health-focused Fogarty International Center have galvanized support for Saturday’s satellite event in Blantyre, which she hopes will attract up to a couple hundred people.

“We have a lot of NIH-funded work here, and we have a lot of people who have benefited from Fogarty International Center programs,” Taylor said. “The thrust is not anti-Trump as much as it is support for U.S. federally funded research and the U.S. federally funded training, which has had a huge impact on so many people here. So many people have benefited from taking part in the Fogarty programs.”

In Brazil, scientists are dealing with deep cuts to their own federal science budget, which has just been slashed by 44 percent. Ricardo Maia, one of the organizers of the satellite march in São Paulo, said via email that the march has two main goals: “(1) to close the gap between scientific knowledge and the general public and (2) ask for more investments in the part of the government and states in science, as well as facilitating the process to make the private industry increase its investment.”

“To reach the first goal we're inviting groups and people that work with public awareness of science to prepare expositions and workshops to be presented in the day of the march. For example, we plan on having an explanation on how to date rocks, a workshop in cloud identification and an exposition with preserved animals in jars and bone pieces of human ancestors to talk about human evolution,” said Maia, a master’s student in the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at the University of São Paulo. “The second goal we're trying to reach partly via the invited speakers.”

In London, Saturday’s march will take place in the context of Britain’s negotiations to exit the European Union. Story Sylwester, one of the coordinators of the march, said there are concerns about how Brexit might affect international and E.U. researchers working in the United Kingdom, as well as how it could affect students studying there through E.U. programs like Erasmus. “Right now the research community here is vibrant and world leading, and people are very concerned that even if funding stays that researchers might not,” said Sylwester, a master’s student in paleopathology at Durham University originally from Portland, Ore.

Sylwester said organizers are expecting up to 10,000 people for the London march, which will start at the city’s Science Museum and end with speakers and a rally at Parliament Square. “The main part of our march is to get people excited about science,” she said. “It’s not necessarily a protest march. We want to keep it positive. The theme is positivity and celebration.”

One of the organizers of the March for Science in Cape Town, Julie Kohn, likewise said the idea “Is just to be completely positive, for it to be a celebration of science.” The first 200 attendees of the march, the only one in South Africa, will receive free admission to the Cape Town Science Center.

“I do think it’ll be a little different from the U.S.,” said Kohn, a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering at Cornell University and a visiting researcher at the University of Cape Town. “I don’t anticipate anti-Trump signs that I assume will be in the U.S. -- I hope not, at least. It’s going to have a little different flavor because of the recent history of protests in this country. We want to keep it more of a positive march than a protest.”

In South Korea, Seunghwan Kim, a professor of physics at POSTECH, expects about 1,000 people to be in attendance at the march he's helping to organize in central Seoul, which he said has been gaining momentum and media attention throughout the week. "Scientists here want to put science in the right place, to state the importance of science to the Korean public and also the government," he said.

In Australia, where there will be about 10 different marches throughout the country, organizers have stated a series of aims, including universal science literacy (the March for Science Australia calls for "world-class science education and teaching of critical thinking skills in Australian schools"), open communication of science and public availability of all publicly funded research, evidence-based policy making, and stable investment in scientific research by the Australian government.

"Like in the States, I think there's a general kind of disapproval or weariness about what passes for political discourse here in Australia," said Jocelyn Prasad, one of the organizers. "There has been a disregard for evidence-based research, particularly in the area of climate change."

"Also, I just think that the way science is communicated here has got people a little worried. With more and more people getting information from the likes of Facebook, there is greater scope for misinformation to spread, and we've seen that happen with the anti-vaccination movement here in Australia. They have gained strength," said Prasad. She added that whooping cough -- for which there has long been a preventative vaccine -- had shown up in her son's school.

Similarly, the mission statement of the March for Science in Berlin says that the event "aims to raise awareness of the significance of scientific findings and verifiable results for our society …. Currently, the basis of our modern way of life is now endangered through populist demands and the dissemination of 'fake news.'"

"Every European country has a populist movement which is gaining traction in one way or another," said Eve Craigie, one of the Berlin march organizers. "We have one in Germany which is still rather mild in their popularity compared to maybe France and Holland, but they are also very anti-academia, anti-science, and I think we are concerned that if they gain even more traction that we could experience the same things that are happening in the U.S."

Craigie, a medical doctor, mentioned as other specific topics of concern the threat to Central European University in Hungary, where the right-wing, populist government has passed legislation that the university says would make it impossible to continue operating in the country, and the crackdown on universities in Turkey, where thousands of academics been fired from their jobs and some jailed since a failed coup attempt last July. There is no march scheduled in Turkey. The March for Science shared the following post on its Twitter account last week about the pressures on Turkish scientists.

#GlobalScienceMarch recognizes that not everyone has the freedom to march for science.

** shared with permission pic.twitter.com/RIOOPZDCD2

— March for Science (@ScienceMarchDC) April 14, 2017

In Greenland, ground zero for global warming, the March for Science will begin in the town of Kangerlussuaq -- the site of an airport and a staging area for many international research projects -- and end at the edge of an ice sheet, where demonstrators will take a picture. "It's going to be a very small march," said the main organizer, Mike MacFerrin, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder who studies ice-sheet behavior related to melt, refreezing and runoff. "We're not going to have 10,000-person march in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. We'll have anywhere between one dozen to a few dozen people, and that's fine."

Greenland, after all, has a population of fewer than 60,000 people. But it has "a very outsize importance on the world stage," MacFerrin said.

"Doing science in Greenland has an outsize impact not just on Greenland but on the world," he said. "It is one of the most rapidly changing places on the planet. It's warming far faster than most of the rest of the world."

"It's really important for Miami and New Orleans and countries and cities around the world along the coast to know what's going to happen in Greenland over the next hundred years," he said. Referring to sea level rise, he added, "If they don't think it's important, they're going to find out why."

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00
  • Berea College: U.S. Representative John Lewis; and Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett of the United Methodist Church.
  • Cedar Crest College: Molly Barker, the founder of Girls on the Run.
  • Coast Guard Academy: President Trump.
  • College of New Rochelle: Debra L. Lee, CEO of Black Entertainment Television Networks.
  • Cornish College of the Arts: Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, director emerita of the Frye Art Museum.
  • Emerson College: Dennis Lehane, the novelist.
  • Hampden-Sydney College: Bret Stephens, columnist for The New York Times.
  • Miami-Dade College: Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and others.
  • Mills College: Lateefah Simon, president of the Akonadi Foundation.
  • Occidental College: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
  • Point Park University: Scott E. Schubert, chief of police in Pittsburgh.
  • Queens College of the City University of New York: U.S. Representative Grace Meng.
  • Ramapo College of New Jersey: Ron Cephas Jones, the actor.
  • State University of New York Farmingdale State College: Stanley M. Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein Inc.
  • Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine: Barbara Ross-Lee, vice president for health sciences and medical affairs at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.
  • Willamette University: Leonard Pitts Jr., the newspaper columnist and author.
  • Yeshiva University: Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
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Community college presidents surveyed on enrollment, recruitment, pipeline

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 04/21/2017 - 07:00

Inside Higher Ed's annual Survey of Community College Presidents finds institutional leaders dealing with declining enrollments and concerns over the future of their profession.

Multiple Authors: Ashley A. SmithDoug Lederman

State support for higher education increased in 2016, not counting Illinois

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:00

It’s impossible to examine state higher education finances in 2016 without separating the collapse in Illinois from a more nuanced picture across the rest of the country.

State and local support for higher education in Illinois plunged as the state’s lawmakers and governor were unable to reach a budget agreement and instead passed severely pared-down stopgap funding. Educational appropriations per full-time equivalent student in the state skidded 80 percent year over year, from $10,986 to $2,196. Enrollment in public institutions dropped by 11 percent, or 46,000 students.

That situation proved to be enough of an outlier that it weighed down several key markers in the 2016 State Higher Education Finance report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers association, which is being released today. The report annually offers an in-depth look at the breakdown of state and local funding, tuition revenue, enrollment, and degree completion across public higher education, a sector that enrolls roughly three-quarters of students in U.S. postsecondary education.

Include Illinois in the report’s key markers, and overall public support for higher education fell by 1.8 percent per full-time equivalent student in 2016, to $6,954, according to the report. Exclude Illinois, and overall support increased by 3.2 percent, to $7,116.

A 3.2 percent increase would have represented the fourth straight year of greater per-student public support for higher education across the country. However, it would not have matched the 5.2 percent increase reported last year.

“Our data is made up of so many different states,” said Sophia Laderman, SHEEO data analyst and the report’s primary author. “Without Illinois, we’re seeing an increase in appropriations per student, after adjusting for inflation. But it’s smaller than in the previous year.”

Breaking down the nationwide average shows significant variation between states, likely driven by localized economic and political conditions. Support for public higher education declined in 17 states in 2016, including Illinois. Support rose in 33 states. Oregon posted the largest increase in a state, of 14.6 percent. Oklahoma posted the largest decrease outside of Illinois, 12.6 percent.

Support fell by more in two other jurisdictions the report incorporates -- it fell by 42 percent in the District of Columbia and 17.6 percent in Puerto Rico.

The year before, in 2015, support fell in only 10 states. It rose in 40. The increase in the number of states cutting support per full-time equivalent indicates they could be dedicating more money to other priorities like health-care costs and pensions. It could also signal more financial pressures for colleges and universities. That in turn could lead to higher tuition at public institutions.

Yet public colleges and universities posted their lowest increase in tuition revenue in years in 2016. Net tuition revenue per full-time equivalent rose by 2.1 percent at public institutions across the country, including Illinois, from $6,176 to $6,305.

“You see some institutions in some states basically have frozen tuition,” said George Pernsteiner, president of SHEEO. “Some have actually rolled it back, but I think most institutions in most states are now much more cognizant of the affordability problems that their students are encountering and much more reluctant to push for big tuition increases.”

Still, tuition took on increasing importance in public institutions’ budgets. The share of total educational revenue represented by tuition increased to 47.8 percent in 2016, up from 46.8 percent in 2015. It climbed near an all-time high of 48 percent recorded in 2013. Excluding Illinois, tuition income would have been 47.2 percent of educational revenues.

The increasing reliance on tuition is likely due to several factors beyond the situation in Illinois. Notably, enrollment in community colleges has fallen in the years since the recession. That shifted the overall student body to be more heavily enrolled in higher-tuition four-year colleges and universities.

The SHEEO report’s authors noted that more and more states are relying heavily on tuition revenue, though. A handful of large states that heavily subsidize public institutions, like California and New York, pull down the U.S. average for tuition as a percentage of educational revenue. A total of 31 states relied on net tuition for a higher-than-average percentage of total educational revenue in 2016. Just two years ago, only 28 states did so.

A future U.S. recession or economic shock will likely push the country past the point where net tuition accounts for half of U.S. educational revenue, said Andy Carlson, SHEEO principal policy analyst. Many individual states are already past that point, he said.

“Probably during the next official downturn, the U.S. number will hit 50 percent,” Carlson said. “But the reality is that in 25 states we’re already there.”

Recessions typically lead states to cut educational appropriations as their own tax revenues fall. That in turn leaves public colleges and universities more reliant on tuition as a source of revenue.

Looking ahead, several states cut their support for higher education in 2017, according to another report, the Grapevine survey, released earlier this year. Still, that report showed appropriations across all states growing 3.4 percent in 2017.

Over all, state and local governments provided almost $90.5 billion in higher education support in 2016, counting Illinois, according to SHEEO. That’s down slightly from about $91 billion in 2015. It represents the first decline in four years.

Public support has generally yet to recover from a high point in 2008, the year before the Great Recession devastated state budgets. Just five states offered more public support per student in 2016 than in 2008. Institutions are still collecting more dollars per full-time enrollment thanks to higher tuition revenue, however. In 2008, educational appropriations per full-time-equivalent student averaged $8,380, while net tuition was $4,644. In 2016, educational appropriations per student were $6,954 and tuition was $6,305.

States have increased support for student financial aid. State funding for student financial aid programs at public institutions jumped 2 percent, to $7.1 billion, in 2016. That’s up from $5 billion at a previous peak in 2008.

Money dedicated to financial aid has been rising slowly but steadily, according to Pernsteiner, SHEEO’s president.

“I think some states are recognizing that if they do not believe they can afford any longer to support every student, then they’ll support those with the most need,” he said.

Full-time-equivalent enrollment at public institutions fell about 1 percent nationwide, to 11.1 million. It’s the fifth straight year of an enrollment decline after a peak of 11.6 million in 2011. Enrollments rose in the early years of the Great Recession but have been declining since then. Such a pattern is common during and after recessions, as students gravitate toward education when the economy struggles and move back into the job market when it improves.

Degree completion has been on the rise, however. The SHEF report only has degree completion data available through 2015. But it shows that certificate completion rose 3.6 percent between 2014 and 2015 and associate degree completion rose 3.2 percent during that time. Meanwhile, bachelor’s degree completion rose 2 percent, master’s degree completion increased 1.4 percent and doctoral degree completion climbed 1.5 percent. Full-time-equivalent enrollment dipped 1 percent during the time frame.

Over the 10-year window between 2005 and 2015, total certificate and degree completion at public institutions across the country jumped 35.5 percent, to about 2.9 million, according to the report. Enrollment grew more slowly, by just 12.9 percent, to about 11.2 million.

In other words, completions per 100 students rose by 20 percent over the decade, to 26.3.

That’s an important point, according to Pernsteiner.

“It says the institutions are more effective and the students are more focused on earning degrees than they were a decade ago,” he said. “I think part of that is the drumbeat of the economy. Part of that is the focus that states have put on attainment goals. But regardless of why, it is occurring.”

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Faculty members at Whitman fight for more say in how the administration raises its student-faculty ratio

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:00

Professors at Whitman College know they have it better than most. Enrollments are steady. A capital campaign that exceeded its $150 million goal is now complete. The sabbatical policy is generous and the student-faculty ratio is low -- so low, in fact, that the administration wants to shift it from approximately eight to one to 10 to one over the next five years through faculty attrition in departments with the fewest majors, among other factors, according to faculty accounts. And there’s the rub.

“There’s cognitive dissonance between the college having this successful campaign and a lot of new buildings and infrastructure going up on campus, and then being told at the same time that the student-faculty ratio is too low,” said Matt Reynolds, an associate professor of art history and visual culture studies, “and it’s going to go back to 10 to one through these austerity measures.”

For faculty members at many colleges and universities, one full-time, tenure-track faculty member for every eight students will seem blessedly low. And, to clarify, professors at Whitman generally agree that there’s room to raise the ratio eventually. The college’s historical ratio is 10 to one, after all, but it shrank in recent years with a surge in faculty hires. Those stem from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to fill slots for professors, who can go on sabbatical every fifth semester, and an “academic strength” portion of the fund-raising campaign that created 16 new professorships and made permanent an additional 13 temporary or visiting positions.

Objections relate mainly to the way Whitman has decided to increase the ratio -- by not filling departing faculty appointments in programs with the lowest numbers of majors and other metrics, faculty members say. The college says no particular programs are being targeted but that a 10-to-one ratio will put it more in line with peer institutions. So perhaps the biggest dissonance on campus of late is that between what at least appears to be quantitative approach to academic staffing and a deeply qualitative academic culture.

Reynolds, for example, tells many of his advisees, “It doesn’t matter what you major in here at Whitman -- you’re here to get a liberal arts education that’s balanced and broad and gives you perspective on the world.” He added, “I’ve really believed and embraced that, and it’s led to instances of us not recruiting students [as majors] because we felt like we were making a difference in the curriculum through our classes.”

Indeed, Reynolds’s department plays a big role in the college’s general education program, and lower-level courses tend to fill up fast, he said. But the service-department mission -- with its emphasis on students taught, not majors -- seems to be backfiring. The department was just told that it will not be able to hire a replacement professor for a retiring colleague. The department will have three art historians now and no expert in European art.

Classics is another department affected by metric-based decision making. Dana Burgess, Charles E. and Margery B. Anderson Endowed Professor of Humanities and Professor of Classics, said his department offers both ancient language and classical civilization courses, with greater enrollments in the latter due to their all-English materials.

Because of that “complicated” metric profile, the department worries that it will only be able to offer classical civilization courses after positions are eliminated, Burgess said. Yet, he added, “I believe that language learning has real value, and that learning dead languages is especially intellectually valuable,” since students focus much more on language structure than they do in modern, spoken languages.

Lack of ancient language instruction would also leave classical civilization courses “shallower than they should be,” Burgess said.

Like Reynolds, Burgess said decisions about how the college will up its ratio have taken place at the Board of Trustees level with insufficient input from faculty members.

The changes are concentrated thus far in the humanities -- a major theme of a popular op-ed Reynolds recently published in the campus newspaper. But some in math and the sciences also have expressed concern about process and the impact of the cuts on the institution as a whole.

Marion Götz, chair of chemistry, said her department won’t be targeted but that she’s nevertheless “worried about the stringent timeline for removing [full-time faculty lines].” As a result of the reduction of such positions, she said, “our curriculum for majors and distribution courses is being altered without the input from the faculty as a whole.”

Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn, Baker Ferguson Professor of Politics and Leadership and Whitman’s former provost and dean of the faculty, said there were numerous reasons for the upsurge in faculty positions in recent years, not least of all the success of the capital campaign. And at a small college such as his, he said, even relatively small fluctuations in faculty size will have a big impact if enrollments stay the same.

As to the current debate, Kaufman-Osborn said that he understood how some might conclude that the current student-faculty ratio is unsustainable. However, he said via email, “if the principle of shared governance is to be respected, it is crucial that the faculty and its elected representatives be vitally involved in determining where specific cutbacks are to be made.”

Moreover, he added, if Whitman wants to “retain its identity as a liberal arts college, any reductions in instructional staff must not be determined exclusively through reference to enrollments in specific disciplines.”

Why? Providing students with the education they’ve been promised means maintaining “a robust curriculum that acknowledges the centrality of the humanities, as well as the social and natural sciences,” he said.

Gina Ohnstad, college spokesperson, said via email that as the college continues the best way to use its resources, “we believe the money that we could spend to maintain an eight-to-one ratio could be better used in other ways in order to have the greatest impact on the student academic experience.”

Ohnstad confirmed the five-year timeline, saying it was set by the board “in consultation with college leadership.” Yet she cautioned it was tentative and said that just as the ratio had taken several years to reach eight to one, it will take time to reach 10 to one. That figure more closely aligns with peer institutions, she said.

Felician College cited a similar goal when it laid off more than a dozen longtime faculty members in 2014, eventually earning it censure from the American Association of University Professors. It said at the time that it had been struggling with enrollments, which Whitman is not. At the same time, other institutions with unusually low student-faculty ratios, such as embattled Sweet Briar College (as low as five to one), show what can go wrong when these figures aren’t aligned with financial plans.

For reference, Whitman’s endowment is approximately $500 million. That’s healthy but significantly smaller than endowments of some other liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on low instructional ratios, such as Swarthmore College ($1.8 billion) or Williams College ($2.3 billion).

Regarding shared governance, Ohnstad pushed back on faculty accounts, saying that the ratio issue has been a topic of campus conversations for several years. President Kathy Murray, who assumed that role in 2015, held an open forum with faculty members last spring to discuss it, get feedback and hear concerns, for example, the spokesperson said. Murray’s also discussed student-faculty ratios at a number of post-board meeting information sessions, she added, and the new provost also has engaged department and division chairs.

“Every time we evaluate whether or not to fill a specific tenure-track position, the provost keeps faculty informed throughout the decision process,” Ohnstad said, pushing back on faculty accounts once again by saying that no specific department is being targeted. “This is in contrast to our previous practice where departments would put in requests and not learn of the outcome until a final decision. Whitman is very proud of its model of shared governance, and we take faculty input on these topics very seriously.”

Ohnstad described Whitman’s longstanding evaluative process for filling faculty lines as consisting of five criteria: student demand for majors and courses, how a position serves the mission of the college, if not filling a position would end an academic program, if not filling the position would mean the demise of a specialty in a program, and how the position affects other departments and programs.

That’s somewhat similar to an academic prioritization process used by a number of colleges and universities in recent years to assess the viability of academic programs (though no actual programs at Whitman are at risk, just faculty lines). But professors say no one’s used that terminology on campus as of yet.

One of the college’s fund-raising goals was to “broaden and deepen the curriculum through strategic additions to the faculty.” Reynolds said he worried some of that -- including important contributions to diversity -- would be undone by the full-time faculty cuts.

More than anything, he wants to help Whitman stay Whitman.

“I have loved my job since I got here, which is why I feel like I’m fighting hard for us to take a long look at this,” ​he said.

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Berkeley says Ann Coulter may not appear there next week

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:00

UPDATE: University of California, Berkeley, officials announced Thursday afternoon that Ann Coulter can come to the campus to give a talk May 2 and won't have to wait until the fall to do so.

Earlier this week, Berkeley officials called off an appearance by Coulter for next week, saying that it could not assure safety. Coulter had vowed to come as scheduled on April 27, and Berkeley's decision was widely criticized -- even by many who find Coulter's rhetoric offensive and demeaning.

Nicholas Dirks, chancellor at Berkeley, told reporters at a press briefing that the university expanded its search for a suitable location for Coulter to appear during the current semester and found "an appropriate, protectable venue," one that he declined to identify until more details are resolved about the event. Dirks stressed that the university is committed to both free speech and also to safety.

"This university has an unwavering commitment to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which enshrines and protects the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. As the home of the Free Speech Movement, we fully support the right and ability of our students to host speakers of their choice, and we believe that exposing students to a diverse array of perspectives is an inherent and inseparable part of our educational mission," Dirks said. "We also have an unwavering commitment to providing for the safety and well-being of speakers who come to campus, our students and other members of our campus and surrounding communities."

Dirks also said that the decision to call off the April 27 event was based on "very specific intelligence regarding threats that could pose a grave danger to the speaker, attendees and those who may wish to lawfully protest the event."

This is a developing story and will be updated. The material that follows was published before Thursday afternoon's announcement.

The University of California, Berkeley, told students who planned to bring writer Ann Coulter to campus next week that they could not do so, saying the university has "been unable to find a safe and suitable venue" for the event.

Coulter, who revels in controversy, announced that she would show up next week anyway.

The controversy is likely to add to an intensifying debate over free speech on American college campuses. Just this week, Auburn University tried to prevent Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, from appearing, but let him speak when a federal judge gave the university no choice. Auburn, like Berkeley, cited safety concerns. And in February, Berkeley called off a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, then a Breitbart editor known for inflammatory campus rhetoric, amid a violent protest by "anti-fascist" groups from off campus and a large nonviolent protest by students. Berkeley had, until the protest turned violent, defended the right of Yiannopoulos to appear. Also this spring, students shouted down Charles Murray at Middlebury College (forcing him to speak via live stream) and prevented Heather Mac Donald from having an audience at Claremont McKenna College or answering questions at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Berkeley officials have been concerned about violent reactions to speakers not only because of the Yiannopoulos clashes but because of at times violent protests in the city of Berkeley in recent weeks.

Reports have circulated on social media that various groups would use Coulter's appearance at Berkeley for another round of violent protests. A post on Reddit, referring to the "anti-fascist movement" that stormed the campus before the Yiannopoulos visit, said, "Ann Coulter will be speaking at UC Berkeley on the 27th of April. These Antifa clowns are going to be their [sic] to take cheap shot at us. Help us cold cock some antifa ***s."

A letter from two Berkeley vice chancellors, Scott Biddy and Stephen Sutton, to the Republican campus group that invited Coulter expressed regret over having to call off her visit. "We regret this outcome -- especially given our unqualified support for our students’ right to bring speakers of their choosing to the university, and our deep commitment to the values and principles embedded in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," the letter said.

But the letter explained why university officials believed they had no choice.

"The campus retains responsibility for ensuring safety and security during such events. This includes the safety and security of invited speakers, of those who attend such events, of our community neighbors and of those who choose to exercise their own First Amendment rights by lawfully protesting the presence of speakers with whom they disagree. In this context, we greatly appreciate recent public comments by your spokespeople, who have offered full support for increased security measures in and around high-profile events," the letter said. "As a general matter, the timing of an event, as well the location and nature of the venue, play an important role when it comes to the safety and security of the speaker, attendees, our community neighbors, as well as individuals engaged in lawful protest. In the wake of events surrounding the planned appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos in February, as well as several riots which have occurred in recent weeks in the city of Berkeley, we have increased our scrutiny regarding the time and location of high-profile speakers so that these events can go forward unimpeded."

Coulter on Twitter denounced the university and said she would appear -- and planned to sue Berkeley. She had been scheduled to talk about immigration.

Instructing Berkeley student group to spare no expense in renting my speaking venue - part of my legal damages. https://t.co/EQsiAEWPpW

— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 19, 2017

Young Americans for Freedom, one of the groups that has sponsored Coulter's visit, issued a statement accusing the university of making its decision based on dislike of Coulter's politics. The statement compared Berkeley leaders to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator.

Prior to the event being called off, an editorial in The Daily Californian, the student newspaper, questioned the value of bringing Coulter to campus, noting that she attracts attention with her rhetoric but doesn't engage in sustained discussion with those who might disagree with her views.

"With her past incendiary remarks toward Muslims, Mexicans and many other communities of color, Coulter has shown an unwillingness to partake in intellectual discourse," the editorial said. "Simply put, she would astonish us if she sparked meaningful dialogue on campus."

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Study finds women in economics write papers that are more readable, but face longer publication delays

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:00

Female economists write papers that are more readable than those produced by their male counterparts but take significantly longer to get published, a new study has found.

Research presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference said that female-authored papers were between 1 and 6 percent better written than male peers’ efforts, according to common readability tests. The gap was largest in published texts rather than in earlier drafts, with the difference principally generated during the peer-review process.

Female-authored papers took six months longer to get published, on average, says author Erin Hengel, lecturer in economics at the University of Liverpool.

For her paper, “Publishing While Female: Gender Differences in Peer-Review Scrutiny,” Hengel analyzed more than 9,000 articles published in four leading economics journals since 1950. She found that papers written by men typically took around 18 and a half months to pass through peer review, while papers by women took just over two years on average.

The findings indicate that high readability might be the result of unconscious bias during peer review, with women being held to higher standards by reviewers. If women are “stereotypically assumed less capable” and need more evidence to rate as equally competent, the paper says, “well-intentioned referees might (unknowingly) inspect their papers more closely, demand a larger number of revisions and … be less tolerant of complicated, dense writing.”

Although this extra scrutiny is not necessarily a bad thing, Hengel told Times Higher Education that it “isn’t costless”: peer review is prolonged, referees spend more time evaluating women’s papers and women spend more time responding. Hengel said this amounted to a “significant time tax” for female authors, and that these higher standards imposed a “quantity versus quality trade-off” that would affect female academics’ careers.

“Unequal time spent making revisions leads to unequal time conducting new research and potentially justifies lower pay and promotion rates,” she said. “Tougher standards reduce women’s output [but] ignoring them undervalues female labor and may account for general instances of lagging female productivity and wages.”

Besides better readability pre- and post-publication, the paper also found women’s writing gradually improved more over time, whereas men’s did not. Between their first and third published articles, the average readability gap between male and female authors grows by 12 percent, Hengel found.

“In theory, better writing puts women at an advantage,” Hengel concluded. “But although women write more clearly and journals appreciate well-written articles, there’s no evidence that women’s papers are more likely to be accepted than men’s papers. So higher readability standards for female authors only really end up restricting the quantity of research female scientists produce.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 04/20/2017 - 07:00
  • Art Academy of Cincinnati: Mitchell Sutika Sipus, a White House Presidential Innovation Fellow.
  • Georgian Court University: Adam Lowy, founder and executive director of Move for Hunger; and the Reverend Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation.
  • Harrisburg University of Science and Technology: Kumar Garg, a senior fellow at the Society for Science & the Public.
  • Kent State University: Octavia Spencer, the Academy Award-winning actress.
  • Marlboro College: U.S. Representative Peter Welch.
  • Maryville University: Bill Bradley, the former U.S. senator.
  • Mississippi College: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.
  • Northwood University: Sandy Schwartz, president of Cox Automotive; and Mark Scarpelli, chair of the National Automobile Dealers Association.
  • Roanoke College: Bishop James Mauney, the retiring bishop of the Virginia Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
  • San Jacinto College: Lonnie Howard, president of Lamar Institute of Technology.
  • Soka University of America: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, co-director of the doctoral program in positive developmental psychology at Claremont Graduate University.
  • Southern New Hampshire University: Virginia Prescott, host of the New Hampshire Public Radio show Word of Mouth; and others.
  • University of Arkansas at Fayetteville: Becca Stevens, founder and president of Thistle Farms.
  • University of Maine at Farmington: Louis D. Sell, a retired Foreign Service officer.
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