Higher Education News

Campuses start to resume operations in wake of Hurricane Florence

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 07:00

Colleges in North and South Carolina are starting to resume operations that were shut down by Hurricane Florence.

East Carolina University said it would resume operations on Wednesday. Buildings management staff are currently working to get water off of rooftops (at right) and to deal with flooded areas of the campus (above).

At places like East Carolina, officials said that the threat now is from flooding on campus and of routes used by students and employees to reach the campus.

Other campuses announcing plans to re-open include Barton College (opening Wednesday), Charleston Southern University (opening Tuesday), Claflin University (business operations today and classes Tuesday), College of Charleston (opening Tuesday), Elizabeth City State University (campus opening today and classes starting up Tuesday), Fayetteville State University (hoping to open Wednesday), Trident Technical College (resuming classes today) and University of South Carolina (open today).

Many students from College of Charleston were briefly housed at South Carolina when their campus was evacuated. The University of Mount Olive announced on social media that campus damage has been more minimal than expected, but that there is no power on campus.

Our home is your home! Welcome to campus @CofC students! pic.twitter.com/U2WMmma6wz

-- UofSCStudentLife (@UofSCStuLife) September 12, 2018

For some campuses that were in the area more severely hit by Florence, no dates or more distant dates have been set for reopening classes. Craven Community College, which has a campus in New Bern, N.C., an area experiencing extreme flooding, announced that it will be closed this entire week.

The University of North Carolina at Wilmington, in an area with extensive flooding, announced that it has been unable to assess campus damage, and pledged to give ample notice before resuming operations. The university has also created a relief fund for students in need.

Many colleges in the region have also been reaching out to parents. As attached comments from the Davidson College Instagram account show, some parents have been appreciative as they can't necessarily count on timely information from other sources.

Below are some more photographs posted to Facebook by East Carolina University.

Inside Higher Ed wishes the best to all colleges hit by the hurricane and associated flooding, and invites campus officials to post updates in the comments on this article.

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Updates on college fund-raising campaigns

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 09/17/2018 - 07:00

Starting Up:

  • St. John's College, in Maryland and New Mexico, has started a campaign to raise $300 million by 2023. The major purpose is to allow the college to substantially reduce tuition rates. So far, the college has raised $183 million.
  • University of Kentucky is starting a campaign to raise $2.1 billion. More than $1 billion has already been raised in the campaign, which does not have a set end date.

Increasing a Goal:

  • Northwestern University announced that it is raising the goal for its campaign to $5 billion by 2020. The campaign launched in 2014 with a goal of $3.75 billion and has already topped $4 billion.

Finishing Up:

  • Massachusetts College of Art and Design has finished a two-year campaign, raising $12.5 million to renovate two galleries. The original goal was $12 million.
  • Sterling College has raised $11.6 million in a campaign that had an original target of $9 million. The campaign, started in 2015, focused on the college's mission of environmental stewardship.
  • Washington University has raised $3.378 billion in a campaign that started in 2012 with a goal of $2.2 billion. More than $591 million was raised for scholarships.

Check out the status of college fund-raising campaigns in Inside Higher Ed's databases.

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Purdue blocks access to Netflix, Hulu, Steam in four lecture halls

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:00

Purdue University students who were hoping to sneak in an episode of Queer Eye during their economics lecture are out of luck. The university recently debuted a pilot program that restricts access to five popular streaming sites -- Netflix, Hulu, Steam, Apple Updates and iTunes -- during class time in four of its biggest lecture halls.

The new restrictions are an attempt to free up much-needed bandwidth in four lectures halls located in the Lilly Hall of Life Sciences, the Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry, the Electrical Engineering Building and the Class of 1950 Lecture Hall.

"We're faced with rapid increases in traffic demands in our biggest classrooms," Gerry McCartney, executive vice president and chief information officer at Purdue, said. "These are rooms holding typically hundreds of students, and they're coming into class with multiple devices. When we look to see the sites those devices are going to, there are some sites without academic connection."

A 2016 study cited in the Journal and Courier of internet use in Lilly Hall of Life Sciences revealed that 4 percent of internet traffic went to "academic" sites, 34 percent went to sites that were "likely non-academic," such as Netflix, Steam and Hulu, and 64 percent went to "mixed" sites like Google, Apple and Amazon.

The pilot restrictions have been in place since the fall semester began in August and the wireless system has seen "immediate relief" since. Lawrence DeBoer, an agricultural economics professor who teaches in two of the affected lecture halls, appreciates the increased speed and bandwidth.

"I support the restrictions for practical reasons, that there is limited bandwidth and I use that bandwidth in class," he wrote in an email. "[Students] sign on to software called 'Hotseat,' which is a website that allows them to answer questions in class in real time. I know that some students follow along with the notes I post online as well. If the bandwidth is taken up with non-academic high-intensity uses, it interferes with the classroom software."

The university has received almost no criticism from faculty and students about the restrictions, save for one professor who "asked why her classroom wasn't included in the pilot," McCartney said.

He doesn't expect that to change, but if students do begin to complain, they're welcome to step out into the hall.

"[The restricted sites] are available in the corridor, and if you desperately want to play a Steam game, just go outside and do it," he said.

DeBoer also hasn't heard any complaints.

"What would they say to me," he wrote. 'I'm upset that I can't watch Big Bang Theory re-runs in your class?'"

Kelly Blanchard, an economics lecturer, also teaches in two of the lecture halls. She's heard mixed reviews from students.

"I've heard from both students who are for it and students who are against it. For students who were already attentive (or are at least trying to be attentive), it means there are fewer distractions, or it doesn't make much difference since they were already paying attention," she wrote in an email. "However, I understand students might not be happy about having the choice taken away from them."

Blanchard believes that the restrictions will have the biggest impact on students in classes with mandatory attendance.

"Students who are watching Netflix in class are likely students who wouldn't be coming to class if they didn't have to," she wrote.

The restrictions are limited to instructional hours, from about 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Every other access point on campus -- Purdue has nearly 9,500 of them -- are fair game for streaming. If professors need students to visit one of the blocked sites during class, they can do so. The university is able to open up a "pinhole" that allows temporary access.

Neither DeBoer nor Blanchard have noticed a difference in student attentiveness since the pilot began, but Blanchard hopes that results from an upcoming exam might show otherwise.

If the pilot remains successful, McCartney said that the university will likely expand it to other instructional spaces on campus. Residence halls will never be affected.

"When you're in the classroom, you're there to do classroom activities," he said. "When I was an undergraduate, you sometimes read newspapers or books or something, but now there are a lot more attractive nuisances, which are taking up resources."

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She spoke out against the termination of her campus's only mental health counselor. A student died, and she got canned.

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:00

An assistant professor of engineering at Florida Polytechnic University is suing the institution for alleged violations of the First Amendment, saying it failed to renew her contract because she publicly criticized its mental health services -- both before and after a student suicide.

Christina Drake's lawsuit, filed this week in a Tampa court, says that she has received positive performance reviews, teaching awards and grant funding at Florida Poly since she began teaching there in its inaugural year, 2014. But she says things changed this summer when she felt compelled to speak out against numerous staff terminations, including the university's sole librarian and -- crucial to her case -- the sole campus mental health counselor.

In June, Drake spoke at a meeting of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida, linking decreased on-campus mental health services to an increased risk of student suicides. While most campuses struggle to meet student mental health demands, Florida Poly presents particular challenges: it is a new, rural institution with relatively few opportunities for extracurricular activities on campus or off, and the entire male-dominated student body is pursuing demanding degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering and math.

"I pleaded with the board," Drake said in an interview Thursday. "This place is a pressure cooker. Mental health is not an area that we can afford not to make a priority."

Then, in August, a Florida Poly student fatally shot himself while sitting on a campus bench.

The Tampa Bay Times subsequently published a news story called "At Florida Poly, a Student Suicide and a Question: Could It Have Been Prevented?" The article quotes Casey Fox, the laid-off campus counselor, as saying she knew the late student, Kevin Masculine. (She said she could not disclose whether Masculine was a patient of hers.) "There's no way to tell if that student would have reached out," Fox told the Times. "There's no way to know because there was no one there. There was no one on campus to be that person."

Drake, who was interviewed for the article, was quoted as saying, "We have a campus makeup that is a ticking time bomb" for mental health issues. The newspaper also noted Drake's previous warning to the board, which she paraphrased as, "You cannot put students in this high-stress situation and outsource it and say, 'Hey, call this number.'"

That was a reference to the university's new plan for mental health: outsource campus counseling to an off-campus, network service with scalable delivery hours and a maximum wait time, overseen by an on-campus case manager who works for the university.

"Our decision to shift to an on-campus case-manager and the BayCare Student Assistance Program is based on what is best for our students," a university spokesperson said via email. "The new model offers students access to face-to-face counseling care, no matter the day or time. This model also offers a broader scope of services and access to a much larger network of mental health professionals with diversity in experience. This is not possible with one counselor on staff. Students can also take advantage of phone-based care and self-guided wellness modules, none of which were possible when we only had a single campus counselor.

Florida Poly has attributed the recent layoffs to various organizational changes, such as the outsourcing of mental health -- which it says was not a cost-saving measure. But Drake, Fox and others have said that the university targeted employees who were involved in union activity. Drake is supported in her lawsuit by the National Education Association-affiliated United Faculty of Florida. In certain ways, her case resembles one at Georgia State University in 2012, in which the university outsourced mental health jobs; some former employees said that only happened after they complained about relevant policies they said hurt students.

Drake alleges that university administrators immediately expressed "anger" at her over the Times article. She told Inside Higher Ed that she was repeatedly encouraged in person by various supervisors to stop being so "negative" about the university.

Attributing some of that to gender discrimination, Drake also said it was "crazy" for her colleagues to suggest that speaking out about student mental health was "negative."

"We have this unique campus situation and we have to take mental health seriously," she said.

Days after the article appeared, Provost Terry Parker informed Drake that her contract would not be renewed for next academic year. That's despite the fact that annual contracts are automatically renewed for professors in good standing, Drake says.

"No one has sat down and told me why I was laid off."

Beyond losing her job, Drake said it's hard, as an "educator and a mother" to see a campus in crisis. She said students have cried in her office over Masculine's suicide and what they perceive as the institution's indifference to mental health.

"This is sad for multiple people, not just myself."

Numerous legal cases have demonstrated the limits of free speech for public employees, especially regarding comments that are pursuant to their official duties. Drake's lawsuit says that her interest in speaking out about mental health concerns and other campus issues "outweighs any legitimate interest that the university might have in suppressing free speech." She says that Florida Poly's retaliatory actions have damaged her reputation, and she's seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a trial by jury.

The university said in a statement that it is its policy not to comment on pending litigation, but that it had not yet been served a copy of the complaint. A spokesperson denied that Drake had been not renewed due to her public comments, but she did not provide a reason for non-renewal when asked.

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University of Maryland criticized for white support group flier

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:00

The counseling center at University of Maryland, College Park sponsors a group called "White Awake" -- it's a weekly meet-up for white students who want to better understand race and ask questions to be better "allies" for minorities.

But a flier advertising the group is earning criticism for being tone-deaf and vague. "Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities?" the flier asks.

The counseling center has decided to discontinue the ad -- though it is not shutting down the group.

"We agree with the feedback that the flier was not clear enough in conveying the fact that the purpose of this group is to promote anti-racism and becoming a better ally," the counseling center said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. "We didn't choose the right words for the flier, and we are going to incorporate the feedback we have received into a revision of it."

It's unclear how long the group has been around or how it began -- a university spokeswoman attempted to arrange an interview with counseling center officials but was not immediately successful. The flier said the group offers a "safe space for White students to explore their experiences, questions, reactions, and feelings."

"Members will support and share feedback with each other as they learn more about themselves and how they can fit into a diverse world," the flier reads.

The counseling center called race relations "an incredibly difficult, nuanced issue, and that's the reason we need to discuss it." The group aims to help white students become more "culturally competent, so they can better participate in creating a more inclusive environment at the University of Maryland," according to the statement. "This group is based on research and best practices, and we believe in it."

But as the flier and the purpose of the group spread around Twitter, backlash was swift: "This cannot be real" one student tweeted.

Another student, Alysa Conway, tweeted that she was "ashamed" by the execution of the group.

"Why do they need to attend therapy sessions on how to be a decent human being in society? Why do they need to have these sessions to learn how to coexist?" Conway wrote.

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University of Florida will end tradition of calling graduates' names at university-wide commencement

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:00

In August, the University of Florida announced changes to its December graduation ceremony, but has yet to formally notify students. Instead of one ceremony in which students have their names called and personally receive a diploma, the celebrations will be split in two: a university-wide ceremony where degrees are conferred without student names, and a smaller college-specific ceremony where students will have their names called and walk across the stage.

"We have three commencement time frames. We have the summer, which is pretty small, only about 1,500 graduates," Stephanie McBride, director of commencements at the university, said. "In May, we have a significantly larger number of students, we have closer to a little over 7,000 students that are going to graduate in that timeframe. The model that we were using previously was just not sustainable."

Last spring, the university had scheduled 10 two-hour graduation ceremonies back-to-back over the course of four days where all students' names were called. During one of the fast-paced ceremonies, several black graduates were physically rushed across the stage by a faculty graduation marshal while they attempted to perform their fraternity's "stroll," a modified version of the organization's dance, while receiving their diploma. For many black fraternities and sororities, the stroll is tradition. Many black students said that white students were never treated that way when they celebrated their achievement.

Black University of Florida graduates were forcibly and physically rushed off stage while celebrating their graduation. Apparently, white students who celebrated in different ways were not treated in the same unfair fashion. https://t.co/joqgUQZNaS

— Lawyers' Committee (@LawyersComm) May 9, 2018

"That really unfortunate ceremony was a result of the reality that we were trying to do too much at our ceremonies … In May, we did 10 ceremonies in four days, back to back to back to back," McBride said. "Unfortunately, that May incident was a product of worrying too much about efficiency, and then that was misconstrued by a faculty member."

At the time, Kent Fuchs, university president, apologized for what happened and the faculty marshal was placed on administrative leave while university officials conduct a review of the incident. While many large universities follow a two-ceremony format, students say the change is the wrong response to what happened in May.

Anthony Rojas -- a University of Florida masters student who started a petition to reinstate the original graduation format that has garnered nearly 10,000 signatures -- didn't buy McBride's reasoning.

"In reality, it was the UF staff, university administration, and the university president that acted in a manner inconsistent with what this university stands for," Rojas wrote about the May incident. "UF officials were not properly trained on how to treat graduates of all backgrounds with respect, and as a result, they inappropriately handled graduates celebrating their hard-earned accomplishment."

The petition cites a number of additional reasons to keep the old graduation format, such as the added financial and scheduling stress put on families to accommodate two ceremonies, students' right to have their moment walking across the stage at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, where graduation is typically held, and the fact that the university didn't solicit any student input for the change.

"Unfortunately there was never a survey done, student opinions were never asked," Rojas said. "One thing that angers us is them thinking they know what best. When it comes to celebrating students, students should have some input about what they want."

McBride confirmed that no students were involved in or consulted about the change.

Other petition-signers gave their own reasons for protesting the new format. One student signed "because I'm a first [generation] student who wants a real graduation ceremony" and a parent wrote "I'm signing so my son can experience a true Gator graduation ceremony."

Kristen Sandsted, a senior at the university, wrote an op-ed for the university's independent student newspaper to express her concerns.

"I think of the students who are the first in their families to receive a college education. The students who are the first to graduate college fully paid for by scholarships. The students who have fought and are still fighting to be seen and appreciated in this country. The students who have fought and are still fighting terrible battles with mental illness, not knowing if they'd make it up to that stage. The students whose families need nothing more than to see the glowing face of their graduate out in front of them, to ease the painful memories of the family members who could not be there beside them," she wrote. "For those students, it is so much more than a stage."

After the fall graduation ceremony in December, the university will review the new format and decide whether to use it again in the spring.

"The fall, the December ceremony, is sort of the wild card because it's somewhere in the middle, it's much bigger than August and much smaller than May," McBride said, making the ceremony a good test candidate.

She said she understood why students were upset, but thinks that soon two ceremonies will become the "new normal."

"Change is really hard, especially when you have something that you have had in your head, pictured what it's going to be. I think that's true for all of us, for a lot of things," she said. "In a year from now, two years from now, do I think that what we're doing will be the new normal? It will be the new normal."

Graduation dates on the website have been updated to include the second ceremonies, and the university published a press release in August about the changes. Students will be formally notified via email next week.

"I think once we get past this sort of fear of the change and the unknown and the newness, these students will be part of a new tradition at UF, and that's really exciting," McBride said.

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German universities pacifism is challenged by new government efforts

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 09/14/2018 - 07:00

At the end of last month, Germany launched a new "cyber agency" to foster the technologies needed to keep the country safe in the digital sphere.

Likened to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (although with a fraction of the budget), the idea is that the body will work closely with universities and businesses, commissioning research in promising areas such as quantum computing encryption, for example. Overseen by the defense and interior ministries, once fully up and running, it should have an annual outlay of €40 million to €50 million ($46 million to $58 million).

But there's one problem.

In many countries, the military works hand in glove with universities -- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 75-acre Lincoln Lab, for example, works on everything from ballistic missile defense to laser weapons with a $1 billion annual budget.

Yet in Germany, many universities are sworn to avoid military research altogether.

About 60 have signed up to the "civil clause": a commitment not to do research for military purposes, according to Klaus Boehnke, a professor of social science methodology, psychology and methods at Jacobs University in Bremen, an expert on the clause and a self-described pacifist. Five of the country's 16 states have also embedded the civil clause into law.

The idea spread from Japan after World War II, Boehnke explained, as universities atoned for their role in helping aggressive militaries in the 1930s. "It is an expression of the sentiment: 'never again,'" he said. Some Danish institutions have also adopted it, he added.

The number of institutions adopting the civil clause has exploded in recent years: close to 50 signed up in the period 2011-15, according to Boehnke's research. This has been driven by a realization that funding from defense departments -- particularly in the U.S. -- for ostensibly civilian causes, actually has military applications.

In 2013, for example, there was an outcry when it emerged that German universities had taken more than $10 million from the U.S. Department of Defense since 2010. Even innocent-sounding projects can take on a military meaning; one study of desert locusts was ultimately intended to help the U.S. improve drone technology.

The upsurge in universities taking the civil clause has been driven by students' unions, not faculty, observers believe. Students have pushed through the clause as German foreign policy has changed and the army has begun once again to be deployed abroad in places such as Afghanistan and the Baltic states, said Carlo Masala, a professor of international politics at the Bundeswehr University Munich.

These clauses potentially cause problems for the country's new defense efforts. If there is a public fuss made by students' unions or other critics, universities' civil clauses could stop them working with bodies such as the new cyber agency, said Boehnke.

Masala agreed that the clauses could exclude certain university specialists from the agency's research. But much German research was conducted outside universities, he pointed out; organizations such as the applied-research Fraunhofer institutes would "take advantage of the situation and get the funding," he said.

Besides, the government had also invested heavily in alternatives. Last year, it founded an internet security center at Masala's university. "I like the civil clause because this means more money for my research," he joked. "My competitors are out."

Adding a further layer of complexity, the German military actually has its own, dedicated universities, founded in the 1970s: in addition to Masala's institution in Munich, there is the Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, founded to make an officer career more attractive by providing a broader qualification that can be used outside the military.

A spokesman for the Federal Ministry of Defense stressed that the civil clause was the "exclusive responsibility of every single university. We respect this clause totally." Whether it would prevent researchers cooperating with the new agency was a matter for universities, the ministry said.

Ultimately, civil clauses are just another part of the wider, fraught debate over whether Germany, still intensely nervous of anything that could appear militaristic, should have a more "normal" relationship with its armed forces.

Masala saw the civil clause as being "absurd" in some cases -- even research into treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder to help soldiers, for example, would be blocked, he argued, as "students' unions would oppose this." The clauses reflect a "strange relationship between part of society and the armed forces," he said.

But, for Boehnke, the civil clauses are actually much flimsier than they might seem. Without external pressure to enforce them by calling out researchers taking defense money, they exist only "on paper," he said.

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Trump administration will use more expansive definition of anti-Semitism in ways that critics say limit free speech

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 07:00

The Trump administration has made free speech on college campuses a signature issue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned last year that college campuses were becoming echo chambers "of political correctness and homogenous thought."

But civil liberties groups have long warned that a new definition of anti-Semitism quietly adopted by the Education Department would stifle speech on campuses.

Kenneth Marcus, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, wrote in a letter last month reopening a previously dismissed complaint of anti-Jewish discrimination that the Office for Civil Rights would begin using a more expansive definition of anti-Semitism supported by many pro-Israel groups. The New York Times first reported the letter Tuesday.

The definition is one that Marcus himself had advocated for before joining the department this year. It includes arguments against the existence of the Israeli state or double standards applied to Israel "not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation" as examples of potential anti-Semitism. Marcus also wrote that the term "Zionist" -- a political label denoting support for creation of the Jewish state -- could be used as code for anti-Semitic discrimination.

The new definition has been hailed by some Jewish organizations who support the state of Israel. But civil liberties organizations, Palestinian rights groups and liberal Jewish groups say it would lead to a suppression of free speech, in particular criticism of Israel or advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, said the Office for Civil Rights examines the factual circumstances of each complaint to determine whether discrimination based on race, ethnicity or national origin occurred.

"OCR vigorously protects the Title VI rights of students who may be targeted for harassment based on their membership in groups that exhibit both ethnic and religious characteristics, including Jewish students, but OCR does not predetermine the nature of conduct or speech that might be the subject of a Title VI investigation," she said.

The new definition of anti-Semitism was already being used at the State Department. Some public colleges in recent years have considered adopting the standard for their own campuses. Lawmakers have also made several bipartisan attempts in recent years to have the Education Department "take into consideration" the State Department definition. At the same time, colleges and universities often host groups that advocate for the Israel boycott in ways that violate the State Department definition, and most legal experts have said that public colleges would be on shaky ground to bar such groups on their campuses.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has written that the new definition threatens First Amendment-protected speech on campus and has called the State Department definition "problematically vague."

"Synchronizing the Department of Education's review of alleged Title VI violations with this unbounded definition places campus speech rights at risk," wrote Will Creeley, FIRE's senior vice president of legal and public advocacy, earlier this year.

FIRE's survey of campus speech codes has been cited by Sessions, who attacked the free speech climate on college campuses in a speech at Georgetown Law Center last year.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said at a CPAC event earlier this year that the U.S. has "seen more and more examples on college campuses in recent years of shutting down free and open expression and debate around ideas."

But Dima Khalidi, the founder and director of Palestine Legal, said OCR has previously understood the distinction between First Amendment-protected speech and discrimination on college campuses. She said Marcus is destroying that distinction in favor of a pro-Israel agenda.

"This is where these debates are supposed to happen. This is where these conversations are supposed to happen. To have the government intervene or declare a whole range of political speech out of bounds is exactly what the First Amendment is designed to prevent," she said.

J-Street, a liberal Jewish group that opposes the BDS movement, said in a statement that the Trump administration is essentially equating criticism of Zionism with anti-Semitism and said the definition being adopted by the OCR was never intended to be applied on college campuses. Ken Stern, who authored the definition, opposed the Congressional legislation that would have codified the State Department definition into law.

Jason Stanley, a professor of philosophy at Yale University, on Wednesday spoke to those free speech concerns on Twitter.

If I were someone incensed by threats to free speech on campus, I would wake up this morning outraged by the Department of Ed's decision to make expressions of anti-Zionism into civil rights violations punishable by loss of federal funding.

-- Jason Stanley (@jasonintrator) September 12, 2018

The American Jewish Council praised the new definition adopted by the department and said it is an important tool in identifying anti-Semitism in its various forms.

"It informs (colleges) that you could have something that maybe at first glance looks like just a political action, but might be a mask for anti-Semitic action," said Andrew Baker, director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee. "I don't think you leave your reason and judgment at the door when you have this definition at hand. The whole idea is to help you, not hinder you."

Marcus outlined OCR's adoption of the new anti-Semitism definition in a letter notifying the Zionist Organization of America that it would reopen the group's 2011 civil rights complaint of anti-Jewish discrimination at Rutgers University. At issue in the complaint was an event at the university's Brunswick, New Jersey campus where an outside pro-Palestinian group charged a $5 fee after the event was initially advertised as free to the public.

The Zionist organization alleged the fee was applied selectively to Jewish and pro-Israel students. But the Obama administration closed the case in 2014 finding no evidence the fees were discriminatory or that the university mishandled the incident.

In a statement on its website, the Zionist Organization of America called the Marcus decision "groundbreaking."

"This definition accurately recognizes that anti-Israelism, extreme Israel bashing and anti-Zionism may well be a camouflage for anti-Semitism," the group said.

ZOA has accused J-Street of "siding with Israel's enemies." And J-Street in turn has referred to the organization, which hosted white nationalist Steve Bannon last year, as an "ultra-right group."

DeVos and the Trump administration have frequently criticized the Obama administration for not pursuing proper notice and comment before introducing sweeping guidelines on campus sexual misconduct.

But the change in Office for Civil Rights policy was made with no public notice other than the letter to ZOA. And the department did not say whether guidance would be forthcoming for colleges although DeVos has expressed a distaste for issuing federal guidance documents.

Peter McDonough, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said the new approach at OCR appeared inconsistent with many of the free speech concerns expressed by the department elsewhere.

"It's a curiosity as to why the current Department of Education that is concerned about chilling speech would reopen a case where it was found, after a pretty robust investigation, what was at issue was essentially speech and discordant expressions between students," he said. "It's a head scratcher to me as to why this OCR is taking issue with a finding after a pretty fulsome investigation by its own folks years ago."

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Clarks Summit University refuses to let gay student return

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 07:00

A man who dropped out of a Christian institution 15 years ago will not be allowed to return after officials found out he was gay, saying he did not "adhere to biblical truths."

Gary Campbell, 35, left Clarks Summit University in 2003. He'd enrolled in 2001, knowing he was gay but believing he could change his sexuality, he has said in previous interviews. In an attempt to save money, he dropped out just six credits shy of earning his bachelor's degree and instead tried to attend a two-year college. But Campbell never graduated. Instead he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, but struggled with alcoholism -- he said he was discharged after being caught driving drunk on a military base.

This fall, after 19 months of sobriety, he attempted to rejoin Clarks Summit, part of his plan to stay clean, according to news reports. The university, formerly known as Baptist Bible College, is located in northeastern Pennsylvania, about eight miles north of Scranton.

Campbell saved money for tuition and books. Friends and family donated $700 for expenses, The Scranton Times-Tribune reported. But the university contacted him in late August and told him that because he is gay, he is no longer eligible to attend. Campbell wrote to the university to appeal the decision, but was denied.

"I am done playing nice and I am done being respectful to a school that I have always given the benefit of the doubt to but for some reason I cannot get the same favor in return," Campbell wrote in a Facebook status last month.

Clarks Summit forbids same-sex romantic and sexual relationships as a part of its stance on "sexual purity," according to the university's student handbook.

"As a Christian college, we expect all students to act in a way that is consistent with our biblical belief system. We have always clearly stated those beliefs and have exercised the freedom to uphold our faith," the university said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed.

"To prepare students for worldwide service opportunities, CSU clearly affirms biblical sexuality. We clearly communicate to all prospective students that we adhere to biblical truths, and expect them to do the same. That is part of what has made CSU a successful educator for more than 80 years. We would be happy to assist any former or prospective student who does not choose to agree with those faith standards to find another school in order to finish a degree."

The university did not respond to a question about how administrators unearthed Campbell's sexuality. The statement said that officials do not discuss individual students' enrollment decisions.

His story has inspired a hashtag: #LetGaryGraduate, under which online commentators have urged the institution to let Campbell finish his degree.

While Clarks Summit does accept federal funding and has agreed to comply with the anti-discrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, many evangelical institutions seek exemptions to parts of Title IX under the premise that the law violates their religious convictions, mostly surrounding discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity.

A Clarks Summit official did not say whether the university has asked for or secured a Title IX exemption, saying it was "not a Title IX issue."

A university attorney provided the following statement:

"No Supreme Court, Third Circuit, or Middle District of Pennsylvania court has reinterpreted Title IX's ban on sex discrimination to reach sexual orientation.

Clarks Summit University is eligible for the religious exemption Congress created when it passed Title IX. The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, which enforces Title IX, has stated that "[a]n institution's exempt status is not dependent upon its submission of a written statement to OCR."

The U.S. Department of Education no longer publishes a list of institutions that have sought the exemption -- LGBTQ advocates have warned that not making the list public would encourage more discrimination against queer students. In February 2017, the Trump administration rescinded Title IX guidance related to discrimination of transgender students.

Neighboring Lackawanna College, a private college in Scranton, has reached out to Campbell to try to help him complete his degree there, the Times-Tribune reported. It wasn't immediately clear whether he had accepted the offer.

"We wish Mr. Campbell all the best. CSU values education and we are pleased that he has found a college to help him continue his educational pursuits," Clarks Summit said in a statement.

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Cornell MBA students vote for grade nondisclosure in recruitment

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 07:00

Students at Cornell University's Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management voted for grade nondisclosure, effectively immediately, after years of agitating for a policy similar to those in place at other highly selective M.B.A. programs.

Under the new policy, one-, two-year, and Johnson Cornell Tech M.B.A. students can't disclose their grades to recruiters until they've been offered a full-time job. That means grade-point averages, but also individual course, assignment and exam grades.

Exceptions include dual degree students, such as those enrolled in a joint law program, and those applying for jobs abroad or in nonprofits or government. Fellowship applicants also may disclose their grades.

Cornell has previously mulled grade nondisclosure, to no avail. The recent decision followed a year-long strategic study, initiated by the Johnson Student Council, of how grade nondisclosure might affect academics and recruitment. The committee charged with preparing the report recommended putting it to a student referendum. A vote was held this month.

"We pride ourselves on our academic rigor and on graduating students who excel on multiple dimensions," Vishal Gaur, associate dean for M.B.A. programs, said in an announcement. "So we worked closely with students to find ways to balance Johnson's learning goals with recruitment needs."

He added, "We hope that grade non-disclosure will encourage students to take more academic risks and think holistically about their education, personal development, leadership and the impact they want to have in the future."

Via email, Gaur declined to share the internal report. He said he couldn't disclose vote counts, either, only that 90 percent of students in the three affected programs participated in the referendum and showed "overwhelming" support for nondisclosure.

Cornell says that it's asked recruiters to "respect" the student vote and refrain from asking about grades, and that it doesn't expect recruiting to suffer. Indeed, businesses continue to pursue, early and often, M.B.A. students at Yale and Stanford Universities and the University of Pennsylvania, among other peer institutions whose business schools have adopted nondisclosure policies.

Pennsylvania's Wharton School was the first to adopt nondisclosure, in 1994, by an overwhelming student referendum in favor. Harvard University was next, in 1998, though it adopted a policy applying only to on-campus recruitment. The policy has since been reversed, to optional disclosure. By 2007, according to one study, five highly selective business schools had some sort of nondisclosure policy. Today, about a dozen such institutions have some such policy.

To that point, recruiters generally say that it's easy to find strong candidates based on other available details, such as interview performance, internships, business experience, extracurriculars and honors.

The original idea behind grade nondisclosure parallels the rationale behind pass-fail policies: exact grades aren't the be-all-and-end-all of success, and experience and experimentation matter. A particular concern in business programs is student competitiveness, which can hinder teamwork and therefore preparation for a field that relies on it.

Over all, the balance of these policies' use has now tipped, such that many students now say attending a rigorous institution without a nondisclosure policy puts them at a disadvantage in terms of recruiting.

Victoria Wilmarth, a recent Johnson M.B.A. who served on the policy study committee as a student, said she thought that nondisclosure would help encourage teamwork, collaborative learning and even academic risk-taking.

"This vote helps bring Johnson's academic experiences into alignment with the school's values," she said in a statement.

While academic risk-taking and increased collaboration are reasons that numerous institutions have adopted nondisclosure policies, these policies have their critics, too -- especially faculty members who say that nondisclosure encourages underperformance.

A 2011 study of nondisclosure policies published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, for example, found that self-reported levels of academic effort had dropped in relation to disclosure, and that that challenged the idea that students were using it as an opportunity to challenge themselves. A Wharton dean also reported that time spent on coursework had dropped 22 percent in a four-year period after nondisclosure was adopted, based on student surveys, according to the study.

The NBER paper also questioned why only elite programs adopted these policies, since distinguishing oneself at the top of one's class was still important at lower-tier programs. Of course, recruiters tend to look at highly selective program completion as a qualifier in and of itself.

Reached Wednesday, several Johnson faculty members who were not involved in the study said that they had no strong feelings about the change, good or bad.

Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, S.C. Johnson Professor of Marketing and associate dean for academic affairs, said he had "no strong opinion" about the change, which he also experienced as a professor at his prior institution, the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.

"Didn't seem to make much of a difference for me as a professor either way," he said.

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St. John's College reduces tuition to increase students' access

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 07:00

When St. John's College became the latest higher ed institution to announce a tuition reset this week, it may have seemed to be simply joining the fray of private liberal arts colleges ostensibly reducing the costs of attendance.

Rather than joining the trend that some critics dismiss as a misleading pricing gimmick, however, St. John's administrators insisted they were bucking the trend by making the college more affordable and accessible -- not in theory, but in actual practice.

They say the price cut to $35,000 from $52,000 will result in a hefty loss of revenue that the college -- which has campuses in Santa Fe, N.M., and Annapolis, Md. -- plans to make up with a $300 million fund-raising campaign. Unlike many colleges that have reset their tuition, significant numbers of St. John's students will actually see a meaningful reduction in what they pay, with donations designed to fill the resulting gap in revenue.

"Yes, there will be a loss in revenue from student-derived revenue," said Mark Roosevelt, college-wide president of St. John's College and president of the Santa Fe campus. He added that the college received approximately 70 percent of its budget from student-derived revenue in the past but by 2017 the percentage had fallen to less than 40 percent from student-derived revenue.

"We believe the days when students and families could pay exorbitant tuition prices are gone and they aren’t coming back—nor should they—and we are placing philanthropy at the center of our financial model rather than student-derived revenue to ensure we remain strong financially as a college," he said. 

Roosevelt said they are moving the college away from a so-called "prestige pricing and a tuition-centered model" and adopting a new "philanthropy-centered model" that will reduce annual tuition for undergraduate students beginning in the 2019-20 academic year. College officials say the true cost of providing a St. John's education would require a $60,000 tuition.

"This got to a tipping point," said Roosevelt. "Private colleges have increased their tuition 157 percent in the past two decades, which is three times the rate of inflation. So you think are we going to go to $60,000, then $70,000, then $80,000? It just didn't feel right for it to keep growing. You've got to find balance. I don't know if we found it but it just felt right. We still recognize that $35,000 is still a lot of money and if that's too much for some families we have generous, need-based scholarships. But we hope that people see the space between $35,000 and $52,000 as a very big space."

He said even St. John's alumni think the college is expensive. A recent survey of alumni found that 73 percent said the college's tuition was "too high" and 77 percent said they could not afford to send their child there at the current price of $52,000, he said.

Roosevelt also hopes the college sets an example for other institutions considering tuition resets by adding "a little oomph to the question of prestige pricing and creating a little more momentum for other colleges considering making changes."

He noted recent announcements of new pricing models by Wells College, in New York. and Oglethorpe University, in Georgia.

"I think it's the beginning of some movement," he said.

Some education pricing experts are skeptical of tuition resets and say they generally don't work because most institutions use them to attract more students to raise the overall amount of tuition they collect, not to cut the net price of what students and their families typically pay after colleges lower the sticker price by offering grants and scholarships. The impact of resets on actual tuition bills is blunted by corresponding reductions in financial aid offered by the colleges; few students are typically paying anywhere near the listed price.

At St. John's, 99 percent of the freshmen class are receiving either merit scholarships or need-based financial aid from the college, according to data provided by the college. Seventy-seven percent of them are receiving need-based financial aid from the college. In all, the 2018 freshman class received $8,058,553 in scholarships and 89 percent of it was need-based aid. What’s more, 69 percent of incoming freshman in the 2018-2019 academic year received a tuition discount and 24 percent of incoming freshman were recipients of Pell Grants, a need-based subsidy provided by the federal government. 

The new funding model being used by St. John's, the third oldest college in the country and a unique and prestigious institution with small classes, no-frills campuses, and a curriculum focused exclusively on the so-called "Great Books," is different. Administrators say it places "extended philanthropy at the center of the model."

St. John's capital campaign, which has already raised $183 million in commitments, is expected to double the college's endowment by 2023 and help it better meet the needs of future students, according to the announcement.

Bill Hall, founder and president of Applied Policy Research Inc., an enrollment and pricing advising firm, said he was impressed by St. John's decision.

"The important thing here is the outright price cut," he said. "If you don't make the explicit assumption that you're going to other sources than tuition, I don't think you're being realistic. It's a solid commitment that is going to shift the responsibility from families to the donors."

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New data on gender gaps in benefits of nondegree credentials

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 09/13/2018 - 07:00

New America has released an analysis of federal data on nondegree credentials to get a better sense of gender gaps in the labor-market returns for certificates, industry certifications and occupational licenses. The results add new evidence that men reap most of the benefits from these increasingly popular forms of credentials.

The U.S. Department of Education in 2016 began collecting nationally representative data on work-experience programs and nondegree credentials, including apprenticeships and internships.

The survey's final results, released last February, show that 27 percent of adults held at least one certificate, certification or license. And these nondegree credentials generally tend to pay off in the job market.

However, the analysis from New America found that "these top-level findings mask significant differences in the value of nondegree credentials when broken out by gender and occupational area," particularly for people who do not hold a bachelor's degree.

Men with nondegree credentials are more likely to be employed and earn substantially more than women who hold the same type of credential, the think tank found. Men also are much more likely to earn the credentials that pay best and to have their employer foot the bill for the training and education.

"Women appear to pay more for -- and get less from -- nondegree credentials, particularly if they do not have a bachelor's degree," the report said.

For example, almost half (46 percent) of women who held a nondegree credential but no four-year degree made less than $30,000, according to the analysis, compared to a quarter of men. And 17 percent of men with a nondegree credential but no bachelor's earned more than $75,000, compared to 5 percent of women.

Gender segregation and wide variation in pay across career and vocational fields (where nondegree credentials are most relevant) are key drivers of the problem.

Previous research has found severe gender gaps in some fields. Women hold only 29 percent of IT jobs with annual pay of at least $35,000, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, and 7 percent of those in advanced manufacturing, as well as just 3 percent in construction.

The analysis from New America helps fill in that picture.

Men hold most of the jobs in occupations involving computers, construction, repair, science, architecture and engineering. Women, however, are more likely to work in education, at libraries, in administrative support or in health care.

The report drilled down on data in the 10 fields just mentioned, which employ 41 percent of adults. Jobs where men tend to congregate pay much better, according to the data.

"The earnings associated with all types of nondegree credentials were substantially higher for individuals in male-dominated than female-dominated occupations," according to the report. "The data also suggest that male-dominated professions require fewer qualifications for entry or advancement."

For example, 24 percent of workers in computer occupations who hold a certificate but not a bachelor's made more than $75,000 per year, New America said, compared to 5 percent of workers in healthcare occupations and 2 percent in administrative support occupations. Likewise, 78 percent of workers in education and library occupations with a certificate but no bachelor's earned less than $30,000, compared to 4 percent of certificate holders without a bachelor's in science, architecture and engineering.

Similar results emerged for certifications and licenses.

For example, twice as many people with one of those nondegree credentials but no bachelor's who work in computer occupations earned more than $75,000 a year compared to workers in healthcare (36 percent and 18 percent, respectively).

Men also are less likely to take on debt to pay for their nondegree credentials.

"More than two-thirds (69 percent) of women at the sub-baccalaureate level prepared for their most important nondegree credential by enrolling in a college, technical school or trade school program -- all potentially costly methods of preparation," New America said. "In contrast, more than half of men at the sub-baccalaureate level had access to classes or training from a company, association, union or private instructor to prepare for their most important nondegree credential."

The report cites federal data showing that, among people who earned a certificate program in 2016 and did not already have a bachelor's degree, 73 percent of women took on student loans to pay for their credentials, compared to 56 percent of men.

State-mandated licenses or certifications could be reinforcing labor-market inequality, according to the analysis, which also calls for more and better data collection on nondegree credentials and student outcomes.

The findings are relevant to current federal policy discussions, New America said. They suggest that women are more likely to shell out money for risky credentials as the Trump administration has dropped program-level regulations aimed at career preparation programs -- the so-called gainful employment rule.

New America also said the federal government should proceed with caution as it mulls whether to deregulate sub-degree and alternative postsecondary education programs while also potentially directing more Pell Grant money to them in the form of short-term grants.

"As policy makers consider whether to extend eligibility for federal student financial aid (grants and loans) to short-term certificate programs, they should consider whether they can adequately protect students from providers of certificates that have little or no labor market value," the report said.

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Administrators, students and activists take stock three years after 2015 Missouri protests

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 07:00

Kelsie Wilkins was a freshman at the University of Missouri at Columbia in the fall of 2015, when protests about the racial climate on campus vaulted the state flagship into the national spotlight.

Several times that fall, black students reported having racial slurs hurled at them. They criticized what they believed to be administrators’ inadequate response to those incidents. In October, protesters from a group called Concerned Student 1950 -- a reference to the year the university admitted its first black student -- blocked a car carrying the University of Missouri System’s president, Tim Wolfe, during a homecoming parade. Wolfe did not get out of the car to speak to protesters, and he later issued an apology for the way he handled the incident. He would continue to struggle to communicate with protesters.

Concerned Student 1950 issued a list of demands including Wolfe’s removal as president. A graduate student, Jonathan Butler, started a hunger strike in early November. Days later, black players on the university’s football team said they would stop taking part in activities until Wolfe was removed. Protesters camped out on campus, infamously leading to clashes with members of the media. On Nov. 9, Wolfe and the Columbia campus’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, resigned.

Soon after the leaders stepped down, several threats swept across the campus. Wilkins remembers one in particular, a posting to the anonymous social media platform Yik Yak threatening to “shoot every black person I see.” Police arrested a man who would eventually plead guilty to making a terroristic threat, but tensions were still high on campus.

Wilkins recalls attending a sociology class two days afterward, an 8 a.m. lecture normally attended by about 200 students. Roughly 50 students were in class that day, all sitting in the first few rows. The professor looked up every time someone walked into the room.

In the middle of class, the professor stopped to say he was struggling with the situation. No one should stop students from getting an education, Wilkins remembers him saying. But since he was a black professor, he worried he was putting students in harm's way. He asked students to let him know how they were feeling in the upcoming weeks.

As a first-year student, Wilkins was thinking about how much longer she had on campus -- weeks until winter break, and then three and a half years after that. But having a class with that professor helped.

“Being in a class with a professor who looked like me, I could relate,” she said. “My friends could go in and talk to him and be like, ‘This is crazy. What is this?’”

Wilkins, a journalism major, went on to become the president of the Legion of Black Collegians at Missouri. She agreed to revisit that charged time and to review the changes that have taken place since, but said that she was speaking strictly as a student and not as the president of the organization.

“We are the last bulk of students that truly understand what it was like to either be a part of the movement, be allies of the movement, activists, advocates or just people who watched it occur,” Wilkins said. “I think these are things that we, especially students of color on this campus, grapple with on the daily. What has changed? What hasn’t changed? What do we want to change?”

On one hand, it's easy to list the ways the university and system have been revamped. New leaders are in place at the system office and on the Columbia campus. The university system hired its first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer in 2016. Intense outreach efforts have started to try to rebuild relationships with constituencies across the state of Missouri.

It's also simple to list the ways the university has struggled from a financial, enrollment and public relations perspective. Both university and system slogged through rounds of cost-cutting. Total enrollment at Columbia fell by almost 13 percent, or 4,500 students, between the fall of 2015 and the fall of 2017. The institution continues to draw criticism both from those who believe it mishandled the events of 2015 by giving protesters too much leeway and from others who feel it could do more to change in the protests’ wake.

Far more difficult is saying whether the university and system will ever be healed after some of the most divisive issues facing American society were laid bare on its campus. There can be little doubt that it has become a focal point in the political arguments, media narratives and institutional policy questions playing out across the country -- during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign Russian bots sought to spread false information about what happened at Mizzou in 2015, according to researchers. Politicians, including then candidate Donald Trump, have piled on to the university. Last year, a former faculty member and lecturer at the university penned a column saying no real change will be possible until the university stops viewing the issues at hand through the lens of damage control.

“There is a contest over the narrative in higher education more generally that folks used our story to move,” said Ben Trachtenberg, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law who chaired its Faculty Council on University Policy from 2015 to 2017. Mizzou is now being used as an example of a national debate over whether universities are hostile to free speech or open to a broad diversity of unpopular views, he said.

It isn't the only way Mizzou in 2015 became a focal point for broader societal tensions.

“Public universities have a mission that makes them particularly susceptible to this tension,” Trachtenberg said. “You have completely legitimate demands for greater racial inclusion and racial justice and the potential for backlash from taxpayers who fund the university.”

The university's administration broke under the weight of those racial tensions, student protests and leaders who struggled and stumbled as they tried to respond. Today, as new leaders try to put the pieces back together, their successes and failures remain under a large, public microscope.

A Breakdown in Leadership

Trachtenberg published a paper this summer evaluating the details surrounding the 2015 protests and the ways the university mishandled the situation. In the paper, which is forthcoming in the Kentucky Law Journal, he argued that the University of Missouri isn’t unique among U.S. higher education institutions in struggling with race relations but that a set of leadership failures combined to make bad results unavoidable. He also argued other universities can learn from Missouri’s mistakes.

The problems Trachtenberg identified began with acrimony between the system’s former president, Wolfe, and the former chancellor at Columbia, Loftin, as well as deans who disliked Loftin. When Wolfe and Loftin should have been coordinating their response to student protesters and creating a strategy for diversity and inclusion, the system president was instead considering whether to fire the chancellor, Trachtenberg wrote. While students protested on the quad and complained of being ignored by university leaders, deans in Columbia were “in open revolt against their boss.”

Although the situation required quick action, the university and its leaders moved slowly, Trachtenberg wrote. Top leaders did not speak with a unified voice on important matters, while members of the Board of Curators and the system president’s office did not make use of resources and information at hand. For example, Wolfe did not have administrators in place who could communicate informally with protesters, and he had discouraged curators from speaking with employees on campuses, cutting off important lines of communication.

Trachtenberg’s paper serves as an effort to dispel what he sees as myths about the 2015 protests, an attempt to offer advice to student protesters and a set of lessons for university leaders. In the future, campus leaders will be expected to provide enough progress on racial justice to avoid the sort of events that rocked Missouri in 2015, he wrote.

“Minority students must maintain the ability to credibly threaten costly unrest, even if they -- like workers who know the strike fund has precious little money -- generally have no desire to occupy lawns, boycott games, or otherwise miss out on their normal college experiences,” Trachtenberg concluded. “Meanwhile, university leaders must have the backbone needed to say no to unreasonable demands, and even to say ‘not now’ to some perfectly reasonable demands that cannot be satisfied in this year’s budget. Yet administrators must also strive to say yes when they can, even when it seems hard and when other priorities intrude. They can tell student activists to ‘wait’ only for so long.”

Not everyone agrees with Trachtenberg’s takeaways, or his characterizations of officials’ actions. Loftin says his administration engaged students on the issue of racism soon after a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

During a public forum after that decision, Loftin was surprised to hear students talking not about Ferguson or Michael Brown, he said during a recent telephone interview. They talked instead about their own experiences at the University of Missouri, their own anxiety and their own fear.

“One after the other, it was incredible,” he said. “I sat there and listened, and I took copious notes on my iPad during the meeting because I just couldn’t digest all of this. It was such an incredible outpouring of emotion from these students. It really opened my eyes for the first time. I’d been blinded.”

Administrators went on to hold town halls and smaller meetings through 2015 with students, including those who organized protests, according to Loftin. He tried to make clear to students that administrators shared most of their goals, he said. In October 2015, the university announced that all entering freshmen would be required to take part in online diversity training.

But students were not happy with the speed at which changes could take place, according to Loftin. Concerned Student 1950 wanted black faculty and staff members to make up 10 percent of Missouri’s employees by 2017-18. That kind of hiring doesn’t happen overnight, said the former chancellor.

Students didn’t feel Loftin took their concerns seriously, according to Maxwell Little, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950 who was a graduate student in 2015 and went on to earn his master’s degree in educational leadership and policy analysis from the university.

“We just kept having meetings after meetings and forums, and nothing was happening,” Little said. “At the end of the day, they were all just talk.”

The faculty was not prepared for the escalating concerns about race and racism, according to Craig Roberts, a professor in the university’s division of plant sciences who chaired the Faculty Council from 2013 to 2015. Faculty members were majority white and did not have a good grip on racism or racial discrimination, he said.

In retrospect, Roberts would do things differently.

“When you see students who are starting to express group anxieties and even pain, that has got to be moved to the top of the list and addressed quickly,” he said. “Timing is important.”

Loftin called for continued reflection and for leaders to learn from the events. Today, he remains a professor in Missouri’s physics and astronomy department.

“I do care about this university,” Loftin said. “I think it needs to continue to examine itself. I think there are still serious issues here if you dig down beneath the surface.”

‘We are Addressing the Issues’

The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators appointed Mun Choi as the system’s president in late 2016. Choi, who had been provost and executive vice president at the University of Connecticut, officially started on March 1, 2017. Then in August of that year, Alexander Cartwright became chancellor at the University of Missouri at Columbia. He had been provost and executive vice chancellor at the State University of New York.

In contrast to accounts of the broken relationship between Loftin and Wolfe, the new leaders at the university system and its flagship campus say they’ve prioritized open lines of communication with one another.

Listening to Missouri residents’ concerns, changing perceptions about the university and getting enrollment back on track have also been key priorities, Choi said.

Parents who visited the Columbia campus were saying they were surprised how nice it looked given the violence that occurred in 2015. But the protests were peaceful, and no violence took place. University leaders theorize people saw scenes of violence breaking out in Ferguson around the same time as tensions started escalating in Columbia and may have conflated the two sites, even though they are more than 100 miles away from each other.

“That was a perception that we had to address,” Choi said. “There was no violence on the campus and there was no property damage.”

Meanwhile, state lawmakers and alumni told administrators that the university no longer represented their values or the values predominant in the state of Missouri. Many felt leaders hadn’t been engaged enough with students and hadn’t taken action to prevent the protests from taking place, Choi said.

To rebuild trust throughout the state, the system turned to the University of Missouri Extension, a partnership of the university system's different campuses and the historically black public land-grant Lincoln University. In 2016, Marshall Stewart joined the extension as vice chancellor. He was formerly director of college leadership and strategy at the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Since then, he has visited over 100 of Missouri’s 114 counties, he said. He’s listening and working to make sure residents feel comfortable sending their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, nieces and nephews to the university. Part of that outreach is letting state residents know the university wants to respond to challenges they face in their communities. It wants their ideas for agricultural research, development projects or other community priorities.

After polarizing racial protests, some might guess black and white Missourians would have different feelings about the university. But Stewart has heard a common narrative of frustration and uncertainty whether he is visiting a predominantly white part of the state or regions with larger African American populations, or large Latinx populations. Residents want the university to focus on issues such as growing the economy, work-force preparation and raising educational attainment, he said.

“You have to give some space for people to vent that information,” Stewart said. “Don’t get into a back-and-forth. I had, probably, a license to do that because I wasn’t here in 2015, so they gave me a little bit of a chance, and I’m very appreciative for that.”

Even if constituencies off campus may want the university to focus on work-force development, some on campus remain concerned about the racial climate. It is a priority, too, leaders say. They point to the creation of a program called Citizenship@Mizzou in 2016. It’s a two-part interactive program for incoming undergraduate students at Columbia designed to prepare them to think critically about a campus filled with people from diverse backgrounds.

“We continue to think about how we can expand a lot of those activities,” Cartwright said. “One of the compacts that we have is inclusive excellence. And we talk a lot about the need to diversify faculty and staff.”

Also in 2016, the university system hired Kevin McDonald as its first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

Discussions with students of color and activists have been important since many felt they hadn’t been engaged on campus in the past, McDonald said. Yet he was careful that the administration not be seen as controlling the conversation. Today, he says, he stays in touch with several members of Concerned Student 1950.

McDonald is frank about saying he was unsure about taking the job. But when he interviewed, he felt the community was committed to moving forward.

“I feel much better today than I did in June of 2016,” he said. “I think we have a tremendously engaged campus.”

Setting aside talk of engagement and changing perceptions, data show uneven demographic change at the Columbia campus. From 2015 to 2017, the portion of white faculty members declined from 74.8 percent to 72 percent. But the population of black and African American faculty members over all only inched up from 2.8 percent to 3.3 percent. Just 65 of the university’s 1,969 tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty were identified as black or African American in 2017 in a university data set.

About 22 percent of black faculty had tenure, and 42 percent were on tenure track. In comparison, about 44 percent of all faculty members had tenure, and 14 percent were on tenure track.

Meanwhile, African American students have fallen as a percentage of the Columbia campus’s total student population. African American students made up 7.2 percent of enrollment in 2015 but just 6.7 percent in 2017. Black or African American residents were about 11.8 percent of Missouri’s population in 2017, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The university lost thousands of students overall in the years following the protests. In the fall of 2015, just over 27,800 undergraduates enrolled. Freshmen attending college for the first time numbered 6,191. Total enrollment counting graduate and professional students was just above 35,400.

In the fall of 2017, the campus enrolled about 23,800 undergraduates and 4,134 freshmen attending college for the first time. Total enrollment had dropped to 30,870 -- a decline of about 13 percent.

Early indicators show some enrollment markers creeping back up this year. The freshman class numbered nearly 4,700 students as of August, up 13 percent year over year.

Nonetheless, the recent enrollment declines have been particularly problematic because the university had been adding more students in order to help balance budgets in the face of declining state funding. In June of 2017, Choi laid out a series of budget cuts, employment eliminations and reallocations across the system. A year later, Cartwright announced the elimination of 185 positions and $45 million in costs as the University of Missouri sought to close a $49 million gap in the 2019 fiscal year’s budget.

Officials said this summer’s cuts were driven in large part by investing in such things as scholarships and graduate student support. But criticism still poured in, with a particularly scathing editorial in The Wall Street Journal arguing that “indulging protestors can be expensive,” and that “apparently fewer parents want to send their kids to a school where activism eclipses academics.”

That prompted the chair of the university system’s Board of Curators, David Steelman, to respond via a letter saying that the Journal was “perpetuating a narrative that erodes higher education.”

“Were mistakes made?” Steelman wrote. “Yes. Are the individuals responsible still leading MU? No. And obviously, the institution paid a price for those mistakes. But we have new leadership and have affirmed our commitment to free speech.”

Protests will happen at “any great university,” Steelman said in a recent telephone interview. But he said the national perception of the 2015 protests was inaccurate because much of the press coverage got it wrong.

“Almost all of the articles were written with an agenda or perspective in mind,” he said. “Either it was written by those individuals who wanted to write an article that Missouri had particular racial problems, or, on the other side of the philosophical fence, from a perspective that the University of Missouri was a leftist bastion that was run by the students.”

Steelman believes trust needs to be rebuilt between administrators and faculty, between different departments and between different colleges.

“My goal as board chairman is that when my tenure is done, I hope we have a faster, more nimble way of decision making, and I hope we have deeper trust throughout the university, internally and externally,” he said.

Students and activists, however, say not every change since 2015 has been positive. In 2017 the Columbia campus put in place revised protest policies that some saw as targeting tactics protesters used in 2015. Notably, the policy said camping was not permitted on university grounds except in certain circumstances.

“Really explore the protest policy,” said Little, a founding member of Concerned Student 1950. “What does that do to freedom of speech in higher education? What does that do to students’ right to assemble and to assemble effectively and to create change?”

Little said he would like to see the university come out with an antiracist policy or an anti-hate speech policy.

A university spokesman replied that the system affirmed its commitment to freedom of expression in 2017. He pointed to a statement saying in part that the university may restrict expression “that violates the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the university.”

The statement also says that freedom of expression does not “create a privilege to engage in discrimination.” It also says the university “may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not significantly disrupt the university’s ordinary activities.”

Speech policies and administrators’ actions in the wake of the protests remain a major point of concern for Little.

“I don’t think they reacted, necessarily, to move in a progressive manner to address issues of racial intolerance,” Little said. “I think the university is just trying to move forward without actually addressing the core issues that were brought up.”

Asked whether some parts of the institution were making good-faith efforts on initiatives such as hiring faculty members of color, Little declined to comment because he was not familiar with recent data. But Little said he knows McDonald has been working to recruit and retain faculty members of color throughout the university and that McDonald has worked on initiatives with St. Louis public schools to bring students of color to the University of Missouri.

“There are some great things going on,” Little said. “I just think they are not getting publicized.”

Choi maintains the university is taking the challenges head-on.

“We are addressing the issues,” he said. “We are not going to let up on our commitment to make sure that students, faculty and staff feel valued and included.”

So where, exactly, does that leave the University of Missouri in 2018? Even with new leaders, it remains a public lightning rod. Even after a slate of policy changes and new attention paid to student concerns, some still wonder how much has truly changed -- how much it is turning the page versus papering over issues.

Some university leaders are genuinely trying to put improvements in place, said Wilkins, the senior who remembered the protests in her freshman year. But students aren’t in the room for every decision, and earning student trust is hard.

No one party will ever be able to say with full authority whether the university has recovered or progressed enough. Students graduate. Administrators and board members turn over. Faculty members come and go, too, or move in and out of various leadership positions.

None of those parties has a monopoly on perceptions of the place, on the narrative.

“It’s always difficult to get the entire story of a movement because there are very few people who are there from the start to the finish,” Wilkins said.

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Wilson Center releases study on China's 'influence and interference' in U.S. higher ed

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 07:00

Concerns about Chinese government interference in American higher education seem to have become ubiquitous over the past year.

Lawmakers have lambasted universities for hosting Confucius Institutes, Chinese-government funded centers for Chinese language and culture education that they characterize as outposts for Chinese Communist Party propaganda or intelligence collection, and their complaints have prompted several of the institutes to close.

Congressional committees have held hearings about foreign espionage efforts to infiltrate U.S. higher education, with a focus on alleged efforts by China. The Trump administration in June moved to restrict the duration of visas for Chinese graduate students studying certain sensitive fields. Trump himself reportedly told a group of CEOs in August that “almost every student” from China in the U.S. is a spy.

Western scholarly publishers have blocked access to journal articles within mainland China to comply with government censors. And two new reports -- one a scholarly paper based on a survey, the other journalistic -- found that self-censorship is perceived to be a widespread problem in the China studies field, though the reasons cited for this vary.

It’s in this context that the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars released its report “A Preliminary Study of PRC Political Influence and Interference Activities in American Higher Education” (throughout the report the author uses the acronym for the People's Republic of China in favor of the adjective "Chinese"). The study, which is based largely on interviews of more than 180 people, including more than 100 professors, documents alleged attempts to infringe on academic freedom at U.S. universities on the part of both Chinese embassy officials and “a small number” of individual Chinese students over the past two decades.

The study, authored by Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic, a Schwarzman Associate at the Wilson Center for 2017-18, concludes that "over the past two decades, PRC diplomats stationed in the United States have infringed on the academic freedom of American university faculty, students, administrators, and staff by: complaining to universities about invited speakers and events; pressuring and/or offering inducements to faculty whose work involves content deemed sensitive by the PRC authorities … and retaliating against American universities’ cooperative initiatives with PRC partner institutions."

Individual Chinese students, meanwhile, have -- according to the report -- in various cases infringed on academic freedom by “demanding the removal of research, promotional and decorative materials involving sensitive content from university spaces”; “demanding faculty alter their language or teaching materials involving sensitive content on political rather than evidence-based grounds”; “interrupting and heckling other members of the university community who engage in critical discussion of China”; and “pressuring universities to cancel academic activities involving sensitive content.”

In addition, the report documents cases in which Chinese students have “acted in ways that concerned or intimidated faculty, staff, and other students at American universities,” such as by “monitoring people and activities on campus involving sensitive content”; “probing faculty for information in a suspicious manner”; and “engaging in intimidation, abusive conduct, or harassment of other members of the university community.”

Lloyd-Damnjanovic goes out of her way to stress that the cases of students discussed in the study “likely represent a tiny proportion of the more than 350,000 PRC nationals currently studying in the United States.”

“Countermeasures should neither vilify PRC students as a group nor lose sight of the fact that these students, along with faculty members of Chinese descent, are often the victims of influence and interference activities perpetrated by PRC diplomats and nationalistic peers,” she wrote.

The highly sensitive nature of the subject comes across in Lloyd-Damnjanovic’s methodology section, in which she writes that many potential respondents did not return her emails, or sent back what she described as "curt remarks alleging that the premise of the study was political, alarmist, or racist."

To such responses Lloyd-Damnjanovic countered, “It is essential that studies of PRC influence be conducted in an objective, balanced and responsible fashion. Broad brushes, generalizations and policy in the absence of a substantial empirical foundation are problematic. But to dismiss concerns about PRC influence and interference without even considering whether there is evidence is tantamount to burying one’s head in the sand.”

Over all, she concluded, the evidence from her interviews "suggests a worrisome trend but does not in the author’s judgment rise to the level of a PRC-orchestrated wave."

The Chinese embassy in Washington condemned the report's conclusions Monday, saying, "This allegation of the report you mentioned is totally groundless, full of prejudice, discrimination and hostility."

"China is always committed to developing friendly relations and seeking win-win outcomes with other countries based on the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in other countries' internal affairs," an embassy spokesperson said in an email. "We never do such things as 'interference.' That is definitely not Chinese style. We hope that certain people could take off their tinted glasses and take off their 'insulation clothes,' the sooner the better, and view the development of China and the world in an objective way."

The following are a few of the specific cases and issues highlighted in the Wilson Center report.

Hosting of speakers and events. The report states that "PRC diplomats have since at least the early 1990s made official expressions of displeasure to American universities for hosting certain speakers and events." In the cases discussed, which mostly happened at major research universities, Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote that these requests were seen as "propagandistic" and duly if politely rebuffed. But she raised the question of whether smaller institutions more reliant on Chinese students and cooperative initiatives with Chinese universities for revenue would disregard the complaints of embassy officials so easily.

Retaliation and the Dalai Lama. The report describes alleged retaliation against universities that play host to speakers the Chinese government doesn’t like. Richard Daly, who formerly headed the Maryland China Initiative at the University of Maryland and now works at the Wilson Center -- he wrote the foreword to the report -- said that groups of municipal- and provincial-level PRC officials stopped attending the university’s executive training programs for a period of time after the Dalai Lama gave a speech at Maryland's College Park campus in 2013.

The report also says that executive training programs organized through Maryland’s Office of China Affairs -- a successor office to the Maryland China Initiative -- have “experienced disruptions” since 2017 when a Chinese student, Yang Shuping, gave a controversial commencement speech praising the “fresh air of free speech” in the U.S. Maryland's media relations office declined to comment.

The report further describes alleged retaliation against the University of California, San Diego, after it invited the Dalai Lama to give a commencement speech in 2017. The report cites unnamed faculty members who say they heard from their colleagues at Chinese partner institutions that universities were ordered by a government entity -- believed to be the Ministry of Education -- not to collaborate with UCSD. Among other alleged retaliatory actions, a faculty member told Lloyd-Damnjanovic that the ministry blocked funding of a joint research center operated by the University of California's 10 campuses and Fudan University. UCSD's media relations office did not comment on the report.

Pressures on faculty. The report also describes alleged attempts by embassy officials to pressure or induce U.S.-based faculty who study topics the Chinese government deems sensitive in order to influence their research. As one example, the report cites the case of a City University of New York professor, Ming Xia, who said he received a call from an official at China’s New York consulate in 2009 demanding he withdraw from a project to create a documentary about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. “‘We know this movie may give you financial rewards but we can give you much more,’” Xia recalled the official as saying, according to the account in the report, which he confirmed for Inside Higher Ed. “He also told me that I would pay the price if I went ahead with the movie and emphasized that [they] are going to do everything [they can] to stop this film.” Xia rejected the officials' request.

Chinese students' reluctance to speak. The report details concerns by some professors that some of their Chinese students feel unable to speak freely about sensitive topics in an American classroom.

Lloyd-Damnjanovic summarized an interview she conducted with Jason McGrath, an associate professor of Asian languages and literatures at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. McGrath described being “met with silence” when he attempted to facilitate a discussion about a film about corruption in China. "Frustrated," Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote, "McGrath gently scolded the class until a student from the PRC who normally participated spoke up. ‘We’re uncomfortable talking about that because we don’t know who might be listening to us,’ the student said. For McGrath, ‘that was the first time that I sort of suddenly had the realization that the students in my class, some of them at least are very aware -- if it’s a large class with a lot of Chinese nationals and they don’t know them all -- that they might be self-censoring what they say because they’re worried about who else in the class might be listening, and who they might be talking to.’”

McGrath confirmed via email this account was accurate. However, he added that he responded no to "the vast majority of [Lloyd-Damnjanovic's] questions about whether I'd seen evidence of censorship or discursive coercion in the American academy by the Chinese government or its supporters, and in general I am skeptical about much of the alarmist hype about Confucius Institutes and so on."

Perceived monitoring. Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote that "numerous faculty and students reported experiences in which they felt they were being monitored by students or campus actors who appeared to be from the PRC while engaging in sensitive academic activities." For example, she wrote of a case at Harvard University where a faculty member said that two of her colleagues, both visiting scholars from China, "confided in her that they had caught another visiting PRC scholar searching their offices after hours and heard him openly discuss writing periodic reports to the government during the 2016-17 academic year.

The faculty member’s colleagues said they thought the reports pertained to the political views and activities of ethnically Chinese faculty, visiting scholars and students at Harvard. "They warned the faculty member to refrain from discussing sensitive political issues in front of unfamiliar ethnic Chinese," Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote.

Potential abuse by Chinese students. Some of Lloyd-Damnjanovic's interviewees also described experiencing what they perceived as harassing or abusive behavior on the part of individuals they believed to be Chinese students. In one example, an ethnically Chinese professor identified only by his former affiliation at Indiana University described his experience after speaking on a 2008 panel organized by a student organization, Campaign for Free Tibet.

Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote, "After the event, the faculty member noticed that he and his background had become a topic of discussion among members of the [Chinese Students and Scholars Association] email Listserv. A week later, the faculty member was walking in the park with his children when someone of student age who appeared to be a PRC national approached, pointed, and called him a 'dog' in Chinese. During a trip to the local farmer’s market several days later, the faculty member noticed someone of student age who appeared to be ethnically Chinese approached with a camera and took a close-up photograph of his son’s face. The faculty member said that the photographic activity made him fear for the safety of his son, a toddler at the time, and for his family."

“It is intimidating,” the faculty member told Lloyd-Damnjanovic. “You can never be 100 percent sure it is related to the [Tibet] speaking event, but it happened right after.”

Self-censorship. Lloyd-Damnjanovic also asked her faculty interviewees about the issue of self-censorship. Varying reasons they gave for self-censorship include concerns about being denied a visa to enter China and the effects that would have on their career and concerns about the safety of their research subjects. Some scholars who are Chinese citizens or of ethnic Chinese heritage said they self-censored out of concern for family and friends in China.

The Wilson Center study came out several days after two professors published a paper based on their survey of more than 500 China studies scholars. About 68 percent of respondents to that survey identified self-censorship as a problem in the field.

The survey, conducted by Sheena Chestnut Greitens, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri, and Rory Truex, an assistant professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, also documented the real risks China scholars can face in conducting research. Greitens and Truex found that about 9 percent of China scholars reported having been “taken for tea” by Chinese government authorities to be interviewed or warned about their research, 26 percent of scholars who conduct archival research reported being denied access and 5 percent reported difficulties obtaining a visa. In addition, 2.5 percent -- 14 individual scholars -- reported experiencing temporary detention by police or physical intimidation

Greg Distelhorst, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the new study from the Wilson Center is valuable. But he is concerned that it will affect perceptions of Chinese students in the U.S. and encourage stereotyping.

"I believe it is very important to document influence activities of governments on institutions of higher learning and research," Distelhorst said via email. "The Communist Party of China would be happy to continue expanding its censorship and monitoring regimes overseas. As demonstrated by the ongoing acceptance of political censorship by major academic publishers such as Springer Nature, the party will find some organizations are willing to trade their integrity for market access.

"On the other hand, an anthology of horror stories that focuses on a single group of foreign students is sure to encourage stereotyping. This is especially dangerous in a period of renewed American xenophobia. I appreciate that the report cautions against this, but nonetheless I am concerned about its impacts. There are hundreds of thousands of Chinese students studying in the U.S., and the huge majority are uninvolved in these cases. Professors and university administrators need to keep this in mind -- and keep students at the center -- when thinking about how to respond to foreign government influence activities."

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Professor discusses his new book on reading classic novels with people with autism

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 07:00

The idea of reading great literature with people with autism may surprise some, but not Ralph James Savarese. The father of a son with autism, and a professor of English at Grinnell College, Savarese has been doing so for years. And he reports gaining insights into literature and humanity in the process. Savarese describes his experiences in See It Feelingly: Classic Novels, Autistic Readers, and the Schooling of a No-Good English Professor (Duke University Press). He responded via email to questions about his new book.

Q: What has been the prevailing view about literature and people with autism? Was the prevailing view based on any evidence?

A: The prevailing view was that autism’s “triad of impairments” (in communication, imagination and social interaction) made literature, especially fiction, too difficult to understand. Too difficult to understand and too alien to relate to or invest in. There was plenty of scientific evidence of said impairments, and from these impairments literature was assumed to be beyond the reach of autistic people. Literature, after all, depended on things like figurative language and complex theory of mind -- things that autistics were said to be bad at. With the rise of the neurodiversity movement, however, and a new emphasis on difference, not pathology, old truths have fallen away, and a new portrait of autism has emerged. For example, contrary to what scientists thought, many autistics have no trouble with metaphor, and those who do can be taught.

Another example: whereas scientists used to claim that autistics lack empathy altogether, they now claim that they struggle with cognitive and motor, but not emotional, empathy. The latter, of course, is that well of animal feeling we have for people -- we draw on such feeling when reading fiction. Impairments in cognitive empathy, if they are present, can be accommodated by something as simple as giving autistic people more time to discern the mental states of others. In fact, reading fiction may offer practice in this endeavor and, just as important, a more hospitable setting and time scale for figuring things out. But this is true for many nonautistic people, too! The autistic readers in See It Feelingly were exemplary.

Q: How did your son change your view of how literature could be important to people with autism?

A: In June of 1998, I adopted my son, DJ, from foster care. He was a badly abused, nonspeaking 6-year-old with autism. Doctors said that he was “profoundly retarded.” In May of 2017, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College with a double major in anthropology and creative writing. He lived in the dorms with an aide, and he used a text-to-voice synthesizer to communicate with his teachers, classmates and friends.

This past April, Deej, the documentary that he stars in, wrote and co-produced, won a prestigious Peabody Award. The film includes four of DJ’s poems, beautifully set to the live-action, oil-paint animation of Em Cooper. (She and the film are currently up for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Graphic Design and Art Direction.) All of this is to say that 1) we have no idea what autistic people can do and 2) creative writing has been a part of DJ’s life since he came to live with my wife and me.

He didn’t so much change my view about literature and autism as organically reveal his interest in, and talent for, the former. One of the first things that he typed on his computer was “very great sound, very great sound.” I had been reading Dylan Thomas’s poem “Fern Hill” aloud to my wife. Our house was awash in poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, and DJ took note. He loves patterned sound. Even everyday utterances by him have a poetic quality. Take, for example, this gem from a visit to see my mother in Washington, D.C. We had gotten lost on the Beltway, and my wife and I had squabbled. When my mother asked him about the trip, he typed, “Yes, yes. Mom and Dad. Long time very married.” As DJ began to write poems and essays and as I began to acquaint myself with the medical literature on autism, I saw a profound disconnect. I then saw this disconnect with so many other autistic people. The medical literature, with its list of deficits, just didn’t describe them -- what they can do.

Q: How is it different to lead a discussion of literature with students with autism than those without?

A: The readers in See It Feelingly come from across the spectrum. Two of them -- my son and Tito Mukhopadhyay -- are nonspeaking, so discussions with them required a pacing adjustment. I would orally present a question or a comment, and they would type, with one finger, a response. I would have to wait patiently for that response. DJ and I were in the same room. With Tito and three others, I used Skype. Jamie Burke, who learned to speak at age 13, used the sidebar to prime his voice, first typing his answers and then reading them aloud. Dora Raymaker would switch from speaking to typing when she became anxious or overstimulated. Speech -- both finding and making words -- often proved difficult; by conserving resources, she could focus on the question.

Eugenie Belkin, who is autistic and deaf, communicated strictly by typing but with the picture function on Skype turned off. She felt completely fluent, even eloquent, when typing, and she didn’t want the distraction of visual input. Temple Grandin, who travels all over the world and couldn’t manage Skype in an airport, wanted to talk by phone. In this way, conducting discussions -- hospitable discussions -- with autistic readers is different. Or maybe I should say that it looks different at the outset. The discussions themselves -- their intensity, the illumination they offered -- were like the very best classes I have taught at Grinnell. Accommodate, I say, don’t worry about conventional comportment or appearance, eschew stereotypes. In sum, make room for difference. Adapt what you do as a nonautistic person, then assess the abilities of autistic people.

Q: What insights did you gain on Moby-Dick and other classics from readers with autism?

A: With each of my readers, I discussed a different book. With DJ, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; with Tito, Moby-Dick; with Jamie, Ceremony; with Dora, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?; with Eugenie, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter; and with Temple, two short stories from Among Animals: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction. Tito and I made our way through Melville’s tome two chapters a week for 17 months.

As Ahab ruled the Pequod, so Melville’s novel ruled our ship of days. So many things stand out from this experience, but I’ll mention just one. It concerns Tito’s identification with the phantom cetelogical presence in Moby-Dick. Encountering Ahab, he compared the captain’s obsession with killing the great leviathan to our culture’s obsession with vanquishing autism. Just as Ahab believes that the white whale maliciously took his leg, so people believe that autism maliciously takes their children. The words of the megalomaniacal Ahab -- “To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at three” -- could just as easily be uttered by an autism parent, Tito said.

As a nonspeaking person, he relished Ishmael’s alternative understanding of the whale’s lack of speech: “Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living.” Ahab, in contrast, rails against the creature’s silence. Approaching the severed head of a sperm whale, he issues a deeply sarcastic command: “Speak thou vast and venerable head …; speak … and tell us the secret thing that is in thee.” Precisely because speech is considered the quintessential mark of the human, Tito has despaired of his own inability to speak. In a poem titled “Harpoons,” written as part of his weekly response to Moby-Dick, he mapped the slaughter of whales onto a typical scene with a “severely” autistic child, ghoulishly suggesting that violent death might be a form of speech therapy:

With harpoons they queried -- they lacked finesse.
He voiced no response except some noisy breaths,

Excavating sound from deep in his chest.

What pointed questions! They injured his head!
He breathed to explain how he talks with that head:

Great blubbery words that rise from his chest.

Is there a mind, they wondered, inside that head?
The sound of his answers? Those cumbersome breaths.

Let blood uproot what’s locked in his chest.

Reading Moby-Dick with Tito, I was invited, as never before, to consider the issue of animal intelligence and the speech privilege that lies at the heart of human arrogance. Tito also affirmed a central tenet of reader response theory: that particular readers bring particular things to particular texts. I now can’t imagine teaching Moby-Dick without the input of a nonspeaking person.

Q: What does your experience show about the ability of people with autism to have a more advanced education than has been the norm?

A: I believe that autistic people across the spectrum deserve a chance at an advanced education. But we must be prepared to support them. My son, for example, needed an aide in the classroom and in the dorm; he needed all sorts of accommodations. For example, so as not to take up too much time with his typing, he asked for discussion questions in advance. That way he’d be ready to go when called on. He needed a friendly, difference-appreciating environment; otherwise, his anxiety might get the best of him. (Oberlin shined in this respect.) We have to want to have autistic people on our campuses; we can’t begrudgingly accept and include them. Every one of the book’s readers has experienced debilitating stigma. What I hope for See It Feelingly is that it shows how much autistic people have to offer. And in an area where they were thought to be incapable! I remain astonished by what these readers contributed to my knowledge and enjoyment of classic American fiction.

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For-profit chain will close dozens of campuses

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 07:00

Education Corporation of America, a for-profit higher education provider with locations across the country, plans to close 26 campuses -- a third of its current total -- by early 2020. The closures would affect almost every chain of colleges operated by ECA, including Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, Golf Academy of America and Virginia College. The company said it is ending enrollment of new students at those campuses immediately because of insufficient demand.

The closures come just a few years after ECA acquired 38 campuses owned by Kaplan College, another for-profit operator. They’re the latest evidence of restructuring in a sector rocked by regulatory crackdowns, negative publicity and falling enrollment as the economy continues to improve.

The closures are concentrated mostly in Southern states, with a handful in Arizona, California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Texas. The colleges will begin a teach-out process -- the formal planning for students to continue their programs elsewhere -- and cease operations entirely between June 2019 and April 2020. Students who can’t complete their program of study before a campus closes can either transfer their credits or request a tuition refund.

Campus Closures

Brightwood College: Arlington and Beaumont, Tex.; Bakersfield, Fresno, Palm Springs and Sacramento, Calif.; Dayton, Ohio

Brightwood Career Institute: Pittsburgh

Ecotech Institute: Aurora, Colo.

Golf Academy of America: Phoenix

Virginia College: Austin, Tex.; Baton Rouge and Shreveport, La.; Biloxi and Jackson, Miss.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Columbus and Macon, Ga.; Fort Pierce and Pensacola, Fla.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery, Ala.

“The decision to discontinue enrollment and teach-out our programs was made because of insufficient enrollment demand for our programs in these markets,” said Diane Worthington, a spokeswoman for ECA. “The vast majority of currently enrolled students will have the opportunity to complete their course work and earn their certificates/diplomas or degrees as planned. As always, we continue to focus on helping our students graduate and assisting them with getting jobs in their fields of study.”

The Ecotech Institute in Aurora, Colo., billed itself as the first and only college training graduates to work in the renewable energy field. Virginia College, which offered associate degrees and certificates in a variety of professional fields, will close more than half its campuses.

The closure announcement follows more bad news for Virginia College from a prospective accreditor. The Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training late last month rejected the college’s appeal of a previous decision to deny recognition in May.

Virginia College, along with most other ECA programs, remains accredited through the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools -- an organization awaiting a final decision on its status from the Education Department after it narrowly avoided getting axed by the Obama administration. If the Trump administration does not extend federal recognition of ACICS, the colleges it accredits will eventually have to seek recognition elsewhere to keep access to Title IV federal student aid money.

Kevin Kinser, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University who studies the for-profit sector, said the closures are further evidence that an expansive physical presence is not viable in the current higher ed environment.

“I’m sure the economy and negative publicity have something to do with it, but there are also the changes made to for-profit recruitment practices in response to significant critiques and the uncertain policy environment,” he said. “For-profits are being more careful now in how they recruit and who they recruit, and changed programs to ensure that the cost to students reflects the potential labor market outcomes.”

Douglas Webber, an associate professor of economics at Temple University, said changes in the economy are likely driving enrollment patterns more than any other factor. He noted that many nonprofit colleges have also seen recent declines in enrollment, and an uptick in closures of small private nonprofits could be in store.

“For-profits, by the nature of the type of students they enroll (e.g., older students) are going to be even more exposed to the whims of the labor market than nonprofits, which enroll relatively more students just out of high school,” he said.

For-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: For-profit collegesIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: 

Colleges award tenure

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 09/12/2018 - 07:00

Kalamazoo College

  • Kyla Day Fletcher, psychology
  • Ryan Fong, English
  • Marin Heinritz, English
  • Amy MacMillan, business management
  • Noriko Sugimori, Japanese

McDaniel College

  • Silvia Baage, French
  • Cheng Huang, biology
  • Paul Muhlhauser, English

Missouri University of Science and Technology

  • Lana Alagha, mining and nuclear engineering
  • Kathryn Dolan, English
  • Jie Gao, mechanical and aerospace engineering
  • Edward Kinzel, mechanical and aerospace engineering
  • Sarah Stanley, business and information technology
  • Matthew S. Thimgan, biological sciences
  • Mingzhen Wei, geosciences and geological and petroleum engineering
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Another controversial policy proposal in Wisconsin would eliminate all programs based on number of majors

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 07:00

Just a few years after rewriting the rules on program cuts and related faculty layoffs, the University of Wisconsin System is again seeking to limit faculty -- and even institutional -- say in academic matters.

According to a circulating system draft policy on "monitoring degree program productivity," institutions would have just three years to increase enrollment in “low-productivity” programs or be forced to cut them.

The monitoring policy, which is based on less decisive, existing system guidelines on program reviews, bluntly defines low-productivity programs as those that fail to produce at least five bachelor’s degrees per year over five years and three master’s degrees over the same period, on average. Doctoral programs would be monitored based on criteria established by individual institutions.

Again, similar productivity expectations already are in place for program reviews, which are overseen by individual institutions. But the revised administrative policy would require annual monitoring at the system level and speed up the timeline by which “provosts are encouraged to consider alternative solutions to delivering low-degree producing programs.”

Faculty leaders say that the proposal could arbitrarily kill programs that play important in roles in general education, and that it uses a single metric to assess program success.

Wisconsin’s central Office of Academic Programs and Educational Innovation and the Office of Policy Analysis and Research would monitor all programs, submitting data to each institution by the end of August of each year.

Institutions, in turn, could simply decide to eliminate their low-productivity programs by the end of the academic year. But more likely, they could submit to the system a “plan of action to remediate” targeted programs by the end of December -- just four months later. Failure to meet that deadline would trigger the "governance process for program elimination."

Possible remediation actions include:

  • Retaining the curriculum while developing strategies to increase enrollment with additional resources
  • Redesigning the curriculum to make it more “responsive to market demand; more appealing to students,” or combining it with another program or department on campus
  • Changing the delivery model
  • Collaborating with another institution to offer the program

After three years of remediation, institutions must report back to the system about results, the draft policy says. (“Tracking” and communication with the system office would also be required annually.) In the event that a program still failed to meet the standard of five bachelor's or three master's degrees annually, on average, over five years,  “the institution must eliminate the program through its governance process.” A teach-out plan must be provided for any programs with currently enrolled students.

Two types of appeals to are allowed: a one- or two-year extension, with the system assessing the probability that the program will meet its graduation goals; or an appeal based on the idea that a program is “critical to the institution’s mission.”

Appeals must include information, including that about the “quality of the program in the areas of teaching and learning, and the contributions of its faculty in research, creative activity and service.” The system alone assesses these appeals.

A spokesperson for the system initially referred requests for comment to Greg Summers, provost at the Stevens Point campus and architect of its new plan to eliminate 13 programs, including English, history, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. Via email, Summers said he supported the policy and its inclusion of shared governance and an appeals mechanism. Hesitant to comment in much detail on something that is still in draft form, Summers said that “carefully monitoring program enrollments has always been a fundamental responsibility of the [Wisconsin] system.”

That’s “relatively uncontroversial when enrollments are growing and funding is readily available,” he added, “but it becomes more difficult, obviously, when budgets are tight and demographic pressures have eroded the population of prospective students.” 

Noel Radomski, managing director of the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education at the Madison campus, said the draft monitoring policy comes at a time of intense distrust between campus faculty and staff and system administrators, following changes to tenure and program discontinuance policies over faculty objections, and, a bit later, the controversial transition of state colleges to branch university campuses.

Beyond that, the proposed policy timeline sets faculty members up for failure, he said. A comprehensive program remediation plan would take at least two semesters to design, not one, especially at regional campuses where professors carry heavy teaching loads. Similarly, deciding the fate of a program after just three years is too fast, he said.

“People want to speed things up at universities just like they want to speed things up at a widget factory,” Radomski said. “But that’s like comparing apples to meat loaf.”

Nick Fleisher, associate professor of linguistics at the Milwaukee campus and president of the state conference of the American Association of University Professors, said that the system is proposing to use a “single metric -- the number of graduating majors over five years -- to assess the importance of programs.” No one metric can do that, he said, “and this one is particularly bad,” since “it ignores a program's course enrollments, and it puts smaller campuses at a disadvantage since the same numerical bar is used systemwide. It completely disregards the educational value of the programs themselves. It's a blunt budget-cutting instrument, not an educational policy.”

Calling the policy a “major shared governance problem,” Fleisher said there is “no acceptable automatic trigger for program elimination.” The system should withdraw the draft, he said, encouraging the it to share strategies for program growth and development instead of "seeking ways to shut programs down.”

Bob Atkins, CEO and founder of Gray Associates, a higher education consulting firm, said that “when you start to see across-the-board cuts like this in colleges or in business -- when numerical rules are imposed -- it generally means there’s been a breakdown in communication or trust between the organization and its leadership.”

Noting that he recently worked to help another, unnamed institution cut 80 programs, Atkins said “a healthier process can be done -- and we do it in schools all the time. You sit down with the data and you’re clear that, ‘We gotta cut a bunch of programs.’ But you put that responsibility on the people on the front lines who know what these things are.” (Note: An earlier version of this paragraph contained an erroneous reference to the University of Akron.)

He added, “In our experience, when you ask them to take on that responsibility, they do.”

Beyond shared-governance issues, Atkins said that using an arbitrary number as a trigger for program cuts could have unintended consequences. While some have guessed that the proposal will disproportionately hurt regional campuses, a preliminary analysis by Atkins based on federal data on completions found that Madison would suffer some 70 program cuts and Milwaukee about 30, out of about 120 total program cuts across the system.

Foreign language programs across campuses would suffer, and Atkins suggested that the system would have to designate a center of excellence somewhere -- not necessarily a bad idea, he said. But education, including several science and special education programs, would be cut across Wisconsin, as would numerous programs in ethnic and women's studies. Smaller but potentially valuable science programs would be caught up in the cuts, too, he said, as could programs funded by donors. Moreover, he said, most programs are cost-neutral or cost-generating in terms of instruction, if not overhead.

"You can make some silly mistakes in cutting programs that are attracting students at very little to no cost."

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Accreditor finds misleading consumer statements, discriminatory attitudes at for-profit chain

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 07:00

Two years ago, the Obama administration denied a request by the Utah-based Center for Excellence in Higher Education, a chain of for-profit colleges, to reclassify to nonprofit status.

The denial prompted a lawsuit from CEHE, which accused the Obama administration of agenda-driven decision making.

That lawsuit has yet to be resolved, but the for-profit chain is now facing more pressing challenges: its accreditor, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, last week placed its 11 campuses on systemwide probation.

The findings that led to that step show a serious focus on consumer concerns such as misleading advertising and recruitment as well as outcomes like academic performance.

The nearly 80-page letter from the commission paints a picture of campuses that had prioritized enrollment of new students over educational quality and shirked their responsibility to students. The findings also suggest abusive consumer practices and discriminatory attitudes toward some students.

The accreditor found CEHE, which operates College America and Stevens-Henager College, has included unenforceable provisions in enrollment agreements that could lead students to believe they had no recourse when they discovered misrepresentations by their program after an initial 90-day period. And in one case, an Arizona campus attempts to explain away poor academic outcomes by citing the culture of its largely Native American student body -- an explanation that shocked the commission.

“Over all the commission found CEHE’s response to be dismissive of the schools’ responsibilities to the students and to the accrediting process,” wrote ACCSC executive director Michale McComis in the letter last week.

Eric Juhlin, CEHE’s CEO, said the chain is reviewing the decision and planning a response to the commission.

“In short, we strongly disagree with significant portions of the commission’s proffered basis and rationale for this decision and feel that this system-wide action is unjustified,” he said in an email. “We are concerned and troubled that this decision may have been issued in reaction to external or other inappropriate influences.”

The chain must submit a response to the commission findings by Dec. 21. Its status will be reviewed again at the February 2019 board meeting of ACCSC.

Without approval from an accreditor, a college can’t keep its access to federal Title IV funds, which includes revenue from student loans and Pell Grants. But it’s rare that an accreditor takes the step of completely yanking a college’s accreditation -- an outcome that would put most institutions out of business.

Many of the issues cited in the findings letter have been documented at CEHE programs for years.

Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said the findings letter from ACCSC is still significant because its transparency, focus on consumer protection and detailed list of institutional failures are uncommon for accreditors.

“It’s an example of exactly the kind of work accrediting agencies should be engaged in,” Flores said.

Among the commission’s top concerns were misleading statements about students’ rights. Enrollment agreements at CEHE campuses have included mention of a 90-day “verification period” in which students may terminate their enrollment without penalty if they discover any misrepresentations by their program. But the chain knows the provision cannot be enforced, meaning it would only have the effect of confusing students about their rights, the commission found.

CEHE campuses have also used advertising that could mislead students about the programs they offer, the commission found. College mailers have listed a full slate of programs offered in a geographic area but require students to call and inquire about the specific program of study they are interested in. That practice could create opportunities for recruiters to pressure students into enrolling in a program of study they weren’t originally interested in, the commission found.

ACCSC told the CEHE it won’t just examine finished advertising going forward. The accreditor will also examine the process for creating and approving advertising for the campuses.

Most troubling to the accreditor was the explanation it received for below-benchmark student achievement at the College America campus in Flagstaff, Ariz. The campus noted that it serves a student population with 65 percent Native American students. Because of the makeup of its student body, the campus said it “is faced with several unique and challenging cultural factors that must be considered and/or addressed when serving this population.”

Among those cultural factors, the campus cited what the commission found to be overgeneralized statements about Native American culture such as “lack of direct eye contact,” a “shunning of individual recognition” and focus on “living in the present as each day comes.”

ACCSC said those statements showed a lack of sensitivity to students served by the campus and an attempt to blame poor outcomes on the culture of its students.

Asked about the specific findings, McComis said the letter would have to speak for itself. But he said the standards used to judge the CEHE institutions have been in place for years and have been applied consistently over time.

“There’s no special application here,” he said.

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Academics question system for measuring academic performance, flagging potential problems

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 09/11/2018 - 07:00

When a student misses a class, does poorly on a quiz, fails to turn in an assignment or otherwise seems in danger of flunking a class, what should a professor do?

At Lycoming College, a small, private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, worried faculty members simply talk to their students or pick up the phone to call the dean and share their concerns.

In an era when many colleges and universities are using high-tech early-alert systems for monitoring and improving student performance -- many promising to boost retention and graduation rates through proprietary student tracking tools and powerful predictive data analytics -- Lycoming’s solution seems remarkably quaint.

Some institutions, such as Georgia State University, have had remarkable success with heavily data-driven student success systems. Others, including Lycoming, have not. Despite becoming well-established tools over the past decade at colleges and universities hyperfocused on improving student performance and retention, state-of-the-art early-alert systems haven't been embraced at every institution. Some have resisted the need for in-depth data reporting and gone back to their old ways of measuring student performance. Others have switched frequently between providers, seemingly unable to settle on one that works.

Andrew Kilpatrick, associate dean of student success at Lycoming, said he sometimes had doubts about the college’s old-school approach. A few years ago, college administrators seriously considered purchasing early-alert systems from leading vendors such as Starfish, EAB and Civitas Learning.

“We saw value and benefit in a lot of them but didn’t find one that was exactly what we needed -- there wasn’t a slam dunk,” said Kilpatrick.

Instead, administrators decided to create their own solution in-house. The system, created by the IT department, prompted instructors to answer a series of questions about their students’ performance during the third and sixth weeks of class. The system was used during the 2016-17 academic year, but it was soon obvious that this solution “was not nearly as effective as what we had been doing all along,” said Kilpatrick. Rather than raising the alarm as soon as they spotted an issue, faculty members were waiting to report problems, he said.

And while most faculty members were willing to engage with the new system, not everyone was on board, said Kilpatrick. Telling faculty members when and how to report on student progress “made some people feel like they were teaching high school,” he said.

There were also other hurdles, said Phil Sprunger, provost and dean of the college.

The data collected at both the third and sixth weeks “became too much to handle -- it became a distraction,” he said.

The homegrown early-alert system also resulted in “a lot of false negatives” with students being flagged as at risk when “they were probably going to be OK,” he said. “It was making people feel bad.”

Though Lycoming largely went back to its old way of doing things -- asking faculty members to report provisional grades at the sixth week only -- Sprunger recognizes the university's approach wouldn't work for every institution. Lycoming has around 1,300 students, and relationships between instructors and staff who work in residential life and advising are closer than there might be at a larger institution.

“If we had 5,000 or 10,000 students, our system wouldn’t work,” he said.

Sandra Kingery, Logan A. Richmond Professor of Spanish at Lycoming, said in an email that college's current system works very well. Faculty members have, since 1994, been asked to give early-assessment grades at the six-week mark to first-year students, transfer students and students who are deemed at risk.

"It's quick and easy to do -- faculty enter the grade a student is getting at that time, and there is a checklist of reasons we can use to explain poor grades (e.g., poor attendance, missed assignments, poor grades on exams etc.)," she said.

When Lycoming tried adding reporting at the third week in addition to the sixth week, results indicated that "having two early assessments didn't seem to improve student success more than having just one," said Kingery. "For that reason, we went back to the single early assessment in the sixth week as we had done previously."

If a problem arises before that six-week mark, faculty members will pick up the phone or write an email to notify the appropriate dean, who is very effective at identifying what's going wrong, said Kingery.

"I would also copy their student adviser, and when applicable, his or her coach," she said.

Kingery said she had never tried using a more high-tech early-alert system, "but I have a hard time believing that kind of a program would be an improvement to what we're doing already at Lycoming," she said.

"It doesn't seem to me that technology would make us any more effective than we already are at identifying problems and notifying the appropriate people about our concerns," said Kingery. "In fact, I would think any software system would actually reduce our personal connection with our students."

Finding an early-alert system that fits an institution’s culture is key to its success, said Fox Troilo, senior research adviser for higher education at Hanover Research. Hanover works with institutions to look at which factors might be causing student attrition by surveying current and past students who have dropped out of classes. This data are then used to create a predictive model that identifies students who are likely to be most at risk. (Note: Hanover does some survey work for Inside Higher Ed.)

Universities largely have the same goals for their early-alert systems: they want to improve student retention rates and ensure more students graduate. But which data need to be tracked and collected to achieve these goals will vary by institution, Troilo said.

An important factor for success is ensuring that faculty are engaged in the data-collection process. “There has to be faculty buy-in for these systems to work,” he said.

Feleccia Moore-Davis, provost at Tallahassee Community College, knows this firsthand. Earlier this year at the Achieving the Dream annual conference, where member colleges of the nonprofit organization meet to discuss different student success initiates, she told attendees that the college had started using a solution from vendor Starfish in 2012, but after a few years decided to switch to a homegrown solution when the system failed to improve student retention.

At the conference, EdSurge reported that Moore-Davis told attendees that faculty members “hated” the Starfish system. “They didn’t understand why they were doing it and they didn’t get any feedback,” she said.

The Florida college modified its IT help desk system last year to keep track of alerts. The platform, called TeamDynamix, allows faculty members to create a work order that tells staff in advising or the financial aid office that a student needs help. Alerts must be responded to within 48 hours, and faculty members receive an automatic notification when someone from the college completes the request.

The college is planning to stick with the TeamDynamix system for now.

“Faculty like that they can see into the process,” said Moore-Davis. The new system is also saving the college money. The Starfish subscription was around $73,000 a year; the new solution costs under $3,000, she said.

Moore-Davis is somewhat skeptical of the impact that early-alert systems can have on student retention.

“I think the best tool that we have ever used and that we still have access to are our faculty,” she said. “They are in the best position to retain our students.”

Howard Bell, senior vice president for higher education student success at Starfish, said that since Tallahassee joined Starfish in 2012, technology and approaches to student success have changed significantly.

“Today the way forward for student success in higher ed requires the use of guided pathways,” he said. This means that colleges shouldn’t take a “single-bullet approach” to student success, but make an “intentional effort” to ensure students and staff have access to multiple resources, including skills assessment, career exploration and academic planning and analytics, in addition to early alerts. This comprehensive suite of resources (which are all included in the Starfish offering) in addition to shared data and insights from a network of 467 institutions are what sets Starfish apart from homegrown solutions like Tallahassee’s, said Bell. “That’s why it costs more,” he said.

“Many early adopters of student-success systems have come to realize that change management at the school is just as important an element as the adopted technology,” said Bell. He added that in recent years, Starfish and other organizations have been spending more time “helping schools with cultural shifts in campus mind-set and policies that are significant barriers to the successful integration and use of tools by staff and faculty.”

Martin Balinsky, a professor of earth science and vice president of the United Faculty of Florida’s Tallahassee Community College union chapter, said he was somewhat surprised to hear Moore-Davis report that faculty prefer the current system over Starfish.

“In my experience, the exact opposite is true,” he said. “Starfish was much more user-friendly, because you could record attendance daily and there was an automated process to flag students to let them know if their grade was below a certain average, or if their attendance had not been good.”

By contrast, the new system requires faculty members to contact students twice before they can make a referral, and there is no mechanism for recording attendance.

“It is ludicrous that faculty can only make a referral if they have reached out to a student twice already,” said Balinsky. “Faculty do not have time to spend constantly calling or emailing students who have not been attending class.”

Balinsky believes the system is “babying” students and is detrimental to student success because it doesn’t teach them about “the way the real world works.”

“A community college faculty member’s primary job should be preparing the best-quality product to give the students, delivering it to them and answering their questions in a classroom or office-hour setting,” he said. “Let us do our jobs, let the students learn from both their good and bad choices, and that will be the true key to student success.”

Frank Baglione, a professor of history at Tallahassee, also said that he had preferred the Starfish system but acknowledged that when it was introduced, many faculty members disliked it because it required them to take attendance -- an activity that was not previously mandated.

Though Moore-Davis said that the new system gave faculty members greater insight into what happens after they flag a student, Baglione said he was still in the dark about what assistance students receive.

A common response that faculty members receive from the system is “could not get ahold of student,” Balinsky said. “So it’s pretty meaningless.”

Farrah Jackson Ward, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, said her institution had experienced encouraging results with its early-alert system but noted “they don’t work out of the box.”

Elizabeth City State has worked with EAB’s early-alert solution since 2015. Initially, faculty didn’t get it and only about 50 percent of faculty engaged with the system, Ward said. They said they were too busy and forgot to do it because they weren’t reminded.

Now faculty are prompted twice a semester by email to flag any students with issues. The university is also developing training sessions, videos and handouts to ensure that faculty understand how to use the system, what happens when they flag a student and why it’s important. As a result, the university now has a 99 percent response rate from faculty.

Margery Coulson-Clark, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at Elizabeth City State, said she likes the EAB system -- particularly how it easy it is to use. EAB sends out an email with a link to the system that doesn’t require faculty members to log in. It also sends prompts about upcoming reporting deadlines. Training on how to use the system is “accessible and easily followed,” she said, making the use of EAB “less cumbersome for those who are new to it.”

Nancy Biggio, associate provost for administration at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., also uses EAB’s solution. She says her institution did a lot of work to encourage faculty, particularly those that work part-time, to use the system.

“Faculty are an inquisitive population -- they ask lots of questions and want to know the reasons for things,” she said.

Biggio said the system has become indispensable to staff working in advising and has improved communication across the institution between staff and faculty members. Mary McCullough, chair of the Faculty Senate at Samford, said she personally had "positive experiences with the early-alert system" and believes that it has improved communication between faculty members and advisers on campus.

"I believe it's easy to use, and when I flag a student, I am confident that the Academic Success Center, the student's adviser and I can work together to follow up with the student in question," said McCullough.

Ana Borray, director of professional learning at Educause, said that when it comes to making early-alert systems successful, “technology can only do so much.” Engaging faculty members to make reports is important, but so is “closing the loop” to let them know that their reports have been acted on, she said.

Borray said it’s not uncommon for institutions to switch between early-alert providers. And a lot of new players are entering the market -- including traditional enterprise resource planning providers. As early-alert systems have evolved, they have also become more complex and costly.

“It wouldn’t be uncommon for a university to be paying $200,000 a year,” said Borray.

Borray said most institutions that use early-alert systems see some positive impact on retention rates -- but these may be more modest increases than they expected. Some institutions set unrealistic goals, such as increasing retention by 10 percent in a year, she said. And they often don’t realize how much time it takes for a system to start working.

“There is no magic,” she said.

Transforming the Student ExperienceEditorial Tags: Career servicesGraduation ratesRetentionImage Source: Istockphoto.com/DrAfter123 Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Trending text: Early AlertsTrending order: 2College: Elizabeth City State UniversityGeorgia State UniversityLycoming CollegeSamford University
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