Higher Education News

Which women's team would win the NCAA tournament if academics mattered most?

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/19/2019 - 07:00

As the world gears up for the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men’s basketball tournament and relationships are shattered in bloody bracket battles, we at Inside Higher Ed are upholding a now heavily imitated annual tradition.

Every March since 2006, we have introduced our annual Academic Performance Tournament to judge who would win the NCAA tournaments -- men’s and women’s alike -- if classroom, and not on-court, performance was the ruling metric. Check out the men's version here.

It works like this: we look at the NCAA’s (admittedly flawed) measure of a team’s academic prowess called the academic progress rate -- we’re using the 2016-17 figures, though it’s a multiyear metric.

In the event of a tie between two teams, we turn to the NCAA graduation success rate, the association's own determination of the portion of a team's athletes who graduate within six years. The graduation success rates excludes athletes who leave an institution in good academic standing and credits those who transfer in and graduate. Generally, the NCAA’s rate is higher than the federal government’s, but we use that metric as a last-ditch resort in the case of another tie of the previous two metrics.

And now, drum roll, the winner … is the same as last year’s!

Click here to take a look (or check out our bracket below) and follow me on Twitter @jbeowulf for other athletics and student affairs news.

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Staff at Virginia regulator recommend revoking a college's certificate to operate due to academic quality concerns

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 07:00

A small Virginia college that enrolls a predominantly international student population is facing a move by state regulators to seek to shut it down after an audit uncovered academic deficiencies.

The staff of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is advancing a recommendation to initiate processes that could lead to the revocation of Virginia International University’s certificate to operate due to concerns uncovered in the audit about academic quality, including concerns about “rampant plagiarism” by students and grade inflation; online classes that are “patently deficient” in terms of quality and content and graduate courses that are “lacking academic rigor”; and the admission of “large numbers” of students with inadequate English proficiency.

A spokeswoman for SCHEV, the state regulator for higher education in Virginia, said SCHEV’s Academic Affairs Committee will consider the staff recommendation during its meeting today and decide whether to advance it to the full council for a vote Tuesday. The council could pursue a number of possible next steps, including determining no action is necessary, changing VIU's certification status to "conditional," or accepting the recommendation of the staff to initiate the revocation of its certificate to operate.

Officials at Virginia International University did not respond to requests for comment Friday. VIU is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an accreditor with a troubled past. In December 2016, the Department of Education under then secretary John B. King revoked ACICS's status as a federally recognized accreditor, citing as a reason the accreditor's "pervasive noncompliance" with regulatory criteria (the decision came after the collapse of two large for-profit chains overseen by ACICS, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech). But in November, Secretary Betsy DeVos restored ACICS’s recognition with the condition that it demonstrate full compliance with federal criteria within 12 months.

VIU, which is based in Fairfax, Va., and was founded in 1998, appears to exist primarily to enroll international students. According to enrollment data posted on its website, VIU enrolled 632 students in 2017-18 -- down from 1,876 two years earlier --- the vast majority of whom, 86 percent, came from outside North America (the data does not specify where in North America students come from). Over the prior five years the percentage of students from North America varied between 1 and 3 percent, with the remainder of the students coming from the rest of the world, primarily Asia.

Although the institution is small, VIU cracks the list of top 100 institutions nationally in terms of the number of students who are participating in the optional practical training program, which enables international students to work during their studies or for up to three years after graduating.

The SCHEV audit of VIU found numerous concerns about the quality of the online courses it reviewed. The report from the audit states that “the single most important factor contributing to the substandard quality of online education at VIU is the institution’s acceptance of international students with an abysmally poor command of the English language. This is especially true for graduate level programs.”

"SCHEV's review of VIU's online course content indicates that the admission of unqualified students is the first of many impediments to a quality online education system," the audit report states. "Unqualified students regularly submit plagiarized or inferior work; faculty turn a blind eye and lower grading standards (perhaps to avoid failing an entire class); and administrators do not effectively monitor the quality of online education being provided. That such substandard course work could continue with no complaints from students, faculty or administrators raises concerns about the purpose of education at VIU."

The SCHEV auditors found “the quality and content of the online education provided by VIU to be patently deficient,” and noted concerns including “limited peer-to-peer and student-faculty interaction; failure of instructors to adhere to standards outlined in course syllabi; rampant plagiarism; graduate level courses lacking academic rigor; online courses that are not comparable in content to those offered in residence; and grade inflation.”

The audit found that these inadequacies “were not limited to one area of study or one instructor. Instead, the low quality of education passing as online education at VIU affects all programs of study on the undergraduate and graduate level.”

Though the audit report focuses on the online education offered by VIU, it states that SCHEV staff believe the "deficiency of the education provided by VIU is not limited to online courses." The report cites a number of reasons for reaching this conclusion, including that the lack of English proficiency among the student population would affect not only online but also face-to-face courses and that the same faculty are teaching online and face-to-face classes. SCHEV's review of more than 60 student transcripts found "no discernible difference" in grades received for online versus face-to-face classes.

SCHEV's scrutiny of VIU has resonances with an earlier audit done by the Virginia regulators of American College of Commerce and Technology, another ACICS-accredited college that catered to international students. Virginia regulators identified such severe problems in their audit of ACCT that they began moving to shut it down less than a year after it received initial accreditation from ACICS. ACCT is now defunct, having shut down in 2017.

ACICS -- which did not respond to a request for comment for this article -- approved a three-year renewal of VIU’s accreditation in August. “Should Virginia terminate VIU, it should be a black eye for ACICS, which acted the other way,” said David North, who writes about issues related to international students for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates cutting legal immigration.

Should the council act on the staff’s recommendation that it seek the revocation of VIU's certificate to operate, VIU would be entitled to further administrative steps, including an informal fact-finding conference and a formal hearing before an officer appointed by the Supreme Court of Virginia. After those processes were completed, the matter would return to the council for a final decision.

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Academics oppose proposed survey of student and faculty political beliefs at Florida public universities

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 07:00

Proposed legislation in Florida would require public universities to survey students’ and faculty members’ political beliefs annually.

The bill, HB 839, passed a House panel last week, amid opposition from Democrats who expressed concern about how the survey data would be used. A similar bill has been proposed in the Florida Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, and Governor Ron DeSantis is a Republican.

The survey language, which is part of a broader set of proposed performance metrics, is short on details. There is no assurance of data anonymity or clarity on who will use the data, for what purpose.

The bill says only that the state university system’s Board of Governors will require public institutions to conduct an assessment of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on campus. Results would be published annually, starting next year.

The board shall select or create an “objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid survey” that “considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the university community feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom,” reads the bill.

Matthew Lata, professor of music at Florida State University and president of the campus’s National Education Association- and American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union, spoke out against the bill during the debate in Tallahassee.

“Are faculty and students going to be coerced into filling out such a survey?” he asked. “If I refuse to do that, am I going to be punished? Coerced speech is a violation of the First Amendment. I shouldn’t forced to tell the state of Florida what I believe about certain political matters.”

Republican supporters of the bill say they worry about indoctrination of students by liberal professors. Cord Byrd, chair of the House Higher Education and Career Readiness committee, said students have told him they don’t feel comfortable sharing their political views in the classroom.

“They are real concerns,” Byrd said. “And I think it’s only getting worse.”

Republican legislators in a number of states routinely express concern about liberal bias on college campuses. But lawmakers who are skeptical of academe more typically target tenure or specific program areas.

Both Florida State University and the University of Florida declined comment on the bill.

One criticism expressed by Democrats last week in Tallahassee is that the survey seems to be targeting one set of beliefs, or a predetermined outcome. Indeed, numerous studies already demonstrate that professors are overwhelmingly liberal. So it’s unclear what new data the state-level survey would reveal. Other data suggest that college students who develop or continue to hold more conservative beliefs don’t suffer for them, socially or otherwise.

Samuel Abrams, a professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College who has commented publicly that his own moderate-conservative political views make him the “Ted Cruz” of his overwhelmingly liberal campus, has researched both student and faculty politics.

Despite sometimes feeling like a target or outsider at his own institution, Abrams said Saturday that he strongly opposed a state-sanctioned attempt to impose political “litmus tests” on students or professors.

“It’s not a particularly Republican idea,” Abrams said of Florida’s survey proposal. “And it makes it harder to move the needle back to the center.”

Abrams continued, “I appreciate the incredible interest in having balance on a college or university campus -- there’s no doubt about that. But when we try to measure these things, they become litmus tests. And they can be used against certain people.”

Abrams also posed methodological questions about the survey, saying that “ideology and partisanship is not a clear-cut issue. Most people’s views are somewhere in the middle.” And just because a professor leans liberal or conservative doesn’t mean he or she can’t teach the opposite viewpoint effectively, he added.

A better approach to “bringing things back into balance” politically is to do so from within, with strong campus leadership and thoughtful programs, Abrams said.

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Who would win the NCAA tournament if academics mattered most?

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/18/2019 - 07:00

We're not idiots: we know that talent and heart (and a little luck) will primarily determine which team cuts down the nets in Minneapolis after the final game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men's basketball tournament next month.

But we're not ESPN or The Athletic -- we're a higher education publication that, when we write about sports, focuses on how athletics affects the colleges that sponsor the teams and the athletes who play the games.

So each March since Inside Higher Ed's inception, we've published our own (now much imitated) version of the tournament bracket for men and women.

Our Academic Performance Tournament determines the winners of each game in the tournament by comparing the academic performance of teams, as measured by the NCAA's own -- admittedly flawed -- metrics for judging academic success.

We first look to the 2016-17 academic progress rate, the NCAA's multiyear measure of a team's academic performance. (Among other things, the APR excludes athletes who leave in good academic standing, so high-octane programs where players tend to go pro early can still fare well on the measure.)

When two teams tie, we turn to the NCAA's graduation success rate for 2017 which measures the proportion of athletes who graduate within six years. (The graduation success rate also excludes athletes who leave the institution in good academic standing, and credits them for players who transfer in and go on to graduate from the institution. As a result, the rates on average are much higher than the federal graduation rate, the formula the federal government uses to track graduation rates.)

In the event of a tie on that metric, we then turn to the 2017 federal graduation rate.

The winner of this year's Academic Performance Tournament is ... aw, go on, you have to click here (or see below) to find out.

Please follow me on Twitter @dougledIHE.

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Popular career platform for Ph.D.s is owned by foundation behind uncovered undergraduate admissions fraud case

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00

So far, there’s no public evidence that the stupefying undergraduate admissions scandal has touched graduate admissions.

Still, the case has touched graduate education: Versatile Ph.D., which was a leader in the alternative-academic career-coaching space, and which still rakes in annual fees from subscriber institutions, was purchased last year by the Key Worldwide Foundation. That’s the foundation William (Rick) Singer -- the alleged leader of the fraudulent admissions ring -- started in 2012. His separate admissions business was dubbed “the Key.”

Both the foundation and the admissions business have been implicated in the federal case against Singer and dozens of his alleged co-conspirators, from sports coaches to Hollywood types trying to get their kids into college. And Singer, who is cooperating with federal authorities, already agreed in a plea deal to forfeit the foundation's interests, including those in Versatile Ph.D.

Court documents initially obscured this connection. In a filing dated March 5, which has since been unsealed, prosecutors charged Singer with racketeering and money laundering, among other crimes, and said that a conviction would result in the forfeiture of millions of dollars and foundation holdings such as “Virtual Ph.D.”

That was apparently a typo, as Key Worldwide doesn’t own a company by that name. But it does own Versatile Ph.D., as of last year.

The company was founded in 2010 by Paula Chambers, a film director turned humanities Ph.D. who realized in graduate school that she would be happier working outside academe and created a Listserv for the like-minded. That Listserv eventually became Versatile Ph.D. It racked up paying subscribers as graduate students faced an increasingly rough job market and looked to it for advice, job ads, local meet-ups and a career-finder function.

Chambers sold the company in 2018, as new and demonstrably web-savvier platforms began to crowd its market space.

The eventual buyer -- Key Worldwide -- wasn’t well-known to most watching that space. Some were surprised at the acquisition.

A May 2018 announcement, which has since been taken off-line but is cached here, says that Key Worldwide’s education and its career initiative, PeplWorks, considered the sale “an important step in PeplWorks' effort to improve and expand university career services through the combination of behavioral science, assessments and job match analytics.”

At the time, Versatile Ph.D. said it served 79 universities and more than 85,000 individual members.

Todd Maurer, Versatile Ph.D.’s new president, commented then that the platform was “unmatched in the area of graduate student and early-career Ph.D. career services. We are truly excited by the synergies and opportunities that will be created through this acquisition. We believe that our emerging product offerings, and enterprise networks, will bring a practical and data-driven perspective to V.Ph.D.’s already impactful activities around career discovery, readiness and job access.”

Maurer founded PeplWorks, which his Versatile Ph.D. biography describes as a “predictive analytics start-up that promises to decode human potential and remodel the way education and employment markets work.”

Versatile Ph.D. anticipates that it will “continue under new ownership, in some form, into the future," Maurer said Thursday. "Our services to Ph.D. and postdoctoral students are operating as before.”

As for Key Worldwide, Maurer said that Versatile Ph.D. “operates independently” and does not have any relationship to admissions activities.

“Our continuing mission is to help Ph.D. and postdoctoral students envision, prepare for and excel in professional careers,” he added.

It’s true that Versatile Ph.D. doesn’t deal in graduate school admissions. So perhaps the most interesting questions about this connection center on why Key Worldwide wanted to take on Versatile Ph.D.

Many have speculated that business relationships set up by Singer were part of the way he hid money. But there have been no public allegations that this is the case with Versatile Ph.D. And of course many companies would desire the data being collected by Versatile Ph.D. on which kinds of people with which skills and credentials were interested in and successful at doing what.

Something else to note: multiple news reports have stated that federal investigators were tipped off to the Key scandal by an unnamed party involved in another federal securities case. And a former Key Foundation collaborator whose publicly available résumé says he worked on Versatile Ph.D. was arrested last year for allegedly helping con dozens of investors out of $2.2 million in a scheme involving a mass-production-ready caffeinated chocolate snack that never was.

That former Key Foundation collaborator, Joel Margulies, could not immediately be reached for comment. But his résumé says that from 2014 onward, he worked as a product architect at Key Worldwide. It names Versatile Ph.D. as one of the foundation's products.

In working for Key Worldwide, Margulies says he “researched and developed the algorithm to match the results of psychometric assessments to résumés and job posts for 'right-fit' job matches” to reduce employee turnover costs, and built an “immersive readiness experience for graduate students leaving college for commerce.”

Maurer said Margulies is not affiliated with Versatile Ph.D. 

Several businesses who work with graduate students and recent Ph.D.s to find work inside or outside academe declined to comment on the record about Versatile Ph.D. Several of the platform's founding member universities did not respond to a request for comment about their connection to it, or how they’d advise students sharing their data with it to proceed.

Chambers, Versatile Ph.D.’s founder, declined general comment and to answer a specific question about the cost of the sale, saying she’d previously agreed to refer media requests to the new owner.

L. Maren Wood, co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate, a competitor of Versatile Ph.D., said in a statement that Singer and the foundation’s alleged actions are inconsistent with the values of her business and that it’s “unfortunate” that a “well-known business is connected to this scandal and the people involved.”

Many academics already “question the role of private businesses in higher education,” she said, “but the reality is that businesses like ours are essential to the academic community. Every day, we work to support graduate students, postdocs, adjuncts and underemployed Ph.D.s at a critical moment -- when they are on the job market.”

So the news about Versatile Ph.D. “casts a shadow on all of the small businesses and solopreneurs working in this space, and as a consequence, might make it more difficult for graduate students and Ph.D.s to get the support they need.”

Julie Posselt, associate professor of education at the University of Southern California -- which is among the institutions targeted in the admissions fraud case -- wrote an eye-opening 2016 book about the graduate admissions process. (Posselt also has contributed to Inside Higher Ed.) She said this week that she didn't have enough information to infer what motivated the Key Foundation to purchase Versatile Ph.D. 

What is clear is that Versatile Ph.D. gathers "copious personal information about people who may feel anxious about or wronged by the faculty job market, just as a lot of high school students feel anxious about the market for college admissions. I want to know how they were using it or may have intended to use it. How are people and companies exploiting the difficulty of accessing higher education and faculty jobs?" 

Versatile Ph.D. sent a message to university members late Thursday assuring them of the business's integrity. While Key Worldwide "may have some difficulties in the days to come, I assure you that Versatile Ph.D. will continue as a viable, valuable entity in the higher education marketplace," it said. 

Asked about student's concerns about sharing their data, Maurer said via email that "there should be no concern about data being exploited."

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Debate over using artificial intelligence in college debate

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00

IBM’s artificial intelligence technology has foiled chess masters and Jeopardy! champions, but it hasn’t won a debating competition against a human -- yet.

Project Debater, a two-meter-tall black box powered by artificial intelligence, lost to champion debater Harish Natarajan last month in the first machine-versus-man debate competition of its kind.

It was a loss but not a failure for Project Debater. She (yes, she) was able to construct arguments and make rebuttals and even used preprogrammed humor.

“I have heard you hold the world record in debate competition wins against humans, but I suspect you have never debated a machine,” Project Debater said to Natarajan in her opening remarks. “Welcome to the future.”

IBM wants to use this technology to help people develop more persuasive arguments and make well-informed decisions, said Dan Lehav, computer scientist and a debate expert at the company. Humans are good at presenting information in ways that appeal to other humans, he said. But machines have the ability to analyze unfathomable amounts of data.

“We want to bridge those worlds,” said Lehav. “Humans are going to be able to use this in a complementary way.”

He said the technology has several potential applications in higher education. College debate is an obvious area. Project Debater could be a practice opponent, a research aid or even a judge of the strength of students' arguments -- including those written in essay form.

What makes a “strong” argument is something that IBM scientists have grappled with, said Lehav. Project Debater determines whether there is substantial evidence for or against an argument by analyzing a corpus of more than 300 million newspaper, magazine and journal articles.

AI can “shine a light on distorted facts to provide diverse, well-informed viewpoints -- both the pro and the con,” IBM said on its Project Debater website. “The rise of one-sided and doctored narratives is challenging society and our platforms. Too often, we talk past one another. We need a smarter way.”

Brandon Fleming, founder and CEO of the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, said he is excited about the potential applications of the technology in academe. “The technology is simply revolutionary,” he said in an email. “Project Debater has the potential to empower our ability to think critically and communicate effectively.”

Fleming said he wants to use the technology to train college debaters in rhetoric, research and argumentation. “The speed at which Project Debater can generate arguments would provide more content for my students to explore and critique,” he said. This would “inherently accelerate and enhance the amount of academic conditioning that one training session could allot -- producing stronger students in a shorter period of time.”

More generally, he said the technology could be used in classrooms to encourage students to engage in critical examinations of research and argumentation. “In addition to information, Project Debater provides instant access to reason. Information and reason coalesce into ideas and arguments. Argumentation is the vehicle by which ideas are exchanged, challenged and perfected.”

However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the potential of AI in college debate. Jeffrey Jarman, director of the Elliott School of Communication and former director of debate at Wichita State University, said he could see a role for AI in helping students improve their debating skills, but with "lots of caveats and cautions."

"I"m not sure how much the AI understands the full process of argumentation," said Jarman in an email. Debating is about more than just finding strong arguments, he said. "We have to shape and alter our arguments based on the particular audience we are speaking to. It isn't clear that the AI is sophisticated enough to do that yet."

Scott Varda, associate professor of communication and associate director of debate at Baylor University, said the IBM technology was “impressive” but had limitations. In the live debate, Varda felt Project Debater struggled to grasp nuance and lacked creativity. “Debate is both an art and a science,” he said.

While Project Debater could be used to train champion debaters, Varda doesn’t think this would be a scalable or particularly useful application of the technology. A better use might be tapping AI’s analytical power to help academics mine scholarly literature, he said, perhaps to identify new drug targets in medical research.

Sarah Partlow-Lefèvre, a professor of communications and director of debate at Idaho State University, agreed that Project Debater’s debating skills were limited. She likened the AI’s performance in the live debate to that of a novice debater. “It was able to compile all the information but didn’t know how to use it."

The AI started with an advantage over its human opponent because it had access to a treasure trove of raw data and facts, said Partlow-Lefèvre. But it fell down on connecting with the audience through humor, eye contact, delivery and subtlety of argument. “It didn’t feel able to maintain a consistent policy position and didn’t quite understand the nuance of all the arguments,” she said.

Training regimes for college debaters are usually low-tech affairs, said Partlow-Lefèvre. Pen drills, where students speak while biting down on a pen, are used to help students improve their enunciation. Speed reading helps students to process information faster. Students also are encouraged to film themselves and review the video to see where they can improve their delivery.

AI could be a useful sparring partner for college debaters in training, or help them to conduct research, said Partlow-Lefèvre. But she predicts that use of this technology in a competition setting would prove contentious. In competitions where students are given just minutes to prepare their arguments, even allowing access to the internet is unusual and deemed “very controversial.”

Partlow-Lefèvre worries that access to the technology might only be available to students at the wealthiest institutions -- possibly giving them an unfair advantage over their opponents. She also questions whether the use of AI would be deemed intellectually honest by college debate judges.

The world of college debate "is slow to change," she said. 

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Dismissed president sues Saint Mary’s College of Indiana

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00

Five months after resigning abruptly under a shroud of mystery, the former president of Indiana's Saint Mary’s College is suing the institution, saying she was forced out by the head of the Board of Trustees and that the college has refused to pay her what she's owed.

In a lawsuit, Janice Cervelli alleges that the board chair, Mary Burke, pressed for her “immediate resignation,” apparently with the support of other board members “who were in cahoots with her.”

Cervelli also asserts in the complaint that the college hasn’t lived up to an agreement to allow her to stay on as a tenured faculty member -- and has basically done what it could to chase her off campus.

In a statement, the college said it had honored all of its agreements with Cervelli and has fulfilled all of its obligations to her. But a copy of the separation agreement between the college and Cervelli, made public as part of the legal complaint, shows the college committing to giving her a year's severance and a tenured faculty position at the compensation level of the college's highest-paid faculty member, neither of which Cervelli says she has received. College officials declined to comment beyond the initial statement.

Saint Mary’s announced Cervelli’s resignation in a cryptic open letter sent Oct. 5 to the South Bend Tribune. In it Burke offered no explanation but said Cervelli would be replaced by Provost Nancy Nekvasil.

A South Bend, Ind., native, Cervelli became president of Saint Mary’s in June 2016.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Indiana, doesn’t elucidate the mystery surrounding her dismissal, asserting that the college had given Cervelli two favorable reviews previously and offered no reason at the time for what Cervelli asserts was a termination. It notes that in late September, Burke presented her with an undated and unsigned separation agreement and said the board was calling for her immediate resignation. There’s no indication, according to the complaint, that the required two-thirds of the board had indicated they wanted her to step down.

She also says Burke suggested she publicly lie about the reason for the termination: Cervelli, she said, should tell people she was resigning because her mother “needed more care,” which was untrue.

In the lawsuit, Cervelli also says that Burke lied when she told the Tribune that Cervelli resigned “due to reasons she chose not to disclose.” Burke also told the newspaper that the resignation “came as a surprise” when Cervelli called her “to convey the news.”

Cervelli says Burke also lied when she told the Tribune that she had asked Cervelli if “there was something we could do” to keep her at the college. Cervelli says no such conversation took place.

She also claims in the lawsuit that the college has backed out of an agreement to retain Cervelli as a tenured faculty member with full salary, with a promise to pay her “in an amount equal to the highest-paid professor” at the college. The college also agreed to give her severance pay and benefits for a year beginning in January. The agreement, part of a settlement signed by both sides, stated that the college was to begin paying Cervelli a full professor's salary beginning in February. The lawsuit even mentions an email from the director of human resources, who gave Cervelli a breakdown of every professor's salary, from highest to lowest paid.

The college hasn’t paid Cervelli anything from the agreement, the lawsuit claims. Saint Mary's has also hired new “visiting and junior faculty” in Art and Environmental Studies, she alleges, “superseding its obligation to Cervelli as a sitting tenured full professor.” And it has yet to find teaching, service or research assignments for her -- or to provide her with an office.

In addition, the lawsuit says, Saint Mary's has excluded her from the faculty roster and removed her from a faculty email Listserv, “thus banning her from receiving emails containing important announcements regarding college policies, events and faculty development opportunities.”

It has also monitored her “movements and statements on campus.” The lawsuit didn’t provide further details.

The college declined to make Burke available for an interview, but in a statement on behalf of the college, she said the board "is aware of, but not surprised by," the lawsuit.

"We obviously disagree with the allegations raised by Ms. Cervelli’s lawyers, their descriptions of the agreements and their account of the facts," Burke said. "The trustees have honored all of its agreements with Ms. Cervelli and [have] fulfilled all of its obligations to Ms. Cervelli as a tenured member of Saint Mary’s College faculty.”

Burke said the board looks forward to responding to the lawsuit in court "and ultimately resolving this matter with finality."

Raymond Cotton, Cervelli's lawyer, said in an interview, “It’s very regrettable that the situation has gotten to a point where all of this misbehavior has had to be divulged in legal documents. I would have strongly preferred that the parties had worked out their differences behind the scenes and not let it get to the point that it has gotten to.”

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Law professor returns for commencement speech at Macalester College

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00

College commencement speakers that rouse a campus are usually controversial. They’re accused of being too political. They have unpopular views. They make remarks their audience perceive as insensitive.

At Macalester College, a small, private liberal arts institution in St. Paul, the speaker scheduled to give the commencement speech this year has generated no such controversy. He's simply a familiar face to the students who will be earning their diplomas this May.

James Forman Jr., the J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale University, already addressed the Class of 2019 four years ago when they were freshmen and he was their convocation speaker. A news release from the college indicated he spoke about racial injustice, which is in line with his teaching and writing.

Then and now, Forman was chosen as a speaker because of the breadth and depth of his scholarship and research -- and his life's work -- focused on important social and economic issues with which the country continues to grapple.

His return to Macalester this year represents an educational and circular moment for the students -- an academic who college administrators said inspired the students at the beginning of their college journey can continue to influence them as they make their way in the world.

“James Forman Jr. is an original thinker, a driving force, an architect and an inspiration,” Brian Rosenberg, Macalester's president, said in a statement. “He is a person who shows us the inequalities that exist in our society, bringing to light uncomfortable issues that have to be addressed. We need people like James Forman Jr. to help us see what we might not want to see. We’re fortunate to have him as our commencement speaker this year.”

Forman was previously a law clerk for Judge William Norris of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. After his clerkships, he joined the Public Defender Service in Washington, D.C., which provides legal assistance to impoverished city residents, and represented juveniles and adults charged with crimes, according to his official bio. He also co-founded the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, an alternative school for dropouts and youth in Washington who had previously been arrested, as a way to address "the lack of education and job training opportunities for his clients." The school was eventually expanded and moved inside the city's juvenile prison.

Forman also taught at Georgetown Law School before joining the faculty at Yale Law School.

He said that during his first talk to Macalester students in 2015, he spoke about the country's disproportionate numbers of black men and women in prison and the United States' approach to crime. He also challenged students to think about "the approach to their work over the next four years."

"I spoke about being there for one another, taking the time to reach out to someone if you see that they’re struggling," Forman said. "College can be so stressful. You can be so stressed that you forget to reach out to people who are under greater stress, particularly involved in justice movements. We can try to take care of ourselves, too."

Forman was also working on a book that year about the attitudes of black men and women toward crime in an age of mass incarceration. That book, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, was included on the New York Times's 10 best books of 2017 and was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction. He said his commencement speech would likely repeat some of the themes he spoke about in his convocation speech -- and those raised in his book -- although he hasn't yet written it. Forman said he's always conscious that in an audience, especially one made up of students, there will be those who understand the concept of social justice a little better and will hear their opinions being affirmed. For students who are still trying to better understand these issues, what they hear may open up a new world to them, he said.

"I'm conscious as I prepare to think about what's happened in my life and their lives over the past four years, what’s happened over the past four years, I hope it will feel meaningful to the students, to faculty and for myself," Forman said.

Forman attended a mostly black public high school with limited resources in Atlanta before going to Brown University. He has spoken about how he felt intimidated by his more privileged college classmates but pushed on and succeeded with help and encouragement from his mother.

Donna A. Lee, vice president for student affairs at Macalester, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that Forman’s life story was particularly compelling and that his academic work tackles some of the most challenging social issues of the day, which in turn pushed students to create “positive social change.”

“His message to the Class of 2019 during opening convocation in fall 2015 fueled a passion for service and advocacy; his return to speak at their commencement four years later will serve as a powerful bookend to a journey of learning, activism and engagement and launch the next generation of change agents into the world,” Lee said in her statement.

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University of Leeds pulls job ad for position viewed by many as exploitative

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00

A controversial job advertisement that was pulled after an online backlash has shined a spotlight on employment practices that many scholars view as exploitative of early-career researchers.

In an advertisement posted on several online platforms, the University of Leeds sought candidates for a part-time research assistant to Gregory Radick, professor of history and philosophy of science, on a five-month, fixed-term contract, asking for applicants who were “interested in developing [their] professional-academic skills.”

The chosen candidate would be required to “provide practical support” to Radick, the post stated, in particular “redeveloping his personal website; keeping his academia.edu, ResearchGate and related websites up to date; providing occasional support in relation to work needed in the University Museum of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine; assisting with tasks to do with a number of editorial projects and grant applications; handling logistics for occasional seminars with visiting speakers [and] workshops,” as well as “handling photocopying, printing and other document-related tasks as needed.”

The final aspect of the job, which would come with a salary of between 22,659 pounds ($29,805) and £26,243 ($34,520), was “undertaking occasional bits of supplementary research under [Professor Radick’s] guidance.”

The work involved would be “occasional, and rarely time-consuming or demanding,” with the intention that the successful candidate would track how many hours they had to work each month, but the advertisement advised that the employee might be called upon to undertake tasks “with some urgency, so the postholder should be someone more likely to be around the university than not.”

Academics who commented on Twitter branded the post an “exploitative” attempt to disguise a personal assistant role as a research assistant post, typically seen as a way for doctoral students and graduates to develop their research skills.

A Leeds spokesman told Times Higher Education that the advertisement was a “mistake” and confirmed that it had been removed as soon as the university was informed of its existence.

“This administrative role should never have been advertised in that form -- it had an incorrect job title and incorrect requirements,” the spokesman said. “We are sorry for any offense caused. We are taking immediate steps to tighten our approvals process and to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

However, scholars said that it was just one example of how early-career researchers lose out in the job market.

Catherine Oakley, an independent history researcher who formerly worked as a postdoctoral research assistant at Leeds, said that “exploitative hiring practices … are rife, but largely informal and invisible.”

“This is absolutely typical of the way that so-called research assistant posts are viewed and managed in this department -- as disposable appendages to the work of senior white male staff,” she said.

Such posts had “serious implications” for the career development of so-called research assistants, Oakley said.

Vicky Blake, president of Leeds’ University and College Union branch, said she was “dismayed a job ad like that could ever see the light of day.”

“Senior management know it’s not acceptable, and the university is reviewing its HR processes,” she said. “But this underlines the ongoing and wider issues of rampant casualization in the university sector, which we are pushing hard to address at Leeds. Universities should be beacons of ethical employment practice rather than exploitative casualization.”

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/15/2019 - 07:00
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Federal appellate court decision could make it harder for adjuncts to form unions

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/14/2019 - 07:00

Could non-tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions be in trouble? The powerful U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington this week sent a major 2014 decision in favor of these unions back to the National Labor Relations Board for review.

The circuit court simultaneously upheld much of that NLRB decision in its recent unanimous vote, in a case involving art and design instructors at University of Southern California. But sending a precedent so favorable to adjunct unions back to a board that now includes less union-friendly Trump appointees puts the future of such unions at some risk.

The circuit court also arguably made it easier for adjuncts to be considered managers at their institutions, and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining rights.

In the meantime, adjuncts at USC’s Roski School of Art and Design, who voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union over three years ago, say they’re angry that the university continues to refuse to collectively bargain with them while the legal challenges remain.

“It’s unconscionable that USC continues to mount a wildly expensive and frivolous legal campaign aimed at silencing the collective voice of non-tenure-track faculty,” the local SEIU chapter said in a statement Wednesday. Since the union election the university “has used every trick in the book to ignore their collective will.”

The 2014 decision from the NLRB in favor of adjuncts who wanted to unionize at Pacific Lutheran University was surprisingly broad in scope. It didn’t just reject the university’s claim that it was exempt from board oversight merely because it is a religious institution. It also established a new set of standards for evaluating whether faculty members are managerial, at institutions secular or religious.

Which professors are managers and which are not is so important because a long-standing legal precedent against tenured and tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions -- the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court ruling NLRB v. Yeshiva University -- holds that tenure-line professors are managers and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining. Union rights at public colleges are determined by state laws.

Instead of going by a professor’s title, the 2014 NLRB ruling included new standards for evaluating whether faculty members actually have enough power to be managers. The board rejected Pacific Lutheran’s claim that its full-time, non-tenure-track professors were managers.

Professors’ authority must “prove actual,” not just be written in a handbook or otherwise nominal, the board said. It noted that “colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators.” And a symptom of that, it said, is the increasing reliance on adjuncts.

Specifically, evaluating whether faculty members have managerial authority means looking at faculty control of academic programs, enrollment management policies, finances, academic policies and personnel policies and decisions -- with greater weight being given to the first three, the board said.

Experts have called that caveat significant, because many private colleges defer to the faculty on the curriculum but not on enrollment or finances.

In its ongoing case against the Roski faculty union, USC argued that those full-time and part-time, non-tenure-track faculty members are managers under Yeshiva. The NLRB initially applied the Pacific Lutheran standards to the case. It determined that USC was wrong, and that these instructors did not exercise sufficient control or shape policy enough to be considered managers.

After the successful Roski union election -- and a failed union election within USC’s Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences -- the university appealed to the federal court.

In assessing USC’s arguments against the Roski union, the circuit court largely upheld what it called Pacific Lutheran’s “high bar” for determining effective control. Otherwise, reads the court’s opinion, written by Judge David S. Tatel, there’s a risk of “interpreting the managerial exception so broadly that it chips away” at worker protections in the National Labor Relations Act.

It also -- in the words of William Herbert, executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York -- “reaffirmed that the burden of proof to demonstrate managerial status is on the institution.”

So far, so good for adjunct unions.

The appellate court disagreed with the NLRB on a key point, however -- one that the new NLRB will get to review.

The 2015-era NLRB found in Pacific Lutheran that a faculty subgroup seeking union recognition exercises effective control over a decision-making area through participation in a committee only when that subgroup constitutes a majority of the committee. So, say, non-tenure-track professors would be found to exercise control over the curriculum -- and therefore potentially be considered managers not entitled to collective bargaining -- only if they constituted the majority of a curricular committee.

The circuit court found that majority status rule problematic in a number of ways. That logic reflects a belief that a minority subgroup, even acting collectively, is unable to exercise managerial authority within a larger group, for example, the circuit said. (USC argued that the rule “simply disregard[s]” the contributions that minority faculty subgroups can make to university governance.)

Moreover, the circuit court said, Yeshiva drew an important distinction between corporate "pyramidal" hierarchies and college and university faculty “bodies.” That decision drew not on “aggregation of the power delegated to a series of individuals or a mosaic of subgroups" but rather "on the role played by the faculty as a body.”

Collegiality is also a key component to university work, according to Yeshiva. And so the Pacific Lutheran majority status rule “ignores the possibility that faculty subgroups, despite holding different status within the university, may share common interests and therefore effectively participate together as a body on some or all of the issues relevant to managerial status," Tatel wrote in his opinion.

Majority rule also poses logical challenges in that the makeup of a particular committee will necessarily change from year to year, he wrote.

Joseph Ambash, a managing partner with Fisher Phillips in Boston who has successfully represented university interests in union cases before the NLRB, in a legal notice advised institutions to familiarize themselves with the case. (Graduate students at private institutions, too, have expressed concern that the Trump-era NLRB might reverse a separate, 2016 decision in their favor.)

By rejecting the board’s subgroup majority status rule, he said, quoting the opinion, the appeals court “dispensed with the board’s reliance on ‘crude headcounts’ and held that the proper test is for the board to assess whether the faculty members at issue are ‘structurally included within a collegial faculty body to which the university has delegated managerial authority.’”

The decision “represents a meaningful change in the way in which the board and the courts will review the appropriateness of faculty units moving forward,” Ambash said. Still, “it may still be very difficult to prove that adjuncts, contingent and nontenured faculty are within the managerial exception.”

Like the SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers has helped organize non-tenure-track faculty members at private institutions.

Randi Weingarten, AFT’s president, said via email that while this decision “is a setback,” it’s “by no means a death knell for non-tenure-track organizing.”

The court of appeals has “regrettably put its thumb on the scale to make it harder for adjunct and nontenured faculty who participate in university committees to organize,” she said. The effect isn’t a reversal of Pacific Lutheran, but it does tilt the baseline more in favor of administrators. “Ironically,” Weingarten added, “the most marginalized faculty who try to win more of a say in university fora could find themselves denied the right to join together in a union.”

The AFT will stand watch “over any administration who might use this ruling as a pretext to prevent faculty joining together to bargain for a better life," she said.

USC has previously been accused of casting unionization as a threat to participation in shared governance: the Dornsife arts and science adjuncts narrowly voted down a union in 2016, with some alleging administrative interference in the election. The NLRB decided that a second election could proceed. But the union pulled its petition.

Carol Mauch Amir, senior vice president for legal affairs and professionalism at USC, said in a statement that the appellate decision “is a win for shared faculty governance” in that it echoed Yeshiva in holding that “‘traditions of collegiality’ distinguish governance in a university from the management of a factory." She added, "The court held that the NLRB is not free simply to apply industrial models to higher education, but must accommodate the way shared faculty governance actually works.” ​

Provost Michael Quick said that USC “defends the principle that tenured and untenured faculty are partners in shared governance. The recent court decision affirms that principle.”

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Bills in California and several other states would tighten regulation on for-profit colleges

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/14/2019 - 07:00

California lawmakers are going after for-profit institutions with a slate of bills meant to tighten regulations, some of which also are aimed at nonprofit universities with big online programs.

Lawmakers in the state say the bills are a response to the rollback of for-profit oversight led by Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education. And policy makers in California aren’t alone in pushing back at the state level: bills introduced recently in Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington also seek to regulate for-profit colleges.

Some of the proposals, which Robert Shireman and the Century Foundation helped craft, appear to go after specific institutions. Shireman, a former deputy undersecretary of education in the Obama administration and a senior fellow at the foundation, said states watched as DeVos dropped Obama-era student aid regulations that largely targeted the for-profit sector. And he said some state lawmakers subsequently approached him and other groups for guidance.

“It has become much clearer that the federal government is not interested in actually policing the federal loan program and has actually reversed a lot of the guardrails that were set up by the Obama administration,” said Shireman. “Much of the legislation we’re seeing is a combination of addressing some of the problems we’re seeing right now, but also preventing future Corinthians, future Ashfords, future Argosys.”

DeVos last year moved to drop the gainful-employment rule and restored federal recognition of the for-profit college accreditor that oversaw the collapse of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes.

The Education Department also has been questioned over its handling of Argosy University and some Art Institutes campuses. Tens of thousands of students learned last week that Argosy and the Art Institutes would close after failing to distribute millions of dollars in aid to students. The department had cut the colleges off from federal student aid last month, which helped spur their closure. Ashford University, which is seeking to convert from a for-profit to a nonprofit institution, is being sued by California’s attorney general for allegedly defrauding and deceiving students. The online institution also has had a series of conflicts with California’s state approving agency over aid eligibility for veteran and military students.

One bill would address the concerns some for-profit critics like Shireman have about a lack of transparency by organizations like Purdue University Global and at for-profits that, like Ashford, have sought to convert to nonprofits.

The proposed legislation, for example, would require Purdue Global to follow public records laws in the state as would any other public or nonprofit institution. But Purdue Global received an exemption from the Indiana Legislature to some open-records laws that apply to other Indiana public universities.

“If they are claiming to be public for the purposes of California’s oversight, they must not be exempt from their own state’s public records and financial oversight laws,” said Shireman, who criticized the cycle of “student loan-fueled expansions of colleges that then collapse on the students and fall onto the laps of taxpayers."

In a statement, Tim Doty, a Purdue spokesman, said the institution is a public nonprofit.

“Purdue Global has a strong compliance culture and will follow the regulatory requirements that apply to it, no matter the state,” he said via email.

For-profit college advocates are mobilizing in states and contacting lawmakers to stop the legislation aimed at their sector from becoming reality.

“These are draconian bills intended to eliminate the very existence of the proprietary sector in these states,” said Steve Gunderson, president and chief executive officer of Career Education Colleges and Universities, which is the for-profit sector’s primary trade association and has been working with state associations on this issue. “The proponents say they want to go after bad actors. No, they aren’t. They are going after the whole sector.”

Gunderson said critics misunderstand what the Trump administration's Education Department has been doing for the for-profit industry. Neither the sector nor the administration wants lax rules and regulations, he said.

“We should move toward one common set of regulations and laws for all of higher education, and common outcome metrics,” Gunderson said. “Borrower defense and gainful employment is not good. It’s a narrow ideological war against one sector.”

Beyond California, several other states with Democratic governors and majorities in their legislatures are moving forward in an attempt to increase regulations on the sector.

For example, Andrew Cuomo, New York's governor, proposed increasing regulations on for-profit institutions as part of his 2019-20 budget plan. His proposal included requirements for-profit colleges to regularly report their funding sources to the state. It also would not allow for-profits to receive more than 80 percent of their funding from taxpayers.

Lawmakers in California, Maryland and Oregon have introduced similar bills. The federal government caps taxpayer funding of for-profit colleges at 90 percent. The proposed legislation in those states, like in New York, would lower the cap to 80 percent. Legislatures in Washington and California also are mulling bills that would create state-level gainful-employment requirements. And Maine and Oregon legislators would join New York in regulating how for-profit colleges spend funds by requiring that at least 50 percent of spending goes toward direct instruction. A bill in Maine also would require a maximum 15 percent of spending on advertising, while an Oregon bill would prohibit any government funds from being used for advertising or student recruiting.

“It doesn’t surprise me that in the face of what the administration has been doing, policy makers at the state level are increasingly focused on things they can do to protect residents,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

If these bills had been enacted earlier, he said they would have caught problems at ITT Tech, Corinthian and Argosy.

“The point is that would be a feature and not a flaw,” Nassirian said. “Those chains would have collapsed anyway. But with this approach, it ensures we pull the plug much sooner and far fewer people would get caught up and the damage would be smaller.”

Gunderson said he doesn’t buy the argument that these bills will help students or stop an institution from shuttering its doors unexpectedly. For example, Argosy mishandled millions in student aid, which he said the bills wouldn’t have stopped from occurring.

“I don’t know if any of these legislative proposals would prevent any school -- proprietary, nonprofit or public” from engaging in that kind of misconduct, Gunderson said.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/14/2019 - 07:00
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Students at Sarah Lawrence want to review the tenure of a conservative professor who criticized student affairs programs

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/13/2019 - 07:00

A group of student activists at Sarah Lawrence College want the tenure of a conservative professor of political science reviewed, and they want to do the reviewing.

The professor, Samuel Abrams, says the college should be doing more to defend him and, more generally, academic freedom and the “viewpoint diversity” that he advocates.

Abrams -- who has identified himself as an anti-Trump, moderate conservative -- has always been a political outlier within the overwhelmingly liberal college. But things have been especially tense for him since he wrote an New York Times op-ed in October, saying that student affairs administrators are even more liberal than faculty members.

Some of Abrams’s research pertains to academics’ politics. His 2016 study, for example, found that conservative professors are actually happier if not more happy working in academe than are their liberal colleagues. And he wrote in another Times op-ed that same year that professors in New England are especially likely to be liberal, and that at Sarah Lawrence, outside New York City, he might as well be "Ted Cruz."

The recent Times op-ed was a bit edgier and began with an anecdote about the college. He said that he received a “disconcerting email this year from a senior staff member in the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement” about an upcoming event called “Our Liberation Summit.”

The conference, he said, “would touch on such progressive topics as liberation spaces on campus, Black Lives Matter and justice for women as well as for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and allied people.”

As a conservative-leaning professor who has long promoted a diversity of viewpoints among “my (very liberal) faculty colleagues and in my classes,” he wrote, “I was taken aback by the college’s sponsorship of such a politically lopsided event.” Abrams said he soon learned that the Office of Student Affairs on his campus was organizing “many overtly progressive events -- programs with names like ‘Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,’ ‘Microaggressions’ and ‘Understanding White Privilege’ -- without offering any programming that offered a meaningful ideological alternative. These events were conducted outside the classroom, in the students’ social and recreational spaces.”

Abrams’s office door was vandalized soon after. He said immediately after the incident that Cristle Collins Judd, Sarah Lawrence’s president, told him on the phone that he was "attacking" members of the Sarah Lawrence "community." The college said it was dealing with the matter internally. Judd later released a statement affirming academic freedom and Abrams’s “every right” to publish and pursue his work. Several dozen faculty members signed on to that statement. But Abrams still felt the response fell short.

Cut to this week, when a student group called the Diaspora Coalition occupied a campus building and published a list of demands in the students newspaper, The Phoenix. Many of the demands echo those made by other student groups elsewhere during campus protests about diversity: more educational and extracurricular support for first-generation and low-income students, scholarships for students of color, the hiring of more minority faculty members, and more classes with an intersectional approach.

But one demand was more unusual. Referencing Abrams’s Times October op-ed, the group demanded that “Abrams’s position at the college be put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color.”

In addition, they said, the college “must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, black and female students, whilst apologizing for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed.”

Abrams must also issue a public apology to the “broader [college] community and cease to target black people, queer people and women,” the coalition said.

While some professors consistently draw the ire of students, it’s highly unusual for students to request -- or in this case demand -- that they review the tenure of any professor, tenure track or tenured. Students’ opinions are typically considered in the personnel review process by way of other kinds of feedback, namely student reviews of teaching. It’s generally held that only those with advanced degrees may review the work of their peers.

Via email Tuesday, Abrams said that he hadn’t been contacted by anyone at the college, and that it had missed a “chance to take the lead and serve as an national example in terms of how to have civil debates and disagreement and discuss facts and how they differ from opinions.”

He added, “Sadly, the school did not come out strongly on academic freedom and free speech, and this behavior runs against the core value of the college itself.”

Later in the day, the college issued a statement from Judd saying that she’d met with coalition members, who were marking the anniversary of sit-ins held at the college in 1969 and 1989, among other student groups.

"The aims of today’s students are not dissimilar to those who made their voices heard 30 and 50 years ago: they seek to ensure a truly inclusive environment of respect and support at Sarah Lawrence, especially for students of color and low-income students," Judd said.

Of the coalition’s demands, Judd said they bring to the "fore many pressing issues that students at Sarah Lawrence face, especially students of color, low-income students, first-generation students, LGBTQ+ students and others, and I am grateful for the willingness of our students to share their concerns with me and the campus community."

Collaboration from "all parties is the best means to move these efforts forward, and this will require us to develop the most effective process for working with students as well as faculty and staff," she added.

While not referencing Abrams by name, Judd also addressed what she called "the inappropriateness of demands related to the work and tenure of one of our faculty members."

Her previous statement still holds, she said.

Abrams, who is currently on preplanned leave, is scheduled to teach a first-year course next year, to which students are randomly assigned. He worries about the kinds of preconceptions those students will have about him due to the protest, and about his safety and ability to work in general.

Still, he said in a follow-up interview to his statement that he hopes he can stay at Sarah Lawrence. He appreciates the creative and intellectual latitude both he and his students have. Instead of teaching a dry, required course on government or something else, he said, he’s free to design and teach a course on, say, executive orders and how U.S. presidential powers have morphed and grown over time.

“The reason I love Sarah Lawrence is I can make a real difference there,” he said. “While many students at Ivy League schools come in the first semester knowing they want to be bankers, doctors, lawyers or engineers, Sarah Lawrence’s students are a bit more scattered than that.” (Some Sarah Lawrence students want to be those things, too, Abrams clarified, noting he’s sometimes consulted by students who want help preparing for law school -- and is happy to oblige them.)

Abrams continued, “What’s so appealing as a professor here is you find these students and help them find out what they want to do and how to make a living at it and make meaningful social change. There’s also an extraordinary amount of creativity and raw intellect and passion for education that you find at a liberal arts college like this.”

Jonathan Friedman, campus free speech director for PEN America, said in statement that while students at Sarah Lawrence are "free to say what they wish, their call for a review of Abrams's tenure file is wrongheaded and reflects an egregious lack of understanding of the principles of academic freedom and free speech."

He added, "The college administration should make clear to the students that they have no intention of acceding to this outlandish demand. Students who want to air their own perspectives through writings, discussions or meetings on campus should always be encouraged. But to call for punishment in response to an op-ed runs roughshod over the principles of free inquiry that should govern any campus."

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Duke balks on regional light rail project, dooming it for now

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/13/2019 - 07:00

A two-decade effort to bring a transit line to Durham, N.C., hit a possibly fatal stumbling block last month when Duke University effectively backed out of a $3.3 billion light rail project.

The university said it wasn’t ready to sign a cooperative agreement with the Research Triangle Regional Public Transportation Authority, popularly known as GoTriangle, that would allow the project to move forward and qualify for billions in state and federal funding. After local officials requested that the sides agree to mediation to settle disputes around the project, Duke said flatly on Thursday that it saw no reason to proceed. The planned route, it said, is "simply not workable."

The university's stance, local officials said, will likely doom the effort, at least for now.

Duke's move has brought a high-stakes town-gown dispute to a head and inflamed tensions -- an editorial in The News & Observer of Raleigh suggested that local officials simply use eminent domain to take the small strip of Duke land needed for the project, suggesting it's the only option Duke has left available for a "community it abandoned."

The planned 17.7-mile route would have linked the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with Duke, downtown Durham and North Carolina Central University. The plan required Duke to donate about four blocks of land along a major street, but the private university said the project still had to overcome several long-standing safety and health obstacles before officials would sign off. It also said it hadn’t been able to complete extensive reviews under tight deadlines for state and federal grants.

The proposed line would run near Duke Hospital and the Duke Eye Center, among other medical and research facilities, and would require excavating “at least nine 40-foot deep holes” in a nearby street, Duke president Vincent Price and other officials wrote to GoTriangle. The excavation work, which would take several years, “is far beyond the acceptable levels we impose on any public or private construction project in the vicinity of our hospital and clinics,” they said. The project’s long construction process would also disrupt utilities, another unacceptable risk for hospitals.

The rail line itself would present dangers to the medical facilities because vibrations from trains would impede delicate surgeries that are performed around the clock, they said. And electromagnetic interference, or EMI, could wreak havoc on “current and future patient care and research devices.”

Electric subway and light rail trains run adjacent to and underneath hospitals and research facilities in big cities nationwide, of course, but in this case the EMI issue has led to dueling scientific claims from the two sides: Duke says the light rail system presents "catastrophic and potentially fatal" risks, while GoTriangle says it would have at best a "moderate" impact on just a few locations, with most feeling no impact at all.

Duke also said questions around liability remain unresolved: Price and his colleagues said that as a private institution, Duke doesn’t have “sovereign immunity” like the government partners and likely would be solely liable for damages during construction -- or for passenger accidents along the route. They said the partners have been unable to agree on sufficient insurance coverage for Duke’s liability.

Durham mayor Steve Schewel told WRAL that Duke's decision was a "body blow to the light rail and to our community." City councilor Charlie Reece tweeted that Duke's decision "sadly reinforces the worst fears of many Durham residents -- that Duke University is an arrogant and elitist enclave with little interest in being the kind of partner this city needs."

6/ Duke’s decision to kill the light rail project sadly reinforces the worst fears of many Durham residents -- that Duke University is an arrogant and elitist enclave with little interest in being the kind of partner this city needs.

/end

— Charlie Reece (@CM_CharlieReece) February 28, 2019

The news comes as local planners say populations in the region are booming. A January report by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization found that the area around the three cities is expected to grow to 640,000 people by 2045 -- in 2013, it was home to about 430,000 people. The consequence all that growth, the groups said, has been "rising traffic congestion, increasing transportation infrastructure costs and further pressure on our air, water, open space and other environmental assets." The light rail line is expected to accommodate more than 26,000 trips daily.

The planning groups said the region's quality of life, "a key attraction for professional and skilled workers and business investment to our region," may ultimately be threatened by both growth and "inadequate transportation infrastructure."

An Extended Deadline

Gary Stewart, a board member of the International Town & Gown Association, said reliable transportation systems are "a needed staple in every college town," but that getting them often takes years of cooperative planning, "hard work, joint strategies and budget decisions."

A spokesman for Cornell University, Stewart noted that the region's bus system, though less complex than light rail, "was still a long haul over many years to develop and maintain. Gratefully today, it’s growing and successful."

Several area legislators last week said they hope Duke will reconsider its decision on the project, which has already cost the transportation authority more than $130 million, The News & Observer reported. The partners face an April 30 deadline to apply for a $1.23 billion federal transit grant. They must get federal approval by Nov. 30 in order to meet a state deadline for another $190 million in funding. But without Duke’s cooperation, it’s not immediately clear how the project will continue.

Since last week, the Duke Faculty Union, which represents non-tenure-track faculty members, has also urged the university to support the project, saying in a statement that the proposed light rail service would help improve transportation “for the most marginalized members of society.”

The group said the service would "bolster our green infrastructure and improve access to medical facilities, schools and shopping centers for as many residents as possible, especially those without personal vehicles." The union represents more than 250 contingent faculty members, who would be more likely to take mass transit to work. It has operated since 2015 and prioritizes efforts that "promote racial justice and defend workers’ rights" in the Research Triangle region. The union said Duke's contributions to Durham’s economic and social growth "are unquestioned if not uncomplicated," and that the project gives Duke a chance to "join with other local civil and academic leaders to collaborate in the great work of moving the Triangle forward."

Price last November told GoTriangle that Duke is committed to the project and to mass transit -- he said that over the past five years, the university has spent almost $5 million on local and regional transit passes for employees, students and the community. But he said "numerous and quite significant problems remain unresolved" about the rail project. He noted that Duke has had basically the same complaint about the route's proximity to the hospitals for nearly two decades.

"The potential risks of certain aspects of the proposed route to the health, safety and economic well-being of the community and the university are simply, at this point, too great," he wrote. "We deeply wish it were otherwise, and that after decades of planning we were not left in this unfortunate position now, as external deadlines for project financing force us into risky public decision making."

In a letter to campus, Price said he was aware that Duke’s position is unpopular and “has caused some to question our commitment to Durham, which pains me greatly.” But he said the university had been asked to make “financial, land and other commitments that would have required taking unacceptable risks to the safety of our patients and the public, and the continued viability of our research and health enterprises.” Meeting the project’s tight deadlines, he said, “would have abdicated Duke’s responsibility, and my personal responsibility as president, to act prudently in our institutional and public interest.”

Price said Duke remains committed to the creation of a “comprehensive regional transit network” that uses “all modes of transportation and new technologies.”

Durham city councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton on March 4 suggested using eminent domain to take the needed four blocks from Duke, telling WRAL, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but I think it’s an inevitable idea. It’s a discussion that we have to have as a government.” He said the city doesn’t want to pick a fight with the powerful university, but that scuttling the project raises government integrity issues.

Seizing Duke’s land, he said, is “not a pleasant experience. But, respectfully -- as a city, we are not applying for admission to grad school. We’re trying to make public policy.”

In an interview, Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the issue is clear: “We have indicated over the last 20 years that the current route … was not feasible and not acceptable. And we have indicated a strong willingness to support this project if the route can be changed.”

A former Durham mayor, Wib Gulley, who now works with the Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit, a local nonprofit, said the college's rhetoric is misleading, since the project has indeed changed radically from 20 years ago, when it was envisioned as a diesel train line to Durham from Raleigh, not Chapel Hill. The current project is “completely different” from what came 20 years earlier. Actually, he said, the partners proposed the cleaner electric light rail train “in some part to fundamentally meet Duke’s objection” to earlier iterations.

Gulley, who is also a former six-term state senator, said the notion that Duke has consistently sought a new light rail route “is, frankly, deliberately misleading -- they know it’s wrong.”

He also noted that when the current project underwent environmental impact hearings, about two years ago, Duke “didn't say a thing -- they didn’t raise a thing.”

“To me, they’re just trying to make up excuses at this point,” he said. “That is a level of hypocrisy that stuns you.”

On March 5, GoTriangle said it would give Duke an extension of up to six weeks to make a decision. Schoenfeld declined to comment on the offer.

In the Feb. 28 editorial, the News & Observer complained that Duke's last-minute objection to the project has "denied GoTriangle adequate time to respond. It’s bad faith on Duke’s part to raise a major and perhaps project-ending objection just as federal funding is about to fall into place."

The newspaper said Duke's safety objections ring hollow, since many of its concerns are "largely hypothetical and, to the extent that they are legitimate, can be addressed." Medical centers in Chicago, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, among other cities, function safely "despite rumbling trains and subways and major construction projects -- sometimes their own -- nearby," the newspaper wrote. "This isn’t about patient safety. It’s about a rich private university that doesn’t want its harvest of health-care dollars inconvenienced by a major improvement in the region’s infrastructure."

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College officials believe in value of campus jobs and want funds to add more

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/13/2019 - 07:00

Working for a college or university can often be considered a plum job for a student -- with generally flexible hours, minimal to no commute and a relatively easy first professional opportunity.

But according to a new analysis by NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, institutions of all sorts -- two-year and four-year, public and private -- want and need more money to invest in student employment and to add more positions on campus. These jobs also compete with those outside the university that might pay better, the report shows.

NASPA researchers surveyed student affairs professionals and other employees at 244 institutions, most of them four-year public (47 percent) and private nonprofit institutions (37 percent).

The survey asked respondents to identify barriers in “advancing” student employment on campus. Inadequate funding was generally the top answer, with 77 percent of respondents at public colleges and 62 percent at privates reporting that funding was a problem. About 76 percent at two-year institutions in the survey also reported that limited funding was an issue.

About 64 percent of respondents said that in the next three to five years they’d like to increase the hourly wage of student workers. And 59 percent said they wanted to add to the number of student positions.

The survey found that the top two “environmental factors” affecting student jobs were minimum-wage changes and a competitive off-campus job market. The report didn’t provide a range of how much students typically are paid for on-campus positions. But it said many students from all types of institutions work between 11 and 15 hours a week, which can be fewer hours than is required by retail jobs off-campus, said Amelia Parnell, NASPA’s vice president for research and policy and one of the report’s coauthors.

On-campus jobs benefit students in ways their off-campus counterparts don’t, Parnell said. For example, she said, staff members recognize that a worker “is a student first,” and they can be more flexible about scheduling.

Omari Burnside, assistant vice president for strategy and marketing at NASPA and a co-author of the report, said that in some cases low-income students might need to seek off-campus jobs that pay more than those offered by a college. Institutions said they sometimes help students find jobs with better pay. And Parnell said some on-campus positions last longer than single semester or academic year, which means that students, just like if they were working off-campus, are able to earn promotions and raises.

She said students shouldn’t ignore off-campus opportunities. But campus jobs can be uniquely beneficial, said Parnell, often by not requiring a car to go to work or by helping student employees develop a mentor-mentee relationship with a boss.

“I think we do it owe it to them to make it as fruitful as possible,” Parnell said of on-campus jobs. “With other jobs, it’s much more transactional -- you do the job, you get paid. College is much more than that -- with this particular work environment, it should be a living and learning community.”

The survey's other findings include:

  • 81 percent of institutions surveyed said the goal of off-campus employment was to prepare students for a career, 78 percent said it was to improve students’ financial security and 69 percent said the jobs were meant to retain students and help them complete college (respondents could check more than one answer).
  • All of the four-year and two-year public colleges surveyed received some form of federal work-study funding, as did 99 percent of four-year private institutions.
  • Only 1 percent of students at four-year public institutions worked more than 21 or more hours a week; 4 percent of students at two-year colleges worked 21 or more hours a week.
  • The campus student affairs office employed the most students, followed by an institution’s recreation or fitness center.
  • About 82 percent of all institutions surveyed maintained some sort of centralized job board; 55 percent directly reached out, either by email or face-to-face, when students matched the characteristics of a job; and about 49 percent of institutions used new student orientation to showcase their jobs.
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White House wants 12 percent cut in education spending

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/12/2019 - 07:00

President Trump called for a $7.1 billion cut to funding at the Education Department with a proposed budget that retreads familiar higher education ideas for this White House.

The budget proposal released on Monday asks Congress to open Pell Grants to “high-quality” short-term programs, eliminate Public Service Loan Forgiveness and subsidized student loans, and streamline income-driven repayment programs for student borrowers. It also called for deep cuts to scientific research.

The budget also said the Trump administration hoped to work with Congress on advancing an accountability system that puts colleges on the hook for student loan repayment outcomes. But although the White House highlighted “risk sharing” for colleges in a preview of the budget, it didn’t offer any details of what that system should look like.

The proposal marks the third straight year that President Trump has asked Congress for major cuts to education spending -- the proposal would mean a 12 percent cut for the Education Department from fiscal year 2019 -- and to overall discretionary expenditures. But Congress has responded to his two previous budgets by ignoring calls for cuts and instead appropriating new funds for programs like TRIO, GEAR UP and Pell Grants.

"Congress and the administration have not been synced up or on the same page around the total funding number for the department," said James Blew, assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development at the Education Department.

Blew acknowledged that Congress in the last two cycles actually increased the budget where the White House had sought cuts. But he said the Trump administration was asking for reductions again because it believes in a need to rein in discretionary funding for the department.

The budget emphasized the administration’s focus on multiple pathways to higher education. In addition to opening up Pell money to short-term programs, it asked Congress to direct new funding to vocational education and apprenticeship programs.

The White House also called for reforming the formula used to allocate Federal Work-Study funds to reflect the number of students receiving need-based aid at an institution. It also would cut the program's funding by more than 55 percent.

Higher education groups were quick to criticize the proposal for its cuts to student aid programs. The Institute for College Access and Success said the White House budget would reduce spending on student loans by $207 billion over 10 years as a result of higher loan payments and the elimination of subsidized loans and PSLF. The budget proposal also called for freezing the maximum Pell Grant award and eliminating the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, another need-based aid program.

“These deep cuts overshadow otherwise worthwhile changes, such as automatically enrolling distressed borrowers in income-driven repayment, automating the annual income recertification process and modernizing student loan servicing,” said James Kvaal, president of TICAS, in a written statement. “As college remains more crucial for economic opportunity than ever before and costs continue to rise, these proposals move in the exact opposite direction that students and our economy need.”

Congressional Republicans have backed many of the proposals in the new White House budget, including the elimination of PSLF and overhauling Federal Work-Study. But Trump’s income-driven repayment program would differ on important details from a plan outlined by Senator Lamar Alexander, the GOP chairman of the Senate education committee.

Alexander, who is making a push to reauthorize the Higher Education Act before retiring in two years, has argued for adopting a single income-driven repayment plan that would have borrowers pay 10 percent of their income and forgive the balance after 20 years. President Trump’s proposal would cap monthly payments at 12.5 percent of borrowers’ discretionary income and forgive the remaining balance after 15 years and 30 years, respectively, for undergraduate and graduate student borrowers.

Alexander has also argued for an accountability system that would assess all college programs using a loan repayment rate metric. It’s not clear how the White House’s thinking on “risk sharing” matches that loan repayment framework offered by Alexander, who also sits on the Senate appropriations committee.

“I appreciate the president’s budget suggestions and will carefully consider his recommendations as Congress begins the process to fund the federal government for the next fiscal year,” he said in a written statement.

The White House proposal included suggested cuts of 9 percent for the National Science Foundation and 12 percent for the National Institutes of Health. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said those cuts “would begin to cede American strength in science and innovation to our global competitors, slow the search for cures and make it more challenging for students to access higher education and climb the economic ladder.”

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New paper says slapping faculty harassers on the wrists compromises comprehensive prevention

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/12/2019 - 07:00

The absence of serious sanctions for faculty harassers is associated with “antiprevention syndrome,” which renders comprehensive prevention impossible, argues a forthcoming paper from Nancy Chi Cantalupo and William Kidder. And because institutions are legally required to prevent harassment and assault,  institutions risk far more in failing to enact “meaningful discipline” than in shying away from it.

Kidder, research associate at the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, and special assistant to the chancellor at California's Santa Cruz campus, and Cantalupo, an associate professor of law at Barry University, are the team behind a 2017 analysis of nearly 300 faculty-student harassment cases. They found most harassers are accused of physical abuse -- not just questionable comments. That study, which centered on graduate students’ complaints about faculty members, also found that more than half of cases involved alleged serial harassers.

Their new paper, to be published in the UC Davis Law Review, is a companion to that analysis. The focus this time is accountability in organizational culture. 

Some argue that focusing too much on disciplinary action to combat harassment is a mistake, the paper says, but “we disagree.”

Based on a review of literature and policies on trauma-informed and comprehensive prevention, there is a clear “need for each educational institution to commit to the meaningful discipline,” the paper says -- including “serious sanctions involving temporary or permanent separation, of those found responsible of sexual harassment from the campus, especially if they are faculty holding significantly greater formal and informal power over students.”

Anything less risks what’s been called institutional betrayal, or hurting stakeholder confidence.

Moreover, Cantalupo and Kidder argue, from a legal perspective, meaningful discipline is a method of both secondary and tertiary prevention and is closely linked to primary prevention. Referring to the two major federal laws that govern institutions’ handling of gender-based harassment and assault, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Clery Act, the paper says that discipline is “a critical component of the comprehensive prevention approach that we argue Title IX and Clery/VAWA doctrine recognizes and requires educational institutions to adopt.”

The paper includes a framework or spectrum that synthesizes institutions’ varied responses to harassment or assault, based on disciplinary codes, handbooks and other evidence. These responses range from “light” to “medium” to “heavy.” Light might be nothing at all, or retraining in sexual harassment policies. Medium could be removal from an administrative position, such as a chairship. Heavy could be resignation upon a board hearing or termination.

Source: Kidder and Cantalupo

Kidder and Cantalupo say that “experience shows that colleges and universities are hesitant to sanction seriously,” and that such hesitancy is particularly pronounced in cases involving a faculty member. Nevertheless, they argue, “there are few liability-related reasons for this timidity.”

In fact, they wrote, “no compelling legal reasons exist for not adopting sanctioning practices that promote comprehensive prevention of sexual harassment, including ones that accused sexual harassers experience as punitive.”

The article discusses confidential separation agreements and “pass the harasser” scenarios, which it says “raise difficult ‘collective action’ problems in academia.” Cantalupo and Kidder again recommend that institutional decision-making here be based on informed, comprehensive prevention-oriented practices, including greater engagement with accusers.

Regarding due process for accused professors, the authors recommend placing a faculty member on interim suspension while during investigations and faculty misconduct hearings.

This is all part of a public health approach, they argue -- and one that could also prevent “similar harms arising from other forms of discriminatory harassment.”

As for antiprevention syndrome, Kidder and Cantalupo list “a number of mutually reinforcing reasons (which are not rooted in retribution) why it is important for colleges and universities to both have and be seen as having a firm commitment to serious sanctions in faculty sexual harassment cases.” First, the absence of serious sanctions can reflect institutional failure to protect the real welfare of accusers, including students and junior faculty members.

Perceived “slaps on the wrist” -- such as those at California's Berkeley Campus, which became public in 2015 in the case of astronomer Geoff Marcy, who was found to have harassed multiple graduate students but was still allowed to teach -- also damage institutional credibility, they say. And clear discipline also serves as a deterrent for future abuses in that it “internalizes” institutional norms, since it’s “naïve to assume that effective training can prevent all” misconduct.

A major 2018 report on sexual harassment from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also found that organizational climate is a top predictor of predatory behaviors.

Discipline can help alleviate accusers’ fears about retaliation for reporting their own experiences, the paper says. And, underscoring that colleges and universities are in the business of education, the paper notes that “student victims of and witnesses to sexual harassment will, if the conduct is not addressed swiftly and appropriately, receive a distorted education about ethical norms in higher education, which fosters cynicism and stunts their growth as potential future members of the professoriate.”

The paper included no formal quantitative analysis of known sanctions for faculty members -- other existing data indicate that many institutions have never formally terminated a tenured faculty member for sexual harassment or any other type of misconduct.

“This is true of approximately half of the University of California campuses over the last half century,” they say. “Moreover, multiple sources indicate that Harvard University has never fired a tenured professor for any type of misconduct in its storied history stretching back to 1638, even in the infamous 19th-century case of a faculty member who was hanged for murdering another Harvard professor.” (Harvard -- which is still facing criticism over how it handled a major harassment case -- did not immediately comment on that detail Monday.)

Kidder said Monday it was nevertheless his sense that over the past few years, there are signs of increased reporting and also institutions referring cases for disciplinary hearings.

“These are positive signs, and come with provisos about this being a preliminary observation, and about how far there is to go in the big scheme of things,” he said.

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Purdue professors criticize writing partnership with Chegg

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/12/2019 - 07:00

Professors at Purdue University are criticizing a new partnership between the university’s Online Writing Lab and student services company Chegg.

At a recent meeting of the University Senate, faculty members questioned why Purdue's OWL, a respected and influential resource on writing instruction, would partner with a company that has a reputation for helping students to cheat on their homework.

Ralph Kaufmann, a professor of mathematics who attended the meeting, said several professors were surprised and angered by the partnership with Chegg. Some professors said they had found answers to their old exam papers on the site and accused Chegg of copyright infringement, said Kaufmann. Minutes from the meeting are not yet publicly available, but student newspaper The Exponent identified two professors, Stephen Martin and Jeff Rhoads, as particularly vocal opponents of the deal.

Speaking to Inside Higher Ed, Martin, a professor of engineering at Purdue, said his experience of Chegg has not been positive. "I was teaching a distance learning class a couple of years ago and two students -- one in India and one in China -- both supplied the same answer to an essay question. It was a suggested answer from Chegg, and it was a bad answer."

Martin said several professors had reached out to him since the University Senate meeting with similar experiences. "If this were a site that genuinely helped students to master the materials, it wouldn't be a problem. But it's not set up like that -- it dangles the solution in front of students."

"I think Purdue is a very high-quality academic institution, I don't know why we are lending our hard-earned reputation to a company that is essentially making it easy for students to cheat," said Martin.

Marc Boxser, a spokesman for Chegg, said the partnership with OWL is the result of two years' careful planning. OWL's expertise will help Chegg to improve the writing skills of millions of students, he said. "We were sorry to read in the media that two faculty members had concerns and have been in contact with them," said Boxser. "At Chegg, we take any allegations of misconduct on our platform very seriously. We are committed to working with them to address their concerns."

Chegg is a company with "two faces," said Kaufmann. Chegg used to primarily deal in textbook rentals, but now it describes itself as an education technology company, complete with AI-powered learning tools. But while Chegg purports to help students do their homework, students on Twitter are quite blatant about using the site to do their homework for them. Chegg subscriptions start at $14.95 a month and include access to millions of homework answers, step-by-step solutions to problem sets in thousands of textbooks and a network of experts who can answer questions 24-7.

Homework help services like Chegg, Course Hero and Quizlet are all “widely used” by students at Purdue, said Kaufmann, who recently researched academic rigor at Purdue as part of an investigative committee.

Purdue’s Online Writing Lab announced its partnership with Chegg in February. Harry Denny, director of OWL, said in an email that he was not surprised to hear that some faculty members disapproved of the partnership. “People are unaccustomed to the humanities and liberal arts being entrepreneurial,” said Denny in an email.

Denny does not think that working with Chegg will harm Purdue’s reputation. “My experience has been that the company is committed to partnering with faculty and administration to address their concerns, all the while following on its mission to provide a whole portfolio of excellent student services,” said Denny. He added that Chegg, as a publicly traded company, has “a fiduciary and shareholder responsibility to be ethical and responsible.”

OWL was approached by Chegg 22 months ago to help the company develop its writing tools, said Denny. The deal is multifaceted, he explained -- OWL will advise Chegg on writing instruction and help to develop the company’s AI-powered writing improvement tools. Chegg will license OWL’s writing tips and place advertising on its website, helping OWL to monetize its free content. Purdue students will also be given the opportunity to apply for paid internships at Chegg, said Denny. OWL anticipates a six-figure revenue from the partnership, he said.

Chegg already offers an AI-powered tool that checks for spelling, grammar and citation errors on student essays, as well as "accidental plagiarism." But a press release from Chegg explained that partnering with OWL could take this tool to the next level -- helping students to “become better writers on a massive scale.” Currently, 30 million students worldwide use Chegg's services.

Chegg’s writing tools will integrate OWL’s rules and standards to teach students how to write better, said the press release. Students will be given instant feedback on their writing as well as access to resources from OWL on how to improve with “deep context and rich examples.”

While Denny and his colleagues at OWL are excited about the potential of the partnership, Kaufmann said he is troubled by the possibility that Purdue’s data and expertise may be used to train AI that could help students quickly compose essays from materials that they’ve copied and pasted from the internet. He also does not like the idea that ads on OWL’s website might drive students to Chegg.

Susan Schorn, writing program coordinator in the school of undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin, said that OWL has a “well-earned reputation for the strength of its resources,” which she frequently recommends to instructors.

Schorn, who is a vocal critic of plagiarism software, said she is concerned that Chegg will teach students to check whether they have committed plagiarism by running their work through a machine. “In fact writers at the college level, in order to avoid plagiarizing, must learn to distinguish what is considered common knowledge in a field and what is not,” she said.

“I think it’s inevitable that Purdue OWL’s reputation will suffer from this association,” said Schorn. “I understand their desire to bring in a little cash, but I wish they had chosen a partner that didn’t come with the liabilities a platform like Chegg will inevitably have.”

Schorn said she would be keeping an eye on the OWL site to see how intrusive the ads are, and will be watching to see whether the “licensing of material to Chegg ends up making it less accessible to students who don’t want to purchase Chegg services.” If that happens, Schorn said, there’s a "good chance" she’ll stop recommending OWL as a resource.

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Author discusses his new book speculating on alternative models of higher education

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/12/2019 - 07:00

What if every college student had to major in three subjects, unrelated to one another? What if colleges built degrees around a series of global experiences? These are among the speculative considerations of Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press). The author of the book, David J. Staley, sets forth a series of possible models for higher education, not restricting himself to those immediately possible or practical. Staley, director of the Humanities Institute and an associate professor of history at Ohio State University, sees lessons for higher education in these various speculations. Via email, Staley answered questions about his book.

Q: Many people in higher education look at the MOOC hype of a few years ago and think that most predictions of radical change in academe are just that -- hype. Do you think higher ed could in fact change in more dramatic ways than it has in the past?

A: I do, yes, but not necessarily at the level of every specific individual institution. There have been several historical moments when radically new ideas of the university were introduced. The land-grants, the German research university, the community college, Black Mountain College. That said, it has been historically difficult for any single institution to change and transform into something radically different. Usually such a radical institution must be built from scratch. When the idea of the research university was introduced into the United States after the Civil War, most were developed as new institutions, such as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. A very few -- like the colonial colleges, Harvard and Yale [Universities] -- transformed themselves into research universities, but these were the exceptions rather than the rule. Those institutions that do transform tend to change into pre-existing forms of the university, as when a commuter campus transforms into a research university with a Division I football program. This is not innovation as much as changing to emulate another institution. Even this kind of transformation is quite difficult to achieve.

I think that part of the reason why it is difficult to radically innovate is that many institutions are risk averse, meaning that they do not wish to risk deviating from the norm. Each has the same offerings, each has the same goals, and their mission statements read very much the same. The expectations for accreditation and other kinds of regulation means that it is difficult for institutions to deviate from expected forms, leading to a kind of standardization of higher education. There are many challenges facing higher education today, and I don’t mean to diminish the problems of adjunctification, student debt loads, access and affordability. But I do think that lack of differentiation is an affliction for many colleges and universities. Indeed, higher education is quickly become commoditized, meaning that institutions appear so similar to each other that they can only compete on price. In such an environment, innovation that seeks to create a radical new form of the university appears risky and quixotic.

Q: What led you to go with the thought experiments of "speculative design" and come up with truly radical ideas for change?

A: A number of sources. I have spent a portion of my professional life working in strategic foresight and have worked with organizations in diverse industries on identifying and considering the implications of various future trends, especially for purposes of strategic planning. About a decade ago, I started to turn my attention toward the future of higher education, and looking especially at the trends that would impact colleges and universities. Here at Ohio State, I convened a group of faculty and graduate students into a working group on the future of the university, and Alternative Universities benefited greatly from the insights of these colleagues.

I’ve also developed a fascination with the biographies of founders of new, innovative universities, such as John Andrew Rice at Black Mountain, Abraham Flexner and the Institute for Advanced Study, even John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix. I wondered what a Rice or Flexner would be imagining today if they had the opportunity to create a new university.

I’ve also been influenced by the work of the philosopher of higher education Ronald Barnett. Barnett has written that our ideas about innovation in higher education --- about what the university can become -- are “hopelessly impoverished,” that our ideas are too limited and unimaginative. Today’s innovators can only imagine a “technological university” or a market-driven university. He has challenged university leaders to expand their imaginations, to explore a wide range of ideas about the future university, and I have taken up his challenge. What we need to practice today is the audacity of imagination about what universities can become.

Q: Could you describe why one or two of your designs are your personal favorites?

A: “Interface University” is, I think, the most necessary and pressing organizational form of the future university. This scenario is based on how I believe the ubiquitous growth of artificial intelligence will impact higher education. While there is a credible scenario that AI will eliminate a wide swath of jobs and professions, I think it more likely that AI will augment human intelligence, and that in fact we will find ourselves partnering with/cooperating with AI to engage in a range of cognitive tasks. Interface University would be the institution where human and artificial intelligence learns to think together, to achieve the state of interface. Interface University would be the institution that generates the knowledge produced by the interaction and human and artificial intelligence. Joseph Aoun is one university leader who has been thinking about these issues.

I also rather like the idea of "Polymath University." In this model, as a condition for graduation, students must major in three disparate disciplines. So, a student could not major in history, English and philosophy, or accounting, finance and business administration. Instead, a student would be required to major in, say, philosophy, sociology and finance, or accounting, history and design. There is some interesting literature on students who double major in such nonadjacent subjects, and the kinds of creative, innovative thinkers they become. A student who triple majors in widely divergent subjects would develop a supple and complex mind.

Q: If a president or dean reads your book and thinks, "Some great ideas, but not anything I could do here," are there ways to apply some of your ideas without turning the entire institution into one of your models? Is there an example you might offer?

A: In 1927, Alexander Meiklejohn was invited to the University of Wisconsin to create and lead the Experimental College, a Great Books college that operated within U of W. Like my alternative universities, the experimental college began as a design written by Meiklejohn that he then turned into a working model within an existing institution. Many colleges initiated laboratory schools modeled after John Dewey’s at Chicago. Today a university might also develop a “laboratory university.” An existing institution could organize smaller versions of the universities I propose, maybe with only 100 students and a small group of faculty. Many universities today have built technology commercialization incubators near their campuses, where faculty ideas are nurtured and brought together with venture capital and turned into businesses. I can envision an enterprising university establishing an incubator for innovative universities. This would be an institute that would research and develop ideas for innovative academic forms like my alternative universities. Then selected models would be identified to be constructed as working models. Say, for instance, that such an institute were to build Interface University as a working model. A smaller version of this alternative university would be established; the incubator would then assign faculty and would then begin to attract students. If the model proves successful, the experimental college might grow in size, perhaps even reaching the stage where this university-as-start-up is spun off into its own separate entity. Universities themselves could establish incubators for innovative universities.

Allison Dulin Salisbury and Terah Crews describe the kinds of university incubators I have in mind as “moon-shot labs.” “This kind of approach requires visionary leadership, both from the institution’s president and from the person leading the innovation lab,” they write.

“It also requires a high tolerance for risk and patience to wait an extended period to see returns on investment and impact. You will both need to be comfortable with ideas that look very different from business as usual and be willing to invest substantial resources without knowing exactly where it will lead.”

Some universities are establishing academic innovation labs, but this isn’t exactly what I am imagining, as these tend to be centers that implement incremental changes, usually around pedagogy or new program development. The idea of a university incubator would be mission level, creating new forms of the university.

Q: Are there colleges today that you think are particularly adept at radical innovation? Which ones and why?

A: I think that Western Governors University is such a radical innovation. WGU is based on a competency-based model, meaning that students work at their own pace under faculty guidance. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that WGU did not meet federal requirements for the level of interaction between faculty members and students. In other words, the very model that makes WGU distinctive and innovate ran afoul of federal guidelines and regulations. [The Education Department has subsequently reversed those findings.] But this episode again points to the challenges with trying to enact radical innovation in higher education.

Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America is an example of an experimental college developed within an existing institution. And although they do not explore mission-level innovation, the Red House at Georgetown University is innovating around curricula and degree programs, and is an excellent example of a campus innovation lab.

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