Higher Education News

Colleges are still trying to grasp meaning of Europe's new digital privacy law

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:00

A German student uses your website to apply for admission. An alumnus who lives in Italy makes an online donation. A faculty member spends a sabbatical in France and communicates with colleagues back home. These routine digital interactions -- common in most higher education institutions -- will subject colleges in the U.S. to the European Union's comprehensive privacy rules, which go into effect May 25. Many experts believe American colleges are not prepared -- and could face steep fines as a result.

The E.U.’s General Data Protection Regulation will impact any organization worldwide, including U.S. colleges and universities, that processes data relating to people in Europe.

Speaking at the Educause conference in Philadelphia late last year, Gian Franco Borio, a lawyer who gives legal counsel to the European Association of Study Abroad, said that the GDPR would almost certainly affect all U.S. higher education institutions.

“Every U.S. educational institution has here and there, somehow, a relationship with Europe,” said Borio. “Your institution will for sure have a relationship with Europe or people based in Europe, therefore you need to be concerned about the new regulation.”

Failure to comply with the new rules could cost U.S. institutions more than $23 million in fines. But despite these sharp teeth, few colleges appear to be prepared.

“I seriously doubt that any institution in the U.S. will be even remotely in compliance on May 25,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“Candidly, the conversations I’ve had have been shocking in that people didn’t even know that this existed, let alone taken steps to comply,” said Nassirian. He added that he believed many institutions were so early in their preparations, they are “reluctant to step up and speak candidly about the fact that they’re nowhere near ready.”

The new rules will require institutions to take extra steps to protect the personal information of people in the E.U., regardless of whether they are E.U. citizens or permanent residents. So the requirements would also apply to American students or faculty members who communicate with campuses while they are in Europe.

In addition to understanding what data they hold, where data is stored and how they are used, institutions will need to be able to accommodate requests to retrieve, correct or erase the data. They must also promptly report any data breaches.

Julia Funaki, associate director of international education services at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, said that awareness of the GDPR at U.S. institutions is growing, but progress appears to be slow.

Funaki said AACRAO is still receiving lots of basic questions about the GDPR from its members, including, “Does this apply to us?”

AACRAO has held three webinars on the GDPR, each one receiving increasing interest. But many people “are really still trying to grasp what the GDPR is,” said Funaki.

A common misconception, said Funaki, is that institutions are already doing enough because they meet the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But the requirements of the GDPR and FERPA are “quite different.”

One differing feature of the GDPR is the “right to be forgotten,” said Funaki. She described this requirement as “something of an anathema” to registrars, whose job is “all about retaining records.” The rule could lead to demands to find and eliminate email records, addresses in alumni directories, admissions applications and more.

The GDPR also argues in favor of data minimization, which is “not a forte” of U.S. institutions, said Nassirian. “In many ways, the advent of technology and the fact that storage is now so highly affordable has created sloppy practices,” he said. He suggested that institutions should become much more intentional about the data they keep, in order to minimize the possibility of data breaches and bring down the cost of tracking this information.

Becoming GDPR compliant can seem “almost unmanageable” to institutions at first, said Funaki. A big part of the challenge is the institutional coordination required to comply. “It’s not just one person’s responsibility,” said Funaki. It will take “real effort” to bring together everyone involved -- whether they handle student records, offer legal counsel, buy services from third-party vendors or manage IT security. “An issue like this one really requires coordination from the top down.”

Nassirian said that he feels there is a tendency for universities to assume that GDPR compliance is something IT staff will take care of, when really a lot of the burden will fall on people working in data governance. “People don’t seem to understand the distinction between the data security mandate and the data privacy mandate,” said Nassirian. “There are data security components to the GDPR, but those are fairly straightforward,” he said.

Few institutions seem to have hired staff specifically to tackle GDPR compliance, and no single consulting firm or technology company seems to have emerged as the go-to expert on GDPR compliance for U.S. institutions. But Nassirian said that there is an emerging “cottage industry of unknown entities” offering GDPR services to institutions. “My advice to institutions would be to hang on to their cash and not rush to spend money at this late hour,” he said.

A good way for institutions to look at the GDPR is to think about it as an opportunity to start better data management practices, said Funaki. “When you step back, the GDPR is really about good governance and good data hygiene -- institutions can get their heads around that idea,” she said.

Mark McConahay, associate vice provost and registrar at Indiana University at Bloomington, said that his institution had already taken significant steps to comply with the GDPR -- gathering key stakeholders and identifying all the data that might fall under GDPR protection. The institution is also working through different scenarios for students, staff or faculty who might come from or be situated in the E.U. What happens when a student in Europe takes a class online or when an American student does a semester in Europe? Not all scenarios have been straightforward, however. The question of what an institution should do if a European student asks for a bad grade to be removed from their academic record, for example, is one that troubles McConahay. “There are aspects of the ‘'right to be forgotten’ rule that still need to be fleshed out,” he said and IU is still working through a procedure for this scenario.

“At first reading, the regulations look very onerous, but once you understand what is required and draw parallels to what you do already, they are not nearly as scary as they first appear,” said McConahay. There are, however, things that will need to be done differently. The institution will need to find a way to track people it interacts with in the E.U. It will also need to get them to give their consent before it can store their information. “This will involve describing in some detail the suite of services we’re going to provide them, and outlining their rights under the GDPR,” said McConahay. Whether people will respond positively to these requests for consent remains to be seen.

Another big task is identifying all of the third-party vendors that the institution works with and checking that they are in compliance, said McConahay. “For the most part, the vendors we work with have been pretty in tune with our security and privacy concerns,” he said.

Though he is hopeful that his institution will have finished preparations before May 25, McConahay says he isn’t yet sure what “finished” will look like. “We’re taking it seriously,” he said. “We care deeply about data security and privacy.”

As long as U.S. institutions make a concerted effort to be compliant with the GDPR, Funaki doesn’t believe that the E.U. will set out to make an example of them. “I think this is really more about the Amazons and Facebooks and Googles out there,” she said.

Nassirian agreed: “It would be very difficult to imagine that the E.U.’s first priority would be U.S. institutions. I’m assuming there will be plenty of bigger fish to fry within the E.U. itself.”

While it may be tempting to take a wait-and-see approach to the GDPR, Funaki advises institutions to pay close attention, because these regulations are “the way of the future.” Trust and reputation with regard to data protection are going to become increasingly important, she said. If a college can’t demonstrate that it is taking data protection as seriously as its competitors, it may start to lose out on prospective students.

Asked whether down the line she could see the U.S. adopting data protection rules similar to the GDPR, Funaki said it was “quite possible” but would require a significant cultural shift.

“In Europe, privacy is considered a fundamental human right, but in the U.S. we tend to think of it as a consumer right,” said Funaki. She added, “I think this is just the beginning of a long conversation about data protection around the world.”

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Author discusses his new book on evangelical higher education

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:00

As a scholar, Adam Laats focuses on the history of education in the United States, not issues of theology. He brings a historical perspective to his new book, Fundamentalist U: Keeping the Faith in American Higher Education (Oxford University Press), focusing on how the institutions evolved and how their history influences their present.

His previous books -- including Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America’s Culture Wars (Palgrave Macmillan) -- have also explored conflicts involving faith and education.

Laats, of Binghamton University of the State University of New York, answered questions via email about his new book.

Q: You have noted elsewhere that you teach at a state university, earned your Ph.D. at (another) public university, and were not raised in an evangelical family. What drew you to this topic?

A: I didn’t approach this research in a religious way. When I study the history of evangelical higher education, I’m not trying to prove that one faction or another were the “real” Christians. I’m not trying to find out which school of creationism is the correct one or which attitude toward student sexuality is the properly biblical one. Instead, I’m interested in fundamental questions about education, politics and culture. I want to know more about competing visions about saving America by creating good schools.

For questions like that, the network of interdenominational evangelical colleges and universities is the obvious place to start. No other family of institutions has been as successful in promoting a dissenting view of the right way to educate students at all levels. In short, I think these colleges should be of primary interest to anyone interested in American politics and culture. After all, our culture-war disagreements aren’t between educated people on one side and uneducated people on the other. Rather, they are fiercest between two groups of people who have been educated very differently.

Q: Many colleges and universities talk about wanting to produce graduates with certain values (service to community, a commitment to critical thinking, understanding of diversity, for example). How do you see evangelical colleges as being different in their perceptions of their role and mission?

A: In one sense, the institutions in my book -- a network of interdenominational evangelical colleges and universities that first came together in the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s -- has some huge advantages when it comes to teaching students how to live moral lives. Unlike many mainline and secular schools, evangelical colleges have never doubted that moral instruction was their primary purpose. To that end, evangelical schools have always insisted first and foremost on maintaining strict rules on student behavior.

In another sense, however, evangelical colleges have been in a bind when it comes to student morality. Having promised to base their student rules on eternal religious truths, it has been extremely difficult for schools to change those rules. Yet the rules must change from time to time. These days, colleges such as Wheaton College in Illinois are struggling to figure out their moral mission when it comes to student gender and sexual identity. In the 1960s, Wheaton struggled to change its rules about white racism and segregation. In the 1920s, Wheaton struggled to figure out how to keep students from attending movies. The issues change from time to time, but the tension remains: all evangelical colleges insist that their strict student rules are derived from eternal, universal truths. Yet all schools have to change those rules from generation to generation.

Q: Many of the leading (by prestige) institutions in private higher education started with religious traditions that have now been largely abandoned. Do you see evangelical colleges today taking steps to assure that their religious identities do not fade away?

A: In all the archives I visited, this was the most pressing question in all the letters I read, in all the editorials and whisper campaigns and snarky gossip among evangelical intellectuals: Is College X or Y still “true”? A primary goal of the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s was to find a way to save higher education from the slippery slopes that had -- according to the fundamentalists -- destroyed evangelical schools in the late 1800s.

Since the 1920s, conservative evangelical intellectuals and college administrators have spent considerable resources to both remain true to their religious identity and to prove beyond any doubt to the wider evangelical community that they did so. This was more than a quirk; it was an institutional life-or-death issue. As more and more evangelical colleges and universities opened their doors in the second half of the 20th century, any rumor that a college had watered down its commitment to evangelical orthodoxy could spell the end of enrollments. Students would simply go elsewhere.

Different institutions handled this challenge in different ways. Some -- such as Bob Jones College (now Bob Jones University) and Bryan University (now Bryan College) -- put “never-change” clauses in their founding charters. It seemed like a simple solution in the 1920s, but it has led schools like Bryan into trouble recently, when they’ve tried to tighten up their rules to remain competitive.

Q: As one who teaches at a leading public university, how do you rate the quality of undergraduate education at evangelical colleges?

A: Just as at all institutions of higher education, there is great diversity in evangelical academic life. As a general rule, I think all evangelical colleges have benefited from their traditions in some ways. For example, students at evangelical colleges are less likely to suffer from the anonymity and isolation of students at huge, impersonal state universities. However, students at evangelical colleges will also feel much more pressure to conform to stronger moral traditions. At some colleges, those pressures for conformity can be suffocating for those who don’t fit in.

Q: Questions about sexuality (especially treatment of gay people) and science (especially questions about evolution) have caused controversy at some evangelical colleges. How much of a challenge do these issues pose to these institutions?

A: Today’s challenges about sexuality and science are only the latest examples of the essential tension at the heart of evangelical higher education. All evangelical institutions of higher education insist on the very best modern educations. And all insist on the very purest evangelical religion. Yet the definitions of both things have constantly shifted and evangelical schools have always struggled to keep up. In the 20th century, evangelical colleges wrestled with other incarnations of this same essential tension: Can an evangelical student attend movies? Have an interracial relationship? Use a non-King James Bible? Appreciate Billy Graham’s revivals?

These days, the answers to those questions generally is a firm yes, but each of them was intensely controversial in its day. Will this tension hurt evangelical colleges? Yes and no. Today’s controversies over sexuality and science will split evangelical institutions. Some schools will take a stronger anti-homosexuality stand. Some will take a stronger young-earth-creationism-only stand. Other schools will go the other way. But schools on both sides of each controversy can continue to thrive, attracting students from evangelical families seeking a school that reflects their own vision of real evangelical identity.

Q: Liberty University is not a member of Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, but it may be the best known evangelical college these days. Many in Christian higher education seem uncomfortable with the closeness of Liberty and its leaders with President Trump. How unusual is this close political relationship?

A: Even the Liberty community itself is torn. Many students, faculty and alumni have made their anti-Trump feelings clear. As a general rule, however, evangelical colleges and universities have always been intensely political places. Evangelical campuses have always been islands of Make America Great Again conservatism.

Myths about evangelicals retreating from politics during the middle part of the 20th century just don’t match the historical record. It can be easy to downplay this tradition, since evangelical school leaders have often talked about staying out of politics. On evangelical college campuses, though, “staying out of politics” has often meant avoiding endorsing one political party or another, while maintaining steady activism for conservative political causes. However, as in all things, when it comes to politics, evangelical campuses have been diverse and divided. Though the institutional leadership has always leaned hard to the right, there has also been a long tradition of a progressive political underground among students and faculty. Just as some Liberty alumni are the most vocal of the anti-Trump evangelicals, so some students and faculty have always been thoughtful religious critics of political conservatism.

Q: What would you most like academics in nonevangelical higher education to know about those that operate in Fundamentalist U?

A: Two things. First, when we at public or mainline universities talk about “American higher education,” we need to be more aware of the true diversity of institutions out there. Too often, academics blithely assume that there is one standard to which all colleges yearn. It’s just not true.

Second, secular academics like me tend to lump together evangelical colleges unfairly. We tend to miss the vast diversity within the family of evangelical institutions. These days, an evangelical college like Gordon College near Boston has more in common with many nonevangelical colleges than it does with a hard-line conservative college like Pensacola Christian College. Outsiders like me often don’t understand the real diversity within the world of evangelical higher education.

For more from Laats, see his blog, I Love You but You're Going to Hell.

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Oakton community college builds faculty-student relationships to increase persistence

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:00

Five students a day.

That’s how many students on average were leaving Oakton Community College in Chicago’s suburbs in 2015, said Joianne Smith, Oakton’s president.

The college, which enrolls roughly 9,000 students, was behind its peers in persistence and retention rates. So faculty members in the humanities department tried something new to keep students from dropping out.

In 2015, Smith introduced All for One, a program that encouraged each faculty and staff member to reach out to at least one student at least five times a semester. Faculty members also began their own project to help accomplish the All for One goal, which they called the Persistence Project. That effort, which was described during Achieving the Dream’s national conference last month, gives Oakton faculty members a better way to reach out to students.

“If we could all work together to save just one student a day, it would increase our rate,” Smith said, adding that the college’s graduation rate has increased from 18 percent to 22 percent.

Humanities and philosophy instructors set a series of goals for themselves for the first three weeks of the semester. In at least one class, they would learn their students’ names and have their students learn one another’s name. They would give feedback on assignments or quizzes before the end of the three weeks. And they would set high standards but wouldn’t penalize students harshly for minor issues like a late assignment.

Most importantly, the faculty members agreed to schedule 15-minute, one-on-one conferences with every student in at least one of their classes.

“The point is not to give students advice on how to study or explain the syllabus,” said Hollace Graff, a philosophy professor who chairs Oakton’s humanities and philosophy department and who led the Persistence Project. “The purpose of the conference is for us to listen to students.”

Getting to know students beyond academic assignments and lectures proved to be a key for Oakton, in addition to other changes the college made to improve the first-year experience. In one year the overall fall-to-fall persistence rate increased from 45 percent to 48 percent. Last year the rate increased to 50 percent. But the persistence rate for approximately 1,200 students who were directly affected by the project was significantly higher -- 53 percent last year. Oakton’s goal is to eventually reach a 54 percent rate for the college over all, which would put Oakton on par with its peer institutions.

So far just a quarter of students have been a part of the project, but the college would like to see those numbers grow.

‘Joy and Despair’

Graff said she recommends that faculty members start slowly by attempting the project with just one of their classes.

“It is stressful, and in the first few weeks it’s really stressful,” Smith said. “It’s not just about the time. They’re hearing students’ stories and you grow to hear about students in a way you haven’t.”

Much of the stress comes from listening to problems students face outside the classroom, she said, which many faculty members wouldn’t hear if not for the 15-minute discussions.

Eva de la Riva, a psychology professor and chair of the behavioral and social sciences department, said one challenge has been faculty frustration over the nonacademic challenges students face.

“Unfortunately, a lot of things they are experiencing, we can’t do anything about,” she said. “This model of approaching our students is very empathetic. It brings a lot of joy and despair for faculty … This project is not for the weak of heart. There will be situations when you feel completely hopeless.”

Graff said students often struggle with food insecurity and transportation issues, as well as major family illnesses or, for immigrant students, fears of deportation.

But students feel more comfortable approaching professors in this way because their first experience -- a 15-minute meeting at the start of the semester -- is a positive one and not a situation where they’re first approaching instructors when they’re in academic trouble later in the semester, she said. Some professors, said Graff, have tried the project’s methods in more than one of their classes.

To make sure students attend the 15-minute sessions, some instructors give credit that counts toward the final grade in class or make sure students schedule time for the meetings during their first week of classes. Some faculty members found time during classes to meet with students.

In online courses, Graff said students who live near campus have been eager to meet in person or talk over Skype or FaceTime.

After the first three weeks, the initiative continues with faculty members making a commitment to attend at least one co-curricular event or activity with students. They’re also encouraged to become more familiar with outside-the-classroom resources that may be available for students who struggle in class or in their personal lives.

The project is voluntary. Graff said more than 200 instructors across 22 departments are participating.

“We have heard hundreds of stories from our faculty about why this works so well,” Graff said. “It’s because this project emphasizes human connection. If a student makes that connection, the student is more likely to persist, but it also makes us better teachers.”

But the effort comes with challenges.

For instance, Smith said, 60 percent of Oakton’s courses are taught by adjunct instructors.

“It’s difficult for adjuncts to implement the project, because they teach at many institutions and it makes scheduling nearly impossible,” Graff said, adding that adjuncts also tend to be less familiar with the college.

Smith said Oakton is considering a small financial incentive for participation and options for private office space for adjuncts.

“Not all instructors feel comfortable with the one-to-one conference,” Graff said, adding that some faculty members may be too comfortable with oversharing.

But the college is offering professional development to teach faculty to ask open-ended questions, she said, and to help them avoid testing students’ boundaries and pushing them away.

“We’ve tried a lot of different things in Oakton, but nothing matched this data,” Smith said. “We mandated new student orientation … we changed developmental course work and we saw improvement around the edges, but nothing compared to this data.”

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Roundup of colleges starting or finishing fund-raising campaigns

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:00

Starting Off:

  • Hampden-Sydney College is starting a $50 million campaign, having already raised $26.8 million. The top priority is to raise money for endowed scholarships. The college hopes to complete the campaign in 2020.
  • New England College has started a $37 million campaign. Major goals included support for a new academic building and a performing arts center.
  • Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has started a $22 million campaign. Major goals for the funds include infrastructure improvements and enrollment growth. The college hopes to complete the campaign in 2023.
  • Western Carolina University is starting a campaign to raise $60 million by 2019. Expanding scholarship aid for students is a major priority.

Finishing Up:

  • Johnson C. Smith University has finished a campaign, started in 2010, raising $159.4 million. That is more than the campaign goal of $150 million, a goal that reflected the historically black university's 150th anniversary.
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Students value diversity, inclusion more than free expression, study says

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

College students value a diverse and inclusive environment more than free speech rights, according to a new study on student attitudes on free expression.

The report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation comes at a turbulent time on college campuses nationwide, where students have challenged the principles of the First Amendment -- they have called for controversial campus speakers to be disinvited, and when they disagree with speakers’ message, have shouted them down. They’ve also called for administrators to invest more in diversity initiatives and are demanding clear statements from them against speech they deem hateful.

Asked to select which is more important, about 53 percent of the students interviewed for the study picked diversity, versus 46 percent who chose free speech. This data is based on telephone interviews with 3,014 traditional-age students (18 to 24) at 100 four-year institutions, both public and private.

When the authors broke down the data further, they provided a clear picture of what certain campus demographics prioritize. About 61 percent of men favored free speech rights far more than a diverse and inclusive campus (39 percent). Conversely, 64 percent of women believe that diversity is more important, versus 35 percent who picked free speech.

Differences emerge with race, too. White students tended to value free speech more -- 52 percent compared to 47 percent who picked diversity and inclusion. About 68 percent of black students, meanwhile, said diversity was more important compared to 31 percent for free speech.

“We are seeing increasingly diverse campuses, much more diverse than they would have been a generation ago,” said Sam Gill, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for communities and impact.

Thus, Gill said, universities and their leaders are finding themselves adjusting to the demands of contemporary students -- creating new jobs and offices that fill students’ calls for diversity.

The foundation and Gallup (which partners with Inside Higher Ed in sponsoring events and publishing other reports) conducted a similar survey in 2016 and found similar results, though in this round they found students continue to skew more in favor of protecting diversity than free speech.

For instance, in 2016, about 22 percent of students reported wanting “a positive environment” if it meant certain speech, even that which is hateful but legally protected, was prohibited. In this year’s study, that number rose seven percentage points.

But what was most striking to Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup’s higher education division, was how much students appeared to be critical of social media, despite its proliferation in their lives.

Roughly 57 percent of students thought that debate on political and social issues took place online rather than in person at their colleges (43 percent).

Despite the popularity of online platforms, though, students reported social media tended to stifle free speech in many ways. About 60 percent of students indicated that too many people block others online with whom they disagree -- this is up 12 percentage points from 2016.

About 59 percent of students said people feared being attacked online for their views, an uptick of 10 percentage points from 2016. And 83 percent of students said that it is too easy for anonymous users to post online.

Colleges have struggled to compete as the forum for debate and discussion in a digital age, when the conversation has turned online, Busteed said. Institutions must reclaim the debates and create productive campus talks, he said.

Busteed noted that campuses don’t always successfully publicize some of these initiatives. As his survey notes, students aren’t always aware of the campus opportunities or policies (such as whether a campus speech code exists).

“If we’re really embracing it, we’ve got to communicate what we’re doing,” he said.

Previous research into students’ beliefs on free expression found even when they respected the ideals of the First Amendment in theory, they did not always want to follow them in practice. Students also were unsure of the protections the First Amendment offered, with many believing that it did not allow for hate speech (even though it often does).

This also came through in the Gallup/Knight report, with 64 percent of students believing that the First Amendment shouldn’t protect hate speech. About 70 percent of students said that campuses should restrict certain slurs, and 30 percent believe they should prohibit some politically oriented speech.

Gill said that while students should learn about the intricacies of the constitution and receive a civic education, more importantly, students “are taking to a new level” the debate around the First Amendment. Over time, exceptions have been added to free speech law -- fighting words, not being able to shout “fire” in a crowded theater -- and he said he believes this generation will be at the forefront of conversations around this evolving issue.

“There is a much more profound conversation going on about how free expression figures into our democracy,” Gill said. We’re going to have a much more educated group lead into that conversation. We’re talking societywide about the strength of our democracy, and this is a huge opportunity for universities to show leadership in addition to having to react to challenging situations.”

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Signaling confidence in liberal arts education, DePauw commits to 100% employment for graduates

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

As colleges go, DePauw University has a pretty good track record of ensuring "gainful employment" for its graduates, roughly 95 percent of whom have a relevant job or a place in graduate school within six months of earning their bachelor's degree.

But that wasn't good enough for the parent of one prospective student recently.

“‘Johnny really wants to go to your school, but Johnny has to get a job,’” Mark McCoy, DePauw's president, recounts the parent saying at an admissions event for the Indiana liberal arts institution.

McCoy couldn't contain himself. “Thank goodness you stopped him in the nick of time and threw yourself on the tracks,” he responded. “Because nobody with a liberal arts education gets a job.”

These are trying times for leaders of liberal arts institutions like DePauw. There have long been questions about whether a liberal arts degree is the best route to a job immediately after graduation, McCoy says. "But now people seem to be saying, if you get a liberal arts education, you’ve precluded the possibility of ever getting a job."

There is abundant evidence that a liberal arts education prepares graduates for successful careers, as well as, of course, a successful life. But with many parents and policy makers increasingly focused on students' first jobs, DePauw is making a grand statement to show that it can do that, too.

With its Gold Commitment, which DePauw quietly rolled out during its current admissions cycle, the university promises every graduate a "successful launch." The university vows that for any student who does not have an "entry-level professional position" or acceptance to graduate school within six months of graduation, DePauw and its employer partners will either give them a full-time entry-level position for at least six months, or the university will give the graduate another semester of education tuition-free. (DePauw isn't the only party that makes a commitment: students must meet a set of academic, behavioral and other requirements to qualify, and alumni will be expected to step up to help current students.)

In many ways, the goal is not a huge lift for DePauw, given the high rate at which its graduates currently launch successfully. Its typical annual graduating class is roughly 500 students, so the 5 percent each year who don't land a job or get into graduate school amounts to about 25 people.

“Parents are legitimately concerned about the first job. If we take that issue off the table for you, because we’re so sure it works, we think parents will go, ‘Now I can stop worrying about this, I can give them the best education available, which is the liberal arts education.’”

But by making a highly visible promise -- similar to but distinctive from guarantees that a handful of other institutions have made in the past (see box below) -- the university and McCoy hope to make a statement not about what the institution will begin doing, but what it has been doing all along.

"This is not, 'those liberal arts don't work, we've got to change the liberal arts so they do,'" McCoy says. "We already provide a viable, powerful education that works. We're just adding to the structure, codifying some things, so it works for everyone."

The Liberal Arts Under Fire

With the rise in student debt levels and the lingering effects of the Great Recession, doubts about the value of a college degree has risen, too -- and the liberal arts have taken a particular pounding.

That has led to lots of discussion (in, among other places, Inside Higher Ed's opinion pages) about whether liberal arts colleges and programs should become more focused on shorter-term vocational outcomes, by changing their offerings, how they operate, and the like.

Other Colleges' Guarantees

Capitol Technology University

Davenport University

Thomas College

Udacity and boot camps: Promise money back if graduates don't get jobs

McCoy believes the debate about whether the liberal arts does and should prepare students for long-term career success or short-term employability is a flawed one. "Yes, we believe that you should go college not just to make a living, but to make a life," he says. "But that's not to suggest that you're not preparing them to make a living."

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, has been listening in on a set of focus groups the higher ed lobbying group has been doing with the public, with a tilt toward supporters of President Trump. His assessment: "The public’s summary of the purpose of a higher education is jobs, jobs, jobs. They often have difficulty defining the reasons one might get a higher education beyond employment."

Given the stagnant wages for many Americans in the decade since the recession, it's "pretty understandable" that Americans might feel that way. That's not to say that higher education can or should let that perception stand, Hartle says.

"I think the higher education community in general has tended to assume that the public understands the widespread and diverse purposes of higher education, and we've erred in doing so. We need to talk about the many ways that going to college transforms people’s lives -- developing moral reasoning, civic engagement."

But college leaders shouldn't assume they can just "change the discussion -- few organizations and institutions in our society can do that," Hartle says. "Institutions have to meet the public where they are, particularly liberal arts institutions, and particularly in regions of the country with stable or declining populations."

Like, say, Indiana.

Responding to a ‘Flawed Narrative’

DePauw does not fit the profile of a "struggling" liberal arts college. The 180-year-old Methodist institution enrolls about 2,200 students, admits about two-thirds of its applicants, has an endowment of about $650 million, and has already raised $320 million in a capital campaign slotted to bring in $300 million.

McCoy, a former dean of DePauw's music school, enthusiastically embraces the liberal arts. "I want the world to be more liberally educated, and more people to consider this type of education, here and everywhere," he says.

But doubts about the liberal arts' value impede that goal -- not so much for students but for parents.

"Parents are legitimately concerned about the first job," he says. "If we take that issue off the table for you, because we're so sure it works, we think parents will go, 'Now I can stop worrying about this, I can give them the best education available, which is the liberal arts education.'"

Focusing on students' postgraduation outcomes isn't new for DePauw -- it has long focused on experiential learning and has had a center for entrepreneurship for nearly 40 years. But it will as part of the Gold Commitment become more intentional in what it offers (and demands of) students.

Beginning next fall, every student will have a "commitment adviser" in addition to the academic advisers DePauw undergraduates have always had. These advisers will ensure that students fulfill the various experiences and obligations they must to complete their end of the bargain, including graduating in four years, remaining in good behavioral standing and participating in one of the university's co-curricular centers (entrepreneurship, civic engagement, ethics, etc.) and its sophomore institute focused on life after DePauw. (A software system will help track whether students are availing themselves of the opportunities and requirements.)

Other "innovations" are likely to follow in future years, but these will be tweaks to what DePauw has long done as part of its liberal arts education, McCoy says, not radical departures from it. Unlike many small private colleges that have added degree programs in fields such as nursing and business and pharmacy, DePauw has clung tenaciously to its liberal arts roots.

"This is upping our game on ourselves a little bit, and we have to be prepared to continue to innovate," he says. "But mostly this is simply us doubling down on what we do well, and since it does, we're willing to guarantee it."

DePauw expects alumni to help with internships along the way and positions for graduates who might need employment after graduation, in exchange for reaffirming to them that "we're dedicated to making your institution relevant and your degree worthwhile," McCoy says.

Programs Elsewhere

DePauw may be the most visible institution to promise students will find jobs, but it isn't the first.

Thomas College, in Maine, has had its Guaranteed Job Program since 1999. If a student is unemployed six months after graduation, the college will make monthly payments on their federally subsidized student loans for up to a year, or they may enroll tuition-free in up to six evening graduate courses at Thomas. Students may also re-enroll at Thomas if they are in a job that isn't in their field of study.

Since 2001, only two students have used the loan payoff benefit, while another five have taken advantage of the educational benefit in the previous decade. Roughly 92 percent of students sign a contract to opt in to the program, which obligates them to follow a series of steps designed to prepare them for career success.

Corey Pelletier, director of career services at Thomas, says the guarantee has not significantly altered the institution's job placement outcomes (which were already good, in the low 90s), nor has it radically increased enrollment demand.

But it helps the college back up its mission of ensuring that students graduate with the practical skills to succeed, and the requirements of the program have "added to students’ experience here, getting them more experience and exposure to the workplace. It only works because it's aligned with our mission."

More Than a Gimmick?

Many colleges of all types, but perhaps especially small private institutions like DePauw, have embraced strategies designed to differentiate them from other institutions or reinforce what marketers call their "value proposition." Critics have dismissed as gimmicks the "tuition reset" decisions by numerous colleges to lower their tuition by as much as a third, for instance.

"There's a long history of schools implementing some significant step that boosts their enrollment in the short term, but may not have much impact over the long haul," said Hartle of ACE. "Any time you can use a word like 'guaranteed,' you're going to encourage people to look at you a little bit more closely."

McCoy acknowledges that DePauw hopes its commitment will sway students (and parents) who are skeptical that the university can get them the first job they want. But DePauw has "no desire to be larger than our traditional size, so we do not feel that other schools should be threatened by this," McCoy said via email in response to a reporter's question about whether its initiative could hurt some of its liberal arts college peers.

"Every institution has its own truth," he continued. "This is something that we see as a way for us to clearly have 'skin in the game.' Other institutions may increase their value proposition in other ways. I hope they will find their own way to increase the share of students that are getting a great liberal arts education."

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Durbin scrutinizes Wells Fargo's contracts with colleges as new data show how bank fees hit students

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

California State University, Sacramento, bills its OneCard as official student identification that can be used for much more.

A OneCard can be used to access campus facilities and for day-to-day financial needs, according to a Sacramento State website about the card. The website links to another site for the San Francisco-based banking giant Wells Fargo, where students can connect checking accounts at the bank to their student identification cards in order to have some bank fees waived. The site also notes that a Wells Fargo branch is “conveniently located in the Hornet Bookstore,” with bankers on-site to answer questions.

“California State University, Sacramento and Wells Fargo have teamed up to offer you the Sacramento State OneCard, a convenient single-card solution that gives you free access to cash at Wells Fargo ATMs nationwide, as well as to make purchases using your Personal Identification Number (PIN) when linked to a Wells Fargo Everyday Checking account,” the website says.

With a few clicks -- which many students might not make -- users can find a Department of Education-mandated disclosure showing just how many bank accounts have been linked to OneCards, how much those accounts have cost students and how much Wells Fargo pays Cal State Sacramento under its Campus Card program.

The website lists 13,788 active accounts for the year ending June 30, 2017. On average, the holders of those accounts paid $47.35 for the year -- money drawn from costs like foreign ATM fees or overdraft fees. Wells Fargo paid Sacramento State $119,764, mostly in royalties, although about $25,000 went to marketing and operational support.

In other words, in one year Wells Fargo collected more than $650,000 from fees on Sacramento State-linked accounts and paid the university just under $120,000 in return.

The fees Wells Fargo charges to Sacramento State and dozens of other universities are under new scrutiny after Senator Dick Durbin last week sent a letter to Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan, asking him to stop any plans the San Francisco-based bank has to expand on college campuses. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, was concerned after two recent developments rocked Wells Fargo and called its basic business practices into question.

In February, the Federal Reserve levied harsh penalties against the bank after a string of revelations showed it had opened extra accounts in customers’ names and required some customers to take out automobile insurance deemed unnecessary. Although those scandals were not tied directly to the bank’s actions on campuses, Wells Fargo also found itself factoring heavily into a January Wall Street Journal report about the fees banks charge to students at their college partners. That report found Wells Fargo charges students many of the highest average fees among college-connected bank accounts.

“While the Federal Reserve takes steps to correct your bank’s irresponsible behavior, I urge you to halt any efforts to expand your offering of financial products on college campuses until the Federal Reserve lifts its sanctions,” Durbin wrote. He also asked Wells Fargo to provide an up-to-date list of all colleges and universities with which it has agreements for providing students with financial services.

Wells Fargo is reviewing the letter, according to a spokesman. It’s not clear if the bank will respond.

The bank-connected college ID card is relatively common. In addition to the numerous colleges with which Wells Fargo contracts, several other major banks, like PNC Financial Services Group and U.S. Bancorp, strike card deals with colleges.

Participating colleges argue the banking deals ensure their students have access to basic, low-cost banking services while providing campuses with funds to help subsidize operating costs and the expense of printing ID cards. But detractors say some colleges are funneling students to banks that take advantage of their young customers with high, unexpected fees that could be avoided if only students shopped around for better terms. A 2016 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found dozens of college banking deals place no limit on account charges like overdraft or ATM fees.

It can be tempting to dismiss the inquiry from Durbin, a senator in the minority party concerned about banking fees at a time when the Department of Education is pursuing plans for a prepaid student aid card. But the issue of college-sponsored banking products could continue to be important in light of Education Department regulations going into effect in recent months. Those regulations apply to deals between financial institutions and colleges under which the financial institutions directly market products to students. They require colleges to disclose data including average costs paid by account holders.

The Wall Street Journal’s analysis looked at fees charged by banks in such deals and found Wells Fargo was responsible for 22 of the 30 highest average fees from the 2017 fiscal year. Community college students and students at regional public colleges paid the highest average fees, the Journal found. Accounts connected to PNC had 20 of the 30 lowest average fees.

After Durbin sent his letter, Inside Higher Ed conducted an examination of data for Wells Fargo accounts connected to 29 different colleges for the year ending in June 2017. Students at the University of Florida, where there were 37,353 active accounts, paid the lowest mean costs among the group -- $31.51 each. Students at Metropolitan State University in Denver paid the highest at $83.85, although just 247 accounts were active. The next highest mean costs were at Florida A&M University, where 6,219 accounts paid a mean cost of $67.99. In each case, median costs were far lower than mean costs, indicating a relatively small group of students pays far higher fees than the student body as a whole.

Wells Fargo paid a wide range of sums to institutions in 2017. Its smallest consideration paid was $10,421 to Fayetteville State University. Its largest was $340,000 to Texas A&M University. Fayetteville State had the second-fewest active accounts -- 543 -- behind Metropolitan State. Texas A&M had the most, 38,386.

Payments Wells Fargo makes to a university are determined through a bidding process between college and bank, not the sum of fees students pay, according to a Wells Fargo spokesman. The fees customers pay are determined based on how they manage their accounts, and the bank’s campus card program waives monthly service fees for participants who link a Campus Card to a specific checking account.

That waiver doesn’t cover other fees, like charges for using out-of-network ATMs or returned check fees. In the end, the amount of fees levied can be vastly different when comparing campuses.

“For example, some campuses have higher concentrations of nontraditional or part-time students with more complex banking needs, such as sending wires or purchasing more checks,” the Wells Fargo spokesman, Jim Seitz, said in an email. “Others may have high international populations that send and receive money to/from overseas.”

So where does that leave Wells Fargo-affiliated colleges like Sacramento State? Asked about the average fees paid by account holders at Sacramento State -- $47.35 -- Seitz said the fee is for the entire year and equates to less than $4 per month. Many students pay no fee, he said.

But other colleges have deals with different banks that resulted in lower fees. PNC Bank’s deal with Penn State resulted in average fees of $14.32 for 13,216 students. The same bank’s deal with the University of Illinois System resulted in average fees of $15.03 paid by 10,903 active accounts. PNC paid Penn State considerations totaling $1.14 million. It paid the Illinois system $1.1 million.

Leaders at Sacramento State argued the comparison is apples to oranges. For instance, the Illinois considerations of $1.1 million include rent for branches and ATMs. Because of California law, such lease payments aren’t included in disclosed considerations, said Gina Curry, associate vice president for financial services at Sacramento State, who oversaw the university’s OneCard program for several years and helped to negotiate the university’s last Wells Fargo contract revision.

Various contracts can cover a wide range of different services. When college leaders sign a bank deal, they evaluate more than just the amount they will receive from the company or the fee schedule under which students will have to pay, Curry said.

Sacramento State wanted a bank with a physical presence in the area, she said. Having local branches allows students to access ATMs without paying a service charge, and it allows them to visit banks if they have needs that can’t be served by an ATM.

Wells Fargo was also willing to make important concessions, Curry said. It was willing to open accounts for so-called unbankable students, who might not normally qualify for a standard no-fee bank account because of a troubled financial history -- like bouncing checks. Wells Fargo also agreed to only market bank accounts in university-related materials, meaning credit cards are excluded. And when bank employees appear on campus at events like orientation, Sacramento State representatives accompany them and monitor their language.

“If they are like, ‘This is the campus bank account,’ we tell them, ‘Nope,’” Curry said. “We tell them they can’t come back, and they send somebody else.”

Of course, those rules don’t necessarily prevent Wells Fargo from marketing other products, like credit cards, to students after they are the bank’s customers. And then there is the issue of the behavior that caused the Federal Reserve to sanction Wells Fargo. A deal with Wells Fargo could easily be seen as a campus endorsement of the bank, its products and its practices.

Sacramento State representatives had “long conversations” about the opening of mystery accounts with Wells Fargo, Curry said. The university makes clear to students they can bank anywhere they choose.

On the issue of whether Wells Fargo is charging too much in fees, Curry said she is uncomfortable with the idea that students are young and don’t know enough to avoid fees. Students have a responsibility to manage their bank accounts, she said.

“It gets a little tricky, because I come from a collections background,” she said. “I want to hold people accountable for their bad practices, whether that be late fees on campus or whether you bounce checks.”

The University of Illinois System also evaluates many different factors when choosing a bank, according to a spokesman. Colleges are required to conduct at least biennial reviews to make sure fees on the whole are consistent with or below prevailing market rates, he said. But the system also looks at which financial institutions provide services in the region and evaluated a total of 79 data points.

Meanwhile, it’s clear contract terms could incentivize colleges and banks to behave in different ways. For instance, Sacramento State’s contract with Wells Fargo pays it escalating royalty amounts based on the percentage of enrolled students who have linked checking accounts to their cards. The university receives $95,000 when the weighted campus card penetration reaches 30 percent. The scale slides down to $15,000 for zero percent penetration and all the way up to a royalty of $275,000 for 100 percent. Some other colleges have moved away from payments based on account volume or penetration, choosing instead to take flat fees.

Curry rejected the idea that the royalty schedule would motivate Sacramento State to encourage students to link their cards with Wells Fargo bank accounts. While Wells Fargo has increased its campus penetration over time, the university budgets for the current level of penetration and has grown used to it, she said. It simply wants students to have a bank but does not encourage them to switch to Wells Fargo, she said.

Nonetheless, it’s clear different banks can have varying levels of success on campus. The University of Illinois System contracted with TCF Bank from 2007 to 2015 before moving to PNC. With TCF, an average of about 14,000 accounts were opened annually. With PNC, the average is about 5,000 per year.

It’s also clear that banks want to enlist customers early. About four out of five students graduating with an account under Wells Fargo’s Campus Card program remain with the bank after college, according to its spokesman, Seitz.

“We want to build lifelong relationships with customers, and we know that the experience a student customer has with us will impact our opportunity to serve the customer’s future financial services needs,” he said via email.

Durbin also asked Wells Fargo to indicate whether it had notified students at colleges and universities about the recent sanctions from the Federal Reserve and whether it would impact them.

“I will be watching your bank’s process in improving its company policies and practices with great interest, especially with respect to your treatment of America’s student consumers,” he wrote.

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Students and faculty members at Augsburg U rallying around professor facing deportation

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

Mzenga Wanyama, an associate professor of English at Augsburg University, has a month to make plans to return to his native Kenya or face deportation, immigration officials in St. Paul said Friday.

Fearing that Wanyama might be detained during his Friday appointment at the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters, dozens of student and faculty supporters rallied outside, holding signs saying, “Please Don’t Deport Our Professor.”

Cheering when Wanyama emerged from the building, some vowed to keep raising awareness about his pending deportation -- one of several to involve longtime faculty members in recent weeks.

Wanyama, who came to the U.S. in 1992 to attend graduate school -- first at Howard University and then the University of Minnesota Twin Cities -- has checked in at least quarterly with immigration officials since his request for asylum was rejected in 2010. He has been allowed to stay in the U.S. since that time but was asked to check in with ICE early this month with his family, amid increased agency action against undocumented immigrants with no criminal records.

Wanyama, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the weekend, said Friday that he was told to return to ICE with evidence of his plans to return to Kenya. He and his wife, a registered nurse who also has been asked to leave the U.S. for lack of legal status, have three children: two recipients of the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and one who is an American citizen.

Katheryn Wasylik, Wanyama’s attorney, told the Star-Tribune that all undocumented immigrants are now ICE targets. “I think what has changed is that discretion ICE had to prioritize the individuals who need to leave -- that’s gone now,” she said.

Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesperson, said the agency “has instructed [Wanyama] to provide evidence that he intends to comply with the judge’s final order of removal” from 2012.

Wanyama taught at St. Cloud State University before moving to Augsburg a decade ago. He specializes in postcolonial theory and literatures and African-American literary history.

Many of his students have praised his teaching. An online petition signed by more than 11,000 supporters quotes Robert Cowgill, chair of Augsburg’s English department, as saying that Wanyama “is an invaluable tenured member of the Augsburg community. Augsburg's students need Prof. Wanyama.”

Augsburg president Paul C. Pribbenow said in a statement that the institution “believes deeply that our country is great because of our embrace of people from a diversity of life experiences. This is in our mission, and you can see it in our students, faculty and staff.”

Wanyama’s “teaching and research in African-American literary history and in postcolonial theory and literatures play a critical role in our undergraduate curriculum,” Pribbenow said. “His work enriches the education that Augsburg provides, advancing students’ scholarship in writing and literature well beyond what this university would be able to provide without him.”

Calling Wanyama “a role model for the professional aspirations and accomplishments of future leaders in our city and country,” Pribbenow said, “we strongly stand behind him and believe he should be able to stay in the U.S.”

In January, ICE officials arrested Syed Ahmed Jamal, a Park University instructor of chemistry and father of three, on his front lawn in Lawrence, Kans. Jamal, a native of Bangladesh, was granted a temporary stay of deportation last month after he was put on a plane back to his home country. He was offloaded in Hawaii and taken to a detention center there. Jamal’s attorneys have since said that his work permit was valid until October 2018.

Similar to Wanyama, Jamal was ordered deported in 2011 but had been allowed to stay in the U.S. since that time based on regular check-ins with ICE.

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Graduation rates for black athletes lower than most students', study shows

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

After years of studying black male athletes, Shaun R. Harper has learned a frustrating lesson -- the inequity among these men in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s five most powerful conferences isn’t disappearing.

Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Center on Race and Equity, has released a new study highlighting the disparities in graduation rates among black male athletes compared to the rest of the student population.

This is his third edition of the report, dating back to 2012, and shows that the graduation issue persists, as does the "overrepresentation" of black men on football and basketball teams.

"I would say one of the things surprises me is the durability of the inequity, given all of the rhetoric of the NCAA commitment to student athlete success,” Harper said in an interview. “The NCAA in recent years produced these television commercials that said black male student athletes in Division I graduate at higher rates, and that’s just not true.”

As Harper’s report identifies, it’s at best a half-truth. While across the board in Division I, black male athletes do graduate in higher percentages than black college men who don’t play sports, that’s not the case with the 65 institutions that comprise the Power 5, the NCAA’s wealthiest leagues: the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conferences. These are the colleges most in the sports spotlight that have, for decades, dominated football and men's basketball championships.

A little more than 55 percent of black male athletes at the Power 5 colleges graduated within six years, versus 60 percent of black men in the overall undergraduate population and about 76 percent of all undergraduates.

Only three institutions in the Power 5 -- the University of Louisville, Mississippi State University and the University of Utah -- graduated black male athletes at rates higher than or equal to their undergraduate populations.

Harper pointed to Louisville as one of the most improved since he last conducted the study in 2016.

(Notably, Louisville’s men’s basketball team has spent several years in the harsh light of scrutiny -- the powerful head coach there, Rick Pitino, was fired last fall after two major scandals.)

But Louisville boosted its graduation rates for black male athletes by 18 percentage points in two or so years, from 47 to 65 percent, which puts Louisville ninth highest in graduation rates among the 65 colleges and universities in the Power 5. A Louisville representative did not provide comment in time for publication.

The top three institutions for graduation rates of black male athletes were Northwestern University at 88 percent, followed by Vanderbilt University and University of Notre Dame, both at 86 percent.

Conversely, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University had the lowest graduation rates, at 37 percent, 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

The University of Georgia’s graduation rate also fell the most since 2016, from 51 to 36 percent.

Georgia provided a statement to a reporter from the athletics director, Greg McGarity: "We are dedicating the resources necessary to enhance the academic performance of all our student-athletes. There is always room for improvement in every measurement of academic and athletic achievement and we are committed to constant improvement in all areas of our program."

Louisiana State did not respond to a request for comment.

Harper relied on federal graduation rates for his study, as well as the NCAA’s data on athletes on scholarship to demonstrate that despite few black men enrolling in these universities, their big-time sports teams often are composed primarily of black men. This year, in a supplement to the report, he also recalculated the graduation data using the NCAA’s metric, the graduation success rate. Federal graduation data do not account for transfer students, but Harper said the differences in the two data sets were minimal.

Black men made up only 2.4 percent of undergraduate students enrolled across all 65 institutions, but they comprised 56 percent of basketball teams and 55 percent of football teams.

Institutions that highly prioritize sports will use every resource in the athletics departments to recruit black male athletes, sometimes from high schools with a poor academic record, and then don’t provide them the necessary support once they enter college, Harper said.

This also relates to the stereotype that black men have more athletic prowess than smarts, which can be quite damaging, Harper said.

Harper noted the professional leagues recruit a minuscule portion of college athletes, less than 2 percent, which leaves many players with few options once they have graduated, if they have done so.

He is advocating for a portion of athletics money be funneled instead toward admissions offices, which could use the funding to more aggressively entice black male high school students who wouldn’t be attending college for sports.

“Some would likely argue that affirmative action policies might not permit such targeted recruitment of one specific racial group,” Harper writes in the report. “Somehow, there is considerably less institutional anxiety about potential affirmative action backlash when coaches do all that is necessary to recruit Black men for participation on revenue-generating sports teams.”

The report also shows that only about 12 percent of the head coaches for men’s basketball are black, as are 15 percent of athletics directors. None of the Power 5 commissioners are black.

Harper advocates in the report for new commissions at multiple levels: institutionally, among the conferences and the NCAA. These panels would be charged with developing disaggregated data reports on athletes so college leaders could figure out how best to fix these disparities.

An NCAA spokeswoman, upon request for comment, forwarded the association’s database on race and gender demographics, which contains some of the information Harper requested.

On black athletes in Division I, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the following in a statement in November: “Student-athletes are reaching their academic goals and earning degrees at record rates. The dramatic improvement in the graduation rate for African-American student-athletes in all sports is a significant achievement, and our student-athletes and member schools should be proud of the work they are doing. The goal of the NCAA’s academic polices and programs is to prepare students for life after college and graduation is integral to this success.”

The NCAA spokeswoman told Inside Higher Ed she had forwarded Harper’s suggestions to its Office of Inclusion.

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Who would win the NCAA tournament if academics ruled the day?

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:00

In a year in which the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men's basketball tournament threatens, more than usual, to be tinged by scandal and questions about the sport's future, Inside Higher Ed offers its annual antidote: a look at how the tournament would unfold if teams' academic acumen mattered more than their skill on the court.

A tradition since 2006, 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 less than perfect -- metrics for judging academic success.

We first look to the 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, which measures the proportion of athletes on track to graduate within six years. In the event of a tie on that metric, we then turn to the federal graduation rate, a different formula that the government uses to track graduation rates.

There were some unusual "games" this year, with a total of nine programs with perfect APR scores of 1000 creating a larger than usual number of ties, including two that went to the federal graduation rate as a third-level tiebreaker.

Click here to see who emerges the winner of this year's Academic Performance Tournament. And as always, fun as it is, we don't recommend using Inside Higher Ed's bracket as the basis for your office pool.

Please follow me on Twitter @dougledIHE.

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Texas Tech professor who says university punished him for opposing tenure can take case to trial

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:00

In another legal win for the Texas Tech University professor who hates tenure, a Texas appeals court green-lit his state-level suit against the institution this week for trial.

The decision, written by Justice James T. Campbell, reverses a lower court’s dismissal of James Wetherbe’s retaliation case against Texas Tech.

“Because we find Wetherbe alleged his challenged speech on tenure touched on a matter of public concern and because we ascribe no merit to appellees’ responsive arguments, we sustain Wetherbe’s issue,” the decision says.

Wetherbe, Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor of Business, has long been a critic of the tenure system, especially in business schools, on the grounds that it can limit innovation. He’s shared his opinions on campus and off, including in high-profile op-eds.

Saying that he lost out on professional opportunities because of his public comments and op-eds against tenure, Wetherbe sued Texas Tech for retaliation in a federal court in 2012. That suit was dismissed in 2014 on the grounds that Wetherbe's comments against tenure through 2012 weren't substantive enough to back up the retaliation claims. But a second suit alleging continued retaliation was revived last year by a federal appeals court, based on a decision similar in its logic to Campbell’s.

Wetherbe’s state-level suit says that Texas Tech further retaliated against him for comments against tenure he continued to make after filing the federal complaint. Among other claims, Wetherbe says he was demoted to a “professor of the practice,” denied access to data pertaining to a specific scholarship fund and removed from various leadership roles and as professor of an M.B.A. skills communication course.

As it did in the federal case, Texas Tech argued that Wetherbe’s comments on tenure were not a matter of public concern, but merely pursuant to his employment and therefore not protected by the First Amendment

While the lower court sided with Texas Tech on that issue, the district appeals court did not. Campbell in his decision wrote that whether a public employee’s speech is constitutionally protected involves several considerations: whether it was made pursuant to official duties, and, if not, whether the speech was on a matter of public concern. Last, if the speech doesn’t pertain to a matter of public concern, is the employee’s interest in expressing his concerns balanced with the employer’s interests in performing its services efficiently?

Citing opinion pieces Wetherbe had written or been quoted in, such as those in the Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal, Campbell said Wetherbe sometimes described his own experiences but was largely adding to an ongoing debate about the value of tenure. Among other public documents about tenure, Campbell's decision also refers to a survey of provosts published by Inside Higher Ed and Gallup in 2013 that asked about tenure.

Moreover, Campbell said, echoing the federal appeals court decision from 2017, “Wetherbe’s personal involvement in and experience with tenure do not necessarily devalue his speech on the topic in the public square.”

Fernando Bustos, Wetherbe’s attorney, said Thursday that the new decision is the second time an appeals court has held that speaking out against tenure is protected by the First Amendment (and, in the latter case, the Texas Constitution’s free speech clause).

The issue is not whether Wetherbe is qualified for tenure, Bustos added, since he’s been tenured four times -- including at Texas Tech -- but rejected it.

“We are grateful that the court of appeals has cleared this case to go to trial and we look forward to receiving a redress for these damages as soon as possible,” Bustos said.

Wetherbe said that a dean he blames for much of the retaliation has now left the university for unrelated reasons, and that he’s anxious to settle. Texas Tech’s model seems to be to play out all legal options in hopes that he’ll give up, he added, “but I’ve run marathons. I don’t look like it now, but I’m used to running marathons.”

Chris Cook, a university spokesperson, said via email, “No actions have ever been taken against Wetherbe for his position on tenure or for any articles he has written about tenure or any other subject.” Asked about next steps, Cook said the university hasn’t had a chance to discuss an appeal yet, “but there are other dispositive motions we will pursue in the future.”

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Prominent scholar accuses Trump economist of plagiarism

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:00

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Susan Dynarski, an economist and professor at the University of Michigan, accused Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, of in a 2007 column presenting her proposal to streamline the federal student aid system as his own without citing her or her graduate student co-author.

A council official contested Dynarski's account.

The tweets followed an appearance by Hassett at the U.S. Capitol in front of the Joint Economic Committee to discuss President Trump's new steel and aluminum tariffs.

Dynarski, an expert on student financial aid policy, wrote in the tweets that in May 2006 she and her co-author, Judith Scott-Clayton (now a prominent scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College), released a paper showing how the complexity of the student aid financial aid system overburdens those who are least able to pay for college. The paper argued that a "radically simplified process" could distribute the same aid by collecting much less information from students.

In February of the following year, Dynarski and Scott-Clayton produced a policy proposal based on those ideas for the Hamilton Project. The same month, Hassett published a column in The Wall Street Journal making the same proposal -- including analysis of the simplified structure of the Georgia HOPE Scholarship and Social Security student benefit program -- without citing Dynarski or Scott-Clayton. The whole premise of the column came from their analysis, Dynarski said via email.

When she contacted Hassett at the time, Dynarski said, he acknowledged her authorship of the ideas but refused to make a correction, although he later praised the two scholars' work in a separate publication.

"That's it. No big deal to him to steal our work but it was a big deal for me as a young scholar," Dynarski wrote in a tweet about the incident.

Reached via email, Dynarski said she made a public statement about the incident because watching Hassett "misrepresent Trump's stance on free trade brought back this memory."

"As a junior professor, I was too fearful and uncertain about my status to make this plagiarism public," she said.

DJ Nordquist, chief of staff at the Council of Economic Advisers, said Hassett has a different recollection of the incident. Hassett, previously the director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular columnist at National Review and Bloomberg, did a literature review of the student aid issue and wrote his column based on several papers, including the one by Dynarski and Scott-Clayton, but it was shortened by Journal editors who removed some sources.

"She called him to discuss it; he apologized and they amicably discussed whether she would prefer he ask for a correction in the WSJ or whether she would prefer he write a new piece aimed to get the policy proposal further attention," Nordquist said in an email. "She chose the latter option, which is the [National Review] piece, and this is the first time the issue has been raised in 11 years."

Dynarski, however, insisted that Hassett refused to make a correction.

"The two -- an article and correction -- are not substitutes," she said. "I am sure he saw it as amicable. I was terrified."

Scott-Clayton said in a statement that her memory matched Dynarski's account.

"I do remember this incident, which occurred when I was a graduate student," she said. "My recollection, while a bit hazy, is consistent with what Sue Dynarski described on Twitter."

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U Illinois graduate students reach tentative contract deal after nearly two-week strike

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:00

Nearly two weeks after going on strike over protracted contract negotiations, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reached a tentative agreement with their administration Thursday.

The new proposal, which members of the Graduate Employee Organization will continue to vote on Friday, includes several key provisions that stalled negations prior to the strike -- perhaps most significantly, guaranteed tuition waivers for teaching and graduate assistants enrolled and in good standing. The university previously wanted to reserve the right to determine and modify tuition waiver designations.

The new agreement also includes a $50 payment for teaching assistants who get their appointment letters late and wage increases for the first three years of the five-year contract: 4.5 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the second and third years.

Insurance premium coverage would also jump to 87 percent, from 80 percent currently. There’s a proposed 25 percent coverage for one dependent -- the first time any dependent coverage has been part of a deal for the graduate employees.

Ashli Anda, a spokesperson for the union, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said students achieved their aims because they “were and continue to be highly organized.” Given that graduate students have been working without a new contract and bargaining for a year, she said, “we had extensive time to educate ourselves and others about labor law, something many of us had never expected we'd know so much about.”

Anda, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy, said members had a say in strike actions and strategies and committees worked hard to encourage participation each day.

Mary Grace Hébert, a Ph.D. candidate in communications on campus, said the strike was “successful because graduate employees worked nonstop to make it happen. It was really hard work.”

The union had a dedicated team of strike captains, building coordinators and picket captains, she said. Social media and outreach to departments on campus with historically low union participation also helped.

In addition to stopping teaching, many students also halted their research or postponed course work, putting “all our energy toward making the strike successful,” Hébert said.

By the end of the strike graduate students had taken to occupying and even sleeping in the campus chancellor’s and University of Illinois System’s president’s offices.

Noting that Illinois was among the many institutions to speak out against an ultimately unsuccessful GOP proposal to tax graduate tuition waivers last year, Hébert said she was “disappointed” to see tuition waivers at stake in negotiations.

“While waivers are nonmonetary income, they are part of our compensation,” she said. “Without guaranteed waivers, many graduate employees would not be able to attend UIUC because of the cost.” Out-of-state and international students, who make up a major share of the graduate employee population, would have been hit the hardest, she said, adding that she wouldn't have been able to come to Illinois from out of state without a waiver.

“Like many of my colleagues, I would have taken a different offer,” she said. “Guaranteed tuition waivers must remain a standard of graduate education, and our strike was an attempt to preserve that standard at UIUC and beyond.”

Many faculty members offered support for the graduate students on social media and elsewhere during the strike.

Robin Kaler, a university spokesperson, declined to answer specific questions about the agreement, citing the ongoing ratification vote. The university is “very happy,” however, she said. Between 67 and 173 graduate students went on strike for each day of the action, according to university estimates, leaving scores of classes canceled or moved.

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Universities stall on ‘confusing’ distance education regulations

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:00

Colleges are struggling to prepare for new distance education rules, which are scheduled to take effect in July.

Under the new regulations, all higher education institutions that offer classes online must demonstrate that they are authorized to operate in every state where they enroll students who receive federal financial aid. The rules also mean that institutions must make clear their refund policies and procedures for receiving student complaints.

Additionally, institutions must provide specific information to students who are pursuing professions that require state licensure, which is common for nurses, teachers and counselors, among others. Institutions will be required to inform students if they are taking a program that will not qualify them to practice their chosen profession where they live. This means every institution must track the requirements for professional licensing in every state where they operate. Failure to meet these requirements could result in institutions losing eligibility for federal financial aid.

The regulations were first published by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2016. But higher education groups say many institutions are unsure about how to follow the rules and are waiting for additional guidance from the department.

The language in the regulations about licensing information is confusing, said Leah Matthews, executive director of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Matthews is seeking clarification from the Education Department on several aspects of the regulation -- particularly what is meant by a student's "state of residence" and which format institutions should use for the required disclosures.

Matthews recently co-authored a letter to the department on this issue with Marshall Hill, the executive director of the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements, and Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis with the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

“The institutions we represent clearly desire to comply with the rules, but are struggling to prepare to do so,” the letter said.

Sharyl Thompson, CEO of Higher Education Regulatory Consulting, agreed with Matthews that the language in the regulations is confusing. One of the issues, she said, is that the new rules don't use standard language about state authorization.

For example, Thompson said, references to a student’s state of residence throughout the regulations were problematic. The need for state authorization is not actually determined by where students live, she said, but where they are located when studying. For example, a student who is a resident of Kentucky might take a course online while in Arkansas, said Thompson. “Kentucky doesn’t require authorization for having online students, but Arkansas does,” she said.

“This may sound like splitting hairs, but this is the reality in state authorization. Using the term ‘reside’ is contradictory to state authorization general practices and regulations,” said Thompson.

Without a clear definition, she said, institutions will decide what “reside” means, and it may not meet the department’s intention. Thompson said she was disappointed that the department had failed to address this issue, despite many people highlighting it during a public comment period about the regulations.

Wrong Degree for the Job

Several observers agreed that the professional licensure aspect of the regulation will be the most challenging for colleges. Many are participants in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, which means that because the colleges are authorized to provide online courses in their home state, they are also allowed to operate in other member states. However, SARA does not cover the individual state-by-state requirements for professional licensure. This means institutions will have to spend significant time researching the requirements for different professions in different states and checking if their licensure-track programs meet those requirements.

“The hours it takes to research, document, create and publish disclosures is enormous,” said Thompson. “It can easily take five hours just to research one profession in one state.” And Thompson said the department’s burden calculation had “grossly underestimated” how long it would take institutions to do the work.

One of the aims of the regulation is to help students avoid a situation where they complete a degree, only to realize that it isn’t the one they need. How many students this has happened to is unknown, but several lawsuits have accused colleges of misleading students about where their credentials would cover licensure requirements. Iowa's attorney general, for example, sued Ashford University in 2014 over allegations that the university told prospective students its online degree would qualify them to teach in Iowa, when this was not in fact the case.

Greg Ferenbach, a lawyer with Cooley LLP, said many complaints of this nature are settled out of court before a lawsuit is filed, with the institution “usually denying any wrongdoing, but making amends.”

Thompson said existing regulations require institutions to notify students if they are taking a course that will not lead to professional licensure, but these rules are designed for campus-based programs -- not online ones -- and are “not nearly as detailed” as the pending rules.

Brian Muys, a spokesman for the American Public University System, said his institution “proactively and transparently” discloses whether an online program meets state licensure requirements. The APUS website, however, advises prospective students to do their own research before applying, and suggests they get in touch with admissions staff if they have questions.

While Muys said his institution would be tracking the regulations carefully, not all institutions are concerned about them. David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges, said the regulations are “pretty clear” and have a straightforward intent. Though many community colleges offer online courses, most are “primarily local institutions” that focus on their home states, Baime said, and work closely with their state agencies and accreditors.

Chris Bustamente, president of Rio Salado College in Arizona, a majority-online community college, agreed that the regulations have a "clear intention" but said adhering to the rules would create some challenges.

One complication, he said, is that some professional boards do not review programs from out-of-state institutions. In this case, an institution would need to work with the state regulatory agency and the professional board to decide if a program meets requirements for licensure or not, said Bustamente. While there is still work to do, Bustamente said he is "serious about putting students first," adding that there are "opportunities within this mandate to improve the student experience."

Bustamente and Matthews, of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, said they would like to see the development of collective directories of information that could make researching different complaint processes and state requirements for different professions “less burdensome” on individual institutions. However, the department has ruled out taking the lead in creating such resources. The department said creating a centralized federal website that lists the complaint processes of each state, for example, might be mistaken for formal approval of these processes. Additionally the department said it felt individual institutions were best placed to identify and obtain the necessary approvals from the states where they operate, as the institutions will need to “establish and maintain a working relationship with those state agencies.”

The Way Forward

Matthews, Poulin and Hill said in their letter that the department could offer a clarification on the regulations in a Dear Colleague letter. Alternatively, the feds could consider delaying when the rules would go into effect.

The timing of the implementation of the regulation is important, because GOP leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are currently pushing a bill that would completely eliminate it as part of their reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The so-called PROSPER Act would remove the pending regulations and forbid future regulation.

Congress appears to be far from passing that legislation. But even if the bill is enacted as currently written, that scenario is highly unlikely before July. This could mean that colleges spend time and money preparing for regulations that might be rendered unnecessary a short time later.

Ferenbach said some colleges expect the department to suspend the regulations before they go into effect. But he warns that “there is not much evidence that they will actually do that.”

In a blog post Ferenbach co-wrote in December, he advised colleges to prepare for the regulations as if they will go into effect. Those that don’t could be in for a “very rude, and potentially expensive, awakening,” he said. Thompson said she also is advising institutions to proceed as if the regulation would go ahead.

However, Ferenbach said the chance that the PROSPER Act will pass both chambers of Congress as currently written is “virtually nil.” He noted that while some parts might make it into a Senate version, “it seems highly unlikely that Senate Democrats will support the outright repeal of state authorization or other Obama-era regulations.”

Thompson, of Higher Education Regulatory Consulting, said she's not sure the department will delay the regulations. She said the issue doesn't appear to be high priority for the department, despite uncertainty costing institutions "considerable time, effort and money in preparing for something that may not exist in just over four months."

Thompson said a Dear Colleague letter probably would not provide enough clarity. “The regulations themselves need to be written more clearly.”

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the federal Department of Education, said the department “is aware of the many concerns expressed about this rule.” This issue “is just one of several reasons Secretary [Betsy] DeVos has called for a top-to-bottom review of the department’s regulations,” Hill said in an email. She added that DeVos is “committed to making sure the rules on the books do not limit students from having access to an education that is high quality, nimble and meets their 21st century needs.”

Obligation to Help?

Cheryl Dowd, director of the State Authorization Network for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, recently wrote a blog post urging institutions to be more proactive in helping students be sure they are enrolled in the right academic program for the career they want, regardless of whether or not regulations require them to do so.

“We have often heard that it should be the student’s responsibility to determine licensure applicability. But how is a student who has not taken the first course in their chosen profession supposed to know how a curriculum matches their state’s academic requirements?” said Dowd.

Institutions choose which states they operate in, she said, and are not required to enroll students from other states. As such, Dowd said colleges should be checking requirements in other states before offering programs there. “Shouldn’t the institution have the responsibility to determine if the program the institution chose to offer in that state meets the prerequisites in the state?” she said.

While she acknowledged that institutions have reported that the process is “difficult,” Dowd said her organization and NC-SARA are working to coordinate research and simplify implementation “as much as possible.”

She encouraged institutions to take the regulations seriously, even if they don't go into effect this year. “If the new state authorization regulation is delayed or rescinded, your institution will still be subject to SARA (if you are a member), state, legal and moral obligations.”

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Survey of college presidents finds worry about public attitudes, confidence in finances

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/09/2018 - 08:00

One in eight campus leaders say their college could close or merge within five years, half agree that academe is disconnected from society and most feel badly misunderstood by the public.

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Study finds evidence of racial and gender bias in online education

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:00

Many proponents of online education have speculated that the digital learning environment might be a meritocracy, where students are judged not on their race or gender, but on the comments they post.

A study being released today by the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford University, however, finds that bias appears to be strong in online course discussions.

The study found that instructors are 94 percent more likely to respond to discussion forum posts by white male students than by other students. The authors write that they believe their work is the first to demonstrate with a large pool that the sort of bias that concerns many educators in face-to-face instruction is also present in online education.

The study looked at discussion forums in 124 massive open online courses (all were provided on a single MOOC platform that the paper does not identify, citing confidentiality requirements). The researchers created fictional student accounts, with names that most would identify as being either white, black, Indian or Chinese, with male and female names for each racial/ethnic group.

Over all, instructors responded to 7 percent of comments posted by students. But for white male students, the response rate was 12 percent.

"Our results show compelling experimental evidence that instructor discrimination exists in discussion forums of online classrooms," says the paper. "Simply attaching a name that connotes a specific race and gender to a discussion forum post changes the likelihood that an instructor will respond to that post."

The gap in instructor response rates was the same in courses in science and technology and in other subject areas.

In course discussion forums, students also respond to fellow students. Here the study found that female, white and Indian students were more likely to respond to the fictional students who were from their own group. But the impact was modest, with one exception -- white female students were significantly more likely to respond to posts by white women than were other students.

The authors of the study are Rachel Baker of the University of California, Irvine; Thomas Dee of Stanford; Brent Evans of Vanderbilt University; and June John of Stanford.

Their paper acknowledges limitations of the study. The authors note that they are uncertain about how instructors or students react to postings from people whose names are not as identifiable by race, ethnicity or gender as the names used in the study. Further, they note that because the students they created are fictional, they could not study the impact on students of the varying response rates by instructors.

They conclude by stating that their findings are important, given the increasing use of online education.

"Because online courses are typically asynchronous, these forums provide a uniquely important venue for instructor-to-student and student-to-student engagement," the paper says. "Our field experiment produced evidence that the comparative anonymity granted by asynchronous, digitally mediated interactions in online discussion forums does not eliminate bias among instructors."

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Ball State University poised for historic takeover of school district in Muncie, Ind.

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:00

Muncie Community Schools enrollment peaked at 19,808 students in 1967, a time when the shine had yet to wear off the rust belt and manufacturers were near the apex of their power as employers hiring in Indiana.

School enrollment has declined since then as the region’s manufacturing jobs moved away, population fell and students shifted to other schools. Today, the school system enrolls 5,215 students.

Despite the declines, the school system has built two new high schools, another middle school and a new elementary school since its heyday. As of 2017, the district’s facilities were less than 75 percent occupied. By some estimates, their occupancy rate was on track to fall to 68 percent by 2030. In that case, the school system would have 100 excess classrooms.

Just three school buildings were labeled in good shape in an assessment of facilities performed in 2015. Six needed significant maintenance. But $10 million from 2014 general obligation bonding intended for school repairs was spent instead on operating expenses, drawing the ire of state legislators. Last year, the state put emergency managers in place to address the district’s finances. Then in December, the state decided to take full control of Muncie Community Schools, giving the emergency managers full control of academic and financial operations.

Now Ball State University is poised to take control of the embattled school district in its home city.

Legislation advancing through Indiana’s General Assembly would permanently replace Muncie Community Schools’ five-member elected board with a seven-person board appointed by Ball State, giving Indiana’s fourth-largest public university full control of the school district. The idea, advanced by Republicans and likely to pass in Indiana’s GOP-controlled state government, has drawn support from Ball State’s administration.

University leaders hope to reverse a long financial slide at the school district, boost its academic offerings and attract new students in a state where laws allow for neighboring public schools and charter schools to compete fiercely with each other for enrollment. They point to the university’s roots as a teachers’ college and connections Ball State already has with Muncie schools, arguing the new arrangement would allow them to do more to help students.

The proposal remains rife with risks. Area politicians have howled about the pending loss of voter control over Muncie schools. Teachers’ unions objected because Ball State would not be required to recognize collective bargaining, and the university could face conflicts of interest related to its newfound taxing power.

The idea of a university controlling its local public school district is also nearly untested. One point of comparison might come from the private Boston University, which ran Chelsea Public Schools for 20 years ending in 2008. The partnership ended with mixed results.

Only one thing can be said for certain: Ball State is about to test the limits of optimism about higher education’s power and role in society.

Why Wade In?

Ball State's first-year president, Geoffrey S. Mearns, walks a narrow path when it comes to talking about the university taking over Muncie schools. The university has resisted labeling the idea a takeover. Mearns tries to cast the decision at hand not as a choice between a local school board controlling the district or Ball State running it, but as a choice between the university operating Muncie Community Schools or the schools being run by an emergency manager.

“We are local, as opposed to an emergency manager, who is in it pursuant to a contract and may or may not be local,” said Mearns, who joined Ball State in May after five years as president at Northern Kentucky University. “Another fundamental difference is we have a long-term interest that the emergency manager doesn’t.”

Ball State’s fortunes are intertwined with Muncie’s, Mearns argues. As a public university, Ball State also has an obligation to support its surrounding community.

Although the local schools are not in academic distress at the moment, Mearns said, academics will deteriorate if the school district's financial struggles continue indefinitely. If such a paradigm plays out, struggling schools would hurt the local economy as employers struggle to attract talent. Ball State would feel the pain, too, if faculty members choose to live in another district so their children can be closer to strong schools -- or if employees decide not to come to the university at all.

Nonetheless, the legislation would keep certain firewalls between Ball State and Muncie Community Schools. The two entities would be legally and financially independent. The university would not be managing the schools in the way it manages two other schools it directly runs, the K-12 Burris Laboratory School and a residential high school for gifted juniors and seniors called the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities.

Instead, Ball State would appoint a seven-member board that would in turn be charged with running the school district. Five of those members would be nominated by the university's president and appointed by Ball State's governor-appointed trustees. The president would also appoint one board member from a list of three people nominated by Muncie’s city council. And the president would appoint the final member from a list of three people nominated by the mayor of Muncie.

The particulars of the appointments have changed as the bill worked its way through the legislative process and lawmakers raised concerns about a potential lack of local voices running the school district. Many pointed out that board members would not have to live within the district.

In the latest version of the bill, at least two of the five board members appointed by trustees would have to live within the Muncie Community School Corporation district. So would the two people appointed by the president. Starting in 2022, the presidential appointments would be replaced with two board members elected from within the school corporation boundaries on an at-large basis.

Appointments should “strive to” reflect the “geographical and socioeconomic composition” of the district, the proposed law says. Current school board members would also become members of an advisory board with no governing power existing until their terms expire.

If the legislation passes, Ball State trustees would still have to vote to assume control of the school district. It is too early to say who might be appointed to the board afterward, Mearns said.

“I’ve received some suggestions, some self-nominations and some nominations of others,” he said. “If the bill passes and if our board accepts this responsibility, we will develop a process by which we will consult with the community to receive nominations and evaluate those nominations.”

If the university doesn’t know whom it would have running the schools, it’s worth asking why administrators think they can change the schools’ trajectory. In response, Mearns and faculty members in Ball State’s Teachers College say the university is already deeply involved in local classrooms. If Ball State can scale existing programs or start new ones, it can build an innovative academic environment to attract students.

And attracting students is of the utmost importance in Indiana, where local taxes go toward capital and transportation costs but the state pays school districts for operating costs on a per-student basis. Indiana pays districts an average of $6,500 per student. But students can choose to attend public charter schools, and the state also pays for vouchers for private schools. Perhaps most critically for Muncie, students can also choose to attend other public school corporations in the state. Between 2005 and 2015, Muncie Community Schools’ enrollment fell by 26.1 percent. About half of that drop was students choosing to attend other local public schools, according to a 2017 report by Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research. University administrators say neighboring school districts send buses into Muncie to pick up students.

In other words, optimists at the university hope their involvement stops a death spiral at Muncie’s public schools and turns them into an in-demand destination. Doing so would bring students, money and, hopefully, the ability to climb out of decades of decline.

“The thinking is that this presents an opportunity to design some innovative programming in the district that would attract families and potentially increase the extent to which faculty at Ball State are more likely to live in the community, which is a significant population,” said Eva Zygmunt, a professor of elementary education at Ball State.

Zygmunt and others can point to the university’s heavy existing involvement with Muncie Community Schools. In 2016-17, 688 Ball State students volunteered a total of 11,300 hours for agencies serving the schools. Over three years, Ball State has placed a total of 159 student teachers there.

Pat Clark is a professor who chairs Ball State’s Department of Elementary Education. She is also on the Board of Directors for BY5, a nonprofit organization focused on improving opportunities for early childhood development in Muncie and its surrounding county. She would like to see Ball State facilitate early childhood programs after it is in control of Muncie schools. She also said parents have voiced interest in starting a Montessori school.

Clark and others repeat, again and again, that Muncie Schools are not failing academically.

“We’re not thinking we’re coming in to save the Muncie school district academically,” Clark said. “We’re coming in because we already have a strong relationship with the Muncie schools, and we’re hoping this opportunity can garner resources for us to work together to come up with programs that will attract families.”

The state is dangling some additional resources for Muncie’s public schools if Ball State agrees to assume responsibility for them. Indiana would essentially take the amount it could have spent paying a private company to be the district’s emergency manager and send it to the district. Such a payment could total as much as $11.4 million over three years, according to state estimates. The state would also pave the way for making an interest-free loan to the Muncie Community Schools Corporation that would essentially backstop the misappropriated 2014 bond.

Questions at Hearings

Critics of the proposed takeover tend to say they aren’t condemning Ball State. Still, the legislation has plenty of detractors. The two issues of local control and unions have emerged as sticking points in particular.

Those issues played central roles as a state Senate Appropriations Committee debated the bill recently. Union leaders and Democratic senators hammered the legislation for not requiring Ball State to recognize collective bargaining rights, effectively meaning the university would be able to choose whether or not to recognize the local teachers’ union.

To some, that represents another in a series of blows against union rights in Indiana. Many policies seem to be removing the collective voice of teachers from the discussion about learning conditions for children, Gail Zeheralis, director of government relations for the Indiana State Teachers Association, told state senators in a committee hearing in February.

She argued teachers are an example of those who should not be disenfranchised. Muncie teachers have already sacrificed, agreeing to pay back health insurance premiums after it was learned that Muncie school administrators had been underbilling for those premiums, Zeheralis said.

Perhaps more pressing, Zeheralis asked what happens if Ball State takes over July 1 as proposed.

“Will the current Muncie teachers be retained?” she asked. “Will teachers work under a contract? Will teachers be licensed? Will teachers have a right to be represented by their union as every other public school teacher, including those in Gary, are provided? This bill became more than fiscal distress very quickly.”

Muncie Teachers Association president Pat Kennedy told lawmakers that teachers were frightened, anxious, concerned and confused because the bill removed rights from 359 teachers, according to The Star Press.

Mearns has said teachers were not the cause of the problem in Muncie, but that they need to be part of the solution. Asked directly if Ball State will recognize the union, he said the university is prepared to work directly with any organization, including the teachers’ association, if it is willing to work with the university "in partnership" to make decisions in the interest of children. Ball State’s faculty members are not unionized, but the university does have 699 unionized staff members.

Senator Tim Lanane, who represents Muncie, told the Senate committee his constituents are worried about the fact that the takeover is an experiment. He also worried about the loss of local control.

“We disenfranchise the people who are living within the community school district, because they’re not going to vote to put these people on the board,” Lanane told the senate committee. “And we do it on a permanent basis.”

Republican senator Liz Brown dismissed concerns over a loss of local control.

“Muncie school system, to the best of my knowledge, has operated under an elected school board,” she said. “And, clearly, they couldn’t get the job done. So people had representation, and the school district was not going in the right direction.”

In another hearing March 1, Brown said she would love to put a timeline on when Ball State control over the schools would end but is unable to do so.

“Looking at the chronology of the Muncie school district, this cesspool didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “And it’s not going to be righted any time soon.”

That drew a rebuke from Senator Karen Tallian, a Democrat, who said almost everyone in charge of Muncie schools has been replaced since improprieties were found. The emergency manager currently in place seems to think the district has turned around, Tallian said.

“The cesspool language is a little over the top,” Tallian said. “I think that’s an insult.”

The bill passed the Committee on Appropriations on a 9-to-4 party-line vote. It passed the full Senate Tuesday and is now likely to go to a conference committee to iron out differences between House and Senate versions. Ball State expects it to receive final votes by March 14.

Support From School Board

A majority of Muncie’s current school board -- four of five members, according to supporters -- are in favor of handing over control of the schools to Ball State. Three of the board members confirmed their support to Inside Higher Ed, and a fourth confirmed his opposition.

Board members who support the move hope Ball State can turn the page at a district saddled with historical missteps and difficulty moving beyond memories of its past size and strength. Some say the board has no control under the current setup with an emergency manager, so a Ball State takeover would be a positive change. A few supporters voiced reservations about local control, saying members of the university-appointed board should have to live within the Muncie school district.

Over all, school board members who back the takeover see it in an aspirational light. It represents a broad range of their hopes and dreams for Muncie schools.

Initially, the board’s reaction was that a Ball State takeover was an overreach, said Debbie Feick, who is in her sixth year on the board and is its president.

The board could argue Muncie has taken steps to rightsize and correct its finances. The district has worked to untangle several bookkeeping issues and taken action to cut costs: it has turned to private vendors, redone its busing deal and closed schools. Three elementary schools were closed in 2017, and the number of teaching, administrative and staff positions was cut. The district has sold several schools, including one to Ball State.

But when board members looked around the state capitol, they saw lobbyists for teachers and superintendents talking about the proposal. None were representing families and children, Feick said.

“Given our mission as a board and the fact that there were so many hot-button issues surrounding all of this, we thought maybe our best role was to advocate for our kids and families,” she said. “If we look exclusively at opportunities for our students, we are better together with Ball State.”

Students will have new opportunities and teachers will have new chances for professional development under Ball State’s leadership, said Rob Keisling, the newest board member, who was appointed to fill a vacancy that opened in January.

“Ball State has, literally, the ability to look at someone from age 3 to postgraduate,” Keisling said. “What could be done in terms of educational program from early childhood all the way to postgraduate and everywhere in between could really be transformative.”

Muncie schools have been locked into a pattern of deficit spending since 2007, he said. The only year they did not post a deficit budget since then was 2008, when federal stimulus spending flowed into the district.

Board member Kathy J. Carey said in an email that the current emergency manager plans to cut programs, but she thinks Ball State will have the ability to keep those programs running and even enhance them. She believes Ball State will be able to improve the district in ways the current board was unable to.

“I have said in recent weeks that as long as our children and their families reap the benefits from this change, I am willing to sacrifice my board seat,” Carey said.

The question is whether it is Carey’s seat to sacrifice. Are the board seats the property of individual elected officials, or do they represent the collective rights of the people who live in Muncie?

Currently, it’s a moot point, because the Muncie school board can’t vote to hand over its authority. The state law that would allow the Ball State takeover was written by legislators who do not live in the Muncie community, argues Jason Donati, the school board member who does not support the takeover.

Although Donati says he is willing to step aside to allow Muncie schools to focus on what’s best for students, he is deeply troubled by the loss of local elected representatives having a say in its operations.

“I believe in democracy,” he said. “I believe in people’s ability to elect their representation. I look at what is happening as disenfranchising our community.”

Donati raises other concerns: Ball State will be appointing a board with taxing power, he points out. Some members of the board could theoretically be individuals who do not live in Muncie, meaning appointed officials from out of the area will have control over local taxes. While the school district already levies taxes at a rate capped by state law, that fact doesn’t change the principle to which Donati is objecting.

Others have raised another issue related to Ball State and property taxes. The university is a tax-exempt entity. If it runs Muncie schools, it will be in the awkward position of taking property off the tax rolls any time it buys a new building -- and cutting into Muncie schools’ revenue in the process.

Donati is a parent of two children in Muncie Community Schools, and he worries Ball State will be handed the school district before it has a plan for managing it. The state legislation only calls for the university-appointed board to have a plan in place for long-term fiscal viability and “academic innovation” by 2020 -- two years in the future. He also questions the idea of not securing collective bargaining for teachers.

“We could lose a lot of teachers,” Donati said. “I hear from a lot of teachers saying, ‘That’s the last straw. Why would I continue in an experiment like this?’”

Boston University’s Experience

While there is very little history of universities running entire school systems in the United States, one past example stands out as comparable. Boston University ran schools in the nearby blue-collar city of Chelsea for two decades ending in June 2008.

News coverage when the arrangement ended pointed to successes like improved facilities for Chelsea schools, higher graduation rates and additional academic offerings like Advanced Placement classes. But some test scores remained low, and less than 30 percent of high school graduates planned to attend a four-year college, The Boston Globe reported in 2008.

A key difference between the Boston University case and the setup proposed for Ball State is that the locally elected Chelsea School Committee reserved power to override Boston University on policy matters affecting the whole district. Residents could call their school committee members with worries, and those members could act in extreme circumstances. Also important is that Chelsea officials voted to give Boston University control of governance.

A similarity between the cases is that Boston University had a firewall between its finances and those of the school district. Nevertheless, Boston University officials ended up investing vast amounts of time and energy into the schools.

Doug Sears is vice president and chief of staff to the president at Boston University. He is also a former dean of the university’s school of education and was for five years superintendent of the Chelsea Public Schools while they were under university administration. He was the fourth superintendent under Boston University’s governance.

“There are some cautionary lessons,” he said. “You have to know what you are getting into. You have to know, clearly, what your authority is, but you have to have a ton of respect for the community.”

Sears shared several other takeaways that may be applicable to Ball State and Muncie. Perhaps the most eye-opening is the corruption he said he found in Chelsea. Facilities were misused, vendors were being shaken down and jobs were for sale, he said. Cleaning up the situation was not easy.

While Ball State may not find corruption in Muncie schools, the example goes to show how the university will need to be prepared to handle a wide range of entrenched problems.

What worked for Boston University? Sears cites successes improving financial practices, improving operating practices and building private fund-raising for the schools. Negotiating labor contracts in a way that was both professional and fiscally prudent was key, he said, as was creating alternative certification rules for administrators and teachers, which expanded the pool of candidates for important positions.

As for what didn’t work, Sears warned against bringing in too many ideas too quickly in the early days of university control. Schools ended up flooded with conflicting philosophies and ideas, some of which sounded good in the ivory tower but weren’t effective in practice. Importantly, teachers were caught in the middle of sometimes competing ideas.

Chelsea schools also found themselves under an extreme level of scrutiny, Sears said. Regulators took an intense interest in the situation. Time spent managing their visits cut into attempts to improve instruction.

Talking with Sears, it becomes clear the experience took a personal toll. Some on Boston University’s campus still dislike him because he had to say no to idealistic professors who wanted to go into Chelsea schools, he said. He also chafes against what he sees as unfair coverage in the local press and has come away with a negative view of the labor model for public higher education. Boston University did not have a choice but to recognize unions. But Sears calls the labor model an obstacle to change.

To this day, Sears still says public sector unions are too entrenched. At the same time, he said trust with teachers improved over time as Boston University delivered improvements.

“We fundamentally upgraded all basic operations in Chelsea,” Sears said. “A ton of what we did was basic operational stuff. The reason Chelsea got new buildings is Boston University. Even though technically people will say it’s a state project, we did the initial study, we helped with the politics and legislative work and, frankly, the local PR campaign.”

The experience seems to stand as both an example of what can be achieved and a warning of the bruises that can be inflicted when a university runs a school district.

“My biggest cautionary tale is that a lot of ideas in higher ed right now just aren’t very good,” Sears said. “I’m very proud of what we did. I think we did not get the credit for it.”

Where Does That Leave Ball State?

It’s not clear anyone at Ball State has had a chance to fully internalize lessons from Boston University. In the telling of Feick, the Muncie school board president, the state initially asked Ball State to take over as emergency manager. The university said no but ultimately endorsed a plan to appoint a board and keep the two entities separate. Ball State points to a meeting just a few months ago, in December, as the start of the idea. At that meeting, the leader of Indiana’s Distressed Unit Appeal Board asked community partners including Ball State for ideas about how to help the schools.

Some signs point to Ball State treading carefully. The interim dean of the university’s teachers’ college, Roy Weaver, believes its first step should be to reach out to principals and teachers in Muncie.

“We envision an opportunity with each of the schools to sit down with some of our folks, some of their folks, and just get to learn or understand what’s happening there,” he said. “The vision is to just smash any barriers between the community, the schools and the university.”

Education experts wonder if the situation is set up for disappointment, however. Kate Rousmaniere is a professor at Miami University in Ohio, where she teaches in the department of educational leadership. She has published several books on the history of American education, is also a former high school social studies teacher and is the mayor of the city of Oxford, where Miami University is located, all of which gives her a unique insight into the convergence of university, schools and local politics.

She was surprised at the idea of the Ball State takeover.

“My first reaction is I can’t believe the university would want to take this on,” she said. “That’s a big venture.”

Professors and staff members typically think of universities first and foremost, Rousmaniere said. They aren’t as experienced with thinking in depth about city regulations, state laws and local politics that impact public school districts. If anyone can navigate the waters successfully, Rousmaniere said, it’s probably those with experience training teachers. She still sees many potential challenges.

Ken Saltman, a professor specializing in education policy and politics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, said Indiana state policy appears to have engineered a failure in schools like Muncie. Funding restrictions and promoting charter schools set the stage for Muncie schools to be defunded, he said.

“There’s a really big question about why creating an arrangement that defunds the schools and incentivizes flight from the schools -- which is a series of economic decisions -- why does that justify a radical political governance action?” he asked. “In a way, I would tend to look at this as part of a broader effort to privatize and dismantle public education.”

It is a leap to think a university can run a K-12 school system because of its experience educating college students or students in a laboratory school, Saltman said.

Ball State’s experience, from laboratory schools to university classes, is largely in serving students that exhibit some ability and interest in education. Running a public school is a different beast. Administrators don’t have the choice to only admit certain students.

“In general, I’m not too enthusiastic about the evidence I see with these kinds of arrangements,” said Christopher Lubienski, a professor at Indiana University who researches the intersection of public and private interests in education. “It’s a very different animal. But they have people who study this and should hopefully know what strategy is going to be effective.”

Ball State’s president, Mearns, does acknowledge that some will see Ball State assuming control of Muncie Community Schools as a development in ongoing political battles over public schools. His response: the university is acting in the best interest of the children of Muncie.

“We’re not trying to establish either a statewide model or a nationwide model,” he said. “What we’re attempting to do is address a significant, profound challenge in Muncie and bring together the experience and expertise of our campus.”

Mearns maintained that Ball State isn’t taking legal or financial risk if it assumes control of Muncie schools. It is taking reputational risk, though.

“I don’t think this will fail, but if it does, it could be a drag on the university’s reputation,” he said. “But I believe that there is a risk of doing nothing.”

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Tenure votes are usually private, but some accuse Dixie State of using breach of confidentiality claims to fire two professors

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:00

While institutions are beginning to take more action on faculty misconduct, tenured faculty terminations remain rare and typically follow reports of serious misconduct. So the mysterious firings of two longtime, tenured professors of music at Dixie State University in Utah last week are attracting attention -- including a petition to bring them back.

“Both are widely loved and known in their community and were fired for minor policy violations,” reads the petition, organized by a group called Full Disclosure DSU. “We believe that termination should be saved for the most severe actions, and their punishment does not fit their ‘crimes.’”

Even in scare quotes, “crimes” is probably too strong a word for the main claims against Glenn Webb, chair of music, and Ken Peterson, director of vocal activities: not liking a colleague and then discussing the vote on that colleague's tenure bid.

Peterson, who did not respond to a request for comment, posted on Facebook his notice of dismissal, dated Friday. It accuses him of “professional incompetence, serious misconduct or unethical behavior" and "serious violation” of university rules and regulations.

Specific charges include disclosing “confidential information” about the employment, including the tenure-review process, of Mark Houser, an assistant professor of theater and program chair, to “unauthorized third persons.” At least one such “unauthorized conversation” took place at a campus cafe, the letter says.

Peterson is also accused of “improperly representing” the music program in telling an unnamed faculty member in the music and theater department that he wanted Houser “terminated.” He’s accused, too, of “slandering” Houser in commenting -- to someone -- that he was “destroying” the theater program, “a direct impact on Houser’s professional reputation.”

Without direct evidence, the letter says that Peterson’s (presumably low) scoring of Houser’s tenure rubric shows his “biases towards Houser.”

The dismissal letter links Peterson’s case to a third, also questionable faculty termination in 2014 -- that of Varlo Davenport. The former tenured professor of theater was fired after a student said she’d been physically hurt in a theater exercise. A faculty committee recommended against dismissal after Peterson and Webb spoke on Davenport's behalf during the appeals process. But Dixie State fired Davenport -- who was acquitted in a related criminal case and is now suing the university in civil court -- nonetheless.

Several years after the incident in the theater class, Dixie State has accused Peterson of “slandering” both Houser and President Richard “Biff” Williams in saying “loudly in a public place” that both were corrupt and had conspired against Davenport.

Peterson is charged with generally failing to demonstrate “professional standards of behavior, including collegiality and the open exchange of ideas through civil discourse.”

Webb, meanwhile, declined to share his letter of dismissal. But a group of his colleagues past and present -- most of whom declined to be named, citing what they described as an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on campus -- say his main transgression was telling a family member overseas that he believed his department had rejected Houser’s tenure bid. The family member had no affiliation to Dixie State and colleagues say Webb based his assessment on the tenor of the music and theater faculty's conversation before the vote.

Houser did not respond to a request for comment, and the university did not provide Houser’s tenure status when asked.

A spokesperson for Dixie State said the university was limited as to what it could say, due to strict state privacy laws. He referred requests for comment to a statement issued this week. It says, in part, that Dixie State wants the “campus and community to understand that such decisions are deeply difficult, meticulously investigated and carefully weighed.”

Dixie State “takes all personnel matters seriously,” the statement says, and if a policy is found to be violated, the employee is subject to disciplinary action.

All parties have a right to appeal, it says, and for that reason the campus president is not involved in personnel decisions before that time.

Both Peterson and Webb have 30 days to appeal their terminations. In the meantime, their classes have been reassigned, their faculty profiles have been removed and their campus email accounts have been disabled.

Jim Haendiges, a professor of English and Faculty Senate president, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the case.

'More to the Story'

Davenport in an interview reiterated that a faculty review panel recommended against dismissal. But even before that, he said, administrators on campus attempted to sway that vote -- including by repeatedly insinuating to members of the senate that there was “more to the story” in his case. He said that many tend to assume that the allegations against him involved sexual assault, but they did not. He was accused of pulling a student's hair as part of a physical resistance exercise sometimes used in acting classes to make students uncomfortable and thereby tap into new emotions to better identify with the characters they play.

Davenport has said that he pushed down on the student's shoulders for approximately 30 seconds to hold her in her chair and put some of her hair in her face, but did not pull her hair or hurt her. Student witnesses in the criminal trial all denied having seen Davenport pull the student's hair.

As for what might have motivated the university to target him for termination, Davenport said he believed it was typical “academic politics” -- he and Houser did not get along -- and a possible fear of litigation by the student involved in the incident. Dixie State was previously sued by student athletes who said their basketball coach discriminated against them on the basis of race, made them participate in religious activities and questioned their sexual orientation.

Davenport's pending lawsuit against Dixie State says that he warned all his students that they could ask him to stop an exercise at any time. It also accuses Houser of keeping private files on him in order to build a disciplinary case against him in cooperation with unnamed administrators, purposely working to elevate the student's complaint to have him fired and -- interestingly, given the language in Peterson's termination letter -- telling a faculty member that he intended to "take Davenport out." 

Beyond a personality conflict, the complaint says that Houser objected to some of Davenport's artistic choices on the basis of his religious beliefs, irrespective of Davenport's academic freedom. It cites a document allegedly written by Houser and obtained as part of the legal process saying, “We now have a standing reputation of doing nothing but Dark Shows [emphasis Houser's] with language and Varlo's name is [sic] attached to it because he is our leader/chair." 

All shows "need to be held to a standard which suits the maximum audience -- no nudity, no sex, minimal violence/blood/gore, very minimal language if any (absolutely no GD, F-word) -- and they should only be used so many times before it is deemed unfit for our audience," the document says.

Meanwhile, Davenport said, “my career is over.”

Webb said he misses his colleagues and “working with students -- helping young people is my life’s passion.”

Dixie State faculty policy prohibits talking about tenure cases “indefinitely.” Most campuses do put a premium, whether by culture or policy, on confidentiality in these matters. Yet no academic department is free from gossip. And even the most discreet colleagues would probably question whether telling a family member about a tenure vote is a meaningful breach of privacy -- let alone a terminable offense.

The American Association of University Professors doesn’t define what is and is not a fireable offense and maintains that faculty peers should make such decisions. It opposes the use of collegiality in personnel decisions, on the grounds that it's a murky concept that can be used to punish professors for political reasons.

John T. Jones, an associate professor of psychology at Dixie State who said he has been following the dismissals as a matter of public concern, not as a representative of his program or the university, described the faculty as “angry and fearful” at the moment.

Students, meanwhile, “are speculating about which of their professors could suddenly disappear from campus and what that would mean for their educational experiences,” he added via email. “Are these fears exaggerated? They frequently are. Are these concerns justified? I think so.”

Saying that no one, in his experience, was out to “destroy” Houser, Jones said Peterson may have been “simply been exercising his rights in ways that others find discomforting.”

Calling Davenport, Peterson and Webb “esteemed members of the faculty and the broader community,” Jones said “there is nothing positive to be accomplished through these suspensions and terminations. There is no upside and it didn't have to be this way. I certainly believe that policy violations need to be addressed, but in ways that are equitable, progressive, measured and just.”

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Administrators still waging campus free speech wars

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Many higher education professionals agree -- the way to counter speech that students find repugnant (but is legally protected) is with sound policy, education and statements from administrators that both condemn offensive speech and defend the right to make it.

These strategies, espoused and repeated many times over at the yearly NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education conference, reflect the tumult around free expression that college leaders across the country have contended with in different forms.

White supremacists seek out campuses to speak and stoke the rage of students. They, along with other controversial speakers, have been shouted down. Fliers championing racism and anti-Semitism have cropped up with frequency. The partisan climate has sometimes split campus conservatives from the rest of the student body. Some administrators haven’t even been sure even how to handle political posters (and other decorations) in dormitory windows.

The struggle of college officials -- who want to both make students feel comfortable and safe and uphold their legal obligation -- was best illustrated during a major NASPA panel discussion on free speech. In the last question of the event Tuesday, one attendee, with a catch in her voice, accused the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties watchdog group in academe and a panel participant, of defending hate speech.

She questioned the balance -- how would higher education uphold its historical mission of defending free expression when students are in pain?

First Amendment battles spur emotions both among administrators and students. Monday, the white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University. The institution, in an apparent attempt to mitigate the disturbance caused by a Spencer talk, scheduled him during spring break when most students would be away and housed him at the edge of campus in a pavilion used by agricultural students. As one Michigan State employee at the conference described it, “It smells like horse shit.”

Still, students protested the event, though college presidents have often told them to avoid these speeches for fear of giving the white nationalists, Islamophobes or provocateurs more attention. Fights erupted outside the venue where Spencer spoke and more than 20 people were arrested, some on felony charges. (In many of the cases where protesters have been arrested at college speaking events, those people have not been affiliated with the institutions hosting the events.)

These controversial speakers can “flame out” or fade from view, said Penny Rue, a panelist and the vice president for campus life at Wake Forest University. She referenced Milo Yiannopoulos, the inflammatory former Breitbart editor who was frequently courted by campus GOP groups to speak but has since retreated somewhat from college appearances, likely related to backlash against his comments defending sexual relationships between adults and teens. Yiannopoulos’s first visit to the University of California, Berkeley, last year resulted in riots, but his second, in September, fizzled despite his promises to rattle the institution -- Berkeley spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for security for his second “Free Speech Week” event.

The University of Florida handled Spencer well when he spoke on campus, Rue said, though it was “painful.” Florida also shelled out at least $600,000 on police and security, complete with snipers watching over where Spencer addressed the campus.

As is somewhat common, Florida also promoted some campaigns leading up to and during Spencer’s talk, pushing the values of the university. The president also made strong statements against Spencer, rejecting his rhetoric, as the panelists pointed out is always allowed. University presidents have progressively been bolder to call out Spencer as a racist -- when he and his followers marched on the University of Virginia campus last year, the precursor to the deadly Charlottesville demonstrations, President Teresa Sullivan at first didn’t even mention him or his movement -- the alt-right -- by name. In contrast, at the University of Michigan, where Spencer has tried to speak, the President Mark Schlissel called his speech “sickening” and stressed that legally, the institution couldn’t block him.

During the panel discussion, Sigal R. Ben-Porath, a professor of education, political science and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, said it is incumbent on institutions to create an inclusive environment before any legal concerns are raised.

Students often feel that college leaders won’t act on racism or other slights against minority students because they are more concerned with free speech considerations -- but it’s not just one or the other, Ben-Porath said. An institution should encourage students to weigh in on these problems before they occur, she said.

Colleges also can teach students in a nonpunitive way about harassment before an incident occurs, said Traevena Byrd, the general counsel at Towson University.

Sometimes, though, institutions have overstepped when dealing with cases of more individualized harassment. Crafting rules around harassment has proven difficult for the legal arms of some colleges, too.

FIRE hears about cases in which college administrators pledge to “investigate” speech that is allegedly offensive, but still protected, but that act in itself can chill free expression, Samantha Harris, FIRE's vice president of policy research, said.

A lengthy inquiry and being called in for interviews can lead to students not speaking out, she said.

Institutions have been simultaneously blamed for not acting aggressively enough against hurtful speech and suppressing students’ First Amendment rights. It can happen over issues as insignificant as dormitory windows -- Ohio State University, for instance, completely banned window decorations.

As was pointed out in a separate NASPA session on First Amendment issues in student housing, some institutions have prohibited window hangings, but related it to fire codes and other safety -- same for whiteboards, a staple on college dorm room doors.

Ohio State’s neighbor, Ohio University, put a blanket ban on indoor protests in September, a policy change that resulted in so much backlash it was promptly reconsidered. A spokesman at the time said the Charlottesville riots made them move forward with a policy more quickly.

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Survey finds global boom in private higher education enrollments

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/08/2018 - 08:00

One in three students globally is enrolled in private higher education institutions, according to research that reveals the huge growth and wide reach of private providers.

The analysis, the first study based on comprehensive data on the size and shape of private higher education internationally, finds that private institutions have 56.7 million students on their books, or 32.9 percent of the world’s enrollment.

While the U.S. has historically towered over the rest of the world in terms of the size of its private sector, the proportion of students in the country in private higher education stands at 27.5 percent, lower than the global average, and it now accounts for only a tenth of global private enrollment.

Private universities’ share of enrollment is highest in Latin America (48.8 percent) and Asia (42.1 percent), but the sector is far from limited to a small number of countries: 97.6 percent of the world’s total tertiary enrollment is in higher education systems with “dual-sector provision,” and in all regions at least 10 percent of students are in the private sector, according to the research.

The research draws on a data set developed by the Program for Research on Private Higher Education, a global scholarly network founded by Daniel Levy, distinguished professor in the School of Education at the State University of New York at Albany. The data cover 192 countries and were sourced primarily from the Institute of Statistics at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, as well as other cross-border agencies and national organizations.

A paper describing the data set, newly published in the journal Higher Education, says that while higher education has “long and overwhelmingly [been] seen beyond the U.S. as an essentially public sector function with no or only marginal private presence,” it has become “very much a dual-sector phenomenon globally.” This has occurred despite unprecedented growth in public enrollment and indicates how governments have been unable to meet soaring demand for higher education via the creation of public university systems.

Private Enrollments in Selected Countries

Country Percentage of Enrollment in
Private Higher Education
India 58.3% U.S. 27.5% Brazil 72.7% China 19.6% Japan 78.6% Indonesia 58.2% South Korea 80.7% Iran 44.9% Philippines 60.8% Russian Federation 14.7%

Source: Program for Research on Private Higher Education. Countries listed in order of total number of students in private higher education.

Of the 179 countries showing enrollment by sector, only 10 nations appear to have no private higher education, according to the analysis.

Despite the wide dispersion of private higher education, enrollment in the sector concentrates mostly in developing regions. Compared with the higher figures for Latin America and Asia, private providers account for less than a sixth of total higher education enrollment in Canada, Australia and New Zealand (10.1 percent) and Europe (14.9 percent).

Levy’s analysis indicates that the developing world holds 69.8 percent of the world’s private higher education, versus 30.2 percent in the developed world. Put another way, in the developed world, 25.2 percent of enrollments are in private higher education, compared with 37.8 percent of the developing world’s enrollment.

The country with the largest private sector is India, which is home to 21.9 percent of global private enrollment, with more than 12 million students -- more than twice the size of the sector in the U.S.

Countries with very high shares of private enrollment tend to have small higher education systems.

Levy told Times Higher Education that his expectation is that while private higher education enrollment will continue to increase in absolute terms, the sector’s share of enrollment will “level off.”

He said that this is partly because as the sector gets larger, the “challenge of increasing share becomes more difficult.”

Liz Reisberg, an independent higher education consultant and research fellow at Boston College’s Center for International Higher Education (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed), said that private higher education is “both inevitable and necessary” as the “public sector will never have the resources to meet either the scale of demand or its diversity.”

However, she said, the quality of the private sector “remains an urgent concern.” In Latin America, for example, “while nearly every nation in the region now has an accreditation agency, none have adequate capacity to address poor quality in either the private or public sector.”

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