Higher Education News

Pitzer students debate free speech, student safety and cultural appropriation

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 07:00

Pitzer College maintains a free wall where students are invited to paint whatever they would like. A recent critique of white women who wear hoop earrings has attracted far more attention than most writing on the wall -- and the debate has escalated well beyond jewelry.

College officials have seen and are investigating written threats -- including some that could be read as death threats -- against the Latina students who wrote the critique on the wall. And Pitzer's president, Melvin L. Oliver, has issued an open letter condemning "a cycle of violent hate speech that threatens the safety and well-being of every member of our community."

The students, whose identities Pitzer declined to confirm, citing their privacy rights, are fearful for their safety, the college says. But others say Pitzer is unfairly blaming a conservative student newspaper for the students' problems.

Here is how the controversy has played out.

The line that was written on the wall was simple: "White girl, take off your hoops."

After that went up on the wall, students on an all-campus email asked for clarification about what it meant.

Two of the three Latina students who were involved wrote back in other all-campus email messages, in which they explained that they viewed white women wearing hoop earrings as engaging in cultural appropriation, which is when a privileged group adopts part of the culture of an oppressed group and in so doing erases the role of the oppressed group.

As one of the students wrote, "If you didn’t create the culture as a coping mechanism for marginalization, take off those hoops, if your feminism isn’t intersectional take off those hoops, if you try to wear mi cultura when the creators can no longer afford it, take off those hoops, if you are incapable of using a search engine and expect other people to educate you, take off those hoops, if you can’t pronounce my name or spell it … take off those hoops … I use 'those' instead of 'your' because hoops were never 'yours' to begin with."

The campus email exchanges were civil, even as some students disagreed with the call for white women to stop wearing hoop earrings.

Things changed when The Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper, wrote about the debate and the story quickly spread to the conservative blogosphere.

At that point, the three Latina students who responded to the all-campus emails started to receive hostile email messages, which the college believes are from people not connected to Pitzer or the other Claremont Colleges. Some of the messages college officials have reviewed appear to go beyond criticism, to harassment and threats, including a message with an individual pointing a gun.

At that point, Oliver posted his statement, with the headline "Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech."

College officials said his reference to hate speech was about the threats, not disagreement with the students who made the statement about hoop earrings.

Oliver wrote, "Coverage in a local publication of a recent posting on the free wall has ignited a cycle of violent hate speech that threatens the safety and well-being of every member of our community. Some students are experiencing harassment and death threats. As a place of higher education, we strongly cherish and defend intellectual curiosity, productive discourse and opposing views that may broaden our perspectives as global citizens. However, when speech resorts to hate, violence and threats, we will not tolerate these acts nor the perpetrators of these actions …. Every individual is entitled to freedom from fear and stigma, and with the respect of others to pursue a life of meaning and purpose. Pitzer College supports greater acceptance, not less."

An editorial in The Student Life, the student newspaper at Pomona College, another of the Claremont Colleges, criticized the Independent for drawing attention to the students who wrote on the wall.

The goal of journalism "can be to inform, expose, criticize -- anything in service of the audience," the editorial said. "But when the action directly results in harm to somebody else, especially the subject of the story -- especially when that subject is already enduring racism, sexism and/or other forms of oppression, which made their story relevant in the first place -- that article is doing work to harm someone."

Not everyone agrees with the criticism. One response posted to the Student Life website said, "If these students want to publicly engage in racist rhetoric, then they should expect to be publicly ridiculed for it. This is the same logic you would hold for anyone who isn't a progressive and you are only complaining about this because the purveyor of racism is on the left and the news source that exposed it has a conservative bent …. We can agree that the threats from third-party scum are a legitimate problem, but to insinuate that such threats should curb the journalistic pursuit of the Claremont Independent's writers is beyond the pale."

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Presidents need wide range of skills, panelists at ACE conference say

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- College and university presidents need an ever-widening skill set to succeed amid quickly mounting pressures and fast-changing demands, experts said Tuesday, the final day of the American Council on Education’s annual meeting.

Presidents have to find ways to prepare students for the fast-changing world of work. They need to please or placate a broad range of constituencies, from students to donors to legislators. They must practice financial discipline in often-tight fiscal environments, and presidents face the ever-looming threat of unexpected issues spinning out of control on social media -- sometimes before they even know those issues exist.

Those changes come as presidents are spending fewer years leading colleges or universities before moving on to other jobs or presidencies at different institutions. In short, the role is a crucible, one that is very different from 100 or even 10 years ago.

The pathways to the presidency are also unsettled. Boards and search committees are increasingly looking for nontraditional candidates, including those who were chief business officers or come from outside higher education. Fewer presidents from within higher education are coming from provosts’ offices than in the past.

An ACE panel explored those issues as well as the traits a president needs to perform at a high level in today’s college environment. It’s important to develop talent in a broad range of potential future leaders so they have the skills necessary to lead colleges and universities, said Lynn M. Gangone, vice president of ACE leadership. But for prospective presidents, the job descriptions and institutions’ goals can seem overwhelming at a time when many presidents feel pressed for time and money.

“You read the prospectus, and often it’s someone is walking on water,” Gangone said. “Can one individual do all of those things that all of those [prospectuses] say about who we are and who we need to be in that role?”

Gangone believes it’s important for presidents to plan in multiple ways. They need to consider strategic planning, how to handle institutions’ budgets and recruiting diverse faculty members. They also need to be prepared for unexpected phone calls at 3 a.m. about a death on campus.

Gangone called on leaders to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses. They should build out their cabinets with others who complement those strengths, she said.

Successful leaders must strike a balance, according to Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute, which has researched successful community colleges and their leaders.

Presidents who succeed are often those who lead change and take risks -- but not those who are too disruptive, Wyner said. It’s a difficult path.

“That is rocket science in a lot of ways,” Wyner said. “It is not easy in a decentralized institution, which higher education institutions inherently are, where departments control curricula, where you’ve got, often, divisions between academics and student services.”

Wyner also discussed findings from recent interviews with 35 college presidents -- a group made up of roughly equal numbers of leaders from community colleges, small liberal arts institutions, research universities and regional public universities. Those findings include that leaders need to be skilled in finance, creating a vision, communications, marketing, fund-raising and dealing with lawmakers.

That won’t surprise anyone, as they’re skills presidents have long needed, Wyner said. But he also laid out a series of new and emerging competencies that are necessary in light of changes happening in society and on campuses.

Those competencies included improving student success markers like graduation or job-placement rates. They also included holding costs down, adapting to changes in student population demographics and handling social media crises.

Gone are the days when a president is the first to know about issues, Wyner said. Now, a president may very well find out about an issue after thousands of other people are buzzing about it online.

That can put pressure on presidents of higher educational institutions, which have long relied on slower, deliberative processes between faculty members and other constituents.

“Some of those relate to just the speed of decision making,” Wyner said. “Things are happening very quickly now, and the decentralized and consensus-building processes on college campuses often are at odds with the speed at which change is happening in the external world.”

Presidents also need to connect to the world of work in order to prepare their students for careers, Wyner said. Expectations are placed upon presidents to set up partnerships with outside organizations and to prepare students for workplaces that will be drastically changed by technology.

Panelists also discussed the fact that presidential tenures are shortening. It usually takes five years to plan changes and implement them with an institution's constituent groups, Gangone said. That means many institutions lose momentum when presidents move on after a short period of time, said Jeffrey J. Selingo, a visiting scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities and the author of There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow.

The Pathway to the Presidency

Selingo and his fellow panelists also discussed how the pathway to the college presidency is changing. Selingo conducted research expected to come out in mid-April attempting to assess from where the next generation of college presidents will come. That research included an analysis of more than 800 sitting presidents’ curriculum vitae.

“One of the things we found from our CV data mining is that in recent years, the pathway to the presidency is increasingly skipping the provost’s office,” he said. “One of the most popular routes is now from dean to president, especially at smaller institutions.”

More men are taking the dean-to-president route, Selingo said. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to become provosts before moving on to presidencies.

Even as pressures mount on institutions to change, many boards aren’t fully considering the need for change-management skills when they pick a new president, Wyner said. Trustees are often former students at an institution, and they tend to look at it nostalgically, as something that should remain the same as they remember it. Many times, they simply don’t think about a president’s capacity to drive or navigate change.

“Boards tend to care about relationship building and fiscal strength of the institution when they’re doing their searches,” Wyner said. “They tend to not pay much attention to the change-management ability of the individuals.”

Selection committees are starting to more frequently say they want candidates who already have presidential experience, Gangone said. That’s a problem for the cause of increasing diversity among college presidents, because it makes it harder for women and minority candidates who have not been presidents previously to break into the role.

Yet interest in nontraditional candidates from outside higher education is high. Those from other fields can bring important skills to the table, Wyner said. But they can also encounter trouble stemming from the fact that they are not familiar with higher education and its intricacies.

Wyner suggested yearlong fellowships to help train nontraditional candidates who are interested in entering presidential roles at colleges and universities.

“We’re going to have nontraditional presidents from outside the academy who become presidents,” he said. “The question is, are they going to flame out, or can they be transformational leaders?”

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Study shows widespread food and housing insecurity for students

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 07:00

Community colleges that want students to graduate increasingly focus not just on academic needs, but on transportation, housing and food issues.

A report released today by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab and the Association of Community College Trustees reveals that many community college students are dealing with a lack of basic needs.

The report -- "Hungry and Homeless in College" -- surveyed more than 33,000 students at 70 two-year institutions in 24 states and found that two-thirds struggle with food insecurity, half are housing insecure, one-third are regularly hungry and 14 percent are homeless. The report defines food insecurity as the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and homelessness as a person without a place to live or residing in a shelter, automobile or abandoned building.

“We have more detail and information, particularly about homelessness,” said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University and the founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. “These students do have financial aid and they are working and they’re still not able to make ends meet. It’s not like they’re lazy or sleeping a lot of the time. … What we see is a portrait of a group of people who are trying hard and still falling short.”

Goldrick-Rab said past surveys may be underestimating the number of students who are food and housing insecure because many of these students drop out in the first weeks of a new semester, however, for this survey researchers were able to reach students early.

The report found that there was very little variation in homelessness and hunger between community college students in urban, rural or suburban areas of the country. One-third of students who identified as food or housing insecure were both working and receiving financial aid.

Those students who identified as homeless were also more likely to work longer hours at their jobs.

“The profile of homeless students in particular shows they’re just as likely as other students to be working, but they’re less likely to be paid a real wage -- less likely to make $15 an hour,” Goldrick-Rab said. “Work doesn’t pay and college prices are too high and the cost of living is too high.”

As for those 28 percent of students surveyed who are also parents, 63 percent were food insecure, 14 percent were homeless, but only 5 percent received child-care assistance.

“One of the hardest things about serving people on the margins is finding them, and it’s becoming apparent these colleges have an opportunity to do some good here,” Goldrick-Rab said. “Now whether or not the college itself pays for it or the services are paid for by something external and located at the college is something to be worked out.”

There are a handful of colleges that are actively connecting low-income students to tuition, child-care assistance, food services and subsidized health insurance.

Amy Ellen Duke-Benfield, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success, points to Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland as an example of an institution that did its own analysis and found that many of its students were financially insecure. So the institution integrated access to public benefit services into its financial aid office, she said.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of colleges take that on across the country,” she said. “The fact is that Pell [Grants aren't] keeping up, state financial aid programs are insufficient, and the degree of institutional aid is either nonexistent or inadequate.”

Not every type of service has to happen at once, she said. In one region of Kentucky, which saw a high number of men who were laid off from work coming into the community college system, there was a stigma around accepting most public benefits. But those same men were happy to learn they qualified for subsidized child care.

Still, many college administrators and faculty members feel providing these services or opening access to them shouldn’t be the college’s responsibility, Duke-Benfield said.

“We can talk about reforming developmental education until we’re blue in the face and have the academic side of a college be a well-oiled machine that meets all the academic needs of students, but if we still have students who are hungry or housing insecure, you’re still going to have a completion issue,” Duke-Benfield said.

A recent report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement, for instance, revealed that nearly half of two-year students reported that a lack of finances could cause them to withdraw from their institutions.

And with the focus on performance and outcome-based funding, colleges no longer have the luxury of ignoring these issues, Duke-Benfield said.

There are a number of initiatives that colleges and nonprofit organizations are taking on their own to combat student hunger and homelessness, like the Working Students Success Network, which is run by Achieving the Dream and 19 colleges across the country and helps connect students to public benefits, financial education, job training and placement.

There’s also the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which has more than 450 institutions as members.

At Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, the institution is piloting a food voucher program that gives 100 low-income students $7 a day to purchase food from the institution’s cafeteria. The pilot program -- One Solid Meal -- is funded by donations.

“But this is a short-term solution,” said Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill. “A longer-term solution would be some form of free lunch or some form of [food assistance] program that would help students in college, not only community colleges, but the four years as well.”

Eddinger, along with Achieving the Dream and the presidents of North Shore and Berkshire Community Colleges in Massachusetts, recently encouraged Senator Elizabeth Warren, along with Senators Edward Markey and Patty Murray, to request the U.S. Government Accountability Office conduct a national study of the issue.

Eddinger said it’s difficult for people to acknowledge the problem because hunger and poverty, especially among adults, is stigmatized.

“Everyone wants economic growth for our country and everyone wants a larger middle class, and one way to do it is through education,” she said. “If community colleges have 50 percent of all undergraduates, then that’s our solution.”

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The NCAA women's basketball tournament, if academics mattered most

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 07:00

Women's basketball gets a lot less than attention than the men's game does in most outlets. But here at Inside Higher Ed, we strive for equal opportunity (whether people like it or not).

So in that spirit, here's our annual look at how the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I women's basketball tournament would turn out if the teams advanced based on their academic performance rather than their skills on the court. (The men's bracket appeared Monday.)

Here's how it works: to determine the winners of each game in the tournament, we compare 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 classroom performance.

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 GSR tie, we then turn to the federal graduation rate, a different formula that the government uses to track graduation rates.

Click here to see who emerges the winner of this year's Academic Performance Tournament. And let the games begin.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/15/2017 - 07:00
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Communication professor establishes rules with his students on talking about Trump in class

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:00

Love him or hate him, there’s lots to say about Donald Trump. But how should instructors handle class discussions about the new president, if they allow them at all? An assistant professor of public and strategic communication at American University established with his students a set of ground rules for talking about Trump, which he says may be useful to colleagues elsewhere as they engage with policy and other issues.

“Trump’s election has led to questions and concerns and confusion about how to handle Donald Trump, which is true, too, for people on Capitol Hill and across the country and across the world -- academe’s not the only one,” said Scott Talan, who teaches communications classes at American. “From my perspective, what I did not want was it to derail, distract and take over class. … These are classes that existed before Donald Trump and that will exist after Donald Trump.”

Talan said he was more than willing, however, to make some room for discussions about Trump “because so much of what he does is so unusual and so new and atypical,” and that’s potentially rich material in communications. There’s what Talan called Trump’s “brevity of language,” for example, and his use of new (mainly Twitter) and more traditional media.

“He’s not like any other member of politics. He shatters also most all norms.”

But Talan needed to set limits, both for himself and his students. “I’m not a neophyte when it comes to politics and media at all,” said the former broadcast journalist and onetime mayor of Lafayette, Calif. “But I don't want to turn a public communications class into a policy debate back and forth and get off course, just with the nature of Trump being who he is.”

Talan’s also prone to saying things like this: “Trump is like cotton candy -- he's super easy to eat and not all that healthy, and five minutes later you wonder where your money and time went when you’re chewing on that cotton candy or talking about Donald Trump.”

So early this semester, around the inauguration and after what he described as some “spirited” class discussions, Talan told his students they were going to come up with a kind of code of conduct for talking about Trump in class. Key was keeping things focused on the policy, not the person.

“It’s the easiest thing in the world to criticize Donald Trump -- that doesn’t take any skills or expertise because he offers so much to take a swing at,” Talan said. “But how do you as an educator or a person not have your emotions get in the way of the analysis?”

Noting that Trump’s communication style has been described by some critics as “uncouth, impolite and impolitic,” Talan said, “We’re also learning that you [shouldn't] become Trump as you attack Trump, and go over the top.”

Talan “class-sourced” suggestions from his students, then edited them to produce the following list:

  • Being critical and using critical thinking in communications is not the same thing. You can disagree with Trump’s opinions, but no personal attacks. There's not too much that is new that he hasn't been called already. It just takes up class time. You can and should criticize the Trump-related communications item/issue we are discussing, of course.
  • View Trump and his actions through a communications lens. This is not a public policy class, so we don't need to debate the pros and cons of a specific policy or proposal. We want to understand how he communicates these policies and proposals. Through a communications lens, we want to learn what and why something works or doesn't work.
  • No personal attacks on other students: If someone says something positive about Trump, do not assume they voted for him, and vice versa. It shouldn't matter in the context of class and learning.
  • Name the medium and specify the source: Be clear what media we are referring to when talking about Trump. Is it the news media? Or social media? TV? Is it a news story or op-ed column?

Class discussions about Trump are also limited to five minutes per session. Talan said the ground rules have worked out well thus far, in that things have stayed impersonal and brief.

Kira Zimmerman, a junior in Talan’s upper-division public relations writing class and a public relations major, said she appreciates the rules because they keep political discussions centered on communications. After Trump’s recent address to a joint session of Congress, for example, she said, discussion centered on his politically “smart” words to a military widow he’d invited.

By contrast, Zimmerman said she took a political communications class last semester while studying abroad in Italy, “and most of the discussions were basically just bashing Trump for what he was doing or what he was saying. They were really circular and ran in a loop and never really came to a significant point … through a communications lens. It was just kind of stating the obvious.”

Asked if she thought the ground rules might be helpful in other disciplines, Zimmerman said yes. Talan agreed that the rules weren’t bound to communication studies. From education to urban studies to science, Trump is infinitely “topical,” he said.

Laura Finley, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Barry University, also has engaged her students in Trump talk, and even plans to show a short film by Brave New Films about resisting the Trump agenda in her perspective consciousness and social justice class (the alternative media company publishes teaching guides with its films and say it's been contacted by many professors who want help engaging students on issues relevant to this administration). While her students are “very interested” in the topic, if not particularly supportive of Trump’s presidency, she said she hadn’t created special rules or guidelines for such conversations. Talan’s seem fair and consistent with how she generally approaches controversial issues in class, however, she said.

Finley said she’d add that a “discussion isn't a debate, so we're not trying to defeat anyone by interrupting, attacking or otherwise harassing those with whom we disagree.” She said that she makes her own opinions clear but assures students are welcome to their own.

“I believe they appreciate the honesty,” she said.

Administrators have struggled with how to broach Trump, as well. Joe Gow, a communications scholar and chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, said he was harshly criticized for a public memo about Trump’s first immigration executive order, which said, in part, that he and other administrators were “shocked and saddened by [Trump’s] order prohibiting refugees and people from certain predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.”

“I heard from people who said, ‘You’re not speaking for me,’ or ‘I’m a student here and I support what he’s doing,’” Gow said in an interview. “I learned from that. … This is a delicate issue.”

Gow was moved to write a follow-up memo saying that while the university would still protect individuals’ privacy by all legal means, and that nondiscrimination remained at its core, “I erred in not writing the original message more thoughtfully. In particular, I wrote an opening paragraph that appears to have stifled discussion, rather than promoted it.”

He added that the original missive “should not have given the appearance that our university is taking a particular side in a political debate. Of course, all of you are free to do that, but as chancellor I am bound to represent our institution in a politically neutral fashion. I hope you'll please forgive me for not being more careful about this.”

Like Talan, Gow said academics seemed to be entering a “new era” in analyzing a president who, for example, often tweets in all caps and appears to love exclamation points. Yet in any discussion, he said, expressing approval for the professor’s ground rules, “it’s helpful to try to be analytical and communicate precisely and kind of make that classic Aristotelian model of ethos, pathos and logos -- or credibility, emotion and logic -- your goal.”

Zachariah Messitte, a political scientist and president of Ripon College, in an op-ed in The Washington Post last summer advised professors to talk about Trump in class critically but with empathy for both his rhetorical targets and his supporters.

“I know some professors and students think it might be easier to just avoid the subject of Trump altogether,” Messitte wrote. “But we need to resist that urge. Professors should dive right into the big question: How can we be open-minded in the face of Trump’s bigotry? How can we extend that empathy and thoughtfulness even to those we disagree with?”

Of course, that was before Trump became president. Have Messitte’s views changed? Not that much.

“I do think professors should continue to talk about Trump -- the good, the bad and the ugly,” he said recently. “There is a reason that his candidacy and his presidency have dominated the attention of the nation and world the past couple of years. And clearly all that Trump encapsulates is telling us something important about our own values, beliefs and understanding of the world. Otherwise, why would we be so utterly fascinated?”

Messitte said he still maintained that he never would have been able to do some of what Trump has done in the last year without serious repercussions for his college presidency. So he continues to wrestle with the lines “between civility, political correctness and freedom of speech,” he said.

Relatedly, he expressed approval for Talan’s ground rules, saying that they “make a real attempt to promote civil discourse -- ‘no personal attacks on Trump’ -- and protect student opinion -- ‘no personal attacks on other students.’”

Of course, he said, viewing Trump through a communication lens in particular means having to examine Trump’s own “very personalized insults” of his political rivals.

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Sharp growth of California's free community college programs

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:00

Interest in free community college programs has been gradually spreading across the nation. But no other state can match California's boom in Promise programs.

Whether funded by a private company or a city’s taxpayers, the state in recent years has seen a dramatic increase in initiatives to eliminate tuition for community college students.

Of the nation's more than 190 tuition-free community college programs, more than 50 exist in California.

The state's size -- and its 113 two-year institutions -- makes it more likely to have a large number of free community college programs. California also boasts some of the lowest tuition rates in the country and is politically aligned with the progressive idea. And some of the state's Democratic lawmakers are rolling out a plan that would seek to nearly eradicate student loans for university students and to increase grants to make the first year of community college tuition-free.

In addition, later this month the California Community Colleges Board of Governors will consider approving $15 million in funds, known as Promise Innovation Grants, for colleges to start or expand Promise partnerships. That funding was made available through legislation passed in Sacramento last year.

“The chancellor’s office is committed to building on this effort and further strengthening the statewide framework that allows local partnerships to proliferate and thrive,” Paul Feist, vice chancellor for communications and marketing with the two-year system chancellor’s office, said in an email. “We recognize that communities are best suited to build partnerships that suit the needs of their students. We are proud that California is a leader in this movement, and we fully expect more and more districts to stand up Promise partnerships in the weeks and months ahead.”

As of last August, 23 programs had been launched in the state, with more than 50 programs at various stages of development, according to the nonprofit research organization WestEd, which has been tracking the growth and characteristics of the state’s Promise programs since 2015.

“I would not be surprised if there are 60 programs at some stage of development or implementation by the end of 2017,” Mary Rauner, a senior research associate at WestEd, said in an email.

On March 8 the San Jose Promise joined the pack. The program this fall will begin guaranteeing free tuition for two years and covering some other college costs for up to 500 graduates of three high school districts.

Statewide Future?

Despite the various free-tuition initiatives, don't rule out the possibility of California creating a statewide program. Democrats in the state's Legislature revealed a proposal Monday that would supplement state aid and eliminate the need for student loans in the California State University and University of California Systems, while also increasing grants to community college students to give them a tuition-free first year.

Advocates of free community college point out that a statewide option is still on the table, but local organizations, colleges and cities are taking the initiative and creating their own Promise programs first. Those same advocates point to the way the Tennessee Promise grew from a local initiative in Knoxville.

“The misperception is often that Tennessee Promise happened overnight, when in fact, it began in 2008 in one county and existed as a nonprofit raising dollars privately for student scholarships,” said Krissy DeAlejandro, the executive director of tnAchieves, which is the mentoring and volunteering arm of Tennessee Promise. “I truly believe our journey would have been much more difficult had the home-grown, community-based program not existed.”

Last month, during Achieving the Dream’s annual conference in California, three Promise programs -- each in a different stage of development -- shared their differences and similarities with other college administrators.

Those differences ranged from how they are funded -- by city taxpayers in San Francisco or an oil company in Richmond -- to the age at which students enter the programs and the supports they receive.

“More College Promise launches have been initiated because starting small with what’s doable, getting help from local foundations, business leaders and campus supporters, and incorporating a research base to build the tracking system to help more students succeed are all important components for sustainability,” said Martha Kanter, a former under secretary of education under President Obama. Kanter now leads the College Promise Campaign.

There's also the Richmond Promise, which benefits high school students who live in Richmond or North Richmond -- about 10 miles north of Oakland. The program is mostly funded by Chevron.

After one year, the program has awarded 255 scholarships to students attending more than 50 colleges and universities. Most of those students attend Contra Costa College.

Mojdeh Mehdizadeh, Contra Costa's president, said the success of the Richmond initiative on their campus led the institution to apply for one of the Promise Innovation Grants from the chancellor’s office.

“The Richmond Promise focused on students who live in Richmond, but Contra Costa serves more than just those students,” she said. “The first year of Promise Innovation Grants will be directed to Richmond Promise scholarships and, learning from that, will extend to all of the cities we serve.”

In San Francisco, the city will cover the $5.4 million annual cost to pay for students' $46 per credit tuition at City College of San Francisco and also provide a $250 stipend to low-income students.

“We think of public education as a right,” said Susan Lamb, City College's interim chancellor. “Rather than setting up economic barriers, we need to make sure students in K-14 have an opportunity to get an education.”

Students don’t have to apply for the San Francisco program, but are automatically enrolled and receive the additional stipends through the financial aid process, Lamb said.

“K-12 education -- we take for granted that it’s a right in this country, and high school education … it isn’t enough,” she said.

Despite having among the lowest tuition costs in the nation, a recent report from the Institute for College Access & Success shows that the total cost of college in California, which includes textbooks, transportation, food and housing, can add up for low-income students.

The report found that after subtracting grant aid, the community colleges, which often have the lowest tuition, did not have a lower net price than their neighboring public universities.

For instance, near Berkeley, two-year colleges had the highest net price, at $13,500 per year, compared to the University of California ($12,900) and the California State University ($11,700), according to the report.

But focusing on the free side of Promise programs may be undercutting the real impact of the initiatives, said Debbie Cochrane, vice president of TICAS.

“The most important component is they become a rallying point for a community,” she said. “It’s about getting community leadership on board and getting different colleges in an area to agree on alignment. Those things make a huge difference for students to get to and through schools.”

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Speakers discuss economic demands placed on higher education

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- Colleges and universities face a steep challenge separating fact from fiction in the eyes of working-class and middle-income voters, according to recent focus group work conducted by the American Council on Education.

These groups believe that the economic value of a college education is declining, ACE Senior Vice President Terry W. Hartle told attendees at the group’s annual meeting Monday. One focus group participant believed the average student loan borrower takes on more than $13,000 in debt per year, and a majority of participants said that colleges and universities are indifferent to costs students pay. A majority of participants also said that colleges and universities are for-profit institutions.

Reality is a different story, however. Economists have found that a college degree generally continues to bring significant economic returns, even if some say the wage premium between degree holders and non-degree holders has flattened in recent years. The average borrower who graduated from a four-year college with student loan debt in 2015 carried an average of $30,100 in debt, far below the $52,000 they would owe if they racked up $13,000 per year. A vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States are nonprofit operations.

And while attitudes toward college costs might be a question of perception, many college and university presidents say they are growing increasingly worried about the discussion around college expenses and that they are trying to minimize increases in the overall price tag for students.

Hartle's report on Monday morning set the stage for a discussion with economists Sandy Baum and Anthony P. Carnevale. They tackled the ongoing debate in society over the purpose of higher education -- both economic and noneconomic. It’s a discussion that continues to play out nationally amid concern over student loan debt levels, college costs, opportunity and access for a new generation of students that’s more diverse than its predecessors.

“The conversation that we need to have within higher education on these issues can start this morning,” Hartle said.

Neither Baum nor Carnevale was surprised to see the focus groups reflecting generally negative ideas about the state of higher education. People tend to focus on negative stories that play into their fears when they feel stressed about an issue, said Carnevale, who is a research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

The public knows the best shot at a middle-class lifestyle is a college education, he said. But the fear of falling or failing is enormous.

“I think the bad news indicates the public sees this as an area in which there is difficulty and significant risk in their lives, and they want something done about it,” he said.

Baum, who is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, made the case that the issue of student loan debt is much more complex than it seems on the surface. Those who borrow more than $50,000 have typically gone to graduate or professional school, so they end up making higher wages that subsequently help them pay back higher debt burdens, she said. On the other hand, those who struggle the most to pay back their debts are those who borrowed small amounts of money to attended college but dropped out before finishing their degrees.

The best predictor of ability to repay student loans is whether a student has completed college, Baum said. She said the default rate for those who completed a college degree or certificate is 9 percent. It is 24 percent among those who dropped out without any credential. That’s a different picture than the overall 14 percent default rate.

Still, Baum cautioned against overselling the wage benefits of an education. Statistics showing higher wages for those with degrees are not a hard-and-fast rule applying to every graduate. Some people with bachelor’s degrees end up earning less than peers with high school degrees if you compare different fields and different situations.

“If we’re going to convince people of the value of a college education, I think we have to up front address the fact that it doesn’t work out for everyone,” Baum said. “There is a wide range of earnings within levels of higher education attainment.”

There is also a difference between a student who wants to maximize lifetime earnings and one who wants to make sure they earn enough to stay in the middle class while still pursuing a career that they find personally fulfilling. Baum gave educators as an example of workers who typically need a college degree but could be earning more elsewhere.

“They certainly want to live well,” she said. “But they know they could do something different and make more money. And as a society, we are going to lose a lot if we measure all of college success in terms of postcollege earnings.”

Institutions have to be able to talk through the complex choices students and families must make, Baum said. They might need to caution students who might not be making the best choices for their particular situation.

She added that not everyone wants to go to college. Those who want to have a good job without having to first sit in a classroom have a dearth of good opportunities. The public is being pushed toward college because society has not figured out good options for those who don’t want to go to college. Some end up not being successful in college and resenting the fact they were directed to take out student loans and head to campus.

Simply throwing information at prospective students won’t help. “We need to help people make better choices,” Baum said. “They need much more guidance and advice from us, and that may not always be the guidance that is going to help your immediate enrollment or bottom line.”

Trying to market higher education or tell a better story about it isn’t a solution, Carnevale said.

“I don’t think higher education has a marketing problem,” he said. “I think the numbers now are 70 to 80 percent of kids try to go to college. That’s pretty good. If 70 to 80 percent of people bought a Hershey bar every day, Hershey wouldn’t be worried about marketing. I think it’s a deeper set of questions.”

He called on the higher education system to become more efficient in delivering learning and focusing on career outcomes. Almost every other industry has used network systems with outcome-based standards since the 1980s, he said.

He also argued that there is a difference between jobs and careers. Young workers go through a long period in which they develop work experience and on-the-job skills, he said. They can successfully do that by moving from job to job in the same field. But if they change fields -- and change careers -- they’re likely to take a major income hit.

That means looking at college outcomes in a different way. Students can’t necessarily predict a career path ending at a specific job. But they can find jobs out of college that help them build a skill set and a career.

“The real issue gets to be in education not what you’re eventually going to do,” Carnevale said. “It’s what’s your first job going to be. Because that’s what starts that process.”

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After UC Berkeley announcement, universities say they will continue to offer free educational content

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:00

The recent decision by the University of California, Berkeley, to restrict public access to free online educational content has raised questions about whether other colleges and universities will do the same to avoid legal action.

The university this month announced it will remove audio and video lectures currently available to the public on platforms such as iTunes U and YouTube. Berkeley said it reached that decision after determining that retroactively making the content accessible to people with disabilities would be “extremely expensive.”

Berkeley has pledged to create new publicly available content that conforms to web accessibility standards, but restocking its online libraries will take a long time -- its decision to remove content encompasses tens of thousands of publications. The university’s YouTube channel, for example, includes 9,897 videos.

The U.S. Department of Justice in August found Berkeley was in violation of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and ordered it to make the content accessible. The department's investigation only looked at content available to the public, and not how Berkeley serves students with disabilities.

It is unclear whether the Justice Department will take as active a role in accessibility lawsuits under President Trump. Disability rights groups, however, have been open about continuing to take the legal route -- “university by university,” as a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind once said -- to ensure that institutions don’t discriminate against students with disabilities.

Inside Higher Ed asked several universities that offer free online courses and other educational content if they are considering following in Berkeley’s footsteps. Several of them did not immediately respond, including Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Vanderbilt and Yale Universities and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The institutions that did respond, all of them public flagship and private research universities (which tend to have large online collections available to the public), were unanimous in their responses: they will continue to offer publicly available content.

On YouTube, the universities vary in how they caption videos. They frequently include correct, prewritten captions for promotional videos, but other videos -- including recorded lectures -- often rely on YouTube’s hit-or-miss automatic captioning feature or lack captions altogether. Some of the universities have settled or face ongoing accessibility lawsuits.

Here are the universities’ responses:

University of Minnesota

“The University of Minnesota has no plans to restrict access to public-facing content. University staff including instructional designers, developers, communication professionals and accessibility professionals are aware of accessibility requirements and are committed to a collaborative inclusive design approach where accessibility is built in as part of development and improvement cycles.”

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“MIT OpenCourseWare and MITx on edX plan to continue sharing content with the world, for free. MIT’s Office of Digital Learning is committed to making its online educational material accessible to students and online learners with disabilities.”

Georgia Institute of Technology

“None of our credit course offerings that we produce are released to the general public for free or under any other circumstance. Our recordings require an official GT username and password in order to be viewed. Additionally, all of our recordings, past and current, are transcribed and made available on demand.

“In addition, our MOOC offerings are fully compliant.”

Stanford University

“At the moment we are not considering the same [as Berkeley]. We have an active captioning program.”

University of Texas at Austin

“UT Austin has not begun doing anything like this.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/14/2017 - 07:00
  • Assumption College: John L. Allen, Jr., editor of Crux, a publication that focuses on news of the Vatican and Roman Catholic Church.
  • Bard College at Simon’s Rock: Lauren Duca, Teen Vogue contributing editor.
  • Colorado College: Hampton Sides, editor at large for Outside magazine.
  • Hamilton College: Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.
  • Lasell College: Lesley Visser, the broadcast sports journalist.
  • Lawrence University: Gil Loescher, a visiting professor at the Refugee Studies Center at the University of Oxford.
  • Mount Wachusett Community College: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey.
  • Northern Virginia Community College: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
  • Salem State University: Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts; Nicholas Burns, former U.S. ambassador to Greece; and Antonia Novello, former U.S. surgeon general.
  • Southwestern University, in Texas: Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
  • Trinity College, in Connecticut: Daniel C. Dennett, co-director of Tufts University’s Center for Cognitive Studies.
  • University of Houston-Downtown: Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
  • University of San Diego: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich; the Reverend Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego; and others.
  • Wagner College: Rich Negrin, former managing director of the city of Philadelphia.
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Nearly 4 in 10 universities report drops in international student applications

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

Nearly 40 percent of U.S. colleges are seeing declines in applications from international students, and international student recruitment professionals report “a great deal of concern” from students and their families about visas and perceptions of a less welcoming climate in the U.S., according to a survey conducted in February by six higher education groups.

More than 250 American colleges and universities responded to the survey, which was initiated in response to concerns among international educators “that the political discourse surrounding foreign nationals in the U.S. leading up to the November 2016 U.S. presidential election could be damaging to international student recruitment efforts,” according to a press release about the initial, top-line findings (a full report on the results, with more detail, is scheduled to be released at the end of the month).

Thirty-nine percent of institutions responding to the survey reported a decline in their total number of international applications across both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Another 35 percent reported an increase, and 26 percent reported no change.

While a majority of institutions are not seeing decreases, steady increases in international applications and ensuing enrollments have become the norm for many colleges. And many institutions have based their financial plans in part on sustained increases in enrollments of full-paying international undergraduates.

The highest reported declines involved applications from the Middle East. Thirty-nine percent of universities reported declines in undergraduate applications from the Middle East, while 31 percent reported declines in graduate applications. Fall enrollment numbers from the region will likely be hard hit by President Trump’s executive order barring entry by nationals of six countries from the Middle East and Africa -- including Iran, the 11th-leading country of origin for international students in the U.S. But it's also worth noting that the number of students from Saudi Arabia, the third-leading country of origin, had already been dropping prior to the presidential election, a decline many colleges attributed to changes in the Saudi government’s foreign scholarship program. The number of Saudi students in the U.S. fell by nearly 20 percent in fall 2016 compared to the fall before, according to student visa data.

Many universities responding to the survey also reported drops in applications from China and India, respectively the top two countries from which international students in the U.S. hail. The two countries, together, account for nearly half of all international students in the U.S.

A quarter of universities responding to the survey reported declines in undergraduate applications from China, and 32 percent reported declines in Chinese graduate applications. As for India, 26 percent reported declines in undergraduate applications from the country, and 15 percent reported declines in graduate applications.

At the same time, universities reported hearing concerns from students and families, particularly those from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. The press release about the findings notes that the most frequently cited concerns are:

  • “Perception of a rise in student visa denials at U.S. embassies and consulates in China, India and Nepal.”
  • “Perception that the climate in the U.S. is now less welcoming to individuals from other countries.”
  • “Concerns that benefits and restrictions around visas could change, especially around the ability to travel, re-entry after travel and employment opportunities.”
  • “Concerns that the executive order travel ban might expand to include additional countries.”

The survey was conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, the Institute of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and NACAC's internationally focused subgroup, International ACAC. More than three-quarters of institutions responding to the survey -- 77 percent -- are concerned about yield, that is, how many applicants accept an admissions offer and enroll.

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, enrollment managers and senior international officers said yield is what they’re watching. Many international students would have already submitted their applications to U.S. colleges prior to Trump’s assumption of the presidency and the imposition of his ban on entry for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Walter Caffey, vice president for enrollment management at the University of New Haven, said the institution is seeing an increase in international undergraduate applications, specifically from Brazil, China, India and Vietnam, an increase he attributes to expanded recruitment efforts. “We are definitely seeing some positive signs in terms of international applications but at the same time we are certainly hearing from prospective students a little bit of concern,” Caffey said. “We’re certainly fielding more questions about safety and security and our campus community.”

“From my perspective, what that says to me is although our applications are a positive, if once the fall comes and we’re not able to enroll the students that we would expect to enroll based on our applications, some of these concerns might be taking hold. We just won’t know until that happens,” Caffey said.

At the graduate level, New Haven is seeing a decrease in applications from India, a decrease that Caffey said started a year ago “as we heard about more students having a difficult time obtaining visas to study here in the States.”

Portland State University reports a 27 percent drop in the number of Indian students applying to its graduate programs for the fall. Most of the Indian applicants to the university are looking to attend computer science or engineering programs.

Wim Wiewel, Portland State’s president, talked with prospective students during a previously scheduled trip to India this month. Throughout most of his meetings in Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi, he didn’t hear much about Trump's travel ban and the political climate in the U.S. more generally.

“But in a meeting in Hyderabad with about 10 students already admitted to our graduate engineering program it was different,” Wiewel said over email. According to Wiewel, one student, a Muslim, said his father ‘didn’t want him to go now because of America's anti-Muslim attitude.’ Several of the others said they had ‘some concerns about the Trump effect.’ Once we talked about how welcoming Portland and the U.S. are, and that surely India has its own history of issues, they seemed to feel better. I'm pretty sure they just wanted to be reassured and will in fact come.”

“I'd say the rhetoric and actual executive orders are definitely having a chilling effect on decisions by current applicants/admitted students, and by extension are likely to affect future applicants as well,” Wiewel said. "However, we were struck by how much U.S. higher education is still considered the holy grail, and that especially in the southern half of India almost every middle class family seems to have a relative in the U.S. … Thus, if nothing too bad happens in the future we will recover from this, but people are watching.”

There are other factors that could be at play behind application drops from India: Wiewel noted India’s demonetization policy and the weakness of the value of the rupee against the dollar. And the type of U.S. policy that could affect international student flows need not be as dramatic as a travel ban. During his travels through India, Wiewel heard concerns from students about possible changes to the H-1B skilled worker visa program, which international students see as one of the few pathways to permanent work and residency in the U.S. At the same time, Wiewel said, Trump’s address to Congress in which he called for a “merit-based” immigration system got played up in the press as something that could help Indians.

John J. Wood, the senior associate vice provost for international education, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said a lot of universities are concerned about declines in master’s students from India. “A lot of the master’s students coming from India are ultimately hoping to get on the job market here through OPT and eventually H-1B,” Wood said, referring first to the optional practical training program, which allows international students to work for one to three years on their student visas after graduation. “There’s a lot of fear and anxiety about potential changes to H-1B and/or OPT that would limit their opportunities. Making the decision to invest in a master’s program when the uncertainty on the other end is there is an issue for a lot of students in India.”

Wood added that the recent shooting of Indian nationals at a bar in Olathe, Kans., won't help. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting -- which killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian national, and wounded a second Indian man and an American -- as a hate crime. The gunman reportedly yelled “get out of my country” before opening fire, according to The Washington Post. A Sikh man originally from India who was wounded in a separate shooting in Kent, Wash., a little more than a week later similarly reported that he was told by the shooter to "go back to your own country," according to The Seattle Times.

“Those events affect us, whether we like it or not,” said Ahmad Ezzeddine, the associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs, at Wayne State University, where international applications are down, with the steepest drops in engineering. “The impact is not just going to be on Indian nationals. It could impact other students from other countries who may now be concerned about coming.”

“This is the season for us. Acceptance and admission season is underway now, and it’ll be interesting to see what’s going to happen when people start accepting their admissions and making plans. This is when I think we’re going to see the decline, across the country. That's my fear,” Ezzeddine said.

“From what I’ve been hearing, it’s going to be more challenging after this fall cycle,” said Nicole Tami, the executive director of global education initiatives at the University of New Mexico. “There are going to be preliminary drops for this fall,” she said. But if what she described as “the tightening of immigration policies and the chilling of the overall attitudes towards international and professional students and immigrants” continues, Tami said, “the real hit is going to be next year.”

“If that general kind of blanket attitude toward immigrants and international visitors continues, be they students or scholars, or professionals who come to work, I think people who have other opportunities -- and many do -- will go elsewhere, and there will be other countries that strategically benefit and profit from this current kind of climate,” she said.

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How a controversial speaker drew protests but was able to give his talk at Franklin & Marshall

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

On March 2, students at Middlebury College shouted and chanted to prevent a controversial campus speaker (Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve) from giving a public lecture. The students' action has drawn widespread attention (most of it critical), with many worrying about the state of free expression on college campuses.

That same day, another controversial speaker -- Flemming Rose -- appeared at Franklin & Marshall College. Rose is a Danish journalist who in 2005 -- as culture editor of Jyllands-Posten -- published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that were criticized by many Muslim groups as blasphemous. Some Muslims organized violent attacks on Western institutions around the world and threatened Rose, while many others criticized him for publishing cartoons that so offended many Muslims.

While Rose has spoken on many college campuses, his appearances are not simple. He is accompanied by a security team. Last year, the University of Cape Town rescinded an invitation for Rose to talk there … on academic freedom.

At Franklin & Marshall, Rose spoke -- without incident, except for some raised voices in conversations before the event -- even as students organized a protest that did not disrupt the lecture.

College officials at F&M are proud of the way their students -- both those who wanted to hear Rose and those who disagree with him -- handled the visit. And they point to both policies and practices at the college that encouraged nondisruptive protest and that might be applied elsewhere.

But F&M officials also say that what happened at the college challenges a popular narrative about higher education being intolerant of ideas that may offend students. The reality, they say, is that nondisruptive protests of speakers are far more common that what happened at Middlebury, and are in fact part of free expression at colleges all over the country.

"There have been a number of social critics -- in and outside of the academy -- who have labeled an entire generation of students as illiberal crybullies," said Daniel R. Porterfield (right), president of F&M. "If you work at a college campus, you know that these sweeping denunciations are not accurate. Many students in the last two years have protested speech that they felt was offensive to them in a pro-speech manner, but you don't read a lot of descriptions of the media about pro-speech protest."

'Crucial Values'

In an interview, Porterfield said that colleges must embrace the importance of free expression all of the time, and not just before a controversial speaker is on campus. To Porterfield, there are three "crucial values" for higher education: academic excellence, freedom of expression and cultivation of a community of inclusiveness and respect. All of these values require constant attention, he said.

So the college regularly organizes events like the Day of Dialogue, in which students and faculty members focus together on diversity. "There is no shortcut to regularly sustained dialogue on campus," Porterfield said.

But the college also states as a matter of policy (and Porterfield personally talks about) the idea that free expression is vital -- even when it offends.

F&M's board this year adopted a statement -- based in part on what was adopted at the University of Chicago -- to make this policy clear. The Rose speech came just a few days after a campus forum to discuss the new policy.

The policy states, in part, "It is not the proper role of the college to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, uncivil or even deeply offensive. Rather, members of the college community should be encouraged to act according to the principle that the best response to ideas that they find offensive is speech, not censorship. This approach encourages members of the college community to express their views freely, and freely to take issue with views with which they disagree."

The Rose Invitation and Protest

Rose was invited to Franklin & Marshall by Matthew Hoffman, chair of Judaic studies. In a letter in The College Reporter, the student newspaper, Hoffman wrote of his interest in academic freedom issues and noted that he has invited other controversial speakers in the past because they could illuminate academic freedom issues, even if he didn't agree with their views. For example, he invited Steven Salaita, who lost his job at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign over anti-Israel tweets that many saw as anti-Semitic.

Of Rose, Hoffman wrote that he had recently read Rose's book, The Tyranny of Silence, and was impressed. "Even though I didn’t agree with everything Rose said or did, I admired the complexity of the issues Rose tackled in his book and the clarity and insight of his analysis of these issues," Hoffman wrote. "I had hoped that his visit would be stimulating and thought provoking, inspiring an enduring debate and reflection on these topics. I invited him to speak driven by my belief that in confronting the kinds of difficult and complex issues Rose presents, we all could learn and grow. For me this type of intellectual enterprise is part and parcel of pursuing a liberal arts education in which being exposed to views that one doesn’t like is fundamental to cultivating critical thinking."

In an interview, Hoffman said he knew that some students were concerned about the invitation, but he was surprised to arrive at the site of the lecture to find about 35 students marching outside, with signs such as "Don’t use Muslims as scapegoats to achieve fame." Hoffman said he spoke to several of the students, and that while the discussion was "heated" at times, it was also civil.

As the talk was about to start, the students in the protest came into the lecture hall, standing together in the back and putting down their signs. They then asked many of the questions during the Q&A. The protesting students never blocked anyone's line of sight to the podium and did not disrupt the talk.

Hoffman said he thought some of the students misunderstood the intent of the invitation and Rose's intent in publishing the cartoons -- and that both of these were motivated by support for freedom of expression, not a desire to mock the Muslim faith. Hoffman said he felt bad about the hurt felt by some students, but that he did not think it was wrong to invite Rose.

Douglas Anthony, associate professor of history and chair of international studies at Franklin & Marshall, also spoke to students before the lecture, and encouraged them to participate in the discussion. "I tried to let the students know that they could be part of the discussion," Anthony said. He added that he was glad that they both expressed their frustrations with Rose and questioned him after the lecture.

Middlebury has been criticized for not clearing the lecture hall of those shouting at Murray, and officials there have said that the protests were larger and more intense than expected.

Porterfield declined to say what action the college would have taken had the protest turned disruptive. But he said that the event had an official from student affairs and campus security monitoring, as well as the Rose security detail.

Still, he added, "If something unexpected or unlikely had occurred, we did have appropriate preparations to do the best we could. We're always prepared to do the work necessary to assure that freedom of speech is supported and can occur."

But he stressed that he believes that the ability to support both the right of faculty members and students to host controversial speakers and to protest them in nondisruptive ways is based on promoting values.

This is "not a matter of events management," Porterfield said, but of standing for principles and also "listening to people."

Hate Speech?

Said Bilani is the Franklin & Marshall student who organized the protest. While the students followed the college's guidelines and didn't interrupt the talk, Bilani said via email that he does not believe Rose should have been invited to speak at the college. He and others learned of the Rose appearance only a few days before it happened, he said, and they considered a few alternatives: boycott the event, petition to call off the event or "attend the talk with an open mind, and then challenge the speaker (if needed)."

Bilani said there wasn't time to try to get F&M to reconsider. At the same time, he wrote, the nature of the offense felt by Muslim students was significant and goes beyond disagreeing with Rose's views.

"The speaker invited is infamous for publishing pictures of Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban with a bomb protruding from it," Bilani wrote. "The problem isn’t the tongue-in-cheek bomb or caption, but rather the concept of depicting the prophet by the form of a picture. This is very offensive because, in Islam, Muhammad is not to be conceptualized, depicted nor portrayed."

Bilani said that he believes, after listening to Rose, that Rose's interpretation of Muslim texts is incorrect. He also compared Rose's publication of the cartoons to someone scrawling a swastika in a public place -- and noted that colleges remove swastikas in such situations.

In addressing Rose in the question period, Bilani said he offered this statement: “Flemming Rose, you have your right to freedom of expression, and nobody will take that away from you. There is a line that gets drawn that separates freedom of speech and hate speech -- where you may draw that line may be different than where I draw it.”

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Aquinas College plans to shrink and focus on training teachers

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

Located in one of the fastest-growing regions in Tennessee, Aquinas College in recent years seemed to be well on its way toward expanding into a traditional residential four-year liberal arts college.

The Roman Catholic college in 2015 broke ground on a $9 million dormitory that was its first new building in 39 years. It started graduate studies in its School of Education in 2012. It added residential life that same year, basing its program on the Oxbridge house system.

Then on Friday leaders announced a major change, shrinking the college and moving it back toward its roots as a normal school. Aquinas College will cut degrees in arts and sciences, business and nursing. It will eliminate residential housing and student life activities. And, significantly, it will not be accepting any federal funding.

Those changes mean Aquinas College, which is owned and operated by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation, will be focused on training teachers, mostly Dominican sisters, for classrooms in Catholic schools. It will still accept lay students -- men and women who want to earn degrees in education. It will also teach courses in philosophy and theology.

But the college will be laying off roughly 60 of 76 staff and faculty members. About 140 of about 250 students will need to finish their degrees elsewhere -- the college says it is in contact with more than a dozen schools about teach-out agreements, and The Tennessean reported many Nashville-area institutions are negotiating around tuition and financial aid for Aquinas College students.

The college’s president, Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith, explained the changes as stemming from a combination of financial difficulties, uneven enrollment levels and development struggles. She also pointed to the complicated prospect of running a traditional college.

“The congregation has concluded that there is no viable long-term solution which would adequately support a traditional college with residential and student life without placing both the college and the congregation in serious financial risk,” she wrote in a publicly posted letter.

“This decision is a difficult one because of its impact on the lives of our students, faculty and staff,” the letter continued.

At first glance, the discussion of finances and risk would appear to slot Aquinas College into a conversation with other small private colleges closing or curtailing operations in light of financial trouble. Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., in February announced plans to suspend academic activities on campus after graduation this spring, citing a cash crunch. Analysts have also predicted a sharp uptick in the number of college closures in coming years.

While finances played a significant role in the changes at Aquinas College, leaders and experts said it would be wrong to draw a singular line between broad trends in higher education and the college’s new direction. The Sisters of St. Cecilia were weighing budget deficits and enrollment trends with a particularly conservative outlook.

“Aquinas has always looked to grow and has tried different programs over the years,” said Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, spokeswoman for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation. “With the projections and the reality not quite matching, you follow those for a while and then you think we need to make these hard decisions to try to get ahead of the curve so we can plan responsibly for our future.”

The college faced budget deficits in recent years, she said. For the 2016-17 year, its deficit was about $1.9 million on a $12.7 million budget. The college has faced cash-flow problems at various points, including last June.

Aquinas College has drawn down its endowment as it paid for expenses. The college’s endowment dropped from $10.4 million as of June 2015 to about $5 million at the end of June 2016, according to its federal tax statements.

College leaders did not want to become a small institution accruing debt, Sister Anne Catherine said. They wanted to make a financially responsible decision that would allow the institution to operate in the future.

“We recognize, particularly as a religious community, we cannot take on debt,” she said. “It would not be financially responsible to do that. We can’t take some of the risk that a lot of colleges are able to take.”

The financial difficulties came as the college’s enrollment fell. In 2012, its enrollment was just over 600, Sister Anne Catherine said. At the start of the fall semester, it had dropped to 344. Today it is 257.

Enrollment dropped after the college decided to phase out an associate of science in nursing degree in favor of a four-year bachelor of science in nursing degree, according to Sister Anne Catherine. Aquinas College’s enrollment has typically been strongest in its nursing program. It made the change to keep up with national trends, expecting a subsequent drop in enrollment. But it has not been able to recover.

That left leaders evaluating the college’s identity as they thought about its future. Aquinas College traces itself back to the founding of the Saint Cecilia Normal School in 1928. That school went through numerous changes over the years, being replaced with Aquinas Junior College and opening to the public in 1961, enrolling its first male students in 1962 and starting its associate of nursing program in 1983.

It became a four-year college in 1994, changing its name to Aquinas College. In 1996 it started offering a bachelor’s degree in nursing, then it added a bachelor’s degree program in business administration in 1999.

“We look at organizations now that are really focusing on their core, asking themselves the question of what we can do best,” Sister Anne Catherine said. “The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia have a long and strong tradition in Catholic education.”

Leaders said they are foregoing federal funds because processing federal aid is labor intensive and few students will be interested in it. A majority of the college's students in the future will be religious sisters, and sisters at the institution have never taken federal aid, they said.

Small colleges are often heavily reliant on tuition and can find their futures in serious jeopardy if enrollment drops. Aquinas College did not have a large enough endowment to compensate for its low enrollment, said Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges.

“Unless you have a big endowment, you need to have a reasonable-sized institution,” he said. “Aquinas in Tennessee is very small. It’s not sufficient to distribute the cost of the central services that every college has to have.”

It’s somewhat surprising to see major cuts at an institution in Tennessee, where college enrollment is going up, Ekman said. Aquinas is not located in a rural area, either -- it’s in Nashville, a quickly growing metropolitan region.

But the admissions market can still be volatile. And many believe Aquinas College is changing for reasons beyond the larger financial winds buffeting many other liberal arts colleges.

Some Catholic institutions are examining their models, both financial and structural, said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president and CEO of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. For instance, Silver Lake College in Wisconsin moved in 2015 to become a work college.

“I am seeing a number of schools talking more seriously about a way to reconstitute themselves,” Galligan-Stierle said. “I think people are going to find ways to think about who they are.”

The development should not raise eyebrows about the state of higher education in Tennessee, said Claude Pressnell, president of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation has decided to go in a different direction, he said.

“For those who demand to understand this through the lens of traditional higher education, it will be a head-scratcher,” he said. “For those who are familiar with their faith community, it’s not.”

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The NCAA men's tournament bracket, if academics mattered most

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

The National Collegiate Athletic Association took a major step this year toward recognizing the importance of academic performance by voting to allocate, for the first time, millions of dollars based on how teams fare in the classroom.

The NCAA has nothing on Inside Higher Ed, however. Since 2006, we have determined the winner of the NCAA's basketball tournaments based on the academic performance of the competing teams.

Introducing the 2017 Academic Performance Tournament, Inside Higher Ed's annual look at who would win the NCAA men's (and later this week, the women's) Division I basketball tournament if cognitive skills, not jump shots and vertical leap, won the day.

Here's how it works: to determine the winners of each game in the tournament, we compare 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 classroom performance. (Among other things, the APR excludes athletes who leave in good academic standing, so institutions 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 GSR tie, we then turn to the federal graduation rate, a different formula that the government uses to track graduation rates.

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.

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Shutdown of IRS data tool affects income-driven repayment, creates further discrepancies

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

After federal officials announced last week that the Internal Revenue Service data retrieval tool would be unavailable for "several weeks" because of concerns about security, college access advocates and financial aid administrations said repercussions would be go beyond a more burdensome financial aid application process.

The shutdown of the tool could also complicate enrollment in income-driven repayment programs for student borrowers seeking more affordable terms on their student loans. And it could cause more instances of a new flag known as a Code 399, which arose from the switch to use of prior-prior year income data in this financial aid cycle -- a change that allowed an earlier timeline for aid applications because students can submit tax information from two years earlier rather than the tax year that is concluding as applications are due.

The data retrieval tool allows students to automatically transfer household tax information already on file with the federal government into aid applications -- a feature created to speed up the aid application process while cutting down on errors. Now, like those students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, borrowers applying for income-driven repayment plans will have to manually enter that information.

Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, said that unlike the FAFSA, the income-driven repayment application must be completed in one sitting. That means that if borrowers start the enrollment process and find out they don't have all the tax information they need, they have to start over again.

"It's going to be harder to apply while this tool is down," Asher said. "For borrowers who are struggling and would benefit from a change to an income-driven plan, this is one more process barrier to get through."

Even after students are enrolled in income-driven repayment plans, they must update their tax information each year.

Asher and other student advocates expressed frustration that the department issued little notification of the issue to students -- as of Friday, there was nothing on the studentloans.gov homepage indicating an issue with the data retrieval tool. A Department of Education spokesman said Friday there were no additional updates to provide about the tool since a joint statement released last week with the IRS.

Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat who last week pressed the department to clarify the problems with the data retrieval tool, said in a statement that he would keep working to make sure the tool is available and secure.

"The data retrieval tool went dark on Friday with no warning or explanation from the IRS or the Department of Education. After hearing from my constituents about the significant impact, I sought clarification, first by phone, then in a letter, from both. Only then did they issue a statement explaining they took it down and why," Doggett said. "Parents and students rely on the tool to quickly and accurately complete their FAFSA -- without the DRT, more are likely to have errors resulting in the loss or delay of aid."

Daniel Barkowitz, the dean of enrollment management at St. Johns River State College, said not having the data retrieval tool may mean those errors could mean a delay of funds already awarded to students for the current financial aid cycle, not just a delay of award packages for the upcoming year.

The introduction this year of prior-prior year income data -- a change that allowed the Department of Education to move up the FAFSA application process by several months -- created a one-time flag in the process that has affected campuses unevenly. If there are any updates to 2015 tax information that create discrepancies with what is already on file with the IRS, that can hold up release of financial aid a student already expected to receive in the current year. Barkowitz said those discrepancies could include even nontaxable items like child support and contributions to 401(k)s and pensions.

"I understand the security concerns," he said. "My concern is that without any notice and without any warning, it's not the time to be pulling this down."

The National College Access Network advised its members in a blog post Friday to make sure students know the FAFSA is still available online and that they will need copies of their tax return paperwork to complete the application. The group is also advising that students request a tax transcript after submitting their application in case they are flagged for verification of income information by the Department of Education or their institution.

One upside of the shutdown's timing this year is that because of the introduction of early FAFSA, students already had months to submit their aid applications before the data retrieval tool became unavailable a little more than a week ago. But Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University who studies financial aid issues, said the students who have yet to file their aid applications will likely be among those with the lowest household incomes.

"It's a smaller pool than would have been affected last year, but it's a lower income group," Kelchen said.

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Suit: Metro State Denver enabled professor to retaliate against those who complained that he was seen masturbating in his office

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

In an eyebrow-raising lawsuit filed last week against Metro State University in Denver, two professors say they were retaliated against for reporting a colleague’s alleged sexual indiscretion with … himself. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission granted the plaintiffs right-to-sue notices, but the implicated professor denies all claims against him. The university also denies the allegations and plans a vigorous defense.

The complaint was brought by Kamran Sahami, a professor of physics and former president of the university’s Faculty Senate, and Kristin Watson, a former non-tenure-track professor of communications and business. Watson alleges that she saw Gregory Black, chair of marketing, masturbating in his office in 2011 but didn’t report the incident to administrators for several years, in part because she was “shocked and traumatized,” and because she lacked tenure and feared for her job.

Black himself is not named as a defendant, but the suit against Metro State alleges a pattern of behavior on his part. The plaintiffs claim they were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment, in addition to retaliation.

Unbeknownst to Watson, another faculty member -- who is not named in the suit -- allegedly observed Black engaged in similar behavior in his office on multiple occasions. The professor reported Black to the university’s coordinator for sexual harassment and assault, as well as the dean of the College of Business, according to the complaint.

In 2014, Sahami, then president of the Senate, allegedly received a call from an anonymous student saying she, too, had seen Black masturbating in the marketing department. Sahami says he told the student that the issue was outside the scope of his responsibilities, and that she should report it to the business dean. The caller reportedly told him that she feared retaliation for any report, since it was rumored that another professor had been fired for complaining about Black’s alleged extracurricular activities.

Disturbed by the call, Sahami says, he reported it to Steven Jordan, university president. Sahami also allegedly looked into the claim that a faculty member had been terminated and eventually “deduced from information he was privy to about marketing faculty changes” who it was. He says he called the former faculty member and briefly spoke with her about her case and the student complaint.

Campaign of Retaliation

Following each of these incidents, Metro State -- either through Black or “at his behest” -- engaged in a campaign of retaliation, according to the suit. And in violation of its own policies, the university allegedly shared with Black the names of his accusers.

It was Metro State's “shocking lack of systemic [equal opportunity] protections that led directly to Black’s retaliatory activities,” the suit says.

First, the unnamed professor who had first reported Black was terminated, according to the suit, leading her to file a charge of discrimination and retaliation with the EEOC.

Around the same time, in 2013, Watson applied for a promotion to senior lecturer and a three-year contract. But she was removed from the list of senior candidates under Black’s direction, according to the complaint.

Later that year, Black allegedly adopted new student evaluation score standards and used them to find Watson’s performance deficient. He did not apply the same standards to Watson’s male colleagues, however, according to the complaint. Watson says Black then informed her that he was initiating a search for her replacement and “summarily” took her place on the marketing department search committee.

It was only then that she approached the university’s coordinator for Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, according to the complaint, as she felt Black’s actions against her were linked to her having seen him masturbating.

Watson’s complaint blocked Black from removing her based on anything other than university-approved performance guidelines, the suit says. But he also began to “repeatedly interfere” with her ability to teach marketing courses. No details about that interference are included in the suit, and Watson could not immediately be reached for comment.

Black also allegedly blamed Watson’s lack of a marketing degree for her lack of advancement, but she says that male colleagues who also did not hold marketing degrees were not similarly held back. Black ultimately forced Watson out of a job by asking all non-tenure-track faculty members to reapply for their positions and using similar degree qualifications, according to the complaint, and by dividing the candidate pool in a way that allegedly severely disadvantaged Watson but advantaged other, less qualified candidates. She was not renewed in 2014.

Sahami, too, faced “aggressive action” once Black heard about his concerns, according to the complaint. Black allegedly filed a formal written grievance against Sahami and accused him of discrimination and harassment, saying he’d failed to be objective in his professional judgments about Black’s alleged behavior. But the allegation was “ludicrous,” the complaint says, “since Sahami had no relationship with Black.”

Turning the Tables

Each of these allegations related to Sahami bringing forward the complaint he received concerning Black’s sexual misconduct. Black wrote in his complaint, “I am left to conclude that the sole purpose of his actions was to aid in the EEOC complaint against me, and, thus, I submit this formal complaint of unprofessional behavior.”

Instead of dismissing Black’s complaint, however, Jordan, Metro State’s president, ordered an investigation into Sahami’s alleged lack of professionalism. The findings were referred to a Campus Ethics Committee, before which Sahami had a limited chance to present information and no ability to confront his accuser, according to the complaint. He says he had to hire a lawyer and expend considerable funds defending himself, and that Jordan ultimately issued him a letter of reprimand.

Meanwhile, the complaint says, “the university never actually investigated the underlying claims against Black -- and, upon information and belief, even as of 2017, had not subjected Black to any discipline as a result of his behavior in any of these incidents.”

Sahami did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Both he and Watson are seeking a trial by jury and unspecified damages.

Black in an email denied all allegations against him and referred additional questions to the university. Cathy Lucas, Metro State spokesperson, said in a statement that the university “denies the allegations contained in this complaint, and we assert there are many factual errors and statements in the claim. The university will dispute these allegations in court.”

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ACE panel discusses diversity and safe spaces on campus

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 03/13/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- As colleges across the country continue to place greater emphasis on diversifying their student bodies, new questions arise about how to make students feel safe, included and free to engage in civil discourse.

A panel of three university administrators discussed these challenges during a session titled “Freedom of Expression and Safe Spaces” at the 99th annual ACE meeting on Sunday.

DeRionne Pollard, president, Montgomery College

Pollard has been president of this large, two-year community college in Montgomery County, Md., for seven years. Montgomery College enrolls 60,000 students across its three campuses. Over 70 percent of these students are nonwhite, and they hail from more than 160 countries.

There’s no question that Montgomery College is diverse, but Pollard, who is herself a lesbian woman of color, argued at the session that having a diverse student population is not enough by itself.

“When we have a diverse community, we don’t think we have to do the work of creating an inclusive community,” Pollard told a room full of higher education administrators and decision makers.

Similarly, she said, colleges have to cross the threshold from offering a “friendly” environment for minority students to having a “welcoming” environment, because there’s a difference. “Welcoming” includes interaction and intersection of experiences.

“We have far too many college campuses that are friendly and not welcoming,” Pollard said. “We have too many college campuses that herald diversity, but they don’t herald the fact that we don’t have equitable practices that produce outcomes for all students.”

Pollard shared some of the strategies she uses at Montgomery College to foster civil discourse among faculty members and students.

First, she helped create a public space for marginalized voices to be heard on campus. After the presidential election in November, many students -- most of whom speak English as a second language -- expressed concern about their futures. They wrote letters saying they felt insecure, unsafe, angry, afraid and disappointed. Faculty members set up a bulletin board where students could express these emotions more publicly and their peers could see and read about what they were experiencing. Pollard said she has seen hundreds of students gathered around those bulletin boards to read the letters posted.

She also promoted the concept of “radical inclusion,” which she defined as “intentional, proactive policies, procedures, practices and promises to ensure equitable and inclusive experiences and outcome for all students.”

Felice Nudelman, chief global officer for partnerships and innovation, Antioch University

Antioch University is a private institution with about 5,000 students spread throughout five campuses across the country -- two in California, one in Seattle, one in New Hampshire and a fifth on its home campus in Ohio. It has a history of encouraging its students to engage in social justice and in their communities, said Nudelman. Antioch is a progressive institution, she said, but the liberal leanings also have drawbacks in today’s campus climate.

“We have created an incredibly safe space, for students, for faculty, for our community, to come and be part of our education process and discussion,” Nudelman said. “But I think also at times, in leaning that way, we’ve created our own silo. We’ve had to put special focus on expanding outside of our bubble … The challenge has been how to ensure we aren’t just speaking to ourselves.”

Nudelman suggested that the answer is to be intentional -- to go beyond campus culture and create concrete policies that address these issues.

“If we’re going to create safe spaces for students to explore -- no matter what their age, no matter where they were from -- all of that had to be built around not just the cultural awareness and the culture we’re building, but we had to deal with policy and put policies in place.”

Nudelman admitted this is more feasible for private universities, like Antioch, than public ones, but she believes policy is a driving force behind some of the change colleges hope to see. An example, she said, is when Antioch instituted the first affirmative consent policy at a U.S. college in the early 1990s. At the time it was implemented, the concept was considered a joke. Saturday Night Live even mocked it in a skit. But the policy provides clear direction on sexual encounters and is the basis of state law in California and elsewhere.

Ramon Torrecilha, president, Westfield State University

Torrecilha moved to the United States from Brazil when he was 17 years old. He started out as a migrant worker, and now, decades later, he is the president of a four-year public university in Massachusetts.

About 94 percent of the students at Westfield State University are from Massachusetts, and only about 20 percent are students of color -- which Torrecilha said means they “have a lot of work to do” regarding diversity at the college.

But he, like Pollard, said diversity alone does not go far enough. “Diversity is about who’s in the bus, but you can still be in the back of the bus,” he said.

Many in attendance Sunday also had an opportunity to highlight their concerns on the topics of freedom of expression and safe spaces, and to share ideas pulled from their own institutions.

One administrator suggested that American universities don’t realize there is a different between integrated and desegregated campuses -- he suggested colleges today are more the latter. Several people proposed that institutions of higher education develop meaningful relationships with local K-12 systems so they can begin to address these problems before they manifest during the college years.

A woman in the audience said the challenges at colleges today go beyond the students currently enrolled. She said she has received emails from alumni asking how they can return their diplomas or declaring they don’t want to be associated with the institution after the university takes controversial positions or introduces seemingly politically motivated policies. In recent months, sanctuary campuses have been very polarizing among college students and alumni.

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As aid deadlines approach, automated IRS data retrieval unavailable to students

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 08:00

Six days after the Internal Revenue Service's data retrieval tool for the federal financial aid system went down, the Department of Education and IRS said Thursday they anticipate the tool will be unavailable for several more weeks.

The ongoing issue is causing consternation among organizations that advocate for expanded college access, because it will make applying for financial aid more difficult for low-income students and could lead to more verification checks of aid applications.

The data retrieval tool was introduced in the 2010-11 academic year to allow students and families to automatically transfer tax information already on file with the government into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. That capability allowed them to finish the application sooner and avoid errors that would get submissions flagged for verification -- a process that could slow down the awarding of financial aid packages.

But the joint statement from the agencies said the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the tool as a precautionary step because of concerns it could be misused by identity thieves.

"The scope of the issue is being explored, and the IRS and [Office of Federal Student Aid] are jointly investigating the issue," the statement said. "At this point, we believe the issue is relatively isolated, and no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications. The IRS and FSA are actively working on a way to further strengthen the security of information provided by the [data retrieval tool]. We will provide additional information when we have a specific time frame for returning the DRT or other details to share."

The tool became unavailable as the state aid deadline for Indiana arrived (March 10) and is approaching for Texas (March 15). Many colleges and universities also set their institutional deadlines for that March 15 date. Students can still submit their household financial information manually in the meantime. But that will potentially add more verification checks later in the process for those students, said Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network.

“Those further steps can be obstacles to students being able to access aid,” she said.

If a student’s application is flagged for verification by either the Department of Education or an institution, they would be required to submit a 2015 tax transcript. It can take up to 10 days to receive a transcript after making a request, so NCAN is advising partner organizations to have students make that request up front in case of a verification check later in the award process.

“Some institutions will not give [students] a financial aid package or financial aid award letter until verification is complete. For some first-time students, it could impact which school they decide to attend,” Warick said. “More broadly, we know the more steps there are in the process, the more barriers there are, the more students we lose along the way.”

This is the second time under new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that the department has had a key website fail. After the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act went down a week into DeVos’s tenure -- an issue that took several days to resolve -- the secretary blamed the Obama administration for not properly maintaining the site.

Senate Democrats sought answers from DeVos when the IDEA site went down a month ago. Colorado Democrat Michael Bennet on Thursday took to Twitter to voice his concerns over the IRS tool.

.@usedgov @BetsyDeVosED FAFSA IRS tool needs to be fixed immediately. It simplifies process & saves time for students, families & borrowers https://t.co/Zr6HlrRwXd

— Michael F. Bennet (@SenBennetCO) March 9, 2017

And Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, penned a letter to DeVos Thursday calling the situation "unacceptable."

"Many families who rely on state and federal aid do not have immediate or easy access to their tax information without this tool; the assumption that these families can complete the FAFSA manually by the deadline without using the DRT is inaccurate," Doggett wrote.

The prolonged problem with the tool has arisen during a financial aid cycle in which the Department of Education is transitioning to use of prior-prior year income data. That means that instead of having to estimate their family’s income information for 2016, students applying under 2017 financial aid deadlines could use 2015 tax information already on file with the federal government.

That change to prior-prior year was planned assuming the data retrieval tool would be available to students as they completed the aid application process, said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. Meanwhile, the department has not been transparent in updating its verification criteria, he said.

If the problem persists, Draeger said NASFAA would ask the department to revisit its selection criteria for verification and ask for relief for students in the documentation they’re required to provide in that process.

“If this is a long-term issue, we will be looking for solutions that match the reality of no data retrieval tool,” Draeger said.

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Scholars speak out against new law barring supporters of boycotts from entering Israel

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 08:00

A new law that bars foreign proponents of boycotts of Israel from entering the country is prompting concerns among scholars who hold a range of views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the state.

The new law -- technically an amendment -- prohibits the granting of a visa or residency permit to a non-Israeli citizen or permanent resident “if he, [or] the organization or entity for which he works, has knowingly issued a public call to impose a boycott on the state of Israel” or “has committed to participate in such a boycott,” according to a translation of key parts of the text from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. Using a definition from a 2011 Israeli law that made advocacy for boycotts a civil offense, the amendment applies to academic, cultural and economic boycotts of Israel and areas under its control, including the West Bank.

Israeli officials have justified the ban as intended to keep out advocates of BDS who would seek to damage or delegitimize the state. Supporters of the BDS movement describe it as a nonviolent campaign to put international pressure on Israel in support of Palestinians' rights.

The new law comes as support for the BDS movement -- and the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions in particular -- has grown in American academe. It also comes against the backdrop of the U.S. government’s ban on entry for nationals of six Muslim-majority nations and President Trump’s proposals to impose an ideological screening test for visitors to the U.S.

“This is introducing a political litmus test for anyone entering Israel,” said Laurie A. Brand, the chair of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom and the Robert Grandford Wright Professor of International Relations and Middle East Studies at the University of Southern California, where she directs the Middle East studies program. “If people have expressed support for a boycott, that would lead to a denial of a visa or residence. We’re concerned about this as a violation of free speech, freedom of conscience and specifically academic freedom.”

Brand continued, “It’s also really important to stress that there are many different forms of boycott out there, but this seems to put any sort of adoption or promotion of any kind of boycott into one basket. Someone who is calling for not buying products that are produced in a settlement is in the same category and subject to the same prohibition on travel or residence as someone who is calling for a broader sort of boycott.”

Opposition to the law has come from scholars with all sorts of positions on academic boycotts. Ilan Troen, the president of the Association for Israel Studies, said the group opposes the law “even as we are opposed to all forms of boycotting ideas and carriers of ideas.”

“Inhibiting the movement of scholars is fundamentally contrary to the values of an enlightened academy,” Troen, the Stoll Family Chair in Israel Studies at Brandeis University, said via email. “There are colleagues in MESA [the Middle East Studies Association] who would boycott all Israelis. Although the Israeli legislation is apparently more discriminating, it is no less obnoxious.”

"This law is a serious mistake," said Cary Nelson, a leading opponent of the academic boycott of Israel and emeritus professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Among those it could sweep into its reach are faculty members who support a two-state solution and believe in the legitimacy of a Jewish state but who also feel a boycott of West Bank products could promote the companion need for a Palestinian state. Whether one agrees or disagrees with them, Israel should honor their academic freedom, whereas this law dishonors it. There are faculty for whom Israel should consider barring entry, namely those who recruit for Hamas or other terrorist organizations, but not those who simply endorse BDS. Free speech in a democratic society has to encompass that right."

Nadia Abu El-Haj, a professor of anthropology at Barnard College of Columbia University and co-director of Columbia's Center for Palestine Studies, said the law “will have serious consequences for Palestine studies.” Abu El-Haj is a supporter of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and was among the leaders in the effort to push forward a resolution in the American Anthropological Association endorsing it (the resolution was narrowly rejected by the membership).

“Most international scholars who work on Palestine are signatories to the boycott -- and that says a lot about how experts understand the situation on the ground, including the most effective strategy for resisting the Israeli state,” said Abu El-Haj. “I have a colleague who left yesterday to attend a conference at Birzeit [University, in the West Bank] and who may well be turned around at the Tel Aviv airport. That is a fate that many a scholar -- and most especially, Palestinian scholars abroad -- will face from here on out.”

“It is now illegal for me to cross the Israeli border,” Abu El-Haj said. “I will not be able to go to Palestine to visit family, to attend a conference or to do research. That’s a serious matter -- especially for someone who has done nothing but support a nonviolent form of resistance to an extremely violent regime. If one cannot legitimately engage in even nonviolent resistance, what is left? Do we just stay silent and prioritize our academic careers at the expense of broader -- and far more important -- political and ethical commitments? That is not a choice I am willing to make.”

Cynthia Franklin, a professor of English at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and a member of the organizing collective for the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, said she is planning to teach at Al-Quds University, a Palestinian institution in the West Bank, next spring.

“I’m wondering if I’ll be able to go. At this point, it’s wait and see how they go about enforcing this,” she said. “I’ve been three times in the past four or five years. Each time I’m very fearful going through the airport, because I am easily searchable and identifiable with USACBI. This isn't a new problem; it’s just an intensification of an existing problem.”

A New York Times article on the new law noted that Israel has turned away travelers for political reasons in the past. In February the Times reported that Israel had denied a work visa for a researcher for Human Rights Watch on the grounds that the organization acts in the service of "Palestinian propaganda."

Adam Hanieh, a senior lecturer in development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London who was planning to speak at Birzeit University was denied entry to Israel in September for unspecified “public security or public safety or public order considerations.” Birzeit decried the denial as "part of a systematic policy of denial of entry to international academics, professionals and activists intending to visit Palestine.” Israel famously blocked the star academic and linguist Noam Chomsky -- a critic of Israel's policies -- from crossing into the West Bank from Jordan in 2010.

Supporters of the law banning entry to boycotters described it as a needed step to defend Israel from those who would hurt the state. The Washington Post quoted Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party and Israel's education minister, describing the measure as “necessary and logical.” Bennett said that “it lets Israel defend itself from those who wish it ill.”

Itai Bardov, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, in an interview with Inside Higher Ed distinguished between critics of Israeli policies and “people who are actively trying to cause real damage to Israel, whether it's economical damage, whether it’s to the basic rights of Israelis. They [those who are trying to cause real damage] could fall into this category of people who would not be allowed to enter Israel.”

“The BDS movement and this boycott campaign, they’re not calling for a dialogue, even a critical one, with Israel,” Bardov said. “They’re excluding any kind of dialogue with Israelis at all. One of their objectives is to damage Israel’s right to be an equal member of the international community.”

Writing for the blog Legal Insurrection, Miriam Elman, an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, described the ban as “a perfectly reasonable move for Israel to prevent foreigners from abusing tourist visas in order to try to destroy Israel.”

“Israel isn’t particularly unique in refusing entry to people determined to be threats to the state, but the law makes such bans more transparent because individuals would no longer be refused entry into Israel on a case-by-case basis, left solely up to the discretion of the government,” she wrote.

Some mainstream American Jewish organizations have raised concerns that the law is counterproductive to Israel's interests. “Every nation, of course, is entitled to regulate who can enter, and AJC, a longtime staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement, fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the state of Israel,” David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East it is, or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel.”

The Anti-Defamation League said on Twitter, "Israel’s democracy, pluralism, open society serve as best defense against #BDS. New law harms rather than helps."

Franklin, the member of USACBI's leadership, said that the entry law “exposes Israel’s claims to democracy as being very specious ones. It is a ban that actually extends to liberal Zionists, so I can’t help but wonder if this is going to end up building support for BDS in the long run -- given how extensive the ban is, and given that it is to me in contradiction of how a democratic state operates in that it should allow for some criticism of that state -- nonviolent criticism of that state.”

A group of Jewish studies scholars is also circulating an open letter opposing the law, to be distributed to press outlets today. The letter, which one organizer said had received 138 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, describes the entry law as “a further blow to the democratic foundations of Israel.”

“I personally am not a supporter of BDS, but I believe that Israeli governmental support for and expansion of the settlements is an ongoing crisis and threat to peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Mara Benjamin, an associate professor of religion at St. Olaf College and one of the organizers of the letter. “A ban that singles out people who have undertaken no violent action, only on the basis of diverse range of political positions, will have a chilling effect on scholarship (as well as on all people who care about having a healthy democracy in the state of Israel).”

“We don’t know how the law is going to be implemented, but I would say that our group contains a variety of political opinions -- probably ranging from those who are against any kind of boycott of Israel, to those who are in favor of a boycott of the settlements but not of the country as a whole, to those who are in favor of BDS altogether,” said David Biale, another organizer of the letter and the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis. “Certainly there are a lot of people like myself who favor a boycott of the settlements because we think they’re illegal and have said so, and that means that it is conceivable that the next time I go to the country -- such as for the World Congress of Jewish Studies this summer -- that I might not be allowed in. That is a real concern for those of us in the profession.”

"The real question of this law is: Is this just for propaganda reasons for the extreme right-wingers in Israel?" Biale asked. "Maybe it is; maybe they don’t intend to enforce it as it's written. They already have plenty of tools if they want to exclude people from coming in to agitate or organize. They have done that; they’ve excluded people in the past."

"The question is whether this law, if it really is enforced, takes it to an entirely different level, and that is to go after people like myself who are supporters of the state of Israel but happen to disagree quite vehemently about the present government," Biale said. "If you begin to do that, then I think you’ve kind of crossed the Rubicon, at least as far as American Jews are concerned."

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Common Application announces it will keep questions on criminal background and disciplinary history

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/10/2017 - 08:00

The Common Application announced Thursday that it will maintain questions about applicants' criminal background and disciplinary records, rejecting a push to drop the questions. At the same time, the Common Application -- the dominant player in competitive college admissions -- said that it would provide more context about the questions, including the ability of colleges to suppress answers to those questions.

Many colleges have for years included questions about criminal backgrounds and disciplinary records on their applications. The Common App has been asking about criminal records since 2006. In the last two years, however, many groups have been urging colleges to drop the question, noting the discrimination faced by young minority individuals in the criminal justice system and a lack of evidence that colleges are trained to analyze the answers or to tell whether someone in fact poses a threat because of a past criminal record.

The Education Department (under the Obama administration) urged colleges to reconsider their use of the question. Some Common App members urged the organization to do so. And the State University of New York in September decided, based in part on research that qualified students were not applying because of the question, to drop it.

The Common App's criminal question asks, "Have you ever been adjudicated guilty or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony?"

An email that the Common Application sent to members Thursday said of the criminal question that "the solution we implement must meet the diverse needs of our 700 members while also being responsive to the concerns of students and counselors. Specifically, we want to provide a solution that affords members the ability to ask what they are required to ask, either by institutional policy or state law; provides members the ability to describe their policy or practice if they do not wish to ask or use the question in their admission process; and that communicates requirements to students and counselors."

So the Common App will continue to require answers to the question but will add more information about how colleges may or may not use the question and stress that answering in the affirmative does not disqualify an applicant. (A similar approach is being used for disciplinary issues in high school).

Colleges will be able to say if and how they use the information and will continue to have an option to suppress, meaning they would not see the applicant's answers to the question. The option isn't new, but the Common App is planning to make it easier to figure out which institutions suppress. Currently about 50 of the Common App's 700 members do so.

Marsha Weissman, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Community Alternatives, a group that has criticized criminal record questions, said she was not impressed with the Common App's announcement.

"Many people who see the question just don't go down the road of finishing an application," she said. Weissman said that any college asking the question should be able to demonstrate that the answers on the question provide meaningful security to a campus and are not just based on stereotypes of those with a criminal record.

She said the additional information the Common App plans to provide would simply be "platitudes" and does not respond to the concerns her group and the Education Department have expressed.

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