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Higher Education News
Protest over speaker's views on race and crime prevents event from taking place as planned at Claremont McKenna
Students at the Claremont Colleges prevented most of the potential audience for a lecture by Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna College from entering the event Thursday night. Officials at the college decided that it would be dangerous to remove those protesting and so had the talk go on to a largely empty room while live-streaming the presentation.
The day before, Mac Donald was able to give a lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles, but the question period was interrupted by students, who chanted and took to the stage, making it impossible for Mac Donald to respond to questions at times.
Last week's disruptions come at a time of heightened debate in higher education and society about whether college students are intolerant of views with which they disagree. While this issue is not a new one, the shouting down of Charles Murray at Middlebury College last month intensified the discussion.
Murray and Mac Donald are both writers at conservative think tanks who are controversial in part for their views on race. Murray, of the American Enterprise Institute, is co-author of The Bell Curve and has been widely condemned for promoting views about race and intelligence that many say are racist and based on faulty social science.
Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, attracted controversy after the 2016 publication of her book The War on Cops. In the book, she criticizes the Black Lives Matter movement and says criminals have been "emboldened" by the scrutiny of police shootings. She writes that police are the single group in society protecting black people from "criminals and gangbangers" and that the police deserve more support, not more scrutiny.
Video of the protest at Claremont McKenna shows students surrounding the building where the lecture took place and blocking entry. (By the time the protests started, Mac Donald was already in a suite with a path to the building that was not visible to those protesting.) Students shouted various chants, such as "Shut it down," "Black lives matter" and "From Oakland to Greece, fuck the police." About 250 students were involved, some of them from Claremont McKenna and some from other Claremont Colleges.
A group claiming responsibility for the protest said it was organized by minority students at the Claremont Colleges, and said that it was wrong to permit Claremont McKenna's institute for state and local government to "host the notorious white supremacist fascist Heather Mac Donald. As a community, we cannot and will not allow fascism to have a platform."
"Mac Donald openly advocates and encourages mass incarceration of black and brown folks in the U.S. by explicitly stating racist constructions of 'black crime.' As the Amerikkkan [sic] state monopolizes violence, the judicial system is a branch of many institutions that protect the interests of rich white supremacists," the statement says.
On the issue of free speech, the statement says, "The way fascism is masked as 'free speech' is not any 'normal' exercise of constitutional power. White supremacists such as Heather Mac Donald claim protection from free speech as an exercise of constitutional rights forgetting that the Constitution was created by slave owners." (The group's statement did not include contact information, so Inside Higher Ed was unable to interview the protesters who issued it.)
Hiram E. Chodosh, president of Claremont McKenna, released a statement in which he said that he made the decision to have the event go on without taking immediate action against those who blocked access to most of those who wanted to attend.
"Based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff and guests. I take full responsibility for the decision to err on the side of these overriding safety considerations," Chodosh wrote.
He also criticized the protest for preventing people from seeing a speaker talk.
"Blocking access to buildings violates college policy. CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable. We will also give a full report to the other Claremont Colleges, who have responsibility for their own students," he wrote. "Finally, the breach of our freedoms to listen to views that challenge us and to engage in dialogue about matters of controversy is a serious, ongoing concern we must address effectively. Accordingly, we will be developing new strategies for how best to protect open, safe access to our events."
Chodosh also questioned whether the tactic of blocking the event was effective. He said that about 250 people viewed the event live (online) and 1,400 have viewed the video since, far more than might have attended the lecture. "In the end, the effort to silence her voice effectively amplified it to a much larger audience," he wrote.
At the beginning of her talk on the livestream, Mac Donald thanked the college "for not disinviting me" and then asked why those chanting "Black Lives Matter" outside did not seem to share her concern about young black children killed by gang members and other criminals.
In an interview with Inside Higher Ed Sunday, Mac Donald said colleges need to realize that when students talk about shutting down an event, they will try to do so. "Campus police are very reluctant to arrest the little darlings, so if that's the case, they have to have police using commanding presence to make such blocking impossible."
Beyond the police, Mac Donald said that faculty members need to be more engaged in making sure speakers of all views are not blocked from expressing their views. Mac Donald said she appreciated statements in support of free speech, such as the one organized by Robert P. George of Princeton University and Cornel West of Harvard University.
But she said that was not enough and that professors should be on the front lines, telling students why free speech is important and helping to make sure that protests are not disruptive and do not prevent people from hearing a speaker.
"I think this should be a wake-up call to the faculty across the country," Mac Donald said of recent disruptions of speakers. "They have been given the extraordinary privilege of tenure to protect their own freedom of speech and thought," she said. But when the free speech of campus visitors is challenged, "the faculty are by in large missing in action."
At UCLA, the campus Republican group invited Mac Donald, and her lecture may be seen here.
She ends her talk shortly after minute 32 of the video and tries to shift to the question period. That's when chanting begins. At one point about 15 minutes after the chanting starts, the event organizers got some of those protesting to line up to ask questions. But the chanting resumed when Mac Donald started to answer the questions.
UCLA officials did not respond to a request for comment on what happened during the question period.
Mac Donald is scheduled to appear later this month at Miami University of Ohio.
Editorial Tags: Academic freedomDiscriminationDiversity MattersImage Caption: Students protest outside site of Heather Mac Donald speech.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 1Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
As movements to protest and silence controversial campus speakers have become common, the president of a new Harvard University student group intends to “saturate” the campus with those types of talks -- to challenge established ideologies that he said administrators there blatantly promote.
Open Campus Initiative was organized this year, its president, Harvard sophomore Conor Healy, said in an interview Friday.
Already, the group of roughly 25 students, Healy said, has secured commitments from two right-leaning, controversial figures to address the campus. One, writer Charles Murray, made headlines in March after his lecture at Middlebury College was drowned out by student chants, forcing him to stop. Murray is often accused of promoting racist ideals. Open Campus Initiative has not yet pegged a day for his talk.
The pick of Murray was deliberate, Healy said. He was horrified by the disruptions at Middlebury and said he wanted to prove Harvard could serve as a role model institution for free expression.
“Most of the community wants to hear from the people we’re inviting, they want to critique them, ask them hard questions, and they’re willing to be convinced,” Healy said. “If they’re not convinced, their perception of the truth can be reinforced by the opposing view.”
The other speaker, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, is due to lead a discussion this week. Late last month, Peterson also faced protesters -- equipped with cowbells and air horns -- at his speaking engagement at McMaster University in Ontario. Peterson has been criticized for his perspective on gender identity. He has rejected a Canadian policy that would have offered protections for gender nonconforming people and refuses to use gender-neutral descriptors, such as "they" as a singular pronoun, as a matter of policy.
Healy debated whether to invite ex-Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a deeply divisive media personality who resigned from the conservative website in February after a video emerged of him seemingly endorsing sexual relationships between men and underage boys. But Healy said Yiannopoulos has been known to occasionally heckle students from stage.
“That’s not really what we’re about,” Healy said.
Healy said the group also intends to ask liberal speakers to visit campus.
Inspiration for the group came after Healy enrolled in a freshman seminar course on free speech last year. A Canadian, Healy was struck by the integral part that freedom of expression played in America’s history and found himself mulling what he considered to be threats to open dialogue on Harvard’s campus.
Healy, who subscribes to libertarian philosophies, including a distaste for government interference in people’s personal lives, said some students try to curtail opposing viewpoints with “shut it down” mentality and behaviors.
Ousted pharmaceutical mogul Martin Shkreli came to Harvard in February, but his scheduled speech was halted when someone intentionally set off the fire alarm in the building. Protesters later interrupted Shkreli, who has been indicted on federal stock fraud charges, but he did continue with his talk.
Healy attended that event and said he was offended that other students would try to completely shut down Shkreli.
“That is so profoundly misguided in my opinion,” Healy said.
Dangers to First Amendment rights manifest in other ways, and the Harvard administration seems to endorse left-leaning values, Healy said.
He referenced a December 2015 controversy, in which Harvard distributed laminated place mats in the dining halls with tips on how to address hot-button issues with family members during the holidays. The Harvard Undergraduate Council wrote at the time that university officials shouldn’t prescribe “party-line” talking points for such concepts as Islamophobia.
“We do not think the offices of the university should be in the business of disseminating ‘approved’ positions on complex and divisive political issues,” the council wrote.
Administrators later apologized for the “Holiday Place Mat for Social Justice.”
Helene Lovett, a sophomore involved with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer groups on campus, has organized a demonstration against the Peterson event. Outside, students will be "aggressively" handing out fliers and flags representing the transgender community.
Inside at the talk, Lovett hopes that students will hold up those flags when Peterson says something "problematic." This way they won't disrupt his narrative, but it will be a way to demonstrate silently, she said.
Lovett said she disagrees with Healy's interpretation that free speech is squashed on campus.
"I’m not willing to buy that students feel more threatened that they can’t speak than compared to the threats that marginalized communities feel every day," she said.
Rachael Dane, a university spokeswoman, said in an email that the university does not necessarily approve or endorse an independent student organization’s goals, activities or viewpoints.
“Independent student organizations are independent and distinct from Harvard University. The college’s recognition of, and provision of benefits and privileges to, an independent student organization does mean that the independent student organization is a unit of the university or controlled by the university. The university is not responsible for an independent student organization’s contracts or other acts or omissions,” Dane said.
The faculty adviser to Open Campus Initiative, Harry R. Lewis, a former dean of the college, said he was traveling and declined an interview Friday.
For the Peterson event, the group has paid for two security officers and five officers from the campus police force, costing about $1,000, Healy said. He anticipates “some sort of problem,” though not to the same level as Murray’s Middlebury talk.
Thus far, the group has raised about $9,000, Healy said, donations largely from disgruntled Harvard alumni who agree that the campus climate has become too restrictive. Its fund-raising goal is $100,000 by the end of next semester, Healy said.Editorial Tags: Academic freedomActivismImage Caption: Conor HealyIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
As the Trump administration maintains radio silence related to the suspension of a data tool that's key to the financial aid application process, some researchers have found evidence suggesting the tool's removal may be contributing to a slowdown in application rates. And aid advisers say the more burdensome application process has delayed college decisions for many students.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Education announced last month -- after more than a week of questions from financial aid officers and advocacy groups -- that they had taken down the data retrieval tool that allows users to automatically import their family's income information into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In a more recent update, the administration said the tool could be unavailable until the beginning of the next aid cycle. Student advocates warned that without the site, the FAFSA application process would be slowed for students, who also would face more income verification checks after completing the applications.
Nick Hillman, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has worked with Ellie Bruecker, a graduate student at the university, to track the effects of the tool's closure with recent data from the Office of Federal Student Aid. They said it's hard to compare this aid application cycle to previous years because of two important changes -- the earlier application period that began Oct. 1, and the use of income data from two years prior. But the data for first-time FAFSA filers suggest that the tool's suspension may have contributed to a slowdown in applications last month.
States with March priority aid deadlines typically see an uptick of FAFSA applications as students submit at the last minute, followed by a sharp drop-off in applications. But the researchers spotted similar downward trends even in states without March deadlines.
"We're also seeing states where we would not expect to see that drop are tracking right along with them," Bruecker said.
Hillman said it's not clear that the removal of the tool is driving a slowdown in applications. But he said it definitely doesn't help.
About half of all FAFSA applicants used the data retrieval tool in 2014-15. That number jumped to 56 percent last October, the first month of the new, earlier aid cycle.
Hillman said he's concerned about the rate to which FAFSA applications have slowed throughout the overall aid cycle after a strong start in that month.
Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network, said she was confident that total applications this year would match the previous cycle. She pointed to numbers showing that applications by April had already reached 91 percent of last year's total. But Warick said the whole point of changes like the early FAFSA timeline and the use of earlier income data was to encourage more students to apply for aid.
"Our goal is to not just to meet last year's numbers but certainly to increase them," she said.
Hassles for Students
Financial aid professionals who work directly with students said the data tool's outage already is hurting students' ability to obtain aid. That's because even a delay of a couple weeks while the verification process is underway can mean students miss out on institutional and state grant aid.
"Literally every day that goes by, you have a chance of not getting aid you're eligible for," said Austin Buchan, the CEO of College Forward, a nonprofit in Austin, Tex., that helps underserved students access financial aid.
Unlike the Pell Grant program, which is an entitlement for low-income students, states and colleges have limited amounts of aid to distribute to eligible students. Students stuck in limbo for days or weeks after their application is selected for verification could miss out on those opportunities, experts said.
Cheryl Jones, program director of the Access College Foundation, which works with students in southeastern Virginia high schools, said qualifying low-income students will receive a Pell Grant and a federal student loan regardless of when that process is completed. But she said losing out on an institutional scholarship because of delays related to the FAFSA could mean the difference between a student attending Old Dominion University or Virginia Wesleyan University and a local community college.
"That's the aggravating thing," Jones said. "This could bridge the gap of that student not having to pay a dime for four years."
And the fast approaching May 1 decision day for students is when settling questions about financial aid becomes even more important.
Groups like Access College are, as a matter of course, requesting a tax transcript for applicants as soon as they complete and file the FAFSA. But the transcript, which is required for verification checks, can take between eight and 10 days to arrive by mail. Adding to the challenges for advisers on high school and college campuses are new requirements unrelated to the data retrieval tool's outage for non-tax filer verification. This year students whose parents' incomes are so low they do not file income taxes have been required to submit verification of nonfiler status.
Ann Hendrick, director of Get2College, a nonprofit that works with high school students across Mississippi, said some FAFSA applicants have received verification notices from colleges advising them to use the data retrieval tool to address verification issues.
"If that language is still on the colleges' and universities' verification documents, it creates more confusion," she said.
The slow adjustment of standardized forms from colleges points to a larger problem for financial aid counselors -- the lack of action from the federal government to alleviate the suspension of the tool.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen told lawmakers last week that 8,000 fraudulent tax refunds were issued by the agency after a security breach of the website, which prompted the shutdown. National financial aid groups as well as members of Congress have acknowledged the importance of those security concerns while calling on the Education Department and the IRS to ease the burden on affected students with steps like more prominently notifying applicants of the tool's availability and adjusting criteria for income verification checks.
Last week, the National Governors Association issued its own call for a more proactive response. Groups like Jones's Access College Foundation, which work with students who are renewing their FAFSA on college campuses as well as with high school seniors, are as frustrated with what they see as the lack of response to those requests.
"We want some real answers. We want some real action to start taking place so these kids can get what they need," Jones said.Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Education DepartmentFinancial aidIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
A tweet from George Ciccariello-Maher, a Drexel University faculty member, is outraging many people. That has happened before.
This time, the Drexel Faculty Senate is reviewing the situation. Although the faculty body's president did not respond to requests to discuss the matter, Ciccariello-Maher said that the inquiries raise concerns about his academic freedom. The inquiries, he said (and other faculty sources confirmed), focus on whether his public comments have played a role in Drexel losing potential donations and prospective students.
Ciccariello-Maher, associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel, was much in the news when many academics were on vacation over a Christmas Eve tweet in which he said, "All I want for Christmas is white genocide." Drexel condemned the tweet on Christmas Day, prompting some advocates for academic freedom to criticize the university's reaction. In January Drexel issued a longer statement recognizing the tweet as "protected speech." Ciccariello-Maher said the tweet should not have been taken literally since he is on record as saying that there is no such thing as white genocide.
This time around, Ciccariello-Maher is being criticized for a tweet (not visible to most, as he has made his account private) about his reaction when he was on a flight and saw a passenger in first class give up his seat. "Some guy in first class gave up his seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I'm trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul." The reference to Mosul was to a March air strike by U.S. forces that The Washington Post reported "could potentially rank among one of the most devastating attacks on civilians by American forces in more than two decades."
In subsequent comments, Ciccariello-Maher said he wasn't trying to attack that particular solider, but to question the way many Americans make symbolic gestures of support for the military without examining military actions, or demanding that the United States provide sufficient health care and support for other needs of veterans and active duty military.
Drexel issued the following statement as many on social media condemned Ciccariello-Maher and called for him to be fired. "The recent social media comments by George Ciccariello-Maher … were made outside the classroom, are his own opinion and do not represent the university’s views. Drexel is committed to and vigorously supports our ROTC students, students on active duty and reserve, and students, faculty, staff and alumni who have served in the military. Our support for military-affiliated members of our community has helped us create an inclusive campus culture that honors service and Drexel’s deep connection to American military history."
But while the university's statement fits the standard approach of an institution disassociating itself from a faculty member's controversial statement, the Faculty Senate -- led by one or two members -- has opened an inquiry into the impact Ciccariello-Maher has had on the university.
Ciccariello-Maher, via email, confirmed reports that he recently received a letter from the Faculty Senate asking questions about his activities and their impact.
He said senate leaders have been unclear whether a committee will review his circumstances or not, and that any investigation "clearly violates my academic freedom since there is no suggestion that my teaching or research is unsatisfactory."
Further, he said, "The university is seeing prospective students withdraw their acceptance to attend, and financial donors freeze forthcoming gifts -- and they are laying these at my feet as proof that I have done something wrong, without connecting the two in any way." He said that these were "troubling" developments.
The American Association of University Professors declined to comment on the situation. But AAUP policy generally says that colleges should not take any action against faculty members on the basis of comments outside their work capacities. And the limited circumstances in which the AAUP would authorize reviews that might punish a faculty member do not make mention of an impact on enrollment or fund-raising.
AAUP policy states, “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.”
Drexel declined to comment on the inquiries into the tweets and their impact.Editorial Tags: Academic freedomSocial media/networkingImage Caption: George Ciccariello-MaherIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
In what proponents are calling a historic move, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders announced a deal Saturday that will make tuition free at the City University of New York and State University of New York Systems -- for both community colleges and four-year colleges and universities -- for families with annual incomes up to $125,000. The plan will be phased in over three years, starting this fall with new enrollees from families with incomes up to $100,000.
The governor's office estimates that nearly 940,000 families in New York State will be eligible for free public college tuition when the plan is fully phased in.
The announcement from the governor also noted a "generous maintenance of effort" provision to protect SUNY and CUNY budgets. The provision is designed to address the fear of some educators that free tuition could reduce the pressure to provide adequate budgets to public higher education.
At the same time, a last-minute addition to the bill is alarming some student aid experts, including advocates for free public college tuition. The agreement requires those who receive free tuition to live and work in the state for the same number of years that they receive the awards. If they do not, the scholarships would convert to student loans. The requirement may be deferred if recipients leave the state to complete their undergraduate education, to enroll in graduate school or because of "extreme hardship."
The budget deal also contains two other measures related to college affordability:
Revival of Free Tuition and the Public-Private Split
The action in New York represents a revival of the free tuition concept -- which featured prominently in the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton last year and then was widely seen as dead after Donald Trump defeated Clinton in November. But Cuomo -- with Sanders at his side -- proposed a version of the plan in January and fought hard for it in negotiations with legislative leaders. Sanders, meanwhile, has also introduced a new version of his free-tuition plan in the U.S. Senate.
Cuomo also battled against private colleges in New York State, most of which opposed the plan. Many New York private colleges largely enroll state residents, and some of these colleges' leaders have feared a loss of enrollment to the SUNY and CUNY systems. Generally, the plan was a tougher sell for Cuomo in the Senate than in the Assembly. But major legislative initiatives in New York tend to be adopted or rejected as part of the overall state budget -- and in this case the Cuomo proposal made it into the final deal.
Many private college leaders opposed the Clinton and Sanders free-tuition plans, and a similar split played out in New York.
On Saturday, as college leaders studied the legislative language, reactions split between public and private institutions.
Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York, said she thought the new policy was "extraordinary" and would lead to dramatic shifts in college attendance in the state. She said too many in New York and elsewhere "have blown through their aid attending for-profit schools and leaving without skills." The free-tuition model will "change the discussion" in the state and attract many more students to community college, she believes. "This is going to change the college-going culture," she said, "by taking tuition off the table."
Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York, said she too expects the greatest impact at community colleges, which the vast majority of students attend without room and board costs. But she said that New York State had also changed the free-tuition discussion by including four-year public institutions.
"We may be on the precipice" of a new era, of promoting the idea that many more people need a four-year education than have earned bachelor's degrees in the past, and this would be a historic shift, she said.
Zimpher also noted that the bill includes requirements that students enroll full time and maintain minimum grade point averages. This will "move the completion dial," she said.
But for Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, the news was "dispiriting."
"There is a clear divide in the way students will be treated, depending on whether they go to a public or private institution," she said, adding that the Cuomo plan is poor public policy, given the excellent outcomes for those who attend private colleges.
As to the new funds for private college students, Labate said she wasn't sure that many institutions would find the program viable. She said the requirement that colleges freeze tuition for students when they first receive the aid would appear to mean colleges would end up with different tuition rates for students in different classes, and would have to track the students.
"This would be bureaucratically difficult," she said. "Colleges would have to ask if it was worth it."
The Requirement to Stay in the State
As news of the budget deal spread, one provision drew criticism from advocates for free public higher education. That is the provision that would require recipients to work or live in the state after graduation for the same number of years that they receive support (which presumably would be up to four years, given the requirements that students enroll full time).
Sara Goldrick-Rab, one such advocate and a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, posted a series of highly critical tweets on the provision, calling it "extortion," "bad public policy" and a "trick." Other aid experts agreed.
Indeed, historically, many scholars of aid policy have said that trying to "tether" students to states won't work, and that graduates will follow jobs elsewhere. But many of those debates have been about states such as Maine that have been losing recent college graduates to other states with more jobs.
SUNY and CUNY, unlike many public systems in other states, have not heavily pushed out-of-state recruitment. As a result, both systems overwhelmingly enroll New York State residents and report that 80-plus percent (higher for CUNY and high for most community colleges) stay in the state after graduation.
Marc Cohen, president of the SUNY Student Assembly, said that his group believes public higher education should be free "without strings," and that he would not want a recent SUNY or CUNY graduate to pay a financial cost "for taking a great job out of the state."
At the same time, he said that he didn't see the provision having an impact on most students. "New York State is the greatest state in the union, and there are great opportunities here," said Cohen, a master's student at (and undergraduate alumnus of) SUNY's Albany campus.
Cohen said the big story was really about the opportunities free tuition would provide. "An affordable and accessible higher education will now be available to many more people," he said. Cohen said he saw the program "propelling New York State to being the leader in public higher education."
What Wasn't in the Bill
The free tuition plan is now part of the New York State budget. As lobbying over Cuomo's proposal intensified, debate was most fraught over two proposals that were not in the final deal.
One was proposed by Cuomo. That was to impose limits on how much private colleges could increase tuition if they wanted in-state students to remain eligible for grants under the Tuition Assistance Program, which is one of the most generous student aid programs in the country. Private college officials said that the tuition limits were inappropriate to impose on colleges, whose independence should include the right to set their own tuition rates. While New York State's private colleges include some relatively well-endowed institutions that attract national student bodies, most of the colleges depend on tuition for their budgets and enroll almost entirely students from within the state.
The other was an idea -- rumored in the last two weeks -- that the state would pay for free tuition in part with a 10 percent tax on unrestricted gifts to SUNY campuses. This idea (which Cuomo said he opposed) worried many SUNY leaders. But this, too, was not in the final deal.
An Old Idea/A New Idea
Free tuition for public higher education is not a new idea. Many public colleges -- including City College of CUNY -- were founded that way. For a time, all of CUNY was tuition-free, but that ended in 1976, with New York City facing a fiscal crisis.
The idea was always on the wish list of various activist groups but was largely dismissed by political leaders as unrealistic.
Then in 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, proposed and quickly won approval for making community college free in his state. It was the Tennessee plan that led President Obama to propose in 2015 a state-federal partnership that would have made community college free in participating states.
Congress never acted on the Obama proposal, but many individual community college districts -- in particular in California -- have embraced the idea with a variety of approaches to free community college.Editorial Tags: College costs/pricesNew YorkImage Caption: Governor Andrew Cuomo Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Laura Brooks Rice remembers being overwhelmed on her first day as a faculty member at Westminster Choir College.
It was 1985, and the college was holding its opening convocation in the Bristol Chapel on campus in Princeton, N.J. Attendees began singing, as is traditional at the choir college’s events. Rice recalls their voices rising for the hymn “Come, Labor On” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” also known as the Lutkin Benediction.
She was amazed.
“I’ve never been in an institution where people knew to go into four-part harmony,” said Rice, who is a professor of voice at Westminster. “It’s such an amazing thing to experience that sense of knowing each other, knowing what to do.”
Rice’s story is one of many she and other faculty members can tell about Westminster, a college deeply proud of its extensive history. The college’s choirs have performed under a long list of prestigious conductors and with major orchestras from across the country and around the world. Faculty members tell stories of preparing for those performances on the college’s 23-acre campus. It is clear they believe in a special bond with the grounds.
“People feel it,” Rice said. “People remember it. It is a sacred place because of the level of music making that has happened here.”
The bond continued even after financially strapped Westminster merged into better-off Rider College in 1992. Westminster continued operating on its own campus, about seven miles away from Rider’s much larger Lawrenceville location.
So perhaps it should not have come as a surprise that faculty members, students and alumni recently fought the idea of moving Westminster away from its longtime home. They spent the last several months resisting such a relocation after their parent institution -- known today as Rider University and now facing its own financial struggles -- said it was examining moving Westminster to Lawrenceville as part of cost-cutting efforts.
Westminster’s backers secured a temporary stay on the push to move the college late last month when Rider announced it would instead try to sell the choir college. But the uncertainty over Westminster’s future is far from over. Rider’s administration is still seeking significant changes to address budget gaps, enrollment struggles and rising tuition discounting. While university leaders would prefer to sell Westminster and its land as a package, they will consider divesting of them separately if necessary -- a move that would most likely require the college to relocate its operations.
The decision to openly sell a nonprofit college and its land is all but unheard of in higher education. It is also noteworthy in light of current trends toward consolidations between colleges and universities that are seeking to overcome financial difficulties and meet changing student demands. Some wonder if the situation at Rider and Westminster could be a harbinger of a future where changes in higher education don’t just take the form of programmatic tweaks, closures and mergers, but instead assume a wider range of forms including asset sales, spin-offs and a frequently changing stream of affiliations.
“This is such virgin territory,” said Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. “These kinds of transactions don’t take place, although it’s going to probably become more common in the future than it currently is.”
Together for 25 Years
Fully understanding the cracks in the union between Rider and Westminster today requires a knowledge of the circumstances under which they were wed. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Westminster, an independent college tracing its history back to the 1920s, faced an existential crisis. It was saddled with falling enrollment, degenerating facilities in Princeton and heavy debt. One college official would later recall that she had an announcement sitting ready on her desk to say that the college would be going into bankruptcy.
Several institutions reportedly expressed interest in a merger, including Drew University, Yale University and the Juilliard School of the Performing Arts. Rider, which was a fast-growing college known for its business school, ultimately became the merging partner. Officials at the time said Rider won over Westminster because of its nearby location and strong financial position -- and because it was willing to allow the choir college to stay in Princeton. The merger took place in 1992 after a year of affiliation.
“The Rider board took a calculated risk by assuming Westminster’s debts,” Rider’s president at the time, J. Barton Luedeke, told The New York Times. Rider would go on to achieve university status in 1994.
By 1996, officials told the Times that Westminster, which had 350 students, was not losing money. They discussed some cost cutting that had taken place at Westminster, but by all accounts Rider put money into the choir college’s campus and facilities and raised its faculty members’ pay over time. It also gave Westminster access to the benefits of scale.
“Rider eliminated the need to have a separate admissions office, a separate finance office, a separate financial aid office,” said John Wilson, president and CEO of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey. “All of those things were improvements so that Westminster could concentrate on what it does best, which is to educate people for music careers.” (Update: While the head of Westminster admissions and financial aid reports to a senior Rider administrator, there is still a physical office on the Princeton campus.)
Still, the idea of moving Westminster the roughly seven miles from Princeton to Lawrenceville surfaced with relative frequency. Officials have considered a move numerous times over the years, and the market value of Westminster’s Princeton campus, estimated in the millions, has often been mentioned. But so has the potentially greater expense of moving Westminster’s pianos and pipe organs, and of building facilities in Lawrenceville that would be soundproof and acoustically appropriate.
Westminster never moved. But the idea of relocating it to Lawrenceville surfaced again in late 2016, just over a year after Dell’Omo took over as Rider’s president. The university is no longer a growing institution flush with cash. Now it is seeking to close projected budget deficits while finding funding to start new programs and stanch a downward flow of enrollment.
Rider again studied moving Westminster to Lawrenceville. Rounds of protests followed, spilling into 2017. Thousands signed online petitions. A group of alumni and students fought the move with efforts including a 24-hour music marathon.
Then, at the end of March, Rider announced its decision to sell Westminster instead of moving it to Lawrenceville. The university expects to spend a year trying to make the sale. Leaders say they have been in touch with interested parties but declined to share those parties’ names.
It was a reprieve of sorts for supporters who want to keep Westminster on its longtime campus. It also left Rider, its Board of Trustees and Westminster backers in relatively uncharted territory.
“None of us saw this coming,” said Constance Fee, president of a group called the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton Inc. “I think we are all -- the board, the university, the coalition -- we are all trying to regroup and refocus.”
Fee earned her bachelor’s degree from Westminster and went on to a multiyear opera career in Europe. Today, she is the director of vocal studies at Roberts Wesleyan College outside of Rochester, N.Y. She is also the president of the Alumni Association of Westminster Choir College.
The idea of moving Westminster from its current campus is like the idea of uprooting a tree, Fee said. It might be technically possible, but she thinks it would also probably be fatal for the university.
The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton wants a seat at the table throughout the upcoming sale process. A year is a deceptively short period of time, Fee said. It could go quickly. She and the coalition are ready to fight against any potential sale that looks like a bad deal from Westminster’s perspective.
“We want Rider to survive and thrive, but they can’t, financially, right now, support us in the way they need to,” she said. “And they need money themselves to save their own institution.”
Breaking Up a University
At its most basic level, the decision to sell Westminster is an attempt to loosen constraints on Rider’s operating budget while also providing an infusion of cash. The university posted a deficit of about $3 million last year and is projecting another deficit this year, Dell’Omo said.
Dell’Omo (left) became Rider’s president in August 2015 after serving as president of Robert Morris University for 10 years, during which time he was credited with fund-raising and building successes, growing enrollment, and swinging Robert Morris from a largely commuter institution to a predominantly residential one. He soon started a strategic planning process at Rider and arrived at the conclusion that the university needs to deal with both long-term and short-term challenges.
Rider's full-time undergraduate enrollment peaked in 2009 at about 4,000 students, Dell’Omo said. It has since fallen by several hundred students -- a troubling trend at a tuition-dependent university like Rider, even though the university has another 1,200 graduate students.
When Dell’Omo arrived at Rider, the freshman class was about 865, he said. The 2016 freshman class was 880, and the 2017 freshman class is looking like it could be even larger. But Dell’Omo wants to grow the class to 1,000 if possible.
The current growth in freshman class size has also come with a trade-off: increased tuition discounting. In 2016, the university’s freshman discount rate was 53 percent -- the university’s posted tuition and fees for the 2016-17 year total $39,080. The incoming freshman class will likely have a tuition discount rate of about 57 percent.
“If we don’t do some new things, restructure some things, we know we’re going to have deficits running out for probably a number of years,” Dell’Omo said. “That’s just not sustainable. It’s not appropriate.”
On top of those pressures, Rider faces high costs compared to other universities, Dell’Omo said. He’s looking into ways to save. Shortly after he arrived, Rider moved to cut majors and jobs but changed course after faculty balked at the plans. The university’s faculty union instead agreed to concessions and a two-year wage freeze.
Even as the budget tightens, Rider needs cash to develop high-demand programs in areas like science, engineering and technology, Dell’Omo said. It needs to invest in its residence halls and academic facilities.
“It becomes pretty apparent we have to do things differently, both the cost side of the equation as well as revenue enhancement of the university, new programs and other ways we might be able to monetize some of our assets,” Dell’Omo said.
The situation has contributed to high tensions between Rider’s president and unionized faculty members. The faculty union is preparing for a vote of no confidence in Dell’Omo next week. Faculty members are concerned about a number of issues, such as the near layoffs in 2015. Their current contract also expires at the end of August.
Faculty members’ mood is “pretty dim,” according to Art Taylor, an information systems professor at Rider and the president of the university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He did point out, though, that some faculty members have defended Dell’Omo.
There is nothing unique about disagreements between faculty members and administrations at colleges and universities. Nor is it odd to see colleges and universities trying to balance budget cuts against the need to spend to grow revenue in the current environment. Rider joins a host of other universities in walking that tightrope, including another private liberal arts institution in New Jersey that is struggling with its budget, Drew University.
What is different about Rider, however, is its new approach with Westminster. It is virtually unprecedented for a nonprofit university to put a college up for sale, Taylor said.
“In higher ed, the reason you’ve never heard of that is because people don’t buy programs,” Taylor said. “Certainly they might acquire them, take them on. But based on my research and research of other AAUP leaders, there’s just no record of anybody exchanging cash.”
Questions remain about whether Westminster is too expensive for Rider to operate. University administrators have never offered a detailed public disclosure laying out the costs associated with running the choir college, Taylor said.
Westminster isn’t a major drain on Rider’s overall finances, but it typically runs at a deficit, Dell’Omo said. Separate campuses are expensive to maintain, although the president declined to share the exact size of Westminster’s deficits.
It is common for for-profit companies to acquire businesses, hold them for several years, and then spin them off or flip them to another owner, said Larry Ladd, national director for the higher education practice at accounting and advising firm Grant Thornton. Merger-and-acquisition activity was also high among for-profit higher education operators before the for-profit sector crashed, he said. Large for-profit operators have completed acquisitions and sales around the world.
Nonprofit higher education in the United States is a different story. Issues with institutional values make mergers harder to consider and complete. Those factors also make mergers harder to reverse.
“It’s not about the business case, it’s about the identity and mission,” Ladd said. “And so the ones that have become part of larger institutions have become convinced they have no viable path to sustainability.”
Ladd resisted the idea that Rider’s attempt to move on from Westminster signals a failed merger. The combination seemed to work for a quarter of a century, he said.
“Presumably, for many years, this was a success for Rider, but times have changed,” Ladd said. “It doesn’t say mergers are failing. It says mergers can succeed or fail. Or mergers can succeed at one point.”
What Happens Next?
The sudden uncertainty surrounding Westminster’s campus and its future comes at a time when many of the choir college’s faculty members had been feeling optimistic. They acknowledged that music education is highly labor-intensive, even for higher education. And they acknowledged that graduates may have fewer job prospects than they did decades ago as funding for the arts is in flux nationally, the number of traditional churches dwindles and music education often finds itself on the chopping block.
Even so, several faculty members said Westminster’s finances appeared more stable than they were 25 years ago. The choir college, which had no endowment to speak of in the 1980s, now has an endowment of about $20 million -- part of Rider’s approximately $50 million overall endowment. The choir college enrolls 320 undergraduates and 119 graduate students. Faculty members say they’ve adapted to prepare students for the challenges of today’s musical world.
Further, the Princeton campus has seen an infusion of donor money in recent years. It has led to millions of dollars in renovations and the construction in 2014 of the first new building to go up on campus in almost 40 years.
“In the last couple of years, for our campus, it’s been just a boom,” said Joel Phillips, a professor of composition and music theory. “We have the international acclaim we’ve always had. If anything, it’s better than it’s ever been. We’re really sort of at the top of our game right now.”
Speculation over how the college and campus will be sold is developing. The Times of Trenton editorial board suggested nearby Princeton University should buy Westminster and its campus, although a Princeton spokesperson told the newspaper the move was not in line with its mission. Princeton Public Schools signaled interest in buying the choir college’s campus, but that would likely require Westminster’s operations to move elsewhere. Dell'Omo told The Philadelphia Inquirer when the decision to seek a sale was announced that Rider would search for a nonprofit institution but that international and for-profit operations could also be considered.
Such a move would be expensive, Phillips said. Westminster has well over 100 pianos, multiple pipe organs and several rehearsal spaces that would be hard to move or duplicate.
“The appropriate facilities would probably cost $60 million,” Phillips said. “There is literally no place you could put us unless somebody said, ‘Two years from now we’ll open a $60 million facility.’”
Fee, the president of the Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton, would not rule out the possibility of Westminster continuing to operate on its campus under a different model. When asked whether she thought the college could survive as a stand-alone institution, she said it would have to work with other organizations. Westminster could theoretically draw needed operational support from a foundation, a wealthy donor or another institution, she said.
Although Westminster has spent the majority of its history in Princeton, it should be noted that the college has moved in its past. It traces its history to the founding of the Westminster Choir at a Presbyterian church in Dayton, Ohio, in 1920. Westminster Choir College was established and moved to Ithaca College in upstate New York in 1929. It moved again to Princeton in 1932.
There is also some recent precedent for institutions trying to sell campuses. For instance, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School last year agreed to sell its 24-acre upstate New York campus, which had become too large for its operations. A development company buying the property recently shared plans to construct a new building on the grounds and lease space there to the divinity school by the start of the 2018 academic year. Developers also want to convert an existing four-story Gothic building on campus into a hotel. But Westminster finds itself in a different situation since, as part of a larger university, it does not control its own campus and potential sale conditions.
Westminster’s faculty members, meanwhile, say they will work to attract new students and keep the college where it is. The message is clear: come, labor on.
“We’re going to be here next year,” said Rice, the professor of voice. “I firmly believe we’re going to be here after that. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have faith.”Editorial Tags: ArtsCollege administrationImage Source: Rider UniversityImage Caption: The Westminster Schola Cantorum is one of three curricular choirs at Westminster Choir College, which has been roiled by debate over whether it will have to move from its longtime campus.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Some 500 graduate students and postdocs, along with faculty members, alumni and leaders from nonprofits, government and business will gather at the University of Chicago’s International House today for its annual GradUCon. Like Comic-Con and other fan conventions, Chicago’s event is meant for those who love academics -- but not necessarily those who want to be academics.
Why? Like every offering from the campus’s UChicagoGRAD career support office, GradUCon purposely eschews the typical inside/outside academe binary: it will feature talks on everything from big data in the tech industry and careers in think tanks and museums to working at a liberal arts college and being a first-year faculty member.
In the past, said Brooke Noonan, executive director of UChicagoGRAD, “many Ph.D.s tended to seek out the academic career path as a no-brainer, but of course in the last eight to 10 years, we’ve really seen a shift in the job market. We want to make sure that the pursuit of getting a Ph.D. remains worthwhile, and to make sure that there’s a fulfilling professional life at the other end of this path.”
UChicagoGRAD debuted two years ago with that goal in mind and just a few staff members. The idea was to have a single office apart from the university’s 11 independent graduate divisions and professional schools, to focus on the “flexible” career-readiness skills that students wouldn’t necessarily be getting from their discipline-specific advisers. Those include written communication for a variety of contexts, video and in-person interviewing, grant writing, talking concisely but passionately about one’s research, and other forms of public speaking. Adaptability is also key.
In addition to GradUCon, UChicagoGRAD offers a major job fair every year, a sort of matchmaking service between graduate students and paid internships, outreach to employers, workshops, advising, and other events.
“It turns out the skills needed to prepare for a successful careers in the academy are not so different from the those pertaining to careers in other sectors,” namely industry, nonprofits and government, Noonan said.
‘A Swiss Army Knife of Skills’
Much of the work is about helping students realize they already have what they need for a variety of career paths, she added. “One of my favorite phrases, from a student we work with, is, ‘I’m like a Swiss army knife of skills -- I just need to know which of the tools to bring out at the right time.’” In another example, an employer from a national lab involved with UChicagoGRAD said a Ph.D. he’d recently interviewed claimed she didn’t have any management experience -- but she’d been running a lab.
Stephen Gray, who received his Ph.D. in psychology from Chicago last year, said interacting with career counselors and mock interviewers through UChicagoGRAD helped him land his current job as a consumer insights analyst at Facebook. Staff members helped him learn about the positions available to him as a cognitive experimental psychologist, create a résumé that highlighted skills that didn’t immediately strike him as marketable -- such as computer programming, statistics and experimental design -- and negotiate an eventual offer.
“I found their assistance invaluable in learning how to speak about my strengths and put them into the context of solving a particular company’s problems, and I definitely would not have my current position without their guidance,” Gray said via email.
Regarding internships, the office started small, thinking it would be able to offer about a dozen paid positions to students with the help of some seed money. UChicagoGRAD had suggestions and connections -- including federal jobs through David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Obama and now director of the campus Institute of Politics -- but students were encouraged to seek out their own opportunities, as well. The only requirement, in part to appease faculty members concerned about students losing valuable summer research time, was that the internship had to somehow advance an applicant’s research.
Some 70 applications streamed in, and, to the office’s delight, placements were arranged for nearly all students, from the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris to the Black Youth Project in Chicago. This summer approximately 100 students will be interning to advance their studies and professional prospects. Some organizations pay interns, while other students are funded through the university, grants or donations. Of course, having 100 summer internships is hardly surprising for an undergraduate institution or a STEM master's program. But for Ph.D. students, the number is notable.
UChicagoGRAD maintains a robust directory of fellowships, and students are encouraged to first visit the office for help seeking out and writing an application for one -- what Noonan called a “gateway drug” to other services.
Making It Work
Centralization was an immediate boon in that many students felt comfortable self-referring to seek out career advice that wasn’t strictly academic. But staff members knew it might be a challenge in terms of recruiting additional students from so many separate divisions and professional schools.
So Noonan said the office worked hard to engage academic deans, in the hope that they would then promote its “credibility” to faculty members -- who would then refer students. In exchange, the deans demanded data as to the office’s efforts and effectiveness, as even at a well-off institution such as Chicago, redundant programs aren’t acceptable in today’s budget climate. But the hard work has paid off. The office is responsible for more than 9,000 master’s and Ph.D. students on campus, plus postdocs, and last year it logged 7,400 “touch points,” with an average of 2.5 engagements or visits per student or postdoc.
The office has seen buy-in from faculty members, too -- especially newer faculty members who understand firsthand the realities of today’s job market, Noonan said. But even longer-serving faculty members -- who across academe stereotypically seek to “recreate” themselves (and their career paths) in the next generation of scholars -- have been supportive, and even grateful.
“What we’ve heard from senior faculty is that they just don't know how to go about helping graduate students find jobs at a consulting firm,” for example, she said. “Sometimes if they disengage [from graduate students seeking non-faculty jobs], it’s not for shame or disappointment, it’s a lack of expertise in that field.”
UChicagoGRAD falls under the purview of Sian Beilock, executive vice provost and Stella M. Rowley Professor of psychology. She, too, said she cared about the success of her graduate students who sought careers outside academe but could previously tell them little more than “Good luck.”
The new office “sets up students to succeed no matter where they go,” Beilock said. “They learn written and oral communication and other skills, and how to advocate for themselves successfully as academics, or in industry, nonprofits or government.”
Gray, the alum, agreed, saying he knew within a few years of academic life that he wanted something different. But his academic advisers “didn’t know how to help me, having spent their whole lives in the ivory tower.”
In addition to faculty members and students, UChicagoGRAD also works to educate employers, “letting them know that we have an incredible talent pipeline,” Noonan said. “We’re going after sectors that may or may not historically have looked at Ph.D.s, one organization at a time, to demonstrate the power of research in problem solving and asking the right questions.”
Beilock said she’s been interested in hearing what employers have to say at some of the office’s events, including that interviews in industry often start the way they do in academe: talk about your research. “Can you explain in an exciting and fluent manner what you’re doing?” she recalled.
Staying Creative and ‘Nimble’
One of Beilock’s favorite office programs to date is something called "Expose Yourself!" Through "lab crawls" and pop-up lectures about how one's research relates to a given work at the Art Institute of Chicago, students are encouraged to talk about their research to those outside their fields -- including the general public.
Always open to new ideas, especially those from students, UChicagoGRAD is offering similar opportunities this spring at local cultural centers, retirement facilities and community colleges, said Kaitlyn Tucker, a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic languages and literatures and a student liaison to the project. “The hope is that giving students the opportunity to present their research to a variety of audiences will help them prepare for job talks, as well as improve their communication skills more broadly.”
Asked if the office has had to work hard to convince some students to consider jobs outside academe, Beilock said alumni -- who are a big part of UChicagoGRAD -- are the most credible agents. “One of the best way to talk to students about that is to show them examples of successful peers who have been able to use their research skills in a variety of ways.”
Emily Lynn Osborn, an associate professor of history at Chicago, said she appreciates how the office “opens doors” to students who don’t plan on pursuing tenure-track jobs, or don’t find one, or who simply want to challenge themselves “and explore how their skills and expertise as a historian might translate into different contexts and different kinds of work.”
Whatever students plan on doing, Osborn said, the office helps her help them in that it offers workshops on topics such as the “nitty-gritty” of writing curricula vitae, and one-on-one professional counseling. Students who take advantage of those services come back to the department with a “firm foundation,” she said, and “we can then really focus on matters that are content specific, that pertain specifically to field and discipline.”
UChicagoGRAD has grown quickly but intentionally, to a team including career advisers, fellowship advisers, two executive directors, a director of diversity and development, part-time staff members who help with writing and editing requests, and more. It employs some graduate students, as peer consulting is a popular option.
“We’ve grown organically,” said Noonan. “Our nimbleness -- or agility -- has been our secret weapon.”Teaching and LearningEditorial Tags: Graduate educationGraduate studentsImage Source: University of ChicagoImage Caption: Past GradUCon at the University of ChicagoIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The University of Minnesota Press on Tuesday launched a beta version of Manifold, a publishing platform it hopes can straddle the gap between traditional and experimental scholarly work.
The press, along with the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and coders at Cast Iron Coding, have since 2015 worked on a project to rethink the procedures of scholarly publishing, including how to better serve authors whose work can’t fit between the covers of a book. With the launch, the press is moving to gather feedback and refine the platform as it enters the third and final year of a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Douglas Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press, stressed that Manifold is a hybrid platform. It can ingest manuscripts in a number of formats -- EPUB, Google Docs, HTML and Markdown among them -- and display them as a standard ebook reading experience. Two such books are already available. Readers can also order print copies.
On top of that, Manifold adds two additional “layers” of content and interaction, Armato said: a “media layer” with photos, videos and other elements that can’t be published in print form, and a “networking layer” with features such as annotating, commenting and sharing.
But the real key to Manifold, Armato said, is that it gives authors an option of working “live.” Some projects will be iterative, meaning they will develop before readers’ eyes and be shaped by their comments.
A handful of such projects are already listed on the platform, promising to explore the history of media arts labs and viral news in 19th-century U.S. newspapers, among other topics. For now, the projects only list the collaborators, an abstract and an activity update reading, “Project Kickoff: A Manifold project is born!”
“The idea is people will be able to see projects come together,” Armato said. “You’ll see research documents, images, sources -- all sorts of materials -- that come together, culminating into final texts.”
He added, “Our real vision is that there’s a certain percentage of authors who want to work in this way. … We can’t easily create something customized and new for every project, so what we really wanted to do was to create a tool that would make it as easy to do this kind of book as it is for us to do a print book.”
Armato said he was thinking specifically about digital humanities scholars, who often struggle to find the right outlet for their scholarly work and, as a result, make their case to tenure and promotion committees. Professional associations have over the past several years worked to help colleges understand how to evaluate digital scholarship. Meanwhile, the Mellon Foundation has distributed millions of dollars in grants to university presses to encourage experimentation with new publishing models.
Matthew K. Gold, associate professor of English and digital humanities at CUNY’s Graduate Center, said in an interview that the publishing options for digital humanities scholars are still “evolving.” Many presses will pair a book with a companion website, he said, but there are also newer platforms -- he mentioned Scalar, another Mellon-funded project, as an example -- that are exploring how to present scholarship that doesn’t primarily take the form of a manuscript.
Gold said Manifold falls in the middle of those two examples.
“We wanted to really think about how print and digital could work together,” Gold said. “Our approach is not that print editions are unimportant. In fact, we think print editions are extremely important.” At the same time, the team wanted Manifold to “really show the way scholarship is beginning to develop,” he added.
How Manifold’s features will develop, how readers will interact with the content on the platform and a number of other questions will begin to be answered as it progresses through the beta phase toward a final release this fall.
The press used part of the Mellon grant to hire a new editor, who will work with authors to realize the kinds of projects they would be interested in building on Manifold. That will, for now, create a cap on how many such projects the press will be able to do a year, Armato said.
To grow the platform, the press will later this year launch a marketing push aimed at other university presses to invite them to use Manifold, Armato said.
It is not yet clear what will happen when the grant funding dries out. If several presses have signed on to use the platform, they could perhaps share responsibilities for keeping it running. Armato said the press is partly treating Manifold as a research and development project to stay up-to-date on changes in the scholarly publishing market.
“You get into a bad situation when scholarly communication begins going one way and you say, ‘That’s not what we do,’ and you just let that part of scholarly communication be elsewhere,” Armato said. “When an author wants to work this way … we have a tool that can do it for them.”Editorial Tags: PublishingIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
The readability of scientific abstracts is declining, according to the preliminary results of a major study.
This “very worrisome” finding might hinder the ability of other scholars to access and reproduce research, according to one of the study’s authors, who suggested that the increasing number of scientists contributing to each paper and rising specialization in science are partly to blame.
To come to these conclusions, a group of graduate students from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, led by Pontus Plavén Sigray, downloaded more than 707,000 scientific abstracts published in 122 high-impact biomedical journals between 1881 and 2015.
They calculated the readability of each document using two separate measures: one that takes into account the number of syllables per word and the number of words per sentence, and another that measures the percentage of predefined “difficult words” in each sentence.
Their findings, published on preprint server BioRxiv prior to peer review, suggest that more than a quarter of scientific abstracts published in 2015 had a readability considered beyond graduate-level English, compared with just 16 percent in 1960.
“The readability of science is steadily decreasing,” the paper concludes.
One of the authors, William Hedley Thompson, told Times Higher Education that an increasing use of “general scientific jargon” and rising levels of co-authorship were contributing to the trend.
“Writing collaboratively can be hard when everyone has comments about the content of the article,” he said. “This may mean less focus on writing clearly.”
Hedley Thompson said that the increasing specialization of science might also be to blame. The findings were “very worrisome,” he added, because unclear writing might hinder others’ efforts to replicate experiments, which is a “fundamental part of science.” It also widens the divide between researchers and the general public.
Commenting on the findings, Jessica Ridpath, senior research communications consultant at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, said that complicated texts take longer to read and make it more difficult for results to be “understood, used and shared by journalists, policy makers and the public at large.”
“No matter how educated a person may be, their time is still valuable,” she said. “Who wants to wade through jargon and long, convoluted sentences if the information can be described in a clearer and more readable way?”
Ridpath said that describing complicated concepts in plain language “is a skill that takes time to hone.” Scientists should consider working more closely with communications professionals, while journals and research funders could set readability standards for publication, she added.
James Hartley, emeritus professor of psychology at Keele University, said the paper “rightly suggests” that authors need to use clearer language. But he cautioned that the Karolinska study looked only at the abstracts of papers, which are usually harder to read than the body of the text. Biomedical texts “might be” harder to read than those from other branches of science, Hartley added.
“We might expect the readability of scientific text to get harder over time -- as science, scientific language and technical language develop over time,” he said.Editorial Tags: Sciences/Tech/Engineering/MathIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
College of Saint Elizabeth
College of the Holy Cross
Many more college students soon may be able to use Pell Grants to pay for summer courses, with the likely return of so-called year-round Pell.
Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress and the Trump White House back the reinstatement of year-round Pell eligibility, according to a wide range of sources. However, increased spending on the grants, which experts have estimated at $2 billion per year, likely would be offset by a cut of at least $1.2 billion to Pell’s current surplus of $10.6 billion.
“Community college presidents have repeatedly explained to Congress why their students need the year-round Pell Grant now and not later,” David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of Community Colleges, said via email, “and from what they are hearing back, the message appears to be taking root. It is greatly encouraging that the support is bipartisan.”
The Obama administration eliminated summer Pell eligibility with the backing of the Republican-led Congress in 2012, three years after its creation. The program cost about $2 billion at its peak. (Overall Pell spending was $28 billion in 2015-16, with roughly eight million students receiving the grant aid.)
The Obama White House cited budget pressure and questions about the program’s effectiveness in making the cut. But experts have argued that the move was purely about money, as Pell’s overall costs had ballooned rapidly as more students returned to college in the recession’s wake -- with a big bump in the number of students who used the grants to attend for-profit institutions. Obama subsequently proposed bringing back year-round Pell but got nowhere with the GOP-led Congress.
Pell spending has stabilized since it topped out at $39 billion in 2011. And last month both Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, expressed support for bringing back year-round Pell, which would mean students could take out a second grant in a single year after using the first one to pay for the fall and spring semesters.
“As the cost of college continues to skyrocket, we should be working to expand the Pell Grant program so students don’t have to sign on to a lifetime of debt just to be able to attend college,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee, said in a written statement. “By restoring year-round Pell Grants, more students will have access to the opportunities provided by higher education and more flexibility to complete their degrees by taking summer courses.”
Sustainable This Time?
Senate appropriators plan to include the provision in a budget bill Congress needs to pass this month to avoid a government shutdown, sources said. While support in the House remains a bit iffy, advocates for the program said they were cautiously confident about its return. Some said backing from work force-minded employers and business leaders has helped build momentum for the program on Capitol Hill.
“We are hopeful that Congress will seize the unique opportunity they have to use existing Pell Grant reserve funds to restore access to grants year-round for students as well as to provide an increase in the maximum grant, which currently covers the lowest share of college costs in over 40 years and is scheduled to lose its annual inflation adjustment after this year,” Jessica Thompson, policy and research director for the Institute for College Access & Success, said via email.
A Senate panel last year approved a funding bill that would have restored year-round Pell, but the proposal collapsed in the House.
As part of that negotiation, congressional Republicans had pushed to strip more than $1.2 billion from Pell’s surplus. The Trump White House recently called on Congress to cut $1.3 billion from the surplus this year, to be followed by a $3.9 billion reduction next year. Over all, the Trump administration has proposed deep cuts to several federal programs aimed at lower-income students, which critics have said would imperil college preparation and access in the U.S.
Observers from both ends of the political spectrum said some surplus slashing is virtually certain if year-round Pell is to return. The previously negotiated cut of $1.2 billion is most likely, some predicted.
Student groups have fought any surplus reductions, saying the money should be used to expand access to Pell, such as through increased award amounts and by making permanent annual inflation-tied increases, which will expire after this year. (The current maximum annual grant is $5,920.)
“We don’t want to have a cutting, austerity discussion,” said Reid Setzer, deputy director of policy and legislative affairs for Young Invincibles, a nonprofit group focusing on the interests of millennials. “Any money they take out of it will exacerbate a future shortfall.”
While year-round Pell is expensive, the program benefits low-income students, said Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Republican former Hill staffer.
Delisle has criticized detractors of the program’s effectiveness (most notably the Obama administration), writing that year-round eligibility is a “much-needed modernization” that lacked design flaws in its first iteration.
However, Delisle said the program needs to be re-created with an eye toward financial sustainability.
“It’s the fair-weather year-round Pell. If we have the money, we do it,” he said. “You want to make sure the program is on a path that you can do it in perpetuity.”
Supporters of the program said the proposal Congress is set to consider, which mirrors what emerged in the Senate last year, would in some ways be an improvement from the version that died in 2011.
“Campus leaders are also hopeful that the language that was included in the Senate committee-passed legislation will be adopted,” Baime said. “This language effectively addressed implementation complications that occurred when the initial year-round Pell was put into effect.”
-- Andrew Kreighbaum contributed to this article.Student Aid and LoansEditorial Tags: Adult educationFederal policyFinancial aidImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Senator Lamar AlexanderIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Nursing, psychology, English, math and music are the top disciplines for tenure-track faculty hires at four-year institutions, according to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association-Human Resources. These 2016-17 academic year hires were generally new Ph.D.s, and the English finding in particular might -- emphasis on might -- hearten those facing the field's notoriously difficult tenure-track job market.
Here's CUPA-HR's hiring data on a few more disciplines, including median salary.
Median salary for full-time instructors across disciplines, whose median time in that position was three years, was $58,200. Median pay for new assistant professors was $68,000. Assistant professors, who spent about three years (median) in that position, earned just slightly more, at $68,300. Associate professors spent about six years (median) at that rank, at $79,400 annually. Full professors made $106,000, with about nine years of service.
Historically CUPA-HR has focused on disciplinary gaps, while the American Association of University Professors has issued an annual report -- due out soon -- on institution-by-institution averages.
Age distribution across faculty ranks was generally unsurprising, with younger faculty members clustered at lower ranks and older faculty members in higher ones. The exception was among associate professors. Although the greatest concentration occurs between the late 30s and mid-40s, many serve as associate professors into their mid-60s and beyond, the report says. “This is important, because older associate professors who don’t get promoted to the rank of professor miss out on the incremental salary increases that full professors gain before retirement.”
CUPA-HR’s annual “Faculty in Higher Education Salary Report” typically includes median full-time faculty pay, but this year’s report includes new demographic data, as well as information on adjuncts and department chairs.
Other key findings include that minority tenure-track and tenured faculty members are paid equitably or even more than equitably at all ranks. Unsurprisingly, though, their representation decreases within more senior faculty ranks. That mirrors what is found among academic administrators, according to CUPA-HR. Asian-American faculty members make more than white and black faculty members do.
Jacqueline Bichsel, director of research for CUPA-HR, said in an interview that the salary equity finding, at least, is encouraging, in that it means “there’s an effort to attract and retain minority talent” amid all the talk of increasing diversity within the professoriate.
Female tenure-track faculty members, however, are paid less than their male peers at all ranks. Women are also underrepresented in more senior faculty ranks and as department heads, according to CUPA-HR.
While 61 percent of instructors are women, 50 percent of assistant professors are. Women make up 44 percent of associate professors and just 31 percent of full professors. Women earn $0.96 on the dollar compared to men as instructors and $0.89 on the dollar at the full professor rank. The overall pay ratio is 0.87, because women are so underrepresented at the highest-paying ranks.
"This may indicate that more females are currently being hired into new faculty positions, but it may also indicate that fewer females are being promoted within the faculty ranks," the report says.
AAUP's most recent report also found a pay gap between genders, but only at more senior faculty ranks. Still, because higher ranks pay more, women across ranks, disciplines and institution types made $74,681 compared to $83,012 for men.
Full-time faculty members of law have the highest median salaries ($153,000 across ranks), followed by those in medicine ($152,000), finance ($138,000), accounting ($132,000) and small-business operations or entrepreneurism ($131,000), according to CUPA-HR.
The lowest-paying disciplines are multilingual or multicultural education, teacher education, and library science and administration, all $69,000, followed by parks and recreation studies ($68,000) and philosophy ($67,000).
In nearly all disciplines, professors’ salaries tend to increase with age, until 70, when they level out or drop. The one major exception is in business, older and younger faculty members earn nearly equivalent salaries. Younger professors in business and law are also making more than faculty members in other disciplines.
More than half of department chairs (55 percent) get a salary supplement for the work ($6,666 was the median amount), and 52 percent get course relief (six credits, median). About 27 percent of chairs get a summer salary (the median amount was $9,060). Public and doctoral institutions are more likely to offer pay increases in the form of either a salary supplement or summer salary, the report says, but they are less likely to offer course relief.
Some 5 percent of tenure-track faculty positions reported were department heads. Some 38 percent of department heads are female, and about 15 percent are racial or ethnic minorities.
Part-time, adjunct faculty members make about $1,000 per credit hour. There are about three adjuncts for every four full-time faculty members over all. At public institutions, there’s one adjunct for every two full-timers. At secular private institutions it’s five adjuncts for every four full-timers. At private religious institutions it’s one to one. The study, by counting only those at four-year institutions, leaves out community colleges, which employ relatively more adjuncts.
CUPA-HR's new survey includes salary information about 237,231 full-time faculty members at more than 700 campuses. About half were master’s-level institutions, followed by doctoral and baccalaureate colleges and universities.
Bichsel said it was important to broaden the faculty salary survey’s scope to include, among other data, adjunct per-credit pay. Adjuncts “are becoming a dominant part of the work force in higher education, and the fact that nobody collects data on adjuncts’ salaries leaves this huge gap in terms of benchmarking what we should pay them.”
Indeed, there is a dearth of data on what adjuncts make. A major 2012 study from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce put adjunct per-course (three-credit) pay at $2,700, however, suggesting that their pay hasn’t increased much since then.
Bichsel said she hoped that more institutions would supply data on adjuncts in future years, now that they're expecting such questions, making for a more robust data set. The 148 institutions that did supply data on adjuncts employ, again, three adjuncts for every four full-timers. That differs from other often-cited ratios across academe, which put adjuncts at closer to 70 percent of the teaching force. But Bichsel underscored that CUPA-HR’s survey did not include community colleges or for-profit institutions, both of which tend to employ more adjuncts than their four-year nonprofit counterparts.
Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said she was puzzled as to why just 148 institutions had offered information on adjuncts, and said that whether or not the campuses are unionized is an important variable, among others. In any case, she said, "We would certainly love to work with [CUPA-HR] to get some comprehensive, accurate adjunct pay data."
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, also had a measured response to the CUPA-HR data, namely its findings about the English job market. While it might be a "top" field for tenure-track hires, the actual number of jobs filled, 181, is "not a large number compared with the number of new English Ph.D.s doctoral programs have been graduating in recent years," she said. The Survey of Earned Doctorates, for example, shows between 1,000 and 1,286 a year the last decade or so, she added, cautioning that the 708 institutions responding to CUPA-HR make up a fraction of the Education Department's database.
If hiring patterns were the same across all 2,481 federally tracked institutions as for the 708 in the CUPA-HR respondent group, she added, "that extrapolates to 634 new tenure-track hires" -- about half the 1,200 Ph.D.s awarded each year. "I hate to douse the fire of English hotness with a data dump, yet it would be far more revealing to know how the number of tenure-track hires in each discipline today compares with the number of tenure-track hires in 2008 or 1998 or 1988," Feal said.Editorial Tags: CompensationIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
During the last year, the American Bar Association has cracked down on four law schools -- two of which are for-profits.
A tightened job market for law school graduates has helped draw the ABA's attention to some of the lowest-performing institutions it accredits. Less academically prepared students, who are gaining easy access to these law schools, face large student debt loads and slim chances of finding employment, according to experts.
For instance, last week the ABA sanctioned Arizona Summit Law School and placed the institution on probation for its admission policies and low pass rates on the bar exam. The law school is one of three institutions owned by Infilaw System. Another Infilaw institution, the for-profit Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina, was placed on probation in November and lost its federal student aid eligibility in January.
“It’s imperative for us to do things we need to do to establish compliance with standards,” said Donald Lively, president of Arizona Summit. “But it’s equally important that we need to preserve our mission.”
Lively said Arizona Summit will work on coming into compliance with ABA standards and already has made steps in that direction by eliminating an alternative admissions program that guaranteed a spot at the school regardless of grades or LSAT scores if students completed a seven-week online law course.
The school has seen bar pass rates decline each year since opening enrollment to riskier students. For instance, its bar passage rate was 69.1 percent in 2013, according to Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group that has been critical of the ABA. The pass rate in 2016 was 25 percent, according to the Arizona Supreme Court's Committee on Examinations.
Lively said Arizona Summit is tightening its curriculum, working to increase rigor and investing in academic support.
But he doesn’t want the school to lose sight of its mission -- which is increasing diversity among lawyers. Last month, Arizona Summit announced an affiliation with Bethune-Cookman University, a nonprofit historically black institution in Florida, to guarantee up to 100 scholarships to the university's graduates.
“The legal profession is the least diverse white-collar profession,” Lively said. “A law school has a choice. It can pursue rankings, which a lot choose to do, but if you’re going to make that your priority, you abandon or dismiss the opportunity to make a contribution to diversify the profession.”
Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, said in many ways Arizona Summit and other institutions that admit riskier students -- those with lower grade point averages and LSAT scores -- are setting up these students to fail.
“It makes what they’re doing even worse, and using diversity as a shield is very troubling,” he said. “If they were really concerned about diversifying the profession, the schools would be more affordable.”
Tuition and fees for a full-time student at Arizona Summit this year total $45,354, while the estimated cost of attendance -- including housing, books, transportation and meals -- is $67,454. The school also had a 17 percent black and 22 percent Hispanic enrollment in 2015, according to federal data.
Lively said Arizona Summit receives extra scrutiny because of its status as a for-profit institution and the perceptions surrounding that model, which he said has become more of a barrier. He said the school will soon make the transition to nonprofit status.
“It’s important for us to separate from our for-profit status and transition into a model that invites less suspicion about motive,” he said.
But the ABA’s recent efforts to hold low-performing schools accountable haven’t affected only the for-profit sector. In August the ABA found Ave Maria School of Law in Florida -- a private Roman Catholic institution -- out of compliance with admission standards. And in November the ABA censured Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana, citing the institution for a lack of compliance with standards requiring that a school only admit applicants who appear likely to succeed in the program and pass the bar. It was the first time since 2013 that the accreditor censured a law school.
Pressure, especially from the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, a federal panel that oversees accreditors, has been building on the ABA to hold more of its schools accountable as the post-law school job market worsens and students face mounting loads of debt.
“If you look at past [ABA] accreditation actions, they weren’t really taking action against any schools, and now we’re starting to see them take action,” said Antoinette Flores, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.
Flores said each of the four institutions the ABA has taken action against since August has been scrutinized for admissions.
“Are they enrolling students who are able to succeed and are their students able to finish the bar?” she said. “It’s the same four issues for all four colleges.”
But in February the association rejected a proposal to require all law schools it accredits to have 75 percent of students who sit for bar exams pass them within two years of graduation.
Concerns about equity and the effects of raising the pass rate on minority students killed the proposal.
“It’s not a good standard, and it’s got too many loopholes,” McEntee said. “But we lost there because people were shouting down support of the new standard as racist. It was very unfortunate, because people who are trying to stop exploitation are in the business of promoting diversity. They’re not getting in the way. The trouble is schools like this are giving a bad reputation to those who are doing it the right way.”
Questions remain, however, over whether or not the Education Department will take action to block federal student aid to Arizona Summit, as it did with Charlotte School of Law when the ABA placed it on probation.
“It would be interesting to see, although it’s not just the department making these decisions, but NACIQI as well,” Flores said. “Will the new administration take action to say they’re pulling funding? … We don’t have much to go on to say they will, but they are more sympathetic to for-profit colleges.”AdmissionsAssessment and AccountabilityAccreditation and Student LearningDiversityFor-Profit Higher EdEditorial Tags: AccreditationAdmissionsImage Caption: Arizona Summit Law SchoolIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Minority college students often face discrimination and report higher rates of depression and anxiety than their white peers -- and there’s another factor that could exacerbate those feelings.
A new study out of the University of Texas at Austin and published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology suggests that the impostor phenomenon in some cases can degrade the mental health of minority students who already perceive prejudices against them.
Those who suffer from impostor feelings cannot grasp or believe in their successes, even if they’re high achieving -- leading them to feel like frauds. In the 1970s, impostor syndrome was first considered a trend among women who were advancing professionally, according to the American Psychological Association. Many experts have discussed the influence of impostor syndrome on minority and female academics, though the University of Texas study focused on undergraduate students.
The authors surveyed 332 minority undergraduate students from a Southwestern university. The institution’s identity was shielded in the study to ensure student anonymity. Black, Asian and Latino students were included in the study. All the racial groups were represented relatively equally.
In three separate tests, the students were asked to evaluate their own competency -- related to impostor feelings -- how often they experience discrimination, and their mental health.
As the study authors predicted, black students who dealt with significant "impostorism" also reported higher levels of anxiety, as well as depression related to discrimination they perceived. Among Asian students, more impostor-related feelings were associated with increased depression and anxiety, but not related to any racism they perceived.
The authors could not explain why with Latino students, the trends essentially reversed -- those Latino students with more impostor-related feelings didn’t suffer from much anxiety or depression. Those who did indicate they were anxious or depressed did not have many impostor-related thoughts.
The authors guessed that Latino students, hyperaware of certain stereotypes, did not internalize impostor-related feelings in the same way as other minority students. They also cited fatalism, a popular concept in some Latino cultures in which people believe they cannot control their destinies.
“It is possible that among this sample of Latino/a American students, having low impostor feelings was associated in some way to fatalism (e.g., ‘People are going to think whatever they want to about me and there is nothing I can do about it’),” the authors wrote.
The study’s findings led its authors to recommend that in counseling, clinicians should explore specifically if students of color are grappling with these feelings.
Kevin Cokley is one of the authors of the study, a professor of counseling psychology and African and African diaspora studies, and director of the university’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis.
In an interview Wednesday, Cokley said counselors could pose specific questions to students of color to unearth whether they are dealing with impostor-related fears -- such as if they felt their admission to a university was by luck or achievement. Cokley has sent a copy of the study and a recent press release to the counseling office at the University of Texas, and he believes the suggestions included in there will be incorporated into future trainings.
The results of the study are particularly relevant considering the climates on campuses nationwide, where protests related to race issues are prevalent, Cokley said.
Cokley said he wanted to investigate possible racial components of the impostor syndrome. While the phenomenon has been well researched and considered to be something that occurs on an individual basis, Cokley said he believes different minority groups could all suffer from some of the same effects and feelings.
In his interview, Cokley cautioned against treating the study's theories around Latino students too seriously, because that kind of cultural aspect wasn’t formally measured.
Further studies are required on this issue to more deeply plumb the differences in impostor syndrome that various minority groups experience, Cokley said.
“We sometimes have a tendency to homogenize the experiences of students of color,” he said. “They all experience discrimination to some extent, but it’s very different experiences. It’s important to be nuanced and to appreciate and to understand the experiences.”DiversityEditorial Tags: RaceDiversity MattersImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Diversity Newsletter publication date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Much of the public discussion about the impact of campus sexual assault cases in recent years has focused on the toll on victims (and increasingly on the rights of the accused). But college leaders have grown concerned, too, about the financial impact on their institutions, and a new report from United Educators actually quantifies that burden.
Over a five-year period, United Educators -- a member-owned insurance cooperative that insures hundreds of colleges and universities -- received reports of about 1,000 cases at its member institutions in which a student reported being sexually assaulted. The report is based on information gleaned from those incidents.
Fewer than 100 of those cases resulted in monetary losses for the institution, but those that did amounted to $21.8 million over the five-year period between 2011 and 2015. Several incidents costs the institutions more than $1 million, including one $2 million claim.
On average, those 100 or so colleges and universities lost $350,000, between legal action and demand for damages in sexual assault cases, the report found.
“A third of a million dollars is a lot of money for a claim,” said Alex Miller, associate vice president of learning programs in the risk management department at United Educators. “It’s not that common, but when it happens, it’s actually very expensive.”
Because of its role in helping higher education institutions avoid risk and liabilities, United Educators is privy to information about sexual assault reports and investigations that almost no other organization has.
“When we have data like this, we think it’s helpful to get it out,” Miller said. “It’s another data point emphasizing the importance of these issues.”
Laura Dunn, founder and executive director at SurvJustice, an advocacy organization for victims of sexual assault, said the numbers detailed in the United Educators paper may well encourage colleges to “aim higher and do more” regarding sexual assault.
“Moral arguments and legal requirements have not sufficiently incentivized [some] schools … from committing significant atrocities around failing to prevent and address campus sexual violence,” Dunn said. “Money speaks.”
“I think the document they put out accurately captures the very real concerns schools should have about failing to properly prevent and address sexual violence through preparation,” she added.
The report, which comes from United Educators' new branch of services called Canopy Programs, outlines a number of ways institutions can avoid the high costs of litigation over sexual assault cases: provide appropriate training for staff, ensure university employees know their reporting obligations, enforce sanctions consistently, make sure students understand what consent is, and audit institutional security policies, among others.
Canopy Programs -- through its product "Campus Forward: The Harassment Initiative" -- offers comprehensive online training and consulting services to help colleges approach issues of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.
The recommendations may not be anything new, but Miller said it’s important to drive home the point about how to prevent sexual assault in the first place.
“I think for a lot of institutions it hasn’t always been [straightforward],” he said. “These recommendations, as much as anything, are just meant to emphasize what we feel individuals at all institutions need to be thinking about.”
Colleges and universities are experiencing a great deal of uncertainty right now with the change in administrations, he said. It’s possible President Trump will not have the same “urgency” in addressing sexual assault on campus that the Obama administration had, Miller said, but that should not deter institutions from pursuing prevention efforts and improving campus culture.
“The point is that the issue does not go away just because the regulator has changed,” Miller said. “We do want to make sure the urgency around this issue stays. We don’t want it to dissipate, because these claims are happening and they’re expensive.”Legal CasesEditorial Tags: Legal issuesSexual assaultImage Caption: Poster to educate students about consentIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Accreditor's draft policy would prohibit use of incentive-based compensation in international recruitment
Another front has opened in the contentious debate over the use of commissioned agents in international student recruitment.
The Middle States Commission on Higher Education has proposed new language for its policies that would prohibit institutions it accredits from using incentive-based compensation in international student recruitment.
The draft policy, if it were to become enacted, could have major business implications for colleges accredited in the mid-Atlantic region and reopens a debate over agent usage that some thought had largely been settled, at least as a matter of practice. As the regional accreditor, Middle States has oversight over virtually every university in its region, which encompasses Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, plus Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Many colleges in this region (and elsewhere in the United States) use agents who are paid in part based on commission.
Federal law prohibits universities from paying incentive-based compensation for the recruitment of students who are eligible for federal financial aid programs funded through Title IV. Although the legal prohibition does not apply to international students who are not eligible for federal financial aid, Middle States' president, Elizabeth H. Sibolski, said the accrediting agency "believes that the principles underlying that regulation should apply to all students equally. Thus, our policy would apply in all cases."
"The intent of the draft policy is not to end or limit international recruitment nor is it intended to prohibit the use of international recruitment agencies," Sibolski said in a written statement. "We have a number of institutions that engage in facilitated international recruitment activities under a variety of structures."
But proponents of agency-based recruitment are already pushing back, saying the proposed policy change would force colleges in the Middle States region to change their recruiting practices and lead to drops in international student enrollments. More established in Australia and the United Kingdom, the use of commission-based agents in international recruitment is still a relatively new practice in the U.S. Fans of the model say that contracting with agents abroad provides a cost-effective way for even small, cash-strapped colleges to recruit worldwide and that it can be done ethically, with the right controls and oversight in place. Opponents say that agents who earn per-capita commissions for referring students to a certain set of institutions cannot be trusted to have students’ best interests at heart and suggest that working with recruitment agents can increase the risk of application fraud.
That said, the agent debate, as it’s known, has been quiet for several years now, and people with various views on the practice expressed surprise that the issue had re-emerged four years after the National Association for College Admission Counseling voted to lift its prohibition on the practice. The vote came after a task force created by NACAC spent two years deliberating on the issue.
“I just was very surprised, because why would Middle States want to fight a fight that was more or less put to rest several years ago?” asked Mitch Leventhal, a professor of professional practice and entrepreneurship in the School of Education at the State University of New York at Albany and a leading proponent of agency-based recruitment. Leventhal is founding president of the American International Recruitment Council, a professional organization focused on recruitment, which screens and certifies international recruitment agencies.
"It makes me wonder whether they are completely unaware of everything that transpired with NACAC and all the deliberations. Maybe they simply didn’t know about that, and somebody has decided to get aggressive for some peculiar reason, but since 2013, since NACAC’s reversal, many additional institutions have started working with agents and committed resources to it. So there are a lot of institutions that have a lot of stake here. I wonder if Middle States even has an awareness of how many of their own institutions are deeply involved in this now. If they think it’s one or two, they’re mistaken," Leventhal said.
Two surveys released last year both found that 37 percent of U.S. universities reported using agents, an increase from previous surveys, including one conducted by Inside Higher Ed in 2014, which found the proportion of U.S. universities that reported using agents to be in the 20-30 percent range. Mike Finnell, the executive director of AIRC, said that the association has 57 member colleges that are accredited by Middle States.
Among those institutions is the State University of New York at Old Westbury. Mary Marquez Bell, the university’s vice president for enrollment services, said that if Middle States’ draft policy were enacted, she would lose enrollments and would have to "rethink my entire strategy on international recruitment. I am a small campus with a small international student enrollment -- we average anywhere between 40 and 70 international students any given year -- and I would have to reconsider how I would recruit these students, because I don’t have counselors or the agent equivalent of staff in these different countries," she said.
Bell questioned why Middle States would restrict the practice of paying agents commissions. “It’s not illegal, it’s not unprofessional, it’s a practice that’s commonly used, it’s a practice that even more U.S. institutions are asking about,” she said.
“We don’t see the reason as to why this is being questioned. It hasn’t been clarified. There’s nothing to make us want to change the way we are conducting this business right now.”
Opponents of the use of commissioned agents were also surprised by the development, but happily so.
“It’s excellently shocking,” said Philip G. Altbach, a research professor at Boston College and founding director of the Center for International Higher Education there (and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed). “Anything that weakens the agent infrastructure and the legitimacy of the concept of agents is to me a good thing, because I don’t think that’s how the business of mobility should be done. Also, anything that has the effect of putting a brake on the dishonest practices of a lot -- not all, but a certain number -- of agents is a good thing.”
“Agents represent institutions and not students, and agents represent those institutions which are paying them and are not in a position, if they’re kind of traditional agents, to recommend the best possible university or college for the student; they recommend the university or college which is providing them the money,” Altbach said of his longstanding opposition to the commissioned-agent model.
“That’s the underlying problem to me. Plus, students and potential students overseas are not only getting kind of a skewed picture of American higher education, but they’re paying, often, a lot of money for services, which I think the universities should be providing through good internet arrangements, through stronger advisement procedures and so on. And there’s lots of evidence to show that, again, not all but some agents collude or help in falsifying essays and exams.”
Liz Reisberg, an independent international higher education consultant and another critic of agent usage (and another blogger for Inside Higher Ed) said she was pleased by Middle States’ proposal but expects there to be significant pushback. She's not optimistic it will become policy.
“I think this is in defense of the integrity of higher education,” Reisberg said. “It’s one thing to subcontract out your bookstore; it’s another thing to subcontract out your admissions operation overseas. There’s just too much at stake, and it’s just not in the interest of the university long term to be doing this, and it’s unfortunate that there are strong financial incentives to continue to do it -- which is why I’m not so confident that this will be successful, although I hope it is.”
The draft policy is currently open for public comment. Richard Pokrass, a spokesman for Middle States, said the agency will review all comments received and make any revisions deemed necessary. "The revised policies, once approved by the commission, will then be placed on an electronic ballot for voting by the chief executive officers of MSCHE's member institutions," Pokrass said -- an action that would likely occur after the commission’s June 22 meeting.
“My recommendation to Middle States would be if this is a concern of theirs, they should encourage their members to adhere to professional standards that have been developed by organizations like NACAC and AIRC,” said Leventhal, AIRC’s founding president. “They should encourage them to join organizations like AIRC. They should be encouraging them to contract only with entities that are AIRC certified, where there are consequences for misbehavior and so forth. They should also encourage them to be transparent concerning agents with whom they have contracts.”
If the proposed policy does go into effect as written, Leventhal said, institutions will have to cancel contracts they’ve signed with agencies. “A lot of the money that’s been invested in these recruitment strategies will be essentially lost. Institutions who already are fearful of having diminished applications as a result of recent Trump administration policies are going to be even more hampered in their efforts.”
“Nationally,” he said, “if Middle States does this, there’s the possibility that other accreditors might follow suit, or they might not. If they do, of course more institutions are hampered. If they don’t, then institutions accredited by Middle States aren’t able to operate with the same advantages as those whose accreditors have more foresight.”AdmissionsForeign StudentsEditorial Tags: AdmissionsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
Choosing a commencement speaker in recent years has become a risky endeavor, as universities sometimes run afoul of students who consider the selection too controversial or not a match for their political views. But the University of Michigan this year upset some students by not picking a speaker at all.
Instead, in conjunction with the institution’s 200th birthday, the April 29 commencement will weave in a multimedia presentation with pieces of previous commencement addresses and a commissioned fanfare in honor of the bicentennial.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, an Academy Award-winning songwriting duo, both alumni of Michigan and the lyricists of “City of Stars” from the film La La Land, will also perform.
These attractions appeared not to appease a contingent of students who have complained on social media about the university’s break with tradition.
Elisabeth Brennan, a Michigan senior, writing in the campus newspaper The Michigan Daily, asserted that university leaders hadn’t responded properly to student concerns about commencement -- questions and demands are habitually disregarded, and not just about commencement, she wrote.
“A simple and clearly articulated problem with a tangible solution was ignored in the name of prioritizing the university’s history and reputation above its students. Rather than celebrating the graduates -- the express purpose of a commencement ceremony -- the university is hijacking our day in order to celebrate itself,” Brennan wrote.
A Michigan spokesman, Rick Fitzgerald, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that one commencement speaker often snatches the spotlight from graduates. Multiple alumni will be involved in the ceremony that day, he wrote, “more students than ever before.”
In a later phone call, Fitzgerald acknowledged that the university hadn’t expected such backlash from not booking a commencement speaker (the institution never pays its speakers).
In fact, most graduation-related complaints center on the selection of a speaker, Fitzgerald said. Angry letters come in, bemoaning the choice. Protesters camp outside commencement.
Such activities are typical at this time of year, and it’s more common for student or faculty acrimony to lead to graduation speakers withdrawing or the university’s picks being squashed. In the case of Ursinus College, the Fox News contributor Juan Williams was approached this year but ended up not being the pick after faculty objections.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had agreed to deliver a graduation speech at Rutgers University in 2014. Students and faculty at the New Jersey institution called for a less controversial choice, and amid the pressure, Rice withdrew.
Other colleges never invite speakers. Bradley University, in Illinois, announced last year it would eliminate the speaker as a time saver, and Cornell University only schedules its president for graduation.
Roland Davidson, a senior at Michigan, said in an interview Tuesday that he understood student frustrations. Everyone is excited to learn who the commencement speaker will be every year, he said. When Davidson was a freshman and realized he was graduating in the school's 200th year, he was particularly pumped for his graduation speaker.
"It's a little bit of a slight, but it's not going to matter in two or three years," he said.
Davidson, also a Michigan Daily columnist, wrote on the paper's website Sunday that the university had “bucked” feedback from students, particularly those on a committee charged with advising the institution on the bicentennial celebrations.
“The university’s bicentennial should be a celebration of 200 years of excellence,” Davidson wrote. “Let’s be frank: this is likely a major fund-raising opportunity for the university by building a connection to its alumni. But I feel that the administration swung too far in that direction. Our commencement may be part of a larger ceremony, but it’s still our commencement! The university could have picked an alum to give our commencement speech, which would have allowed the administration to celebrate the bicentennial without sacrificing the address.”
Fitzgerald said the university always listens to students.
“We don’t always do exactly what our students wish we would do, but we always listen,” he said.Editorial Tags: Commencement speakersMarketingImage Source: University of MichiganIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?:
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