Higher Education News

Interdisciplinary social sciences lab at Northeastern U challenges prevailing norms of lab work

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/26/2017 - 07:00

Ieke DeVries’s summer is much more social than it was last year, now that she’s working in a lab. But she’s not studying one of the natural sciences, like most lab rats. De Vries is part of Northeastern University’s new Violence and Justice Research Laboratory, housed in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“The physical space triggers interaction and really helps open up discussions,” especially informal ones, said De Vries, a Ph.D. candidate in criminology. “There are different levels of student and different types of activities being done by a lot of people who have interesting insights to put into the research.”

Northeastern’s Violence and Justice Research Laboratory launched last winter, under the guidance of co-directors Carlos Cuevas, associate professor of psychology, and Amy Farrell, associate professor of criminology. The professors imagined a place where undergraduates to Ph.D. candidates could collaborate and benefit from increased mentoring on social science research.

They worked to secure funding from grants and other sources, found a collaborative space within the college, and designed a loose program as they recruited students to work in the lab -- some 14 total. The lab, currently under renovation, is the research arm of Northeastern's Institute on Race and Justice. As violence research is spread across disciplines including psychology, criminal justice, sociology, public health, medicine and social work, the lab is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Its focus is underserved and understudied populations.

“The lab model really seemed to make sense to us,” Farrell said. “In the past, students learned certain skills sort of ad hoc; they were working on a project where a certain type of methodology was used, so they learned those skills. We wanted to be more systematic, where everyone was getting the same baseline of skills, with mentoring being more structured.”

In some ways, Farrell said, the lab looks similar to other science labs in that there is shared space and regular collaboration. But students aren't "using centrifuges or equipment -- they’re using computers and software packages and talking to each other.”

Like many labs, the Violence and Justice Research Laboratory also has regular meetings. But in addition to talking about ongoing research or administrative issues, Cuevas and Farrell instruct students on certain tools of the trade: a new bit of software, methodology, lab management or writing. As for the latter tool, students have access to a structured writing seminar. Students working on a manuscript get feedback from lab managers before they submit it for publication.

Structured mentoring is also a huge part of the experience. Cuevas said the lab runs on a peer-intergenerational model, in which undergraduates involved in research are mentored by master’s and Ph.D. students, and those graduate students learn how to be mentors. Of course, faculty members mentor everyone.

De Vries, who’s working in the lab on a fellowship, said, “It’s really cool to see how people grow, and to experience yourself as a mentor. Can you really push yourself to explain what you’re doing? It’s really helpful … I’m kind of learning to lead a team on my own.”

Currently, De Vries is involved in several projects related to fighting child trafficking. She’s developing a database tracking minors who have been trafficked or who are vulnerable to being trafficked based on certain characteristics, for example. Other lab work on child trafficking involves that on public opinion and expectations for government intervention, to inform policy decisions.

Misha McDonald, another Ph.D. candidate in criminology and justice policy, is working in the lab as a research assistant for a National Institute of Justice-funded study of bias victimization against Latinos. Goals for project include surveying 900 adult Latinos at three sites across the U.S. about their experiences with victimization. Research is still in the early stages, with a pilot survey planned for the next few months. But McDonald said it’s “especially important given the anti-immigrant rhetoric during and after the last presidential election.”

McDonald said the lab “provides the opportunity to work on a research study from start to finish, which gives us the opportunity for grant management experience.” So far, the pre-data collection work on her project is somewhat solitary. But she anticipates soon getting the “full benefit” of working with a team of students, managing other researchers and perhaps learning from those with more robust statistics knowledge.

One drawback of lab work for McDonald is that her long-term research interests lie in juvenile delinquency and youth violence. There are times she wishes she was spending her research assistant hours on work that more closely related to those goals, she said, but “I didn't want to miss the opportunity to do work that is different from typical academic life. I enjoy the grant management and community outreach work these studies entail.”

Farrell said students still use social media, email and other digital platforms to communicate with one another (and faculty members) about lab work. But “there’s something to that in-the-moment dynamic, that ‘Hey, what are you working on’ dynamic between people, that improves collaboration.”

Cuevas, meanwhile, said the lab maximizes “accessibility” and provides “membership” lacking in many graduate students’ daily lives.

“We can have quick, informal meetings,” he said. “There’s also that sense, ‘This is my place, this is my group of people that I work with.’”

As for why social science labs aren’t more common, Cuevas guessed professors tend to teach and do research the way they were trained to. Funding is also a challenge, he said, since there are fewer sources of external grants in the social sciences than in the natural ones. But he said the lab is a useful format for collaborative, interdisciplinary research, and there was a will for it at Northeastern.

If collaboration isn’t something that's “valued and promoted” on a campus, he said, “it would make it difficult to set up something like we have here.”

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MIT deems half online, half in-person master's program a success

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/26/2017 - 07:00

The first of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s half online, half in-person master’s degree programs is making a profit and bringing dozens of new degree-seeking students to campus.

The results from the blended program in supply chain management are beginning to influence how MIT accepts students and offers graduate-level education. New programs are “bubbling up through the system,” one administrator said. And the institute’s Center for Transportation and Logistics, which offers the program, is “giving serious thought” to changing its admission processes, said Yossi Sheffi, the professor of engineering who serves as the director of the center.

“We are so impressed by what we are seeing that there’s a debate within the Center for Transportation and Logistics if we should replace standardized tests like the GMAT and the GRE with taking one full [online] course and seeing how [students] do,” Sheffi said in an interview.

MIT launched the blended program in supply chain management in October 2016, taking an existing one-year professional program and splitting it in two. Learners in the blended program take the first semester’s worth of courses through the massive open online course platform edX, which MIT helped create. The courses are available for free, but learners who complete five courses and pay $150 in identity-verification fees in each can earn a credential known as a MicroMasters. Those learners are then eligible to take a comprehensive final exam. Earning a passing grade makes them eligible to apply to complete the master’s degree during a semester on campus.

MIT calls that process “inverted admissions,” as prospective students are able to complete courses before they are technically admitted to the program.

Numbers MIT shared with Inside Higher Ed show that nearly 200,000 learners have signed up for the online courses to date. Most of them have taken the courses for free, but MIT has awarded nearly 19,000 certificates.

A group of about 1,100 learners last month became the first to finish the five MOOCs required to take the comprehensive final exam. Nearly 800 did took the test, and 622 passed. Of those, about 130 have so far applied to finish the full degree at MIT, beginning in January. Space restrictions limit MIT to accepting around 40 of them. The residential program also seats about 40 students.

Other learners may choose to finish the degree elsewhere. A handful of institutions -- Curtin University and the University of Queensland in Australia, the University of Zaragoza in Spain (which partners with MIT for its logistics program), and the Rochester Institute of Technology -- accept the MicroMasters credential as credit toward a master’s degree.

Learners based in the U.S. make up about 17 percent of everyone who signed up for the MOOCs, followed by learners from India, Brazil, Canada and Mexico. U.S.-based learners are overrepresented among those eligible to take the final exam -- they make up about 31 percent of that group -- which Sheffi credited to MIT working with companies in the U.S. to encourage their employees to enroll.

MIT’s blended program, like similar MOOCs-for-credit initiatives at Arizona State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been closely watched in higher education. The results so far suggest graduate students are particularly interested in the model.

In December, prior to learning the full results from the blended program in supply chain management, MIT announced a second program in that mold in data, economics and development policy. Those learners won’t come to campus to finish the degree until 2019.

Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning at MIT, said in an interview that a “bunch” of similar programs are in the works. Out of respect for the faculty governance process, he declined to say which departments are considering launching their own hybrid programs.

“For us, what this is proving is that it’s an extraordinary fishing line for talent,” Sarma said. “I am enthusiastic, and a lot of colleagues are … but it will expand at the pace that faculty sees wisdom in it.”

As an added bonus, Sarma said, the supply chain management program is “more than” breaking even.

Sarma said the concept of inverted admissions reminds him of the entrance exam required by the Indian Institutes of Technology (he received his bachelor’s degree from the Kanpur institute). While he stressed that he is not suggesting MIT require an entrance exam, he said it is “inevitable” that the institute will create new ways to surface talented students.

The blended programs are also producing useful information as MIT debates how to change the way it delivers education. A 2014 report suggested MIT in the future could deliver the first and final years of a bachelor’s degree program online, giving students more flexibility by reducing the time they are required to spend on campus.

MIT last fall gave undergraduates the opportunity to take a course offered on campus as a MOOC, and a study released last month showed students in the online course found it significantly less stressful.

Replacing freshman year with MOOCs is “not for MIT at this point,” Sarma said, adding that he is personally not “gung ho” about that idea. “As for now, [this model] works for these specific types of programs, but it could certainly expand,” he said.

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Author discusses her new book on how colleges can help at-risk students succeed

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 07/26/2017 - 07:00

Many students arrive at colleges and universities at substantial risk of dropping out. They may lack the academic preparation, the money and the support structure to succeed. A new book, Breakaway Learners: Strategies for Postsecondary Success with At-Risk Students (Teachers College Press), offers a path forward for colleges to create paths for these students. The author is Karen Gross, a consultant who formerly was president of Southern Vermont College and senior policy adviser to the United States Department of Education. Via email, she responded to questions about the book.

Q: Many educators talk about "at-risk students" or "nontraditional students." Why do you favor the term "breakaway learners," and what does the term mean?

A: There is one more common term used (and I have used it along with the others listed above): “vulnerable students.” At some levels, all of the existing terms struck me as pejorative in some sense. Vulnerability, for example, is not seen as a strength in American culture. Being at risk suggests that something bad could happen -- as in land in jail or do harm to others or oneself. Nontraditional refers to something out of the norm, even though in real life, nontrads are overtaking trads in numbers. These terms, then, can each be seen as marginalizing students by making them seem less than. It is for these reasons that I use the term “breakaway learners” and why it is the title of my book. Breakaway learners are individuals who are both literally and figuratively breaking away from their prior experiences and the negative expectations of others. Breakaway learners are taking risks -- moving out of comfort zones into new places and spaces. They are to be applauded and lauded, and they needed a nomenclature that showcased their efforts.

Q: What do you see as the key issues with recruiting such students? What do colleges need to do to attract these students?

A: Would that there were easy answers to these two posed questions, because if there were, more breakaway learners would be populating our postsecondary education institutions. Before I answer, I also want to say that recruiting these students -- attracting these students -- is not the same as retaining and graduating these students. To be sure, if they do not even enroll, there is not a need to worry about graduation.

Here are three ways to improve recruitment and enable colleges/universities to enroll more breakaway learners: (1) think about and then activate education as a pipeline that runs from birth through adulthood and plants learning “seeds” early and often and ventilate the silos in which the institutions along the pipeline operate; (2) provide improved professional development opportunities that work across institutions so that teachers and professors stop complaining about not having students who look and act and perform like they did and start to become more understanding and accepting of students today and their enormous strengths, even among those who have experienced children trauma, abuse and toxic stress; and (3) improve guidance counseling, including improving the ratio of students to counselors and augmenting counselor knowledge of a wide range of educational institutions, not just those that are either local and/or elite.

Q: You discuss the stress that these students have. How serious are the stress and mental health issues?

A: The stresses are both real and serious, and they are often ignored, unrecognized and not understood. A growing number of students today in the educational landscape have high ACEs (adverse childhood experience scores) based on the standard quiz of that name. What this means is that students come into the educational system with a myriad of psychosocial issues that have made and currently make learning a challenge. It is not a question of smarts; it is a question of priorities and preparation. Think of the Maslow hierarchy. If you do not eat and are hungry, the best reading teacher in America cannot enable you to read. You need to eat first. If you do not sleep well at home (because you have no bed or no home or are listening to fights or gunshots or observing (and perhaps experiencing) the effects of drugs and alcohol), you will sleep in school or miss classes -- suboptimal, to be sure. Stress is, in a word, a killer; it affects both soft and hard wiring; it impacts learning; it impedes development of self; it harms growth; it fosters bad or compensatory habits. Surely we need more mental health professionals, but we also need, and this is emphasized in Breakaway Learners, institutions that are understanding of and capable of handling students who have high ACEs; that involve training of all individuals on a campus and a change in campus culture in most instances.

Q: What are some of the key strategies to promote retention and graduation of breakaway learners?

A: Breakaway Learners offers up a new concept, lasticity. Yes, it is a made-up word but one with real meaning. It describes a new process by which to promote student retention and graduation, and while designed for breakaway learners in particular, it will improve educational outcomes in general. While it is directed in the book mostly to postsecondary education, it has applicability across the educational landscape. Embedded in lasticity is a set of strategies that can and should be deployed systemically and systematically. There is no one-off solution here.

There needs to be, for example, improvement in student choice architecture so they are better able to “pivot right” (not as in right wing, but as in choices that are personally enhancing and beneficial societally); we need to create reciprocity so that breakaway learners can feel more welcomed and at home in their postsecondary environment; this is not about a three-day orientation or a residential counselor for those living in the residential halls. No, this is about a deep commitment of those in an institution to engage with students in and outside of class and to come to those engagements with a deeper understanding of these students and their needs and wants. Reciprocity takes educators (broadly defined) off pedestals and places them in engaged relationships with students. This is a change in orientation for many who work on a campus who see reciprocity as pandering or catering or parenting. It isn’t. This isn’t about snowflake students and coddled children with helicoptering parents. Sure, they exist, but in small numbers (larger numbers of whom attend elite colleges and purchase books that speak to their needs). The vast majority of today’s students need the benefits of reciprocity, as the Compassionate School movement figured out some decades ago.

Q: You just used the word “lasticity,” a concept developed in your book. Could you briefly elaborate on how this new concept is distinguishable from grit, resiliency and mind-sets, among other descriptors of initiatives to foster low-income, first-generation student (your breakaway learners) success?

A: At first blush, it would seem as if lasticity is an effort to eradicate current efforts to improve breakaway learner success. Instead, it is more like an umbrella concept into which existing efforts can be housed. That is because existing efforts are, although ofttimes this is not recognized or acknowledged, limited in scope and insufficient to move the proverbial needle. Start with this realization: none of the concepts (except lasticity) put enough, or in some cases any, emphasis on the centrality of reciprocity between individuals or between individual and institution -- a requirement for breakaway learner success. Lasticity moves the locus of success from being housed within an individual (the learner) into an interpersonal and cultural dimension. Now, turning to popular existing interventions, begin with resiliency.

It is -- as its name implies and word root means -- about restoring the status quo ante, bouncing back. But, in truth, as the trauma literature makes abundantly clear (evidenced by the word “plasticity”), one is forever changed by trauma, and there is no bouncing back to what one was; one must bounce forward. And while one is changed, those changes are not all negative, although again we ofttimes ignore and do not develop the positives (like creativity and problem-solving skills and hyperawareness of the needs of others). Developing grit and a focus (mind-set) are not negatives, but they are not targeted at breakaway learners; they also ignore key additional concepts like belief in self or independent decision-making capacity. So, the best way to reflect on and understand lasticity, which has five foundational elements, is to approach it as a concept that encompasses existing as well as new constructs, which when taken and applied together, facilitate (not guarantee) student success, most particularly breakaway learner success.

Q: Many educators worry that accountability measures -- such as tracking colleges based on graduation rates -- may discourage colleges from enrolling at-risk students. Is this a valid concern?

A: Sure, rankings are a concern for elite colleges where numbers (are you No. 5 or 10) seem to drive choices among students and their parents (and even among institutions). Indeed, institutions hire consultants to improve their rankings. For some rankings in the past, there was even pay to play so the institutions that were highly ranked literally paid for the privilege. But, for me, rankings do a disservice (based on how they are calculated) to many institutions that may not have high alumni/ae giving and large endowments and famous Nobel-winning professors, because many of these lesser-ranked institutions serve their students well and help their students in ways that might be unimaginable at some elite institutions.

But, this whole ranking/rating discussion aside, what we really need are better measures of quality and success of education. That is not determined by a ranking. It is not determined by how much money graduates make. It is not measured by the size of the library or the number of new buildings. We don’t have a good measure for determining educational quality at present, and rankings are a poor surrogate. And, by the by, we do not have a shared understanding of what success is in education, a reality that makes educational improvement a problem. But, this much is clear, as described in Breakaway Learners -- we need to improve campus culture. We may not measure that at present in meaningful and published ways, but culture is what will impact student outcomes and student success while on campus and postgraduation.

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Article sparks new round of criticism of costs associated with academic conferences

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:00

Scholars -- particularly those working off the tenure track, with little to no access to institutional professional development or travel funds -- have long criticized the costs associated with attending academic conferences. But a recent round of criticism comes from tenure-track and tenured professors, as well, with some proposing alternative means of meeting in response to logistical, political and, of course, financial concerns.

“Yes, being an academic is a privilege. Yes, we are lucky to get to see the insides of conference centers the world over. And yes, we need to have a discussion about the cost we’re required to pay to keep this privilege,” Pamela L. Gay, an assistant research professor of astronomy at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, wrote in a Medium blog post called “The Unacknowledged Costs of Academic Travel.”

Conference costs -- from major purchases, such as airfare, to smaller ones, such as in-transit Wi-Fi -- can quickly eat up significant shares of academics’ budgets, Gay says. While that may be feasible for more senior faculty members or deans who can afford to personally cover what they are not reimbursed for or be without funds while awaiting reimbursement, she adds, it’s not for newer, lower-paid professors and adjuncts.

Gay goes on to call conference costs, even those reimbursed by institutions, interest-free loans or savings given to a college or university from a faculty member, given the lag time on reimbursements. Moreover, she says, these institutions benefit from their faculty members attending conferences, and the conferences aren’t optional: professors must attend them to be promoted.

Despite the cultural and professional taboos surrounding talk of money, Gay says, “We need to stop being silent, and start recognizing that academia taxes people for the right to keep and advance their careers.” If institutions aren’t going to pay people more but still ask them to travel, she wrote, “changes need to be made.”

First, she wrote, “Anyone who has to travel for work needs work to pay for travel, and to pay what it can up front with timely reimbursement on the back end.” Second, “We need to reconsider per diem rates in the context [of] connectivity costs; incidentals needs to be sufficient to include Wi-Fi.” And next, “We need to consider [the] creation of travel kits that can be checked out and that contain cables and batteries and all the other random stuff that is needed.”

Gay’s piece resonated with Karen Kelsky, a tenured professor-turned-academic career coach who moderates the blog The Professor Is In. Kelsky said she appreciated, in particular, Gay’s observation that “even those with conference travel budgets are actually providing uncompensated loans to their institutions in the many weeks of waiting for reimbursement.” And that “doesn't begin to address the inequities confronting all those without conference travel budgets,” Kelsky added.

Matt Reed, vice president for learning at Brookdale Community College, responded to Gay’s piece on his regular Inside Higher Ed blog, saying he echoed her “sense that we need to update some of the processes by which we allocate travel funding, such as thinking to include Wi-Fi as an expense.” Reed also said he was a fan of a “per diem” system, as opposed to itemized meals, as it “covers tips, and it lets people allocate meals as they see fit.”

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said conference trends will vary by discipline. In most, he said, "in-person and virtual conferences will each have their place, serving different functions. Digital networking has not replaced in person interaction." Instead, he said, "these forms of community building enhance one another, as people who know one another online meet in person, and then extend interaction between the conference." One of AHA's most popular receptions in recent years has been "Twitterstorians and Bloggers," for example, Grossman added.

As for costs, Grossman said that many scholarly societies are "quite conscious" of them. Some organizations subsidize travel for graduate students and or underemployed faculty members, he said, while some subsidize child care. Many, he said, look carefully at hotel costs and airline routes. 

Nevertheless, Matthew McKay, director of student life and diversity at the State University of New York at Adirondack, said that the “very nature of a national conference exudes economic privilege.” Registration, travel, lodging, food and “even education (looking at you pre-conference workshops) all cost a premium for organizations who value ‘social justice and diversity,’” McKay wrote via email to Inside Higher Ed. “If we really valued equity, wouldn’t we have a sliding scale for conference registration based on your gross salary? Would we offer all-inclusive sponsored rates for those who cannot or do not have the institutional/personal means to attend a conference? Wouldn’t educational sessions all be free to members?” 

Saying that outcry over California adding Texas to its list of places to which state-funded travel is prohibited “exudes” privilege, McKay asked, “If you continue to do something over and over but expect a different result, what does that mean for us? …When do we take the actions necessary to cultivate systemic change?”

Predictions for the Future

It may be hard to generalize about academic conferences. They include intimate gatherings of scholars who share highly specialized interests and gathering of large disciplines that attract thousands. The latter category includes many search committee members, typically subsidized in some form by their departments, but also many graduate students seeking jobs. Those students are often there on their own dime, having just spent their savings on interview attire.

As its title suggests, a new book, Academic Conferences as Neoliberal Commodities (Palgrave Macmillan), is also critical of the contemporary conference scene. Author Donald J. Nicolson, a former academic researcher and journalist, describes social sciences gatherings in particular as moving away from an authentic “intellectual communication” tradition to a kind of see-and-be-seen one. The book also notes the costs -- financial, time and environmental -- associated with conference travel and discusses the lack of research on what impact conferences ultimately have.

Beyond fixing the funding and reimbursement problem, are academic conferences even worth it, to academics, disciplines or institutions? There are signs they’re already waning, or changing form. Just this spring, for example, the American Society of Microbiology announced plans to slash small-conference organizing, citing decreased attendance and resultant financial woes for the organization.

Increased travel restrictions to the U.S. imposed by the Trump administration have led some to brainstorm about online meetings. The Feminist and Women’s Studies Association of the United Kingdom and Ireland, for example, is holding an upcoming virtual conference, in solidarity with those affected by travel mobility issues. In addition to an in-person conference in September, the association will host a two-week meeting on its website. Presenters may submit blog posts, videos, slide shows or short film presentations, based on preference. Viewers can comment, and dialogue will be encouraged through social media.

“We feel that this enables feminist academic dialogue in a way that is as inclusive as possible, and that overcomes some of the barriers that traditional conferences present,” Charlotte Mathieson, a lecturer in English at the University of Surrey and association chair, told the blog Not So Popular. “While physical conferences are an invaluable way to share research, many academics find conference travel prohibitively difficult: the practicalities of attending imposes demands on individuals’ time, finances and mobility, as well as requiring time away from family and caring responsibilities.”

Responding in part to Gay’s post, Matthew Cheney, a Ph.D. candidate in literature at the University of New Hampshire, wrote on his own blog that in his experience, “conferences are mostly a waste of time and money.” He, too, calls conferences a symptom of the “neoliberalization” of the academy, as well as a parade of “winners” with tenure-track jobs that cover their travel expenses and then some.

“I'm sure there are winners who don't like academic conferences, but lots of them do, or else conferences wouldn't be such a central part of academic life,” Cheney wrote. “In an age when we can instantly share our work with each other, when we can zap our video image across the world, when anybody with an internet connection can set up a website and publish just about anything, there's no great need for academics to get together and read papers at each other, as they do in my discipline. The scholarship can be shared and discussed otherwise.”

Cheney doesn’t suggest doing away with the conference. “But don’t make it mandatory,” he says. “Don’t judge people's CVs by how many conference papers they've presented. Don't create an expectation that to be a good academic we must all join the jet set.”

Kelsky said that if she had to predict the future of academic conferences, she’d anticipate a further shift toward virtual conferences, with more interviews via Skype, in recognition of the financial constraints facing many participants. At the same time, she guessed there would be a continued reliance on in-person conferences for those who can afford them.

In other words, she said, it’s “the continued feudalization of academia, where those at the top occupy a more and more isolated enclave of privilege and opportunity hoarding, at the expense of everyone else. Virtual options will mitigate this to some extent, but as you know, some of the deepest human engagement remains face-to-face, so that option will exist for, and benefit, those with funds.”

Financial concerns notwithstanding, Reed, writing for Inside Higher Ed, said he wished academic conferences were a bigger part of community college life and cautioned against writing them off too quickly.

Having seen the “effects of a long-term underfunding of travel, I can attest that the cost of information missed and connections not made is cumulative. After a while, people don’t know what they don’t know,” he wrote. “Too much time in a local bubble leads to a lack of a comparative perspective, and a tendency to conflate the way things have been with the way they must be.”

Reed said teleconferences work “great,” but best as a follow-up. “There will be times when individual people can’t travel much; when the kids were in preschool, I kept travel to a minimum,” he added. “But when entire colleges keep it to a minimum, they cut down the future to the size of the present. That should be the last thing academics should do.”

Worth noting, too, is that many academics bemoaned the loss of networking opportunities when the microbiology society announced their plan to cut local conferences.

The Modern Language Association has long been a target of conference cost backlash, since a large share of its members teach off the tenure track. Rosemary Feal, the association’s longtime executive director, said, “It's logical to wonder how relevant” conferences are today. At MLA, she said, members cite exchanging scholarly ideas face-to-face and networking with colleagues as top reasons for attending. Additional benefits include professional development experiences, talks by scholars, job fairs and book exhibits, she added.

Over all, Feal said, “there will always be a place for in-person scholarly meetings” -- and plenty of opportunities for scholarly exchange using technology. MLA's open-access repository, CORE, for example, lets humanities scholars share their work pre- and post-publication, Feal said. “While this kind of scholarly enterprise is not the equivalent of an academic conference, it is a conferring of minds, and that is the heart of our intellectual endeavor.”

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Black women graduate students enroll in higher numbers at for-profits

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:00

Graduate student enrollment is declining at for-profit institutions, but the sector continues to resonate with one particular demographic -- black women.

“Of black bachelor’s degree recipients, women will more significantly go on to get master’s degrees,” said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow in the education policy program at the Urban Institute. “African-American women are more likely to go to the for-profit sector.”

Overall, African-American men and women are overrepresented at for-profit master’s degree programs. While accounting for 9 percent of the nation's mix of college students, in 2007 they comprised a roughly a quarter of the for-profit sector’s graduate enrollment, according to Baum, who cited a report she co-authored.

And the numbers of black women who choose for-profit graduate education have increased slightly. In 2007, 24 percent of black women graduate students chose to pursue their degrees at for-profit institutions, Baum said, according to federal data. In 2014, 31 percent of black women graduate students were enrolled in for-profit colleges compared to 13 percent of all female graduate students and 9 percent of white women graduate students, according to an analysis of federal data by Elizabeth Baylor, the former director of postsecondary education policy at the Center for American Progress.

Total graduate student enrollment at for-profits decreased by more than 7 percent from 2015 to 2016, to 263,498 students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

For critics of the sector, the higher proportion of African-American women enrolling in for-profit master’s programs is an issue.

“This trend is concerning because for-profit graduate education is a relatively new sector and its results are unknown,” Baylor said in an email. “Generally people pursue advanced degrees because they are associated with higher lifetime earnings and better job security. However, policy makers and the public don’t know if that is, in fact, true for people who attend for-profit colleges.”

Graduate institutions don’t have to report completion rates to the federal government, she said, or break out student loan repayment rates by level of education or loan program.

“While it may be true that attending for-profit colleges might not be good because of student debt and poor outcomes, the outcomes depend on what majors are being pursued,” said Anthony Carnevale, a research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

According to an analysis by Carnevale, the most popular major among black women who enroll in for-profit graduate degree programs was business administration and management, at 27 percent.

Meanwhile, the median earnings for black women with graduate degrees from any institution are $60,000 for business majors and $50,000 for education majors, according to the analysis.

Baum said the decision to pursue a for-profit graduate degree could be driven by convenience, since these are degree programs that also exist at public institutions.

“The reality is that master’s degree programs by their nature enroll higher proportions of women, blacks, students from lower-income backgrounds and people who earn bachelor’s degrees at older ages,” said Steve Gunderson, president and chief executive officer of Career Education Colleges and Universities, the primary trade group for the for-profit sector. “The reality is that many of the master’s degree programs do not pay as well as those professional degree programs do as you get into those careers.”

Gunderson used graduate degrees in education as an example, noting that K-12 teachers typically earn a master’s degree, which improves their skills but doesn’t put them in a higher salary range.

“One thing our sector is proud of is that we meet students where they are in daily life,” Gunderson said. “We’re much better at scheduling academic programming in ways that work with their schedule that often includes full-time jobs or children, and that has a big impact on whether they attend a traditional graduate program.”

Some traditional graduate programs instead pride themselves on exclusivity rather than access, he said.

The flexibility also benefits employers who want their employees to continue working, said Baylor, but may offer a raise or promotion if the employee pursues a master’s degree.

“Sure, you can say they chose this and they have bachelor’s degrees, so they’re in a good position to make this decision,” Baum said. “But given the history of for-profit institutions -- the prices, debt levels associated with them and history of credibility in the labor market -- you have to at least question why this is a good decision for this group and not others.”

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After jail sentence for Princeton Ph.D. student, scholars consider safety of research in Iran

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:00

How safe is it to do research in Iran? What are the risks, and have they changed?

Academics who have conducted research in the country weighed in on those questions following the recent news that a Princeton Ph.D. student, Xiyue Wang, had been sentenced by an Iranian court to 10 years in prison for alleged espionage. In reporting on Wang’s sentence, The Washington Post quoted the account of the official news agency of Iran’s judiciary, Mizan, which said that Wang was sentenced as part of an “infiltration project” involving the gathering of “confidential articles” to send to the U.S. State Department and Western academic institutions. The New York Times reported that Mizan accused Wang of having digitally archived 4,500 pages of documents and having done “super-confidential research for the U.S. Department of State, Harvard Kennedy School and British Institute of Persian Studies.”

Wang, a fourth-year graduate student of history at Princeton and an American citizen of Chinese descent, reportedly was studying the Qajar dynasty, which ruled Iran from 1794 to 1925. News of his sentence came the same day Iran announced the arrest of the brother of President Hassan Rouhani as part of a corruption inquiry, in what the Times described as a seeming attempt by Rouhani’s hard-line rivals to undermine him.

Wang’s adviser, the Princeton historian Stephen Kotkin, told National Public Radio’s All Things Considered that Wang had reached out to established scholars prior to leaving for Iran and that he was well prepared. "Everything he did is normal -- absolutely everything he did is normal, standard practice for scholars in this region and elsewhere," Kotkin said.

Some scholars who have conducted research in Iran said the news of Wang’s jail sentence hit them hard. This is not the first time academics or students have been jailed in Iran, but Wang’s case stands out as somewhat unusual in a couple respects. Many of the other arrests have involved dual Iranian and American citizens, who the State Department warns face particular risk of arrest and detention. Scholars also pointed out that the subject of Wang’s historical research seems uncontroversial on its face.

“It gives me chills because I was doing the exact same thing between 2009 and 2011,” said Eric Lob, an assistant professor of politics and international relations at Florida International University. “I was a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton doing fieldwork in Iran. I went there three times. Each trip was about three to four months of duration, and at the end of my third and last trip, I was detained. That was the last time I was there.”

Lob was doing research on politics and development in post-revolutionary Iran. “It was certainly a more sensitive topic,” he said. In addition to archival research he was interviewing officials at a government ministry that had buildings around Tehran. "I had been doing interviews at the ministry at this particular building several times, and my last time doing interviews there the security forces came in at the middle of an interview with an official,” Lob recalled.

“They kept me for several hours -- they were making phone calls, they were shouting at me and accusing me of doing sensitive political research,” Lob continued. “Fortunately, because I had been there already on and off for over a year, some officials at the ministry walked in after several hours and intervened on my behalf. These officials from the ministry were arguing with these intelligence or security agents. They finally agreed to release me and they told me never to come back to this building.”

“What’s so difficult is you can’t really predict what will happen there. That’s part of the stress as a researcher. There’s an arbitrariness about how things happen,” Lob said. He added that -- seemingly paradoxically -- the election and recent re-election of Rouhani, a moderate, to the presidency might actually increase the risk of arrest and detention for foreign researchers by rival hard-line and conservative forces that feel they are on the defensive.

Shervin Malekzadeh, a visiting professor of political science at Williams College, views the climate for foreign researchers in Iran with ambivalence. On the one hand, he described a flourishing academic atmosphere in Iran. On the other, he condemned the “completely arbitrary manner in which these scholars, researchers, travelers and private citizens are being snatched up by ‘the system.’”

“Not to be Pollyannaish about it, there are a lot of people who come and go to Iran -- with great hesitancy, perhaps -- and do this kind of work,” Malekzadeh said in a phone interview. “This is the open secret about academic research in Iran, specifically. I think North Korea might come to mind, or so-called closed states or rogue societies. Iran’s not like that. It has a very vibrant scientific and academic community that necessarily involves local actors doing research.”

“That a foreigner would show up and do that sort of research, there’s already a context, there’s already an infrastructure,” he continued. “It’s not like you’re coming from space. There will be other people in that room doing research with you.”

At the same time, Malekzadeh said, “there’s no way to anticipate what the red line is. This sort of scenario” -- Wang’s arrest -- “speaks to a situation that’s impossible to predict. I can’t emphasize enough how his subject matter cannot possibly have been sensitive.”

Malekzadeh said he would be hesitant to go to Iran right now, as he thinks tension that's playing out between different factions of Iran's political system increases the danger. At the same time, he said in a follow-up email, he remains convinced that “there is no closing of doors or systematic crackdown on research and study. The contradiction is that the lack of systematic suppression, what distinguishes Iran from, say, Turkey right now, that gives me hope that the research can and will (and must) continue. It is also what makes it so unnerving to carry out research in Iran.”

“As in many countries, fieldwork and research in Iran require local contacts, often scholars or students, who are more familiar with the informal rules of gaining access to materials which, in most cases, are ostensibly available to the public,” said Kevan Harris, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has done extensive research in Iran, including fieldwork observation, interviews with officials and archival research, and has written a forthcoming book from the University of California Press on politics and the welfare state in Iran.

“Citizenship sometimes hinders access, as does country of origin,” Harris said via email. “British and American researchers might be viewed more skeptically by administrators or officials than individuals from Germany, Italy or Turkey, for instance. There is always uncertainty of gaining access, and few incentives for archive officials to grant it to someone who knocks on the front door without anyone to vouch for them.”

“The National Archives and Library of Iran, where Wang hoped to conduct his research, is well curated and professionally organized,” Harris continued. “The reading room is full of students, scholars and dilettantes. Wang was conducting historical research on a conventional topic, far removed from the contemporary period and one on which many books inside Iran are published, but someone in Iran still construed this as a nefarious threat. The tragic irony for Xiyue Wang is that national archives in other Central Asian countries relevant to his studies on 19th-century diplomatic history, such as in Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan, are more closed off to foreign researchers than those in Iran.”

“People weigh the uncertainty on an ad hoc basis since it is incalculable,” Harris said. “As someone who supervises students who do fieldwork in many countries, I would say that such a challenge is not unique to Iran.”

“In my opinion it’s always been risky,” said one Iranian studies researcher who asked not to be named so as not to jeopardize future research travel to Iran. “I don’t know if it’s any riskier now than it ever was.”

Part of what makes research in Iran risky, this researcher said, is that the U.S. does not maintain diplomatic relations with Iran -- “and the rules they play by regarding American citizens are their rules.” (Since there is no American Embassy in Iran, the U.S. relies on the Swiss Embassy to provide protective services to American citizens.)

“I don’t know if it’s ever been 100 percent safe,” the researcher said. “I think you’ll just have to assume you’ll be watched and someone can misconstrue what you’re doing -- or in the case of the Princeton graduate student, they may have said, ‘Let’s grab him.’”

“The people who go anyway do it out of, I don’t know, I don’t think it’s an insanity, but a desire to complete their research and to learn, and, I think, most out of a love of Iran. That has to be part of it; otherwise it becomes too risky,” the researcher said.

Some scholars have assessed the risks as being too high, at least for themselves. Hussein Banai, an assistant professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies, was born in Iran and lived there until he was 15. He has not returned since 1999, when he participated in student demonstrations against the regime and was briefly detained. He studies liberalism in modern Iran and U.S.-Iran relations.

“I could very easily be seen as someone who’s trying to stoke some kind of trouble, so I’ve resolved not to go ever since I got serious about scholarly work,” Banai said. It’s “absolutely” a hindrance to feel unable to go there, he said. “I’ve seen it really be a hindrance to people whose work really requires ethnographic research; they need to be in touch not just with archives but with people. For those of us who do political research that relies on primary sources, it is a hindrance.”

Asked of the risk for researchers in Iran in general, Banai said, “One has to say after this latest arrest that it is no longer a kind of low to moderate [risk], but moderate to high. Not only has the emphasis shifted away from first Iranian citizens, then Iranian dual citizens and now American citizens, but it seems to be a part of a larger political score settling” between Iran’s hard-liners and moderates “that is just increasingly difficult to gauge and to properly assess ahead of time.”

Suzanne Maloney, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow for the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, said she advises students against travel to Iran.

There is no logic, no justification. Tehran detains foreigners (& Iranians) because it can. The only sure way to stay safe is to stay home.

— Suzanne Maloney (@MaloneySuzanne) July 17, 2017

“It has always been subject to a certain degree of uncertainty and risk simply because there is no American diplomatic presence there, but what I’ve seen is an uptick in the number of cases of individuals who are there, particularly via solo travel as researchers or on student internships, who find themselves subject to a higher degree of harassment and scrutiny and even in a number of cases detention, for no obvious reasons,” Maloney said in a phone interview. “These are not people who are engaging in obviously questionable behavior or whose work is overtly political.”

“I know this is like many countries -- students have to assume a certain degree of risk -- but I think given the possible consequences, even if still ultimately the risks are relatively low, I think it’s not a responsible choice to either encourage students to travel to Iran, to finance it, and to suggest that there are real ways to mitigate against this risk,” she said.

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ACTA wants trustees to watch administrative spending ratio

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:00

Context is key for governing boards trying to exercise oversight of colleges and universities. It can also be surprisingly hard to come by, according to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

ACTA released new research today in an attempt to give trustees a financial benchmark for administrative spending and instructional costs. The group crunched 2015 data from more than 1,200 four-year nonprofit institutions to come up with median ratios of administrative spending to instructional spending for colleges and universities of various sizes and classifications.

The ratios come as many worry that administrative spending has risen faster than other types of spending at colleges and universities. ACTA wants them to be a tool for trustees trying to stop costs from rising. The group found that some types of small private nonprofit institutions spent a median of well over 50 cents on administration for every dollar they spent on instruction.

“People may be surprised, but it is the reality that not all boards receive the kind of financial information they need to make good, sound governance decisions,” said Michael Poliakoff, ACTA president.

“I hope this will be the springboard for a really good discussion,” he said. “Higher education governing boards typically have people who have been highly successful in the world of business and industry who understand profoundly the need for accurate metrics regularly delivered and carefully discussed.”

Skeptics and critics caution, however, that the ratio is not a perfect tool and can itself lack context. They warn that measuring administrative spending versus instructional spending is highly reliant on accounting practices that can be inexact -- or creative -- at some institutions. They also worried that trustees might be driven to move colleges and universities toward a median ratio that does not reflect the massive variations between different colleges and universities and the students they serve.

ACTA leaders say they attempted to be as conservative as possible when calculating the ratios, a process for which they used data from the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Data System. The research ACTA released lists its definition of instructional cost as “expansive,” saying it includes what institutions report to NCES as expenses for instruction, functions that have direct bearing on institutions’ academic enterprise and academic support. Academic support is further defined as including expenditures for libraries, museums, galleries and academic deans. It does not cover department chairpersons, though.

Administrative costs are only defined as what institutions report to NCES as institutional support for the day-to-day operating support of an institution. That includes general administrative services, executive planning, legal operations, fiscal operations, public relations and development. But it does not include student services like student activities, career services and financial aid staff. Nor does it include auxiliary enterprises like parking, housing or food services. Expenses for operating hospitals are generally not included, either.

Athletics is not included in the calculation. Those expenses would typically fall under either student services or auxiliary expenses, according to ACTA. The report does not address either of those categories.

ACTA leaders believe that the current set of factors included in the ratio keeps it applicable to as many institutions as possible. But they want to look at other areas of spending, such as student services, in the future.

With those definitions explained, ACTA reports that the ratio of an institution’s spending on administration relative to instruction can show its budget priorities. Combined with other measures, it says, the ratio can provide warning when administrative operations are growing faster than core academic functions, which could drive up tuition and fees.

Generally, ACTA found that large institutions had a lower administrative-to-instructional cost ratio than small institutions.

For example, small private baccalaureate colleges posted a median ratio of 0.64, meaning they spent 64 cents on administrative costs for every $1 they spent on instructional costs. Large public doctoral universities classified as having the highest level of research activity had a median ratio of only 0.17.

There are some important caveats, however. The size categories are not the same for public institutions as they are for private ones. Generally, categories for public institutions covered larger colleges and universities than their counterparts for private institutions. For example, the category for large public doctoral universities with the highest research activity covered institutions with enrollment of 26,580 to 45,796. The same category for private institutions covered colleges and universities with enrollments spanning 9,221 to 27,004.

The benchmarks are not intended as a tool for comparison between different types of institutions, said Armand Alacbay, ACTA vice president of trustee and legislative affairs. They are supposed to be a way to encourage good board governance.

“The idea of having these categories is so that boards can have a back-of-the-envelope figure to compare similar institutions,” he said. “We’re not intending to have a cross-sector comparison here.”

Small institutions might also be expected to spend relatively higher amounts on administration than their larger counterparts. They have fewer students -- and consequently smaller instructional costs -- across which to spread spending that can’t be avoided, such as the cost of complying with government requirements.

Still, Poliakoff said, small institutions should take note of the findings.

“This is a wake-up call for small institutions, which are absolutely vital for American higher education,” he said. “A large segment of students need these kinds of small institutions, and they are the most vulnerable, which means they are going to have to think creatively, which means it is not OK to have a disparity between spending on administration and spending on instruction.”

ACTA gave four specific recommendations for trustees: that they be knowledgeable about administrative spending; that they establish a standard set of financial metrics to use when they are asked to approve a major expenditure; that they work to ensure data quality and consistency; and that they look for ways to consolidate administrative functions.

A wide-ranging call to cut administrative functions might not sit well with college and university leaders. Many administrators are likely to view the recommended ratio with unease.

Producing a ratio that applies accurately to the wide range of colleges and universities in American higher education is not easy, said Richard Kneedler, president emeritus of Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania and former interim president at Rockford College in Illinois. Institutions of different sizes and types will need different spending levels, he said. So will institutions that serve different populations and institutions located in different areas.

“There is no system that’s going to account for a difference between an institution that has one building in the center of a town or a city and it’s not residential, and an institution that owns the top of a mountain somewhere in Tennessee and is responsible for 5,000 acres, has to have its own fire department and ambulance and police services and provide its own water and sewer,” Kneedler said. “Those are all administrative costs.”

Accounting practices can vary from institution to institution as well.

“You can’t do standard cost accounting in private higher education and have any certainty that from institution to institution you’re getting comparable numbers,” Kneedler said. “That really makes it troublesome to try to work across different institutions.”

Kneedler does not want to undercut the idea that there is value in benchmarking, he said. But he wanted to stress that the metrics sometimes make the story appear clearer than it actually is. Benchmarking is only a starting point from which to ask questions, he said.

Spending on administrative functions has generally outpaced spending in other areas, according to Steven Hurlburt, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research and director of the Delta Cost Project.

Hurlburt outlined some notable differences between definitions ACTA used in calculating its ratio and those used in the Delta Cost Project. The ACTA definition of instruction differs from the Delta Cost Project’s education and related spending metric. ACTA’s inclusion of all expenses in the academic support category is wide-ranging.

“Academic support includes expenses of activities and services that support instruction, but also research and public service, which are definitely not related to instruction,” Hurlburt said in an email.

The Delta Cost Project calculation limits academic spending to its education-related portion.

Including academic support as a nonadministrative cost could also cause issues. Hurlburt gave the theoretical example of a college that moved to part-time contingent faculty but spent more on academic support administrators.

“The administration-to-instruction ratio would still be the same, but clearly less would be going to instruction and faculty,” he wrote.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 07:00
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Media circus surrounding 'mattress girl' case changed conversation on sexual assault

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 07:00

During her senior year at Columbia University, Emma Sulkowicz carried a 50-pound mattress around wherever she went, a performance-art project, "Carry That Weight," representing that the man who Sulkowicz said raped her walked free on campus. This conspicuous protest captured headlines and made the “mattress girl” a national talking point in the conversation about campus sexual assault.

In many ways, Sulkowicz’s story mirrors the trends and shifting debate over how academe adjudicates these crimes.

She remains for many a dominant symbol of how students can fight campus sexual violence. She was the subject of multiple profiles in The New York Times, including a piece extolling her mattress-centric performance art, which doubled as her senior thesis. She stood alongside U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, as the lawmaker announced legislation aimed at combating sexual assault -- and was her guest to the 2015 State of the Union.

But eventually articles more sympathetic to the man Sulkowicz accused -- Paul Nungesser -- came, including one in The Daily Beast that included friendly Facebook messages between the two after the alleged assault occurred. The exchanges appeared to back Nungesser's consistent statement that the encounter was consensual.

A Columbia disciplinary panel had cleared Nungesser of responsibility in Sulkowicz’s case (New York City police decided not to bring charges, though Sulkowicz filed a report in 2014). Nungesser felt so ostracized on campus that he sued the university in 2015 for complacency in his harassment, asserting that because Sulkowicz would receive academic credit for her protest, Columbia was condoning it. Though he failed in court twice, Columbia settled with him recently for an undisclosed amount of money.

The conclusion to this saga comes at a time when President Trump’s Education Department has focused on the plight of men who say they have been falsely accused of sexual assault, or who were found responsible by their colleges without appropriate due process. National research indicates no more than 8 percent of rape accusations are false. Research also indicates that only a slim number of rapes that occur are actually reported.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently met with representatives from these groups, who are critical of President Obama’s 2011 order that reinterpreted the federal anti-discrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This still serves as the guidance for how institutions should judge sexual assault -- and DeVos could be on the precipice of major changes to it. Sulkowicz’s case can serve to inform the federal government, and colleges, about these decisions, experts say.

Nungesser to many serves as an example of a man wrongly accused, his reputation destroyed. But while the narrative DeVos and others discuss is about colleges denying due process rights, Columbia in fact never found him responsible for anything. And the university stood by its decision despite a public campaign that had many questioning the university's approach to sexual assault accusations.

Sulkowicz filed a complaint in 2013, alleging Nungesser, a close friend with whom she had had consensual sex twice previously, held her down in a dormitory in 2012 and raped her despite her pleas.

After the campus adjudication process, Nungesser wasn’t found to have done anything wrong -- and Sulkowicz in 2014 launched her project, hauling with her a mattress akin to the ones Columbia provides in its campus housing, a physical burden to demonstrate the aftermath of a rape. By her own rules, she was required to keep the mattress with her at all times, only accepting help if it was offered to her -- and it would remain with her as long as Nungesser stayed on campus, too.

Nungesser never left. Sulkowicz carried the mattress with her at her graduation in 2015, continuing to attract press coverage.

Alexandra Brodsky, a civil rights lawyer and co-founder of the advocacy group Know Your IX, now working with the National Women’s Law Center, said she still can recall her first visceral reaction of hearing about the project, and the images of Sulkowicz holding the mattress at various places on campus.

Most conversation of sexual violence centers on the act, but few focus on the lingering effects, Brodsky said -- survivors do “carry a weight,” sometimes in the form of debt they’ve accrued when they drop out of college, or struggles with academics as a repercussion.

“I think Emma gave voice to that in a really arresting way,” Brodsky said.

Student activism, particularly around sexual violence, accelerated around this time under the Obama administration, said Catherine Kaukinen, a professor and chairwoman of the criminal justice department at University of Central Florida. Kaukinen helped write and edit a new book, Addressing Violence Against Women on College Campuses (Temple University Press).

Sulkowicz’s work led to tremendous media coverage and replications of her demonstration at other campuses, Kaukinen said -- students would hold a mattress, pillow or something else representing defiance of sexual assault at their institution.

Similar movements, events and showings against rape, like Denim Day -- wearing jeans as a sign of support, or Take Back the Night, had grown less popular on campuses, but restarted with the Obama administration focusing on the issue of campus sex assaults, Kaukinen said. Vice President Biden pushed for and successfully declared a month devoted to dating violence awareness.

During the Columbia controversy, students began scrawling the names of alleged rapists on bathroom walls and slipping fliers identifying them on top of the toilet paper dispensers.

Sulkowicz's case wasn’t entirely clear and highlighted the struggle of institutions to balance the rights of both parties, said Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice, which advocates for survivors.

This was evident with Columbia’s settlement with Nungesser. The university hasn’t commented beyond a statement: “Columbia recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul’s remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience,” the statement said. “Columbia will continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student -- accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible -- is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia.”

In an interview, Annie E. Clark, the executive director of End Rape on Campus, criticized Columbia’s response -- she said the institution still hasn’t demonstrated clear and public support for survivors, as it did with Nungesser in the statement. Clark’s organization helped file a complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights against Columbia, with 20 others signing on, including Sulkowicz. The complaint blasted Columbia’s handling of sexual assault, faulting the institution for too easily letting those accused off the hook.

Clark also lambasted certain news media and their tendency to “normalize a rape myth” with lengthy articles and segments focused on students who were wrongly accused of rape -- a tiny percentage, she said.

She said that recently, media and the university’s response focused largely on Nungesser’s well-being.

Dunn agreed, to an extent -- the media hasn’t tried to delve into policy nuances or campus processes for sexual assault; instead it has picked up on the “next shiny thing.” She said the rights of the accused may be a hot-button issue, but the lawyer in her craves a robust discussion about these issues that wasn’t necessarily encapsulated in the media coverage of Sulkowicz’s case.

Though coverage of Sulkowicz tended to snowball, by the estimation of Cynthia P. Garrett, co-president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, few people in the country were aware Nungesser had been cleared.

FACE, which Garrett joined just several years ago, tries to push for “equal treatment” and due process rights for those who have faced sexual misconduct violations unfairly. Garrett is adamant that the Title IX guidance Obama issued is flawed, as well is colleges’ implementation of it. The Office for Civil Rights, too, is punitive and coercive, she said.

“An accusation is often equated to guilt,” she said of the current system.

Sexual assault prevention advocates were furious that DeVos met recently with representatives from Garrett’s group and especially with other groups, some so-called men's rights organizations widely seen as hostile to women who have experienced sex assault. To these critics, the meetings signaled that the secretary was giving credence to the myth that false rape allegations are rampant.

Garrett said false accusations have slowly become more acceptable to talk about. She balks at the notion she’s a rape apologist -- she has two daughters, and thinks anyone who commits criminal rape should be thrown in jail, not just off campus.

She characterized the meeting with DeVos as beneficial, with many students falsely accused -- students of color and queer students included -- telling her their stories. Some sobbed as they recounted their tales, Garrett said.

In her interview, Garrett was harsh on Columbia officials for allowing Sulkowicz’s art project to continue -- something she viewed as retaliation.

Kaukinen said that obviously Columbia did feel it failed Nungesser in some way, and she wouldn’t be shocked if this result influenced campus policy.

Dana Scaduto, the general counsel at Dickinson College and former board chairwoman for the National Association of College and University Attorneys, said that without all the facts, she could not address the legality of Sulkowicz carting her mattress around campus and whether that infringed on Nungesser’s rights.

From an institutional perspective, the media reports were quite damaging to preserving the integrity of adjudicating Sulkowicz’s case, she said. Reporters initially wrote Sulkowicz’s retelling as fact, without seeking follow up with Columbia -- which, admittedly, per privacy laws, couldn’t discuss the proceedings -- or Nungesser, she said.

“Colleges and universities, we do care about the students who go through the processes, and we do our best to handle these matters responsibly, as OCR expects us to handle them, but that complexity is lost,” Scaduto said.

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New study attempts to show how much state funding cuts push up tuition

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 07:00

Have public funding cuts caused colleges and universities to raise tuition?

It’s a deceptively simple question. And it’s caused two different camps to dig in, look at similar data and yell past each other with very different answers.

On one side, typically inhabited by left-wing thinkers, is the camp that believes tuition has gone up over time because colleges have been starved by state and local funding cuts to higher education. On the other side, right-wing analysts often argue that the long-term decline in state funding -- so-called state disinvestment -- has little to no effect on tuition. Instead, they say, college tuition has gone up for other reasons, like meeting rising labor costs or feeding spending urges.

Various battles have been fought over issues such as whether using different inflationary indexes to adjust data will lead to different conclusions. But there has been surprisingly little work done to try to pin down the exact rate at which public appropriations cuts are passed on to students through higher tuition.

That’s changing. New research in the journal Economics of Education Review finds the appropriation-cut-to-tuition pass-through rate has averaged 25.7 percent since 1987. In other words, for every $1,000 cut from per-student state and local appropriations, the average student can be expected to pay $257 more per year in tuition and fees.

The research also indicates students are taking on more of the cost of state funding cuts in recent years than they were three decades ago. Before 2000, a student could be expected to pay $103 more in tuition for every $1,000 cut from public funding. After 2000, the figure jumps to $318.

Those findings have the potential to reframe the debate, at least somewhat. They could shift the discussion away from if funding cuts lead to rising tuition to how much they contribute to rising tuition -- and whether such a trade-off is justified.

But for many researchers, the pass-through rate, which describes what will happen to tuition in the event of a theoretical state funding cut, hasn’t been considered a top priority to examine, said the author of the research, Douglas Webber.

Webber, who is an associate professor in Temple University’s economics department, said researchers have been more interested in broader looks at how students are affected by governments cutting funding for higher education. Colleges and universities can take a number of actions when their state funding is cut. They can increase tuition to make up for the lost revenue. They can cut from their own budgets, trimming things like student services or employees. Or they can turn to fund-raising, endowments and grants to try to raise more money over time.

Against all of those puzzle pieces, the amount students pay in tuition can seem relatively minor -- especially for researchers trying to determine how much funding cuts affect a student’s chances of graduating.

Another strike against this type of analysis is that a large number of local factors and other variables can influence how much individual colleges and universities raise tuition. State laws block some colleges from raising tuition without legislative approval, for example. Webber had some questions about whether it made sense to calculate an average pass-through rate. Such a broad metric won’t reflect reality in the situations on the ground at many different colleges and universities.

Still, Webber has participated in the debate over state disinvestment. He wrote a piece for FiveThirtyEight last year arguing that there is no single cause for rising college tuition. He planned to someday do a more rigorous analysis, but he had to push the work to the back burner as he addressed other priorities.

The state divestment arguments didn’t go away. A Cato Institute study in February made the case that state disinvestment was not the sole cause of rising tuition, putting blame on federal student aid it said enables colleges to charge more. Brookings published a piece by Jason Delisle of the American Enterprise Institute saying that limited research on the topic shows state disinvestment is not a major cause of tuition hikes. AEI published a study saying that public institutions’ tuition only rises by $5 for every $100 cut from direct state subsidies per student.

That study’s modeling was questioned by critics, including Webber. He went about building a new model taking into account adjustments he hadn’t seen elsewhere. They included accounting for state laws restricting institutions’ ability to increase tuition and the fact that lawmakers may cut appropriations unevenly for different colleges within the same state. He also measured average net tuition and fee revenue instead of institutions’ average posted tuition in order to account for strategies colleges might use to raise money after a cut in state appropriations -- strategies like cutting student aid or enrolling more out-of-state students.

Webber used data on institutional finances from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System from 1987 through 2014. The data cover 479 four-year public institutions.

“I don’t view this paper as a partisan thing,” Webber said. “The far right wants you to think that there is a zero percent pass-through rate and any state budget cuts aren’t hurting students. The far left wants you to think that the harm to students is absolutely massive and that we should never cut university budgets. And neither of those views are correct.”

In addition to the 25.7 percent average pass-through rate for all institutions, Webber calculated the rate for different types of institutions. It was highest for Ph.D.-granting institutions, at 26.6 percent. Master’s-granting institutions were close behind at 26.2 percent, followed by bachelor’s-granting institutions at 18.3 percent.

Webber also analyzed the historical data he’d gathered. The pass-through rate describes what will happen in the event of a theoretical $1,000 appropriations cut. The historical data give a look at what did happen over the last 30 years.

State and local divestment accounted for 16.1 percent of tuition and fee increases paid by the average student since 1987. Disinvestment accounted for a greater share of tuition and fee increases more recently, though. It is responsible for 29.8 percent of the tuition and fee revenue increase since 2000 and 41.2 percent since 2008.

That’s evidence colleges and universities are being pushed closer to their breaking point, Webber said. Institutions can cut from budgets up to a certain point in order to shield students from tuition increases. Eventually they have to start passing more costs on to students.

“The fact that this has been increasing says to me that in the ’80s and ’90s, there probably was a lot more fat in the budget,” Webber said. “And so, when states would divest, it was a lot easier for schools to cut things. Whereas now, the low-hanging fruit is diminishing. We’re having to make tougher decisions, and we’re having to pass more of these costs on to students because there’s not some obvious spending that we can cut.”

Not everyone will agree on that point. Policy makers will still wonder why, if appropriations cuts really drive tuition higher, the pass-through rate isn’t 100 percent, said Delisle of AEI.

“Maybe the relationship is getting stronger, but I think you’re going to be hard-pressed to convince a policy maker that a move from 25 percent to 32 percent is a really big change,” he said.

Delisle went on to argue that the relationship shown in the new research is relatively small compared to claims he’s seen that state disinvestment causes tuition increases.

“The debate now seems to be, is it 15 percent, is it a 25 percent relationship, is it 30 percent?” he said. “Two months ago, it was just assumed to be one for one.”

The fact remains that continuous state disinvestment in public colleges and universities drives tuition increases, according to Thomas Harnisch, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“While campus leaders have long sought efficiencies instead of tuition increases, this study seems to indicate the limits of that approach,” he said in an email. “The share of tuition increases that can be traced to state budget cuts has more than doubled since 1987 and remains at its highest level in the post-recession era.”

Harnisch called state budget cuts a no-win outcome for students and states. The state cuts diminish institutional quality as well as restricting access to higher education and higher bills for students, he said.

Webber’s hope is to move the discussion beyond the two absolutes of state disinvestment hurting students versus state disinvestment not mattering. He wants it to become something an economist would appreciate about the costs and benefits of state funding cuts.

Many states will have to consider cutting higher education spending to address other priorities like health care or pension spending. The hope is that the discussion can be about how much such cuts are likely to be passed on to students and whether it’s worth it.

It’s akin to a move from partisan talking points to a cost-benefit analysis. Webber has some reason to be optimistic. Feedback so far has been positive from both sides of the argument, he said.

“I’m hoping to move the conversation from shouting past each other to actually thinking more seriously about the magnitude of trade-offs,” Webber said.

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Bryan College faces more turmoil in response to firing of much loved longtime professor

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 07:00

Alumni and faculty members of Bryan College were planning to launch a petition late last week that would draw attention to what they believe is a leadership crisis at the college, a small Christian institution in Tennessee.

As they were getting ready to launch the petition, they received word that Phillip Lestmann, a tenured professor of mathematics who has taught at Bryan for 40 years, had been fired. The professor was criticized by the administration for having helped organize an "opposition group" -- and that charge has many saying that disagreeing with the administration has become a firing offense, making academic freedom impossible.

That dismissal appears to have added to the push for change at Bryan, with the petition quickly gathering support among alumni.

Bryan's name honors William Jennings Bryan, the prosecutor in the 1925 trial of John Scopes, a public school teacher accused of teaching evolution. The trial took place near campus, and while Bryan's anti-evolution stance fell from favor elsewhere, it has never fallen with leaders of the college.

Tensions have been growing at Bryan since 2014, when the college issued a "clarification" to the college’s statement of faith, which all faculty members must endorse, asserting the historicity of Adam and Eve. While the college has long had a statement of faith stressing belief in the Bible and various core values, the detail about Adam and Eve struck many faculty members and alumni as going too far, and as a move that would limit the ability of some professors to stay (some indeed left).

In discussions among faculty members at the time, Lestmann prepared widely quoted talking points that did not take issue with the Bible but said that the new statement of faith was "pretending that a very complex issue is really very simple and straightforward" and "possibly putting the college into too small a scientific or theological box."

Since the new statement of faith was adopted, the faculty has voted no confidence in President Stephen Livesay, and some trustees have left. Another trustee quit in May, charging that the board and the president have had conflicts of interest with regard to a recent land transfer to the college. Livesay declined to comment to local reporters about that resignation and did not respond to an email message from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment on the latest developments.

Organizers of the petition stress that this is not a dispute of secular versus religious values. They maintain that the college's leaders are engaged in conduct inconsistent with Christian teachings.

For example, they point to the firing of Lestmann. The college posted a note to a closed official Facebook group for those affiliated with Bryan that said Lestmann was fired because of "multiple emails" that related to "an opposition group against the college's administration." The note said that these emails violated college "community life standards," and noted that those standards allow termination of faculty members for, among other things, "lack of collegiality and compatibility" and "public disparagement of the college, its policies, mission, purpose, personnel and/or doctrine."

Lestmann could not be reached for comment.

On the petition site and on other Facebook groups, alumni are sharing stories of Lestmann as a teacher and questioning how he could be fired. On social media, faculty members elsewhere have said that Lestmann's dismissal is a dangerous development.

It's time for Bryan College to close down ... criticism of the president will get you fired. Truth is irrelevant.

— Mike S. Adams (@MikeSAdams) July 19, 2017

The petition says, "President Livesay has failed to act biblically toward believers who disagree with him. Consistent reports from a number of those who have worked at the college show that Livesay does not follow the mandates of Matthew 18:15 and Ephesians 4:13-16 to discuss his differences with other believers in a humble, loving way that could promote correction and reconciliation. Instead, he treats all disagreement with his views as evil and uses deception, threats and job termination to silence dialogue and hide dissent."

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Divisions within Hypatia's editorial board lead to the resignations of top editors

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 07:00

There’s more upheaval at the embattled feminist philosophy journal Hypatia: its two top editors have resigned and its Board of Directors has suspended the authority of the associate editorial board. That’s pending a restructuring of the journal’s governance system, to one conducive to “continued academic integrity and appropriate editorial autonomy,” the directors said in a statement late last week.

“As the board ultimately responsible for the well-being of the journal, we find it necessary at this time to take emergency measures to restore the academic integrity of the journal and shepherd it through a transition period to a new editorial team,” the statement said.

Praising the departing editors, Sally Scholz, a professor of philosophy at Villanova University who led the journal, and Shelley Wilcox, a professor of philosophy at San Francisco State University who led Hypatia Reviews Online, the directors said they were “very sorry” to see them go, “especially under these circumstances.”

The source of the rift between Hypatia’s Board of Directors and editors on one side and its associate editorial board on the other is an article the journal published earlier this year. In it, author Rebecca Tuvel, an assistant professor of philosophy at Rhodes College, compared “transracialism” to transgenderism, arguing that society should be as accepting of people such as Rachel Dolezal as they are of Caitlyn Jenner. (Dolezal, former head of the Spokane, Wash., NAACP chapter, made headlines in 2015 after it was revealed that she was born white but had been “passing” and identified as black. Jenner, of course, was an Olympic decathlete who came out as transgender in 2015.)

Tuvel’s article was peer reviewed and passed editorial muster, but some critics immediately called for its retraction, citing various concerns. Tuvel hadn’t sufficiently engaged critical race theory or the literature on transgenderism in making her comparison, they said, and otherwise promoted damaging “stereotypes” about trans people and disparaged blacks. Tuvel faced additional personal attacks online.

Hypatia did not retract the article. But in what appeared to many as a formal message from the journal, its associate editors soon posted on Facebook an apology for the publication of the piece.

“We, the members of Hypatia’s Board of Associate Editors, extend our profound apology to our friends and colleagues in feminist philosophy, especially transfeminists, queer feminists and feminists of color, for the harms that the publication of the article on transracialism has caused,” the associate editors said. “Clearly, the paper should not have been published, and we believe that the fault for this lies in the review process.”

Concerned about the associate editors appearing to speak for the journal, Hypatia’s directors soon published a formal disavowal of the associate editors’ disavowal.

“The board stands behind the judgment of Hypatia’s editor,” the directors said in a guest post on the blog Daily Nous, criticizing the associate editors for “undermining” Scholz.

The Board of Directors did at the time address some of the concerns of Tuvel's critics, saying that it acknowledged “the intensity of experience and convictions around matters of intersectionality, especially in the world of academic philosophy, which has an egregious history of treatment of women of color feminists and feminists from other marginalized social positions.”

But if the May statement was intended to appease both Scholz’s supporters and her critics (and perhaps Scholz herself, who did not respond to a request for comment), it apparently failed.

A separate statement from Hypatia’s editorial board published Thursday said that the associate editors’ position and “the subsequent controversy has limited the ability of our editorial team to continue management of Hypatia and Hypatia Reviews Online while upholding the journal's high standards for scholarly inquiry, diversity, inclusiveness and rigorous academic and review standards.” The statement says Scholz has restricted her involvement to journal issues already in process.

It seems “clear that a change of leadership structure at the journal might create space to move forward not only at Hypatia but perhaps in feminist philosophy more generally,” the editorial board wrote. “We have urged Hypatia's Board of Directors to undertake comprehensive restructuring of the journal’s governance structure to provide a suitable environment for the next editorial team.”

Hypatia does have a complicated governance structure, relative to other journals. But the Tuvel piece also exposed deep divisions within feminist philosophy about issues of identity and who should be writing about them, and how. Some scholars have pointed out that Tuvel is neither transgender nor black, for example, in critiquing her.

The journal’s Board of Directors reiterated in its announcement that neither Hypatia nor its editors “have apologized for or retracted the article in question.”

“We also wish to reaffirm that the associate editors did not in any way speak for the journal, nor do they have authority to do so,” the board said. “Their action, appearing to speak for the journal rather than as individuals, invited confusion over who speaks for Hypatia. It also damaged the reputations of both the journal and its editors, Scholz and Wilcox, and has made it impossible for the editors to maintain the public credibility and trust that peer-reviewed academic journal editorship requires.”

Going forward, the board wrote, everyone involved in Hypatia’s governance will be required to commit to principles established by the international multidisciplinary Committee on Publication Ethics, “which include respect for the autonomy of the editors and the integrity of the peer-review process.”

“We are focused on the future of Hypatia,” the board said, “and we hope to work with many in the Hypatia community and the broader communities of feminist philosophy in making the changes necessary to ensure that this future is a bright and inclusive one.”

Several associate editors contacted for comment did not respond. But Leiter Reports, a philosophy blog moderated by Brian Leiter, Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, posted what it described as a circulating response to the news from a majority of the associate editorial board. The note, reportedly not yet online, alleges that Board of Directors gave the associate editors an ultimatum earlier this month: either resign or be suspended.

The directors' recent statement “claims that they have ‘temporarily’ suspended our authority. Nonetheless, their unilateral decision is a de facto suspension of Hypatia’s governance documents and a firing of us,” reads the note posted by Leiter. “We deeply regret that the editors and nonprofit Board [of Directors] were unwilling to engage with us in systematically reflecting on these issues and collaboratively addressing their implications for Hypatia. The declaration by the nonprofit board that they are suspending our authority means that we cannot fulfill our duties as associate editors in accordance with the journal’s governance documents. Regrettably, we see no alternative but to resign from Hypatia’s board of associate editors with this letter.”

The associate editors said they've “been guided by commitments to excellence, academic integrity and inclusiveness that have long informed Hypatia’s vision and have established it as a leading feminist philosophy journal.” Saying they’d requested mediation with the editors and the Board of Directors, to no avail, they added, “we remain steadfast in our commitment to working within the letter and spirit of the journal’s current governance document.”

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Debate over art, teaching and prejudice at School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 07/24/2017 - 07:00

Michael Bonesteel, well-known in the art world as a professor specializing in comics and outsider art, has resigned from his position at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago amid tensions between the institution, his students and himself. The resignation is one more example of the ongoing debate between academic freedom and issues stemming from teaching controversial or offensive subject matter.

The culture at SAIC, from Bonesteel’s point of view, “feels more like a police state than a place where academic freedom and the open exchange of ideas is valued,” he told The Chicago Reader, an alt-weekly. Bonesteel’s subject matter deals with work where prejudice and violence are portrayed regularly, but, recalling the complaints he received before his separation from the college, he said he was unfairly maligned.

SAIC officials, on the other hand, called Bonesteel’s account “problematic” and “misleading,” though spokeswoman Bree Witt declined to comment on the specifics of the case, citing a policy against speaking on personnel matters.

“What I’ve been hearing through [the College Art Association], through our members … there has been on certain campuses, an environment which, in some cases, has made faculty members or students feel that their ability to discuss issues which might otherwise be seen as controversial, but open to discussion, the ability to discuss has been constrained,” said Hunter O’Hanian, executive director of the association, speaking broadly about issues with academic freedom in the current political climate.

“SAIC has been around for over 150 years -- we do not shy away from controversial issues,” Witt said. “Academic freedom is the core of what we do.”

According to Bonesteel’s account in the Reader, a transgender student objected to a theory Bonesteel lectured on about Henry Darger, a reclusive Chicago artist whose work didn't gain prominence until after it was discovered just before his death in 1973. The work in question featured what appear to be female children with penises. Theories on Darger’s background -- some say he was an oppressed gay man, others say he was abused as a child -- vary, but the student took offense to Bonesteel proposing the theory of child abuse.

"The student said there was no proof that Darger was sexually abused, and therefore I was wrong in proposing the theory," Bonesteel told the Reader. Indeed, there is no proof that Darger was sexually abused, but Bonesteel, who has written a book on Darger, said it’s a theory endorsed by a number of scholars. Other theories on Darger range from positing that he was a troubled, closeted gay man to him being mentally ill, though it largely remains a mystery.

Regardless, Bonesteel met with a diversity counselor and posted an apology on the art college's website. Reviewing the complaint by the student, the institution ruled that no rules were violated, but Bonesteel needed training on “identity-related” material.

Two days later, according to Bonesteel’s telling, another student took issue with perceived anti-Semitism in the assigned text, Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerard Jones. The student also leveled accusations of racism and homophobia at both Bonesteel and SAIC. Bonesteel said he tried to ask for patience but the conversation “heated up.”

After the resulting complaint -- which was reportedly followed by another student saying they were troubled by that particular incident -- officials found Bonesteel’s conduct “constituted harassment based on gender identity,” in violation of school policy. His comic courses were scrapped, bringing down his hours to a point where he wouldn’t have health insurance coverage, and his outsider art classes were to be revamped.

“To be labeled discriminatory and charged with sexual harassment because I got into a heated debate with a hostile student who happened to be transgender, and for that student's accusations of sexual harassment to be credited -- and for my account and those of several other student witnesses to be discredited -- seems entirely unfair,” he told the Reader. Bonesteel did not respond to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed.

"Then, to be punished by refusing to let me teach three comics courses in which I had invested 12 years of time and effort and love, and in the process take away my insurance benefits, these were the conditions that I found unacceptable," he said. “It is my contention that I have been unfairly vilified and demonized by [a] small cadre of militant LBGT students with an authoritarian agenda."

Lisa Wainwright, dean of faculty, called Bonesteel’s accusations of SAIC impinging on his academic freedom unfounded.

“This simply is not the case, and frankly, would be anathema to our pedagogy,” Wainwright said. “As a rigorous institution of art and design education, we embrace curricula that challenge prevailing norms, push boundaries and expand how we understand the world around us through visually symbolic means.”

Witt said that the institution has a thorough process to investigate student complaints and speaks to all parties involved in a complaint before making a decision. The student handbook has a four-page section on harassment, discrimination and retaliation, and a five-step section on resolution. The faculty policy on harassment, discrimination and retaliation is another seven pages.

SAIC’s student handbook on harassment, discrimination and retaliation reads as follows:

The determination of what constitutes illegal harassment varies with the particular circumstances, but it must be so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from an educational program or activity; or creates a hostile or abusive educational or working environment.

“We’ll talk to the student [making the complaint], but we’ll also talk to other students in the classroom who are relevant to whatever the complaint is,” she said. “It’s thorough. It’s not something like, someone complains one day and then the next day actions are taken.”

The institution doesn’t have a uniform policy on trigger warnings, Witt said, and leaves decisions on that to individual professors (the student in the second complaint also took issue with Bonesteel’s lack of trigger warnings). Witt also said she was confident in SAIC’s mission to create a climate of respect on campus.

“We’re an incredibly diverse school, we welcome all types of students and we want to make sure our environment is welcoming,” she said. “We definitely have policies in place that help us foster a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

O’Hanian, of the College Art Association, speaking broadly, said he’s sometimes seen breakdowns on both sides of a conversation, from both students and professors, although the details in this case seemed hard to parse out. Regardless, there’s a concern about how debate -- and subsequently, learning -- is taking place at large.

“The problem comes when certain students feel challenged by hearing opposing ideas, or faculty members are challenged by hearing those opposing ideas, and they don’t hear them as simply another point of view, but they hear them as trying to force another point of view,” he said. “If people aren’t safe to have a conversation on a college campus, then I don’t know where they are able to be safe.”

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Sikh scholar harassed over photo of another man in front of Trump Tower

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:39

Simran Jeet Singh, an assistant professor of religion at Trinity University in Texas and senior religion fellow for the Sikh Coalition, faced a torrent of hate messages on social media this week after Campus Reform ran a story claiming he’d once tweeted a picture of himself raising both middle fingers to Trump Tower in New York City. The thrust of the piece was that Singh was a problematic pick for leader of an upcoming Trinity webinar on “navigating hate and xenophobia in modern America,” as someone who’d flipped President Trump’s building the double bird and otherwise criticized him on social media.

Also problematic, however, is that Singh isn't the man in the picture: Campus Reform assumed that another man in a traditional Sikh turban was him. Singh did share the photo, but it's his brother, not him.

The image that is not the professor, as shown on Campus Reform, is at right.

The website reached out to Singh for comment, but he told Inside Higher Ed that he did not respond for fear that it would not be "constructive." A number of other scholars who have been threatened and otherwise targeted online recently link the harassment to reports about them on Campus Reform or other right-wing websites. Some of those scholars also allege such sites purposely sensationalize or misrepresent their statements on race or other controversial topics.

Campus Reform revised the story after Singh noted the error, but, again, not before he faced tweets, emails and Facebook posts calling him a "goat-humping" "raghead" who should go “back home” and worse. Singh said he hadn’t faced any physical threats yet, but that he was aware there’s a “real possibility of violence, especially in our current political context. Hate incidents are surging, and people who look like me are particularly vulnerable.”

Trinity told Campus Reform that Singh is an award-winning professor who’s been noted “for the work that he is doing to end racism and Islamophobia in the world. He has been the focus of a lot of hate and a lot of racist remarks and comments, and we've not had any complaints from our students about Professor Singh and the other things that he's been doing on our campus.”

Singh said discussions about academic freedom and free speech on campus are becoming “increasingly contentious” and so raise concerns about the “balance of encouraging critical thinking and frankly acknowledging that hateful rhetoric has real, material consequences, which we are witnessing in the increased violence targeting Muslims and immigrants around the country.” With that in mind, he said he was grateful to Trinity for having his “back in every single moment like this, and I wish that other universities would do the same for their educators.”

Sterling C. Beard, editor in chief of Campus Reform, said the website is working to confirm the identity of the person in the photo, and noted that Singh did not respond to its original request for comment.

"None of this, of course, changes the fact that a professor who is lecturing on hate declared [on Twitter] that 'all Trump supporters tacitly condone racism,' told the president to 'kiss all of our asses' and [shared] a picture of a man flipping the bird to Trump Tower. We have no need to misrepresent his views, as we have no need to misrepresent any professors' views. They speak quite plainly for themselves."

Beard said that Trinity students who support Trump should be forewarned of Singh's "distaste" for them.

Calling Campus Reform's headline, "Prof Who Hates Trump Supporters to Lecture on 'Navigating Hate,'" irresponsible, Singh said he doesn't hate Trump supporters, "nor have I ever said that I do." Addressing accusations that he’s “teaching hate,” Singh said he’s attempting to “demonstrate injustice, to explain functions of systemic oppression and to insist that we do not ignore the very real violence of our current political climate. This is not teaching hate. This is teaching from the heart, with love and justice and service all wrapped up together.”

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Bethune-Cookman confronts questions about its future in wake of financial and governance issues

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:00

Bethune-Cookman University has found itself in an increasingly harsh spotlight in recent months.

The private historically black university in Daytona Beach, Fla., was the center of national attention in May when graduating students booed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she spoke at commencement. Some students turned their backs on the education secretary, and others walked out of the ceremony. Many supporters of black colleges were surprised Bethune-Cookman would give a platform to DeVos after she had drawn anger by suggesting their institutions traced their history to student choice, when in reality they were founded in an era of segregation when black students had few, if any, educational options. Her appearance also drew objections because it came while President Trump was proposing large cuts to programs that help black students and historically black institutions.

The university’s response to the commencement booing was also controversial -- President Edison O. Jackson warned students their diplomas would be mailed to them if they continued to boo. The university later issued a press release saying only 20 students protested during the secretary’s remarks, despite video from the event appearing to show many more students taking part.

Now, the heated emotions of commencement have given way to a much deeper set of cold financial facts. Bethune-Cookman ran up millions of dollars in losses in recent years and has borrowed heavily from its endowment. It is facing the prospect of paying for a surprisingly expensive $306 million dormitory over 40 years after the facility was approved and built under unusual circumstances. The financial situation has contributed to the university’s credit being downgraded to one step above junk status.

Financial issues have been joined by leadership turnover. Jackson last week said he will retire from the presidency at the end of August, a year earlier than his contract was to expire.

The situation has magnified the voices of advocates who have questioned the university’s governance and finances. It has stoked concern among those who closely watch historically black colleges and universities. And it comes at an inopportune time for HBCU groups that have been pushing against strict federal regulation.

Those dynamics aren't lost on those who know Bethune-Cookman best. Many see the university’s struggles as a result of both its difficult internal dynamics and of national trends putting pressure on small private universities and institutions that enroll large numbers of minority students.

“A lot of folks are getting emotional and taking this personally,” said Lee Rhyant, a Bethune-Cookman alumnus and former trustee who runs a leadership consulting firm. “I think there is a bigger picture about the vulnerability of these schools now, and higher education as a whole.”

Bethune-Cookman did not make leaders available for interview for this article. Inside Higher Ed provided a list of questions to the university. A spokeswoman answered some of those questions, but not all.

She said the university has made strides in shoring up its budget and that Bethune-Cookman anticipates a surplus going forward. The university is also exploring ways to refinance the expensive dormitory deal.

But it is clear the university still has much to do in light of the devastating details about its finances and governance that have become public in recent weeks.

Steep Losses

Many of Bethune-Cookman’s challenges were revealed in a series of articles by The Daytona Beach News-Journal. In June, the newspaper reported on university tax returns showing a $17.8 million operating loss for the fiscal year running from July 2015 to June 2016. That was up drastically from losses of $1.5 million and $254,000 in each of the previous two years.

The university borrowed $7 million from its endowment in the 2015 fiscal year, or about 13 percent of its total value. Jackson, the university’s president, saw his total compensation rise by $40,000, to $410,000, in the 2016 fiscal year despite his base pay being lowered. Other executives’ pay also rose.

Two weeks later, the newspaper published another report breaking down an expensive long-term deal the university used to build a new 1,200-bed dormitory. Construction costs for the building, which opened in 2016, were originally stated at $72.1 million, but they grew to $85 million for unexplained reasons.

Some have questioned those costs, as they are much higher than costs for a dormitory the university built in 2010. More questions swirl about the way the university will pay for the new dorm, though. Bethune-Cookman will pay escalating sums over 40 years under a lease-and-sublease-back agreement, for a total cost of more than $306 million.

Days after the report on the dormitory deal, Jackson (at left) said he will be retiring as president at the end of August. The university’s board chair, Joe Petrock told the News-Journal Jackson’s move was related to “an opportunity for him that presents itself now.” In a statement from the university, Jackson said it is time for him to give “attention and care to my family.”

The university’s dormitory deal has been of particular concern to former trustees and alumni who are worried about financial and governance issues. Not only do many see it as too expensive over time, but it was conducted under extremely unusual circumstances.

A company formed to develop the dormitory became embroiled in in a lawsuit between partners. Documents filed in court claimed the company anticipated a $45 million profit on the deal. They also say that, after construction on the dormitory started, the developer lost its funding, necessitating a substitute lender to be found and contracts between developer and university to be rewritten.

The News-Journal detailed one particularly strange situation in June 2015, when a forensic document examiner determined Jackson had likely not signed a contract with the developer, even though his signature appeared to be on the agreement. The university moved forward with the dormitory anyway.

“This is the type of deal that boards and presidents cannot allow to happen,” said Rhyant, the former trustee and leadership consulting firm president, who has also held executive positions at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Rolls-Royce.

“It’s not personal,” Rhyant said. “It’s not questioning people’s ethics. You have to do the diligence and the vetting to make sure you never put yourself in this type of financial situation.”

Rhyant is a Bethune-Cookman donor who has a dormitory named after him -- a different dormitory than the one at the center of the current controversy. He believes the university’s Board of Trustees needs to be reconstituted in order to secure the public’s trust. The board has more than 30 members.

Governance Issues

Rhyant is far from alone in calling for changes. Bethune-Cookman is currently the target of a lawsuit from its own national alumni association after the university’s Board of Trustees refused to seat a trustee who had been elected by the alumni association.

A longstanding agreement between the university and the National Alumni Association of Bethune-Cookman University has the association’s president and two elected alumni serving on the university’s Board of Trustees, the lawsuit says. The agreement is written into the university and the association’s bylaws.

The elected trustee in question, Robert Delancy, is a retired IRS special agent who has questioned Bethune-Cookman’s debt levels and dormitory deal in the past. He was elected in October 2016 to serve as an alumni trustee. But the university’s Board of Trustees rejected him without giving a reason, the lawsuit says. It asks a judge to stop trustees from preventing Delancy from being seated.

Delancy first filed the lawsuit, but a judge determined he did not have standing to bring suit. The alumni association took over the suit this month.

“What I think is important is the lack of transparency between the Board of Trustees and the National Alumni Association, the lack of transparency between the administration and the alumni association,” Delancy said in an interview. “It appeared they felt, because they were a private school, they can operate with this cloak of secrecy and didn’t have to disclose anything.”

Delancy called for the Board of Trustees to be reconfigured. He also called for a forensic audit of Bethune-Cookman’s finances.

Bethune-Cookman was founded in 1904 by Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator, activist and later adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt. She opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with $1.50, providing a quality education to her students in an era when those with money and power in the state ignored black youth. The school grew, merging with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville in 1923, becoming coed and affiliating with the United Methodist Church. The Florida Department of Education approved a four-year baccalaureate program in 1941, and it became a university in 2007.

The college is like a relative to Delancy. At least 10 members of his family have attended. He worries about its future. Its accreditation is due for renewal in 2020. Its finances need to be put in order, Delancy said.

“The question should be, ‘Where do we go from here?’” he said. “How can we save our school? What major donor wants to give Bethune-Cookman money when they look around and see the same Board of Trustees there, when they see the same administration that’s there? Isn’t that like throwing good money after the bad?”

Delancy is not the only one to bring suit against Bethune-Cookman over membership on its Board of Trustees. Arthur Ray Brinson, a former university trustee and the immediate past president of the Bethune-Cookman National Alumni Association, filed suit in March alleging he was removed from the university board without cause and in violation of its own bylaws. Brinson had questioned the way the board dealt with university finances but was not told why he was forced off the board.

Observers say Bethune-Cookman’s Board of Trustees has in the past often been split between alumni members and those who did not graduate from the institution. Regardless of whether that dynamic is playing out today, it’s clear the university has become mired in deep governance issues.

“From my vantage point, I think there are some governance and leadership issues with regard to the financial situation of the campus,” said Marybeth Gasman, professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. “It appears as though the leadership and board have made some poor choices in this area. I typically recommend that small HBCUs that are struggling focus on what they are really good at and creating an environment that will guarantee retention of students.”

Federal Regulations and Affiliating With For-Profits

Delancy and others who have questioned Bethune-Cookman worry about the man tapped to be Bethune-Cookman’s acting president until it names an interim, Hubert Grimes. Grimes is a retired judge who was the university’s lawyer and director of Bethune Cookman’s Center for Law and Social Justice. He has also been one of the faces publicly attached to a controversial affiliation between Bethune-Cookman and Arizona Summit Law School, which is owned by the struggling for-profit InfiLaw System.

Grimes appeared in a video discussing the affiliation shortly after it was announced earlier this year. Many of Bethune-Cookman’s students want to go to law school but do not have access, he said. InfiLaw started talks with Bethune-Cookman, and the two sides decided Arizona Summit was a better fit than InfiLaw’s school in Florida, Florida Coastal School of Law.

“As we build up the internal function of our legal studies program and school of legal studies and social justice, we know that we’ll be able to enhance the students’ ability to increase their law school LSAT scores,” he said. “We’ll be able to help them with making the bridge between the undergraduate school and law school.”

InfiLaw has been criticized for low bar-passage rates, with some arguing access to law school means little if students cannot enter the legal profession by passing the bar. In fact, the argument goes, attending law school can be harmful if a student runs up high levels of debt but cannot pass the bar and secure a job with a large enough salary to pay off their loans.

Arizona Summit’s bar-passage rate for first-time test takers was 24.6 percent in July 2016 and 29.5 percent in February of this year. That’s far behind the first-time pass rates for Arizona’s public universities, which were in the mid-70 percent range. The lowest bar-passage rate in Florida for any single law school’s first-time test takers was 45.5 percent in July 2016. The lowest rate was 25 percent in February -- a rate posted by Arizona Summit’s corporate sister, the Florida Coastal School of Law. A law school at an HBCU, the Florida A&M University College of Law, had bar-passage rates of 52.9 percent in July 2016 and 46.2 percent in February.

Under the affiliation, Arizona Summit and Bethune-Cookman planned to set up a pre-law institute to prepare undergraduates to succeed in law school. They also planned to develop a program to ready students for the LSAT and to create a program under which students can earn both undergraduate and law degrees in six years. They pledged to invest $12.5 million toward full-tuition scholarships and living assistance for students in order to boost the number of students from HBCUs completing law school.

Bethune-Cookman’s financial challenges and affiliation with a for-profit chain became public at an awkward time -- a time when some HBCU advocates are pushing back against tight federal financial regulations. The presidents of UNCF and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education recently urged DeVos to rewrite controversial borrower-defense regulations, which outline circumstances in which former students can have their student loans forgiven if a college or university has engaged in misconduct. In part, they criticized financial responsibility and disclosure provisions of the regulations, which attempt to prevent institutions from engaging in financially risky behavior that could cause borrower-defense claims by students in the future.

“The final financial responsibility and disclosure provisions in the regulation pertaining to private colleges and universities would impose onerous requirements on private HBCUs to pledge collateral or secure new letters of credit based on certain triggering events, some of which are simply inappropriate in that they do not relate to the financial condition of an institution,” they wrote.

“Worse, the increasing financial responsibility requirements and related mandatory disclosures to prospective and current students could cause a cascading negative financial impact on some institutions by prejudicing students against enrolling (or continuing enrollment) in otherwise successful institutions,” they continued. “Put bluntly, these requirements could lead to the irreparable financial and reputational harm to HBCUs that are, in fact, providing quality educational opportunities to students.”

The borrower-defense rules were created with an eye toward curbing abuses of for-profit colleges, but many of their provisions also apply to nonprofit institutions. Other institutions stood against them, however, and HBCUs were some of the most vocal opponents.

DeVos in June said she was delaying implementation of the borrower-defense rule and would start the process of rewriting it.

Bethune-Cookman’s current situation could be seen as an argument for additional financial responsibility regulations on colleges and universities receiving federal financial aid funds. Yet experts said it was unclear whether recent events at the university would have spurred department action under the now-delayed rule’s financial responsibility provisions.

The rule included discretionary triggers that would allow the Education Department to require a financial stress test on an institution if it exhibited negative financial trends like operating losses or negative cash flows. Institutions failing such a test could be required to put up a form of financial protection like a letter of credit.

Recent events at Bethune-Cookman could have drawn regulatory interest under that portion of the rule. But the university might not have been required to undergo a financial stress test -- and it might still have passed a test.

“Without sitting down with their financial statements, it would be hard to figure out exactly what this would do,” said Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University.

Cheryl Smith, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at UNCF, of which Bethune-Cookman is a member, said in a statement that the organization’s stance is unchanged.

“Bethune-Cookman University’s financial issues don’t change UNCF’s position on the borrower defense rule,” she said. “If anything, the university’s situation reinforces our point of view that the borrower-defense financial responsibility standards may not be good markers of an institution’s financial stability and need a wholesale re-examination.”

‘We Have Got to Restore our Credibility’

Grimes addressed Bethune-Cookman’s troubles in an interview with The News-Journal editorial board this week. He emphasized transparency and rebuilding confidence in the university. He has also started calling for a forensic audit.

Bethune-Cookman had trouble providing documents to auditors and its credit-ratings agency. The lack of control led to high spending. Administrators were surprised to learn about a high number of faculty and staff members drawing salaries over $100,000 when the News-Journal reported on the issue.

“There were no budgets,” Grimes told the newspaper.

The university drew millions from its reserves in order to make repairs after Hurricane Matthew hit last October, he said. The money also went to pay for scholarships, because new requirements for federal Parent Plus loans made it more difficult for parents to qualify for the loans, he said. Bethune-Cookman was faced with the choice between spending or having students drop out, he told the News-Journal.

Bethune-Cookman has a new chief financial officer who started in December. It has put in place governance changes to prevent the CFO from being fired without board approval.

The university now projects a surplus by the end of the fiscal year, according to a spokeswoman. Leaders are also exploring refinancing options for the expensive dormitory deal.

There is reason to believe the university’s finances have stabilized, according to Fitch Ratings. The ratings agency in June downgraded Bethune-Cookman’s debt to BBB-minus, one step above junk status. It was the second downgrade in six months, but Fitch changed its outlook on the university’s debt from negative to stable.

Fitch assigned the outlook because the university’s financial management stabilized, because its enrollment levels recovered in the last year after dropping, and because Bethune-Cookman appears on pace to improve its operating results for the 2017 fiscal year.

Head count enrollment tallied 3,934 in the fall of 2016, according to Fitch. It recovered from 3,831 in the fall of 2015. Both years were below an all-time high of 4,045 posted in the fall of 2014. Freshman matriculation also rose back to normal levels after falling significantly in 2015.

The higher enrollment plus new financial controls put Bethune-Cookman on track for a break-even year in 2017. The ratings agency reviewed unaudited statements through March 31 -- the first nine months of the 2017 fiscal year. It found total revenue growth on track to grow by 15 percent year over year against expenses on pace to grow by only 2 percent.

Bethune-Cookman’s revenue had declined by 4.6 percent to $78.2 million in 2016, Fitch said. Its expenses had grown by 14 percent to $95 million.

The university’s retiring president, Jackson, claimed increased enrollment and retention as among the successes of his tenure. The university enrolled about 3,500 students when Jackson started -- he served 11 months as an interim president before being appointed permanently in 2013. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System statistics show the university’s full-time retention rates registering in the mid-to-low 60 percent range throughout much of his tenure, however and its six-year graduation rate for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees was only 33 percent for the cohort beginning in the fall of 2010.

Jackson had both critics and supporters. The NAACP Florida State Conference called for his resignation -- and the resignation of Board Chair Petrock -- after DeVos was invited to speak at graduation. Still, Jackson received support for being well-known locally and for trying to improve the university.

“Bethune-Cookman alumni and Board of Trustees will regret their decision to force Dr. Edison O. Jackson to quit before his planned exit,” Daytona Beach resident James Harper wrote to the News-Journal after the announcement of Jackson’s pending departure. “They did not have his vision, nor his foresight. Investing in dormitories now was the right call. Putting B-CU on the map by inviting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was the right call.”

Yet worries persist that the university has been seriously damaged. Some wonder how it will raise money from alumni and attract quality board members given the current environment. They also fear that the dormitory deal will prevent it from borrowing if the need arises in the future.

Johnny McCray is a former Bethune-Cookman trustee who is a lawyer in Pompano Beach., Fla. He questioned the dormitory deal years ago. In 2015, when he was still a trustee, he wrote the board, calling on it to perform its fiduciary duty and investigate the university’s financial affairs. In addition to the dormitory situation, his letter referenced the university’s then CFO resigning in 2015 after he created a community development corporation committee without the Board of Trustees’ knowledge.

Today, he says he is glad to be on the record having spoken out.

“We’ve got to rebuild the trust of our alumni, of the community,” he said. “We have got to restore our credibility, and I think we have to get to the bottom of this residence hall deal. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions.”

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GOP budget would mean billions in cuts for higher ed

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:00

Student aid advocates didn’t find much to like in a House education appropriations bill released last week -- lawmakers removed billions from the Pell Grant surplus while taking no significant steps to improve college access. But educators could at least find consolation in the fact that the committee didn’t follow through on the drastic cuts to many aid programs proposed in the White House budget in May.

Advocacy groups found no such consolation in the House budget resolution released this week. The document calls for a rewrite of the tax code and for hundreds of billions in cuts to federal programs. More significant for advocates is reconciliation language included in the resolution that calls for $203 billion in mandatory spending cuts over the next 10 years -- $20 billion of that coming from programs overseen by the House education committee.

Those savings would come on top of cuts already made to education programs through the appropriations process. And if the resolution passes, student aid groups say that would likely mean Congress adopts one or more of the drastic changes to student loan programs contemplated by the Trump budget -- elimination of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, ending interest free undergraduate loans or changing income-based loan repayment plans.

“There’s no way they don't touch Pell and student loans,” said Jessica Thompson, the policy and research director at the Institute for College Access and Success.

The Republican budget resolution envisions more than $236 billion in cuts to mandatory spending for education programs over 10 years. Those savings, GOP staff said this week, could be realized through eliminating mandatory funding for Pell Grants and pursuing reforms to student loan programs. The budget also assumes that funding for Pell Grants would be made entirely discretionary, which would put more pressure on lawmakers to find money for the program each year. Instructions for House committees to find additional savings through reconciliation, an expedited legislative tool that allows Congress to pass spending measures with a simple majority, are separate from that budget plan but part of the same resolution.

While the budget outline imagines a drastic change to student aid programs, it is in line with previous Republican budget plans offered by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the chair of the budget committee before becoming Speaker. But previous Ryan budget plans came under a divided government. Republicans now hold both chambers of Congress and the White House and could look to make ambitious changes to student aid policy, among a host of other federal programs.

“The budget resolution as it was presented Wednesday presents a much more significant threat to affordability and completion than the appropriations package,” said Kelly McManus, director of government affairs at Ed Trust.

Even if the budget resolution passes, it wouldn’t be binding on lawmakers. But the reconciliation language would be and could be passed without the threat of a Senate filibuster. Making spending reductions through that route would allow Republican leaders to offset the costs of big planned tax cuts without the support of any Democrats. That's why advocacy groups are especially concerned about how the education committee would deliver on those required savings.

A spokesman for Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the House education committee, said the budget committee had just completed its work and Foxx’s committee is currently reviewing the proposed bill.

Jason Delisle, a higher ed policy analyst and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Foxx’s committee would have multiple ways of finding the $20 billion in savings called for in the reconciliation language. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness would save $25 billion, he said. And Delisle argued that move wouldn’t make college less affordable for low-income students who have yet to enroll in college.  

“All of these claims about how these proposals would harm low-income students and harm access for undergraduates sort of melt away,” he said.

Student aid groups have argued that the program is an important policy to make careers in the government, teaching and nonprofit sectors attractive for student borrowers who would otherwise seek out higher-paying jobs in the private sector. Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which was created in 2007, forgives a student's remaining loan debt after they make 120 monthly payments while working at a qualified employer. 

The Heritage Foundation also backed eliminating PSLF but said the House budget could have gone further in reducing education spending. Mary Clare Amselem, a policy analyst at Heritage, said the House should also consolidate existing federal loan programs into a single loan option -- preferably with a borrowing cap.

“Our position is that the best way to improve college affordability is to limit subsidized federal loans, which evidence suggests leads to tuition inflation,” she said. “Private loans by contrast could put some downward pressure on increasing tuition prices.”

The House education committee, which will report back to budget writers with proposed cuts to mandatory programs, would likely choose from policy changes long discussed among Republicans, including those in the White House budget.

Policy changes to student aid programs through reauthorization of the Higher Education Act appear to be a distant possibility with the Senate preoccupied with confirmations, health care-legislation and other higher-priority matters. But Justin Draeger, the president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said the budget process could potentially include real changes to policy via congressional spending decisions.

“Right now, things that are moving are largely budget related. If people are looking for a reauthorization, this is it,” he said. “The size and scope and depth of reconciliation instructions, to me, could potentially be as big as any reauthorization.”

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Wright State faculty takes issue with sports spending

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:00

When Wright State University unveiled its most recent budget proposal, some professors were dismayed at what appeared to be more than a million-dollar boost to athletics spending -- particularly since every category of academic funding was being slashed.

University leaders framed the $1.6 million boon as a reduction -- since the department had overspent for years, this level of funding would actually amount to a decrease, and so athletics would rein in its spending and be held to a budget of about $11.6 million. But to view that as a decrease requires one to say the previous overspending -- which didn't happen in other departments -- was the comparison point.

But faculty members, particularly in the union, question the financial support for athletics amid a budget crisis, when games, even higher-profile men’s basketball, generate little revenue and, at times, lackluster campus buzz if the team hasn’t performed well. Per a 2016 report from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, attendance at a Wright State men's basketball games -- its most popular sport -- averaged 4,355 people. The university's Nutter Center's maximum capacity is 11,500 seats.

Wright State’s Board of Trustees recently approved the university’s $284 million budget, dozens of layoffs and almost $31 million in cuts after what officials universally agree was chronic overspending under the former president, David Hopkins, who resigned in March, nearly four months before he was set to retire.

Wright State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors -- the faculty union -- mostly did not direct its ire toward athletics, said Jim Vance, a retired associate professor of mathematics at Wright State, now an adviser to the union’s executive committee. He said of major concern was the university’s overall poor financial planning and misplaced priorities that ended in at least 50 layoffs -- other vacant positions would remain unfilled.

Still, the union in June drafted a letter to the trustees, the interim president at the time and the new president, Cheryl Schrader, calling on them to eliminate the additional athletics money and devote it instead to scholarships.

“Under normal circumstances, it would be rational to give intercollegiate athletics a realistic budget, in line with the overspending that annually has occurred. But in this fiscal crisis, it is inexplicable -- even absurd,” reads the letter, signed by more than 250 faculty members.

A university spokesman, Seth Bauguess, stressed that those who added their names to the letter represented a fraction of Wright State’s roughly 1,800 faculty members. (Adjuncts and other part-time employees aren’t be eligible to join the union.)

Bauguess said that during Hopkins’s tenure, other departments were funded in a similar way, in which they didn’t follow their budgets to the penny. He could not explain why athletics was treated differently in this year’s budget planning.

Some faculty believe athletics is being preserved as a “sacred cow,” but Bauguess said that is not so, and the interim president, Curtis McCray, in budget trimming, was charged to maintain the university’s athletics program. Wright State is a NCAA Division I institution and part of the Horizon League.

Bauguess touted reports that showed the monetary value of positive media coverage -- essentially what the clip was worth in lieu of an advertisement. In the last fiscal year that ended June 30, Wright State generated what it considers the equivalent of $12.6 million in ad value from more than 13,600 pieces of news.

Wright State is also not an anomaly in that few sports programs generate profits and are often subsidized by their institutions, Bauguess noted. This phenomenon is well documented in a report from the NCAA’s Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

From the report:

Because sports revenues so often fall short of meeting the needs of athletics programs, almost all programs must rely on allocations from general university funds, fees imposed on the entire student body and state appropriations to meet funding gaps. This is a significant concern at a time when economic woes have devastated state budgets and institutional endowments alike. Conflicts over funding between academics and athletics are growing.

Indeed, reliance on institutional resources to underwrite athletics programs is reaching the point at which some institutions must choose between funding sections of freshman English and funding the football team. And student athletes in nonrevenue sports risk seeing their teams lose funding or be cut entirely.

Wright State’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams were initially supposed to be discontinued, but a grassroots fund-raising effort and an appeal to the trustee board saved them, but probably just for another season, Bauguess said.

A report shows that for the fiscal year ending June 2016, Wright State’s athletics department was operating at a $1.4 million deficit.

At its June meeting, Wright State’s trustees voted to increase out-of-state tuition and room and board fees by 3 percent.

Neither the chairman of the board, Douglas A. Fecher, nor Schrader, responded to requests for comment. Bauguess did not arrange requested interviews with Schrader or administrators, and instead emailed a statement: “Wright State University President Cheryl B. Schrader has shared with campus that the university will conduct an in-depth review of all university academic and nonacademic programs, to include athletics, as part of the strategic planning process that will begin in the fall.”

Marty Kich, president of Wright State’s AAUP chapter, said in theory how the university has budgeted isn’t bad -- but by setting athletics funding at the level it overspent in a previous year is rewarding bad behavior.

Kich criticized the amount that the university subsidizes athletics, pointing out how little it takes in from ticket sales -- largely, it’s from men’s basketball, as Wright State doesn’t field a football team. The university has estimated about $375,000 in ticket sales in the current fiscal year.


Kich recalled an encounter with an administrator who was surprised he had written so critically about athletics -- the administrator pointed out the buoyant feeling on campus when Wright State’s men’s basketball reached the NCAA tournament.

“But was it worth the millions of dollars?” he said

Wright State has struggled for years as it dipped into reserves to cover consistent financial shortfalls. The recently approved budget returns $6 million to the university’s reserve funding, but the institution is still expected to be set on “fiscal watch” by the state of Ohio because it has not replenished reserves enough.

Relations with the faculty union also remain rocky. The university’s contract with the union expired, and it has missed key dates in negotiating a new one, which will likely not occur until the fall semester.

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Professor injured in attack on AU Afghanistan seeks compensation

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:00

A former professor at the American University of Afghanistan who was wounded in last August’s attack on the university has filed a claim against the institution with the U.S. Department of Labor seeking compensation for his injuries and coverage for his continued medical expenses.

Cecil Lui, a former associate professor of finance at AUAF, was teaching on the second floor of the Bayat building at the time suspected Taliban militants stormed the campus in an attack that killed 15 people -- seven students, one professor and four security personnel -- and wounded dozens more. Lui suffered a puncture wound from shrapnel to the left side of his neck and says he has injuries to his neck, chest, larynx, esophagus and left vocal cord, as well as emotional and psychological injuries. He jumped from a window of the second-story classroom and also sustained injuries to his left wrist and elbow in the fall.

Lui, whose contract for AUAF continued through the end of June, was unable to return to teaching after the university’s reopening but was still paid his full salary by the university through March 20. AUAF made continued payment of his salary beyond that point through June contingent on him signing a confidentiality agreement and general release form releasing AUAF from liability. Lui declined to sign, and he says AUAF stopped paying his salary March 20.

Lui is seeking workers’ compensation under the U.S. government’s Defense Base Act program, which provides workers’ compensation for civilian employees working overseas on military bases or on government-contracted public works projects. AUAF, a private university, signed a five-year, $40 million cooperating agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development in 2013, a fact that Lui’s lawyer, Scott Thaler, argues in a filing with DOL required the university to obtain Defense Base Act insurance coverage.

The results of an informal conference on Lui’s claims held with a DOL adjudicator in early June found in his favor that a Defense Base Act claim was established. The adjudicator recommended that AUAF pay Lui slightly more than $1,000 per week in DBA benefits “until he has recovered from his injuries and/or has reached maximum medical improvement allowing him to return to work.” The DOL adjudicator also recommended that AUAF authorize treatment with Lui’s doctors of choice and reimburse or pay for all treatment associated with his injuries. The proposed recommendations from the informal conference were nonbinding: both parties had 14 days to accept or reject them, reach a settlement agreement among themselves, or request a formal hearing.

AUAF, which did not participate in the informal conference, saying it did not learn of Lui’s claim until after the conference took place, is contesting Lui’s claim for Defense Base Act compensation. In a filing with the Department of Labor, AUAF maintains that it was not required to obtain Defense Base Act insurance coverage.

The case will next go to a formal hearing.

“The entire university community has been deeply affected by the attacks and AUAF has been supporting all of its students, faculty and staff through the difficult recovery process,” AUAF said in a statement issued through the university's lawyer, John Cella. “With respect to Professor Lui’s claims, the university was only recently made aware of the Department of Labor proceeding and did not have the opportunity to participate in it, but is now studying the issues involved.”

“AUAF absolutely has not been supporting Dr. Cecil Lui through the difficult recovery process,” Lui said in a written response. He said that AUAF has been “deeply concerned only about Cecil’s signing of the so-called confidentiality agreement. AUAF has abusively used the paychecks as leverage for the signing of the so-called confidentiality agreement, which has been AUAF’s paramount focus.”

A March email from then acting president David Sedney, included in the DOL filings as an exhibit, states that Lui’s health insurance premiums would be paid through June and that the university has “offered to pay your salary through June, contingent upon your signing a standard separation agreement.”

“Neither your contract nor other AUAF employment contracts provide for disability insurance,” the email from Sedney states. “However, your contract, like other AUAF faculty contracts, provides for a 5 percent additional benefits payment, above your contracted salary. That amount is meant to enable the employee to purchase additional insurance or other benefits that AUAF is not able to provide. How you choose to spend the 5 percent benefit add-on is entirely at your discretion. Purchase of private disability insurance is one choice that was available to you.”

In the same email Sedney -- who declined to comment for this article -- accused Lui of having “made a number of inaccurate and inappropriate statements about AUAF and AUAF personnel in emails to a range of individuals, in social media and in public media” that “contravene the AUAF Faculty Handbook policies on media and public statement.” Sedney went on to write that university officials had been in “constant touch” with Lui throughout his hospitalization and medical treatment “working to facilitate payment and trying to help resolve medical insurance coverage issues” and had attempted to be responsive to his various concerns.

“Occasionally, AUAF staff have found your communications inaccurate, repetitive and even abusive. In such cases, each of your individual correspondences may not have been answered. However, we have answered and addressed all of your substantive concerns. Even though our answers may not have satisfied you, I can assure you we have tried our utmost to ensure responsiveness,” Sedney wrote.

Lui said that AUAF administrators have been nonresponsive and have evaded their responsibility to him as a faculty member injured in an attack on campus. “You saw the email from David Sedney in March. He wants to cover up everything,” he said in a phone interview. “He doesn’t want me to talk and he doesn’t want any news to be reported.”

Some current and former AUAF faculty who spoke to Inside Higher Ed in the months following the August attack alleged that the university had not done enough to protect against the risk of attack and to respond to deteriorating security conditions. In a separate incident from the attack on the campus, two AUAF faculty members, one American and one Australian, were abducted in early August 2016 and remain missing. In June, the Taliban issued a video showing the two professors pleading with their governments to negotiate their release.

“My position is very simple,” Lui said in a phone interview. “I need income, and I deserve income, and I’m entitled to have income.” Though Lui does have access to the publicly funded health system in his native Hong Kong, where he is residing, “I need to queue up there for several months before I can get an appointment to see a doctor,” he said. “I’m entitled to this consultation from the doctors of my choice.”

“I should say I’m in stable condition now,” Lui said. “My doctors say that I won’t die because of the injuries, but I’m in a limbo. I have a lot of difficulties.”

“I use the word ‘better,’ yes, better than before, but am I recovered? No. Am I in a difficult situation now? Yes.”

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British university criticized for requiring professors to apply to keep jobs

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:00

More than 750 academics have signed an open letter condemning Teesside University’s plan to make its entire professoriate reapply for their jobs or face having their positions eliminated.

In the letter -- which will be published in full by Times Higher Education July 20 -- some 756 people from across academe criticize Teesside’s recent proposal, calling its timing “bizarrely thoughtless and ignorant to the annual work cycle in academia.”

Under the plans, reported by Times Higher earlier this month, those holding a professorial title will be required to apply for a new role of “professor (research)” and justify their research as part of efforts to improve the university’s standing in the 2021 research excellence framework, a U.K. government evaluation.

Union officials say that staff were told that they would be interviewed for the exercise over the summer months, although Teesside has said that “no definitive process or time frame has been finalized.”

In the letter, signed by staff from more than 100 universities from the Britain, Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia, signatories expressed their anger at the exercise, which “should not be read or described as just another routine performance review.”

“Lecturers, senior lecturers and professors at universities are already submitted to existing annual performance and development reviews,” it says, before adding, “These plans are different. These plans threaten people’s livelihoods. They do so with minimal warning or discussion, and with a sense of confusion and ambiguity around what the criteria for the new role of professor (research) means in real terms.”

On the presummer timing of Teesside’s announcement, the letter says that those affected will need to scrap plans for summer research and “hurriedly seek union representation in addition to financial and legal advice.”

“With seemingly little warning, the individuals affected by this make-or-break audit are faced with the daunting possibility of unemployment and the task of quickly securing another position in a highly competitive job market,” it says.

It also questions the rationale for the exercise, stating that some of Teesside’s departments -- such as those in the social policy and social work unit of assessment -- were assessed as being among the best in Britain in a 2014 evaluation.

The letter also says that the process is “indicative of a more pervasive trend within U.K. higher education institutions to flexibilize their work force and systematically engender an unnecessary sense of insecurity and precariousness.”

Calling for an immediate delay to the plans, the letter demands that the university “provide a more transparent, comprehensive and detailed explanation of the rationale for this action” and engage with the University and College Union.

The university has said that the process is “part of its ambitious new Teesside 2020 strategy to move the university forward” and to build on its success.

“As part of these plans, the university is therefore proposing to bring together a range of disparate roles of staff holding the professorial title and create a new role of professor (research), based around a single, clear and consistent role description,” a spokesman said.

“It is also proposed as part of this process to move to a single basic salary for all staff holding these new roles, to reflect the enhanced responsibilities of the new role,” he added.

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Historically black colleges, universities still need work on LGBTQ issues

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 07/20/2017 - 07:00

WASHINGTON -- In a speech to presidents, chancellors and leaders of historically black colleges and universities, a Georgia congressman told them what has already been widely acknowledged -- that their institutions historically have been slow to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

The message from Representative Henry Johnson, a Democrat, was not a critical one, nor a rebuke, but a call for campus culture at HBCUs to improve for these students, to stamp out homophobia and develop resources for them.

Administrators attending the event where Johnson spoke Wednesday, the first-ever HBCU summit organized by the largest and most influential LGBTQ lobbying group, the Human Rights Campaign, said in interviews they agreed. Though their institutions to some degree have adopted pro-LGBTQ initiatives, which is why they were asked to Washington, they said continuing to do more is critical. Those historically black colleges not invited hadn't pushed much for their gay students, participants said.

Human Rights Campaign’s strategy is this: invite and pay for the leaders from the larger and more progressive of the historically black institutions to fly here, and sit them down for a daylong discussion of the benefit of LGBTQ-inclusive practices, said Leslie Hall, manager of the HBCU project for the Human Rights Campaign.

Sixteen representatives from HBCUs attended out of the close to 50 that were invited -- historically black institutions number a little more than 100. Hall picked colleges and universities with bigger student populations, but also in conservative-leaning states with perhaps unfriendly laws toward the LGBTQ community.

Hall’s hope is that the institution’s leaders who came Wednesday would model for the smaller, more old-school colleges and universities and nudge them toward inclusive measures. HRC spent roughly $15,000 on expenses for the event, including lodging, food and travel.

Hall has visited many of the HBCU campuses and said he’s found people dedicated to improving policies and the climate for LGBTQ students, but said they been tangled up in red tape -- they are willing but need to convince the presidents and governing boards.

LGBTQ students at HBCUs often seek more mental health resources in the guidance centers, said Hall, or complain frequently about requests for funding for queer student groups being rejected.

“It was important for me to shoot right for the top and bring these leaders here,” Hall said. “We are very serious that these leaders know this an important investment they need to make and expand on their campuses.”

Historically black institutions haven’t always supported the LGBTQ cause wholeheartedly, or at least have made missteps in the community. Morehouse College, an all-men’s institution, adopted a dress code in 2009 forbidding women’s clothing, which gay men on campus called a slight. And in 2007 Hampton University refused recognition for a student group there that promoted an alliance between straight students and the LGBTQ population.

About 30 percent of HBCUs have LGBTQ clubs affiliated with the universities, and only three have designated a full-time position for support of LGBTQ students -- Bowie State University, Fayetteville State University and North Carolina Central University.

Though many of the institutions in the more urban areas have dedicated space for gender-neutral bathrooms -- or, in Fayetteville State’s case, an LGBTQ center that the chancellor created by shutting down one of the dormitories -- a cultural shift is required, said Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.

Kimbrough pointed out that many predominantly white institutions maintain spaces just for black students, but that doesn’t necessarily make them “inclusive.”

“If we aren’t dealing with the culture, these strategies of just spaces, policies, they don’t mean a thing. We have to figure out how we’re going to make a bigger engagement in changing the culture on campus. That’s what I wrestle with in mind,” he said.

At Fayetteville, Chancellor James Anderson made a public speech about changing the university’s “brand” -- it would preserve its legacy as a traditionally black institution but embrace more inclusive values. In this way, Anderson “got out in front” of more conservative alumni who might chastise him, and he could compel them to explain why the university shouldn’t be more accepting.

If the Human Rights Campaign plan doesn’t make headway, it will appeal to other institutions’ business sensibilities, Hall said -- all institutions are concerned about enrollment and graduates' ability to find jobs, both of which can be affected by negative publicity about not supporting LGBTQ students.

Traditionally, HBCUs have mulled whether their graduates will be accepted into the working world because they are people of color, said Michael Lomax, the president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, a philanthropic group representing more than 37 private black colleges and universities.

In a session with JPMorgan Chase, a representative from the banking behemoth told leaders that graduates with experience in diversity issues are valued more, Lomax said.

“That really is a kind of different thinking for historically black colleges,” Lomax said. “I think the other issue we’re challenged now to think about is if our graduates are bringing experience and the kind of proficiency in terms of diversity and inclusion in their own behaviors and outlooks.”

DiversityEditorial Tags: Gay rights/issuesHistorically black collegesImage Caption: Representative Henry Johnson addresses HBCU leaders.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 
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