Higher Education News

Following latest scandal, professors demand firing of president of Southern Cal

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 07:00

C.L. Max Nikias has raised billions of dollars for the University of Southern California, and used that money to recruit top faculty members and students.

But his hold on the position of president is being challenged in ways that it never has since he took office in 2010. On Tuesday, more than 200 faculty members released a letter calling for his resignation. Their letter follows revelations of numerous instances of abuse of students by a campus gynecologist. And that scandal broke just months after scandals involving medical school deans. In all of these cases, questions have been raised not only about the conduct of those involved but whether university leaders acted to prevent or respond to misconduct.

"President Nikias' own actions and omissions amount to a breach of trust," the letter says. "He has lost the moral authority to lead the university, and in addition, to lead the investigation of institutional failures that allowed this misconduct to to persist over several decades."

USC trustees promptly released a statement expressing support for Nikias, and the board decides whether he stays in office. But a series of investigative reports in The Los Angeles Times have left many on campus and elsewhere questioning whether the university is being well led.

The Times broke the news of the most recent scandal last week. It reported on the case of George Tyndall, who worked as a gynecologist in USC's student health clinic for nearly 30 years. The article detailed complaints that he photographed female students while examining them, touched them inappropriately and made sexually suggestive comments while examining them. Many of the female students were from China, and may have felt particularly vulnerable to him. Tyndall denied wrongdoing. But much of the anger on campus isn't just about him, but about how the university handled the allegations.

A USC inquiry confirmed reports of inappropriate behavior on his part last year, but he was allowed to resign, and USC did not inform his patients or state medical authorities of its findings. The university now says that, "in hindsight," it should have reported him. Suits are already being filed against USC by former patients.

Many of those criticizing the university over the Tyndall case are also noting the case of Carmen A. Puliafito, the now former dean of the medical school, who lost his job amid a series of stunning reports in the Times. Prior to resigning as dean, the newspaper reported, he had spent considerable time socializing with criminals and others who said he used methamphetamine and other drugs with them.

The newspaper also reviewed photographs showing the dean partying with these companions in a variety of locations, including his USC dean's office. He resigned as dean shortly after a woman overdosed while with him in a hotel room, but he maintained his faculty role.

In back-and-forth statements between the university and USC after the newspaper broke the story about Puliafito, the university suggested that it had only recently learned of the accusations against him. But the Times described a series of inquiries over 15 months it made to the university seeking information about the then-dean's conduct.  In one case, a reporter delivered a sealed note requesting an interview about the matter to Nikias's home, only to have the note returned, unopened, the next day by courier with a letter from the university's vice president for public relations and marketing saying the reporter had crossed the line.

Then the university faced another scandal over the professor selected to succeed Puliafito as medical school dean.

In October the university announced that it had lost confidence in Rohit Varma and that he was no longer dean. The university acted after the Times told officials it was about to publish an article about how Varma treated a female medical school fellow. According to the Times: "The woman accused Varma of making unwanted sexual advances during a trip to a conference and then retaliating against her for reporting him, according to the records and interviews. USC paid her more than $100,000 and temporarily blocked Varma from becoming a full member of the faculty, according to the records and interviews." Later, however, the university promoted him to dean -- at least until the newspaper called with its story.

The faculty letter calling for Nikias to be ousted focuses on what professors see as a pattern.

"The university administration's actions have been wrong at every turn, and not only in hindsight," the letter says. "In this case, as in prior cases, faced with an ongoing pattern of serious wrongdoing by a powerful university official, the university has kept the wrongdoing quiet, settled financially with the wrongdoer in secret, and denied any responsibility on the part of the university. There has been no public report on the two cases involving USC medical deans, nor any visible attempt to determine what university administrators knew and when they knew it and why they waited as long as they did to take action."

A petition by alumni -- also calling for Nikias to step down -- also references what those signing see as a pattern. "We do not know how many more cases of abuse have yet to be exposed, but it is clear that the university is unwilling to confront the toxic environment for women they have cultivated over years of neglected accountability," the petition says.

Amid the criticism, leaders of the university's board issued a statement backing the president. The statements said that board leaders found the reports about the abuse of students to be "distressing."

But the statement went on to say that Nikias was putting in place a "comprehensive action plan" to prevent such abuses. And as to the president, the statement said: "The executive committee of the board has full confidence in President Nikias’ leadership, ethics, and values and is certain that he will successfully guide our community forward."

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Trump administration says it will re-examine rules for higher ed oversight bodies

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 07:00

In drafting a regulatory agenda for the oversight bodies for higher education institutions, the U.S. Department of Education is paying special attention to previously published recommendations that suggest reorienting accreditation toward its original focus of academic quality, a key adviser to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday.

Diane Auer Jones, a special adviser to the secretary, offered the remarks in a briefing before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which oversees the country’s higher ed accreditors, on how the department is looking to reduce the regulatory burden on those organizations. 

The activity of accreditors is often less well publicized than enforcement by federal agencies. But their decisions to authorize or withdraw recognition from a college determine its ability to receive Title IV federal student aid. 

“Secretary DeVos has challenged all of us to rethink education,” Jones said. “We must challenge our current assumptions, we must evaluate our current practices, and we must question everything to be sure we do not limit the ability of any student to reach his or her full potential. In that spirit, we are examining the accreditation process.”

Helping to guide that review of the rules for accreditation are recommendations including those drafted by NACIQI as well as a 2015 white paper issued by Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee. 

Those recommendations call for, among other steps, restoring a clear separation in the roles of the so-called “triad” that oversees colleges and universities -- the federal government, accreditors, and the states. They also call for giving more priority in accreditor reviews to activities directly related to student experience or quality of education and giving more autonomy to accrediting agencies themselves. 

The Department of Education placed accreditation issues on its spring agenda of regulatory activities. Jones said that was done so that if department officials determine that regulatory changes are necessary in that area, it can “move forward swiftly and without delay.” 

She said afterwards that the department isn't necessarily pushing for accreditors to abandon an outcomes-based approach to accreditation, which measure institutions on measures like graduation and job placement rates as well as the content of their curriculum. Instead, she said the themes she mentioned represent the issues raised by major higher ed organizations.

"We just started having conversations," she said. "These are the documents we read and these are the themes we extracted." 

While Jones updated NACIQI on the department’s regulatory agenda, DeVos herself spoke to House lawmakers in a hearing on her policies and priorities that ran the gamut from school safety and civil rights to college accountability and job training. 

She told members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee that she planned to work with members of Congress and other executive agencies to advance opportunities for students to get a postsecondary education outside of a traditional degree. 

DeVos said she is working with Labor Secretary Alex Acosta and industry leaders on plans to boost the number of apprenticeships and other credential options. And she said she is eager to see the Senate take up a reauthorization of the Perkins Career and Technical Education bill already passed by the House. 

“We need to build in flexibility for these programs to meet the needs of students today and to meet the needs of industry,” she said. 

But DeVos on other issues said the department would defer to the courts and lawmakers, particularly on enforcement of civil rights for transgender students. The department has said federal Title IX law bans discrimination on the basis of sex but not gender identity. DeVos told lawmakers that won’t change unless Congress makes its position on the issue clear, or until what she says are conflicts in court rulings are resolved. 

Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, pointed to two rulings -- Whitaker v. Kenosha and Glenn v. Brumby -- that he said make clear educational institutions' obligations to uphold those students' rights. But DeVos insisted other court cases conflict with those. (After the hearing Tuesday, a Virginia federal court sided with Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen who had sued his school district over the right to use the boys’ bathroom.)

“Until the Supreme Court opines or until this body takes action, I am not going to make up law from the Department of Education,” DeVos said. 

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New student coalition alleges press is suppressed at Christian institutions

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 07:00

You probably wouldn’t know if a scandal broke out at Taylor University, a Christian institution in rural Indiana.

Based on reading the student newspaper online, the university appears successful in many measures – donor money for scholarships skyrocketing, a new campus museum opening, an alumna taking a high-profile job.

But a several years ago, after a former professor sued Taylor for alleged racial discrimination, the story didn’t make it to the website of the student newspaper, The Echo, though it did appear in the print edition. Administrators blocked its publication.

As Taylor’s policy states: “the university cannot afford for questionable or negative Echo reporting to reach a worldwide audience.”

A university spokesman, Jim Garringer, said that the institution never censored The Echo’s website this academic year, and the policy as written is more “a formality” and will likely change or be struck down entirely.

But every week, Garringer still vets all the The Echo copy before it’s posted online.

Iterations of the same anecdotes can be heard at other Christian institutions nationwide, as some disillusioned Taylor journalists discovered in an informal survey of the student press at these places. They found that Christian college and university administrators often pressured student reporters to drop scoops, or guilted or dissuaded them from a story in subtle ways, perhaps insinuating pursuing controversial pieces would break with the values of the institution.

One former Taylor editor described this as pulling “the Jesus card.”

Religious institutions certainly don’t monopolize censorship in higher education. As some civil liberties experts have pointed out, some of the most egregious cases of free speech violations occur on public campuses from leaders concerned with public relations fallout. And legally, private colleges and universities aren’t even bound by the First Amendment. But reporters said that the culture on Christian campuses particularly discourages hard-hitting reporting that would sully their wholesome images, as the Taylor students have exposed.

Frustrated by Taylor’s policies, a group of current and former Echo staffers decided earlier this year to survey other student editors who attend Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) member institutions.

The students called themselves the Student Press Coalition. Initially, they wanted the answers to their questions kept private – they thought they could use the information to lobby the Taylor administrators to shift away from the current rules.

But after about 50 student journalists from 49 colleges and universities responded, and the group found widespread reports of suppression, it took the information public, said Cassidy Grom, a creator of the coalition and a former Echo editor. What was particularly startling: about 75 percent of those reporters and editors indicated that in some way, a university representative has encouraged them to change or remove an article after it was published.  

CCCU declined interviews and provided a statement to Inside Higher Ed:

“CCCU institutions are committed to the academic and professional growth of their students, including those studying journalism and communications. Student newspapers are a valuable tool that allow students the opportunity to develop their interviewing, writing, editing and publishing skills, often under the mentorship of faculty advisors. Our institutions seek to balance student leadership and initiative with responsible mentorship and advising in the operations of their student newspapers to ensure sound journalistic principles and professional outcomes.”

Even when the Taylor students were researching the other CCCU campuses, alarmed administrators, professors and advisers pushed back against their work, Grom said. She and others received emails (reviewed by Inside Higher Ed) asking about the contents of the informal study and warnings of going live with the Student Press Coalition website. Grom didn’t want to discuss details of meetings with college leaders about the project, but only said they entailed “lots of tears.”

“We were under a lot of pressure not to move forward with this,” Grom said. “We were up against people we depend on for job recommendations, worked with for four years, our mentors, who we thought was our family. And they tried to use that in a lot of ways to make us feel inadequate.”

Grom said that during her junior year, when she was co-editor of The Echo, university officials blocked online publication of five or six articles that appeared in print. The case of the former professor suing Taylor in federal court happened before Grom was even the editor (the lawsuit was eventually settled) but it stuck out to her because the student reporter who worked on the story had researched it so well.

“But it was vetoed,” she said.

The Taylor spokesman, Garringer, said because the case will still be adjudicated, the university didn’t “want to comment,” acknowledging that the student journalists wouldn’t be implicated simply by writing about it. The lawsuit was and remains public information.

Alan Blanchard, associate professor of journalism, who became the adviser to The Echo in August, wrote in an op-ed in the paper that students have “great latitude” in selecting and writing stories “within generally accepted journalistic best practices.”

He wrote that the press freedoms students enjoy working at a college paper might exceed those in their professional career – even a newspaper owner or publisher can squash a story, “sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for not.”

Though Taylor’s policy is being debated, it still remains, and includes a line about stories not being published online that would “taint the public image of the university.” Garringer said that in the last couple years the university “has veered away” from the policy, though it hasn’t been changed, and he couldn’t pinpoint when it would other than “the not too distant future.”

This academic year, Garringer said administrators accepted it when he told them that he intended to allow stories to go online regardless of the content. The university wants to recreate a realistic experience as possible to a newsroom, adding that several journalism alumni have found success, including one who won a Pulitzer.

At other institutions, the purported censorship can range from explicit from simply cultural pressures to cease reporting.

Sometimes, administrators at the King’s College, based in New York, would step into the newspaper’s office and tell the staff to change a story or stop pursuing it, said Jessica Mathews, a former editor there.

“I have said we will keep it or continue to pursue it every time,” Mathews said, one of the more than dozen anecdotes the coalition made public.

Robin Gericke, an editor at the Asbury University student publication, told Religious News Services that when it published an interview with a gay alumnus about his experiences there, administrators confiscated the papers. They kept them locked up until the staffers showed them a letter from the man giving explicit permission to run the interview.

Several censorship cases at religious institutions have made national headlines.

In 2016, administrators at Saint Peter’s University, a Jesuit institution in Jersey City, shut down the student newspaper after it published a sex and love-related issue.

And Liberty University, where the president, Jerry Falwell Jr., is a staunch Trump loyalist, stopped the student newspaper from publishing a column critical of Trump. Falwell at the time denied the move was political, saying another, similar column had already run, and a sec ond column would be  "redundant."

But Courtney Murphy, a student journalist from Whitworth University, said that the student newspaper tempered its coverage not based on intimidation from administrators, but because the university was so small.

“Most people know and like each other,” she said on the coalition website. “Because of this it often feels like we can't cover stories about RAs getting fired, athletes suspended, etc., because we don't want to hurt their reputation or they feel uncomfortable speaking with us.”

In a later interview, Murphy added that often students wouldn't want to talk to the paper during controversial events because it felt like everyone would know them. Murphy said she was surprised by the results of the survey because her experience had been so positive -- and pleased that an adviser never had to approve her copy. She added that CCCU institutions need to do work "across the board." A Whitworth spokeswoman, Nancy Hines, said the university was pleased the paper had autonomy and it could support student journalists.

Many students seek out Christian colleges and universities for the persona; attentio, and, of course, the religious aspects, even if Constitutional protections on freedom of the press aren’t extended to them, said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. As the coalition survey revealed, most Christian student publications (nearly 90 percent, according to the coalition data) are mostly or entirely funded through university dollars, giving the administrators even more control. Higher education professional associations, among them American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities declared in 1967, that whenever possible, student press should be financially and legally separate from a university. If this isn't possible, then they should be allowed autonomy.

Some have argued, such as in this New Republic piece on censorship in religious institutions, that because their students receive some public dollars – Pell Grants and more -- that they should be obligated to give their students the same free speech rights as if they were on a public campus. The courts have ruled against this idea, said LoMonte, adding that he supports universities both public and private operating as "public trusts" under different rules than a private business. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil liberties watchdog, noted that while accreditors often require institutions to pledge to protect free speech, but too often those rules go unenforced. 

While religious institutions may not be censoring any more than their public counterparts, the overlay of church doctrine can complicate free expression on campus, LoMonte said. While some college administrators are often apologetic when they’re caught quashing student speech, religious leaders sometimes have little remorse in doing so because “they’re promoting a religious message,” he said.

“They can say with a straight face and feel justified that with the censorship, they’re doing something good,” LoMonte said.

But having a student newspaper that serves as public relations vehicle for the university won’t help the graduating students, he said – it won’t give them the clips they need to find a journalism job.

Grom, who graduated and will work at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, said she ideally would love to see Christian universities mimic the processes of the publics. They could set up channels to file records requests and relinquish all editorial control, she said. Right now, she questions the value of a journalism degree from these institutions.

“From their perspective, from a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to give us that much freedom,” Grom said. “Maybe it will result in negative coverage, or less dollars from donors. But anything less is to lying to us. It’s giving us a journalism that’s not mimicking the world. If we had more clear guidelines and freedom of press we could get Christians into these mainstream markets and do good work.”

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College graduates whose first job doesn't require bachelor's degree often stay 'underemployed'

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 05/23/2018 - 07:00

The image of the recent college graduate working as a Starbucks barista or a rental car clerk has become a cliché in the national debate over student loan debt. Studies of the underlying validity of the stereotype over time have offered mixed results, with various methodologies counting anywhere from single digit percentages to 45 percent of recent graduates as "underemployed." But most have found that some people will always be what economists call "underemployed," and that the proportion of Americans in that position stays relatively constant over time.

For students and parents, having a graduate take a job that might appear beneath his or her qualifications might beat the alternative in an especially tight job market.

But a study released today by the labor market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies suggests that graduates who take such jobs pay a lasting price.

Bachelor’s degree graduates whose first job does not require a bachelor’s degree (which is how the study defines the underemployed) are significantly likelier than those whose first job did require such a degree to still be underemployed five years later. (Many of those workers remain underemployed by this definition 10 years after leaving college.)

As is true of so many overarching statistics like this, enormous variation occurs among the graduates. Degree holders in many science and technology are less likely to be underemployed – and notably, women are quite a bit more likely than men to face that fate: 47 percent of them are underemployed, versus 37 percent of male graduates, found the report, "The Permanent Detour: Underemployment’s Long-Term Effects on the Careers of College Grads."

The data in the Burning Glass report, which was done in conjunction with the Strada Institute for the Future of Work, are likely to be seized on by the growing number of people questioning the value of a bachelor’s degree, and by extension the wisdom of college-going generally. (Some analysts said they believe the data and the report's conclusions from them overstate the extent of the problem and the reasons for it -- more on that below.)

Matt Sigelman, Burning Glass’s chief executive officer, says the data suggest that “there are too many schools producing bachelor’s degrees that are not taking into account the last-mile skills graduates need to get a good job, and too many graduates getting bachelor’s degrees that aren’t aligned with the job market.”  

But the report’s findings do not suggest a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” problem, Sigelman said, because the difference in the capabilities and skills of “the employed and the underemployed is not necessarily a big gap.”

By being “a bit more mindful about” how to prepare their graduates for a first job, many colleges and universities should be able to “layer more preparation on top of the traditional education they offer," he said, preparing their graduates better for today's workforce.

Defining Underemployment

Everyone knows what unemployment means, and why it's a problem for the individuals involved. But underemployment is a murky term.

The federal government doesn't formally calculate underemployment in its regular surveys of Americans' working lives, largely "[b]ecause of the difficulty of developing an objective set of criteria which could be readily used in a monthly household survey," the Labor Department explains. (In other words, underemployment is too hard to measure accurately.) But scholars have typically mined federal and other data to try to define underemployment as being in the labor force but employed either at less-than-full-time jobs or at positions that don't match workers' skills and training or meet their economic needs.

Estimates of underemployment for recent graduates are often pegged at between a third and 45 percent, although a 2015 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce -- defining underemployment as "those who want a job but don’t have one as well as those who want a full-time job but only have a part-time job" -- found rates much lower, even in the single digits.

Burning Glass mined its distinctive database of online job advertisements and résumés to define underemployment according to how employers hire workers. The company analyzed job postings and defined as a "college-level job" any position for which more than half of job postings requested a bachelor's degree. Using that measure, it added dozens of job types (such as insurance adjustor, radiation therapist and paralegal) to the standard job lists used by the Labor Department, and excluded some others. (Burning Glass acknowledges that these shifts in employer expectations, known as "upcredentialing," could inflate the amount of underemployment revealed by the report.)

Using that definition, Burning Glass found that 43 percent of recent graduates had jobs that did not request a bachelor's degree, while 57 percent held positions for which employers sought workers with a bachelor's. The 43 percent who the company deemed as underemployed earned an average salary of $37,330, compared to the $47,470 earned by the majority who were appropriately employed.

The initial hole was tough to climb out of. Two-thirds of the 43 percent were still underemployed, by Burning Glass's definition, five years after graduating. And almost three-quarters of those were unemployed 10 years after they began their first job, as seen in the graphic below.

By comparison, the vast majority of the 57 percent whose first jobs were deemed "college-level" positions were in such jobs 5 and 10 years later.

Significant differences surfaced by major and choice of professional field. No surprise, but engineers (29 percent) and computer scientists (30 percent) were least likely to be underemployed in their first job, followed at a significant distance by communication majors (39 percent) and mathematics majors (39 percent). More than half of graduates in nine categories of graduates (including those majoring in psychology, general studies, biology and education) were underemployed right out of college. There was a similarly wide range of outcomes by job fields.

And strikingly, Burning Glass's analysis finds a large gender gap in underemployment. Nearly half of women (47 percent) are underemployed in their first job by its definition, compared to 37 percent of men.

These findings, the report says, "undercut a long-held assumption, that female underemployment is the result of work-life tradeoffs often expected of women.... While women are more likely than men to later slip into underemployment, what is most concerning is that women fall behind at the very outset of their careers, in their first jobs -- at the very point when, presumably, they have the fewest familial obligations."

"The initial job a younger worker takes can profoundly influence the direction of a long-term career," the report concludes. "Graduates who accept or are forced into subbachelor's-level jobs early in their careers suffer significant long-term consequences; they may be consigned to underemployment for years to come. The first job is a high-stakes decision, and both educators and graduates should treat it accordingly."

Questions and Critiques

Joseph Fuller, a professor of management practice and co-leader of the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School, said via email that the Burning Glass report "explodes the myth [that] a college degree is a golden ticket. The aptitudes and specific skills that students develop in a college program influence the arc of one’s degree, not merely degree attainment."

He also noted that while the so-called STEM fields rise to "the top of the heap" in Burning Glass's findings, "other skills, like communications, that employers often find in short supply are also rewarded."

Not everyone is convinced that the situation is as dire for recent graduates as Burning Glass portrays it to be.

Nicole Smith, a Research Professor and chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, questions Burning Glass's decision to judge which jobs are "college-level" based purely on the fact that many employers are asking for (not even requiring) a bachelor's degree. "Employers can ask for everything under the sun, especially in an employer’s market," she said. "They assume that employers are actually going to hire based on that.... I care about what the person has who actually gets the job, who actually seals the deal."

Letting employers' desires dictate which positions get characterized as "college level" -- and treating as "underemployed" everyone who doesn't get one of those elevated jobs -- "would by definition result in higher levels of underemployment," Smith said.

In addition, she says, the analysis fails to account for the "voluntary" nature of some of what Burning Glass paints as forced underemployment. Some of the workers the analysis assumes to lack skills or preparation for the workforce may just lack the motivation; others may choose to work in a lower-stress position, in a "caring" profession, or to sacrifice a better job to stay near family or a loved one.

And even right out of the gate, she said, "women still bear the burden of child rearing," so for the age 22-27 group in the Burning Glass analysis, some may be choosing one job over another for that reason.

A 2016 study by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found roughly similar levels of recent graduates to be underemployed, even though it defined jobs as "bachelor's level" based not on whether at least half of employers asked for candidates to have that degree, but because at least half of people in the positions said the degree was necessary to do the job. 

But as Smith suggests, the New York Fed researchers concluded that many of the 40-some percent of recent bachelor's degree graduates who took jobs typically done by people without such degrees actually fared quite well.

"[C]ontrary to popular perception, our work reveals that most of these newly underemployed workers were not forced into low-skilled service jobs. In fact, many of the jobs such graduates took, while clearly not equivalent to jobs that require a college degree, appeared to be more oriented toward knowledge and skill when compared to the distribution of jobs held by young workers without a college degree," wrote Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz.

Abel's and Deitz's analysis also found that while some number of recent graduates did stay "stuck" in true underemployment, many others moved into jobs they were satisfied with, especially over time. Their assessment might challenge the use of the word "permanent" in the Burning Glass report's title to describe the impact of graduates' early stumbles.


Follow me on Twitter @dougledIHE.

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Most institutions say they value teaching but how they assess it tells a different story

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 07:00

Research is reviewed in a rigorous manner, by expert peers. Yet teaching is often reviewed only or mostly by pedagogical non-experts: students. There’s also mounting evidence of bias in student evaluations of teaching, or SETs -- against female and minority instructors in particular. And teacher ratings aren’t necessarily correlated with learning outcomes.

All that was enough for the University of Southern California to do away with SETs in tenure and promotion decisions this spring. Students will still evaluate their professors, with some adjustments -- including a new focus on students’ own engagement in a course. But those ratings will not be used in high-stakes personnel decisions.

The changes took place earlier than the university expected. But study after recent study suggesting that SETs advantage faculty members of certain genders and backgrounds (namely white men) and disadvantage others was enough for Michael Quick, provost, to call it quits, effective immediately. 

'I'm Done'

“He just said, ‘I’m done. I can’t continue to allow a substantial portion of the faculty to be subject to this kind of bias,” said Ginger Clark, assistant vice provost for academic and faculty affairs and director of USC’s Center for Excellence in Teaching. “We’d already been in the process of developing a peer-review model of evaluation, but we hadn’t expected to pull the Band-Aid off this fast.” 

While Quick was praised on campus for his decision, the next, obvious question is how teaching will be assessed going forward. The long answer is through a renewed emphasis on teaching excellence in terms of training, evaluation and incentives.

“It’s big move. Everybody's nervous," Clark said. "But what we've found is that people are actually hungry for this kind of help with their teaching."

SETs -- one piece of the puzzle -- will continue to provide “important feedback to help faculty adjust their teaching practices, but will not be used directly as a measure in their performance review,” Clark said. The university’s evaluation instrument also was recently revised, with input from the faculty, to eliminate bias-prone questions and include more prompts about the learning experience. 

Umbrella questions such as, “How would you rate your professor?” and “How would you rate this course?” -- which Clark called “popularity contest” questions -- are now out. In are questions on course design, course impact and instructional, inclusive and assessment practices. Did the assignments make sense? Do students feel they learned something? 

Students also are now asked about what they brought to a course. How many hours did they spend on coursework outside of class? How many times did they contact the professor? What study strategies did they use? 

While such questions help professors gauge how their students learn, Clark said, they also signal to students that “your learning in this class depends as much as your input as your professor’s work.” There is also new guidance about keeping narrative comments -- which are frequently subjective and off-topic -- to course design and instructional practices.

Still, SETs remain important at USC. Faculty members are expected to explain how they used student feedback to improve instruction in their teaching reflection statements, which continue to be part of the tenure and promotion process, for example. But evaluation data will no longer be used in those personnel decisions. 

Schools and colleges may also use evaluations to gather aggregate data on student engagement and perceptions about the curriculum, or USC’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, Clark said. They may also use them to identify faculty members who do “an outstanding job at engaging students, faculty who may need some support in that area of their teaching, or problematic behaviors in the classroom that require further inquiry.” 

Again, however, SETs themselves will not be used as a direct measure in performance evaluations. 

More Than a Number

While some institutions have acknowledged the biases inherent in SETs, many cling to them as a primary teaching evaluation tool because they’re easy -- almost irresistibly so. That is, it takes a few minutes to look at professors’ student ratings on, say, a 1-5 scale, and label them strong or weak teachers. It takes hours to visit their classrooms and read over their syllabi to get a more nuanced, and ultimately more accurate, picture.

Yet that more time-consuming, comprehensive approach is what professors and pedagogical experts have been asking for, across academe, for years. A 2015 survey of 9,000 faculty members by the American Association of University Professors, for instance, found that 90 percent of respondents wanted their institutions to evaluate teaching with the same seriousness as research and scholarship. 

The survey gave additional insight into the questionable validity of SETs: two-thirds of respondents said these evaluations create pressure to be easy graders, a quality students reward, and many reported low rates of feedback. 

Echoing other studies and faculty accounts, responses to the AAUP survey suggested that SETs have an outsize impact on professors teaching off the tenure track, in that high student ratings can mean a renewed contract -- or not.

The AAUP committee leading the 2015 study argued that faculty members within departments and colleges -- not administrators -- should develop their own, holistic teaching evaluations. It also urged “chairs, deans, provosts and institutions to end the practice of allowing numerical rankings from student evaluations to serve as the only or the primary indicator of teaching quality, or to be interpreted as expressing the quality of the faculty member’s job performance.”

Faculty committees at USC also have worked to address teaching excellence for the past five years, recommending that the university invest more in teaching, adopt incentives for strong instruction, and move toward a peer model of review.

USC’s teaching evaluation plan reflects some of those recommendations -- as well as a new emphasis on teaching excellence.  

“We must renew our focus on the importance of teaching and mentorship, putting into place the systems necessary to train, assess, and reward exceptional teaching,” Quick, the provost, and Elizabeth Graddy, vice provost, said in a March memo to the faculty. “In short, let’s make USC the great research university that expects, supports, and truly values teaching and mentoring.”

Clark, at the campus Center for Excellence in Teaching, is helping USC put its money where its mouth is. She said its new model of peer evaluation involves defining teaching excellence and developing training for the faculty, from graduate students who will become professors to full professors.

Peer Review Instead

Peer review will be based on classroom observation and review of course materials, design and assignments. Peer evaluators also will consider professors’ teaching reflection statements and their inclusive practices. 

Rewards for high quality teaching will include grants and leaves for teaching development and emphasizing teaching performance in merit, promotion and tenure reviews, Clark said. Most significantly, thus far, the university has introduced continuing appointments for qualifying teaching-intensive professors off the tenure track.

Trisha Tucker, an assistant professor of writing and president of the USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Faculty Council, said different professors have had different reactions to the “culture shift.” But she said she applauded the institution’s ability to resist the “easy shorthand” of teacher ratings in favor of something more meaningful -- albeit more difficult. (USC also has made clear that research and service expectations will not change.)

“It does take work to do this peer review,” she said. “But teaching is important and it takes a lot of time and resources to make that more than just empty words.”

As writing is a feedback-driven process, Tucker said her program already emphasizes pedagogy and peer review. But professors in some other programs will have to adjust, she said.

“For the many faculty who haven’t been trained in this way or hired based on these expectations, it can produce some anxiety,” she said. So an important measure of this new approach’s success is how USC supports people who “initially fall short.” 

Clark said the teaching center offers a model for peer review that individual programs will adjust to their own needs over the next year. That kind of faculty involvement in shaping peer review should make for a process that is less "threatening" than representative of an "investment in each other's success," she said. 

In the interim, professors’ teaching will be assessed primarily on their own teaching reflections. And while the center avoids using words such as “mandatory” with regarding to training, it is offering a New Faculty Institute, open to all instructors, for 90 minutes monthly over lunch for eight months. Sample topics include active learning, maximizing student motivation and effective, efficient grading practices.

Not Just USC

Philip B. Stark, associate dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences and a professor of statistics at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied SETs and argued that evaluations are biased against female instructors in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible, called the USC news “terrific.” 

“Treating student satisfaction and engagement as what they are -- and I do think they matter -- rather than pretending that student evaluations can measure teaching effectiveness is a huge step forward,” he said. "I also think that using student feedback to inform teaching but not to assess teaching is important progress.”

Stark pointed out that the University of Oregon also is on the verge of killing traditional SETs and adopting a Continuous Improvement and Evaluation of Teaching System based on non-numerical feedback. Under the system, student evaluations would still be part of promotion decisions, but they wouldn't reduce instructors to numbers.

Elements of the program already have been piloted. Oregon’s Faculty Senate is due to vote on the program as a whole this week, to be adopted in the fall. The proposed system includes a midterm student experience survey, an anonymous web-based survey to collect non-numerical course feedback to be provided only to the instructor, along with an end-of-term student experience survey. An end-of-term instructor reflection survey also would be used for course improvement and teaching evaluation. Peer review and teaching evaluation frameworks, customizable to academic units, are proposed, too.

“As of Fall 2018, faculty personnel committees, heads, and administrators will stop using numerical ratings from student course evaluations in tenure and promotion reviews, merit reviews, and other personnel matters,” reads the Oregon’s Faculty Senate’s proposal. “If units or committees persist in using these numerical ratings, a statement regarding the problematic nature of those ratings and an explanation for why they are being used despite those problems will be included with the evaluative materials.”

The motion already has administrative support, with Jayanth R. Banavar, provost, soliciting pilot participants on his website, saying, “While student feedback can be an important tool for continual improvement of teaching and learning, there is substantial peer-reviewed evidence that student course evaluations can be biased, particularly against women and faculty of color, and that numerical ratings poorly correlate with teaching effectiveness and learning outcomes.” 

More than simply revising problematic evaluation instruments, the page says, Oregon “seeks to develop a holistic new teaching evaluation system that helps the campus community describe, develop, recognize and reward teaching excellence.” The goal is to “increase equity and transparency in teaching evaluation for merit, contract renewal, promotion and tenure while simultaneously providing tools for continual course improvement.”

Craig Vasey, chair of classics, philosophy and religion at the University of Mary Washington and chair of AAUP’s Committee on Teaching, Research and Publications, said the “most pernicious element” of quantitative student evaluations is that the results “get translated into rankings, which then take on a life of their own and don’t really improve the quality of education.”

Review of syllabi and classroom observation by peers are both more “useful means of evaluating,” he said. “And I think asking students how engaged they were in the class -- and especially if they also ask why -- gets “better input from them than the standard questionnaire.”

Ken Ryalls, president of The IDEA Center for learning analytics and a publisher of SETs, told Inside Higher Ed earlier this year that not all evaluations are created equal. 

“Our advice: Find a good SET that is well designed and low in bias; use the data carefully, watching for patterns over time, adjusting for any proven bias, and ignoring irrelevant data; and use multiple sources of data, such as peer evaluations, administrative evaluations, course artifacts and self-evaluations, along with the student perspective from SETs,” he said via email.

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For-profit chain falls short in attempt to get new accreditor's approval

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 07:00

The biggest chain of for-profit colleges that is still overseen by an accreditation group axed by the Obama administration -- and given a second chance by Betsy DeVos -- failed this month in its initial bid to get recognition elsewhere.

Virginia College, which operates campuses across 11 states, has already said it will appeal the decision from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training. The ruling appears to raise the stakes for the Trump administration’s latest review of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the chain’s current accreditor and a focal point in the fight over accountability in the for-profit sector.

ACICS oversaw Corinthian Colleges, which collapsed in 2015, and ITT Tech, which closed its campuses in 2016. The Department of Education responded by withdrawing federal recognition from the organization in the final months of the Obama administration, setting off an exodus of colleges -- most of them for-profits -- that sought approval from other accreditors so they could maintain access to federal financial aid funds. 

Among those institutions was Virginia College, which enrolled just under 30,000 students as of the 2015-16 academic year. 

The failings cited by ACCET in a letter detailing its decision focused on outcome measures such as poor graduation and job placement rates. But it also mentioned more basic problems with programs themselves, such as students not having access to proper supplies and high faculty turnover rates.

Diane Worthington, a spokeswoman for Education Corporation of America, the Virginia chain’s parent company, said that the ACCET review covered less than half of its campuses and the institution had just two weeks to respond to multiple reports, some of which it believes contain errors or inconsistencies. 

She added that most of the outcome issues noted by the report involve old programs, while new academic programs haven’t had time to produce measurable outcomes. 

“In the meantime, Virginia College remains an accredited institution by ACICS,” she said via email. “Our students are continuing to work toward completing their programs and receiving their diplomas and degrees without disruption, and this will not impact those students who are eligible to receive federal student financial aid.”

Bill Larkin, executive director of the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training, said he could not comment on Virginia College while the decision is being appealed.  

ACCET is in the process of reviewing other ACICS-accredited schools and has so far approved one for recognition. The organization is one of several national accreditors that have ramped up activity to review a flood of new applications from ACICS-accredited institutions. 

A Center for American Progress analysis in February found that just a handful of ACICS-accredited programs had not taken any steps to seek approval elsewhere. The rest had either gained a new accreditor, begun the process to do so, closed, or merged with other institutions. 

That process in most cases has continued despite two major recent developments in the fight ACICS has waged to restore its federal recognition.

First, in March a U.S. district court judge ruled that the Obama administration had failed to review key documentary evidence submitted by the accreditor before withdrawing recognition in 2016. The ruling sent the case back to the Department of Education for a final decision on recognition. Then last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that she would restore federal recognition to ACICS pending a final review by the department. 

Antoinette Flores, a senior analyst of postsecondary education policy at the Center for American Progress, says the review raises questions about how the campuses were accredited to begin with.

“After months of back and forth, and giving the institution the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to contest information in the report, it still comes up failing the majority of the standards,” she said. “For me, it’s a question of how can they be accredited at all.” 

Flores said the failure of Virginia College to get recognition elsewhere -- and the serious nature of the findings -- make the department’s ruling on ACICS even more critical for those campuses.

“At this point they don’t have an accreditor at the ready that is willing to approve them,” she said. 

The negative review from ACCET also has implications for the chain’s ongoing accreditation. A week after the denial letter was issued, ACICS placed Virginia College-Birmingham, the chain’s main campus, on show-cause status, citing adverse information. The status requires than an institution demonstrate within one year why it should retain accreditation. 

Worthington said ACICS has made “a laudable effort to introduce a new process for verifying placements.”

But she said the company’s internal data better reflect the job placement rates for graduates, and ACICS has provided an opportunity to submit those rates for verification. 

Since April 24, the accreditor has placed at least 50 campuses on show-cause status. The Brightwood College and Brightwood Career institute chains, which are also operated by Education Corporation of America, had four campuses placed on show cause just this month. 

Those actions, along with the findings of other accreditors, signal just how many colleges recognized by ACICS don’t meet basic standards, Flores said. 

“That kind of massive failure is not something that happens overnight,” she said. 

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Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education to be led by former Gates official

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 07:00

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education has hired as its new chancellor a former University of California official who managed the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s work on postsecondary education from 2012 until early this year.

Daniel Greenstein, 57, will be the next chancellor of the Pennsylvania state system, known as PASSHE.

Before stepping down from Gates in February, Greenstein was credited with shifting the foundation’s higher education approach from arrogant to collaborative.

Greenstein, who has written occasionally for Inside Higher Ed, worked with higher education leaders nationwide to raise attainment levels and promote economic mobility, especially among low-income and minority students. He is credited with creating and implementing a national strategy to reduce attainment gaps.

The move is an unusual one: Greenstein jumps from a comfortable, well-funded and nationally prominent foundation to a rough-and-tumble state university system that has struggled to keep all of its 14 universities afloat. 

Speaking to reporters on Monday, he said the system’s biggest challenge -- reduced public funding -- represents its biggest opportunity. “That’s not uniquely a feature of Pennsylvania public higher education,” he said.

Drops in public support for college -- as well as shrinking high school classes -- are “major social public policy challenges with significant consequence for the health and the economic well-being of our society," he said. "So let’s be clear: that’s what we’re up against. At the same time, it is not a set of challenges that we can simply leave unaddressed. The stakes are too high.”

In a statement released by PASSHE on Monday, Greenstein said the universities that make up the system “are the lifeblood of countless who live in communities across Pennsylvania.” He noted that nearly 90 percent of the system's 100,000 students live and work in the state after they graduate, making the universities “the engines that drive economic development and strengthen the very fabric of our society.”

But a few have seen their fabric fray. Last year, PASSHE loaned $8 million to Cheyney University, its smallest, to help keep its doors open. The loan came on top of five other lines of credit over four years to the historically black university near Philadelphia, which put Cheyney more than $30 million in debt to the system. Its annual budget virtually matches its obligations to PASSHE. 

Cheyney has the lowest four-year graduation rate in the system.

Greenstein on Monday balked at questions about closure or merger plans for Cheyney, saying only that other similarly “challenged” universities, such as Paul Quinn College in Texas and National Louis University in Chicago, “have leveraged their existing strengths and their histories and their ties to various communities and turned themselves into exemplars of what higher education can and really ought to look like in the 21st century. So I’m excited by the opportunity.”

Speaking more broadly about closures, Greenstein said they’re a lousy idea. “You can’t just eliminate educational opportunity from whole regions.”

In many areas of Pennsylvania, he said, “Campus closure is really not an option, because the communities that are in that great degree of distress are the ones that need educational opportunities most.”

Sally Johnstone, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), which completed a strategic system review last July for PASSHE, said the system is “at a point where they have no option but to make some major changes -- and the changes they need to make, that we recommended they strongly consider, are in line with the philosophy that Dan has been guiding institutions to take seriously.”

In its review, NCHEMS recommended that the system share resources among institutions -- not just business functions but academic ones as well. “You can have a very high-quality system maintaining local representation,” Johnstone said. “So you’re not going to necessarily close campuses, but the campuses will operate differently.”

Sharing services is “not consolidation in the typical way of thinking about it -- it’s behind-the-scenes consolidation, of both academic and administrative resources.” 

Closing campuses, by contrast, would amount to “basically writing off the populations they serve.” 

While Greenstein could easily have taken a less stressful, more remunerative job in business or as a college president, Johnstone said, he made “a choice for service, as opposed to a choice for personal gain.”

​Kenneth M. Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College & University Faculties, said his members welcomed Greenstein's arrival. He noted that the state was recently ranked 47th out of 50 in public support of higher education. “We need an articulate spokesperson for what higher education does for kids and for the commonwealth,” Mash said. “He clearly gets that."

Noting that Greenstein comes to the job from a foundation that has had its share of run-ins with unions, Mash said his members would cautiously listen to his ideas. 

“We’ll hear him out, but my colleagues and I share solidarity -- and what I do know is that we share the primary interests of the new chancellor and the board in trying to provide high-quality, affordable education to students," he said.

Greenstein on Monday said he had no immediate plans for big changes to the system. Instead, he insisted, “I really want to spend as much time as I possibly can on the campuses,” meeting with students, faculty and staff. “Listening and learning are my two number-one priorities.”

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Scrutiny of ties between Mount Ida donor and president

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 07:00

Fallout from the closure of Mount Ida College continued this week with new revelations of personal and business ties between the college president and a benefactor who loaned the college money to try to keep it operating.

The disclosures, outlined in an article by The Boston Globe on Sunday, suggested  to some experts a conflict of interest between Barry Brown, president of the Newton, Mass., institution, and Rosalie K. Stahl, a 98-year-old New York City real estate investor and longtime personal client of Brown.

Brown, is a trustee of Stahl’s personal trust, according to the article.

Among other findings, the article highlighted the existence of a shell company through which loans to Mount Ida totaling more than $16 million were made by Stahl. The article noted that Stahl stood to benefit financially from interest collected on the loans, as well as tax deductions for an $8 million donation she made to the college in 2015.

Despite attempts to use the loans and gifts to keep the struggling college open, it closed Thursday. Mount Ida’s trustees announced last month that the college would close amid mounting debt and other financial pressures and that its campus would become e part of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The announcement angered and disappointed students and faculty who were not given prior notice of the closure.

“The entity that loaned Mount Ida $16.5 million is listed publicly as Carlson Property LLC,” The Globe reported. “Brown’s name does not appear on any public filings by the college nor does the name of his client, but after questions from the Globe, trustees acknowledged that Stahl’s trust funded Carlson.”

Additionally Carlson Property holds a mortgage for about 15 acres of the campus in return for the loan, the Globe reported public documents show.

According to the Globe, the loans from Stahl raised questions about Brown’s professional allegiances and whether he used his position as president and personal trustee to provide a business opportunity for Stahl, and whether he put her financial interests ahead of the interests of students.

The article noted that Mount Ida trustees said Brown, who is a lawyer, disclosed his connection to Stahl and they were comfortable with the relationship.

But not everyone agreed, James Finkelstein, professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University and an expert on the role of university presidents, said the relationship was troubling nonetheless.

“There is certainly a conflict of interest, no doubt about that,” he said. “The question is how it was dealt with, what was the level of details disclosed to Mount Ida trustees, and what actions they specifically took to either wave the conflict or mitigate the conflict? Mount Ida has been unwilling to share any documentation other than to say ‘take our word.’ ”

Finklestein said he has unaware of a similar situation elsewhere.

“I’ve never heard of university president who is a trustee for an individual’s affairs also using their role as trustee to benefit the institution where they serve as president,” he said. “It’s a pretty significant issue and to my knowledge unique in higher education.”

Finklestein was not alone in his assessment. Eight experts in nonprofit ethics and college governance who reviewed the financial arrangement for the Globe also found it problematic, the news outlet reported.

Administrators of the college, which had about 1,500 students enrolled, had been looking for new options. In February it announced discussions with Lasell College about a possible merger. But those discussions ended in March. While a statement issued by the college at the time suggested it would continue operating on its own, only weeks later administrators announced it would close.

With the college now closed, university administrators have refused to make public documents that would shed light on the loan arrangement.

“The board declined to release its conflict-of-interest policy, Brown’s contract, or disclosure forms, board meeting minutes, or any other documents to back up its assertions that Brown disclosed his conflicts, recused himself, and did not profit from the deal,” according to Boston Globe article.

“As Mount Ida negotiated the sale of its campus to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Reiss said Carlson Property agreed to forgive nearly half the loan balance.”

Finklestein said the college’s refusal to make public the documents, especially its conflict of interest policy, only made things seem murky.  

“Do they have a policy? Was there a violation of the policy?” he asked.  “We can’t answer any questions without seeing it. There’s no reasons for any nonprofit to withhold that information from the public.

“It could be that when this president was hired he fully disclosed his relationship and there was language in his contract that waived the conflict. Unfortunately in the absence of transparency people tend to assume the worse.”

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a professor of public service and president emeritus of George Washington University, also found the details of the relationship between Brown and Stahl troubling but said it was difficult to fully judge or understand the loan arrangement without seeing the documentation.

“There are just too many questions outstanding for anybody at this point to make judgments except to say that it seems highly unusual,” he said. “That said, if you have a school that’s about to go under and you’re desperate, you grab hold of anything you can. It may well be the president was doing the best he could under the circumstances. He seems to have acted with the consent of the board of trustees.”

Still, Trachtenberg would like to know the fair market value of the land used as collateral and “whether some bargain was struck or whether it was a straight forward business deal,” and whether anyone was personally profiting from it. He also wonders if the interests of the University of Massachusetts are being protected.

“I’d be curious to ask the benefactor what her motive was,” he said. “Was she fully informed of what was happening? It may have simply been an effort to do good and keep the school alive. On the basis of the information we read, we can’t easily come to any conclusions, I’m afraid.”


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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 05/22/2018 - 07:00
  • California State University, Stanislaus: Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and others.
  • Ithaca College: Daniel Weiss, president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Kettering University: Latondra Newton, senior vice president and chief diversity officer of the Walt Disney Company.
  • LaGuardia Community College of the City University of New York: Shaun King, the journalist and activist.
  • Maryland University of Integrative Health: Rovenia Brock, nutritionist and author.
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