Higher Education News

Trump administration seeks comment on student loan bankruptcy standards

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 08:00

The Department of Education signaled Monday that it is interested in tweaking the standards used for determining whether student loan debt can be discharged in bankruptcy.

That could point to an opening for potential bipartisan cooperation between the department and Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who have long sought to loosen bankruptcy law so student borrowers can discharge their debt.

However, what steps the department might take in that regard, including issuing new guidance or working with Congress to change the law, are unclear.

In a Federal Register notice, it requested public comments on the process for evaluating claims of “undue hardship” -- the standard student borrowers must clear to be able to discharge their loans through bankruptcy.

An Education Department spokeswoman said the notice should speak for itself. The document doesn’t indicate the steps the department may take, but consumer groups that work on student loans and bankruptcy issues said it would be hard to narrow the current standards.

Getting student loans discharged through bankruptcy is notoriously difficult. A 2005 federal law barred most student loan borrowers from that option unless they could demonstrate that they would suffer undue hardship from being forced to pay the loans.

Congress, however, has never defined what undue hardship means and didn’t delegate to the department the ability to do so. That’s left it to the courts to establish their own standards.

But debt holders and Department of Education contractors have often sought to aggressively block those undue hardship claims via litigation.

“It’s a very difficult hurdle for most consumers,” said John Rao, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center and an expert on bankruptcy issues.

In 2014, the obstacles created by contractors prompted congressional Democrats, including Warren, to write to then education secretary Arne Duncan urging new federal guidance that would make clear specific minimum criteria for an undue hardship claim.

Among those criteria, the Democrats wrote that receiving disability benefits under the Social Security Act or being determined to be unemployable because of a service-connected disability should qualify a borrower as having an undue hardship. Contractors should accept proof of those or other criteria from a borrower without a formal litigation discovery process, the Democrats said.

The guidance released by the department the following year disappointed many Democrats and consumer advocates.

Clare McCann, deputy director of higher education policy at New America and a former Obama Education Department official, said the department’s call for comments appears to signal that it wants to broaden the definition of undue hardship. She said whatever change the department or Congress makes will have to strike the proper balance.

“You want to make sure it captures people who aren’t able to pay and won’t be able to pay over the long run, so you’re not wasting energy collecting debts you’ll never be able to collect on,” she said of the standards.

Opening up bankruptcy standards too wide, McCann said, could mean the federal student loan program becomes much more costly.

A report this month from the Department of Education’s inspector general found that the popularity of income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs could mean the federal government soon starts losing money on the student loan program.

But Rao said only a small percentage of consumer borrowers file for bankruptcy now.

“These are individuals who have some kind of hardship that is lasting, or they’re in a position where maybe they went to college and never got a degree,” he said. “In the case of some borrowers, they’re just not going to be able to repay the loan.”

Jason Delisle, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said after the addition of multiple income-driven repayment programs for student loans since 2005, there is less of a case to be made for widening bankruptcy standards for federal student loans than for private loans.

“There are costs that go well beyond discharging loans for people who can’t pay,” he said. “There are also costs to discharge loans for people who can pay.”

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Sewanee debates honor for Charlie Rose, sin, forgiveness and harassment

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:00

In November, The Washington Post reported that numerous women alleged that journalist Charlie Rose harassed them. The reports included groping, unwanted kissing and more. Rose acknowledged "inappropriate behavior" and said that he "deeply" apologized.

In the weeks following the Post article, Rose's career essentially fell apart, as he lost jobs and speaking engagements. Several universities -- including Arizona State University, Fordham University and the University of Kansas -- that had honored Rose in various ways revoked those honors. While many universities revoked honors for Bill Cosby after allegations surfaced that he had sexually assaulted and harassed dozens of women, they generally acted only well after the accusations became public. In the case of Rose, whose behavior toward women became public amid the Me Too movement, universities acted quickly.

One university -- the University of the South, known as Sewanee -- has in the last week been engulfed in a debate over its 2016 honorary degree to Rose. At Sewanee, the university's board rejected a call by students to revoke the degree, a decision that upset some students. The controversy escalated as students questioned a letter sent by Sewanee's leaders to the students who led the effort to rescind the degree. The letter offered a theological explanation for the decision, but students accused the leaders of minimizing the issue of sexual harassment.

Then some students anonymously put up posters all over the campus addressed to John McCardell, the vice chancellor (the equivalent of president). "VC John McCardell: Why won't you condemn sexual assaulters?" read many of the posters, including one placed on McCardell's campus home. The posters, which were quickly removed, stunned many on the campus, who see civility as a cherished, all too rare value in higher education today.

A rally is being planned for later this week, and there are no signs that the debate is about to die down.

Theology and the Letter

Sewanee is owned by 28 dioceses of the Episcopal Church, and the board meeting at which the Rose degree was discussed included three Episcopal bishops and three Episcopal priests. In an interview, McCardell said the letter was an attempt to convey the thinking, not of every individual on the board, but the view that emerged, which was influenced by board members' faith.

The letter praised the two student representatives to the board for bringing up the issue and offering board members their perspective. The portion of the letter that has angered many students focused on theological ideas:

"Respectfully, we submit that we should look to our own Honor Code for a tradition that combines both the academic and the ecclesiastical. In its essence, we do not condone perverse behavior. We want to be clear that we have stood, and always will stand, against sexual harassment of women or men. At the same time, we do not believe it is our place to condemn the individual. In fact, we think there is grave danger were we to go down that path. We impose a penalty where appropriate, but we also offer forgiveness. That said, it would be easy to condemn Mr. Rose and rescind the honorary degree. It is harder not to do so. The opportunity to forgive should always be taken. Condemnation has no place here," the letter said.

The letter went on to say, "Clarification comes in the question 'Is there a hierarchy of sin?' Quickly followed by 'Are we all not sinners?' Therein lies the ecumenical rub. If we condemn a person then who among us sinners should not also be condemned?"

The letter so angered students that many of the posters put up on campus featured those paragraphs.

Who Should Forgive?

Claire Brickson is a senior at Sewanee, one of the two student representatives to the board to whom the letter was addressed. (Brickson and the other student representative were permitted to present their request on the Rose degree to the board, but they were not allowed to participate in the board's deliberations.)

In an interview, Brickson said the letter displayed a lack of appreciation for the position of the students -- and the harm done to the women Rose harassed. "We are not the ones who can forgive Mr. Rose," she said. "We're not the ones who he harassed. It is not our position to offer forgiveness."

The culture associated with sexual assault and sexual harassment is a national problem, she said, and it is a problem at Sewanee. "This is not just about Charlie Rose," she said, but about the university having had the chance to make a statement about the problems of sexual harassment by taking back an honor for someone who mistreated many women in his career. "The university has failed," she said.

As to the anonymous posters on campus, Brickson said she did not favor the personal attacks on McCardell, but "I understand" why some students felt the need to put up the posters. Many take the board's decision as a sign that it does not care about these issues, she said.

Others have noted that the university has an honor code through which it punishes students for various infractions, with penalties including suspension.

Richard Pryor III, a student, published an essay Monday in The Sewanee Purple in which he challenged the theological underpinnings of the leaders' letter. He said that he accepts that all people are sinners, but that Rose's conduct -- using his power against women time and again, over a period of many years -- put him in a different category.

"By not revoking Charlie Rose’s honorary degree, you have told these strong survivors that you don’t care about the fact that he hurt them. You have shown every person on this campus that if you’re powerful enough or well-connected enough, you can sexually assault others without repercussion," Pryor wrote. "This is the message you are sending, and you will stand on the wrong side of history."

‘Adding a Feather’

McCardell, in an interview, disputed the idea that there was inconsistency between the university's stance on the honorary degree and its honor code. Unlike honor codes at some other colleges that can be used to expel students, Sewanee's has suspension -- with the possibility of returning -- as its strongest punishment. Those found to violate the honor code have the choice to "be welcomed back," he said.

Further, he said that the honor code only allows for punishment of those who have had due process -- something that the college cannot offer Rose in a meaningful way. In fact, McCardell said, Sewanee has never revoked a degree -- honorary or otherwise -- in its history. "We have no procedure or process for revoking a degree," he said.

Rose has been punished, just not by Sewanee, he said. "It's hard to say that he has not been censured in the court of public opinion," he said. "His career is over."

McCardell also asked whether revoking the degree would accomplish anything.

Doing so would be "to add a feather to a thousand-pound weight," he said. The focus of students would be better directed at the campus. "These students are concerned about what we are doing about the climate on campus," he said. "The morning after we have revoked Charlie Rose's degree, we may feel very good about ourselves, but what have we done on campus?"

As for the posters directed at him, McCardell said, "I've got a thick skin. I've seen this stuff and worse. I am more disappointed than hurt."

But he said he was concerned about the tactic. "I think anonymous postings of a personal nature -- leave aside entirely who is being named -- are inappropriate and are fundamental violations of the rules of civil behavior," McCardell said. "How does one respond to anonymous charges? Where is the diversity that we claim to possess and to celebrate when such things as this are posted? Where are the voices saying, 'This goes too far?'"

Duke and Hopkins

Sewanee is not the only institution to have awarded Rose an honorary degree and not to have revoked it.

Duke University in December announced that it would not revoke an honorary degree it awarded to Rose (who is an alumnus). The university said it had never revoked an honorary degree and that the board had discussed the issue. However, at the same time, Duke announced that its DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy was revoking an award it had given Rose, given that the Post articles showed that "he used his status to prey on women who worked for him."

One of the few institutions that has not revoked its honorary degree for Cosby is Johns Hopkins University, where some students are pushing the university to do so.

A statement from the university said, "Johns Hopkins University remains deeply troubled by the reports and allegations regarding Bill Cosby. As stated previously, Johns Hopkins has a set of values we seek to uphold and we continue to closely monitor all developments related to this matter. We exercise great care and deliberation in awarding an honorary degree and would do so in the event of revoking one."

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New app seeks to shake up student ratings of instruction by facilitating open-ended feedback in the moment, throughout the semester

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:00

Even defenders of student evaluations of teaching admit they’re flawed. A top contention is that students are almost always asked to evaluate a professor at the end of a course, when they no longer have a personal incentive to help that instructor teach better.

Enter ClassPulse. Part of a growing market of products that allow students to offer anonymous, instantaneous feedback on instruction, ClassPulse is a free application students and professors download to their phones. From there, students can post comments or questions visible to everyone in the class. Professors can gauge the significance of each post by the number of supporting votes it gets from other students. So a comment with one vote might not mean much. But a comment with 25 votes is probably representative of students’ concerns, depending on class size.

Instructors can also post comments or questions or request targeted feedback via the platform’s “polls” function. “Did you find today’s exercise useful?” a professor might ask, for example, or “Rate the pace of my lectures: too slow, too fast, just right.”

Rather than students using their phones throughout class -- to the point of distraction -- ClassPulse proposes that students use the app between classes or at key moments while meeting.

Claudia Recchi, a recent graduate of Georgetown University, founded ClassPulse last year and has built a following based on outreach to individual instructors and word-of-mouth recommendations. Instructors nationwide now use the platform, she said, with particular interest among non-tenure-track professors. That makes sense, given that these professors are often rehired, or not, based largely on student feedback.

“These people care about their teaching effectiveness not only because they care about students but because their jobs are on the line,” Recchi said, noting that faculty developers and teaching center staffers also have reached out to her personally about ClassPulse.

Recchi, who graduated in 2017 with degrees in operations and information management and Chinese, said ClassPulse was informed by her own experiences as an undergraduate.

“As a student you’re always aware that course evaluations are flawed,” she said. “When the semester comes to an end, you can’t be bothered to fill them out, or you’re checking boxes or writing super-generic comments.”

Recchi recalled one professor in particular who was a “great guy” but who walked through examples too quickly and “had a hard time getting things across” to students. At the end of the semester, the professor got terrible evaluations, Recchi said, and wasn’t rehired.

A second professor of finance, meanwhile, she said, asked students to offer feedback anonymously on his course via a Tumblr page.

“I though that was super useful and wished I had it in all my classes,” Recchi recalled.

Patrick Johnson, an assistant teaching professor of physics at Georgetown, uses ClassPulse in his large, lecture-style courses. Because ClassPulse is only as effective as the share of students using it is large, Johnson said he asks students to take out their phones and download the app at the beginning of the semester.

“The fact that students have their phones with them everywhere they go means this is super easy for them to do,” he said. “So that barrier to providing feedback is lower. And every professor knows that it’s hard to get 60 percent of students to fill out course evaluations -- the best I’ve ever done is in the 70s or 80 percent, and that’s with constant pestering.”

Because ClassPulse is anonymous, Johnson said he doesn’t know if a dedicated group is using the app on a regular basis or if different students are using it all the time. Either way, he said, a critical mass is using it, to everyone’s benefit.

Asked if ClassPulse means more work, in that he now has to consult the app and answer student emails, Johnson said he hadn’t studied the issue. But he guessed that ClassPulse eliminated at least some of the monotonous, time-consuming work that is answering multiple student emails about the same questions. And ClassPulse offers anonymity that some students crave, he said, noting that he’s previously received comments from students who create accounts like “concernedphysicsstudent@gmail.com.”

To that point, Johnson said he’d prefer that students approach him directly with questions, comments or criticism than use any platform. But as he himself was intimidated by his own professors as an undergraduate, he said, he gets it.

Johnson said he still pays close attention to students’ narrative comments in his formal course evaluations, but that ClassPulse is a way to get that feedback in a more timely manner so that it’s “actionable.” Sometimes, that means telling students that he’ll consider their suggestions as policy changes for the next semester, he said. But just as often it means answering questions or making small changes that might help students now.

Recchi said that ClassPulse is not currently seeking to replace student evaluations of teaching, but rather complement them. A small ClassPulse study involving 12 faculty members, for example, demonstrated that professors who used the app over a semester saw a 20-percentage-point increase in their overall teaching ratings, she said.

Going forward, ClassPulse hopes to add more sophisticated analytics so that professors can track the impact of their interaction with students on their teaching. Recchi’s eventual plan is to sell ClassPulse to institutions so that they can offer access to it to all their professors. The platform seeks to remain instructor centered, not administrator or ratings centered, however, she said.

Beyond the fact that traditional student evaluations of teaching are completed after the fact, they’re also often criticized for conveying students’ bias against professors -- especially those who aren’t white men. Recchi said that when students give feedback in the moment, instead of at the end of a course, it tends to be much more targeted and objective: a professor talked too fast on this day or this particular quiz was too difficult, for example.

“If you’re looking back on a course, you’re going to give very general impressions,” she said. “It’s very easy for biases to creep in that way.”

The IDEA system is another tool for making student feedback more meaningful, including through instant responses; IDEA’s instant tool can be delivered to students at any time throughout the semester, but it currently includes seven set questions instead of open-ended feedback.

Ken Ryalls, IDEA’s president, said that while ClassPulse’s open design offers an “opportunity for more flexibility,” pre-designed questions “can have advantages of reliability and validity, and focusing on things that really matter to the instructor.”

While both systems have their benefits and drawbacks, he said, classrooms “are not democracies, and opening up feedback on any subject that allows students to anonymously give thumbs-ups to seems risky to the instructor's control of the class.” Somewhat similarly, Ryalls said he was skeptical about instant feedback’s potential to attenuate student biases. While some students might vote down, ignore or otherwise drown out biased perspectives, he said, other students might join in.

Ryalls said that instant feedback during the semester can be a bridge to well-designed end-of-course evaluations, and that in a "perfect world" they’d both always exist.

“I love to talk about feedback as fostering an environment of co-learning, where the instructor and student truly feel that they're working together to get better,” he added. “More feedback would probably lead to more co-learning, provided the feedback is of some quality.”

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University of Michigan will now allow mediation in some sexual assault cases

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:00

The University of Michigan will now allow certain cases of sexual assault to be resolved with mediation and other methods, such as sexual violence classes for accused students, a move the university believes could help victims who don’t want to pursue an arduous formal process.

Survivor advocates, however, caution that colleges often steer students toward what could be a less complicated path for the university, but one that could go against victims' wishes.

The changes come as the issue of sexual violence is exploding across the political landscape.

The university's neighbor just two hours away, Michigan State University, has been shaken by the Larry Nassar case, in which the former university and Olympic gymnastics team doctor was found to have abused more than 160 women over several decades. The fallout resulted in the president’s ouster and a recent no-confidence vote by faculty against the embattled Board of Trustees.

“In light of MSU's horrible treatment of the Larry Nassar investigation, it's ironic that Michigan is now trying to make it easier for the school to sweep violence under the rug,” said Alyssa Peterson, a state organizer with Know Your IX, an advocacy group with a name that refers to the federal gender antidiscrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

Last year Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, loosened federal rules for how colleges can investigate and adjudicate sexual assault. DeVos said a Title IX-related edict from the Obama administration skewed colleges’ processes too far against students accused of rape.

Michigan appears to be following the Trump administration's more flexible guidelines by changing their policies to allow mediation and other forms of “alternative resolution” to be used to resolve sexual assault cases, though not when a student has been accused of any sort of penetrative offense.

The university also increased its timeline to investigate, hear and potentially punish a student for sexual assault allegations from a total 60 days to 75 days -- but circumstances can extend this.

The two-month time frame previously was required under the Obama guidance on Title IX, which came in the form of a Dear Colleague letter in 2011.

Many of Michigan's substantive changes to its policy were based on student feedback, specifically from survivors, said Erik S. Wessel, director of the university's Office of Student Conflict Resolution.

For some students, the formal process -- an investigation, then a hearing -- is the best route, but the university wanted to add “another tool in the toolbox,” he said.

Many tend to focus on mediation as the only method of "alternative resolution," but the university could also require the accused to take a class on sexual violence, Wessel said, but only if they admit a degree of responsibility.

Wessel stressed that point: a student would have to take responsibility for their actions. The solution might not just be mediation or some kind of course -- it could be a combination, he said.

Both parties have to agree to a solution outside the formal process. And any agreement has to be approved by the university's Title IX coordinator, Wessel said. The university will not attempt to force or guide a survivor into mediation or another avenue if they don't want it, although staff members likely would lay out all the options, he said.

The changes took effect Feb. 7. And the university has yet to use an alternative resolution for a sexual assault case.

“In no way would we ever coerce or strongly suggest in any particular way how a claimant should think, feel or want to pursue a process moving forward,” Wessel said. “It’s our role, period, to offer the options to them, to give them as much choice and voice and agency as we possibly can.”

Voluntary Mediation?

Survivor advocates fear the opposite.

Hope Brinn is a Michigan law student who has done survivor advocacy work. She also filed a complaint with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights against Swarthmore College, which she attended as an undergraduate.

No matter how much colleges insist otherwise, the choice to use mediation is never voluntary, Brinn said. Institutions have incentives to rely on nonpunitive measures to close sexual assault cases, because otherwise they are exposed to liability, she said.

One reason for this, she said, is that a growing number of male students accused of sexual assault have successfully sued their institutions over the years, alleging their constitutional due process rights had been violated. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit partially ruled in favor of one such student, who alleged that Miami University in Ohio had been prejudiced when it found him responsible for an assault. The lower district court had dismissed the student’s lawsuit, but on appeal, the appeals court found the student had sufficient evidence to support such allegations.

“As we've increasingly seen, perpetrators sanctioned for violating sexual misconduct policies often sue their schools,” Brinn said. “This risk is lowered by using mediation that won't place any real consequences on assailants. As such, I believe Michigan will either explicitly or implicitly push victims into mediation. This might take the form of responding to a complaint by saying something like, ‘Well, you can pursue adjudication, which will be really traumatizing and probably won’t result in sanctions, or you can pursue this mediation, which is much less traumatizing and built on ‘healing,’ but it’s totally up to you.’”

Brinn also took issue with the 75-day timeline, which she noted is the university's goal, but not a guarantee.

She said that having a prompt and clear time frame is essential to survivors’ emotional health.

“Dragging out the investigation and failing to set a boundary on how long it can take can destroy someone's mental health and thus deny them access to the educational opportunities to which they are entitled,” Brinn said.

Wessel acknowledged that advocates often are skeptical of the concept of “restorative justice,” which many do not support in the context of sexual assault cases.

However, he challenged the perception that other means of solving sexual assault cases don’t hold the accused accountable.

“I fundamentally reject that notion,” Wessel said. “It’s my strong experience in my career that a restorative process with a high degree of accountability, a high degree of support is the sweet spot to ensuring students are learning from the experience.”

After DeVos announced she had rescinded the Obama administration’s 2011 guidance and released interim measures, the Education Department told the National Association of College and University Attorneys that alternatives could be used to resolve sexual assault cases.

But the change still confused some college lawyers. One, Scott Schneider, who specializes in higher education law, told Inside Higher Ed in September he doubted that any institution employs anyone with the competency to mediate sexual assault cases.

DeVos said she intends to make permanent guidance on Title IX after a notice-and-comment period.

The department also permitted institutions to pick a higher standard of evidence in adjudicating possible sexual assaults, a particularly controversial move.

The Obama administration told colleges to rely on a lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which generally means there’s 50.1 percent chance that the accused individual was responsible. DeVos allowed institutions to use the higher “clear and convincing” standard.

Advocates have said the higher standard is meant to be used in criminal proceedings, not in the college adjudication process.

Michigan will keep the “preponderance of the evidence” standard, Wessel said, and he was unaware of any talks to change it.

The university fielded 218 reports of sexual misconduct, including sexual assaults and harassment, stalking and other violence from July 2016 to June 2017. But it offered interim remedies -- such as barring the parties from contact -- in just 34 cases.

Of the 218 reports, the university determined 82 didn’t fall under the scope of its policy. And in the 28 full investigations the university conducted, students weren't found to be in violation of the university's rules in about 53 percent (15 cases).

“I find it hard to believe that the vast majority of individuals making formal reports with the office would seek neither an investigation nor interim measures,” Brinn said. “Most people make reports because they want something done. I refuse to believe that the vast majority of students at Michigan who report sexual misconduct want nothing done as a result.”

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Author discusses new book on how World War I created opportunities for British women in science

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:00

Wartime has opened up many jobs to women. World War I was no exception. A new book explores how women in science found opportunities in Britain in World War I that were previously denied them, and how these breakthroughs related to the drive for women's right to vote. The book is A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War (Oxford University Press). The author is Patricia Fara, a historian of science who is a fellow of Clare College of the University of Cambridge.

Via email, Fara responded to questions about her new book and about women in science today.

Q: How limited was the role for women in science in Britain prior to World War I?

A: Before the First World War, even women believed that they were fitted only for an inferior place in science. In 1897, the principal of Newnham -- one of Cambridge’s only two female colleges -- hoped that "women will do excellent work in the subordinate fields of science … though it is not very brilliant or striking, and will in particular prove excellent assistants." Girls’ schools provided skimpy scientific education, and many parents refused to fund their daughters’ intellectual ambitions. Those who did manage to pursue a scientific career discovered that as undergraduates, they were mocked, excluded from practical classes and provided with inferior accommodation.

In principle, university posts were open to both men and women, but in practice preference was given to men, even in women-only colleges. A tiny number of women did secure positions, but they were deemed unsuitable for addressing audiences of male undergraduates and were frequently channeled into time-consuming tasks of administration and teaching. Moreover, just as in industry, in-built pay differentials meant that experienced women could be hired more cheaply than men, and so often ended up doing lower-grade work. Women were excluded from many professional organizations. In 1906, the physicist Hertha Ayrton won a prestigious medal from London’s Royal Society for her work on electric streetlights, but her nomination for fellowship had already been rejected on the grounds that she was married.

Q: How did the war change the role? Did those leading science organizations see the potential of women, or was it more that smart women saw an opportunity and pursued it?

A: To have got anywhere in science by 1914, a woman needed to be not only smart, but also determined and ambitious. The war did give them the opportunities they had been looking for, but they were often forced to carve out their own routes to success. When Dr. Elsie Inglis offered her medical services in August 1914, the War Office snapped, "My good lady, go home and sit still." Furious at this official rejection, she raised enough money from suffrage organizations for two fully equipped hospital units, staffed entirely by women and including excellent research facilities. Although spurned by Britain, their services were gratefully accepted by two allies, France and Serbia, where they saved many thousands of lives and investigated topics such as food preservation and bacterial infections.

At London’s Imperial College, the chemist Martha Whiteley took charge of the experimental trenches dug in the gardens. Seizing the chance for independent research, other women joined her team, developing explosives -- one was called DW for Dr. Whiteley -- and enduring the pain and scarring caused by testing poisonous gases on themselves. Because of her research into tear gas, Whiteley was celebrated in the press as "the woman who makes the Germans weep." Nearby at the Natural History Museum, the distinguished paleontologist Dorothea Bate was paid a mere assistant’s wages as she took on ever-increasing responsibility for superintending the collections while her male colleagues were away.

Other examples of extraordinary women who smashed conventions include the Stoney sisters. Florence, a medical doctor, specialized in the brand-new field of X-ray diagnosis but found it hard to fight against the military logic that because a woman had never previously been head radiologist, therefore she could not be appointed to the post. Her sister Edith, a physicist, traveled with female medical units to Serbia, working in atrocious conditions to equip hospitals with electricity-generating systems.

Q: After the war, how did the push for women in science get set back?

A: Female scientists, doctors and engineers discovered that opportunities closed down once the war was over. As unemployment rose, priority was given to finding work for men, while women who had successfully performed high-powered jobs were steered back toward domesticity. Women who had enjoyed responsible positions during the war were forced into accepting low-status posts. Less-skilled jobs became redefined as work for women, thus reinforcing the notion that only men were capable of climbing to the top of a professional career ladder.

Even for scientists with high qualifications, all the old stereotypes reappeared: recruitment literature welcomed female graduates not for their brains, but for their “manual dexterity, their delicacy of touch, their conscientiousness and their willingness to bear with a routine under which most men become impatient.” Rather than being replacements for men as in the war, women were now being segregated into separate career tracks: some advertisements even specified that this open-ended research post was suitable for a man, whereas that routine task would satisfy a woman.

For a woman, being a good scientist was not good enough. A careers adviser spelled it out: "When it comes to a permanent post, to obtain equal chances with a male rival, the woman must be obviously a little better."

Q: How do you see the link between women's scientific progress in World War I and women's suffrage in Britain?

A: Women’s work during the war was enormously influential in persuading the government that they should get the vote in 1918. For almost four years, employers and ministers had repeatedly praised the women running factories, hospitals and transport systems. Women’s success during the war transformed perceptions of women’s abilities and social roles. Even those diehards who maintained that women belonged at home with the children could no longer justify their arguments by claiming innate female incompetence. Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes’s creator) changed sides to support the vote, arguing "those who have helped to save the state should be allowed to guide it."

Before the war, science and suffrage were often bracketed together as a twin threat to long-established conventions of female domesticity. When war was declared in August 1914, suffrage groups quickly recognized the publicity that might be generated by switching from protest to patriotism. Benefiting from networks that had been built up over decades, campaigners were ideally placed to respond quickly by raising money and recruiting volunteers. As the male work force diminished, and industry struggled to meet increased demand, women took over the vital tasks necessary for supplying the country’s technological needs. As early as 1916, the minister of munitions boasted that "our armies have been saved and victory assured by the women in the munition factories where they helped to produce aeroplanes, howitzer bombs, shrapnel bullets, shells, machine tools, mines and have taken part in shipbuilding."

Q: Today women are succeeding in science in Britain and the United States in ways that might not have been imagined the early 20th century. But reports are also rampant of sexism and sexual harassment faced by many of these women. Are there lessons for women in science today from the pioneers you profile?

A: Over a century later, equality of opportunity is now firmly entrenched, yet the problems of unequal numbers and gender pay gaps remain unresolved. Even a cursory glance at the statistics reveals that although far more young women are reading science subjects at university than ever before, they are dropping out along the route to the top. The overt differentiation of the past is no longer legal, but it appears that discrimination continues to be practiced.

Not only men but also women need to scrutinize their consciences and explore the behavior patterns and prejudices that they have inherited from the past. Looking back can feel reassuring, because there are clearly dramatic differences between the status of women now and before the First World War. Even so, continuities remain. These are particularly significant when they are concealed, lying dormant, unrecognized and therefore unconfronted. Blind trials show that, just like their male colleagues, women rank anonymized job applications higher when they believe the candidates are men. It seems that even high-achieving women have internalized a feeling of innate inferiority.

Blatant mockery and explicit segregation may now have disappeared, but concealed prejudice can be harder to fight and more keenly felt. Scientists point to subtle ways in which women are made to feel like outsiders: the absence of female portraits on corridor walls, the paucity of women’s works on student reading lists, the near nonexistence of senior women delivering keynote addresses at scientific conferences. When a woman fails to get a lectureship or a research position, it is easy to become oversuspicious -- sometimes the woman is simply not the most suitable applicant. Yet uncertainty often hovers. Before the First World War, suffragists could see what they were fighting against, but modern discrimination is elusive, intangible and insidiously hard to eradicate.

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North Texas administrator criticizes push to name new building for a woman or minority individual

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 07:42

Just over half the students at the University of North Texas are not white. But none of the 87 buildings on campus are named for a minority individual. As a result, some students have started a petition seeking to have a residence hall under construction named either for a minority individual or a woman (two campus buildings are named for women).

"We believe that it is important to promote diversity in every aspect of the student experience at our university," says the petition.

The campus is now debating not the petition, but an email sent by a woman who serves as one of the university's spokespeople sharply questioned the idea. Nancy Kolsti, the spokeswoman, sent the email to a student who was among those who organized the petition. That student then posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter.

“UNT buildings should be named after individuals who are deserving of such an honor -- not individuals who are chosen to fill a quota system that you think the university should have because you feel that it is important ‘to promote diversity in every aspect of the student experience,’” the email said.

The email also said that the student petition effort was "a form of reverse racism."

Students are questioning what it says that one of the official representatives of the university weighed in in this way. While faculty members typically express a range of views on campus policies and other issues, administrators who speak on behalf of the institution tend to be more cautious in what they say.

Kolsti has not spoken out about the controversy. But Leigh Anne Gullett, associate director of news at the university, sent an email statement to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram that defended Kolsti's right to send the email but said it did not represent the university's views.

“Honoring diversity is one of our most important values,” the statement said. “We encourage our students to take an active role in helping to shape the university and applaud the actions of our Student Government to petition for values in which they believe. UNT also supports free expression from all of its community members -- including university employees. Nancy was expressing her views as a private citizen and not speaking in her capacity as a UNT employee. Public employees generally retain the constitutional right to free speech they hold as private citizens.”

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NRA president's donation to Grinnell prompts policy rewrite and soul-searching

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 08:00

At first glance, Grinnell College’s Ignite Program seems like an unlikely source of controversy.

The program has local students in prekindergarten through sixth grade coming to campus for courses crafted and taught by college students, according to its description online. The younger students gain exposure to a college atmosphere, helping them get ready for higher education in the future. In its first three years, the program hosted 580 students taking 105 different classes.

Ignite, the description says, is funded by “a generous gift from Helen Redmond and Pete Brownell, the Grinnell Careers in Education Professions program, and Grinnell College's Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement.” It all seems very fitting for a college that proudly proclaims its historical roots as a center for abolitionist activity and continues to tout its commitment to social responsibility.

Except Pete Brownell is the president of the National Rifle Association.

Brownell’s name caught the eye of several Grinnell alumni who are in favor of gun control and thus in opposition to the NRA’s agenda. In their estimation, the gift from Brownell -- and Redmond, to whom he is married -- helped to whitewash a reputation stained by his leading position in the gun lobby. By accepting the money and publicly recognizing the man, Grinnell bestowed upon him a fig leaf of respectability with which to hide the indecency of the organization he leads, they argue.

The flap over Brownell helped to push the college to revise its gift acceptance policy this month. New language was added saying Grinnell can consider the source of funds when deciding whether to accept or decline a gift. Also added was language calling for specific constituencies to be involved in screening gift proposals if those gifts would benefit particular programs, and the president of Grinnell’s Alumni Council was added to a Gift Acceptance Committee for screening funds.

Not everyone at Grinnell shares the opinion that accepting Brownell’s gift was inappropriate -- some professors included. In an environment where colleges are always scrambling for money, some have worried the college will struggle to find donors deemed acceptable, that it has staked out a moral high ground that leaves little room for associating with anyone else. After all, it does not seem to bother recipients of Nobel Prizes that the prizes were created by the inventor of dynamite. Nor are Rhodes Scholarships going unclaimed because they were created by a leading imperialist of his day.

The situation at Grinnell stands out because it is intertwined with the particularly inflammatory topics of guns and politics at a time when the campus has been the home of much activity by anti-gun-violence activists. Recent school shootings like the one last week in Florida -- which predates this debate -- also add to its resonance. But it strikes at issues not related to firearms.

Grinnell’s debate over accepting gifts is hardly the only one playing out recently. Many have wondered whether colleges confer legitimacy when they recognize donors, or whether they are being played by big-money muscle without even realizing it.

Recently, the University of California, Irvine, found itself under fire for taking a $200 million gift from a couple critics allege back junk science. Donations to universities by the Sackler family, which largely draws its fortune from prescription drugs, including opioids, have been scrutinized. Money from David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of the petrochemical company Koch Industries, always seems to cause an uproar because of concerns about their money coming with strings attached.

In such a climate, it should come as no surprise that many institutions are considering adding or updating gift acceptance policies to account for institutional values or reputational risk of being affiliated with donors. Even discounting policies, many gift agreements now include provisions for renaming or denaming buildings and programs should a donor become involved in a scandal that would compromise the reputation of an institution.

The movement comes with very real concerns, however. Determining who is an acceptable donor is a difficult, imprecise task, because a personal donation is different from one made in an official capacity. And if you don’t take money from the president of the NRA, do you also refuse money from all card-carrying members?

Separating the Individual Donor From the Organization

Those who criticize the Brownell donation say the president of the NRA is different.

“He is really in a position to exercise direct, official action,” said Alana Smart. “You cannot separate the individual from the organization, in my mind, because of his role. It is so prominent.”

Smart is a member of Grinnell’s Class of 1968, one of the loudest voices pushing for changes to the college’s gift policy. She is also co-chair of a group called Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence.

She has heard the argument that Brownell made his donation on a personal check, not a check from the NRA. It wasn’t a check from his company, Brownells, which has its retail store a few miles from the college campus and bills itself as the “World’s Largest Supplier of Firearms Accessories and Gunsmithing Tools.”

Smart added that she would not object to Brownell coming on campus to speak or start a dialogue.

“That’s what Grinnell is there for,” she said. “The issue is putting that Grinnell Good Housekeeping seal of approval on Pete Brownell.”

Other alumni from the Class of 1968 say they’ve heard pushback based on the idea that Brownell should be exempted from scrutiny of his national role because he and his wife are good members of the local community. Redmond is president of the local Board of Education. Many say Brownell is a “good guy” and that their children go to school with the couple’s children, said Charles Connerly, a member of the class who is now director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa.

In response, Connerly brings up the history of Grinnell. The college was staunchly opposed to slavery, even relocating to be in an abolitionist town, he said. It is in its character to take stances that are not consistent with its neighbors.

Connerly acknowledges there might be a line where it’s difficult to decide whether it’s appropriate to differentiate between a leader’s behavior and the behavior of the organization they head. But this isn’t it, he said. Regardless of where you draw the line, the NRA has crossed it.

“There is a difference," he said. ”There is a clear record of the NRA, and there is a clear record of Brownell as president in the NRA. There is no innuendo.”

Supporters of this position can point to what they say is inflammatory rhetoric. The NRA posts memes, for instance, saying things like, “My door isn’t locked for my protection, it’s locked for yours” and encouraging viewers to pick one: victim or gun owner.

But they can also point to the way the NRA has written about Brownell and his relationship to Grinnell College. He was profiled on a “Ring of Freedom” section on the NRA’s website. In part, it described him leaving faculty members “giddy with excitement” at firing a handgun.

Pete and his family live in Grinnell, a town of around 10,000 east of Des Moines in central Iowa. The spick-and-span community likes to refer to itself as the “jewel of the prairie” and is home to Grinnell College, an excellent Midwestern liberal arts school. Brownell likes to point out that the college hasn’t always been a bastion of pro-gun sentiment, and this omission of pro-gun common sense presented Pete with an obvious hometown problem to rectify.

“We started by opening up a dialogue,” Brownell said. “It wasn’t that the folks on the faculty really hated guns, it’s just that they didn’t know anything about them.”

So Pete volunteered to lecture on Second Amendment issues and, in time, managed to start a shooting club on campus. Then, when several of the professors expressed a desire to help with wildlife habitat enhancement on Brownell land bordering the company shooting range, the CEO sensed an opportunity to open even more philosophical doors. When the educators finished with the hands-on work involving plants, seed and soil, Pete introduced them to the shooting range.

For most it was a first. And, as is generally the case, the majority of the faculty left Brownell’s property giddy with excitement over having actually fired a real handgun. Today these same educators are regulars at the range. The newly committed gun owners have been known to take their guns with them when they return to New York for civic events. The professors hate to miss out on even a few minutes of range time, and the previous anti-gun sentiment at the college has been offset by an open-mindedness that never would have exited without a little push from Pete.

The passage in question is no longer in Brownell’s profile, but an online archive still exists from June 2017. The NRA did not respond to a request for comment or to interview Brownell for this piece.

Adam Laug is director of development and interim co-leader of development and alumni relations at Grinnell. When asked on Friday, he said he did not have any information about whether Grinnell was involved in the changes to the NRA profile of Brownell.

Laug declined to answer questions about Brownell’s donation. Grinnell does not release information about how much was given or the length of a gift agreement without approval in a gift release, he said.

The college is not endorsing its donors, even by naming them in association with a program, he said.

“We’re fortunate to benefit from such a wide variety of donors, volunteers and activities,” he said. “I don’t think that recommends any sort of endorsement, but rather an expression of gratitude.”

Policy Changes

Laug was willing to speak in greater detail about the changes Grinnell made to its gift acceptance policy.

Additions include guiding principles that Grinnell accept gifts that have a reasonable expectation of benefiting the college’s mission and that it will not encourage gifts “inappropriate in light of the donor’s disclosed personal or financial situation.” Changes also add alumni representation to a gift acceptance committee that reviews the appropriateness of accepting certain gifts and add a provision that “in cases where gift proposals would benefit a specific program, department, or unit on campus, leadership of relevant campus constituencies will be involved in proposal screening.”

The changes do not expand provisions under which Grinnell should return gifts in certain situations, something some critics had wanted. Gifts can be returned if “deemed prudent” by the vice president for development and alumni relations.

It’s too soon to say whether Grinnell will stop taking money from any donors as a result of the policy, Laug said.

“I think that is something we have not yet encountered,” he said. “As we formulate our process for future gifts, we’ll know more.”

Experts predict more institutions will have discussions about evaluating future gifts. Concerns have been growing about potential donors attempting to use gifts to influence organizations, said David Bass, senior director of research at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Universities aren’t only being challenged on new gifts, he said. They are being challenged about buildings, statues and programs named for donors decades ago.

“In an environment where we are seeing increasing numbers of institutions be challenged to change the names of buildings, change the names of programs, it may be more common for institutions to take some of that into account right at the start,” Bass said.

Clearly, morals and opinions change over time. The optimists hope new mechanisms like those being added to Grinnell’s gift acceptance policy can help colleges deal with those changing morals.

Not everyone is an optimist, though. Some worry Grinnell will be bogged down running background checks on every small gift. Samuel Rebelsky, a professor of computer science, wrote an extensive blog post on such possible drawbacks. He also argued there are few sources of large donations not tainted in some way, and that policies can be interpreted differently over decades.

“If we had the policy in place in the 1950's, would we follow the inclinations of the Senator from the state north of us and choose to refuse donations from those who are friends with communists or who had socialist tendencies?” he wrote. “The ‘You're not moral enough to give to Grinnell’ attitude worries me.”

What Now?

In a telephone interview Friday, Rebelsky said he would not want to be an employee in Grinnell’s development office deciding whether to accept gifts. Everyone feels the college has absolutely clear morals, he said. But individual cases are complex in surprising ways, and acting on clear morals is often a cloudy proposition.

As for Brownell’s gift, Rebelsky said he is able to separate the man from the NRA. The Brownell-Redmond gift funds a program enriching education for students who aren’t wealthy, he said.

“It aligns with the college’s goals and with community goals,” he said. “They make a big, positive difference in town, and so I have trouble saying because of a different hat that one of them wears, we need to say no to them.”

Others feel differently. Eliza Willis is a professor of political science who helped organize a discussion of the gift acceptance policy changes. One of a college’s most valuable assets is its reputation, she said. Any gift that would seem to hurt that reputation should at least be discussed.

“It’s a hard debate, but we can’t just take money from everyone,” she said.

“As a political scientist, it’s a bit of a legitimation exercise,” she said. “There is some exchange that’s happening here, and I think we need to acknowledge more publicly what we’re giving these organizations is legitimacy, and that is a very valuable asset for them -- especially when we’re talking about very powerful organizations that have a lot of resources.”

Faculty and alumni are still worried for a number of reasons. Some didn’t get the rejection clause they wanted in the new policy. Many worry how it will be implemented. Grinnell first added its gift acceptance policy at the end of 2015, but the gift acceptance committee it created has yet to meet, they say.

Keep in mind, these issues are complicating the discussion at Grinnell. Thanks to its history and stated values, it should arguably be more unified about which donations to accept than the average liberal arts college or public institution with many disparate constituencies.

“There is a heritage going back to the origins of the college,” said Connerly, of the Class of 1968. “It’s what gives Grinnellians a degree of distinctiveness. There is a sense of identity that is being challenged by the source of this gift.”

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Leave for a president raises question of whether college leaders should hug employees

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 08:00

Since early this month, President Ron Langrell has been on paid administrative leave from Bates Technical College, in Washington State. No one has said why he is on leave. But on Friday, The News Tribune revealed the reason.

The college and its board are investigating charges that Langrell has been intimidating and demeaning employees. One of the charges is that he engages in "unwanted hugging," and the investigation was prompted by a complaint from an employee who described being hugged by the president in November when their paths crossed in a hallway. He has acknowledged that he hugged her, and that he may have said that she "looked nice," but he has denied the employee's statement that he said she had "sexy" legs.

The interaction was caught on security cameras, and The News Tribune published video from which the above photo comes. The video suggests that the woman at one point hugged him back, but she told investigators (and colleagues to whom she spoke immediately after) that she was shaken and upset by a hug she said she did not seek, from the top official at her college. “I was shocked that, with all the news about sexual harassment, the president of the college thought it was somehow OK to hug me,” she told the investigator, according to a summary of documents by the newspaper. Those documents indicated that a number of other women employed at the college complained of unwanted hugs and what they considered inappropriate comments.

The president's lawyer told investigators that "Dr. Langrell was shocked and disheartened to learn of the recent allegations and the incidents reaching back to 2012 and 2013 … To the extent any complainant suffered due to his uninformed or unknowing actions, he accepts that his conduct must change and only wishes he was adequately advised on it sooner and given the opportunity to learn and adjust his behavior.”

Langrell and the college did not respond to requests from Inside Higher Ed for comment.

But several experts on college presidencies did. While not commenting on Langrell, they said that, as a general rule, handshakes are a better default greeting for a president to use than a hug. There are situations where a hug may be appropriate, they said, but they are the exception.

And while the Me Too movement has people more aware of gender and power dynamics than many have been in the past, these experts stressed that the issue isn't new.

"Unwelcome hugging has, of course, always been a problem," said Susan Resneck Pierce, president emerita of the University of Puget Sound, a consultant to colleges and presidents, and author of On Being Presidential: A Guide for College and University Leaders.

"I would advocate that, under normal circumstances, presidents greet their faculty and staff colleagues and their students with handshakes rather than hugs," she said.

Hugs may be appropriate, she said, at "public moments of celebration as commencement, retirement events and award ceremonies," but then "only when they have reason to believe that such hugs would be welcome." Further, she said, students, faculty members and other employees sometimes come to presidents "for advice and even comfort in moments of distress." In such situations, "a hug might be especially welcome and a handshake an inappropriate and distancing gesture." As with most things presidential, she said, "it is a matter of judgment."

But she said that the Bates Technical College case is an important reminder that "college presidents are always in positions of authority and power when it comes to all members of their campus community."

Roger Hull, president emeritus of Union College of New York, a consultant and author of Lead or Leave: A Primer for College Presidents and Board Members, said via email that he never addressed the hug issue in his writing. Sometimes he hugged faculty members and students when they hugged him in his office. But Hull said presidents need to always be aware of perceptions.

Common sense, he said, is the key rule. "My office door was always open, which meant not only that folks could approach me but also no one could ever accuse me of anything because we were not behind closed doors and conversations could be heard by my assistant," he said.

Judith S. White, president and executive director of HERS: Leadership Training for Women in Higher Education (and a regular contributor to Inside Higher Ed), said via email that she has noted differing expectations about hugging for people from different parts of the country. As a Southerner, she said, she sees in the region "high cultural expectations for hugging as a greeting." But she said she has "learned to use the two-handed handshake. Maybe one hand on the person's arm while I speak."

"Hugging is a pretty intimate physical gesture," she said. "It can be read as connecting or as controlling. The issue is whether a person with more status and power -- a president -- is attentive to how those around them respond. If they are not paying attention and just assert that they mean well, they are invading other people's space against their wishes."

White noted that she realizes that "presidents greet lots of people and have to make quick reads." But for that reason, she added that "they are better off not presuming a hug is the only way to convey a welcome."

Joey King, president of Lyon College and co-author of How to Run a College, said that context matters a lot, especially at a residential college. "At residential colleges and universities, the students are literally our wards," he said. "The younger ones, 17-18, are more child than adult. I have been in situations where they have literally cried on my shoulder. That would probably have been a bad time to insist on a handshake."

But King was quick to add that those situations are "more the exception than the rule." The bottom line, he said, is that when interactions involves presidents, there is "always a power dynamic at play."

King said that he knows "plenty of huggers, male and female, who are presidents and provosts." He said that they "tend to overdo it, in my opinion. My advice would be to stick with more professional salutatory behavior but for exceptional circumstances."

Judith Block McLaughlin, senior lecturer on education at Harvard University and education chair of the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents, which runs every summer, said "experienced presidents who teach in the seminar often warn new presidents that their behavior will be closely observed and interpreted, with meanings assigned that are far different than were intended. Hugging certainly is one current example."

She said that "we haven’t talked specifically about hugging, but it does seem like a topic worthy of conversation this summer."

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Proposed Education Department reorganization would merge higher ed-related offices, positions

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 08:00

A Department of Education reorganization plan whose broad themes were shared with employees last week would collapse multiple units with higher ed functions into one office whose leader would answer directly to the secretary.

The plan also calls for eliminating the office of the under secretary, which has played a key role in shaping higher education policy during the previous two presidential administrations.

Those moves would be part of a larger shake-up of the department that officials say is intended to make lines of decision making more clear, improve policy coordination and reduce the total number of political appointees. It would also be Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's clearest imprint yet on the agency after spending much of the last year reversing Obama administration initiatives.

"You can view this as a vision document," a department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said via email. "It’s the beginning of a conversation with staff, the public and Congress about the secretary’s vision to make the department more efficient and responsive on behalf of students, parents, educators and taxpayers."

The overhaul plan came about after President Trump last year issued an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget to propose a reorganization of the federal government to "eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs."

To comply with the order, the Department of Education last May set up an internal committee to take advice on potential changes and outline how to overhaul the agency. A separate committee within the department has, meanwhile, met to identify regulations to propose for elimination.

Some of the changes being proposed by the department would require congressional approval. Others, such as the elimination of the office of the under secretary, the department could accomplish on its own.

Perhaps just as critically as that step, the plan calls for rolling the Office of Postsecondary Education and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education into one Office of Postsecondary Education and Lifelong Learning. The assistant secretary heading that office would answer directly to the secretary. That would mean going from three top political appointees down to one. 

Jared Bass, senior counsel for education and strategy at New America and a former senior policy adviser at the department, noted that the White House budget released last week cited administrative capacity as its rationale for proposals to eliminate several programs within the department. Yet at the same time the department is seeking to cut political staff positions, he said.

"That seems counterintuitive to me," he said. "Political and career staffers by design work together." 

But two former high-ranking officials at the department said that taking the step to consolidate postsecondary offices may serve the department well.

Vickie L. Schray, former acting deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs under President George W. Bush, said that consolidating the two postsecondary offices would send a clear message about the need to recognize and value multiple pathways to student success -- and would be consistent with the administration's stated priorities.

"Bringing these two offices together could create some new efficiencies in the awarding and administration of grants and better align efforts to increase access to postsecondary education and improve programs and services," she said.

David Bergeron, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who previously served as acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education under President Obama, said it was hard to judge the proposal without seeing the full plan. But he said combining the Office of Postsecondary Education and the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education wasn't necessarily a bad idea.

"What OPE has long lacked is a strong relationship with state government actors, which OCTAE has long had. Using that as a lever to strengthen relationship with states would be helpful," he said. "Therefore, eliminating the assistant secretary for CTE isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It would, however, eliminate a voice specific to career and technical education and potentially for states in policy decisions."

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Two high school students killed in Florida had been admitted to college

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 08:00

The mass shooting at a Florida high school last week is hitting two colleges hard. Two of the victims had been admitted to and committed to attend their institutions. They were the oldest of the high school students who were killed.

Nicholas Dworet, 17, was a champion swimmer with Olympic ambitions. He was a recruited athlete who was going to enroll at the University of Indianapolis this fall.

Robert L. Manuel, president at Indianapolis, said in a statement that he (and the coach who recruited Dworet) had been in touch with the teenager's family. "Nick’s death also reminds us of the far-reaching impact of these national acts of violence. We will find ways in the coming days to help Nick’s family -- and I hope our Greyhound family can come together to engage the questions raised by these shootings and ensure that our community continues to be a safe place for all of our students, faculty and staff," Manuel said.

Meadow Pollack, 18, was a senior who planned to attend Lynn University. The university's admissions office posted this statement on Facebook: "Our thoughts go out to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School victims, to their families and friends, and especially to the Pollack family. Meadow Pollack, an 18-year-old from Parkland, Florida, was admitted to Lynn University and was due to join us this fall. She was a lovely young woman and full of energy. We were very much looking forward to having her on campus. We will keep Meadow in our hearts and memories."

Past tragedies involving gun violence have prompted discussion of the role of higher ed in studying and preventing gun violence.

  • In October, the mass shooting in Las Vegas led to discussion of why federal agencies avoid studies that might illuminate policy on gun violence. A key reason is part of an appropriations bill enacted in 1996, provisions of which remain law. The key provision bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using funds to support research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Social science groups have long pushed to repeal the 1996 provisions, although Republicans in Congress have resisted any change. The American Educational Research Association, in the wake of the Florida school shooting, renewed its call for a change in the law.
  • In 2012, in the wake of the murders of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, two open letters from college presidents, calling for national action on gun violence, circulated and attracted hundreds of signatures. But as one of the organizers noted 18 months later, no policies changed.
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