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Alexander Betts, Director, Refugee Study Centre, Oxford University

The PIE News - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 05:08
An expert on forced migration and refugees, Alexander Betts has dedicated his life to understanding how changing demographics can shape societies and their attitudes. As those attitudes change around the world, he spoke with The PIE News at EAIE on why he believes education is the cause of and solution to the populist ideology.

The PIE: How did you get into the study of forced migration?

AB: When I was 19, I was an undergraduate, and like many undergraduates, I had a long summer holiday, lots of free time and not much money. It was the time of the Kosovo crisis in Europe; hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees had crossed from the Balkans up to Western Europe.

I didn’t know very much about refugees, but I had the chance to spend the summer doing voluntary work with refugees and asylum seekers in the Netherlands. I was helping build a playground and organise games and activities for the kids.

What struck me was although these people were stuck in limbo, usually without the right to work, in some cases excluded from the formal education system, they brought skills, talents, and aspiration. A Bosniak lawyer taught me the basis of public international law. An Iranian table tennis player taught me table tennis.

It struck me as a human tragedy that we don’t recognise those skills and talents and engage with them more. I decided to focus my undergraduate dissertation on the economics of refugee issues, and then do my graduate work.

The more I travelled in Africa to refugee camps, the more a similar dynamic replicated. People with great abilities to contribute were treated like a burden and left indefinitely year after year in refugee camps. There wasn’t much academic work on the politics and the economics of this, so that’s what I decided to do with my career.

The PIE: Have we learned anything from the Kosovo crisis for the current humanitarian crisis?

AB: The thing about being an academic is you can work in an area for many years and no one’s particularly interested, then something changes in the world and everyone’s interested. From about April 2015, with the start of the so-called European refugee crisis, everyone’s become interested in refugees. That has huge advantages, albeit against the backdrop of tragic circumstances.

“The really positive side of it is more people are trying to innovate”

It means there is a lot of buzz from people who have maybe not thought of refugees in the past to innovate. To introduce the benefits of technology; to adapt public and social institutions to the needs of refugees.

The drawback of that is there’s a lot of noise out there. There’s a lot of people who want to work with refugees because it’s a “hot topic” and a “hot issue”.

The strength and the really positive side of it is more people are trying to innovate and be creative in a variety of ways.

Whether it’s about appropriate education for refugees in Europe or globally through e-learning; whether it’s through designing apps that are refugee-specific; whether it’s through promoting refugee-entrepreneurship; whether it’s through social-entrepreneurship that can support refugees.

There’s a whole space in the nonprofit sector and the social-enterprise sector that’s doing more and more to support refugees.

“We need to ensure the university is a space for open dialogue”

The PIE: What work needs to be done to ensure the general population doesn’t embrace protectionist ideas?

AB: Without a doubt, the refugee crisis in Europe, and the way it was publicly perceived were a major cause of Brexit and rising populist nationalism in Europe. Without the influx of Syrian refugees, that opportunity for the rise of the far-right would not have been as great as it has been. That’s a political tragedy.

It was a crisis of politics and the question of representation. We need to ensure that the public understands who refugees are, why they’re coming to Europe, and the numbers were and should have been manageable.

That requires that our education system provides a knowledge-base and an awareness amongst all students at all ages of social and political issues like the refugee crisis.

We have to ensure that those debates and that civic education are a whole approach. That we provide lifelong opportunities for civic engagement with debates on issues like the refugee crisis, but aren’t just insular, liberal echo-chambers for the privileged elite.

[We need debates that] seek genuinely to bridge the divide and include voices from local host-communities that may have genuine fears about competition for jobs, about the challenges of cultural diversity. And we need to ensure the university is a space for open dialogue, debate, discussion and inclusive education.

The PIE: Is it the role of higher education to go out and embrace the public?

AB: For the most part, in Europe, universities are public institutions. Their very mandate is not to serve a privileged elite, it’s to serve society.

But there’s also a very pragmatic reason why universities have to reach out beyond students who are simply there on merit. They have to reach out because the regulatory framework and the public will that sustains higher education’s mission relies upon a democratic mandate.

If the electorate loses patience with universities and loses patience with higher education as a project, governments will start to impose regulations that stymie and restrict what higher education can do.

We see that with student mobility. We see that with, rising tuition fees for students. If governments are going to continue to provide higher education as a public good, it has to have democratic buy-in.

That means it’s precisely the businesses of the universities to reach parts of the community that wouldn’t necessarily traditionally have gone to university.

“We continue to have higher education at the vanguard of the opportunities of globalisation”

The PIE: Your proposed a three-point plan for higher education to address protectionism. Can you talk more about societal cultural-exchange programs?

AB: I was an Erasmus student. I had an excellent year in Aix-en-Provence in France. I met a lot of international students and French students with an international outlook. But to my shame, as a 19-year-old, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time with people who were not liberal, outward-looking, and from a relatively elite educational background.

I think it’s important that where we have people moving across and between countries, we also ensure they have a deeper exposure to the community and society they’re living as part of. That they meet a variety of people from different socio-economic backgrounds, from different educational backgrounds. With a different sense of the world.

There’s also a huge opportunity that if we’ve got people moving across and between, rather than have them just see two university campuses in one country and another country, why shouldn’t we allow them and their presence to benefit a wider group?

Why shouldn’t the visiting academic also go and give a talk in the town hall?

Why shouldn’t an exchange with students going abroad allow them to also spend a period of time in a local small- and medium-sized enterprise?

Why shouldn’t it be that people going to a big city like London or universities like Oxford or Cambridge also spend time in provincial towns or villages in the surrounding areas?

The PIE: Are you hopeful that higher education can engage with the wider community?

AB: Higher education has to engage more broadly. What we see is that higher education politics is subordinated to migration politics. Politicians have other issues that they’re more concerned about. Rather than being battered around in the winds of broader politics, higher education needs to engage with those themes and ensure it’s inclusive in order to sustain an international outlook.

I’m optimistic that we can continue to internationalise; that we continue to have higher education at the vanguard of the opportunities of globalisation. That higher education can begin to take the steps to ensure that that’s an inclusive internationalisation that benefits as many people as possible and builds vertical as well as horizontal bridges.

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University public funding recovery is “slow and fragile” says EUA

The PIE News - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 03:50

European University Association analysis of public funding has revealed that many countries in Europe have failed to repair cuts made to higher education since the financial crisis, despite experiencing economic recovery.  Spain, Italy and Ireland were among those with lower levels of direct public funding in 2016 than in 2008.

The EUA Public Funding Observatory evaluated 34 higher education systems across Europe and found that just 14 had higher funding in 2016 than in 2008, including Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

In 2015-2016, the largest public funding investments were made in Turkey (18%), Austria (8%), Luxembourg (8%), Croatia (7%) and Iceland (7%), while the largest cuts were applied in Greece (-16%), Slovenia (-9%) and Czech Republic (-6%).

Despite the positive funding growth in Turkey, the report noted however that it is a “growing system under pressure”, as the increase in funding continues to lag behind a threefold expansion of student numbers from 2008-2016.

19 higher education systems still had lower levels of direct public funding in 2016 than in 2008

It also revealed Germany, which recently surpassed its goal of hosting 350,000 international students by 2020, increased its funding for universities in 2016 by 4.1% – its highest increase in three years.

Six countries including Norway and Sweden, are reportedly following “sustainable” funding trajectories after demonstrating superior public funding growth to that of student enrolments in 2016.

Others such as Denmark and the Netherlands were found to be under higher pressure due to rising student enrolment, and funding growth that is not fast enough to cater to a larger student population.

This echoes recent reports that a boom in student enrolments in the Netherlands, coupled with a lack of student housing led to some international students resorting to staying in campsites.

The Observatory data also showed that 19 higher education systems had lower levels of direct public funding in 2016 than in 2008.

Of these, seven higher education systems, including those in Ireland and Spain,  are considered to be “in danger” as a result of cutting funds while facing growing student populations.

“Once university funding is cut, it takes a long time to catch up”

The report revealed that public funding to Irish universities declined by 37% between 2008-2016, while student numbers increased by 23% during the same period.

In Spain, public funding dropped by 16% in 2008-2016, while student numbers grew by 21%.

The UK has also cut back on higher education despite experiencing economic growth. However, figures in the report exclude publicly subsidised student loans, which England and Wales have shared a significant shift towards during the period.

Meanwhile, Scotland displayed a comparatively slower funding erosion as the student population continues to grow and Northern Ireland revealed significant funding cuts.

EUA’s director of Governance, Funding and Public Policy Development Thomas Estermann explained that once university funding is cut, it takes a long time to catch up.

“2012 was the year of deepest crisis for universities in Europe. A certain degree of recovery since then can be detected, as more countries started to re-invest in their universities after 2012. However, recovery remains slow and fragile.”

An ‘aggravating decline’ in funding was observed in the Balkans

“If Europe sees more economic growth, we need to seize the opportunity to invest in higher education and set the stage for long-term sustainable funding trends,” he added.

In terms of academic staff, the report revealed a challenging situation for Irish and Northern Irish universities, which have experienced growing student numbers but have had to reduce academic staff between 2008-2016, by 3% and 8% respectively.

While funding figures for 2017 were only available for 21 of the 34 higher education systems in the sample, 15 were found to have increased funding for universities by more than 1%.

Signs of recovery of public investment in universities were observed in Finland and Croatia, while some “cautious steps forward” were made in Scandinavia, Belgium, France and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile “aggravating decline” in public funding for universities was observed in the Balkans, as well as in Ireland and Spain.

Addressing the findings in a webinar, Estermann said that since 2008, there are still a wide number of systems that are not sufficiently funding their institutions.

“It’s a very challenging situation with a lot of negative impacts. We are making a drastic call for change and more investment at a European level; that is our key message,” he said.

The report and EUA’s campaign ‘EU funding for universities’ conclude that more funding is needed both at the EU level to improve the efficiency of the Framework Programme and at the national level to enable universities to contend and remain attractive.

The post University public funding recovery is “slow and fragile” says EUA appeared first on The PIE News.

Higher education funding divide grows across Europe

University World News Global Edition - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 01:15
Since the 2008 financial crisis, the divide between higher education systems that increase public funding and those that reduce investment is getting wider in Europe, according to a new report.

...

Some tax-bill provisions opposed by higher ed dropped in conference negotiations

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 01:00

Senate and House negotiators meeting this week to craft compromise tax-reform legislation plan to exclude from a final bill some controversial proposals affecting students and colleges, according to multiple reports.

Lawmakers from the two chambers of Congress agreed to drop provisions that would treat graduate student tuition benefits as taxable income and repeal student loan interest deductions. Both provisions were included in House tax legislation passed last month but left out of a bill that narrowly cleared the Senate Dec. 2.

Another provision of that House bill that was reportedly excluded in negotiations would have eliminated interest-free private activity bonds, an alarming prospect for the many private colleges that use the bonds to save on construction of new campus facilities.

The reports will be welcome news for many in higher ed as congressional Republicans push forward on a rapid timeline to pass and send to the president’s desk this month a bill overhauling the nation’s tax code.

College leaders and higher ed lobby groups have warned for weeks about dire consequences for the sector of proposals in the tax-reform plans. And graduate students across the country have mobilized protests and other actions to oppose the new tax on tuition waivers. Last week, those protests reached the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan as 40 students and activists demonstrated outside and nine were arrested.

Their concerns appeared to register with some members of Congress ahead of the conference negotiations. Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, circulated a letter among colleagues calling on GOP leaders in the House and Senate to drop the tuition-waiver proposal from a final bill.

Bloomberg reported Wednesday that Senator Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, said the graduate tuition provision would be dropped from a final bill. And Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican, told the publication that grad students would be pleased with the final bill. Other outlets confirmed that report.

Sam Leitermann, president of the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, said that his organization was pleased lawmakers had listened to the students.

“We believe in the importance of graduate students to innovation and progress in our country and the need to ensure graduate studies are preserved,” he said in an email. “Graduate voices remain strong and we will continue to advocate with them for graduate rights.”

Students who organized against the provision argued that it would essentially tax them on money that never goes into their pockets in the first place. That's because graduate students typically receive a tuition waiver in exchange for work as teaching or research assistants, but don't actually receive that money as additional income. Student organizers said rescinding the tax-exempt status of those benefits would make graduate education unattainable for many by adding thousands to their tax bills.

Steven Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said dropping the proposal from a final bill would be an enormously important development for graduate students.

“They've worked very hard around the country, thousands of them, to preserve this provision and talk about why it's important and how it makes graduate education more affordable,” he said.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said in a letter to top lawmakers on the House and Senate tax committees last week that about 55 percent of all graduate students made an annual income of $20,000 or less and nearly 87 percent made $50,000 or less in 2011-12, the most recent year for which data was available. Repealing the tax-exempt status of their tuition waivers would mean an unaffordable increase in taxable income, the group said.

Another proposal in the House tax bill reportedly left out of a final tax package, the elimination of student loan interest deductions, would exacerbate the debt loads of student borrowers, APLU said. Borrowers currently can deduct up to $2,500 annually from interest paid on student loans toward reducing their taxable income. Repealing that deduction could add hundreds to borrowers' tax bills. And repealing the deduction would mean the cost of student loans to borrowers would shoot up by $24 billion over 10 years, APLU said.

The Tax on College Endowments

Also Wednesday, a bipartisan group of nearly 30 lawmakers made the case in a letter to congressional leaders for dropping a proposed tax on the endowment income of private colleges.

House legislation would apply a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college investments valued at $250,000 per full-time student, while Senate legislation would apply the same tax to private college investments valued at $500,000 per full-time student.

That proposal, the lawmakers told Congressional leaders in the letter Wednesday, would jeopardize the financial aid of current and future students at a handful of institutions that already make generous need-based awards. And it would inevitably be applied to additional private colleges and public universities in the future, they said.

Moreover, the Senate endowment proposal would generate less than $2 billion in revenue over 10 years for a tax reform bill expected to cost more than $1.5 trillion, the lawmakers said.

The endowment tax, they said, “is unprecedented and poses a serious threat to higher education institutions and their ability to provide need-based financial aid to their students.”

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House GOP pushes innovation and deregulation with Higher Education Act overhaul

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 01:00

The Republican-led Congress's early attempt at rewriting the federal Higher Education Act uses incentives and deregulation to encourage new twists on college, including competency-based education, short-term programs and nonaccredited providers.

Experts continue to absorb details about the complex bill from Republican leaders on the U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee, which on Tuesday voted to pass a 590-page version. Some applauded the innovation push but worry about the bill’s lack of “guardrails” that seek to keep low-quality offerings in check.

“We’re trying to not look at all the negatives, but rather be heartened by the fact that they’re having the right conversations,” said Lexi Barrett, senior director for national education policy at Jobs for the Future.

Likewise, the Business Roundtable, a CEO-led group that has the ear of the majority party in Congress and the White House, praised the bill.

“It wisely shifts policy to focus on the skills the American work force needs, reduces federal regulations and paperwork, and aligns closely with the CEOs’ priorities,” the group said this week in a written statement.

Relatively few colleges had given competency-based education a whirl in 2008, when the Higher Education Act got its last overhaul. But the bill attempts to give a boost to both the hundreds of institutions now at least mulling the creation of a competency-based program as well as to Western Governors University, the most established and largest institution in the space.

Perhaps most notably on this front, the House GOP’s plan would drop the law’s definition of a credit-hour standard.

This move would give competency-based programs that are self-paced and untethered from seat-time requirements access to federal financial aid programs. In recent years, a handful of these so-called direct-assessment programs have earned approval from the U.S. Department of Education and regional accreditors, but only after a laborious process.

Likewise, the bill would distribute Pell Grant funds more often, on a weekly or monthly basis, which would be particularly helpful given the flexible scheduling used by many competency-based programs.

Several experts said they appreciate the committee’s attempt to move beyond the credit hour and to create room within federal rules for competency-based education, which could encourage more colleges to offer the credentials. But they also said the bill, as currently written, could allow low-quality programs to cash in with federal aid.

For example, New America’s education policy program said in a written statement that the bill may be “too much, too fast.”

The group instead praised the approach of a bipartisan House proposal to create a “demonstration project” that would serve as a sort of laboratory for what works in competency-based education while also protecting students and taxpayers. That bill would require colleges to evaluate their competencies and translate them to credit hours.

“While competency-based education has significant potential to help students complete their degrees on their own (faster or slower) schedules,” New America said, “opening the floodgates too quickly presents a huge risk, to students and to the field.”

Faculty Interaction Requirements

The bill would drop the law’s definition of distance education, leaving only its current counterpoint definition, for correspondence-course providers. It also would remove federal rules that, beginning next year, would have required online providers to get authorization from each state in which they enroll students.

Likewise, the GOP’s proposal would no longer include the distance education provision’s definition of “regular and substantive interaction” between faculty members and students.

That requirement has caused headaches for Western Governors University because of a critical audit report released this year by the department’s Office of Inspector General (although experts have said no administration would act on the office’s recommendation that the popular university be labeled a correspondence-course provider).

Tweaked wording for regular-and-substantive interaction appears in the bill’s revision to the definition of competency-based education. It would require that such a program “provides the educational content, activities and resources, including substantive instructional interaction, including by faculty, and regular support by the institution, necessary to enable students to learn or develop what is required to demonstrate and attain mastery of such competencies, as assessed by the accrediting agency or association of the institution of higher education.”

The new phrasing appears to subtly address the inspector general’s line of critique of WGU and competency-based education more broadly, said Russ Poulin, director of policy and analysis at WCET, which is a division of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. One reason, he said in a written statement, is because the bill does not necessarily limit instructional interaction to a faculty member.

Over all, Poulin said, he likes the bill’s support for competency-based education and its move to drop the distance-education requirement.

“It’s time to come up with updated safeguards,” he said, that don’t “keep us from innovating.”

But Deb Bushway, who has worked on competency-based education as a former administrator at Capella University, the University of Wisconsin Extension and as a senior policy adviser to the department during the Obama administration, and others worried about how far the shift goes on regular-and-substantive interaction.

“Right now faculty interaction, as I read it, is completely optional,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s a quality program.”

Alternative and Short-Term Programs

The bill would reduce the amount of time an academic program must last in order to qualify for federal financial aid, extending aid eligibility to more short-term certificates and subdegree credentials.

Currently, federal aid cannot be used for programs that are shorter than 600 clock hours or 15 weeks in length. The GOP’s proposal would drop that requirement to a minimum of 300 hours or 10 weeks. A bipartisan U.S. Senate bill also seeks a shorter time requirement for Pell.

Such a change could be good news for community colleges, many of which offer short-term credentials.

“Providing federal aid to students enrolled in shorter programs has been one of our top reauthorization priorities,” the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees said in a joint letter distributed this week. “If enacted, this will dramatically enhance the ability of students who are focused on specific work-force and related aptitudes to take advantage of program offerings.”

Work-force-oriented groups and experts generally applauded the proposal. However, some worried about the bill’s lack of an attempt to ensure that short-term credentials have value in the job market.

For example, the bill does not include the terms “stackable” or “career pathway,” said Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition. “The fact that those terms show up nowhere is disappointing,” he said.

New America also criticized the bill’s lack of quality-assurance measures for short-term programs, such as minimum floors for student completion and job placement. That could be problematic, the group said, given data that shows many short-term credentials fail to lead to well-paying jobs.

“This provision will undoubtedly lead to more students taking on debt for credentials of little to no value,” New America wrote.

Another somewhat controversial piece of the House bill would allow colleges to tap alternative education providers -- meaning nonaccredited ones that are unable to access federal aid programs -- to offer all educational and instructional content of programs and courses.

Currently, colleges can only outsource half of the academic side of a program or course, except through the limited EQUIP experiment started by the Obama administration, which features eight partnerships between colleges and nonaccredited providers.

Poulin said he generally supports the move to drop the 50 percent requirement, but only with “more guardrails” than the current language includes.

Going farther was Barrett from Jobs for the Future. While she said EQUIP and nontraditional providers, including those that offer competency-based credentials, show plenty of promise, they also pose challenges to regulators and accreditors.

“Because these sorts of players are new … that makes the risks that much greater,” said Barrett. “We don’t want the door opened too wide.”

Editorial Tags: Adult educationCompetency-based learningDistance educationFederal policyOnline learningImage Caption: Representative Virginia Foxx (right) during a House education committee hearing this yearIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: 

Should professors talk about now-notable former students?

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 01:00

Sometimes professors have positive memories of students, and sometimes they don’t. They usually don’t share their memories publicly -- at least with names -- either way. Yet sometimes they’re asked to weigh in on the intellect or character of a former student, or feel the need to do so -- particularly when those students become public figures.

Case in point: Guy V. Martin, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Alabama, wrote a deeply unflattering op-ed for AL.com earlier this year about the Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore. Much of the piece was about teaching Moore -- or trying to, unsuccessfully.

“If Moore's analysis of a case was tantamount to thinking 1 + 1 = 3, and his classmates reasoned otherwise, there was no backing down by Moore,” Martin wrote. “The class was willing to fight to the death against illogic that no legal mind but one in America would espouse.” Moore never won a single argument, “and the debates got ugly and personal. The result: gone was the fulfillment a teacher hopes for in the still peace of logic and learning.”

Martin added, “I had no choice but to abandon the Socratic method of class participation in favor of the lecture mode because of one student: Roy Moore.”

The op-ed, published in September, didn’t stop Moore from winning his state’s Republican primary. (Rather, it seems an entirely different kind of specter from Moore’s past -- his alleged predatory behavior involving young teenage girls -- was his undoing in this week’s general election.) Martin’s impact aside, can and should professors talk publicly about their past students?

FERPA and Beyond

Institutions guard their students’ privacy, and indeed, they’re required to under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA, as it’s known, prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information gleaned from education records. Records, according to the U.S. Education Department, mean documents directly related to a student, maintained by an institution or agency.

Information obtained through personal knowledge or observation are not records under FERPA, however. So, legally speaking, professors are clear to talk about their students -- past or present -- as long as they’re not disclosing anything they’ve learned from official documents, written or recorded. They might say a student is bright (or not), but not disclose that students' grade, for example.

Brett Sokolow, an attorney and president and CEO of the campus safety consulting firm the NCHERM Group, said this week that FERPA-protected information remains so “even many years after graduation.” But professors and even administrators can share what they know about someone based on talk or direct interaction. That includes what “might leave a perception of someone’s intelligence,” Sokolow said.

Martin is not the first professor to talk about a student. Robert George, McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence at Princeton University, talked to The Atlantic earlier this year about his former advisee, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But he did so, glowingly, in a joint interview with Cruz. The late William T. Kelley, former professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, also allegedly told a friend many times that a former student, one Donald Trump, was “dumbest goddamn student I ever had.” Yet Frank DiPrima, the friend, shared those comments in a piece for Daily Kos some six years after Kelley’s passing, after Trump became President Trump.

Laurence Tribe, a professor of law at Harvard University, once discussed former student Barack Obama in a National Public Radio interview, but probably not in a way that Obama would have minded. “He wanted to make a difference,” Tribe said of Obama. “He wanted to learn how the system worked.”

Mitt Romney also might have approved what Detlev Vagts, professor of business at Harvard, said about his time there in a parallel NPR interview, in 2012: “He had a very strong business school record, and a good but not outstanding law school record."

Biographers and reporters love to delve into politicians’ pasts, but they almost always quote fellow students from the time, not professors -- and probably not for a lack of trying. It was a fellow Baylor University swim team member who once told The New Yorker that Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky got high on laughing gas, via a scuba mask and nitrous oxide tanks procured from a dentistry classmate, for example. In any case, it remains the exception that professors publicly discuss their past students. But that appears to be a matter of ethics, not law or policy.

Law Versus Ethics

In an interview this week with Inside Higher Ed, Martin said he was within his rights in talking about Moore and ethically clear, if not obligated, to do so -- in the public interest.

“He’s a public figure,” Martin said of Moore. “If he’d stayed private, I would have strayed away from this. But several people asked me to speak out, and this is a matter of his fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution.” (Moore, a Christian, has argued that “God’s law” supersedes state and federal law; he was removed from his position as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court twice, first for refusing a federal court’s order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he’d installed in the Alabama Judicial Building, in 2003, and again in 2016 for telling state probate judges to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality.)

But to what extent does someone’s decades-old student performance inform their current abilities? In Moore’s case, very much so, Martin said, asserting that his former student has demonstrated time and again -- including as former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court -- that he hasn’t changed.

“He demonstrated the same inability to hear the other side, taking extreme positions and not listening to reason,” even when his court seat was at risk, Martin said. “Had he been a changed person, that would have been different.”

The American Association of University Professors takes a somewhat different view in its “Statement on Professional Ethics.” The document says, in part, that professors “respect the confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student.”

Greg Scholtz, director of academic freedom, tenure and governance for the association, said it “seems obvious” that that obligation would “discourage” teachers from disclosing information about the classroom performance of their students. Yet it’s doubtful that such a responsibility applies 30 or 40 years after a student has graduated, he said. (Moore is 70.)

Sokolow, of NCHERM, said he thought that professors and administrators each have to decide for themselves whether it’s appropriate to comment on a student who’s achieved some level of “notoriety.” Sometimes, he said, “doing so is providing a public service, and sometimes it is just gossip. It’s more ethical when it's a public service.”

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Footnote relishes fact that no one will read it

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 12/14/2017 - 01:00

This story is about a textbook, specifically a textbook on statistics, published in 2007.

Still reading?

Hoping to combat inattentive, lazy or uninterested students, the authors of Stats: Modeling the World titled their introductory chapter “Chapter 1: Stats Starts Here.” They explained their methodology in a footnote, found on the first page of the chapter.

The footnote boldly declares:

This chapter might have been called “Introduction,” but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either.

But it appears that at least a few people have indeed read the footnote. The passage was recently pointed out by the Twitter account Academia Obscura, which aims to highlight the weird and obscure side of academe, often highlighting passages from books. The book was quickly identified in the replies to the tweet as the 2007 edition of Stats: Modeling the World. That identification was confirmed by a PDF version of the book found online, and in other instances it’s gone semiviral on other sites.

Nobody reads footnotes… pic.twitter.com/cTmlZIfiNX

— Academia Obscura (@AcademiaObscura) December 13, 2017

A sociologist picked it up on her blog in 2011 from College Humor, and the picture appeared on Reddit in 2013, where it was lifted from Imgur.com. Those weren’t the last times it was posted on Reddit or Imgur, though -- it appeared on both sites again in 2015. It’s also appeared on Pinterest.

It’s not clear who first posted the footnote. Like an introductory chapter in a college textbook, that part appears to have been skipped over in the never-ending race to post viral content.

Unlike an introduction chapter, however, people appear to keep reading the passage, spreading it around to different corners of the internet as they do. Based on Inside Higher Ed's rigorous research, there appear to be at least two different versions of the photo, based on the way shadows fall in the pictures depicting the passage. At least two students assigned to read the book, perhaps, were not fooled by the footnote.

But how well did the footnote work? How well did the authors really evade detection of their trickery before it was picked up by College Humor? Were they called out earlier?

Contact information for one of the authors, David E. Bock, was not immediately available, although he has posted a comment to this article. Richard De Veaux, a statistics professor at Williams College, replied in an email sent to him and the other co-author, Paul Velleman, of Cornell University, to say he couldn’t properly open the link, but he posited that “it’s important enough that we should write something together.”

By press time, and after a follow-up inquiry, no response had come.

It appears the origins of the footnote’s history prior to 2011 will remain a mystery. But who came up with it? Had the authors ever gotten feedback on it? How well did their strategy to rebrand the introduction as “Chapter 1” work? How long did it take for students to notice the footnote?

Answers to these questions -- much like a student’s will to read an introductory chapter of a statistics textbook -- remain nonexistent.

Update: In an email sent after this article's original publication, Velleman delivered some clarity on the footnote.

"Of course, our purpose wasn't to get students to read the footnotes, but to entice them into reading the book itself," he said in an email that he declared was "more useful than what you posted."

"Our gambit seems to have worked well. We’ve had many responses to this footnote, including emails from students assuring us that they do indeed read the footnotes. And more notes from students saying that they have read the book. Some even express wonder that they did that when they aren’t used to reading textbooks. We’ve even had notes from parents like the one that said, 'My daughter doesn’t read books. But she’s reading your textbook!'" he continued. "So it is a good example of how some well-placed humor can help instruction."

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Israeli government pushes ELT project

The PIE News - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 07:54

The Israeli Ministry of Education has announced an overhaul of the national English language teaching programs in its schools, in a bid to improve spoken English and “shape a graduate with skills that will help him integrate into the changing global world”.

The new system, due to be rolled out in 2018, is comprised of three main aims: improving spoken English, improving the levels of adult English, and strengthening the quality of instruction.

“From elementary to high school, Israeli students will begin to develop skills in English”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that being able to communicate in English is vital for success in a globalised world.

“Beginning [2018], the education system will be transferred to spoken English. To this end, we have formulated the ‘Give Me Five’ program that will enter the schools in the coming school year,” he said.

“From elementary to high school, Israeli students will begin to develop skills in the English language and will receive tools to learn how to express themselves. In today’s global world, this program is crucial to the future of our children.”

In order to promote spoken English, oral exams – some using Skype – will be introduced as well as inaugurating English libraries as a basis for improving reading and speaking for children in grades four, five and six.

Last year, around 350 students took part in pilot exams using Skype and an online test which was deemed a success. This will be rolled out across high schools in 2020.

Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav said that lessons will centre around improving spoken language skills.

“The components include a focus on the development of new language skills that deal with her oral discourse, which will be integrated into all stages of education from elementary to high school.”

Abuav explained that state investment in reading materials will encourage English understanding from a young age.

“In order to assimilate the skills, we will ensure that at the elementary education stage, students will have a dialogue in English by reading books that we will purchase and place in classrooms,” he said.

The Ministry is planning to recruit 1,000 professional English teachers and 950 teaching assistants from Israel and abroad. It will also grant scholarships worth 21,000 Israeli Shekel to recruit students to teach English.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Education told The PIE News that the Skype oral exams will be given by Israeli English teachers.

“The teachers are hired through schools by the Ministry of Education. They are trained in designated programs in 14 colleges around the country,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that teachers from abroad had already been trained.

“38 American trained teachers came for a different program to the south of the country through Massa and have started teaching.”

The post Israeli government pushes ELT project appeared first on The PIE News.

Aus: Student numbers surpass 2016 totals, future outlook unclear

The PIE News - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 04:18

Australia’s international education industry has strengthened across the board, pushing student numbers to new record levels according to the latest data. But doubts have started to emerge over how long the country can maintain its growth streak.

Year to October data, released by the Department of Education and Training, shows more than 606,700 international students have entered Australia so far in 2017, a 13% increase from the level achieved by the same time in 2016, while enrolments and commencements also experienced double-digit percentage growth.

“The more Australia can do to discover or seek out new markets, the better for the international education sector as a whole”

“This latest data shows Australia’s international education sector continues to go from strength-to-strength and the high regard the rest of the world holds for Australian universities and training providers,” education minister Simon Birmingham told The PIE News.

“It’s demonstration that the sector is booming and students are flocking to Australia in record numbers to take advantage of our world-class higher education providers,” Birmingham added.

The surge in numbers has also pushed up total revenue, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating the 12 months to September period grew to a landmark $29.4bn, up from $28.4bn last quarter.

The figure for students, enrolments and commencements as of October has already surpassed that for the whole of 2016.

The number of international students within Australia currently sits 9.4% above the 2016 total of 554,200, while enrolments and commencements – the number of new enrolments in a calendar year – are 7.5% and 2% higher, respectively.

English Australia noted September 2017’s figures were 6.7% down from September 2016

While the figures are welcomed in Australia, not all sectors and source markets experienced consistent improvements, casting doubt over how long the boom will last.

Although 3.3% above the previous year’s October figures, ELICOS stands alone as the only sector to not yet surpass 2016 totals, and after a strong first half of 2017, experienced two consecutive declines in commencements in August and September.

It was the only major sector to do so.

In its latest market analysis report, English Australia noted September 2017’s figures were 6.7% down from September 2016, representing “arguably the first poor month at the national aggregate level for ELICOS in recent years.”

Meanwhile, China further strengthened its position as Australia’s top source market, increasing 18% from the same period in 2016 and pushing its market share across all sectors from 27.5% to approximately 30%; reaching as high as 60% for some sectors.

But China’s strong showing could represent a double-edged sword, according to IEAA chief executive Phil Honeywood.

“There is a growing concern that Australia is overly reliant on the Chinese market,” he said.

“The more Australia can do to discover or seek out new markets, the better for the international education sector as a whole.”

“A balance needs to be found”

Furthermore, during a year in which Australian headlines have repeatedly featured concerns over China’s alleged interference – causing Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull to recently announce plans to ban foreign political donations – Honeywood told The PIE News that the country might be doing itself damage.

“It’s not been helpful that Australian elected politicians and former politicians from all parties have been seen to be kowtowing to a large degree, to Chinese financial interests,” he said, alluding to ongoing reports an Australian opposition senator accepted funds from a Chinese donor, which eventually resulted in the senator’s resignation.

“Obviously, it’s in both China and Australia’s future interests to ensure that common sense prevails, which means the Chinese need more cognisant of Australians’ concerns, and equally, Australia needs to understand that China is very keen to rapidly enhance its global profile and involvement.

“A balance needs to be found between these two extremes.”

How that balance is found is unclear as Australian-Chinese relations sour, with the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, publishing another in a series of pieces blasting Australian media as “paranoid” and “racist”.

There have been ongoing concerns that China is politicising its international student cohort to gain soft power, with Taiwanese academic and researcher Sheng-Ju Chan telling The PIE this year that the country was using “students as a valve to control their influence on a particular area.”

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University of Arkansas professors want to stall vote on changes they say would upend tenure

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 01:00

It’s hard to build faculty consensus on anything, but professors across Arkansas and colleagues elsewhere are speaking out against proposed changes to the University of Arkansas System’s personnel policies -- changes they say would make them tenured or working toward tenure in name only.

Of particular concern is proposed language that would make being a bad colleague a fireable offense.

The university system says it’s not trying to limit tenure but rather make its terms clearer. Many professors remain unconvinced.

“Tenure would be kind of like a hollow shell, or the appearance of tenure without the actual protections” under the proposal, said James Vander Putten, associate professor of higher education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and vice president of the state’s conference of the American Association of University Professors.

He added wryly, “The impetus here is nothing more than a wish list for university attorneys, to make it easier to get rid of troublemaker faculty members like me."

Troublemaker or not, Vander Putten is far from alone in opposing the system Board of Trustees’ plan. The Arkansas conference of the AAUP and the executive committees of the Faculty Senates at the Little Rock campus and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville all have formally opposed the changes. The Faculty Senate at the University of Central Arkansas -- which is not even part of the university system and therefore not subject to board policy -- also has publicly condemned the proposal.

“If the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees adopts the proposed changes, our colleagues in the University of Arkansas System will lose the rights of academic freedom, hampering their effectiveness in teaching, research and service, and face severe hardship in recruiting and retaining qualified faculty,” reads the Central Arkansas faculty resolution. “Such weakening of tenure in Arkansas’s flagship school will affect all Arkansas public universities.”

Currently, system policy says that professors may be terminated for cause -- such as incompetence, neglect of duty, intellectual dishonesty or moral turpitude -- after administrative due process. That’s in line with many if not most institutions’ personnel policies and widely followed standards suggested by the AAUP. But the University of Arkansas wants to introduce new, more specific grounds for cause, including showing “a pattern of disruptive conduct or unwillingness to work productively with colleagues.”

That sounds a lot like collegiality to professors, and therein lies the rub. AAUP has long rejected collegiality as a distinct criterion for faculty evaluation, on the grounds that it is a vague, subjective concept that has over time been levied against professors with unpopular ideas or controversial research agendas. AAUP doesn't deny that collegiality matters, but says that a meaningful lack of it will manifest in one or all three pillars of faculty work: research, teaching and service.

“Historically, ‘collegiality’ has not infrequently been associated with ensuring homogeneity and hence with practices that exclude persons on the basis of their difference from a perceived norm,” reads the association’s statement on Collegiality as a Criterion for Faculty Evaluation. “The invocation of ‘collegiality’ may also threaten academic freedom. In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display ‘enthusiasm’ or ‘dedication,’ evince ‘a constructive attitude’ that will ‘foster harmony,’ or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.”

Two of the most vocal opponents of the changes, Robert Steinbuch and Joshua Silverstein, professors of law at the Little Rock campus, shared their own concerns about the changes in a post for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal’s blog. “The state of Arkansas is facing an existential threat to academic freedom,” they wrote, saying that a lack of collegiality would be “a stand-alone basis for termination” under the policy, placing such behavior “on the same plane as ‘threats or acts of violence.’”

In responding to faculty concerns, the Arkansas system has said that current board policies don't preclude dismissal for any of the proposed guidelines. “The intent of the revision is to add precision and specificity, thereby providing more explicit guidance to faculty and removing ambiguity as to the requirements of the policy,” reads an FAQ-style system document. “For example, there should be no ambiguity that engaging in racial discrimination or sexual harassment by a faculty member is cause for disciplinary action.”

Most importantly, the system says, “While the new definition was expanded to provide additional examples for which a faculty member can be disciplined or terminated, the new definition explicitly sets out the type of conduct for which Arkansas system faculty have always been subject to discipline or termination.” During the past five years, two tenured professors have been dismissed after trustees’ hearings for specific reasons, such as disregarding university and departmental policies, continued poor teaching, or frequent and excessive absences and unauthorized outside employment, according to the system.

Concerns Beyond Collegiality

Steinbuch and Silverstein nevertheless call the terms of tenure much more “narrow” under the proposal. They also criticize proposed policy language saying that professors may be disciplined or dismissed for “unsatisfactory performance,” another arguably vague standard. The draft policy says that an unsatisfactory performance evaluation must be reversed to satisfactory by the end of the following academic year to avoid risking dismissal, assuming the professor is “actively cooperating and engaged” in the process. Other timelines may be used if that’s not the case, it says.

The upshot of that change is “striking,” Steinbuch and Silverstein wrote, in that if a faculty member “resists a single negative review, appeals that decision internally, or objects to colleagues or administrators about that review, he can be fired for lack of ‘cooperation.’”

Steinbuch, Silverstein and their colleagues have a third major concern: that under the proposed policy, academic freedom would pertain to a professor’s scholarship and assigned teaching duties, but not necessarily service. Currently, the policy says that professors’ “mere expressions of opinion” are generally protected.

“This means, for example, that a professor could be fired merely for commenting publicly or internally about a school’s alleged financial improprieties or admission practices,” the law professors wrote, arguing that the faculty recruitment and freedoms would suffer under the policies. The changes would be most keenly felt by minorities, racial, religious and political, they said.

Steinbuch and Silverstein argue that board limitations on faculty rights are one of two main tools in an ongoing war on academic freedom, the other being the increased hiring of professors off the tenure track. Richard J. Peltz-Steele, a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, agreed in a separate post about the matter on his blog, saying that “what is happening at Arkansas, just one instance amid an alarming national trend, needs wider attention. Simply put, an attack on academic freedom anywhere is an attack on academic freedom everywhere.”

To that point, Arkansas’s board also is considering new policy language saying that professors teaching off the tenure track are “at will” employees subject to dismissal for “convenience,” within 30 days’ notice. Professors across campuses have objected to these proposed changes, as well. The Little Rock Faculty Senate executive committee memo to the system calls such a policy disruptive to instruction and in conflict with the university’s mission, for example.

Professors also have objected to the system’s proposal to eliminate an initial faculty subcommittee in potential dismissal cases involving tenured faculty members. New language would place the decision to proceed with termination in the hands of the university’s chief executive, based on the recommendation or the professor’s chair or dean. “Faculty see this as a significant reduction in the due process afforded the faculty member,” reads the Fayetteville Faculty Senate memo of opposition.

The Fayetteville memo also objects to draft language saying that “formal rules of court procedure need not be followed” in hearings before a faculty committee in dismissal cases. “Faculty are concerned that this is a reduction in the flexibility of the Hearing Committee to provide protections to the faculty member facing dismissal,” says the Fayetteville Faculty Senate executive committee.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also has spoken out against Arkansas’s plan. Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense program, wrote on the organization’s blog that he’s seen through his work how collegiality-related charges are “easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick.” That’s because it’s “a difficult charge for faculty to fight -- just about any behavior could be subjectively cast as uncollegial, after all -- and therefore an easy charge with which to gain leverage,” he wrote. “If the Arkansas system’s policy were enacted, how would an ‘unwillingness to work productively with colleagues’ be defined? The policy provides no indication, so your guess is as good as mine.”

Beyond content, questions of process surround the board’s proposal. Faculty members have accused the body of being fly-by-night in its approach, releasing the proposed changes to faculty members just two weeks before a planned vote earlier this fall. The board eventually delayed the vote to late January due to faculty concerns, and it recently extended a faculty feedback period. Professors still have questions about the board’s attempts -- or lack thereof -- at transparency, however. Some at the Little Rock campus have even requested documentation on the issue, in the form of public records.

Just last week, the Academic Senate of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences started an online petition against the draft policy, recommending “in the strongest terms” that the board’s January vote be delayed. The current discussion should be tabled and a committee should be formed, representing professors across the university system, to allow for “proper consultation and discussion.” It’s gathered about 350 signatures so far.

Nate Hinkel, university system spokesperson, said that the process for revising the board policy is ongoing, and that Arkansas continues to welcome feedback from across the system.

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Barnard announces criteria for evaluating fossil fuel companies' investment worthiness

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 01:00

Barnard College has decided on a set of criteria it will use as it attempts to divest its endowment from companies that dispute climate science and climate change, it said Tuesday.

The announcement comes about a year after a Barnard task force recommended the college divest from fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or that try to undermine efforts to mitigate climate change. That recommendation was considered a new way to respond to divestment campaigns asking colleges and universities to keep their endowments from investing in fossil fuel companies. It was arguably a way for Barnard to divest from objectionable companies while still giving the college flexibility to invest in energy companies as it sought to maximize returns for its endowment.

But Barnard’s plan left much work to be done. It wasn’t clear what criteria the college would use to determine which companies were not worthy of its money. While a report issued last year suggested some criteria, they were not final.

The new criteria announced Tuesday were developed over several months by an internal divestment working group. They require asking the following six questions about investment options:

  • What is the company’s position on climate change?
  • What action is the company taking to reduce its carbon footprint?
  • Is climate science integral to the governance and oversight of the company?
  • What are the company’s affiliations with third parties that spread disinformation on climate science?
  • Does the company publicly support the need for climate policies and regulations?
  • Has the company been publicly transparent about their position, actions and affiliations with regard to climate science and climate change?

The ideas are largely consistent with criteria suggested in last year’s report despite some changes to specifics, said Robert Goldberg, Barnard’s chief operating officer, who chaired the college’s task force to examine disinvestment and served as its interim president last year. That report’s suggested criteria included examining whether a company made accurate and consistent public statements, whether it is affiliated with industry groups that spread misinformation, and whether it is committed to reducing net emissions.

Companies’ climate denial isn’t necessarily overt anymore, Goldberg said. Realizing that, the college’s working group tried to find a way that would best inform investment decisions.

“We needed to understand a total of company behavior around climate change and how that was consistent with our mission,” he said. “It’s really a lot about support for science and the kind of behavior these companies are exhibiting in this area.”

There is still work to be done before the criteria translate into actual investment decisions. Barnard considered developing a scoring system in-house but decided outside experts would have better access to data, have more expertise and lend the effort more credibility. So the college is turning to Fossil Free Indexes, a research and advisory firm, to refine the criteria and develop a scoring method. Fossil Free Indexes previously developed a list known as the Carbon Underground 200 to be used as a standard for divesting from fossil fuels.

The firm will use the expertise of the Union of Concerned Scientists to help it create a climate action list for Barnard. It will be vetting a set of oil and gas companies on the Carbon Underground 200 list.

The goal is for Barnard to be able to view a list scoring different companies. Leaders will then be able to decide where they want to draw a line -- which scores are acceptable for investment and which are not.

“Our efforts will enable Barnard to take a nuanced and thoughtful approach to the divestment question consistent with the college’s values,” Christopher Ito, CEO of Fossil Free Indexes, said in a statement.

Leaders have pointed out that they aren’t just penalizing companies that they feel behave badly. They would be rewarding companies judged to be responsible actors.

“Differentiating between companies is, in some ways, a more powerful way of ultimately changing behavior than a blanket divestment from the whole industry,” Goldberg said.

Barnard plans to release its climate action list publicly this spring. The college also plans to release information that colleges and universities can use to decide whether a company should or should not receive investments.

The idea that Barnard can serve as a leader in a new type of divestment movement is important. Many experts are skeptical about whether any one institution can have a direct effect on the fossil fuel industry through its investment decisions. A quick look at Barnard makes clear why.

Barnard’s endowment is considerable for a women’s college with about 2,500 undergraduates that is affiliated with Columbia University. But at $327.2 million, the college’s endowment is only a small fraction of the size of ExxonMobil’s $351.2 billion market capitalization. And Barnard’s endowment is not entirely invested in fossil fuels, let alone one single fossil fuel company. About 6 percent of its endowment portfolio is exposed to fossil fuel investments.

In other words, Barnard isn’t going to move markets on its own, even if it dumps all of its shares of a specific company tomorrow.

What the college can do is give institutions and consumers a way to evaluate their investments and spending.

“Ultimately, it’s very hard to affect the bottom line of the companies, but if you carry our approach out to a number of degrees, this could send signals, which could change consumer behavior,” Goldberg said. “I know that’s aspirational. But the theory around the approach we’re taking is to send some signals around positive actors and less positive actors.”

Oil and gas producers have argued that divesting from fossil fuels can be costly for endowments. A report issued this spring by the Independent Petroleum Association of America argued divesting would cut endowment spending by more than 15 percent on average. Environmental advocates disputed that idea, saying that fossil-free indexes can outperform stocks of oil, gas and coal companies.

Divestment advocates voiced support for Barnard’s newly announced criteria Tuesday.

“The original purpose of the divestment campaign when it launched in 2012 was to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry and force our institutions to choose a side,” said Lindsay Meiman, U.S. communications coordinator for the group 350.org. “To see an institution like Barnard recognizing climate denial and the deception of these companies is truly a testament to the power that people around the world have built in questioning the role of the fossil fuel economy and the role and responsibility that our institutions have to author the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Meiman did have some questions about the criteria, however. She wondered whether a bullet could be added about lobbying -- one that would measure whether companies contributed to political candidates who deny man-made climate change. She also pointed out that companies can take a particular public stance while privately acting irresponsibly or sowing misinformation.

Criteria involving lobbying were considered, Goldberg said. But the criterion dealing with third-party affiliations would cover trade organizations and associations that could engage in some of the behavior a look at lobbying would examine. And criteria could be added in the future, because the scoring system is meant to be a living, updated resource.

“We felt that was a bridge too far for this particular exercise,” Goldberg said. “I wouldn’t rule it out down the road as we get more refined and better at this.”

Barnard has taken several other steps to reach the point where it could make Tuesday’s announcement. The college’s endowment had for years been pooled in a consortium, preventing it from excluding specific investments. In September it named a new outsourced chief investment office without the consortium limitations, allowing it to tailor investments.

Its Board of Trustees also had to approve the divestment plan. It did so in March.

Meanwhile, others are hoping the ideas applied in Barnard’s divestment decisions can be applied elsewhere. Sandra Goldmark is an associate professor of professional practice in theater and the director of sustainability and environment at Barnard. She is also a member of the college’s task force to examine divestment.

She noted the institutional tension between sustainability and needing to function. Some could see a slippery slope from divesting from fossil fuel companies and not being able to buy food, clothing and computers because of their impact on natural resources and the environment. Goldmark believes balance between immediate needs, long-term principles and impetus for change can be found.

“If we take a position that tries to leverage every action that we do take, I think we can apply this logic to a lot of things we do as individuals and an institution,” she said.

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GOP higher ed update clears committee after marathon markup

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 01:00

After debating and voting on amendments all day Tuesday, the House education committee advanced to the full chamber on a party-line vote a rewrite of the federal law governing higher education in the U.S.

The legislation, called the PROSPER Act, would change accountability for colleges and universities, alter the student financial aid landscape, and loosen restrictions on short-term and for-profit programs.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the education committee, said Americans can't afford simply a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but need real reform of the law. Her Democratic counterpart, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, however, said Republicans chose to do so in a partisan manner, behind closed doors and with no input from committee Democrats.

He said the U.S. could support multiple pathways to higher education while adding support for programs that provide student aid and help colleges promote student completion.

"This is the latest battle in the majority’s war against students," Scott said. "That war began in earnest this year with the proposed tax bill."

The higher education bill would end some grant programs like the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and benefits to student borrowers such as loan interest subsidies and Public Service Loan Forgiveness -- part of a larger effort to simplify the student aid system by offering one grant and one loan with the same repayment options for all students.

The committee considered more than 60 votes Tuesday. Democrats offered the vast majority of those with 40 amendments to the GOP legislation, nearly all of which were rejected on party-line votes. One would have made recipients of the new single federal student loan proposed in the bill eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. That amendment failed 20 to 19, with two Republicans -- Representative Glenn Thompson and Representative Lou Barletta, both of Pennsylvania -- joining the Democrats.

Another amendment would have made Pell Grant funding mandatory -- meaning it would be authorized in law permanently -- and boosted the maximum grant by $500 while indexing the value of the grant to inflation, an aim of many Democrats and student aid advocates. Under current law, Pell is funded through a combination of mandatory and discretionary spending and Congress must vote to approve any increases to the grant's value.

Other Democratic amendments sought to expand eligibility for federal student aid to those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, repeal the federal student unit record ban and restore Obama-era regulations on for-profit colleges.

Committee Republicans, though, had little interest in maintaining separate definitions of nonprofit and for-profit higher ed programs.

"If we want transparency, if we want accountability, if we want what you say you want, let's apply that to everybody," said Representative Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican. "The false dichotomy continues to devalue career and technical education, which is wrong in this economy."

Mitchell, a co-sponsor of the College Transparency Act, also expressed frustrations in a statement after the markup that the committee hadn't done more to make student outcome data available to low-income students. 

“With today’s legislation, we had a rare opportunity to make meaningful change, and we fell short," he said. 

Mitchell was absent from the markup when a Democratic amendment to repeal a federal student unit record ban failed to pass. 

Democrats and higher education groups on Tuesday continued to voice complaints over the speed of the process to mark up the legislation just over a week after the 542-page bill was introduced. The American Council on Education as well as the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees took issue with the time frame in letters to committee leaders this week.

As the markup unfolded, others said there hadn't been sufficient time to examine whether there are adequate safeguards in place, for example, where the bill would allow new higher ed programs to access federal aid.

"We are greatly concerned that the rushed process thus far has not allowed for thoughtful consideration by policy makers and stakeholders of complex policy proposals," said Craig Lindwarm, director of congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "The risks of getting this wrong are too great to not slow down and think through implications."

Foxx was dismissive of those complaints from Democrats in particular, even offering a list of bills -- and markup dates -- for legislation crafted by the previous Democratic majority.

"Our colleagues are suffering from amnesia when they say this process has been rushed," she said.

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Supporters say student was unfairly suspended from Hampshire College because of his autism

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 01:00

On Friday evening, Iris Allen found himself homeless.

He had been kicked out of his dorm and ordered off campus following what Hampshire College has called a series of threats. A suspension hearing was scheduled for Monday, but until then, Allen wasn’t allowed on campus.

“Yes, I’ve developed social habits that aren’t acceptable, however, I have autism, and the school never looked in [to it],” Allen said in a video posted online by classmates to raise awareness of his situation. In the video, he was then escorted to a taxi by campus police and taken away. Coming from a background that has included homelessness, Allen had no family to turn to, according to supporters.

Hampshire has said that it removed a student -- without specifying a name, per privacy regulations -- from campus because of “a threat [that] was made to members of our campus community,” according to a message sent out by the administration Monday. Supporters of Allen say that he was unfairly kicked off campus and has since been suspended through the end of the spring semester, for outbursts and panic attacks that were related to his autism, and that those panic attacks did not constitute a threat.

Cameron Prata, a classmate and one of the organizers who have rallied support behind Allen, said that Allen was on the streets over the weekend but he and other supporters have since found a home for him to stay in off campus. The temperature dipped to a low of 29 degrees in Amherst, Mass., on Saturday, according to reports.

As Allen made brief on-campus appearances in suspension hearings held Monday and Tuesday, students gathered to stage sit-ins and rallies. There’s also been an increased police presence on campus this week.

“We understand that some students are upset about actions taken by the college in recent days, but the college makes all appropriate efforts to support and otherwise provide resources to students who need assistance,” Gloria Lopez, dean of students at Hampshire, said in an email sent to students Monday, provided by a campus spokesman. “The college has a process for handling these matters, which involves giving due consideration to all parties concerned. No decisions are made without providing hearings and other protections built into the college’s policies and procedures.”

Supporters of Allen are incredulous.

Prata described a series of events leading up to Allen’s suspension where he was reported to campus authorities for panic attacks or outbursts that occurred on campus and in public. While Allen's outbursts were possibly unnerving to onlookers, he said, they posed no threat.

“They’re making him out to be this criminal person,” Prata told Inside Higher Ed, adding that a suspension that leads to homelessness is “unacceptable.”

“He just wants an education and not to be homeless in the winter weather. There are just basic needs that have not been met and that are being neglected,” Prata said.

Allen was not available for comment.

Organizers have rallied around the hashtag #FreeIris on social media, where attention has focused on whether his autism or the fact that he is black are a factor in his treatment.

No matter what happened, what Hampshire College has done is reprehensible. Iris is #AutisticWhileBlack, which puts him at much greater risk of violence if he is out on the streets. #IrisDeservesBetter #FreeIris https://t.co/YJ6VCnYVoE

— Eryn Star (@NeuroCosmos) December 10, 2017

Given Allen’s history of homelessness, and, in Allen’s telling in the video, his past with an abusive family life, Prata said that Allen doesn’t have immediate family to turn to. The dorm was his source of stable housing.

“All they can provide me with is a taxi, to send me on my way,” Allen said at the end of the video. “I didn’t even get a chance to eat dinner.”

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New presidents or provosts: Albany Augusta CCSF Delaware ENMU Erie Lewis & Clark Michigan Shawnee TAMU

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 12/13/2017 - 01:00
  • Tony Allen, head of corporate reputation for Bank of America, in Delaware, has been appointed provost at Delaware State University.
  • Peggy F. Bradford, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Westchester Community College, part of the State University of New York, has been chosen as president of Shawnee Community College, in Illinois.
  • Jeff Elwell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has been chosen as president of Eastern New Mexico University.
  • Carol A. Fierke, dean of the Rackham Graduate School and vice provost for academic affairs/graduate studies at the University of Michigan, has been named provost and executive vice president at Texas A&M University.
  • Dan Hocoy, associate vice chancellor of advancement at the Antioch University System, in Ohio, has been chosen as president of Erie Community College, in New York.
  • Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, has been named provost and executive vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Mark Rocha, senior program manager in the New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, has been selected as chancellor of the City College of San Francisco, in California.
  • Havidán Rodríguez, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, has been appointed president of the State University of New York at Albany.
  • Wim Wiewel, president of Portland State University, in Oregon, has been chosen as president of Lewis & Clark College, also in Oregon.
  • Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for finance and administration at the University of Maine System, has been appointed president of the University of Maine at Augusta.
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Griffith & Deakin research MOOC to boost exposure

The PIE News - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 05:56

Australia’s Griffith and Deakin universities have co-created a research MOOC to increase efficiencies across both institutions and increase exposure to international students as the learning landscape begins to change.

Why Research Matters, launched on learning platform FutureLearn, seeks to highlight the importance of research in addressing global issues and provide students with methodologies to identify and undertake their own research.

Importantly, however, the collaboration is being touted as the first in a series of online courses between the universities in a bid to increase their competitiveness as students’ learning preferences begin to turn globally towards online.

“The changing world of education increasingly points to a global online learner,” Griffith Online academic director Nick Barter said.

“Delivering to this type of learner requires the development of an excellent product [and] to do this effectively, the vast majority of universities in the world will need to explore efficiencies and enhanced effectiveness.”

“We hope to see more of our university partners and organisations working together in this way”

Speaking with The PIE News, Barter, who co-authored the MOOC, said the wide breadth of research methods within both universities meant the collaboration provided an opportunity for both to learn from each other and increase their effectiveness in teaching.

“Griffith and Deakin are similar universities with similar perspectives on education,” he said.

“As such, the opportunity to work together to explore the potential of developing joint courses and programs for the global learner is appropriate, especially given the way the education market is developing.”

FutureLearn’s director of partnerships development Mark Lester said he was pleased to see the collaboration in online delivery, adding he hoped further institutions would see the benefit of the approach.

“We hope to see more of our university partners and organisations working together in this way, where they are able to delve into and share insight from their respective knowledge bases so that learners can get a global view on research regardless of where they are in the world,” he said.

Institutions and non-education organisations have made several significant moves into the online realm this year, with Pan African University the latest to turn to virtual education.

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Spanish should take a central position in int’l education – SEPIE

The PIE News - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 03:30

The Spanish service for the internationalisation of education suggests that the Spanish language should take a more central position in international education, in its 2017 report.

Authors of the SEPIE report suggest that the Spanish language offers unique opportunities, and universities should be looking to take advantage of Latin American and growing Spanish-speaking student markets in the US.

“Being able to open up our degree programs, especially at postgraduate level … is a huge advantage for our universities”

The research explains that Spain has been successful in attracting European international students, as part of Erasmus programs.

However, it argues that a clear strategy is needed to increase the country’s inbound results from outside the EU, and to continue to build as one of the most popular European study destinations.

“Being able to open up our degree programs, especially at postgraduate level, to native Spanish speakers from most of Latin America, and also to an increasing population in the United States, is a huge advantage for our universities,” the report states.

The latest government figures from Madrid cite that Spain attracts only half of the OECD average of international students, but the large Latin American and Caribbean communities among that population show that further exploitation of that market can improve growth.

“International undergraduates represent 4.1% of all registered students, which is below the OECD average of 8.5%… the majority come from Latin America and the Caribbean.”

“More work must be done to develop the potential of Spanish as a higher education language”

“Most institutions have progressed very cautiously, due in part to insufficient funding or a lack of specialist staff in this field,” the report reads.

The paper suggests that institutions should promote Spanish language studies as an asset.

“More work must be done to develop the potential of Spanish as a higher education language by exploring possibilities not only in the Spanish-speaking world but also in other countries and regions with a growing interest in our language and culture,” it says.

Spanish institutions should be “insisting on the rightful place of Spanish as a global language for academic and scientific collaboration and exchange”.

Spain is also different to other European countries “whose national languages are languages of limited diffusion”. Spanish can be considered a global language, and therefore bring similar benefits to those often spoken about of English. Spanish is spoken widely in the Americas, and at least three million people in the Philippines also speak the language, giving it a truly global footprint.

Despite the will to boost Spanish learning, Spain is ranked fifth out of European countries to offer English-taught courses.

The report identifies that only 6% of European courses are in English. Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands all have more available according to StudyPortals.

Evaluating the initiatives of the Mobility Strategy 2020 launched as part of the University Strategy 2015 by the Ministry of Education, the report highlights that initiatives have simplified mobility for students and academic staff. The strategy has also promoted an international doctorate.

“In the time remaining before the culmination of the strategy in 2020, progress should continue to be made by implementing the outlined initiatives, such as … an increased amount of qualifications in English and other foreign languages.”

The report states that Spain has been successful in attracting students as it is gradually becoming possible to use the 4+1 degree model, alongside the new 3+2 model, used in the majority of European countries.

It also suggests that “the admission requirements for international students are becoming more flexible”, and highlights that by recognising international qualifications, foreign students no longer need to take entrance exams.

Finally, the paper suggests that student mobility is not the only factor that Spanish universities should be focussing on, with other important factors including closer international cooperation on research projects and strategic investment.

The post Spanish should take a central position in int’l education – SEPIE appeared first on The PIE News.

Jury rejects lawsuit by Sandy Hook denier who was fired by university

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 01:54

A federal jury on Monday rejected a lawsuit by a prominent conspiracy theorist who claimed Florida Atlantic University fired him for his views, and in doing so violated his First Amendment rights.

The university fired James Tracy, a tenured associate professor in the School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, in 2015, after years of controversy over his blog, but the university said that his writings were not the reason for his firing. Rather, the university said that he refused to follow university rules for all faculty members, such as requirements about filing reports about outside activities. The university also at various times complained that Tracy did not take reasonable steps to disassociate his blog from the university.

While Tracy endorsed a number of conspiracy theories, the dispute over his blog came to a head over his assertion that the mass killings that took place in 2012 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School never took place. The parents of one of the children killed there drew attention to Tracy's writings and wrote that Tracy  "is among those who have personally sought to cause our family pain and anguish by publicly demonizing our attempts to keep cherished photos of our slain son from falling into the hands of conspiracy theorists."

Florida Atlantic was able to point out at the trial that it defended Tracy's right to free speech for years, and that -- when it fired him -- it cited rules he broke, not his writing. Tracy and his lawyers argued that the rules were just a pretext for his firing.

The Palm Beach Post reported that, after reporters followed Tracy and his lawyers from the courthouse Monday, one of the lawyers shouted “Shame on you fake news" at the journalists, whom he called "presstitutes.”

During the trial, Tracy's lawyers tried to frame the case as about academic freedom, which at a public university such as Florida Atlantic is protected by the First Amendment. But FAU framed the case as about insubordination.

Florida Atlantic officials testified during the trial that Tracy's promotion of conspiracy theories brought negative publicity to the university and frustrated many, but that they resisted calls to fire him. They said that he violated rules about reporting outside activities for a two-year period before the university acted.

The jury foreman told The Sun Sentinel: "We just tried to stay away from the emotion of the case and we focused on the evidence, not hearsay or opinions."

 

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Oberlin faces budget crunch due to missed enrollment targets

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 01:00

Oberlin College has been showing signs of strain as leaders of the well-off liberal arts college in Ohio seek to close a multimillion-dollar budget deficit driven by lower-than-expected enrollment this year.

The strain became evident most recently when The Oberlin Review, the college’s student newspaper, obtained and published a letter written this summer by two faculty members objecting to a salary freeze. The letter, which the student newspaper published Friday as Oberlin’s Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet, said it is “inadequate and depressing that neither the board nor the administration has the leadership or imagination to address this crisis in any way other than by eliminating raises for faculty and staff.”

But the publication of the faculty letter was just the latest in a string of moves by a college grappling with a structural budget deficit. A group of trustees tasked with examining Oberlin’s financial model recently found that the institution -- which includes both a college of arts and sciences and a prestigious conservatory -- relies too heavily on cash from gifts. It does not draw enough of its cash from charging students for tuition, room and board, according to a letter publicly posted in October by Chris Canavan, the chair of the Oberlin Board of Trustees.

Oberlin will seek ways to reduce spending in the short term, Canavan wrote. That will allow it to develop long-term strategies like broadening its appeal to college-bound students, raising money through a new comprehensive campaign, offering early retirement plans and placing stricter conditions on funding for large capital projects.

“The conclusion may seem self-evident, but it’s important nevertheless: we can’t stop appealing to generous donors, we need to find ways to boost our operating revenues and we have to reduce our cash needs where possible,” Canavan wrote.

Canavan, who became board chair in July, is one of several new leaders at Oberlin. Marvin Krislov departed the Oberlin presidency this summer after a decade in the job and became president of Pace University. Carmen Twillie Ambar, formerly president of Cedar Crest College, took over as Oberlin president. Oberlin also has a new vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, Manuel Carballo.

Nonetheless, October wasn’t the first time Canavan had written about taking measures to shore up Oberlin’s finances. In June of this year, he wrote that Oberlin’s budget for 2017-18 had been dealt “an unexpected blow” because the incoming class would be smaller than expected and fewer students were returning for the upcoming academic year. Oberlin faced a deficit of approximately $5 million, even though it had already reduced budgets across the institution for the upcoming year, Canavan said in an email to faculty and staff that The Oberlin Review published in September.

In response to the enrollment and budget issues, the board approved a plan to hold nonunion salaries at current levels for the coming year, Canavan said in the June email. Doing so would not eliminate the deficit but would make a significant difference without cutting essential services and positions.

Not all faculty would agree with that assertion. Some have argued a pay freeze will lead to a loss of talent at Oberlin as professors pick other, better-paying jobs. Such a trend would hurt educational quality, an essential service for a college.

The board also asked administrators, faculty and staff members to find ways to shrink the structural deficit by bringing in more revenue or cutting spending. The goal laid out was to cut 5 percent of the cumulative budget over the coming 10 years.

“The enrollment shortfall is a sign that Oberlin’s long-term financial model must change with the times,” Canavan said in the June email. “The cost of running institutions like Oberlin gets more expensive every year, while the pool of high school graduates, which grew steadily beginning in the mid-’90s, will stay flat over the next decade. We must spend the next few years making important decisions that will ensure Oberlin’s financial strength well into the future. These decisions must be made thoughtfully and with broad consultation.”

The letter did not detail exactly how much the college’s enrollment had slipped. But Oberlin’s Office of Institutional Research lists 2,827 undergraduates enrolling in 2017, down from 2,895 in 2016. The 2017 enrollment is the lowest level of undergraduates reported since 2,762 in 2007.

First-year enrollment fell at both the conservatory and the college of arts and sciences. Applications rose at the conservatory by 135, to 1,396, in 2017. The conservatory admitted only 28 percent of those applications, its lowest level since 2013. It enrolled 120, down 19 from last year’s class as its yield rate slipped by four percentage points year over year to 31 percent.

At the college of arts and sciences, applications fell sharply, by 891 to 6,366, after setting a record in 2016. The college admitted a larger share of its applicants, 37 percent, than it had since 2009. About 27 percent of those applicants enrolled, the lowest yield rate since 1996. The college’s resulting freshman class numbered 644 in 2017, the lowest level since 2007.

(Dual-degree students applying, admitted and enrolling in both the college and conservatory are counted twice in the statistics above. A total of 36 dual-degree students enrolled in 2017, about the same number as in recent years.)

This spring, Oberlin reported admissions had only declined slightly. No one was available for an interview to discuss admissions Monday.

Oberlin provided a statement referencing the fact that expenses grow every year and saying the college will use broad consultation to make important decisions to set it up for the future.

“In short, some difficult decisions will need to be made, but we are fortunate to be in a position of relative financial strength and thus have the capacity to make careful and strategic choices,” the statement said. “Following this exercise, Oberlin will be well positioned for the long term.”

Oberlin had the 117th-largest endowment in the country in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the most recent study of endowments published by the National Association of College and University Business officers and the nonprofit asset management firm Commonfund. Oberlin’s endowment totaled $770.2 million, giving it an endowment value per student of more than $261,000.

To many liberal arts college leaders, an endowment of that size would be a dream. But the endowment had dropped sharply in market value, by 7.5 percent year over year -- a significant issue for an investment that is intended to last into perpetuity.

In its statement, Oberlin also pointed to the fact that the number of high school graduates across the country is not expected to grow in the coming decade.

Ohio has gone from being a net exporter of college students to a net importer, said C. Todd Jones, president and general counsel at the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio. Oberlin is an institution that draws many students from out of state, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it is destined to see an enrollment decline.

“Among my members, we have slightly shrunk in total enrollment over the last five years from about 134,000 to about 131,000,” Jones said. “There are different patterns to that, though. Our nursing-only colleges are growing; Case Western Reserve and the University of Dayton have grown. We also have colleges that have conscientiously shrunk.”

Still, Oberlin is in a part of the country where many institutions are expected to struggle with enrollment. Located about 35 miles to the southwest of Cleveland, it is anchored firmly in the Rust Belt. And Ohio is projected to have fewer graduating high school students in coming years, as are many states in the Midwest. But the college has long seen itself as one that recruits nationally and internationally with its strong academic reputation.

Conservative news outlets have delighted in Oberlin’s struggles. The college is generally considered one of the most liberal institutions in the country, and it is regularly the target of conservative media, some of the more extreme of which have attributed the college’s enrollment declines to politics. But they provided little in the way of firm evidence to support that link.

Nonetheless, Oberlin has found itself at the center of several politically charged events of late. The Associated Press recently reported that Oberlin has been sued by bakery owners who accuse the institution and a dean of slandering their bakery as a racist establishment following a shoplifting case in 2016 -- a charge the institution and dean denied. This fall, the college also put in place a policy under which it will not send out email notifications about hateful fliers unless there is suspicion of immediate danger or a larger pattern.

National politics aside, Oberlin’s plan was clearly not to shrink this year, at least to the degree it has. So the cost-cutting moves it has put in place have rankled some faculty members.

Chris Howell, a professor of politics, and Kirk Ormand, a professor of classics, wrote the July letter that The Oberlin Review published last week. Addressed to Board of Trustees Chair Canavan, it argues that the current pay freeze runs counter to moves Oberlin has made in recent years to raise compensation.

In 2013, the board approved a resolution intended to raise faculty compensation to a median level among a group of 16 colleges, they wrote. From there, plans were put in place to increase salaries over five years by creating salary pools of 4 percent annually, which was intended to match average increases among peer colleges, and by adding $400,000 to the pools each year in order to raise relative compensation.

Achieving competitive compensation was written into Oberlin’s strategic plan, the professors wrote. The strategy was working, only to be cut short after three years, they argued.

“Faced with a structural deficit that some people on the board have been well aware of for many years, and with a short-term deficit in next year’s budget of $5 million, the board has taken the only step that they ever seem capable of taking when faced with financial strain: all nonunion salaries will be frozen next year, a move that will not save even one half of next year’s deficit,” they wrote. “The results are entirely predictable, and will be poor. Our salaries will drop to near the bottom of our peer group within two or three years, and we will remain there as a matter of financial strategy. Hiring and retention will suffer. Our best early-career faculty will leave, as several have over the past three years. Morale will plummet.”

The professors declined additional comment Monday.

The pay freeze was not the only cost-cutting move Oberlin has tried in recent years. In 2016 it introduced a voluntary separation incentive program, taking a restructuring charge of $8.4 million, according to its 2015-16 financial report. It also introduced a consumer-driven health plan intended to cut health-care costs.

The financial world has taken notice of Oberlin’s struggles. In October, Moody’s Investors Service changed the outlook on $130 million in Oberlin bonds from stable to negative. In its rationale for the move, Moody’s cited unanticipated enrollment volatility and budget pressures. The college’s projected budget deficit for the 2018 fiscal year is $2.5 million, Moody’s wrote.

Still, the ratings agency kept Oberlin’s bond rating at Aa3, a high investment-grade level. In doing so, it pointed to Oberlin’s strong reputation as a liberal arts college and conservatory, strong fund-raising, and sizable wealth.

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Hiram looks for cuts amid efforts to enact strategic plan

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 01:00

A predicted decline in local high school graduates. Being located in a region where competition between public and private universities is “among the stiffest in the country.” Shifting demographics. The increasing cost of attending college.

These are problems faced by institutions across America and throughout Northeast Ohio, but they are felt especially strongly at Hiram College, which hopes to address them with its strategic plan for a rebranding set to take place between now and 2020.

But as the private, liberal arts institution sets out to embrace “new liberal arts,” what will that mean academically? And at what cost will it come to faculty?

These are questions the college is still trying to answer.

As of now, exact details are fuzzy. The strategic plan calls for an examination of all academic programs, though the college has included a number of faculty and other stakeholders in the process, which has been underway since 2016, and has promised transparency. Indeed, President Lori Varlotta pointed out that the process so far has included multiple white papers and multiple committees -- which have included faculty members and alumni -- over the past 16 months.

Varlotta said she's tried to keep any potential academic or faculty shake-ups to a minimum, and put it off until now, after other cost-savings plans have been adopted. But with about $1 million in expenses that still need to be cut, the college has reached the point where faculty reductions are going to have to happen. An idea for the faculty to vote on suspending some of the faculty labor and tenure rules so that the college could act with expediency and flexibility was floated last week, although Varlotta said it "doesn’t seem like that’s going to be a viable option."

Generally, traditions of tenure hold that tenure can't be revoked unless a college declares financial exigency, which suggests it is fighting for its life. Hiram has not made that declaration, though it did have 13 layoffs and a smattering of early retirements taken last year, suggesting the college has seen healthier days, financially speaking. Varlotta said it was too soon to estimate how many faculty positions might be lost, and any decisions to cut programs “would be part of a very participatory process.”

“All academic programs need to be examined within the emerging New Liberal Arts framework,” the plan reads. “Thus far, there appears to be significant campus support for retaining many, if not most, of the ‘traditional’ majors (English, History, Philosophy, Theatre, Biology, etc.); however, open consideration of merging, modifying, or discontinuing some programs must be undertaken.”

The plan to make Hiram a “new liberal arts” college is inspired by the college’s founding, the administration says, and includes the addition of new programs at the college. If establishing a traditional liberal arts program was progressive and noble 167 years ago, the thinking goes, new programs are necessary to keep that mission and “pioneering history” relevant.

The strategic plan reads, in part:

At this point, faculty have also come to see that they must repackage or reframe some of these traditional programs in ways that both appeal to 21st-century students and align with workforce needs. As one example, Hiram’s current Communication major may be reconfigured to include tracks in journalism, multimedia production and/or sports information.

In addition to repackaging existing majors, faculty and administrators must identify new mission-driven and market-wise programs that Hiram should consider creating. Several such programs have been recently added to the College catalogue: Integrative Exercise Science (major), Public Health (major), and Natural History (minor). At present, faculty are considering the addition of an aging studies track in Sociology.

The strategic plan hasn't all been about cuts, however. A lot of it has also had to do with infrastructure improvements -- such as residence hall and Wi-Fi and technology upgrades -- needed to keep the campus not only relevant and competitive, but ideally ahead of the curve.

"New Liberal Arts is a combination of highly contemporary programs with the classical liberal arts programs that Hiram has been known for for 167 years," Varlotta said. A "mindful technology" program is focused on integrating technology into a traditional liberal arts curriculum and learning style. As part of an initiative that started in the fall 2017 semester, students are given iPads.

The faculty chair, Nick Hirsch, an associate professor of biology, said that while there was opposition to the tenure move (he also noted that the American Association of University Professors guidelines can be cumbersome), the mood of the faculty was cautiously optimistic.

"There's concern, not just for individual faculty but concern for our colleagues. But at the same time, we realize we need to be relevant," Hirsch said. "We're trying our best to kind of thread that needle."

While faculty cuts are likely, he said, faculty are appreciating the other efforts that are going into the strategic plan, especially given the tough market for small, private liberal arts colleges.

"Some of the stuff we've put in place the last two or three years is really starting to bear fruit now," Hirsch said, noting an uptick in this year's enrollment. "There's something to be concerned about, yes … But we’ve been here for 167 years. We’re not going anywhere."

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As House panel prepares to debate Higher Ed Act, drafters add study on student-level data

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 01:00

The massive Higher Education Act bill that the House of Representatives education committee will begin debating today got a slight revision Monday, as the panel's Republican leaders offered a modest nod to greater transparency about student outcomes.

But advocates for a federal student-level data system say the additional language, part of a package of changes to the original bill text known as a manager's amendment, just kicks the can down the road on resolving transparency questions.

The new language would direct the U.S. secretary of education within two years to study the feasibility of having the National Student Clearinghouse, a private nonprofit entity, set up a third-party data system for analysis of institution- and program-level student outcomes. A bipartisan bill introduced this summer would direct the National Center for Education Statistics, the Education Department's research arm, to connect existing data maintained by several agencies for purposes of tracking, on a program-by-program level, issues such as graduates' employment prospects, earnings and typical student debt loads.

Higher ed research groups have argued that the data system would allow them to answer questions such as why students transfer and to examine how colleges and universities can better close equity gaps between demographic groups.

Representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has long opposed a federal student unit record system, citing concerns over privacy and data security. She wrote a ban on a federal data system in 2008, which the initial language of her Higher Education Act update, known as the PROSPER Act, recommended sustaining.

Ahead of a markup of the bill in committee today, Foxx said she continues to have "a lot of concerns with privacy" involving a federal student-level data system.

"We're going to have the clearinghouse look at the feasibility of what some people want to do," she said.

While Republicans have periodically offered the clearinghouse as a potential solution to greater transparency, data advocates say it wouldn't address many of the questions potentially answered by a federal data system because it doesn't track the income of graduates. And they say it doesn't have the standards of a federal agency for maintaining publicly accessible data.

Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America's education policy program and an advocate for a student-level data system, said that a federal statistical agency like the NCES has incredibly high standards for data collection and security.

"That's why folks were pushing for it to be there instead of FSA," she said of the Department of Education's Office of Federal Student Aid. "That's their job -- to work with very private data sets and keep them secure."

Laitinen said the clearinghouse has high rates of participation from colleges partly because its data are never made public. She also questioned how the federal government would connect graduate earnings data with other data maintained by a private entity.

"We're bending over backwards to make sure this isn't going to live at a statistical agency, so we can pretend like it's not a government function, when it is," she said.

Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said that when Congress doesn't want to take a stand on a difficult issue, it commissions a study.

"So it’s basically trying to let Congress punt on weighing in on the student unit record situation for two years by putting the ball back in the administration’s court," he said via email. "The suggestion of using the National Student Clearinghouse appears to be another way to provide an out. Of course, none of those approaches are sufficient."

Miller said the Department of Education already did a feasibility study of a student-level data system as recently as 2005.

Even as Foxx has maintained firm opposition to student-level data, there has been movement within her own party on the issue. In the Senate, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy have signed on as co-sponsors of the College Transparency Act. And in the House, Representative Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican who also sits on the education committee, has sponsored the legislation while a number of other Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors. (Independent colleges and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed a federal student-level data system on privacy and security grounds.)

Foxx's comments Monday, however, indicated she is no closer to embracing federal management of a student-level data system or, for that matter, reporting of outcomes for students who do not receive Title IV federal student aid.

Additional changes to the PROSPER Act released Monday include language barring colleges that recognize single-sex campus organizations like fraternities and sororities from imposing new requirements on those groups. Foxx said the committee wanted to make it clear that it upheld the First Amendment by including the language.

Some all-male organizations have been criticized by college leaders (Harvard University is one leading example) as incubators for sexual assault, heavy drinking and other bad behavior. A federal mandate to campuses on an issue like this would seem to conflict with Republicans' stated desire to minimize government intrusion into campus affairs.

Foxx also said Monday night she is prepared to work into "the wee hours of the morning" Wednesday to finish the markup of the Higher Education Act rewrite and vote on all amendments in one marathon session.

And she dismissed concerns raised by some higher ed groups Monday about the short time frame between the bill's introduction just over a week ago and the markup today. Foxx argued that her committee has held more than two dozen hearings ahead of the bill's introduction and said members had a range of issues beyond higher ed to get to in the coming months. Despite the 542 pages of the original bill and the 590 in the manager's amendment, she said advocacy groups and committee members shouldn't need extra time to process the changes contemplated for higher education in the legislation.

"This is not a rushed process," Foxx said. "It's not a complicated bill."

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