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Updated: 10 hours 57 min ago

Ann Coulter will back out of Berkeley talk

13 hours 56 min ago

After days of insisting otherwise, Ann Coulter will not speak at the University of California, Berkeley, campus Thursday, the latest development in a now national controversy over the balance between free speech and security on college campuses.

Coulter’s talk at Berkeley was canceled amid threats of violence and no guarantee from local police they could keep her and attendees safe. Conservative advocacy group Young America's Foundation, which helped fund the event, dropped its support and said in a statement it would not “jeopardize the safety of its staff or students.”

Despite Coulter's announcement she will not appear, the university anticipates and has prepared for similar riots that have roiled the campus in recent months.

This outcome has disappointed free speech advocates, many of whom have raged against allowing even the potential of protests, some of which have recently turned violent at universities, to block divisive speakers. Many have accused Berkeley of stifling conservative views, a growing complaint of many institutions.

"It is ironic that UC Berkeley, known to many Americans as the birthplace of the free speech movement, is now leading the vanguard to silence conservative speech on campus," Harmeet K. Dhillon, an attorney for Young America's Foundation, wrote to the university. "Surely a public institution of higher learning should be a crucible of challenging ideas and thought, not a kindergarten where wards of the state are fed a steady diet of pasteurized pablum."

But Berkeley officials, in calling off Coulter’s speech, had reason for their caution. In February, the institution erupted over a planned speech by ex-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, with protesters lighting fires and destroying campus property, only one in a series of clashes at the campus and in the surrounding area over the past several months.

Administrators said they received word of threats that would pose “grave danger” to Coulter and attendees on the originally scheduled date, Thursday. They offered to host Coulter May 2, when they could find a location at which security could be assured.

This did little to satisfy the firebrand conservative author, who blasted the university for scheduling her when classes weren’t being held. (May 2 is during the period when students are studying for finals.)

Groups on both sides of the political spectrum were galvanized after Coulter withdrew, and announced online their intentions to still come to campus Thursday.

Gavin McInnes, former Vice editor and co-founder, now leader of a right-wing group called Proud Boys, wrote on Twitter that he would speak on campus, along with conservative provocateurs Lauren Southern, Faith Goldy and Brittany Pettibone.

"We're very concerned," university spokesman Dan Mogulof said in a phone interview. "This is a university, not a battleground."

Captain Alex Yao, of the University of California Police, said at a Wednesday press conference that judging by social media postings and information provided to law enforcement, some who will visit campus Thursday intend to commit violence. The campus will see a "highly visible" police presence, Yao said.

"We're going to have a low tolerance for any sort of violence on campus," Yao said.

The university has not canceled classes Thursday.

Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of Berkeley, sent a lengthy letter to the community Wednesday, writing that university needed to weigh free speech rights with campus safety.

"The strategies necessary to address these evolving threats are also evolving, but the simplistic view of some -- that our police department can simply step in and stop violent confrontations whenever they occur -- ignores reality," Dirks wrote. "Protecting public safety in these circumstances requires a multifaceted approach. This approach must take into account the use of 'time, place and manner' guidelines, devised according to the specific threats presented. Because threats or strategic concerns may differ, so must our approach. In all cases, however, we only seek to ensure the successful staging of free speech rights; we make no effort to control or restrict the content of expression, regardless of differing political views."

Lawyers for Young America’s Foundation and the Berkeley College Republicans -- which invited Coulter -- sued the university in federal court, claiming the organizations’ First Amendment rights were violated.

Young America’s Foundation won’t drop the lawsuit, according to its Tuesday statement. The group criticized the university for creating a “hostile atmosphere” and for not meeting its demands to provide a space and security for the initially planned date.

Across the nation, institutions are reaping "the terrible fruit" of their tolerance of bad behavior, Michael Poliakoff, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said.

He urged colleges and universities to spend more money on security to send a strong message that free expression won't be squashed, and to harshly punish those who would interfere with those principles. Though universities have made clear many of the protesters in violent cases are not affiliated with their campuses, Poliakoff doesn't feel that complicates matters. Just a month prior to his speech at Berkeley, Yiannopoulos's speech at the University of California, Davis, was shut down by protests, something that Berkeley officials had to recognize, Poliakoff said.

"I don’t think I’m being unfair to Berkeley for saying these wounds are self-inflicted," he said. "There's significant work … I think we’ve got to start peeling away the excuses."

In a statement, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called for Berkeley to be prepared to "host and protect speakers of all stripes." FIRE in its statement said it was patient with the university after it was caught off guard by the violence that pre-empted Yiannopoulos's February speech, however, Berkeley has not followed through with a promised investigation.

"No university may be considered ‘safe’ if speakers voicing unpopular ideas on its campus incur a substantial risk of being physically attacked. A university where people or viewpoints are likely to be opposed with fists rather than argumentation is unworthy of the name. Granting those willing to use violence the power to determine who may speak on campus is an abdication of UC Berkeley’s moral and legal responsibilities under the First Amendment," the FIRE statement reads.

As recently as Tuesday, Coulter was still vowing to give her talk in Sproul Plaza, an outdoor site at Berkeley famous for protests and free speech, but also one much more difficult to protect compared to a location indoors.

Coulter posted to Twitter Wednesday, calling Berkeley a “thuggish institution” that had snuffed out the “cherished American right of free speech.” She wrote that Berkeley had canceled her talk, and Young America's Foundation agreed to it.

Mogulof called Coulter's claim "nonsense." He added that the Berkeley College Republicans had not followed the usual procedure in booking Coulter and secured a contract with her prior to contacting university officials to arranging a venue.

"We respect and support her First Amendment rights, but you can’t exercise your First Amendment rights in a venue that police can’t protect," Mogulof said.

A similar scenario to the Coulter drama played out in Alabama recently, at Auburn University, where the institution's leadership attempted to stop a talk by white nationalist Richard Spencer, a leader in the “alt-right” movement, known for its radical and racist views.

The university said in working with law enforcement, it learned of threats to campus during the time Spencer planned to come. He was able to speak, however, with a federal court's backing, after the man who invited him sued Auburn and a judge ruled in his favor.

Spencer, who had also pledged to appear on Auburn’s campus regardless of administrators’ stance, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that Coulter should have done the same.

“I’m less angry at @AnnCoulter, who is after all, a woman. But cuckservatives are so contemptible, I don’t know where to begin,” Spencer wrote, using a common alt-right insult, a portmanteau of “cuckold” and “conservative.”

With these new, sometimes dangerous demonstrations, defending large campuses, in particular, has proven difficult, Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, recently told Inside Higher Ed. Her organization has been training college and university safety heads how to handle these protests.

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Seminary apologizes for tweet of five white professors posing as gang members

13 hours 56 min ago

Every Halloween and plenty of weekends during the year, undergraduates at many campuses anger black students and faculty members by dressing up or posing as black people (the stereotypical variety), either wearing blackface or pretending to be gang members. Campus leaders criticize the actions -- frequently discovered when the students themselves post photos on social media -- as insensitive, racist and more.

This week's example of white people behaving badly through dressing up as black people -- gang members, this time -- comes from Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, and from its faculty, not students.

David L. Allen, a professor of preaching, posted to Twitter a photograph of himself and four other professors (the image is above) with the line "Why you should come study at the School of Preaching @swbts! Rap the word. Reach the world." Scrawled above is "Notorious S.O.P.," a play on a rapper's name with "S.O.P." for "School of Preaching."

As the image spread on social media, it was criticized by many black people and also by many Christian people, stunned that seminary professors would be unaware of the offense caused by such images. Adding to the concern is that the Southern Baptist Convention, with which the seminary is affiliated, was created in part to support slavery, and has acknowledged being quite slow, after the end of slavery, to embrace the equality of black people.

While the photo was reportedly taken in part to honor a faculty member who raps, Allen removed the image and apologized on Twitter.

I apologize for a recent image I posted which was offensive. Context is immaterial. @swbts stance on race is clear as is mine.

— David L. Allen (@DrDavidLAllen) April 25, 2017

Some have posted to social media that they accept his apology.

But many others have questioned whether he would have removed the photo or apologized if people hadn't seen and been outraged by the image.

The seminary posted to Twitter as well, calling the original tweet "offensive" and noting that it had asked for its removal.

An offensive tweet was posted to one of our faculty members'
personal Twitter handles. We have asked that the tweet be removed.

— SW Seminary (@swbts) April 25, 2017

The president of the seminary posted an apology on the institution's website Wednesday. The president, Paige Patterson, put this headline on the apology: "Racism is a Tragic Sin."

"A gracious young Native American preacher on our staff does rap as a hobby. He preached a sermon recently in chapel in which he included a section of rap. I thought that it was great, and the students seemed responsive to it. He has since accepted a pastorate, and, as part of his departure, his fellow professors wanted to awaken memories and in so doing to tease him. That is par for the course around here. The president encourages our people to laugh at each other rather than to risk taking ourselves too seriously," Patterson wrote.

He added, "But, as all members of the preaching faculty have acknowledged, this was a mistake, and one for which we deeply apologize. Sometimes, Anglo Americans do not recognize the degree that racism has crept into our lives. Such incidents are tragic but helpful to me in refocusing on the attempt to flush from my own system any remaining nuances of the racist past of our own country. Just as important, my own sensitivity to the corporate and individual hurts of a people group abused by generations of oppressors needs to be constantly challenged."

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Gap ad raises eyebrows among academics with portrayal of tenure-track fashion

13 hours 56 min ago

“Dress codes and good style aren’t mutually exclusive,” according to an online Gap ad that was panned by academics on social media this week. The display, featuring a “tenure-track professor,” struck many as random, tone-deaf to the realities of the academic job market or unrealistic if not a tad sexist (possibly all of the above).

“The Workwear Spectrum” ad features four young female models in clothing that Gap for some reason thought might be appropriate for the following professions: “start-up partner” (short-sleeve denim shirt and white chinos); small-business owner (striped shirt, white jeans and, according to Gap, a “never-ending supply of coffee”); financial adviser (boho orange blouse and khakis); and, of course, the tenure-track professor (loose navy blazer, blue top, light gray pants and suede pumps).

“Get respect for your ideas and blazer choices,” reads the accompanying text, which shows a set of groovy plastic eyeglass frames the “professor” herself has elected not to wear.

Karen Kelsky, an academic career coach who runs the blog The Professor Is In and a frequent critic of the flagging tenure-track job market, was among those who posted the ad to Twitter. With a simple “seriously?” Kelsky let her followers provide the commentary.

@ProfessorIsIn @FromPhDtoLife buy a #tenureblazer and all academic sexism will melt away, apparently. Also, who teaches in heels??

— Hannah Gould (@hrhgould) April 26, 2017

@ProfessorIsIn Sure. Heels are fine when you're on your feet all day. And light colored pants? Not a problem for lab. What matters is we look pretty. *ugh*

— Amanda Lyn Gunn (@AmandaLynGunn) April 26, 2017

@ProfessorIsIn there's still tenure track positions left...? ;)

— A. L-C (@AnalogAmanda) April 26, 2017

Here are some additional reactions from Twitter.

ivy league degrees: $350k
landing tenure-track appointment: blood/sweat/tears
gap acknowledging lady professors need clothes too: priceless

— alexandra j. roberts (@lexlanham) April 25, 2017

The Gap is evidently pursuing the lucrative tenure track professor market... because, you know, it is such a booming segment. #PhD #phdlife

— Eric G. E. Zuelow (@EZuelow) April 26, 2017

While the Gap is selling "tenure track professor" blazers, the adjunct blazer is for sale at Goodwill. The lining is made of crushed dreams.

— Kaya Oakes (@kayaoakes) April 26, 2017

Everyone's sharing GAP's "Tenure-Track Professor" photo, because, ego ideal. But no one shares the facing page.

— Ted Underwood (@Ted_Underwood) April 26, 2017

For those who follow mainstream culture’s attempts at monetizing academic fashion, the Gap ad vaguely recalls Amazon’s Halloween 2014 “Delicious Women's Phd [sic] Darling Sexy Costume.” A play on “racy” profession costumes (firefighter, flight attendant, etc.), it featured a barely there gown, cap and stole. Academics had the last laugh, though, trolling the comments section.

The 2015 Twitter topic #looklikeaprofessor also tried to dispel perceptions about what a professor looks like, with a number of women pointing out that faculty members aren’t just white men in tweed. In fairness to Gap, that’s what it was trying to do, too -- evidently poorly.

Gap did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

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Higher ed observers call James Manning a steady hand at Department of Education

13 hours 56 min ago

Recent personnel choices at the Department of Education have received scrutiny for connections to private industry and personal ideologies at odds with the mission of their office. But the appointment of James Manning, a career public official, has drawn a different sort of reaction.

Manning was named acting under secretary of education last week, one of nine hires officially announced by the department. The details of his role are not entirely clear, but former officials who have worked under Republican and Democratic administrations described Manning as an administrator with a broad skill set and a deep understanding of the workings of the student financial aid system. Even critics of recent steps taken by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on student loan servicing said it was important to have an expert on the complex federal loan program in place at the department.

David Bergeron, a former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education at the department in the Obama administration, worked for Manning at the Education Department under then Secretary Margaret Spellings. Manning's career moves after leaving government don't appear to be those of someone interested in advancing the interests of the private sector, Bergeron said. Before joining the Trump transition team, Manning last served in the department under Obama as the acting chief operating officer of federal student aid. Rather than join the private sector or lobby his former agency after retiring, Manning joined a nonprofit in Boston that provided mentoring to disadvantaged youth.

"He was perhaps the kindest and most supportive boss I ever had in my tenure in government," he said of Manning.

Bergeron said Manning has both a deep knowledge of the department's bureaucracy and a student-focused outlook. Jeff Andrade, a Republican consultant who has worked in the Department of Education and on Capitol Hill, said Manning has been involved in previous transitions and understands what it takes to get the department up to speed.

"He's got a lot of hands-on knowledge about how the student aid office works," Andrade said. "In terms of who they had on the bench, he's probably the best-qualified person they had for that role."

Vickie Schray, executive vice president for regulatory affairs and public policy at Bridgepoint Education, said Manning's appointment sends a message that the department understands the importance of the Office of Federal Student Aid. Schray, who previously served as acting deputy assistant secretary for the federal Office of Postsecondary Education, said Manning's familiarity with many of the career employees means he knows whom he can rely on.

"Someone like Jim Manning, who knows the people, knows the organization, knows the work, really is a terrific person to help bridge the gap during a transition," she said.

Observers of the department say it is critical to have leaders in place to manage the agency's operations -- especially those involving financial aid -- regardless of the ideological disposition of the department's leadership. The competent management of those programs affects about 42 million Americans with student loans.

David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges, said with few political appointees in place who are familiar with student aid programs, Manning's role is encouraging.

"Administering student aid is a very unglamorous job in a lot of ways, but it's a very important job given the impact it has on students," he said.

"You can have any particular policy orientation about the wisdom of existing programs. To the extent that they're on the books, they need to be administered competently," said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "People expect to be billed correctly, they need payments processed in a timely fashion, they need phone calls answered."

The failure of Corinthian Colleges occurred when there were "few experienced hands on deck" to police the for-profit chain, said Rohit Chopra, a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau student loans ombudsman and Department of Education special adviser who has been critical of the Obama administration's oversight of higher ed.

"Bringing aboard talent who can really police the schools and the loan servicers is good for the whole system," Chopra said. "It's not just about issue expertise. It's also about relative priorities."

The department declined a request to interview Manning for this article, and DeVos has offered few comments on officially announced hires. Even as they praised Manning's temperament and his knowledge of student aid programs, consumer protection advocates say the steps taken by the department so far suggest the concerns of private industry are playing a large hand in crafting its agenda.

And some who know Manning said recent steps taken by the department on student loan policy appear inconsistent with what they know of his values. That was especially true with respect to the department's recent decision to withdraw protections for borrowers that were issued in the final months of the Obama administration, Bergeron said. While those protections -- part of servicing contract guidelines drafted by former Secretary John B. King Jr. and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell -- had yet to go into effect, the decision was swiftly criticized by Democrats, consumer groups and financial aid organizations. The department rescinded the guidelines after a push by industry groups to have Congress reconsider the ambitious set of new requirements for servicers.

"Maybe there's a next step we just haven't seen yet," Bergeron said. "Right now it just feels like that action isn't consistent with his student-focused values."

He said he hoped to see Manning's influence reflected in alternative guidelines yet to be issued by the department.

Clare McCann, another former Obama administration official and now a senior policy analyst with New America's Education Policy program, said those new guidelines would be a "devil in the details" moment.

"I suspect you'll probably see more influence from Manning and other top politicals in whatever new guidance they decide to give to FSA on servicing," she said.

When Manning was acting assistant secretary for civil rights from 2004-05 during the Bush administration, that office issued a clarification of federal antidiscrimination law that advocates for gender equity said weakened equitable opportunities in college athletics. That clarification was later withdrawn by the Obama administration in 2010.

With the exception of Pell Grant restoration for students who attended closed schools (a process started under former Secretary King), the actions on student loan policy taken by DeVos so far have been nearly uniformly criticized by student aid advocates, congressional Democrats and state attorneys general.

Last month, the Department of Education pushed back deadlines for colleges to submit appeals or make public disclosures under gainful-employment regulations implemented last year. Later, it withdrew guidelines prohibiting debt collectors from charging high fees to borrowers if they agreed to quickly rehabilitate past-due student loans. The withdrawal this month of the guidelines for awarding of new servicing contracts confirmed a pattern for many skeptics of the department.

"On the surface it seems like a big giveaway to the student loan industry," Chopra said.

Republicans say that it's not surprising the department under DeVos would chart its own course on making improvements to student loan servicing rather than stick with complex guidance issued by the previous administration on its way out the door.

McCann, the former Obama official, said many of the problems with loan servicing that the guidance from King sought to address were nonpartisan. Alternative guidance from the department would reflect how the department may tackle those problems and, possibly, the influence of administrators like Manning.

"That will really be the devil in the details moment in terms of whether this is really terrible news for borrowers or we see them use the re-compete as an opportunity to improve servicing," she said.

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Germany sees benefits in educating international students for free

13 hours 56 min ago

In 2016, German universities enjoyed another big rise in the international student population, according to the latest data. Germany recorded close to a 7 percent increase in international students coming to the country. This follows a jump of nearly 8 percent the previous year. Numbers have risen about 30 percent since 2012.

In most English-speaking countries, this kind of news would have university finance chiefs grinning from ear to ear: more international students means lots of extra cash from hefty tuition fees.

But in Germany, students -- on the whole -- famously pay no tuition fees, regardless of where they come from. Seen from the U.S. or Britain, this policy may appear either supremely principled or incredibly naïve. With international students making up nearly one in 10 students (and even more if you count noncitizens who attended German schools), why does the country choose to pass up tuition-fee income and educate other countries’ young people for free?

One reason is that Germany has a much bigger demographic hole to fill than the U.S. or Britain. It is second only to Japan in terms of the proportion of its population over 60, according to the United Nations, and so needs young, skilled workers to keep its economy going. Germany still offers an 18-month poststudy work visa for graduates from outside the European Union; Britain scrapped a similar policy in 2012.

International students certainly seem to want to stick around: about half plan to remain in Germany after graduation, according to a survey conducted by the German Academic Exchange Service, with three in 10 planning to stay permanently.

Although this is far from their only role, “universities are motors of economic welfare, they attract people to Germany,” explained Marijke Wahlers, head of the international department of the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK).

“International graduates are very welcome to stay in Germany -- either for a certain period of time or for life.” But, she stressed, “we are, at the same time, very much aware of the impact of brain drain around the globe, so we like to think about this issue in terms of a global circulation of brains.”

The soft-power argument plays a role, too: overseas graduates are seen as generating goodwill for Germany globally. “The idea of Germany being part of an international community is valued very highly,” said Wahlers. “Of course, we invest a certain amount of money [in their education], but what we get back is worth so much more. The international students, when they graduate, will be partners for Germany in the world; this kind of international network building is of immense importance to us.”

But there is a third reason why Germany is happy to educate overseas students that has less to do with global soft power and more to do with local politics. After 2006, seven German Bundesländer (federal states), which set fee levels, rather than the federal government, introduced (modest) fees, only to hastily scrap them under pressure from the public and left-of-center parties, explained Ulrich Müller, head of policy studies at the Center for Higher Education, a German think tank.

Introducing fees for international students could be interpreted as a prelude to charging all students, he explained. “For that reason, most politicians maintain a distance from this topic,” he said.

This anti-fee consensus is showing signs of cracking, however: starting in fall 2017, the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg will start charging non-E.U. students 1,500 euros ($1,634) per semester. “Other Bundesländer are watching very carefully what will happen in Baden-Württemberg when it introduces fees for international students,” said Wahlers. The HRK’s view is that all students should pay “moderate and socially acceptable fees,” she explained.

Free university for overseas students -- and indeed German students as well -- may come under increasing pressure after 2020, when Bundesländer will be forced to run balanced budgets, explained Müller.

“The issue of tuition fees in Germany will soon be raised again,” he said.

Countries Sending Students to Germany, 2016

Country Number Percentage of Total in Germany China 32,268 12.8% India 13,537 5.4% Russia 11,413 4.5% Austria 10,129 4.0% Italy 8,047 3.2% GlobalEditorial Tags: GermanyTimes Higher EdIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Colleges announce commencement speakers

13 hours 56 min ago
  • Augustana College, in Illinois: Al Bowman, president emeritus of Illinois State University.
  • California College of Arts: Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
  • California State University at Los Angeles: Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Luis Patiño, senior vice president and general manager, Univision Local Media Los Angeles; and Feliza I. Ortiz-Licon, board member, California Department of Education.
  • Collin College: Carly Patterson, the Olympic gold medalist.
  • Fisk University: U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.
  • Jacksonville University: Florida State Senator Aaron Bean.
  • John Carroll University: The Reverend Myles Sheehan, assistant to the provincial for senior Jesuits of the Maryland province and the Northeast USA province.
  • Nebraska Wesleyan University: Antwan Wilson, chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools.
  • Niagara County Community College: Lee Woodruff, the author.
  • Northwest Florida State College: Florida State Senator Douglas Broxson; and Florida State Senator George Gainer.
  • Park University: John Fierro, a member of the Kansas City, Mo., Public Schools Board of Directors.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
  • West Liberty University: Glenn F. Elliott Jr., mayor of Wheeling, W.V.
  • Wofford College: J. Harold Chandler, chairman, president and CEO of Milliken & Co.
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Duke undergraduate curricular reform vote tabled indefinitely after years of work

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00

Duke University was trying to do something different with a proposed new undergraduate curriculum, emphasizing less what students should study than how. But the plan was perhaps a little too different, and it’s been tabled until the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences faculty can reach a greater degree of consensus.

In many ways, said Suzanne Shanahan, an associate professor of philosophy, co-director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke and chair of its curriculum review committee, “the nature of opposition was largely as expected. But it also makes clear it is not in fact the right time for Duke to launch a new curriculum. A curriculum without strong consensus makes no sense.”

Shanahan said her committee began work some five years ago on the new curriculum with a basic question: Is it time? Because Duke’s current curriculum serves students well, it’s something the committee came back to again and again, she added. Would something “aspirational” that might better leverage Duke’s current strengths make more sense?

The university's formal charge to Shanahan's committee in 2014 was to clarify and simplify the logic of the curriculum, create more opportunities for exploration and creativity, and "rethink our vision for disciplinarity as embodied by the curriculum."

Duke’s current curriculum, Curriculum 2000, has been in place for nearly two decades, and while there’s little antipathy for it, there’s also little enthusiasm, as many of the faculty members who helped create it have since left. Others have criticized it as thorough but essentially a series of boxes to be checked. Students must successfully complete two courses in each of five areas of knowledge: arts, literatures and performance; civilizations; natural sciences; quantitative studies (including one course in math, statistics or computer science); and the social sciences. They must also take two courses in each of six modes of inquiry: cross-cultural; ethical; science, technology and society; foreign language; writing; and research. Additional requirements included two small-group learning experiences after their first year, such as independent studies, and a first-year writing course (Writing 101).

The proposed curriculum, called Blue Print, also emphasized areas of knowledge, methods of learning and classroom innovation but sought to streamline requirements, promote student decision making and create something distinctively Duke. It decreased the graduation requirement to 32 credits from the current average of 35 to discourage precollege credits, such as from Advance Placement courses, but otherwise put students in the driver’s seat. A credit/no-credit option -- similar to a pass/fail, to be decided up to 96 hours after a grade is posted -- for up to one course per semester, up to four courses, was introduced to encourage intellectual risk taking, for example.

A first-year “Frameworks” requirement involved a taking a group of thematically linked courses in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences that would promote shared learning experiences (including common course materials and activities) and intellectual inquiry. These clusters also would involve coordination with residential life, capstone projects for an end-of-year showcase, and explicit opportunities for students to reflect on their intellectual lives and goals. Students would have the option of participating in Duke's existing Focus seminar program instead, but the idea under Blue Print was that both freshman programs would have evolved together over time. Sophomores would have to complete a “Foundation” sequence of one course corresponding to Writing 101, one course in a second language and one course in quantitative inquiry (computer science, math or statistics) prior to declaring a major.

Blue Print also would require a secondary field of study. More than 80 percent of Duke's undergraduates already pursue a secondary specialty, but the "Focused Inquiries" requirement would have pushed that figure to 100 percent. Pathways to such study include six courses designed around a theme, or a summer or semester-long program and three additional courses on campus. Existing majors, minors and certificates were also an option.

Last, and key to making Blue Print something unique to Duke, students would be required to have a mentored scholarly experience, such as an independent study, work in a lab, co-authored publication or performance. "A central objective of Blue Print is for students to experience the wonders of, and actively participate in, the creation of scholarship all over campus," the plan says. Shanahan has taken undergraduates to Jordan to interview Syrian and Iraqi refugees as part of the university’s existing Duke Immerse program, for example, and imagined that as one kind of mentored experience.

"Twenty-first century global socio-economic, technological and environmental changes are prompting a fundamental paradigm shift in higher education," reads the final Blue Print plan. "How knowledge is constituted, created and shared is rapidly evolving, because the demands of work and citizenship are changing. The diverse, global knowledge economy into which our students will graduate will demand unprecedented flexibility, creativity, collaboration and empathy. Duke students are no longer just preparing for jobs, they are inventing new ones."

With information on "anything and everything available as never before," it continues, "the ability to evaluate, assess, contextualize, understand and communicate plural perspectives will be more important than ever. Duke’s international reputation and proud tradition of pedagogical innovation has uniquely positioned the University to lead in this evolving environment. Indeed, the challenge of this moment represents an extraordinary opportunity for Duke to reimagine what the liberal arts and sciences will become, both locally and nationally, and to use this moment it rethink its own curriculum."

Over the course of this academic year, though, faculty members have voiced concerns about elements of Blue Print. Some foreign language professors opposed Blue Print's single-course requirement. Currently, students must take one advanced course, or up to three if they have no existing proficiency.

“To require one semester of foreign language instruction is ludicrous,” Beth Holmgren, a professor of Slavic languages and literatures, said at a meeting last month. “They need more encouragement. Language instruction is important, particularly now. We need to go against the mainstream in America, which apparently is to make it all English, all the time.”

Indeed, while U.S. higher education has moved away from foreign language requirements in recent decades, some more selective institutions are now increasing their requirements.

Other faculty critics of Blue Print said it was at times difficult to understand, or worried that students involved in a separate first-year seminar program might miss out on some of the breadth requirements. Some said students could use their newfound freedom to build a preprofessional course of study that ignored the liberal arts, or that it paid insufficient attention to building writing skills.

“From the beginning I have supported this proposal because I believe that at Duke the curriculum should be the most important magnet in attracting students,” Alex Rosenberg, a professor of philosophy, said at the March meeting. “The current curriculum doesn’t. However, my faculty has asked me to vote no, and I believe it’s because they don’t understand it.”

A vote on Blue Print was planned for this month’s meeting of the Trinity faculty. But Valerie Ashby, dean of the college, said prior to the planned vote that a meeting with deans revealed lingering differences over whether the curriculum needed to be tweaked or overhauled, and that conversations among faculty members had grown argumentative -- to the point that committee members endured “verbal attacks,” according to information from Duke.

“We need to take a moment to regroup more productively, more collegially,” Ashby said.

Sherryl Broverman, associate professor of the practice in biology and global health and interim chair of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences Council, said there’s no fixed timeline for curricular review but that “We need to pause this process for a while to bring us toward a stronger consensus.”

Shanahan said the committee hopes Duke will pursue elements of Blue Print going forward, namely a curriculum “that creates opportunities for all students to develop vibrant scholarly community in their first year -- to be introduced to the wonders of what Duke has to offer straight away.”

Student autonomy or “self-authorship” is also key, she said. “Ideally, students charting their intellectual path by combining curricular and co-curricular experiences would become a signature of their academic experience.” Mentored research, broadly defined, also should be a feature of every student’s experience, she said.

One additional foundation of Blue Print worth preserving? What some have called inclusive excellence. “The structure was meant to give all students, irrespective of background, interests or goals, a shared experience, common footing and equal chance of success as they define it,” Shanahan said, noting Duke is ever more diverse.

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Report on Confucius Institutes finds no smoking guns, but enough concerns to recommend closure

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00

More than 100 American colleges and universities house Confucius Institutes, centers of Chinese language and cultural teaching funded and staffed in part with instructors screened by a Chinese government-affiliated entity known as Hanban. The Confucius Institutes may seem to many to be benign outposts offering cultural events programming and noncredit courses in introductory Chinese, calligraphy or Tai Chi, but for nearly as long as the Confucius Institutes have been around -- more than 10 years now -- they’ve been controversial.

Advocates for the institutes say they’ve brought welcome new resources for Chinese language study and study abroad at a time when financial support for the humanities has been shrinking, while critics question whether American universities sacrifice some degree of academic freedom and autonomy in hosting the Chinese government-backed institutes, which in some cases are involved in delivering for-credit classes. Many Confucius Institutes are also involved in teaching or teacher training for local K-12 schools.

One U.S.-based Confucius Institute, at the University of Chicago, closed in 2014 after more than 100 faculty signed a petition that cited, among other things, concerns that Hanban's role in the hiring and training of teachers “subjects the university’s academic program to the political constraints on free speech and belief that are specific to the People’s Republic of China.” Ontario's McMaster University closed its Confucius Institute a year earlier after a former instructor filed a complaint alleging that the university was “giving legitimization to discrimination” because her contract with Hanban prohibited her participation in the spiritual practice Falun Gong. Over the years, Confucius Institutes have been dogged by allegations that they self-censor when it comes to sensitive subjects in China such as Taiwan, Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Falun Gong; the institute's supporters frequently reply that these topics are largely outside the confines of the Confucius Institutes' narrow cultural and language education mandates. In 2014, organizers of a Chinese studies conference in Europe accused Hanban, a sponsor of the conference, of outright censorship of conference materials related to Taiwan.

The latest take on this contentious topic, a 183-page report on Confucius Institutes from the National Association of Scholars, by the author’s account finds “few smoking guns, and no evidence of outright policies banning certain topics from discussion” -- but reasons for concern nonetheless. The report, which examines hiring policies, course offerings and textbooks, funding structures, academic freedom protections, and what the author describes as “formal and informal speech codes” at 12 Confucius Institutes in New Jersey and New York, concludes that “to a large extent, universities have made improper concessions that jeopardize academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Sometimes these concessions are official and in writing; more often they operate as implicit policies.”

The report from NAS recommends that universities close their Confucius Institutes. “Confucius Institutes permit an agency of a foreign government to have access to university courses, and on principle that is a university function,” Rachelle Peterson, the author of the report, said in an interview. “Institutions should have full control over who they hire, over what they teach, and Confucius Institutes basically act like class-in-a-box kits that come ready-made for universities to use.”

Short of closing the institutes -- NAS’s primary recommendation -- the report makes a series of recommendations for changes that faculty and administrators should push for. Those recommendations include: increased transparency and public disclosure of contractual and funding agreements, and the renegotiation of contracts “to remove constraints against ‘tarnishing the reputation’ of the Hanban” and “to clarify that legal disputes should be settled only in the jurisdiction of the host institution (in our cases, American courts).”

Other recommendations in the report call on universities to “cease outsourcing for-credit courses to the Hanban,” to “formally ask the Hanban if its hiring process complies with American nondiscrimination policies,” and to “require that all Confucius Institutes offer at least one public lecture or class each year on topics that are important to Chinese history but are currently neglected, such as the Tiananmen Square protests or the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibet.”

NAS, which promotes liberal arts-style education and intellectual freedom, is perceived in higher education as something of a contrarian scholarly organization with a politically conservative bent, though the organization maintains it has no partisan affiliation (its website quotes the organization’s president, Peter Wood, saying, “Both the left and the right produce their share of intellectual obtuseness. The NAS is not a partner with either”). Much of the prior criticism of the institutes has come from scholars associated with the left.

While NAS may be an organization that prides itself on “challenging campus orthodoxies,” on Confucius Institutes its recommendations are to a large extent in step with that of the American Association of University Professors. In 2014, the AAUP came out with a statement “recommending that universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes unless the agreement between the university and Hanban is renegotiated so that (1) the university has unilateral control, consistent with principles articulated in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities, over all academic matters, including recruitment of teachers, determination of curriculum and choice of texts; (2) the university affords Confucius Institute teachers the same academic freedom rights, as defined in the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, that it affords all other faculty in the university; and (3) the university-Hanban agreement is made available to all members of the university community.”

One theme of the NAS report is the lack of transparency on the part of the universities in the sample. Although NAS’s researcher obtained contracts through Freedom of Information Act requests for eight public universities in her sample -- as well as an unsigned draft contract shared by one private university -- Peterson found what she called “significant resistance” on the part of many university officials to answer questions about their Confucius Institutes. She reported that only two of the 12 Confucius Institute directors in her sample consented to interviews.

The most secretive institution, Peterson reported, was Alfred University, a private institution located about 80 miles south of Rochester, N.Y. She writes that Alfred's provost personally ejected her partway through a Confucius Institute class she'd received advance permission from the instructor to observe.

Reached by phone, the instructor of the class, Lanfang “Haley” Gao, referred questions to the university. Alfred's provost, Rick Stephens, said he asked Peterson to leave the class and escorted her to her car after receiving worried messages from students about a strange person in the class. He disputed that Peterson received permission to visit the class -- he said she was told that her proposed dates were not suitable -- and said in her outreach to Confucius Institute staff she initially misrepresented herself as an interested Chinese student rather than a journalist or researcher.

Peterson, in turn, disputed this. She said Gao gave her permission over the phone to observe her class and that she identified herself clearly. "I asked Professor Gao two questions: 1) if classes were open to members of the public to visit and 2) if I could visit her class as a researcher from the National Association of Scholars doing some research on Confucius Institutes. She answered yes to both questions. I did not represent myself as a prospective student of Chinese. Professor Gao did not say anything about the dates not being a good time to sit in on her class," Peterson said. "I arrived at the class early, having located it with the help of another person for whom I did not get a name (this person spoke limited English, and told me as much). When Professor Gao arrived I introduced myself as Rachelle Peterson from the National Association of Scholars, and mentioned again that we had spoken by phone about the possibility of my visiting her class. She did not object to my presence at the beginning of class or ask me to leave, or in any other way indicate that I misunderstood our phone call regarding my proposed visit."

"There's too much being read into this," Stephens, the provost, said, "but I will tell you that when you are approached in secret and you discover that, you are not inclined to be transparent in every which way" -- especially, he said, speaking of NAS, when that person "comes from an organization that also has a clear agenda."

"We don’t have anything to hide," Stephens said, "but they certainly didn’t approach Alfred University in a professional way."

The NAS report includes detailed looks at the governance, leadership and funding agreements for the institutes, which are managed by the host American universities in conjunction with Chinese partner universities. The financial terms vary somewhat, but various contracts obtained by Peterson -- and shared with Inside Higher Ed -- show that Hanban typically commits to provide around $150,000 in start-up funding for the institutes, followed by annual sustaining operating grants (generally, Peterson found, in the $100,000 range), plus 3,000 volumes of textbooks and teaching materials. Hanban also commits to pay for the salaries and airfares of the Chinese language teachers it sends. The American host university is expected to match Hanban's support, a requirement that Peterson reports is typically met through in-kind contributions such as office and classroom space and faculty/staff time.

The NAS report includes an extended discussion of the content and quality of Hanban-supplied textbooks. It also raises concerns about Hanban’s role in prescreening Chinese language teachers -- Peterson writes that universities select instructors from a pool of candidates proposed by the Chinese partner university or Hanban -- and the relationship of those instructors to the American host university at which they teach.

“Almost no teachers within Confucius Institutes are hired as employees of the host university with standard protections for academic freedom,” Peterson writes. “Most are hired by, paid by and report to the Hanban, which reserves the right to remove teachers who violate Chinese law -- including speech codes. There is some evidence that the Hanban may provide teachers with stock answers to questions it wishes to avoid. When we asked Chinese teachers and directors what they would say to a student who asked about Tiananmen Square, several replied that they would talk about the square’s historic architecture.”

The report continues, “We also found that some professors within the university felt pressured to self-censor. Those affiliated with the Confucius Institute sensed the need to maintain a friendly relationship with the Hanban. Those outside the Confucius Institute felt pressure from the university -- most immediately from their department -- to protect the Confucius Institute’s reputation.”

"Throughout this report there are, I think, unsupported insinuations and allegations without concrete evidence," said Stephen C. Dunnett, the vice provost for international education at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the chair of the advisory board for the Confucius Institute there. Dunnett, a key source cited in the NAS report, said the case study about Buffalo was largely accurate. But he was troubled by the preface, authored by NAS President Peter Wood, in which Wood cites off-the-record stories in granting himself "license to go beyond what we can fully verify" (Wood contrasts this to the remainder of the report, authored by Peterson, where, Wood writes, NAS limits itself "to what we know for sure." Inside Higher Ed is not repeating the unverified statements from the preface.)

More broadly, Dunnett said, "I have not witnessed nor have we experienced any of these practices that they sometimes hint at and sometimes come right out and accuse us of."

"The teachers that come here are young, they’re well-meaning, they’re teaching basic Chinese. They're pretty free to do what they like. We pick the textbooks. Hanban doesn’t force anything on us, and they never have. They’ve never interfered. We select the teachers, but of course they’re selected from a list that they present, just like, for example, Fulbright scholars are selected from a list. They're vetted here, and the list is sent to home countries and they pick. There’s nothing sinister in that, and they make it sound that way, and I think it’s kind of regrettable." (Buffalo may be somewhat of a model in how it treats the visiting instructors: the NAS report singles out Buffalo as having negotiated "more authority in hiring CI staff and teachers than any other Confucius Institute among our case studies.")

Dunnett added that he thinks it's unfortunate that the Chinese government doesn't get more credit for the resources it's providing. "In Western New York, this is a depressed area, and our schools are struggling to cover the things that they need to cover. They just don’t have the money that they need to hire Chinese language teachers, and also there are no local teachers certified to teach Chinese. So along come the Chinese and they offer us these teachers. That was one of the reasons we did this. We thought this could be community service for Buffalo. We could help the local schools," he said.

​Qing Gao, the director of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, which is listed on Hanban's website as an overseas representative, likened Confucius Institute funding to any external grant funding universities receive. "To me, the best way to explain the Confucius Institute, it’s simply a grant program," said Gao, who's also an assistant professor of arts management at George Mason University and director of the Confucius Institute there. "We apply for a grant from China, from the headquarters, and that grant also provides us a partnership with a Chinese university."

​Qing Gao said that while the Confucius Institute U.S. Center receives funding from Hanban, it is an independent nonprofit and he cannot speak for the headquarters organization. He said, however, that the long-standing concerns about intellectual and academic freedom at Confucius Institutes are in his view unfounded.

"In terms of the intellectual freedom or academic freedom, I think that’s something that we have to always pay attention to, to make sure that these programs do not interfere with academic freedom," ​Qing Gao said. "When we receive individuals from China, the very first day we will have orientation. The very first message we deliver is to make sure everybody understands the value of academic freedom and freedom of speech. What we’ve found here is there's no such evidence whatsoever from the very first Confucius Institute opening in the United States until today that any individual case can prove that Confucius Institutes interfered with academic freedom. This has no factual basis."

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College completion rates vary by race and ethnicity, report finds

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00

College completion rates vary widely along racial and ethnic lines, with black and Hispanic students earning credentials at a much lower rate than white and Asian students do, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

The center evaluated data from students nationwide who entered a college or university in fall 2010. The data represents students at two- and four-year colleges, students who studied part- and full-time, as well as those who graduated after transferring institutions.

Altogether, 54.8 percent of those students completed a degree or certificate within six years of entering a postsecondary institution, but broken down by race and ethnicity, those rates fluctuate by up to 25 percent.

White and Asian students completed their programs at similar rates -- 62 percent and 63.2 percent, respectively -- while Hispanic and black students graduated at rates of 45.8 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

These numbers likely won’t surprise most people who track higher education closely, as they fall in line with what other studies have found over the years, but “it will certainly reinforce the point that there’s more work to be done,” said Doug Shapiro, one of the lead authors of the report.

This report is valuable, he said, because it uses the most recent available data and accounts for part-time students and students who transfer to another institution during their studies. Other studies had not previously done this -- though that is because most have focused on federal databases, which have historically tracked only full-time, first-time students. The clearinghouse has become an alternative source of information on student outcomes and mobility because of its distinctive set of data.

“To the extent that the findings were surprising, it was simply that what we found did not change what we knew,” said Shapiro, who is executive research director at the National Student Clearinghouse. “For example, black and Hispanic students were no more likely to transfer and graduate somewhere else, and in fact, in most cases, they were less likely.”

The report also found that, nationally, students who entered a four-year public university earned a degree or certificate at a rate of 62.4 percent. Students who started at a two-year public institution had an overall completion rate of a credential of 39.2 percent. At four-year institutions, black men completed their degrees at the lowest rate (40 percent) and Asian women at the highest (75.7 percent).

Students who started at community college and then continued their educations at a four-year public institution experienced very different outcomes, depending on race and ethnicity. After six years, about a quarter of Asian students and a fifth of white students had finished their degrees, compared to about a tenth of Hispanic students and one in 12 black students.

“Community colleges have long been held out as engines of access to higher education,” Shapiro said, making these “disappointing results -- the rate at which students from underrepresented groups managed to complete that transfer from community college to a bachelor degree.”

For years, colleges and universities had been asking for racial and ethnic breakdowns of completion rates. After releasing those results for the first time this year, the National Student Clearinghouse plans to release updated data annually, Shapiro said. Each institution will also be able to see its own data and compare to national trends.

“We think that will be really powerful,” Shapiro said. “It will help [institutions] understand where they need to focus their improvements.”

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Harvard, Stanford, Ohio State presidents fret about federal funding and immigration

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00

WASHINGTON -- The presidents of three of the country’s top research universities gathered for a public discussion Tuesday, dedicating some of their most in-depth comments to concerns about federal policy.

The presidents of Harvard, Stanford and Ohio State Universities took part in a wide-ranging discussion on the future of higher education hosted by the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. While they covered a lot of ground, they delivered their most timely remarks while addressing worries about cuts to federal research funding and possible changes in immigration policy that could affect the students at their institutions.

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said she has increased her outreach regarding federal issues this year, spending more time in this capital city meeting with Republican and Democratic lawmakers. She expressed hope legislators are receptive to her case for funding university research when they learn about the work being done.

“I’ve been trying to make the case to congresspeople, and also invited a number of them to come see our scientists working in their laboratories,” Faust said. “A lot of people in Congress are very eager to do that, because they want stories to tell. It’s the stories of the discoveries, not some abstract statistic, that really has the impact.”

Faust continues to champion the cause after President Trump proposed deep cuts in his first budget outline released in March. Trump’s skinny budget calls for cutting National Institutes of Health funding by $5.8 billion, or about 20 percent. It would also sharply cut other federal programs involved in university research.

Trump administration officials have said the government can save money but not harm research by cutting back on support for administrative costs. Higher education groups have maintained such cuts would be damaging, however. Science groups have warned the cuts would hurt research and the education of a new generation of scientists.

Even Harvard, with its prestige, deep pockets and wealthy donors, would struggle to compensate for deep cuts to federal research funding, Faust said in an interview after the Economic Club’s discussion ended. The university receives about $800 million to support research annually. Roughly $600 million of that comes from the federal government.

“The magnitude of the federal commitment is not something that is going to be easily replaced,” Faust said.

The proposed cuts to research dollars were one topic cited by many participants in Saturday’s March for Science in Washington. Faust spoke at a local March for Science in Cambridge, Mass., that day.

She was not the only university president to take part in such an event -- New York University President Andrew Hamilton wrote that he planned to participate in the march in Washington because he worried about looming budget cuts, immigration restrictions and dwindling respect for science and its evidence-based methods. Still, university presidents participating in rallies raised eyebrows.

Faust maintained in Tuesday’s interview that she felt completely comfortable speaking at the march.

“I’ve been a pretty vocal advocate for science ever since I became president of Harvard,” she said. “It seemed entirely appropriate to me to speak in that way on behalf of something that is at the core of the university.”

Research is a bipartisan issue that can head off threats and future expenses, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said during the Economic Club discussion. For example, the country needs cures and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease as the population ages, he said.

“We desperately need cures,” he said. “That will only come through research. The vitality of our research enterprise is essential.”

Tessier-Lavigne also spoke up for international students and education. About 10 percent of Stanford’s undergraduates are international students, he said. The president himself, who was born in Canada, did postdoctoral work in the United States on a J-1 visa, which is the nonimmigrant visa category for work- and study-based exchange programs.

International students expose American students to different societies and ideas, Tessier-Lavigne said. They are also important talent, he argued.

“We’ve been very fortunate in this country to be able to be a magnet for extraordinary talent from abroad,” he said. “People have brought their ideas, their capabilities.”

Michael V. Drake, Ohio State’s president, told a story from a freshman seminar he teaches. During a discussion, a student referenced “the American Civil War.”

The student was from a country in the Middle East where a civil war was underway at the time, Drake said.

“It really caught me that she said the American Civil War,” he said. “It caused me to take a step back and rethink about what I was saying and kind of broaden my perspective. There’s small things like that that happen in conversations, in classrooms or in dorms or in hallways where people coming together from different points of view can make such a difference. I think it’s really important for the quality of my education.”

David M. Rubenstein, the president of the Economic Club, also grilled the presidents on a diverse set of topics including endowment spending policies, sexual violence on campus, student drug and alcohol use, and whether student athletes should be paid. Faust pointed out that spending down an endowment means cutting the amount of money it can generate for operations in the future, undermining the funding mechanism's long-term viability.

Tessier-Lavigne called it shocking that colleges did not address the issue of sexual assault more before the late 2000s before saying that prevention is the most important step to combating it. He also supported the current student-athlete model for athletics. Drake referenced a spike in deaths in Ohio from opioids, saying he sometimes has to tell parents that their child has died for one reason or another. He called it one of the hardest things he has to do.

Editorial Tags: Federal policyResearchImage Source: The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.Image Caption: The Economic Club of Washington, D.C., President David M. Rubenstein led a discussion Tuesday with Ohio State University President Michael Drake, Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Is this Career Advice newsletter?: 

Federal drone regulations keeping lofty fantasies grounded

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00

Colleges are eager to put drones to use both inside and outside the classroom, but federal agencies and university risk managers are taking a cautious approach before opening the airspace above college campuses.

Drones (also known by the more technical terms unmanned aerial vehicles or systems) are becoming increasingly common sights, both in campus skies and in headlines. There was, for example, the 2014 case of the student at the University of Texas at Austin who was detained after flying a drone over a football game, or the experiments launched last year involving burrito delivery by drone at Virginia Tech. Lake Superior State University even included “selfie drone” on its latest “List of Words Banished From the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.”

On the academic side, colleges are using drones to do everything from surveying crops to teaching aerospace engineering. On the administrative side, delivery is emerging as a popular idea. Arizona State University, for example, is imagining a future in which drones zip across the greater Phoenix metropolitan area to bring students library materials from a storage facility.

But where some administrators, faculty members and students see opportunity, others see risk.

“What happens when one of these UAVs fails, and it’s got a 30-pound payload of library books while flying down the quad?” said Clint T. Speegle, an U.S. Army aviation officer turned lawyer.

Speegle is one of the people helping universities write drone policies. Once tasked with “deconflicting” the airspace above Iraq and neighboring countries, Speegle now focuses on aviation law and NCAA compliance at his Birmingham, Ala., practice.

Most university drone policies, Speegle said, deal with “the student who has a quadcopter [a helicopter with four rotors] and wants to fly it on the quad or take pictures of the campus.” But universities should also consider how their policies can address privacy and safety issues, and how they can enable research and development activities involving drones.

“There’s no way we can foresee everything that’s going to come from this area,” Speegle said. “The key, in my mind, is to make it a broad policy … and then be able to dial it back if you realize later that there is usage that is useful, needed and can be properly mitigated.”

Indiana University has had a drone policy on the books since 2015 -- a precautionary measure to protect the university from the potential legal issues raised by emerging technology.

“We saw that drones were going to become a thing of the future,” said Larry Stephens, director of the university’s Office of Insurance, Loss Control and Claims. “They presented a huge liability exposure for us.”

The policy hasn’t changed much since 2015. It still contains the same bans on flying a drone in areas “where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in accordance with accepted social norms” -- spaces such as dorms, locker rooms and treatment rooms -- and directs would-be drone pilots to Stephens’s office for approval.

However, Stephens said he has seen a slight change in the popularity of drones: they are simply becoming more common.

Today, there are more requests to fly drones indoors, for example. Using drones to take pictures of campus continues to grow in popularity. And recently, a construction company contacted Stephens’s office to use a drone to inspect a building under construction (Stephens also admitted, “I’ve been trying to find a good excuse for us to buy [a drone] for this department”).

The Federal Aviation Administration’s own rules add further restrictions on drone use at colleges. Flying a drone for work, as opposed to for fun, in most cases imposes additional rules related to certification and aircraft requirements. So does flying a drone within five miles of an airport.

The FAA also generally prohibits flying a drone directly above people, which means drones won’t be following campus footpaths to deliver their payloads -- at least not for the moment. The FAA is working on new regulations, though that work was delayed as part of the Trump administration’s regulatory freeze.

“Everybody wants to fly over people, but the real concern is nobody knows how dangerous it is,” said Mark Blanks, director of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership.

The MAAP, which is led by Virginia Tech, conducts drone flights on a near-daily basis with faculty members and students. In addition to testing burrito deliveries, it is also conducting experiments on drone injuries in partnership with Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. The MAAP doesn’t have conclusive results for all types of drones, but Blanks said the results so far show that the FAA has been “overly cautious” and that there is an opportunity to expand drone use.

The university is building a 300-by-120-by-80-foot “drone cage” -- which Blanks described as “like something you’d see at a golf range, except it has a roof on it” -- to create a controlled space for drone test flights.

The cage will help accommodate what Blanks called an “uptick in interest and desire to do more” with drones that what current regulations allow for.

“Before, everybody just wanted to fly,” Blanks said. “Now, everybody’s able to fly, and they want to do more than they can currently do.”

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New presidents or provosts: Atlantic Cape Chico Frostburg Jackson Mount Mary Mt. Wachusett SIT Stanislaus Tennessee

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:00
  • Barbara Gaba, provost and associate vice president for academic affairs at Union County College, in New Jersey, has been chosen as president of Atlantic Cape Community College, also in New Jersey.
  • Kimberly Greer, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Minnesota State University Mankato, has been appointed provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Stanislaus.
  • Allana R. Hamilton, vice president for academic affairs at Northeast State Community College, in Tennessee, has been appointed president of Jackson State Community College, also in Tennessee.
  • Sophia Howlett, associate vice president for academic affairs at Kean University, in New Jersey, has been selected as president of the School for International Training, in Vermont.
  • Debra Larson, dean of the College of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University at Chico.
  • Christine Pharr, vice president for academic affairs at the College of Saint Mary, in Nebraska, has been selected as president of Mount Mary University, in Wisconsin.
  • Elizabeth Throop, acting provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin Platteville, has been chosen as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Frostburg State University, in Maryland.
  • Flora Tydings, president of Chattanooga State Community College, in Tennessee, has been appointed chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents system.
  • James Vander Hooven, vice president for enrollment management at Landmark College, in Vermont, has been selected as president of Mount Wachusett Community College, in Massachusetts.
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Whittier Law School shutdown raises prospect of future closures and access for underrepresented students

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 00:00

Whittier Law School’s enrollment trends over the last five years reflect the pressures squeezing legal education across the country.

Total enrollment at the law school in Orange County, Calif., fell by more than 40 percent since 2011, from 700 students to fewer than 400 this year. Enrollment dropped as students’ interest in studying law plunged across the country -- and as heightened scrutiny forced many law schools to pay more attention to their students’ job-placement and bar-passage rates.

Administrators at Whittier were trying to cut the size of the law school in order to find a new balancing point, said Sharon Herzberger, the president of the law school’s owner, Whittier College. They wanted to admit enough students to keep the law school financially sustainable, but also to increase selectivity so they were admitting students with a greater chance of succeeding. And they were working to do so even as the number of applications to law schools shrank.

“The enrollment has declined sometimes because of what’s going on in the world and the choices of people to come to the school,” Herzberger said. “And sometimes because of our desire to keep the enrollment down and make sure we’re bringing in students that we feel have the capability of doing well.”

That attempted balancing act ended last week, when Whittier College’s Board of Trustees announced that the law school will not enroll any new students. Current law students will be able to complete their degrees, although the exact details of that process are not yet set. Whittier Law School will close.

The decision vaulted Whittier into the national spotlight. The law school will be the first with full American Bar Association accreditation to close in recent memory. Its accreditation dates to 1985, and it was founded in 1966, so it does not fit the profile of a new, unestablished institution that might be expected to shutter under normal circumstances.

Consequently, some experts believe other schools are likely to follow Whittier Law in closing. Critics of legal education argue that the country still has too many law schools that do not prepare their students for legal careers and instead leave them with high levels of debt they will be unable to repay. Others retort that the number of law schools truly in danger of closing is relatively small, with estimates ranging from 10 to 25 across the country.

Others worried that the closure of Whittier Law School takes away an important option from groups of minority and women students who are already underrepresented in the legal field. Those students often go on to practice law locally, so closing Whittier law school deprives nearby communities of important services, they said.

Whittier College tried to find ways to keep the law school open, according to Herzberger. Administrators offered faculty members voluntary separation agreements last year, the college president said. They discussed merging the law school with other institutions and talked with others that showed interest in operating it.

“Over the last couple of years, the board really looked at lots of different things,” Herzberger said. “Nothing really came to fruition, and the board felt that we should not continue to invite students to enter the law school, that it really wasn’t the fair thing to do.”

Decisions were complicated by the fact that the law school’s main campus has been separate from the college’s main campus in Whittier since 1997. The two locations lie about 30 miles apart, making it harder to share services between them or govern them as a single institution.

Whittier College ultimately struck a deal to sell the 14 acres of land on which the law school sits for $35 million. The land is the largest parcel in the Costa Mesa area that was relatively undeveloped, Herzberger said. It was purchased by a Chinese investment group, she added, declining to share additional details because of nondisclosure agreements.

Law school faculty members sought to block the announcement of the closure, filing in court for a temporary restraining order, which a judge denied. They claimed in court filings that the college sold the law school land at a profit of $13 million and sought to “cut and run” with the money. They also argued in the filings that Whittier College leaders did not follow proper procedures for closing the law school because they had not taken faculty opinion at the law school and college into account.

Those characterizations are not accurate, Herzberger said. Whittier’s administration asked faculty members whether the law program could be discontinued. Faculty members returned with reports that did not agree with the idea of closure, Herzberger said. But the Board of Trustees still was not convinced the law school should continue in the future.

The law school has not operated at a deficit in recent years, except for when it was buying out faculty contracts, the president said. However, projections showed it would run deficits after this year.

Leaders considered relocating the law school but decided against it. The law school draws many students from near its campus, Herzberger said. Whittier’s main campus does not have any room, she added.

The college’s decision-making process might have played out differently if the law school hadn’t been on a separate campus, Herzberger said.

“It did not help,” Herzberger said. “We could not take advantage of each other.”

The faculty members who attempted to stop the closure from being announced are not backing down. They are considering further litigation, according to the lawyer representing them, Hanna Chandoo, an associate at the law firm Stris & Maher LLP and a 2015 Whittier Law School graduate.

“Now that the announcement happened and we were able to see the way it happened, it was irresponsible,” she said. “It was sudden. There was no plan. It’s been devastating for many stakeholders: admitted students, current students, alums, faculty, staff.”

The National Landscape

Observers of legal education said the situation at Whittier Law School fits with the trends that have been sweeping the field. At a basic level, there is sharply less interest today in the education law schools are offering than there was a decade ago, said Christopher Chapman, president and chief executive officer of AccessLex Institute, a former student loan provider that is now a nonprofit organization conducting research on legal education issues.

Law schools also face new accreditation pressure. The American Bar Association has taken action against four law schools in the last year over issues including loose admissions policies and low bar-examination passage rates.

The pressures could push less prestigious law schools into a death spiral. Their applicant pools are declining, and their top students often transfer to better-known institutions. As a result, they can lose the students they admit who are most likely to pass the bar. That can make it harder for them to increase their bar-passage rates over time, which in turn cuts down on their applicant pools and drives their best students to transfer -- continuing the spiral.

Shocks like additional accreditation pressure could lead to more changes in the law school sector, Chapman said. But he stopped short of predicting a wave of closures.

“I think closing is fairly drastic,” he said. “It’s at one end of the spectrum. We’ve seen some mergers, some combinations. I think maybe you’ll see more collaborations where schools don’t close, but there might be sharing of facilities or faculty or something like that.”

Other moves in the legal education sector of late include William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law, in St. Paul, Minn., deciding to merge in 2015. Indiana Tech Law School in Fort Wayne this fall announced plans to close in June 2017. Administrators at that law school, which opened its doors in 2013 and had provisional ABA accreditation, said it had incurred an operating loss of nearly $20 million in its brief existence and they could see no way to attract enough students to be viable in the future.

Speculation also surrounds the future of the for-profit Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina after it lost access to federal financial aid over U.S. Department of Education concerns about accreditation problems and misrepresentations made to students.

Financial issues have played a role in strife at public law schools as well. The University of Cincinnati placed the dean of its College of Law on administrative leave last month after she said her efforts to close a deficit had upset faculty members. The dean, Jennifer Bard, sued the university Friday, with her lawyers alleging a breach of contract and violations of her constitutional rights.

It should be pointed out that a college or university could consider closing its law school for reasons beyond finances or accreditation.

Operating a successful law school can add to a college or university’s standing, giving it access to a new set of wealthy donors and helping it build a powerful alumni base. But struggling law schools can hurt a college or university’s prestige.

“It’s a reputation thing,” said William Henderson, a professor of law at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. “Bad employment outcomes, high debt and low bar-passage rates -- that affects the university and how it’s perceived in a marketplace.”

Yet the national trends are one thing. How they play out locally is another.

Whittier students, faculty members and alumni have resisted the closure of the school. The law school has posted notes from unhappy alumni on its website. Students protested the pending shutdown Friday. They were devastated to hear Whittier College’s president and board announce the closure of the law school with finals fast approaching, said Radha Pathak, an associate professor of law and the associate dean of student and alumni engagement at Whittier Law School.

Pathak does not believe the decision to close the law school is being driven by large trends sweeping legal education, she said in an interview. She thinks it is a way for the college to redirect its financial resources.

“We are a school that has almost always generated a surplus,” she said. “Next year, however, we were going to be incurring a deficit. And so instead of giving a new administration time to improve outcomes, they decided to discontinue us, and I think it’s very difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was done to be able to use those resources for different purposes.”

Pathak recognizes the national skepticism about the value of law schools. But she contends that Whittier Law School is serving students who would otherwise not have access to a legal education.

Minority students make up almost 60 percent of Whittier Law School’s enrollment. Its student body is also 60 percent women.

“We are providing a high-quality legal education to our students, and some of our students wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend another ABA-accredited law school,” Pathak said. “And those students are doing amazing things when they move on.”

Still, it should be noted that Whittier’s bar-passage rate has significantly lagged that of other California law schools. Just 22 percent of its students taking the California bar examination for the first time in July 2016 passed. That was almost 40 percentage points below the passage rate across all of the state’s ABA-accredited institutions.

Pathak acknowledged that many of Whittier Law School's students need multiple chances to pass the bar. But she said that does not detract from their accomplishments or legal education.

Critics argue such a low passage rate means the law school is not, in fact, helping most of its students. Kyle McEntee is the executive director of the nonprofit group Law School Transparency. He acknowledged that a school like Whittier can offer access to students.

“But does the school serve them?” McEntee said. “There’s good they do, and there’s bad they do, and you hope the good outweighs the bad. But I don’t see the argument holding weight with Whittier, and it seems the Board of Trustees agrees.”

McEntee predicts more law schools will close. But he said it’s difficult to say for sure because local factors can have a major effect on college and university leaders’ decisions.

Another Southern California institution stands as a contrast to the decision to close Whittier Law School. The University of La Verne College of Law is not producing a surplus. It’s been losing money for about five years. But university leaders say they are on their way to changing that after they overhauled tuition practices in 2014.

The La Verne College of Law broke with the norm of offering deep tuition discounts to attract top students. Instead, it decided to charge students a flat price and lock in their tuition for three years.

Leaders put that model in place because of swirling questions about the cost-benefit analysis students make when deciding to attend law school. Many thought a lack of transparency in law school prices and outcomes was leading to rising and unpredictable student debt levels. The new idea at La Verne is that a student can count on a set price over three years and project their debt upon graduation.

The law school is moving toward becoming revenue positive, said La Verne’s president, Devorah Lieberman. She acknowledged that the closure of the Whittier Law School could affect La Verne.

“I just think it means that the rest of us who have law schools in the region need to continue to focus on serving those students,” she said.

It’s hard to say exactly how, though. Law school closures have been so rare that the effects of this one will be unpredictable, according to the La Verne College of Law’s dean, Gilbert Holmes.

“That might enable us to be a little more selective in our admissions,” he said. “But the primary thing we need to think about is the communities that may find themselves not served as well, because they have potentially fewer lawyers to serve them.”

Across the country, the law schools that are mostly likely in danger of closing tend to produce graduates who go on to work as solo practitioners or in small firms, said Michael Olivas, the chair of law at the University of Houston Law Center, who served as president of the Association of American Law Schools in 2011. That means low- and middle-income residents in the area will have fewer lawyers available than they otherwise would.

What is up for debate is whether or not that’s a good thing. As with many of the issues swirling around law schools, the answers to the debate depend on how you weigh different factors. Closing a law school hurts some students, faculty members and area residents. It could theoretically help some students who would not have been served well by the institution. Closing a law school can help a college or university if that law school had been a drag on its operations.

“If it means schools that have no chance of meeting their obligations are dying or being put to death, then I would say the system is working,” Olivas said. “Notwithstanding the pain and struggle the faculty and staff and students at the institution are encountering.”

Even many optimistic law school admissions officers appear receptive to the idea of closings. A fall 2016 survey from Kaplan Test Prep of officers at 111 of the 205 ABA-accredited law schools in the country found that 92 percent said they were feeling more optimistic about the state of legal education than they had been a year ago.

Even so, 65 percent agreed with the statement that “it would be a good idea if at least a few law schools closed.”

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Controversy over Alice Goffman leads Pomona students to say her alleged racial insensitivities disqualify her from visiting professorship

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 00:00

Alice Goffman’s star fell almost as fast as it rose a few years back, as sociologists divided over her controversial book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, and allegations that it eschewed crucial disciplinary norms. Some of Goffman’s supporters maintained that her six-year embed with inner-city Philadelphia youths pushed ethnography forward in important ways. But others questioned her unusual methods -- including the destruction of records she said could one day compromise her subjects, to whom she was unusually close.

Worse, others questioned the veracity of her accounts, including that police officers made arrests in some cases by identifying visitors to a hospital.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison, where Goffman is an assistant professor, in 2015 affirmed its support for her, saying that it had “carefully considered the misconduct claims and found them to be without merit.” That didn’t end the controversy, however. Indeed, it’s followed Goffman to the next stop in her academic career: Pomona College.

Goffman continues to work toward tenure at Madison but has accepted a visiting professorship at Pomona as she finishes a new book. As it stands, she’s slated to be there for two years starting in July, teaching quantitative research methods and an elective. But more than 100 self-described “students, alumni and allies” say she’s not welcome at Pomona, citing familiar concerns about academic integrity and less commonly cited ones related to "positionality."

Positionality in sociology refers to where one is situated within the social structure being studied, often with regard to gender, class or race. So to sum up the latter set of concerns at Pomona, in telling the story of a poor, predominantly black community, and focusing on its criminal elements in On the Run, Goffman paid insufficient attention to the fact that she herself is white and well educated, from a family of prominent academics.

Those concerns are not new. Victor Rios, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for example, has described Goffman as guilty of employing the “Jungle Book trope,” in which an outsider enters the jungle and lives to tell the tale. Christina Sharpe, an associate professor of English at Tufts University, wrote in The New Inquiry in 2014, “In the neoliberal ‘engaged’ university, On the Run is sure to be a primer for how to do immersive ‘urban’ ethnography. And so continues, into the next generation, within and outside of the university, what Sylvia Wynter has called our black narratively condemned status.” (In fairness, such critiques tend to reserve as much disapproval for Goffman’s enamored, largely white audiences as they do for Goffman herself.)

Students Seek Revocation of Goffman's Offer

A letter from Goffman’s critics at Pomona to their administration attempts to explain what it means when a body of such criticism exists and a professor is hired anyway. As background, it notes that Pomona recently committed to making attention to student diversity and inclusion tenure requirements, and that the college has no female sociology professors of color.

“Goffman’s hire proves the college's failure to wholeheartedly address underrepresentation of faculty of color and Pomona’s institutional inadequacy to recognize and advocate for the best interests of students of color,” the letter reads. The “national controversy around Goffman's academic integrity, dubious reputation, her hypercriminalization of black men, and hypersexualization of black women does not embrace and align with our shared community values.”

Demanding the revocation of Goffman’s offer, the letter goes on to say that hiring white faculty members “who engage in voyeuristic, unethical research and who are not mindful of their positionality as outsiders to the communities they study reinforces harmful narratives about people of color.” If “no action is taken, the sociology department will knowingly provide Goffman with a platform to promote harmful research methods” in her courses.

Goffman’s appointment to the McConnell Visiting Professor Chair, in particular, which was established to “improve the tolerance and sympathy of individuals for each other and their understanding of their respective motivations,” the letter continues, does “not enhance a culture of inquiry and understanding on campus as we navigate a tumultuous time in our nation’s history.” Rather, it “boasts the framework that white women can theorize about and profit from black lives while giving no room for black academics to claim scholarship regarding their own lived experiences.”

In addition to killing Goffman’s offer, the group in its letter demands a meeting with the faculty hiring committee, the dean of faculty and President David W. Oxtoby by Wednesday to discuss “greater transparency in the process of hiring sociology faculty as well as the future direction of the sociology department as a whole.” It also seeks a formal letter from the faculty hiring committee by May 1 explaining why it originally hired Hoffman, the alleged lack of “representative student involvement” in the decision, and future plans for transparency in hiring.

The letter concludes by saying that Pomona supports diversity in theory but not in practice, and that students need “authentic mentors.” It asserts that the two other candidates for the visiting position were women of color who study structural inequality, and that Goffman’s hire over them will chill people of color’s involvement in the sociology department “for years to come.”

Threatening unspecified “direct action” if no response is received by Tuesday evening, the 128 signatories say their names have been redacted for “individual safety in recognition of the violence inflicted on communities of color by various publications,” including a conservative student newspaper that covers Pomona and other Claremont colleges.

Pomona’s chair of sociology did not respond to request for comment Monday. But Audrey Bilger, vice president for academic affairs and dean, said in an emailed statement that Pomona follows “a rigorous process when hiring faculty,” including “a range of activities, from a public presentation to faculty and students to meeting with our faculty diversity officer.” Saying that Goffman also met with students over lunch, Bilger said the college is “pleased that this process resulted in an offer and an acceptance, and we look forward to her joining our very active, vibrant academic community in the fall as a visiting professor.”

Mixed Reactions From Outside Pomona

Goffman did not respond to a request for comment. Her Wisconsin colleague Eric Grodsky, associate professor of sociology and educational policy studies, said he thinks “highly” of her.

Asked about second chances for promising scholars accused of mistakes early in their careers, Grodsky said that as a general principle, “it really depends on the nature of the mistake.” And in Goffman’s case, he said, “it’s not at all clear to me that any mistakes she made should rise to the level of requiring a career-salvaging second chance.”

Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park who’s previously criticized aspects of On the Run, noted this week that he saw research value in the project, too.

As to Pomona, Cohen said, “If I were evaluating her for a position, I would consider the whole story, as well as her current work, and make a judgment. I couldn't say how that might turn out, but I don't see the case for a lifetime ban from academia.”

While it’s of course reasonable for members of a campus to oppose a hiring decision, he added, a group of anonymous critics derailing a hire based on “this superficial description of her work and its impact would be unfortunate.”

Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University who once weathered her own controversy over tweets about race, said via email that she’d seen the Pomona letter and thought the students have a point, “particularly about the systemic practices of race and hiring/promotion within our disciplines.”

Beyond hiring, Grundy said sociologists have poignantly critiqued the roles of race and “reflexivity” in sociological methods, and that latter is especially important in ethnography, Goffman’s field.

“Our tradition of trying to hold white sociologists accountable for more than interpreting black life through a white gaze goes back to [W. E. B.] Du Bois calling out his colleagues for ‘car window’ sociology -- the idea of passing through these communities and never getting out of the (train) car to see beyond the two-dimensional observations of black life,” she said.

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Analysts, colleges question Blackboard's all-of-the-above strategy

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 00:00

California State University at Sacramento, like more than a thousand other institutions in the U.S., uses the learning management system Blackboard Learn, but likely not for much longer.

Sacramento State is getting ready to upgrade. And like many institutions in its situation, the university is looking at systems that are hosted in the cloud and delivered as software as a service (SaaS).

Moving to the cloud normally means paying more, but it does come with some benefits. Virtually no downtime is a big one. Software providers can push new features and critical patches to all its customers in the cloud, instead of colleges having to take their systems offline for maintenance. Colleges also don’t need to worry about servers if their systems are hosted in the cloud.

Faculty members at Sacramento State are this spring testing out different systems, Blackboard’s cloud-hosted version of Learn being one of them. The IT department plans to make a recommendation about which system to upgrade to before the end of the academic year, said Christine E. Miller, interim vice president for information resources and technology and chief information officer.

In an interview, Miller suggested the university will move to a different software provider. She said some faculty members, during their tests with Learn and its new user experience, known as Ultra, had difficulties distinguishing between currently available features and ones that will be introduced in the future.

Blackboard isn’t winning among IT staffers, either. Miller suggested that moving to another Blackboard product won’t be any easier than to a product offered by one of its competitors, saying, “Most of those leading products all have migration tools that are pretty robust.”

She added, “Based on our progress to date with our project, I wouldn’t say that [Learn] is a front-runner at this point.”

More alarming for Blackboard is Sacramento State’s reason for upgrading. Despite the company’s assurances to the contrary, Miller said she believes Blackboard will soon end support for versions of Learn that aren’t hosted in the cloud.

“While they haven’t announced a specific sunset date for it, I think a sunset date is imminent,” Miller said.

Strategic and Internal Challenges

Between competition, the cloud and unclear messaging, the situation at Sacramento State is a microcosm of the situation Blackboard finds itself in.

Make no mistake: the company is still the market leader in the U.S. in terms of the number of colleges and students served. It also does far more than develop a learning management system. Blackboard has a significant presence in the payment system market, a respected analytics team and a service portfolio that includes accessibility planning, competency-based education, web conferencing and more.

In the learning management system market, however, Blackboard is being pulled between serving the needs of customers using its legacy software and proving that it can deliver a cloud-hosted, cleanly designed and feature-rich product. And the company’s decision to do everything and support everything is raising concerns about whether it is spreading itself too thin.

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, analysts and industry sources in the learning management system market said they are seeing progress from the education giant but remain unconvinced.

“They’ve got a real challenge that they can prove to customers that moving to the SaaS model is much quicker and easier than switching LMS's, and I haven’t seen that yet,” said Phil Hill, an ed-tech consultant.

However, competing in the SaaS market creates a new set of challenges.

As some Blackboard customers move to the cloud-hosted version of Learn, the company faces the same issue plaguing companies such as Microsoft and Google: fragmentation, where users simply don’t update to the most recent version of the software (in fact, a survey released this month showed 52 percent of businesses across the world are still using Windows XP in some way. The operating system was released in 2001, and Microsoft ended support for it in 2014).

Any attempt to phase out support for older versions in an effort to force customers to upgrade will undoubtedly draw the attention of Blackboard’s competitors, as it has in the past. After the company in October 2014 announced a final end-of-life date for Angel Learning, which it acquired in 2009, it lost many of those customers to rival companies.

On top of those strategic challenges, Blackboard has dealt with internal changes. The company has carried out several waves of layoffs during the last several years. Last year, the company also replaced its CEO.

“I don’t envy the position they’re in,” said John Baker, CEO of D2L, one of Blackboard's competitors. “I envy the client base they have. Of all the transitions I’ve seen in the space, they’re probably going through the biggest and hardest one that they’ve had to go through. But at least they’re trying.”

Waiting for Ultra

Why is the cloud important? For one, Blackboard’s competitors -- companies such as D2L and Instructure -- have been there for years. Blackboard first announced its cloud-hosted version of Learn in 2014.

Edutechnica, an ed-tech blog, found an “encouraging trend” for Blackboard in its latest look at the learning management system market in the U.S.: More than 50 colleges are using the cloud-hosted option this spring, up from a mere seven last fall.

Running the cloud-hosted version of Learn is also the only way colleges can activate the optional Ultra experience, Blackboard’s long-in-the-works redesign, which the company hopes will help it shed its image as an uncool, inflexible software giant whose system faculty members and students inevitably end up wrestling with.

Yet after multiple delays, the Ultra experience is still missing features compared to the “Original experience” that most colleges are familiar with. Assessment and grade-book features, in particular, are keeping some colleges from using the Ultra experience full-time.

“It’s got what certain schools need but not what everybody needs,” Katie Blot, chief strategy officer at Blackboard, said, estimating that the Ultra experience covers 70 to 80 percent of colleges’ use cases. Blackboard is issuing regular updates to add new features, she said.

While some colleges have completely made the switch to the Ultra experience, most of them moved from homegrown systems with limited feature sets, Blot said.

Blot said she anticipates that the Ultra experience will be “ready for everybody other than some super-fringe cases” come summer 2018.

'Trying to Do Too Many Things'

Like the cloud-hosted version of Learn, the Ultra experience is intended as an additional option, not a replacement. Blackboard has committed to support both user experiences -- it has recently introduced new features to the latter to make it look and act closer to the former -- and all three deployment methods: self-hosted, managed hosted and cloud hosted.

Ending support for versions of Learn not hosted in the cloud “is absolutely not in our plans,” Blot said. Blackboard isn’t worried about fragmentation; in fact, the company sees its range of hosting options and user experiences as a “key differentiator” in the market, she said. Some of its government or private-sector customers, for example, want the security of running their own servers, she said.

To simplify its product range, Blackboard explains that understanding Learn is “as easy as 1-2-3.” Broadly speaking, the company offers one learning management system (Learn), two different interfaces (Original and Ultra), and three different deployment options -- self-hosted, managed hosted and cloud hosted.

“Each institution has their own needs, so we’re not going to decide what’s best for them,” the company said in a 2016 blog post. “That’s why we provide multiple deployment options -- and it’s why we are going to continue to support our self-hosted and managed-hosted implementations indefinitely. When (and if) a move to SaaS is right for you, that’s up to you. If you prefer hosting Learn yourself, or you like the managed-hosted solution we’re providing, we’re not going to force you to change.”

But Blackboard has used the term “indefinitely” in the past before changing its mind. When it first announced the acquisition of Angel Learning, the company detailed plans to sunset the system after five years. Then in 2012, the company changed course, saying it would support Angel “indefinitely.” Two years later, Blackboard again changed its mind, announcing plans to end support for Angel in October 2016.

Glenda Morgan, a research director with Gartner who specializes in ed-tech strategies, said “a lot of clients are anxious” about whether Blackboard can deliver on its promises and worry that its plans could change in the near future.

Morgan, who speaks with officials at hundreds of colleges a year about learning management systems, said cases such as the back-and-forth on whether to end support for Angel has created a trust problem. “Blackboard hasn’t always been as clear in their messaging as we’d like them to be,” she said.

She compared Blackboard to Instructure, whose cloud-based learning management system, Canvas, has in less than a decade captured about one-fifth of the market in the U.S., according to Edutechnica’s data.

Other than its technology, Instructure also brought a different corporate culture to the market, including an “honest and straightforward” way of interacting with customers, Morgan said.

“Instructure is really blunt with clients, and that can be annoying,” Morgan said. “The upside is that when they actually say ‘Oh, yes, that’s a problem -- we’re going to fix it,’ they actually go and do it.”

Blackboard, in comparison, “is trying to do too many things and not disappoint many people,” Morgan said. “Down the road that means a fragmented and unsustainable model. … They need to figure out what the strategy is and just be really clear about it, and then if they end up changing it, be really honest about it.”

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Vocational education surges but continues to struggle with image and gender imbalance

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 00:00

NEW ORLEANS -- Career and vocational education is en vogue, as Republicans who dominate Washington and most state capitols have been touting job training over the bachelor’s degree. But community college leaders say vocational training is sorely in need of an image makeover.

“It is considered a second choice, second-class,” said Patricia Hsieh, president of San Diego Miramar College. “We really need to change how people see vocational and technical education."

Hsieh was speaking here Monday during the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges. She and other speakers described the stigma career programs still face compared to academic paths that lead to transfer and a bachelor’s degree.

Parents and students tend to prefer that more traditional pathway and are skeptical about the work force value of vocational credentials, said community college leaders. And that skepticism often extends to many people in higher education.

“This kind of misconception is across the board,” Hsieh said, noting that parents from all racial and ethnic groups have doubts about vocational credentials.

In addition, career and technical training has a severe gender imbalance. Most of the decent-paying vocational jobs go to men, who dominate middle-skill (less than a four-year degree required) fields such as information technology, welding and advanced manufacturing. Women, however, are overrepresented in in lower-paying, middle-skill health professions, such as jobs as nursing aides.

Just 36 percent of middle-skill jobs that pay at least $35,000 are held by women, Ariane Hegewisch, program director of employment at earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, said during a session here. Women also hold only 29 percent of IT jobs above that pay level, she said, with just 7 percent of those in advanced manufacturing jobs and 3 percent in construction.

While there are substantial gender imbalances in vocational training programs at community colleges, they aren’t typically as large as the gaps among jobholders, said Lynn Shaw, an electrical technology professor at Long Beach City College. For example, at California community colleges, women account for 45 percent of student enrollments in IT programs.

“In the work force, there’s a huge drop-off,” said Shaw, a former miner, steelworker, longshore worker and electrician, who is a visiting faculty fellow at the California community college system chancellor’s office, where she is helping lead the implementation of a work force program. “Somewhere between women showing interest in nontraditional careers and getting into the work force, something happens.”

In recent decades, little progress has been made in breaking the extreme gender segregation in technical jobs, said Hegewisch. And the lack of female role models in these professions contributes to the logjam.

“My sense is that we’ve all kind of given up,” she said. “We’re still very uncomfortable with crossing gender roles.”

Creating Partnerships to Make a Better Pitch

The shortage of women in career and technical jobs is a contributor to the nation’s biggest skills gap challenge. And while enrollments in vocational programs are generally up nationwide, employers face deep shortages of skilled workers.

The tough sell of vocational jobs to students, particularly women, is part of the problem. Many have outdated notions about dirty, physically demanding jobs that don’t pay well. Yet in many cities and states, most of the open jobs are middle-skill ones in career and technical fields, often that come with a good salary.

For example, 30 percent of California’s projected job openings by 2025 will be of the middle-skill variety, Shaw said -- a total of 1.9 million jobs. Many will be technical jobs such electricians, mechanics, radiology technologists or computer support specialists.

“I call it the California community college sweet spot,” Shaw said of training for those jobs. “That’s what we do. That’s what unlocks social mobility.”

It’s a similar story in Arizona’s Pima County, Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, said during a different session.

“We’ve got to do a better job of convincing our students that there’s an opportunity here,” he said.

Community colleges themselves deserve some of the blame, according to Lambert and other college leaders, who said administrators and faculty members sometimes look down on vocational training.

“We can’t have this minimal focus on career and technical education,” Lambert said. “It has to be as prominent as our transfer focus.”

Part of the problem is that American higher education largely developed around four-year degrees in the liberal arts. And academic systems have been slow to adjust to the growing prominence of vocational programs. For example, several college leaders here said career and technical programs tend to be overlooked by accreditors in comparison to their focus on general-education requirements.

Seeking Solutions

Sessions here included advice on common-sense solutions to both vocational education’s image and gender imbalance problems.

A key to making progress, speakers said, is for colleges to develop strong, meaningful partnerships with employers. That means working with them on curricular development while encouraging paid internships, and prodding employers to pay for up-to-date training and technology.

“We can’t do career and technical training without our industry partners,” said Jianping Wang, president of Mercer County Community College, in New Jersey.

Wang said she reached out to several local employers for help. It paid off, she said, as companies have sent employees to teach classes, paid for labs and, in one case, even provided drones for students to use in training programs.

“It’s in our mutual interest,” she said of the partnerships.

Colleges also can try to chip away at the gender imbalance through their work with employers, speakers said.

For example, they can push for employers to include women on work force advisory boards or among the experts they send to teach in labs, Lois Joy, a senior research manager at Jobs for the Future, said during a session. Another good approach is to send a cohort of female interns to a partner employer.

“It’s very important for women to see role models in these fields,” Joy said.

The bottom line, experts said, is to show students -- men and women alike -- that career and technical fields include plenty of rewarding, well-paying jobs.

Pima has taken that philosophy seriously, creating a new vice president position for work force development and several new programs aimed at touting vocational education. For example, the district now conducts a national signing day for star student recruits in technical fields.

“These students are just as important as athletes,” said Lambert.

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 00:00
  • Bunker Hill Community College: Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.
  • Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine: David O. Barbe, president-elect of the American Medical Association.
  • Marian University: Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health; and John Lechleiter, chairman of the Board of Directors of Eli Lilly and Company.
  • New Mexico Highlands University: Javier Gonzales, the mayor of Santa Fe, N.M.
  • New York Law School: Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York; and Laura Ricciardi, co-creator of Making a Murderer.
  • Palm Beach Atlantic University: Jay Strack, president and founder of Student Leadership University.
  • Pennsylvania College of Art and Design: Aaron Blaise, the acclaimed artist and animator.
  • Saint Mary's College of California: John Diaz, editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle; and Deborah Richardson, senior adviser for partner engagement at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
  • St. Catherine University, in Minnesota: Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig.
  • St. Lawrence University: U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins; and others.
  • University of Pikeville: Irene Trowell-Harris, former director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans.
  • University of Virgin Islands: Iyanla Vanzant, the author.
  • Walsh University: Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States.
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Making a case in the streets for federal support for science

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 00:00

Organizers of the March for Science said that the event in Washington, D.C., and the satellite marches across the country this weekend were just the beginning of a movement to champion science.

Those statements would seem to caution against early assessments of the march’s success or failure. Key supporters of the event and participants who trekked to the march in D.C. said the goals of the event went far beyond any immediate effects on policy and included communicating with the public about the state of federally funded research and energizing scientists about advocating for their field.

Others were concerned with pushing understanding by the public and Congress of the importance of science in shaping federal policy.

About 15,000 came out for pre-march events including teach-ins and speeches on the Washington Mall, Reuters reported -- firm estimates for the full march crowd had not yet been released -- while crowds attended hundreds of satellite marches elsewhere in the country. About 40,000 walked Columbus Drive in the Chicago event, according to The Chicago Tribune. The Los Angeles Times reported that thousands showed up for the march that went from Pershing Square to City Hall in L.A.

Fred Lawrence, secretary of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, said the March for Science was “a watershed moment in American cultural and social history.” He said the participation of so many scientists in the demonstrations has helped make clear to members of the public that they themselves have a stake in policy decisions like funding of the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation.

"It takes the issue from being abstract and makes it very present, very concrete and very urgent," Lawrence said.

Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said that the march has already been a success, citing the conversations it has created about science and its role in policy making.

“Scientists -- who have been often reticent to go public -- showed up for the march and used stories to talk about the importance of their work. We were encouraged to see so many scientists speaking up and expect it will continue in the days ahead,” he said.

AAAS, one of the country’s largest nonpartisan science and research organizations, was a major backer of the event. Holt emphasized in comments ahead of the event that it would not be a protest of the White House but would make a positive case for science.

Although march events were sprinkled with the occasional anti-Trump message, they were spared the wrath of the president on Twitter over the weekend. In a statement Saturday, Trump said his administration was focused on both reducing regulations and protecting the environment.

“Rigorous science is critical to my administration's efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” he said. “My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

Those claims, many scientists would say, run counter to the facts of Trump’s own budget proposal, which called for major cuts to National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation research spending -- and to his Environmental Protection Agency chief’s open disregard for climate science.

But even though the White House likely helped the spur the marchers into action, many attendees spoke to issues of federal policy that long predated the current administration.

Justin Steinfeld, a fifth year M.D./Ph.D. student at Columbia University, said that since the Clinton administration, NIH funding has failed to keep pace with inflation. An increasingly competitive environment to win grant funding has pushed scientists to constantly publish, leading to sloppier work and a “bad culture” within research, he said.

Trump’s budget proposals would accelerate those years-long negative trends, scientists said this weekend.

“It shows a disrespect for what science is and what it can provide,” said Steinfeld, who is also a member of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local.

He said that communicating about the importance of science was part of the march, but that the real promise of the event was spurring people in his generation to action.

“It's about motivating the people who came to push themselves a little more, to get more involved,” he said.

Sarah Joseph, a Columbia doctoral student studying genetics and the president of the graduate student advisory council, said one measure of the march's success would be seeing people without connections to the profession asking scientists like her about their research.

"Now they're seeking knowledge they didn't seek openly before," she said. "It's small, but it's going to be really important."

Organizations such as AAAS hosted workshops last week to train newly active scientists in how to communicate about their work. Advocacy organizations like the Union of Concerned Scientists saw the event as an opportunity to sign up more members for ongoing activism. Academics at the Washington event conveyed a hope that it would highlight the ongoing challenges funding university-based research -- and the threat posed by more cuts.

Steven Hanes, a professor at the State University of New York Upstate Medical University, also said researchers struggled in an increasingly difficult funding environment for years before Trump. With the exception of a spike driven by the stimulus package, NIH funding has essentially been flat since 2008, he said.

That’s affected both the graduate-level education at his university -- Hanes hasn’t been able to train new graduate students for several years -- and faculty hiring decisions.

“We don’t even hire faculty who don't already have their own funding,” he said.

Hanes said he hopes the public and Congress will get the message about how important it is to maintain scientific funding to continue making progress in every area of research. His lab studies how genes are switched on and off, or gene regulation. The most common disruption of gene regulation is in cancer, he said.

But having steady sources of federal funding turned on and off is incredibly inefficient for research, Hanes said. Layoffs forced by funding cuts mean he has to train a whole new set of researchers later.

“I lose institutional memory,” he said. “It sets you back years.”

Hanes said that increasing NIH funding by just a few percentage points would have a huge positive impact, while cuts would mean no new grants into important areas of inquiry and no further progress on projects due for grant renewal.

Researchers marched not just to highlight issues of funding but also to bring attention to the role that science should play in shaping policy. Melanie Killen, a professor of developmental science at the University of Maryland and a representative of the Society for Research in Child Development, said she hasn't heard research and evidence talked about so dismissively in more than three decades in the profession.

"I'm very concerned about the rhetoric we have heard in the last six months," she said. "It's not possible to have democracy if you don't believe in facts and in scientific evidence."

Matthew Walhout, a physics professor and dean for research and scholarship at Calvin College, said he joined the march to speak up for the importance of science in the social discourse and as part of the decision making that shapes policy.

He said the message of the march transcended party politics and that the turnout would demonstrate that there is a huge number of people supporting scientific research and the role it plays in society.

“I would say that over all it was generally uplifting to see a lot people gathered around an issue and treating each other well,” Walhout said. “Even though the weather was bad, the spirits were high.”

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New round in debate over Ann Coulter and her right to speak at Berkeley

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 00:00

The fight over whether and when Ann Coulter will speak at the University of California, Berkeley, did not end with the university's invitation to her to speak there May 2.

Before that invitation was extended, the university had said it could not allow campus Republican groups to host her talk April 27 because of security concerns, and that she would have to wait until the fall semester. Amid charges that it was denying Coulter a platform due to her views (charges Berkeley officials repeatedly denied), officials regrouped and said they had found a location on campus where she could appear with security assured, on May 2.

But the fight is not over. Coulter is vowing to show up Thursday. And she's suggesting that she will sue Berkeley for insisting that she appear May 2 instead. The university, meanwhile, is accusing Coulter and her campus fans of distorting free speech principles, and putting the safety of Coulter and any who might attend her talk in danger.

Further, the university is arguing that a commitment to free speech does not mean that it has to agree to let Coulter appear at any time or any place -- and that its objections to her plans have nothing to do with her political views.

A letter from a lawyer representing Berkeley College Republicans and Young America’s Foundation -- two groups seeking to bring Coulter to campus -- says that May 2 is an inappropriate date because it comes during the study period after classes end and before final exams. This date was selected, the letter says, to depress attendance and because Coulter will no longer be in the area to give a talk.

Further, the letter accuses Berkeley of a pattern of "similar silencing" of guest appearances of conservative thinkers. It cites the planned appearance of former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos in February, which the letter says was "canceled at the last minute on the pretext of being unable to provide adequate security."

Berkeley officials defended the right of Yiannopoulos to appear (amid considerable criticism from campus groups for not blocking him from appearing). The university called off the event as it was about to start, as noncampus groups engaged in violent protest and vandalism while student groups engaged in nonviolent protest.

In a letter back to the conservative groups' lawyer, Berkeley defended its actions. The Berkeley letter said that the campus groups bringing in Coulter signed contracts with her before conferring with the university about security issues. When Berkeley learned of the invitation, officials were concerned because of the violence that accompanied the Yiannopoulos visit to campus, and violent clashes among protesters in the city of Berkeley more recently. The university rejected the April 27 event based on "mounting intelligence that some of the same groups that previously engaged in local violent action also intended violence at the Coulter event."

Further, the university said that -- when security issues are involved -- student organizations don't have an absolute right to host events whenever they want. "Student organizations’ access to event venues on campus is subject to the availability of venues of appropriate size and the ability of the university to provide adequate security," the letter said. "Security risks of each event are evaluated independently. Differences in the management of event security have nothing to do with the university’s agreement or disagreement with the opinions of the speakers, but are based entirely on [the police department's] assessment of the security risks and the measures needed to minimize them."

Finally, the university said that it is untrue to say that Berkeley hasn't worked to allow conservative student groups to hold events, even those requiring security. "This semester, UC Berkeley has dedicated more resources -- in the form of staff time, administrative attention, police resources and cash outlay -- to facilitating BCR's [Berkeley College Republicans'] expressive activities than have been devoted to any other student group in memory. Dedicated staff and administrators have spent countless hours, including during weekends and vacations, working to enable BCR’s planned events and to maximize the possibility that those events can occur safely for the participants, the speakers, our students and others in our campus community."

Yiannopoulos Plans Return

Whatever happens with Coulter this week, Berkeley appears likely to continue to be the focus of debates over free speech and security. Speakers known for their inflammatory statements -- and for attracting both violent and peaceful protests -- are vying to visit the campus.

Since Yiannopoulos tried to speak on campus in February, he has gone from a conservative hero to (in some circles) a conservative embarrassment. In February videos circulated in which Yiannopoulos appeared to defend sex between boys as young as 13 and older men. Yiannopoulos has since said that his views were distorted and that he was talking about older teenagers, and that he opposes the sexual abuse of children. But the Conservative Political Action Conference withdrew an invitation for him to speak there, and Yiannopoulos all of a sudden became someone not just opposed by many campus groups for his rhetoric, but by conservatives as well.

But Friday, Yiannopoulos on Facebook announced his plans to return to Berkeley.

"I am planning a huge multiday event called Milo's Free Speech Week in Berkeley later this year. We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment," he wrote. "Free speech has never been more under threat in America -- especially at the supposed home of the free speech movement. I will bring activists, writers, artists, politicians, YouTubers, veterans and drag queens from across the ideological spectrum to lecture, march and party.

"Milo's Free Speech Week will include events on the UC Berkeley campus. We will stand united against the 'progressive' Left … Free speech belongs to everyone -- not just the spoiled brats of the academy … Each day will be dedicated to a different enemy of free speech, including feminism, Black Lives Matter and Islam. If UC Berkeley does not actively assist us in the planning and execution of this event, we will extend festivities to an entire month. We will establish a tent city on Sproul Plaza protesting the university's total dereliction of its duty and encourage students at other universities to follow suit."

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NLRB official rules that resident advisers at private colleges may unionize

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 00:00

A regional director of the National Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that resident advisers at George Washington University have the right to unionize. The ruling could apply to other private colleges and universities, potentially opening a new part of private higher education to unions.

At the same time, the ruling could open the door to legal fights that could block the union. Friday's decision orders an election at GW. But if the RAs at the university vote to unionize, GW could challenge the ruling, and it has indicated that it may do so. Many higher education groups are also lining up to oppose unionization. (Collective bargaining rights of resident advisers and other employees at public institutions are governed by state law and will not be changed by whatever the outcome in this case.)

The ultimate outcome could depend on how soon President Trump has openings to fill on the NLRB, whose members serve staggered terms that do not end automatically with a new president. The current board has a majority sympathetic to unions, but that is unlikely to be the case with more Republican appointees.

The decision in the GW case was based largely on an NLRB board decision last year that said that teaching assistants at private universities could unionize. In that case, based on a union drive at Columbia University, unions argued that the TAs were employees, while universities said the TAs should be seen primarily as students who should not be entitled to collective bargaining. The NLRB ruling said that TAs were both students and employees and that they were entitled to unionize.

The regional director who heard the GW case, Sean R. Marshall, wrote in his decision that he looked at the definition of "employee" in the teaching assistant case and found three criteria. Employees, he wrote, "(1) perform services for the employer; (2) are subject to the employer’s control; and (3) perform these services in return for payment."

And Marshall then outlined how RAs meet all of those tests. They are paid (both a stipend and in the form of free housing) and they must follow specific rules.

Further, he rejected GW's argument that the undergraduates who work as RAs "reside in the university’s residence halls in order to have an informal, peer-to-peer mentoring relationship with, and serve as role models for, their fellow undergraduate students.”

"The employer’s characterization of the RAs’ duties tellingly omits any explanation about why these duties are performed by RAs, and why undergraduate students serve as RAs," Marshall wrote. "Plainly, the RAs are not providing these services voluntarily -- the RAs unquestionably receive something of value in exchange for their services. Further, since there is no suggestion that RAs receive academic credit in exchange for serving as RAs, I find no basis to conclude they provide these services as part of their educational relationship with the employer. Rather, I find that the RAs provide these services based on an economic relationship with the employer -- the RAs exchange services desired by the employer in return for compensation from the employer and desired by the RAs."

Marshall added that just because RAs may value their experiences for reasons beyond compensation that doesn't mean they aren't employees. "I do not doubt that when current and former RAs reflect on the time they spent as RAs, they believe the experience was educational and was instrumental in their future career accomplishments," he wrote. "However, the same can be said for many of one’s life experiences, whether they are educational, social, religious or occupational. Employment experiences can simultaneously be educational or part of one’s personal development, yet they nonetheless retain an indispensable economic core. Here, the evidence shows, and no party contends otherwise, that an economic exchange between the RAs and the employer is the sine qua non of their relationship."

GW released this statement Friday: "While the university will continue to cooperate with the NLRB in this process, the university continues to believe that the NLRB’s union election process should not be applied to students in our residential life program, which is an integral part of the educational experience of our undergraduate students. We will continue to share our views with resident advisers as this process moves forward."

Steven M. Bloom, director of government relations at the American Council on Education, said via email of the decision, "A regional office administrator deciding to let undergraduate resident advisers unionize is a major and unprecedented change in federal labor law. This really is a bureaucracy run amok. This represents the kind of step that we feared after the Columbia decision, which opened the door to this deeply troubling extension of federal labor law to undergraduates. We hope a future NLRB overturns this decision."

ACE and other higher education groups filed a brief with the NLRB opposing the union drive.

Service Employees International Union is the group seeking to organize RAs at GW. SEIU has had success of late in higher education organizing non-tenure-track faculty members.

GW students who are among the RAs seeking a union wrote an op-ed last year in The GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, outlining why they want a union. They said that some contract terms are ambiguous, and that they consider others unfair. Further, since anyone fired as an RA loses housing and a stipend, the consequences are serious, they wrote. These are the kinds of issues, they wrote, on which a union could help.

"We look forward to embracing our rights under federal law to democratically bargain with our employer," the op-ed said. "Ultimately, we look forward to coming to the table … to negotiate a contract that will allow us to continue to better the student experience."

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