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Texas A&M's beef with Harvard

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

John Sharp, president of Texas A&M University, on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of sending a public letter of complaint to Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow. At issue is what’s been called an ongoing “food fight” between researchers at both institutions over whether or not it's healthy to eat red meat.

Sharp's letter cites a recent article in JAMA that accuses several Harvard public health researchers of trying to strong-arm another journal into pulling papers questioning longstanding guidance on beef consumption.

As these matters "undermine the values espoused by your institution," they "must be corrected immediately," Sharp wrote to Bacow. Meanwhile he said, “I can assure you that Texas A&M’s research is driven by science. Period.”

Sharp’s note also includes a photo from a recent cardiology conference, supposedly of a graphic used by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The image accuses Texas A&M and Patrick Stover, a vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences there who co-authored the meat study, of being aligned with "big beef." Rejecting that notion, Sharp told Bacow he hoped to “work together to resolve this problem.” Such a resolution “should include a serious assessment by Harvard” of its affiliation with the True Health Initiative, he said, “and a comprehensive ethical review into any Harvard faculty involved” with it.

True Health is a global, independent organization that seeks to promote healthy lifestyles and eliminate preventable diseases. Willett and his Harvard public health colleague Frank Hu sit on True Health's governing council and are discussed at length in the JAMA piece.

In closing, Sharp said that Texas A&M wants Harvard to “join us for a purely scientific approach to nutrition for the sake of public health and public trust and reject the politics and unethical actions" that "have sought to discredit science and interfere in the scientific process.”

According to JAMA, things got tense around September, when the Annals of Internal Medicine planned to publish a group of articles on beef consumption. You may have heard of them -- they made headlines for suggesting that red meat isn’t all that bad for you. More specifically, they said that the overall evidence linking beef eating to heart and other diseases is overstated to tenuous.

The articles received immediate criticism, including from the past chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, who called the research “fatally flawed.” Harvard's School of Public Health also released a statement against it, saying that the "new guidelines are not justified as they contradict the evidence generated from their own meta-analyses. Among the five published systematic reviews, three meta-analyses basically confirmed previous findings on red meat and negative health effects." 

The True Health Initiative went a lot farther than that, though, JAMA says. The publication accuses it of purposely breaking the meat papers' embargo and asking that they be censored, purposely flooding the Annals’ editor with complaint emails to the point that she had to shut down her account, and other behaviors unbecoming of academics.

“We’ve published a lot on firearm injury prevention,” Annals editor Christine Laine told JAMA. “The response from the NRA [National Rifle Association] was less vitriolic than the response from the True Health Initiative.”

Laine reportedly added, “It’s really frightening that this group, which includes people like Walter Willett and Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health, which happens to be my alma mater, were aware of this and assisting it.”

Questions about conflict of interest emerged shortly after the meat papers' publication. Speculation centered on the lead researcher, from Dalhousie University in Canada, who responded that he had received funding from an industry trade group in 2015, outside of the three-year disclosure period. The new JAMA article, meanwhile, questions whether any of True Health's industry partners present a conflict of interest and questions the validity of some of the research it promotes. Ultimately, JAMA highlights the fact that nutrition research is notoriously difficult and open to criticism, as it tends to rely on human self-reporting about something as messy as diet over a long period time. Drawing nutritional guidelines from that research is even more difficult, the article points out.

Willett of Harvard said Wednesday that it's important to keep the focus of this story on health. 

Nutrition is complex, he said, "and the perfect study is usually not possible for practical or ethical reasons, in part because disease like cancer, heart disease and dementia develop over many decades." The same applies to other important issues that can't be studied by randomized trials, "such as air pollution, climate change, environmental hazards and environmental chemicals," he added. 

Still, Willett continued, through a combination short-term randomized trials concerning outcomes such as cholesterol levels or blood pressure and long-term observational studies, "we can learn much about aspects of diet that enhance or undermine health." Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard, did not provide immediate comment.

The True Health Initiative did not respond to a comment request. David L. Katz, head of the initiative and founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, is quoted in the JAMA piece as saying that he and his colleagues only circulated the press release about the study prior to the embargo, not the papers themselves. And the initiative is not anti-meat, he said, just pro-science. In a lengthy post to LinkedIn on Wednesday, Katz and Sten H. Vermund, Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health and dean of Yale University's School of Public Health, responded to Sharp's criticisms, arguing that the question shouldn't be why there was opposition to the meat papers, but why there wasn't more opposition to them. Particularly concerning, they say, was some framing of the data as new providing "guidelines" about meat consumption. (Vermund is not associated with True Health.)

A Harvard spokesperson said only that Bacow received Sharp’s letter.

JAMA notes that 44 Farms, a producer of Black Angus cattle, established an endowment within Stover’s unit to support Texas A&M's International Beef Cattle Academy. But the beef industry provides only about 1.5 percent of AgriLife’s funding, Texas A&M says.

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An intelligent argument on race

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

The journal Philosophical Psychology is taking flak for publishing an article in defense of race-based science on intelligence. The publication’s editors anticipated blowback, writing an accompanying note as to why they approved the piece by Nathan Cofnas, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Oxford. But some critics of the article say that the editors’ note raises as many questions as it attempts to pre-empt, and they want a formal response to their concerns.

Cofnas’s paper “disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics,” reads a petition posted by Mark Alfano, associate professor of philosophy at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and professor of philosophy at Australian Catholic University. In so doing, Cofnas “completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice,” such as documented racial disparities in exposure to lead, housing segregation and other factors.

Calling on the editorial team of Philosophical Psychology to answer in some meaningful way -- perhaps via resignations -- Alfano wrote that philosophers and other scholars should boycott the journal in the interim. The fact that Cofnas’s paper was ever approved shows a fundamental breakdown in the editorial process that must be addressed, he argues.

“If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper),” Alfano wrote. “Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors' note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry.”

While “we also support free speech and free inquiry,” the petition says, “free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review.”

In their journal note, editors Cees van Leeuwen, professor of psychology and education sciences at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and Mitchell Herschbach, lecturer in philosophy at California State University at Northridge, responded at length to the three main criticisms they foresaw: Cofnas’s hereditarian stance that IQ differences between racial groups may be the result of genetics; his flying leap of an assumption that neuroscience and genetics will be unified within “several years”; and his inclusion of highly contested empirical evidence on race and intelligence -- including the work of Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

Van Leeuwen and Herschbach weigh each point but determine that none disqualifies the paper for publication. As to Cofnas’s fundamental argument that race and IQ may be linked, for example, the editors wrote that many researchers “argue that everyday racial groupings have no biological grounding and that the ancestral populations used in behavioral genetics research have little to do with our socially constructed racial categories.” At the same time, they continued, “biological racial realism certainly has its defenders in the sciences and philosophy.”

Cofnas’s paper “certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ,” the note concludes. “However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence,” and they “deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.”

In and of itself, Cofnas’s article doesn’t break new ground: it mostly cites existing research surrounding race and intelligence, including a large body of work supporting the idea that race is a social construct. But it also discusses what Cofnas describes as another, largely ignored or rejected body of work suggesting otherwise -- that race does matter when it comes to intelligence. His main point is that when (soon, he says) and if (likely, he asserts) advances in science reveal “genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence,” we won’t be ready for it.

In that case, Cofnas warns, “social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences" in intelligence “may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined.”

In a statement this week, the journal’s editors said that Cofnas’s initial submission met the minimum conditions to go through their standard review process. Per normal procedure, they said, two independent reviewers read the paper. Two rounds of revisions followed, as did approval and publication.

In an academic journal such as Philosophical Psychology, van Leeuwen and Herschbach continued, “the role of the editors is to monitor the scholarly adequacy of the reviewing process -- not whether we, or the readership, endorse the values behind the paper.” Readers of our journal, therefore, “get to read papers they may find offensive, or papers by authors whose other statements or behaviors they may find objectionable.”

Addressing Alfano’s concerns about an insufficient discussion of environmental causes of group differences in IQ, Van Leeuwen and Herschbach said that would be relevant if Cofnas’s article had been a review on the most likely causes of the IQ gap. Instead, they said, Cofnas’s focus is to “defend the moral imperative of research into the possible genetic causes of the gap." Given that, "Cofnas attempts to show that the hereditarian thesis is a scientifically serious possibility.”

Precisely because the issue is so complex, van Leeuwen and Herschbach said, “we welcome responses to what is empirically and normatively controversial about Cofnas’s paper." Efforts to "silence unwelcome opinion, however, are doing a disservice to the community.”

Ongoing Discussions, and Why Humans Aren't Like Fruit Flies

Alfano said this week that he hadn’t yet heard back from the journal’s editors directly. He did spar, ad hominem, on social media with Cofnas -- probably in a way that didn’t help his argument. Asked about his Twitter style, Alfano said that when he participates actively in online discussions, he finds a need to distinguish between “people with whom I can have an actual conversation” and “trolls.” Of the latter group, he said, “I treat them with the contempt that they deserve.”

As to why Alfano didn’t submit a rebuttal for the journal to consider, he said this case called for a different response. Cofnas’s paper, he said, is a “Trojan horse” and not a “genuine contribution to the scholarly discourse.” 

Ultimately, he said, free speech for Cofnas “just means the right to push his views about racial hierarchies without pushback or consequences. And free inquiry is what the actual scientists who study intelligence already enjoy.” Noting that Cofnas also has espoused nonconsensus views on climate change, Alfano said accused him of spreading "fringe right-wing views about race from alt-right circles and publications to the mainstream, which lends them credibility and plausibility.”

What does Cofnas want? Cofnas said this week that he is not trying to be a provocateur and that he doesn’t in fact enjoy the backlash he’s experiencing.

“I wrote about this because it’s important, and if we fail to deal with these issues, I believe the long-term consequences could be disastrous,” he wrote in an email. “People who think this area of research is ‘pseudoscience’ are in almost all cases uninformed about the relevant science." Statements such as "‘IQ tests only measure your ability to take an IQ test’ are flat out wrong. IQ tests measure cognitive abilities that are involved in performing real-life tasks both inside and outside the classroom.”

There is more to intelligence than just IQ, “but IQ tests measure something important,” and IQ has been proven to be heritable, he added.

As for race, Cofnas cited his own paper, saying that “no completely environmental explanations of IQ gaps in the U.S. have been successful. There is no scientific basis for rejecting the theory that genes play a significant role in these gaps.” And any scientific basis to support that would bring “very difficult moral challenges,” he said, underscoring his thesis.

Cofnas has certainly raised big philosophical questions. But there are others who are perhaps better situated to address whether or not we face an impending moral crisis about genetics and neuroscience -- namely those philosophers and natural scientists who work in this area every day. Among them is Quayshawn Spencer, Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Spencer studies the philosophy of science, biology and race and was inspired to become become a philosopher by reading The Bell Curve.

Spencer said that Cofnas’s article appeared -- as described in the editors' note -- not to address the very nature of race. That’s a common oversight among hereditarians, and “particularly frustrating to philosophers of race like myself who specialize in researching and publishing on exactly this topic.” In other words, Spencer said he didn’t see how it’s not a “fatal flaw” for an article on hereditarianism not to discuss the race schema used in the psychological research at hand and whether the existence of racial groups is based in scientific reality.

Even if one does have good reason to think that the “folk races" used in IQ research are biologically real, Spencer said, referring to the way we talk about race in everyday life, there are many different ways of being biologically real -- and some of them don’t lend themselves to the hereditarian hypothesis.

What hereditarians need is a clear, nonaccidental, causal link between group DNA and so-called cognitive capacity, Spencer said. And that doesn't exist.

Joseph L. Graves, professor of biological sciences at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said that there wouldn’t be a problem with Cofnas’s line of inquiry if it were “being done in a way that adheres to what we really know about the genetics of complex traits.” Complex traits aren’t solely determined by the environment or by genes, but are rather always a "complex interaction" between genetic and environmental effects.

The real question, then, for those who study complex traits, is the split: how much is environmental and how much is genetic. And currently, Graves said, that’s impossible to estimate or “partition” because people are, well, people.

The kind of certainty that Cofnas seeks would require us to “grow human beings in controlled ways,” such that they all experience the same environmental, genetic and combined environmental and genetic effects, Graves said. To boot, we’d need to do that for at least two generations to eliminate maternal effects on the complex traits. (Graves has studied complex traits in fruit flies but published on why his approach won’t work with humans.)

“I’m not against the study of complex traits in humans,” Graves said, “but what I am against is pseudoscience masquerading as the study of differences in complex traits in humans.”

As to Alfano’s petition, Spencer, the philosopher of race, said he didn’t condone censorship, as it was The Bell Curve that inspired his own career path. That book had some glaring problems, he said, but it “wasn't, in my judgment, anything so below the industry standard of social science that it didn't warrant being allowed to be read.”  (Other philosophers have disagreed with the premise of the petition, including in a discussion thread on the popular philosophy blog Daily Nous.) Pointing to other issues plaguing academic publishing, Spencer also said it’s also increasingly difficult to find expert readers -- including subfield specialists on, say, race and intelligence -- to referee journal articles.

Sensitivities surrounding race are heightened in the current political climate, and science is surely no exception. But is race-based science, or eugenics, making a comeback, along with white supremacist political activity? A 2018 investigation by the Associated Press, for instance, determined that the Pioneer Fund -- founded in 1937 to promote research on eugenics -- was still supporting a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. The London Conference on Intelligence, running since 2014, also has attracted international criticism for hosting panels on eugenics. 

Graves said it was a mistake to think that race science ever went away.

The majority of biomedical researchers still think that humans have biological races, and race differences are still taught in medical schools, he said. To understand why that’s wrong -- why our geographically based genetic variations can’t be “unambiguously apportioned into biological races” -- requires a specific sort of training, in evolutionary and population genetics. The majority of graduate students who exit Ph.D. programs in biology never receive that training, Graves said, while genomics often attracts those with a computer science background.

Of course, he added, the “overall shift towards legitimacy of white supremacy also helps.”

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Trump's claim about saving HBCUs was false, but his administration has largely backed sector

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Fact-checkers quickly corrected the record after President Trump, during remarks Monday at the Davos economic conference, declared that he had rescued historically black colleges and universities.

“I saved HBCUs. We saved them,” Trump said. “They were going out, and we saved them.”

The president’s brief comment appeared to refer to bipartisan legislation, dubbed the FUTURE Act, that the U.S. Congress passed in December. The legislation made permanent $255 million in annual STEM funding for minority-serving colleges, including roughly $85 million specifically allocated to HBCUs.

While many of the nation's 102 HBCUs face financial pressure and the funding stream is important to them, it isn't responsible for keeping their doors open.

Congress passed the legislation after a months-long negotiation over several higher education bills. Trump signed the law in December. So, as fact-checkers rightly noted, it’s a stretch at best for the president to claim he single-handedly saved the colleges by signing the law.

However, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education can make legitimate points when touting their support for the sector.

“Things continue on the right path,” said Ivory Toldson, a professor of psychology at Howard University and editor in chief of The Journal of Negro Education. “I can’t say that the administration has been obstructive.”

Some HBCU leaders, for example, point to the March 2018 move by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the repayment of more than $300 million in federal relief loans that four historically black colleges took out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.

“She was genuinely interested in working on our behalf,” said Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, which received loan relief from DeVos. “That’s their big win” with HBCUs, he said of the administration.

National groups that represent HBCUs have sought to cultivate close ties to the Trump administration. While those efforts have been controversial on HBCU campuses, the sector’s leaders have had some successes.

In particular they point to increases in key funding streams. For example, during the last three fiscal years, federal programs that the United Negro College Fund deems most important to HBCUs have seen a collective increase of more than $200 million in funding, said Lodriguez Murray, UNCF’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs.

For example, the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program, which is part of Title III, increased from $245 million in federal support in 2017 to $325 million this fiscal year.

Advocates for black colleges also had been quietly opposed to the Obama-era borrower-defense rule. When DeVos rolled back the rule, provoking sustained condemnation from consumer advocates, the department cited a letter from UNCF that challenged several provisions in the rule.

In addition, Murray cited a successful push for the federal government to provide financial relief through deferments to private HBCUs that saw their enrollments decline due to changes made to the Parent PLUS loan program during the Obama administration -- a decision that infuriated HBCU leaders. Congress and the Trump administration backed the deferments.

HBCU leaders also have pointed to the Trump administration's support of the return of so-called year-round Pell Grants as well as symbolic moves such as the transfer of the White House HBCU Initiative from the Education Department to the administration’s executive offices.

“When these items have gotten to the president’s desk,” Murray said, “the president has signed each and every one.”

‘A Seat at the Table’

Yet Kimbrough and others said the administration’s overall record with HBCUs has been mixed.

The White House under Trump has each year proposed steep cuts to higher education and scientific research. And some of those suggested cuts, such as the 2018 White House proposal to restructure and slash TRIO programs by 40 percent, would disproportionately affect HBCU students. Trump also has sought to eliminate the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program.

Congress has ignored virtually all the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to higher education. TRIO programs, for example, which feature outreach and student services aimed at low-income and first-generation students, have seen budget increases in recent years.

The administration’s rhetoric also has at times angered students, faculty members and administrators at HBCUs.

Perhaps most notably, DeVos in 2017 upset many for what they said was a tone-deaf statement linking historically black colleges to her signature issue.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” she said in a written statement. “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Beyond his claim this week to have saved HBCUs, the Trump administration appears to have overbilled other purported achievements with HBCUs.

For example, last September Trump said he would lift restrictions on capital financing funds for faith-based HBCUs and seminaries. He said that move would free up funding for more than 40 colleges and seminaries.

But it wasn’t clear at the time if any colleges would receive new federal funding. Kimbrough said he has studied the issue and that Trump’s pledge had no impact on HBCUs.

Trump’s fanciful statements can be “useful hyperbole,” Kimbrough said. “Of course it’s not grounded in reality.”

Toldson said some of the administration’s achievements with HBCUs, including the hurricane loan cancellation, were in the works during the Obama administration.

He also cited federal data showing that HBCUs have seen declines in competitive grants to academic institutions during the Trump administration. Federal science and engineering support to HBCUs has been down for three straight years, the data showed, with a total decline of 17 percent since 2016.

The challenge for HBCU leaders and their advocates, Toldson said, is to balance the objective of having fair representation in Washington while maintaining the sector’s status as a “conscientious entity.”

So far, Murray thinks HBCUs have managed that balancing act.

“These students on our campuses need resources to complete their educations,” said Murray. “Our goal is to make sure our students and our schools have a seat at the table.”

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Conservative student groups say process for official recognition risks viewpoint discrimination

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Syracuse University junior Justine Murray was angry when she and other students were denied permission to form a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, on Syracuse's campus.

The student panel that rejected the bid for YAF to be formally recognized made clear that it disagreed with the philosophy of the self-described "ideologically conservative youth activism organization."

"Requiring students to agree in the superiority of the U.S. Constitution is exclusionary to international students and other individuals," said the February 2019 rejection email from the majority-student panel authorized to review and approve or decline student organizations seeking to be officially registered at Syracuse. "The Board recognizes that the parent organization, Young America’s Foundation, has demonstrated a pattern of past practice of supporting discourse via printed materials and/or other means that are deemed inflammatory."

It wasn't the first time that politically conservative students felt unfairly sidelined on campus. Murray said they often feel like their ideas are shut down by peers and professors, and the denial of YAF's application to become an official student organization was a clear example.

Although the organization was subsequently granted registered status in September 2019 after a second attempt, conservative students like Murray and free speech advocates are increasingly voicing their opposition to what they consider "viewpoint discrimination" in the approval process for student organizations to be formally recognized on campus.

"We’re another group for conservatives … to freely express their views without feeling like they have to stay quiet, without feeling like they are being judged for it," said Murray, who is now chairwoman of the YAF chapter at Syracuse. "We really shouldn’t be making decisions on whether groups can be on campus based on if we agree with their viewpoints or not. All chapters and all people should be able to voice their views, even if you think it’s hateful or so-called hate speech."

At institutions with strong student government associations, the authority to approve or deny official status to organizations lies with student leaders, said Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, or ASGA, which represents 1,500 student government associations across the country​. Being officially registered not only grants organizations formal recognition and even legitimacy in the eyes of other students, but on some campuses it can also guarantee the organizations benefits such as the ability to reserve space to host speakers and hold events or post advertisements or messages on campus, and in some cases, funding from student activities and service fees paid to the colleges.

“There are so many free market and independent outlets for conservatives to express their views … given that the administration allows these groups to happen,” said Charlie Copeland, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, or ISI. The institute aims to add conservative and libertarian thinking into higher education by connecting students to professors and educational materials that reflect those ideologies.

Anecdotes of rejection provided by chapters of national conservative student groups such as Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom and ISI have drawn the attention of media and free speech advocates. The regularity with which official recognition or registration of these groups are voted down is widely unknown, Oxendine said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, commonly known as FIRE, collects examples of student organizations that are shot down by either student leaders or administrators.

“Universities can make clear in advance that when the student government is given the authority to approve it, they have to do it with content-neutral decision making,” said Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program. “When it comes to freedom of expression, the university should be facilitating, and there shouldn’t be examples of these groups overcoming these burdens.”

FIRE has recently focused on a chapter of Turning Point USA, or TPUSA, at the University of Scranton, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Scranton, Pa. The chapter was denied a charter by members of the student senate after TPUSA failed to receive a required two-thirds majority vote of approval in October 2019. Before the chapter’s application hearing, Fahad Ashraf, president of the student government, recused himself from the process because of a comment he'd made on social media suggesting he would veto the senate’s vote if TPUSA Scranton was approved, according to minutes from the Oct. 4 meeting.

The student senate members questioned the goals and viewpoints associated with TPUSA’s national organization, including its support for President Donald Trump, and debated whether a group that sells merchandise depicting firearms should be affiliated with Scranton, according to the meeting minutes.

“If I was in your shoes, I would go back to the drawing board,” Student Senator Aaron Asiedu-Wiafe said. “Associating yourself with this club is just going to be too stigmatizing.”

Noah Kraft, treasurer of TPUSA Scranton, called the outcome of the hearing “an unfair decision based on bias” and said other organizations have not received the same type of scrutiny.

“I understand why they have that power, but it doesn’t mix well with people having their own views and bias,” Kraft said. “The decision they made on our charter kind of shows that they aren’t representing the students.”

While the student government’s decision not to charter the chapter at Scranton did turn some students away from joining the group, it retained 25 to 30 interested members, Kraft said. The Scranton chapter continues to be officially recognized by TPUSA's national headquarters.

The student senate has the authority and responsibility to make charter recommendations, Robert Davis Jr., the University of Scranton's vice president for student life, said in a Nov. 26 letter to FIRE responding to calls for university administrators to overturn the decision.

Scranton is “dedicated to the freedom of inquiry and personal development fundamental to the growth in wisdom and integrity of all who share its life,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.

“The proposal to establish a Scranton Chapter of Turning Point USA did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote and, as a result, was not chartered as a club,” the statement said.

Steinbaugh​ said the mishandling of the TPUSA chapter's application should serve as a learning opportunity for student leaders, who he says should have authority over student affairs decisions. But if the student government does not correct its mistakes, the university should step in to uphold its policy, which states, "freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual must be preserved," he said.

Oxendine said the ASGA helps student government leaders attain such authority, granted by the colleges and universities, and provides them with resources and training. But most student governments are not at that level and struggle to even get the student body to vote in student elections and attend SGA events on campus, he said. These weaker student government organizations are not "up to the task" of evaluating student organization applications, he said.

Oxendine said viewpoint neutrality should be a priority of the few student governments given authority over student organizations on campus, and there are some examples of student leaders failing to meet that priority.

"But it’s probably not happening at a level that some people think," he said.

And it's not only happening to conservative student groups, Steinbaugh said. A student at Truman State University, a public university in Kirksville, Mo., applied in December to form a club advocating for animal rights and was denied by a panel made up of students employed by the university’s student life department and some student government members. The denial was based on the club’s association with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the "reputational" and "emotional" risk affiliating with the national organization could pose to students.

In response to criticism about the denial of the animal-rights club, Truman State has “undertaken a review and remission of that process” for approving official student organizations, said Janna Stoskopf, vice president for student affairs.​ She would not comment further on the specifics of the plans to revise the process.

“It is not university staff members engaged with this process. They happen to be student employees, but it is a student process,” Stoskopf said. “That’s an important distinction in my mind … From the student affairs perspective, it’s best to involve students in the processes that involve students.”

The Animal Alliance has since been “granted full charter status” with Truman State, Stoskopf said.

Steinbaugh, the FIRE director, said college administrators have appropriately overruled student government decisions when his organizations has gotten involved in such cases. He also said it's easier to fight such decisions at public institutions like Truman State, where First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution are well established.

“They recognize that sometimes students will make mistakes, and they’ll be happy to try to make it a learning experience,” Steinbaugh said. “In some cases where the student government is not going to correct its own mistakes, the administration will intervene. On the other hand, you have schools like Scranton, who are unwilling to explain or defend their mistakes.”

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Michigan provost placed on leave for sexual misconduct allegations

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

University of Michigan provost Martin A. Philbert was placed on administrative leave pending an outside investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, the university announced Wednesday.

Michigan president Mark Schlissel said the university “received several allegations of sexual misconduct by Dr. Philbert” last Thursday and Friday and began an internal investigation Friday.

“Over the next three days, the university retained an outside law firm which immediately launched an investigation of the allegations, our Division of Public Safety and Security was engaged, and Dr. Philbert was directed not to report to work. I placed him on administrative leave Tuesday,” Schlissel wrote in a universitywide email.

The university did not disclose details about the allegations against Philbert.

Philbert did not respond to messages sent to his university email and to a cellphone number identified via a public records search.

Philbert was appointed provost in 2017. A professor of toxicology, he previously served as dean of Michigan’s School of Public Health. He first became a professor at Michigan at 1995.

Schlissel said an acting provost will be appointed in the coming days.

"The U-M Board of Regents and I are committed to a full and thorough investigation, and we will continue to work to ensure the integrity of the process, following the same policy and practices that apply to all employees at U-M," he said. "It remains early in the investigation, and no findings or conclusions have been reached."

Schlissel said that the Office of Institutional Equity, which typically handles investigations of this kind, reports to the provost’s office but had been directed to report to the associate vice president of human resources for all matters related to the investigation.

The Detroit News quoted comments made on Twitter by Michigan trustee Jordan Acker.

"I am angry and deeply empathetic to the survivors, and am committed to ensure that it never occurs on our campus again," Acker said. "Our community healing starts with first understanding the alleged activities and exactly what happened.

"For me, our investigation must be transparent, with sensitivity and understanding for the survivors and their needs, and work to make sure that something like this never happens on our campus again."

Michigan's handling of the investigation into its No. 2 administrator and chief academic officer will undoubtedly be closely watched.

The University of Oklahoma came under fire last year for its handling for sexual misconduct allegations against its former president David Boren. Other colleges that have recently dealt with sexual misconduct allegations against provosts or presidents include Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, whose president has been accused of sexual harassment, and Florida SouthWestern State College, whose former provost resigned after facing sexual harassment allegations.

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How political can a college president be?

Wed, 01/22/2020 - 01:00

Last month Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the U.S. presidency.

Bennet is a Democrat from Colorado, though you’d be forgiven for not knowing his background. He currently is polling at about 0 percent in the Iowa caucus and so far has only qualified for two of seven Democratic debates.

“I really appreciated Michael’s thinking about higher education,” LeBlanc said in an interview. “He’s going deeper than simply shouting, ‘Free college.’”

But LeBlanc acknowledged Bennet’s long odds.

“During the primary, that doesn’t matter to me so much,” he said. “I want to vote for somebody who would be really be good in the position.”

The endorsement was rare for a university president. But it comes amid what seems like the rise of a new kind of college leader.

To be sure, public attention is still mainly devoted to the Ivy League, elite research institutions and public flagships. But Southern New Hampshire’s enrollment is now more than 130,000 students, most of them online. It is one of the nation's three largest universities by enrollment, along with Arizona State University and Western Governors University. The average American today might know more about SNHU than about whichever college is ranked fourth in US News & World Report. The University of Chicago, you might say, doesn’t advertise on ESPN.

These universities represent the rise of a new model in higher education. And as they percolate into public consciousness, their presidents move further into the spotlight. LeBlanc will take over in March as chair of the board of the American Council on Education, higher education's umbrella association. Farther south, Liberty University, now boasting an online enrollment of roughly 100,000 students, can claim it has one of the most well-known college presidents in recent memory. Jerry Falwell Jr., whose late father personified the modern conservative evangelical movement, makes it into the news as often for his political opinions as for scandals that have dogged him of late.

One of SNHU’s most popular TV ads, aired over 54,000 times, is a tearjerker starring LeBlanc himself. “Stand up if you’re the first in your family to go to college,” he asks the crowd at an SNHU commencement ceremony as part of the ad. “Stand up if you’re a mother or a veteran,” LeBlanc says. Graduates openly weep while accepting their diplomas.

“The world in which we live equally distributes talent,” he says in the spot, “but it doesn’t equally distribute opportunity.”

Lions or Lambs?

Neither LeBlanc nor Falwell is the first president to wade into politics. Both, in separate interviews, referred to Theodore Hesburgh, the Catholic priest and president of the University of Notre Dame who blasted the Oval Office over civil rights and the Vietnam War, as somewhat of an forebearer. And former politicians often have found a home in the president’s office, with perhaps the most notable example in recent years being Mitch Daniels, former Republican governor of Indiana and current president of Purdue University.

LeBlanc said his political choices still take some balance. For example, his endorsement video for Bennet was filmed on a public sidewalk because it could not be shot on the SNHU campus. He stressed that it was his endorsement as a citizen, not as a university president.

“I have to be very, very careful to separate out and be neutral in terms of my official role in the university’s position,” he said.

He referenced the popular lament that university presidents, once lions on politics, are now sheep, sneaking quietly to the top so as to not make enemies.

“I talk to so many of my colleagues who don’t feel like they can be very public around their political views,” he said. “The fallout from public stances can be more caustic, more pronounced, with social media supercharging all of that. It’s really fraught territory for many people.”

Indeed, research suggests that in the last decade, college presidents have been getting fired more often as boards have become more activist or aggressive. For example, Carol Folt, former chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had her resignation accelerated by the board there last year when she announced she would be taking down Silent Sam, the campus’s Confederate soldier monument abhorred by a loud chorus of students. Margaret Spellings, formerly the UNC system president, left shortly after Folt. And at the University of Wyoming last year, the board found itself searching for its fourth president in six years after firing Laurie Nichols.

LeBlanc himself stirred up some controversy by wading into the political discourse in 2017. After a white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly that summer, LeBlanc put out a statement to the university community. The alt-right marchers, he wrote, “are to be reviled,” while the countermarchers “were there to protest the evil that is the alt-right and defend American values.”

“There were some of our employees who were upset and felt that I was painting Trump supporters with too broad a brush,” he said. “I’ve learned from that.”

The standards of civility he says he adheres to have lost some currency on college campuses, as activists, arguing that existential threats don’t warrant friendly debate, do their best to shut down some discussions. Engaging with conservative students and making them feel included on campus is a goal, LeBlanc says.

But ultimately, he’s not sure his students, many of whom are taking classes online, really care.

“They’re busy working adults, they’ve got kids, they’ve got jobs, they’re trying to get through their program,” says LeBlanc.

The National Stage

Falwell, who prominently supported Trump in 2016 and is all in on his re-election, agrees that most students aren’t paying attention to his politics. But Falwell thinks being outspoken has helped Liberty’s enrollment.

“For every student we lost, we probably gained two because we’re openly conservative,” he said. “But that’s not why I do it.”

Falwell said it’s not exactly what he believes that matters to students, but rather his growing celebrity.

“It’s just the excitement of Liberty being at the center of a national discussion,” he said. “Liberty is seen as relevant on the national stage, and I think that’s what caused the enrollment to continue to increase.”

LeBlanc says he’s not at all afraid of his views making SNHU a target of Republican lawmakers. His political stance might just give him less influence on that side of the aisle, he suggests. Falwell, however, said the concern is already realized because Liberty is the target of Democrats.

As one example, he noted that Virginia governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, proposed in his state budget eliminating tuition assistance grants for students in online programs, which would directly impact Liberty, located in Lynchburg.

“The very people they claim to champion are the ones they are harming,” he said. “Those who claim to be tolerant are usually the most intolerant.”

Ultimately, LeBlanc said, he is political because it is necessary.

“My own involvement is an attempt to say to students, ‘This is important. You need to have a voice.’”

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Politics, legal fights muddy picture for defrauded student loan borrowers

Wed, 01/22/2020 - 01:00

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives were able to pass a measure last week expressing opposition to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s borrower-defense rule. But because of politics and both ongoing and upcoming legal battles, the vote did little to clear up what will happen to students who are asking for their loans to be discharged because they were defrauded by colleges.

Hardly clear are two questions: how to deal with the backlog of more than 200,000 borrowers, most of whom attended for-profit institutions, who’ve been waiting for the Education Department to process their requests for debt forgiveness.

Also uncertain is how cases will be handled in the future. A new rule proposed by DeVos that would make it harder for borrowers to get relief is set to go into effect in July, but it will likely be challenged in the courts before then.

In terms of dealing with the current backlog, DeVos in December raised the concerns of advocacy groups by announcing that the department will begin excusing only a portion of the debt owed by students, even after they’ve been determined to have been defrauded. The move would be a departure from the Obama administration, which sought full relief for defrauded students.

To advocates, DeVos’s new attempt would mean many borrowers would only get a portion of the relief they would have been entitled to under the Obama administration, said Abby Shafroth, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, and Beth Stein, senior adviser at the Institute of College Access & Success.

Eileen Connor, legal director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, told The New York Times when the new proposal was announced that it would file a legal challenge.

Meanwhile, a previous attempt by the Trump administration, in December 2017, to begin giving only partial relief was temporarily blocked in 2019 by a federal court, which ruled that the borrowers' privacy rights were violated because the department used their federal earnings data from the Social Security Administration.

That case is still continuing, however. The department has appealed the injunction against the first partial-relief plan to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which could conceivably approve the first partial-relief plan.

Should the courts end up blocking both the first and second partial-relief plans, the amount of relief will depend on what standard was in place when a borrower took out the loan.

In ordering the injunction, Federal Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim barred the Education Department from trying to collect from some Corinthian Colleges graduates. But last October, Kim held DeVos in contempt of court for continuing to collect from the students after the Education Department acknowledged in a court filing that it had improperly sought to collect on loans from more than 16,000 students. More than 1,800 of those students were subject to involuntary collections like wage garnishment or seizure of tax refunds.

Beyond the question of whether the department can give only partial relief to defrauded students, also unresolved is how difficult it will be for thousands of other borrowers who are expected to file for relief in the future.

Currently, applications are judged under standards set up by the Obama administration. But DeVos and some Republican lawmakers complained those standards are too lenient and balk at estimates they’d cost $42 billion over the next decade.

So DeVos in August announced her own rule, which describes how to handle claims for loans made after July 1.

“The rule corrects the overreach of the prior administration, gives students and borrowers the relief that they’re owed, and restores fairness and due process, saving taxpayers $11.1 billion over 10 years,” a department spokeswoman said in a statement last week.

But critics say DeVos went too far and made it too difficult for defrauded students to get relief -- for instance, by requiring they prove institutions intentionally defrauded them.

Whether Congress takes action is anyone’s guess.

Last week, the House, 231 to 180, voted to block the rule, sending the measure to the Senate.

“Even in cases where the schools clearly violated the law, the burden of proof on the defrauded student is so absurdly unrealistic, it would take a team of lawyers for the student to have a shot at proving intent and misconduct from the school,” Representative Susie Lee, a Nevada Democrat, said in arguing last Thursday for the resolution she sponsored opposing the new standards.

Six House Republicans joined Democrats in passing the measure, which gave advocates some hope of getting it through the Republican Senate.

But even if does pass, the measure is expected to be vetoed by President Trump.

Congress could then still decide to block the new rule as part of a broader Higher Education Act reauthorization, which would deal with a range of issues from increasing Pell Grant spending to further simplify student loan applications.

A version by Democrats that was approved by the House education committee in October would block DeVos’s tougher system and, instead, strengthen the method used by the Obama administration by setting clearer timelines for handling claims.

However, the Republican majority in the Senate would have to agree to include it in a reauthorization bill. With differences over a number of other issues, it’s unclear if the House and Senate will even be able to agree on a reauthorization for the foreseeable future, Stein said.

If Congress doesn’t take action, DeVos’s tougher standards would stay in place.

Yet DeVos’s tighter standards also are expected to face a legal challenge, meaning those standards, too, could be headed to the courts.

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Iranian student bound for Northeastern removed from U.S. despite court order

Wed, 01/22/2020 - 01:00

An Iranian student with a visa to attend Northeastern University was denied entry to the United States last weekend at Boston’s Logan International Airport and removed from the country despite a court order blocking his removal, his lawyer said.

Immigration lawyers and advocates for Iranian Americans say they have seen a rise in cases of Iranians with valid visas being turned away at airports, at either the port of departure or entry.

Ryan Costello, policy director for the National Iranian American Council, said he is aware of about two dozen such cases since August. He attributed the trend to heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

“August was when it was clear this was happening on a somewhat wide scale,” Costello said. “Prior to that, many students had complications in securing visas and getting the timing right so they could start their semester on time, but we didn’t really see kind of this wide-scale rejection of individuals who had already secured their visas. I think this is something new, and it’s happened within the last six months.”

The Northeastern student, Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein Abadi, attempted to enter the U.S. on Sunday but was held back by Customs and Border Protection agents for secondary questioning, at which point CBP officials detained him, revoked his student visa and issued an expedited removal order, according to an emergency petition filed Monday evening by his lawyers in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts.

Later Monday night, a federal judge, Allison D. Burroughs, issued an order blocking CBP from removing Hossein Abadi pending a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday morning. But lawyers for Hossein Abadi said he was removed from the country on a plane bound for Paris after the order was issued.

“We filed the petition around 7:30ish, then Judge Burroughs from the federal district court issued a stay order at 9:27, and then from our understanding he departed at 10:03,” said Kerry Doyle, a lawyer for Hossein Abadi.

On Tuesday morning, Judge Richard G. Stearns dismissed the petition to keep Hossein Abadi in the U.S. as moot.

“Obviously, we want to hold CBP accountable for what appears to have been their refusal to follow the district court’s order, so we will be pursuing a filing with Judge Burroughs in the coming days,” Doyle said. “As to the case as a whole, we’re keeping all of our options open.”

Doyle said the documentation she has seen from CBP suggests that Hossein Abadi was deemed inadmissible because CBP officials thought he intended to immigrate to the U.S., in violation of the terms of his student visa, which requires individuals to demonstrate that they have no intention of staying in the country permanently.

"We see no evidence whatsoever to back that up," Doyle said of the finding that Hossein Abadi intended to immigrate.

In a statement it issued on Tuesday, CBP did not address why Hossein Abadi was denied entry or comment on allegations that it ignored the court order mandating that he remain in the agency's custody.

"Every applicant for admission is subject to inspection upon arrival in the United States," the agency said. "The issuance of a visa or participation in the visa waiver program does not guarantee entry to the United States. Upon arrival at Logan Airport on Sunday, January 19, [Hossein Abadi] was deemed inadmissible and processed for expedited removal and return to his place of departure. During today’s hearing, the court ruled that the matter is now moot as the subject was never admitted into the United States, the subject is no longer in custody, and the court does not have jurisdiction to order his return."

Hossein Abadi, who is 24 years old, was set to enroll in a bachelor's degree program at Northeastern University. Northeastern officials said in a statement that they had reached out to the student directly and had been in contact with members of their congressional delegation.

"Twenty-four hours after learning that our student was detained and sent back overseas, we still have not received a satisfactory explanation from Customs and Border Protection for this action," Northeastern said in its statement. "We believe that a clear explanation is needed, especially because the deportation took place after a 48-hour extension was granted by a federal judge. Only in the most extreme instances should students have their academic pursuits interrupted by government intervention."

According to court documents, Hossein Abadi first applied for a U.S. visa in 2018 and waited for “nearly a year” while his application was held up for “administrative processing,” which typically entails additional security screening. His visa was granted approximately a week ago.

David Ware, an immigration attorney, said Iranian students hoping to travel to the U.S. are frequently subject to long delays while their visa applications undergo administrative processing, which he described as a euphemism for security checks.

But even a student who makes it through the security check and gets a visa isn't guaranteed entry. Ware described an "epidemic" of people "who passed the security checks that are generated by the consulate but then are denied entry by CBP and are sent back, such as this young man."

"Under our law, CBP has a second bite at the apple to determine admissibility," Ware said. "The consulate has the first bite in the apple, and they put the person through a security check. The consulate determined through various agencies of the U.S. that this person was not a risk to U.S. security. Then CBP turns around and revokes their visa and sends them home. Usually, what CBP will tell you is something came up in the encounter with the CBP officer in the U.S. that indicated to the CBP officer that the visa had been erroneously granted, and there was indeed some problem with the individual. It could have been a security issue, or it could have been some other issue."

The Los Angeles Times and The Guardian have reported on other visa revocations involving Iranian students this academic year. The Los Angeles Times reported on about 20 such cases, most involving students admitted to University of California campuses. Most of the students learned of the revocations when they showed up at airports for their flights to the U.S.

The case involving Hossein Abadi is reminiscent of a similar case at the start of the academic year involving a Palestinian undergraduate student bound for Harvard University, Ismail Ajjawi, who was initially denied entry into the U.S. upon his arrival in Boston. Ajjawi, who was ultimately admitted to the U.S. after Harvard intervened, said CBP officials questioned him about his religious beliefs and about social media posts from Facebook friends that expressed political opposition to the U.S.

Ajjawi's case attracted widespread attention and concern, as did the new case involving Hossein Abadi. Among those weighing in supporting Hossein Abadi were Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. representative Joe Kennedy III, also of Massachusetts.

"Turning away those who make this nation a better place is no way to govern," Kennedy said on Twitter. "This president treats every immigrant as a terrorist -- that’s not what this nation was founded upon. Let him stay."

Iranians in general are barred from coming to the U.S. under President Trump's travel ban, although there is an exception to the ban for Iranians coming on student visas. The number of students from Iran declined by 5 percent during the last academic year, according to data from the Institute of International Education's annual Open Doors survey on international enrollments. Iranians make up the 13th-largest group of international students in the U.S. The majority, almost three-quarters of them, study at the graduate level.

"I certainly think the U.S. is doing long-term damage to our ability to recruit really bright people, bring them here and have them excel in institutions of higher learning across the country," said Costello of the National Iranian American Council. "It's likely that a lot of brilliant people are going to go to Canada, they’re going to go to Europe, they’re going to go elsewhere because our national policy is one of discrimination against Iranians."

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New presidents or provosts: Brandywine Keuka Lancaster Limestone Mobile Queen's San José Stout

Wed, 01/22/2020 - 01:00
  • Monica Baloga, vice president for academic administration at the Florida Institute of Technology, has been selected as provost at Limestone College, in South Carolina.
  • Lonnie A. Burnett, interim president of the University of Mobile, in Alabama, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Katherine P. Frank, vice president of academic innovation and professor of English at Central Washington University, has been named chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Stout.
  • Bradley Fuster, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Keuka College, in New York, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Mark F. Green, vice dean for graduate studies and recruitment at the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Queen’s University, in Ontario, has been promoted to provost and vice principal (academic) there.
  • Andy Schofield, pro vice chancellor and head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham, in Britain, has been chosen as vice chancellor at Lancaster University, also in Britain.
  • Rowena M. Tomaneng, president of Berkeley City College, in California, has been selected as president of San José City College, also in California.
  • Marilyn Wells, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University, Mankato, has been appointed chancellor of Pennsylvania State University's Brandywine campus.
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The 2020 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Chief Academic Officers

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 01:00

What chief academics officers think about the academic health of their institutions, the role of tenure, general education and much more.

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AAUP finds Pacific Lutheran targeted adjunct for dismissal

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 01:00

Pacific Lutheran University violated a longtime instructor’s academic freedom and due process when it summarily dismissed her earlier this academic year, according to a new investigative report from the American Association of University Professors.

The instructor’s alleged offense was offering paid music lessons to a student, despite the department chair’s directive against doing so. Yet the AAUP found that the instructor had arranged lessons with the student prior to the chair’s directive, and that other faculty members had previously done the same thing without punishment.

The report means that the AAUP could vote to censure the university -- which has otherwise clashed with its adjunct faculty over employment conditions and rights -- at the association’s next national meeting.

This investigation is also significant because it’s about the rights of a faculty member without tenure. These kinds of reports are still few in number, as the AAUP has traditionally investigated academic freedom and other complaints concerning tenured professors. They becoming more common, however, in a sign of the changing and increasingly part-time, untenured nature of the professoriate.

Jane Harty, the instructor at the center of the new report and well-known adjunct faculty advocate, said this week that Pacific Lutheran should be censured. Beyond her own case, she said, “What happened to my students is terrible, too.”

“This is about far more than part-time faculty rights," she added. "For one thing, why are a large number of faculty artificially kept at part-time for decades, without access to tenure, benefits, pension -- to say nothing of voting rights and the ability to contribute to governance?”

Harty said, "We mean nothing to the university, except to our students.”

Pacific Lutheran maintains that Harty’s dismissal followed the formal faculty governance process. “Many of the assertions and opinions expressed in the report are factually incorrect," it also said in a statement.

Because the matter pertains to personnel, Pacific Lutheran said, it’s university policy to decline to provide additional details.

Harty has long campaigned for the rights of Pacific Lutheran’s adjunct faculty members. She supported the unionization drive that resulted in a major 2014 National Labor Relations Board decision in their favor, for instance. And she said at a national organizing event that same year that she was making just $11,000 at Pacific Lutheran on a half-time appointment after decades of service.

Pacific Lutheran continues to fight the NLRB’s decision that adjunct faculty members who don’t have a religious function may unionize, saying that the university’s church affiliation puts it outside the labor board’s jurisdiction altogether. So it’s safe to say that Harty’s advocacy on this and other issues didn’t endear her to the institution. But did it turn the institution against her? That’s what the new AAUP report suggests.

Passed Over

“The manner in which the administration sought to dismiss her, the relatively minor nature of the misconduct in which she was alleged to have engaged, and the absence of any other evident basis for the action taken against her lend credibility,” the report reads, “to the notion that the administration’s action to dismiss her was based on considerations that violated her academic freedom.”

Speech “on any matter of institutional policy or action” is protected under principles of academic freedom, the report continues, citing the AAUP’s widely followed policy language on academic freedom. This speech “certainly includes speaking out on behalf of one’s colleagues or pursuing grievances related to potential instances of discrimination,” concludes the document.

Harty, a pianist with master’s of fine arts and doctor of musical arts degrees, began working at Pacific Lutheran, part-time, in 1978. She was appointed a senior lecturer on half-time appointment with benefits in 2001. In 2017, however, she and five other part-timers were appointed lecturers without benefits, as the department added a second tenured faculty line in piano.

The effective demotion added insult to injury, as Harty had previously applied for a tenure-track position at Pacific Lutheran three times, to see each appointment go to candidates with much less teaching experience. Harty -- echoing concerns by many adjuncts that hiring committees are ageist and biased against them -- says that she was once explicitly told that the university was looking for an “early career” hire. According to the AAUP, Harty twice filed complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received right-to-sue notices. She did not pursue litigation, however. Harty says that’s because litigation would have been prohibitively costly. She was also by then involved in the unionization effort in affiliation with Service Employees International Union, after having co-authored a report on a survey of contingent professors on campus.

Private Lessons

Cut to 2018, when a student asked Harty for help studying collaborative piano, typically with vocal accompaniment. As this was not specifically represented among Pacific Lutheran’s course offerings, Harty says she told the student to ask the music department chair about enrolling in an independent study. The chair, Brian Galante, responded to the student that same day, saying via email that the university did not assign independent studies to contingent faculty members out of “fairness,” as these courses are not compensated. Galante also told the student that “there is no option for elective credit in this circumstance,” according to the report.

Understanding that there was little to no room to pursue collaborative piano within the university, the student arranged to study with Harty and a vocalist outside the university in the fall of 2018.

At the beginning of that semester, Galante sent an email to the department saying that he’d overheard students discussing the possibility of paid, outside lessons with faculty members. “While a faculty member may, with all good intentions, be tempted to enter into such an agreement, PLU faculty (full-time or contingent) may not take payment ‘under the table’ from, nor use PLU resources to teach, a current PLU student, even if that student is at the credit maximum,” Galante wrote. (Galante did not respond to a request for comment.)

He added, “A student should not, for example, register for one-credit of a lesson, and then pay for the other half hour privately in order to avoid tuition expenses and course fees. Imagine a similar circumstance where a student requests to pay cash to an instructor to take a biology class off the record. It wouldn’t happen.”

It can’t appear that a student or teacher is “undercutting the university,” Galante also wrote, directing professors to decline students’ offers of lessons for cash. “That is not good for the health of our budgets and our ability to plan appropriately for teaching loads. It also wades into murky ethical, legal and tax waters.”

Around the same time, Harty emailed the student a $420 invoice for the private instruction. The student’s mother eventually contacted campus student services to ask about the bill, and that office, in turn, contacted the music department. Harty called the student’s mother to explain the arrangement, and the student’s mother sent Harty a check.

Even though she didn’t believe that Galante’s policy email applied to a situation in which the department did not offer an area of study -- here, collaborative piano -- Harty nevertheless sought to avoid possibly conflict and returned the check.

In October 2018, a human resources administrator wanted to meet with Harty to discuss the matter. Harty says she was told that she’d “undermined the university” and that her case was being referred to the provost and president. Harty also says that when she tried to explain what happened, the human resources officer accused her of returning the check only because she’d been “caught.”

The next month, Pacific Lutheran sent Harty a letter saying she would be placed on unpaid leave at the end of the semester, through the end of her one-year appointment. The letter also said that Harty’s appointment would not be renewed. The letter cited Galante’s email and “long-standing expectations of the university.”

Harty wrote back to the provost, saying that she had a long record of dedicated service and that there had been no clear policy against private lessons. In response, the provost said that the decision stood.

Due Process?

In December 2018, the AAUP wrote to Pacific Lutheran about Harty, saying that she’d been summarily dismissed without any of the due process protections recommended by the association. President John Belton wrote back to the AAUP that Harty hadn’t been dismissed because contingent faculty members “are not guaranteed reappointment in the same manner as tenure line faculty and the notice periods applicable to tenure line faculty do not apply to the non-renewal of a contingent appointment.” Belton also accused Harty of seeking personal gain and violating “the duty of loyalty she has as a PLU employee under Washington law.”

After additional communications with the AAUP -- and notification that the association was planning a site visit to investigate the matter -- Pacific Lutheran agreed to give Harty what it called a formal dismissal hearing committee process.

An AAUP observer at the hearing expressed concern that the dismissal hearing was something of a sham, designed to support a predetermined outcome. The Pacific Lutheran hearing committee expressed some reservations in own report on the case, saying that while Harty had violated a department directive, the university failed to provide “the level of faculty review and due process inherent in the [Pacific Lutheran] faculty handbook.”

The committee did not address whether the charges against Harty were sufficient to warrant dismissal for cause, however. President Belton underscored that fact in a subsequent letter to Harty, saying that university bylaws permitted him to make his own recommendation to the university’s governing board when the hearing committee has not recommended dismissal. He later formally recommended her dismissal to the board, citing the unsanctioned private lessons and some new charges: that “every faculty member is expected to be committed to the mission and objectives of the university” and conduct “not consistent with excellence in teaching.”

Pacific Lutheran’s board voted to accept Belton’s recommendation in October.

The AAUP never executed the planned site visit that was stalled after the university agreed to a hearing for Harty. But an investigating committee reviewed the case and found that the university acted in violation of the AAUP’s widely followed Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, as the “nature of the misconduct in which Dr. Harty engaged and the summary nature of the administrative action lead to the inference that the real reasons for her dismissal may have stemmed from long-standing displeasure with Dr. Harty’s activities in defending her rights and the rights of others.”

Quoting the report, Harty said speaking out on "any matter of institutional policy or action is protected under principles of academic freedom" and that such speech "certainly includes speaking out on behalf of one's colleagues or pursuing grievances related to potential instances of discrimination."

She added that "my academic freedom to try to organize a faculty union, to protest the demotion of the senior lecturers, to file two EEOC complaints" were likely the real reasons for the "displeasure" of administrators, and the subsequent termination. And while it's "very hard to prove that," she said, "why else would PLU risk censure over such a minor infraction by an untenured faculty member at the lowest rank?"

 

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Missouri closes Confucius Institute after running afoul of visa rules

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 01:00

The University of Missouri at Columbia recently announced it would close its Confucius Institute, joining the long and growing list of American universities that are cutting ties with their institutes.

Administrators at the University of Missouri said they were doing so after running afoul of U.S. Department of State policies on visas. About two dozen colleges have announced the closure of a Confucius Institute over the past two years as political pressures over the Chinese government-funded institutions for language and culture education have intensified.

Like many Confucius Institutes, Missouri’s is involved in outreach to K-12 schools; it places visiting Chinese teachers in local K-12 schools.

“We were notified by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs this past July that due to changes in State Department guidance, we would now be required to have a certified Mandarin Chinese language teacher in every classroom with a Confucius Institute staff member,” Mary Stegmaier, Missouri’s interim vice provost for international programs, said in a press release last week. “While Missouri-certified teachers were in the classroom with the CI staff, recruiting and supporting the necessary certified Chinese language teachers would be cost prohibitive.”

Missouri’s Confucius Institute teachers were coming to the U.S. on J-1 exchange visitor visas under the “intern” category instead of the “teacher” category.

“Unsupervised teaching in K-12 schools is restricted to the Teacher category. By allowing exchange visitors in the College and University Student Intern category to engage in unsupervised teaching, the University of Missouri-Columbia is circumventing the strict qualifications of the Teacher category -- a category for which the University of Missouri-Columbia is not designated as a sponsor,” the State Department wrote in a July 15 letter to the university.

“Student interns teaching Mandarin Chinese to minors in K-12 schools without proper supervision creates an area of concern,” a State Department official told Inside Higher Ed. “When teaching a Chinese language course, they should be working under the supervision of an American co-teacher well-versed in the instructional material and able to speak and read Mandarin Chinese. If the interns’ American co-teachers do not speak Mandarin Chinese, even when a co-teacher is in the classroom to supervise the student interns, they cannot evaluate the substance or quality of information and language skills the exchange visitor is teaching and would not fulfill the purpose of the College and University Student Intern category.”

Christian Basi, a University of Missouri spokesman, said the Columbia Public School District looked into sponsoring the instructors under the teacher category but determined it wasn’t feasible for financial reasons.

The University of Pittsburgh similarly announced last summer that it had suspended its Confucius Institute-run internship program in K-12 schools after hearing concerns from the State Department about visas.

The scrutiny of the visa statuses of Confucius Institute teachers comes along with broader scrutiny of the institutes, which increasingly have attracted the ire of Washington politicians who characterize them as outposts for Chinese government propaganda.

Many American colleges have closed their institutes as the political climate has changed. At least eight colleges closed their Confucius Institutes after Congress passed a spending bill, in 2018, barring colleges that host Confucius Institutes from also receiving monies through the Pentagon-funded Flagship Language program. Colleges that closed their Confucius Institutes for this reason include Arizona State, Indiana, San Francisco State and Western Kentucky Universities and the Universities of Hawaii at Manoa, Kansas, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Texas A&M University closed two Confucius Institutes in April 2018 in response to concerns raised by two congressmen that the institutes pose a threat to national security.

Two months earlier, in February 2018, U.S. senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, sent letters to the four colleges in the state that hosted Confucius Institutes, urging them to close. All four of those institutions -- the Universities of North, South and West Florida and Miami Dade College -- have since closed the institutes, citing various reasons (West Florida said its decision to close the institute was due to inadequate student interest and predated Rubio's letter).

Other institutions that have closed their Confucius Institutes over the past two years include North Carolina State University and the Universities of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Minnesota at Twin Cities, all of which cited reasons related to changing strategies for international programs. The National Association of Scholars, a group that is critical of Confucius Institutes, maintains a list, last updated in December, of 29 American colleges that have closed or announced closures of Confucius Institutes. All but a handful of these have made the decision within the last two years.

University professors had long been raising concerns about Confucius Institutes, even before the closures began, on academic freedom-related grounds. The professors argued that by creating the institutes, colleges ceded control over matters of curriculum to the Chinese government entity that supervises the institutes, Hanban. In many cases, Hanban screens the Chinese language teachers and provides curricular materials.

In 2014, the American Association of University Professors called on colleges to reconsider their Confucius Institute partnerships, saying the universities were permitting “Confucius Institutes to advance a [Chinese] state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.”

The University of Chicago closed its institute in 2014 after more than 100 faculty signed a petition calling for its closure.

However, it wasn’t until lawmakers started raising concerns about the Confucius Institutes and writing restrictive language into spending bills that the quick spate of closures began.

Missouri senator Josh Hawley praised the Missouri closure in a recent tweet.

Pleased Mizzou is shutting down the #China Communist Party funded “Confucius Institute.” As the State Department warned Mizzou in July 2019, and as I have repeatedly stated, this program presented security risks for students & university as a whole https://t.co/7wgKLvC5W4

— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) January 15, 2020

Gao Qing, the executive director of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, in Washington, said demand for Chinese language teaching outstrips supply in the U.S. and that American students will lose out as a result of the closures.

“The political environment is not a friendly environment for international work, educational, cultural or even people-to-people exchanges,” he said.

“It’s not simply the political pressure, but it’s also financial,” said Ryan Allen, an assistant professor of practice in educational studies at Chapman University in California, who focuses on comparative and international education. “If the university or their partners in the United States are having to give any resources or funding or space at all, then it’s a very easy choice to make the cut.”

“I think the Confucius Institutes are easy targets,” Allen said. “There’s a growing Cold War-type suspicion of Chinese students and scholars. If the Confucius institutes went away, I don’t think people like Marco Rubio or others who are concerned with Confucius Institutes, that their concerns would go away.”

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New presidents or provosts: Fond du Lac Grossmont-Cuyamaca Holyoke Kellogg Las Positas Lynchburg Manitoba Niagara Pacific Plattsburgh Walden

Tue, 01/21/2020 - 01:00
  • Michael Benarroch, provost and vice president, academic, at Ryerson University, in Ontario, has been appointed president and vice chancellor at the University of Manitoba.
  • Adrien L. Bennings, vice president for finance and administration at Clovis Community College, in New Mexico, has been chosen as president of Kellogg Community College, in Michigan.
  • Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, has been named president of University of the Pacific, in California.
  • Alexander Enyedi, vice president for academic affairs at Humboldt State University, in California, has been appointed president of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
  • Dyrell Foster, vice president of student services at Moreno Valley College, in California, has been selected as president of Las Positas College, also in California.
  • Stephanie Hammitt, interim president of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, in Minnesota, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Alison Morrison-Shetlar, provost at Western Carolina University, in North Carolina, has been chosen as president of the University of Lynchburg, in Virginia.
  • William J. Murabito, interim president of Niagara County Community College, in New York, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Lynn Neault, vice chancellor of student services at the San Diego Community College District, in California, has been chosen as chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, also in California.
  • Rachel Rubinstein, professor of American literature and Jewish studies and former dean of academic support and advising at Hampshire College, in Massachusetts, has been selected as vice president of academic and student affairs at Holyoke Community College, also in Massachusetts.
  • Sue Subocz, vice provost for curriculum, product strategy, innovation and design at Walden University, in Minnesota, has been promoted to chief academic officer and provost there.
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McGill professor resigns over university's investment in fossil fuels

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 01:00

A professor at McGill University is voluntarily leaving his tenured job next month, in protest of the campus governing board’s recent vote against divesting from fossil fuels.

Gregory Mikkelson, the associate professor, is a philosopher and environmental scientist, which puts divestment squarely within the realm of his own research. But in an interview he said he also based his decision on what he calls McGill's antidemocratic governance system.

“Being in a school environment, you’re immersed in all these facts about the accelerating deterioration of our planet and how urgent it is to take strong measures to try to relieve and reverse these trends,” Mikkelson said, yet “my own institution refuses to take this small step.”

More than that, he continued, “this is the third time in seven years that the board has refused to divest from fossil fuels.” The first two times, Mikkelson said, McGill’s Board of Governors did so against “the strong basis in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities” for divestment.

Most recently, in a decision announced in December, he continued, the Montreal board did so “in defiance and denial of an overwhelming mandate” from campus groups. Indeed, every employee and student organization that has considered divestment in recent years -- including the large, representative University Senate -- has voted in favor. Two other professors on the Board of Governors resigned as elected faculty representatives over the fossil fuel issue last year.

In a report that informed the recent vote, a commitee of the McGill board wrote in favor of  decarbonization, or reducing "overall carbon emissions of the endowment portfolio, by a percentage to be set against a determined reference index or benchmark," over divestment. Mikkelson argued that that is decarbonization is a murky goal that centers on the process of pulling fossil fuels out of the ground and not the far more deleterious effects of burning fossils fuels as a product. 

Cynthia Lee, McGill spokesperson, said via email that the university "is moving forward reducing the overall carbon footprint of its investment portfolio, including those within the fossil fuel industry." McGill also plans to "look at increasing its investments in clean technologies, renewable energy infrastructure and fossil-fuel-free funds to enhance its low-carbon investments."

Some 8.7 percent of the university's $1.7 billion Canadian, or $1.3 billion U.S., endowment fund investments are in the "larger energy sector," which includes renewable fuels, wind and solar, Lee said. About 1.9 percent of the portfolio includes investment in the equity of the top 200 coal, oil, gas and other companies listed in the Carbon Underground 200 index.

"Adopting a more carbon-conscious investment approach complements McGill’s far-reaching climate change and sustainability goals, including institution-wide efforts to achieve carbon neutrality across the University’s operations by 2040," Lee added.

Mikkelson, who is American, also described the “McGill problem” as part of a bigger “Canadian problem,” in which the country has adopted various environmentally friendly policies while continuing to allow and profit from increased production of fossil fuels, particularly via Canada's western tar sands.

That Mikkelson doesn’t have a plan for what’s next speaks to his conviction: tenured faculty positions are hard to come by. But he said he hopes to continue studying and speaking on the intersection of the natural world and economic growth, including biodiversity law. His faculty colleagues, meanwhile, have been “very supportive,” he said, acknowledging that his decision means “disruption” for them and for his students.

Asked what might move the dial on the fossil fuel issue, Mikkelson said the dial is already moving. Several large Canadian universities already have divested from fossil fuels, including the University of British Columbia, just this month. That endowment is roughly the same as McGill’s, he noted.

Mikkelson also contrasted McGill’s response to faculty calls for divestment with that of the University of California: in September, the massive system said that it was making its $70 billion pension fund and $13.4 billion endowment "fossil-free."

The California move followed years of campus protests and other campaigning against fossil fuels. But the university has said its ultimate decision was more about money than politics. Fossil fuels in the portfolio at this point amount to too much risk, it said.

McGill, meanwhile, has said that dropping fossil fuels is too risky. Yet that also conflicts with a recent working paper finding that colleges' and universities' financial concerns about divestment are overblown, if any risk exists at all.

Chris Marsciano, a co-author on that paper and a visiting assistant professor in education studies at Davidson College, said that four of about 100 Canadian colleges and universities have divested or plan to, in addition to British Columbia. About 45 of the approximately 1,400 colleges and universities in the U.S. have done the same or plan to, at least in part, he said.

Marsciano said he’d never heard of anyone resigning from a tenured position over fossil fuels, but that it would be a “brave move.”

“I expect that anyone with a track record strong enough to get tenured would have many options after resigning,” he added. “People with integrity and those who stand up for their beliefs tend to land well.”

 

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How SNAP rule changes could affect college students

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 01:00

Upcoming changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal food stamp program, are expected to affect nearly 700,000 Americans.

College students -- among the neediest -- will be among them.

Some higher education policy experts argue that it's already complicated for students to decipher whether they qualify for public benefits, and the rule change from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs SNAP, scheduled to take place in April will only make matters more difficult.

Students who are enrolled at least half-time wouldn't be affected by the rule change, but those who are enrolled less than half-time could lose access to the benefits. These students are subject to time limits, meaning they can't receive benefits for more than three months during a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours per week. States can waive the time limit when unemployment is high, but this change would make that more difficult.

For example, Pennsylvania lets students count taking college classes toward the work requirements, according to Carrie Warick, director of policy and advocacy at the National College Access Network. It's unclear if that waiver will be allowed once the rule change is implemented.

"The SNAP eligibility for students is really confusing already," said Parker Gilkesson, a policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy. The rule change would only "add confusion" to a program that's underutilized, as only four in 10 eligible students are enrolled in SNAP, she said.

The students most affected by the change -- those attending less than half-time -- are also likely those who need the benefits the most, according to Warick.

These students "most likely still need to work to support families, and therefore it’s taking them a long time to finish a degree, which means the ability to increase earnings is delayed," Warick said.

While it's unknown exactly how many students this change would affect, advocates see this as yet another hurdle for students to get the help they need to complete their degrees.

"Would you be able to study or look for a reputable job if you’re hungry? No," Gilkesson said. "We shouldn’t be using work as a means to justify if someone can get a necessity of life."

While the estimated rate of food insecurity on college campuses varies across studies, there's agreement that it's a problem.

Some colleges attempt to assuage the issue with food pantries and one-stop service centers, but some say that is a short-term solution.

For every one meal food banks provide, SNAP provides 12, according to Victoria Jackson, senior policy analyst for higher education at the Education Trust.

"We really should be looking at SNAP and better, more comprehensive financial aid policies," Jackson said.

Warick said she would like to see the required work hours reduced, as students who work 20 hours or more per week are more likely to fall behind in their classes. It can also be difficult to maintain those hours, as part-time jobs often have inconsistent scheduling, she said.

Policy makers and the Department of Agriculture also need to understand who today's students are, Jackson said. Eligibility requirements for college students were designed with the idea of 18-year-olds who went to college straight from high school and can depend on their parents for help. But that's often not the case today, as many students are older, parents, low income or all of the above.

"It’s so important that, in this time when SNAP and other public benefits programs are being attacked, that we really put the message out there that people need food, health care and cash to be able to live, thrive and operate in this world," Gilkesson said. "Until we change our mind-set about how we look at public benefits in this country, we will not be able to help people with their real need."

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Colleges prepare students for 2020 Census

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 01:00

As colleges across the country begin efforts to “get out the count” and energize students before the 2020 Census gets underway nationally in March, civic engagement advocates have identified numerous hurdles ahead.

There’s the challenge of simply informing students, a majority of whom have never participated in the decennial census, about the detailed questionnaire they will be receiving from the federal government and why it's important to fill it out.

The spread of misinformation on social media, misconceptions on how students are counted and propaganda campaigns that generate mistrust in government are also barriers that could impact student participation, said Carah Ong Whaley, associate director of the James Madison University Center for Civic Engagement. A controversial plan by the Trump administration to add a question about citizenship status on the census questionnaire, while ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, has already made some students and immigrants distrust the government's motives for doing the count and will likely discourage participation, Whaley said.

Another concern is that the 2020 Census only offers male and female options for respondents to report their gender, which excludes the identities of some in the LGBTQ community, she said. Whaley, who is a commissioner for Virginia’s Complete Count Committee, said she is telling Virginians to skip the question if it makes them uncomfortable.

Kell Crowley, a junior at Georgetown University, conducted research on the 2020 Census for the Beeck Center, the university's multidisciplinary center for the study of societal needs and challenges. She said she has seen calls to boycott the census because of the proposed citizenship question. While people are very open to the message that the census is fundamental to democracy and counts everyone, including noncitizens, constant news headlines about the citizenship question generate feelings of “risk and fear,” Crowley said. This in turn confuses students’ understanding of how the census is used, she said.

“Well-intentioned groups think that we should boycott the census because we shouldn’t be using it for partisan processes,” Crowley said. “Mostly I encountered apathy rather than students having direct negative opinions of it.”

Not participating in the census could disrupt the government's system for determining states' representation in Congress and federal funding for education, policing, health care and a host of social services. Whaley said it could hurt “hard to count” communities, which would receive fewer services and less representation as a result of an undercount. These communities include college students, undocumented and legal immigrants, non-English speakers, low-income people and others who have been historically less likely to complete the census. Whaley said that boycotting the census is counterproductive; those who aren't counted aren't considered in policy decisions by lawmakers.

“Participation is resistance,” Whaley said. “Seeing the way things have worked or not worked at the federal level, this is the system that we have, and if you don’t participate, you are not going to be represented … at various levels.”

This year will be the first time many traditional-age college students have even heard about the census, Whaley said. Many were children when the last census was taken a decade ago.

Census count committee members on college campuses have developed ways for individual students and student organizations to educate and encourage their peers to participate.

Los Angeles County's Complete Count Committee formed a coalition of local government officials, U.S. Census Bureau representatives and leaders from the area's colleges and universities. The group developed tool kits with messaging and strategies for student organizations and administrators to spread information about the census, said Marcus Rodriguez, director of student leadership, involvement and community engagement at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

The kit for student organizations suggests asking “the student government … to adopt resolutions about the importance of the 2020 Census” and “arrange for the student newspaper and other student media outlets to report on the census.”

The kit also provides information on Census Bureau job opportunities. About 500,000 jobs are available, including for enumerators who go door to door to help community residents complete the census, which the bureau has advertised directly to students, said Marissa Corrente, deputy director of the Students Learn, Students Vote Coalition, or SLSV. For community college students who often work while attending classes, positions with the bureau can be a great opportunity, said Martha Parham, senior vice president of public relations for the American Association of Community Colleges, or AACU.

“They’re seen as those trusted messengers to engage their peers and community members,” Corrente said.

James Madison introduced a course this semester called Democracy Counts, which involves students from multiple disciplines participating in efforts on campus and in the Harrisonburg, Va., community to get out the count, said Whaley, who is co-teaching the class with five other professors. Students in the course will put door hangers on off-campus housing to remind students about the census and visit classrooms to speak about its importance, Whaley said.

Kearstin Kimm, a student in the course, is hoping to learn more about the security measures the Census Bureau has to combat fraudulent submissions and false information.

“Combating disinformation is extremely difficult,” said Kimm, a senior majoring in computer science. “It’ll take a lot to overcome it, especially because of online submissions. There’s a lot more opportunity for people to misrepresent it, and that’s scary.”

This year will be the first time that respondents will be able to submit their answers to the questionnaire through the internet. Households will receive up to five cards in the mail in mid-March inviting them to respond to the questionnaire online, by telephone or through traditional mail, according to the bureau. In theory, internet responses could be beneficial for counting students because of their digital literacy, but it shouldn’t be assumed that young people will respond just because it seems easier, Whaley said.

“People think at all different levels that if we put something on social media, if we put this online, people are just going to do it,” Whaley said. “We have to focus on that education piece.”

The bureau is also working with the Public Relations Student Society of America, a national organization for college students studying public relations and communications, on a student-centered information campaign "to help spread the word about the 2020 Census, the importance of completing it, and targeting those messages towards specific hard to count groups as well as their college campus and communities at large," a Census Bureau official said.

Corrente of SLSV said the low level of participation by college students in past censuses is comparable to their voting record. But compared to voting, students have very little baseline understanding of how the process works and why it matters, she said.

The Pell Grant program, which provides need-based federal financial aid to qualifying low-income students, is one of the top five federal programs with funding determined by census data, according to the Census Bureau. The census provides indicators -- income level, degree completion, occupation -- for the number of people that will be seeking a college degree in the future and will need Pell Grants, said Luis Maldonado, vice president of government relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

“I believe that the census drives the underlying conversation and structure of how much money are we going to need, based on how many needy students we have,” Maldonado said.

Population counts also shape the budgetary decisions of college leaders, business owners and local government officials, all of which can indirectly impact students, said Parham of AACU. The census gauges a community's fiscal health and can shift the focus of job-training programs at community colleges as employment opportunities are created or disappear because of demographic changes, Parham said.

"It could impact the manner in which a community works," Parham said. "It could impact the local economy, the workforce, the ecosystem, if you will … It’s all connected."

Community college students make up a "large swath" of all college students, and AACU is working closely with the Census Bureau to ensure an accurate count of those enrolled in community colleges across the country, Parham said.

Corrente said there’s a misconception that all students are counted by university officials. Only a small percentage of students live in residence halls, and they can be counted by an administrator based on the Census Bureau’s guidelines for group quarters, she said. Students should complete the census where they “live and sleep most of the time” and should not be counted by their parents if living away from home, according to the bureau. Students living off-campus with roommates will need to elect one representative who will complete the census questionnaire for all who live in the residence.

"That’s a reason why it’s confusing for students, because we don’t have a 'head of household,'" Crowley, the Georgetown student, said. "Many, many people will be double-counted because their parents count them at home. I still consider myself to be living in Boston, but I’ve made it very clear to my parents not to count me on their census. I doubt many students are having that conversation with their parents, especially this early."

Corrente said SLSV, which is a project of Young Invincibles, a national organization working on increasing youth civic engagement, will share best practices throughout January and February for educating students about the census with partner institutions and community organizations helping to lead campus counts. The focus now is communicating to students why the census is important, she said.

“It doesn’t just impact their community this year -- it impacts their community for the next 10 years,” Corrente said. “The census impacts power -- your political representation and the resources you get. We break it down to power and money.”

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Bryan Alexander answers questions about his book 'Academia Next'

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 01:00

Bryan Alexander is a researcher, writer and frequent commentator on higher education. He is also -- as he reminds readers of his new book -- a futurist, meaning he examines trends to predict future outcomes. In Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education, Alexander describes a few potential scenarios for the higher ed landscape in coming decades. Alexander is currently a senior scholar at Georgetown University.

He responded via email to questions about his book.

Q: Who is your book for and what do you hope it will achieve? Is it your goal to help colleges and universities survive into the future? If so, why?

A: I wrote Academia Next for everyone thinking about higher education’s future. That includes students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees, along with directly interested parties: parents of younger students, and state legislators, along with academically involved foundations, nonprofits, relevant government agencies and businesses.

My goal is to help readers think more creatively and effectively about the future of higher education, aiding them as they plan for and make the next generation of colleges and universities.

I hope futures thinking can help institutions survive, because at its best, the academy represents an extraordinary combination of learning, discovery, inspiration, knowledge accumulation, personal transformation and social service. I fear that the futures I derive tend to forecast a very challenging time ahead for these amazing institutions -- which is ironic, because in contrast the future looks very bright for learning.

Q: What is your approach to predicting the future? What does the process entail?

A: I don’t offer a single prediction. Instead, I explore multiple futures which higher education might inhabit.

Methodologically, in this book I focus on two approaches. The first chapters are a form of trends analysis, which looks to the present day and very recent history for signs of forces likely to change higher education in the future. They consider a broad range of trends, from enrollment patterns to demographics and macroeconomic forces to emerging technologies. Each of those trends is backed up by research, showing how they played out so far in the real world. Assembling that research entailed a nearly decade-long process of continuous environmental scanning, examining a wide and diverse range of sources for what Amy Webb calls “signals” of the future, and published regularly through the "Future Trends in Education and Technology" report. Chapter six (“Connecting the Dots”) then directly extrapolates those trends into the short- and medium-term future, creating a first-order forecast.

Next, the second part of the book uses another approach by generating scenarios, or seven possible forms for higher education. Each is based on one or two trends identified in the first part of Academia Next.

Trends analysis has the advantage of being grounded in material evidence. Scenarios are powerful because they are narratives, allowing us to easily imagine ourselves in their possible worlds. Both give us insight into the futures of academia.

Both of these methods are improved by the help of many people, often through social media. First, I use social media as one source for horizon scanning. Second, readers ping me to share stories they found fascinating. Third, I share stories and thoughts with many different people, including through social media, seeking feedback, improving my thinking and enhancing the results. Over all this is a very collaborative and social process -- and you can see more about this in the book’s acknowledgments.

Q: Some of the scenarios you present in the book describe a challenging future for American higher education. Which of these scenarios do you most fear or are you least excited about?

A: "Peak Higher Education" (chapter seven) is the darkest one. It posits a higher education sector that is smaller than it is now -- or was when I first published the idea here in Inside Higher Ed in 2014. Total student enrollment declines for a variety of reasons (demographics, geopolitics, low unemployment, student debt anxieties), leading to a shrinkage in campus budgets and an acceleration in the number of institutional closures and mergers. Competition heats up, and inter-campus collaboration becomes even more difficult than it once was. The 20th-century American idea that the more college and university experience people have, the better, begins to give way.

My slightly tongue in cheek “Retro Campus” (chapter 13) rejects the digital world almost entirely, and I fear that such an institutional design would lose the many benefits offered by modern technology.

Q: One of your chapters is on the “Augmented Campus,” where augmented reality is mainstream and everyone on campus is constantly viewing virtual content on their eyewear. What trends might drive this development?

A: The rise of augmented and virtual reality technologies, then their combination in what some call mixed or extended reality. Mobile devices and speedy internet connections allow for the intertwining of the digital and physical worlds. The creativity we normally demonstrate when faced with new technologies then drives new interfaces, content, experiences, expectations and storytelling.

Q: I noticed that you dedicated your book to adjuncts, who, as you write, “do more than anyone, with less than anyone, to build the future of higher education.” What does the future look like for adjuncts and why is the book dedicated to them?

A: I am very glad you caught that dedication. Right now, it looks like adjuncts will continue to represent the preponderance of the American professoriate. They do so now, and there is very little in the way of countervailing trends. Adjunct unions are a good step forward, but the forces driving adjunctification -- research universities overproducing Ph.D.s, campuses facing fierce pressures to keep costs low -- seem likely to persist.

Academia Next is dedicated to adjuncts because they are in many ways a humanitarian disaster that higher education has created. Their labor powerfully shapes the emerging future of the academy, usually without the recognition of others, and I wanted to draw the reader’s attention to their work and situation.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Mon, 01/20/2020 - 01:00
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Calbright College: Give it time, or doomed from the start?

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 01:00

Some observers are raising red flags after the unexpected departure of the president and CEO of California’s new online-only community college. But others chalk it up to the normal growing pains associated with a start-up and say it’s too soon to judge whether the college will be successful.

Calbright College, an initiative started by Jerry Brown, California's former governor, opened its programs to students in October. It’s aimed at adult learners who don’t have degrees and are underemployed. Calbright is completely online, statewide and competency-based. It doesn’t offer degrees but instead features certificates based on skills that could lead to middle-income jobs.

Its first leader, Heather Hiles, announced this week that she will step down in March after a year on the job. A statement from Hiles said she plans to return to previous ventures now that Calbright is operational.

The news has raised some eyebrows and reignited the discussion of whether the college can be successful.

"Our legislative mandate remains that we have to serve these students, and that’s what brings everyone to work every day," said Taylor Huckaby, a spokesman for Calbright. "We’ll roll with the punches."

‘I Don’t Think We Can Wait’

So far, 464 students are enrolled in what Calbright calls its “beta cohort,” which includes three programs. In each track, students enroll in college skills courses first before moving on to a “core curriculum” designed for the specific program. So far, 22 students have enrolled in the core curriculum portion, which the college’s three deans are teaching as it works toward hiring faculty members.

Huckaby said they are “comfortable” with the number of enrolled students because Calbright is still hiring faculty and establishing partnerships with businesses.

The college was pushed to open before getting these pieces in place because of legislative deadlines, Huckaby said. The state required it to start programs by the fourth quarter of 2019.

Right now is “very much a research and development phase,” Huckaby said. After the beta phase, he said, the college will work under its intended model. Programs would start with an employer agreement. The college would create a curriculum based on the workforce demands for that employer, which would then offer a set number of jobs and apprenticeships to the students who graduate.

The college has had more than 100 meetings with potential employers since last summer, Huckaby said, but it’s not ready to announce any partnerships.

Before the programs even opened, critics have argued that the new college is unnecessary.

“We have existing colleges that do all these same programs,” said Evan Hawkins, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

Hawkins also finds the college’s inherent model “flawed.” Calbright plans to work with employers to train people in relevant skills. It would charge employers to train employees, reducing its reliance on taxpayer money, which Hawkins said is “incredibly problematic” for a public institution.

“From the very beginning, you have the idea of a start-up as opposed to a college,” he said.

Hawkins and the faculty union believe the state’s community colleges should be fully funded, as they are now the lowest funded of all institution types in the state. With more state support, the colleges could focus on similar programs he believes would be more effective locally than statewide.

“I think faculty are pretty frustrated,” he said. “This is one thing that all faculty are in agreement on -- that this is really a waste of resources.”

Sally Johnstone disagrees.

“What everyone’s saying -- that’s what they want to happen,” said Johnstone, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and one of the consultants who helped design the Calbright model.

Despite losing Hiles, she said, the college has strong leaders on the ground who are “keeping things rolling.” She believes Calbright is likely to succeed.

Johnstone said designers considered several models for the project, including asking existing colleges to use this model, but ultimately decided something new was needed.

“The colleges have not radically rethought what it is that the workplace needs and how could they work with employers in ways that are meaningful for adult learners,” she said, adding that it doesn’t make sense to wait "around to try and get the colleges that now exist to change a whole bunch of what they’re doing within structures and systems that are not conducive to change."

She added that the "governor didn’t want to wait, because I don’t think we can wait."

Johnstone also said Calbright is a “threatening model” for traditional academic institutions.

“If it succeeds, it may well challenge the basic tenets of how you do things,” she said, adding that those in higher education now may have their “hearts in the right places,” but they’re operating within a structure that might not be as relevant as it was in the past.

“And that’s scary,” she said.

Still, without substantive changes, Johnstone said, higher education won't be able to serve the population of people that Calbright is trying to help.

Start-Ups Take Time

As for how the college is doing so far, “it is a start-up,” Johnstone said.

She compared it to Western Governors University, a nonprofit, private online university founded in 1997 that now enrolls nearly 120,000 students and has 170,000 alumni.

“People in higher education in the western states thought it was the worst idea in the world,” Johnstone said of WGU. “So I’m not surprised to be hearing what I’m hearing about Calbright right now.”

When looking at a history of WGU, some of the similarities are clear. It worked with employers, many in technology, to get funding; few students signed up in the beginning; it took a few years to find a leader who was more permanent; and much of the early news media coverage described it as a doomed venture.

As an outsider looking at Calbright, Scott Pulsipher, WGU's president, said it’s too early to judge the college's success.

In WGU’s case, it took five years to reach 1,000 students.

“That early phase of any new endeavor like this, that’s not some quick turnaround,” Pulsipher said.

With any start-up, Pulsipher said, there are two questions to answer: Is the product needed and valuable, and is the entity able to execute the product?

Calbright is offering something different in the form of nondegree credentials that focus on workforce needs and provide more flexibility to students.

Now, he said, the college must prove the demand and that it can scale the idea, which will take time.

And, while WGU serves thousands of Californians and has articulation agreements with the state’s community colleges, Pulsipher doesn’t see Calbright as competition.

“There are far more individuals that need to be served than there is capacity to serve them,” he said. “It’s bad to see this as a zero-sum game.”

An ‘Early Experiment’

Some experts have doubts about whether the idea itself can work.

“I’m not sure that only nondegree credentials on their own could sustain a business model for most institutions,” said Sean Gallagher, executive director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern University. “You’d have to be operating at a very large scale.”

Because the state of California is large, it does provide that opportunity. But Gallagher said Calbright may struggle to convince enough students to buy in to the idea.

Calbright’s intended targets are less likely to enroll in online programs, Gallagher said. Adults without degrees tend not to try online higher education as often as do those who hold degrees.

“The comfort with online learning and the means and time to pursue it has been historically greater at higher levels of the job market,” he said. “That means there’s a special challenge, at times, in enrolling students at this level of a program and in certain fields in the online education market.”

Calbright also must grapple with establishing a new brand, which will take time.

But there are advantages to starting anew.

“My sense is that there are aspects of the structure of higher education in California that have, at times, made it difficult to scale online,” Gallagher said.

All of these issues make Calbright an “early experiment” in this field, Gallagher said, though he expects to see more ventures like it.

David Schejbal, vice president and chief of digital learning at Marquette University, also has doubts about the model, particularly its focus on nondegree credentials.

“Degrees are still the coin of the realm,” Schejbal said. “The reality is that we don’t have any kind of common medium the way we do with credit hours and degrees” that allows for easy credit transfer or understanding from employers.

While he thinks these new kinds of models are needed for the nation as a whole, getting the public and employers to latch on to the idea is difficult.

To change these perceptions, he said federal Title IV regulations that regulate financial aid funds need to change, too.

Because of the broader shifts needed to make real change, Schejbal said, new ventures should follow the current structure. The experiment won’t change the broader culture, he said. And without that change, the ventures are likely to fail.

“We, as a nation, are not good at education strategy,” he said. “It would be great if we got this one right. The future of the country depends on more educated citizens.”

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Universities ignore growing concern over Sci-Hub cyber risk

Fri, 01/17/2020 - 01:00

Alexandra Elbakyan, founder of the scholarly piracy website Sci-Hub, is suspected of working with Russian intelligence officials to steal confidential research and military secrets from American universities.

According to The Washington Post, Elbakyan, nicknamed the Robin Hood of science, is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for suspected criminal acts and espionage.

Elbakyan denies any wrongdoing, but scholarly publishers such as Elsevier have used news of her investigation to call on academic institutions to block access to Sci-Hub -- not because the site is illegal, but because it poses a security threat. Several large publishers, including Elsevier, have successfully sued Sci-Hub for mass copyright infringement in recent years. The Sci-Hub repository contains more than 80 million research articles, including a large proportion of Elsevier's catalog.

Attempts to block the site completely through legal measures have not been successful. New links to the site (some listed on Wikipedia) keep being created. Now it seems that publishers such as Elsevier are taking a new approach -- asking users to boycott the site because of security concerns.

“The Washington Post story confirms that Sci-Hub is a malicious site being used for nefarious purposes,” said an Elsevier blog post published in late December. The publisher advised universities to block all websites associated with Sci-Hub.

PSI, a company based in Britain that offers tools and services to protect scholarly copyright, maintains a list of web addresses associated with Sci-Hub, which institutions can download and use to block access to the site on campus.

Andrew Pitts, CEO and co-founder of PSI, said that so far, few U.S. institutions have downloaded the block list. Pitts, who has been writing about Sci-Hub’s links to Russian military intelligence for several years, said he struggled to understand why universities are not taking more immediate steps to protect their networks. “This is a matter of urgency,” he said.

PSI’s research suggests that Sci-Hub has stolen log-in credentials from 373 universities in 39 countries, including more than 150 institutions in the U.S., said Pitts. The credentials were likely stolen through phishing attacks, he said. Sci-Hub browser extensions could also be used to track user activity and steal personal information, he said.

Brandon Butler, director of information policy at the University of Virginia Library, said, “Clearly Sci-Hub is not a legitimate organization. Their activity is sketchy, and we know they are based in Russia.” But he added that the “investigation is still an investigation; nothing has been proven yet.”

If the investigation found concrete evidence that Sci-Hub is linked to the theft of U.S. military secrets, Butler said, he would “give the matter more serious attention.”

Right now, the University of Virginia is not specifically discouraging academics from using Sci-Hub, said Butler. “We have two-factor authentication on everything. If someone attempted to log in using my credentials, my phone would ping,” he said.

“Philosophically, I feel Sci-Hub is a foreseeable side effect of the publisher business model. There’s always going to be a black market for paywalled content,” said Butler. He added that the opportunity for Sci-Hub to steal university credentials wouldn’t exist if academics didn’t have to provide credentials to access paywalled content. “That’s a risk that wouldn’t exist in a full open-access world,” he said.

Jim O’Donnell, university librarian at the Arizona State University Library, said that news of the investigation of Elbakyan had not changed his views on Sci-Hub.

“We are very aware of Sci-Hub. They make assertions about their business practices that cannot be verified -- they’re very untransparent,” he said. But the ASU Library does not tell academics and students to specifically avoid Sci-Hub, nor has it blocked the site. “Our advice to users is that they should abide by the law and follow our university policies,” he said.

The investigation into Elbakyan has “created more smoke, metaphorically speaking. But all we’re doing is a little more coughing,” said O’Donnell. He added, “We observe, we watch, we wait.”

Joe Esposito, a scholarly publishing consultant, said some librarians have been “dismissive” of PSI’s claims because the company is looking to promote its services. “I have no reason to think that they’re lying. But the amount of chatter seems to be way out ahead of the facts,” he said. “I think it’s true that an investigation is taking place, but we don’t yet know the outcome.”

Elbakyan has previously stated that the university credentials Sci-Hub uses to access paywalled content and download millions of research papers were volunteered by academics -- a statement that is disputed by PSI and some publishers.

Even if Sci-Hub is not obtaining credentials illegally, Esposito noted that one organization “hoarding credentials” has “dangerous implications.”

“Sci-Hub could easily be a target for hackers,” said Esposito. “People talk about Sci-Hub hacking universities, but what happens if Sci-Hub gets attacked?”

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