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ACE President Molly Corbett Broad on the Election of Donald J. Trump

American Council on Education - il y a 3 heures 56 min
ACE congratulates Donald J. Trump on his election as the nation’s 45th president.

TEF Gold attracts international interest

The PIE News - il y a 4 heures 5 min

Teaching Excellence Framework rankings are driving a “noticeable increase” in international students’ interest in Gold rated institutions, a report by Hotcourses Group has revealed.

The voluntary TEF medal scheme was introduced by the HEFCE  in 2016 to recognise quality in teaching at undergraduate level.

According to the course finding service, TEF Gold institutions accounted for for 24.5% of global searches to the UK between July and September 2017, up from 19.1% for the same period in 2016.

“The results are striking, particularly the surge in interest from prospective Indian students”

The largest increase in interest came from prospective students from India, with searches during this period up from 23.7% to 36.9%. Students researching UK universities from Thailand, Turkey and Brazil were also found to be demonstrating an interest in TEF Gold institutions.

Earlier this year the first round of Gold, Silver and Bronze ratings were awarded to some surprise institutions as many of the country’s highly ranked universities missed out on top tier results.

However there were concerns amongst some education consultants that international students would misunderstand or be confused by the TEF rankings.

Hotcourses group director Aaron Porter told The PIE News that international students are more likely to pay attention to rank and league tables as they don’t have as much access to information on UK institutions.

“The results are striking, particularly the surge in interest from prospective Indian students, who can be difficult for UK universities to recruit,” he said.

“Hopefully [TEF rankings] will breathe new life into a tough market.”

Despite the surge in interest in Gold institutions from key overseas markets, new TEF rankings are having little notable impact on the reputations of UK universities amongst domestic students.

However Porter said that patterns in the application of UK-domiciled students is subject to a number of trends, and it is too early to discern any noticeable shift in domestic students’ interest on the basis of TEF alone.

“Domestic students are trying to navigate a sea of information.  So while TEF rankings may not disrupt the domestic market, we might see that impact take hold in a less prominent way further down the line,” he added.

The post TEF Gold attracts international interest appeared first on The PIE News.

College presidents and provosts gather to consider issues of free speech

Inside Higher Ed - il y a 6 heures 59 min

If college leaders had any hope that speaker disruptions and free speech disputes would be last semester's news, they have seen otherwise in the early weeks of this academic year.

Just last week, students shouted down talks at Columbia University and the University of Michigan. Those doing the shouting down were generally students aligned with the political left, but supporters of President Trump also shut down a talk at Whittier College by California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, shouting "America First" and "build that wall" to prevent him from answering questions. And those events followed the interruption of speakers (sometimes preventing events from taking place at all) at the College of William & Mary, Texas Southern University, the University of Oregon and Virginia Tech.

With these events becoming increasingly common, the University of Chicago invited presidents and provosts from a range of institutions to come to campus this weekend for a closed-door discussion of how higher education should respond. The University of Chicago has stated in a series of statements from its leaders and monographs on its history that free expression must be respected on campuses, no matter how controversial the idea being expressed.

While the meeting at Chicago was closed to the press, organizers arranged for a group of presidents and provosts to discuss what happened and the ideas that had engaged the college leaders. Daniel Diermeier, Chicago's provost, said that the university wanted a group large enough to have different kinds of institutions represented, but small enough for intense interaction among participants. Sixty-six presidents and provosts were there.

Diermeier and other participants said the presidents were in strong agreement with principles of free speech, without exceptions. "Those principles apply irrespective of the ideological perspective of the speakers," he said.

But at the same time, some participants said that they wanted to work (and hope to have future meetings along these lines) on such issues as educating students on the First Amendment and also trying to change the narrative popular in the press that today's students are uniquely unable, compared to past generations, to deal with ideas that make them uncomfortable.

“One point that we’re not all in agreement on, but that I feel strongly about, is that [pundits and politicians have] tainted a group of students as being less resilient, as snowflakes," said Ana Mari Cauce, president of the University of Washington. "The student of today traverses a more diverse environment, with more perspectives, than a Yale student of the '20s who went to school with a valet and didn't have to confront real difference."

At the same time, Cauce said, colleges need to focus more on education of their students on the values of free expression, especially in light of the experiences today's students have had with the First Amendment.

"Many of us thought there is a need for more education of our student body, for them to have a better understanding of why the First Amendment is so important," she said. "They have seen the First Amendment used to defend racism, sexism, etc. They don’t have the real understanding that the First Amendment has been used to defend minority views."

Likewise, she said it was important to recognize that some of those claiming to be First Amendment defenders may not be.

When far-right speakers regularly engage in doxing -- sharing private information about some scholars with the public in ways that encourage harassment of those scholars -- they are trying to shut down speech, Cauce said. Of talks with more insults than ideas, Cauce said that "they are not attempting to engage in real debate."

At the University of Washington, Cauce defended the right of Milo Yiannopoulos to appear, citing principles of free expression, even as many asked her to call off the event. But she also made a point in her statements of questioning not only his views, but whether he was engaged in true discourse. A statement she made at the time said of Yiannopoulos, "He is not someone I would ever invite to speak here, not because I don’t value a robust or difficult discussion about a range of policies or social issues -- such conversations are necessary and college campuses are ideal places to have them -- but because this is clearly not the kind of conversation he is seeking. He generates heat, not light, and his manner of engagement is anything but civil, respectful or conducive to true dialogue across differences, of which we need more, not less."

The idea that presidents need to do more than just lecture about the First Amendment was a common theme among the presidents, who said that they need to show empathy with those who feel betrayed by having certain speakers appear. Presidents and provosts stressed that they could (and should) simultaneously talk about why these speakers are so offensive, while also defending their right to appear.

"We also talked through a series of scenarios where we find it logical that many students might find a particular speaker highly offensive. And we want to let them know we understand that feeling," said Todd A. Diacon, provost of Kent State University.

Security Costs

At the Yiannopoulos event at the University of Washington, a man was shot. A Yiannopoulos event at the University of California, Berkeley, attracted anarchist protesters who vandalized the campus. Controlling the event at the University of Washington involved 124 police officers, a mix of those from the university and from Seattle. Berkeley spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security last month for appearances by conservative speakers (and announced appearances by speakers who didn't show up).

The University of Florida is estimating that an appearance by white supremacist Richard Spencer will cost $500,000 in security expenses.

Several presidents said that the issue of security is one that needs to be addressed. Cauce noted that many of those protesting -- sometimes in illegal ways -- are not students or otherwise connected to the university. As a result, she said it was appropriate that local police forces share responsibility, as happened at her campus.

Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, said he was concerned about the ability of speakers like Spencer to return to the same campus -- citing First Amendment principles -- time after time, potentially forcing a campus to spend millions of dollars.

Kimbrough himself has paid for security to defend principles of free expression. Dillard, a historically black institution in New Orleans, agreed to hold a debate between candidates for a U.S. Senate seat last year. When David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, qualified for the debate at Dillard, many urged Kimbrough to call off the event. But Kimbrough kept the commitment, even as protesters tried to gain entry to disrupt the event. Kimbrough said doing so had nothing to do with Duke's views, but with a university's commitment to providing a forum for a debate.

Many of the free speech conflicts attracting the most attention in the last year -- those involving Charles Murray, who was shouted down at Middlebury College, and the various speeches or attempted speeches by Spencer, Yiannopoulos and others -- have involved liberal and/or minority students, or off-campus anarchist groups opposing the speakers. Kimbrough noted that he first became interested in the issue of controversial speakers when black students were criticized in the 1990s for hosting (or trying to host) speakers such as Khalid Abdul Muhammad, a black activist who was criticized by many for anti-Semitic remarks.

Kimbrough believes in bringing speakers to campus who challenge students' views, and he has no doubts about standing by his decision to host the debate with Duke or bringing someone like Ann Coulter to his prior campus, Philander Smith College, also a historically black institution.

Kimbrough said he has been wondering whether the politicians and others concerned for the free speech rights of Murray and Yiannopoulos will be as devoted to free speech if the next controversial speaker on campus is someone like Muhammad.

“What happens when the next Khalid Muhammad comes along? Will that be handled the same way?” Kimbrough asked. "Or are we going to deal with that person differently?”

The Middlebury Perspective

Among the presidents at the Chicago meeting was Laurie L. Patton of Middlebury College. The shouting down of Murray at her college, and physical attacks on a professor who was with Murray (for the purpose of asking him questions, not supporting him), stunned many nationally and focused attention on Middlebury. The college ended up punishing a total of 67 students for their (varying) roles in the events of the night. But local police, investigating the attack on the professor, were never able to bring charges in that part of the incident.

While not minimizing what happened at the Murray event, Patton said it was important for presidents to remind the public that events at which controversial views are aired take place on campuses every day, without incident. Most recently, Middlebury hosted a debate between John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire, and Barney Frank, a former member of Congress, on economic policy under President Trump. The two speakers have very different economic and political views, but the discussion among the participants and students was entirely civil, Patton said.

Ten days after Charles Murray was on campus, students organized a discussion of what had happened. Again, there was strong disagreement, but the discussion was civil, Patton said.

Students, she said, are looking for ways to support free expression while also making sure "that everyone has a seat at the table," and a range of views are respected.

Patton said that college leaders need to work to promote free expression and also to tell the story of what's really happening on campuses. “All of the vibrant things that happen on campus, where free speech is exercised in many ways, gets eclipsed," Patton said. "That is sad. There is a lot of amazing stuff that goes on on all of our campuses."

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Ohio State, University of Cincinnati diverge on how to answer Richard Spencer

Inside Higher Ed - il y a 6 heures 59 min

Two public institutions, two hours away from each other, announced on Friday two different responses to speaking requests from Richard Spencer.

The University of Cincinnati decided to let outspoken white supremacist Spencer rent a space and speak at the public institution, like anyone else wishing to hold an event there.

In a letter dated the same day, Christopher Culley, Ohio State University's senior vice president and general counsel, wrote to Spencer’s lawyer, Kyle J. Bristow, saying that the university determined the proposed event -- a speaking event at the student union -- cannot be held safely, and the university is “considering other alternatives” to the request:

The university has reviewed this request and has determined that this request cannot be accommodated without substantial risk to public safety. However, the university is currently considering other alternatives for Mr. Padgett’s request and expects to be in touch by the end of next week regarding whether there may be viable alternatives for Mr. Padgett’s consideration.

Cameron Padgett, referenced in the letter, is a graduate student at Georgia State University who has been helping Spencer book college tours across the country.

What precisely Ohio State determined to be a risk, and how it came to those determinations, is not exactly clear, as a spokesman declined to comment beyond the letter. But over the past few months, the response from public universities to Spencer's speaking requests has not exactly been uniform.

Navigating Murky Waters

As Inside Higher Ed previously reported, events in Charlottesville, Va., in August, rocked the boat for the viability of Richard Spencer’s speaking engagements.

In mid-August, a conglomeration of white supremacists and far-right activists converged in Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally. Marching through the University of Virginia’s campus on a Friday night, protesters carried torches and shouted chants aimed at minorities, including “You will not replace us,” and “Jews will not replace us.”

The next day, as protests continued, a “Unite the Right” protester rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, injuring about 20 people and killing one woman.

Spencer’s involvement and appearance at the rallies held that weekend gave many public colleges slated for his tour concrete public safety concerns, especially considering language promoting one of the college events that directly linked Charlottesville and the college events.

“Today Charlottesville, tomorrow Texas A&M,” read one of the fliers promoting a “White Lives Matter” rally, which Texas A&M canceled.

“Linking the tragedy of Charlottesville with the Texas A&M event creates a major security risk on our campus. Additionally, the daylong event would provide disruption to our class schedules and to student, faculty and staff movement (both bus system and pedestrian),” a statement from Texas A&M read at the time. In 2016, Texas A&M had allowed Spencer to speak at the university.

But how long, or how well, Texas A&M’s move will set a precedent is not clear.

The University of Florida also canceled an event that Spencer was supposed to hold on campus, citing security concerns. Earlier this month, however, the institution changed course, announcing that Spencer would be allowed to speak. The university engaged with local law enforcement to craft a security plan -- similar to other security plans that, across the country, as more and more fringe and radical speakers draw protesters, are becoming financially draining for universities. Florida’s plan is slated to cost roughly $500,000.

Legal Threats, Institutional Changes

As Spencer has been rebuffed -- sometimes successfully, sometimes not -- there isn’t clear legal precedent for how much public safety concerns can deter his speaking events. Although his lawyer has made legal threats against Ohio State and the University of Cincinnati, citing First Amendment grounds, formal legal action hasn’t taken place, leaving the post-Charlottesville public safety concerns untested before a court.

Additionally, it isn’t clear at this point what the final outcome of the Ohio State decision will be.

In April, before Charlottesville, Auburn University tried to block Spencer from speaking on campus, citing safety concerns. A federal judge ruled that Spencer was allowed to speak, however, and the event took place.

Several universities, after the Auburn decision went through, changed their policies for renting out space on campus. Auburn’s policy allowed outsiders to rent space at the public institution, and since Spencer spoke, some colleges have limited who can rent space, only making it available to students and associated groups.

University of Cincinnati President Neville Pinto said in a statement that no one affiliated with the institution invited Spencer to speak. The letter from Ohio State’s general counsel references Padgett, the Georgia State student, rather than an Ohio State student group.

“Countless members of our community have courageously pointed out that his ideology of hate and exclusion is antithetical to the core values of a civil society and an academic community,” Pinto said. “I stand with you in condemning dehumanizing views and racist practices.”

A Cincinnati pastor, Damon Lynch III, and local activists told local reporters that they would protest Spencer's appearance with a "message of love" to counter his message of hate.

The University of Virginia issued an institutional review after the Charlottesville protests, launched to analyze how the university was so caught off guard, and what it could have done better.

Among the shortcomings highlighted in the review were the lack of enforcement of certain campus and state regulations, which the review acknowledged were not necessarily common knowledge. According to the report, university police should have had authority to cancel the nighttime march through campus based on the use of torches -- per a campus policy against open flames -- but the police were “not sufficiently aware of its authority to enforce this policy.” There is also a Virginia state law that outlaws “with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons, [burning] an object on a highway or other public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”

In addition for calling for the enforcement of those policies in the future, the report suggested adopting constitutionally permissible regulations for the use of campus for organized marches, which would give the university more of a heads-up.

Ultimately, the latter regulations were not adopted by the university.

As for the University of Cincinnati, the date of the speech is still being finalized. The final result of Spencer and Ohio State’s current gridlock remains to be seen.

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New simulation study says peer review is better at assuring quality than random publication choices, but that some systems of review are better than others

Inside Higher Ed - il y a 6 heures 59 min

Is it peer reviewed? A yes generally means that some experts, somewhere, think a given piece of research represents the best in its field. But a new study of peer-review processes within political science found that the majority of accepted papers will be evaluated by the average reader as below a journal’s publication standards.

The study, which looked at multiple systems of peer review using computational simulation, also found that all such systems allow random chance to play a strong role in acceptance decisions. A peer-review system in which an active editor has discretion over publication decisions (and does not rely solely on reviewer votes) can mitigate some of those effects, however.

“Does Peer Review Identify the Best Papers? A Simulation Study of Editors, Reviewers and the Scientific Publication Process” was written by Justin Esarey, an associate professor of political science at Rice University, and published this month by PS: Political Science and Politics (yes, it was peer reviewed). Esarey doesn’t allege that peer review is broken, but lists some of its documented shortcomings: it can miss major errors in submitted papers, leaves room for luck or chance in publication decisions, and is subject to confirmation bias among peer reviewers. Given those factors, he says, it’s “natural to inquire whether the structure of the process influences its outcomes.”

Since journal editors can choose the number of reviews they solicit, which reviewers they choose, how they convert reviews into decisions, and other aspects of the process, Esarey continues, “Do these choices matter, and if so, how?” It would be helpful for editors and authors in political science to know which practices -- if any -- improve a journal’s quality, the study says; it defines quality of a single publication therein as the average reader holistic ranking relative to the distribution of other papers.

Esarey relies on some assumptions, including that an editor solicits three blind reviews for each paper. He further assumes that editors assign papers to reviewers at random, conditional on expertise, and that potential reviewers' refusal has nothing to do with a paper’s quality. His computer model explicitly includes multiple reviewers with different but correlated opinions on paper quality and an editor who actively makes independent decisions using review advice, or an editor who merely follows the up-or-down votes of reviewers.

System of Peer Review

The study looks at four peer-review systems for acceptance to a journal: unanimity among votes (in which all three reviewers have to approve of a paper for publication); majority approval among reviewers; majority approval with editor’s participation as a fourth voter; and unilateral editorial decision-making based on reviewers’ substantive reports -- ignoring their votes.

Esarey began his analysis by looking at how each system corresponds with journal acceptance rates, based on a simulation involving 2,000 papers. He found that the probability of a manuscript being accepted is always considerably less than any individual reviewer’s probability of submitting a positive review.

Source: Justin Esarey

Esarey next wanted to know whether peer review would accept the best papers, based on disciplinary standards, despite mixed opinions from reviewers. He conducted a simulation similar to the first, but with a much bigger population of 50,000 papers and 500 readers, with a journal acceptance rate of about 10 percent. He then computed the average reader rating for all papers that were accepted for publication, and plotted the distribution of these values.

He ran the simulation twice, once for every review system as described and again under a system when the editor rejects half of all submitted papers before sending them out for review; the editor in the simulation rejected any paper deemed worse than the median paper in the population.

All systems produced distributions of published papers centered on a mean reader evaluation near 0.8, or the 80th percentile. So under every peer review system, a majority of papers were perceived by readers as being below that 10 percent threshold. A significant share of the published papers also had “surprisingly” low mean reader evaluations under every system, according to the study: approximately 12 percent of papers published under the majority voting system without desk rejection had reader evaluations of less than 0.65. That means that the average reader believes that such a paper is worse than 35 percent of other papers submitted.

That result is "surprisingly consistent with what political scientists actually report about the American Political Science Review, a highly selective journal with a very heterogeneous readership," Esarey says.

The best-performing system in the study was the unilateral editor decision system without desk rejection, meaning all papers were read by reviewers but the editor had final say about publication: just 6 percent of papers published under that system had reader evaluations under 0.65 (meaning that just 6 percent of papers were believed to be worse than 35 percent of other papers in the simulation population). If editors desk rejected 50 percent of papers under the unilateral editor system, that share fell to 1 percent.

Esarey notes that this system is similar to ones in which reviewers provide a qualitative written evaluation of a paper, but no up-down vote is taken (or where such a vote is ignored by an editor).

Room for Improvement

Simulated peer-review systems tended to accept papers that were better (on average) than rejected papers, meaning that peer review remains a filter through which the best papers are most likely to pass.

However, Esarey found that luck still plays a strong role in determining which papers are published under any system. In all systems, the highest-quality papers are the most likely to be published, but a paper that the average reader evaluates as being near the 80th percentage of quality (or 85th percentile in a system with desk rejection) has a chance of being accepted similar to a coin flip.

Esarey also found that journals' readership and review pools affected publication decisions: journals with a more homogenous readership, such as subfield-specific journals, tend to publish more consistently high-quality papers than journals with a heterogeneous readership. Examples of the latter include general-interest journals, some of which are highly ranked.​

“When readers and reviewers have heterogeneous standards for scientific importance and quality, as one might expect for a general-interest journal serving an entire discipline like the American Political Science Review or American Journal of Political Science, chance will strongly determine publication outcomes, and even highly selective journals will not necessarily publish the work that its readership perceives to be the best in the field," Esarey says.

However, he adds, “we may expect a system with greater editorial involvement and discretion to publish papers that are better regarded and more consistent compared to other peer-review systems.” In particular, the study found that the system in which editors accept papers based on the quality reports of reviewers -- but not their up-or-down judgment -- after an initial round of desk rejection tends to produce fewer low-quality published papers compared to other systems examined.

"Our finding suggests that reviewers should focus on providing informative, high-quality reports to editors that they can use to make a judgment about final publication (and not focus on their vote to accept or reject the paper)," the paper says. "When a journal does solicit up-or-down recommendations, a reviewer should typically recommend [revision] or acceptance for a substantially greater proportion of papers than the journal’s overall acceptance target in order to actually meet that target."

Beyond process, Esarey says the strong relationship between reader and reviewer heterogeneity and journal quality "suggests that political scientists may want to reconsider their attitudes about the prestige and importance of general-interest journal publications relative to those in topically and/or methodologically specialized journals." While it would be premature to "radically reconsider" judgments about journal prestige and the tenure and promotion decisions they inform, he added, "perhaps one study is enough to begin asking whether our judgments are truly consistent with our scholarly and scientific standards."

While Esarey used his simulation to talk about political science, he told Inside Higher Ed that there's no reason it wouldn't apply to other fields. That is, the analysis itself is "totally agnostic" with respect to discipline, he said. Still, Esarey said that his findings imply that more heterogenous fields without a settled paradigm -- namely political science -- will have a peer review system that is "less efficient that more homogenous fields that do have a settled paradigm, like chemistry."

 

 

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A professor's lesson wasn't actually about pomegranates

Inside Higher Ed - il y a 6 heures 59 min

Outsiders might think students at Des Moines Area Community College can be sure of one thing when they take a class with psychology professor Jane Martino: don’t bring pomegranates to class.

“No pomegranates,” she screamed at the class, repeatedly, in a video that has gone viral on Twitter and Reddit.

“Say it -- ‘No pomegranates.’ No, no, no, no, no pomegranates,” she yells, jumping up and down.

Martino’s tirade in the video, however, isn’t related to an actual classroom rule. It’s a lesson in negative reinforcement, and the over-the-top antics, she said, were all part of the lesson. Of course, that part of her class wasn't videotaped and shared.

“If you only tell kids what not to do, all you’re doing is filling their heads with garbage. Instead, if you say, ‘Hey how about a kiwi, shouldn’t we have a kiwi now,’ the kid might go, ‘OK.’ If you tell them what not to do, then that’s what’s going in,” Martino told a local NBC affiliate.

The video, however, doesn’t convey the underlying psychological principles of the exercise. Cut up and posted on the internet, it's a perfect mix for going viral, being both bizarre and seemingly inexplicable.

Far-right news site Breitbart ran an article on the video -- titled "Iowa Professor Goes on Bizarre Rant About Pomegranates" -- where commenters pounced on the notion of a screaming liberal professor.

“In my personal experience, psychology professors are all nuts,” the top comment reads. “Sociology professors hate society, and psychology professors hate themselves.”

In a later reply, a commenter calls social workers “left-wing nuts” and labels psychology “a joke.”

Those who have actually taken Martino’s classes, on the other hand, had positive things to say, telling the NBC affiliate that she treats them like family.

“Don’t judge someone by a little 20-second video. Just be sure to know the full details, and then after that you can actually judge them and see what you think is right and wrong," said Bernardo Pantoja, one of Martino's students.

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ACE to Honor Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García With 2017 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award

American Council on Education - dim, 10/15/2017 - 03:03
García, president of California State University, Fullerton, will be presented with the award during the closing plenary of ACE2017, ACE's 99th Annual Meeting, on March 14 in Washington, DC.

How do you prepare students for an unknowable future?

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 22:20
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Top university calls time on 'third-class' degrees

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 22:02
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World-class universities project changes strategy

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 21:56
The Russian Ministry of Education and Science plans to drastically cut the number of participants in the state's '5-100' programme aimed at developing world-class universities - in order to improv ...

10 years of University World News, a global window on HE

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 21:48
The idea of producing an online higher education newspaper arose early in 2007 after a group of journalists from around the world who reported on universities realised there was an information gap ...

'Essential reading for all in global higher education'

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 21:46
"In a time of post truth and fake news, the UWN is a sound, updated and reliable source of high-quality information and news from universities all over the world. We learn from you, you inf ...

Student hug prompts call for return of campus police

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 07:34
An Egyptian government-run university has requested the reinstatement of police guards on its campus more than six years after a court order paved the way for their removal from the country's vari ...

Report stresses need for relevant university curricula

University World News Global Edition - ven, 10/13/2017 - 07:32
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Breaking: NCAA finds no academic fraud by UNC

Inside Higher Ed - ven, 10/13/2017 - 07:21

After the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sponsored fake classes for nearly two decades, giving students, many of them athletes, credit for courses never taught by instructors, it will escape all punishment by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The ruling the association announced Friday has been publicly panned as going light in response to one of the worst academic scandals in college sports history, adding to what some observers say is mounting evidence of the NCAA’s continuing weakness in controlling and punishing its member institutions.

But after a three-and-half-year investigation, and despite the institution even agreeing that it had engaged in academic fraud, the NCAA said it couldn’t definitively conclude that the “paper courses” in the department of African and Afro-American studies had been designed and offered as an effort to benefit athletes alone. Thus, according to the NCAA's Committee on Infractions, which adjudicates allegations of wrongdoing, they did not violate the group's rules.

The university aggressively fought the NCAA's efforts to assert its authority in this case, spending roughly $18 million on legal and other fees. The NCAA's enforcement division, which essentially acts as the prosecutor in infractions cases, had charged North Carolina with "lack of institutional control" and "failure to monitor" its athletes' academic courses, among the most serious charges in the associations' rule book. But the infractions committee said it could not reach those findings because it did not have evidence to prove the underlying academic fraud charge.

Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference and leader of infractions panel, said in a statement that his panel was "troubled by the university's shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus."

“However, NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership," his statement said.

In a conference call with reporters, Sankey acknowledged that “more likely than not,” the classes had been set up to keep athletes eligible, said that the evidence put before the committee did not prove so definitively.

“I think it’s important to understand the panel is in no way supporting what happened,” Sankey said.

Instead, the NCAA will forward its decision to the university's accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, which can address academic inconsistencies. Previously, the body had placed the university on a yearlong probation in 2015, ending in 2016, for violating seven accreditation standards, one of them being academic integrity. It was the strongest punishment the accreditor could deliver besides revoking accreditation entirely.

The NCAA was examining whether UNC had violated the association's restrictions on “extra benefits,” which refers to certain advantages, such as financial payments or academic assistance, that are offered to athletes but not the wider student body.

A 2014 report UNC commissioned did find that nonathletes also benefited from the classes. That report, which cited a “woeful lack of oversight” and a culture that confused academic freedom with lack of accountability, concluded that more than 3,100 UNC students enrolled in the courses. About half of those in the 188 faux classes were athletes. Investigators concluded that university employees were aware of the fraud and actively steered athletes and other struggling students to those courses.

The report details a plan by Deborah Crowder, a former manager in the Afro-American studies department, who was sympathetic to struggling students ("particularly athletes"), to help them. Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of the department, delegated her significant responsibilities, enabling Crowder to set up classes that required only a single research paper, which she graded without much regard to its quality.

"Crowder felt a strong affinity for student athletes in particular, and she gave them ready access to these watered-down classes to help them manage their competing athletic and academic time demands," the report states.

Nyang'oro was handed down a relatively meaningless five-year show-cause order from the NCAA, meaning the now retired academic will find it difficult to secure a job in college athletics.

Asked by a reporter what the NCAA would consider a breach of the “extra benefits” rule -- whether the UNC case would have qualified if significantly more athletes than nonathletes had enrolled in the classes -- Sankey didn’t answer directly, saying he wanted to avoid hypotheticals.

Another reporter questioned the availability of the courses; while nonathletes enrolled, interviews the reporter conducted suggested that the classes weren't widely known or advertised.

In a conference call with reporters Friday afternoon, Mark Merritt, UNC's vice chancellor and general counsel, characterized the classes not as fraudulent, but rather lacking professorial oversight with easy grading -- akin to an independent study model, he said.

The university was not proud of the behavior but argued that it did not violate NCAA bylaws, Merritt said during the call.

"The university does not minimize the extent of the academic irregularities it experienced, even as it emphasizes that those matters are beyond the NCAA’s purview," UNC's lawyers stated in a letter to the NCAA last year in which it strongly disputed the NCAA's charges. "These matters concern fundamental institutional, not athletic, integrity, and they are not the proper subject of an NCAA enforcement action."

UNC Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol L. Folt in the afternoon call said she “expected” this outcome after the NCAA had reviewed the case, despite intense clashing between the association and the university.

When asked by a reporter whether Folt would support prospective NCAA legislation to make shadow courses like UNC’s a punishable offensive, she refused to answer, saying that the college accreditors were well equipped to handle academic fraud.

Folt said in an earlier statement Friday, “Carolina long ago publicly accepted responsibility for what happened in the past. One of the highest priorities of this administration has been to resolve this issue by following the facts, understanding what occurred and taking every opportunity to make our university stronger.”

Despite NCAA assertions that it was bound by its bylaws, it stepped in and levied harsh sanctions in one infamous case in which the institution didn’t violate one clear rule: Pennsylvania State University. In 2012, when the child molestation scandal involving the former coach Jerry Sandusky was at its peak, the NCAA circumvented its usual process of an independent panel assigning punishment, and its executive committee instead slammed the university with $60 million in fines -- then considered about a year’s worth of football revenue -- and vacated wins from 1998 onward.

At the time, athletics experts said they believed the move could launch a new era of NCAA enforcement, though back then, the association’s president, Mark Emmert, denied that it was “opening Pandora’s box.”

Marc Edelman, professor of law at Baruch College and a sports law specialist, said that the NCAA errs on the side of stricter sanctions when it wants to. Because the Penn State case received such an avalanche of negative press, the NCAA perceived it was politically prudent to act. If the association had cracked down in this case, it likely would have opened the possibility of investigations into similar practices at other big-name institutions, which is almost certainly happening, Edelman said.

In this case, Edelman said, UNC probably benefited from the recent scandal in the college basketball world, in which federal prosecutors last month announced bribery and corruption charges against four assistant or associate coaches at top-tier institutions, and a bevy of Adidas executives and others affiliated with the company. The FBI is continuing its investigation in the case, with hints that the fraud is much more widespread. Edelman said the association doesn't want to be engaging in pricey legal battles with multiple of its members.

Dave Ridpath, president of the athletics ethics watchdog Drake Group, called the NCAA and its ruling "shameful," and said that it demonstrates institutions can get away with academic fraud and game the system.

Ridpath said according to athletics directors and former members of the NCAA's Division I Committee on Infractions he spoke with, this was a clear and atrocious example of academic fraud. But ultimately, Ridpath said, he wasn't surprised.

"I don't think that the NCAA enforcement committee ever would have the guts to punish North Carolina," he said.

Because of the severity of the scandal, Ridpath said UNC would be eligible for the NCAA's harshest sanction, the "death penalty," which would mean shutting down the institution's athletics for at least one season. Such a punishment hasn't been levied since the 1980s, when it was used against Southern Methodist University, however, making a death penalty in this case unlikely.

The NCAA back then "felt like" harshly punishing the next institution to break the rules, Edelman said.

"People have to remember NCAA is a private trade association that is run and operated by its members," he said. "Despite what the NCAA proclaims on paper, the primary objective of this association for upwards of the past 30 years is to keep the revenues from college sports in the hand of its own voting members -- coaches and athletics directors … One would like to believe the NCAA is primarily concerned about the education of athletes, but that seems to take a secondary role."

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