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Liberty University cuts divinity faculty

Inside Higher Ed - 8 hours 28 min ago

A dozen faculty members at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity learned at the end of May they would not have their contracts renewed, representing significant cuts to the on-the-ground instructional work force of the Christian university in Lynchburg, Va.

At first glance, the cuts would seem to come at an odd time for both Liberty and its School of Divinity. The university and its president, Jerry Falwell Jr. (at right) have never been more prominent culturally or politically. An online education boom has helped fuel massive construction projects on campus. Just last year, the university opened a 275-foot-tall, 17-story tower serving in large part as the home of its divinity programs.

But on-campus and online enrollment in Liberty’s School of Divinity, which were among the university's largest programs in 2013, have been falling in recent years. The declines came as freshman applications for all on-campus programs to study all programs on Liberty’s campus plunged after 2016 -- and as enrollment across the university’s vast online offerings fell by almost 10 percent between 2014 and 2018.

Liberty, where Falwell raised eyebrows by being a key early backer of the Trump campaign and continuing to defend the president through controversies when others stayed silent, has in recent years cast itself as a wildly successful university at the intersection of politics and religion. President Trump spoke at commencement in 2017, President Carter spoke at commencement in 2018 and Vice President Pence spoke at commencement in 2019. First Lady Melania Trump spoke at one of the university’s thrice-weekly convocations in 2018.

Beyond the glamour of the big names, Liberty has put significant changes in place. It’s overhauled its online operations recently and is now making the changes to its School of Divinity, one of the core pieces of its identity as a university.

Those changes haven’t been widely publicized, nor have they been universally well received by those who care about Liberty. Some of those let go were well-loved professors who’d been at Liberty for over a decade. The terms of their departures include offers of severance and also nondisclosure agreements.

Some changes were likely overdue, Falwell said in an interview Friday. He believes the divinity school needed to adapt to a changing culture where students are less likely to work full-time for churches. Consequently, they're interested in different programs and are more likely to pick minors in religion or divinity than the majors they may have chosen in the past.

“The move we made not renewing those contracts is probably a move we should have made -- as purely a business decision, it’s a move we should have made three-four years ago,” he said. “It’s a cultural shift from full-time ministry workers to Christians in all professions working to make a difference.”

Falwell has been unapologetic about running the university as a business. By many metrics, he’s been successful. Liberty has remained massively profitable, increasing its net assets by more than $950 million between 2014 and 2018 while never making less than $188 million in any year during that time frame.

Yet the latest round of cuts may also reflect a university that’s had to fight harder to keep its success rolling than it has previously acknowledged.

Restructuring the School of Divinity

Unlike most universities, where faculty members can earn tenure and the job security that comes with it, almost all Liberty faculty members teach under one-year contracts that are renewed annually. Only the university’s law school offers tenure protection, which is an accreditation requirement of the American Bar Association.

Divinity faculty members whose contracts weren’t renewed at the end of May were offered severance agreements, the terms of which the university didn’t disclose. They have the option of picking up classes to teach online, something many Liberty faculty members already do while teaching on campus under contracts. They were also asked to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Circumstances surrounding the divinity changes drew attention from a range of people who are or who have been affiliated with Liberty University, several of whom agreed to speak with Inside Higher Ed on a condition of anonymity. Some pointed out the timing of the nonrenewals came long after the academic hiring cycle’s peak, potentially making it difficult for affected professors to find full-time employment. Others wondered about the use of nondisclosure agreements, which academic freedom experts view with skepticism.

Affected professors either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to comment when contacted. Some divinity school faculty members had acknowledged the cuts in public postings on social media, however.

“I was brought into a room and informed that my position is being terminated (along with those of 11 other faculty in the School of Divinity) as part of a ‘restructuring’ of the SOD,” read one post from a longtime faculty member. “When I asked what the criteria were for terminating my particular position, I was not told what the criteria were but what they weren’t. My position was not terminated based on performance, ethics, student feedback or anything personally related to me or how I impacted the university.”

Comments on the posts reflected concern for the professors.

“I knew it was that time of year again and I’m heartbroken that you are on the list to go. It’s a sad loss for the students. Keeping you and your family in prayer,” read one comment.

“Definitely not out of the norm in LU’s history, but very upsetting -- and one of two of my favorite divinity professors to lose their position at the same time,” read another.

A dozen employees being let go would represent about a fifth of the different deans, faculty members, program chairs and staff members listed on Liberty’s School of Divinity faculty page in early June. But administrators said the actual portion is far smaller, in part because the website doesn’t list adjuncts or others teaching divinity classes.

A former Liberty administrator speaking on a condition of anonymity remembered nonrenewal notices going out earlier in past years so that faculty members would be able to look for another job after the spring semester ended. At the time, nonrenewals were rare and tended to only come after someone failed to perform basic job functions, the source said. Over time, nonrenewal notices crept later as the university moved toward a year-round cycle of program development and hiring instead of a traditional academic calendar.

Liberty’s provost, Scott M. Hicks, said he’s not aware of the timing changing.

“This is the way we’ve functioned since I’ve been provost, and before that, so I'm not aware of how far back it changed,” he said. Hicks became provost in 2018 and was named vice provost of graduate education in 2017. He started at Liberty as a professor in 2007 and became dean of its business school in 2012.

Nondisclosure agreements are good practice, according to Falwell.

“I think that’s just a standard procedure within any school of our size,” he said. “That would be the advice of any labor attorney.”

Nondisclosure agreements have been controversial elsewhere. Purdue University Global said last year that it would stop requiring a confidentiality agreement as a condition of employment after the American Association of University Professors campaigned against nondisclosure agreements and forced arbitration. Purdue Global’s administrators called the nondisclosure requirements boilerplate and said they were inherited from the institution’s predecessor, the for-profit Kaplan University. The agreement had been criticized for forcing professors to waive rights to courses they created.

Nondisclosure agreements also drew scrutiny when Vermont Law School deployed them while trying to close a large budget gap. Faculty members who did not want to be terminated were offered several restructuring options, all of which required them to sign nondisclosure agreements, according to an AAUP report.

Liberty’s case is different because it deals with nondisclosure agreements for faculty members losing their jobs -- faculty members had to sign the agreements when they were signing paperwork for their severance packages. Still, the AAUP associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance expressed some reservations about the practice.

“When it comes to severance, it's of course impossible to answer the question how common NDAs are (since they're confidential),” said the associate secretary, Hans-Joerg Tiede, in an email. “We view a minimum amount of severance (depending on length of service) as a right under our principles, as opposed to something that one obtains in exchange for signing an NDA.”

‘World’s Largest School for Religious Studies’

Liberty’s evangelical identity, string of successes and sheer size combine to play a crucial role in the way it portrays itself -- and in the way at attracts new students. It used to call itself the largest private, nonprofit university in the country and the largest Christian university in the world.

It could claim those mantles in large part because of the enormous scale of its online operations, which enrolled more than 51,000 undergraduates and almost 44,000 graduate students in 2014. Liberty’s on-campus student body was much smaller, at about 12,600 undergraduates and 1,200 graduate students.

The university’s roots date back to 1971, when it was founded by the pastor and televangelist Jerry Falwell Sr. as Lynchburg Baptist College. Liberty dabbled with distance education on VHS tapes in the 1980s but fell upon hard times in the 1990s, nearly closing under a heavy debt load.

But the college pulled through, steered by Jerry Falwell Jr. After the elder Falwell died in 2007, his son took over leading Liberty. Online programs were beginning to boom. Total online enrollment would spike from 36,740 in 2009 to 92,537 in 2013.

Liberty’s resulting prosperity has been a key part of the story supporting Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership, even as some longtime university backers balked after Falwell endorsed Trump. For his part, Falwell plowed money back into Liberty’s facilities in Lynchburg, including a new home for the divinity school.

In February 2018, Liberty opened the 17-story Freedom Tower at the heart of its campus, calling it the home of the Rawlings School of Divinity. The tower would be a testament the Liberty’s heritage as a Christian university and “will really make a statement to everyone for years to come about what the school is all about,” Falwell said in a news release at the time.

A year later, the Liberty Journal -- a university publication that lists Falwell as its publisher -- called the tower a “bold tangible sign of Liberty’s commitment to preparing students both academically and spiritually.” The seventh floor of the tower held a lab for “students to sharpen their preaching and public speaking skills,” the Journal noted. The 13th floor held an executive conference room. The facility was not only the “architectural centerpiece of campus,” it was also home to “the world’s largest school for religious studies and ministerial training.”

Against that backdrop, the recent divinity faculty cuts may seem jarring. But the divinity school has in fact been enrolling fewer residential students over much of the last five years.

In the 2013 fiscal year, Liberty’s School of Religion -- which was later combined with its seminary to create the School of Divinity -- had 1,619 residential students, counting undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students. That was 13 percent of Liberty’s resident student body, making the School of Religion the second-largest academic program at the university, behind a grouping of health sciences and nursing.

In 2015, the Rawlings School of Divinity had 1,078 residential students, or 7.4 percent of all students attending class on campus. By 2018, residential enrollment had fallen to 992, or 6.1 percent of all students on campus. The divinity school was then the sixth-largest school or college on campus.

Liberty’s online religion and divinity programs initially held enrollment steadier. But by 2017, they were also shrinking in both total number of students and share of Liberty’s online enrollment.

In 2013, the School of Religion enrolled 19,286 students online. At the time, the school accounted for 21 percent of online enrollment. In 2015, the divinity school had 19,727 students online, or 20 percent of Liberty’s online enrollment.

By 2017, the Rawlings School of Divinity’s enrollment had dropped to 13,688 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students, or 15.8 percent of Liberty’s online enrollment.

Reached by telephone after being presented with those figures Friday, a Liberty spokesman said they were inaccurate. He said he had nothing “quotable” to offer in an interview. Inside Higher Ed informed him that the conversation was on the record. The spokesman reiterated that the numbers were not correct.

“You can publish them, and the day after you publish them, we’ll let the world know your enrollment numbers aren’t correct,” he said. “You might want to go back to your source and say, ‘Button down your numbers.’”

Inside Higher Ed had not disclosed the source of the information. The enrollment figures came from annual disclosure reports Liberty is required to file for bondholders who lent the university money, including through tax-exempt bonds issued through a state agency in 2010. The introductions to the reports bear the signature of Liberty’s senior vice president of finance.

In a telephone interview later, Falwell and several other administrators acknowledged the statistics as correct.

“We’re still the largest school of divinity out there,” Falwell said.

Coupling Ministry With Other Careers?

Fewer students want to study strictly to be ministers than have in the past, Liberty’s leaders said. Instead, they are seeking to pair spiritual work with other careers.

“The world out there is seeing less and less full-time vocational ministers, even in the way that mission is happening on a global front,” said David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development. “More people are going in the mission field, and they’re bankers in Hong Kong while they are missionaries.”

In that paradigm, Liberty would be well suited to attract students. The university’s students are exposed to religious study and work in several ways while on campus, taking divinity or religion courses, attending frequent convocations, or volunteering.

“We do have fewer students who are coming here to study to go into full-time ministry, because churches are not what they used to be,” Falwell said. “I don’t know if the numbers are down or if they just changed in their focus. Maybe they’ve taken to heart what Liberty has always said our mission was, and that is to charge students to go into every profession and lead by example.”

Nonetheless, Liberty’s online enrollment trends for divinity may be out of step with other universities'. Many prospective students are focusing on the study of religion, according to Bob Atkins, founder and CEO of Gray Associates, a consulting firm that works on education and technology issues and tracks student demand for programs.

“Gray's data on student inquiries for divinity and ministry programs posted a 19 percent annual gain last year and another 19 percent annual gain through May of this year,” he said in an email. “Inquiry growth was particularly strong for bachelor's degree programs, which experienced 33 percent annual growth; master's degree growth was a more modest 15 percent. But this growth is not coming to a campus near you. Over 90 percent of divinity and ministry inquiries were for online programs. We also noticed that interest seems to be particularly high in the silver segment -- that is, students over 60 years old.”

Falwell predicted Liberty's divinity programs will grow again in the future. The university plans to add a requirement for full-time divinity students to take business courses so they can learn important skills for running a church.

"Learn how to run the business side of the church, how to do what my father did back in the '50s and '60s," Falwell said. "That is, he was sort of a P. T. Barnum -- he'd bring in the world's tallest man, the world's strongest man, if it had some sort of Christian basis. He's bring in country music stars. He brought in Colonel Harland Sanders one time. I remember that I was 10 years old. He made it entertaining."

Falwell also promised a new focus for full-time divinity students.

"The other thing that we're going to start emphasizing is that these kids going into full-time ministry have to love the people that they're ministering to," he said. "That was the key to my dad's success: he poured everything into those people. He made it entertaining, and he took risks like a businessman would take, and that's not something our divinity school has focused on in recent years. Once we put those measures in place, I think you'll see it grow back to what it was before."

Divinity programs are a significant source of revenue for Liberty. They are among some of the largest Liberty programs for which newly released preliminary data on average graduate loan debt are available from the U.S. Department of Education.

The preliminary data aren’t exact -- they don’t distinguish between debt for graduates of online programs and on-campus programs. Nor do they count debt among nongraduates or graduates of small programs. But they do make it possible to estimate total debt taken on by graduates of certain large programs over a two-year span, and therefore to get a rough sense of how many federal loan dollars a university is collecting from some programs versus others.

Liberty’s master’s degree in theological and ministerial studies had 1,422 graduates between 2015 and 2016. Average debt per graduate was $44,656. That means graduates of the program borrowed a total of $63.5 million in the two-year span.

A total of 1,081 students received bachelor’s degrees from Liberty in religion or religious studies over the two years. Their debt averaged $31,906 at graduation, so total federal borrowing by those students was $34.5 million.

In total, Liberty’s religion programs that were large enough to have data released had 2,966 graduates borrowing a total of about $111.7 million over two years. That’s about 18.7 percent of all borrowing by Liberty students for programs for which data was available. Liberty students in the divinity programs accounted for 16.7 percent of all students for which borrowing data was available.

The federal debt data don’t directly represent revenue collected by Liberty. Some federal loan dollars that are disbursed don’t go to pay tuition or university fees but instead go to students to help them pay for expenses related to their education, like rent or books.

Liberty students across all programs typically receive more than $600 million per year in federal loan funds and more than $100 million annually in federal Pell Grants. In 2018, the university’s students received $617.2 million in federal loan funds, $104.3 million in Pell Grants and another $16.4 million in Virginia Tuition Assistance Grants.

Again, the funds from loan programs don’t necessarily equate to revenue collected by the university, because some of the money is distributed back to students for other expenses.

Struggles Online and a Shrinking Applicant Pool

Liberty’s universitywide online head-count enrollment fell for three straight years after hitting a high of 98,513 in 2015. It fell all the way to 85,848 in 2018. (The illustration at right shows how the online program promotes itself.)

Online enrollment has improved markedly this year, Falwell said. When the 2019 fiscal year closes at the end of June, Liberty could post a record online enrollment of nearly 100,000 students.

The university put in place major changes to spark the turnaround, Falwell said.

“We had to fire some people,” he said. “There was some bad management going on. We cleaned house and we brought in the right people and it’s incredible how much they turned it around in two years.”

One person who has worked for Liberty’s online operations declined comment when contacted by Inside Higher Ed but went on to say the experience was “terrifying” and that people had been laid off with “absolutely no warning and no reasoning.” The person went on to explain that current employees would likely not comment because they were “walking on eggshells, trying not to do anything wrong.”

Back on campus, Liberty has been increasing its resident programs’ enrollment. Fall head-count enrollment for undergraduate and graduate students totaled 12,932 in 2013. It rose all the way to 15,549 in 2017. Falwell said overall enrollment continued to grow this year, rising by 400 and potentially pushing Liberty’s campus over the 16,000-student mark.

Freshman applications, on the other hand, are sharply lower than they were in prior years. A total of 28,872 applications came in for students who wanted to study in the fall 2014 semester. Just over 21 percent were accepted, and about 44.2 percent of those accepted matriculated.

Applications rose to 32,115 in 2016, with acceptance and matriculation rates holding roughly steady. But the next year, applications fell to 23,231. They fell further in 2018, to 16,262, meaning applications fell by 49.3 percent in two years.

Even so, Liberty actually raised the number of students matriculating between 2016 and 2018. The university’s acceptance rate jumped to 39.1 percent in 2018, and 49.1 percent of those students matriculated.

Falwell chalked up the steep drop in the number of applications to the university instituting an application fee. He couldn’t say when exactly the fee was put in place. Data in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System indicate Liberty has charged application fees for at least a decade, but the fee could have been waived or deferred in some years.

Administrators also pointed out that Liberty has high retention rates. Freshmen retention from fall 2016 to fall 2017 was 87.4 percent.

Liberty’s six-year graduation rate for full-time, first-time undergraduate students who started in the fall of 2011 and sought an undergraduate degree was 52 percent.

Application trends for residential transfer students, law students and most graduate students have not shown the same recent drop as undergraduate applications. Transfer student applications dropped about 9 percent between 2016 and 2018 to 5,194, law applications rose by almost 16 percent to 279, and graduate applications increased by more than 130 percent to 3,301. Applications to the College of Osteopathic Medicine fell by 41 percent, however, to 2,431.

Liberty reports application and enrollment information for most graduate students separately from graduate students for the divinity school. The School of Divinity has received more applications every year since 2015. Between 2016 and 2018, applications rose by 70 percent to 558. The acceptance rate fell 20 points to 34 percent, and the matriculation rate slipped from 53 percent to 46 percent.

Despite the ups and downs of the different on-campus programs and the struggles with online enrollment, Liberty has posted more than $200 million in profit in every year since 2016. The university’s net assets rose by $276.5 million in 2018, with operating revenue rising year over year by $57.8 million to almost $900 million, versus operating expenses rising by only $27.3 million to $678.3 million.

The current fiscal year, 2019, is shaping up to be better, Falwell said.

“Expenses are way down, and so is the amount we’re spending per student to recruit,” he said. “The bottom line of all that means that this June 30 will be our best year, financially, in the history of the school.”

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Survey shows public's support for, and qualms about, higher education

Inside Higher Ed - 8 hours 28 min ago

Nuance is a good thing, and it tends to help improve our understanding of complex issues and public policy questions. Unfortunately, our political discourse and, increasingly, news media coverage seem less and less inclined to traffic in it.

Take some of the key issues in postsecondary education right now. Most political speeches or media coverage would leave you with the impression that Americans believe college degrees aren't worth the money, that Democrats overwhelmingly support free college as the answer to the college affordability problem, and that Republicans don't care about holding colleges and universities (especially for-profit ones) accountable.

Turns out none of those things are really true -- or at least that the public's true attitudes are much more nuanced than that.

The picture that emerges from Third Way's comprehensive survey of nearly 1,400 Americans who describe themselves as likely to vote in the 2020 general election is of a public that still believes in the value of colleges and universities and their degrees and thinks the institutions must do a better job of educating students affordably and effectively.

The survey also suggests that the public is more centered in its views about higher education than the politicians on the right and left who purport to represent them.

"Voters on both sides of the aisle believe higher education is essential when it comes to helping more students secure the jobs they need to be successful in today’s economy. They also believe that institutions can and should do more to provide value to the students they are supposed to serve -- not just enroll them and cash their checks, but get them to graduation and equip them with the skills they need to get a good-paying job and pay off their loans," the report's co-authors, Tamara Hiler and Lanae Erickson, Third Way's deputy director of education and senior vice president for the social policy and politics program, respectively, wrote of its findings. "That’s why … there is widespread bipartisan support for implementing stronger federal guardrails across the entire system to make sure that both students and taxpayers are getting a real return on their huge investment in higher ed."

A Middle Ground?

The survey is the culmination of a two-year project by Third Way, which describes itself as a think tank that "champions modern center-left ideas." Hiler said that as the group shifted its work from K-12 into higher education, its officials were concerned by an apparent bifurcation in policy makers' ideas about the problems in postsecondary education.

Many Republicans, she said, seemed intent on undoing key accountability measures designed to protect students from predatory or poorly performing institutions. Democrats, by contrast, focused heavily on making college more affordable, with relatively little attention to ensuring that a degree had value. The survey sought to see if there might be areas of agreement at a time when Congress is considering -- though don't hold your breath -- legislation to renew the Higher Education Act.

The survey, which includes 1,389 likely voters drawn heavily from states that are home to key members of the Senate education committee who will craft that legislation, first gauges how the public views various sectors of higher education. Americans have the most positive view of vocational/trade schools and community colleges (83 percent favorable), followed by four-year colleges and universities (69 percent favorable) and for-profit colleges (34 percent favorable). The "higher education system" doesn't fare very well, with 55 percent giving it a favorable rating, and just 17 percent "very favorable."

(The poll's respondents, 43 percent of whom describe themselves as Democrats, 32 percent as Republicans and 25 percent as independent, rate Democrats in Congress more favorably than Republicans over all by a margin of 49 to 35 percent. Forty-three percent of them view the U.S. Education Department favorably, 41 percent give President Trump a positive rating and just 17 percent feel positively about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Forty percent view her unfavorably, and the rest say they don't know enough about her to judge.)

In addition to the public's generally positive view about colleges, the survey contains some other good news for the institutions.

Strong majorities agree that bachelor's and associate degrees are "worth the investment and usually" pay off (70 and 69 percent, respectively) and that most higher education institutions "provide a high-quality education to their students" (72 percent). Somewhat fewer (59 percent) agree that "higher education institutions are doing a good job of training students for the careers of today and tomorrow."

And asked how they define the value of higher education, 58 percent agreed that it is designed both to "set students up for success in their careers" and "broaden the perspectives of students and make them better and more informed citizens," while 24 percent cited the former purpose and 11 percent the latter.

Other results are likely to concern college officials, though. Respondents divide evenly on how colleges and universities do in providing students a "return on their investment," with 51 percent saying very good or good and 49 percent saying poor or very poor. They feel somewhat better about the institutions in their state, 58 percent versus 42 percent.

Americans overwhelmingly say that rising student loan debt has made them "worry that higher education is not worth it" (84 percent), that students who enroll at a college or university "should be able to repay their student loans" (83 percent) and that "higher education institutions have a responsibility to ensure that most students who enroll graduate" (77 percent). Nearly three-quarters agree that the cost of higher education is "out of control" (72 percent).

But ensuring that students graduate and are able to repay their debt is a shared responsibility, respondents agree. Seventy-eight percent say "the federal government could do more to help make sure students succeed in higher education," and when asked who has more "power" to improve graduation rates, respondents rate colleges and students about equally (86 and 85 percent, respectively), followed by the federal and state governments at 57 and 60 percent.

They give employers, students and colleges roughly equal responsibility for ensuring graduates' employment outcomes after college, but say that governments and colleges have significantly more power than students do to improve student loan repayment rates.

What Should Be Done?

The survey next zeroes in on what respondents think the federal government should (and should not) do to better ensure the value of higher education. Respondents are equally (and overwhelmingly) likely to say that Congress should "address the cost" of higher education (86 percent), increase "guardrails to protect students from predatory and poor-performing schools" (83 percent), and ensure institutions give students "a return on investment" (83 percent).

More than two-thirds say the federal government "should provide basic guardrails to ensure that students aren't encouraged to take out loans to attend predatory institutions that will leave them worse off than when they first enrolled," and that the government should "regulate for-profit, nonprofit and public higher education institutions to make sure they are providing a good return on investment to their students." (The Trump administration has gutted rules that hold for-profit and vocational programs accountable for producing graduates with debt they can't repay.)

When asked to rate a series of possible actions the federal government might take toward higher education, respondents rate increasing the Pell Grant for low-income students (82 percent) far above eliminating tuition for all students at public colleges and universities (57 percent), a policy proposal that prominent Democrats running for president endorse. Ninety percent of Democratic voters in the Third Way survey support expanded Pell, compared to 75 percent backing free college. Eighty-four percent support free community college.

The survey also finds broad support, in both parties, for broad accountability frameworks, though the in-the-weeds nature of some of its questions about specific policy proposals probably make them unreliable gauges.

For instance, the survey asks respondents if they would support "requiring college accreditors to consider student outcomes, such as graduation rates, loan repayment rates and postcollege employment, as part of their review of institutions."

The agencies already do "consider" those outcomes when they do their reviews, in terms of asking those who perform poorly to identify ways to improve; what they don't do currently is to punish institutions specifically because their performance on some of those measures is below a certain threshold. Elsewhere in this list of policy proposals, Third Way asks respondents if they would favor "prohibiting institutions from accessing federal financial aid such as grants and loans if their graduation rate is less than 15 percent," for instance.

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Appeals court reinstates long-standing tenure denial case brought by black law professor

Inside Higher Ed - 8 hours 28 min ago

A federal appeals court in Washington last week revived a former law professor’s tenure denial case against his one-time institution, the University of the District of Columbia.

The case itself is unusual in that the professor, who now goes by the name of Kemit Mawakana, is black and is suing a predominantly black institution for race-based discrimination. He also alleges breach of contract.

The recent appellate decision in Mawakana’s favor is also unusual in that courts typically defer to colleges and universities in faculty tenure and promotion decisions. In the decision, the judges specifically say there must be limits to such deference.

In her opinion for the three-judge panel, Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson wrote that a “constellation of factors suggests to us that a reasonable jury viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Mawakana could find that race was a motivating factor in the university’s decision to deny him tenure.”

Among those factors: the university treated a co-authored work as “inferior” in assessing the tenure application of another black candidate, but not a white candidate, according to court documents. One now former, longtime law dean also treated work published in the university’s own law review as inferior in assessing the application of a black candidate but not a white one.

The same dean, who is white, also allegedly dissuaded another black female candidate from applying for tenure by telling her that she couldn’t rely on legal briefs and memoranda as scholarship -- and then allowed that kind of scholarship from another white candidate.

The dean also “disfavored” Mawakana’s tenure application, Henderson wrote, which matters because the jury could find that her negative stance on Mawakana was a “proximate cause” of the university’s ultimate decision to deny him tenure. The dean had shifting views on the quality of Mawakana’s scholarship and service, for example. She also supported white applicants -- all of eight of them -- for tenure during her deanship. (Another professor testified that the dean once lobbied so hard for a white applicant’s tenure that she “made [it] happen” for that applicant.) In contrast, the dean raised concerns about half of black professors applying or considering applying for tenure, sometimes even before the faculty reviewed their bids.

Henderson cited an email from a chairman of the faculty review committee to a colleague, for example, that reads, “losing four colleagues these past months, all faculty of color … I am not inclined to be pressured by more of [the dean’s] efforts to clean her house.”

While all white tenure applicants during the dean’s tenure got it, five of seven black professors did.

“Those numbers may not be overly alarming until one considers that one of the five was initially denied tenure -- a decision which was reversed only after her [race discrimination] claim survived a motion to dismiss,” Henderson wrote, “and two other black faculty members were dissuaded from applying in the first place because the dean, Katherine 'Shelley' Broderick, told them they had no chance of succeeding.”

As for Mawakana’s breach of contract claim, Henderson said that administrators failed to meet with him during the 2011-12 year to discuss his progress toward tenure, in violation of a possible implied contract stating that such meetings happen annually. Indeed, many institutions operate under the idea that tenure denials should not be a surprise and that professors in jeopardy should be given ample opportunity to improve their records prior to review.

Henderson’s opinion includes a lengthy discussion of the tradition of “academic deference,” or the idea that institutions are best suited to discern the merit of their employees. Ultimately, however, she says that although the First Amendment “grants a university certain freedoms, the freedom to discriminate is not among them.” She underscored the fact that while she and the court don't say discrimination happened, they can't say for sure it didn't.

Mawakana, who formerly went by the name of Samuel Jefferson, began working at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law in 2006. His initial three-year contract was renewed in 2009. He applied for tenure in 2011. According to court documents, there is no record that Mawakana heard anything about his tenure application in 2011-12.

In fall 2012, he was invited to a faculty subcommittee meeting to go over his application and told that he was, in Henderson’s summation, in “good shape.”

Soon after, though, Mawakana attended a second subcommittee meeting and was told that members had concerns about his bid, specifically his scholarship record. Later that fall, Mawakana was invited to and attended a meeting with Broderick and the faculty subcommittee chairman. They both suggested that he withdraw his application, and Mawakana refused. Several months later, Mawakana learned that his tenure was denied. He sued in 2014.

The university moved to dismiss the case. A district court in 2018 held that the university was entitled to summary judgment, citing the heightened deference accorded to academic decisions and the apparent fact that no “reasonable jury” could find that Mawakana was denied tenure because of his race. The district court also held that Mawakana’s contract claims were untimely, and that even if they’d been made within the timely three-year standard, they didn’t hold because they hadn’t caused Mawakana damages.

Mawakana appealed.

Richard Salzman, Mawakana’s lawyer, said he and his client are “very gratified by the decision” and look forward to the case being sent back for trial.

Universities “must be subject to the same standards as any other employers,” Salzman said, and “affording special deference to tenure decisions merely allows academic employers to more easily mask discriminatory employment decisions.”

Salzman said that Mawakana loved teaching but was “forced” to leave the profession as a result of the dismissal.

“We hope to prove that his firing was unlawful and get his career back on track.”

The university did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Broderick, who is no longer dean but is currently on a planned sabbatical.

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AAUP votes to censure or sanction three institutions at its annual meeting

Inside Higher Ed - 8 hours 28 min ago

The American Association of University Professors voted to censure two institutions for alleged violations of academic freedom and tenure at its annual meeting Saturday in Washington. It sanctioned a third administration for deviating from AAUP-supported norms of shared governance.

The association also voted to remove one institution from its censure list, which now includes 58 colleges and universities. The AAUP’s sanction list is much shorter, at just six administrations -- now including freestanding Vermont Law School.

Investigative reports based on site visits and, where possible, interviews with affected faculty members and administrators precede censure and sanction votes. And an AAUP report from May on Vermont Law School found that the institution violated shared governance when it moved 14 of 19 total tenured professors to contingent appointments without faculty involvement or approval. The law school said it had to act fast to close a $2 million budget deficit and that faculty members were encouraged to participate in the process. But the AAUP found that faculty involvement was never designed to be meaningful, as the involuntary restructuring was about transferring most of the teaching workload to lower-paid adjunct professors.

Thomas McHenry, president and dean, said via email Saturday that the school is “disappointed by the AAUP’s action and the process by which the AAUP reached its conclusions.”

It’s “important to remember that the AAUP is an advocacy organization and is not involved in the accreditation of Vermont Law School. VLS nevertheless continues to abide by the AAUP’s stated principles of shared faculty governance and academic freedom,” he added.

An AAUP report from October, based on site visit to St. Edward’s University in Texas, concluded that the institution had quickly disposed of three outspoken faculty members, two of whom had tenure. The AAUP’s investigating committee found credible two faculty members’ claims that their criticism of administrative decisions led to their dismissal. The committee also found that a tenure-track faculty member hadn’t been afforded adequate notice of nonrenewal or a chance to appeal before a faculty body -- possibly as a consequence of reporting an administrator for alleged sexual harassment. That allegation went unrefuted, “absent an appropriate faculty review procedure,” according to the AAUP.

St. Edward’s also has a generally “abysmal” climate for academic freedom and shared governance, leading to “widespread fear and demoralization among the faculty,” the investigating committee found.

The university did not respond to a request for comment about the AAUP’s censure vote. It said in an earlier statement about the inquiry that it has “a robust commitment to tenure and academic freedom” and values “our strong faculty leaders who form an essential part of shared governance at the university.” George Martin, St. Edward’s president, declined to meet with AAUP investigators when they visited campus in August, they said.

Nunez Community College in Louisiana found its way onto AAUP’s censure list for terminating an associate professor of English who had served the institution for 22 years -- over the phone. Nunez doesn’t have tenure, but AAUP maintains that professors are entitled to tenure-like due process protections based on length of service.

Nunez previously declined to comment on the specific circumstances of the case and did not respond to a request for comment about the vote. The professor says he was terminated because he refused to fabricate data on student learning outcomes for accreditation purposes. Nunez said previously that it ensures all faculty members' academic freedom.

While censure and sanction are symbolic actions, institutions often work hard to get off the AAUP’s blacklists, typically after a change in leadership. Such is the case of Idaho State University, which was sanctioned in 2011 after the Idaho State Board of Education suspended the Faculty Senate on the recommendation of the university’s president. That followed a period of tension between the university faculty and administration.

With a new president now in place, Idaho State recently approved a faculty-backed Faculty Senate constitution. Following its adoption by the Idaho State Board of Education, the faculty this spring elected a new senate under the revised constitution.

Kevin Satterlee, Idaho State’s president, said in a statement that administrators and faculty members “are working hard to build a positive and productive relationship based on the tenets of shared governance. It is my hope that we continue to work together to build a relationship built upon trust and mutual accountability. I am continually impressed by our faculty and their dedication to our students and the mission of the university. I believe that the university and our students benefit when we can work together collaboratively, inclusively and transparently.”

Seyed H. Mousavinezhad, professor of electrical engineering and co-chair of the new Faculty Senate, said that 90 percent of the faulty had approved the new senate constitution and that the on-campus environment is now “very positive.”

Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona could have been cited by the AAUP this year. Previously, an AAUP investigating committee looked into the actions of the governing board of the Maricopa County Community College District, which terminated a “meet-and-confer” process of shared governance. The board also did away with the entire faculty manual.

But since the AAUP’s first look, the situation for Maricopa’s faculty members has “taken a welcome turn,” the association reported Saturday. The board has new members and a new president, who reversed the actions of their predecessors, for example.

Also at its meeting Saturday, the AAUP honored Jennifer K. Kerns, assistant professor of history at Portland State University, and Christine Blasey Ford, professor of psychology at Palo Alto University, with its Georgina M. Smith Award. The award goes to those who have provided “exceptional leadership in a given year in improving the status of academic women or in academic collective bargaining and through that work has improved the profession in general,” according to the AAUP. Ford, who accused U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault last year during his confirmation process, was not in attendance but accepted the honor.

Ford “demonstrated remarkable courage, grace and generosity in sharing her own story of sexual assault in the highly public and publicized U.S. Senate hearing,” according to the AAUP.

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Harvard professors vow new effort to promote open debate

Inside Higher Ed - 8 hours 28 min ago

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. and Stephanie Robinson, two married Harvard University law professors, were not renewed in their positions as faculty deans of the residential Winthrop House after a series of controversies set off by Sullivan's decision to defend Harvey Weinstein. The couple has now released a video saying they are launching a new effort to speak out to promote open debate at the university.

Sullivan and Robinson found themselves at the center of controversy last month as students demanded action over the fact Sullivan chose to serve on the legal defense team for Weinstein. Weinstein, a former Hollywood producer, is facing sexual assault charges and a series of allegations of sexual harassment. The charges against him were a major spark for the Me Too movement. Sullivan said in a new video he is no longer defending Weinstein, as the new trial date interfered with his teaching schedule, but he rejected the idea that his defense of anyone should limit his role at the university.

Appearing with Robinson in the video, Sullivan discussed the decision not to reappoint the two and said definitively it was because he chose to defend Weinstein. However, Sullivan said what’s at stake in the situation goes beyond him and threatened the “great democratic experiment.”

“In America, everyone is entitled to a defense,” Sullivan said in the video. “In America, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Freedom of intellectual inquiry and reasoned discourse and debate are central characteristics of higher education.”

Harvard maintains Sullivan and Robinson were not renewed due to other issues as faculty deans, not over Sullivan’s decision to defend Weinstein.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the decision not to renew Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson was not directly related to the Weinstein representation, but rather due to their failure to fulfill their responsibilities as faculty deans of Winthrop House,” Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dean said via email.

In his message to the campus over the decision not to renew Sullivan and Robinson, Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana said there had been “numerous” reports of the two creating a negative climate within Winthrop House.

“Over the last few weeks, students and staff have continued to communicate concerns about the climate in Winthrop House to the college. The concerns expressed have been serious and numerous,” Khurana said. “The actions that have been taken to improve the climate have been ineffective, and the noticeable lack of faculty dean presence during critical moments has further deteriorated the climate in the house. I have concluded that the situation in the house is untenable.”

Sullivan said that all at Harvard, including its “most senior leadership,” know the decision was based on his defense of Weinstein. Students at Harvard led protests and created petitions calling for his removal. Sullivan said Harvard is failing to uphold its own values.

“When Harvard University, to which the entire world looks for leadership abandons its commitments to academic freedom and leadership, open and unfettered debate, it undermines its responsibilities and its opportunities,” Sullivan said. “Regrettably, Harvard’s administrators acted in ways grossly antagonistic to the very norms that make Harvard the epitome of higher education.”

Robinson said that dissent was “essential” but that demonization was “unacceptable,” which she said is part of a larger societal problem that Sullivan and Robinson hope to continue to address. Robinson specifically listed “feelings, emotions and ad hominem attacks” as things that have no place in an intellectual argument. Robinson said the Harvard students and faculty members would continue to hear from her and Sullivan regarding these issues.

"Ron and I are here today to say that dissent is essential, but that demonization is unacceptable," Robinson said. "Since our time as students here at Harvard, we have joined in vigorous protest for the causes that are important to us. But we did not demonize the people with whom we disagreed. We did not ever attack the character of innocents."

“A university, it’s a place where bright young minds are supposed to learn the discipline of framing and grappling with arguments and … respecting and understanding the views of others,” Robinson said. “So when a place like Harvard pays insufficient attention to that vital work, it not only betrays the ambitions of the university and its students, but it quite frankly betrays our academic traditions.”

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Columbia law adjunct is latest to leave academe following release of new film on Central Park Five

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2019-06-14 07:00

It’s been nearly three decades since teenagers known as the Central Park Five were convicted for a rape they didn’t commit, nearly two decades since their sentences were vacated and five years since New York City settled with them for $41 million. But the fallout from that case -- recently retold in a Netflix series by director Ava DuVernay -- continues, with implications for academe.

Most recently, this week, Elizabeth Lederer, lead prosecutor in the case, resigned from teaching law as an adjunct at Columbia University. Gillian Lester, dean of law, announced Lederer’s departure in an email to the school that included a quote from Lederer. She said she enjoyed teaching at Columbia and interacting with its many fine students, but that the “nature of the recent publicity generated by the Netflix portrayal of the Central Park case” makes it “best for me not to renew my teaching application.”

Lester, the dean, wrote that the miniseries, When They See Us, released May 31, has “reignited a painful -- and vital -- national conversation about race, identity and criminal justice.” She said she is “deeply committed to fostering a learning environment that furthers this important and ongoing dialogue, one that draws upon the lived experiences of all members of our community and actively confronts the most difficult issues of our time.”

Noting that she’d convened a special committee on diversity and inclusion last year, Lester also thanked the Black Law Students Association for its recent input on those ongoing goals.

Lester was presumably referring to a letter from the Black Law Students Association released Tuesday calling for Lederer’s termination. The "lives of these five boys were forever changed as a result" of her conduct, the letter says. Students, it notes, have previously pushed for Lederer’s termination, including following a 2012 documentary about the case co-produced by Ken Burns, to no effect. (At the time, Columbia reportedly removed a reference to the Central Park Five case from Lederer's online biography.)

A day later, Lester announced that Lederer told her she’d decided not to seek reappointment. University officials did not respond to requests for comment about the terms of Lederer’s departure, nor did Lederer. She has not publicly commented on the Netflix series or her role in the case.

Lederer still has her day job as a prosecutor with the New York County district attorney's office. But her departure from Columbia is surprising, not only because the case is decades old but because the institution has a particular reputation for welcoming controversial speakers and scholars. It was there in 2007, for example, that then president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran proclaimed there were no gay Iranians and expressed doubt about the Holocaust and Sept. 11. Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger introduced him as a “petty and cruel dictator” but said “this event has nothing whatsoever to do with any rights of the speaker but only with our rights to listen and speak. We do it for ourselves.”

Still, teaching law is very different from visiting a campus to speak, as many of Lederer’s critics have argued.

Elie Mystal, a writer for Above the Law, said there that if Lederer "had reckoned with her mistakes and apologized for them, I could see an argument for keeping her on as a lecturer. After all, lawyers are going to make mistakes. They’re going to pursue the wrong leads. They’re going to defend the wrong people or prosecute the wrong people. How they ethically deal with their bad calls is at least as important as how they make the good calls." Yet it appears "she’s unable or unwilling to do that," he wrote, and Columbia "should not be teaching their students that being a lawyer means never having to say you’re sorry."

Last week, Linda Fairstein, another prosecutor in the case -- who is portrayed even more negatively than Lederer in the series -- resigned from Vassar College's governing board. Similar to Columbia, Vassar faced pressure to end its relationship with Fairstein following the series’ release. Fairstein writes crime novels and was also dropped by her publisher.

Vassar's president, Elizabeth H. Bradley, said in a statement, "I am told that Ms. Fairstein felt that, given the recent widespread debate over her role in the Central Park case, she believed that her continuing as a board member would be harmful to Vassar."

Recent days have “underscored how the history of racial and ethnic tensions in this country continue to deeply influence us today, and in ways that change over time,” Bradley also said. “As I have received many emails and phone calls from people who have expressed a broad range of views on this issue, I am reminded of William Faulkner’s quote ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’”

Unlike Lederer, Fairstein has spoken out against the Netflix series. In an op-ed this week in The Wall Street Journal, she said it "attempts to portray me as an overzealous prosecutor and a bigot, the police as incompetent or worse, and the five suspects as innocent of all charges against them. None of this is true."

Some of the teenagers admitted to other, lesser crimes committed in the park that night in 1989. But DNA evidence now makes clear that they did not rape the jogger whose story preoccupied the city and the country at the time. Then New York City resident Donald Trump was among the teens' most vocal critics, even taking out a full-page newspaper ad to call for their execution.

Of the backlash against the series, DuVernay tweeted, “Expected and typical. Onward.”

While Columbia and Vassar say that Lederer and Fairstein, respectively, quit, Harvard University last month announced that it would not renew a deanship for law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who had been leading one of the university's residential colleges with his wife. Sullivan has been praised for his work for those who have been unfairly incarcerated. But some began to call for his ouster after he joined Harvey Weinstein's defense team.

Harvard attributed its decision to unspecified "climate" issues in the residential college, but some continue to suspect that Sullivan's affiliation with the accused sexual predator is to blame. Harvard has in turn been criticized for appearing to defer to student demands that brush up against the constitutional right to a fair defense.

Michael Olivas, professor of law at the University of Houston and former general counsel for the American Association of University Professors, said he found When They See Us so tough to watch that he couldn’t finish it. But he said he didn’t believe that Lederer’s actions disqualified her as a teacher. He also said that it didn’t appear that her academic freedom had been violated, since she’s a contingent academic who left of her own accord.

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New Corcoran exhibition highlights Mapplethorpe cancellation

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2019-06-14 07:00

Thirty years ago, the Corcoran Art School and Gallery gained national attention when it canceled an exhibit of photographs, some sexually explicit, by Robert Mapplethorpe, amid political criticism over federal support for the show. Now, the gallery is hoping to confront one of the most controversial moments in its past with a new exhibition showcasing the history behind the cancellation.

The Corcoran became part of George Washington University in 2014. In the late 1980s, the Corcoran was at the center of the debate over freedom of expression in the arts when it planned to showcase the controversial works of Mapplethorpe, a photographer. The exhibition would never open -- instead the gallery bowed to political pressure and chose not to showcase the works.

This weekend the Corcoran will open “6.13.89: The Canceling of the Mapplethorpe Exhibition,” displaying both internal and external documents related to the highly public controversy surrounding the original exhibition. Sanjit Sethi, director of the Corcoran school, said showing this exhibition will be vital to helping the gallery confront a dark moment from its past.

“The Corcoran has obviously gone through a significant degree of change over the years,” Sethi said. “It’s been going through changes and challenges over time. There’s no way as an educational community … that we couldn’t mark what happened 30 years ago. We really had to. There’s no way we couldn’t have conceptually or philosophically continued without asking ourselves, ‘How far have we come?’”

The current exhibition moves chronologically through a group of documents that depicts the story of the Mapplethorpe cancellation. The exhibition begins with documents discussing plans to bring Mapplethorpe’s “Perfect Moment” exhibition to the Corcoran, and moves through press releases and advertising discussing the planned exhibit of Mapplethorpe’s work. The documents were compiled after the Corcoran was incorporated into GWU five years ago and have not been publicly displayed before.

The exhibition then moves through the pressure that was exerted on the gallery regarding Mapplethorpe’s work, including a letter penned by members of the U.S. Congress condemning the exhibition and another artist's work.

"We, the undersigned Members of Congress, are outraged to discover two recent grants to 'artists' which lead us to question whether the National Endowment for the Arts is spending tax dollars in a responsible manner," the letter read.

Mapplethorpe’s “Perfect Moment” was particularly controversial because it was partially subsidized by the NEA. Mapplethorpe's art in the exhibit depicted the human form in a variety of ways, incorporating nudity, gay eroticism and images depicting sadomasochism.

Sethi said as he looks at cultural institutions today, he believes they have an obligation to protect freedom of expression -- regardless of NEA funding.

“I don’t think the NEA is funding too much in higher ed anymore,” Sethi said. “I think there’s the possible precipitation of another conversation of what it means to be American. Are we really for a dynamic, culturally accepting, norm-disrupting and culturally creative society, or are we for something more homogenous? That’s where I think all cultural institutions [are], regardless of whether they have NEA funding or not. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too -- you can’t assume someone else is going to push for those dialogues.”

Members of Congress spoke vehemently against the exhibition, and amid the pressure, gallery leadership made the decision to cancel the exhibition. In the center of the room in the 2019 exhibition is a case displaying the documentation surrounding the decision to cancel the exhibition created on June 13, 1989 -- giving the current exhibition its name. The document in the center is the press release announcing the cancellation of the exhibition and explaining the reasoning behind it. Sethi said the central location of these documents reflected what the exhibition is all about.

“This exhibition needed to be done internally by members of our community to be able to assess and understand what occurred,” Sethi said. “It’s important for us to look at through the lens of our students and the lens of our faculty.”

Several recent graduates of the Corcoran school worked to create the exhibition by analyzing the documents. One graduate, Maddy Henkin, said the documents give the exhibition the opportunity to tell several stories at once.

“What this exhibition is trying to highlight is various points of the story and individual narratives happening within this greater narrative,” Henkin said. “I think that’s the beauty of doing an archival show, because you can show so many aspects of a story.”

To the right of the central case in the exhibition is a group of cases showcasing the aftermath of the decision to cancel “Perfect Moment.” Press clippings, letters expressing displeasure and quotes from protesters are shown.

After the original cancellation, LGBT rights proponents and free expression activists protested at Corcoran, earning an apology from the Board of Trustees.

Sethi said due to the Corcoran’s commitment to artistic freedom of expression, the gallery needed to address and reflect on the Mapplethorpe incident.

“The Corcoran really has to be at the forefront of critical dialogues and conversations involving social critique,” Sethi said. “Other cultural institutions need to do the same, and they need to do a better job of it probably. We had to showcase this because we have this moment in time where we didn’t stand up for these issues, so it has to be a critical dialogue with us now.”

Though much has changed, Sethi said America is at the forefront of a new culture war, and to not reflect on the past will be disadvantageous to institutions like the Corcoran. Sethi said he hopes the exhibition will allow viewers to look back on the Corcoran’s past mistakes and help the Corcoran move forward as an institution.

“We need to do a better job of exhuming the ghosts of our past and talking about them, frankly.”

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Mexico backs down on rules that would have limited ability of researchers to travel

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2019-06-14 07:00

Mexican scholars have warned of a breakdown of relations with the country’s president after he was forced to backtrack on strict new measures that would have banned all unauthorized foreign travel by researchers.

A “memorandum of austerity” published on May 3 outlined plans by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to reduce public spending on science, including a 50 percent cut in academics’ international travel expenditure and a 30 percent cut to budgets earmarked for travel within the country.

The plans would have required all staff employed by Mexico’s federally funded research agencies to seek authorization -- signed off by the president himself -- to travel abroad.

At a press briefing, López Obrador, who began his presidential term in December, told researchers planning work-related travel that “if … you can resolve something over the telephone, do it and save [money] instead.”

But the strictness of the proposals resulted in an angry backlash from academics, forcing the National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to adjust the criteria on June 5.

“Students, researchers and academics in the science and technology sector who do not hold command and liaison positions are not required to request authorization for academic commissions abroad,” the council said.

The news came as a relief to Marcos Namad, a postgraduate researcher at the publicly funded Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (Cinvestav). Having been accepted for a placement at a research center in Chicago in July, he was told that the austerity proposals meant that his trip would be canceled and that the money he had spent on flights would not be reimbursed.

Now that the restrictions have been loosened, his trip is unlikely to be affected. “Even so, there are many austerity measures that are affecting our salaries and academic work,” Namad warned. “Part of this problem is that there is no distinction between bureaucrats or public officials and researchers in government-dependent research centers.”

Eugenia Roldán Vera, a researcher in history and philosophy at Cinvestav, said the measures had had a chilling effect on the scientific community and were indicative of a growing divide between academe and the state.

“What scientists are most opposed to is not the fact that travel must be authorized [or limits on] travel funds,” she said. “What is unacceptable for all is that the president himself wants to authorize them. This dominance of the political over the academic is unprecedented.”

Public sector employees in managerial positions at public institutions such as Cinvestav still must refer travel requests to Conacyt representatives for authorization. To win approval, López Obrador said, applicants had to provide evidence that the trip was “most indispensable, [and] that they are not going to do political tourism … at the expense of the treasury.”

But Roldán Vera said the idea that the president perceived researchers as “public officials” was nonsense. “I think that there is a determined policy of reducing public spending on science from the perspective that science is superfluous for society, that there is a divorce between science and social welfare, and that scientists are a privileged class because we [have] earned good salaries,” she said.

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Colleges award tenure

Inside Higher Ed - Fri, 2019-06-14 07:00

Clarkson University

  • Ali Boolani, physical therapy

Colby College

  • Denise Bruesewitz, environmental studies
  • Tasha Dunn, geology
  • Daniel LaFave, economics
  • Elizabeth McGrath, physics and astronomy
  • Ronald Peck, biology
  • Sonja Thomas, women’s, gender and sexuality studies
  • Natalie Zelensky, music

Indiana University Northwest

  • Tia Walker, chemistry
  • Micah Pollak, business

Norwich University

  • David Feinauer, electrical engineering
  • Llynne Kiernan, nursing
  • Sean Kramer, mathematics
  • Min Li, sociology
  • Tolya Stonorov, architecture
  • Matthew Thomas, psychology
  • Jessica Wood, nursing

University of San Diego

  • Emilie Amrein, music
  • Jessica Bell, chemistry and biochemistry
  • Barbara Bliss, business
  • Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick, peace studies
  • Saturnino Garcia, engineering
  • Adam Haberman, biology
  • Imane Khalil, engineering
  • Koonyong Kim, English
  • Diane Keeling, communication studies
  • Marcelle Maese-Cohen, English
  • Rico Monge, theology and religious studies
  • Ivan Ortiz, English
  • Greg Prieto, sociology
  • Martin Repinecz, languages, cultures and literatures
  • Ruixia (Sandy) Shi, business
  • Steve Tammelleo, philosophy
  • Suzanne Walther, environmental and ocean sciences

Virginia Tech

  • Nicole Abaid, biomedical engineering and mechanics
  • Irving Coy Allen, biomedical sciences and pathobiology
  • Lara Anderson, physics
  • Thomas Archibald, agricultural, leadership and community education
  • Brian Badgley, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
  • Edwin Barnes, physics
  • Scott Barrett, forest resources and environmental conservation
  • Andrea Bertke, population health sciences
  • Jennifer Bondy, sociology
  • Cayelan Carey, biological sciences
  • Leandro Castello, fish and wildlife conservation
  • Clayton Caswell, biomedical sciences and pathobiology
  • Julianne Chung, mathematics
  • Kelly Cobourn, forest resources and environmental conservation
  • Harpreet Singh Dhillon, electrical and computer engineering
  • Samer El-Kadi, animal and poultry sciences
  • Gonzalo Ferreira, dairy science
  • James Gray, physics
  • Adrienne Ivory, communication
  • Ran Jin, industrial and system engineering
  • Changhee Jung, computer science
  • Luke Juran, geography
  • Andrew Kemper, biomedical engineering and mechanics
  • Brook Kennedy, industrial design
  • Kiho Lee, animal and poultry sciences
  • Yang Liu, mechanical engineering
  • Nneka Logan, communication
  • Paul Marek, entomology
  • Frank May, marketing
  • F. Marc Michel, geosciences
  • Yuliya Minkova, modern and classical languages and literatures
  • Shalini Misra, urban affairs and planning
  • Kimberly Morgan, agricultural and applied economics
  • Marcus Myers, communication
  • Amanda Nelson, School of Performing Arts
  • Charles Nichols, School of Performing Arts
  • Kenneth Oestreich, biomedical sciences and pathobiology
  • Megan O'Rourke, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences
  • Bodicherla Aditya Prakash, computer science
  • Robin Queen, biomedical engineering and mechanics
  • Jennifer Sano-Franchini, English
  • Andrew Scerri, political science
  • Kendra Sewall, biological sciences
  • Nina Stark, civil and environmental engineering
  • Robert Thomas, forest resources and environmental conservation
  • Kelly Trogdon, philosophy
  • Xiaowei Wu, statistics
  • Ariana Wyatt, School of Performing Arts
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Communication scholars debate how the field's distinguished scholars should be picked going forward, in the interest of diversity, equity and inclusion

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-06-13 07:00

All but one of the National Communication Association’s 70 distinguished scholars are white. Most if not all members of the organization agree that’s a problem. But the association’s new plan for selecting its distinguished scholars -- in which a special committee, not the existing group of scholars, chooses new honorees -- has proven controversial. And one of the association’s distinguished scholars in particular just fanned the flames with an editorial that critics say pits merit against diversity.

“The change is being pursued under the banner of ‘diversity,’ which is, of course a god-term of our age, and rightly so,” Martin J. Medhurst, distinguished professor of rhetoric and communication and professor of political science at Baylor University, and editor of Rhetoric and Public Affairs, wrote recently therein about the association’s procedural shift. “But there is a difference in trying to promote diversity within a scholarly consensus about intellectual merit and prioritizing diversity in place of intellectual merit.”

He continues, “Let me be clear: I strongly support diversity and recognize that social, cultural and racial perspectives make a difference in what is studied and how it is studied. The work of the field has been enriched as it has become more diverse. That is a belief, I am sure, shared by the distinguished scholars as a group. We support diversity, but not at the price of displacing scholarly merit as the chief criterion for selecting distinguished scholars, choosing journal editors and evaluating research.”

Beyond the distinguished scholar question, Medhurst says the “far more important issue is what sort of organization the NCA will be. One where selections are made on intellectual merit or one where identity is prioritized over intellectual and scholarly merit? One where new journal editors are chosen on their background, publication record, vision and experience, or one where the color of one’s skin or one’s gender trumps everything else?”

In addition to negative comments on social media, some association members have called for a boycott of Medhurst’s journal.

“Cut all ties to Rhetoric and Public Affairs. Don’t submit there. Don’t review. Don’t cite. Urge others to do the same,” Ragan Fox, professor of communication at California State University at Long Beach, wrote on his blog. Parodying Medhurst’s editorial, Fox also wrote, “‘I strongly support diversity’ as long as it doesn’t interfere with a system of meritocracy that is set up to continue rewarding straight white dudes. ‘I strongly support diversity’ in one breath but call it a ‘god term’ in another. ‘I strongly support diversity’ by abstractly encouraging people of color and sexual minorities to apply; just don’t ask me to address the barriers that inhibit their advancement.”

In a more formal response to Medhurst that has been widely shared among communication scholars, Mohan J. Dutta, Dean's Chair Professor of Communication at Massey University in New Zealand, wrote on his blog, “He wants us to take his assurance on face value that there is no basis for the implicit assumption of racism.” Yet, “paradoxically,” Dutta says, “the very communicative strategies Prof. Medhurst uses to set up the false binary of ‘diversity’ versus ‘merit’ reflects the implicit bias that perhaps the NCA [executive committee] was seeking to address.” He further accuses Medhurst of caricaturing the concept of identity.

Star Muir, associate professor of communication at George Mason University and president of the association, said Wednesday that his organization is absolutely trying to address structural racism, in part due to a #CommunicationSoWhite campaign by members who want it to do more to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. That includes how it looks to underrepresented scholars when a group of mostly white men act as a gatekeepers to a major honor within the field.

Distinguished scholars nominated and selected new distinguished scholars, up to five annually, through 2015. That year, hoping to change up the pool, the association opened up nominations to all association members. But even that didn’t change the candidate list significantly. Just a few scholars of color have been nominated for the honor since. Just one of those was selected -- by fellow distinguished scholars, who still did the final picking.

“They’re kind of focusing on the wrong aspect of the problem in trying to drum up more and more nominations for a process which is controlled by almost 100 percent white scholars,” Muir said. “That’s not going to go very well perceptually, and it hasn’t, empirically.”

Muir sighed, “The issue is it’s really difficult to do change.” Still, he said he believed that Medhurst’s editorial had given a boost to the new effort. Many people who may not have otherwise known about the change have reached out to him to comment -- overwhelmingly positively, he said. The distinguished scholars will now be decided by a committee, with association oversight, similar to how other association awardees are chosen.

Medhurst said in an interview Wednesday that he, too, has received much positive feedback about his essay. He again said that he and his fellow distinguished scholars believed in diversity. But he outlined several problems with the association’s action. Among them: the change was decided unilaterally by the executive council; it strips the distinguished scholars of their last remaining decision-making authority and, arguably, their raison d’être; and it suggests that the scholars are racist.

“We’ve made several suggestions about how we could increase the diversity of the pool, and the main problem, as I see it, is we have almost no people of color being nominated. We can’t select somebody who hasn’t been nominated.”

Medhurst said he had an idea that would solve the pool problem, but he declined to share it, saying he hadn’t pitched it to the entire group of distinguished scholars yet. He also said he wasn't concerned with the journal boycott, since those who seem to be supporting it don't interact with his publication. Still, he pulled the editorial Wednesday and announced a forthcoming journal issue on the "politics of merit."

In the meantime, Medhurst said, “What I’m arguing is that academic merit, scholarship and ideas need to have priority over everything else, including ideology … We need to look first at the ideas, not the person.”

Many scholars would say that pure meritocracy is a myth, given the power of implicit bias and the structural and perception issues Muir mentioned -- such as scholars of color not nominating themselves or peers for an honor decided by all (or almost all) white gatekeepers. Still, some elite scholarly societies, such as the National Academy of Sciences, still allow current members to elect their new peers.

Fox said Wednesday that it's true he doesn't read Rhetoric and Public Affairs. But "I’ll use whatever platform I have to discourage people from supporting the journal." Medhurst "seriously underestimates the mobilization and passion of people whose work the distinguished scholars have historically dismissed. At least he’s consistent." He added that by "Medhurst’s own admission, the distinguished scholars have a singluar task," to "reproduce the structure of their own authority."

Muir said Medhurst and his colleagues have long been made aware of the association’s concerns and that whatever they propose, the NCA is moving forward, not backward.

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Marygrove College in Detroit announces plans to close amid continuing enrollment declines

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-06-13 07:00

Marygrove College will shut down at the end of the upcoming fall semester after the small Roman Catholic institution in Detroit was unable to escape from enrollment and financial pressures by dropping undergraduate education.

College leaders announced closure plans Wednesday, less than two years after saying in August 2017 that they would try to keep Marygrove open by cutting undergraduate offerings and focusing on graduate and professional education. Marygrove eliminated undergraduate programming at the end of the fall 2017 semester, meaning it will have operated in its current form for two years when it ends operations.

Enrollment at the college has been on a downward trajectory for years, even aside from the planned loss of undergraduates. It reported a peak combined enrollment of 1,850 graduate and undergraduate students in 2013. By the fall of 2017, it enrolled 285 undergraduates and 427 graduate students. On Wednesday, it counted just 305 students.

The enrollment funnel looked bleak. Only two new students were signed up for the fall semester, said Elizabeth Burns, Marygrove’s president. About 30 new students were on board for this summer.

In contrast, the college likely needed to boost enrollment to close to 700 students to be on a sustainable path.

Estimates showed an advertising budget of about $2 million could have moved the needle, Burns said. But Marygrove didn’t have $2 million.

“You deal with all of these problems, and you try to keep going and do the things that you think are going to work,” Burns said. “It wasn’t realistic. That’s what the board saw.”

After the changes in 2017, trustees had kept open graduate degree and professional development programs in education, human resources management and social justice. The idea was that those programs would be sustainable into the future.

That didn’t prove to be the case. Programs for teachers were a major source of enrollment, and those programs have struggled, according to John Cavanaugh, chair of Marygrove’s Board of Trustees.

“Part of the longer-term arc of the story has to do with the changing rules in public school systems,” said Cavanaugh, who is also president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, a former chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and a former president of the University of West Florida.

“They no longer require people to get master’s degrees, and many districts don’t pay when a teacher gets a master’s degree in terms of increasing salaries,” Cavanaugh said. “All of that has swerved over the last decade, and you look at other programs in the country that have either closed or dramatically shrunk their traditional graduate programs in education. Ours had a good reputation, so we lasted longer than most.”

The closure provides some new perspective on the struggles of both small private colleges and Roman Catholic institutions, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast. Marygrove is at least the fifth private, nonprofit college to announce this year that it is closing, joining the College of New Rochelle in New York, the Oregon College of Art and Craft, and Green Mountain and Southern Vermont Colleges in Vermont.

That’s not counting colleges that have merged or explored partnerships, like Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Hampshire announced plans to seek a partner before an alumni revolt forced leadership changes and new plans to try to stay open and independent.

Roman Catholic colleges closing in recent years include Marylhurst University in Portland, Ore., in 2018, St. Gregory’s University in 2017 and Saint Joseph’s College of Indiana, which suspended operations in 2017 and went on to plan a two-year college in partnership with Marian University in Indianapolis.

More recently, Wheeling Jesuit University declared financial exigency in March and moved to lay off a large number of faculty members as it shifted in focus from the liberal arts to other majors like business and health care. That prompted the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to cut ties with the university, and its board chair was ousted this week because of scandals rocking the affiliated diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

Small Roman Catholic and mission-driven colleges can struggle to balance innovation and their missions, according to Larry Ladd, national director for the higher education practice at the consulting giant Grant Thornton, in an email. Sometimes they make program choices based on internal factors rather than based on what students are likely to find attractive.

Marygrove seems to have made a strong strategic move in the type of programs it would offer, Ladd said. Graduate education tends to produce more net revenue per capita than undergraduate education. Plus, it can target specific markets and adjust to small market changes relatively quickly. Unfortunately, the programs Marygrove chose didn’t seem to fit the current market.

“Another factor has got to be its location in Detroit,” Ladd said. “While Detroit is coming back, its economy declined for many decades, and the fate of colleges, other than those with strong national brands, does depend on the local economic and cultural climate.”

In addition to radically revamping program offerings, Marygrove leaders sought to transform the college’s 53-acre campus into a “cradle-to-career” site that would host education at levels ranging from preschool to graduate. The City of Detroit, the University of Michigan, Detroit Public Schools Community District, a developer and other nonprofit organizations are involved in the effort, called one of the first “P-20” partnerships in the country. A Michigan-based foundation, the Kresge Foundation, committed $50 million, including money to stabilize Marygrove and restructure its debt.

The Marygrove Conservancy was created to manage and preserve the campus. Plans for the cradle-to-career campus will continue, the conservancy said Wednesday.

A new public school, a ninth-grade academy, is scheduled to open with 120 students in September, with a grade expected to be added each year until all grades K-12 are offered. The University of Michigan plans to launch a teacher residency program modeled after physician training programs. A new early childhood education center is expected. With the new school, the campus is projected to serve over 1,000 children, largely from surrounding neighborhoods.

“The P-20 thing was really something that we wanted to accomplish, and I think it’s going to be one of the long-term legacies from the college,” Cavanaugh said. “We were able to keep the graduate programs going for a couple of years. It gave us the time to put the pieces together.”

The Marygrove Conservancy is chaired by Sister Jane Herb, president of Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which founded Marygrove and sponsors the college. Knowing the sisters’ educational mission will continue on the campus “makes us proud,” she said in a statement.

Marygrove has about nine full-time-equivalent faculty members, plus some adjuncts, Burns said. Roughly 40 more staff members work for the college.

Leaders have started discussions with other institutions to see if they can take on Marygrove’s programs. The college has entered a teach-out agreement with Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

Marygrove was founded in 1905 as St. Mary’s College in Monroe, Mich. It’s been in Detroit for 92 years.

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A list of private colleges that have closed in recent years

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-06-13 07:00

The list that follows includes private, nonprofit colleges that have closed from 2016 to the present. The list does not include colleges that have merged with or into other institutions.

2016

2017

2018

2019

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District board fires popular community college president

Inside Higher Ed - Thu, 2019-06-13 07:00

Two community college presidents in California have been either placed on leave or terminated in the last two weeks without reason given by the governing boards. In both instances, the presidents were highly popular, leaving students and faculty members confused or angry. In both cases, the presidents were removed by boards that oversee multiple campuses in a system.

With more questions than answers, Katrina VanderWoude, Contra Costa College president, was placed on investigative leave on May 31. Norco College president Bryan Reece was placed on leave and then terminated in a late-night meeting of the Riverside Community College District board on June 12. No reason has been given by the governing boards in either instance.

Often when college presidents are removed, it’s preceded by tension with the stakeholders at the college. In both the cases of VanderWoude and Reece, campus leaders condemned the leaders’ removal.

At the meeting where the Riverside Community College District board voted to remove Reece, several students and faculty from Norco College arrived to speak on Reece’s behalf and implore the board not to have him removed, yet the board of trustees voted 4 to 0 to remove him anyway.

“The Board of Trustees and district leadership are committed to ensuring that the faculty, staff, students and managers are fully supported,” Riverside Community College District chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac said in an emailed statement. “We hope we can count on your understanding and patience during this challenging period.”

One student protesting at Tuesday night’s meeting was Autumn Uriostegui, student body president at Norco. She said the board’s decision to terminate Reece despite the protest was upsetting.

“It’s so frustrating,” Uriostegui said. “I reached out to over 100 community members last night to either come speak at the meeting or send letters, and everyone who spoke from our community was in support of Dr. Reece. They think he’s done a great job for our community and done such an amazing job as president helping inclusivity, which not many presidents have done in the past.”

Uriostegui said Reece’s tenure was unique in the sense that he reached out to many groups at Norco. Uriostegui also said it's common belief that Reece’s problems with the board were the result of Isaac’s preference for Riverside Community College over the other two colleges in the district, Norco and Moreno Valley.

“It’s clear [Isaac] doesn’t support Norco and Moreno Valley,” Uriostegui said. “So many programs we’ve tried to get are already at Riverside. They’re doing this because they don’t like that Dr. Reece was trying to put Norco on the map.”

Several faculty members also spoke in support of Reece, and a petition for the college to retain him gained 700 signatures before the meeting.

"Without student knowledge, the Board of Trustees made a decision to place our president on immediate administrative leave," the petition read. "[The board meeting] is our opportunity to have our voices heard and matter."

Meanwhile, at Contra Costa, VanderWoude’s fate remains unknown.

Timothy Leong, Contra Costa spokesman, said there are no updates to be given in VanderWoude’s investigation but that more information will become available later in the month. The college and chancellor have declined to offer any more information, saying the issue is a personnel matter.

Rumors have swirled about the reason behind the investigation. According to Fox KTVU in California, the African American Staff Association held a press conference condemning the investigation and called it a “sham.” VanderWoude, who is African American, has been a proponent of diversity efforts during her tenure.

One Contra Costa faculty member, Manu AmPim, told KTVU that there were concerns the investigation was not undertaking a fair process. The NAACP is now investigating the situation.

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Trump administration issues proposal to loosen standards for college accreditors

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-06-12 07:00

Betsy DeVos issued a proposal Tuesday to loosen federal standards for college accreditors, arguing that the changes would spur innovation.

The education secretary wants to allow colleges to expedite plans to outsource programs and to add new degree offerings or branch campuses without getting an accreditor’s approval. The changes also would make it easier for accreditors who don’t fully meet federal standards to retain their approval.

“With these reforms, our nation’s colleges and universities can spend more time and effort on serving students and less time, energy and money focused on bureaucratic compliance,” she said in a written statement.

Many of those changes delivered on long-standing demands by higher ed groups to streamline the accreditation process. But consumer advocates and other critics have warned that the proposal would unravel oversight of colleges and allow more low-quality programs to enroll students and access federal student aid.

The move also fits the broader agenda of the Trump administration to roll back regulations. DeVos issued proposals last year to raise the bar for defrauded students who are seeking debt cancellation and to repeal the gainful-employment rule for career education programs. The changes to standards for accreditors, the gatekeeping bodies for Title IV federal student aid funds, could have even broader implications for higher ed than those regulatory changes.

“Their intent is to make sure that colleges in particular are not losing accreditation,” said Antoinette Flores, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

In April, an appointed panel reached agreement on a number of proposed changes to accreditation standards after a months-long process known as negotiated rule making. During that process, the Trump administration backed off or compromised on some of its most controversial proposals, including provisions that would have shaken up regional accreditation and allowed outsourcing of the entirety of academic programs.

But DeVos and department officials celebrated the consensus reached on proposed changes -- a rare outcome for negotiated rule making -- as a historic win for the administration. Reaching the agreement, she said, "shows that, despite the naysayers, we can work together to rethink higher education, protect students through meaningful accountability, support innovative and diverse educational options, and allow colleges and universities to be more responsive to students’ educational needs and career aspiration."

Before the Trump administration launched the new regulatory process, accreditors had faced years of pressure from lawmakers and the Education Department to pursue tougher oversight of poor-performing colleges. The poster child for many critics became the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), an accreditor of mostly for-profits and a handful of other colleges, which the Obama administration sought to eliminate before DeVos restored its recognition last year.

DeVos argued that pushing more responsibilities onto accreditors had led the agencies to become too risk averse instead of allowing innovative and efficient ways to serve students.

Rewriting the Accreditation Rule Book

The regulatory overhaul would affect both accreditors’ oversight of colleges and the federal standards that accreditors themselves must meet.

The department initially proposed allowing colleges to outsource up to 100 percent of their academic programs to nonaccredited third-party providers, an idea that got little traction in the negotiated rule-making process. Instead, the proposal would allow colleges to outsource up to 50 percent of their programs by getting approval from their accreditor’s staff members within 90 days. Currently, institutions must get approval from the accreditor’s commission, members of which are voted in by member colleges to provide an independent review of decisions. That's a more protracted process than the timeline proposed by the department.

Outsourcing of academic programs has come under greater scrutiny thanks to the growth of online program managers, or OPMs, and the high cost of many degrees offered through those providers.

The proposals also would substantially expand the kinds of changes colleges could make without first getting an accreditor’s approval. Institutions could increase the level of credential offered, for example, or open branch campuses without getting permission first. And those changes could be reviewed later by their accreditor's staff.

Clearance of those kinds of substantive changes, as they are known in accreditation and federal regulation circles, is where accreditors often have exerted their oversight authority, said Beth Stein, vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS).

The proposals also would allow accreditors to maintain approval even if they don’t meet all federal standards through a new status known as substantial compliance. Those that meet the majority of standards would be reviewed by the Education Department itself rather than the independent commission that oversees accrediting bodies. And the proposal would extend the time limit -- in some cases by as much as four years -- for accreditors to eliminate a college’s recognition when it is out of compliance with standards.

The Education Department estimated the changes could increase costs for the federal Pell Grant program by $3.74 billion over 10 years by increasing the number of programs that are eligible for federal aid.

“The end package was a result of people accommodating some of the department’s desire for change and innovation while still ensuring there were protections in place,” said Jody Feder, director of accountability and regulatory affairs at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “It was definitely a stronger rule than what was initially proposed by the department and that was due to negotiators’ persistence in seeking protections and the department’s willingness to listen to concerns.”

But Flores said the proposed rules give accreditors and colleges the benefit of the doubt at every turn.

“It’s going to be extremely difficult for the department to hold anyone accountable,” she said.

Delivering on Demands of College Lobby

The department launched the regulatory overhaul by consulting recommendations of industry groups like the American Council on Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as well as bipartisan proposals from a U.S. Senate task force on regulation of higher education, which was made up largely of college presidents.

Those industry groups called for more clear distinctions between the roles of accreditors and other oversight bodies -- the federal government and state authorizers. They also wanted more focused reviews of both colleges and accreditors and sought the elimination of regulatory minutia.

Those themes were reflected in the rationale offered by the department for its proposed overhaul of standards. And more specific changes to accreditation standards proposed by the department aligned with recommendations by higher ed groups.

The Senate task force, for example, said requirements that accreditors approve branch campuses add extra work "with very little benefit gained." The group also argued that rules governing approval of substantive change at colleges was overly broad.

The proposal also included provisions called for by CHEA to require that colleges and accreditors enter arbitration before the filing of any litigation. However, the group said it was concerned by some aspects of the proposed overhaul. For example, Judith Eaton, CHEA's president, in a statement questioned the move to add time for colleges and accreditors to come into compliance.

The proposed standards also include provisions sought by Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit college trade group. One would make companies that purchase colleges responsible for only the most recent year of financial liabilities to the federal government, including borrower-defense claims. Current rules make buyers responsible for all of a college’s financial liabilities. Another change would extend federal student aid for up to 120 days to institutions that have announced plans for closure.

The department will issue final changes to regulations after the conclusion of a 30-day public comment period starting when its proposal is published in the Federal Register.

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UCLA doctor accused of sexual violence only the latest in a series of incidents on college campuses

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-06-12 07:00

James Heaps was a fixture at the University of California, Los Angeles. The physician worked in the student health center part-time for nearly 30 years. Later, he would move to UCLA’s medical center, UCLA Health.

But last year, officials fired Heaps after he was accused of sexual abuse. And Monday, Heaps was charged with sexual battery in connection with two patients (not students) he treated at UCLA Health.

The allegations were shocking enough -- a trusted, longtime doctor purportedly exploiting vulnerable patients. But they were compounded because of the myriad incidents in academe involving physicians and alleged sexual assault, including UCLA’s neighbor, the University of Southern California.

There, a campus gynecologist allegedly sexually assaulted young women for decades without being noticed. University officials who were warned of George Tyndall’s actions did not fire him, despite an investigation revealing he had likely preyed on students and had signs of “psychopathy.” Instead, the university arranged a deal to pay him off and allowed him to step down. The fallout from Tyndall resulted in the ouster of USC's president, among other top administrators, and a $215 million settlement stemming from lawsuits against the institution. USC is also being sued by male alumni who say they were sexually abused by another campus physician, Dennis Kelly.

And at Ohio State University, the revelation earlier this year that a former, now deceased team doctor -- who also worked in the campus health center -- sexually abused at least 177 male students rattled the campus, despite Richard Strauss having worked at the institution decades earlier.

The parallels in these cases call into question the oversight of college health centers. And they demonstrate how a powerful figure such as a campus doctor can intimidate and prevent students from reporting abuse.

“Especially when trusted figures are abusers, they know they can weaponize the trust in them to further get away with abuse,” said Jess Davidson, executive director of advocacy group End Rape on Campus.

Heaps worked at the university for decades in various roles. Toward the end of his tenure, he was among the top 30 highest-paid employees in the entire University of California system, taking home more than $1 million, according to 2017 data.

UCLA started investigating sexual misconduct accusations and improper billing practices against Heaps last year and subsequently fired him, though Heaps simultaneously announced he would retire.

Heaps pleaded not guilty to sexual battery and sexual exploitation charges on Monday. More details of his alleged actions have not yet been made public.

“Sexual abuse in any form is unacceptable and represents an inexcusable breach of the physician-patient relationship,” Gene D. Block, UCLA's chancellor, and John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of health sciences, said in a statement. “We are deeply sorry that a former UCLA physician violated our policies and standards, our trust and the trust of his patients.”

In March, UCLA began reviewing its handling of sexual assault cases in a clinical setting with the intent of revising any policies it viewed as weak.

Whether other institutions will beef up training or management of campus health centers remains to be seen. USC did not respond to request for comment.

Ohio State in a statement touted a number of reforms it has made since Strauss’s time at the university, among them mandatory sexual misconduct prevention training for students, professors and staff members. All university employees -- including those at its Wexner Medical Center -- must report sexual abuse they learn about. Wexner has enhanced “the concern-reporting protocol to encourage the reporting of incidents and underscore that retaliation is prohibited.”

“Additional enhancements have been made to policies concerning medical exams of all patients, including student athletes,” the university’s statement reads.

The American College Health Association last year also created a task force that was to come up with guidelines around conducting sensitive exams, such as when a doctor needs to check a student’s genitals. These rules are expected to be released in fall 2019, said spokeswoman Rachel Mack. She said that the group will also develop training materials that institutions can use around the new guidelines. Mack said members of the task force were unavailable for interviews on Tuesday.

Davidson said that the recent episodes at UCLA, USC and Ohio State reflect a desire for officials to protect their reputations -- at the cost of student safety.

With all the universities, the survivors accused administrators and staff of ignoring the abuse. Many of the male former athletes at Ohio State described Strauss’s behavior -- inappropriate fondling, unnecessary showers with players -- as “an open secret.”

Students are often unclear to whom they should report sexual violence, especially when it’s perpetrated by someone in power, Davidson said. Institutions largely have made efforts to reduce student-on-student sexual assault by advertising where students can report and under what circumstances, she said. But administrators have not accomplished as much when the rapist is a well-known professor or a revered doctor.

“This comes up a lot with physicians, professors,” Davidson said. “And especially graduate students who experience sexual harassment or assault by their professor, who is also their boss. There’s often this tricky intersection because of how we see institutions protect their own interests.”

Nationwide, too, not just at colleges, doctors who have been flagged for inappropriate conduct often are allowed to continue practicing. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation in 2016 found that physicians in every state -- thousands of them -- were allowed to continue practicing despite evidence they had committed sexual harassment or violence.

A survey conducted in 2017 by Women’s Health and the advocacy group RAINN -- the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network -- found that 27 percent of women had been violated by a doctor, reporting their doctors had made lewd comments, masturbated in front of them, touched them inappropriately or raped them.

“We are so reliant on them, we are so helpless and vulnerable and literally in pain oftentimes when we go in there. We just have to trust them,” David Clohessy, former executive director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said of physicians in an interview with the Atlanta newspaper.

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Authors discuss new book on inequities in American higher education

Inside Higher Ed - Wed, 2019-06-12 07:00

Large gaps separate the haves and have-nots in American higher education, whether talking about students, instructors or institutions. A new book, Unequal Higher Education: Wealth, Status and Student Opportunity (Rutgers University Press), focuses on these gaps and their impact on students.

The authors are Barrett J. Taylor, associate professor of higher education at the University of North Texas; and Brendan Cantwell, associate professor of higher, adult and lifelong education at Michigan State University. They responded via email to questions about their book.

Q: What do you see as the top inequities in American higher education?

A: The greatest inequality in an absolute sense is the distance between what we call the “super-elite” private universities and tuition-dependent “vulnerable” colleges and universities, most of which are also private. While super-elite places may change high tuition prices, they spend even more lavishly. This means that students at super-elite institutions enjoy a large subsidy no matter what they are paying. And the social value enjoyed from the signal of attending a Harvard or Stanford University is enormous. Material resources and cultural practices are tightly linked. By contrast, at vulnerable colleges and universities, students get a small subsidy and sometimes no subsidy at all. This means that few resources are devoted to students’ education. Further, because these campuses tend not to be selective, they offer little social distinction.

That said, we think the most consequential inequality is the gap between where smaller nonselective public colleges and universities used to be and where they are now. At the start of our analysis, virtually no public institutions were classified as vulnerable. By the end of our study period, dozens of public institutions had become vulnerable. For students at these institutions, tuition rose sharply and subsidies fell dramatically. These campuses tend to enroll black and Native students, as well as lower-income students, at rates that are higher than other institutions. When these institutions suffer, so do the students whom they serve. Widening inequalities among public institutions are therefore particularly worrisome for those of us who are interested in inequalities between individuals and communities.

Q: Much attention in the last year has focused on the wealth of the wealthiest universities -- think of the endowment tax or the gift to Johns Hopkins University. Is part of the solution to the problems you identify restricting or taxing the funds that go to or are held by the wealthiest colleges?

A: As we discuss below, we think targeted reinvestment by the states into institutions that serve a racially diverse group of students is the best approach to ease inequality. That said, we agree that incentivizing private donors to support institutions whose budgets, assets and operations more closely resemble charities is a good idea, too. Right now, both public and private funds disproportionally flow to institutions that already have the most resources. Taxing the largest endowments or capping the size of individual tax-exempt gifts have both been floated as policy solutions to this problem. But no one benefits if there are fewer resources for higher education. Restricting further accumulation by the wealthiest institutions only helps if the funds then flow to institutions that fulfill their missions but are strapped for resources. Of course, the devil is in the details. Our national habit in higher education has been to make the rich richer and more exclusive. Breaking that habit is hard work.

Q: Your book notes that states fund smaller shares of public colleges' budgets than was once the norm. You suggest that this be reversed. But do you sense any will among the public to do so?

A: This is a tough question. There is broad public agreement that tuition at public colleges and universities is too high. One way to reduce tuition is to reinvest public dollars in higher education. Yet, according to a survey carried out by American Public Media and the Hechinger Report, large numbers of citizens are unaware that state governments now contribute less to higher education than they once did. By contrast, most people are aware of rising tuition prices. In this context, many people doubt that colleges need more.

Another problem is that raising revenue through taxation is a tough sell politically, especially for voters who favor a Republican Party that has become openly hostile to the use of taxation to provide public services. Pew and other organizations have shown that public trust in higher education is down, especially among Republicans, although people see the benefit of higher education for themselves and their community.

We argue that the best way to generate the political will for reinvestment is to make the case that higher education is good not just for people who graduate, but also for the public as a whole. Right now, higher education is understood transactionally -- people go to college to get a job and need a good ROI to make it worth it. We don’t deny that work-force outcomes are important. However, once individuals have extracted those benefits for themselves, it is difficult to convince them to reinvest in a system that supports other people with whom they might compete for jobs. Yet divestment hurts all members of the next generation. Conceiving of higher education as something that benefits the public more broadly might provide a surer basis for reinvestment. Our thinking is influenced by people like Danielle Allen and David Labaree, who identify the civic and intrinsic value of higher education. To make this case, colleges and universities need to do a better job of engaging with the public, explaining what they do and why it matters. Simultaneously, powerful voices -- including large foundations and political actors -- need to make unapologetic claims for the benefits of higher education. These benefits are social, civic and cultural as well as individual and economic.

Q: Many public flagships have responded to these trends by raising private money and admitting more out-of-state students. How does this exacerbate the inequalities of which you write?

A: There are a couple of ways to think about revenue-seeking behavior on the part of the most visible public universities. One is that these institutions have abandoned their public missions and inadequately serve students from their states. Another is that the states have turned their backs on the universities, and, in order to maintain high quality, flagships have to seek revenue. Both explanations hold a share of the truth. Both also expose the pernicious effects of competition in higher education. To our way of thinking, state divestment prompted campus administrators to generate revenue in other ways, primarily through tuition, and then administrators got a taste for unrestricted revenue and needed ever more to keep up with aspirant peers. But this is just our supposition and requires additional evidence beyond what we supply in Unequal Higher Education. What we can demonstrate is that public flagships never came close to competing with the super-elite private universities, though competition for tuition revenues did widen the gaps between flagships and other public institutions.

Q: The colleges that enroll the largest share of low-income students receive less attention and money than other institutions. What can be done to reverse that?

A: The conventional answer is for all of us -- those in higher education and the industry media -- to end our obsession with exclusive privates and public flagships, and to start highlighting the contributions of other institutional types. But we think that is only a starting point. Our analysis suggests that what really matters is breaking the cycle of competition. Our preferred approach would involve holding states accountable for targeted reinvestment in the broad-access institutions that enroll large numbers of underserved students, while holding intuitions accountable for mission adherence, which would in most cases involve renewed focus on education and dramatic slowdowns in tuition increases. The basic trade-off is more reliable funding in exchange for somewhat less autonomy, although we see academic freedom and political independence in teaching and research as a red line. Admittedly this is a general framework, not a detailed path to implementation. We think that is appropriate given that the problems of public higher education are often social and political (what kind of system do we want?) rather than technical (how do we create it?). Goals and values matter.

Q: The public appears outraged by the admissions scandal, which shows just how many advantages (even illegal) wealthy families have. Do you think this furor will lead to real change?

A: Probably not. Outrage over the admission scandal is understandable, especially when the rich and powerful seem to hold a sense of absolute entitlement and total disdain for the rest of us. And the scandal maps well onto a wide range of political priors. If you are a right-wing populist, it’s an example of coastal elites rigging the system. If you are a technocratically oriented centrist, it’s an example of a broken admission system. If you are a progressive, it’s an example of the privileged exploiting the trappings of meritocracy to consolidate their advantage. Each of these positions makes a claim about how to ration a few highly desirable seats that are unattainable to the vast majority of students. The analyses we present in Unequal Higher Education suggest that those three approaches do not lead to meaningful change. We think it is simpler, more just and more adequate to the needs of a growing population of college-going students to increase the number of desirable seats by reinvesting in the institutions whose doors are already open to just about every student in the country.

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Tied to bishop scandal, Wheeling Jesuit chairman steps down months after exigency

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-06-11 07:00

The board chairman at Wheeling Jesuit University is stepping down and leaving several other powerful positions at related Roman Catholic institutions in West Virginia, as church leaders announced a series of moves affecting high-ranking diocesan leaders Monday, days after details from a confidential report to the Vatican became public.

Monsignor Kevin Quirk announced his decision to step down as chair of Wheeling Jesuit’s Board of Trustees and president of the Board of Directors at Wheeling Hospital. He also resigned as judicial vicar and rector of the Cathedral of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

Also resigning from a top position at the diocese was Monsignor Anthony Cincinnati, who had been vicar for clergy. In addition, church leaders announced that Monsignor Frederick Annie resigned as vicar general of the diocese in September. All three will continue serving as priests in parishes.

The resignations come less than a week after The Washington Post published details from a confidential report sent to the Vatican about allegations of sexual abuse and financial impropriety by former Wheeling-Charleston bishop Michael Bransfield. Quirk, Cincinnati and Annie had been top aides to the bishop, who was ousted in September. The report sent to Rome recommended their removal.

Quirk’s case is of high interest to faculty members and others connected to Wheeling Jesuit University. He was board chair when the university declared financial exigency in March, moved to lay off 20 of its 52 full-time professors and sharply cut its academic program offerings. The university decided to eliminate majors including theology and philosophy, prompting faculty members to lament that traditional liberal arts offerings were all but gone.

Those changes led the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus to end its affiliation with the university, which it founded with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston more than 64 years ago. All Jesuit trustees have resigned from the university’s board, leaving only non-Jesuit trustees, and leaders had planned to rebrand the university with a yet-to-be-announced new name.

The timing of the exigency, the report to the Vatican and the personnel changes announced Monday raise questions. The report that recommended Quirk’s removal was sent to the Vatican Feb. 25. Wheeling Jesuit trustees voted to declare exigency March 8. The Post story revealed the recommendation that Quirk be removed June 5.

“I’m not OK with any of it,” said Jessica Wrobleski, a tenured theology professor who served as chair of Wheeling Jesuit’s Faculty Council and was laid off. “I think it’s all been illegitimate.”

It’s not possible to unwind the events that led to the deep cuts at Wheeling Jesuit, Wrobleski acknowledges. She is moving on -- selling her house and relocating to Cleveland, where she’s planning to take a break from higher ed and work at a Roman Catholic girls' high school.

Still, the issues raised by the case will linger. They’re compounded because at least some of Quirk’s fellow board members say they weren’t told about the recommendations contained in the report to the Vatican.

When should board members have been told details from a church investigation winding its way through a long process? If the report’s allegations about Quirk’s behavior -- many of which amount to a failure to act to prevent abuse -- are true, did they indeed disqualify him from leading a university board? Why didn’t church leaders act sooner to ensure that changes at Wheeling Jesuit were made by leaders who would be around to see their visions realized? What comes next for the university, which has become more and more intertwined with the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and a related hospital in recent years?

Critics acknowledge the questions are hard to answer.

“Kevin Quirk -- I don’t want to paint him as just a villain, because I think he’s a complicated person,” Wrobleski said. “I say this as a Catholic and a theologian. I don’t think the church can be true to its mission in the world, or that the school can be true to its mission in Appalachia, so long as we are tolerant of a lack of transparency and accountability in leadership.”

University bylaws give the bishop of Wheeling-Charleston a high level of control over Wheeling Jesuit. The bishop is the chair of the board or picks someone to serve in that position. The position of diocesan bishop has been open since Bransfield’s ouster in September but is effectively held by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who is overseeing Wheeling-Charleston as apostolic administrator.

A new chair is expected soon.

“The revelations about issues in the diocese outlined in the recent Washington Post story are deeply concerning to all members of the Catholic community,” the university said in a statement. “The university was informed today by Archbishop Lori that Monsignor Kevin Quirk has stepped down from the board. A successor will be named in the coming days.”

‘Failing to Take Any Action’

Much of the Post’s report focuses on actions by then bishop Bransfield. It described him giving $350,000 in cash gifts to other clergy members and living an “extravagant and lavish lifestyle that was in stark contrast to the faithful he served and that was for his own personal benefit.” It also said he was the subject of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints by young male clerical assistants.

Checks for donations came from the bishop’s personal account. The diocese then boosted his compensation to reimburse him for his gifts, a practice officials there called “grossing up.”

Quirk’s name surfaced in the report in several different contexts. An email he wrote in 2016 made clear he was aware of the “gross-up method” of reimbursement. And he was quoted as telling one priest, “Your presence is required,” even though young priests and seminarians had been asking leaders for help dealing with Bransfield’s actions. The report details nine different men’s accusations that the bishop touched them, groped them, exposed himself to them, kissed them or commented on their bodies.

Quirk tried to prevent altar servers from being alone with the bishop, calling it the best he could do given the circumstances, according to the Post. He also took letters detailing allegations against the bishop to Lori, as well as documents about cash gifts the bishop made.

Three of the bishop’s top aides -- Quirk, Cincinnati and Annie -- should be removed, the report recommended.

“By failing to take any action, the Chancery Monsignors enabled the predatory and harassing conduct of Bishop Bransfield, and allowed him to recklessly spend Diocesan funds for his own personal use,” the report said, according to the Post.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore declined to provide the report to Inside Higher Ed. A spokesman said it “belongs to the Holy See.”

It’s not clear how many church officials in Wheeling or at Wheeling Jesuit saw the report. It was the product of five lay investigators, including a former Wheeling Jesuit board chair.

One current Wheeling Jesuit board member said he didn’t know of the report’s conclusion before it appeared in the newspaper. Reached by telephone Friday, that board member, Lawrence Bandi, largely declined comment. But he answered when asked if he wished he’d been told about the report’s findings at an earlier date.

“Absolutely,” said Bandi, president of Central Catholic High School, in Wheeling. “I think we all do.”

At the time, Bandi backed Quirk.

“I know Monsignor Kevin very personally, and I believe he has acted as a wonderful leader,” Bandi said. “I don’t agree with the report recommendation, personally.”

Quirk did not respond to telephone and email messages left Friday seeking comment.

Bandi on Monday was named “the archbishop’s representative to Wheeling Hospital.”

A Nexus of Power

In recent years, the diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, Wheeling Hospital and Wheeling Jesuit have been knit more closely together. Quirk held key positions at all three.

In 2017, a debt-laden Wheeling Jesuit sold its campus in a lease-back deal. At the time, leaders described the agreement as one in which Wheeling Jesuit sold the campus to the diocese in exchange for the diocese paying off the university’s long-term bond debt. Quirk was chair of the board.

The hospital also acquired the deed to a campus building known as the National Technology Transfer Center in the deal. In September, Wheeling Hospital said it was planning to move 180 employees into the building. Quirk was elected president of the Board of Directors of Wheeling Hospital in 2008 -- replacing Bandi.

Today, a third-party company, Diocesan Real Estate Inc., is listed in Ohio County property records as the owner of parcels of land that make up the Wheeling Jesuit campus. A source with knowledge of the real estate deal said Diocesan Real Estate Inc. is jointly owned by the diocese and Wheeling Hospital. A spokeswoman for the university said she did not have information about Diocesan Real Estate Inc.

Because of his involvement in the hospital, Quirk's name has also surfaced in a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging kickbacks to doctors who referred business to the hospital. That suit alleges that he was part of an “ad hoc committee of the hospital’s Board of Directors” controlling a Pittsburgh company managing the hospital since about 2006. The company allegedly caused the hospital to submit “thousands of false claims” resulting in “millions of dollars of reimbursement to Wheeling Hospital by the Medicare program.”

The federal government joined the lawsuit this year. When it did, the hospital called the move “an unwarranted attack” and called the allegations untrue.

Quirk has also been named in a lawsuit accusing then bishop Bransfield of sexual assault in 2014. An anonymous complainant said to have been a personal altar server and secretary for the former bishop said that Quirk fought to keep the plaintiff from moving into the bishop’s home, but that he “did so in a manner that protected Bishop Bransfield’s true nature as a sexual predator.”

This is far from the first episode of turmoil at Wheeling Jesuit in recent years. It’s been through several presidents, and last year, faculty members filed a lawsuit against the university over handbook changes they felt breached contract and violated shared governance.

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UCLA postdoc says she was retaliated against for raising pregnancy discrimination issues

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-06-11 07:00

A postdoctoral researcher who says she was retaliated against for complaining about pregnancy discrimination still has a job, her union announced Monday.

Previously, the University of California, Los Angeles, told Sandra Koch, the neurobiology postdoc, that her appointment there would end on June 30. That’s even though she had secured her own funding and her principal investigator wanted her to stay on in her lab.

UCLA blames the recent dispute about Koch’s future there on the terms of a prior settlement about her bias claim. It denies having discriminated or retaliated against Koch in any way.

Anke Schennink, president of Koch’s United Auto Workers-affiliated union, doesn’t believe that.

“It didn’t make sense to us and still doesn’t make sense to us -- there was never any good explanation,” she said, adding that it's unheard of for universities to deny postdocs with their own funding and a willing supervisor a place on campus.

In the "bigger picture," Schennink said, "this is what people who bring up discrimination issues are afraid of, that it will haunt them and be detrimental to their careers. It’s why a lot of people don’t ever bring up these issues.”

Koch, who was not immediately available for an interview, has said publicly that she was effectively fired from her previous lab at UCLA after she told her former supervisor that she was pregnant, in 2017. She filed a grievance with her union and also with the university’s sexual harassment office and reached an agreement allowing her to switch labs and principal investigators.

Anecdotes about pregnancy discrimination in academe are widespread, especially in the natural sciences. And postdocs are among the most vulnerable academic workers because universities have been slow to adopt formal work-life policies for them. Sometimes a pregnant postdoc’s fate depends on the whims of her PI. 

That wasn’t the case for Koch, however, as postdocs across the UC system are unionized -- still rare in academe -- and enjoy certain protections. Among them is a parental leave policy, won in 2016.

In a new lab, working under fellowship funding and a supportive supervisor, Koch thought her complaint was behind her. But she says that human resources officials recently refused to renew her appointment beyond this month. A German citizen, Koch’s immigration status is linked to her employment terms, meaning she likely would have had to leave the country if UCLA hadn't changed its position.

"Before now, walking away from a funded, possibly groundbreaking project was all but unthinkable," Koch wrote in a Medium post about her situation late last month. Yet "I will mostly likely be packing up and leaving my work on a dusty shelf."

Koch’s supporters soon launched a petition for her reinstatement, gathering 3,000 signatures in three days. The editorial board of the Daily Bruin student newspaper also published a piece in support of Koch, saying that "what’s shocking about UCLA’s course of action is its audacity: that a well-funded, well-researched and well-read postdoctoral student wouldn’t even be granted an extension for her valuable work because she dared to be pregnant."

An on-campus demonstration was planned for last week. But the university extended her appointment before it began.

“It’s been an emotional journey, but I am ecstatic to be able to stay in my research career that I love, and with my family in this country,” Koch said in a statement. “I want to thank everyone who joined me in taking a stand against the injustice I experienced at UCLA.”

Schennink said pregnancy discrimination against postdocs and retaliation are open secrets in academe. One way to right the “imbalance” between tenured faculty members and more vulnerable academic workers would be shoring up protections against both, she said.

UCLA said in a statement that it maintains an “inclusive environment where all students, faculty and staff are free from discrimination or retaliation.” A dispute  arose regarding Koch's "eligibility for reappointment under the terms” of the prior agreement, it said.

This issue is now resolved and UCLA is “pleased that it was able to reach an amicable resolution” with Koch. 

A 2017 survey of hundreds of postdocs’ pregnancy and child-rearing experiences by the National Postdoctoral Association and the Pregnant Scholar project of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings, found many postdocs experienced work climate issues both before and after becoming parents. Some reported fearing asking for pregnancy accommodations, even if they needed them for health reasons. The survey also revealed a lack of access to paid parental leave, pressures to return to work early and extra stressors for parents of color.

Jessica Lee, staff attorney at the Center for WorkLife law, said there are no clear data on how common it is to face retaliation as a postdoc. In the workforce generally, however, she said, retaliation is common. Some 40 percent of legal cases filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against discrimination in employment and retaliation include charges of relation, she added. And retaliation is illegal in both public and private settings. 

“Among the many postdocs and graduate students I have counseled through our nationwide hotline, the fear of retaliation is overwhelming and ever-present,” Lee said. “Adding to the problem is that retaliation can take many forms, including concrete actions like firing -- as well as the less tangible loss of publication opportunities or reputational damage.”

Lee said the biggest risk factor for discrimination and retaliation is when a single professor has complete control over a postdoc’s or graduate student’s professional life, with limited accountability. So policies about postdoc hiring, performance evaluations and dismissals can help — as can parental leave and pregnancy accommodation policies. 

The most important piece? “Because of the wide power differential between professors and students or postdocs, a robust and independent complaint process is essential,” Lee said.

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Common freshman reading for 2019

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-06-11 07:00

Nationwide, many members of the Class of 2023 are thinking about their college arrivals. Educators hope these new students will find commonality in books assigned to freshmen to read over the summer.

With continued conversations of diversity and racial tensions on college campuses, many of the assigned books focus on issues facing marginalized communities. However, the topics of other books being assigned this summer include everything from the hate speech versus free speech debate to issues surrounding food insecurity. At many institutions, the summer reading is representative of a theme that will drive freshman activities and discussions, including bringing speakers to campus related to the reading and hosting events related to the assigned reading.

As in 2016, books focused on the experiences of minority groups were prevalent in this year’s selections. At Colgate University, the committee devoted to common reading was able to find a story that accomplished this goal while also covering Colgate’s goal of discussing classic works. Home Fire, written by Kamila Shamsie, is a story about a family of British Muslims who struggle with modern issues including discrimination. The story, however, was also chosen because it was a reimagining of Sophocles's Antigone, according to Elizabeth Marlowe, an associate professor of art and art history who assisted with the selection of Home Fire.

“Even with the premise that it would be beneficial to read something from a perspective of someone whose demographic profile is different than that of the majority of our students, that in itself is not enough to choose a book,” Marlowe said. “What I like about Home Fire … there’s a lot in this text that make it accessible to our students even when dealing with issues that very few of our students have ever had to grapple with.”

While some colleges don't offer common reading books, Marlowe said the program is helpful in connecting freshmen with one another.

“It’s an idea we hold on to very tightly,” Marlowe said. “There is something exciting about everyone reading a book together, and [it] sets a really nice message to incoming students that this is an intellectual community they are joining and that we expect them to be thinking and talking about their books. That is the fundamental basis for our community here.”

At Grinnell College, Vrinda Varia, director of intercultural affairs, said the college's book was chosen with a number of factors in mind, including seeking a book with a focus on social justice and relevancy to students. Grinnell chose The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez, about Hispanic immigrants facing trials living in the United States. Varia said the book was chosen because it offers new perspectives to students and its story was relevant given current events.

“Having it feel like something relevant to the current context did feel like something we wanted it to do,” Varia said. “We weren’t looking for a text where you necessarily have to analyze our current political state around immigration; our hope was to make it feel relevant and contemporary so that it is relatable.”

Among other books in the field of diversity issues, Texas Christian University has asked incoming students to read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which is about a high school student who witnesses a black friend's shooting by a white police officer. The book explores racial consciousness and injustice. Lavonne Adams, an associate professor of nursing at TCU and a member of the committee that selected the book, said via email that the committee believes the book will increase awareness of cultural diversity among incoming freshmen.

However, themes varied at other universities. For example, at Miami University in Ohio, students will read One Size Fits None: A Farm Girl's Search for the Promise of Regenerative Agriculture by Stephanie Anderson, which focuses on issues in the food production industry and environmentalism. At Adelphi University, Emory University, and Middle Tennessee State University, students will read Educated by Tara Westover, which focuses on the way lives are affected by a strong education.

Among other themes explored by common reading assignments for 2019 was the concept of activism and free speech. At Washington University in St. Louis, students will read HATE: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech, Not Censorship by Nadine Strossen, which focuses on the idea that hate speech should not be censored but instead met with more powerful speech condemning it. According to Washington University’s common reading website, the book will “introduce students to the spirit of inquiry and debate that is integral to the Washington University academic community.”

In the vein of activism, students at Arcadia University in Pennsylvania will read Glimmer of Hope, a book written by survivors of the Parkland school shooting in Florida. Rachel Collins, director of the first-year experience at Arcadia, said Glimmer of Hope has a powerful message about making one’s voice heard. Collins said though gun reform can be a divisive issue to discuss, she believes it will lead to strong conversation among students.

“This is a book about young people figuring out how to create change in the world, how to get powerful politicians and leaders to listen to them, and how to build momentum and passion on issues they care about,” Collins said. “We want Arcadia students to learn how to become change makers in whatever their chosen field is. While opinions on gun reform -- and many important issues -- can be polarizing, part of the common read’s role is to facilitate discussions among people who might disagree. Learning to discuss critical issues across differences is an important aspect of a university education and is preparation for participation in civic life.”

Other summer selections include:

  • How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate by Andrew J. Hoffman, assigned at Smith College.
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, assigned at Bucknell University.
  • Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, assigned at Meredith College.
  • Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, assigned at Lawrence University.
  • A collection of columns published in The New York Times called “Hungry City” by Ligaya Mishan, assigned at Fordham University.
  • Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka, assigned at Connecticut College.
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RIT autism program continues to expand

Inside Higher Ed - Tue, 2019-06-11 07:00

About a decade ago, an influx of students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder surprised officials at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Disability Services Office. The students had questions beyond the usual accommodations. They wanted to know how to deal with a snippy roommate or professor, or they just had problems communicating.

The presence of so many students with autism was unremarkable for RIT. The university is home to the well-known National Technical Institute for the Deaf, so the college was already used to teaching in different styles for students with disabilities. And students with autism are often attracted to computing and other STEM-centric programs -- RIT’s specialty.

Officials have registered 200 students with autism with disability services in the last academic year. Because students are not obligated to report their disabilities, those with autism are likely underrepresented in that figure. RIT’s total population is a little more than 19,000 students.

The institution wanted to do more for students on the spectrum, and with a two-year, $200,000 National Science Foundation grant, officials in 2008 launched a program designed specifically for them -- one that would provide students with autism with weekly coaching on all facets of college life.

Ten years later, the Spectrum Support Program has become a cornerstone at RIT, an initiative that grew organically and rapidly simply through word of mouth, said Laurie Ackles, the program’s director.

“The autism community is a pretty tight community,” Ackles said.

The pilot program -- few of which existed in the country at the time -- started out just serving a group of first-year students, who were paired with a graduate psychology student as a “coach.” When the NSF grant came in, administrators extended the services to all students with autism who were STEM majors and later covered the costs for all students on the spectrum.

It's not surprising RIT is attracting students with autism, said Brad Cox, an associate professor of higher education at Florida State University and the founder of the College Autism Network, a nonprofit attempting to build services for autistic students at colleges and universities. The group will hold its College Inclusion Summit in October to help teach professors and administrators how they can work with students with autism. 

The university's program has been built up so much since its launch, Cox said.

"It's pretty expensive to start one of these, meaning that a program that has been around for a little while and has some expertise to back it up, that program will draw more and more people," Cox said.

RIT's program has ballooned to about 86 students this academic year, from its original iteration of just 10 to 12 students. No longer does the disability services office refer students to the program -- it’s reversed, with many of the students with autism finding out about the Spectrum Support Program before anything else.

It also now includes a career-readiness component and has been replicated by other institutions. RIT, based on the program, created a guide, “Emerging Practices for Supporting Students on the Autism Spectrum in Higher Education,” for other institutions on starting such projects.

Ackles estimates about 50 such programs now exist at other colleges (though not necessarily always inspired by RIT’s). Other prominent projects include those at Western Kentucky University and Marshall University, Cox said.

The bulk of the program at RIT is the coaching that students receive. Either weekly, twice weekly or twice monthly, the recipients meet with an adviser -- either a graduate student or a staff member with the program -- to discuss academics and wellness, such as whether they’re sleeping or eating healthfully. Since the original grant expired, half of the program’s nearly $400,000 budget comes out of the university’s coffers, and the other half is paid for with enrollment fees the university charges the students who participate. Freshmen are charged $3,000 to $4,000 a year depending on how often they’re meeting with their coaches, and upperclassmen are charged $2,200 or $3,000 annually.

Donald Griner just finished his first year at RIT. An upstate New York native, Griner said he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (later renamed autism spectrum disorder). This means he's on the spectrum, but his diagnosis is not as specific as someone with, for instance, Asperger’s syndrome. Griner said he has trouble with some logic problems and high-level math that might take him longer than it would for other students.

However, he wanted to focus on computer programing, which RIT is well known for, when he entered college.

Griner and his family discovered RIT's autism program while they researched colleges for him.

His diagnosis allows him to receive extended time for testing, which he said he needed, but the most helpful piece of the program was the coaching. During his first semester, when his grades were dipping in his introductory computer science class, the coach encouraged Griner to stay motivated and enrolled in the class until he was sure he couldn't handle it. Then, the coach helped connect him to a new major -- business management -- when Griner later determined he didn't enjoy programming.

The coach connected him with career services at RIT, too, Griner said. His first-semester grade point average, which he said was quite poor, improved the next semester to a 3.5 with his help.

And the program gave its participants an extra week on campus before first-year orientation, so he was able to make friends and connect with others early.

"The college most definitely provided more," Griner said. "I love my high school to bits, but it's in a small town, and the college is much bigger and has much more power to put these programs into practice."

Spectrum Support has been quite popular, and current students and their families or alumni often donate to it. One worker with the program even donates a small portion of every paycheck back to it.

While colleges that host such programs have gotten significant positive feedback anecdotally, academic studies have not definitively proven that they help students with autism, Cox said -- this is the next step for researchers.

Cox said tensions have also arisen with the fees that students and their families are charged to pay for the programs. Adding several thousand dollars more a semester to tuition can exclude certain autistic students who may not have the finances, he said. At some point, too, the programs will become too expensive to manage, and institutions will be forced to cap the number of students who can take advantage of them, Cox said.

The largest gift to the RIT autism program, $960,000, parsed out over five years, is helping fund the Neurodiverse Hiring Initiative, which helps teach the students some of the soft skills employers find desirable -- like scheduling and flexibility and communication. Students also do mock interviews. The Spectrum Support staff works with RIT’s Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education. The two offices have also taught potential employers about the needs of workers with autism.

“It’s just an example of how we serve outside the RIT population, as a resource for anyone, especially employers that want to learn more,” said Janine Rowe, assistant director for careers and disabilities.

Interviewing lessons are particularly important for RIT students, as about 80 percent of the college’s majors require participation in a co-op experience -- a paid work experience in their chosen field of study.

RIT determined that about 66 percent of students with autism were on track and completed the co-op requirement compared to their peers. After the careers part of the program was introduced two years ago, that rose to 75 percent, Rowe said.

The most recent development in the program is a Career Ready Boot Camp -- about 10 students will live on campus for three weeks this summer and work in teams from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day to build 3-D printers. The participants will need to present their 3-D printers to students with RIT’s K-12 Academy, which is runs summer camps for elementary, middle and high school students.

“It’s integrating some social stuff, but really about building the soft skills these students need,” Ackles said.

One student participant in last year’s camp, Alaina Russell, told RIT that the three weeks helped build her self-confidence.

“I wanted to expand my knowledge and improve on my teamwork skills and working together,” Russell said in an interview with the college.

DiversityEditorial Tags: Career servicesDisabilityImage Source: A. Sue Weisler, Rochester Institute of Technology Image Caption: RIT students with autism participate in the college's three-week camp on career building.Is this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Rochester Institute of TechnologyDisplay Promo Box: 

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