Inside Higher Ed

Michigan State board moves to oust interim president after a year of pressure and bad press

21 hours 45 min ago

John Engler’s words caught up to him Wednesday as the interim president of Michigan State University reportedly decided to resign in the face of an ultimatum from trustees.

A former governor of Michigan who took the helm of the university in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, Engler was asked to resign by a board that was prepared to fire him, according to reports in the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News. The board was moving to act after Engler made another round of controversial comments about those who suffered Nassar’s abuse.

Engler will resign in a week, he said in an 11-page resignation letter.

"As you are aware, I am out of town heading to San Antonio to attend my late father-in-law's internment [sic] service at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery on Friday morning with Michelle and our Texas family," Engler's letter said. "Given that, in compliance with your request that I resign and in order to ensure an orderly transition to my interim successor, I hereby resign the office of President of Michigan State University effective 9:00am, Wednesday, January 23, 2019."

His coming departure caps a tumultuous year as interim president for Engler, who oversaw the university as it reached a landmark $500 million settlement with hundreds of abuse survivors but who also made numerous statements and decisions that drew outrage. The last straw came after The Detroit News on Friday published comments Engler made to its editorial board about those Nassar had abused.

“You’ve got people, they are hanging on and this has been … There are a lot of people who are touched by this, survivors who haven’t been in the spotlight,” Engler told The Detroit News editorial board, according to an article published Friday. “In some ways they have been able to deal with this better than the ones who’ve been in the spotlight who are still enjoying that moment at times, you know, the awards and recognition. And it’s ending. It’s almost done.”

Trustees felt compelled to act after those words. They scheduled a meeting for today at which they were reportedly ready to fire the interim president.

"What we have is a repetition of instances where there has been despicable comments, and this has created a setback for the community and cost the trust and credibility for the university and the survivors as they continue to heal," the board chair, Dianne Byrum, told The Detroit News.

Another trustee, Brianna Scott, told the newspaper that the majority of the board felt something needed to happen after Engler’s comments. And a third, Brian Mosallam, took issue with Engler’s personality.

“I have watched Engler not only interact with our courageous survivors but our faculty, employees and students as well,” Mosallam told The Detroit News. “He's not only a bully, he is a mean-spirited human being. His time is up.”

Mosallam had tried to oust Engler before. In June, the trustee failed to muster enough votes to prompt the board to fire the interim president. Mosallam mounted that effort after emails surfaced in which Engler alleged one of the survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse was receiving kickbacks from lawyers and that others were being manipulated by lawyers. Engler apologized for those statements.

Engler's resignation did not contain an apology for his recent comments. It listed what he sees as his numerous accomplishments at Michigan State, including everything from initiating cultural change to managing a visit by "white identity provocateur Richard Spencer" to taking steps to address relationship violence and academic success by student athletes in the classes entering from 2008 to 2011.

"The bottom line is that MSU is a dramatically better, stronger institution than it was one year ago," said the letter, which described the university as an institution in crisis when Engler took over. "The many changes we have made are substantive and offer [sic] far-reaching in their impact. At the same time, our leaders across the university are energized, organized and communicating in far more effective ways than had been the case."

A lawyer representing Nassar's victims issued a statement painting a much less rosy picture of the departing interim president.

"John Engler has always treated survivors as the enemy," said the statement from the lawyer, John Manly. "He took actions to obstruct and undermine criminal investigations of the university and its administration by the Michigan attorney general. His reckless and vile personal attacks upon individual survivors and their legal counsel continued to revictimize them. It is sad that Engler actually had to say publicly that he believed that survivors ‘enjoyed the spotlight’ brought about by their abuse for the university to finally force him to resign as president. It was long overdue."

Trustees took a "giant step" toward reclaiming Michigan State's reputation and placed the university on the path to reconciliation with survivors, Manly added.

Engler's letter pointed out that dynamics on the Board of Trustees have shifted since he was appointed. It started by saying that three new Democrats created a new majority on the board, and that Engler had been advised that five Democratic members of the board requested his resignation.

Two trustees who were up for re-election opted not to run this fall, and a third resigned amid health issues. Then governor Rick Snyder appointed Nancy Schlichting to the board in December as George Perles's term wound down, while Scott and Kelly Tebay won statewide elections for the open seats.

Faculty members who have voiced concern about the direction of Michigan State hailed the new-look board’s actions on Wednesday.

“This is a sign that we really do have a new board, and I think that’s really good news,” said Anna Pegler-Gordon, a social relations and policy professor at Michigan State and a member of Reclaim MSU, a group of students, employees and alumni that has been trying to convince leaders to conduct a public search instead of a closed search for the next permanent Michigan State president.

“It was the old board that hired him,” she said. “They sought input from faculty, staff and students and then completely ignored that input and made their own decision. Now we see just how bad that decision was, and I think it’s really important that the new board doesn’t make the same bad decisions.”

Indeed, Engler had faced opposition virtually from the moment he was named to the position. Survivors of Nassar’s abuse initially worried that Engler, a Michigan State alumnus and Republican who spent three terms as Michigan governor from 1991 to 2003, was not independent enough from the university’s entrenched culture.

Concerns soon grew beyond Engler’s background and his words. He was accused of offering $250,000 to settle a lawsuit with a survivor when her lawyer wasn’t present, then took heat for the university’s response to the Nassar crisis while testifying in front of a U.S. Senate panel. He reportedly cut features about the Nassar case from the university’s alumni magazine and was recently blasted by activists speaking at a meeting for not making eye contact with them.

In December, Engler redirected a fund that was intended to cover counseling for Nassar’s abuse survivors, moving $8.5 million from it into the fund for the legal settlement with survivors. That move cut the amount the university needed to borrow to pay for the settlement to $491.5 million but angered critics who already felt the university’s reaction to the scandal was tone-deaf.

The $10 million closed fund had been created when Lou Anna Simon was still Michigan State president and the university was facing increasing pressure to address the Nassar scandal. It had been suspended in July amid concerns about fraud not committed by victims or their family members.

Simon resigned in January of last year as the Nassar scandal threw Michigan State into crisis. She has since been charged with lying to police as they investigated the case.

Victims have been sharply critical of the way Michigan State responded to complaints about Nassar over the years. Some said they complained about him to the university, but that it did not take any significant action and failed to report abuse to authorities, allowing his abuse to go on for far longer than it would have if their warnings had been taken seriously.

In light of the missteps and massive negative press, faculty members seemed willing to dismiss any concerns that the board was being too activist in pushing out the interim president.

“Sometimes boards may become too interventionist, but under the circumstances in which MSU is suffering reputational damage from an extended failure to prevent or stop sexual mistreatment of MSU students and thereafter from maladroit comments to and about the victims, the active engagement of the board appears to be prudent,” said Mae Kuykendall, a law professor at Michigan State, in an email.

University academic leaders also backed Engler's removal. A group of 23 leaders, most of them deans, addressed a letter to the Board of Trustees dated Wednesday saying they did not support Engler and asking for “appropriate” action.

“The pattern of comments by Interim President Engler, including his most recent statement suggesting that some of the survivors of sexual abuse are 'enjoying' the spotlight, further harms the very people it is our responsibility to support,” it said.

Michigan State’s actions throughout the unfolding Nassar scandal have consistently flabbergasted experts with experience managing organizations through crises and communicating during them. But some could see why a board would have wanted to appoint someone with Engler’s résumé.

Although faculty members may not have been happy with a nonacademic, a former governor who is well connected politically could be seen as an asset at a time when the university faced massive financial and reputational liabilities.

An interim still needs to stay out of his or her own way, said Brian Tierney, the CEO of Brian Communications, a marketing, advertising and public relations firm in suburban Philadelphia.

“The first thing is do no harm,” said Tierney, a former publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer who is also a trustee at Widener University. “You would think a three-term governor of the state is somebody who has been through the battle. They’re going to have good relationships with the Legislature, which is critical.”

Yet Engler continued to make controversial comments in settings where officials usually expect to be monitored. Most know not to make inflammatory statements in emails that can be copied or that are subject to public information requests. They also try not to make news when visiting with editorial boards.

Some who are intimately familiar with the university and the state of Michigan weren’t surprised it didn’t work out with Engler, however.

“I’m very comfortable saying that when he was chosen by the board, I thought he was a poor choice,” said Donald Heller, who was dean of Michigan State’s College of Education before becoming provost at the University of San Francisco in 2016. “Not just because he hadn’t had experience in academe, but more so based on his track record as governor, where he really wasn’t known as someone who was a unifier, someone who was conciliatory, someone who worked across constituencies.”

Michigan State’s board now has to find an interim to take over for the ousted interim until a permanent replacement can be named. They were said to be discussing options Wednesday and were expected to have a name today.

It could be a difficult job to fill. Experts recommended someone who is transparent and who will be visible -- but probably someone who doesn’t have a background as a politician or who tends to be a lightning rod.

For the long term, Heller brought up the idea of following the script written by Penn State University after the Jerry Sandusky case. The university’s provost, Rodney Erickson, took over after the scandal brought down President Graham Spanier in 2011.

The university then hired someone who was familiar with it in 2014. Eric J. Barron had been at Penn State years before the scandal broke but had also been away for a time. Barron was at Penn State from 1986 to 2006, most recently as a dean. He served in several positions elsewhere, including as president at Florida State University, before taking over at Penn State.

Some faculty members are adamant that an external candidate is needed, though. Michigan State has frequently been criticized for an insular culture.

“We have this tendency to hire from within,” said Pegler-Gordon. “It doesn’t lead to institutional change. Frankly, I don’t think it leads to institutional courage, because when people rise up within the existing system, they understand how it works, and they maintain it.

“We really need change,” she said. “We need institutional courage at this moment.”

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Erroneous job ads with the preferred candidates' names in the title roil academics who have experienced "sham" searches

21 hours 45 min ago

Oops. Two job ads from the University of Notre Dame were accidentally posted online this month with the names of the preferred candidates in the job title. The ads were widely circulated on social media -- along with academics’ horror stories about having applied to supposedly open searches, only to discover well into or after the interview process that the position was always going to go to an internal candidate or spousal or other preferred hire.

Notre Dame discovered the error this week and had the ads -- one for a visiting assistant special professional in the program of liberal studies and one for a visiting research assistant professor of engineering -- removed.

Dennis Brown, a spokesperson for Notre Dame, said Wednesday that the university has since apologized to those named in the job titles. He attributed the error to a vendor responsible for posting ads to job sites. That vendor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brown also said that the searches were not open in the first place, despite many Twitter critics’ suspicions about sham searches. He declined further comment, including questions about how Notre Dame handles open searches when there is a preferred candidate.

Neither preferred candidate returned a request for comment.

Elizabeth Catte, a public historian who shared some of the now-deleted posts on social media, said in a direct message on Twitter that it doesn’t matter whether these specific searches were open or not.

What’s it is important, she said, is “that the ghoulishness of fake academic interviews resonated with so many people and specifically those who had experience with Notre Dame.”

The Notre Dame situation aside, do sham open searches really happen?

A faculty member at a small, private institution who has sat on academic search committees but who did not want to be quoted by name, given the sensitivity of the issue, said he “wouldn’t go so far as to say very many such searches are full-blown charades.”

Yet, he continued, “I do know of a number of searches in which a candidate was preferred from the get-go and other candidates would have had to get over a very high bar to prevail or, alternatively, the preferred candidate would have had to soil himself.”

Based on “my limited experience, I’d say it’s not common, but it isn’t very rare, either,” he added.

Another faculty member at a large public institution said open searches can indeed be a charade.

The professor said he was upset to discover a job he’d once interviewed for had gone to an internal candidate, and that “it's frustrating when you feel like your time and trouble is just window dressing.” At the same time, he said, if a search has a target, “it's better to have a real search process rather than just giving the job to Dr. Inside.”

Here is one of the ads, which the blog Leiter Reports captured before both were deleted.

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U of Nebraska at Lincoln under fire for including race in campus crime alert

21 hours 45 min ago

After a University of Nebraska at Lincoln student was sexually assaulted in her dormitory last month, some on the campus have condemned the email bulletin that warned about her assailants because police noted that the two suspects were black.

So vehement was the criticism among students that university officials are now re-evaluating when and how racial identifiers should be included in such warnings.

The debate on whether race is relevant in campus crime alerts crops up repeatedly nationwide.

Opinions on the matter differ.

Some Nebraska students and certain advocates believe that broadcasting a suspect’s race -- which may seem innocuous and quite typical for an alert -- instead breeds fear because the notices can be vague and reinforce harmful stereotypes that black people commit crimes frequently.

Campus police officers, however, have said that federal law forces them to publicize information they have on violent crimes in a timely way, especially if suspects have not been detained and may pose a threat. They have said that descriptors, including racial ones, are important to warn the public and help police locate a perpetrator -- in the case of the sexual assault at Nebraska, the survivor didn’t know the suspects well, and so they were still a threat to campus, university officials said.

Late at night on Dec. 1, a young woman and her friend took two men, the suspects, back to a residence hall after they had met the duo earlier that evening. The student reported to police in the early hours next morning that she had been sexually assaulted.

Owen Yardley, the police chief, sent a campuswide email describing the suspects two days after the report of the student's assault. One suspect, Yardley wrote, was a black man between 5 feet 8 inches tall and 5 feet 11 inches tall with short hair who was wearing white pants, a white jacket, black shoes and a black stocking hat. The other was also a black man, also with short hair, between 6 feet and 6 feet 3 inches. He had on a black North Face jacket, a black stocking hat with the word “fancy” on the front, red Adidas pants and a white Adidas T-shirt that read "Omaha Basketball." Yardley did not share details about the survivor or the residence hall where she was attacked.

In the day following the warning, students criticized the institution for noting the suspects’ race, said spokeswoman Deb Fiddelke.

One student, Temi Onayemi, questioned in a tweet that was retweeted more than 300 times and liked 3,100 times (as of Wednesday) why the university had publicized the assault.

Out of all the sexual assault's that happen at UNL, why is it that the first one ever blasted to every student's email deals with two black men. Before anyone tries to make any "not a race thing statements", walk down Greek row, think about it, and get back to me. I'll listen.

— temi. (@TemiOnayemi) December 4, 2018

“Out of all the sexual assaults that happen at UNL, why is it that the first one ever blasted to every student's email deals with two black men. Before anyone tries to make any ‘not a race thing statements’ walk down Greek row, think about it, and get back to me,” Onayemi wrote.

These alerts aren’t sent to the Nebraska campus often. The university sent out three bulletins from 2015 to 2018, including the most recent one from December. All three list the suspects’ races (none were white) and concern sexual harassment or assault allegations.

“I just want to clarify, for those who think I'm sweeping the actions of the assailants under the rug. Assault of any kind is wrong, and I truthfully do hope that the men are found and dealt with accordingly. However, just because I bring up race, doesn't mean I'm overlooking the assault, I just want to make it aware that this is a problem that the black community (my community), is facing,” Onayemi continued.

Fiddelke said that because the assailants were unknown, officials wanted to make sure the campus had all the information to identify them. She said generally, the alerts are written by the police department in conjunction with the university communications office.

“We’re looking at how we do these communications,” Fiddelke said. “We are evaluating how we might do this better in the future, if we include the races or a way to do this to explain why we’re including it -- that kind of thing.”

Because these discussions have just started, Fiddelke said she couldn’t provide any more information. (Students also criticized the safety tips in the alert, saying that police officers were victim blaming when they recommended that students not bring people they don’t know back to their dormitories.)

Police chiefs have dealt with these concerns for a long time, said Sue Riseling, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

Around when the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act was passed in 1990, officers warned politicians that the stipulation in the law about notifying the campus of certain offenses straight away would be problematic, Riseling said.

The Clery Act requires officials to send out a warning even if a crime on the campus hasn’t been confirmed, merely reported. And if there are not many details about a crime, police generally need to include what they do have, which may include a suspect’s race, Riseling said.

Riseling said she supports campus police forces sharing a suspect’s race because that informs the public and helps with an investigation. Only when a racial descriptor is all police have -- “a black man committed X, for example” -- should race be omitted, Riseling said.

“That doesn’t help anyone,” Riseling said. “And I understand the sensitivity -- we don’t want to reinforce that black men are raping women. But I want to ask the students, I understand you’re upset -- but how else would that have gone better? What could have been stated better?”

But some campuses have banned or minimized the use of race in crime warnings, which are generally sent out via either email or text message. Notably, at the University of Minnesota in 2015, following student complaints, the institution said it would limit references to race in its crime warnings to only “when there is sufficient detail that would help identify a specific individual or group.”

Brown University has also excluded race from its crime alerts since 2015.

Evidence suggests that, even subconsciously, the inclusion of race in these warnings can have an effect. Researchers from Harvard University conducted an experiment in 2008 in which participants read two notices about a violent crime -- they were identical, except one listed the suspect as black, the other white. The psychologists reported that those who read the crime alert blaming a black person were more likely to associate African Americans with hostility and criminality.

Their findings showed “how a single word, indicating the racial identity of an alleged crime suspect, can shift implicit and explicit stereotypes toward entire racial groups,” the researchers wrote.

Shaun Harper, an academic who leads the University of Southern California’s Race and Equity Center, said he has experienced firsthand how race in a crime alert can influence the mood of a campus and its minority students.

In 2004, when Harper was a professor at USC, he received an email from the campus police department about a crime (he doesn’t remember what) committed by a black man in his mid- to late 20s wearing a red T-shirt and jeans.

These details stuck with Harper because, as he read the alert, he realized he matched the exact description in the email. He was wearing jeans and a red T-shirt (the USC colors are cardinal red and gold, so such attire was ubiquitous).

“There are lots of black students and black male professors and staff people who walk around this campus with jeans and red shirts,” Harper said. “Suddenly I felt incredibly unsafe. I wasn’t fearful that the criminal who was on the list would do something to me. I scared to death to walk out of my building -- someone might have thought that I was him.”

Harper said he emailed the police chief at the time, who wrote off his concerns. But Harper maintains that institutions should leave out race in these alerts, because otherwise they run the risk of profiling black students and students of other races.

“I think it’s the job of the police, not the job of faculty, staff and students, to do the work stopping the assailant, or the criminal. I just don’t think the descriptions of race are necessary,” Harper said.

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Colleges and accreditors push back on Trump administration proposal to alter standards for oversight groups

21 hours 45 min ago

Trump administration officials say that the rules governing college accreditors have become too prescriptive and too limiting of innovation in higher ed -- a problem they’re trying to tackle by overhauling the regulations for the higher ed watchdogs.

But a proposal offered as part of a regulatory rollback by the Education Department could create huge disruptions for the regional accreditors that oversee more than 3,000 colleges across the country. The department wants to require that regional accreditors operate in no fewer than three but no more than nine contiguous states, a standard multiple organizations would fail to meet.

The issue is among a number of disputed ideas up for consideration during a negotiated rule-making process that has gotten off to a contentious start at the Education Department this week and will continue for the next two months.

For the higher ed stakeholders charged with considering the package of rule changes, it wasn’t clear what problem the idea was supposed to solve. Department officials said their intent was to distinguish between regional and national accreditors -- which largely oversee vocational, career education and for-profit colleges. The proposal reflects the department's view that there is little to distinguish those organizations now besides the types of institutions they serve, a fact that the department says unfairly maligns colleges overseen by national accreditors. The administration's critics, however, saw it as a clumsy swipe at traditional higher ed institutions overseen by regional agencies.

The fight over the proposal also appeared to serve as a proxy for an ongoing dispute over the value of public and nonprofit versus for-profit higher education. National accreditors remain the home to most for-profit colleges, even as some have sought regional accreditation over the past decade. The idea also managed to draw the ire of accreditors and traditional higher ed groups in a process that the department had promised was a boon to the sector.

“My view is that it is not clear what problem you are trying to solve with this. It is also not at all clear what would be gained if your proposal were to be adopted,” Terry Hartle, the senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, said at a rule-making meeting Wednesday. “This is a very big change in an area of accreditation that I submit works reasonably well.”

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, based in Decatur, Ga., oversees colleges in 11 states, from Texas to Virginia. And the Higher Learning Commission, another regional accreditor based in Chicago, has colleges in 19 states in the Midwest, South and Southwest. Hartle warned that those accreditors would be forced to choose which states to drop, leaving hundreds of schools without recognition. Meanwhile, the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which oversees colleges in California and Hawaii, wouldn't meet the minimum geographic requirements proposed by the department.

A separate change offered by the department would bar regional accreditors from authorizing colleges with a branch campus in a state outside their geographic scope. That means the New England Commission on Higher Education couldn't accredit Northeastern University, for instance, because it operates branch campuses in Seattle and North Carolina.

“You’re creating other national accreditors -- that’s what you’re doing,” said Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the Higher Learning Commission, at the negotiated rule making. “The cost of this and the chaos would be enormous.”

Hartle and Gellman-Danley are both appointed representatives for the negotiated rule-making process. Their opposition means the department would likely have to drop the proposal if it hopes to get consensus on a slate of changes it's seeking for regulation of accreditors.

Education Department officials said they believe that many regional accreditors are already operating like national oversight bodies because their colleges operate branch campuses in other states as well as international programs. And the department said students who earn credits or degrees at nationally accredited institutions -- often for-profit colleges -- frequently don’t have them recognized by regionally accredited colleges because of biases at those institutions.

“There is not a distinction in the Higher Education Act in quality or prestige between regional accreditation and national accreditation,” said Barbara Hoblitzell, an Education Department official. “We want to try to take that stigma away and help level set accreditation for all institutions.”

Michale McComis, president of national accreditor Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and another rule-making panelist, said the issue the department identified was a real one for graduates of colleges overseen by the accreditor, who he said are “routinely subject to the kinds of prejudicial and discriminatory behavior that you’ve talked about.”

But Hartle pointed out that credit-transfer policies are set by colleges themselves and not their accreditors. New regulations from the department wouldn’t change that. And the changes advanced by the department would just create uncertainty for those institutions, Hartle said.

Amy Laitinen, director of postsecondary education at New America, said the proposal to flatten the differences between regional and national accreditors is a long-standing ask of for-profit colleges.

“The proposals to gut regional accreditation and further reduce accreditor oversight will create an accreditation-shopping race to the bottom that means more students will be borrowing for meaningless credits,” she said. “That’s not good for students. It’s good for substandard institutions who want to get their hands on federal money.”

The negotiated rule-making process is required to change many of the federal rules governing higher ed. It involves appointing representatives from various interest groups to a panel that will debate proposed changes and aim to reach consensus on new regulations.

The attempt to narrowly define the geographic scope of regional accreditors became a flashpoint of disagreement between department officials and representatives of traditional higher ed on the panel and suggested little chance of an agreement unless it is withdrawn. But the broader package of changes the Trump administration is pursuing would make it easier to approve new accreditors and for existing accreditors to approve new programs. The main rationale, officials said, is to spur more innovation in higher ed.

Department officials, though, struggled this week to explain their reasoning behind specific proposals. One would allow two organizations to "co-accredit" the same college. If one accreditor was federally recognized, that could serve as the basis for the second's federal recognition. The department couldn’t point to any programs that have been denied because of the current standards. And representatives on the panel questioned a proposal that would limit the evidence an accreditor is required to submit to the department establishing wide acceptance of its standards.

Denied a Seat

The first controversy that arose in the rule-making process this week concerned whether state representatives should be seated on the panel. The State Higher Education Executive Officers association and the Maryland attorney general’s office sought places on the negotiated rule-making panel.

But college leaders balked at the inclusion of an attorney general representative, arguing it would create a conflict because those offices have sued higher ed institutions over fraud and abuse.

On Tuesday, there appeared to be agreement among representatives among negotiators to add a SHEEO official and a representative from the New York attorney general’s office as a backup. But the Education Department nixed the addition of an AG official.

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Male backlash blamed for failure of effort in France to hire more female academics

21 hours 45 min ago

The introduction of quotas to get more women onto university recruitment committees in France has backfired and has actually led to far fewer female academics being hired, new research has revealed.

A male backlash against the equity measures is the most likely reason for the decline in female recruitment, according to analysis by Pierre Deschamps, an economist at Sciences Po, in Paris.

He investigated recruitment data from 455 hiring committees across three French universities in the years before and after the introduction of the requirement for recruitment committees to draw at least 40 percent of their membership from each gender.

Deschamps’ modeling indicates that, had the quotas not been introduced, 38 percent more women would have been hired. “That’s enormous,” he said.

Nor have the quotas yet encouraged any more women to apply for positions, according to “Gender Quotas in Hiring Committees: A Boon or a Bane for Women?” a working paper from Sciences Po’s Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Evaluation of Public Policies.

“The reform has a large, significant and negative effect on the hiring of women,” it concludes.

This could be due to a backlash against the quotas by men, the paper says, with some academics postulating that “men discriminate against women when their identities are threatened.”

Only on hiring panels led by men did recruitment decisions swing away from female applicants after quotas were brought in, explained Deschamps. “It’s men that are changing their behavior as a reaction to the reforms,” he said.

It could also be that some men felt the quotas gave them a license not to make any “special effort” to recruit women any more, he said. Or perhaps they felt that they were already “doing their best” but got “angry” at the imposition of quotas, he suggested.

These latest findings from France tally with earlier research using data from Italy and Spain, which also found that more women on an appointment panel did not boost female applications. Nor were women more likely to vote for female applicants -- and male evaluators become less favorable to women when female evaluators joined the selection committee, according to “Does the Gender Composition of Scientific Committees Matter?” published in American Economic Review in 2017.

Some other countries have taken similar measures to France. In the Republic of Ireland, universities are working toward having at least 40 percent men and 40 percent women on appointment committees.

But Deschamps argued that the lack of women in senior positions was more likely to be due to a lack of applicants, rather than the hiring process itself. “I think there might be other ways of solving the underrepresentation of women” than appointment committee quotas, he said.

Christina Ullenius, former rector of Karlstad University and a founding member of the European Women Rectors Association, said that the results from France were “disappointing but not totally unexpected.”

“It has always taken some time before my male colleagues have adjusted and regarded me as a colleague rather than an odd woman,” she said. Still, quotas on hiring committees should still be used to “shed light on the hiring process and to push for change,” in combination with training for evaluators, Ullenius argued.

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UNC board moves to accept Folt resignation this month, earlier than expected

Wed, 2019-01-16 08:00

Carol Folt on Tuesday morning tried to separate her decision to remove the remnants of the toppled Silent Sam Confederate monument from her choice to step down as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after graduation.

Hours later, the UNC system’s Board of Governors eliminated any slim chance that would happen, taking action some saw as telling Folt not to let the door hit her on the way out -- and possibly cementing her as a martyr in the eyes of groups unhappy with what they believe is an increasingly activist board.

The Board of Governors accepted Folt’s resignation during a closed emergency meeting Tuesday afternoon, specifying a date months earlier than the chancellor had intended to leave. The board accepted the resignation effective Jan. 31, whereas Folt had said she planned to step down after commencement, scheduled for May.

“She resigned, we accepted it,” said Harry Smith, Board of Governors chair, during a question-and-answer session with reporters, the audio of which was provided to Inside Higher Ed. “We just felt it was better to compress the timeline and then work more toward a healing process.”

The board acted after crews removed the base and commemorative plaques of the Silent Sam statue overnight. Folt said they would be preserved until the future of the monument can be determined.

UNC leadership had been consumed for months over the issue of the statue’s future. Protesters pulled it down in August following long-running debates between supporters of its version of history and critics who said it represented white supremacy and the Jim Crow era in which it was erected. The relocation of such a statue from campus is not permitted under state law, and Folt and some others backed a plan to spend $5 million on an on-campus history center to hold the monument while telling the history of race at the university.

But the Board of Governors rejected that plan in December. It appointed a committee to craft a new plan for the Silent Sam monument by March 15.

Events all came to a head in a whirlwind 26 hours during which Folt and the Board of Governors seemed to be constantly jostling for position. The board said just before 3 p.m. Monday that it would have an emergency closed session “to discuss personnel and legal matters.” Two hours later, Folt announced she was stepping down and that she had made the call to remove the statue’s base and tablets.

Board of Governors chair Smith proceeded to issue a statement blasting her action, saying it lacked transparency and undermined the board’s goals of operating “with class and dignity.” The board did not know about the chancellor’s announcement before it was issued, according to Smith.

Folt held a media call Tuesday morning after the overnight removal of the monument’s remnants. She said she made the monument decision with safety in mind. She added that she felt she had more to accomplish at Chapel Hill.

Then in quick succession, the Board of Governors went into an afternoon meeting and the leaders of the Campaign for Carolina -- Chapel Hill's effort to raise a massive $4.25 billion by the end of 2022 -- issued a statement calling on board members to keep Folt through the end of the academic year. The Board of Governors announced it had voted to accept the chancellor’s resignation effective at the end of January.

"There are definitely camps in this," Smith said afterward, indicating the action was in the best interest of the institution and the chancellor before referencing the removal of the Silent Sam remnants. "It gets very difficult to operate when you take a decision like that."

Shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, Folt issued a statement that seemed to signal an end to the back-and-forth, at least temporarily.

“While I’m disappointed by the Board of Governors’ timeline, I have truly loved my almost six years at Carolina,” it said. “Working with our students, faculty and staff has inspired me every day. It is their passion and dedication, and the generosity of our alumni and community, that drive this great university. I believe that Carolina’s next chancellor will be extremely fortunate, and I will always be proud to be a Tar Heel.”

Earlier in the day, Folt indicated to reporters she planned to remain chancellor for several months.

“I certainly hope I’ll have a chance to do what I had set out to do,” she said in response to a question about being forced to resign. “I think we’ve got a lot of momentum going. I think we’ve got a lot still yet to accomplish, and I feel like I’m doing what I need to do. So I will look forward, day by day, in the same way that I always have.”

She also explained her thinking on removing the monument remnants. Threats connected to the monument have continued to grow despite the university’s best efforts, putting the community at risk, she said. Folt received reports from a security panel and engaged in discussions with lawyers, she said.

“I was in a position where I feel that I had to take action that was legal,” she said.

The chancellor sought to draw lines between her decision about the monument and her resignation. The timing of the two decisions may have converged, but they were different, she said. She did not want her job status to be part of her thinking on the monument.

Faculty members weren’t buying the idea that there was a difference.

“Of course it was intentional,” said Frank R. Baumgartner, a political science professor at Chapel Hill. “You don’t resign by mistake.”

Still, Folt’s actions over the previous day won her support from faculty members and students, many of whom had been unhappy with or lukewarm toward her leadership. The Daily Tar Heel student newspaper wrote in an editorial that she had finally reclaimed the moral high ground, but at the cost of her job. Baumgartner called her Monday announcement an act of courage.

Consequently, the jockeying between chancellor and system board drove further wedges between already-shattered UNC constituencies.

“This is definitely a ratcheting up of the hostility,” Baumgartner said. “I think the chancellor just became very popular with the faculty, and now she’s going to be fired even more quickly. It’s like, ‘I quit. No, you don’t. I fire you.’”

The board’s action wasn’t punishment, according to its chair, Smith. But the board would have liked to have engaged in more conversation about Folt’s actions, he said.

“You know, it’s a bit stunning based on how this has gone, that UNC Chapel Hill felt they needed to take this kind of draconian action -- and I think that’s what it is,” Smith said. “When you start scheduling cranes at night and key and critical stakeholders aren’t involved, it’s just unfortunate.”

Removing the statue remnants overnight was best practice, Folt said earlier in the day. The UNC campus is filled with organizations like hospitals, churches and day-care centers, so officials wanted to move the heavy base when pedestrian traffic was low.

“You start bringing in cranes and moving things around at night,” she said. “You try to do that when there aren’t going to be disruptive activities.”

Police and a small crowd watched the removal, according to The News & Observer. One 39-year-old man who founded a pro-Confederate monument group was arrested and charged with the misdemeanor of resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer after he tried to interrupt the efforts and shouted that workers were violating the law, it reported.

Some faculty members cheered the fact that the statue was gone.

“Today is a day to celebrate the removal of the monument to Jim Crow terror, the statue known as Silent Sam,” said Altha Cravey, an associate professor of geography who has been at Chapel Hill since 1994 and is president of the North Carolina Conference of the American Association of University Professors, in an email. She went on to recall the efforts of protest leaders and to say issues of shared governance will still need to be addressed.

“#StrikeDownSam antiracists waged a battle that has also exposed a profound crisis in shared governance on Chapel Hill’s campus and in the statewide UNC system,” she said.

The Board of Governors also on Tuesday authorized the system’s interim president to hire an interim chancellor for Chapel Hill. The system has an interim president because Margaret Spellings decided in October to resign. Spellings, who had her own share of run-ins with the board, was scheduled to have her last day Tuesday.

Smith said the Board of Governors has the bandwidth to hire both a system president and chancellor of the flagship Chapel Hill campus. Right now, an emphasis is to focus Chapel Hill on things like research and academics, he said.

“I think the outcome is correct,” he said. “I think it’s a good outcome for Chancellor Folt, too. We want her to move on with grace and dignity, and we want to treat her accordingly.”

 

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Hampshire College looks for partner, may not enroll freshmen in fall

Wed, 2019-01-16 08:00

Hampshire College, founded as a 1970s-era experiment in self-directed education, is looking for a partner to help keep it afloat. As part of its process, it is mulling whether to enroll a freshman class this fall.

In a letter posted online Tuesday, college president Miriam E. Nelson said she plans to find a “long-term partner that can help us achieve a thriving and sustainable future for Hampshire.”

The college, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020, is supported by a modest $52 million endowment that “has performed well,” Nelson said. But the college has been an “under-endowed institution, really from our very first days.” And while Hampshire can still boast a balanced budget, she said the college, like others of its size, faces “bruising financial and demographic realities” that challenge its continued existence.

Seeking a strategic partnership “is the right and responsible thing to do,” Nelson said. “And now is the time to do it.”

She said the college hopes to have a partner in place by the end of the semester.

In an accompanying FAQ, Nelson said flatly, “Hampshire will not close.”

But she surprised alumni by announcing that the college is “carefully considering whether to enroll an incoming class this fall.” Nelson's FAQ noted, “As we look out to the years ahead, we can’t be certain that we could guarantee an incoming class the same educational experience we offer today through all four years.” It will make the decision on a new class before the Feb. 1 admissions notification date.

Well-known librarian and author Jessamyn West, a 1990 Hampshire graduate, said she was “surprised at the abruptness of that part,” given that Hampshire is generally good about communicating with alumni.

“There are a lot of alumni groups on Facebook,” she said. “And they’re all losing their minds today.”

Students design their own programs of study at Hampshire instead of following predetermined academic pathways (no "off-the-shelf" majors).

Well-known in the universe of small liberal arts colleges, Hampshire offers an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based education driven by projects and discussions. It relies on "narrative evaluations" instead of letter grades.

The product of a concerted effort by four western Massachusetts institutions -- Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges, along with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst -- to do something new, Hampshire expanded what was then a “Four Colleges” consortium into Five Colleges Inc., all of which allow students to take course work at neighboring institutions.

Smith president Kathleen McCartney on Tuesday said in a statement that Smith had been notified of Hampshire’s intent last week and was “working to understand the implications” of the announcement. “Our priority is to provide the best guidance and support to our community, especially those whose areas of work or study intersect with Hampshire College.”

McCartney said Hampshire “has been an important force for academic innovation” since its inception. “I hope that a new partnership can sustain that legacy.”

Hampshire is young by New England college standards -- it admitted its first class in 1970 -- though the idea had been kicking around for more than a decade before that. In 1958, the presidents of the three area colleges, along with UMass Amherst, created a committee to look into creating a fifth institution “with which they might develop new departures in educational methods and techniques.”

The group, which dubbed the experimental institution New College, concluded that the most important contribution a college can offer students -- and one that would sound familiar these days -- is “to develop in them a capacity to continue their education throughout their lives.”

The committee concluded that college students “are capable of far more independence than they exercise in present college programs.” So they proposed that a new type of institution that “frees both students and faculty from the system which makes education a matter of giving and taking courses to cover subjects.”

The college would cover subjects by training students to master fields themselves, taking only three courses at a time. It would rely on students’ curiosity coupled with a close relationship with instructors.

A $6 million donation from Amherst College alumnus Harold F. Johnson and a matching grant from the Ford Foundation allowed trustees to buy 800 acres of orchard and farmland in South Amherst, Mass.

Nearly 50 years later, Hampshire calls its educational model an inquiry-based, interdisciplinary “graduate school model of undergraduate education,” in which small, intimate seminars are the rule, not the exception. Hampshire says it retains a student-faculty ratio of 11 to one.

It enrolls about 1,400 students. Even as it remains fairly unique in American higher education, it is not selective -- federal data show that Hampshire admitted 65 percent of applicants in 2017.

Ralph J. Hexter, provost at the University of California, Davis, who was Hampshire’s president from 2005 to 2010, said in an email that he learned about the partnership announcement from Hampshire’s board chair early Tuesday -- shortly before Nelson’s letter was circulated.

While he had no firsthand knowledge of the college’s current financial straits, Hexter noted that “smaller liberal arts colleges, particularly those outside large urban areas, are facing strong headwinds.”

But he said Hampshire “holds a special place” among its peers. “Its virtually unique pedagogy affords students extraordinary educational opportunities yet has always attracted only a subset of those who are looking at liberal arts colleges, a group whose number continues to shrink given their and their parents’ career-oriented thinking.”

Hexter said Nelson and the Hampshire board “are wise to get out in front of the situation and work proactively to strengthen the college’s financial prospects. I also think they deserve kudos for their courageous transparency.”

John R. Thelin, a University of Kentucky professor and historian of higher education, called Hampshire “a place that has really stood for a distinctive approach to liberal education.”

Its location, amid four other well-known institutions, is both a blessing and a curse. “It’s in such a fertile territory for colleges -- on the one hand, that can be a benefit … but on the other hand, it means that they are in a very competitive market.”

Even in New England, he said, colleges are now competing for a shrinking college-age population.

Hampshire's distinctive countercultural values and its relatively small alumni group also work against it, Thelin said. “It’s not going to have the base of old, wealthy alumni” that its older peers enjoy.

Times have been tough for nonwealthy private colleges in Massachusetts. Last April, Mount Ida College announced that it would close, Wheelock College last year merged into Boston University and Atlantic Union College in February said it would close after losing accreditation in 2011. Newbury College announced in December that it would close at the end of this academic year.

Thelin, author of the new book Going to College in the ’60s, said a well-conceived partnership could work -- he suggested that Hampshire could become a kind of honors college for one of the nearby institutions.

West, the alumna, said she wouldn’t necessarily oppose the honors college route, which could make Hampshire “an institute for braniacs” at a more established place like Amherst College. But Hampshire has long promoted values that put it at odds with late-stage capitalism, she noted, so if it pursues a partnership with a for-profit college, she and her fellow alumni would strongly object. “If you do that, you’re dead to me,” she said, “and I’ll fight against you with my last dying breath -- because that’s not, to me, what education is for.”

West gave Hampshire credit for being “prescient” about the state of higher education, but said the casual mention of closing off enrollment next fall concerns her. “I’m really hoping this is just a shot across the bow to try and get a couple of wealthy alumni to pony up several million dollars so they can be a little more resilient,” she said.

Hampshire’s notable alumni include filmmakers Ken Burns, Barry Sonnenfeld and Lee Hirsch; journalist Edward Humes; actors Lupita Nyong'o and Liev Schreiber; cognitive scientist Gary Marcus and comedian Eugene Mirman.

“I’m not sure you can get that much more out of Hampshire alums, unless it turns out that Elon Musk went there for a week and he can give the school a billion dollars,” West said. “Most of us are tree-hugging, follow-your-dreams kind of people, which means a lot of us, as much as we might want to help support the school, aren’t necessarily rolling in it and may not have much more to give than we’ve been giving.”

Though Hampshire will almost certainly celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, West said it’s not clear that the “New School” was meant to be a permanent fixture.

“Maybe it was just supposed to ride the arc of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s and go away,” she said. “Maybe higher education is different now -- maybe everybody should just learn to code, which I don’t personally believe. But I know that’s the feeling in the air.”

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Longtime Stanford English professor says he's stepping down from teaching a Native American literature course after students complain

Wed, 2019-01-16 08:00

A professor of English at Stanford University says he will no longer teach an undergraduate class on American Indian mythology, legend and lore after students complained that he was “insensitive and inappropriate” with respect to course content.

Kenneth Fields, professor and poet, said via email Tuesday that he voluntarily stepped down as the instructor for the course, which was last offered in the fall quarter. He referred additional questions about his teaching to the English department chair, who did not return a request for comment. Fields, who is white, has been at Stanford since 1967.

A Stanford spokesperson said the English chair has offered to meet with students to hear their concerns but offered no additional details.

In a widely circulated petition, students who have taken Fields's class in recent years complained that he didn't seem to have “the crucial background information regarding the mythology, legends, traditions, etc., that he needs to properly teach this class.”

The petition, written by first-year student Sha'teiohserí:io Patton and signed by several dozen other students, says that Fields has failed “to discuss the tribes’ original intentions for their stories or discuss the differences between those intentions and Western ideas of analyzing literature.”

Fields has discussed “Night Chant,” a Diné tribe sacred chant, for example, without talking about the strict cultural rules that dictate who should discuss or sing the chant and when, if at all, according to the petition. In other instances, Fields has said certain Native American stories and symbols therein are “open for interpretation," Patton wrote. Yet, from a cultural standpoint, she said, they are not.

“The fact that analyzing these stories through a Western view itself can be seen as disrespectful towards the tribes from which these stories originated, should at least be touched upon in class,” the petition says.

Beyond apparent knowledge gaps, Patton wrote that Fields frequently veers off topic, to “anecdotes using insensitive or profane language, which has no educational value in context and further inhibits learning.” In one instance, Fields allegedly concluded a lecture about N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain with a story about a suicide survivor he knew, saying, “The motherfucker should have thought about it before he tried jumping off the Golden Gate.”

Fields also is alleged to have said during a class on John G. Neihardt’s solemn Black Elk Speaks that his own friend’s last words were “At least now I won’t have to worry about how big my dick is.”

“Native American culture is sacred because it has managed to survive and thrive under the most damaging turmoil,” wrote Patton, who is from the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Canada. “It is essential that people become more educated on topics such as the mythology, legend and lore of Native Americans. However, it has to be done in the right way.”

Kim TallBear, associate professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, said that Stanford has done more than many other institutions to recruit and support Native American students. Still, she said, some institutions that don’t have large Native studies programs tend to pull professors from other departments to teach some of those classes. TallBear said she hadn’t been following the Fields case but said its outlines highlight the care that any professor -- but especially a non-Native professor -- must demonstrate when teaching Native American studies.

TallBear, who is enrolled in the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, said that in her own classes, she’s able to tease out the intended humor in some literature due to her “insider” status. Still, she said, some Native students will understand that humor, while others will not, or even find it triggering. And origin and other kinds of sacred stories simply aren’t made for that kind of treatment, she said.

Non-Native instructors have to be even more mindful, TallBear said.

“There are non-Native faculty who are so careful and ethical and who do not put themselves first -- they’re big on collaboration and foregrounding Native voices and student voices.” Unfortunately, TallBear said, the “academic industrial complex” doesn’t typically reward those values.

 

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Chapel Hill chancellor's departure comes as tensions at UNC continue boiling over

Tue, 2019-01-15 08:00

Faculty members in the University of North Carolina system voiced shock and concern Monday evening after the chancellor of the flagship Chapel Hill campus, Carol L. Folt, announced she will step down after graduation.

Folt, a life scientist who left Dartmouth College to become Chapel Hill chancellor in 2013, had given few indications she planned to leave one of the most prestigious jobs in public higher education. But few if any could separate her decision from the struggle over the future of the Silent Sam Confederate monument that protesters tore down in August after years of debate.

That’s because when Folt announced her resignation in a letter posted Monday, she also announced that she had ordered the statue’s pedestal and commemorative plaques removed from the historic heart of the Chapel Hill campus. Their presence was a continuing threat to personal safety, community well-being and a productive educational environment, she wrote.

“As I have said before, safety concerns alone should preclude the monument from returning to campus,” Folt wrote. “This was also the strong preference of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees. The base and tablets will be preserved until their future is decided. While I recognize that some may not agree with my decision to remove the base and tablets now, I am confident this is the right one for our community -- one that will promote public safety, enable us to begin the healing process and renew our focus on our great mission.”

Folt’s decision was another step amid escalating tensions over race, history and culture that have consumed governance of the University of North Carolina system and Chapel Hill. Hours after her announcement, the Board of Governors chair, Harry Smith, issued an extraordinary statement saying the board did not know of Folt’s announcement before it went public. The board was meeting "in closed session to deliberate issues related to UNC-Chapel Hill’s leadership" when Folt issued her statement, according to Smith.

“We are incredibly disappointed at this intentional action,” Smith's statement said. “It lacks transparency and it undermines and insults the board’s goal to operate with class and dignity. We strive to ensure that the appropriate stakeholders are always involved and that we are always working in a healthy and professional manner.

“In December, the board developed and articulated a clear process and timeline for determining the best course of action for the future of the monument -- and this remains unchanged,” Smith's statement went on. “Moving forward, the board will continue to work tirelessly and collaboratively with all relevant parties to determine the best way forward for UNC-Chapel Hill. We will do so with proper governance and oversight in a way that respects all constituencies and diverse views on this issue. The safety and security of the campus community and general public who visit the institution remains paramount.”

Several members of the Board of Trustees for Chapel Hill issued their own statement saying Folt acted appropriately and that chancellors have ultimate authority over public safety on campus.

"As current officers of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and a former chair who served with Chancellor Carol L. Folt, we support her decision to remove intact the base of the Confederate Monument and accept her decision to step down from her position," said that statement, attributed to board Vice Chair Charles Duckett, Secretary Julia Grumbles and past chair and current member Lowry Caudill. "We thank Chancellor Folt for working tirelessly to elevate our University each and every day to serve the people of North Carolina and beyond."

Folt had supported the idea of moving Silent Sam off campus, but that was not allowed under state law. She’d backed a controversial plan to spend $5 million on an on-campus history center that would have held the monument and detailed the history of race at the university.

That plan could have been seen as a compromise between monument backers who feared its removal would have been rewriting history and protesters who felt it glorified a racist past. But it drew criticism, including from members of the system’s Board of Governors. The board rejected the plan, with some calling for the statue to be erected outside once again. Faculty and student leaders repeatedly called for the statue to be kept off campus, saying it was created as part of an effort to promote white supremacy.

To be sure, the Silent Sam issue was not the only one to create tension between UNC leaders and the Board of Governors. Margaret Spellings, former U.S. education secretary under President George W. Bush, decided in October to leave the system presidency after a number of public run-ins with board members. Spellings had publicly asked the board to focus on the big picture while she and campus chancellors dealt with the finer details of the higher education enterprise. She tried to dedicate her attention to educational issues like graduation rates and assessment, only to have legislators and board members repeatedly circle back to social issues -- like a since-changed law regulating bathroom use at public agencies, including colleges, in order to prevent transgender people from using the facilities they wished, and a ban on centers engaging in litigation that some lawmakers and board members found objectionable.

Board members had also criticized Spellings after attempts to address the Silent Sam issue. So while other issues festered, the statue was clearly a flashpoint.

Folt started her letter Monday by saying she has been driven by working with others to take on challenges and solve problems. She pointed to successes in strategic planning and fund-raising and said the time has come for her to pass the mantle of leadership and look for her own future.

She pledged to focus on the university’s core mission and to “make sure every person on our campus can thrive and feel welcome.” She will push forward with a history task force created to encourage reflection on race, class and privilege and how they have shaped the university and the country.

Then she issued a rebuke over Silent Sam.

“There has been too much recent disruption due to the monument controversy,” she wrote. “Carolina’s leadership needs to return its full attention to helping our University achieve its vision and to live its values. And I want this semester to be exciting and fulfilling for every one of our soon-to-be graduates.”

Folt didn’t directly say that her decision to step down was tied to the controversy. Some said she didn’t have to.

“I think it's pretty clear that she meant to communicate that these two decisions were interrelated, thereby suggesting that she'd felt constrained earlier by her concerns over her own job security,” said Jay Smith, a professor in the history department at Chapel Hill. “With the anvil no longer hanging over her head, she seems to be saying with this announcement, she was free to make the bold and moral choice to get rid of that pedestal.”

Faculty members voiced relief that the statue's remnants were being removed.

“I am glad it’s gone and hope that we can have some peace as we find a way forward,” said William Sturkey, an assistant professor of history at Chapel Hill, in an email. “The monument and pedestal have for years been a safety threat that only benefits those who despise the university and its values in 2019.”

The circumstances of the announcement troubled many, however.

Folt’s announcement comes as the Board of Governors is scheduled to meet next week, noted David A. Green, the chair of the UNC Faculty Assembly and a professor of law at North Carolina Central University. William L. Roper is also fresh on the job as interim president of the system, taking over this month after Spellings’s departure.

Campus chancellors have been under intense pressure as they deal with difficult issues in a highly charged environment, Green said.

“There is a level of scrutiny placed upon chancellors that makes it challenging for chancellors to do their jobs,” he said. “My concern with this level of scrutiny and this level of tension is whether universities within the system are in the best position to get the best chancellors.”

Folt’s decisions resonated off campus. Michael Behrent is an associate professor in the department of history at Appalachian State University and vice president of the AAUP conference for North Carolina.

“Silent Sam has shone a flashlight on the governance process,” Behrent said. “You’ve got students, the Faculty Council and African American faculty members saying they feel strongly this statue has to go. But she can’t, as much as she would like to accommodate those bodies, because of pressure from her Board of Governors.”

Jay Smith, at Chapel Hill, cast Folt’s resignation as another in a line of moves under political pressure.

“We've seen the resignations of our chancellor, the university general counsel and the system president all within the past few months -- each departure clearly caused, at least in part, by a reactionary Legislature and the disruptive directives of a politicized and ham-handed governing board,” he said. “If the objective of this anti-intellectual crew is to paralyze UNC-Chapel Hill's leadership and intimidate the broader community, they sure seem to be succeeding.”

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Franciscan U bans a book that portrays the Virgin Mary as sexual and ousts the department chair who taught it

Tue, 2019-01-15 08:00

Franciscan University of Steubenville removed a professor of English as department chair after he assigned a book that portrayed the Virgin Mary as someone who had sex. It also banned the book from campus going forward.

A faculty member in the humanities at Franciscan who did not want to be identified by name, citing the contentious nature of the issue, confirmed reports on social media that Stephen Lewis is no longer chair of English due to his inclusion of Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom in the syllabus for an advanced seminar.

The Kingdom met with critical acclaim upon its 2017 release, and it sold especially well in Carrère’s native France. Part memoir, part religious history -- imagined and actual -- the hard-to-summarize book essentially tells two stories: that of Carrère’s own crisis of his Catholic faith and that of the formation of the early Christian church. Watching pornography in one scene, Carrère’s says that Jesus’s mother, Mary, wasn’t a virgin. Rather, he says, she knew men in her youth and “might have come, let’s hope so for her, maybe she even masturbated.” There’s a bit more about a favorite adult actress and female masturbation.

Teaching novels that include sex is hardly new ground for an advanced English seminar. But this particular discussion, challenging a fundamental belief about Mary in a lewd if literary fashion, proved too much for some on campus. Word got around about The Kingdom, and the blog Church Militant reported on the book last week, with the breathless headline “FRANCISCAN UNIV DEFENDS USE OF PORNOGRAPHIC, BLASPHEMOUS BOOK.”

The article quotes Franciscan as saying in a statement that it “challenges students intellectually, helps form them professionally, and engages them spiritually. This includes arming our students with the knowledge and wisdom to confront the challenges of a coarse modern culture, which often runs contrary to Catholic teaching.”

Even “heresy, and sinful acts such as murder and adultery that go against Catholic teaching are addressed at Franciscan to help to strengthen students’ faith and prepare them to engage with today’s culture,” the statement continues. And while “this happens through the study of literature by authors such as Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare who portray many sinful acts, it can also happen when they grapple with significant challenges to Catholic faith by contemporary writers. Franciscan students learn through critical comparison to consider multiple sides of an issue or argument, led by professors who always promote Catholic spiritual and moral perspectives.”

The statement also asks what might happen if Catholics were, for example, unwilling to “engage with and push back against calumny such as The Da Vinci Code or against worse heresies and dangerous heterodoxies?”

A day after the blog post ran, Franciscan backtracked. In an open letter to the university, the Reverend Sean Sheridan, president, apologized “to anyone who has been scandalized” by Lewis’s use of The Kingdom, which he said was “so directly pornographic and blasphemous” that it has “no place on a Catholic university campus.” He pledged that it would never be taught again at Franciscan.

Sheridan said a Catholic education should prepare students to “stand for the truth” by exposing them to views both familiar and hostile to their faith. At the same time, he said, “Professors must weigh the benefits and risks of exposing their students to the works of those who oppose the church. They must walk the fine line between underpreparing their students for the mighty tasks ahead and overexposing them to material that may cause them spiritual harm.”

In a directive that has especially alarmed some academic freedom advocates, Sheridan went on to say that he’d asked the university’s chief academic officer, Daniel Kempton, and the Faculty Standards Committee to “immediately review and revise our existing policy on academic freedom to prevent future use of scandalous materials.”

In a post to the American Association of University Professors’ "Academe" blog, contributing editor John Wilson wrote, “Ironically, last April [Franciscan] hosted a conference on higher education that featured a panel of conservatives discussing ‘The Politicization of the American University and the Crisis of Free Speech and Reasoned Academic Discourse.’”

Yet “there is no better example of a crisis of campus free speech and an attack on reasoned academic discourse than a university banning books and ordering its academic freedom policies to be rescinded,” Wilson wrote. “This case is a stark reminder that the most repressive universities in America today -- the places where the administration literally is banning books -- are conservative religious colleges.”

Many religious colleges do have strict rules about conduct and dogma that affect the curriculum. Traditionally, however, Roman Catholic colleges maintain more of a separation between their spiritual missions and the classroom than do campuses affiliated with other denominations. Most Catholic colleges don’t require faculty members teaching outside of theology programs to sign statements of faith, for example, and they tend to welcome students and professors from non-Catholic backgrounds along with Catholics.

Paula Moore, spokesperson for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said she couldn’t comment on the Franciscan matter. But she said that the guiding document for Catholic higher education remains Ex corde Ecclesiae, the apostolic constitution put forth by Pope John Paul II in 1990. That document notes, in part, that every Catholic university “is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services.” And each Catholic university therefore “possesses that institutional autonomy necessary to perform its functions effectively and guarantees its members academic freedom, so long as the rights of the individual person and of the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.”

Paraphrasing the document, Moore said the "basic mission of Catholic higher education is the search for truth, understanding that God is the ultimate truth." And given that, she said, “professors at Catholic colleges and universities are free to raise questions or even disagreements in intellectual areas where there is a formal Catholic position -- so long as they also present official Catholic teaching accurately and respectfully.”

Catholic colleges “rely on their faith -- its ideals, attitudes, and principles -- to inform their decisions about teaching, research, and other activities,” Moore added via email. “For students, the result is not only intellectual growth and academic excellence, but also faithfulness to the Church.”

The Franciscan faculty member who did not want to be named said he believed that Sheridan was facing pressure to take a firmer stance against The Kingdom, and that his colleague should have been savvier about what would provoke “hangers-on” outside the campus, particularly on social media.

“There’s two sides to this: of course, a good teacher should be able to teach any book anywhere,” he said. “But the reality of this is that there are some hyperconservatives who knee-jerk react to things, and you have to use some sense in what you assign.” Of Sheridan, the faculty member sad, "He's got to watch the bottom line. It's about having enough money to run the university. If this became an avalanche in the wrong direction, well, I can appreciate that pressure." 

Franciscan said in statement late Monday that it promotes “responsible academic freedom,” including as defined by the AAUP.

“Franciscan University encourages the faculty, in their teaching function, to address all material relevant to their subject matter but, as specified in the Faculty Handbook, opposes the promotion of propositions and values contrary to Catholic teaching. This in no way impinges on true academic freedom, as the Catholic church accepts all that is true and rejects all that is false.”

Lewis, who remains a full professor, did not respond to a request for comment.

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Homeless college students struggle to find lodging, food over winter break

Tue, 2019-01-15 08:00

As many college and university dormitories shut down for the winter break, which often lasts for a month or more, some students have nowhere to go.

They might be estranged from their parents and unable to live at home. They might be newly out of the foster system. Sometimes they have children of their own. Often they’re unable to pay the bills, including groceries.

Historically, many colleges have barred students from dormitories during this time, even if they signed up to use a room the entire academic year.

It’s an issue that housing and student affairs professionals have become acutely aware of over the last several years.

Programs to help students pay for housing during the winter months (and to feed them) have become much more common. Residence halls sometimes do remain open, but sometimes at a cost to their occupants. And administrators still struggle to identify students who are homeless. Students often need to seek out the campus resources, leaving a portion of them to flounder if they are unaware of these programs or embarrassed about a perceived stigma around homelessness.

“It is becoming more evident that our students have become more self-aware of those things and are willing to have conversations around them,” said Von Stange, president-elect of the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International and assistant vice president for student life and senior director of housing and dining at the University of Iowa.

“It’s the same thing if you have a mental health issue no one knew about. Today’s students are more willing to talk about it, see a counselor. I think the culture allows for more openness to help care for more of these students.”

While the campaigns on each campus are going to vary widely, the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) has identified two models on homelessness that it has urged institutions to consider, said Steven Neier, chairman of its higher education committee.

One is the cohort model, used notably at Florida State University, where its Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement picks out low-income, first-generation or homeless students sometimes even before they arrive on campus and then continually monitors them through their time there. The institution will work with local school districts to identify these students, as more often in a K-12 setting the administrators will know if a student is homeless, Neier said. When a student would need housing for a winter break, the university would already be able to identify who needed it.

The other model is called a “service” model. West Chester University, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, sponsors the Promise Program, which pays for homeless students’ housing not only in the winter, but year-round. One student who had grown up bouncing around among friends and relatives told NPR that when after she took advantage of the service, it was the first time she never had to worry about feeling unsafe because someone might “rape or hurt her.”

Neier also said that Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, has created a particularly robust program.

The dormitories stay open year-round at Kennesaw except for two or so weeks in the summer right before the fall semester starts, when they close for cleaning, said Carrie Olsen, program coordinator for the university’s Campus Awareness, Resource and Empowerment, or CARE, services, the center for students who are homeless or struggling to pay for food.

When Kennesaw students pay for housing, the cost of staying over winter break is built in, and they can remain there except for those two weeks in the summer, which do present a problem, Olsen said. If students do need housing over winter break in a pinch, though, the institution has four “emergency” apartments set up. Two are located on its Kennesaw campus, and the other two are at its Marietta location.

The bigger issue comes when dining halls close for the winter, Olsen said. Students who are homeless often depend on their meal plans, she said. CARE offers a large food pantry where students can come once a month (or more frequently if approved by a case manager) to shop in a style similar to a traditional grocery store, Olsen said. They can pick out one jar of peanut butter or a jar of jelly, or select which soups they like, a rarity given that most students don’t get much choice when they’re homeless or “food insecure,” as many industry experts call it, Olsen said.

She noted that the university apartments, and those off-campus, can run from $800 to $900 monthly, which Olsen said is expensive even for working professionals. In fiscal year 2018, CARE’s budget was nearly $59,000 to subsidize housing, as well as for certain scholarships and to fund the pantry. The program is almost entirely funded by donations, except for Olsen’s salary and her director’s, Olsen said.

Financial aid doesn’t cover even close to all the students’ expenses, she said.

“I think my generation and older generations think that’s what financial aid is for,” Olsen said. “They don’t realize there’s such a gap now between what is offered. I go back to when you just paid for your room and board at the beginning of the semester and that was it, but that’s not how things function anymore.”

At Iowa, Stange’s institution, the dormitories also are open during winter, but students generally have to pay $300 or so for the several weeks of break if they plan to be there, he said. The university will waive the fee for low-income students, Stange said.

Iowa is relatively lucky, though. The state’s flagship campus can afford to let certain students not pay. University housing is an auxiliary service with its own budget separate from the general university operating budget, and its dollars come entirely from students paying for housing and the summer conferences the institution hosts, Stange said.

At other, smaller institutions, the decision to remain open could be more difficult, especially if housing is tied to a general operating budget, Stange said.

California State University, Los Angeles, for instance, which serves a high population of Latinx and impoverished students, decided this academic year for the first time to charge students for living on campus during the winter break. The university had alerted students to the new charges, $1,115 for the entire break, in December 2017, but some said they had missed emails and other public notices, said spokesman Robert Lopez. After a student rally against the cost, the university decided to do away with it this winter to allow more time for students to prepare, Lopez said. He said no decision has been made on whether fees will be charged next year. A survey of students in the entire California State University system found that one in 10 experienced homelessness at least once in the previous year. Fewer than 200 people stayed on the Cal State L.A. campus in the winter, Lopez said.

Finding housing can work in more informal ways, too. NAEHCY has encouraged campaigns at colleges and universities for other students to advertise -- largely just by word of mouth -- when they have a free room or bed over winter break, Neier said.

Institutions have also used surveys to identify homeless students, Neier said, and NAEHCY has advocated for them to use the definition of homelessness in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which is slightly broader than what most students would consider homeless, he said.

McKinney-Vento states that a student can also be deemed homeless if he or she doesn’t have a regular sleeping arrangement, so couch surfing would also count. For university administrators, using the McKinney-Vento definition is helpful because students are often unsure if they fit a definition of homeless, Neier said.

Ideally, campuses would also designate a single person to handle the homeless student population -- if colleges delegated these duties to one official, they could form networks and be more effective statewide, he said. This would be similar to how the McKinney-Vento act requires local K-12 school districts to have a liaison for homeless students. California passed a bill in 2016 that forces most state institutions to designate such a liaison for colleges.

“If higher education were to push for this single-point-of-contact model, this would help raise awareness,” Neier said. “They could be champions of their cause on their campuses.”

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Computer program that automatically registers students for classes has unintended consequences

Tue, 2019-01-15 08:00

Registering for college classes can be a frustrating and stressful process for students. Many colleges and universities operate a "first come, first served" enrollment system that means latecomers for in-demand classes will either have to wait until the next time the course is offered or hope other enrolled students drop the class and free up spaces.

With competition for space so fierce, students need to be strategic. Some students stay up all night to be online the minute class registration opens, prioritizing more popular classes as their first choice to have a better chance of getting in. Others try to sweet-talk professors into giving them a spot in a class or allowing them to bypass restrictions on the number of students allowed in the course.

At the Stevens Institute of Technology, a private research university in Hoboken, N.J., a student majoring in computer science believed his classmates had taken the enrollment process to a new extreme last semester by hacking into his student account and dropping him from all of his classes, just hours after he'd successfully registered, so they could take his spots.

The student, Jonathan Pavlik, was understandably concerned. He is in his senior year and needs all the courses he selected to graduate. Although he was able to re-register for most of the courses, one course he needed to fulfill the requirements for a minor was full.

Pavlik, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment, went to the university's student newspaper, The Stute, in November to complain about the hack and help raise awareness of the apparent security flaws in the university’s class registration system.

According to an article in The Stute, Pavlik said he was told by the campus IT staff that someone had hacked into his account and unregistered him from his classes. The article asserted that security flaws in the university's registration system were not being adequately addressed.

But after investigating the incident, university administrators concluded that something entirely different had actually occurred.

“We investigated this very carefully,” said David Dodd, Stevens's vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “We take anything like this extremely seriously and wanted to make certain that no systems were compromised.”

Dodd said Pavlik wrote a computer program that helped him enroll in classes as soon as registration opened. He then shared this script with his friends -- forgetting to remove his personal information, which was then used by other students. It is not clear whether the students unenrolled Pavlik from his classes by mistake when attempting to use the script for themselves, or whether they deliberately dropped Pavlik from his classes using his university log-in.

"It looks like he inadvertently contributed to his own problems," said Dodd.

The university found out through a concerned student that a handful of classmates were writing and distributing similar computer programs, or bots, to help them quickly register for classes and get an edge in course selection. University administrators have since discussed the issue with the students involved, told them not to do it again and introduced new security measures, including more close monitoring of the system, to make it more difficult for the students to run similar scripts. Dodd said the class registration system is very secure and that Pavlik has now been enrolled in all of his chosen classes.

“We want to make it a teachable moment,” said Dodd. “Students are young people, and sometimes they do things because they can do them -- without thinking enough about whether they should be doing them.”

Dodd doesn’t consider student-designed computer programs to be malicious.

"It’s not meant to harm the system or obtain information inappropriately," he said. "I wouldn’t call it hacking."

He does believe that the bots give some students an unfair enrollment advantage over those who don't use them.

Some students agree.

A business and technology student in his junior year, who asked not to be identified by name, said he is concerned more students might use class registration bots to gain an advantage.

"It isn't unfair because they would get the classes they want; it's unfair because if it becomes widespread, more students may simply not be able to graduate on time, and given the expense of an unexpected additional year of college, it could be disastrous to students' budgets," he said. "It's getting ahead while knocking other people down."

Despite assurances from Stevens that the class registration system is now more secure and potential use of bots is being closely monitored, the anonymous student said he isn't convinced the system, as it stands, is sufficiently protected against such abuse.

Dodd doesn't believe the university's experience with course enrollment bots is unique.

"With how incredibly skilled students are today, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that other schools may be having the same sort of thing occur, and they may not even be aware of it," Dodd said.

Mark Simpson, university registrar at Iowa State University and director of technology and transfer conferences for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions, said students have been writing scripts to auto-enroll themselves in classes “since we moved to web-based registration in the early '00s, late 1990s.”

“I think every institution has experience of this -- some more than others,” he said. “From a student’s perspective, they don’t think they’re gaming the system. They’re just trying to gain efficiencies and use technology to get the courses they want. They think they’re being smart.”

Class registration bots are similar in concept to those used by ticket scalpers to buy concert tickets before anyone else, and are not difficult to create, said Simpson.

He understands why students might turn to bots to compete for seats in a limited number of courses, and he also doesn't consider this hacking.

Not all institutions prohibit bots, but many have nonetheless taken steps to curb their use because they can overload registration systems by logging in multiple times in quick succession.

"Most institutions have set up some kind of limit to how many times you can log in to a system in a certain time period. If users exceed that, they get locked out," said Simpson.

He said the biggest security risk in higher ed is often the students themselves and what they share with others.

“In the Stevens case, other students could have done anything with that student’s ID and password,” Simpson said.

Doug Levin, president of consulting company EdTech Strategies, disagreed that such activity is not hacking.

“While the practice may not involve compromising the registration software directly, it most definitely is a ‘hack’ of and challenge to the institutional course registration process.”

“If institutions are aware of this practice and agree that some students are gaining an advantage in using it, turning a blind eye to the practice is unethical,” Levin said. “Not only should the practice be prohibited in policy, technical tools should be put in place to detect and log anomalous behavior consistent with its use.”

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New presidents or provosts: Babson Berkeley Bluegrass Cedar Crest Clarion ECSU Monmouth Salisbury Salve Regina Southern Indiana

Tue, 2019-01-15 08:00
  • Koffi C. Akakpo, vice president for business, administrative and student services at North Central State College, in Ohio, has been named president of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, in Kentucky.
  • Kelli J. Armstrong, vice president for planning and assessment at Boston College, in Massachusetts, has been chosen as president of Salve Regina University, in Rhode Island.
  • Karrie Gibson Dixon, interim chancellor of Elizabeth City State University, in North Carolina, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Pamela J. Gent, interim provost at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, has been selected as provost and academic vice president there.
  • Mohammed Khayum, interim provost at the University of Southern Indiana, has been appointed to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Patrick F. Leahy, president of Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania, has been chosen as president of Monmouth University, in New Jersey.
  • Karen Olmstead, interim provost at Salisbury University, in Maryland, has been named provost and senior vice president of academic affairs there on a permanent basis.
  • Marsha Pollard, interim executive vice president for academic affairs at American International College, in Massachusetts, has been chosen as provost of Berkeley College, in New York and New Jersey.
  • Stephen Spinelli Jr., chancellor of Thomas Jefferson University, in Pennsylvania, has been named president of Babson College, in Massachusetts.
  • Robert A. Wilson, acting provost of Cedar Crest College, in Pennsylvania, has been promoted to the job on a permanent basis.
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Retired president's long-simmering lawsuit heads to trial

Mon, 2019-01-14 08:00

In October 2015, James Taylor retired after 35 years as president of the University of the Cumberlands, which at the time was a Baptist institution in Williamsburg, Ky., enrolling about 6,300 students.

Taylor had led the university through significant growth, overseeing it as it changed from Cumberland College to a university, grew its campus and increased its assets. The plan was that he would step down from the presidency and into the newly created role of chancellor. Taylor would live in Florida but assist his successor, Larry Cockrum, “in friend raising and fund raising,” according to an archived university statement.

That arrangement didn’t last long. By spring, Taylor and the university were at odds over the terms of his retirement and whether he should be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in compensation and perks -- for life.

Taylor and his wife say they are covered by a 2012 contract promising them lifetime salary and benefits equal to what he was receiving when he stepped down from the presidency. The university has taken the position that its Board of Trustees was never told about the contract’s details, that its board never approved the contract terms and that the chairman of the Board of Trustees who signed the agreement didn’t have the authority to do so. It also argues the agreement in question does not meet legal requirements for a valid, enforceable contract.

In June 2016, the Taylors sued over the disagreement in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Today, after 31 months of often-contentious legal proceedings, the case is scheduled to go before a jury for trial.

The case has drawn attention beyond the borders of Kentucky because it is unusual in the often-opaque fields of private higher education executive compensation, contracts and board governance. Although it’s not unheard-of for presidents or retired presidents to come into conflict with boards over the terms of their compensation packages, few such disagreements end up in court. Most are settled quietly.

Details about the compensation the Taylors say is owed to them are also raising eyebrows.

The 2012 agreement in question provides for the Taylors to receive James Taylor’s yearly salary as president for the rest of his and his wife’s individual lives, along with benefits. Taylor earned $204,875 in base compensation for the last full year he was president, the year ending in June 2015, university tax filings show.

Benefits spelled out in the 2012 agreement for the university to provide include long-term health-care costs, assisted-living facility costs, an apartment or residence for the Taylors in Williamsburg, and a university-provided $200-per-month apartment for Taylor’s brother and sister-in-law, according to court documents. Taylor’s wife, Dinah, was also to be the beneficiary of a university-purchased $1 million life insurance policy.

In return, the Taylors agreed to continue their fund-raising efforts for the university and to serve it “in any capacity requested.” But the agreement also said that compensation and benefits were not conditional upon Taylor remaining president or accepting the chancellor role.

“The compensation and benefits contained in this agreement is/are for the past decades of duties and/or work performed by Dr. and Mrs. Taylor all for the benefit of The University of the Cumberlands,” the document said.

Experts voiced surprise at those terms. In the past it has been common for presidents to receive tenured positions after they step down from leading a college or university. But tenure comes with clearly defined expectations. And that arrangement is becoming less common, said Raymond D. Cotton, a Washington-based lawyer who represents boards and presidents.

“Boards are not going for tenure anymore,” he said. “What they’re going for is faculty appointment for a fixed period of time.”

The amount and type of compensation the Taylors would be receiving has also stood out to those who watch presidential pay. James Finkelstein, a professor emeritus of public policy at George Mason University, studies presidential compensation in higher education, including postpresidential guarantees he and another researcher call platinum parachutes. Finkelstein was contacted by the lawyer representing the University of the Cumberlands about testifying in the lawsuit as an expert but is not doing so.

“As I read through this and compared it to what we know about what we’ve called these platinum parachutes, we’ve never seen anything like the terms of what Dr. Taylor claims to have been approved,” Finkelstein said.

Breach of Contract

When the Taylors filed their lawsuit in June 2016, lawyers representing them wrote that the salary and benefits in question were worth at least $395,000 per year. The suit outlined a series of events beginning in October 2005, when the university’s Board of Trustees allegedly voted unanimously on a postpresidential package for the president and his wife.

The board voted to continue both James and Dinah Taylor’s salary and benefits after he retired from the presidency and to appoint him chancellor, the suit said. James Taylor’s compensation and benefits in effect on the date of his retirement would be continued until his death, and they would continue going to his wife in the event she outlived him.

More than six years later, on April 19, 2012, the Board’s 2005 action was carried out by the execution of a contract, according to the Taylors’ suit. It says the Board of Trustees unanimously approved the agreement, which was signed by James Taylor and Board of Trustees chairman Jim Oaks the same day.

On the day Taylor stepped down as president, the board “unanimously reconfirmed” the university’s commitment to provide a benefits package “to include salary in effect on January 1, 2015, all previously approved insurance for Dr. and Mrs. Taylor, plus all other perks they were receiving,” the suit said.

After Taylor’s retirement, the university offered him a one-year renewable contract at a lower salary, according to the suit. Other court documents indicate that offer was about $152,000 for part-time work.

Taylor turned down the offer.

“He was told if he did not accept this new contract that his relationship with the University would terminate, that no benefits would be paid, and that he would lose the use of a University owned apartment in Williamsburg, KY, the university owned vehicle he drives, and the cellular telephone he uses,” the original lawsuit said. “Despite these threats, Dr. Taylor did not accept any offer from the university for less than he had been previously promised.”

In the summer of 2016, the university acted to sever its relationship with the Taylors, it said in court documents. It discontinued their salaries, Dinah Taylor’s health benefits and mobile phone service for the couple. It later removed Dinah Taylor from the $1 million life insurance policy on James Taylor.

But it did not stop providing the Taylors’ health insurance premiums, the couple’s long-term care insurance premiums, an apartment on campus for the Taylors or an apartment for Taylor’s sister-in-law at below-market rent. Taylor also receives retirement benefits that, combined with Social Security benefits, gave the Taylors at least $175,000 a year, according to the university’s court filings.

When the Taylors filed their lawsuit in June 2016, they alleged breach of contract, promissory estoppel, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The suit also sought punitive damages and reformation of the agreement in question.

About three months after filing the initial complaint, the Taylors amended their suit to include allegations of unjust enrichment and violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

Since then, U.S. District Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove has issued opinions stripping the lawsuit down to its claim that a contract or agreement has been breached. The judge denied an attempt by the Taylors to amend their suit for a third time and also denied multiple requests by the university to rule in its favor on the breach of contract claim.

That leaves the Taylors saying they had a contract and the university saying the agreement was unenforceable.

“The university claims that the Taylors would receive lifetime salaries and benefits, even if they did not provide any services to the university,” according to an agreed statement of the case filed by both sides in September. “It is the university’s position that the dispute in this lawsuit is whether the University understood, approved, and agreed to pay the Taylors for the rest of their lives if the Taylors did nothing in return. It is the university’s position that the terms of the Disputed Agreement were never presented to or approved by the Board of Trustees, there was never a meeting of the minds, and consequently Jim Oaks did not have authority to sign the Disputed Agreement.”

A lawyer representing the Taylors declined comment and said the couple would not be commenting. The University of the Cumberlands said in a statement that it is looking forward to a jury hearing the case and that it feels confident it will prevail.

“The university asserts that its Board of Trustees never agreed to pay former president Taylor the same salary and benefits he earned as president for the rest of his life, and for the rest of his wife’s life, if Dr. Taylor did no work for the University,” the statement said. “The University remains committed to using its resources for the benefit of students and to fulfilling the mission of providing educational opportunities to people of all backgrounds.”

For the fiscal year ending in June 2017, the University of the Cumberlands collected about $79 million in revenue versus $72.5 million in expenses, federal tax forms show. Its net assets totaled $150.9 million.

Messy Arguments

Recent court filings show lawyers for the university and the Taylors challenging each other’s witnesses and exhibits. They have also outlined the arguments they planned to make in court.

They include arguments over the way the contract was signed, prepared and recorded in meeting minutes. In a pretrial memo, the university argued Taylor alone procured the draft of his retirement agreement from a lawyer without giving the Board of Trustees any opportunity to weigh in on the terms.

Although that lawyer had represented the university regarding planned-giving issues, “he had never prepared any employment contracts for the University,” the memo said. “The University was represented at that time by other counsel, who regularly provided the Board of Trustees with legal advice and services including assistance negotiating and drafting contracts, but that counsel was never consulted regarding the Disputed Agreement.”

The university also argues that Taylor signed his wife’s name on the agreement and that the then board chair, Oaks, ultimately disavowed its terms.

“He repeatedly stated during his deposition that the University never agreed to pay Dr. and Mrs. Taylor a salary and benefits for life if they did nothing in return, and instead insisted that they were to be paid only if Dr. Taylor continued working for the University,” the memo said. “Not only was a copy of the Disputed Agreement never provided to members of the Board of Trustees at or before their April 19, 2012 meeting, but it also was concealed after its execution.”

Lawyers for the Taylors planned to object to any questions suggesting Taylor acted unethically or illegally when signing his wife’s name. There is nothing wrong with signing for a spouse with permission, they wrote in their own pretrial memo.

They argued trustees were justified seeing value from keeping Taylor as chancellor and having his wife as an ambassador. Trustees also had justification to think the couple would contribute to the university after Taylor stepped down from the presidency, according to the plaintiffs’ memo.

“The evidence will have a tendency to show (and will show) that it is highly improbable that Dr. Taylor had the Disputed Agreement prepared and delivered … and then decided not only to not present it to the board for a vote, but instead to conspire with Chairman Oaks (and others) to sign the agreement, falsify the minutes of the meeting, and hide the signed agreement from the University for years,” it said.

Further, the university has not identified anything Taylor did to deceive the board or its chairman, the Taylors' lawyers wrote. They also pointed out that minutes from the April 2012 board meeting indicate a contract for the Taylors was read and approved, and that the board subsequently approved those minutes.

“So far as the events of April 19, 2012, are concerned, the University has not identified anything that Dr. Taylor did to deceive the Board of Trustees or Jim Oaks,” they wrote.

The university maintained no written contract was ever attached to the minutes for the April 2012 meeting. No other trustees that have been deposed or provided affidavits in the case remember Oaks reading a seven-page contract, according to the university’s pretrial memo.

Lawyers for the university questioned the Taylors’ version of the October 2005 meeting where the arrangement originated.

“Minutes state only that the Board of Trustees discussed generally in executive session Dr. Taylor’s retirement and the possibility of him continuing to work in some capacity after his retirement,” the university’s pretrial memo said.

“Dr. and Mrs. Taylor have produced in discovery a second set of ‘closed minutes’ purportedly from a second executive session on October 21, 2005, which contradict the official minutes and handwritten notes from the official meeting,” it said. “According to notations thereon, these ‘closed minutes’ were placed in a sealed envelope kept by Mr. Oaks and not to be opened until authorized by the Board of Trustees.”

Oaks “flatly stated” a second meeting never happened, according to the memo.

Both sides agree that they were unable to reach an agreement in mediation in July. That’s unusual for such a case. They are usually settled out of court, said Michael S. Melbinger, a partner at the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago.

“Neither party wants to read their name in the papers,” Melbinger said. “It doesn’t help either one.”

Melbinger’s practice is mostly focused on the for-profit world, but he wrote about the University of the Cumberlands case on his firm’s executive compensation blog in June. He used the case as an example of why lawyers should be sure to follow corporate formalities when preparing compensation agreements.

The case stands out because an executive holding signed documents would generally be considered to have substantial evidence in his or her favor, Melbinger said. Nonetheless, this case has progressed to trial.

“Almost any lawyer representing Dr. Taylor who got all the documents would see this as a slam-dunk case,” Melbinger said. “Yet there is something wrong with it. That’s what’s really unusual.”

Expectations can be different for for-profits and nonprofits, though.

“In the for-profit world, they don’t have the constraints we do,” said Cotton, the lawyer who represents college and university boards and trustees. “In our case, we are regulated by the IRS. You can’t give away the assets of a school and you can’t overpay. They want you to pay market, whatever market is.”

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Can 'light-touch, targeted feedback' to students improve their perceptions of and performance in a class?

Mon, 2019-01-14 08:00

Students benefit from increased faculty engagement. Yet many professors still resist more student-centered teaching.

Part of the problem is that graduate schools are slow to adopt pedagogical training, meaning that some professors may want to up their interaction with students but don’t know how. Another part of the problem is that becoming a better teacher takes time, an increasingly scarce faculty resource.

What if engagement wasn’t complicated and didn’t take that much time? Preliminary research called "My Professor Cares: Experimental Evidence on the Role of Faculty Engagement," presented last week at the annual meeting of the American Economics Association, suggests that even “light touch” interventions can make a difference to students.

“Everything we know from K-12 education is that teaching matters,” said co-author Michal Kurlaender, professor and chancellor’s fellow in education at the University of California, Davis. “Yet somehow we’ve left the college classroom alone. We have wraparound services for students, but the classroom space is considered sacrosanct and faculty can do whatever they want. We wanted to interrogate that by having faculty members provide some simple, individualized feedback to students as an intervention.”

Kurlaender and her co-author on the project, Scott Carrell, professor of economics and co-faculty director of the California Education Laboratory at Davis, wanted to see what would happen if professors reached out to students individually via email just a few times a term, with the goal of promoting their sense of self-efficacy and help-seeking behavior. Would their performance improve? Would they get a better impression of the course and the professor? A small 2014 pilot study involving economics students at Davis suggested yes, to both.

After the first email “nudge” about homework, students in the Davis study increased the time they spent on homework. After a second nudge about performance on their first course exam, students scored significantly higher on a second exam, compared to students in a control group who did not receive the emails.

There was no significant positive effect on overall course performance or on course withdrawals. But students reported that they appreciated the intervention.

“[I’d] like to thank you for offering your help in such a kind manner, I've rarely seen teachers at this school respond to missed assignments the way you have,” one student responded to a professor, for example. "I’ll be sure to complete future assignments in a timely manner, the first practice homework was indeed pretty helpful.”

Another Setting

Would the intervention work across a more access-oriented institution, however, where persistence rates are lower and students are arguably in greater need of faculty engagement? Kurlaender and Carrell designed a bigger study involving dozens of disciplines, from art to math, at one unnamed campus in the less selective California State University System.

Compensating participating professors for their time with $500 each, the researchers directed these instructors to send three different kinds of emails to students in their courses over a semester. The first was a welcome-style email, sent two to three weeks into the term. The second offered feedback on performance halfway through the semester. The third was sent about a week before the end of the term and final exam.

In all three emails, the idea was to offer feedback and information about course performance and success, focusing on the underlying processes involved in completing course tasks and offering strategies to improve performance.

Crucially, Kurlaender and Carrell wanted professors to focus on positive steps their students could take to improve their performance, rather than on shortcomings. Professors received templates for each kind of email, which varied by student performance. Below are some examples.

Source: Kurlaender and Carrell

In spring 2016, half of the students in 24 courses at California State were randomly assigned to the intervention group -- some 1,134 in all. The rest, some 1,218, made up the control group and did not receive professors' personalized emails.

A modified study design, involving about 1,600 additional students, was adopted in fall 2017.

In response to professors’ emails, some students expressed alarm at being contacted directly by a professor. “I was wondering why I was sent this message,” one student wrote to a participating art instructor. “I believe that I have been coming to class regularly as well as taking notes actively. Thank you for your time.”

But many others were more welcoming, or expressed appreciation. “I attend every class, go to the review sessions, and have turned in the extra credit so I am defiantly [sic] trying to do well but I am still struggling,” one student replied to a history professor. “I will come to office hours and try to meet up with our TA as well. Let me know if there is anything else I can do. Thank you!”

Participating professors also were asked to complete a survey after the term about the intervention, for which they received a $100 Amazon gift card.

Here is how some professors described the nature of the student responses they received:

A number of professors said they were surprised by their students' gratitude at their gestures. Other professors said they found interacting with their students outside class to be important. But some said the intervention probably did more to highlight students who already were engaged, rather than hook those who weren’t.

Findings and Future Research

Over all, Kurlaender and Carroll found strong evidence that this "light-touch, targeted feedback" can positively affect student perceptions about a course and instructor. But in the California State study, unlike the University of California study, they found no evidence of the intervention's effects on course performance -- with one exception: students with fewer than 30 previous college credits seemed to have improved course performance after getting the emails.

Positive results on student perceptions of the course and instructor -- gauged by a student survey that asked questions about professors' availability and degree of caring -- were largely driven by Latinx, female, first-year students and more prepared students, based on high school transcripts.

Kurlaender and Carrell are still trying to figure out why their intervention positively affected student course performance on their campus and not another. They’re soon running a second, bigger Davis study to re-examine their initial results. But Kurlaender said the California State finding is not a reason to give up on student engagement at more access-oriented institutions. If anything, she said, the findings may mean that students need not just three emails per semester, but more -- or maybe even a required face-to-face meeting.

“Maybe this was too light-touch, but we wanted something scalable but that wouldn’t take too much time,” said Kurlaender, noting that professors said each email took just about one minute to send.

Either way, she said of faculty engagement, “This is an untapped space where we should think about moving the graduation rate.”

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Elsevier journal editors resign, start rival open-access journal

Mon, 2019-01-14 08:00

The entire editorial board of the Elsevier-owned Journal of Informetrics resigned Thursday in protest over high open-access fees, restricted access to citation data and commercial control of scholarly work.

Today, the same team is launching a new fully open-access journal called Quantitative Science Studies. The journal will be for and by the academic community and will be owned by the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics (ISSI). It will be published jointly with MIT Press.

The editorial board of the Journal of Informetrics said in a statement that they were unanimous in their decision to quit. They contend that scholarly journals should be owned by the scholarly community rather than by commercial publishers, should be open access under fair principles, and publishers should make citation data freely available.

Elsevier said in a statement that it regretted the board's decision and that it had tried to address their concerns.

“Since hearing of their concerns, we have explained our position and made a number of concrete proposals to attempt to bridge our differences,” Tom Reller, vice president of global communications at Elsevier, said in a statement. “Ultimately they decided to step down and we respect that decision and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”

Elsevier’s response to the board’s requests can be accessed in full here.

This is not the first time the editorial board of an Elsevier-owned journal has quit to start a competing journal. In 2015, the editorial board of top linguistics journal Lingua made headlines by leaving their posts and announcing plans to start a rival open-access publication called Glossa.

Like Lingua, the Journal of Informetrics is considered one of the top journals in its field. It was started in 2007 and focuses on research of measures used to assess the impact of academic research, including bibliometrics, scientometrics, webometrics and altmetrics.

There have been similar editorial revolts at journals owned by other publishers, many predating the Lingua case, but this method of so-called flipping journals from subscription-based access to completely open access is still relatively unusual.

The resignations of the Journal of Informetrics editorial team comes at a time of considerable scrutiny for Elsevier. Last month the publisher lost two large European customers -- the Max Planck Society and the Hungarian Consortium -- after rejecting their proposals to change its subscription model. Elsevier is also locked in negotiations with the University of California System, which has similarly threatened not to renew its contract unless the publisher changes how it charges customers to publish and access research.

Ludo Waltman, editor in chief of the Journal of Informetrics, intends to step down from his role and become editor in chief of the new journal when his current contract with Elsevier expires. His end date has not yet been determined. Waltman said the editorial board has agreed to review all accepted submissions to the journal but will not review any new submissions.

“The most important thing is that authors who currently have manuscripts under submission should not suffer negative consequences from the current situation,” he said. “This is something on which Elsevier and the editorial board are in agreement.”

Cassidy Sugimoto, president of ISSI and a former member of the JOI editorial board, said the decision to resign was not easy. The board has been negotiating with Elsevier for more than 18 months, she said.

Waltman said that it was, however, quickly obvious that some of the requests made by the board were "non-negotiable for Elsevier."

Sugimoto said that ISSI, a scholarly society whose members were heavily involved in the production of JOI, wanted greater control of the Elsevier-owned journal but were told by the publisher that its ownership was not up for discussion.

"The editorial board were members of ISSI, the reviewers were members of ISSI. Our society was actively participating in the labor of this journal without any remuneration," she said. 

Proposals to transition the journal from hybrid to fully open access and reduce the journal’s article-processing charges were also rejected, said Vincent Larivière, interim editor in chief of the new journal QSS. He said another sticking point was that the editorial board wanted the citation data in the journal’s articles to be freely available because this information is very important to researchers in the field. Elsevier said in its response to the board that it offers unrestricted access to some journal data, but it is not willing to make journal article reference lists available for free.

Elsevier launched the Journal of Informetrics in collaboration with the scientific community, the publisher said. Founding JOI editor Leo Egghe thanked the publisher for its role in developing and managing the journal in his final editorial in 2014. The publisher intends to keep the Journal of Informetrics running and will move to appoint a new editorial team and board, it said.

Johan Rooryck, president of the Fair Open Access Alliance, said JOI is the sixth journal that his organization has helped to flip in the past four years.

“We have developed a blueprint to help journal editors leave big publishers and launch new journals,” he said.

Rooryck, who was editor of Lingua and now leads Glossa, said the most challenging aspect of starting a new open-access journal is securing funding to ensure it survives. He said Glossa is doing well and has more submissions now than Lingua did. Lingua has been described as a “zombie” journal by some scholars, but it continues to receive hundreds of submissions.

QSS is being launched with some financial support from the MIT Libraries. In order to make all articles open access, the journal will charge an article-processing charge of $600 for ISSI members and $800 for nonmembers -- significantly less than the $1,800 Elsevier charged. For researchers without the ability to pay to have their articles be open access, their fees will be covered for three years by the German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB).

Representatives of MIT Libraries and MIT Press would not disclose how much financial support they are offering the new journal.

Nick Lindsay, director of journals and open access for MIT Press, said the press has a “long-standing commitment to open access across both its books and journals” and is a natural home for the journal because of its interest in data science. Lindsay said when ISSI approached him about creating a new journal, he "jumped at the chance to work with them."

Chris Bourg, director of MIT Libraries, said financial support for QSS is “part of a deliberate strategy of using our resources to support the kinds of changes in scholarly communication and access that are consistent with our vision: a world where enduring, abundant, equitable, and meaningful access to information serves to empower and inspire humanity.”

There has been speculation recently that Elsevier may have offered extra money to journal editors who were considering resigning and launching rival journals. ScienceGuide published an article in December alleging the offer of extra payment.

Reller, Elsevier's spokesman, tweeted in response, “ScienceGuide has it wrong: Nearly all of our 20,000 handling editors are compensated for their fantastic work and conversations about the right amount occur all the time. There is nothing particular about that now in the context of ‘flipping’ journals.”

Rooryck said he believes the rumor is true, but the publisher has denied that any such activity occurred.

JOI’s editor in chief, Waltman, said he receives several thousand euros a year for his work on the journal and was not offered any more money to stay. No one else on the editorial board receives any compensation from Elsevier, said Sugimoto.

For his part, Larivière said he has no regrets or sadness about leaving JOI behind.

"A journal is a shell. It's what's inside the shell that counts," he said. "What we'll have at this new journal is exactly the same group of people, the same topics, the same science." 

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Tulane agreement with OCR leads to debate over gender bias

Mon, 2019-01-14 08:00

Conservative websites this weekend announced what they said was a major victory in the battle against discrimination against men in higher education.

"Female Lawyer Gets Tulane University to Stop Discriminating Against Men" was the headline on PJ Media. The article says, "Tulane University has agreed to stop financially discriminating against male students in an unprecedented response to a Title IX complaint made against the school." Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan at Flint who has filed many complaints against colleges that maintain scholarships or programs for women, proclaimed victory on the website of the American Enterprise Institute. He sent an email to reporters about this win against "Tulane University’s ongoing, systematic and illegal gender discrimination."

But Tulane officials and other experts on higher education law suggest that what the university has committed itself to is only to review various programs to make sure that they don't discriminate against men, and to make changes if needed. And many legal experts say that there is no evidence -- as the complaint against Tulane suggests -- that having some programs for women is inherently illegal under federal antibias laws.

Some critics of scholarships and programs for women have been filing complaints against a number of colleges and universities, in some cases prompting changes. In 2016, Michigan State University, following a complaint from Perry, closed a lounge that was for women only. This year, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities agreed to open up several scholarships that had been only for women so that they could be awarded to men as well.

In the Tulane case, the university reached an agreement with the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights to resolve a complaint before OCR had made a determination in the case. Under the agreement, Tulane will review programs to assure that male students do not face illegal discrimination with regard to financial aid or educational programs, and will report on any needed changes. The university also pledged to provide training for administrators on requirements of antibias laws, including prohibitions on discrimination against male students.

The programs are all part of the Newcomb College Institute, which grew out Newcomb College, which was a women's college affiliated with Tulane and over time was merged into the university.

The agreement names a number of scholarships and mentoring programs or organizations for women at Tulane -- scholarships and programs that were the basis of the complaint filed against the university. But Tulane did not in the agreement pledge to change any of the programs, only to report to OCR if it does so, and on the university's compliance with antibias laws.

A spokesman for Tulane noted that the agreement with OCR did not involve any admission of wrongdoing by the university. Further, he said that Tulane would continue to abide by 1975 guidance from the Education Department about how to administer scholarships that had been created specifically for either men or women (the guidance is written based on the assumption that the former is the case): "If 50 students are selected by a university to receive financial assistance, the students should be ranked in the order in which they are to receive awards … The list should then be given to the financial aid office which may match the students to the scholarships and other aid available, whether sex-restricted or not. However, if after the first 25 students have been matched with funds, the financial aid office runs out of non-restrictive funds and is left with only funds designated for men, these funds must be awarded without regard to sex and not solely to men unless only men are left on the list. If both men and women remain on the list, the university must locate additional funding for the women or cease to give awards at that point."

The spokesman said that "Tulane’s financial aid office administers donor-restricted institutional scholarships restricted based on sex in a manner consistent with this guidance, and going forward, will continue to administer such donor-restricted funds in this way."

Tulane's explanation reflects the reality that the scholarships involved are relatively few in number compared to the university's overall efforts to provide financial aid for students. For example, one of the challenged scholarships is "bestowed upon a current second-year woman from an under-represented group at Tulane University who has distinguished herself through involvement with the Newcomb College Institute, an engaged pursuit of learning, and contribution to the greater New Orleans community. The recipient of the award will receive $250; this one-time cash award can be used to enhance the recipient's education experience at Tulane."

Adaku Onyeka-Crawford, senior counsel for education at the National Women's Law Center, said that "the agreement doesn't say that they are going to end these programs." Onyeka-Crawford said that she was not familiar with Tulane's discussions with the Education Department, but that it is common for colleges to reach agreements like this to avoid long investigations.

Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and author of several books about higher education law, said he saw nothing illegal or improper in what Tulane has been doing. While women may be a majority of undergraduates, he said, evidence is widespread of discrimination faced by women at all levels of education. Programs for women "are necessary" in this environment, he said, adding that it was also important to look at "the totality of programs" at Tulane, an examination that would show a small number of programs to help women amid a much larger group of programs for everyone.

Olivas called complaints filed over programs for women "a dog whistle to create the impression that men are discriminated against."

Peter McDonough, vice president and general counsel of the American Council on Education, said that many colleges have programs such as Tulane's and that they are (within certain limits) legal. In some cases, however, he said via email, it may be important for colleges to consider whether their demographics have changed and whether programs are needed for members of particular groups.

"No one’s intending to violate the law," he said. "But staying on top of what’s legal and what’s questionable can be hard. The facts really matter. What’s more, these facts change over time. Twenty years ago a school may have enrolled a class that was 70 percent male, yet today finds itself with women making up 70 percent of its freshmen. Ten years ago, perhaps there were no men interested in a noon yoga class, and today there are. Changes like these may be good reasons to take a look at how some things are structured, described and done."

He said such reviews go on all the time, he said.

The problem about publicity over the complaint about Tulane, he said, is that it may discourage colleges from keeping programs that are legal. "We would only be concerned if a misimpression developed," McDonough said. "It would be worrisome if people came to believe that any college program or activity that is more attractive to women, or designed to attract women, is illegal. That is not the case."

Perry, via email, said that he believed Tulane would be forced by the agreement to abandon the programs and scholarships cited. He said that he believed the agreement "seems to be a significant legal precedent."

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Trump administration rejects inspector general's critical audit findings on Western Governors

Mon, 2019-01-14 08:00

The U.S. Department of Education on Friday released a long-awaited response to an inspector general audit, which found that one the country’s largest online universities had run afoul of federal standards.

The department’s Office of Inspector General found in 2017 that Western Governors University, which enrolls more than 83,000 students, failed to meet federal requirements for the interaction between faculty members and students. The audit said WGU should pay back $713 million in federal student aid.

The Trump administration wasn’t expected to carry out the IG’s recommendations. The Education Department has been less interested in cracking down on colleges under Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education. And Western Governors has received bipartisan support from Washington policy makers, including praise from the Obama administration for its low-priced, competency-based model.

But Inspector General Kathleen Tighe, who retired from the department last year, found that most WGU courses should actually be classified as correspondence courses, citing a 1992 law that defines distance education programs' eligibility for federal aid. Those courses don't meet requirements for regular and substantive interaction between faculty and students, according to the audit. And an institution isn't eligible for federal funds if more than half of its courses are offered via correspondence.

However, in a letter sent to Western Governors Friday, the department's Office of Federal Student Aid said that because of "the ambiguity of the law and regulations and the lack of clear guidance available at the time of the audit period" as well as information provided by WGU and its regional accreditor, the department would not seek the return of Title IV student aid funds. (The university will be required to return about $2,600 thanks to one identified instance of deficiencies in returning Title IV funds when a student withdrew.)

"The statements made and the actions taken by the institution and its accrediting agency demonstrate that the institution made a reasonable and good faith effort to comply with the definition of distance education and provide regular and substantive interaction between the students and its instructional team during this period," FSA found.

Some experts have complained that the "regular and substantive" standard is an outdated way to assess online education programs. The rules may be in flux. In upcoming negotiated rule-making sessions, the Education Department will ask appointed panelists to consider modifying regulations involving faculty interaction. A proposal from the department would allow accreditors to define who qualifies as an instructor for the purposes of college-level courses.

The IG audit also included findings critical of WGU's adherence to the credit-hour standard. But, as with the regular and substantive requirement, the department disagreed with those findings. FSA noted in the letter to WGU that the Education Department is undertaking negotiated rule making to craft new policies involving both rules.

"The department is hopeful that further clarification will be part of future regulations that will help spur the growth of high-quality innovative programs," the agency said in a press release Friday.

In a statement released Friday, Western Governors said FSA's decision affirmed that the institution is eligible to participate in the federal student aid program.

"We appreciate the extensive and careful review conducted by the Office of Federal Student Aid over the past 15 months, we respect the important role of the OIG, and we are pleased to receive this notification," the university said in the statement. "As we have done since our founding by U.S. governors 22 years ago, WGU will continue our work to expand access, improve quality, and optimize outcomes for students."

But Spiros Protopsaltis, the director of George Mason University’s Center for Education Policy and Evaluation and a former Education Department official, said nothing in the letter questions the substance of the inspector general's findings. To the contrary, he said, the letter directed Western Governors to comply with existing regular and substantive interaction requirements.

"However, the critical issue is that we should not lower the bar to accommodate any particular online model, whether it's WGU or any other school, but instead we should raise the bar for quality and rigor," he said. "Given the evidence on the importance of interaction between students and instructors for student success, requiring and enforcing such interaction is imperative."

Just because one institution has strong outcomes while failing to meet that standard, he said, does not mean the Education Department should lower the bar for the entire online industry.

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Trump administration proposal would lift cap on colleges outsourcing higher ed programs

Fri, 2019-01-11 08:00

Dozens of colleges, including many with widely known brands, outsource parts of degree programs to other institutions or private companies. Under federal rules, colleges can offer degree programs in which up to 50 percent of instruction is outsourced, including through unaccredited entities.

A proposal from the Education Department would remove that cap entirely, potentially allowing colleges to completely outsource curriculum and instruction for degree programs. That possibility is alarming consumer advocates who worry it will give low-quality operators backdoor access to federal student aid money.

Amy Laitinen, director for higher education at New America’s education policy program, said it would basically allow colleges to rent out their names to third-party companies while pulling in federal aid.

“It raises questions about what it means to be an institution and what it means to have to get a degree from your university,” she said.

The idea is part of a package of proposed changes to the regulatory system governing higher education that the Education Department will ask a group of appointed negotiators to consider beginning next week. They’ll have a chance in that process, known as negotiated rule making, to weigh in on the outsourcing proposal and its implications for students and parents.

The slate of proposals focuses largely on rolling back regulations involving higher ed accreditors, the bodies that serve as gatekeepers for federal student aid. Current rules say an institution can outsource up to 25 percent of a program to an unaccredited provider. But having a third party provide between 25 and 50 percent of a program requires an accreditor’s approval.

Under the proposed change, colleges could outsource any amount of a program with permission from their accreditor.

Diane Auer Jones, the department's principal deputy under secretary, said in a call with reporters this week that officials would seek feedback from negotiators about what the appropriate cap may be for outsourcing programs.

“We don’t really know what the right answer is,” she said. “There probably are not many institutions that would outsource 100 percent of a program.”

Jones said the change was proposed with work-based learning in mind and not online-driven models like coding boot camps.

But most observers expect the change would have the biggest implications for just those kinds of alternative higher ed providers. And the proposal is being greeted with skepticism even from companies in that sector.

Liz Simon, vice president of legal and external affairs at General Assembly, one of the biggest operators in the coding boot camp market, said the company is still grappling with how to offer quality education at a large scale. And she said there are plenty of examples in the past of new higher ed companies exploiting the federal student aid system.

“There’s still a hard conversation to be had about ensuring quality in some of these nontraditional programs,” she said.

Without hearing more details about protections for students and federal funds, Simon said the company would be hesitant to endorse the idea.

Rick O'Donnell, the founder and CEO of the Skills Fund, which provides financing for coding boot camps and other skills-training programs, said a regulatory overhaul that results in more partnerships between colleges and outcomes-focused higher ed providers would be a win.

“However, innovation cannot be prioritized over program quality,” he said via email. “As ED rightfully pushes to limit the authority of accreditors, who are unequipped to serve as the gatekeeper of institutional quality, private market quality assurance entities become that much more crucial to ensure student learning and positive outcomes.”

Although the proposal has driven concerns about program quality, one higher ed entrepreneur doubts that it will be the department’s most impactful proposal for the market of postsecondary providers.

Paul Freedman, co-founder and CEO of the Entangled Group, said agreements between colleges and unaccredited content providers haven’t been blocked in the past on the basis of the 50 percent cap. And he said unaccredited companies just don’t generate the material themselves to fill 120 credit hours of courses.

“There aren’t a lot of places besides educational institutions that teach that much,” he said. “I don’t think it will dramatically change the marketplace.”

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Printer closures, paper shortages lead to delays for university publishers

Fri, 2019-01-11 08:00

When one of the largest independent book and journal printers in the U.S. closed its doors last summer, many university presses braced themselves for printing delays. What they didn’t expect from the closure of Edwards Brothers Malloy was that the disruption would continue into 2019.

“It was really bad this fall,” said Gregory Britton, editorial director of the Johns Hopkins University Press. He said the printing schedules of most of the press’s new titles were delayed.

Britton initially believed the delays were due to paper shortages that have affected much of the publishing industry -- including newspapers and magazines. But this was not the major cause of delays for university presses, he said.

“The companies that manufacture books are inundated with work,” said Britton. “There’s been a lot of consolidation and now there’s less capacity. In the past when there were delays, we might have been able to shift work to a different printer -- now those printers don’t exist.”

As a result, book and journal publishers and university presses are scrambling to adjust to longer, sometimes unpredictable, printing schedules.

In addition to printers closing or merging, university presses have in recent years been printing books in smaller batches so that they don’t end up with unsold books.

“Instead of printing a two years’ supply, presses might print a six-month supply to keep inventory costs down,” said Britton.

More frequent reprinting has put additional pressure on printers, however. “They’re swamped,” he said.

A Christmas Crunch

University presses publish lots of academic monographs that don’t have strict deadlines, said Britton. But they also publish commercial trade titles that need to be printed before key selling periods such as Christmas, and there are academic works that need to be out early in the year to be considered for fall course adoption. Consequently, there is “always a big rush before the holidays to get books printed,” said Britton.

The run-up to Christmas 2018 was unusually stressful, said Mary Rose Muccie, executive director of Temple University Press. “Our lead trade title for fall, which had a specific, critical launch date, ended up being significantly delayed,” she said.

Temple University Press wanted The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, a third-edition nonfiction book celebrating all things Eagles, to be out early in the football season. In the end, the title was available for Christmas sales and author signing events. They pulled it off “by the skin of our teeth,” said Muccie.

She said she has experienced delays of up to a month on some titles, the effects of which extend beyond potential lost sales.

“We pride ourselves on providing excellent support to our authors. This includes having their books available when we expect them to be," she said. "Publication dates that are moving targets makes managing these expectations a challenge,”

Representatives of several university presses contacted by Inside Higher Ed said their companies -- West Virginia University Press, George Mason University Press, the University of Iowa Press and Penn State University Press -- had also experienced longer printing schedules than usual in recent months.

“We’ve had a few close calls,” said Jennifer Norton, associate director of Penn State University Press. It’s important that books be printed in time for conferences, events and book signings, but some conference deadlines were missed last year, she said.

Previously, Norton would have allowed four weeks to get a book printed, but now she’s budgeting at least six weeks. For titles that have strict deadlines, Norton said she now secures printing slots months in advance.

The prospect of a book signing without any books would make any author anxious. Thankfully, it didn’t happen to Ilan Stavans, professor of Latin American studies at Amherst College, whose book was recently published by Penn State University Press.

Stavans’s book, Don Quixote of La Mancha, is a graphic novel adaptation of Don Quixote illustrated by Roberto Weil. It was delayed by 10 days after the contracted printer ran out of the paper needed for the job and an alternative printer had to be found, said Norton.

“For a moment, it looked as if some publicity events and the publication of reviews might need to be rescheduled,” said Stavans. “But in the end, everything worked out.”

Stavans, who is publisher at Restless Books, said he understands the challenges presented by this new printing environment.

“The press acted intelligently, updating me at all times,” he said of Penn State University Press.

Karen Copp, associate director of the University of Iowa Press, said there is naturally “some disappointment” from authors when books are delayed, but many are understanding. She said she had been experiencing delays of eight to 10 days but is hoping the wait time shrinks now that the fall rush is over.

A New Normal

Still, it's uncertain how long it will take for printing times to return to what they were, said Britton. It could be that the slower lead times persist throughout 2019. For now, at least, delays are the "new normal," he said.

“We’re doing a lot of different things to counter this,” he said. “We’re building more time into schedules; we’re looking for alternative vendors. We’re being flexible on things like what paper stock we use.”

Britton noted that the increased use of ebooks has negatively influenced print sales, but the impact was not as great as some printers and paper mills anticipated.

“Looking at this in a broader context, the forces that caused printers to consolidate and close may have been a market overcorrection,” said Britton.

The printing industry began experiencing major problems in mid-2018, said John Bond, a scholarly publishing consultant and founder of Riverwinds Consulting. Several U.S.-based printers merged or closed, increasing demand at remaining printers. Severe paper shortages also played a role as many mill operators, seeing falling demand for books, switched to producing tissue paper and paper-based packaging in place of printing- and writing-grade paper. Bond believes it may take six to nine months for paper mills and printers to catch up to demand.

John Edwards, vice president of market development at CJK Group -- the parent company of numerous technology, communications, printing and manufacturing companies -- agreed that paper mill operators had underestimated demand for paper, creating a gap between supply and demand that he predicts will persist through 2019. The price of pulp also increased, making paper production more expensive, he said. Several university press directors said they had noticed slight increases in their printing costs.

Maple Press, a Pennsylvania-based printer, has seen exceptionally heavy demand for book manufacturing services over the last six months. In addition to competing printers merging or closing, there were some exceptionally popular books in the last half of 2018 (such as Michelle Obama's Becoming, published by the Crown Publishing Group) that put additional strain on industry capacity.

“Many of our customers did experience lead times that were longer than normal during the second half of 2018,” said Bill Long, vice president of sales and marketing at Maple Press. The printer has been ramping up -- “running overtime, hiring additional workers and investing in additional capacity to better service demand levels,” he said.

Long predicts that capacity levels will “remain somewhat tight for the foreseeable future.”

“This will inevitably lead to longer lead times in some cases moving forward,” he said. “It will become more important for publishers to work more closely with printers on their capacity needs and timing.”

Britton said he viewed the situation as somewhat ironic. “Reports of the death of the book, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated.”

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