Inside Higher Ed

Maryland professor resigns after allegedly making discriminatory comments about Chinese students and cheating

19 hours 14 min ago

A series of recent reported incidents have raised the specter of tensions between faculty members and the international students they teach.

The most recent such incident involved the resignation of a professor from the University of Maryland College Park -- first reported by WAMU 88.5 -- after the professor, David Weber, accused a group of students from China of cheating and was accused in turn of discriminating against students based on their race and national origin.

Samantha Wu, who is from China, was taking a forensic auditing class in Maryland’s business school last fall. The class had two sections, one taught by Weber and one, in which she was enrolled, taught by David Hilton. Wu reported that on Nov. 7 Weber came into another class she was taking, a business ethics class taught by Jeffrey Milton, with a list of names of students he believed cheated on the final exam in the forensic accounting class.

In a complaint submitted to the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct, Wu and others said Weber began yelling things to the class like, “All Chinese students cheated their way into [the] United States” and “You will all be expelled, your visas will be revoked, and you will have to go back to China.”

“This whole tirade lasted more than 30 minutes, and then he just departed the class with students full of shock,” Wu said in an interview.

“This course consisted of more than 90 percent Chinese students.”

Wu and other complainants said this was not an isolated incident. Students reported that Weber repeatedly made comments like “you are not a U.S. citizen/American, you don’t know what I’m talking about, you don’t get me.” He also allegedly said he had expelled a Chinese student in the past to deter him or her from cheating.

Weber also allegedly posted a message to students on a learning management system -- a copy of which was provided to Inside Higher Ed -- that partially attributed students’ apparent lack of interest in integrity to their culture. The message said, “You appear to be more focused on your grade than on the integrity of the profession and the M.S.A. [presumably the master of science in accounting] program. While we recognize that a portion of this is cultural, the purpose for many of you in obtaining an education based on … the American accounting system is to learn how we conduct business in the United States. Generally, business is conducted in the United States in full conformity with the law, rules and appropriate conduct at all times. This is not lip service: when misconduct is detected in U.S.-based business, as we learned in class, investigations are opened into those who do not comply with the rules, and when rule breakers are caught, they are punished harshly.” The message was co-signed by Weber and Hilton.

Wu said she was among a group of students who was referred to the Office of Student Conduct and was accused of using a test bank. The charges against her were dismissed following a review of the evidence, according to a Dec. 5 memo from the student conduct office she shared with Inside Higher Ed. Of other students who were accused, she said two others had their cases dismissed, one went forward to a hearing and was vindicated, and one admitted to wrongdoing.

Meanwhile the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct found that Weber violated Maryland’s nondiscrimination policy in relation to five of the seven incidents it investigated, including the Nov. 7 incident in Milton’s classroom (Milton referred a request for comment to the business school’s media relations office, as did the professor who taught the other section of the forensic auditing class, Hilton).

A spokeswoman for Maryland declined to comment on the OCRSM investigation, but issued the following written statement: “All students, including international students, are entitled to respect, and targeting or profiling based on nationality, ethnicity or any other protected status under United States civil rights laws, is wrong and is not tolerated. Maryland Smith is strongly committed to creating and promoting a culture that is fair, equitable and respectful to all students.”

According to Maryland's statement, the dean of the Smith School of Business sent a personal apology to affected students on Nov. 10. “The Smith School takes all allegations of discrimination seriously. When allegations of discrimination are received, they are forwarded for investigation and due process is followed,” the statement said.

“The employee in question has resigned his employment and is no longer teaching at the university.”

Weber did not respond to multiple messages from Inside Higher Ed seeking comment. Weber’s lawyer -- as identified in the WAMU coverage -- also did not respond to requests for comment. The lawyer, Brian Mahany, sent a statement to WAMU contesting the words attributed to Weber and saying that he referred to students’ nationality when making the cheating allegations because the consequences for cheating for international students -- who stand to lose their visas if they are expelled -- are serious. “The purpose of this discussion was to consider the seriousness of the cheating allegations, not to discriminate,” Mahany said in a written statement to WAMU.

Weber told WAMU he encountered more cheating in the graduate accounting program at Maryland -- which enrolls a large Chinese student population -- than in other programs in which he'd taught. “I believe that culture and upraising does play a role in cheating,” Weber said in writing to WAMU. “There is no question that there is a different rule-following and rule-breaking culture between the U.S. and China.”

“Does that mean that Chinese students are more prone to cheat? No,” Weber said to WAMU. “It isn’t proper to label an entire group of students based on nationality as being ‘cheaters.’ That isn’t fair to the many Chinese students who don’t cheat.”

Weber also told WAMU that he was trying to uphold Maryland's academic honesty policy. “It is my fear that, despite the honor code, the school administration will not always support faculty members who report cheating, in contrast to what the policy actually says,” wrote Weber. “This is especially when the program in which cheating occurs is one of the most profitable programs for the university.”

The incident at Maryland follows on several other news reports about tensions involving faculty and international students, in particular Chinese students. The number of students from China on U.S. campuses has more than quadrupled in the past decade, and many colleges have eagerly recruited Chinese students in part for the tuition dollars they bring.

Among the other cases, the Los Angeles Times reported in December that faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, were concerned about rates of cheating by Chinese students and their English proficiency levels. Faculty said they had been asking the university to improve screening of students' English language levels and offer more remedial help and instruction in university norms, including norms relating to classroom behavior and academic integrity. One professor who spoke out said the decision to do so did not come easily, but that he was worried that failure to address the problems would inflame anti-Asian biases.

The Lawrence Journal-World reported earlier this month that an electrical engineering professor at the University of Kansas was suspended from teaching a class after he told a student using a translator on a cellphone to “learn English” and other students took offense. In this case it is not clear where this student was from and whether he or she was an international student. The professor involved, Gary Minden, declined Inside Higher Ed's request for comment.

Finally, a Duke University professor’s email from January admonishing Chinese students for speaking their native language in the student lounge -- and advising them that failure to speak in English while in the academic building could have negative effects on their opportunities to secure internships and research opportunities with faculty -- attracted widespread condemnation on the campus and beyond. The case prompted scholars who study issues relating to international students and discrimination to suggest that it should not be seen as an isolated incident and that it pointed to a need for universities to provide more support and resources for faculty who are teaching in international classrooms. 

Marcelo Barros, founder of the International Advantage, a company that advises international students who seek U.S. career opportunities, said the incident at Duke and others raise a question for him.

“I wonder given my work in higher ed with international students if we have a deep systematic issue around a general resentment towards international students that gets reflected in these outbursts from faculty,” he said. 

“We talk about globalizing the campus and bringing international diversity. We talk about that as being beautiful and romantic. But such incidents tell me that we still have a long ways to go in terms of making our international students truly feel welcomed at our U.S. universities. Our words need to match our actions and behavior.”

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Carol Folt brings experience dealing with scandal and controversy from UNC to USC

19 hours 14 min ago

Two months after being unceremoniously ushered from a public research university struggling with Confederate history, Carol L. Folt landed at a private research university out west grappling with its own set of challenges.

Folt, who in January decided simultaneously to resign as chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and to remove the remnants of a toppled Confederate monument there, will be the new president at the University of Southern California. USC’s board announced Wednesday that she will become the university’s 12th president on July 1.

The decision comes as USC finds itself staggering under multiple scandals in recent years. Just last week the university was one of several prominent institutions named as federal authorities announced indictments in an admissions scheme that allegedly allowed wealthy and privileged parents to buy their children’s way into college by taking advantage of athletic recruiting and by cheating on standardized tests. USC has also been rocked by sexual assault allegations against a campus gynecologist and charges of drug use by its medical school’s now-former dean.

That string of scandals led to the resignation in August of the university’s president of eight years, C. L. Max Nikias. The university had first announced in May that Nikias would be stepping down, leading faculty members to circulate a petition asking why he remained in office months later.

A USC trustee and alumna, Wanda Austin, has been serving as interim president since August. She was also a member on the search advisory committee that helped pick Folt.

Some prominent USC alumni voiced hope that Folt would usher in a new era of change at USC -- and possibly continued turnover among administrators and board members. Meanwhile, in announcing Folt’s selection, USC leaders emphasized moving forward and integrity.

“As I have come to know Dr. Folt and how she thinks, it is clear that USC has chosen a brilliant, principled leader with clarity of purpose and integrity to lead the university forward and upward,” Rick Caruso, chair of the USC Board of Trustees, said in a statement. “Ours was a global search, and we spoke to over a hundred diverse and world-class candidates. Dr. Folt stood out from the very beginning as a courageous and compassionate person who always places the well-being of students, faculty, staff and patients at the heart of all she does.”

Folt looks forward to meeting with faculty, staff and students, she said in her own statement. She called those groups “the lifeblood” of every great university.

“Of course, I also am aware that our community is deeply troubled by a number of immediate challenges,” she said. “I assure you that we will meet these challenges together, directly, decisively and with honesty and candor. This is a moment of responsibility and opportunity, and we will seize them both.”

Folt has steered a major university through scandal in the past. Before being ushered out the door in the wake of her Confederate statue decision at Chapel Hill, she oversaw UNC’s flagship campus as it navigated a massive scandal involving athletics and academic fraud stemming from before her time there.

Chapel Hill held fake classes for almost two decades between 1993 and 2011, giving thousands of students credit for courses they never attended. Many of the students who benefited from the fake courses were athletes. But after the scandal broke, the university spent millions of dollars fighting the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s case against it, even while admitting it engaged in academic fraud.

The NCAA ultimately said it couldn’t conclude the courses had been intended to benefit only athletes and did not punish UNC. Chapel Hill’s accreditor placed it on a yearlong probation ending in 2016 because of violations in the case.

USC noted that Folt helped to commission an independent investigation of the scandal and put in place dozens of reforms.

Only time will tell how much of that experience could be useful at USC. Immediately after last week’s admissions scandal broke, the university said two employees had been terminated and that it was identifying any funds received in the scheme. It has also blocked students allegedly involved in the scheme from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts as it reviews their cases, and it has said applicants tied to the scheme will be denied admission.

Many of those with ties to USC supported Folt’s selection Wednesday but said more needs to be done to clean up the university.

“I think it’s great, because we needed to move on,” said Lloyd Greif, president and CEO of Greif & Co. and a 1979 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business who is a member of the school’s Board of Leaders. “Carol is going to get a baptism by fire at USC, because there are a lot of things broken at the institution that need to be fixed, and they need to be fixed yesterday.”

Greif is the namesake of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s business school. He called for more transparency, accountability and overhauling the entire university governance system.

Changes to senior leadership need to be made starting with the provost and working down, Greif said. He didn’t spare trustees from his calls for change.

“She’s going to have to quickly figure out who she can rely upon and who she cannot,” Greif said. “I think there is further change that needs to be done at the administration level, and frankly, I would look at some members of the board as well as the leadership of the board.”

Folt is no stranger working at an institution with an unsettled governing board. The conflict that played out at UNC regarding the Confederate statue stemmed in part from a state law making it difficult to remove a statue from campus -- but also from tensions with the Board of Governors, the governing board for the 17-campus UNC system.

In December, Folt backed a plan that would have housed the statue in a history center. It was a middle-of-the-road approach that seemed to leave unhappy both opponents of the statue and members of the Board of Governors who wanted it restored to its former place on campus. The system Board of Governors soon blocked the plan.

That led to Folt ordering the statue’s remnants removed until its future could be decided. She cited safety, community well-being and the need for a productive education environment.

At the same time, she announced plans to resign after Chapel Hill’s commencement in May. The next day, the system Board of Governors moved up the date of her departure to the end of January.

It’s not clear whether Folt had already applied for the USC presidency as the tensions played out at Chapel Hill. A USC presidential search listing said that candidates should apply by Dec. 1 “for best consideration.” It wouldn't be unheard-of for a candidate to be added into a search later in the process, however.

On the whole, Folt posted a mixed record with faculty members, activists and board members at UNC. She apologized for the university’s role in slavery while speaking about its 225th birthday this fall. But some felt she initially went against faculty members’ will when she backed the plan in December to place the statue in a history center. After she did remove the statue, many faculty members nonetheless cheered her actions.

USC faculty members voiced support for her selection.

“Carol Folt’s entire career, as both a faculty member and leader, embodies a commitment to all aspects of academic excellence while always putting people first,” said Yaniv Bar-Cohen, president of the USC Academic Senate and professor of clinical pediatrics and medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, in a statement.

Antonio Bento is a professor of public policy and economics who is the director of the USC Center for Sustainability Solutions. The center was founded last spring, so much of its existence has coincided with unstable or interim university leadership.

Now he is excited that Folt, who has a doctorate in ecology, is USC’s new president.

“Without the president, we’ve been a little bit paralyzed,” he said. “Having an environmentalist appointed as president of the university is, in my opinion, incredibly good news.”

Folt was also a noted fund-raiser at UNC, overseeing the university as it kicked off an attempt in 2017 to raise $4.25 billion over the next several years. She also presided over the university as it brought in more than $1 billion in federal research funding for the first time in 2017.

Originally from Akron, Ohio, Folt attended Santa Barbara City College and transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she earned a degree in aquatic biology and then a master’s in biology. She earned a doctorate in ecology from UC Davis and did her postdoctoral work at Michigan State University before moving to Dartmouth College. She rose to the level of interim president there before heading to UNC.

She was Chapel Hill's first woman chancellor. She will be USC's first woman president.

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New study says trigger warnings are useless. Does that mean they should be abandoned?

19 hours 14 min ago

Trigger warnings don’t help students, and they might even hurt those grappling with serious trauma. That’s the upshot of a new study on trigger warnings published in Clinical Psychological Science.

Concerned about the use of trigger warnings absent clear evidence of their effectiveness, the authors conducted a series of experiments on 1,394 people, a mix of first-year psychology students at Victoria University of Wellington, in New Zealand and internet users. They wanted to know to what extent trigger warnings affect people's ratings of negative material and their symptoms of distress, namely "negative affect," intrusive thoughts and avoidance.

Subjects either watched or read content on topics from car accidents to domestic violence (content involving sexual violence was not part of the experiment -- more on that later). Some got trigger warnings about what was ahead, while others did not. Some reported experiencing traumatic events, such as a "really bad car" or other accident, or domestic abuse.

Afterward, subjects rated their negative emotional states, and the degree to which they experienced intrusive thoughts and tried to avoid thinking about the content. Some subjects were tested on their reading comprehension abilities following exposure to sensitive content.

A “mini meta-analysis” of the experiments revealed that trigger warnings didn’t make any difference. Subjects who saw them, compared with those who did not, judged the videos to be similarly negative, felt similarly negative, experienced similarly frequent intrusive thoughts and avoidance, and comprehended subsequent material similarly well.

By some measures, there was a slight helpful effect for trigger warnings. But the authors say that it was essentially insignificant, was "minuscule" compared to the effects of actual therapy and was possibly influenced by a placebo-like effect of seeing a trigger warning (trigger warnings are not supposed to be a substitute for therapy, of course, the article says). It's worth noting that a very small number of students withdrew from the experiment after seeing a trigger warning. And the existing psychological literature on traumatic stress suggests that avoidance is a coping mechanism that maintains the traumatic stress.

The study notes several limitations: researchers did not specifically recruit people with a history of psychopathology and did not ask about subjects’ socioeconomic status or education level. Plus, they say, trigger warnings “may have nontrivial effects we did not measure,” such as the vividness of intrusions -- not just frequency.

What does it all mean? The authors explore this, writing, “Some might wonder if professors should continue to issue trigger warnings. After all, if the warnings do not worsen distress and students believe the warnings are helpful, then why not?”

Ultimately, however, the authors are against trigger warnings. “Put simply,” they say, “people are not always good judges of the effects interventions have on themselves or others and the chronic effects of trigger warnings may be different from their acute effects. College students are increasingly anxious, and widespread adoption of trigger warnings in syllabi may promote this trend, tacitly encouraging students to turn to avoidance, thereby depriving them of opportunities to learn healthier ways to manage potential distress.”

Lead author Mevagh Sanson, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology at New Zealand’s University of Waikato, didn’t equivocate Wednesday via email.

“Trigger warnings don’t help,” she said. “And they may still hurt -- the long-term consequences of avoidance have been addressed in related areas, and so we know that encouraging avoidance helps to maintain disorders such as PTSD.”

Drawing a distinction between general trigger warnings, such as at the beginning of a course, and trigger warnings for “imminent” content (such as that included in the experiment), Sanson added, “We do not think that trigger warnings for imminent content are a good idea.”

Trigger warnings were originally used by bloggers to flag content about sexual violence, and much of the academic trigger warning debate centers on texts containing sexual violence -- and students who have suffered it. Asked if the results might be different if content about sexual violence were included in the study, Sanson said, “That is an empirical question, but there’s nothing solid in the scientific or clinical science literature that would lead us to expect trigger warnings should be effective for sexual assault and yet ineffective for other kinds of traumas or content.”

Sanson co-wrote the study with Deryn Strange, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, who studies memory distortion. Asked if she ever uses trigger warnings, Strange said that she teaches “traumatic content all the time” -- and explains that to students at the beginning of course, so that they are “broadly aware” of what may come up. But, consistent with her recent findings, she does not issue trigger warnings for imminent content.

Co-author Maryanne Garry, a professor of psychology at Waikato who teaches courses addressing traumatic memory, said she makes her topics clear up front and tells students that “there is no way to provide them with alternate readings or assessment while still actually teaching the topic.”

Are Warnings Common?

It’s unclear how widespread the use of trigger warnings is. A 2015 survey of faculty members by the National Coalition Against Censorship found that more than half of professors had had issued “warnings about course content,” such as in a syllabus, and 23 percent said they’d done so several times or regularly. But a majority of professors opposed specific trigger warnings as a threat to academic freedom.

Trigger warning also means different things to different people. Some professors offer what they call trigger warnings at the beginning of a course only and others for imminent content. And some professors who use trigger warnings offer students alternative readings or assignments. That practice is probably the most controversial of all, since critics say it comes at the cost of personal growth and learning. Proponents, meanwhile, say offering alternative assignments may enable learning by increasing access to those who would otherwise shut down.

Richard J. McNally, professor and director of clinical training in psychology at Harvard University, studies anxiety and related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and wrote in a widely cited 2016 New York Times op-ed that the trigger warning debate ignores the fact that “Trauma is common, but PTSD is rare.”

Still, McNally wrote, trigger warnings are “countertherapeutic because they encourage avoidance of reminders of trauma, and avoidance maintains PTSD.” Severe emotional reactions triggered by course material are a signal that “students need to prioritize their mental health and obtain evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies that will help them overcome PTSD,” he added. So rather than issuing trigger warnings, “universities can best serve students by facilitating access to effective and proven treatments for PTSD and other mental health problems.”

McNally, who chaired a symposium on trigger warnings at the recent International Conference of Psychological Science in Paris, said Wednesday that the new paper is “impressive,” and that, taken together, the experiments suggest that trigger warnings “don’t seem to make much difference.”

In all of his own courses, McNally said that he goes through the syllabus with students on the first day of class to briefly review topics of study and readings. But he does not issue trigger warnings -- even when he taught a course on psychological trauma.

To students in that class, however, he said, “I did mention that enrolling in the course was not a substitute for therapy, even though they would learn how clinicians successfully treat the effects of traumatic stress.”

Over all, McNally said that trigger warnings are a “counsel of avoidance,” and hence “send the wrong message to students struggling with memories of trauma.” Avoiding reminders of trauma maintains PTSD, “despite any temporary relief avoidance may provide.”

Underscoring his consistent message on how a university can “best serve its students,” McNally said it’s by “facilitating their access to evidence-based treatments for PTSD, not by issuing trigger warnings.”

Nancy K. Bristow, a professor of history at the University of Puget Sound who studies racial violence, has spoken previously about the importance of empathy in teaching and learning about such sensitive subjects as the history of lynching. She’s said she flagged her syllabus for students the first time in 2015, for a course on American culture and catastrophe.

The "Note on Course Content" read:

As you know, a course on catastrophe necessarily deals with several topics and sources that discuss, depict and envision difficult subjects. I recognize that for some members of the course personal experiences may make a particular topic very hard to process, and even inappropriate for academic consideration at this time. If you are concerned about our engagement with a particular topic, issue or source, please come see me and we can determine an appropriate route forward. Alternate assignments can be arranged if needed, so please don't hesitate to open this conversation with me. Of course such a discussion would be confidential.

Bristow said Wednesday that she is not “an expert on the psychological literature,” but she remains convinced of the “benefit of letting students know when we will be considering material they may find traumatizing.” She also uses imminent trigger warnings as the need arises.

“We must not assume all students experience our classrooms and the material we teach in the same way,” she said. “Faculty must recognize that the material they teach lands differently depending on a student's background, life experiences and ways of being in the world.”

For those professors who teach material that can be “quite traumatic for our students -- in my case material on the history of people of color, on racial and sexual oppression, on violence and warfare -- reaching out to acknowledge how difficult exposure to certain material can be for our students is an expression of their humanity and ours,” Bristow said. So trigger warnings and conversations about possible alternative assignments offer students reassurance that their instructors “care about their well-being, and suggest we are ready to adjust as needed to ensure they have full access to their educations, regardless of who they are and where they have been.”

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Lawsuit against Harvard focuses on actions of 19th-century biologist

19 hours 14 min ago

The website of Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology describes its founder as "a great systematist, paleontologist and renowned teacher of natural history." The founder was the 19th-century biologist Louis Agassiz, whose scientific career started in Europe and led him to Harvard. For generations he was hailed for his contributions to science, and he still is at the museum he founded.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Massachusetts court takes Harvard to task for that continued praise, and for specific actions taken by Agassiz before and after the abolition of slavery. Tamara Lanier filed the suit; she says that she is descended from two of the slaves depicted in 1850 daguerreotypes (an early form of photography) commissioned by Agassiz.

The daguerreotypes were lost after Agassiz died, but Harvard found them in 1977. Since then, the university has made use of them in various ways, such as this cover for a book published by Harvard University Press. One of the images, of an enslaved man named Renty, is on the left.

Lanier's lawsuit said that Harvard should turn over the images to her, pay her damages for the way it has profited from the images and take other acts to acknowledge and condemn Agassiz's racism. The lawsuit says that Harvard officials rebuffed Lanier in her attempts to talk about the issues involved and to seek justice for her long-dead family members.

Harvard declined to comment on the suit, saying that it has not yet been served with papers. The university has in recent years said that it is important for all universities to consider their ties to slavery. Harvard held a conference on the topic in 2017. Drew Gilpin Faust, then the president of Harvard, encouraged the university to study and acknowledge the role of slavery at the institution.

"Harvard was directly complicit in America’s system of racial bondage from the college’s earliest days in the 17th century until slavery in Massachusetts ended in 1783, and Harvard continued to be indirectly involved through extensive financial and other ties to the slave South up to the time of emancipation. This is our history and our legacy, one we must fully acknowledge and understand in order to truly move beyond the painful injustices at its core," Faust said in 2016.

But the lawsuit says Harvard has never done that. The suit notes that Agassiz didn't seek the photographs to document the injustice of slavery, but rather as "part of his quest to 'prove' black people's inherent biological inferiority, and thereby justify their subjugation, exploitation and segregation." And indeed Agassiz's work was used not only in the era of slavery, but after.

The enslaved people in the photographs were given no choice in the matter, the suit says. They "were stripped naked and forced to pose for the daguerreotypes without consent, dignity or compensation."

Harvard has "never reckoned with that grotesque chapter in its history, let alone atoned for it," the suit says. Since the photographs were discovered again in the 1970s, they have been used "to sanitize the history of the images and exploit them for prestige and profit."

The suit says that it is "unconscionable that Harvard will not allow Ms. Lanier to, at long last, bring Renty and Delia [also in the images] home."

Beyond Lanier's claims about Harvard, the suit raises questions about the way prominent public figures of the past, who held and promoted racist views, are seen today.

Christoph Irmscher, a professor of English at Indiana University at Bloomington, is the author of a biography of Agassiz, Louis Agassiz: Creator of American Science.

Via email, Irmscher said that one today cannot separate the racism of Agassiz "from his science, in the sense that one could comfortably say, 'Well, he had some unfortunate views, but he was the first to describe the nervous system of a jellyfish, and that’s what matters.' I do think no one writing about Agassiz today does so without acknowledging how contaminated his science is. Having said that, I would again take issue with the very idea of contamination -- while his methods might have been progressive for his time (he was a pioneer of scientific fieldwork, for example), his science itself was deeply conservative, paternalistic, an evocation of a world in which everything had been planned and things stayed in their assigned places. Which is why he became one of Darwin’s favorite targets."

The problem with some of today's criticism of Agassiz, he said, is that it is too narrow. "I do sometimes worry about the extent to which a single-minded focus on Agassiz obscures the degree to which his ideas were shared and even inspired by his contemporaries, many of whom we continue to cherish. In my book, I have made an attempt to contextualize them. For example, I quote a statement made by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his journal, written precisely after Agassiz had shared his racial views with him, that the Harvard scientist was a 'man to be thankful for.' None of Agassiz’s noxious racial views -- which have been widely known and discussed since Stephen Jay Gould’s devastating account in The Mismeasure of Man (1981) -- were, alas, original to him, although that doesn’t, of course, diminish the impact they had."

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Not everyone bullish on redesigned University of South Florida logo

19 hours 14 min ago

For a college or university, unveiling a new logo is always a risky proposition -- students and alumni get attached to the old one, and any change feels wrong.

In 2012, the University of California system faced withering criticism for replacing its old "Let There Be Light" emblem with a new, modernist logo (right) -- to many people, it resembled a urinal. Earlier this year, the University of South Carolina took heat for a logo redesign of its own.

This time it’s the University of South Florida, which last week unveiled a redesigned academic logo of a muscular green-and-yellow bull that has students and alumni thinking about, of all things, retirement planning. The new design, many say, closely resembles that of the financial services firm Merrill Lynch, a bull that is often rendered in blue and white.

On Facebook, one user named Jason Litt commented, “I would like to speak with one of your brokers to set up a Roth IRA. As the market is trending up, I’d be interested in funding a significant amount to be invested towards my retirement …”

Another called the new design “TERRIBLE,” adding, “Can’t wait for Merrill Lynch to send a cease and desist use of this logo.”

For the moment, USF has no plans to abandon the bull, saying officials are listening to the crowd.

“We’re continuing to take feedback from our alumni and our students, which is what you need to do,” said chief marketing director Joe Hice. “We’re taking it seriously because it represents the academic success of the university over the last 63 years.”

Hice told the Tampa Bay Times that comments have been “positive as well as negative” -- actually, he said, the new bull was based on feedback about the previous one, introduced in September, which had a longer tail and wider stance in his hind legs, among other features.

He told Inside Higher Ed that USF officials settled upon the bull logo after they looked around the system’s campuses and concluded that they had no iconic buildings, such as an historic clock tower, to memorialize in a logo. “As a young university, we don’t have a whole lot on our campuses,” he said -- no ivy-covered halls or famous buildings. “We just don’t have a lot of that because we’re so young.”

Designers pulled ideas from bull statues on the all of its campuses, borrowing as well from USF’s “Bull U” athletic logo, a stylized U that looks like bull’s horns. Then they compared preliminary designs to those of other bull logos. “We found about 250 different bulls in use somewhere,” Hice said. The green USF bull made it through trademark comparisons “without any problems.”

Hice said USF considered simply updating a logo featuring the USF acronym (right), but decided that it didn’t set the system apart from the state's other public universities, which number nearly a dozen. “You’ve got USF, FSU, UF, UCF, FIU, FAU -- it really kind of becomes an alphabet soup, and it was confusing to students.”

The Times reported that the new, five-month redesign added nearly $8,000 to the $47,000 design process. According to invoices it examined, Tampa-based Spark Branding House spent 47 hours shrinking the bull's tail, bringing its back legs a bit closer together and drawing a line connecting the bull’s chest to its right front leg.

USF posted the new logo on its main Facebook page on March 12 -- in just two days, the logo generated nearly 200 comments, most of them not so bullish.

Among those lodging criticisms are wealthy alumni, the Times reported. Jeffrey Fishman, an alumnus and donor, said the logo “is not the best foot forward.”

Fishman, who said that he has given at least $1.45 million to USF Tampa since graduating in 1992, added, "I think they went down a path and now don't know how to get off that path and onto another."

Hice said the new logo is a part of a larger marketing campaign that USF is launching this month.

“We’re just continuing to take feedback” on the logo, he said, but the final decision may well rest with the university’s new president, who will likely be announced Friday -- the search is nearing its end, Hice said, with all four candidates visiting the system’s campuses this week.

Michael Morrow, a Portland, Ore., designer whose firm has created logos for colleges that include Bowdoin College’s polar bear, took one look at the new USF bull and said it's worth fighting for. “Ya know what, I like it!” he wrote via email.

He also liked the green-and-yellow color scheme of the new design.

“It’s not perfect,” Morrow said. “Obviously it is similar to the iconic Merrill Lynch bull, which I love. But for a college brand I like the progressive attitude. Way better than the previous logo, which looks the same as every other university in the world.”

USF clearly took a risk, he said, knowing it would be criticized -- Morrow said “whining” accompanies any brand redesign.

“Everyone thinks they’re a designer these days, so a thick skin is required of university stakeholders who get behind something different,” he said. “I also appreciate the effort to connect the bull icon to the existing athletic icon. Smart.”

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British university calls off conference amid protests from transgender activists

19 hours 14 min ago

Threats by transgender rights activists to disrupt an academic conference on prison reform over the organizer’s allegedly “transphobic” views on how inmates should be segregated have led to its cancellation.

More than 300 people were expected to attend a two-day conference on prison abolition in Britain at the Open University’s campus in Milton Keynes at the end of May, but delegates have been notified that the event has been called off.

The organizers, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, an educational charity, did not explain the exact reason for the sudden cancellation to delegates, but Times Higher Education has learned that it was scrapped after activists vowed to target the event over the group’s policy that transgender prisoners should be incarcerated separately from cisgender female offenders.

Its advice, published in February, follows the case of transgender prisoner Karen White, who was jailed in October 2018 for sexually assaulting inmates in a women’s prison while on remand for rape charges.

However, campaigners have claimed that the center’s recommendations support “state-sanctioned murder,” given the suicides of several transgender prisoners in men's prisons.

A leaflet distributed by the Trans Liberation Assembly -- a collective of militant feminist groups -- describes the “abhorrent transphobia [of] so-called respectable academics at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies” as a “sinister factor in this increasingly violent treatment enacted against trans women who are victims of the prison estate.”

That literature, which criticized “measures [that] demonize trans women as posing an inherent threat to ‘real’ women,” was handed out as 50 protesters occupied the Ministry of Justice on International Women’s Day on March 8.

With reports that the same protesters intended to target the Open University event in May, organizers emailed delegates on March 9 to say that the conference had been canceled after one of its partners -- the Open University -- had been “subjected to concerted pressure by those intent on disrupting the conference.”

In a statement, the Open University suggested, however, that it had canceled the event over “concerns that discussion around this conference was moving away from its main, originally intended, focus -- to debate the past, present and future of prison abolition.”

The event’s cancellation is the latest in a series of flash points over academics’ views on gender self-identification and whether transgender women should have access to areas, such as prisons, where vulnerable women are housed. In December, Rosa Freedman, professor of law, conflict and global development at the University of Reading, told how her office door had been covered in urine and how she had received threatening anonymous phone calls after debating proposed gender law changes.

One activist group, the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, has claimed that CCJS director Richard Garside, a senior visiting research fellow at the Open University, is guilty of propagating “sustained transmisogynist pressure” in the media by supporting “transphobic measures to segregate incarcerated trans women.”

Kathleen Stock, professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, who has faced hostility from students over her views on gender identification, said that the cancellation was the latest example of how pressure from transgender campaigners was having a “chilling effect on the richness of discussion” in this area.

“Richard Garside’s views on this are incredibly moderate and well considered, so if you can’t make statements like these, then something is really up,” said Stock.

“People have stuck things to my office saying I am not welcome on campus and students have held placards on campus saying that I am transphobic,” Stock added. “I think the worry about no platforming can be exaggerated, but it is happening in this area.”

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Wake Forest professors demand that university do more about photographs of admissions leaders

Wed, 2019-03-20 07:00

Wake Forest University has in recent weeks faced an unusual twist on the debates at many colleges over old yearbook photos showing students posing with Confederate flags. At Wake Forest, first the dean of admissions and then the associate dean of admissions were in February found in separate photos from the 1980s, when they were students at the university, posing in front of the Confederate flag.

Both officials issued apologies. Nathan O. Hatch, the president, said he accepted the apology of Martha Allman, the dean. Some noted that, under Allman, Wake Forest has adopted policies (such as test-optional admissions) that have been credited with diversifying the student body.

But this month, both student and faculty groups have issued statements asking why it took a public protest about the photos (students brought them to an open forum) to prompt Wake Forest to take a public stance. And many question whether the president should have accepted an apology for something that caused great pain to black students. To many on the campus, the fact that these photos were of admissions leaders -- people charged with evaluating applications -- made the photographs particularly troublesome.

One of four resolutions adopted by an overwhelming vote Tuesday said, "The Wake Forest community has learned that some of the former students pictured in photos containing white supremacist imagery have gone on to become prominent leaders of the Wake Forest University community. We the college faculty condemn the Wake Forest University administration’s response to these revelations thus far as inadequate. We believe that a) the responses offered were delayed to the point of negligence; b) the ongoing silence of college and university leaders is unacceptable; c) the responses are wholly insufficient as apologies, redress for harms done, or commitments to policies and programs that would transform the university; and d) these events are consistent with previous failures by university leaders to address antiblack racism and white supremacy at Wake Forest with the urgency and transparency that they warrant."

The resolution does not name Allman or the associate dean but goes on to say that their apologies through statements were insufficient. Another resolution adopted Tuesday said, "We also specifically support the importance of a forum … where current administrators who appeared in racist photos as students can offer formal and public apologies. Leaders of the university must take responsibility for the past and for moving us forward in tangible ways."

The resolutions also applauded the work of the Wake Forest University Anti-Racism Coalition, which has issued a series of demands on how to make the university more inclusive. The group has called for "an explanation" of the administrators' actions posing in front of the flag as students, and for these actions to be condemned. The student group is also demanding that various buildings on campus be renamed to avoid honoring those who supported white supremacy. A statement from the group says the administration "is more concerned with protecting its reputation than true inclusivity and justice." (Federal data show that 71 percent of Wake Forest undergraduates are white and 7 percent are black.)

Wake is not a highly political or activist campus, so the faculty vote and the student demands were striking. An editorial in the student newspaper, Old Gold & Black, said, "Hatch should not have stated that he accepted Allman’s apology -- an apology that was not directed at him personally, but at the greater community of past and present students of color at Wake Forest. As a white man, Hatch was not personally wronged when Allman and [Kevin] Pittard posed in front of the Confederate flag, and his acceptance of her apology marginalized the feelings of hurt that students of color on campus feel now and have felt in the past."

Adding to the criticism is that Wake Forest is among the universities that have been caught up in the scandal in which 50 people were indicted and charged in schemes to get wealthy children admitted to Wake Forest and other universities. No evidence has been cited that Wake Forest or the other universities were involved (although some of their coaches were). But the indictments added to scrutiny of admissions practices.

Prior to the faculty vote, Hatch released a statement to students and faculty members on both the national admissions scandal and the debate over the photographs. On the former, he said Wake Forest was working to prevent any abuses of the admissions system.

Of the latter, he wrote, "I am also committed to responding to the undercurrent of doubt that exists at the heart of the national news stories and in the emails I have received: doubt about access, equity and belonging. In recent discussions, Wake Forest students have challenged me to acknowledge and address these issues on our campus."

He said the university would designate a lounge in a residence hall for use by the Black Student Alliance and redesign diversity education programs that are part of orientation. He also said the university would continue its work to study its history -- including ties to slavery and racism -- and to consider appropriate steps to take as a result of those findings.

In addition, he said that "training in unconscious bias and other ways to enhance a sense of belonging among all on campus will also be formally incorporated into student leader training, to include student government, fraternity and sorority life, and other student organizations."

Hatch said he hoped the discussions going on now would contribute to a shift in the campus climate. "We will continue to work hard to diversify our community, building on greater diversity among our students faculty and staff -- and to enhance our sense of belonging among all Wake Foresters," he said.

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House Democrats' election bill makes it easier for college students to vote, experts say

Wed, 2019-03-20 07:00

Before last year’s midterm elections, GOP politicians were derided for their apparent attempts to suppress the vote of college students, whose views tend to swing liberal.

But some of the barriers students encounter in voting -- confusion over registration deadlines, state voter identification laws -- would likely crumble with the massive election reform package the House of Representatives passed earlier this month.

HR 1 -- named for its prominence in the House Democrats’ agenda -- passed 234 to 193 along party lines and has been controversial for the major electoral shifts it would bring about: automatic voter registration, restoration of the voting rights of those who have served felony sentences and the creation of a public finance system, which would give congressional and presidential candidates a six-to-one match for small donations.

Some of the bill’s less recognized provisions specifically focus on college students, and activists and elections experts said in interviews that the legislation would generally benefit students. However, a Republican-controlled Senate, which has made clear its disdain for the bill, all but guarantees it will not advance.

“But I think what is exciting about the legislative effort and the focus on this is that it’s an important start to ensure that college campuses and students are engaged in the civic environment and recognize what’s going on,” said Mark D. Gearan, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

The lengthy bill includes pieces of a proposal by Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democratic senator and presidential hopeful, and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois. Parts of their legislation, the Help Students Vote Act, were folded into HR 1 and demand that colleges and universities designate a “campus vote coordinator” who would remind students of upcoming elections and registration deadlines. It also allows both public and private institutions to apply for federal grants to beef up their voter engagement efforts.

“This is a monumental step forward for student voting,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement. “When students begin college each year, often having never voted or even registered to vote, they frequently lack the institutional support and resources to navigate the voting process.”

Gearan said that students need these consistent reminders, particularly considering their schedules and the likelihood that they have never voted before.

As a part of the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, colleges and universities already have to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration forms and make them available to enrolled students. The 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act allowed colleges and universities to meet this requirement digitally, so they can merely send an email to students with a state’s voter registration information.

But the problem with just blasting out an email is that students may not know what to do with a registration form, said Elizabeth A. Bennion, professor of political science and campus director of the American Democracy Project at Indiana University South Bend. In a 2010 study, published by the journal Political Research Quarterly, Bennion tested how an email reminder would boost registration rates among nearly 260,000 students at 26 four-year colleges. Some were randomly sent a PDF form, but Bennion found the emails didn’t increase the number of students who registered.

A separate study she conducted in 2016 showed though that classroom presentations, either by a professor or student, did raise registration rates by six percentage points.

“Instead of sending one email and washing their hands of a problem by just meeting their legal requirement, I think this legislation could prove useful to hold institutions accountable,” Bennion said, emphasizing the provision about the campus voting coordinator.

College students are already one of the more difficult populations to shepherd to the polls, she said. They are transient and move both from out of town and state and around campus -- often annually during the four or more years college.

For that reason, unless the state where they’re attending college allows for same-day registration, students are easily disenfranchised during election season, Bennion said. The bill requires states to allow voters to register on the day of a federal election.

HR 1 designates colleges and universities as voter registration agencies -- meaning that they have to offer students the opportunity to register to vote through them. This is mostly positive, said Mike Burns, national director for the Campus Vote Project, a nonpartisan offshoot of the Fair Elections Legal Network. But with the bill also requiring automatic voter registration, colleges would need to be updated on students’ addresses, which students might not always follow through with -- and so the institutions could be sending incorrect information to voter rolls.

Burns praised the idea of a campus coordinator and more grant money for student voting initiatives.

States that require identification to vote can complicate the process for students, too. Generally, the lawmakers who pass these laws maintain that they’re trying to eliminate election fraud, though research shows that these restrictions can inhibit voting among populations who can’t afford an ID. College students could also be lumped into this category because it can be cumbersome for them to obtain IDs in certain states, especially as temporary residents. Some states also don’t allow students to use their college IDs -- Tennessee, for instance.

HR 1, dubbed the For the People Act, weakens state voter ID laws by allowing citizens to just sign a form that confirms their identity when voting.

College students are also among the groups that have the lowest turnout in elections.

Data from Tufts University, which runs the largest analysis of student voting in the country, showed that only 18 percent of college students voted in the 2014 midterm election. Voting records for the 2018 midterms haven’t all been certified yet, so Tufts’ study -- the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement -- hasn’t put together its report, said Nancy L. Thomas, director of the university’s Institute for Democracy and Higher Education. But preliminary information from other sources, including the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, suggests that voting was up by 10 percent from the 2014 midterm.

One recent college graduate, Julia McCarthy, spent one of her last semesters at Marist College trying to stoke political activism on campus. McCarthy, who graduated from the New York private college in the fall, described the student body as politically apathetic. As a part of her final project in the honors program, she developed a campaign called Marist Votes, in which she concentrated on boosting student voting through absentee ballots. She said that many students had registered to vote, but plenty didn’t follow through with actually getting to the polls.

In October, the month before last year’s midterm, McCarthy set up tables around campus with 50 volunteers she had trained. Those students helped their classmates figure out how to vote absentee. The volunteers helped locate an absentee ballot request form online, mostly from the states that border New York, and help the students fill it out if necessary. Then they would collect the form, address it the correct source and mail it. McCarthy said they gathered and mailed more than 400 absentee forms.

She said the project helped her realize how difficult voting absentee can be for students. Students don’t often mail much, and she said she was glad that HR 1 required the United States Postal Service to carry absentee ballots free of charge.

The bill also forces the Election Assistance Commission to reimburse states that establish tracking programs for absentee ballots.

“Young people don’t mail things … it sounds silly, but it would make a huge difference,” McCarthy said of the bill.

Zaneeta Daver, executive director of the Democracy Challenge, which publicly acknowledges colleges and universities for civic engagement efforts, said that her group and others are trying to “change the culture” around voting for students -- which the new House bill can assist with.

Administrators can hold registration drives or other initiatives around major election years, but even off cycle, they should do more to encourage students to care about the issues, Daver said.

“The climate in the country right now is spurring everyone to action; everyone is becoming more activated and institutions are becoming more activated in promoting democracy,” she said.

Thomas, of Tufts, said that HR 1 is an important step toward making the electoral system more equitable and accountable and said that it provides a launch pad for efforts to reform elections at the state level.

“We view unjust electoral systems as both a challenge and an opportunity for higher education. The challenge is to help students know their civil rights and help them overcome statutory and nonstatutory barriers to voting,” Thomas said. “The opportunity? The proverbial teachable moment for students to learn how to reform laws and systems by discussing and envisioning new policies and pitching them to legislatures or as ballot initiatives.”

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White paper: Debt, tuition dependence doom small colleges

Wed, 2019-03-20 07:00

Tolstoy famously wrote that all happy families are alike, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

A new white paper suggests that the Tolstoy rule may not apply when it comes to at-risk small colleges: they’re all basically unhappy in the same way.

“Long-vulnerable” colleges tend to close or merge when a crisis pushes them “over the cliff,” writes Boston University political scientist Virginia Sapiro, who has studied the life cycles of colleges going back more than two centuries. Usually it’s debt that has become unsustainable to the institution or to its parent organization, such as a church or religious order.

Most colleges that fail are small, private and relatively nonselective, with “very particular or unusual missions” and graduation rates that are often as low as those at nonelite public universities, Sapiro said.

Practically speaking, high dependence on tuition -- as high as 80 to 90 percent -- is a good sign that an institution will not likely survive for long. “Tuition alone has never, that I know of, kept any college sustainable,” she said.

Closures are, of course, in the news more than ever. Several high-profile small private colleges have announced in recent months that they will close -- Vermont’s Green Mountain College said in January that it will close at the end of the spring semester, Newbury College in Brookline, Mass., announced in December that it would close at the end of this academic year and Atlantic Union College near Boston said it would close later this year. Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., said last month that it won’t admit a freshman class this fall -- it’s looking for a strategic partner to continue operating but has also announced layoffs.

Moody's Investors Service last July said private college closures had risen to a rate of about 11 per year, with higher expected rates to come. The ratings agency made news in 2015, saying closures, then averaging five per year, could as much as triple by 2017, with mergers doubling. As of last summer, Moody's was still projecting a future increase in closures toward the range of 15 per year. It said a group of about 750 small private colleges is increasingly struggling to cover costs with revenue.

But Sapiro, who is writing a book about the history of higher ed in the U.S., said history shows that many private institutions are more robust than we suspect.

“Colleges and universities do not suddenly blow up,” she writes. “Even when they literally burn to the ground overnight -- as many have, sometimes more than once -- most find a means to carry on.”

Actually, she writes, if you look at U.S. higher ed from the very beginning of American history to 1889, for instance, you'll find that the “main building” of no fewer than 62 institutions (often it is the only building) burned to the ground. Then as now, college leaders, including trustees, faculty and other constituencies, have usually done “everything they can” to keep burned-down or other at-risk colleges alive -- even when enrollment numbers fell and debt became unmanageable.

The 2008 recession has heightened the significance of closures, since fewer new nonprofit institutions are arising than at nearly any time in history. That makes each closure matter more, since the total number of seats shrinks.

In the past, colleges have evolved slowly, often from tiny operations into regional and sometimes nationally recognized institutions. She noted, for instance, that the Anna Blake School, which opened in 1891 to offer training in economics and industrial arts, became the Santa Barbara State Normal School after the state of California took it over in 1909. Twelve years later it became Santa Barbara State College, then Santa Barbara College of the University of California. It's now known as UC Santa Barbara.

Likewise for the Pacific Sanitarium and School of Osteopathic Medicine, which opened in 1896. Long story short: it's now the UC Irvine School of Medicine.

Sapiro urges those who would predict hundreds of closures to consider that most colleges have spent “significant parts of their institutional existence teetering on the brink of ruin, deeply vulnerable to having to close.” A high proportion of colleges and universities have survived through troubled financial periods -- even back to Harvard University. Actually, institutions that we think of as elite have often been the beneficiaries of outside aid, either from donors, subscribers or even government largess. She noted that Harvard enjoyed “substantial public support” when it was founded in 1636. The Massachusetts Bay Colony donated the land for its campus and handed over revenues from a nearby toll bridge. “They had a whole bunch of public funds that served as the basis for their success later.”

She also noted that most of the U.S. colleges and universities with roots prior to the 20th century began as academies -- sometimes they began as primary schools, seminaries or even orphanages. That suggests the next great wave of colleges could evolve from very different-looking institutions.

While many observers these days would say that poorly run colleges deserve to close, Sapiro cautioned that a college is not like your typical business. For one thing, managers can't simply make its core product cheaper.

“We’re very confined,” she said. “We’re businesses, but we don’t run our institutions in the way of a for-profit business that buys and sells stuff.”

Colleges and universities that are under threat of closure “have a full range of bad choices to make,” she noted: they can lower standards, defer maintenance, create new programs to generate new students or cut unpopular programs that aren't attracting enough students. All of these, she suggested, are terrible ways to save money or bring in new revenue. A former dean, Sapiro said abolishing even an entire department “doesn’t save money the way you think it does.”

Colleges like Hampshire or Green Mountain, which have sought to provide a niche by focusing on sustainability and ecology, for instance, often find that this simply isn’t enough to differentiate themselves from others. “What Green Mountain found is that not every student who wants to be green and ecological is going to go there,” she said. “Some [students] are going to go to UCSD.”

In a few rare cases, colleges such as Boston University have intentionally planned for smaller entering freshman classes to be more selective -- in the process, she said, BU also increased acceptance of transfers with good records elsewhere (including at community colleges). That helped it become more desirable, while at the same time increasing access across different demographic groups, including first-generation students. “If you become an institution that is more prestigious, that can beat other institutions more at admissions, you win,” she said.

Sapiro also suggests critics pay closer attention to what she calls higher ed's “ecology” -- literally its cycle of birth, death and rebirth. When colleges die, they don’t simply disappear. Their physical assets, as well as their faculty, staff and students, often enrich another, sometimes related, college. “In some way or another, they feed the birth of another institution,” she said.

She noted that Wheelock College didn’t simply disappear in 2017 -- it merged into Boston University, bringing together two institutions with campuses separated by about a mile. The former college now houses the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.

Struggling denominational colleges serve another interesting function, Sapiro said: when the religious institution that oversees one finally decides that it's unsustainable, it typically transfers funding to another educational undertaking that is sustainable, much as a holding company might do.

“It’s very sad when your alma mater or your institution goes down -- and it’s bad for the community because of all those business that depend on it," she said. "But very often it feeds the sustainability of another institution.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Wed, 2019-03-20 07:00
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East Carolina chancellor's departure prompts internal criticism of system board chair

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

East Carolina University chancellor Cecil P. Staton announced his pending resignation Monday, a move that was not his idea and that prompted one of the University of North Carolina system’s board members to denounce the board’s leader.

The East Carolina leader will step down from the chancellorship at the beginning of May and leave the university at the end of June, becoming the third executive in the University of North Carolina system to leave or announce his departure in the first three months of this year. The system’s president, Margaret Spellings, left office in January -- just as Carol Folt, chancellor of the flagship Chapel Hill, decided to tender her resignation while removing from campus the remains of the fallen Silent Sam Confederate monument.

Those leadership changes, coming on the heels of a series of Board of Governors decisions seen as testing or exceeding the limits of good system governance, leave critics worried that no level of the UNC system will be left untouched by turmoil at its top. They also sharpen scrutiny of the system board’s chair, Harry Smith, who has clashed with Staton and other UNC executives and now faces new accusations of meddling in affairs normally reserved for campus leaders.

Staton’s future had been the source of speculation for several weeks. He started at East Carolina in 2016 as the first campus chancellor hired by Spellings. He’d been under scrutiny from the system board before, notably last year, when debate over his salary and salary history led system leaders to stop doing business with the search firm involved in his hiring. The chancellor and his backers have maintained that a board audit committee rejected accusations that he reported inaccurate biographical information. They also say that his salary is far from unreasonable given East Carolina’s size and scope of operations, which includes about 29,000 students, a college of medicine and a dental school.

But Staton offered few specific reasons for his departure in a telephone interview Monday. The system’s interim president, Bill Roper, reached out to him a few weeks ago and started discussions about leaving, Staton said.

“I did not initiate it, I will tell you that, but that’s probably as much as I can say at this point,” Staton said. “We just reached a point where we felt like this was in our own best interest and probably in the best interest of the institution going forward.”

The circumstances surrounding Staton’s resignation drew sharp words from another member of the UNC Board of Governors, Steven Long. In a lengthy statement, Long, of Raleigh, called Staton “a good man and great leader” who had the support of the local East Carolina Board of Trustees and the university community.

“Yet, despite what would normally be a record to be applauded, Chancellor Staton was asked to resign by the interim UNC president, Bill Roper, in an effort to end the long-running campaign of false accusations and irrational attacks by Harry Smith, the chairman of the UNC Board of Governors,” Long said in his statement.

Long went on to charge that the Board of Governors had never met to discuss any possible termination of Staton, even though policy gives only the board the power to terminate a chancellor. Roper had acted unilaterally, taking action based on politics and Smith’s “irrational personal vendetta” against Staton, Long continued.

“Harry Smith has been seeking the chancellor's removal ever since Chancellor Staton and his trustees rejected in 2016 Mr. Smith's proposal to buy an apartment complex near ECU if the university would change its housing policy,” Long’s statement said. “Since that time, he has become obsessed with removing the chancellor. President Margaret Spellings told me months ago that in virtually every conversation she had with Harry Smith he turned the conversation eventually to ECU and his criticism of the school's leaders. I and other members of the Board of Governors have had a similar experience.”

Smith did not direct the system’s interim president to remove Staton “in any shape form or fashion,” Smith told the Raleigh television station WRAL.

Everything Long wrote “is actually incorrect” and will be corrected “in the right time and place,” Smith told the television station. He added that Long was “leading with anger” and not facts.

The Board of Governors passed at its last meeting a resolution giving Roper the power to enter separation agreements with chancellors who are leaving, so Roper acted within his authority, the system’s lawyer said in a statement.

“This was not a termination,” said the lawyer, Thomas Shanahan, UNC system general counsel. “This is a resignation by Chancellor Staton. The policy provision that Steve (Gov. Long) references would apply only if the Board or the president were pursuing the involuntary separation of the chancellor.”

Neither Smith nor Roper responded to a request for interview filed with the UNC system office. In a system release about Staton’s resignation, Roper said he is confident the chancellor “is leaving the university in good hands and with a bright future ahead as it continues to build on its success.”

East Carolina faculty members were worried, however. They weren’t surprised to learn of Staton’s departure after continued rumors about tensions. They were concerned about finding a strong, qualified candidate to replace him.

“In general, this is a scary time,” said Crystal Chambers, an associate professor of educational leadership and higher education who is vice chair of the Faculty Senate at East Carolina. “It is disconcerting. Whether or not North Carolina can attract and retain top leadership, especially for these senior-level positions -- it’s hard even in good times.”

The North Carolina system still has its strengths, Chambers said. Its tuition rates are below those of many other systems, and it continues to have a reputation for quality.

“The hope is that we’ll be able to parlay that into some good leadership,” Chambers said. “However, I think we are taking on a lot of friendly fire or inside fire.”

Charges that Board of Governors members engineered Staton’s departure deepened fears that the system’s governing body is overreaching and interfering not just with the day-to-day governance of the system office and flagship Chapel Hill, but with individual regional campuses. Those fears had already spilled into the open last week, when the chairman of the local East Carolina Board of Trustees questioned whether Smith was ignoring trustees’ recommendations in order to increase his own influence.

Kieran Shanahan told The Daily Reflector that trustees had nominated candidates to fill four-year trustee terms but that Smith was ignoring recommendations.

“The Board of Governors' people are supposed to meet and talk to the people we’ve suggested,” Shanahan told the newspaper. “None of that is happening. The word is already getting out to legislators on Jones Street and others that they’ve already got their slate.”

Shanahan added that “you have a very hyperactive chairman on the Board of Governors that’s trying to micromanage a university.” Smith replied that the board follows a process vetting trustees for all 17 of the system’s institutions and called Shanahan “out of the loop.”

In response to a request for comment on Staton’s resignation, Shanahan emailed a copy of Long’s comments criticizing Smith.

The statement from Long, the Board of Governors member, includes accusations that Smith threatened to deny funding for East Carolina if trustees kept supporting the chancellor or to not reappoint trustees who support Staton. It accuses Smith of relaying a “false report that the chancellor’s chief of staff thought he should be removed” to the Board of Governors, of falsely stating “in November 2018 that he was recusing himself from East Carolina University affairs” while remaining engaged behind the scenes, and of attempting to negotiate an employment contract with an interim East Carolina athletics director without Staton’s approval.

“Harry Smith has done damage to the University of North Carolina system and particularly to East Carolina University,” Long’s statement said. “Until he is gone, Harry Smith will continue to do damage to our state's greatest asset.”

Those accusations are in addition to Long’s claims about Smith being involved in a proposal to buy an apartment complex. The apartment case has been detailed in local press reports.

In 2016, Smith wrote to leaders at the system and East Carolina to say he’d been offered a deep discount on a Greenville apartment complex that was in foreclosure, according to a 2018 article in The News & Observer. Options discussed included having East Carolina buy the property or leasing part of it to the university.

"Harry first told me about this four to six months ago," wrote the university’s vice chancellor for finance at the time, according to The News and Observer. "He was thinking that if he could get it at a steal and have a contract with ECU to fill the beds, he would split the profits with us."

The system’s lawyer soon brought up a conflicts of interest policy, and Smith walked away from the deal. He later said it “wasn’t even a good idea to have the conversation,” calling it “a regrettable mistake by me.”

It wasn’t the only time Smith’s name was tied to a campus housing controversy. A lawsuit filed in 2018 accused him of attempting to direct North Carolina Central University to use a specific firm for a public-private partnership in order to build an on-campus housing project, The News & Observer reported. Smith denied the allegations, telling the newspaper he told the university to get as many bidders as possible.

Smith is a graduate of East Carolina and native of Greenville, where the university is located. He was first appointed to the UNC Board of Governors in 2013 and reappointed in 2017.

His years on the board have coincided with what observers fear is increasing politicization of the UNC system and its governance. Fights over Silent Sam, a state bathroom law and a ban on centers engaging in litigation have drawn most of the attention, often at Chapel Hill. But they only came after, insiders say, a long-standing arrangement fell apart that used to have Democratic and Republican lawmakers splitting appointments to the system Board of Governors.

A move in 2016 took away from North Carolina’s governor the power to appoint four members of each local campus’s Board of Trustees. Appointment power was transferred to lawmakers. The change, coming as Republicans were set to continue to control the state Legislature but as a Democrat was about to become governor, drew criticism as a way to keep control of boards firmly in the hands of Republicans. Lawmakers maintained it was moving responsibilities away from a governorship that had grown too powerful.

Even before Staton announced on Monday his plans to resign, the remains of North Carolina’s political old guard had been sounding the alarm about UNC system governance and partisanship. A prominent Democrat and prominent Republican co-wrote an op-ed in The News & Observer stating that recent actions risk “turning the Board of Governors into a purely political organization doing the bidding of our legislative leaders.”

The op-ed’s writers, former Clinton White House chief of staff and former UNC system president Erskine Bowles and former Charlotte mayor Richard Vinroot, called for a return to balance.

“Leaders of the General Assembly who now wish to exercise absolute control over the appointment of the Board of Governors, or diminish the governor’s role in naming trustees, risk damaging our great system’s very foundation,” they wrote. “Thus, returning to the original intent of the system’s creators -- giving different branches of government a role and seeking diversity in representation from all regions of the state -- is no affront to the Legislature and no threat to its authority. The General Assembly will continue to exercise the lion’s share of control.”

The palace intrigue could make it difficult to attract talented people to the system and its campuses to replace those who have left, said Vinroot, a Republican who secured his party’s nomination in an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 2000.

“It scares me to death that we’re going to create such a toxic environment in our university system, which I think is so valuable to our state,” Vinroot said in a telephone interview Monday. “We won’t be able to bring talented people in behind them. That’s the concern now.”

Staton’s departure from the chancellorship will be effective May 3. He will remain with the university as an adviser to the president and interim chancellor through the end of June. He will continue to be paid commensurate with his $450,000 annual salary until June 30. Then the university will pay him $589,700 in "nonstate funds" by July 15.

After announcing his resignation Monday, Staton pointed out what he sees as his accomplishments at East Carolina. He led a rebranding designed to raise the university to a national stature; launched an initiative to improve health care, education and economic disparities in rural North Carolina; and worked to boost student outcomes and financial and research activity. He also started the largest comprehensive campaign in the university’s history, $500 million. It has raised more than $213 million in two and a half years.

“We’ve stayed focused on a lot of positive things,” he said. “There are so many things I’m proud of that, candidly, we’ve done in a very, very short period of time.”

He also acknowledged “a lot of distractions and noise.”

Staton’s departure in the wake of distractions and partisan noise is perhaps ironic, because he was viewed by some faculty members with skepticism after he was hired. Immediately before coming to East Carolina, he’d been vice chancellor and interim president at Valdosta State University in Georgia and had previously held several positions at other universities in Georgia. But he’d also been a Republican state senator for a decade.

That nontraditional background caused some faculty members to voice concerns. So did what they saw as an opaque process that resulted in his hiring, as well as his attempts to quickly promote East Carolina as a national university. Off campus, some sports fans even blamed him for disappointing seasons.

Still, several faculty members reported that Staton had rebounded in their eyes and started to generate buy-in for his vision.

All that aside, faculty leaders on Monday were left acknowledging the distractions that cropped up during the chancellor’s tenure -- wherever they started.

“What’s unfortunate is all of this negativity has risen from time to time, and it doesn’t have to do with the academic core of the institution, which has really been strong and vibrant,” said Jeff Popke, a professor in the department of geography, planning and environments who is chair of the faculty at East Carolina.

“I think from day one that’s what the chancellor has wanted to focus on. He has continually been diverted to these kinds of peripheral issues. From a faculty perspective, that’s kind of disappointing and unfortunate.”

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Survey of economics association members finds 48 percent of women have been discriminated against in last 10 years

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

The American Economic Association on Monday released sobering preliminary results from its recent climate survey -- and promised action to address what it called “unacceptable” levels of harassment and discrimination among members.

Responses to questions about general climate varied by race, ability status and sexual orientation -- but especially by gender.

Just 20 percent of women surveyed said they were satisfied with the overall climate in economics, compared to 40 percent of men. Twenty-five percent of women felt valued within their field, compared to 47 percent of men. Just 22 percent of women felt included socially within economics, compared to 44 percent of men; response rates were similar to a question about whether respondents felt intellectually included.

Source: American Economic Association 

Asked about specific instances of discrimination or harassment in the last 10 years, 69 percent of women said they felt their work was not taken as seriously as that of their male colleagues. A majority of women also said they’d had their research topics or methodology questioned or taken less seriously than their colleagues’. About 40 percent of men felt this way.

Forty-eight percent of women said they’d experienced sex-based bias within their last 10 years in the field. That’s compared to 3 percent of men. Twenty percent of women said they’d been discriminated against due to marital status or caregiving responsibilities, compared to 4 percent of men. Twenty-three percent of women said they’d faced bias over their research topics, and 16 percent of women had faced it due to age. Men reported significantly lower experiences of bias for both.

Major differences emerged here by race, ability and sexual orientation. Twenty-nine percent of nonwhite economists said they’d been discriminated against on the basis of race, and 20 percent of nonwhite economists said they’d experienced bias over research topics. Twenty percent of economists who identified as nonstraight said they’d been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. Fourteen percent of economists with a disability had been treated differently over it.

Thirty-two percent of nonwhite economists said they’d experienced discrimination with regard to the job market. Nearly one-fifth of nonwhite economists said they’d received unfair treatment in accessing research assistantships or finding strong advisors. Economists with disabilities and non-heterosexual economists reported these kinds of biases at similar rates.

Regarding their time as economics students, 39 percent of women said they’d faced discrimination with regard to the job market. Around one-fifth of women also said they’d had trouble accessing research assistantships, advisers and quality advising, as well. The numbers for men overall were much lower.

One-third of nonwhite economists said they'd encountered bias as students on the job market, as did 28 percent of economists with a disability and one-quarter of nonstraight economists. 

Forty-two percent of women said they’d seen another economist or economics student share offensive or inappropriate sexual content, language or jokes, compared to 13 percent of men. Twenty-two percent of women said another economist or student made unwanted attempts at establishing a sexual or romantic relationship despite efforts to discourage it, compared to 3 percent of men.

Six percent of women reported experiencing unwanted attempts at physical or sexual contact. Two percent of women reported actual unwanted physical contact or assault. And 7 percent said they’d been threatened or encouraged to be sexually cooperative or risk some kind of professional consequence.

About 10 percent of women reported having been spied on, waited for, left notes or gifts, or otherwise experienced unwanted behaviors, compared to 2 percent of men.

Another part of the survey looked at attempted assaults, assaults and other physical touching independently. In raw numbers, 83 respondents said they’d been assaulted (many more said they’d experienced attempted assaults or other physical touching). About half of those said their attacker was another economist or student they knew. Most did not report the assault. The top reasons for not reporting were concerns that it wouldn’t be kept confidential and fear of retribution. 

Climates were rated slightly better in response to questions about economists' specific institutions, as opposed to the field in general: some 55 percent of women said they felt valued at their place of work, as did 68 percent of men, for example.

While working in academe, women reported experiencing discrimination with regard to promotion decisions (27 percent), compensation (37 percent), teaching assignments (28 percent) and service obligations (43 percent). Consistent with research suggesting that student evaluations of teaching disadvantage women due to student biases, nearly half (47 percent) of women said they’d experienced discrimination with these evaluations.

About one-third of women experienced discrimination with regard to publishing decisions and invitations to research conferences, associations and networks within their careers.

Nonwhite economists also reported higher rates of discrimination within with last 10 years regarding promotion decisions, compensation, teaching assignments, service obligations and access to time and funding to attend conferences and seminars than their white colleagues. Higher, too, were their rates of reported discrimination in course evaluations, publishing decisions and invitations to participate in conferences, associations and networks.    Twenty-nine percent of economists with disabilities said they’d received unfair treatment on course evaluations (29 percent, compared to 19 percent among those with no disability) and regarding invitations professional networks and events. Nonstraight professors had more experience with discrimination in that area than their straight colleagues, as well.

Nearly half of all women reported holding back ideas and comments at work or school and conferences to avoid possible discrimination. Many also had avoided a social event. Twenty-four percent said they’d avoided a particular research area or topic to avoid discrimination.

“Excluding or marginalizing people based on their gender, race or other personal characteristics is not only deeply unfair to those who are excluded, it damages the field as a whole by limiting the diversity of perspectives and dissuading talented people from becoming economists,” leaders, including President Ben Bernanke and President-elect Janet Yellen, said in a statement. “It is striking that, in an era when women and members of underrepresented minority groups have entered so-called STEM fields at increasing rates, the low rates of participation and advancement of women and minorities in economics have changed little in recent decades.”

The survey of some 9,200 association members (a 20 percent response rate) was conducted through the recently created Committee on Equity, Diversity and Professional Conduct. A more extensive report including statistical analysis, data from open-ended survey questions and comparisons with results of other surveys, is expected in early summer.

Numerous academic studies have documented gender disparities within economics. And graduate students recently pressured the field and association to do better in terms of enforcing professional conduct.

The association took several steps to address climate issues last year, including adopting a professional code of conduct. But the association said Monday that it continues to do more. The association’s executive committee has agreed to approve a formal policy on harassment and discrimination, building on the code of conduct. Acceptance of both will be required for participation in any association activity or committee.

An association ombudsperson will also gather and record harassment and discrimination complaints and advise the complainant as to resources and processes. With the complainant’s permission, the ombudsperson will relay reports to employers or an association liaison and, “as appropriate, investigate or otherwise follow through on complaints.”

The executive committee also agreed to approve a formal vetting process to ensure that Executive Committee members, appointed officers such as journal editors and association honorees have not violated the code or the policy on harassment and discrimination. Similarly, the committee will ask association members to approve changes to bylaws that would permit it to “remove an elected or appointed officer -- or, if warranted, to revoke the membership of any [association] member” for violations. This change recalls the case of Roland Fryer, Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University, who resigned from his executive committee post last year after it was revealed that he’d been found to have harassed workers in his lab.

Additional surveys of climate and career issues are planned.

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JPMorgan's $600 million in grants for career education and community colleges

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

JPMorgan Chase and Co. has become one of the nation’s biggest funders of career training programs offered by community colleges.

The global financial services firm on Monday announced $350 million over five years for postsecondary education and training in high-demand fields such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. The money follows a similarly targeted $250 million over the last five years, bringing the company’s investment in career education to $600 million.

The new grant includes $3.2 million for the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program’s expanding efforts to bulk up the pipeline for presidents in the two-year-college sector.

The impetus for the more than half-billion dollars in grants, said Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chairman and CEO, is that too many people are stuck in low-skill jobs with no future while too many businesses cannot find enough skilled workers.

“The new world of work is about skills, not necessarily degrees,” Dimon said in a written statement. “We must remove the stigma of a community college and career education, look for opportunities to upskill or reskill workers, and give those who have been left behind the chance to compete for well-paying careers today and tomorrow.”

The company’s initial $250 million investment sought to build pathways to middle-skills jobs, meaning ones requiring at least a high school credential but not a four-year college degree. The funding went to 721 postsecondary training providers around the world.

The program included $50 million in philanthropic funds for efforts by community colleges to better collaborate with employers to design programs and curricula that are relevant to jobs. Recipients included Columbus State Community College, located in Ohio, and Northern Virginia Community College, both of which use timely data and information about local labor demand to create work-based degree and certificate programs, often working with large local employers.

The new round of funding will build on that work, said Jennie Sparandara, who leads JPMorgan’s work-force initiatives and global philanthropy. “This is our recommitment to the issue of jobs and skills.”

Sparandara said the goal this time is to go beyond program creation by seeking sustainability and scale for postsecondary training programs that are responsive to labor-market demands. And while the initial grants were about pathways to jobs, she said this round is aimed at economic and career mobility.

“We’ve tested a lot of really great models,” she said. “The answer cannot always be pilot programs.”

JPMorgan’s investments in career education in some ways resemble the Obama administration’s $2 billion work-force development fund for the community college sector, which featured a very long acronym. That program sought (with varying degrees of success) to create partnerships between two-year colleges and employers that would last after the grant money ran out.

The company’s total investment would be the equivalent of more than a quarter of that federal program's funding during the Obama administration.

Of JPMorgan’s $350 million in newly announced grants, $200 million will go toward program development while $125 million will support systems for collaboration and communication between employers and community colleges. And in making the announcement, JPMorgan echoed recent acknowledgments from major employers that they bear responsibility for some of the misalignment between college and careers.

For example, Sparandara called for a “much clearer demand signal from the business community.”

The grants will be focused specifically on work-force training and career readiness for people who face serious barriers and “are shut out of the rewards of a growing and changing economy,” JPMorgan said in its announcement. That means targeting funds toward education and training programs that have been proven to help women, people of color and veterans of the U.S. military to land good, in-demand jobs.

Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, praised JPMorgan for its investment in talent development.

“They are a national leader in supporting policy and practice that will build education-to-employment pathways for workers while also building thriving, local economies,” he said.

Some of JPMorgan’s funding will be for labor-market data that “allow government and business to direct their investments to the education and training programs that most effectively lift people out of low-wage jobs and into good careers in their communities.”

For example, the company is partnering with PolicyLink and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions to back the creation of tailored data profiles in 10 U.S. cities that will seek to identify gaps in education and economic outcomes, with a specific eye toward disadvantaged groups.

Sparandara said this part of the project will focus on finding where the challenges are particularly acute, as well as attempting to bring in a wide range of organizations to tackle those problems.

On the community college leadership front, Aspen created its presidential fellowship program in 2016. JPMorgan has backed that effort and is contributing another $1.1 million to continue its development.

“The demand for leadership development is huge,” said Linda Perlstein, associate director of Aspen’s College Excellence Program. Roughly four in five community college presidents are expected to retire in the next decade, according to the group.

A third cohort of aspiring presidents is participating in the program, which has seen 32 fellows become community college presidents after its first two years. Two-thirds of the fellows are women, while 37 percent are people of color, compared to 29 percent of community college presidents.

The rest of JPMorgan’s $3.2 million grant for Aspen will be for the creation of its New Presidents Institute, which will be designed to help community college presidents in their first few years on the job.

Perlstein said the institute will help presidents promote broad institutional reforms centered on improving student success. She described the goal as being a “fundamental reorientation” of colleges, with a focus not just on getting students to graduation but helping to ensure their success after college as well.

Working closely with employers is part of how community college presidents can help their graduates fare better in the job market, Perlstein said.

“Your responsibility to your students doesn’t end at graduation,” she said, adding, “It’s not enough to meet with employers in your programs once every two years.”

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Trump proposes axing NEA, NEH

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

White House budget documents released Monday included troubling, if familiar, proposals for supporters of humanities and the arts.

President Trump for the third year called on Congress to wind down the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the two biggest backers of humanities research on college campuses as well as education programs across the country. While the humanities endowment budget is small compared to other agencies, it has played a major role in supporting research, the growth of the digital humanities and efforts to preserve historic documents.

The proposal fits a broader theme in White House budgets to curtail federal support for research more broadly. At the same time, no other research agencies have been targeted for elimination like NEA and NEH, which are relatively small but have significant impact on the work of academics in humanities departments when that support is limited.

Congress has ignored previous proposals from the Trump administration, however, and two letters are currently circulating among lawmakers that would call on appropriators to significantly increase the funding for those agencies.

A 2017 Republican Study Committee report argued that the federal government “should not be in the business” of funding the arts when nongovernmental support could be found. And the White House budget documents said activities funded by NEA and NEH are not core federal responsibilities and “make up only a small fraction of the billions spent each year by arts nonprofit organizations.”

Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance, said that fundamentally misunderstands the public role of the NEH.

“The NEH is the only funder that has a national mandate to support the humanities in every corner of the country, and the NEH takes this mandate very seriously,” he said. “Small historical societies and museums are hard-pressed to find other sources of funding to preserve their collections or to digitize local newspapers. Put simply, support for these institutions saves cultural heritage that would otherwise be lost.”

Members of both parties in Congress have found that argument compelling in the last two budget cycles.

In the FY 2019 funding cycle, the NEA and NEH each received $155 million in federal support. For the National Endowment for the Humanities, it was the biggest appropriation since 2010.

The Title VI and Fulbright-Hays International Education programs -- which the White House again proposed eliminating this month -- received level funding at $65 million and $7 million respectively in FY 2019, for a total of $72 million.

“Fortunately, members of Congress understand the importance of training the next generation of speakers in an array of less commonly taught languages that are crucial for productive global engagement,” Kidd said.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said the real question was whether agencies like NEH get sufficient funding increases from lawmakers.

“I’m less concerned that it be eliminated than I am that it be funded adequately,” he said.

A letter being circulated by Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, calls on Senate appropriators to provide both NEA and NEH with $167.5 million in the FY 2020 cycle, a $12.5 million increase. A similar letter to House appropriators circulated by Representative David Price, a North Carolina Democrat and chair of the Congressional Humanities Caucus, calls for the same amount.

The Cost of Zeroing Out Humanities

Eliminating the NEA and NEH wouldn’t be free for the federal government. The White House proposed allocating $38 million to the NEH and $29 million to the NEA for the orderly closure of both agencies over two years.

NEH chairman Jon Parrish Peede said in a statement that nothing will change in the day-to-day work of the agency after the latest funding request.

“As NEH awaits congressional action on the president’s proposed budget, the agency is continuing normal operations and will announce our latest round of FY 2019 awards this spring,” Peede said.

Supporters of NEH have been quick to warn lawmakers about the effects of cutting the agencies in prior budget cycles. Just last week, researchers and others involved in higher ed trekked to Capitol Hill for a Humanities Advocacy Day to make the case for continued funding.

Paula Krebs, executive director of the Modern Language Association, joined that trip and said she found support for the agencies in the House and Senate.

“As in 2017 and 2018, when the same proposal came from the White House, we are finding that the agencies have broad bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, where elected officials understand their value to the communities they serve,” Krebs said. “But it's important for all of us to keep the pressure on. We have to make sure to stay in front of legislators, reminding them about the value of the endowments and the good work they do, in communities and on campus.”

Representative Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat and chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the endowments, called the Trump budget recommendations “irrelevant.”

“As chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, I intend to work with Democrats and Republicans to fully fund the arts and humanities and strengthen the federal investment in cultural activities all across America,” she said in a statement. “The endowments are essential to preserving and cultivating programs that enrich people’s lives, stimulate local economies and support our veterans.”

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White House issues priorities for Higher Education Act

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

The White House on Monday endorsed adding new lending caps for graduate and parent borrowers and giving campus aid administrators the authority to require loan counseling for student borrowers, among a slate of priorities for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

The wish list is the most comprehensive accounting so far of the Trump administration’s higher ed agenda. And it suggests the Trump administration sees limiting student borrowing as a top issue.

The White House took a mostly hands-off approach in the last Congress as House Republicans pursued a controversial HEA rewrite that ultimately failed to get a floor vote. But with serious talks happening between Senate lawmakers and House Democrats signaling support for bipartisan legislation, the White House is weighing in on with key demands for the first update to the higher ed law since 2008.

“We need to modernize our higher education system to make it affordable, flexible and outcome oriented,” said Ivanka Trump, a senior adviser to President Trump, in a call with reporters.

The Trump administration at the same time has had an executive order in the works that would tackle a broad array of postsecondary issues, including free speech, which was not addressed in the White House HEA proposal.

The set of proposals released Monday illustrates how the work of the White House, the Education Department and Congress has often overlapped on key issues -- with varying degrees of coordination.

The Trump administration, for example, wants Congress to eliminate an “archaic distinction” between regional accreditors, which oversee most public and nonprofit colleges, and national accreditors, which oversee mostly for-profit and online colleges. The Education Department has pursued the same agenda this year through a rule-making process while taking major criticism from traditional higher ed groups, who say it would create huge disruptions for the existing oversight system for colleges.

The list of higher ed proposals also reflects several previous congressional recommendations dealing with student loans.

Curbing Student Loan Debt

The White House argues that too many colleges don’t provide the type of education that allows students to pay back their loans. It argued for a federal accountability system where institutions would share more of the risk for outcomes on student loans. But Trump administration officials deferred on the details, saying they wanted to work with Congress.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the GOP chairman of the Senate education committee, has argued for program-level accountability based on loan repayment rates as a top priority for reauthorizing the HEA.

The White House proposals also called for limiting loan debt directly by adding new caps on the Parent and Grad PLUS programs, which currently allow borrowers to take out unlimited amounts of debt. It argued that lending limits are necessary because research shows a correlation between tuition increases and the availability of student aid. But that idea, known as the Bennett hypothesis, has in fact been hotly contested by higher ed researchers. And the only examination of the Grad PLUS program’s impact on pricing, by Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor at Seton Hall University, showed modest effects.

The proposed lending caps reflect a similar proposal in the PROSPER Act, a 2017 House Republican plan to overhaul the HEA. PROSPER called for annual limits of $28,500 for graduate students and $12,500 for parent borrowers. The Trump administration document offered no specific numbers.

Susan Ortega, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, argued that capping graduate lending would disenfranchise low-income and minority students who need loans to pursue further postsecondary education beyond a bachelor's degree.

“The demand for professionals who have at least a master’s degree at entry level continues to grow, and we need to ensure students today can pursue degrees that support the U.S. work force of tomorrow,” she said in a statement.

The White House is also backing a long-standing demand from campus aid administrators for authority to limit lending and require loan counseling. Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said if policy makers want colleges to play a more active role in addressing student loan debt, those campus officials need more tools to curb borrowing.

“Many schools would welcome the opportunity to more directly intervene and require counseling when students borrow irresponsibly,” Draeger said.

Streamlining Loan Repayment

The White House also backs consolidating several existing income-driven repayment plans, instead offering one plan that would cap payments at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income. It would also offer loan forgiveness to all undergraduate borrowers after 15 years of payments.

And it wants Congress to allow data sharing on tax information between the Department of Treasury and the Education Department to simplify applications for student aid and repayment of federal student loans. Alexander has offered a proposal in his HEA framework that would have a borrower’s student loan payments automatically deducted from his or her paycheck.

“I share the administration’s goals to make a college education worth it and to make it simpler to apply for federal student aid and pay back student loans,” Alexander said in a statement. “It is helpful to have these suggestions as I work with Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the education committee, to develop bipartisan recommendations so that we can report legislation to the full Senate before summer.”

But Murray said in a statement that the Trump administration had identified a symptom -- rising student debt -- while completely ignoring the root cause of growing college costs.

“In fact, this proposal would end up hurting students by reducing the amount of federal aid for students and taking billions out of the pockets of borrowers,” she said. “Chairman Alexander and I have agreed to work toward a comprehensive reauthorization that makes college more affordable, so I look forward to working with him to find real and serious solutions that actually help students afford higher education.”

The White House proposals also called for targeted federal financial aid for incarcerated students, signaling support for lifting a quarter-century ban on Pell Grants for those students.

And it backed Pell Grants for short-term programs that lead to a credential or certificate in a high-demand field as well as Federal Work-Study reforms that would put more emphasis on career-oriented employment for low-income students.

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Which women's team would win the NCAA tournament if academics mattered most?

Tue, 2019-03-19 07:00

As the world gears up for the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men’s basketball tournament and relationships are shattered in bloody bracket battles, we at Inside Higher Ed are upholding a now heavily imitated annual tradition.

Every March since 2006, we have introduced our annual Academic Performance Tournament to judge who would win the NCAA tournaments -- men’s and women’s alike -- if classroom, and not on-court, performance was the ruling metric. Check out the men's version here.

It works like this: we look at the NCAA’s (admittedly flawed) measure of a team’s academic prowess called the academic progress rate -- we’re using the 2016-17 figures, though it’s a multiyear metric.

In the event of a tie between two teams, we turn to the NCAA graduation success rate, the association's own determination of the portion of a team's athletes who graduate within six years. The graduation success rates excludes athletes who leave an institution in good academic standing and credits those who transfer in and graduate. Generally, the NCAA’s rate is higher than the federal government’s, but we use that metric as a last-ditch resort in the case of another tie of the previous two metrics.

And now, drum roll, the winner … is the same as last year’s!

Click here to take a look (or check out our bracket below) and follow me on Twitter @jbeowulf for other athletics and student affairs news.

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Staff at Virginia regulator recommend revoking a college's certificate to operate due to academic quality concerns

Mon, 2019-03-18 07:00

A small Virginia college that enrolls a predominantly international student population is facing a move by state regulators to seek to shut it down after an audit uncovered academic deficiencies.

The staff of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is advancing a recommendation to initiate processes that could lead to the revocation of Virginia International University’s certificate to operate due to concerns uncovered in the audit about academic quality, including concerns about “rampant plagiarism” by students and grade inflation; online classes that are “patently deficient” in terms of quality and content and graduate courses that are “lacking academic rigor”; and the admission of “large numbers” of students with inadequate English proficiency.

A spokeswoman for SCHEV, the state regulator for higher education in Virginia, said SCHEV’s Academic Affairs Committee will consider the staff recommendation during its meeting today and decide whether to advance it to the full council for a vote Tuesday. The council could pursue a number of possible next steps, including determining no action is necessary, changing VIU's certification status to "conditional," or accepting the recommendation of the staff to initiate the revocation of its certificate to operate.

Officials at Virginia International University did not respond to requests for comment Friday. VIU is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, an accreditor with a troubled past. In December 2016, the Department of Education under then secretary John B. King revoked ACICS's status as a federally recognized accreditor, citing as a reason the accreditor's "pervasive noncompliance" with regulatory criteria (the decision came after the collapse of two large for-profit chains overseen by ACICS, Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech). But in November, Secretary Betsy DeVos restored ACICS’s recognition with the condition that it demonstrate full compliance with federal criteria within 12 months.

VIU, which is based in Fairfax, Va., and was founded in 1998, appears to exist primarily to enroll international students. According to enrollment data posted on its website, VIU enrolled 632 students in 2017-18 -- down from 1,876 two years earlier --- the vast majority of whom, 86 percent, came from outside North America (the data does not specify where in North America students come from). Over the prior five years the percentage of students from North America varied between 1 and 3 percent, with the remainder of the students coming from the rest of the world, primarily Asia.

Although the institution is small, VIU cracks the list of top 100 institutions nationally in terms of the number of students who are participating in the optional practical training program, which enables international students to work during their studies or for up to three years after graduating.

The SCHEV audit of VIU found numerous concerns about the quality of the online courses it reviewed. The report from the audit states that “the single most important factor contributing to the substandard quality of online education at VIU is the institution’s acceptance of international students with an abysmally poor command of the English language. This is especially true for graduate level programs.”

"SCHEV's review of VIU's online course content indicates that the admission of unqualified students is the first of many impediments to a quality online education system," the audit report states. "Unqualified students regularly submit plagiarized or inferior work; faculty turn a blind eye and lower grading standards (perhaps to avoid failing an entire class); and administrators do not effectively monitor the quality of online education being provided. That such substandard course work could continue with no complaints from students, faculty or administrators raises concerns about the purpose of education at VIU."

The SCHEV auditors found “the quality and content of the online education provided by VIU to be patently deficient,” and noted concerns including “limited peer-to-peer and student-faculty interaction; failure of instructors to adhere to standards outlined in course syllabi; rampant plagiarism; graduate level courses lacking academic rigor; online courses that are not comparable in content to those offered in residence; and grade inflation.”

The audit found that these inadequacies “were not limited to one area of study or one instructor. Instead, the low quality of education passing as online education at VIU affects all programs of study on the undergraduate and graduate level.”

Though the audit report focuses on the online education offered by VIU, it states that SCHEV staff believe the "deficiency of the education provided by VIU is not limited to online courses." The report cites a number of reasons for reaching this conclusion, including that the lack of English proficiency among the student population would affect not only online but also face-to-face courses and that the same faculty are teaching online and face-to-face classes. SCHEV's review of more than 60 student transcripts found "no discernible difference" in grades received for online versus face-to-face classes.

SCHEV's scrutiny of VIU has resonances with an earlier audit done by the Virginia regulators of American College of Commerce and Technology, another ACICS-accredited college that catered to international students. Virginia regulators identified such severe problems in their audit of ACCT that they began moving to shut it down less than a year after it received initial accreditation from ACICS. ACCT is now defunct, having shut down in 2017.

ACICS -- which did not respond to a request for comment for this article -- approved a three-year renewal of VIU’s accreditation in August. “Should Virginia terminate VIU, it should be a black eye for ACICS, which acted the other way,” said David North, who writes about issues related to international students for the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates cutting legal immigration.

Should the council act on the staff’s recommendation that it seek the revocation of VIU's certificate to operate, VIU would be entitled to further administrative steps, including an informal fact-finding conference and a formal hearing before an officer appointed by the Supreme Court of Virginia. After those processes were completed, the matter would return to the council for a final decision.

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Academics oppose proposed survey of student and faculty political beliefs at Florida public universities

Mon, 2019-03-18 07:00

Proposed legislation in Florida would require public universities to survey students’ and faculty members’ political beliefs annually.

The bill, HB 839, passed a House panel last week, amid opposition from Democrats who expressed concern about how the survey data would be used. A similar bill has been proposed in the Florida Senate. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, and Governor Ron DeSantis is a Republican.

The survey language, which is part of a broader set of proposed performance metrics, is short on details. There is no assurance of data anonymity or clarity on who will use the data, for what purpose.

The bill says only that the state university system’s Board of Governors will require public institutions to conduct an assessment of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity on campus. Results would be published annually, starting next year.

The board shall select or create an “objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid survey” that “considers the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the university community feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom,” reads the bill.

Matthew Lata, professor of music at Florida State University and president of the campus’s National Education Association- and American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union, spoke out against the bill during the debate in Tallahassee.

“Are faculty and students going to be coerced into filling out such a survey?” he asked. “If I refuse to do that, am I going to be punished? Coerced speech is a violation of the First Amendment. I shouldn’t forced to tell the state of Florida what I believe about certain political matters.”

Republican supporters of the bill say they worry about indoctrination of students by liberal professors. Cord Byrd, chair of the House Higher Education and Career Readiness committee, said students have told him they don’t feel comfortable sharing their political views in the classroom.

“They are real concerns,” Byrd said. “And I think it’s only getting worse.”

Republican legislators in a number of states routinely express concern about liberal bias on college campuses. But lawmakers who are skeptical of academe more typically target tenure or specific program areas.

Both Florida State University and the University of Florida declined comment on the bill.

One criticism expressed by Democrats last week in Tallahassee is that the survey seems to be targeting one set of beliefs, or a predetermined outcome. Indeed, numerous studies already demonstrate that professors are overwhelmingly liberal. So it’s unclear what new data the state-level survey would reveal. Other data suggest that college students who develop or continue to hold more conservative beliefs don’t suffer for them, socially or otherwise.

Samuel Abrams, a professor of political science at Sarah Lawrence College who has commented publicly that his own moderate-conservative political views make him the “Ted Cruz” of his overwhelmingly liberal campus, has researched both student and faculty politics.

Despite sometimes feeling like a target or outsider at his own institution, Abrams said Saturday that he strongly opposed a state-sanctioned attempt to impose political “litmus tests” on students or professors.

“It’s not a particularly Republican idea,” Abrams said of Florida’s survey proposal. “And it makes it harder to move the needle back to the center.”

Abrams continued, “I appreciate the incredible interest in having balance on a college or university campus -- there’s no doubt about that. But when we try to measure these things, they become litmus tests. And they can be used against certain people.”

Abrams also posed methodological questions about the survey, saying that “ideology and partisanship is not a clear-cut issue. Most people’s views are somewhere in the middle.” And just because a professor leans liberal or conservative doesn’t mean he or she can’t teach the opposite viewpoint effectively, he added.

A better approach to “bringing things back into balance” politically is to do so from within, with strong campus leadership and thoughtful programs, Abrams said.

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Who would win the NCAA tournament if academics mattered most?

Mon, 2019-03-18 07:00

We're not idiots: we know that talent and heart (and a little luck) will primarily determine which team cuts down the nets in Minneapolis after the final game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men's basketball tournament next month.

But we're not ESPN or The Athletic -- we're a higher education publication that, when we write about sports, focuses on how athletics affects the colleges that sponsor the teams and the athletes who play the games.

So each March since Inside Higher Ed's inception, we've published our own (now much imitated) version of the tournament bracket for men and women.

Our Academic Performance Tournament determines the winners of each game in the tournament by comparing the academic performance of teams, as measured by the NCAA's own -- admittedly flawed -- metrics for judging academic success.

We first look to the 2016-17 academic progress rate, the NCAA's multiyear measure of a team's academic performance. (Among other things, the APR excludes athletes who leave in good academic standing, so high-octane programs where players tend to go pro early can still fare well on the measure.)

When two teams tie, we turn to the NCAA's graduation success rate for 2017 which measures the proportion of athletes who graduate within six years. (The graduation success rate also excludes athletes who leave the institution in good academic standing, and credits them for players who transfer in and go on to graduate from the institution. As a result, the rates on average are much higher than the federal graduation rate, the formula the federal government uses to track graduation rates.)

In the event of a tie on that metric, we then turn to the 2017 federal graduation rate.

The winner of this year's Academic Performance Tournament is ... aw, go on, you have to click here (or see below) to find out.

Please follow me on Twitter @dougledIHE.

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Popular career platform for Ph.D.s is owned by foundation behind uncovered undergraduate admissions fraud case

Fri, 2019-03-15 07:00

So far, there’s no public evidence that the stupefying undergraduate admissions scandal has touched graduate admissions.

Still, the case has touched graduate education: Versatile Ph.D., which was a leader in the alternative-academic career-coaching space, and which still rakes in annual fees from subscriber institutions, was purchased last year by the Key Worldwide Foundation. That’s the foundation William (Rick) Singer -- the alleged leader of the fraudulent admissions ring -- started in 2012. His separate admissions business was dubbed “the Key.”

Both the foundation and the admissions business have been implicated in the federal case against Singer and dozens of his alleged co-conspirators, from sports coaches to Hollywood types trying to get their kids into college. And Singer, who is cooperating with federal authorities, already agreed in a plea deal to forfeit the foundation's interests, including those in Versatile Ph.D.

Court documents initially obscured this connection. In a filing dated March 5, which has since been unsealed, prosecutors charged Singer with racketeering and money laundering, among other crimes, and said that a conviction would result in the forfeiture of millions of dollars and foundation holdings such as “Virtual Ph.D.”

That was apparently a typo, as Key Worldwide doesn’t own a company by that name. But it does own Versatile Ph.D., as of last year.

The company was founded in 2010 by Paula Chambers, a film director turned humanities Ph.D. who realized in graduate school that she would be happier working outside academe and created a Listserv for the like-minded. That Listserv eventually became Versatile Ph.D. It racked up paying subscribers as graduate students faced an increasingly rough job market and looked to it for advice, job ads, local meet-ups and a career-finder function.

Chambers sold the company in 2018, as new and demonstrably web-savvier platforms began to crowd its market space.

The eventual buyer -- Key Worldwide -- wasn’t well-known to most watching that space. Some were surprised at the acquisition.

A May 2018 announcement, which has since been taken off-line but is cached here, says that Key Worldwide’s education and its career initiative, PeplWorks, considered the sale “an important step in PeplWorks' effort to improve and expand university career services through the combination of behavioral science, assessments and job match analytics.”

At the time, Versatile Ph.D. said it served 79 universities and more than 85,000 individual members.

Todd Maurer, Versatile Ph.D.’s new president, commented then that the platform was “unmatched in the area of graduate student and early-career Ph.D. career services. We are truly excited by the synergies and opportunities that will be created through this acquisition. We believe that our emerging product offerings, and enterprise networks, will bring a practical and data-driven perspective to V.Ph.D.’s already impactful activities around career discovery, readiness and job access.”

Maurer founded PeplWorks, which his Versatile Ph.D. biography describes as a “predictive analytics start-up that promises to decode human potential and remodel the way education and employment markets work.”

Versatile Ph.D. anticipates that it will “continue under new ownership, in some form, into the future," Maurer said Thursday. "Our services to Ph.D. and postdoctoral students are operating as before.”

As for Key Worldwide, Maurer said that Versatile Ph.D. “operates independently” and does not have any relationship to admissions activities.

“Our continuing mission is to help Ph.D. and postdoctoral students envision, prepare for and excel in professional careers,” he added.

It’s true that Versatile Ph.D. doesn’t deal in graduate school admissions. So perhaps the most interesting questions about this connection center on why Key Worldwide wanted to take on Versatile Ph.D.

Many have speculated that business relationships set up by Singer were part of the way he hid money. But there have been no public allegations that this is the case with Versatile Ph.D. And of course many companies would desire the data being collected by Versatile Ph.D. on which kinds of people with which skills and credentials were interested in and successful at doing what.

Something else to note: multiple news reports have stated that federal investigators were tipped off to the Key scandal by an unnamed party involved in another federal securities case. And a former Key Foundation collaborator whose publicly available résumé says he worked on Versatile Ph.D. was arrested last year for allegedly helping con dozens of investors out of $2.2 million in a scheme involving a mass-production-ready caffeinated chocolate snack that never was.

That former Key Foundation collaborator, Joel Margulies, could not immediately be reached for comment. But his résumé says that from 2014 onward, he worked as a product architect at Key Worldwide. It names Versatile Ph.D. as one of the foundation's products.

In working for Key Worldwide, Margulies says he “researched and developed the algorithm to match the results of psychometric assessments to résumés and job posts for 'right-fit' job matches” to reduce employee turnover costs, and built an “immersive readiness experience for graduate students leaving college for commerce.”

Maurer said Margulies is not affiliated with Versatile Ph.D. 

Several businesses who work with graduate students and recent Ph.D.s to find work inside or outside academe declined to comment on the record about Versatile Ph.D. Several of the platform's founding member universities did not respond to a request for comment about their connection to it, or how they’d advise students sharing their data with it to proceed.

Chambers, Versatile Ph.D.’s founder, declined general comment and to answer a specific question about the cost of the sale, saying she’d previously agreed to refer media requests to the new owner.

L. Maren Wood, co-founder of Beyond the Professoriate, a competitor of Versatile Ph.D., said in a statement that Singer and the foundation’s alleged actions are inconsistent with the values of her business and that it’s “unfortunate” that a “well-known business is connected to this scandal and the people involved.”

Many academics already “question the role of private businesses in higher education,” she said, “but the reality is that businesses like ours are essential to the academic community. Every day, we work to support graduate students, postdocs, adjuncts and underemployed Ph.D.s at a critical moment -- when they are on the job market.”

So the news about Versatile Ph.D. “casts a shadow on all of the small businesses and solopreneurs working in this space, and as a consequence, might make it more difficult for graduate students and Ph.D.s to get the support they need.”

Julie Posselt, associate professor of education at the University of Southern California -- which is among the institutions targeted in the admissions fraud case -- wrote an eye-opening 2016 book about the graduate admissions process. (Posselt also has contributed to Inside Higher Ed.) She said this week that she didn't have enough information to infer what motivated the Key Foundation to purchase Versatile Ph.D. 

What is clear is that Versatile Ph.D. gathers "copious personal information about people who may feel anxious about or wronged by the faculty job market, just as a lot of high school students feel anxious about the market for college admissions. I want to know how they were using it or may have intended to use it. How are people and companies exploiting the difficulty of accessing higher education and faculty jobs?" 

Versatile Ph.D. sent a message to university members late Thursday assuring them of the business's integrity. While Key Worldwide "may have some difficulties in the days to come, I assure you that Versatile Ph.D. will continue as a viable, valuable entity in the higher education marketplace," it said. 

Asked about student's concerns about sharing their data, Maurer said via email that "there should be no concern about data being exploited."

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