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Are numbers of doctorates awarded finally starting to reflect the poor academic job market?

December 10, 2018 - 7:00pm

The number of U.S. doctorates awarded in 2017 fell slightly year over year, to 54,664 from 54,862, according to a new report based on data from the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates.

As in years past, science and engineering doctorates made up the vast majority of degrees awarded -- and actually increased in number by 249, to 41,438. But the number of non-science and engineering degrees awarded in 2017 fell by 356, to 13,226, the lowest figure since 2012. It is the latter category of disciplines in which job market has been tightest for years.

Taking a longer-term view, science (including social science and psychology) and engineering doctorates climbed from 58 percent of all doctorates awarded in 1977 to 76 percent in 2017. The number of non-science and engineering doctorates awarded in 2017, meanwhile, was slightly lower than the number awarded in 1977.

Every broad science and engineering field except for psychology and social sciences increased in number and share of doctorates granted over the past two decades, the report notes. Psychology and social sciences grew in terms of degrees granted, but declined in overall share of new Ph.D.s, from about 17 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2017. Engineering saw the biggest growth of all fields within the last 20 years.

Between 2016 and 2017, the life sciences held steady at about 30 percent of all doctorates granted, as did the physical and Earth sciences, at about 11 percent. Math and computer science represented about 7 percent of all degrees in each year. Engineering increased from 17 percent to 18 percent.

In nonscience fields, education doctorates fell steeply between 1998 and 2017, from about 15 percent of all doctorates granted to 9 percent. Arts and humanities degrees dropped from about 13 percent to 10 percent. Other fields, such as business management and communication, continued to represent about 5 percent of all doctorates awarded over that time period.

Foreign languages and literature Ph.D.s conferred increased slightly year over year, from 599 in 2016 to 624 in 2017. History fell from 1,148 to 1,066.

Story by Numbers

The survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Education Department, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other agencies, is an annual census of research degrees awarded in the U.S. Both annual and longer-term trends tell the story of who is getting advanced degrees and in what.

As the report says, “Annual counts of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are measures of the incremental investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research, and scholarship, and they can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains.”

The survey began in 1957. Since then, the gap between science and nonscience fields has continued to widen. The overall number of degrees awarded has ebbed and flowed, but the average annual growth is about 3 percent.

The changing characteristics of the new Ph.D. population over time reflect “political, economic, social, technological and demographic trends and events,” the report says. And, it warns, “continued preeminence of U.S. doctoral education is not assured. Other nations, recognizing the contributions doctorate recipients make to economies and cultures, are investing heavily in doctoral education. The world’s brightest students, including U.S. citizens, may go elsewhere for the doctoral degree, and they may begin careers elsewhere as well.”

That may already be happening: first-time international graduate enrollments in U.S. institutions fell 3.7 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017, according to a recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The new federal report says that the number of doctorates in science and engineering awarded to temporary visa holders was 14,166 in 2017, down 159 from 2016. Overall growth in this area was still up 77 percent since 1998 and 9 percent since 2008, however. The proportion of science and engineering doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders peaked at 41 percent in 2007, the report says, but has held steady at around 36 percent since 2011.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the number of science and engineering degrees awarded grew by 2 percent year over year, but experienced slower growth over all.

Asian Americans earned more doctorates than any other racial and ethnic minority groups in life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, and engineering. Blacks or African Americans were the largest U.S. minority population in education. Latinos earned a larger share of doctorates in psychology and social sciences and in humanities and arts than did any other minority group.

Women’s share of doctorates awarded has grown in the past 20 years in all broad fields. Women earned the majority of doctorates awarded in life sciences, psychology and social sciences education, and humanities and arts in 2017. They earned about one-fourth of engineering and mathematics and computer science doctorates. Still, their ranks in those latter fields have been growing, from about 13 percent in engineering in 1998 and 22 percent in computer science and engineering.

Interestingly, the parents of recent doctoral recipients are better educated than parents of earlier Ph.D. cohorts. The share of new Ph.D.s with a parent who didn’t graduate college, meanwhile, has declined in the past 20 years. Research assistantships are the most frequent primary source of financial support for all doctorate recipients, followed by fellowships or grants and teaching assistantships. Sixteen percent of doctoral students rely primarily on their own resources, such as loans, personal savings, personal earnings or spouse or family, and 5 percent relied on such other sources as employer reimbursement and foreign support.

Most students (71 percent) in the physical and earth sciences, math and computer science, engineering and life sciences reported having no education-related debt. In psychology and social sciences and the humanities and arts, along with other non-science and engineering fields, only half of students said that. The shares of doctoral students with debt burdens of more than $30,000 were education (37 percent), psychology and social sciences (30 percent), and humanities and arts (26 percent).

Time to degree in 2017 ranged from about six years in the physical and Earth sciences to double that in education. In the humanities and arts, it was more than nine years.

The share of 2017 doctorates with definite commitments for employment increased slightly from 2016 across fields.

Salaries for those with definite job commitments varied widely in 2017, however, from about $50,000 for postdocs in most fields to $125,000 for mathematicians and computer scientists employed in business. In every broad field, reported postdoc salaries were lower than salaries for doctorate recipients entering non-postdoc employment in industry or academe. The biggest starting salaries in academe in non-postdoc positions were seen in engineering and “other” fields, such as business.

Nearly half (46 percent) of doctoral recipients with definite employment commitments, excluding postdocs, reported plans to work in academe. Academic employment plans were most prominent among those in the humanities and arts (77 percent), and “other” fields (80 percent). The lowest rates were in engineering (14 percent) and the physical and Earth sciences (24 percent).

The overall rates of scientists and engineers taking postdocs has remained at about 47 percent over the last decade. Rates have increased in engineering and psychology and the social sciences but decreased in other sciences over that time. Rates of non-science and engineering Ph.D.s taking postdocs continue to increase over time, to about 12 percent in 2017.

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, studies Ph.D. outcomes. He said that whenever he gives talks around the country on the topic, "quite a few people” ask why the number of humanities Ph.D.s remains high, despite the sharp drop in academic jobs after the 2008 recession. The 3.5 percent year-over-year decline in arts and humanities Ph.D.s conferred indicated in the report is therefore interesting, he said.

Still, he cautioned, there are “notable splits between the disciplines, which makes it hard to discern a trend.” Foreign language Ph.D.s increased 4.2 percent, for example, after falling in recent years, and some even smaller fields saw double-digit increases. Conversely, Townsend said, there were "substantial" declines in history, along with American literature and philosophy.

Given that it takes an average of seven years to earn a Ph.D., and that tracking studies have only recently reported declines in program enrollment, he said, “I suspect a broad and sustained decline is still a few years off.”

Hironao Okahana, associate vice president for research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, said the annual survey is an “invaluable national data resource” for institutions and others interested in higher education.

Pointing to the findings about definite employment commitments, Okahana said said that after several years of “slow decline,” the council is “cautiously optimistic at the slight improvement.”  The uptick in employment in industry and nonprofits also seems to signal a "recognition of the value of doctoral of education across employment sectors,” he added.

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Dream Center colleges closing at year's end

December 10, 2018 - 7:00pm

About 30 colleges are shutting their doors at the end of this month, nearly a year after becoming the latest group of for-profit institutions to convert to nonprofit status.

The colleges, most of which are part of the once renowned Art Institutes brand, are owned by the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Dream Center Education Holdings, or DCEH. They were formerly owned by Education Management Corporation. Despite having a recognizable brand, EDMC struggled with decreases in enrollment and revenue and increased scrutiny by state and federal investigations before selling the properties last year to the Dream Center Foundation, a Christian missionary organization.

The Dream Center purchased Argosy University, the Art Institutes, South University and Western State College of Law, which together had more than 100 campuses, from EDMC and converted the large for-profit institutions into nonprofit entities. It was reported in July that DCEH would stop enrolling students at 30 campuses and shut down those locations. The campuses have about 50,000 students enrolled in total.

Officials at DCEH did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking more information about the closures of the colleges.

Trace Urdan, a managing director at the consulting firm Tyton Partners who follows and analyzes the for-profit sector, said several factors led to the closures.

“The challenge of turning the business around has proven to be more difficult than anticipated and that simply declaring it nonprofit has been insufficient to shake the negative associations with the brand,” he said in an email.

Urdan said the dwindling appeal and high costs of programs at the Art Institutes -- the programs include culinary arts, media production, fashion, animation and interior design -- also worked against the universities. These programs require students to buy expensive course materials and equipment, which are essentially investments with low returns since most graduates end up in jobs with low starting salaries.

“In the context of a full-employment economy, attracting students to what are effectively vocational programs remains very challenging,” Urdan said. “They have to be persuaded that spending or borrowing money will boost their earning power enough to justify the expense. And because [the Art Institutes] is primarily a four-year degree institution, the cost and hurdle involved are that much greater.”

Tuition at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, for example, ranged from about $48,000 for an associate degree in graphic design to about $93,000 for a bachelor's degree in graphic design. The Philadelphia campus is among the locations that are closing. Tuition at Argosy University's San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn., campuses, which are also closing, ranged from $445 per credit hour to more than $1,000 per credit hour, according to its website. The Argosy campuses offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

But it isn't just the cost of the programs that may be turning off potential students. The wages for the careers that the degrees lead to aren't high enough for these programs to be a good value, said Spiros Protopsaltis, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University and former deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration.

Employers don't seem to value these degrees, especially from a former for-profit, as much as they do when students are coming from a traditional public university or a nonprofit institution that hasn't undergone a conversion, he said.

"People see through some of these things for what they are, and at the end of the day, consumers realize that just because a school converted to a nonprofit, it doesn't mean that it necessarily changed its education model," he said. "If outcomes don't improve and quality doesn't go up and the value proposition isn't there, changing tax status doesn't change the underlying problems with the business model."

Prior to the Education Department's decision in August to drop the gainful-employment rule, which required for-profit institutions to prove they are preparing graduates for remunerative employment, and before the nonprofit conversion, career education programs like some of those offered at the Art Institutes failed to meet the guidelines. For example, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh charges more than $44,800 for an associate degree in graphic design, but only 12 percent of students graduated on time. And those graduates typically earned less than $22,000 a year and had more than $40,000 in federal student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

"Changing the tax status without changing the culture or changing the product is not going to lead to any different outcomes," Protopsaltis said.

When the Dream Center took over the struggling EDMC campuses, critics questioned whether the organization was equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to run one of the country’s largest for-profits. At the time of the sale, EDMC records indicated an enrollment of 65,000 students.

Critics also point to another example of a failed attempt to convert a for-profit institution into a nonprofit by the ECMC Group, a student loan guarantee agency. ECMC created the Zenith Education Group to turn some of the former for-profit Corinthian Colleges into nonprofit entities.

ECMC purchased 56 former Everest and WyoTech campuses in 2015 and together with Zenith spent more than $500 million to keep the former Corinthian Colleges operating. The company closed 21 of the campuses in 2017 but left three open.

Protopsaltis said these types of conversions need to be scrutinized more carefully.

Dream Center supporters dispute the assessment that the company doesn't understand the complexity of turning around former for-profit institutions. They point to Brent Richardson, who was previously the executive chairman of Grand Canyon University, a private, nonprofit Christian university in Phoenix. Richardson spent years investing in and helping to build GCU when it was a struggling for-profit entity.

Michael Clifford, a former board member of the Dream Center who has invested in for-profit colleges and describes himself as a “friend of the nonprofit,” said the campus closings are a sign that the Dream Center’s administrative teams are moving the company in the right direction and in the best interests of the students who continue to attend the institutions.

“They’ve done more positive things in six or seven months than anyone in this business,” he said while declining to give specific examples on the record. “I’ve never seen a management team turn around a nonprofit school center as this group has done.”

Clifford's appraisal of Dream Center's financial outlook did not include other challenges the organization is currently facing.

The Art Institute of Seattle, which was not on the list of campuses closing this year, laid off 10 of 13 full-time instructors this fall. The institute also employs 75 part-time instructors, none of whom were laid off.

Meanwhile, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which is the accreditor for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, recently ruled that Dream Center had to provide more evidence that it adheres to commission standards by March 1 in order for the institution to be accredited.

Middle States, along with other regional accreditors for the DCEH campuses such as the Higher Learning Commission, has also approved teach-out agreements for the 30 campuses slated to close. The Higher Learning Commission, for example, approved a plan that would allow Illinois Institute of Art and Art Institute of Colorado students to transfer their earned credits to Columbia College Chicago or Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, in Denver.

Students who attended the Illinois campuses last week launched a class action lawsuit with the National Student Legal Defense Network. They accused the institution of hiding the fact that HLC revoked accreditation in January while continuing to encourage students to pay for courses and to graduate with unaccredited degrees.

Clifford is optimistic that regulatory changes made by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will help put DCEH campuses on stronger financial footing. He points to the administration's accreditation overhaul and its concerns that accreditors may not be in the best position to properly scrutinize the financial health of institutions and nonprofit conversions. Clifford said he supports the idea of shifting oversight from the accreditors to the states.

"No one wants another Corinthian or ITT [Technical Institutes]," Clifford said, referring to for-profit chains that collapsed in recent years after being subjected to increased federal oversight.

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Fifty colleges sued in barrage of ADA lawsuits over web accessibility

December 10, 2018 - 7:00pm

Jason Camacho, a blind resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., is suing 50 colleges over the accessibility of their websites.

The 50 lawsuits, filed in November, say the colleges are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities. Camacho uses a screen reader and said he experienced barriers when trying to access the colleges' websites.

Despite the court cases being filed in New York's Southern District, the institutions targeted are located all over the country. Almost all are private colleges, universities or conservatories, and include large research universities such as Northeastern University and Drexel University. Both institutions said they do not comment on ongoing legal matters. Also being sued are Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, the California Institute of the Arts, Oberlin College, Loyola University New Orleans, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and many others

The lawsuits, which all appear to have similar wording, argue that because the colleges recruit students in New York, the colleges can be sued in New York. All the colleges recently took part in a college fair in New York City for prospective students interested in performing and visual arts, which Camacho says he attended.

Camacho’s attorney, Jeffrey Gottlieb of Gottlieb and Associates, declined to comment, but has previously indicated that the intention of the lawsuits is to ensure accessibility for all. “If the website is not accessible, you’re shut out,” he told the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.

Gottlieb and Associates describes itself as a “boutique litigation firm dedicated to representing disabled persons who’s [sic] rights have been violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The firm says on its website that it works “solely on a contingent fee basis” which means that clients do not pay if their case is unsuccessful.

This is not the first time Camacho and Gottlieb have worked together to sue higher education institutions over website accessibility. New York University, Adelphi University, Monroe College, Lim College and the New York Code and Design Academy were all sued by Camacho earlier this year. The cases were settled out of court. A New York University spokesperson said the terms of its settlement with Camacho were confidential.

Camacho was also the lead plaintiff in several other ADA lawsuits filed in 2017, including against companies such as Peet’s Coffee and Aldi.

While there are disability advocates who have single-handedly filed thousands of ADA complaints against colleges and universities to U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, there are few individuals who have taken so many colleges to court, said Chris Danielson, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. That group has sued many colleges and reached settlements with others over issues similar to those raised in the new round of lawsuits.

The litigation-first approach is not one the NFB advocates.

“We tend to worry a little bit when we see one individual filing a bunch of lawsuits at once like this, because it’s not usually the best way to get a good result and enter into a good dialogue with the institutions,” he said. “Our approach is usually to go to litigation only after all other approaches have failed.”

Filing a lawsuit as a first move “puts universities on the defensive and is automatically adversarial,” said Danielson. But he added “it’s not necessarily a bad thing that someone who isn’t attending a university yet is doing some advocacy.”

The NFB has created a self-advocacy toolkit for students who experience accessibility barriers at college but said it can be tough for them to deal with these issues on top of their schoolwork.

The trend of somebody finding an accessibility issue on a website, “however big or small,” and filing a lawsuit is not unique to college and universities, said Danielson. “There are plaintiffs and lawyers who just take a category of business, like wineries for example, and just sue a bunch of them all at once.”

Filing large numbers of similarly worded ADA lawsuits against one type of business is sometimes referred to as “drive-by” litigation. This activity is widely seen as a means to get a quick settlement, rather than improve accessibility.

Whether Camacho is a disability rights advocate or an opportunist is irrelevant, said Peter Blanck, University Professor of law at Syracuse University and chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute, which aims to advance the participation of people with disabilities in society.

“It’s beside the point whether there are 50 or 1,000 lawsuits,” said Blanck. “These cases are reflective of a larger systemic problem -- that there is a lack of a strong commitment by many institutions to try to be as inclusive as possible.”

It’s been almost 30 years since the ADA was passed, and we should have made more progress, said Blanck. “Way back in the '90s I was asked to testify whether or not websites would be subject to the ADA,” he said. “There is no question that universities have been on notice for a long time.”

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UNC teaching assistants go on strike over Confederate monument

December 8, 2018 - 6:11am

Several dozen teaching assistants at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill started a strike Friday, saying that they will withhold student grades as long as the university moves ahead with the idea of constructing a building to house the Confederate monument known as Silent Sam. The strike comes after classes have finished for the semester and students are preparing for final exams and normally would be soon receiving final grades.

As of early afternoon, the organizers said that they had nearly 80 teaching assistants on strike, and that they were holding back the grades of more than 2,000 students. The banner above was an early listing of the number of teaching assistants on strike and the number of students affected.

The organizers say that their move is an "action," not a strike because they are working, grading student papers and so forth, and that they are simply not handing in grades.

Silent Sam was toppled by protesters in August. Protesters used ropes to take down the statue, which was then removed by the university, setting off a debate on whether and how it would return to campus.

The action came after years of debate. As many other colleges and universities removed Confederate statues and symbols, UNC officials said that they lacked the power to remove the statue, with the campus deferring to the system, and the system board in July saying that any decision needed to come from a state agency and that the system had no plans to ask that agency to act.

On Monday, university leaders announced a plan -- widely criticized by student and faculty groups -- to spend more than $5 million on a building on campus to house Silent Sam. They said this was necessary to comply with a state law that monuments not be moved off campus, although university leaders said that they would prefer to do so.

Those organizing the strike said that the plan would amount to glorifying a monument to white supremacy and would waste money.

Many students are taking to social media to support the strike:

Undergrad action: https://t.co/KDHqn36fgl

— #StrikeDownSam (@strikedownsam) December 7, 2018

 

Black Congress joins in solidarity with all Teaching Assistants and Faculty participating in the action to #StrikeDownSam.
Read the demands here: https://t.co/CS1wktk2lG pic.twitter.com/VRkNIDLXbV

— MiZ BDE (@Angummm_) December 7, 2018

Bob Blouin, executive vice chancellor and provost at Chapel Hill, sent an email to the campus objecting to the strike.

Said Blouin: "This type of action violates our university’s instructional responsibilities, which include: 1) to deliver instruction; 2) to evaluate student performance; and 3) to record/document performance and progress toward degree completion. Our students are entitled to receive their grades in a timely manner. It is especially critical for the students preparing to graduate next Sunday, as well as the thousands of students whose scholarships, grants, loans, visa status, school transfers, job opportunities and military commissions may be imperiled because lack of grades threaten their eligibility. The proposed strike exposes the University and individuals who withhold grades to legal claims for the harm they cause to students."

He added: "Finally, this afternoon it came to my attention that some instructors have used their roles in the classroom to ask students to take a stand on the strike. The university has received student and parent complaints. Such actions have been interpreted as coercion and an exploitation of the teacher-student relationship and in fact are a violation of students’ First Amendment rights as well as federal law."

 

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A review of MIT's Saudi partnerships recommends against severing ties

December 7, 2018 - 7:00pm

A review of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s collaborations with Saudi Arabia recommends continuing the university’s relationships with individuals and entities in the kingdom despite concerns about the government’s record of human rights abuses and its role in the war in Yemen that has put millions of people at risk of starvation.

The review, which was conducted by MIT’s associate vice provost for international activities following the killing of the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, recommends against terminating any of MIT’s relationships with private Saudi donors, a Saudi government research agency and Saudi state-owned companies.

An eight-page preliminary report provides a summary of MIT’s Saudi links, including funding from the Saudi government and state-owned companies for sponsored research in fields like energy and water management and private and corporate gifts from Saudi sources. The report does not give an overall dollar figure for Saudi-sourced gifts and sponsored research contracts, but a federal database shows that MIT has reported receiving more than $77 million in gifts and contracts from Saudi sources over the past six years.

“The bottom line of my judgment was that we have and have had for some considerable period of time activities, collaborations with people from the kingdom, good people from the kingdom who have aspirations to do good things in the kingdom, and those good things are embodied in the research projects and research collaborations that we’re carrying out,” Richard K. Lester, the associate vice provost for international activities, said in an interview.

“These are people, we know them, we’ve known these folks for some considerable period of time, maybe even decades, who are trying to modernize the country. I’d say the bottom line of my judgment was we’re not going to walk away from these people. We’re not going to cut and run from these people even despite the atrocious actions that have been taken by the leadership of the country.”

MIT’s links to Saudi Arabia have been under scrutiny since the spring, when the university hosted Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for a controversial visit to its campus. Demonstrators protested against the visit, and an online petition calling for its cancellation got more than 6,000 signatures. An editorial in the student newspaper, the MIT Tech, argued that by hosting the crown prince and seeking to deepen its relationship with Saudi Arabia the MIT administration was signaling its willingness to participate in an effort to rebrand Prince Mohammed “as a positive, transformative force for Saudi Arabia and consequently pave over his human rights violations … The administration is demonstrating that it is open to building relationships that empower war criminals, as long as it can expand its global influence in the meantime.”

Pressure on MIT mounted following the killing of Khashoggi, a crime that the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded was ordered by the crown prince. The killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, brought intensified scrutiny to American colleges' ties with the kingdom.

Making matters worse for MIT was the fact that one of the alleged perpetrators in the killing of Khashoggi, Maher Mutreb, was present for the March visit by the crown prince to the MIT campus, and can be seen in the background of a picture (at right) of MIT president L. Rafael Reif and Prince Mohammed shaking hands.

Lester announced a reassessment of MIT's Saudi connections at the request of President Reif on Oct. 15, about two weeks following Khashoggi’s disappearance. The preliminary report is now being circulated within MIT for comment through Jan. 15. Lester will subsequently send a copy of the report and a summary of the comments to Reif for him to decide on a course of action for the university.

Lester said that feedback he collected from MIT students, faculty, staff and alumni ranged widely. “At one end of the spectrum, we had people who argued very passionately and forcefully that in light of these egregious actions that the Saudi government has taken we should join, MIT that is, should join in efforts to try to isolate the government and censure the government’s behavior,” Lester said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we had people who felt that this was actually exactly the wrong time to decouple from the people that we have worked with and it’s exactly the wrong time to withdraw from the kinds of activities that our students, including our Saudi students, are engaged in.”

“Obviously, I came down not in the middle of the spectrum,” Lester continued. “I came down toward the end of the range of views that emphasized the value of continuity and that the people we work with are good people, our students are good people, who want to do good things and that we should not abandon those purposes that we share with those people from the kingdom.”

As for new potential partnerships, Lester's report recommends that MIT should refrain at this time from any "large overseas engagements that require the physical presence of significant numbers of MIT people" in Saudi Arabia, but that it should consider new opportunities involving Saudi sponsors or donors "that are primarily conducted at MIT … as long as the activities comply with MIT’s policies and principles and relevant laws and regulations, and as long as faculty are willing to lead them."

The report is likely to have many detractors at MIT. An editorial authored by three professors published in the latest edition of the MIT Faculty Newsletter called for an independent assessment of MIT's activities in the kingdom, saying that "having a committee constituted by the administration, to investigate the administration’s actions, is clearly not adequate."

"It's a report from Richard Lester, one person," Jonathan King, one of the authors of the editorial and an emeritus professor of biology, said Thursday afternoon during a panel discussion evaluating the relationship between MIT and the Saudi monarchy. "It's not from a committee of the faculty; it's not from a committee of the institute. He says he talked to lots of faculty; none of them are named. This situation needs some kind of independent body that doesn't have representatives of the administration sitting on it."

"This is not the end of the process," King added." It's the beginning."

Nicolas Dumas, a graduate student in political science at MIT who has called on the university to sever ties with the Saudi government, described the report as “incredibly disappointing.”

“I was hopeful that this was actually a sincere sort of effort that would really engage with the implications of working with and continuing to essentially serve as a PR campaign for the Saudi government. This collaboration has been phenomenal PR for Mohammed bin Salman,” Dumas said.

Dumas disputed the idea that MIT and the Saudi government have shared interests in areas like vaccine research (an area of collaboration between MIT and a Saudi research university). "The claim that Mohammed bin Salman cares about children getting access to vaccines is on its face absurd. There is no area of mutual interest, and I think it’s unfortunate that MIT was perpetuating these messages," he said.

“The Saudi government clearly thought that the MIT leadership would be willing to overlook some of the most morally hideous human rights violations on the planet in exchange for funding,” Dumas said. “And they were correct, and that’s profoundly disheartening.”

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Williams College cancels new play after students express concerns about content

December 7, 2018 - 7:00pm

The theater department at Williams College canceled all scheduled performances of Beast Thing after several students withdrew from the cast and others approached the department with concerns about the show the day before opening night.

The aborted play at Williams comes at a time of tension on many campuses over portrayals involving race and racial concerns over casting; plays were canceled at Knox College and Kenyon College after they were criticized for their portrayal of racial groups, and just last week the Asian American Alliance at Columbia University booted a comedian midshow after he made several racially insensitive jokes.

“The students objected to some of the representational material [in Beast Thing],” said Amy Holzapfel, associate professor of theater at Williams and chair of the department. “Some of the design elements that went into the production and some of the artistic choices, they wanted to be different, they wanted them to change. The artistic team felt really strongly that the decisions that they were making were the right decisions in order to best represent the work.”

According to the event description, Beast Thing is a “play-in-progress” by Aleshea Harris, and in it “the town Saint is charged with 'eating' the town’s sins. The townsfolk believe they can rid themselves of all their ugliness. In reality, they are emaciated by their own secrets.”

"The play is a critique of the radicalized national mythology that we call 'Americana.' It’s an attempt to step into and explode certain archetypal stories and characters in American culture that are inevitably marked as white," said Shayok Misha Chowdhury, a visiting professor of theater and director of the play. "[It includes] characters like the sheriff and the saint that the piece is explicitly attempting to poke fun at and explode in some ways."

The cast originally included six white students and five students of color. After rehearsals began, two of the white actors left the cast for personal reasons, but Chowdhury said their departures set the tone for the production.

"The rehearsal room felt very precarious very early on, because every day I would have to express to the cast that someone was leaving," he said.

Inside Higher Ed reached out to several cast members, who did not respond to requests for comment, but they have been quoted in the campus paper as saying that they felt uncomfortable in their roles and were worried about how their performance might affect audience members.

Looking back, Chowdhury wonders if putting on Beast Thing at Williams was a "fool's errand." Its downfall did not occur in a vacuum. Last year, the college brought Underground Railroad Game, a traveling performance that critiques race and desire in America, to campus. Several students were upset by the performance, and, according to Chowdhury, the resulting discussion left white students and faculty shy about performing work that deals with race.

"Their actions resulted in a culture of fragility and fear on campus, and particularly with white students and faculty on campus, about what students of color can and cannot handle," Chowdhury said.

Three students of color chose to leave the Beast Thing cast.

"There were three students of color who left the cast, and I don’t want to speak for them, but I think that they felt uncomfortable with the casting," Chowdhury said. "They felt uncomfortable with the fact that there were still majority white actors in the piece, and they felt uncomfortable with the fact that they were involved in creating a piece of theater that was very much a critique of whiteness with white students, which is real concern."

A cast that's almost 50 percent students of color was atypical for the small liberal arts college in Williamstown, Mass. According to federal data, white undergraduates make up 51 percent of the student body. Twelve percent of the students are Asian, 8 percent are black and 13 percent are Hispanic/Latino. After selecting Beast Thing, the department made an effort to recruit more students of color to audition.

“We reached out to many minority student groups on campus to share the project with them and encourage members to audition,” Holzapfel said. “Many students of color did audition, and the cast, in its original formation, included a diverse group of students.”

On the evening before opening night, students told Holzapfel that they were not comfortable performing the play as it was; unwilling to ask the artists to compromise their vision for the play, the department decided to cancel the show. All tickets have been refunded.

“It’s been devastating for everyone, it’s been awful,” Holzapfel said. “What was strange was it is almost like the campus became the town [in the show]. All of the sudden we were in this ghost space of this thing that might have been.”

Chowdhury sent a letter expressing his disappointment to the cast and creative team. It has also been posted to Facebook.

“This experience has been harrowing for me and, I imagine, for many of you. I believe the production we were building was a worthy exploration of Aleshea’s play, and I believe its cancellation constitutes a profound disrespect to everyone who contributed their artistry and worked tirelessly to realize the vision of this project,” Chowdhury wrote. “I am embarrassed to have brought my collaborators -- artists whom I respect deeply -- into the line of fire.”

As a result, Chowdhury has rescinded his candidacy for a tenure-track position at Williams, but he will remain a member of the faculty through the end of this academic year.

In an op-ed by the editorial board of the Williams Record, Williams College’s student newspaper, students wrote about their objections to the play’s cancellation.

“It is disappointing and counterproductive -- for the cast, the creative team and the campus as a whole -- that this revolutionary work by a playwright of color did not find an audience here at the college,” the board wrote. “The college is a predominantly white institution that must grapple with both the space it gives these voices and how it presents them. Simultaneously, the students involved in Beast Thing have a right to express their experiences and concerns regarding the rehearsal process and end product.”

Performing work by a black playwright that does not cater to a white audience was one of the reasons Chowdhury wanted to bring the play to campus in the first place.

“While white artists imagine themselves free to experiment and write whatever the fuck they want, artists of color are asked to speak for their entire community, to be less Black or less Mexican so that their work is legible to white audiences, to not air their community’s dirty laundry in front of white people, etc.,” he wrote. “Constantly having to jump through those hoops is paralyzing. Aleshea refuses to do so … I wanted to give students the challenge and the opportunity to be part of making a new play by a writer who, in my opinion, is radically re-imagining what is possible.”

In the end, student objections could not be reconciled with the artists' vision.

“We would never have made any students perform against their will; nor were we going to ask the artists involved to compromise their vision for the piece,” Holzapfel said. “What developed was a situation in which the Theatre Department felt it would be in the best interest of everyone involved to take the pressure off, so that we could regroup, take a step back, and reconsider how best to serve the interests of our pedagogical mission moving forward.”

As the department prepares to begin rehearsals for its next play, Beast Thing will remain a topic of conversation.

"We are engaging the opportunity of our next production to conceive of new ways of developing and nurturing art in our community, starting with initial and very honest and transparent conversations about what happened with Beast Thing," Holzapfel said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Grinnell administrators to appeal student workers' union

December 7, 2018 - 7:00pm

At Grinnell College, an unexpected and contentious fight has emerged between administrators of a proudly progressive institution and the country's only independent union of undergraduate student workers.

The case at Grinnell could have lasting implications, as officials plan to appeal an expansion of the union to a federal board -- its decision could affect whether other, similar units would be allowed to take shape.

Leaders of the college did not block the Union of Grinnell Student Dining Workers from forming in spring 2016, when, as the name suggests, the union only represented the institution’s student dining hall employees. The group was a grassroots effort with no affiliation with another union, and it lacked legal support, with the organizers relying on materials on the National Labor Relations Board website during its creation.

The college published a glowing news story in December 2016, after administrators and the union signed a one-year contract that raised wages for the dining hall workers from $8.50 to $9.25 an hour (their hourly pay has since reached $9.76). Officials trumpeted that the agreement between an independent student union and a private college was the first of its kind. Kate Walker, vice president for finance and treasurer of the college, in a statement called it a “win-win” that would benefit the students and attract new dining hall applicants for the college.

But the relationship soured after September 2017, when the union announced a campaign to triple the size of the unit by including all undergraduate workers -- the institution employs more than 700 student workers. In addition to the dining hall, students work at the Grinnell library, in college housing and the career center, among other places.

At least as far back as November 2017, administrators began hinting they would not back the union expansion. The union posted a statement then that its members learned the administration would oppose it expanding beyond the dining services and catering. Administrators said that the student workers should be considered students first, not employees.

“The message is clear: Grinnell is prepared to fight to stop students from organizing for fair wages and working conditions,” the union said in its statement.

In April, President Raynard Kington published a memo detailing his opposition. His argument: dining work was not bound to “the educational mission” of the college, but other positions were. The jobs were so diverse that a single union couldn’t adequately represent them all.

“If dozens of unions were formed to cover each of the groups of student positions that are related, it would be unduly burdensome and expensive to administer such a system,” Kington wrote. “The resources spent doing so would necessarily be drawn from the mission of the college. This could have an adverse impact on our students who receive financial aid through the work-study program. And given the need to reallocate budget to cover increased costs, other benefits to the student experience would be compromised.”

About $2 million, or 2 percent of the institution’s expenses, go toward student pay, according to filings with the NLRB.

In October, the union filed a petition to have a student vote on an expanded union with the NLRB, which a regional official of the board approved for a vote Nov. 27. The college railed against the concept of an election, hiring two separate law firms, Nyemaster Goode and Proskauer Rose, known for being hired by employers fighting unions. Proskauer Rose has represented all of the professional sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association and the National Football League, during lockouts and other major negotiations.

Columbia University also hired the firm when it was battling against the formation of a graduate student union.

Prior to the vote, Grinnell requested that the NLRB stay the election or impound the ballots.

The college was unsuccessful.

In the election, the union earned 274 votes in favor of the expansion, with 54 against.

The college has laid out a frequently asked questions page online on why it disagrees with the expansion and has publicly stated it intends to appeal the election.

Grinnell said that expansion “harms the core mission” and impedes trust between professors and students.

“Expanding the union could effectively insert a third party whose priorities are economic, not educational, into learning outside of the classroom and alter the relationship between students and faculty,” the college wrote.

Officials also expressed concerns about federal privacy laws and disclosing financial information about other students to the union leaders.

“Given our values, it might seem that unionization of all student positions would fit naturally into Grinnell’s culture,” it wrote. “In reality, this expansion of the union would undermine the college’s ability to pursue its core educational mission and maintain its distinctive culture, where co-curricular, individually advised learning plays an important role.”

The college has not yet officially appealed yet. But the union has filed several complaints with the NLRB, including accusing the college and the Board of Trustees of intimidation and coercion.

Should the college succeed in its appeal with the Republican-controlled NLRB, the decision could prove influential at institutions across the country. In 2016, when the labor board was under Democratic watch, it ruled that Columbia’s graduate student assistants served as employees, which had allowed them to unionize. While opponents of graduate student unionization have also made the case that student work is part of an educational program, the NLRB declared that someone could both be a student and employee, and the work of graduate teaching assistants is arguably much closer to an institution's educational mission than the jobs that most undergraduates hold. (Student employees at public universities have their unionization rights governed by state laws.)

Andy Pavey, a first-year student and press secretary for the union, said its members are worried about the outcome of the decision. The expansion is necessary for all students because tuition has vastly outpaced wages offered on campus, Pavey said. The union would also like to institute a formal grievance process for students who have been fired and secure at least unpaid medical leave.

The pending appeal means that officials have refused to negotiate with the union outside the dining hall workers.

Because they’re just students, they don’t have the finances to hire a lawyer or pursue a lawsuit in the event that the appeal doesn’t go their way, Pavey said -- if someone were willing to work pro bono on their case, they would “really appreciate it.”

“We’re certainly concerned about national ramifications. If the college thinks it can scare us just by invoking this Trump board, they’re wrong,” Pavey said. “The battle for student workers is across the entire country, and we know that the labor community is keeping a close eye on this, and don’t want to jeopardize it. We’re going to continue to fight for the time being.”

Some alumni have also signaled their support for the union, writing to The Des Moines Register that unionization is a pillar of a healthy democracy and that the college should not appeal to the Trump-appointed NLRB.

“Grinnell students should be the ones to decide if they want to unionize,” the alumni wrote. “They have the right to a fair election, and to have the results of that election respected by their employer. If Grinnell College truly cares about social justice, it will respect its students, their election and the results.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Nevada officials see link between introductory math and 15 credit course loads

December 7, 2018 - 7:00pm

CHICAGO -- Colleges in Nevada have found a strong correlation between the success of students in college-level, introductory math courses and the number of credits they take in their first year of college.

Students who took 15 or more credits completed the math courses at higher rates than their peers who took fewer credits, according to Nevada higher education officials.

The officials presented their findings, based on data from 2013-16, on Wednesday during the national convention of Complete College America. CCA has been a longtime advocate of the 15 to Finish initiative and corequisite remediation, which places students who in the past may have been placed in traditional remedial courses in regular college-level math and English courses instead and provides them with additional academic or social support.

Crystal Abba, vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the Nevada System of Higher Education, said these college-completion initiatives work best when they are implemented at the same time.

“This is really a testament to 15 to Finish as well,” said Linda Heiss, senior director of institutional research at the Nevada System of Higher Education. “The students enrolled in 15 credits the first semester were completing at a much higher rate, but also what made a difference was their initial placement.”

At two-year institutions, 62.5 percent of students who took more than 15 credits completed the math course within the first year and a half of college in 2016. Only 27.2 percent of students who took between six and 11 credits passed the math course in the same year, according to state data.

The positive effects of students taking more credit-bearing courses also occurred at the state’s four-year institutions. Seventy-nine percent of students who took more than 15 credits in the first semester completed an introductory math course within a year and a half compared to 70.8 percent of students who took between 12 and 14 credits in 2016.

The state adopted a policy in 2015 that required degree-seeking students deemed unprepared for college-level work to complete an introductory English or math course within the first year of enrollment. There are some exceptions to the policy for students enrolled in STEM or other programs. Researchers have found that even students initially placed in remedial math have a better chance of succeeding in college when they take college-level math and are given additional academic support. Those students also subsequently accumulate more credits toward graduation.

Some educators have been critical of the 15 to Finish initiative and warn that it can be overwhelming to students, particularly those enrolled at community colleges, if they have other familial and work responsibilities.

Abba agrees that taking 15 credits a semester isn’t for everyone, but she said there are ways to help those students through flexible course scheduling options and by providing them additional financial aid that may eliminate the need to work and attend college part-time.

She added, however, that the data also show that these students can handle taking a college-level math class and the additional course load.

Still, challenges remain for the colleges. Students who take remedial courses are dropping out at high rates and not making it to the college-level math course, said Theo Meek, director of advising at the University of Nevada, Reno.

And too many students are not enrolling in any math course in their first year. At the College of Southern Nevada, a community college and the state’s largest public institution, nearly 68 percent of first-time, degree-seeking students did not enroll in math during the first year of college, according to the state.

“We’re finding in Nevada that corequisite remediation works,” Meeks said. “Getting them completed or onto the gateway course if they’re in remedial is another significant problem.”

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Netherlands considers creating faculty positions based on teaching, not research metrics

December 7, 2018 - 7:00pm

The Netherlands will radically shake up how academics are assessed and promoted, including a shift away from relying on citations and journal impact factors.

Dutch universities also want to make it easier for academics to become professors on the basis of their teaching record, in a shift that will be closely watched by policy makers and unions across Europe.

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and bodies for university medical centers and health research said that they would organize a raft of activities in 2019 designed to find a “new approach” to “recognizing and rewarding academics.”

According to Rianne Letschert, rector of Maastricht University and one of the leaders of the review, one of the aims is to scale back the use of citation metrics and controversial journal impact factors, an average measure of the citations papers in a particular journal receive.

These metrics are currently “dominant” factors in university promotion decisions and are used by the NWO when making grant decisions, she said.

Their use would be scaled back, and Letschert said she hopes that instead there would be an expectation that funders and university heads of department would read applicants’ work, rather than rely on metrics.

Another plank of next year’s review is to create “differentiation of career pathways,” meaning that universities and university medical centers should give academics “a choice for specific focus areas -- teaching, research, knowledge transfer and/or leadership,” according to a VSNU statement.

Workload for academics has ballooned as they are expected to fulfill all these roles, Letschert said, at a time of surging student numbers. “When does it end? How can we be excellent in all these tasks?” she asked.

Maastricht and Utrecht Universities have already brought in professorial positions where promotion is tilted toward teaching talent, she said, but this could now be rolled out across the country.

These positions would not be explicitly labeled “teaching professors” -- “it should not become a B track,” Letschert said -- and would still require the professors to conduct research, she explained. But the pressure to win grants would be relaxed, she added. One idea is to require these professors to have master’s degrees in educational science.

According to Rinze Benedictus, a policy adviser at University Medical Centre Utrecht, the Dutch rethink was spurred by a realization that, although the Netherlands performs very well when it comes to research metrics, the “unintended consequences” of this system have gone too far.

Benedictus previously warned that researchers in university medical centers were steering clear of publications that would benefit medicine because they were unlikely to rack up many citations. There was a “mismatch” between how scholars were assessed and the social relevance of their work, he said.

The Dutch reforms aim to boost the impact of research on society, and the NWO “will look for ways to increase the weight of research quality and anticipated impact in its evaluation of researchers and proposals.”

“Impact” has proved controversial in Britain, where the real-world effect of scholarship now determines a substantial chunk of university funding. How to measure impact is “a hot issue here as well,” Benedictus said.

There is no agreement so far on how to measure impact, he said, although one idea put forward by the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences was to judge researchers on whether they had followed the right dissemination processes, rather than whether or not impact had actually occurred.

“We can’t predict impact, but we can ask researchers to maximize the chances of it having impact,” Benedictus said.

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Closure of Education Corporation of America raises questions about oversight and support for students

December 6, 2018 - 7:00pm

After two years of an administration that has disavowed the Obama Education Department’s crackdown on for-profit colleges, there’s little sign of a comeback for the sector.

On Wednesday, one of the largest credential-granting for-profit operators still standing, Education Corporation of America, said it would close its roughly 70 campuses across the country.

Instructors and support staff at ECA chains, which include Virginia College and Brightwood College, suddenly found themselves out of a job after Friday. And students, who in many cases took out thousands of dollars in loans to attend ECA programs, were left with little information about how to continue their education elsewhere.

The shutdown happened after the company scrambled for months to shore up its troubled financial situation by closing a limited number of campuses, then attempting to overhaul its corporate structure with a court-approved receivership. But new restrictions by the Education Department on ECA’s access to federal student aid and a notice from its accreditor that recognition for its campuses would be suspended helped seal its fate, the company said.

The shutdown is the biggest to take place so far under the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And it will test whether the department has learned from the closures of for-profit behemoths Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech under the Obama administration.

Antoinette Flores, associate director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said it’s not clear any of the for-profit chain’s regulators had applied lessons from previous failures before ECA’s closure.

“In the past two months, they were really going downhill fast, and neither their accreditor nor the department took action soon enough,” she said.

Although the chain of colleges served fewer students than did Corinthian or ITT, there are multiple parallels with those previous failures, starting with the oversight from the same accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. Now, like students enrolled at those defunct chains, ECA students face uncertainty over how they will continue their education or deal with debt they took on to attend their programs.

The Education Department, which had been working with ECA to help students attending campuses already slated for closure continue their education elsewhere, slammed the decision by the company to suddenly its doors.

“Education Corporation of America’s decision to suddenly close its campuses is highly disappointing and not best for its students. There were other options available,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department. “The department was in daily conversations with ECA and potential teach-out partners to assist as many students as possible to find a new institutional home. Instead of taking the next few months to close in an orderly fashion, ECA took the easy way out and left 19,000 students scrambling to find a way to finish the education program they started.”

The total number of students is likely even higher counting students who aren't first-time, full-time students. Hill said the department plans to work with students to either transfer their credits elsewhere or apply for loan forgiveness through a process called closed-school discharge.

At least one ECA institution, meanwhile, the New England College of Business, said Wednesday it will remain open. It was the only campus not accredited through ACICS.

Long-Term Challenges Behind For-Profit's Collapse

Although the department’s new restrictions on Title IV funds may have played a role in ECA’s demise, just last month DeVos appeared to grant a major reprieve to the chain. The status of the colleges’ accreditor, ACICS, had been unsettled for much of the past two years after the Obama administration sought to eliminate the agency’s federal recognition. But after a federal judge ordered that the department reconsider the decision, DeVos restored approval for the accreditor just before Thanksgiving.

Accreditors are the gatekeepers of federal Title IV money. And the decision meant that ECA chains like Virginia College -- which had sought without success to secure approval elsewhere earlier this year -- were assured of access to federal student aid funds for at least another year.

But the financial problems at the company were much deeper than the status of its accreditor. Student enrollment had declined significantly in recent years as the economy improved and demand for workers grew. As the company explained in a federal lawsuit it filed to keep access to student aid funds during its proposed financial overhaul, it had fallen behind on payments to creditors and actually faced eviction from several campuses.

That lawsuit was dismissed last month, but the appointment of a receiver triggered the most stringent type of financial restrictions, known as heightened cash monitoring. Under those restrictions, an institution must disburse student aid money from its own funds before seeking reimbursement from the Education Department. Corinthian and ITT were placed on the same restrictions before both eventually shut down.

The final nail in the coffin came Tuesday night when ACICS, the accreditor of Virginia College and most other ECA colleges, said it would suspend recognition of the campuses.

“The uncertainty of these requirements resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools,” ECA president and CEO Stu Reed told students in an email Wednesday. “It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools.”

ACICS faced major criticism for its handling of Corinthian and ITT. Its role overseeing both led in large part to the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw federal recognition from the accreditor.

The organization had already placed ECA campuses on sanctions in September over its concerns, including institutional management and employer satisfaction. Since then, the accreditor uncovered even more concerns involving student progress and staff turnover, said ACICS president and CEO Michelle Edwards. In response to those issues and the company's deteriorating finances, the accreditor suspended recognition of ECA colleges and asked for a teach-out plan for students still enrolled to complete their education.

Flores said there were multiple red flags that should have prompted the accreditor to get assurance there was a process in place for students if the chain closed. And the department should have held the ACICS accountable for taking those steps, she said.

“They should be holding accreditors accountable and making sure they’re doing their jobs,” she said. “Instead, they’re worrying about rescuing accreditors.”

ACICS didn't respond to a request for comment on why it hadn't sought a teach-out plan sooner.

The news of the closures came suddenly this week for most students and faculty members. Christina Hall, a medical billing student at Brightwood College’s Nashville, Tenn., campus, said classes on Wednesday began like any other day before her instructor was pulled into the hallway. Students were then asked to meet in a larger classroom, where they were told that their campus would close after Friday.

“And they basically just left it at that,” she said. “Of course we had questions. We were all asking questions about what do we do now.”

Among those unanswered questions -- what do students like Hall do about thousands in loan debt they took out before completing their programs? The medical billing program at Brightwood cost more than $16,000, she said.

Hall was weeks away from completing required classroom instruction before beginning an externship, basically on-the-job training, in a medical office.

“I’ve never had teachers be so dedicated to their jobs and their students,” she said. “It’s a sad thing to see it just go down the drain.”

In response to the closure of ECA, Representative Bobby Scott, the Virginia Democrat expected to be the next chair of the House education committee, said the news should cause the Education Department to rethink its recognition of ACICS and its regulatory agenda.

"This announcement captures many of the substantive issues we have raised about the department’s efforts to roll back accountability in for-profit education, lower standards for accreditors, and make it harder for defrauded students to be made whole," he said in a statement.

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Categories: Higher Education News

New research on graduate student mental well-being says departments have important roles to play in fostering healthy environments

December 6, 2018 - 7:00pm

From impostor syndrome and other feelings of being out of place, to periods of isolation and to constant short- and long-term deadlines, graduate school presents serious potential challenges to students’ mental health. There’s also financial strain, navigating complex relationships with advisers and colleagues, the job market, and myriad other worries.

Despite that, there are relatively little large-scale data on graduate student mental health. There isn’t much research on the topic to begin with, and those studies that do exist tend to be small in scale or have low response rates, or both. Things are changing: a widely cited study from earlier this year involving several thousand graduate students found that they were six times more likely than the general population to experience anxiety and depression. It called the matter a "crisis." Still, most campus efforts at improving students’ psychological well-being have been focused on undergraduates.

New research on graduate students’ mental health at Harvard University calls for more attention to the issue and suggests that the battle can’t be fought by graduate students or campus health services alone. Departments, which are responsible for some of the environmental factors that impact students’ outlook and health, also must change, the authors insist.

“We can't build a counseling center big enough to deal with this problem,” said Paul Barreira, director of Harvard’s University Health Service, the Henry K. Oliver Professor of Hygiene and an associate professor of psychiatry. “Here we have 45 full-time-equivalent clinicians, or 55 people, for 20,000 students. That’s like one clinician for every 400 students. We’re overwhelmed, and that should tell us that the system is broken -- that our approach to this has been wrong and needs to be rethought. And there are many programs that aren’t as fortunate as we are.”

Suggested interventions included in a new working paper by Barreira and colleagues include encouraging students to take on research or activities that “provide a sense of meaning and usefulness to them in the short term,” to help students “hedge against failure.” Provide continuous engagement, “making clear to students that someone cares about their success in the program,” the paper says. “Support students in preparing the best possible job market paper and dissertation regardless of the students' ambitions or career preferences” and “make the coursework years as useful and relevant to the research years as possible.”

"Discuss failure with advisees early on" and “commit to being their supportive adviser first and their evaluator second,” the paper further suggests. “Partner with your university's counseling center to educate students and faculty and to publicize clinical services. Let students know that their mental health and wellbeing is a priority for you and should be a priority for them.”

Mental Health, by Program

Barreira and several colleagues set out to study graduate student mental health data at the department level. They wanted to establish rates of depression, anxiety and other measures, such as suicide risk, eating disorders, impostor syndrome (feeling secretly inadequate in a given milieu), attention deficits, self-esteem issues, loneliness, and sleep, exercise and alcohol consumption levels.

Next, the researchers wanted to identify critical environmental factors contributing to stress or well-being. And they wanted to involve students in the crafting of their survey instrument: beyond the prescreening questions on depression, anxiety and other issues, students -- initially from the economics department, and then others (the list continues to grow) -- helped draft questions about the environment. Departments in the natural sciences wanted to add questions about laboratory time, for example.

Barreira and his colleagues have found that levels of depression and anxiety vary widely across programs, suggesting that environmental factors are at play in graduate student mental health. An initial analysis involving five programs and hundreds of students, which Barreira presented at the American College Health Association -- and which saw notably high response rates, of between 44 percent and 79 percent of students -- found that depression rates varied from 15 percent in one department to 30 percent in another. Anxiety rates varied from 12 percent to 30 percent. Those rates are somewhat consistent with other graduate student-specific data and significantly higher than general rates of adult depression and anxiety.

In one unspecified program, 10 percent of students had moderately severe or severe depression symptoms. Twelve percent had severe anxiety symptoms. Four percent of respondents had both moderately severe or severe depressive symptoms and severe anxiety. About 13 percent of the sample was in treatment for anxiety, and 13 percent for depression. The five students suffering from moderately severe or severe depressive symptoms were not in treatment. One-third of the students with severe anxiety symptoms were getting treatment.

Lessons From Economics Departments

Barreira’s new paper is based on eight programs in economics, housed at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale Universities, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California campuses in Berkeley and San Diego.

About 18 percent of students experienced moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to about 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, among 25- to 34-year-olds in the general U.S. population, according to one 2013 study. Eleven percent of respondents, or 56 people, reported having suicidal thoughts on at least several days within the previous two weeks. One-quarter of students had been previously diagnosed with a mental health issue, about half of them before the Ph.D. program and half after.

Of those experiencing moderate to severe symptoms of depression, only 27 percent were receiving treatment for it. About 21 percent of those experiencing anxiety were getting treatment and only 27 percent of those who recently thought about suicide were getting help.

Moreover, the study says, “the prevalence of depression and anxiety symptoms among economics Ph.D. students is comparable to the prevalence found in incarcerated populations.” Loneliness and isolation are major issues, too, as “the average economics Ph.D. student feels considerably lonelier and more isolated than a retired American.” Women and international students are most affected.

Interestingly, the majority of those who received mental health treatment didn't ping high on depression or anxiety. So, the report says, “contrary to social stigma, seeing a mental health professional is not the same thing as having poor mental health. Many of those who seek help are doing better than those who do not.”

Economics students tend to regret how they organize their time and engage with their studies, the paper says. Just 26 percent reported feeling like their work is useful always or most of the time, compared to 70 percent of economics faculty members and 63 percent of the entire working-age population. Yet 62 percent of students worried always or most of the time about work when not there. Twenty percent said they were too tired for activities in private life. Thirteen percent of students had seriously contemplated quitting their programs once in the previous two weeks.

Regarding advisers, 96 percent of students said they'd met with their main advisers at least once in the last two months. But they reported fearing making a bad impression, doubts about their work, and lack of progress as barriers to meeting more frequently.

Many students said they were unable to be honest with their advisers about the challenges they were experiencing. In order of frequency, these honesty “gaps” are due to nonacademic career options, preparing for the job market, research progress, issues with other advisers and issues arising from co-authorship with the faculty member. Almost half of students said they wouldn’t know where to go if they had an issue with their adviser.

Few students feel comfortable raising their hand in a seminar setting, and just 19 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing so, compared to 35 percent of men.

Sixteen percent of students had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Twenty-two percent of women have experienced sexual harassment, compared to 13 percent of men. Nearly two-thirds of the instances of sexual harassment were perpetrated by another graduate student, while 19 percent came from a professor.

That finding recalls recommendations included in a June report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The document centered on what it called “unchecked” sexual harassment and noted that sexual harassment has been found to negatively impact targets’ mental health and performance. Among other things, that study advised departments to adopt mentoring networks or committee-based advising that allows for a “diversity of potential pathways for advice, funding, support and informal reporting of harassment.”

Older cohorts tend to fare worse than younger ones in terms of mental health. In a parallel finding, 7 percent of first-year students reported contemplating suicide in the last two weeks, compared to 13 percent of those with five or more years in.

Twenty-seven percent of those who said they regret doing the Ph.D. and 20 percent of those who regret their choice of advisee reported recently contemplating suicide. Those who said they wished they’d engaged more with their studies and organized time more effectively have “substantially lower rates of suicidal ideation.”

Students who “perceive their peers as competitive, who do not have very good friends in the department, and who in general do not have many people with whom they can openly discuss their private feelings without having to hold back have worse mental health,” the paper says.

At the same time, mental health issues do not appear to affect students with disparate values differently. In particular, the study says, “students who believe that tenure at an academic institution is very important for their success in life are not more or less likely to have mental health issues than students who believe that income or recognition or a family are very important for success in life.”

Encouraging Interventions

Barreira and his co-authors wanted to foster conversations about interventions. Already, he said, he’s witnessed conversations within Harvard departments about a perennial stressor to students: advising.

“There are conversations about how responses on questions on advising correlate to responses on anxiety,” for example, he said. “This is not unique to us -- advising is an important topic at universities across the country. But what we’re seeing is that for departments, it’s all kind of theoretical until they have the data -- and then, suddenly, there’s an urgency to do something.”

Barreira and his colleagues continue to help departments survey their students. The plan is that data will be gathered annually, to gauge progress.

Several other institutions have attempted to tackle graduate student mental health on their own terms. A task force at Johns Hopkins University that looked at both undergraduate and graduate mental health found earlier this year that the university should promote a “climate of awareness and support” for student mental health, wellness and stress reduction, and improve access to services. Training for students, faculty and staff about resources must be improved, too, it said.

Margaret Daniele Fallin, co-chair of that task force and Sylvia and Harold Halpert Professor and chair of mental health, said this week that department climate is indeed “a big issue.”

“There needs to be a true sense that the department cares about the well-being of students and supports positive infrastructure and behaviors,” she said. “We focused on addressing stigma, creating an environment of inclusion and awareness, and promoting wellness practices, training and respect for time to do these things.”

That can include helping students understand they may miss a class for a mental health appointment, just as if they had the flu, Fallin said.

So far at Hopkins, as a result of the report, there have been more frequent interactions across divisions about student mental health, more exchanges about best practices, more support for student-led efforts and better coordination of disability services with health and academic services, Fallin said. A wellness committee actively adopts and monitors student mental health initiatives.

Asked about faculty resistance to mental health efforts at the department level, Barreira said “the way things have always been” is no excuse to perpetuate harm, and that it’s not clear that things have always been “this way” anyway. Before professors faced quite so much pressure to publish and win grants, there was more time for and emphasis put on positive mentorship.

“Faculty knew students better than they know them now.”

Student-Led Efforts

Some initiatives have been student-led. In 2014, the Graduate Assembly at Berkeley conducted a study of mental health among peers. Members found grave concerns about finances, social support, advising and career prospects. They found top predictors of depression among their ranks to be sleep, overall health and academic engagement. 

Graduate students wanted more help, including a designated space so that they wouldn’t have to encounter students they taught in campus health services. Last year, Amy Honigam, graduate well specialist on campus, became that someone. She sees students one-on-one in a graduate student suite but also works to promote awareness and change across campus. This semester alone, she’s spoken approximately 60 times about graduate student wellbeing. 

In one instance, she said, 150 students showed up to a science resilience talk on turning self-criticism into kindness. Another project of Honigman’s is identifying well-liked faculty mentors to train other faculty members to be better advisers. 

“These people are here because they love research and love their work, but they’re not all here to be teachers,” she said of faculty members. “There is a sometimes a boot camp mentality. And you don’t want to pander to students. But you don’t have to say to them, ‘That’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’”

The root issue, Honigman said, is that “students need to feel more valued. It could just be simple conversation or simply emailing somebody back.” They are not just on campus to help faculty members, she said, but rather to learn.

Honigman defined her philosophy like this: "Self-compassion is the foundation for resilience.” She added, “You have to be patient with the process. You don’t know everything yet -- that’s why you’re here.”

As for Barreira's research, Honigman said that departments need to help promote graduate student mental health, whether they like it or not. “We can’t hire enough counselors,” she said. “It can’t be all about intervention, it has to be about prevention. Places like Berkeley are so big, cultural change is not going to happen all at once, but at that ground level, departments can be so much more effective.”

Kaylynne Glover, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at the University of Kentucky and director of legislative affairs for the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students, said most graduate students struggling with mental health due to “poor relationships with their advisors and program directors. They feel overburdened, with little to no allowance for a life outside of work.” 

Many report working in the evenings and weekends on top of their every day work, she said, and the “constant criticism, designed to help us become better researchers and thinkers, has the side effect of making us feel worthless and inadequate." Such pressures don't exist to the same degree for undergraduates, but are "nearly universal as a graduate student," she added.

Similar to Honigman, Glover stressed the importance of distress prevention among graduate students, rather than responding “retroactively.” But she emphasized a need to rethink how graduate school works as a whole.

While undergraduate distress is often due to “a lack of social network and of being away from home for the first time,” she said, graduate student issues often stem from the “direct power relationships they have with their faculty advisors and supervisors.” And the only way to fix that, Glover said, “is by comprehensively addressing the nature of graduate school -- of academia itself -- and changing the culture,” to one where work-life balance is valued and power relationships between students and professors are more balanced. Glover and her colleagues at the association help to educate policy makers on these issues at the institutional, state and federal level.

Thomas Clements, a lecturer in biological sciences at Vanderbilt University who struggled with anxiety as a graduate student, said he was struck by Barreira’s findings on the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, which he said he never experienced. Loneliness seemed more familiar, however. Even though Clements was surrounded by people during my graduate school, he said, “I felt that I couldn't share my failures with others,” or could only socialize after periods of academic success -- further isolating him in times of intense academic stress.  

Clements agreed that advisors are a big part of the problem, including when they push the tenure-track career paths on students. While Clements was lucky that his advisor supported his teaching-oriented ambitions, he said, “I saw firsthand that other advisors hindered their students' experiences in these types activities, in the goal of maximizing research output for their own benefit.” 

He further agreed that advisors should check in with their students more, not just about work and even openly about mental health. As to the new paper’s recommendation on helping students “hedge against failure,” however, Clements bucked. 

Science is “so unpredictable” that one can’t hedge against failure, but should instead “put in the effort to help your student navigate through a difficult project that may not have many victories up front.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Camp Fire brings turmoil, change to community college

December 6, 2018 - 7:00pm

On the morning of Nov. 8, as Michael LeMaster was getting his 13-year-old son ready for school, a neighbor knocked on their apartment door to warn him: the flames of a massive wildfire were bearing down on their tiny town of Paradise, Calif.

“I didn’t have a chance to grab anything,” LeMaster said. “I just grabbed my son and said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here -- now.’ ”

A computer science major at nearby Butte College, he climbed into the car, his son at his side, and drove. They fled to nearby Chico and haven’t been back since.

Variations of that story played out thousands of times as the Camp Fire descended on Paradise. The wildfire briefly threatened the college, located 10 miles south of Paradise on nearly 1,000 acres -- most of it a wildlife preserve. But the college escaped serious damage. The fire merely damaged a well and the solar array that powers it. The college reopened after 18 days, and final exams are fast approaching.

But it likely changed the course of the college forever as students, staff and faculty members figure out what comes next.

Several hundred students and more than 100 staff and faculty members lost their homes. College officials fear that many will never return to the area or the college. And, as it has before in the past two years, the state's community college system stepped in to help Butte adjust to the next few uncertain months, itself adjusting to a "new normal" of destructive natural cycles striking its campuses.

LeMaster, like many of his classmates, is struggling to finish the fall semester from Chico, and he doubts he’ll be back in January. A home he’d bought in Paradise with his now ex-wife burned to the ground. His apartment building is still standing, but authorities have yet to allow residents to return to the neighborhood. They were originally told they could return this week, he said in an interview, but rains and flooding postponed the all clear until next week.

For now, LeMaster and his two sons are staying with a sister in Chico “until I figure something out.” Both boys are in school -- the older one now attends class nearby, but the younger one, who’s 5, must go all the way to Oroville, 25 miles away. In their previous life in Paradise, the boys could walk to school.

“My priority is them,” LeMaster said. “Until I find stability for them, I don’t think I can devote any time to going to school.”

While he has just two semesters left until he earns a degree, LeMaster said he’s too distracted with putting his family’s life back together to concentrate on studying.

“I’m still enrolled,” he said, “but I don’t want to commit and not be able to do it.”

In an interview, Butte College president Samia Yaqub said many students will face similar choices in the coming months. She expects that many will bow out in January, after this semester finally ends.

“We will survive -- absolutely we will survive,” Yaqub said. But how, and in what form -- and in what new role in a devastated part of Northern California -- is “a big unknown,” she said.

Yaqub, who grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, and arrived at Butte fresh out of college 34 years ago as an instructional aide in an ESL classroom, said she’s certain that Butte will lose students, faculty and staff. “There’s just not enough housing for the displaced people in the short term,” she said.

Like others, she wonders how many will return.

“People will need to go where they can go -- and that will impact our students for sure,” she said. “The big question mark is what’s going to happen in January, after the break. Who’s coming back? Who isn't? And it’s too early to tell right now.”

Helping the Displaced

The fire burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures in rural Butte County, making it by far the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California’s history. It killed at least 85 people, with another 25, most of them from Paradise, listed as missing.

As many as 50,000 people evacuated from the county now need housing, the Monterey Herald reported.

Of 1,471 students living in fire-affected areas, about 1,300 responded to a survey Yaqub sent out just after the college reopened in late November. It revealed that about half “have lost everything,” she said. About one in four is staying with family or friends, and many have scattered to other cities or even other states -- Southern California, Wyoming, Utah or Oregon.

Others have been able to find temporary housing closer to campus. “It’s really amazing to see how people are taking people in, taking strangers in, just because there are so many evacuees,” Yaqub said.

Among faculty and staff members, about 130 have been affected -- 68 lost their homes, many in Paradise. Another 50 presume they’ve lost them but haven’t been able to get back to the area to see the devastation. And another 20 rent or own homes in areas that authorities have declared uninhabitable.

The displaced include Patrick Christensen, a Butte College accounting instructor whose family lost their house in Paradise. He called the experience “surreal” but emphasized that he feels lucky to have gotten out early -- and to have quickly found another house he can afford.

While he’s currently living with a colleague -- his wife and kids are staying with family members in Utah -- he’s scheduled to close later this month on a house in Corning, Calif., about 40 miles northwest of Paradise.

“We had a huge amount of staff living up there,” he said of the doomed town of Paradise. “We’re just struggling to figure out, ‘Can I afford to live in Chico? Am I willing to drive in from 30 or 40 minutes out each day?’”

Yaqub said “every single department” of the college has been impacted and many have lost everything, including two-thirds of Butte’s automotive program faculty and two-thirds of the college’s financial aid staff.

But in many cases, they have found a way to get to work since the college reopened Nov. 26. “They’re putting the needs of others before their own,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are showing up to work, even though they’ve lost everything.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, said he has been on the job just two years and has already been forced to visit three colleges plagued by wildfires -- not just at Butte but at Santa Rosa Junior College in Sonoma County and at Shasta College in Shasta County.

“This is unfortunately becoming the new normal for us,” he said.

Oakley is able to give the colleges flexibility to change calendars and has sent financial aid officers to the affected areas to counsel students about their aid options. He has also pushed to bring in charitable contributions, and the system’s board has moved to help the colleges maintain revenue temporarily, despite losing students to wildfires as well as other natural disasters.

“If they do lose enrollment in the coming semester [or] in the coming year, they will receive the same amount of funding,” Oakley said. “For a place like Butte, it’s a very big deal.”

Christensen, the accounting instructor, pointed out that students have no such guarantee. Many, he said, will see wisdom in putting off college for a few years to earn high wages in what could be a booming construction cycle in Paradise.

“I think that’s really likely for many of our students,” he said.

Yaqub said the needs of Paradise will shape what Butte offers in the coming years, from training welders to builders to first responders.

“We might have some programs that get developed that are in association with the trades that are small now, that may turn into really large programs. It’s too early to tell,” she said. “I’m very confident that we will meet the challenge and we will continue to serve this community as we have. Short-term is the question mark, in terms of what we will look like, but we will be here.”

‘Hard to Endure’

The college was closed for 18 days as first responders used the campus as a staging area. When it reopened, Butte also opened a support center in Chico, where most students live -- the college has no campus housing. It offered advice in financial aid, mental health and academic advising. It also offered more basic necessities, like food and fuel.

Linda Fisher, a nursing student whose rental home in Paradise burned to the ground, said the offer of groceries during those first two weeks “was amazing.”

But Fisher, who has just a semester until graduation, doesn’t know where she’ll go next.

“We’re still somewhat homeless and very much displaced,” she said.

After they fled Paradise, Fisher and her sons, ages 9 and 4, lived in Sacramento for a few weeks, then Gridley, 70 miles north. On Tuesday night, she and the kids parked their trailer at a horse ranch near the college, but it has no hookups and is unsustainable for the long term.

“I don’t know -- I’m really lost,” she said, emotion rising in her voice. “Every week I’m at a new location.”

Housing prices were already high in the region, but Fisher said landlords are now simply gouging prospective tenants with rents she can’t afford.

The constant search for housing -- and the constant travel in pursuit of the next place to rest -- came to a head for Fisher last Saturday, when she and her sons survived a rollover accident that totaled her truck. “We’re fine,” she said, but added, “I don’t know how we made it out alive.”

Asked about her January plans, Fisher sighed. “I want to finish my last semester, but losing my home and losing my truck and not having any family up here … it’s going to be very complicated.”

She added, “I’m a really good student. This is very hard to endure this.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

Columbia students boot comedian off stage, citing offensive jokes

December 6, 2018 - 7:00pm

The Asian American Alliance at Columbia University last week interrupted an act by a relatively prominent Indian American comedian and former writer for Saturday Night Live, Nimesh Patel, during a cultural event the group sponsored.

His offense: jokes -- including some about black and gay people -- that alliance members perceived as insensitive. Organizers kicked Patel offstage in the middle of his set, criticizing his gags on race and sexual orientation but letting him deliver brief closing remarks before cutting off his microphone.

Patel was performing at cultureSHOCK, the group’s annual charity and display of Asian-related arts. The alliance was in charge of booking him. Patel did not respond to a request for comment.

The episode has prompted a campus debate about how to ensure an inclusive environment for students from all backgrounds and whether it was appropriate to kick Patel off the stage. Critics said it reinforces the stereotype of a liberal college kids -- derogatorily referred to as “snowflakes” -- who are unable to stomach mild jokes outside those that are “politically correct.”

Some professional comics, including Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, previously have said they will no longer work college circuits because they consider students to be too thin-skinned for their brand of humor. Yet up-and-coming comedians can find success at lucrative campus gigs by tailoring their acts to college audiences, which tend to not enjoy jokes that target minorities.

The alliance, which directed a request for comment to a statement on its Facebook page, apologized for bringing Patel to campus.

“Patel’s remarks ran counter to the inclusive spirit and integrity of cultureSHOCK and as such, the choice was made to invite him to leave,” the group said. “We acknowledge that discomfort and safety can coexist, however, the discomfort Patel caused was unproductive in this space. We ourselves are still processing the events of cultureSHOCK and maintain different perspectives on it even within our organization. We invite and welcome dialogue concerning his remarks and our actions.”

According to one student at the set, Patel was a “train wreck.” The student, sophomore Liberty Martin, wrote about her experience in the student newspaper, The Columbia Daily Spectator.

Martin said Patel started strong, but a majority of his act was uncomfortable. Patel appeared “strangely obsessed with black people,” wrote Martin, describing him as “blatantly anti-black.” He made a joke about his black, gay neighbor having not chosen to be gay because no one would wake up in the morning and say, “This black thing is too easy, let me just add another thing to it.”

“But if you’re black and gay, you don’t need a straight South Asian guy to point out that your life is hard because you’re black and gay,” Martin wrote. “That’s not insightful -- it’s painfully unoriginal. ‘I wouldn’t choose to live with homophobia while facing racism’ has crossed the minds of queer black people, probably in a moment of distress or when faced with homophobia in their own community.”

However, Martin wrote that Patel wasn’t booted offstage because he told offensive jokes, but that he “sucked the energy out of the room” and few found him funny.

“His routine was the antithesis of what cultureSHOCK stood for,” Martin wrote. “He stepped into an uplifting atmosphere and soiled it, which is the opposite of what he was meant to do as a hired entertainer performing at someone else’s event.”

Not every student thought Patel should be kicked offstage. Malia Simon, a first-year student, wrote in the Spectator that even though she did not attend Patel’s performance, she felt that offensiveness was “inherently subjective” and comedy serves an important purpose by challenging society.

“Similarly, it seems reasonable to believe that many of those who objected to Patel’s performance would embrace an equally provocative -- or perhaps even more aggressive -- joke about the Trump administration, conservatives or others on the right,” Simon wrote. “Calling on this hypocrisy is not to say that conservatives and Trump should be spared mocking. However, this mocking only holds up so long as we’re able to maintain consistency across the board -- even if it makes us uncomfortable sometimes. We can’t propose restrictions on one side of comedy and not on the other.”

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said speakers and other acts on college campuses generally are facing heightened scrutiny. And students likely will not be able to know the entirety of a routine before seeing it, he said.

At the same time, he said students who book comics and other acts should vet them and have a general idea whether the message of the performer aligns with the groups’ mission. He encouraged students to attend a National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) showcase event, where they can preview comedians, speakers and musicians who perform for college audiences.

“College administrators would do the same vetting for potential commencement speakers or other university-sponsored entertainment,” said Kruger.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Education Department says data dispute is behind failure to enforce gainful-employment rule

December 6, 2018 - 7:00pm

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced it would miss a key deadline to repeal an Obama administration rule that seeks to hold career-education programs accountable for producing graduates with unmanageable debt.

Doing away with the so-called gainful-employment regulation is a top priority of the Trump administration. But the blown deadline means the rule will remain on the books until at least 2020.

Even before the rule's sanctions could kick in, its first data release prompted some colleges to shutter poor-performing programs. Republican lawmakers, though, have long opposed gainful employment. And for-profit colleges complained that it was unfair to their sector. Missing the deadline was an embarrassment for the department, and it prompted an angry rebuke from the leader of the for-profit college lobby group.

However, despite that miscue, the Education Department hasn’t taken any steps to enforce the rule. And a top official last week said at a meeting of campus financial aid administrators that the department isn’t planning to produce new gainful-employment data any time soon.

The reason, department officials said, is that the agency that supplied essential data on graduates' earnings for the gainful-employment rule is no longer cooperating with the department. The U.S. Social Security Administration, which provided the data until this year, has let an information-sharing agreement with the department lapse.

“We’re in between a rock and a hard place,” said Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department.

The Social Security Administration declined to comment. But the department indicated that objections to its use of the earnings data to calculate loan forgiveness for defrauded student borrowers played a role in the lapsed interagency cooperation, an assessment shared by Democrats in Congress.

As a result, the department has its hands tied, officials said. But critics said the department, which is facing a lawsuit from state attorneys general who are suing to have the rule enforced, has stumbled into a convenient excuse to not enforce a regulation opposed by Republicans.

“It's one thing to say we're struggling to implement this,” said James Kvaal, president or the Institute for College Access and Success. “But to say we're going to ignore this regulation because we’ve encountered logistical problems, I think it’s negligent and failing to carry out their responsibilities.”

Kvaal, as deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration, played a significant role in shaping the gainful-employment rule. He and other proponents of the regulation said that while the rule remains on the books, the department must carry it out.

Jordan Matsudaira, an assistant professor of economics at Cornell University, said he found it hard to believe the department couldn’t strike a deal to restore access to the earnings data if the political will was there.

“It strains credulity a little bit,” said Matsudaira, who served as chief economist on Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2013 to 2015.

Producing the gainful-employment ratings requires the department to match data that colleges provide about their career programs with administrative earnings data from SSA. After making that match, the department produces a debt-to-earnings ratio for each program. If graduates’ annual loan payments exceed 30 percent of their discretionary income or 12 percent of their total earnings, the department would designated those programs as failing. Ones that fail the standards twice in three years would lose access to federal student aid programs.

More than 800 vocational programs were designated as failing in the first round of gainful employment last year, 98 percent of them at for-profit colleges.

But the change at the White House meant a reprieve for many career-education programs. Weeks after announcing she would undertake a regulatory overhaul of the rule, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delayed deadlines for career-education programs to make disclosures to prospective students and to file appeals of earnings data under gainful employment.

The department later announced it would seek to repeal the rule entirely. But because it missed a November deadline to issue a new rule, the department won’t be able to eliminate the regulation until at least 2020.

In the meantime, the department had sought to use SSA earnings data to create a system of partial relief for defrauded students who sought loan forgiveness through the borrower-defense rule. That plan was a major departure from the Obama administration, which had awarded full relief to defrauded borrowers. But in May, a federal court ruled the loan-relief plan had violated federal privacy law by using the earnings data to calculate debt relief.

Both the department and Democrats in Congress have identified the ruling as a factor behind the Social Security Administration’s new reluctance to share the earnings data. In an October letter to DeVos, Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, demanded an explanation for the delay in releasing new gainful-employment ratings, which are more than a year behind schedule.

“In reality, the department’s irresponsible and legally suspect delays and misuse of the data are to blame -- facts that no amount of scapegoating SSA can hide,” he wrote.

While the department said it has been shut out by the Social Security Administration, colleges that operate career-education programs are still obliged to submit data on program graduates to the feds. Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees, said the group believes gainful-employment ratings provide important information to students who are selecting a career-education program.

“Thus, it is troubling that the department and the Social Security Administration no longer have an arrangement to compile earnings data,” he said in a written statement. “This lack of arrangement will withhold valuable earnings information from students and families even though colleges and universities are still reporting those data to the department.”

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Anti-Semitic incidents surge on college campuses after Pittsburgh synagogue shooting

December 5, 2018 - 7:00pm

The reports of the Jewish psychology professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who walked into her office in late November to find bloodred swastikas and a slur, “Yid,” painted on her walls drew widespread attention and shock from the public.

After all, the episode came only a month after the fatal shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman killed 11 Jewish men and women -- to date, the most deadly attack on Jews in American history.

But prior to and immediately following the massacre in Pittsburgh, such prejudicial displays have plagued college campuses, following a trend of anti-Semitism on the rise at colleges and universities -- and around the country -- since 2016.

Advocacy groups consider the recent spate of bigotry a reflection of the political mood of the entire country and say weak responses from college leaders can embolden the perpetrators of such hate crimes.

Administrators have been criticized for being too vague in their statements on the shooting, with students saying that they need to assertively identify the bloodshed as a strike against Jewish men and women. This occurred both at Columbia University, which published a revised statement after its initial one failed to mention Judaism, and at Dartmouth College, where the president publicly apologized for not more aggressively condemning the violence in an email he sent to the campus.

“In responding to these attacks, when you respond quickly and effectively and acknowledge the root causes … you send a message to Jewish students, Jewish parents, prospective students and the community that you just won’t tolerate this type of attack,” said Matthew Berger, spokesman for Hillel International, which has affiliates on campuses nationwide.

A (noninclusive) roundup of recent reports of anti-Semitism:

  • The spray-painted graffiti on the office walls of Elizabeth Midlarsky, the Columbia clinical psychologist and Holocaust scholar. The New York Police Department is investigating the vandalism. As a researcher of the Holocaust, Midlarsky has been targeted before. More than a decade ago, she discovered anti-Semitic fliers had been slipped into her mailbox and a swastika was painted on her office door.
  • A swastika was painted over a mural honoring the victims of the synagogue shooting at Duke University. Duke officials were quick to denounce the memorial being sabotaged, with the Duke president writing to campus that it was a “craven and cowardly act.”
  • Three swastikas were discovered at Cornell University. Two were reported in residence halls, and the other was drawn in snow on campus. Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, put out a statement to “express his revulsion” at the symbols.
  • A Jewish fraternity at Pennsylvania State University, Zeta Beta Tau, had its menorah vandalized and then stolen. The menorah was eventually recovered, but according to Penn State president Eric Barron, the menorah (and the Jewish community) had "lasting damage."
  • A University of Minnesota residence hall was vandalized with unspecified anti-Semitic messages. An email sent to the campus stated that the messages referenced Nazis and white supremacy, and that the university is unclear on who is responsible.
  • A student at Goucher College, in Maryland, was arrested for racist and anti-Semitic graffiti found in a residence hall. Fynn Ajani Arthur, 21, had allegedly painted a backward swastika in a dorm and targeted Latinx and black students. Arthur, who is black, later drew more swastikas around the building and wrote the last names of four black students, including himself.
  • Fliers blaming Jews for the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh were found on the University of California, Berkeley, and Davis campuses, and at Vassar College and Marist College. They depict caricatures of Jewish members of the U.S. Senate, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, surrounding Kavanaugh. The signs proclaim “every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it.”

As advocates have suggested, the Pittsburgh shooting and the visible collection of Jewish support has spurred displays of hate against them. This week also marks Hanukkah, a visible display of the religion on campuses.

The general response to these incidents by top administrators has been to condemn them, and in some cases, such as at Cornell, to hold gatherings to support the students who feel besieged, though this has dissatisfied some of them -- they wanted the university to be educating students on anti-Semitism more actively. Berger said that Hillel works with universities to create the best possible environment for Jewish students and educate the campus at large.

“We’re not going to prevent these incidents from occurring completely, but what we can do is … use them as an opportunity,” Berger said.

As the Anti-Defamation League has documented, incidents of anti-Semitism on campuses and nationwide have risen rapidly. It published a report that stated in 2017, there were more than 204 reports of anti-Semitism on campuses, which was an 89 percent increase from the previous year. ADL defined anti-Semitic incidents as harassment, vandalism or assault against Jewish students. From September 2017 to May 2018, its Center on Extremism also documented 292 general cases of white supremacist propaganda on college campuses -- including fliers, stickers, banners and posters.

Yael Rabin, an analyst with the Center on Extremism, said that students tend to feel frustrated over this type of prejudice when they don’t feel heard, particularly on large college campuses. Administrators need to be clear in identifying the intent behind these incidents.

“If by not calling out anti-Semitism, when anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish animus is clear, then you are minimizing the effect it has on the Jewish community,” Rabin said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

Gender studies scholars say the field is coming under attack in many countries around the globe

December 5, 2018 - 7:00pm

The decision by the Hungarian government earlier this fall to withdraw accreditation from gender studies programs -- a full-frontal governmental assault on an academic discipline -- sent shock waves ​through the field.

Gender studies "has no business [being taught] in universities," because it is "an ideology not a science," a deputy to Hungary's prime minister, Zsolt Semjen, told the international news agency Agence France-Presse.

Semjen also said labor market demand for the field was "close to zero."

"No one wants to employ a gender-ologist," Semjen said.

Yet even if the scale of the assault on gender studies in Hungary was shocking, the rhetoric was not. Gender studies scholars say what happened in Hungary is the most extreme manifestation of what seem to be growing attacks on the discipline as right-wing populist parties gain power or influence in many countries around the globe.

The attacks take many different forms, including blacklists and harassment of individual scholars, the proposal of legislative measures to police classroom speech, and attempts to censor academic events. In Brazil the pioneering gender studies scholar Judith Butler was burned in effigy and accosted by protestors at the airport last year after far-right Christian groups objected to her visit to the country for a conference she’d helped to organize. As Butler told Inside Higher Ed in an interview at the time, her sense was that the protesters "who engaged this frenzy of effigy burning, stalking and harassment want to defend 'Brazil' as a place where LGBTQ people are not welcome, where the family remains heterosexual (so no gay marriage), where abortion is illegal and reproductive freedom does not exist. They want boys to be boys, and girls to be girls, and for there to be no complexity in questions such as these."

David Paternotte, an associate professor in sociology at the Free University of Brussels and co-editor of the book Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), said less extreme attacks on gender studies often take the form of press articles criticizing the discipline. “People saying it’s ideological, it’s not scientific. This is what we hear the most -- that it’s a waste of public money, it shouldn’t be a part of what is taught at universities.”

“Most of the time the critics don’t have access to state power, like in Hungary, but it’s creating a climate that is becoming more hostile to gender studies in many countries,” Paternotte said. “German colleagues are extremely worried because of attacks in the media; there isn't a major threat from the government side, but the legitimacy of gender studies is constantly under attack in the press.”

“What’s happening with Hungary,” Paternotte said, “is now the people with these ideas get the power to impose their ideas.”

From Hungary to the U.S. to Brazil

The American Association of University Professors’ committees on academic freedom and women in the academic profession issued a joint statement in November responding both to Hungary’s move to ban gender studies and reports that the Trump administration had drafted policies that would rescind civil rights protections for transgender students and define sex according to “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” The AAUP statement also references attempts in Brazil, Bulgaria and Poland “to refute the scholarly consensus that gender identity is variable and mutable.”

“The AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure and the Committee on Women in the Academic Profession strongly condemn these efforts to restrict the legal meaning of gender to what are said to be its natural, immutable forms,” the statement said. “Restrictions like those imposed in Hungary directly interfere with the academic freedom of researchers and teachers. Biologists, anthropologists, historians, and psychologists have repeatedly shown that definitions of sex and sexuality have varied over time and across cultures and political regimes. Some of their work suggests that state-enforced preservation of traditional gender roles is associated with authoritarian attempts to control social life and to promise security in troubled times by pledging to protect patriarchal family structures. Authoritarian efforts such as these can justify racial, class, and sexual policing that disciplines forms of kinship and homemaking -- including same-sex, multi-generational, or other nonnormative households -- that deviate from established nuclear family norms. Politicians and religious fundamentalists are neither scientists nor scholars. Their motives are ideological. It is they who are offering ‘gender ideology’ by attempting to override the insights of serious scholars. By substituting their ideology for years of assiduous research, they impose their will in the name of a ‘science’ that is without factual support. This is a cynical invocation of science for purely political ends.”

Roman Kuhar, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and a sociology professor at the University of Ljubljana, in Slovenia, and co-editor with Paternotte of the book on gender campaigns across Europe, described the term "gender ideology" as an "anti-signifier": "Because gender ideology is such an anti-signifier, it can be filled in with different things," he said. "Sometimes it can be filled in with the issue of marriage, sometimes LGBT rights; sometimes it refers to sex education in schools, sometimes it refers to gender studies as such. Nowadays we have, I would say, a movement which is comprised of different actors, not all of them related to religious institutions or religion as such, but they see this 'gender theory' or 'gender ideology' as a common enemy that they fight against."

Premilla Nadasen, a professor of history at Bard College and president of the National Women’s Studies Association, said the term "gender ideology" has come to dominate how certain groups talk about gender. “I think what they suggest through this phrase ‘gender ideology’ that this is somehow contrary to family values,” Nadasen said. “But women and gender studies scholars are not rooted in a ‘gender ideology.’ They think about gender as a frame of analysis for understanding the way in which the world works. I think if there’s any ideology that has been manifest in this debate, it’s the right-wing ideology that is attempting to return to a heteronormative patriarchal society.”

Nadasen said there are different ways in which attacks on gender studies scholars manifest. “I think in some places the conversation often centers around abortion, and that has been the kind of launching pad for thinking about the crisis of quote, unquote gender ideology. In other places it’s about reproductive rights. In other places it’s about same-sex marriage. In other places it’s about the breakdown of the two-parent heterosexual family, or even childcare … In all of these cases the culprit becomes women and gender studies scholars. They become the reason for the supposed breakdown in family values.”

Nadasen described "a broader problem of intimidation and harassment, almost a kind of bullying" against gender studies scholars. "It hearkens back to the days of McCarthyism when individuals who attempted to speak out on particular issues were automatically identified as Communists, regardless of what their ideas were, regardless of whether they were actually Communist. We’re seeing something similar today where someone who is a dissenting voice is taking a risk, [who] is attempting to speak out on a particular issue is automatically tainted and is blacklisted and is then a potential target for harassment by a broader audience. I think this is facilitated by the internet by lists that are posted online. I think it’s very, very dangerous for academic freedom."

In Brazil, which recently elected a far-right candidate for president, Jair Bolsonaro, a bill pending in the National Congress would go so far as to bar the use of the term "gender" in teaching.

The bill purports to “respect the beliefs of students that come from their parents and other guardians, privileging family values in their school education related to moral, sexual and religious education,” the executive committee of the Brazilian Studies Association (BRASA) said in a Nov. 15 statement about academic freedom in Brazil. “Our own analysis of the text of the bill, however, suggests that it could have devastating effects on teachers at all levels of education. Among other things, we are gravely concerned that educators will be bullied and dismissed as a form of persecution based on the way they approach issues in the classroom. There is already evidence that this is happening, with elected politicians encouraging students to denounce and slander educators through social networks, verbal aggression, and direct threats of violence.”

"We are also concerned about the application and effects of laws like these on marginalized communities," the BRASA statement says. "If enacted, it could very well prohibit teaching topics related to gender in schools and universities, thus disregarding much of the human knowledge produced in the last decades in many disciplines, which consider gender relations as an essential aspect of human experience at all times and in all societies."

James N. Green, the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Professor of Modern Latin American History at Brown University and the executive director of the Brazilian Studies Association, said with the election of Bolsonaro and a more conservative Congress, there is a possibility the bill might get traction.

Marlene de Fáveri, a professor of history at Brazil’s State University of Santa Caterina, said gender studies has been under "systematic pressure" in Brazil since the bill was first introduced in 2014. De Fáveri herself was sued for “ideological persecution” by a former student -- and a newly elected congresswoman from Bolsonaro's party -- who has called for filming or recording professors who make partisan or ideological statements in the classroom. The lawsuit was dismissed in September.

“The election of the right-wing and ultraconservative candidate drastically affects academic freedom and gender studies," de Fáveri said of the election of Bolsonaro. "His campaign was strongly based on speeches preaching the elimination of what he calls the 'gender ideology,' supported by conservative parties, especially the evangelical party. The proposed minister of education also agrees with his conservative ideology, which is rather alarming and will likely lead to eventual challenges when possible changes in educational laws come into force.”

“What they call ‘gender ideology’ is a fallacy; the introduction of such concept into a bill is, in reality, meant to propagate hatred towards feminists, is a political tool aimed to minimize the scientific character of gender studies and discredit the field. It takes a great deal of effort to deny the world-renowned research efforts and the vast body of knowledge regarding women, gender as a category of social analysis and gendered violence, as well as the hard and numerous battles women had to fight throughout history to be legally recognized,” she said.

‘A Spearhead of a Wider Attack’

Gender studies scholars see attacks on gender studies as part of a broader attack on universities and independent scholarship.

“Every undemocratic government wants to control the knowledge production and sexuality, which explains why gender studies become the target in the first place,” said Andrea Pető, a professor of gender studies at Central European University, which on Monday announced it had been forced out of Hungary and would be moving its main campus to Vienna. “Attacks on gender studies as a scientific discipline [have] become a central rhetorical tool of those efforts that try to determine for the wider audience what 'science' should mean, and thereby try to create a new consensus of what should be seen as normal, legitimate and scientific.”

“I see gender studies as a spearhead of a wider attack on free academic inquiry,” said Ov Cristian Norocel, a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow at the Free University of Belgium, where he is studying right-wing populist parties in Europe. “It seems that gender studies seems to be one of the first kind of subjects of critical knowledge that are attacked, particularly in this kind of environment in which there seems to be an agenda for dismantling knowledge in general. What happened in Hungary is you have these very aggressive attacks against CEU. CEU is chased out of the country. CEU is also one of the few universities that actually had a gender studies program.”

"Gender studies and gender equality and equality for LGBT people are threatening for authoritarian regimes because authoritarian regimes require for somebody to have more power than somebody else; once you overthrow the idea that the patriarchy is something natural, for them that is the destruction of a kind of building block of culture," said Kevin Moss, the Jean Thomson Fulton Professor of Modern Languages & Literature at Middlebury College.

Moss has written about the role of Russia's academic establishment in producing and promoting "anti-gender discourse." Closer to home, he said that the gender studies program at Middlebury came under attack from pundits who characterized its courses as being "categorically insane" after the disruption of a March 2017 talk by Charles Murray, a writer best known for his controversial work linking intelligence and race. Though the talk wasn't about gender studies, Moss said supporters of Murray looked to the gender studies department “to discredit Middlebury and particularly to discredit the side that was against Murray.”

“I think every subject or field of research that has a critical view on society or that has some ideas about societal change will often be contested,” said Linda Marie Rustad, the director and editor of a news magazine on gender research, Kilden, which is part of the Research Council of Norway and which recently published an article on right-wing attacks on gender studies.

“Gender science studies has developed from a critical tradition in the social sciences and humanities,” Rustad said. “Hence it isn't necessarily bad or strange that gender science studies is being disputed. We have had the same debates in Norway on environmental studies not being scientific enough. And we also have in Europe now, also due to right-wing populism, a critique against research on migration. Looking at the right-wing populist winds, we see globally it is not accidental that gender studies is under attack. We need to understand that the attacks on gender are part of a bigger picture.”

At the same time, Rustad cautioned against drawing too dark a picture. “It’s very important to take this very seriously. But in Norway I’m not worried, and I think that would be the same for many countries.”

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Categories: Higher Education News

College profs say smartphones can help low-income students have academic success

December 5, 2018 - 7:00pm

As social inequality on American college campuses continues to spark debate, the fast-growing use of smartphone technology is raising new questions about the divide between poor and affluent students: Should all students have smartphones, whether or not they can afford them? Have smartphones become as important to student success as food and housing? Would having smartphones help low-income students be more academically successful?

Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University professor known for her work addressing socioeconomic inequalities in higher education, set off a conversation about the necessity of smartphones in higher ed last weekend when she fired back at a Twitter comment suggesting that students wouldn't go hungry if they spent less money on expensive phones.

Moreover, I would love to see anyone attempt college these days without a functioning cell. Many students don’t even have computers- and try to do all their homework on them. Those are $200-300 phones. The savings hardly pays for 4-6 years of college. #RealCollege https://t.co/3SYmpHswY8

— Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab (@saragoldrickrab) December 1, 2018

"I would love to see anyone attempt college these days without a functioning cell," Goldrick-Rab tweeted. For the many students who can't afford a computer, smartphones have become an essential work tool, she said. And they don't have to cost $1,200, as one commentator suggested.

Goldrick-Rab noted that not every student can afford a smartphone, but many have long been using them in place of more expensive computers.

"I think people think phones are just for music or videos," she said. But there is an enormous amount of work that colleges are asking students to do online, such as responding to emails, checking the learning management system and marking class attendance.

"Unless you're chained to your computer, you won't be connected to college the way you're supposed to be" without a smartphone, she said.

Matt Reed, vice president for learning at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey, wrote in a recent blog post for Inside Higher Ed about this debate that "smartphones have, in fact, become necessities" for students.

Computer labs aren't convenient for everyone, and smartphones allow students to work on the fly, he said.

“When assignments are posted online and required to be submitted online, it’s churlish at best to regard internet access as extravagant,” wrote Reed, who is a regular blogger for Inside Higher Ed.

Many professors agreed on Twitter.

Jessica Calarco, an assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, posted a statement she intends to add to her class syllabus outlining why digital devices like smartphones are so important to college success and recognizing that some students are unable to afford them.

“Students take pictures of lecture slides, they write papers, they coordinate group projects, they check in for attendance -- there’s a whole host of ways in which students are increasingly dependent on their smartphones,” she said.

The syllabus statement encourages students to come forward if they are having problems with their devices that might impede their work. It also points them to useful resources on campus such as the tech-support hub in the library. She hopes the statement will “signal to students that we care and understand the struggle they’re going through.”

Building on @saragoldrickrab's Basic Needs Security statement, and per @e_hernandez8's request, here's a suggested syllabus statement that acknowledges the challenges students face in purchasing digital devices and coping with tech-related problems.#AcademicTwitter #RealCollege pic.twitter.com/pz9CGA6N3y

— Jess Calarco (@JessicaCalarco) December 3, 2018

In Calarco’s introduction to sociology course, almost all of the 250 students have smartphones, tablets or laptops, she said -- but not all of these devices are in good working order. Calarco describes this as a "new digital divide" between the students who can afford to maintain their devices and those who cannot.

Some universities have taken steps to level the playing field, said Calarco. Ohio State University, for example, has started giving all first-year students an iPad Pro. These initiatives are admirable but out of reach for many institutions because of the cost, Calarco said. In the short term, she suggests professors take the small step of making students feel "supported and seen" by including statements on digital access in their syllabi.

Many students turn to smartphones in class because they have older laptops that can’t hold much charge, said Calarco. She said there are often students sitting on the floor in her class to be near one of the few electrical sockets in the wall. Those without working laptops could borrow them from the library, but Calarco notes students may feel embarrassed to do this. “There is a stigma,” she said.

Professors and students generally agree working on a laptop or tablet is preferable to working on a smartphone, but given the choice to buy either a laptop or a phone, many students may opt for the relative value and dual functionality of a smartphone, said Rashida Crutchfield, an assistant professor of social work at California State University Long Beach.

In efforts to bring down course costs, many colleges have switched from using textbooks and paper printouts for reading assignments and other course work to digital solutions such as etextbooks and online lecture notes.

Crutchfield described smartphones as “an essential basic need for education.”

“We don’t make copies anymore, and students have to be able to look at these documents,” she said. “A lot of us are assuming that students can easily jump on a computer, but smartphones are far more affordable, and a lot more flexible.”

Crutchfield said it’s a misconception that low-income students don’t need smartphones.

“It’s really difficult to communicate socially or professionally without a phone,” she said, adding that the devices are particularly important for students who don’t have a stable home. “If you don’t have a phone, it’s really hard to find a job.”

Both Crutchfield and Lavelle Porter, assistant professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, like Calarco’s idea of a syllabus statement and said they would consider incorporating it next semester.

“I think including a statement like that could encourage my students to talk about what tech they are using, and to let me know what limitations they may face,” said Porter.

Porter said many of his students use smartphones in class and at home to complete assignments. Porter uses the college’s mobile-friendly digital platform OpenLab to share class materials and assignments with students.

But he still wishes the college would provide students with laptops. “Our students have access to computer labs, but the demand gets high at the end of the semester,” he said.

To accommodate students who don't have laptops, Porter says he assigns fewer papers and sets time aside in class for students to work on their writing.

So many of my students type papers on their phones. And unfortunately the "computer labs" at my school are inconvenient with long waits, especially during finals. I think more profs, especially at places like CUNY, need to realize and account for this in their teaching. https://t.co/Qj0R7HAvdc

— Lavelle Porter (@alavelleporter) December 3, 2018

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said many colleges do consider the cost of digital devices when calculating the cost of attendance for students but may not specifically budget for smartphones.

"The cost of attendance would include not just books, supplies, transportation, room and board, it also includes any reasonable amount, determined by the school, for rental or purchase of computer equipment," he said.

There isn’t data on whether smartphones are typically considered computer equipment by colleges, said Draeger, “but smartphones are getting more and more like computers, so I’d certainly consider that a justifiable expense.”

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for savingforcollege.com, doesn’t believe many colleges would consider smartphones computer equipment equivalent to laptops or tablets.

“I don’t know of any colleges that have an allowance for a smartphone purchase as part of their attendance -- I think many would consider it more of a luxury than a necessity,” he said.

Kantrowitz said many students could get by with a cheap phone that doesn’t have a touchscreen or come with an expensive monthly data plan.

“For academic work, a laptop or convertible tablet is going to be much more useful than a smartphone,” he said.

Kantrowitz, who used to do data input research for palm organizers and other technologies, said while smartphones may never be an ideal tool for composing essays because of their small size, the lines between laptops and computers are blurring.

Universities, ed-tech companies and even the federal government are recognizing that students do rely heavily on smartphones and may not have access to desktop computers, he said. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recently released a mobile app to help students more easily apply for federal financial aid.

Even if colleges did allocate money for smartphones in their cost of attendance, Goldrick-Rab said students on financial aid would "still have unmet needs."

"The numbers are just too low," she said of financial aid awards. "The reality is the new economics of college have left students without the means to succeed."

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Categories: Higher Education News

Amid competition, small private colleges consolidate campuses

December 5, 2018 - 7:00pm

Mergers among small private colleges have been in the news lately. In 2017, Wheelock College said it would merge into nearby Boston University, and a recent survey by Inside Higher Ed found that 24 percent of financial officers at private baccalaureate colleges say leaders have had “serious” discussions about a merger.

But another kind of consolidation is playing out among a few small private institutions: they are closing far-flung branch campuses, squeezing students into fewer locations or, if they can't accommodate them, simply helping students enroll elsewhere.

Among the latest to downsize: Nyack College, a small private Christian institution in New York’s Hudson Valley, which last month said it would close its long-standing campus in Rockland County, north of New York City, and move all of its operations to a high-rise building at the southern tip of Manhattan, about a half mile south of 1 World Trade Center. College officials said they can better advance academic programs on a single campus.

Originally known as the Missionary Training Institute, Nyack was the first Bible college in North America, according to college officials. Founded in Manhattan in 1882, it moved to the Hudson Valley in 1897 after founders bought 28 acres in South Nyack, N.Y. They renamed it Nyack Missionary College in 1956, then shortened it to Nyack College in 1972.

Nyack re-established the Manhattan campus in 1997, in response to what it said was growing enrollment, but it now says it wants to be based solely out of New York City. Nyack declined to comment on the move, but President Mike Scales told the Rockland/Westchester Journal News last month that shutting the Rockland campus will “minimize rising costs and maintain high academic standards.” Jeff Quinn, Nyack’s vice president of college relations, said the college is "looking for ways to reduce our operational footprint."

Nyack has not said what it plans to do with its 100-plus-acre South Nyack campus or a 21.7-acre seminary in Upper Nyack. It is working with a commercial realty firm and last month borrowed $38.5 million against the South Nyack property from the New Jersey lender Procida Funding & Advisors, whose CEO called the campus parcel “some of the best real estate the Hudson Valley has to offer.”

The college hasn’t immediately said how the closure will affect about 140 full-time employees in South Nyack, but it said the 600 students enrolled there can take course work in Manhattan or online -- Nyack, which currently offers housing through New York's 92nd Street Y, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called Educational Housing Services and via other arrangements, is also working to house students in nearby Jersey City, N.J., officials said.

Last June, Northwest University, a four-year Christian college based in Kirkland, Wash., closed its Sacramento campus. The location had been the home of Capital Bible College until 2013, when Northwest took it over. Northwest still operates a second satellite campus in Salem, Ore.

Last August, New Orleans' Tulane University said it would suspend admissions to the Biloxi, Miss., campus of its School of Professional Advancement in the spring 2019 semester -- the campus had operated there since 2001, offering degrees in eight areas. It moved into Biloxi's Edgewater Mall in 2015, The Advocate reported. Another satellite campus, in the Jackson, Miss., suburb of Madison, closed earlier.

Tulane said the latest closure in Biloxi is due to “a steady decline in student admissions” there over the past seven years. The campus recorded its best year in 2011, with 205 students, but since then enrollment had fallen to under 100. It now enrolls just 92 students, Tulane said.

Suri Duitch, dean of the School of Professional Advancement, said Tulane would work with students to help them complete their degrees and certificates, including the option to finish at Biloxi, through online courses at Tulane’s New Orleans campuses or at other local institutions. Tulane said it would also develop teach-out partner agreements for Biloxi students. It will help the campus' three staff members and 25 part-time faculty members find new positions, including elsewhere at the university. The planned closure still must be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In a statement, Duitch called the closure disappointing. “We’ve worked so hard to turn around a long-term enrollment decline and had tremendous support from members of the Biloxi and Gulfport communities,” she said. “The campus, however, is simply no longer financially viable.”

Tulane still operates a satellite campus in the New Orleans suburb of Elmwood, La., in adjoining Jefferson Parish, about six miles west of its home campus.

In 2014, George Fox University, in Newburg, Ore., about a half hour southwest of Portland, closed its Boise, Idaho, center after 19 years. The branch campus, which had opened in 1995, 450 miles and an entire time zone away, focused on degree completion for adults. It also offered an M.B.A. and a master’s degree in education, among others.

Ahead of its time when it opened, by 2014 it was a victim of a regional education market that had become saturated with degree programs, from both for-profit and nonprofit providers; students also began taking online courses.

"There are many costs associated with operating a full-service satellite campus hundreds of miles from our main campus," said spokesman Rob Felton. "As a nonprofit organization, we couldn't operate long-term at a loss." He said George Fox would actually consider opening a new site "if the location and programs fit our mission and show potential to become self-sufficient."

Felton said George Fox still offers online course work for Boise-area students that requires "limited travel" to the Portland area. But its brick-and-mortar campuses are limited to areas closer to home in Portland, Salem and Redmond, Ore.

Paul Hassen of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities said small private colleges' "retrenching and consolidating" is to be expected as regional needs change. "From our perspective, it's more a function of the ebb and flow of the environment," he said.

He noted that leaders of a few small institutions have actually found ways to expand -- Hassen noted new programs in cybersecurity and allied health at St. Bonaventure University in western New York. Just five years ago, the Roman Catholic college was pursuing a merger with nearby Hilbert College.

“You see campuses doing things where they think there’s an opportunity to maximize their enrollment -- or to conserve their operating capital,” he said.

Expansions Elsewhere

At other institutions, regional job shortages are driving expansion of branch campuses.

In California’s Central Valley, Fresno Pacific University enrolls about 5,000 students, but only half of them actually attend class at its main campus in Fresno, where virtually all students are traditional undergraduates. The other 2,500 attend at one of four regional campuses, all of them operating in leased space.

About 950 adult learners and graduate students attend class in a leased Fresno high-rise that houses the university’s North Fresno campus; about 1,150 attend class in Visalia, with another 234 students in an office building in Merced. About 100 miles southeast of Fresno, 227 students attend class in Bakersfield.

Jorge Lopez, director of regional campus operations, said the far-flung satellites are “thriving.” Far from closing or consolidating, there’s talk of where to open the next one, he said.

“Those campuses reach out to the community or the regions,” he said, “and they serve that population of adult learners” who are pushing to finish degrees. Part of the system’s success, he said, was targeting adult and graduate students who badly need training for in-demand jobs.

Leasing space instead of building new facilities “allows you the flexibility to move quickly in the way of adding programs, sunsetting programs [and] developing new programs to meet the region’s career needs,” he said.

In two of the locations, Fresno Pacific formed partnerships with community colleges that sublease space from the university and offer their own two-year course of studies. “It creates that stream of students,” Lopez said, offering them the opportunity to complete a four-year degree in a single location.

Fresno Pacific focused on just a few sectors with yawning regional employee shortages, such as nursing, education and social work, he said. In each city “they have community colleges, but no university that’s close to them,” Lopez said. “We find a niche, basically -- several niches, actually -- and then serve that community.”

In northeastern Pennsylvania, Lackawanna College last year expanded from its base in Scranton to Sunbury, an hour-and-a-half drive southwest, where it opened its sixth regional center. Like Fresno Pacific, it saw a niche, in this case for a more affordable private two-year degree for working students.

“We’re really tapping into the local region and trying to fulfill a need within the local communities,” said Philip Campbell, Sunbury’s director. Unlike the Scranton campus, Sunbury serves virtually all commuters -- and like Lackawanna's other centers, it solely offers associate degrees in high-demand fields like criminal justice, sports management, accounting and business administration.

The center, housed in a repurposed retail space in a strip mall -- its neighbors are a dollar store, a hair salon and a brew pub -- also offers what’s perhaps the most valuable perk to commuter students: acres of free parking. The program enrolls about 50 students, with hopes to add as many as 30 more in the spring.

Campbell attributes the centers’ success, in part, to an economy that, for many workers, has not yet recovered. “When the economy is doing well and businesses are staying open -- and factories are staying open -- people aren’t looking to further their education so much,” he said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

New research provides detailed data better explaining college teaching costs

December 4, 2018 - 7:00pm

New research on the cost differences in higher education found that colleges and universities spend more money on providing courses in preprofessional programs and high-paying academic fields in science and engineering than on courses in the humanities and social sciences.

A working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research states that teaching costs at higher ed institutions across the country varied widely across academic fields and were generally higher in fields where graduates earn more money.

For instance, the cost of teaching electrical engineering is 109 percent higher than teaching English, but teaching math is 22 percent lower than teaching English, according to the authors of the paper, “Why Is Math Cheaper Than English? Understanding Cost Differences in Higher Education.”

“This variation in costs is a function of large differences in class size and, to a lesser extent, differences in average faculty pay,” the researchers wrote. “We observe different stories across fields in terms of the trade-offs implied by the cost drivers. Some fields, like economics, offset high wages with large classes, resulting in costs that are comparable to English despite higher faculty pay.

“Other fields, such as mechanical engineering and computer science, do not offset high faculty pay with large classes, resulting in costs that are much greater than English. Still others, like physics, partially offset higher faculty salaries with heavier faculty workloads, resulting in costs that are moderately higher than English.”

The findings have implications for higher education policy and funding decisions at a time when state and federal lawmakers are increasingly demanding more accountability from colleges and universities, and more evidence that they provide students with measurable academic and employment outcomes.

“These outcomes differences have prompted policymakers to promote enrollment in high earning fields through various direct and indirect incentives to institutions and students, such as targeted scholarships and performance-based funding,” the authors noted. “However, we know very little about the economic cost of this investment or the resource consequences of steering more students into these fields.”

The researchers used data spanning from 2000 to 2015 from more than 550 institutions representing a “large and diverse” sample, and 7,150 individual academic departments, said Kevin M. Stange, one of the authors and an associate professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

“We wanted to establish a baseline set of facts that are sort of true for the industry overall,” he said, “not just those at institutions in one state, or for fields in one sector, or for colleges with one level of selectivity.”

Doug Webber, an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the economics department at Temple University, predicted that the research will be a game changer.

“I can't overstate how important this paper is going to wind up being for both the research and practice of higher education finance,” he tweeted Monday.

Webber said prior to the new paper he was not aware of any analysis of data on the detailed costs of college instruction.

“There is reasonably good, very aggregate data on how much schools are spending, but it’s not broken down by department,” he said. “Prior to this paper, it was very difficult to draw any conclusions as to why costs have been changing over time and how they been changing,” and whether there has been any success at bending the cost curve.

The findings “should temper a bit” the thinking that producing one more English major versus an electrical engineering major is impractical.

“It costs a lot more to produce the electrical engineer,” he said. “States need to be aware of that.”

“For higher ed researchers, there’s so much that can be done with the data,” he said. “How much of the price increase in higher education over the last few years has been due to these various cost factors? We’ll able to look at this in a much more granular way that no one has before.”

The research estimates differences in instructional costs by field, describes the associations between class size and faculty workload and the cost differences, and documents trends over time in field-specific costs, all with an eye toward “providing a comprehensive descriptive analysis of instructional costs within institutions.”

For instance, they noted cost differences that evolved over time.

“Some STEM fields -- mechanical engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, and nursing -- experienced steep declines in spending over the past fifteen years while others saw increases. Fourth, these trends are explained by large increases in class size (mechanical engineering, nursing) and increases in faculty teaching loads (chemistry, biology) alongside a shift in faculty composition toward contingent faculty.”

By having a better understanding of cost differences across fields, institutions and states could take them into account when setting prices and allocating resources, the authors noted.

"Many public institutions charge students differentially by college or field and some states recognize cost differences in their appropriations formulas, but these cost differences are present even for states and institutions that do not use such practices," they wrote. "Second, the social return to investment in high-earning fields may be lower than wage premiums suggest because high-return fields also tend to be more costly to teach."

Stange said their analysis of cost drivers could help illuminate “the return the U.S. government and the states get from investing a tremendous amount of resources to higher ed.

“The questions is what kind of return we’re getting on these investments and how can it be improved?” he said.

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Categories: Higher Education News

U of Arizona is being sued once again for alleged discrimination against women in terms of salary and promotions

December 4, 2018 - 7:00pm

The Arizona Board of Regents is once again being sued for pervasive gender discrimination at the University of Arizona.

In a new federal lawsuit, Katrina Miranda, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Arizona, alleges that women in the College of Science are consistently underpaid and passed over for promotions with respect to their male colleagues. She is seeking class action status to represent the women across the college.

Miranda, who has been at Arizona since 2002, says that she and other women in her department have not received raises since 2011, while men in the department have seen their pay increase. Miranda also says that she was denied a promotion to full professor in 2016 by her dean and provost, even though her faculty colleagues recommended her for advancement.

That’s also despite the fact that she’s been assessed to have exceeded or “far exceeded” expectations in each of her routine reviews, and despite her many accomplishments, such as being honored as fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 2013.

The lawsuit alleges that such decisions at the administrative level are “completely disconnected from standards or metrics and are thus completely opaque,” and that the college dean, in particular, “exercises pay-setting authority in a black box.”

Women, reads the lawsuit, "are routinely disfavored.”

Miranda further alleges retaliation, saying that after she complained internally about what she saw as discrimination, administrators sought to reduce the size of her lab space, remove a prerequisite from one of her courses and block her from teaching a class she had designed.

“Despite Miranda’s strong record of research, service to the university, and contributions to the scientific community, the university has undercompensated and underpromoted her for years,” Miranda’s attorney, Andrew Melzer, said in a statement. “The lawsuit seeks to correct these ongoing wrongs, both for Miranda and for other female professors like her.”

According to public salary data cited in her complaint, Miranda has been paid between $9,000 and $36,000 less than male professors in her department with similar or lesser experience from 2016 to 2018. Miranda says that other women in her department have been similarly slighted.

Miranda earned between $97,000 and $100,000 annually between 2105-16 and 2017-18. By contrast, Arizona paid a male professor of chemistry who was hired and tenured at the same time as Miranda $130,500 annually for the last two years. Another male professor of chemistry who was hired just one year earlier than Miranda received a base salary of about $136,000 for each of the last two years. 

Miranda says that she has a stronger publication record than both men and has done as much service work as they have, if not more. Her research impact H-index score is almost double theirs, she says. Miranda also served as an assistant chair, while neither man has held a department leadership role, according to the complaint. 

Less experienced male faculty members also are paid more than women, Miranda says. A male professor of chemistry hired and tenured two years behind her earned $130,500 in each of the last two years, for example. And in 2011, the university gave that professor a $48,000 raise, bringing his salary to $120,000 annually. At the time, Miranda made $91,500. 

Miranda and other female associate professors approached their department chair about their pay. She was allegedly told be “patient.” But patience has not paid off. In 2011, there were seven other associate professors in Miranda’s department, the lawsuit says. Two additional male associate professors have since received salary increases while none of the female associate professors have.

Retention bonuses have been similarly distributed along gender lines, according to the lawsuit, and women allegedly know to avoid asking for them or risk professional repercussions.

Half of the associate professors in Miranda’s department are female, according to her complaint, but they are just one in every eight full professors -- the rank Miranda was denied.

Frustrated, Miranda complained to Arizona’s Office of Institutional Equity late last year. But her complaints have gone largely unheard, she says -- except for the consequences she’s suffered for speaking out.

Miranda is seeking $20 million in damages at trial via her would-be class action case -- and a change in the way her college does business.

In January, Patricia MacCorquodale, dean emerita of Arizona’s Honors College and a professor of gender and women’s studies, sued the university for gender discrimination, saying she was underpaid as compared to male deans. Janice Cervelli, former dean of architecture at Arizona and current president of Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, joined the suit in March. Cervelli alleges in that ongoing case that the difference between her pay and the average male dean’s was $80,000 annually in her last two years at Arizona.

Similar to Miranda, MacCorquodale and Cervelli seek to represent their female colleagues at Arizona in their $2 million collective action -- in that case, female deans. They are seeking back pay for lost compensation, along with damages and relief, via a jury trial.

The regents have previously said they do not comment on pending litigation, and a spokesperson for Arizona said Monday that the university is not commenting on either case.

Professors and administrators sue their institutions on a relatively rare basis, as lawsuits are expensive to pursue and courts typically defer to institutional judgment on personnel matters. But the two cases, while separate, may bolster each other. And there have been some recent legal wins for professors who take on their administrations. Most significantly, the University of Denver in May settled with the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission for $2.7 million and agreed to change its law faculty compensation policies.

The EEOC took the unusual step of suing Denver in that case for violations of the Equal Pay Act -- which is also cited in the Arizona cases -- and federal nondiscrimination laws. That’s after seven female law professors complained that they were paid less than their male colleagues for the same work.

The original Denver complainant, Lucy Marsh, a longtime professor at Denver's Sturm College of Law, told the EEOC in 2013 that she was paid less than all of her full-time, male colleagues -- even those who were hired long after her. The EEOC found evidence of a pay gap in the college going back to at least the 1970s and engaged in talks with Denver about it. But the university did not take steps to remedy the situation, according to the lawsuit.

Six other women joined Marsh in the complaint. In 2013, it says, the university employed nine female full professors whose average annual salary was about $140,000, compared to about $159,700 for male full professors. No female full professor earned more than the average salary for male full professors.

Higher education’s pay gap is well documented, and reflects trends across the U.S. work force. Female administrators earn 80 cents on the dollar when compared to men, according to a 2017 report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. That’s up just three cents from 2001, when the difference was 77 cents on the dollar. According to that same report, women made up about half of all administrators, but just 30 percent of top executives.

Among faculty members, 93 percent of all institutions pay men more than women at the same rank, according to the American Association of University Professors’ annual salary data. AAUP’s accompanying 2018 report said that women continue to face barriers breaking into the highest -- and highest-paid -- rank of full professor. Challenges include inadequate institutional support, sexual harassment and institutional reliance on part-time positions (in which women are overrepresented), along with unconscious bias, lack of mentorship and problems achieving work-life balance.

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Categories: Higher Education News