Inside Higher Ed

Study: Student evaluations of teaching are deeply flawed

2 hours 3 min ago

Student evaluations of teaching reflect students’ biases and are otherwise unreliable. So goes much of criticism of these evaluations, or SETs. Increasingly, research backs up both of those concerns.

On the other side of the debate, SET proponents acknowledge that these evaluations are imperfect indicators of teaching quality. Still, proponents argue that well-designed SETs inevitably tell us something valuable about students’ learning experiences with a given professor.

A new study -- which one expert called a possible “game-changer” -- seeks to cut through the noise by assuming the best of SETs -- at least, that which is supported by the existing literature. Its analysis assumes that the scores students give instructors are moderately correlated with student learning and the use of pedagogical best practices. It assumes that SETs are highly reliable, or that professors consistently get the same ratings. And it assumes that SETs do not systematically discriminate against instructors on the basis of irrelevant criteria such as their gender, class size and type of course being taught.

And even when stacking the deck for SETs, the study finds that these evaluations are deeply flawed measures of teaching quality.

New Question, Familiar Answer

Unbiased, Reliable and Valid Student Evaluations Can Still Be Unfair,” published in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, was written by Justin Esarey and Natalie Valdes. Esarey, an associate professor, and Valdes, an undergraduate research fellow, both work in political science at Wake Forest University. They note -- rightly -- that their field has faced concerns about gender bias, including in student evaluations of female professors.

The problem transcends political science, of course, and many studies suggest that students perceive instructors differently based on factors beyond gender, such as race. (Political scientists Mirya Hollman, Ellen Key and Rebecca Kreitzer maintain a bibliography of relevant studies here.)

As the paper notes, “Using invalid, unreliable or biased student evaluations to make decisions about hiring and tenure is obviously harmful to students and faculty alike." Even worse, it says, “biased SETs could disadvantage faculty from underrepresented minority groups or punish faculty members who teach unpopular required courses.”

While these are “important problems,” the authors write, they shift gears and “ask a different question: if SETs are valid, reliable, and unbiased, what then?” Are SET scores without “demonstrable bias and moderately correlated with instructor quality a fair basis on which to judge a faculty member’s teaching performance?” If the answer to the latter question is no, then “there is a much bigger problem with the use of SETs than is commonly recognized.”

And no is indeed the answer: even under “ideal” circumstances, Esarey and Valdes write, SETs still yield an “unacceptably high error rate.”

Summing up his findings this week, Esarey said that unless the correlation between student ratings and teaching quality is “far, far stronger than even the most optimistic empirical research can support,” then common administrative uses of SETs “very frequently lead to incorrect decisions.” Those professors with the very highest evaluations “are often poor teachers,” he added, “and those with the very lowest evaluations are often better than the typical instructor.”

Consequently, Esarey said that he and Valdes would expect “any administrative decisions made using SET scores as the primary basis for judgment to be quite unfair.”

Experts in this area have long advised against basing high-stakes personnel decisions on student ratings of instruction alone. A number of institutions and professional groups have made commitments and policy changes to this effect. But SETs still have a major foothold in these processes on many campuses, as they are relatively easy and inexpensive compared to other means of assessing teaching quality. And because institutions invest relatively little time and few resources in their adjunct faculty members, these professors are disproportionately hired and fired based on student feedback.

Benefit of the Doubt

The current study is based on a computational simulation -- no actual professors were involved (or harmed). That allowed Esarey and Valdes to directly measure teaching effectiveness, which is still very hard to measure in real life. For the same reason, Esarey and Valdes were also able to assess how accurate are administrative decisions using SET scores to gauge teaching effectiveness.

As Esarey explained, “In our simulation, we know a faculty member's SET score and also their real teaching effectiveness. We computationally simulate thousands of faculty members and then compare them to one another the way that a department chair or dean might evaluate faculty members using SET scores in real life.”

A bit more technically, the complex computer model simulated one million instructors' student ratings along with their teaching quality percentiles, with varying correlation between the two measures. Then it used the simulated scores in realistic evaluation scenarios. First, Esarey and Valdes looked at “pairwise comparisons” of sets of hypothetical faculty members via SET scores. This mirrored “comparison of job candidates on the basis of their teaching performance or the comparison of a faculty member up for tenure to the teaching record of a recent (un)successful case,” according to the study.

Next, Esarey and Valdes compared an individual professor’s SET scores to the overall population of SET scores from all faculty members in the model. That, in turn, mirrored a procedure “where faculty members who are under-performing relative to their peers (e.g. whose scores are below a certain percentile ranking) are identified for administrative action as part of a tenure case or other systematic review,” the study says.

In so doing, the researchers found that even when the correlations between instructor ratings and faculty instructional quality or student learning is as significant as it's even been shown to be (about 0.43, based on a 1981 metastudy that has since been challenged), there remains a large difference in SET scores -- as much as 30 percentage points. This does not reliably identify the best teacher in the pairwise comparison.

Moreover, one-quarter of these simulated faculty members with SET scores at or below the 20th percentile in the peer comparison analysis “are actually better at teaching than the median faculty member in our simulation.”

Even those with exceptionally high SET scores can be “poor teachers,” the study says, as nearly 19 percent of those with SET scores above the 95th percentile are no better than the median professor at teaching.

Making “fair, accurate personnel decisions based on faculty instruction requires a measure of teaching performance that is substantially more related to student learning or instructional best practices than SET scores alone,” the study says. (The researchers confirmed their findings in a second, more advanced analysis.)

As for how SETs should be used within colleges and universities, the researchers make three recommendations. On a technical level, they advise removing any systematic gap in SET scores explained by noninstructional factors, such as gender, via regression adjustment or matched subsample analysis “before using these scores for any purpose.”

How to Use SETs

This kind of adjustment can’t “filter” out all idiosyncratic influences on SET scores, however, they say. They thus advise using a “combination of independent evaluators, interviews with students, teaching observations by experts, peer review of instructional materials and SET scores” to give “a much more accurate picture of a faculty member’s teaching proficiency when SET scores alone would be misleading.”

Averaging these multiple forms of evaluation can allow idiosyncratic variation in each one to cancel out, “resulting in further reduction of imprecision between the averaged assessment and a faculty member’s true teaching performance,” the study says.

Because this kind of multifaceted assessment is expensive, the researchers say that SETs “could serve as a low-cost mechanism for identifying” professors who need it -- but only “with the understanding that many faculty so identified will be excellent teachers.”

Last, the authors advise “caution in over-reliance on SET scores for any purpose.”

Joshua Eyler, director of faculty development at the University of Mississippi and author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching, commented on a study draft prior to publication. Evidently pleased with the results, he’s the one who called the study a “game-changer” in the SET wars.

Eyler said this week that there is a big difference between asking students about a professor's "behaviors" -- whether they have a sense of humor or they're engaging -- and observing whether professors are using evidenced-based teaching strategies. That's because behaviors are rarely if ever correlated with student learning, whereas good strategies are.

With regard to SETs in particular, Eyler said that if an institution uses a form that poses real questions linked to student learning (and not behaviors), then SETS “have a role to play in providing formative, nonevaluative feedback for faculty.” Yet they “should simply not be used for summative evaluations and decisions about someone's career,” he cautioned, as the study makes clear that “even in a perfect world where we could somehow mitigate the bias of SETs, they would still be deeply flawed instruments.”

Esarey said he endorsed what he called "multi-modal" assessments of teaching. Echoing him, Eyler said that the best tenure and promotion practices "employ multiple modes of evidence for teaching effectiveness."

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NC-SARA report paints detailed picture of distance education landscape

2 hours 3 min ago

Over 1.5 million students studied toward online degrees at institutions in their home state last year, according to new distance education data released today.

The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) has been collecting data on the number of out-of-state students studying online for the past four years.

This year for the first time the report includes in-state students studying online in addition to out-of-state students studying online -- painting a much fuller picture of the online learning landscape.

Data collected from NC-SARA’s 1,960 member institutions (from every state but California) show that 2.8 million students studied in fully online degree programs in 2019. Of these, 1.5 million were in-state students and 1.3 million were out-of-state students. Out-of-state online enrollment grew by 5 percent compared with the 2018 data.

Before NC-SARA existed, individual states used to collect online enrollment data, but it was difficult to get a national picture, said Cheryl Dowd, director for the State Authorization Network at the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. “I appreciate that NC-SARA is providing consistency in the reporting,” she said.

While the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) requires institutions to report their distance education enrollment, it does not break down that enrollment by state. “It’s helpful for states and institutions to see who is going out of state and where they’re going,” said Dowd. The NC-SARA database makes it possible to track which states students at specific institutions come from.

When it comes to picking a college, even online, proximity clearly matters to students. A 2019 survey by Learning House, Wiley Education and Aslanian Research suggested that online students are increasingly choosing to study close to home. The NC-SARA report shows public institutions accounted for 53.2 percent of the total reported online enrollment in 2019. The vast majority of these learners, 80 percent, are in-state students.

At private nonprofit institutions, however, a different picture emerges. At these institutions, 68 percent of a total 836,644 online students were enrolled from out of state. At private for-profit institutions, 92 percent of 475,505 students were out of state. Since 2017, online enrollments at for-profit institutions have declined by more than 100,000, despite a positive increase in 2018, the NC-SARA data suggest.

As public institutions tend to start out with a regional, rather than national, focus online, it makes sense that the majority of their online enrollments are in-state, said Dowd. Public universities tend to have strong local brand recognition and are typically slower than privates to market their online learning at a national level, she said.

With more than 47,000 students, the University of Maryland Global Campus had the largest fully online enrollment among public institutions, followed by Arizona State University and Purdue University Global. Western Governors University reported the largest online enrollment among private nonprofit institutions. The University of Phoenix reported the highest enrollment among private for-profit institutions, with 95,938 students.

In previous NC-SARA reports that did not count in-state online enrollment, no public institutions made the top 10 list of institutions by size of reported enrollment. This year, UM Global Campus came in at No. 6.

2019 Top 10 Institutions by Size of Reported Online Enrollment Institution Name State Sector Total Reported Online Enrollment

Western Governors University

Utah Private nonprofit

120,876

University of Phoenix Ariz. Private for-profit 95,938 Southern New Hampshire University N.H. Private nonprofit 95,832 Grand Canyon University Ariz. Private nonprofit 69,952 Liberty University Va. Private nonprofit 62,561 University of Maryland Global Campus Md. Public 47,537 Strayer University D.C. Private for-profit 43,765 American Public University System Minn.

Private for-profit

43,573 Ashworth College Ga. Private for-profit 41,329 Capella University Minn. Private for-profit 36,915

“The data confirm what we knew anecdotally to be true -- a lot of public institutions are serving their state citizens with online learning,” said Lori Williams, CEO and president of NC-SARA. “We know that campus-based students tend to go to schools within a 50-mile radius of their home, and we thought that something similar was happening online. Now we have the data to support that assertion.”

Members of NC-SARA agree to shared national standards that make it easier for them to offer online programing across state lines. There are 49 states participating in the agreement, with the exception of California. The District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands also participate in the agreement.

Providing data to NC-SARA is a condition of being a member institution, said Marianne Boeke, director for policy research and state support at NC-SARA. This year the report had a 99.5 percent response rate, with exceptional circumstances preventing a small number of institutions from participating. “We’ve never had a repeat offender,” she said.

Boeke said she and her colleagues are mindful that they do not want to burden members with excessive data reporting requirements. But they want to make the data they collect as useful as possible to their state and institutional members, she said.

Tracking Learning Placements

This year, NC-SARA introduced a new addition to its report: exploring the number of students in online or on-campus programs participating in out-of-state learning placements. These include, for example, internships or clinical placements for students in medical fields. It’s a topical issue, given the looming federal requirement for institutions to make disclosures to all students about professional state licensure requirements, said Williams.

While NC-SARA institutions have been required to make professional licensure disclosures to students for some time, institutions still struggled to pinpoint how many students are engaging in experiential learning, said Boeke. “At the departmental level, administrators absolutely know where their students are and track them closely. But trying to filter that up to the institutional level has been tricky,” she said. “It’s going to take a while to get systems in place so that each institution can report this data efficiently and accurately.”

A total of 239,955 out-of-state learning placements were reported in 2019, but Boeke suspects this number is likely “on the conservative side.” The majority of these placements, 60.5 percent, were in health-related programs, followed by education (9.5 percent) and business (5 percent).

Some states and programmatic accreditors do collect information on where students find placements, particularly in highly regulated fields such as nursing, said Jennifer Mathes, interim CEO of the Online Learning Consortium. But it’s “not easy to pull that information together to get a national picture,” she said.

Both Mathes and Dowd said they would like to see these data being collected on a more granular basis in the future -- perhaps breaking down health-related placements by their associated program titles. But both said they understood that NC-SARA is being careful not to overburden their member institutions.

“They’re asking the right questions for their organization. I think they’ve got the balance just about right,” said Mathes.

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Western accreditor will consider approving colleges outside its region

2 hours 3 min ago

And they're off.

Four months after the Education Department issued new rules that created the possibility of open competition among accrediting agencies -- and four months before the regulations take effect -- the accrediting body for California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands announced Wednesday that it would consider approving colleges around the country. Among other things, the new regulations eliminate the historical restriction that regional accrediting agencies can accredit only colleges and universities located in their geographic regions (with exceptions for branch campuses of those institutions).

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges' Senior College and University Commission voted unanimously this month to "broaden our reach," its leaders said in a letter released today. The letter said that several of the colleges and universities that WSCUC already accredits had "asked if we would consider accrediting related institutions located beyond those areas," and that the commission had concluded that "saying yes to these requests is consistent with our mission of supporting institutions we accredit as they seek to reach new audiences and increase their effectiveness and sustainability."

While WSCUC officials are focusing for now on requests from currently WSCUC-accredited institutions that want to either move their campus or start a new institution out of the region, the commission has not ruled out any possibility -- including accrediting a university that is already accredited by an agency in another region.

"This is not an expansion move," Jamienne S. Studley, the Western commissioner's president, said in an interview. "This is initially a responsiveness and service move. It's also an effort to continue to promote our principles in an environment we could tell might be changing."

The rewrite of the rules governing accreditation by the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos -- which started out aiming for drastic changes and ultimately embraced more modest and arcane ones -- was largely supported by higher education leaders but strongly opposed by consumer advocates, who feared that the collective changes would weaken oversight of colleges and universities.

Among the changes made in the 400-page document were several designed to blur if not eliminate the distinction between the "regional" and "national" accreditors -- the two sets of agencies that have the power to decide which colleges and universities qualify to award federal financial aid to their students.

Regional accreditors, which overwhelmingly accredit public and private nonprofit colleges, have -- fairly or not -- often been viewed by many observers as "better" (whatever that means) than national accreditors, most of which accredit mainly for-profit colleges. (A few accredit specialized religious colleges.)

Officials in the Trump administration -- as has been true for previous Republican administrations like that of George W. Bush -- believe that the distinction between the two sets of accreditors unfairly leads to discrimination against for-profit colleges, and have sought to obliterate it.

The move to eliminate the geographic restriction for the agencies formerly known as regional accrediting agencies is designed, in part, to erode the regional/national accreditor distinction.

But the rationale the Education Department put forward last year for ending the geographic limitation was “to allow for additional competition, so that an institution or program may select an agency that best aligns with the institution’s mission and to improve transparency about the states in which each agency accredits campuses.”

Collectively, the seven regional accrediting agencies have opposed significant changes to how they operate, but they ultimately signed off on the final regulations (in large part because they were so much milder than those the department originally proposed).

But advocates for students opposed the changes, arguing that any increased "competition" among accreditors would, almost inevitably, lead to a "race to the bottom" in which colleges and universities would seek out agencies that applied less scrutiny and asked them to meet fewer accountability requirements.

What Is the Western Accreditor Up To?

A decade ago, as congressional Democrats and the Obama administration ramped up their scrutiny of for-profit colleges, two major higher education companies sought to shift their affiliations to the Western accrediting agency when the Higher Learning Commission, by far the largest regional agency covering the vast middle of the country, shifted its policies to look much more critically at the sector. Those companies, Argosy and Bridgepoint Education, both had footprints in California, which is why they were able to shift accreditors despite the geographic limits.

Studley, who took the reins at WSCUC in 2018 after a stint as a senior official in the Obama administration's Education Department, rejected any suggestion that the Western agency was abandoning the limitation of its geographic scope so as to become a haven for lower-quality institutions.

"Our hope is that we will be able to continue the model that we set the bar very high," she said. "I would be surprised if institutions came to us because they thought we were the easy grader. Every fiber of our being is motivated in the direction of strong standards, consistently applied."

What is WSCUC's motivation?

To the extent the agency sticks to its initial self-imposed focus on giving the colleges it currently accredits more options, by creating new institutions or moving to other states in various ways, WSCUC's official statement that it wants to serve its members and students better makes sense. The agency currently accredits branch campuses or locations in 15 states, and recently agreed to accredit colleges in other countries, as several of the other agencies formerly known as regional do.

But WSCUC seems unlikely to stop at this, given its statement's suggestion that the current step is "both deliberate and an opportunity for further meaningful change … WSCUC has long been proud of initiating and responding to change, such as our innovations relating to transparency, outcomes, international, and incubation, and this provides another opportunity to do just that."

Does WSCUC's move, especially if it extends its reach further, open the door to the "race to the bottom" that critics fear?

"No one’s super worried about WSCUC itself," said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy with New America's education policy program. "But this makes it harder for the rest of them not to follow suit, setting off an inevitable race."

In combination with other federal rules changes that make it easier for colleges to get and stay accredited, McCann said, "there is likely to be pressure to make their processes less rigorous. WSCUC has historically tried to be a cut above everybody else, and I doubt they will let their reputation flip so considerably. But if other accreditors lose some institutions to WSCUC, there will be a cascading effect that will definitely lead the race to the bottom."

Accreditation officials played down the potential for all-out competition, especially that would result in a downward trajectory in quality.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon that her board would not make its own decision about whether to expand its scope until a meeting in June. "We are not under any requirement to do so," she said.

Asked whether competition among the once-regional accreditors could lead institutions to shop for friendlier accreditors, she said "it might.... Those institutions that feel they aren’t being heard by their accreditor, for whatever reason, might go someplace else."

Said Judith S. Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation: “This announcement by WSCUC is an important development in the life of regional accreditation. There has been much discussion over the past several years about the feasibility of regional accrediting organizations broadening their reach. This is also an example of innovation in accreditation, something that CHEA has long encouraged. We will all learn from WSCUC’s experience here.”

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N.J. governor expands free tuition at state's public colleges

2 hours 3 min ago

New Jersey is the latest state to create a tuition-free program for four-year institutions.

Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, announced the Garden State Guarantee in his 2020 state budget. It would add more than $50 million to the state's outcomes-based funding formula so four-year public colleges can provide up to two years of free tuition. The plan, if approved, wouldn't start until fall 2021.

It’s a step in the right direction, advocates say. But by focusing on tuition costs, they said the program excludes other essential costs of attending college.

The new program could also impact institutions in nearby states, as New Jersey is one of the nation's biggest exporters of college students. If those institutions have to compete harder to get students, it could lead to further discounting, a practice many in higher education criticize.

The guarantee is limited to students with household incomes of $65,000 or less. All students would get predictable pricing from the deal, meaning they will be locked in at the initial tuition prices at public colleges for a full four years.

It builds on New Jersey's Community College Opportunity Grants, which made community colleges tuition-free for up to three years for students below a certain income threshold.

The governor’s office wanted the guarantee to be comparable to the community college program so it would be easy for students to understand, said Zakiya Smith Ellis, secretary of education for New Jersey. And transfer students can use both programs to get two free years at a community college and then finish, tuition-free, at a four-year college.

Funding for the guarantee will come from the state's general appropriations, Smith Ellis said. She is hopeful that future administrations will be supportive of the program.

“We think this is something that should have broad bipartisan support,” she said.

During a news conference at William Paterson University on Wednesday, Murphy joked that the state of Maine gets an assist for this program.

“I was so sick of seeing their billboard that said, ‘Our out-of-state tuition is cheaper than your in-state tuition,’” he said.

This guarantee could have some consequences for other states and colleges, however unintended, said Robert Massa, an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and vice president emeritus of enrollment at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, though he emphasized that he thinks it’s a wonderful program.

Selective institutions often will cover tuition for students who fall below the $65,000 income threshold, so the difference between attending a public New Jersey college and a selective college anywhere else may not be large, he said.

“Here’s the catch: low-income students need to know that,” Massa said.

Unless they have good college counseling and understand how financial aid works, Massa said it’s likely those students will just go with the free in-state options. Because low-income students tend to go to underfunded public K-12 schools, which tend to place large caseloads on counselors, it’s likely they won’t have much guidance.

Many institutions, both public and private, aggressively pursue out-of-state students, he said. A recent study from New America found that public institutions have greatly increased their merit aid to recruit students, leading to a “merit arms race.”

“Any state institution that depends on New Jersey for a good portion of its out-of-state population is going to address it. They’re not going to sit back,” Massa said. “If past practices are indicators of future response, then it’s likely those institutions will increase discounts to those students in order to maintain enrollments.”

And discounting, he said, has gotten out of control and often leads to higher prices for everyone.

On the other hand, institutions often try to capture wealthier out-of-state students who may not be eligible for the guarantee program anyway.

A key point of the guarantee is that the money would go to institutions, with the mandate that they provide tuition-free education to the students who meet the criteria. Once the colleges fulfill that duty, though, they can use the rest of the funds for other programs.

Because several colleges in New Jersey already have affordability programs for low-income students, Smith Ellis believes they could use these funds for wraparound services.

“For so long, people have talked about state disinvestment and that being a key root of why tuition has increased,” Smith Ellis said.

This is the state’s attempt to rectify that, she said.

The program is a great move to help the students who need it the most, said Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy at the Education Trust.

“We understand, when introducing a new program, if they don’t have all the resources, they have to make tough choices,” Jones said. “Our response to that is that’s a great start, but that’s not enough.”

Michelle Asha Cooper, president of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, also commended the program but called it just a start.

"The Garden State Guarantee is a step in the right direction for states looking to prioritize limited state resources for the students that need the most support," she said in a statement. "While IHEP would prefer to see even greater public investment from state and federal governments to help students from low-income backgrounds to afford both tuition and nontuition expenses, the guarantee's intentional focus on promoting access for students of limited means is quite promising."

Jones added that she was happy to see policy makers follow through and actually expand on the initial community college grants.

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Sri Lanka seeks to attract international universities

2 hours 3 min ago

The Sri Lankan government has announced bold plans to reform the country’s university sector, including giving special status to a select group of private institutions and opening up the country to international branch campuses, in a move that critics say will “escalate the marketization of higher education.”

The policy changes include establishing a “free education investment zone” that will provide tax breaks for international universities setting up overseas outposts, under the condition that their academic staff will also support local universities.

However, student places at these campuses would be reserved for “overseas students and nonresident Sri Lankan students who are able to pay in foreign currency,” with students in other parts of South and East Asia the main targets, the government said. Just 5 percent of Sri Lankan students would be offered scholarships to study there.

A 700-acre area in Horana, near the capital of Colombo, has already been identified for this zone, but progress has stalled because of public protests.

The government has also pledged to increase student places in existing institutions by 7,500, or 25 percent, and convert several higher education institutes into universities. Less than 20 percent of students who qualify for university attend due to a cap on places. However, the government said that it would not provide any additional funding for either of these policies.

The country also proposes to grant some private, not-for-profit institutions, which do not have full degree-awarding powers, “chartered university status.” Five institutions have already been recommended for this, which would require any degree programs offered to be approved by the University Grants Commission and for the governing board to include the secretary of higher education as a member.

Harshana Rambukwella, director of the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka, said that successive governments had tried to implement similar changes but the current administration, formed in November, was more likely to succeed.

He added that “the marketization and privatization of higher education” in Sri Lanka had been ongoing for 20 years, but this was “likely to accelerate and progress much more aggressively” under the proposals.

“The changes that are proposed represent a fundamental reorientation of higher education in the country, where it will essentially be determined by market forces,” he said.

However, Rambukwella questioned whether the country would be able to attract international universities and students and said that he was concerned that the quality of higher education in Sri Lanka would diminish “quite severely,” given that the government will provide only “minimal investment” for the new policies.

“All of this has been packaged as broadening access to higher education in Sri Lanka, but in reality the establishment of a free education zone will achieve nothing of the sort, because it’s not going to cater to local demand,” he added.

John Rogers, director of the Colombo-based American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, was also “skeptical” of whether Sri Lanka’s branch campus model could “deliver the standards and compete with the Gulf and Malaysia.”

He added that the proposal to grant chartered status to private institutions that charge tuition fees was likely to face “intense political opposition."

“At the moment, fully fledged universities under the UGC can’t charge fees for undergraduate courses … although the political opposition will assume that that is the ultimate aim of the government, because the government wants to increase the number of undergraduates by 25 percent and not spend any more money,” he said.

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Programs in Italy, South Korea cancel classes and make other changes as coronavirus spreads

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 01:00

American university programs in Italy -- the second-most-popular destination for study abroad programs -- are variously suspending operations and evacuating students, moving classes online, or warning students not to travel domestically as the global spread of the new coronavirus begins to affect international programs in countries outside China, where the virus first originated.

South Korea and Italy have the highest numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, as the virus is officially called, outside China, and the rapid spread of the virus in northern Italy in recent days has prompted public health officials to put some cities and towns in the country’s north on lockdown, effectively quarantining an estimated 100,000 people, according to CNN. Authorities in the regions of Lombardy, which includes Milan, and Veneto, which includes Venice, have ordered universities to close through March 2, Bloomberg reported.

Almost 37,000 American students studied abroad in Italy in 2017-18, according to the Institute of International Education’s annual Open Doors survey, and the spread of the virus now threatens to dampen or even derail the experiences of perhaps thousands of students currently studying abroad there.

Among universities that have announced changes to their Italy programs, Syracuse University said Tuesday it was closing its academic program at its Florence campus and would assist students with returning to the United States.

"Concerns for the safety, well-being and free movement of the 342 students in our study abroad program in Florence, Italy, have guided this difficult decision, which was also informed by global health experts," Steven Bennett, Syracuse's senior vice president for international programs and academic operations, said in a statement. "We believe this is absolutely necessary to reduce the risk of our students being unable to leave Italy due to Italian containment efforts."

New York University also cited the potential for travel restrictions in announcing Monday that it was suspending operations at its Florence campus and would begin holding classes remotely through at least March 29. NYU already moved classes at its Shanghai campus online in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

"The occurrence of coronavirus cases has climbed steeply in northern Italy," said John Beckman, a NYU spokesman. "In response, the Italian government has been taking swift action to try to prevent its spread. While we do not believe there is a pressing health threat to the NYU Florence community, the past month has taught us that countries may swiftly and unexpectedly make decisions that can significantly affect one’s ability to travel."

Florida International University said Tuesday that it had canceled all study abroad programs in Italy, Japan, Singapore and South Kore​a due to the spread of the coronavirus and that it was requiring all students and employees in those countries on university travel to return immediately. After China, South Korea and Italy, Singapore and Japan have the fourth- and fifth-largest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide.​

"Out of an abundance of caution and our responsibility for duty of care, we primarily want to protect our students’ and employees’ well-being," said Kenneth G. Furton, FIU's provost and executive vice president. "At the same time, with the risk of the virus outbreak still not being fully understood, we want to be proactive in calling our students and employees home. The goal is to avoid running the risk of having members of the community remain abroad if further travel restrictions are put in place."

Fairfield University, in Connecticut, is closing a study abroad program in Florence and requiring all enrolled students to leave Italy, a decision that affects 142 students, WTNH, an ABC News affiliate, reported.

Other colleges have kept their programs in Italy open but have taken steps such as restricting student travel. Middlebury College, which has programs in three different Italian cities -- Ferrara, Florence and Rome -- has moved one student from the Ferrara location, in northern Italy, farther south to Rome.

"We are now banning all travel to the affected regions, and we are recommending that students also refrain from traveling anywhere else in Italy," said Carlos J. Vélez-Blasini, the dean of international programs at Middlebury. "We have no recommendation about travel elsewhere in Europe. Students will be told, however, that if they come in contact with anyone suspected of having the COVID-19 they would have be in isolation for 14 days, which could well compromise their ability to complete their academic program."

Brown University has not suspended or canceled its program in Bologna, but a university spokesman said program leaders have taken a number of steps, including temporarily suspending all group cultural activities and program excursions and strongly encouraging students to avoid independent travel to the most directly affected regions.

The American University of Rome said in a statement on its website that it remains open as normal, but it is similarly "looking at the safety/necessity of all student trips, public lectures/meetings, and community travel and will postpone or cancel any that are deemed unnecessary or high risk until further notice."​ AUR also said it is increasing levels of cleaning staff to sanitize AUR spaces; providing hand sanitizer throughout the university; requiring students, faculty and staff with cold or flu symptoms to notify either human resources or the university doctor and stay home if so advised; and extending the university doctor’s hours.

Karen Lancaster, a spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins University, also said the university’s campus in Bologna remains open at this time.

"The leadership team, in consultation with public health authorities and Johns Hopkins’ own experts, continually monitors the situation," she said. "We continue to provide information and resources to our community of scholars, faculty and staff in Italy."

At this point, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend reconsidering travel to Italy, except in the case of older people or people with chronic medical conditions, though it does recommend enhanced precautions.

The CDC has warned against nonessential travel to China since late January, prompting many universities to cancel all university-sponsored and study abroad travel there. Just on Monday the CDC upgraded its travel advisory for South Korea to likewise warn against all travel to that country, citing limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.

Several American universities have campuses in Incheon, a suburb of Seoul. One of those universities, George Mason University, in Virginia, announced Tuesday that it would postpone the start of face-to-face classes at its Incheon campus for two weeks, until March 9.

The University of Utah, which also has a campus in Incheon, has moved all classes online and will reassess whether to continue online teaching in early March, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

The State University of New York said in a statement that its spring semester at the Incheon campus would start March 2, but the first two weeks of lectures will be taught online. Placement exams and registration for incoming freshmen are taking place as planned this week, but exam and registration sites are restricted to 10 people per room and students must wear masks and have their temperature taken before entering the room. The university is mandating masks be worn in all SUNY Korea facilities and is advising members of the campus community to wash hands frequently and abstain from going to public places or meeting in large groups.

Even as American universities try to navigate the threat posed by coronavirus in relation to their international operations, they increasingly face the threat of an outbreak in the U.S. Top American health authorities warned Tuesday that Americans should prepare for the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S., that it was no longer a question of if but when.

Julie Anne Friend, the director of Northwestern University's Office of Global Safety and Security, emphasized how quickly the situation surrounding COVID-19 is evolving and the complexities and scale of the problem.

Friend said the last time universities dealt with these sorts of circumstances, as in the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; the H1N1 flu; or even Ebola, universities weren't dealing with the same kind and volume of travel or some of the same complexities in terms of the number of different health authorities involved.

"I think it’s such an unnerving circumstance to think that an individual could be quarantined that people are acting more prudently than maybe they would have in the past," she said.

Friend stressed the importance of college officials planning for various scenarios, of asking, "What happens if X happens -- really thinking outside of the box."

"I don’t know if this is a new normal. I hope that at some point this whole thing slows down," she said. "But I do think that preparing for things like this is the new normal."

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Concordia students say bias reports were met with silence

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 01:00

Students who have made efforts to change the racial dynamics at Concordia College are worried their reports of racist incidents on campus are falling on deaf ears as concerns about a white professor who used a racial slur during class have been met largely with silence.

That incident and others were referenced during a student government forum held last month on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for students of color to share experiences of “hardships, difficult situations and oppression” at the Lutheran liberal arts college in Moorhead, Minn. The students are frustrated with how race is discussed on the largely white campus and how administrators have handled past incidents of racism. They say when reports are made to the college's Bias Incident and Response Team, or BIRT, the default response by administrators is to send out a standard email, according to notes from the student government forum.

"The BIRT is here to receive, review, and assess reports of bias, and where necessary, forward the report to the appropriate investigating and sanctioning office on campus," said one such response. "BIRT does not have investigative or sanctioning authority. The BIRT is now in the process of reviewing and discussing your report."

The student activists say such cut-and-paste​ responses are unacceptable, insensitive and do little to address the problems or bridge racial divides on a campus that is 82 percent white.

“Students want to have these conversations and want to be heard,” said a white student who is involved in several campus governance groups and did not want to be identified. “It’s almost like gaslighting. We’re told that they want us to talk about this, then [we are] not heard.”

The incident involving the professor who used the racial slur was reported multiple times to the BIRT and raised repeatedly at the forum. Richard Chapman, who is also chairman of the history department, wrote the N-word on a board and said it multiple times during a class exercise in which students were asked to write terms describing both light- and dark-skinned people on opposite sides of a board, said Sutton Junkermeier, a white sophomore who took the course. When no student had written or referenced the slur by the end of the activity, Chapman took it upon himself to write and say it, said Paige Mackedanz, another student in the class.

Students in the class, including two black students, some of whom were visibly uncomfortable, did not respond. They didn't see much “academic purpose” in referencing the slur, Junkermeier said.

One of the black students subsequently dropped the course, leaving Anita Ukpokolo as the sole student of color in the class. Ukpokolo said she went to each following class with “a bit of a grudge.” She said the rest of the course felt like a “disservice” to her white classmates, because Chapman was teaching black history without putting it in the context of today's racial climate, which Ukpokolo said could have been enlightening.

“He can talk about what he observed, but he’s never felt it," Ukpokolo, a junior, said of Chapman's expertise on black history. "Any part of history or connection of the history that he’s talking about, I just don’t think he can rightfully stand up and say he’s the best person in the room to have knowledge on the subject.”

A handful of students at the January forum wondered aloud whether Chapman should be instructing the course.

“A white man should not be teaching black history,” said one student, according to notes taken by the SGA. “If they don't have a person who is representative of the class, don't teach it.”

Chapman has since apologized for using the racial slur and recently tried to explain his actions. In a letter to the editor he wrote last week to The Concordian, the student-run newspaper, he said he was “simply mistaken to invite discussion of the ‘N-word’ at that moment.”

"What happened back in late August? In short: a discussion about racial language and terminology that turned to use of the 'N-word,' a subject that I introduced into the conversation," Chapman wrote. "Right place, wrong time, wrong way … I have since thought long and hard about that discussion from the standpoint of my position as a white male professor. Here’s the thing: what may be academic to some -- a matter of history -- is lethal and ever-present to others -- not past at all."

Days after the incident in his black history class, Chapman invited his students to a meeting with the college's chief diversity officer, Edward Antonio, where Chapman formally apologized for using the racial slur. Chapman also resigned from his position as chairman of the college president's Diversity Council around the same time, according to his Concordian editorial.

“I am grieved by the hurt and damage done and want to express my sincerest apologies,” Chapman wrote in an email inviting the students to the meeting. “I am truly sorry and seek your forbearance and forgiveness.”

Ukpokolo and Mackedanz, a white student, said the professor seemed to talk around his use of the racial slur during the meeting, instead of addressing it outright.

“I don’t really remember him saying, ‘I said this, that was wrong, I’m sorry,’” Mackedanz said. “He used a lot of academic language to dance around what happened.”

Junkermeier said there was "something of the sort" of an apology during the meeting. As a white student majoring in education, he said he was able to give Chapman the benefit of the doubt and tried to see the educational reasons for using the term.

"I wouldn’t say that he should lose his job or stop teaching the class, but I would advise him to be more careful with the lessons and to plan ahead."

Mackedanz attended the student government forum in January and said she felt compelled to file a report about Chapman to the BIRT afterward because of the continued impact the incident had on students of color across the college. She believed filing the report might prompt more investigation of the incident or conversations between the Office of Diversity and students of color about a possible resolution.

What resulted was an emailed reply from Antonio, saying the BIRT is "here to provide you with direction towards resources you might need as you think through and process your experience" and informing her that the office was already aware of the incident. He offered to meet with Mackedanz, and she took him up on the offer but never heard back.

When a video surfaced on social media in May 2019 depicting a Concordia student using racial epithets and white supremacist gestures, Antonio told INFORUM, a local news service, that Concordia "was aware of the video and was working to 'address the matter.'" But it was "not exactly clear what action the college is taking with the student," INFORUM reported.

Antonio did not reply to requests for comment. Amy Kelly, Concordia's communications director, acknowledged the incident with Chapman in a statement from the college but declined to provide any additional details about how the matter was handled.

“Given the important and sensitive nature of the situation, the college conducted an official review,” Kelly wrote in an email. “The process followed standard college policies and procedures. While the individual course and instructor are now a matter of public record, the college cannot speak publicly regarding personnel matters.”

Mackedanz said her experience was reflective of how Concordia typically handles racial bias incidents -- “they don’t handle it at all.”

“It’s swept under the rug,” she said. “Things happen and nothing comes out of it, even when students raise their voices and go through the proper channels. It doesn’t seem like that system is working, so how can we change that?”

Ukpokolo said when the incident first happened, she wrote a report to the BIRT but never sent it because she was “doubtful that it would do anything.”

“I didn’t really believe in the process,” Ukpokolo said.

Chapman’s apology has not been enough for students of color to look past the college’s tendency to “sweep incidents of bias under the rug while pretending to be champions in advancing and advocating for the need of literacy and action in issues of diversity,” said an international student who has been involved in several campus governance groups and did not want to be identified. Students who have voiced their frustrations about bias incidents have been met with “no acknowledgment whatsoever,” the student said.

This student and the other student who did not want to be named said they were frustrated with going through the proper channels to report bias incidents and seek redress by the college, only to have their concerns ignored.

Josh Lysne, assistant vice president for communications, said reports of bias incidents are not being ignored.

The college sends a “standard acknowledgement email” to those who submit bias reports, he said in a written statement. The sender is contacted, offered support and encouraged to share more details if they want to, but the “specific outcomes of these reports are not made public,” he said.

“As a matter of best practice and concern for personal confidentiality, the college does not publicly respond to official reports of bias submitted to the college,” Lysne said. “The college recognizes some may criticize this practice for lack of transparency.”​

Students also referenced to two separate occasions in 2017 and 2018 when “It’s OK to be white” posters were anonymously plastered all over the campus. Although the posters were removed, about 500 students -- a quarter of the undergraduates enrolled at the time -- protested in 2018, one of the students who did not want to be named recalled. William Craft, Concordia's president, responded to the 2017 incident by publishing a lengthy statement to the college’s Facebook page, encouraging “open conversation about the experience of race on this campus and beyond.”

Students said they have not yet seen evidence or results of these conversations.

“Any attempt to address students of color’s campus issues has usually been the campus trying to cover their asses and make sure they have something they can reference to say we’ve taken action on this issue,” Ukpokolo said. “This college is relatively new to this element of diversity. It takes a long time for it to stick and become part of the culture.”

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Education Department says House committee is seeking to abuse power with subpoena threat

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 01:00

Three weeks ago the U.S. House of Representatives' oversight committee threatened it might subpoena U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos if she didn’t confirm she would appear before the body on March 3 to answer an array of questions.

It doesn’t sound like DeVos is going to go.

Instead of an RSVP, the acting general counsel for the Education Department sent the committee a scathing letter pushing back at what he considers to be overreach by the committee -- and saying the subpoena threat “signals an unhealthy appetite for the abuse of congressional power.”

The Feb. 7 letter from Reed Rubinstein went on to say the threat provides “strong reason to believe the demand for the secretary’s testimony has nothing to do with a good, fair and constitutional process.”

The department’s letter, first reported by Inside Higher Ed, is uncommonly aggressive and further ramps up what’s already been a tense relationship between the Democratic majority on the oversight committee and DeVos, said Clare McCann, New America’s federal policy director and a senior policy adviser at the department during the Obama administration.

“I never saw wording like this,” McCann said of her time at the department, even though it was under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers.

“My read is that things are escalating” and it seems unlikely the committee will back off, she said.

Indeed, Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York responded to a tweet about the letter noting the DeVos administration apparently doesn't appreciate being subpoenaed: "Then she should show up and do her job, instead of campaigning for #IMPOTUS," she said.

Then she should show up and do her job, instead of campaigning for #IMPOTUS. https://t.co/qtWMwM3QBw

— Carolyn B. Maloney (@CarolynBMaloney) February 25, 2020

And a senior Democratic oversight committee aide, in response to Rubinstein's letter, left open the possibility of issuing the subpoena.

"The oversight committee is investigating Secretary DeVos’s failure to protect students, borrowers and survivors of sexual assault, but she has repeatedly stonewalled and refused to provide documents and witnesses," the aide said in a statement. "We have tried to work with her in good faith to find a mutually agreeable date, but we will not take any option off the table to ensure that she testifies before the Committee."

Relations between the committee and the department had already been tense, with Maloney, the committee’s Democratic chairwoman, accusing DeVos of stonewalling attempts to get her to come answer questions about a range of issues, including how it was handling the dismissal of student debt for those defrauded by colleges and universities, the breaking off of negotiations with a union representing department workers, its oversight of student loans, and a final rule DeVos could issue as soon as this week to change how institutions handle allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus.

Maloney noted the secretary found time to campaign for President Trump.

“Ignoring -- or defying -- requests for congressional oversight in order to spend your time campaigning for President Trump is an abuse of your position as Secretary of Education,” Maloney wrote DeVos on Feb. 3, giving her until Feb. 7 to commit to testifying before the panel at next week’s hearing, or “the committee will need to consider compulsory process to obtain your testimony.”

But on the day of the deadline, Rubinstein wrote back calling the allegation of an abuse of power for DeVos appearing on behalf of Trump in Iowa and Pennsylvania earlier this month a “breathtakingly wrong statement” and counterfactual.

Instead, the department said it has responded to requests from the oversight committee and others that it considers “reasonable and lawful.” The department cooperated in those cases by “turning over massive numbers of records, providing in-camera reviews of privileged documents, conducting expert issue briefings for staff and principals, and when appropriate making department officials, including the secretary, available for live committee testimony.”

He also said the department is working to answer the committee’s questions about private collection agencies and processing borrower-defense claims and offered to set up a meeting with financial aid officials to answer questions. Rubinstein also said DeVos or senior officials have testified before Congress 12 times since January 2019, and that the secretary is scheduled to appear before the House appropriations committee on Thursday.

However, on other matters, like the department’s coming new rule requiring those accused of sexual assault or harassment on campuses to have a right to cross-examine their accusers and its suspension of a contract negotiation with a union representing agency workers, he wrote, “You demand testimony on matters for which the committee has previously conducted no oversight.”

Rubinstein said the committee has “stonewalled and refused to answer” the department's repeated questions about “the bases for and lawful purpose of your demands.”

He continued, “We will not -- and as a matter of constitutional principle must not -- accede to broad and paralyzing demands for information with only the remotest connection to any proper purpose or participate in hearings that are not calculated to facilitate lawful congressional activity.”

“The committee’s course of dealing, its refusal to provide clarity and narrow issues, and its baseless threatened subpoena all provide strong reason to believe the demand for the secretary’s testimony has nothing to do with a good, fair and constitutional process,” he wrote. Rubinstein also said the committee's actions, “including the threatened subpoena to compel testimony on unspecified or previously unaddressed matters, suggest a distressing disregard for the dynamic process of accommodation required by law. It also signals an unhealthy appetite for the abuse of congressional power.”

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Colleges start new academic programs

Wed, 02/26/2020 - 01:00
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Coronavirus forces U.S. universities online in China

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 01:00

After celebrating the Lunar New Year earlier this month, thousands of students at U.S. universities in China have resumed classes. But the campuses are eerily quiet, and classrooms remain empty. That's because classes have moved online in the wake of the coronavirus.

The transition from face-to-face to fully online wasn’t one leaders at institutions such as Duke Kunshan University and New York University Shanghai had planned for. Preparing to teach a course online for the first time usually takes several months. Faculty at institutions in China have done it in less than three weeks -- a remarkable feat.

“It’s been highly stressful, but at the same time, the clarity of the crisis has brought us together,” said Clay Shirky, vice provost for educational technologies at NYU in New York, who was part of the team that helped colleagues at NYU Shanghai launch their courses online.

Faced with the decision to either close the Shanghai campus and suspend teaching indefinitely or try and keep students on track, leaders at NYU chose the latter, said Shirky. “It took us a while to realize that we really needed to move the semester online,” he said. “Looking back, I wish we had made the call a little earlier.”

Hopeful that students would be able to return to campus after the holidays, NYU Shanghai planned to reopen on Feb. 3. When travel restrictions were introduced, the semester's start date was pushed to Feb. 10. Then the Chinese Ministry of Education ordered universities across the nation not to reopen their doors, leaving faculty with a tight deadline to move classes online.

So far, things are going surprisingly well, said Jace Hargis, director of the NYU Shanghai Teaching and Learning Center. He has been closely monitoring progress since classes began Feb. 17. Initial student feedback has been good, and faculty members report feeling increasingly confident in their ability to teach online, he said. The vast majority of faculty -- 88 percent -- did not have significant experience teaching online previously.

“Before day one, a lot of faculty said they were feeling a bit anxious. They weren’t sure what students would think,” said Hargis. “Now they’re feeling a lot better.”

NYU Shanghai faculty aren’t just located in China. Many traveled all over the world during the recent holiday. Now flight restrictions in and out of China mean they can’t go back to their homes. Students, too, are scattered across the globe.

Working across different time zones has been challenging but not impossible, said Hargis. “Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to do this -- the technology wasn’t there,” he said. High-speed internet and advancements in videoconferencing technology made communication much easier.

Through webinars, specially-created online resources, one-on-one consultations, drop-in online office hours and many, many emails, an international team worked with NYU Shanghai faculty to move almost 500 classes online.

“It was a lot of overtime for three weeks, but time well spent,” said Xiaojing Zu, library director at NYU Shanghai in an email. “We already had a collection of ed-tech platforms and tools and tested pedagogies we had been working with faculty to utilize. It was a matter of introducing these tools and methods to more than one hundred faculty in a short time.”

Training sessions focused on teaching faculty to teach with two video-sharing platforms, Zoom and VoiceThread, said Hargis. These tools enable faculty member to teach synchronously or asynchronously as they see fit. To break down the workload, faculty were encouraged to focus on preparing the first two weeks of the 14-week semester. Faculty and students have access to a chat service that operates for 16 hours a day if they have any questions or need help.

For some instructors, moving courses online was a challenge. But so far, the distance learning effort is yielding promising early results.  

For example, Hargis said he worked closely with visiting assistant professor of mathematics Leonardo Rolla, who is currently based in Argentina. “We suggested a lot of things to try and create a caring classroom culture online,” said Hargis. Rolla created an introductory video walking students through the syllabus. He then asked each student to make a video introducing themselves. For their first assignment, students had to film themselves explaining how they would solve an example exercise. Almost all created high-quality videos, with one student sharing that he actually preferred these activities to face-to-face teaching.

Scott Warnock, director of the university writing program at Drexel University, was asked to lead a workshop to help a small group of NYU Shanghai faculty members foster pedagogies specific to teaching writing online. Teaching writing online isn’t straightforward, but there are lots of ways you can engage students using discussion boards, he said. You can assess a student’s ability to present an argument, for example, by asking them to respond to provocative statements such as “students should pay more for college." Warnock likes to post these statements under a pseudonym such as Dr. Logoetho. “It’s tongue-in-cheek and playful. It’s one of my students’ favorite exercises,” he said.

At Duke Kunshan University, faculty had a similarly tight window to put their courses online. Classes started online yesterday after just three weeks’ preparation, said Scott MacEachern, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs at the university. “There were a lot of discussions between DKU and Duke around whether we could really do this, and we decided, yes, we can. Duke has a lot of capability online, and DKU is just 18 months old at this point. Our students and faculty are pioneers. We wanted to keep the energy up.”

NYU and Duke are not the only universities to take classes in China online. Universities across the country are embarking on similar efforts, many utilizing free content from new national massive open online course providers. Coursera, a U.S. based MOOC provider, has made its courses freely accessible to Duke Kunshan students. Matthew Rascoff, associate vice provost for digital education and innovation at Duke, said the offer has proven very popular with students. Online learning at the degree level has long been restricted in China because of concerns about regulation and quality, but Ministry of Education rules have been relaxed to ensure students "keep learning, even with classes suspended."

Whether China's temporary embrace of online learning results in long-term change, remains to be seen. Rascoff is hopeful that at Duke Kunshan at least, the experience will be beneficial. The experience of teaching online can make instructors better teachers in any environment, he said. 

In addition to ensuring faculty and students are safe and healthy, Duke Kunshan and NYU Shanghai have made it easier for students to transfer to other university campuses or postpone their classes. Both institutions have made funds available to students to ensure they have access to high-speed internet and working laptops, tablets or smartphones.

At Fort Hays State, faculty have worked hard to ensure the content they take online is accessible to all students, said Andrew Feldstein, assistant provost for teaching innovation and learning technologies at the university. Fort Hays offers several degree programs through two partner Chinese institutions. “We made making everything mobile-friendly a priority, which added to the challenge,” he said.

It’s been an extraordinary team effort to get ready for the start of the semester, said Feldstein.

"The first thing I thought when I heard the campuses were closed was that this could be a real opportunity for us," said Feldstein. "Often we're slowed down by processes that we don't even question anymore. This allowed us to look at everything in a new light."

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Long Island University freezes enrollments in many liberal arts programs

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 01:00

Long Island University has frozen new enrollments in undergraduate programs in fields including chemistry, history, philosophy, photography, physics, sociology and public relations in what some faculty view as an assault on the liberal arts core of the institution.

The enrollment freezes follow on eliminations or freezes in recent years of other programs at the New York institution's Post campus, including programs in art history, earth system science, French, Italian, music performance, Spanish, geography and geology. ​A list of frozen programs provided by the chair of LIU Post's Faculty Council also includes a number of education-related undergraduate programs as well as master's programs predominantly in the liberal arts and education fields.

Ed Weis, LIU's vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement that "most" of the education programs identified as frozen had been renamed or restructured, but he confirmed that some humanities programs had been frozen in line with what he described as a national trend of declining student interest in these areas.

"Over the last several years, LIU has been expanding program offerings in high-demand areas while assessing programs with low enrollment," Weis said. "All academic programs are regularly reviewed to ensure that they are competitive, relevant and of the highest quality for our students. As a result of this best practice, certain programs with very low enrollment of entering students for a number of years were frozen. While new students will not be admitted to these programs, the university will continue to offer the necessary courses for current students to be able to graduate on time within these majors.

"The university has a fiduciary responsibility to provide a rigorous and engaging educational experience for our students," Weis added. "The classroom experience is at its best when faculty engage their students in challenging and interesting peer-to-peer discussions. Classes with a very limited number of students do not allow for this desired level of engagement. In fact, academic programs with only a handful of majors can result in these students taking their upper-level courses as independent studies."

LIU Post, like many private institutions, has seen enrollment declines. Total full-time-equivalent undergraduate and graduate enrollment at the Post campus has declined from 6,029 in 2015 to 5,458 in 2019, a drop of about 9.5 percent, according to data LIU provides to its bondholders. However, the number of enrolled freshmen spiked last fall to 771 students, up from 564 the fall before, an approximately 37 percent increase.

Universitywide, across all campuses, the number of total faculty has declined by 21 percent since 2015, from 1,979 to 1,558.

Audited financial statements show a 14 percent drop in universitywide operating revenues from 2014 to 2019, from about $396.5 million to $341.4 million. But net assets have risen substantially in that time, from about $291 million to roughly $506.9 million.

Faculty at Post say they are alarmed by the program freezes in core liberal arts areas.

“It’s dismaying,” said Jeremy Buchman, the chair of the Faculty Council at LIU Post and an associate professor of political science. “There are a lot of very apprehensive faculty in the affected programs, especially in the arts and sciences. There’s concern about where the arts and sciences stand. There’s concern about our current students and their ability to finish the program that they signed on for. The university has said that current students in the frozen programs will be able to finish. But logistically speaking, it makes life a lot harder for students if you don’t have a new crop of majors, even if it’s a relatively small group that’s going to have an impact on the range of course offerings that current students will have to choose from.”

"Many of the faculty are heartbroken by the choice not to support these programs," said Wendy Ryden, an associate professor of English and the acting president of the faculty union at the Post campus. "We feel that it negatively impacts faculty in their workload and it negatively impacts student choice in terms of what they can be allowed to study when they come here."

The program freezes were first reported by Ashley Bowden, the co-editor of LIU Post campus’s student newspaper, The Pioneer. Bowden, a senior, said other students were dismayed to learn the news.

“They’re just disappointed in seeing these kinds of things happen,” she said. “It’s disheartening for me to have to report something like this where I go to school. As a student in the liberal arts, it’s not very encouraging at all.”

Weis said that the frozen programs "may become viable with curriculum changes. The university has consistently encouraged its academic departments over the years to update their programs to align with student demand."

He noted that the "national trend of declining student demand for certain majors in the humanities is not unique to LIU" and that the university "is deeply committed to a liberal arts education through our core curriculum."

"The recent successful launch of new, in-demand programs is expected to more than offset the loss of small new enrollments in programs that have recently been frozen," Weis said. "These new programs are also driving demand for additional classes in the liberal arts and sciences."

At the same time as enrollment by new majors in core liberal arts disciplines is being frozen, the university is planning to enroll its first students in a new veterinary college this fall. Some faculty have expressed opposition to the opening of the veterinary college at a tuition-driven liberal arts institution. Most veterinary schools are located at major research universities.

Michael A. Soupios, a professor of political science who has taught at LIU for more than 30 years, said that in his opinion, LIU has lost sight of what is meant by “university.”

“I think we’ve lost track of who we are institutionally,” Soupios said. “I am not sure that we are adequately in touch with the very definition, the very meaning of the word 'university.' We seem to be hurtling headlong in the direction of becoming essentially a vocational school. I understand that’s what people are looking for in terms of jobs, but if you want to flatter yourself by calling yourself a university, then you have to act like it, and you have to maintain a curriculum that reflects that.”

Soupios described the use of the word “freeze” as “euphemistic rubbish … Frozen is tantamount to death. You’re not going to be thawed.”

Molly Tambor, an associate professor in history, one of the programs frozen, said she is willing to hold onto the word "freeze" because she is hopeful administrators will work with faculty to unfreeze the affected programs. The history department has already met with administrators and has another meeting planned. She said administrators seem interested in faculty ideas for renewing the program.

"If we’re measuring by student interest and engagement in our courses and in students who declare a major and a minor at any point in their career, then it seems to us that the history program is actually very healthy," she said. "We also feel that a history program at a liberal arts institution is a necessary and vital one and deserves to have investment and resources."

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NYC's tech training landscape must change to improve diversity, report says

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 01:00

Over the past 15 years, job creation in New York City has grown quickly. But most of those jobs have been in sectors that pay the least, such as food service and retail.

The industry growing the fastest in the city that also pays well is technology.

But the workforce of this sector doesn't reflect the city's diversity, according to Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank focused on the city and its economy.

A recent report from the center helps explain why. The group surveyed the landscape of tech training in the city and found that most of the programs, which range from adult continuing education programs at community colleges to nonprofit organizations to popular for-profit boot camps, focus on basic digital literacy and beginner-level skills, with the more advanced programs focused on the wealthier boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

"Only a tiny fraction of the tech programs that we have today are actually aligned with the needs that tech employers have," Dvorkin said. "We want to make sure that we’re not just talking about what the city can do to help more students get on the path to a college credential, but to really look at where are the good jobs growing and what does that skills-building ecosystem look like."

While the report applauds the city for its 506 tech training programs now in place, as well as Mayor Bill de Blasio's commitment to offer computer science courses in every public school by 2025, it points to disparities that must be remedied to increase the diversity of the tech workforce and create opportunities for low-income New Yorkers to move into the middle class.

For instance, Manhattan and Brooklyn are home to 317 of the 467 sites that offer adult tech training programs and 303 of the 378 sites offering K-12 programs. In contrast, eight census-defined neighborhoods in the city, mostly in the Bronx and Staten Island, had zero K-12 programs in tech training.

Dvorkin wasn't necessarily surprised by this, he said.

"I do think, though, it’s alarming and it’s significant given all of the rhetoric and attention that the lack of access to STEM careers is getting," he added.

Tech:NYC, a network of tech leaders, partnered with the center to create the report because the industry wanted to map what was already out there to find the gaps, said Julie Samuels, executive director of the network.

"Tech has to support the K-12 and adult education ecosystem in the city," Samuels said. "In order for the tech sector to be part of that, they need to understand the landscape."

The network plans to use the information to help companies plug in to existing programs to create pipelines, she said. It also hopes to talk with policy makers about the report.

One of the largest obstacles identified in the report is a lack of bridge programs. Ninety percent of tech training programs for low-income adults focus on basic literacy and skills. But only 4 percent of nearly 160 adult tech training programs offered for free by nonprofits teach advanced coding or engineering skills, and only 6 percent provide training oriented toward careers for midlevel jobs.

The city needs to invest in bridge programs so that New Yorkers can get the basic skills they need and then transition into more advanced training programs, Dvorkin said.

Creating bridges from training to employment is also key. Employers often take a cautious approach of looking for hires who have already done the job they're hiring for, which can put entry-level positions out of reach for many, according to Ryan Craig, co-founder and managing director of University Ventures (and an occasional columnist for Inside Higher Ed).

When switching from a traditional model of getting a four-year degree to one based on certificates and skills, Craig said it's important to reduce hiring friction. For example, Talent Path, a hybrid of a boot camp and a recruiting company, pays students to serve as technology consultants at companies for short contracts. After students learn enough skills, they're hired on full-time. This lets employers "try before they buy," Craig said.

"Reducing hiring friction requires becoming the employer of record for a period of time, and probably also incurring the cost of sourcing, screening and training candidates," he said. "That’s a lot of working capital that’s often difficult for public and not-for-profit organizations to muster."

The report also recommends investing in more financial supports for low-income New Yorkers who are interested in tech training. While some programs may be free, adults also experience an opportunity cost from not working for however long the training lasts, Dvorkin said. This may be why there are so many basic skills programs, as it's easier to spend a few hours on that than commit to a months-long program, even if the results would be better.

"It's not just free tuition when we're talking about low-income students," Liz Eggleston, co-founder of the tech education site Course Report, said in an email. "As the report points out, transportation and childcare, the opportunity cost of being away from work, etc., are huge barriers."

Eggleston highlighted the Tech Talent Pipeline initiative, launched in 2014. The public-private partnership between the city and companies aims to provide resources to New Yorkers, as well as connections with employers. While many of the boot camps connected with the pipeline are full-time, students can get childcare and Metrocards to help, she said.

In its report, the center recommends investing $50 million in initiatives like the Tech Talent Pipeline to help the city reach its goals.

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Author discusses his new book, 'The Rise of Women in Higher Education'

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 01:00

Gary A. Berg's new book, The Rise of Women in Higher Education: How, Why and What's Next (Rowman & Littlefield), covers the dramatic gains made by women in higher education and the areas where they have not achieved equity.

Berg, a former associate vice president at California State University Channel Islands, responded to questions about the book via email.

Q: Your book seems a reminder of the incredible progress women have made in higher education, and of the areas where progress has been more limited. Let's start with the progress that has taken place. What do you see as particularly significant?

A: The premise of my book is that the most important change in higher education in recent history is the increase of women leaders, faculty and students. I first became interested in the topic through observing the encouraging impact of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and women’s athletics on campus cultures.

The changes are broad and international. At the turn of the 21st century, women worldwide finally surpassed men in higher education participation. The forces behind this historical transformation internationally reflect declining birth rates and important social-political changes, echoing what occurred in America at the beginning of the 20th century, when women overcame almost complete restriction from postsecondary education. The growth in female faculty members, and in doctoral programs, is a crucial trend because of the implication for the future. The change in the college environment from a male domain too often hostile to women to one now evolving into a welcoming place encouraging personal and professional growth for young female students, is far from perfect but cause for acknowledgment.

Q: Now let's talk about the obstacles. Where are women held back?

A: The legacy of gendered majors and academic disciplines has a long history that limited women primarily to classroom teacher and nursing professions. Female students are still not as present in STEM majors, especially economically lucrative fields such as engineering. Women typically pursue majors leading to lower-paying occupations and end up with larger college debt on average than men after graduation.

Women faculty tend to be disproportionately employed in community colleges and less prestigious four-year institutions, and are paid approximately 80 percent of what men receive (a figure that is remarkably constant internationally). While there are more females in university leadership than in the past, the percentage is still lower, especially at research institutions.

Q: How important has Title IX been (both in athletics and outside it)?

A: Title IX had an immediate impact on women’s athletics participation and funding. The positive influence on individual students and overall campus life has been immense. While it is hard to quantify the effect of positive change on the overall university, combined with broader social changes, it is clear that college campuses are different today partly because of Title IX.

Although women athletes over all shine academically (unlike male athletes), and benefit from other clear advantages of participation in team sports, financial support for women’s athletics is still unequal, especially when looking at differences in compensation rates for coaches.

Q: Why are women less likely to get presidencies, particularly of research universities?

A: Many of the elite institutions in the past were resistant to admitting women students, or did so only through linked coordinate colleges, so it is no surprise that they would have less diverse leadership. In some cases, the traditions at universities surrounding doctoral programs, tenure and promotion work against encouraging rapid change in leadership gender, especially at research universities. In addition to creating an open pipeline to top positions, institutions need to more actively encourage and develop women leaders. Over time, one would expect to see college presidencies more appropriately reflect the ever more diverse student population.

Q: In five to 10 years, do you think we'll see more progress, or is progress slowing down?

A: The story of how women came to higher learning is one of self-education outside inaccessible colleges. Despite heavy opposition by men and rigid socio-political structures, women educated themselves by every means available, becoming especially skillful in writing and reading. This same learning activism will continue with or without support from others globally. I am hopeful that obstacles will become increasingly clear and unacceptable. The leadership and compensation inequality issues are already much discussed within and outside universities. The gendered major problem is more difficult and likely to take some time to change, partly because of the larger industrial and social forces out of the academy’s direct control. In terms of the increasing popularity of women’s sports, their historical links to academic departments with a focus on human development offer a model men’s sports should emulate going forward.

Over all, colleges are viewing inequity in a more nuanced manner with a better understanding of the complex nature of individual student identity beyond single demographic categories. Unlike the retrenchment that was seen in the early 20th century, when women entered universities in large numbers, we have passed a tipping point and will not turn back. Universities with empowered female students, faculty and leadership will more and more be centers for positive change in the world.

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Colleges award tenure

Tue, 02/25/2020 - 01:00

Carleton College

  • Shaohua Guo, Chinese
  • Jessica Keating, art history
  • Alex Knodell, classics
  • Anna Rafferty, computer science
  • Prathi Seneviratne, economics
  • Julia Strand, psychology

Clarkson University

  • Mahesh Banavar, electrical and computer engineering
  • Natasha Banerjee, computer science
  • Sean Banerjee, computer science
  • Arthur Michalek, mechanical and aeronautical engineering
  • Amir Mousavian, engineering and management
  • Jan Scrimgeour, physics
  • Shantanu Sur, biology

Missouri State University West Plains

  • Lindsay Hill, nursing
  • Jason McCollom, history
  • Benjamin Wheeler, biology
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Ad Council campaign from White House task force will tout alternatives to bachelor's degree

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 01:00

The Ad Council, which was behind the Smokey Bear and “Just Say No” campaigns for the U.S. government, is set to launch a national advertising promotion for postsecondary education and training alternatives to the four-year college degree.

The "groundbreaking" national campaign will be led by the nonprofit Ad Council in “close association” with IBM, Apple and the White House, the council said.

The ads "will shine a light on how young and working adults can develop the skills in demand for today’s job market," a council spokeswoman said in a written statement, while also seeking to "raise awareness of the wide variety of educational options available, such as coding bootcamps, on-the-job apprenticeships, certifications, associate’s degrees and more."

The CEOs of Apple and IBM are helping to steer the campaign as part of their role with the White House-convened American Workforce Policy Advisory Board.

The Trump administration created the 27-member task force in 2018. It’s led by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a senior adviser to the president, and Wilbur Ross, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The board includes leaders from higher education, large corporations, industry associations and policy makers. Its mandate is to provide advice and recommendations “on ways to encourage the private sector and educational institutions to combat the skills crisis by investing in and increasing demand-driven education, training and re-training, including training through apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities.”

The yearlong, large-scale ad campaign is one of several planned initiatives from the board. They include an effort to encourage more investments by employers in job training, modernize hiring practices, improve the transparency of workforce data and create an inventory of “interoperable learning records” -- a public-facing system to manage communication about individuals' skills and credentials.

The task force also is seeking to promote policies and practices to "permanently expand" multiple career pathways.

The Ad Council campaign, however, appears likely to be the group's first major public release. It had been slated to begin in January, according to documents on the Commerce Department’s website. The council said the advertisements would be rolled out in coming weeks. They will include ads on broadcast, digital, social media, radio, print and outdoor varieties like billboards and bus stops.

The messages will run nationwide in donated time and space throughout 2020, the council said. "The campaign is funded through a broad coalition model including funding from a number of nonprofit and private organizations," according to the council.

Advertising agencies are providing significant creative and placement services for the ads pro bono, said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, according to minutes and an audio recording from the task force’s December meeting at an Indiana women’s prison.

The campaign’s stated goal is to raise awareness among young Americans about multiple pathways to well-paying jobs. And it will seek to "challenge perceptions that employers only value degreed talent or are only interested in hiring 'next gen' employees," according to task force documents.

At the December meeting, Cook cited changes in how young people and working adults are preparing for jobs in the global economy.

“Once the primary driver of opportunities, the four-year degree is now one of many paths to a successful career,” said Cook. “At Apple, over 50 percent of our employees don’t have classic college degrees.”

Amid a welcome shift in attitudes, he said, businesses, training providers, community colleges, municipal agencies and the armed forces are stepping up to offer more skills and career development opportunities, which often are flexibly priced and delivered.

“Young adults and working-age individuals are now able to develop in-demand career skills through customized career tech programs, innovative apprenticeships, learn-and-earn programs and short-duration coding boot camps,” said Cook. “They come away poised to contribute to America’s workplaces with industry-recognized, stackable credentials and certifications, technical licenses, and, yes, even four-year university degrees.”

Yet despite efforts to change the narrative around higher education, Cook said data show the message isn’t getting through. That’s where the Ad Council campaign comes in.

“Too many people who have concluded that college isn’t for them or that they’ll never have what it takes to land the next big job also don’t believe they have alternatives,” he said. “Either they’re unaware of what education and training options exist or they don’t think pursuing them will carry weight with employers. We have to change that perception.”

Threading the Needle

The Trump administration from the beginning has touted alternatives to the four-year degree, a message that has been carried by the Education Department and other federal agencies.

For example, President Trump two years ago said “vocational schools” would be a better name for community colleges.

As it is with most of this administration’s policy pushes on higher education, Trump’s attempt to emphasize postsecondary options over the four-year degree is a reversal from the Obama administration’s approach.

The previous administration often touted the benefits of attending community colleges. It was probably the most supportive White House in modern history for that sector. For example, Obama proposed $12 billion in new funding for two-year colleges; the U.S. Congress eventually approved $2 billion in workforce development grants for partnerships between community colleges and employers.

Obama also was much more aggressive than Trump in pushing some form of learning and credential attainment after high school.

But some criticized the Obama administration for prioritizing the four-year degree, particularly through his highly publicized goal for 60 percent of young adults to hold at least an associate degree by this year. And that push came amid developing bipartisan worries about rapidly increasing student debt and growing public scrutiny of higher education.

At the same time, employers say they are struggling to hire enough skilled people for jobs in information technology, health care, manufacturing and retail. Many roles in these high-demand fields can be filled by workers without four-year degrees. And a small but growing number of big employers, like Apple and IBM, are requiring fewer of their hires to hold a bachelor’s degree.

Another workforce development challenge, according to a wide range of experts both inside and outside the academy, is that potential students tend to have outdated, inaccurate views about career and vocational fields. Too often people think those jobs are dirty, manual labor roles that don’t pay well.

California, for example, is trying to eliminate the stigma about career and technical education with an advertising campaign begun three years ago. That campaign is part of a broader, $200 million push to expand those programs across the state’s two-year college system.

Yet the looming Ad Council campaign will be attempting to thread the needle on what experts say is a tricky issue.

A large amount of research shows that earning a four-year degree remains the best postsecondary training option for people to make it into the middle class, even amid worries about underemployment and stagnating wage gains for recent graduates of four-year colleges. But students who fail to earn a credential tend to take on risky debt, often without seeing a substantial employment boost from attending college.

Likewise, research has shown that while an overwhelming majority of students who enroll in community college say they eventually want to earn a four-year degree, relatively few ever do. And although many two-year degrees are associated with substantial wage gains, particularly associate of science degrees, labor market payoffs are more mixed for associate of arts degrees and other two-year credentials that are geared toward students who are more likely to transfer to a four-year institution.

Likewise, experts cite wide variation in the labor market payoffs for certificates, particularly short-term ones.

A key question is whether the White House-convened task force’s ad campaign can tout alternatives to the four-year degree without turning off prospective students who could benefit from the traditional college pathway.

Whether or not the campaign has a positive impact depends on how it's designed and who it targets, said Wil Del Pilar, vice president for higher education at the Education Trust.

Prospective students tend not to be aware of their options, he said. And college too often is not designed for everyone. As a result, Del Pilar said a campaign to advise all young Americans about multiple pathways might not be problematic. But it would be if the ads encourage the "tracking" of certain students who could benefit from college into lower-income careers.

"Who gets told that it's not the right path for them is low-income students and students of color," he said.

Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, is a member of the task force committee overseeing the campaign, which is chaired by Cook and Ginni Rometty, IBM's CEO. Other higher education leaders on the committee include Sheree Utash, president of Wichita State University Campus of Applied Science and Technology; Jay Box, president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System; and Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University.

The Commerce Department has not said how much the Ad Council will spend on the campaign.

However, Cook said the group was receiving “high-profile support” from a wide range of “private-sector businesses, unions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and education institutions, which are delivering the essential education and training pathway services that this campaign is all about.”

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Purdue looks to adopt civics knowledge as undergraduate requirement

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 01:00

File it under “possible ways to save the republic”? Purdue University may soon require that all undergraduates, from art historians to wildlife biologists, take and pass a civics test to obtain their degrees.

A number of other institutions have some kind of civics requirement. Purdue’s proposed “Test+” model is unique, however, in that it would mandate that all students pass a test and demonstrate their knowledge of U.S. history, laws and institutions in some other way. Possible options for completing the second part of the requirement are taking an approved course, completing a specially designed learning module from the campus’s 250,000-plus-hour C-SPAN archives and participating in or attending relevant events or experiences (the university’s current speaker series on Democracy, Civility and Freedom of Expression might qualify, for example).

A working group of the University Senate took up after the idea last year after Purdue president Mitch Daniels asked the body to consider it.

“Surveys show people don’t understand the principles of a free society, and if we really want to stay free and govern ourselves, then the citizenry must have a basic understanding of why we do what we do, what their role in it is,” Daniels said recently, summarizing his charge to the Senate.

There was and remains some faculty skepticism about Daniels’s proposal. New academic requirements tend to impose on existing curricula, especially in fields that are already requirement-heavy. Such fields include engineering, which Purdue emphasizes. Some faculty members believe that civics should be covered in high school. And some others sense an ideological agenda: as Indiana’s Republican former governor, Daniels is not the typical academic president, and his own political leanings are well documented.

But there was and is much faculty interest in the idea, too. Questions about the university’s role in shaping the informed electorate that is supposed to uphold democracy are always relevant. They’re perhaps especially relevant right now, in an era of fake news and political polarization.

“Democracy is undergoing a major stress test” in the U.S. and elsewhere, said James A. McCann, professor of political science and a member of the Senate working group. “So I think the intentions here in the main are good.”

To establish a civics knowledge baseline, the Senate working group surveyed 2,100 incoming freshmen on what they knew last fall, during orientation. Their assessment instrument included 20 questions from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s national survey of civic knowledge, drawn directly from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization test, and eight questions from the American National Election Studies.

Name one right in the First Amendment, asked one question. When was the Constitution written, asked another. Does the federal government spend the least on foreign aid, Medicare, national defense or Social Security?

The results did not recall Jay Leno’s "JayWalking" segments: students in the sample outperformed national and college-educated Indiana populations, based on existing benchmarks, on all but two of 28 questions.

But there was room for improvement. For reference, the federal government considers a score of 60 percent on the naturalization test passing. Some 66 percent of Purdue respondents passed the naturalization questions portion. Some 77 percent passed the portion based on Woodrow Wilson Foundation questions, compared to 36 percent of the general population and 53 percent of Indianans.

Through a series of town halls and meetings, the working group -- which included student representatives -- determined that a civics test was necessary but not sufficient to address the civics literacy charge, said Cheryl Cooky, working group and Senate chair and associate professor of American and women’s and gender studies.

“Students, in particular, thought that a test wasn’t really that meaningful as an indicator of civic literacy,” she said. “They didn’t want it to be quote-unquote busywork” and suggested curricular and experiential requirements.

At the same time, McCann said, the group wanted to give students “maximum flexibility.” So it conceived a third way for students to supplement the test: self-paced learning modules that drew on the campus’s exclusive C-SPAN archives. This way, students who really couldn’t take on another course or didn’t want to attend campus and community events could work the modules into their schedules.

The working group encountered one other big problem: the pilot test revealed significant performance gaps between domestic and international students and among students from different ethnic groups. That meant it would be imperative to develop a new instrument free of racial and other biases.

“Needless to say, if we were contemplating having a test administered to every student as a precondition of getting a degree, it’s obvious that it has be neutral with regard to ethnicity and place of birth,” McCann said.

The test instrument has yet to be finalized. But the working group’s proposal is now with the Senate’s Educational Policy committee for review. If it’s approved, it could go to the full Senate for a vote. Cooky said the earliest that that could possibly happen would be the end of the spring semester.

Andrew Freed, chair of the policy committee and professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences, said he supports the “idea of Purdue taking responsibility of graduating students who are knowledgeable in civics and have some participation experience.”

Other universities have “successfully figured out a way to integrate this into their requirements,” he added, “so why not us?”

Yet the devil is in the details. Freed said his committee has “a lot of questions about the feasibility of the approach, what it would take to implement it and how this would impact curriculums that do not really have room to spare for another requirement.”

Daniels is optimistic. “Ensuring that our students are fully prepared to be active and informed citizens should be important to all of us and will add value to the excellent degree they are already getting from Purdue,” he said. “I’m grateful to the Senate for their research and due diligence on this and am pleased we now have a planned path forward.”

The working group has identified about a dozen other institutions with civics requirements for students. Most involve coursework, but the University of Central Florida gives students the option of taking a test. Central Florida’s policy is the result of a 2017 mandate from the Florida Legislature saying that students at all state colleges and universities must graduate with a basic understanding of the principles of American democracy and how they’re applied. They must be familiar with the U.S. Constitution, the founding documents and how they’ve shaped self-governance, and landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Researchers at Central Florida’s Lou Frey Institute helped develop a tool called the Civic Literacy Assessment. It’s based in part on the federal naturalization test and has additional questions about court cases, in a multiple-choice format. Other options for completing the requirement include coursework and high scores on relevant Advanced Placement exams.

Stephen S. Masyada, interim director of the institute, said the entire state university system has adopted the test. A new “wrinkle,” however, he said, is that Florida has also adopted a civic literacy assessment for high school students, starting next year. In any case, Masyada said that, at least anecdotally, students at the university seemed to satisfying the requirement through coursework more than through the test.

Cooky said it’s remains unclear -- including to the experts on the working group -- how much promoting civic literacy will actually spur students to civic engagement, starting with voting.

Still, "this is a good starting point. Making civic literacy more prominent and giving more value to it in making it a graduation requirement will hopefully send a message that this is important.”

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Professors delay, cancel travel to the U.S. due to visa obstacles

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 01:00

Two Europe-based professors delayed or canceled their trips to the U.S. recently due to problems getting approved for visas. Their experiences are renewing concerns about obstacles put in the way of highly renowned scholars wanting to travel to the U.S. because of their political affiliations and activities or their travel histories.

Both cases came to light last week. In the first case, first reported by the University of Virginia student newspaper, a German professor and expert on far-right politics, Hajo Funke, scheduled to teach two classes at Virginia couldn’t make it to the U.S. for the start of the spring semester after he says his visa application was held up by U.S. immigration authorities. The other case involves a Britain-based professor and architect, Eyal Weizman, who was unable to make it to the opening of an exhibition of his work at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design after he says his eligibility for visa-free travel to the U.S. was abruptly canceled.

A supporter of Funke believes his past travel to Iran to visit his wife's family is the most likely reason for the delay. Weizman said something about his travels or associations flagged him for additional scrutiny and said U.S. Embassy officials in London told him as much.

These incidents follow a series of others in which students from the Middle East, in particular Iran, have experienced delays getting visas or have been denied entry at U.S. airports despite having been awarded visas to travel.

“What we think is the processing has become much more severe,” said Jeffrey Grossman, an associate professor and chair of Germanic languages and literatures at UVA who invited Funke to teach two courses at the university this semester. One of the courses is on right-wing populism and the far right, and the other is on political and historical memory. The classes are being taught via videoconferencing while Funke continues to wait for his visa.

A Delayed Visa, a Diminished Classroom Experience

Funke said he applied for an exchange visitor visa in November and was told in December that it would be subject to three to six months of additional processing. He said he was not given a reason for the delay. He was most recently in the U.S. in the fall of 2018 as a research fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, where he worked on a comparative project addressing the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017 and far-right protests in the German city of Chemnitz in August and September of 2018.

“A year and some months ago, I got the visa without problems, and now I didn’t with the same identical passport,” Funke said in an interview. “So they had changed the rules or it was in other ways arbitrary.”

Funke stressed that he did not want to speculate why his visa application was denied. But he noted that his passport has a stamp from his 2014 trip to visit his wife's family in Iran, and that same stamp was in the passport the last time he applied for and got a U.S. visa.

A U.S. State Department official declined to comment on Funke's case, citing the confidentiality of visa records under U.S. law.

“Speaking generally, national security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” the official said. “Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening, and we are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes and to support legitimate travel and immigration to the United States while protecting U.S. citizens.”

Funke said he received word on Thursday from the U.S. Embassy in Germany that his visa had been approved and that he must now mail his passport back to the embassy to get the visa. Meanwhile, the courses he is teaching at Virginia are underway via videoconferencing, with the help of Grossman.

"It is functioning very well, with one exception: the personal face-to-face contact isn’t possible if you don’t know the students. This specific lack of kind of quasi-personal scholarly exchange, that was the minus," Funke said.

Grossman agreed the videoconferencing is no substitute for teaching in person. He thinks the classes would have had higher enrollments had Funke been there in person starting the first day of classes.

“He likes very much engaging with students; he’s very personable even in a videoconference, because he’s appeared on German television and radio, but you can just sense that if he were in the classroom, it would be even more stimulating for the students,” Grossman said.

Grossman said Funke is exceptionally well positioned to address topics of great relevance to UVA students.

“We really wanted to offer classes that the students would find relevant given what’s happened in Charlottesville,” he said. “We’re very concerned to address these issues as they impinge on our world and given his focus -- that he does know Charlottesville and also works on Germany and political theory -- we thought that would be a great way to address that.”

A Disrupted Exhibition, a Mysterious ‘Algorithm’

In Weizman's case, the professor of spatial and visual cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London, was planning to travel to Miami for the opening of an exhibition last week at a museum affiliated with Miami Dade College.

The exhibit features the work of Forensic Architecture, a research agency founded and directed by Weizman that, per the exhibit description, “uses architectural software and an architectural sensibility to investigate human rights violations.”

“We investigate state and corporate violence, human rights violations and environmental destruction all over the world,” Forensic Architecture’s website explains. “Our work often involves open-source investigation, the construction of digital and physical models, 3D animations, virtual reality environments and cartographic platforms. Within these environments we locate and analyze photographs, videos, audio files and testimonies to reconstruct and analyze violent events. We also use our digital models as tools for interviewing survivors of violence, finding new ways to access and explore memories of trauma.”

The exhibition at Miami Dade College’s Museum of Art and Design is Forensic Architecture’s first major survey exhibition in the U.S., and Weizman planned to be in attendance. But he said in a statement that he received an email from the U.S. embassy on Feb. 12, two days before his scheduled flight to the U.S., saying his eligibility for travel through the visa waiver program had been revoked. The visa waiver program allows for visa-free short-term travel to the U.S. for citizens of 39 countries, including many European nations.

“The revocation notice stated no reason, and the situation gave me no opportunity to appeal or to arrange for an alternative visa that would allow me be here,” Weizman said. His wife, who is also a professor and was scheduled to give talks in the U.S., traveled ahead with their two children without him. Weizman said she was stopped upon arrival at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, separated from the children and interrogated for two and a half hours by immigration officials before the family was allowed entry.

"The following day I went to the U.S. Embassy in London to apply for a visa," Weizman said. "In my interview the officer informed me that my authorization to travel had been revoked because the 'algorithm' had identified a security threat. He said he did not know what had triggered the algorithm but suggested that it could be something I was involved in, people I am or was in contact with, places to which I had traveled (had I recently been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia or met their nationals?), hotels at which I stayed or a certain pattern of relations among these things. I was asked to supply the Embassy with additional information, including 15 years of travel history, in particular where I had gone and who had paid for it. The officer said that Homeland Security’s investigators could assess my case more promptly if I supplied the names of anyone in my network whom I believed might have triggered the algorithm. I declined to provide this information."

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which administers the visa waiver program, said the agency uses "a multilayered approach to security."

"CBP officers have the statutory authority to refer any individuals for additional screening about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk on such things as health-related grounds, national security concerns, intending immigration without proper authorization, criminality, document requirements or violations and many more. These referrals are based on multiple factors that could include a combination of an individual’s activities, associations and travel patterns," the agency spokesperson said.

Weizman said his work in human rights engaging with vulnerable individuals makes him especially alarmed about the monitoring of his associations and travel patterns.

"This much we know: we are being electronically monitored for a set of connections -- the network of associations, people, places, calls and transactions -- that make up our lives," he said in his statement. "Such network analysis poses many problems, some of which are well-known. Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information. These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders and staff are being targeted by the U.S. government as security threats."

Weizman used the occasion of the exhibition opening to announce an investigation with local groups into an immigration detention center in Homestead, Fla. Of his own encounters with U.S. immigration, he said, "This incident exemplifies -- albeit in a far less intense manner and at a much less drastic scale -- critical aspects of the 'arbitrary logic of the border' that our exhibition seeks to expose. The racialized violations of the rights of migrants at the U.S. southern border are of course much more serious and brutal than the procedural difficulties a U.K. national may experience, and these migrants have very limited avenues for accountability when contesting the violence of the U.S. border."

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Trustee censured for inaccurate email at Johnson County Community College

Mon, 02/24/2020 - 01:00

The Board of Trustees at Johnson County Community College in Kansas has censured one trustee after she was found to have sent a email to state lawmakers that was rife with inaccuracies.

Angeliina Lawson, who like all trustees of the college was elected to the board directly by voters, sent an email to state lawmakers explaining her concerns around mismanagement of some of the college’s funds as well as works of art stored by the college.

That email eventually made its way to the Kansas Board of Regents and then to JCCC board members, though with Lawson’s name redacted.

A fact-finding investigation found that Lawson sent the email, though she originally refused to respond to questions about the email at board meetings. The fact finder discovered the email contained much false information and some misunderstandings of how the college’s works of art and logistical processes are actually handled. The investigation also found that Lawson’s description of a tour of the art storage facility she attended differed from what others on the tour said occurred.

Lawson has for her part said the censure vote is part of a long-running agenda of revenge by other members of the board stemming from the fact that she was not part of their slate of candidates. Lawson called the investigation a “witch hunt” and said that the lawyer in charge of the fact-finding investigation falsified information.

“I have done nothing wrong. I have a clear conscience,” she said in an interview. “I will keep showing up and I will keep asking questions, because I know I’m doing my job.”

She said that the intense response by the board and community college officials to her questions about the college’s assets and relatively large reserves is suspicious.

“When I dig into more of the budget, suddenly I get a lot of pushback,” she said. “What did I walk into that is causing this much pushback?”

Lawson also said that the Board of Trustees, being publicly elected by voters, operates with too much power and autonomy.

“What in the world is a community college doing storing millions and millions of dollars in art?” she asked. “The questions I’m asking are legitimate."

The total value of all art stored by the college is over $39 million. The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the Johnson campus. The fact-finding mission concluded that Lawson did not show an understanding of how the art is managed and the policies surrounding its storage.

Lawson’s full email, with annotated initial responses from JCCC staff, can be found on page 49 of the board packet for the December meeting of the trustees.

She was censured by the board for violating the code of conduct, which requires, among other things, trustees to work in harmony and cooperation with the rest of the board.

Greg Musil, chair of the Board of Trustees, said that if Lawson was in fact simply asking for transparency and forwarding along constituents’ concerns, she should have done that in a public forum.

“Instead, she chose to send a secret e-mail to state legislators making factually false allegations, naming individual college employees, and even alleging misconduct at other Kansas community colleges,” he said via email. “Her conduct promoted secrecy, not the transparency practiced by or sought by the college.”

"Her intent, from the start and as she stated in her 'defense,' was to ensure that no one knew about her inflammatory and materially inaccurate e-mail -- not the public, her fellow board members, or faculty, staff or students," he said.

Musil said good governance, trusting relationships and a focus on students were all diminished by Lawson’s secret email. "If the board had ignored these violations, the Code of Conduct would simply have been a piece of paper, with no credibility."

Lawson said that in her time on the board since 2017, her concerns have repeatedly been mocked or dismissed, and so she had no faith in the board to investigate.

"If an elected official cannot seek the advice of another elected official, where do I go?" she said. "The constituents have a right to get their questions answered."

John Lombardi, former president of the University of Florida and the Louisiana State University system, and author of the book How Universities Work, said that typically when trustees have concerns about mismanagement, they should first speak to the chair of the board, and then the two together should speak with the president or chancellor of the college.

If the executive can’t resolve the issue, he said, it may be that the board needs to take up the issue in executive session.

“When boards do not resolve these issues in executive session, but individual board members seek out alternative forums in the public to attack the institutional management or each other,” he said via email, “it may well indicate mismanagement of the board's responsibilities.”

He said that board members should understand that their role is not to manage a university directly, but to hire and fire a president.

Two local news publications, The Kansas City Star and The Shawnee Mission Post, both reported that several residents spoke up in support of Lawson at the meeting where she was censured, saying she was asking difficult questions and won her election by a large margin.

A spokesperson for the community college said that the events were an “unfortunate situation,” but one that could have been solved fairly easily by Lawson. The spokesperson said the administration is looking forward to getting back to focusing on the mission of the college and student success.

Henry Stoever, president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said that a board should work collectively with a president to resolve questions.

“Effective board governance doesn’t happen if all members don’t have the necessary information to act on critical issues,” he said via email.

He said that while he was not aware of every detail of the JCCC case, boards do have the responsibility to police themselves.

“All members, whether they be elected, appointed, selected, ex-officio, or otherwise,” he said, “should understand their duties and how these responsibilities translate into effective board governance.”

Lombardi said that censure by a board is often a mistake and does not resolve the problem.

“Censure is a political act and indicates a dysfunctional board that has members who do not want to work together and cannot resolve their issues within normal board procedures,” he said via email. “Once you reach the point of censure, you will have more trouble, not less.”

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Brigham Young removes policy on same-sex intimacy

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

Brigham Young University's recent removal of “homosexual behavior” as a prohibited and punishable act under its honor code has caused both celebration and skepticism in the LGBTQ community.

On the surface, the removal of a passage in the honor code on Feb. 19 indicates that members of the university who display such physical intimacy will no longer be subjected to disciplinary measures, including removal from the university, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But in a series of tweets the next day, university representatives said “there may have been some miscommunication” about what the changes mean.

“We have removed the more prescriptive language and kept the focus on the principles of the honor code, which have not changed,” said Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for university communications. “We will handle questions that arise on an individual, case-by-case basis.”

The response has left many LGBTQ students enrolled at the Utah institution in the dark about how they can express their sexual orientation, since the university did not make it explicitly clear.

looks like we may have been a little preemptive—it’s unclear if BYU is saying yes or no to same-sex dating. I’ve seen direct accounts of LGBTQ+ students asking the HCO point-blank if they can hold hands/kiss/date and the office said yes … https://t.co/Eyp2Ut1UL4 https://t.co/xFUk9CrfPw

— Matty Easton (@easton_matty) February 19, 2020

Before Wednesday's changes, the university said it would act on "behavior" rather than "feelings or attraction." The now-deleted paragraphs state that homosexual behavior, which "includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings" is in violation of the honor code.

A spokeswoman for the university declined to explain what the revision will mean for LGBTQ couples who kiss, hug, hold hands, date or otherwise express their sexual orientation in public.

“Students are free to go to the Honor Code Office to get clarification if that affects them,” she said.

Some students did just that ​and learned physical intimacy between LGBTQ people is permitted, “as long as it’s not serious and leads to marriage,” said Martha Harris, a junior who is a lesbian. Multiple students shared similar stories on Twitter.

"Now I think it’s just very unclear what could happen," Harris said. "I know people who have gotten kicked out, people who have been reported to the office for rumors of hugging or coming out … I’m still trying to figure it out. I’m waiting a few days to see where things lay, because of the very conflicting messages."

McKay Boyack, a senior at Brigham Young who is a lesbian, said the “principle-based approach” the university will now take on LGBTQ sexuality is more subjective than the passage it removed, which is concerning.

“I’m so excited I could cry, but I’m really scared that they’re going to draw back on that before we have the chance to do anything,” Boyack said. “Who’s to say that one honor code officer wouldn’t be like, ‘it’s fine for them to date,’ and another wouldn’t throw you out of the school? It’s giving us more ambiguity as students that we already deal with in the church.”

The language change occurred immediately after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released its updated general handbook, which outlines the church's mission and goals. The new handbook eased disciplinary measures for same-sex couples, but it continues to state that same-sex sexual activity is a sin and that gender is defined at birth, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. In addition to its removal of the behavior passage, the university expanded a section at the beginning of the Honor Code to define a “chaste and virtuous life” as “abstaining from any sexual relations outside a marriage between a man and a woman,” according to the Tribune.

While removing the “homosexual behavior” passage from the Honor Code is a step in the right direction, the university has not implemented any nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBTQ students from bullying or harassment, said Paul Castillo, counsel and students’ rights strategist for Lambda Legal, a national organization focused on protecting the legal and civil rights of LGBTQ people. The burning question about the policy is what it will mean in practice, Castillo said.

“What does this mean for students who come out and are seeking to be supported by their peers, by school administrators, and what does that support look like?” Castillo said. “It’s one thing to remove language that targets LGBTQ students, but a whole different thing to show a wholesale commitment to the safety and well-being of all students.”

Culture changes take time, said Harris, who has been “selective” about whom she tells about her sexuality. She said when she first arrived at the campus, it was clear to her that she “wasn’t the type of person that [BYU] wanted.”

She questioned whether the university changed the Honor Code simply to improve its public image.

"I do fear it’s pressure from outside sources," Harris said. "Organizations not wanting to work with BYU, people from the outside thinking that’s a very toxic and homophobic school. I’m a little scared it’s for PR."

Bradley Talbot, a junior who runs an LGBTQ awareness and support organization called Color Campus, said he received threats to report him to the Honor Code Office when people learned that he was gay and was running the once-anonymous organization. He's now hopeful that the changes to the code will allow students to be open about their sexual orientation.

“I do feel like I can talk more openly about my dating life and what I hope to do in the future and not have to wait until I graduate to tell anyone,” Talbot said. “Dating has been going on for a while, just no one could talk about it. Because it was so secret, it put a lot of people into compromising situations and led to sexual harassment and rape. Now people can be more open … without fear of being disciplined on a scholarly level.”

Student opposition to the changes has been brewing, LGBTQ students said. Across campus, people have been posting copies of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a church document that affirms “marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan” and warns against “those who fail to fulfill family responsibilities.”

Seventy percent of members of the church support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in housing, public accommodations and the workplace, a 2019 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute survey.

“There is very strong support for nondiscrimination policies,” said Sharita Gruberg, policy director for the LGBT research and communications project for the Center for American Progress.

Talbot said he believes the church is “becoming more understanding and recognizing” of LGBTQ issues.

“Even though we hold truths and doctrines about the family as what the standard is, there’s no such thing as a perfect family and things are going to get messy,” Talbot said. “It’s not as black-and-white as it once was … We might need a little more time for things to work out.”

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UCLA drops plan to use facial recognition security surveillance, but other colleges may be using technology

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 01:00

The University of California, Los Angeles, was the first university to openly propose using facial recognition software for security surveillance. Now it's the first to openly drop that plan. But whether other colleges are using the technology behind closed doors remains to be seen.

UCLA first floated the plan last year as part of a larger policy about campus security. Students voiced concerns during a 30-day comment period in June and at a town hall on the issue in late January.

Fight for the Future, a national digital rights advocacy organization, launched its own public campaign against the UCLA administration's consideration early this year, in partnership with Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

“This victory at UCLA will send a pretty strong message to any other administration who is considering doing this,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of the organization. “It’s not going to be worth the backlash.”

As part of the effort, Fight for the Future ran its own experiment. The group ran over 400 photos of UCLA athletes and faculty members through Amazon’s facial recognition software. They found 58 of those photos were incorrectly matched with photos in a mug-shot database. The majority of those false positives, the organization said, were of people of color. Some images the software claimed were the same person with “100 percent confidence.”

Fight for the Future had planned to release the results of the experiment to a news outlet, Greer said, but when that publication contacted the university, the response was swift. Within 24 hours a UCLA administrator wrote Greer to say the university was no longer considering using the software.

“We determined that that the potential benefits of the technology were limited and vastly outweighed by the community’s concerns,” a spokesperson for UCLA said via email.

The university had not identified a specific software or made any concrete plans to deploy it, he said. The administration is now working to explicitly prohibit facial recognition software.

The Problem With Facial Recognition

The problems with the software are multifaceted, Greer said. It’s well documented that the current technology doesn’t always work as intended. It’s routinely bad at identifying women and nonwhite people.

That means those groups are more likely to face both the annoying aspects of being misidentified (like being locked out of a dorm) and the dangerous ones (like being wrongly accosted by police).

The technology is also susceptible to hacking.

“The scan of your face is a unique identifier, like your Social Security number,” Greer said. “But if your Social Security number gets breached, you can get a new Social Security number. If a scan of your face gets breached, you can’t get a new face.”

Amelia Vance, director of youth and education privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum, said concerns around facial recognition should be particularly troublesome for higher education institutions. The systems are often particularly bad at correctly identifying children and young adults, she said. The software can cost millions of dollars and -- given that many episodes of violence are committed by students who attend those colleges -- is ineffective against violence.

“We just don’t have that much training data on children and on young adults,” Vance said. “This technology right now is not ready for prime time.”

Her organization has proposed a moratorium on facial recognition in public schools.

UCLA said it would consider using facial recognition in a “limited" capacity. One draft of the policy shared online by the student group Campus Safety Alliance said the technology would only be used “to locate a known individual for legitimate, safety or security purposes related to individuals who have been issued an official campus stay away order, court ordered restraining order, law enforcement bulletin or who pose a threat to one or more members of the campus community.”

That draft said a human being would need to examine the match before an official determination of someone’s identity could be made.

But Greer said that "limited" capacity -- security surveillance -- is one of the more concerning uses of the software.

“We’ve seen a few other schools that were trying to dabble with this technology,” she said.

Two other institutions in the state -- Stanford University and the University of Southern California -- had floated using facial recognition as part of their food service or dorm security. Students there would have been able to scan their faces to get into a dorm or pay for a meal.

While those uses normalize facial recognition and should be stopped, Greer said, they don’t ring the same alarm bells that surveillance uses do.

It’s possible that in the future the technology will improve, becoming more accurate and more secure.

For Vance, that’s one reason why her organization has called for a moratorium instead of an outright ban.

But to Greer, the possibility that the technology could become 100 percent accurate is even more frightening.

“That’s a world where institutions of power have the ability to track and monitor their people everywhere they go, all the time. That is a world where there are zero spaces that are free from government or societal intrusion, which is basically a world where we can’t have new ideas,” she said. “We really need to think about this not just as an issue of privacy but as an issue of basic freedom.”

If facial recognition software had been ubiquitous a few decades ago, she said, social movements like the LGBTQ rights movement may never have occurred.

“In the end it’s not really about safety -- it’s about social control.”

What’s Already Happening

UCLA chose to be open about considering facial recognition and solicited comments from students. For that, the university should be applauded, Vance said.

But that’s not necessarily happening everywhere.

“I would be absolutely unsurprised if multiple universities had adopted it and we just don’t know about it,” Vance said. Safety and security offices often act independent of other university administrators and may not be transparent about a new security measure.

Fight for the Future currently has a campus scorecard for facial recognition, keeping track of which colleges have pledged not to use the software. Though about 50 universities have told the organization they will not implement the technology, Greer said, many have said nothing at all.

“It is absolutely possible that there are other schools in the country that are already using this technology, they just haven’t told anyone about it,” she said.

The software is already in use by numerous municipal police departments and airports as well as at least one public school district. The Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown University Law Center found in 2016 that half of American adults are in a law enforcement facial recognition network.

Facial recognition software companies already are marketing to universities and K-12 schools.

“There are really no laws in place that would require private institutions, for example, to even disclose to their students that they’re doing this,” Greer said. “We really do need policies in place so that it’s not up to school administrators.”

Vance pointed out that university leaders and policy makers often bemoan that a younger generation doesn’t care about privacy.

“They clearly do care about privacy,” she said. “And this is a step too far.”

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