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California pilot encourages students to give back to community

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 01:00

Eight universities in California are embarking on an experiment to help students pay for college through public service.

The Civic Action Fellowship, announced Monday, will award students up to $10,000 to put toward their college costs in exchange for one semester working with a local nonprofit or government office.

Students will tackle a range of regional and local community challenges, such as reducing homelessness. The challenges each institution will address will be selected by the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, and form part of a statewide initiative to encourage more citizens to give back to their communities.

Rather than making students work on weekends or over the summer, the public service commitment will take the place of classes for one semester. Staff members at each institution will work with local partners to ensure the student placements tie into the academic curriculum and are substantive.

The participating institutions are a mixture of public and private nonprofit universities. California Lutheran University, Dominican University of California and University of the Pacific are the independent institutions; California State University's campuses at Los Angeles and Stanislaus and San José State University and the University of California campuses at Berkeley and Merced are the public universities in the pilot.

California Volunteers, a California state agency, will lead coordination of the program and distribute $3.2 million to the eight institutions to cover administrative costs. An additional $677,000 in scholarship funds will be allocated to participating students following completion of their fellowship. The nearly $4 million in funding, a mixture of federal and state funds, will cover the pilot from March 2020 through June 30, 2021.

Representatives of institutions participating in the pilot, described as a “first-in-the-nation” program in a California Volunteers news release, said the program would help them to graduate students with real-world job experience and an engrained commitment to civic engagement. Approximately 250 students will participate in the program starting in fall 2020. The fellowship is supported by an AmeriCorps grant, and students will be required to sign up as AmeriCorps Fellows to participate.

“We hope this new partnership with universities will become a model for calling on young people to serve, while helping them pay for college,” said California chief service officer Josh Fryday in a statement.

The Civic Action Fellowship was inspired by a program at Dominican University called Reimagining Citizenship. In this scholarship program, students work with the government of the city of Novato over two sequential summers while earning credit toward Dominican’s minor in community action and social change.

Mary Marcy, Dominican's president, said Fryday -- then mayor of the city of Novato -- was instrumental in creating the Reimagining Citizenship program in 2018. The new Civic Action Fellowship will be modeled on Dominican’s program, but with some important changes. For example, students will no longer work over their summer vacation, as some need to work full-time during that period to make ends meet, said Marcy. Dominican will continue to offer its Reimagining Citizenship program in addition to the new Civic Action Fellowship, she said.

Each of the eight institutions participating in the fellowship already encourages students to give back to their community through public service, said Marcy. “I was really heartened by the number of campuses that said yes. Conceptually this makes a lot of sense. We have a natural cohort of institutions that already engage with their communities.”

Navigating the different governance structures in state government, community partners and public and private institutions of varying sizes makes the fellowship program “very complex” to organize, said Marcy. “But there’s a collegiality and interest shared by everyone involved to make it work,” she said.

Given the administrative challenges involved, it isn’t clear how much the fellowship can scale, acknowledged Marcy.

Dominican plans to start with 33 students this fall and see how things progress from there, she said. Both Marcy and Ana Bertha Gutiérrez, a senior director at Jobs for the Future, said Newsom would like to see the fellowship become truly statewide, with potentially thousands of students participating each year.

“It makes sense to connect these systems and create these pathways into state service,” said Gutiérrez. “California is seizing on upon the opportunity and the convening power of the current administration to try this out and set something up.”

While she fully supports the idea behind the fellowship, Gutiérrez said there are a “lot of institutional and administrative challenges that will come up. Higher education institutions aren’t designed to offer internships at scale. They aren’t used to partnering in this nuanced way. They’re going to have to adapt and change, and that is going to be where the real work is going to take place.” She added, “We know all these systems are connected and interdependent, but how do we get them to talk with each other?”

Participants hope the fellowship won’t just improve communication between universities and community partners, but also between participating institutions. Mojgan Behmand, associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of the Dominican Experience, said she anticipates that sharing results between institutions may be one of the more challenging aspects of the fellowship, but it will be essential to helping it scale.

“Aligning with each other, sharing best practices will be challenging but valuable. We want to connect students across institutions, share syllabi, use our planning grants to train each other and share what we are doing with our colleagues. It’s that alignment between different institutions that will be really valuable and make the initiative pervasive throughout the state. But it’s going to be hard to organize,” said Behmand.

At the institutional level, Behmand said Dominican is focused on creating meaningful work placements that benefit not only students, but also the institution’s community partners. “It has to be reciprocal,” she said.

Dominican has developed a two-semester academic sequence to prepare students for their fellowship. Fellows will take two courses in their first semester to learn how to identify community need and understand key theories in community engagement and social advocacy. In the second semester, fellows will complete 450 hours of on-site service for 10 units of credit. Dominican’s pilot will focus on three key areas: education, economic opportunity and healthy futures. Depending on where they are placed, students will provide services including health and nutrition education, financial literacy, and housing advocacy and support.

A spokeswoman for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that manages AmeriCorps, said the Civic Action Fellowship is an innovative use of AmeriCorps funding. “We don’t have anything that looks like this. The scale and scope are quite unique,” she said. Though AmeriCorps already works with higher education in many ways, there are opportunities for that bond to be strengthened, the spokeswoman said. “Connecting higher education and public service is a natural partnership. Programs like this have the potential to have a tremendous impact on students’ lives, their community and beyond.”

“The new Civic Action Fellowship is an encouraging step toward maximizing federal funding to help California students afford college and find meaningful employment upon graduation,” said Audrey Dow, senior vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “Ensuring college affordability more broadly, however, requires a larger statewide strategy that ensures all high school students complete the FAFSA, take up federal work-study, when available, and of course, a redesign of our current Cal Grant program so that all low-income students can afford tuition and cost of living.”

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A Lutheran college in Portland will close after the spring 2020 semester

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 01:00

Concordia University in Portland, Ore., will close at the end of the spring 2020 semester, yet another in a string of private nonprofit colleges in the Portland area to close.

The private, nonprofit Lutheran institution's Board of Regents voted last Friday to cease operations at the 115-year-old institution, according to a Monday announcement.

Students who have not completed degree requirements will get "extensive information outlining pathways" at partnering institutions, said a section of the college's website devoted to information on the closure. Students' credits "may be considered for transfer" to another regionally accredited university, but accepting transfer credits is "always at the discretion of the receiving institution," the website said. Concordia is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The university is also working to create transition plans for faculty and staff in each department. It will work with the office of Oregon's attorney general as it closes to determine a plan for its assets.

A spokesperson for the university said the announcement was "certainly a surprise to many."

"The Board’s decision came after years of mounting financial challenges, and a challenging and changing educational landscape," the university said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed.

A statement from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod cited the "difficult environment confronting small private universities, not least religiously affiliated ones," as a reason for the closure.

"Colleges and universities nationwide continue to face challenges, even those whose contributions to their communities and the world are laudable," it said.

The university's strategic plan, called Vision 2024, stressed core themes of being Lutheran, rigor and creating servant leaders. It planned to "expand its physical campuses," "develop, expand and diversify strategic partnerships," and "ensure good stewardship of its resources."

Concordia follows in the footsteps of Marylhurst University and the Oregon College of Art and Craft, both small institutions in the Portland area that shut down within the last few years. Small religious colleges across the nation have been closing and consolidating at a steady clip as demographics change and students seeking affordability look elsewhere.

While enrollment over all has been up at Concordia since 2010, it peaked in 2014, according to federal data. And that growth was largely due to graduate students. Total undergraduate enrollment increased from 1,244 students in fall 2010 to 1,501 students in 2018. Graduate enrollment jumped from 870 in 2010 to 6,178 in 2014 before dropping back down to 3,841 in 2018. The current sticker price of tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates is about $31,000, up nearly 3 percent from last year.

Revenue was down. Concordia's 2018 annual report shows the university had about $113.2 million in revenue in 2018, down from $116.5 million in 2017. More than 80 percent of its revenue was coming from tuition and fees. Expenditures outpaced revenue in 2017 by about $8 million, then expenses came in just below revenue in 2018 due largely to nearly $12 million in expense cuts.

"The university’s current and projected enrollment and finances make it impossible to continue its educational mission," a university spokesperson said.

The six-year graduation rate for a bachelor's degree at Concordia was 47 percent for the cohort that started in fall 2012. Nationwide, the average six-year graduation was 60 percent for those who started in 2011.

Juliana Smith, an associate professor at the university and chair of the Executive Faculty Committee, Concordia's version of a Faculty Senate, deferred a request for comment to the university's spokeswoman.

The university employs 63 full-time and 172 part-time faculty members, according to federal data.

The university also ran into trouble with the federal government in 2015. The U.S. Department of Education alleged the university illegally outsourced some of its online programs to a private contractor, HotChalk Inc., according to The Oregonian. Online education led to Concordia becoming one of the nation's largest providers of education master's degrees. The university paid out a $1 million agreement to settle the claim while denying wrongdoing.

Monday's news comes after the university held its ninth annual Victor Atiyeh Leadership in Education Awards event last week, according to The Oregonian. It raised $355,000 for student scholarships for the 3toPhD program, a collaboration between the university, local public schools and health institutions to provide support for children from "the first three trimesters of life" to earning a Ph.D. -- from prenatal care services to early childhood education to college academics.

"At that point the Board had not voted to close the college, therefore it was business as usual," the university said in a statement when asked why the fundraiser was held. "The donations made through this event go to support scholarships for students in the 2019-2020 academic year and the 3toPhD program."

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Colleges start new academic programs

Tue, 02/11/2020 - 01:00
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East Carolina trustees reprimanded over student election meddling

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 01:00

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors voted on Friday to censure a trustee of East Carolina University, one of its constituent institutions. Another trustee resigned.

The two men in question, Phil Lewis, who resigned, and Robert Moore, who was censured, were both accused of meddling in student government elections at ECU by offering campaign contributions to a former student government president if she ran again and agreed to support them. The student government president is a member of the ECU Board of Trustees. Their goal was to shift the board's leadership.

Censuring Moore was the strongest action the Board of Governors could take, as he was appointed as an ECU trustee by the state Legislature and could not be removed by the Board of Governors. The news was first reported by North Carolina paper The News & Observer.

Chair of the Board of Governors Randy Ramsey expressed disappointment at the events. “Personally, if I could remove the entire board today, I probably would,” he said at a meeting Friday, The News & Observer reported. “This has got to end.”

Moore said at the meeting that he and Lewis acted with good intentions. Meeting with student candidates is the norm, he said, especially when there's a divided board.

Jeff Popke, a professor of geography and chair of the faculty at ECU, said that the actions of the trustees and the recent commentary around the university -- with one editorial calling the college “a great embarrassment” -- have taken an enormous toll on university morale.

“It is difficult to overstate the level of outrage that was expressed on our campus, and there is a clear sense among faculty that their behavior not only violated UNC System policy, but also runs counter to the values of our community and the minimal expectations for responsible and ethical Board conduct,” Popke said via email.

He said that the governing boards should focus on fiduciary oversight and long-term strategy rather than political agendas and micromanagement.

“Our faculty have lost confidence in the ability of our governing boards to play a constructive role in support of our work and ECU’s mission,” Popke said via email. “This begins with the Board of Governors, which under the current Republican legislature has become increasingly partisan and meddlesome, and has in turn tended to appoint trustees cut from the same cloth.”

The scandal follows a string of high-profile incidents in the UNC system. The system’s Board of Governors has shown itself willing to be political and clash with administrators. Early last year, Carol Folt, chancellor of UNC at Chapel Hill, had her resignation accelerated by the board when she announced she would be taking down the remnants of Silent Sam, a Confederate soldier monument abhorred by outspoken students. Margaret Spellings, former U.S. secretary of education and president of the UNC system, left office that same month. Cecil Staton, then-chancellor of ECU, announced last March he was departing in a resignation he "did not initiate."

Many have called for the Board of Governors, which has some hand in electing trustees for the constituent institutions, to reform its practices and be less influenced by state politics. The North Carolina General Assembly appoints all governors to the board, a practice some have said must change.

Erskine Bowles, former president of the UNC system and White House chief of staff under President Clinton, and Richard Vinroot, Republican former mayor of Charlotte, together wrote an opinion piece in The News & Observer decrying the process and calling for reform.

“There seems to be a feeling now among some in the General Assembly and on the UNC Board of Governors that the Chapel Hill campus in particular, and the UNC ‘system’ in general, are infected with a liberal bias and that university leaders and students, for that matter, need to be ‘taught a lesson’ with more heavy-handed oversight,” Bowles and Vinroot wrote. “Republican lawmakers have named conservatives of their own party to the Board of Governors and changed the governance rules to diminish any appointive authority in the governor’s office. This type of action risks turning the Board of Governors into a purely political organization doing the bidding of our legislative leaders.”

A campaign website, Reform UNC System Governance, currently lists 1,767 supporters.

Popke said he agreed the system needs to change. “Faculty and students across the system have a right to expect that their governors and trustees will be selected based upon their qualifications and not their political fealty, their potential contributions rather than their campaign contributions,” he said via email. “We deserve better.”

David Powers, chair of the governing committee within the Board of Governors, said that the next meeting would include a review of board policy on self-governance, including discipline of board members.

“The committee plans to begin reviewing the board’s policy on sanctions of Board of Trustee members, including procedures for how to request actions be taken by the board,” Powers said in a statement. “I will also form a working group, in consultation with Board of Governors Chair Randy Ramsey, composed of student body presidents, chancellors and members of Board of Trustees and Board of Governors to review student election procedures and ensure adequate anti-tampering procedures are in place.”

"While our policy allows for a petition to the BOG to remove a campus trustee that the BOG appoints," Powers said via email, "the procedure for such actions is vague. Furthermore, the only disciplinary measure outlined in the current policy is removal and does not explicitly describe other available alternatives such as reprimand or censure."

Powers said examining student elections is important to prevent any inappropriate interference. Student presidents are voting members of their respective institutions' boards.

Lewis, the trustee who resigned, had complained that due process had not been upheld before his meeting with the Board of Governors. The ECU board chairman originally asked the two men to resign. When they didn't, he filed a complaint with the governors.

David Green, a professor of law at North Carolina Central University and chair of the UNC system Faculty Assembly, said he was pleased with Powers's leadership.

"Powers has regularly shown a commitment to the principles of shared governance and inclusiveness in decision making,” Green said via email. “Moreover, I was pleased that in forming a working group regarding student election procedures, he is including student leaders, chancellors, members of Board of Trustees and Board of Governors.” Powers has also reached out to the system faculty assembly for discussion, Green said.

UNC’s reputation, many have said, will depend on this reform.

“It should not be too much to ask that our board members be individuals of high character who will put the interests of the institutions that they serve above and beyond personal or political agendas. But in recent years, we at ECU have not always seen this,” Popke said via email.

“The resulting governance dysfunction is, I am afraid, doing lasting damage to the UNC System and its constituent institutions.”

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Faculty members at Lee College object to new, one-year contracts

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 01:00

Faculty members at Lee College, outside Houston, don’t have tenure. But longer-serving faculty members did have the job security that came with renewable three-year contracts.

No more. Last summer, when many instructors were away from campus, the community college’s then-president, Dennis Brown, notified instructors via email that the Board of Regents would be considering moving to one-year faculty contracts at its next meeting. The note came just one month before the vote. Also proposed was a move to eliminate academic division faculty chairs and replace them with associate deans.

Faculty members universally opposed a move to one-year contracts. They mobilized to fight that proposal, contacting individual board members and organizing who would speak on which of their arguments in favor of three-year contracts at the meeting.

It was a losing battle. At that August board gathering, members voted unanimously for single-year appointments. Most members also voted in a favor of budgeting for a reorganization of division chairs into a system of deanships -- presumably a consolidated one.

How and if that restructuring would happen was left up to the college’s incoming president. The proposals’ exact origins remain something of a mystery to faculty members, who say that they’ve heard different rationales at different times by different regents and administrators. But Brown pushed both proposals forward just as he planned to retire.

Instructors at Lee now hope that the arrival of President Lynda Villanueva this term will bring a return to the kind of shared governance they say they once enjoyed. Even so, the change to one-year contracts is a done deal, and one that faculty members say has already weakened their morale.

“I’m not afraid to speak openly about anything that’s happened to me at this college, and primarily I’m very proud that we’ve had shared governance for the majority of the time I’ve been here,” said Jerry Hamby, an English professor who is retiring this year after 31 years at Lee. “But that has changed dramatically over the past six or seven years,” during Brown’s tenure.

Hamby said the move to one-year contracts didn’t influence his decision to retire. Yet the timing is good for him -- just not his colleagues, who will be moving to one-year contracts as soon as their current three-year terms expire.

“I think it’s a travesty. I think it’s a terrible thing to do a faculty member,” Hamby said. “My contribution to the college isn’t valued as much as it once was -- that’s what this says to me.”

The American Association of University Professors would probably agree. The group says that faculty members who have served the length of a typical tenure probationary period merit the due process protections of tenure, even if they don't have technically have it. Administrators at Lee note that faculty members there have the right to appeal contract non-renewals. But the professors say that one-year contracts make it that much easier to get rid of an unpopular or outspoken instructors for any alleged policy violation.

Were he younger and staying on at Lee, Hamby said, “I’d pick up and move, or consider it.” He’s done it before: Hamby began a career at Lamar University on one-year contracts, but says he moved to Lee instead, as it provided some sense of employment security.

Citing a common argument against tenure and continuing contracts -- that they don’t exist outside academe -- Hamby said the “business community doesn’t have to deal with academic freedom issues.” Academic freedom is misunderstood, he said, but it's simply “the freedom to teach your content in good faith and not have to be scared of petty reprisal. But with one-year contracts, that safety net is gone.”

Lee says that it’s simply aligning its own policies with many of its peers. At the August board meeting, Brown cited an internal study of 50 state colleges and community college districts. According to that study, 38 have one-year contracts. Four have two-year contracts, seven have three-year contracts and one college has no contracts. Tenure is possible at 11 of the 50 institutions. 

Brown assured faculty members that the change had nothing to do with the college’s past financial crisis, which resulted in it having to take out a $4.8 million loan from a local bank in 2017 to temporarily cover regular expenses, including payroll. As of August, Brown said then, the college was in the strongest financial position he’d seen it in, with steady enrollment and cash reserves at $14 million and growing.

Mark Hall, board chair, said in an interview that flat enrollment amounts to good news in oil country in a strong economy, as student numbers tend to rise and fall inversely with available -- and high-paying -- jobs. Enrollment hovers under 8,000 students.

“I know a kid, well, a 23-year-old, who dropped out of school in seventh grade, and I can’t get him to get a G.E.D. because he’s working on pipeline construction for $100,000 a year,” Hall said. “That’s the reality here."

Hall said that the board voted as it did primarily based on the study of other colleges. Echoing Brown’s comments at the August meeting, Hall also said that administrators recently moved to one-year contracts, and that faculty contracts are now aligned. The president's contract is still for three years, however.

Another faculty member who did not want to be named, citing fear of retaliation -- especially now that contracts last just a year -- said that multiyear contracts and even tenure remain at peer institutions, just not the majority. So the change feels like “More of a way to say, ‘Shut your mouth’” than anything else.

Hall said there’s “always a tension between what you offer faculty and trying to stay financially prudent, and we’ve always tried to say within the top 10 in terms of pay at Lee College.” Faculty members have never been laid off, either, he said, and there is no plan to eliminate positions now. Yet the new contract system provides the college more “flexibility” to respond to various changes. As an example, he cited the possibility of having to carry faculty members through three-year contracts in the event of a closure for a catastrophic hurricane.

Weather events are a very real threat on the Gulf Coast. Asked whether the college could declare financial exigency in such an event, or whether it had any other protections, Hall said he didn't know.

Hamby said the proposal to eliminate division chairs is just as controversial as one-year contracts, in that chairs, unlike deans, are faculty members. Chairs supervise their colleagues to some degree, but they are disciplinary peers who understand the work their fellow instructors do, he said. By contrast, deans serve at the will of the administration.

“If that person [a chair] is not there, in my mind, faculty have no advocate and no voice, and are totally at the whim of administrators."

Veronique Tran, vice president of instruction, and two deans also opposed moving forward with the restructuring plan immediately, according to a letter obtained by faculty members through an open records request. The August letter from Tran to Brown said that faculty and staff members and administrators “have not had the opportunity to provide input,” that national searches for qualified associate deans would take time, and that the change could result in negative publicity for the college.

Tran said that if division chairs are eliminated, then the “burden of managing all departments falls on the two deans while the associate dean search is ongoing.” She also expressed concern about adequate program coordination as required by the college’s regional accreditor, and so proposed the inclusion of program coordinators where appropriate in any plan.

Hamby has served on Lee’s representative Faculty Assembly in some form for most of his time at the college. The campus president is a full member of that body, which has made for a strong tradition of communication and shared governance, he said. And while there were no major confrontations between the faculty and Brown, Brown’s leadership style was guarded.

In particular, Hamby and other instructors said, assembly members were concerned as to how the college fell into the recent financial crisis.

“Personally, I never found that satisfactory answers were given,” Hamby said. Brown could not immediately be reached for comment. The college has since adopted a financial plan with multiple layers of budgetary oversight. 

Villanueva, Lee’s new president, said that the college has “no plans to eliminate faculty chairs.”

“The board determined, prior to my tenure, to provide the fiscal resources to determine the most appropriate organizational structure to achieve our mission,” she said. “To that extent, I am working with the Faculty Assembly president to design new pathways that provide the best-quality education to our students and the community we serve.”

As for the current financial state of the college, Villanueva said that it now has $34 million in unrestricted cash and that an audit recently gave it the highest rating of “unqualified opinion.”

Karen Guthmiller, an instructor of kinesiology and Faculty Assembly president, said she'd asked the board to delay any changes until the arrival of a new president. As for the other proposal, which the board did leave up the new president, she said, “We have no plans to eliminate faculty chairs."

“Our new president supports faculty chair positions” and “made it clear that they are integral to a college’s ability to respond to the needs of its students,” she said in an email. “Dr. Villanueva has repeatedly stated this in her presidential interview, college convocation and our faculty meetings, and I believe her.”

Guthmiller added, “She has consistently stated she will work with the college community to find ways to better support student learning, which will include faculty chairs, and so far her actions have unequivocally shown her to be a person of her word.”

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Rural Minnesota community colleges plan to merge

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 01:00

Five small community colleges in Minnesota plan to merge by 2022 as higher education in the state over all suffers enrollment declines.

The Northeast Higher Education District, which includes Hibbing Community College, Itasca Community College, Mesabi Range College, Rainy River Community College and Vermilion Community College, already shares a president, business services, summer academic programming and more.

While rural community colleges nationally are struggling with enrollment, one advocate says the plan in Minnesota is unique for rural institutions and could be a good model for others to follow suit.

Uniting the colleges under a single accreditation will be the largest change under the merger, according to Mike Raich, interim president of the district and a former dean and provost. Budgets, academic programming and enrollment management systems will also be shared, but sports teams will stay independent.

"The process has been evolutionary," Raich said.

The decision comes as the system tries to right itself against falling enrollments.

Over all, the Minnesota state system has lost about 20 percent of its enrollment over the past decade, according to Bill Maki, interim vice chancellor for finance and facilities at the system. While officials work to improve recruitment and retention, the system's persistence rate has been relatively flat over the past decade.

The majority -- 28 -- of the 37 institutions in the system also showed operating losses last year, but Maki said that is just one measurement, which happens to include noncash items like depreciation of facilities.

Measured on a cash basis, the system is "very stable," he said.

At the Northeast Higher Education District, the enrollment drop has been more precipitous, with a decline in full-time-equivalent students of about 35 percent since 2011.

The main reasons for the decline are the district's rural locations and its demographics, the strong economy, and the low unemployment rate, Maki said.

"It’s tight for our rural schools," said Randy Smith, president of the Rural Community College Alliance. "When we take a chart and list the issues that rural colleges face, financial challenges are always going to be No. 1, and enrollment management is always going to be No. 2."

Smith believes the merger will help the district financially. The district has already successfully balanced sharing services while maintaining the individual institutions' identities, he said, so this could also serve as a good model for other colleges facing similar challenges.

The single accreditation will make the Northeast Higher Education District more efficient, Raich said. While it's doing well financially on a cash basis, he said the enrollment loss has been challenging.

After merging accreditation, staff will have single databases to look at student records, bills and personnel lists, as opposed to having to toggle between five databases. Raich didn't say that the district is planning staff cuts, but rather that it wants to be more efficient with the staff it already has. He added that staffing levels will depend on enrollment, and the district would utilize attrition and retirements rather than layoffs if cuts were necessary.

It will also be easier for students to transfer within the district, and the colleges will no longer be competing with each other for students.

The plan to merge started at the grassroots level, according to Maki, who was previously president of the district. While enrollment and finances played a role, the district also wanted to make the experience easier for students and create closer relationships with employers and the K-12 systems.

"Having five separate accreditations created many internal barriers to move between institutions, so by merging, many of those barriers will be removed," he said.

As far as opposition, Raich said there was "not as much as I would've expected."

While there is concern about maintaining local pride, he said having the district work together through the changes has helped bring people around to the idea of a merger.

"We’ve really come to the realization that we’re talking about a vision for our future," he said. "A vision that we’re stronger together."

Aaron Brown, a full-time speech communications instructor and chair of the academic affairs and standards council at Hibbing Community College, said it "hasn't been as contentious as many thought it might be because it's been coming for a long time."

"The reality is, our declining enrollments have really forced our hand institutionally to figure out a different way of surviving," Brown said. "Because we're already collaborating, all this does is further formalize the arrangement, and it allows us to do things like share students."

Brown is hopeful that the merger will allow the colleges to maintain their existing ratio of full-time instructors to adjuncts.

While faculty members at Hibbing aren't excited about the arrangement, he said, they know it's necessary and that they could either come together to help students or "whine and complain."

It helps that faculty have a good relationship with the current administration, Brown said, and that faculty members have been involved in the process.

Matt Williams, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty union, provided a statement saying, “Obviously, the merger of five schools is a significant change and change of this magnitude brings a range of emotions. We’ve communicated to the Minnesota State System our desire that all members of these campus communities -- faculty, staff, administrators, and even students -- are treated with dignity, respect, and compassion throughout this process.

"Right now there are a lot of questions and uncertainties regarding the implementation of this merger, and we will continue to work to ensure faculty feel supported and their concerns are heard as the path forward comes into focus.”

Sharing resources while maintaining local identities and commitments to the college's local communities will be a key part of the merger's success, Smith said.

Rural colleges tend to shy away from mergers because they don't want to lose their identities, according to Smith, and the rural communities tend to want more independence.

But the financial challenges these colleges are facing "are certainly there, and I don't see them going away any time soon."

"I think other rural communities can take this model and learn from that," Smith said. "The financial challenges are going to be an issue, and [the colleges] are going to have to think about this."

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Leaders of Wayne State University Press fired

Mon, 02/10/2020 - 01:00

Wayne State University fired three leaders of the university's press -- including the editor in chief -- on Friday.

The reasons for the dismissals are unclear.

Annie Martin, who had been editor in chief, did not respond to a request for comment.

A statement sent by the university to the press's faculty editorial board, and obtained by The Detroit News, said the decision to let the leaders go was "reached only after careful and deep consideration at every level … We believe, moving forward, our future can be created through leadership and staff collectively committed and open to new ideas, deeper community connectivity."

A statement from the university said, "As has occurred with other long-running and distinguished university presses, the host university, Wayne State, recently considered a new path of support for the press, believing the reporting change will help create a sustainable business model that leads to future successes."

The statement apparently refers to a switch in reporting structure. In the fall, the university press would report to the libraries, not the provost, as had been the case.

The press publishes 35 to 40 books a year and 11 journals. It is known for books on Detroit and Michigan, Jewish studies, film and media studies, African American history and culture, and folklore.

The Detroit News article quoted Kathy Wildfong, who was interim director before retiring in the summer, as saying that presses are built on close relationships between staff members and authors. "I am very concerned that this is a first step in closing or changing in some really profound way what the press is and what it does," Wildfong said. "I'm terribly worried about my former colleagues, both those who are staying and those who've been let go."

Matt Lockwood, a spokesman for the university, said via email to Inside Higher Ed, "There were some personnel moves, but not involving the interim director. Wayne State remains committed to its press and it will continue to operate and publish books as it has for more than 75 years."

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Colleges worry about implications of religious freedom rule

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 01:00

Higher education lobbyists are concerned that colleges and universities could be disqualified from getting millions of dollars in federal grants under a draft Trump administration rule, which is aimed at increasing the legal rights of campus religious groups to be able to exclude gay students and others.

Colleges could face substantial penalties under the proposal, said Terry Hartle, the American Council on Education’s senior vice president for government and public affairs.

“Like any proposed rule, it’s as serious as a heart attack,” he said. “If legally binding requirements are going to be imposed on a very diverse industry, we want to make sure we understand the proposal in advance.”

In addition, Americans United for Separation of Church and State described the proposal as a way to sidestep a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the right of colleges to require student groups be open to all types of people in order to be recognized or receive funding.

Despite that ruling, the draft rule would bar higher education institutions from denying religious student organizations the same rights, benefits and privileges provided to nonreligious student groups, based on their "beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards or leadership standards."

In other words, a college couldn’t withhold recognition or funding from a student group because -- based on the group's religious beliefs -- it bars LGBTQ students from joining or holding leadership positions, said Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

In addition, Cohn said, public colleges could lose Education Department grants for refusing to recognize a group because of membership restrictions. That’s because the draft rule would disqualify institutions from being eligible to receive grants, except federal student loans, if they treat religious student groups differently from secular groups.

Even if an institution were to demand that all student groups, religious or not, be open to all people, Cohn said it would be deemed discriminatory toward religious groups under the rule. The ability to set membership rules tends to be more important to these campus organizations than to secular groups, Cohn said.

"Forcing a chess club to accept everyone who wants to join or run for office doesn’t compromise a chess club’s mission in the same way," said Cohn. "Applying that rule to a chapter of Hillel, for example, could undermine the group’s identity as a Jewish organization."

Colleges and universities in particular could find their federal funding threatened if the only groups they do not recognize are religious ones, said Kim Colby, director of the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

Public colleges also would be disqualified from funding under the proposed rule if they are found by the courts to have violated First Amendment rights, Cohn said, such as by disciplining a faculty member for making controversial comments.

The department unveiled the draft rule last month in part to implement an executive order President Trump signed in March 2019 on “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.” Trump’s order aimed “to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning.”

Hartle said other agencies covered by the order that provide research grants to universities could follow suit, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services. The Education Department is the first to issue a proposed rule.

Possible Conflicts With State Laws

The rule comes amid a debate over whether religious student groups should be allowed to get recognition, receive funding and use publicly funded college facilities if they exclude groups of people. Many colleges have an “all comers” nondiscrimination policy requiring recognized groups to be open to anyone.

However, in one case, the Christian Legal Society’s chapter at the University of California, Berkeley's Hastings College of the Law sued the university after it was denied recognition based on a "statement of faith" that chapters have to agree to, including that sexual activity should not occur outside marriage between a man and a woman. The law school believed that requirement would exclude people from the group who are gay or have different beliefs.

A federal judge last year also ruled in favor of a campus group called Business Leaders in Christ, which sued the University of Iowa for not granting it recognition after it wouldn’t allow a gay student to be vice president.

Taking the side of religious groups, the department said the draft rule is intended to “restore religious liberty and prevent discrimination against faith-based organizations and to act in a manner consistent with our obligation to be neutral in matters of religion.”

To its supporters, the rule would keep colleges from preventing groups from being able to set standards in the same way an environmental group would want to require that its president believe that climate change is real, Colby said.

Cohn said the rule could have a chilling effect on campuses.

“Rather than end discrimination, these policies perversely chill the ability of students who want to form and run groups organized around sincerely-held beliefs to do so,” said Cohn in an email. “A better way to promote diversity and inclusion is to foster an environment where a diverse array of student organizations are part of the campus community and where the barrier to creating new belief-based student groups is low.”

But a concern, said Hartle, is that the draft rule could conflict with laws in some states and the Supreme Court decision.

Some states have antidiscrimination laws, so upholding them could mean violating the department's rule and a potential loss of federal funding. Not following the state law, meanwhile, could open the institutions to sanctions or civil suits.

“Universities shouldn’t be in a situation where they are caught between federal and state law,” he said.

In addition, the rule appears to run contrary to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hastings Law School suit, which found that it was reasonable for Berkeley to withhold recognition of the Christian student group.

Hartle noted that the draft rule doesn't mention Supreme Court ruling.

"If we are in fact reading it correctly, the proposed rule puts public universities in an untenable spot," he said, "caught between a Supreme Court decision that gives schools a specific authority and an executive branch regulation that takes it away."

Dena Sher, assistant director for public policy at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said she thought the administration's goal was to do an “end run” around the court’s decision to allow colleges to set antidiscrimination policies.

“In that case, the Supreme Court said the nondiscrimination policies are entirely permissible,” Sher said in a statement. “Yet these proposed rules would severely punish public colleges and universities -- and their students -- for doing precisely what the Supreme Court held that they have the right to do.”

Hartle and Craig Lindwarm, vice president of congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said their groups are still researching the proposal before submitting comments before a Feb. 18 deadline.

Lindwarm said First Amendment rights are “fundamental” to public universities, and that these disputes should be settled in the courts. Instead, Lindwarm said, the threat of potentially losing federal funding if an institution were to lose a lawsuit would raise the stakes for colleges. “It will do nothing more than force an increase in spending on lawyers when we want to invest more on students,” he said.

The proposed rule excludes private colleges and universities from its portions dealing with student groups but requires them to follow its “stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech, including academic freedom” to be eligible for federal grants.

“Freedom of expression is a core value for private, nonprofit institutions of higher education, however, this proposal is likely to provide inappropriate incentives for litigants to file frivolous lawsuits,” Jody Feder, director of accountability and regulatory affairs for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said in a statement. “Given the variation in how courts in different jurisdictions handle free speech claims, we’re also worried that the proposed rule could lead to inconsistent findings and sanctions against institutions for the same conduct.”

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Louisville student distributes anti-LGBTQ literature in classroom

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 01:00

Ashley-Shae Benton, a student at the University of Louisville, was “stunned” to hear about an anti-gay incident that recently occurred on campus. It was not something she expected at a university known for being welcoming of people of all sexual identities.

“Since the time I’ve gotten here, Louisville has preached about inclusivity,” said Benton, a senior who came out as lesbian four years ago. “Students are prideful about being out in their sexuality. Coming to Louisville was my saving grace. I was able to come out and be myself. But now it makes me question whether I should be out.”

Benton is not the only student worried since a fellow student entered a classroom where an Introduction to LGBTQ Studies course is taught and placed a pamphlet equating homosexuality with sin on each desk. The pamphlet was titled “God and Sexuality,” said Charlotte Haydon, a student in the class. The more than 30-page pamphlet, published by the Christian organization Living Waters, starts off by describing a woman locked in a car that is sitting on train tracks and about to be hit by an oncoming train and likens the dangerous scenario to being gay or “sympathetic toward homosexuality,” reported The Courier Journal, a Kentucky newspaper.

“I want to convince you that you are sitting in a car on a railroad track with a train coming, and you don’t know it,” the pamphlet said.

The young man who left the pamphlets, was not enrolled in the course and arrived 20 minutes before the start of the class to distribute the pamphlets. The professor who teaches the course said he then "lurked outside" in the hall once the class began, The Courier Journal reported. The entire episode left many LGBTQ students in the class and on campus feeling unsettled and unsafe, especially after the university said the student was within his rights when he visited the classroom to distribute the literature and could not be legally prevented from returning and doing the same thing again.​

Haydon, a first-year transfer student and trans woman, said she and others in the class felt targeted and uncomfortable. She later learned that the student waited outside the classroom while it was in session and hid in a spot where he could not be seen by the students but could see them. Haydon believes such behavior constitutes stalking.

“So far we haven’t seen a whole lot about what that inclusivity means because we weren’t able to take action against a student who was invalidating our existence,” Haydon said. “At the moment, it’s just one of those things that Louisville is going to have to stand by or it’s going to lose its credibility.”

Under Kentucky law and university policy, students cannot be prevented from entering classrooms and expressing their free speech rights, unless a class is in session and as long as they are not disrupting a class, said John Karman III, the university's director of media relations.

The Dean of Students' office has spoken with the student, whom the university did not name, and determined he made no threats and did not “exhibit any violent behavior” or “express the wish to harm anyone,” Karman said.

"According to our attorneys, the pamphlets he was distributing did not qualify as hate speech," Karman said. "He’s expressing his First Amendment rights, and he’s allowed to leave the literature."

Still, university administrators decided to place a police officer outside the classroom where the Introduction to LGBTQ Studies course is taught for the remainder of the semester, he said.

Karman said Louisville's policy follows a Kentucky campus free speech law enacted in 2019 that broadly protects the First Amendment rights of faculty members and students. Under the law, which mirrors several other campus free speech laws enacted by various states over the last four years, the university and other public institutions in the state are required to guarantee that the “free exchange of ideas is not suppressed because an idea put forth is considered by some or even most of the members of the institution’s community to be offensive, unwise, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, or radical,” the law states.

The legislation outlaws “free speech zones” on campuses, prohibits viewpoint discrimination against invited speakers and in the fees associated with bringing speakers to the campus, and allows “spontaneous outdoor assemblies or outdoor distribution of literature” without a permit. The law does not explicitly discuss assembly or distribution of materials inside institutional buildings, but it does mention free classroom expression in reference to academic assignments and discussion.

The Kentucky Family Foundation, a Judeo-Christian organization, was supportive of the law when it passed through the state Legislature last spring, said Martin Cothran, a spokesman for the foundation. He said foundation members are at “at odds” with many political positions held by the LGBTQ community and believe marriage should be between men and women.

“We are concerned about this idea that if you don’t agree with gay rights groups, that your opinion should somehow be restricted in some way,” Cothran said. “This has been a problem at the University of Louisville for a number of years -- there’s safe spaces for gays who are celebrated and no safe spaces for conservatives who are in many cases ridiculed.”

More than 17 states have enacted similar laws to reinforce First Amendment rights on college campuses, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a civil liberties watchdog organization.

But the laws should not prevent professors from being able to lead and moderate class discussions without outside interruption, said Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program.

“To the extent that the university is telling students they cannot obstruct a class, that is not objectionable,” Steinbaugh said. “I think if they are outside of a classroom, as long as they are not preventing coming or going from the class, I think they can be allowed to do so, so long as that is a non-disruptive and viewpoint-neutral policy.”

If the student continues to repeatedly target students who clearly do not want to interact with him, it could eventually be considered harassment, in which case the university could respond, Steinbaugh said.

“Once or twice does not amount to hostile harassment under the law, and absent a hostile environment, the university cannot punish someone for their speech,” Steinbaugh said. “If he’s preventing students from learning, that would be cause for the university to do something.”

Louisville’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities does say students and organizations “must not in any way interfere with the proper functioning of the university” and that the university “reserves the right to make reasonable restrictions as to time, place, and manner of the student demonstrations.”

“While the student’s actions caused concern among the students and faculty in the classroom, he apparently followed the law and university policy when distributing the literature,” Karman said in a statement. “The university values diversity in all its forms, including diversity of opinion. That said, student safety is our top priority. We will continue to monitor the situation and will take steps to ensure an environment that supports the highest level of learning.”

That's not how some students and faculty see things. Ricky Jones, chair of the Pan-African studies department, wrote in an opinion piece for The Courier Journal that Louisville “made the decision to interpret” the state and university policy in a way “that did not cast the student’s behavior as menacing, harassing or impinging upon other students’ ability to learn in peace.”

Jones, who did not reply to requests for comment, wrote: “U of L has made it clear that it is more concerned with a possible lawsuit from the student or conservative backlash than the protection of a faculty member and rattled students who are being targeted and harassed because of their sexual orientation.” 

Some students, especially those in the LGBTQ community who now question their safety on campus, are not satisfied with the “neutral standpoint” the university has taken on the issue, Benton said.

“Today it could be propaganda, and tomorrow it could be violence,” she said.

Haydon said the incident has disrupted the LGBTQ Studies class, which has not been able to return to regular coursework since the incident occurred.

“The distinguishing feature is if he was handing things out on campus, he didn’t have the motivation to seek people out,” Haydon said. “He was willing to spread hate speech and actively seek groups of people out that he doesn’t agree with on a fundamental and unfounded basis.”

University president Neeli Bendapudi and other administrators met with students and Professor Kaila Story, who teaches the course, during their class time on Feb. 6 and explained why the university was limited legally in how it could respond to the incident, Haydon said. Story did not respond to requests for comment.

“I can understand the standpoint. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I can understand that that’s the way it is. It speaks a lot to the state of the country,” Haydon said. “It prompts a discussion on what we can do as a university, as a community, to address the needs of people who are targeted by hate speech.”

Students suggested to Bendapudi a few ways to improve inclusion of the LGBTQ community on campus, including not making the meeting times and location of LGBTQ studies courses public, and mandating a freshman course on the LGBTQ community, Haydon said.

“She seemed really open and receptive to these ideas, and I really hope these are followed through on,” Haydon said. “These are really good solutions -- the issue is having them enacted.”

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Health-care programs search for ways to help workers move up the ladder

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 01:00

Nursing assistant certification can get students through a program and into a job in a few weeks. But the value of those certificates tends to be low, and there's no clear path to advancement, according to health-care and workforce experts.

While the work certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, do is critical, the reality of the job can make it undesirable. In many cases, CNAs are paid barely more than minimum wage. Nationally, the typical wage for a CNA in 2018 was $13.72 per hour, which comes out to less than $30,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"One solution to that problem is to help people get out of those jobs," said Michelle Van Noy, associate director of the Education and Employment Research Center at Rutgers University. "But that doesn't affect the problem itself."

Some health-care programs are trying to tackle this issue and others with special pathways, articulation partnerships and intermediate certificates. These options can help students who earn CNAs from getting stuck in low-paying jobs while not requiring them to spend two, four or even more years in college to receive a nursing degree when that time commitment might not be plausible for everyone.

Bergen Community College in New Jersey received a $15 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant to build a health professionals consortium. With those funds, the college was able to let noncredit certificate courses be counted as credits if the students wanted to continue their education in health care, according to Susan Callahan Barnard, dean of health professions at the college.

While the credits may just fill elective requirements for nursing assistants pursuing a registered nursing, or R.N., degree, that's better than nothing. The state also recognizes patient care technicians, which not every state does. That position can be a step up from earning a CNA in terms of pay.

The College of Health Care Professions in Houston switched to a stackable model that lets students move up the pay scale in their careers while furthering their education. Students can start by earning certificates in nine months, sometimes doubling their salaries.

But the college doesn't offer a nursing assistant certificate, said Eric Bing, CEO of the college.

"The CNA program is a super-short program where you’re just learning the very basics," Bing said. "There’s just not a lot there."

Instead, the college offers stackable pathways where it makes more sense. For example, a student can get a radiology certificate, then move on to become a technician, then get a radiology bachelor's degree or go the business route and open an urgent care center.

For "adult learners that have such complicated lives, the earn-and-learn method is such a great way to move up," Bing said.

There's a caveat: the college "spent a tremendous amount of time and money in developing programs and making sure pieces work."

Some, however, believe that ladders could be built out of CNA programs.

Paul Osterman, co-director of the Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of "Who Will Care for Us?" on the workforce for long-term care, said it's unrealistic to think that nursing assistants can easily become registered nurses because of the time needed to achieve the latter. But, he said, there are jobs in different settings that could naturally follow from a CNA position, like patient care technicians and phlebotomists.

Others believe the system needs to be taken apart. Roy Swift, executive director of Workcred, a not-for-profit aimed at evaluating the quality and effectiveness of workforce credentials, believes health-care programs need "more transparent pathways and mapping and latticing." While CNAs could move on to other programs or certifications that are better paying, "that mapping and latticing is not clear to people, and there are gaps."

Swift believes competency-based learning could help this issue. If programs were built as pathways to ensure there were no gaps between certifications, and the education was based on competencies of skills rather than checking boxes on certain classes, it would be easier for students to move through programs and switch institutions.

Right now, institutions often don't trust each other's programs, Swift said, so articulation between health-care programs can be difficult.

Cheryl Feldman is executive director of the District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, a Philadelphia labor management partnership created by bargaining agreements between health-care facilities and the local affiliate of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees. The fund's mission is to provide workers access to career pathways through education and training and to build the region's workforce. Colleges in Feldman's area make some articulation easier, she said. It's not the case in every city or every state.

"It depends on the region as to what the opportunities are," Feldman said. In Philadelphia, the licensed practical nursing, or L.P.N., program is a technical degree not for college credit. But the Community College of Philadelphia will waive the first semester of registered nursing courses for L.P.N.s who achieved a certain grade point average in their programs.

Feldman said she believes it should be easier to roll time spent in lower-level health programs into further education. But "making that happen is another challenge," she said.

"I don’t know if it’s doable, because every state has its own state board of nursing," she said. "So how do you align all of that nationally?"

Swift said it will take time to make the changes he believes are necessary. But he thinks the industry will need to adapt eventually.

"A lot of these occupations are going to change drastically because of how we change health care," he said. For example, as the industry has more of a need for home health aides and community health workers, those workers will need to be competent in several skills taken from different health-care professions. But they won't necessarily need to be experts in any one area.

One certain thing is the nation will need workers like CNAs in the near future.

"We desperately need CNAs, and we also need home health aides," Osterman said. "There’s going to be a big increasing demand for long-term care as baby boomers get older."

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Questions raised about Chinese contract with German university

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 01:00

A leading German university has been plunged into scandal after it emerged that it had signed a contract binding it to abide by Chinese law while accepting hundreds of thousands of euros from China to set up a professorship to establish a Chinese-teacher training program.

German lawmakers have criticized the Free University of Berlin (FU) over the terms, which critics fear give the Chinese government leverage to prevent teaching about subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibet.

The contract, obtained by the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, allows the Chinese side to reduce or halt funding if any element of the program contravenes Chinese law.

Other clauses also place the FU at the mercy of political pressure from China, critics argue. Each year, Hanban -- the agency that runs controversial Confucius Institutes in Western universities and is the contractual partner of the FU -- is allowed to revoke the agreement at its discretion, according to Tagesspiegel. If the FU wants to end the agreement, however, the conditions are more onerous.

The revelations have drawn condemnation from some German lawmakers. “The interference of China at FU Berlin clearly shows how China envisages ‘cooperation’ with our educational institutions. Independence of science is one of the most important freedoms and must be guaranteed,” tweeted Renata Alt, a federal parliamentarian for the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Jens Brandenburg, another FDP lawmaker, tweeted that the deal bound the FU into a “tight corset.”

“With this agreement, the FU submits to Chinese laws and Chinese jurisdiction,” he said, which threatens the freedom of teaching and research at the institution.

Pressure had been growing on the FU even before these latest revelations. On Jan. 20, a group of FU alumni signed a joint letter expressing grave concerns about the university’s academic independence.

The arrangement was “untenable,” the letter said, because it meant that it was impossible to rule out Chinese Communist Party influence over teaching content at the FU. One signatory, David Missal, a Sinologist expelled from China in 2018, said the only acceptable way forward now was to cancel the contract.

Berlin’s Senate has also said it will investigate the contract, which is worth almost 500,000 euros ($551,000) over five years, and is designed to train up to 20 Chinese teachers a year.

It has also emerged that the Federal Ministry of Education and Research had concerns about the arrangement going back as far as 2018.

Critics have also voiced concerns about the language that the FU has used to defend the agreement. In a response to Tagesspiegel, the university said that forbidden topics in China, such as the “incidents of 1989,” would still be included in teaching. Some considered such terms to be an overly detached and neutral way of describing the killing of demonstrators.

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New presidents or provosts: Denmark Harford Montana Tech Oregon State Rice Skidmore SouthArk UNC WTAMU

Fri, 02/07/2020 - 01:00
  • F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University, has been appointed president of Oregon State University.
  • Marc C. Conner, provost of Washington and Lee University, in Virginia, has been named president of Skidmore College, in New York.
  • Reginald DesRoches, dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University, in Texas, has been selected as provost there.
  • Steve Gammon, dean of the College of Letters, Sciences and Professional Studies at Montana Technological University, has been promoted to provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs there.
  • Kevin M. Guskiewicz, interim chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Timothy Sherwood, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at Oakland Community College, in Michigan, has been named vice president for academic affairs at Harford Community College, in Maryland.
  • Neil Terry, dean of the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business at West Texas A&M University, has been promoted to executive vice president and provost there.
  • Willie L. Todd Jr., provost and vice president for academic affairs at Wiley College, in Texas, has been chosen as president of Denmark Technical College, in South Carolina.
  • Bentley Wallace, director of business and transportation technology at Arkansas State University Newport, has been appointed president of South Arkansas Community College.
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Syracuse grapples with how to meaningfully educate students about diversity, equity and inclusion

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 01:00

Syracuse University saw a spate of racist incidents last semester -- some 16 over a few weeks in November alone. Students reported hearing ethnic slurs shouted from dorm windows and otherwise being harassed, along with seeing hateful graffiti and a swastika drawn in the snow. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also looked into a white supremacist manifesto that was posted to an online Greek life forum.

Students protested, including by occupying a campus building for a week, as faculty members pushed for change. In response, Syracuse announced a list of new diversity, inclusion and security initiatives. The university also promised to rethink its one-credit first-year seminar, SEM 100, and to work toward building a complementary, three-credit requirement for more advanced students.

Many professors believe Syracuse's response should go further, however. They believe the moment demands a deeper rethinking of the curriculum, universitywide.

Seeking an 'Extensive Liberal Arts Core'

Their idea is that a liberal arts education steeped in discussions of human differences is the best defense against ignorance. But at the very least, said Biko Gray, assistant professor of religion, “if we’re doing this, no one can feign ignorance about these issues. ‘That was a joke’ is no longer a defense.”

Gray, along with his department colleague Virginia Burrus, the Bishop W. Earl Ledden Professor of Religion, co-wrote a faculty statement to this effect. It has since been signed by 146 other professors.

The statement, sent to Syracuse’s central administration for consideration, says that the university is caught up in a moment of “great anguish” but also “unusual clarity and possibility.” That moment “clarified that this institution struggles with -- and therefore suffers from -- a woeful lack of attention to, if not outright neglect of, the critical, conceptual, and ethical importance of the humanities, arts and social sciences.”

The “obligation to teach our students to think critically and constructively about the complexities of human difference can be best addressed through an extensive liberal arts core curriculum attuned to issues of difference and diversity and required university-wide for all undergraduates,” the statement asserts. “Anything less, such as the single-course solution represented by SEM 100 in whatever guise, will be inadequate as other than a transitional measure and ultimately ineffective in shifting the campus climate of discrimination.”

Currently, arts and sciences students must take two courses from a list of approved classes to satisfy a requirement in critical reflections on ethical and social issues. This is not standardized across campus programs and colleges, however, and what the faculty statement proposes -- though not in any detail -- is a larger core curriculum.

Crucially, the faculty statement says, “Support for such a liberal arts core curriculum requires nurturing, strengthening and expanding the faculty in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.” It requires “actively cultivating a diverse and inclusive faculty across the university, since the bodies and identities of teachers are a crucial part of any curriculum,” and it requires overcoming barriers to this kind of change.

In particular, the statement expresses concern that the university’s cluster hiring initiative favors the natural sciences and steers “resources away from the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as from efforts to build faculty diversity.” Further, Syracuse’s responsibility-centered funding model, “which encourages the various schools to compete with one another for students, impedes a university-wide commitment to a liberal arts core curriculum.”

Finally, the statement reads, “we believe that opening up lines of communication between the faculty and the Board of Trustees is crucial to the success of the university in effecting needed change.”

While “no group can claim to represent the voices of all faculty members,” there are “some of us who feel an urgent need to think, speak and act collectively.”

Although the statement ends with an invitation for all faculty colleagues, “across schools, divisions, departments and disciplines” to “join us in our efforts,” almost all the statement’s signers work in the arts, humanities, social sciences and communications.

Gray said the statement was shared network-style, not formally sent to every professor on the faculty. This likely explains, in part, the lack of signatures from faculty members in the sciences, technology, engineering and math. Still, for a letter calling for universitywide engagement in discussions about the liberal arts and diversity, the resulting gap in signatures is hard to ignore.

Discussions about diversity and inclusion with respect to the curriculum are, on so many campuses, taken up by humanities and social sciences faculties. The STEM fields have clearly stepped up in terms of valuing diversity in terms of representation, or who is doing the math and science, with hiring initiatives that aim to increase the share of underrepresented minority faculty members. But this kind of diversity is one part of the bigger puzzle, and one that is complicated by the concern -- expressed in the faculty statement -- that STEM hiring is diverting institutional resources away from the fields most obviously equipped to teach students about human difference.

Another question is whether the STEM fields should be doing more to directly engage students in these issues.

Two Cultures?

“The assumption is that the sciences are value-neutral set of disciplines,” Gray said. And yet the histories of so many fields, from technology to medicine -- think Henrietta Lacks, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and nuclear testing in the Pacific -- are rife with discrimination. While Gray said he didn’t expect his STEM colleagues to fundamentally alter the way they run their programs, he said students might benefit from being asked to “wrestle” with some of these issues, as they do in other disciplines.

Steven Diaz, a professor of math and a member of Syracuse’s University Senate curriculum committee, said he was familiar with the statement but didn’t sign it. He also said it wasn’t the first time that a universitywide liberal arts core had been proposed, but that it would be very hard to fit more requirements into certain pre-professional programs. This, of course, is a common problem for curricular revision committees, as students in engineering and other fields that are accredited by outside disciplinary bodies typically have little room for additional requirements.

Diaz said that he isn’t personally a fan of large core curricula. As for incorporating questions of diversity and inclusion into math, Diaz said he often teaches a history of math course that demonstrates how math emerged in many world cultures. Unfortunately, he said, there isn’t typically time in the course to grapple in any depth with how the field came to be dominated by white men in the modern era.

There’s another problem with asking nonexperts on diversity and inclusion to embrace discussions of it, Diaz said: they might not know how, or even be afraid, to do it. That goes for students, too, he added, in that those who don’t want to take liberal arts courses might resent having to do so under any new framework, and thus not absorb the point.

“I don’t really know how to cure the problems we have, but I’m not sure taking more courses would help,” Diaz said. “It’s also easy to develop an attitude that if everyone would just study more of this, then the world would be a better place. There’s a lot of that going on with humanities. I think the world be a better place if everybody did a lot more math, but I don’t think that’s the way to go.”

A Diversity Requirement

As was noted in Syracuse’s announcement about the new initiatives, the university is currently revising the one-credit freshman seminar that has been required since 2018. Jeffrey Mangram, an associate professor of education who is leading that effort, said the focus now is “trying to make the material more developmentally appropriate for students.” Earlier iterations of the seminar used books such as Trevor Noah’s memoir on growing up interracial in South Africa, Mangram said, but future versions will be based more on podcasts, TED talks and articles, “trying to think about diversity, inclusion, equity and excellence in different ways.”

Starting in 2021, students beyond their freshman year will be required to choose a three-credit diversity requirement from a list of preapproved courses within departments.

As for diversity and inclusion in STEM, Mangram said it’s important to think about how equitable pedagogical practices round out other goals. Even in those fields that don’t automatically lend themselves to learning about diversity, he said, it’s important that all students feel included, able to participate and that there is room for diverse perspectives.

Gareth Fisher, an associate professor of religion who signed the faculty statement, said he understood SEM 100 to be something of a “stopgap” answer to the university’s ongoing diversity concerns, but that any real answer “has to be built in the curriculum more.”

Already, he said, SEM 100 has seen staffing shortages, and some Chinese students have reported experiencing discrimination by instructors within these very courses. So instead of a “force-fed” take on diversity, students need the kind of depth and nuance that is embedded in a universitywide liberal arts core. That true for arts and sciences students and pre-professional students alike.

“What they come away with is knowledge about the world and how to cope, and the important questions about diversity that anyone who is a professional in our society is going to be forced deal with,” he said.

Syracuse did not comment directly on the faculty statement.

Beyond Syracuse

While things at that campus took an especially dark turn earlier this academic year, most institutions are dealing with questions of diversity and inclusion and how they relate to the curriculum.

Yale University, for instance, recently announced that it was ending a longtime survey course in art history, HSAR 115, which covers Western art from the Renaissance onward. 

Some commentators have criticized the decision, suggesting that Yale cowed to a deconstructionist mob. This fits in with larger critiques of changes to the curriculum as students demand diversity, equity and inclusion.

The National Association of Scholars recently published a report, written by Stanley Kurtz, asserting that both Western civilization and American exceptionalism are very real things, not constructs. It makes a case for reading the great books and restoring our “lost history.”

David Randall, director of research at the national association, said that losing a Western art history survey means the loss of “knowledge of the tradition itself, the continuous conversation of Western artists with their predecessors, and their assimilation of and influence upon rival artistic traditions.” Enjoying art for art’s sake also loses out to the political and issues of identity, he said.

Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of Art at Yale, in a brief email pushed back against what he called “inflammatory” framing of the survey issue in other news coverage. He also shared a department statement about the survey course, explaining that the program is now committed to offering four different introductory courses each year.

“All of these courses, current or future, are designed to introduce the undergraduate with no prior experience of the history of art to art historical looking and thinking,” the statement says. “They also range broadly in terms of geography and chronology. Essential to this decision is the department’s belief that no one survey course taught in the space of a semester could ever be comprehensive, and that no one survey course can be taken as the definitive survey of our discipline.”

What’s interesting about the Syracuse proposal is that it suggests decentralizing the Western perspective, while at the same time exposing many students to the liberal arts who wouldn’t otherwise take these course. The question for the critics, then, becomes whether it’s a win to have more students studying the great books -- or at least some of them -- even if they’re doing so from a critical perspective.

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College and university fundraising rises, but growth slows down

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 01:00

Donations to institutions of higher education grew for the 10th consecutive year, but the gifts were not evenly distributed among the types of institutions, and totals were inflated by some large gifts from mega-donors like Michael Bloomberg.

The latest report on voluntary giving to higher education, from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, found that donations in the 2019 fiscal year reached $49.6 billion, an all-time high since the numbers have been reported. The total is up 6.1 percent from $46.7 billion in 2018. Donations grew by 7.2 percent between 2017 and 2018. The report covered information from 914 institutions. Of those, 872 institutions also reported information in fiscal year 2018.

However, a single gift of $1.2 billion from Michael Bloomberg's foundation to Johns Hopkins University skewed the results somewhat, said Ann Kaplan, senior director of the study. Other Bloomberg entities beyond his foundation brought his total contribution to $1.8 billion. Without those gifts, overall giving slowed down and just kept pace with inflation.

This slowdown "doesn't necessarily mean anything in the long term," Kaplan said.

Research and doctoral institutions saw the largest increase in gifts of all major categories the survey tracked, with a 10-percentage-point increase from last year. Baccalaureate institutions saw a decrease in giving. But public baccalaureate institutions saw a 29.5-percentage-point increase, meaning private baccalaureate institutions -- which receive the majority of the donations in this category -- experienced a 5.4 percent decrease. Specialized, master's and associate institutions also saw decreases.

One anomaly was the institution that raised one of the largest gifts: Emory University in Georgia. While Kaplan said Emory is usually far up the list, it's not often quite so close to the top as it was this year. In contrast, several normally top-raising institutions saw almost no increases, and even declines.

Across institutions, alumni and nonalumni individual giving decreased, while giving from foundations and other organizations increased.

Giving this past financial year was likely greatly affected by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the tax reform legislation Congress passed at the end of 2017, Kaplan said. Historically, tax reform has initially repressed giving, only for it to rebound, she said.

"Philanthropic impulse isn't governed by tax law," she said.

Those whose giving is most likely to be affected by the new tax law include donors who no longer qualify for certain deductions, like the interest deductions on home mortgages. Those people may now "bundle" the amounts they give each year into larger lump sums to give every few years, as large charitable gifts could qualify them for itemization, according to the report.

These households gave relatively more in fiscal year 2018, the report states, which is reflected in how much individual giving rose that year. This past fiscal year could be the start of a break before they again give a large bundle farther down the road.

Another strategy would be to contribute to donor-advised funds in bulk and then direct that fund to pay out the donations on an ongoing basis, Kaplan said.

Other trends noted in the report include an increase in giving for capital purposes at twice the rate of growth in giving to current operations. Capital-purpose gifts go mostly toward restricted endowments, as well as property, buildings, equipment and loan funds. Kaplan said they tend to increase when the economy is strong.

Capital-purpose gifts tend to fund basic education at institutions more so than current operations, as 37 percent of what goes toward endowments gets passed to financial aid, 19 percent goes toward academic departments and 15 percent contributes to faculty and staff compensation. Current-operations gifts tend to go toward research.

"If it weren't for endowments, basic operating expenditures would struggle," Kaplan said.

Bloomberg's gift to Johns Hopkins wasn't the only big-dollar donation in 2018. Seven institutions reported eight single donors who each gave $100 million or more, according to the report, which is similar to last year's number of big-spending donors. Kaplan said higher education doesn't usually see many nine-digit gifts each year.

Over all, Kaplan said this was another "good year with some mixed results," though these data don't give away much on the future.

"Each year is in its own microeconomic climate," she said.

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Colleges start new academic programs

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 01:00
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Loyola faculty group is pushing back against major cuts to its English language learning program

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 01:00

Faculty members at Loyola University Chicago criticized the university for abruptly firing all of its English as a second language instructors, full- and part-time, last spring. The terminated professors at the time understood that they were being let go because the language program was ending. Yet the university has since insisted that the program never closed and, citing fluctuations in international student enrollment, says that it’s now operating on a scalable staffing model.

That may be true: the university retained one full-time employee to both direct the program and teach it, and enrollment numbers are now low. But a new report from the Loyola chapter of the American Association of University Professors says low enrollment resulted from cuts to the program, and that the university’s move has cost money and prestige, not saved any.

The AAUP is “greatly concerned about the university administration’s failure to appropriately staff oversight of global engagement, the precipitous decline that has occurred in international enrollments over the past three years, and the decimation of Loyola’s English Language Learning Program,” reads the report. “This negligence, as well as direct actions taken against international programming, have compromised Loyola’s ability to serve important parts of its mission.”

These actions “have harmed our financial bottom line and fiscal vitality," the report also asserts. "And this dramatic reversal of course has taken place outside of the established channels for academic decision-making laid out in Loyola’s own procedures” and widely followed, AAUP-recommended governance practices.

By the AAUP's calculations, Loyola’s decisions regarding the English program have cost the university at least $200,000 in net revenue over a year, and perhaps much more in terms of lost opportunities to attract international students.

The disinvestment in international programs also pushed Loyola well below peer institutions on several international enrollment metrics, the report alleges.

Michael J. Kaufman, dean of law and vice provost at Loyola, said in a statement the university and its administration remain “very dedicated to global education and engagement.” He said the report contains errors of fact and concept but that he would need more time to process it to respond in depth.

Faculty Reactions

Linda Rousos, a former instructor in Loyola's program, said of the report, “I’m so happy that we continue to have so much support from the AUUP and from the faculty, and their understanding of how important international programs and ESL are, because that certainly wasn’t the case from the administration." 

Loyola "really needs to allow international students to come as full-time English students," she added, "because without them, they’re giving up revenue and all of the benefits that come from having international students, especially those who would eventually enroll [in the university].”

At Loyola, where she taught part-time for five years after a long career teaching full-time elsewhere, Rousos taught English language learners fresh out of high school, to graduate students, to those who already had advanced degrees but who understood English to be the common international language for business, science and research and wanted to improve. Beyond having great students, what still stands out to her about Loyola’s program was how good it was. 

“Assessing students’ progress in language learning, in speech, reading and writing, is really challenging, and to standardize and calibrate it across faculty so that we’re all looking for the same things,” recalled Rousos, “a lot of programs don’t have that down, but Loyola really did.” 

Rousos said she never saw or heard about administrators visiting the language center to see the work being done or to meet students, either, making the decision to clip the program all the more “senseless.”

“One problem the administration had was understanding that there are different kinds of ESL programs," she said, "and they had no idea our program was about academic preparation. We're having students detect bias is research articles and writing summary responses and doing endnotes and citations and listening comprehension,” she said. “We coordinated with the content areas and worked really well with other faculty, too.” 

Amy Shuffleton, an associate professor of the philosophy of education at Loyola, who did not help write the AAUP report, said having a well-resourced English language learning program is vital because it makes it “possible to attract and retain more international students.” As U.S. institutions face an enrollment cliff, with a projected decline in the traditional college-age population, other counties -- including Vietnam, where Shuffleton recently visited with her international higher education class -- have the opposite problem, she said: too many would-be students for too few available, quality university seats.

“If you look at global trends, it's a no-brainer,” Shuffleton said of investing in the English language learning program. “We need international students because they add to the caliber of our classes, but also because -- more hard-nosedly -- we need their tuition dollars.”

If Loyola doesn’t admit these students and retain them, through strong English language programs that support academic quality across the university, she added, “other institutions will.”

Internally, Loyola has attributed some of its actions to documented national declines in international undergraduate student enrollments since these numbers peaked in about 2015. Last year, for instance, according to the “Open Doors” survey, the number of international undergrads declined by 2.4 percent nationwide, while the number of international graduate students declined by 1.3 percent and the number of international nondegree students declined by 5 percent.

Many have attributed this decline to the U.S. political environment surrounding immigration.

At the same time, the total number of international students in the U.S. increased slightly last year, by 0.05 percent, due to a 9.6 percent increase in the number of international students participating in an optional visa program.

The AAUP report also makes the case that the answer to the international student enrollment question is not to give up on them but to reinvest in recruitment and support services that will make them feel welcome.

A History

Earlier this academic year, professors at Loyola said the English program changes were among their many growing concerns about shared governance at Loyola. The focus of the ire then was a similarly abrupt change to their health-care plans. This new AAUP report -- compiled with input from former program staff members, university documents and other data -- gives much more insight into what’s happened to the language program, however.

The AAUP review begins in late 2018, when Loyola announced without prior warning that it was ending its relationship with its Beijing Center, effective mid-2019. The center had seen fewer domestic enrollments -- from 41 in 2015 to 29 in 2018 -- but China remained a popular place for Loyola students to study abroad. (Loyola retained its two other international campuses, in Vietnam and Rome.)

John Pincince, a senior lecturer in history and director of the Asian studies program at Loyola, said he was unavailable for an interview. But he confirmed, as reported in the AAUP study, that he only heard about the Beijing Center closure by reading the student newspaper.

Loyola’s Chicago Center, which facilitated international student exchanges with 19 partner universities, was dissolved around the same time, according to the report. Four of its 19 programs were active and eventually canceled. 

Since the cuts were made, according to the report, Loyola has attracted fewer international student enrollments than peer institutions. While seven of the 10 universities included in the report saw significant increases in international enrollment in 2019, “Loyola stands alone with a double-digit, 12.6 percent drop,” it says.

The report notes that Loyola's vice provost for global programs resigned in 2018, as did the executive director of international programs, in 2019. Neither position has been filled.

Source: Loyola AAUP Chapter, citing 2019 "Open Doors" report figures.

Why has Loyola been unable to attract significant numbers of international students when other universities have, the report asks? Are "our leaders aware of our poor performance?” As domestic university enrollments are projected to decline, why wouldn’t the university invest in international students, as others have done?

As for the language learning program, the report says it provided English instruction, tutoring and assistance for thousands of students over its 40-year history. It was self-supporting financially and came to serve as an important tool for international student recruitment, as many of the students in intensive, English-only programs -- such as those who were working to pass the English language proficiency test, the TOEFL -- later enrolled as full-time college students. Others students at the center had conditional acceptance to various Loyola academic programs but needed to achieve greater fluency; nearly all of these students ended up studying at Loyola. The center offered tutoring, pronunciation help for faculty members, and even some pre-collegiate programs that were recruiting opportunities in their own right. 

Shuffleton said the Test of English as a Foreign Language point is key, in that some to Loyola applicants might be “excellent students but fall short” of the cutoff score in English. So “some promising engineering student, or philosopher, or aspiring school leader might get a lot out of Loyola and contribute a lot in turn -- but need some extra help with English language in order to succeed in his or her courses.”

Saying she’d had such students eventually turn up in her own classes, Shuffleton said contributions of international students were “invaluable.” Still, the specialized instruction they needed in English was something that even the best professors of other subjects weren’t qualified to provide.

A Success Story

In 1996, the program had just 10 students and two teachers. Over time, it grew to five full-time and several part-time instructors, consistently covering its operational expenses and bringing additional profits to the university. Direct "profits" for Loyola’s English language learning center reached at least $825,000 in 2015, according to the report, with dramatic surges in students from Saudi Arabia and Brazil due to state-sponsored study abroad programs in those countries.

While the Brazilian and Saudi numbers have leveled off in recent years due to in-country changes, English language programs at Loyola and nationwide are returning to a “new normal” at pre-2011 levels, the report says. Program enrollment peaked at 377, or 225 unique students, in 2015, while the unique student number was 138 in 2018. Even then, the program generated a direct profit for the unit of almost $200,000, according to the report.

Source: Loyola AAUP

The program performed at that level even without a leader between the termination of the previous associate director in early 2018 and the hiring of the current associate director, Ryan Nowack, at the end of that year. It was still covering costs, but Nowack was charged with increasing enrollment, increasing profits, building institutional partnerships and aligning the program with global trends.

Nowack declined an interview request. As his work was presumably under way, just several months later, the university stunned program staff by announcing that English language learning would cease operations as of June. No teach-out plan for students was provided, and neither the University Senate nor the Faculty Council or other international program staff were notified ahead of time, to AAUP’s knowledge.

In response, in May, the Senate passed a resolution calling for the administration to cancel the closure of the program pending a re-evaluation of its consequences, release all relevant documentation and review the process by which the decision was made.

The program was kept open. Even so, the administration’s actions have “decimated” the program. It's down to the one employee, who according to the report, may not recruit recruit or accept intensive English students. The only students the center is authorized to teach are those few who have been conditionally accepted to other academic programs. 

Internally, the administration has cited a cost savings of $750,000 per year due to the closure, the report says. “We do not understand where this figure comes from. The interim provost’s own data show that total direct costs for the [program] in 2017-2019 were only ~$430,000 per year.”

The AAUP points out, again, that the losses are probably greater when accounting for the lost international student recruitment opportunities. "We estimate that in closing the [program] the administration has, at minimum, lost several million dollars annually for the university.”

Looking Ahead

Acknowledging the complexity of navigating international enrollments, the AAUP calls on the institution to follow association procedures and Loyola’s own stated governance policies. Changes to academic programs require a review and recommendations by the University Senate, for example.

To that point, the AAUP chapter recommends filling various administrative vacancies in global education. Restoring the English program to its former scope also “would offer Loyola the chance to regain its international reach and shore up its bottom line in the process. Indeed, were Loyola to grow its international student body to the average level of peer Catholic and Jesuit Universities -- an average of 12.5 percent -- it would generate millions, possibly tens of millions, of dollars each year from this added tuition.”

Of course, the report says, the AAUP’s role is not to make policy, which it calls the “prerogative and responsibility of administrators and co-governance bodies such as the University Senate and Faculty Council.”

Those groups, however, “can only live up to this responsibility if they have a transparent, rigorous, and accurate financial picture of the sort neither provided by the administration nor within our capacity to develop.”

The groups urges its Loyola’s new provost “to take up this challenge with the haste and urgency that the importance of international outreach to our Catholic, Jesuit mission demand[s].”

The university said in a statement that it disagreed with the premise of the report, including its assertion that there has been a “series of shocks that has seriously undermined the university’s ability not only to fulfill its mission, but also to claim credibility as an excellent national university.”

Loyola is working to expand the university’s global initiatives, a spokesperson said.

Kaufman, in his statement, said that Loyola would like to respond in a “thorough and accurate manner to address the many inaccuracies and misconceptions made in this report to ensure that an accurate vision of Loyola’s global enterprise and strategy is represented.”

Benjamin Johnson, an associate professor of history at Loyola and president of the AAUP chapter there, said that beyond having immediate concerns about international students and programs, faculty members want a return to normal, academic governance, “where if you’re going to make big, consequential decisions, they go through a process and faculty bodies are involved in assessing them.”

Professors also was have financial worries, he said, “as we were told that all these dramatic measures were necessarily to finance big debt payments. But they seem to have cost the school a substantial amount of money.”

“We want to be a smart, financially savvy school.”

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Study: Male students ask for grade changes far more frequently than female students

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 01:00

Are male college students more likely than female students to ask for a grade change, and do they do so more frequently when they receive a grade they don’t like? Do male students have more favorable outcomes as a result of asking?

The answer to these questions is yes, according to new research by two university economists.

Male students are 18.6 percent more likely than female students to receive favorable grade changes when they ask for a grade change or challenge a grade, the researchers report.

Ask and You Shall Receive? Gender Differences in Regrades in College,” a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, was written by Cher Li, an assistant professor of economics at Colorado State University, and Basit Zafar, a professor of economics at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

The researchers based their analysis on “a unique administrative dataset” from an unnamed large four-year public university that included final grade records and any grade changes related to the records. The data set also included the reasons for the grade changes, which allowed the researchers to distinguish changes due to student actions, university rules or instructor decisions.

“Assuming that the distribution of grading errors is the same for both male and female students, we would expect to observe a similar grade correction pattern initiated by instructors for both male and female students,” the researchers wrote.

They noted that while the overwhelming majority of grade changes (95 percent) led to an improved grade, “Our analysis based on the administrative records reveals that although women made up 53.4 percent of the grade records, they represented only 49.1 percent of the favorable grade changes.”

They also found that gender differences in grade changes persist across colleges and departments "and are robust to inclusion of class and student characteristics."

After analyzing the data, Li and Zafar wanted to better understand the patterns they found. They followed up with surveys to students and instructors asking about their recollections on regrade requests. The surveys revealed that regrade requests are prevalent and that male students are more likely than female students to ask for them. Additionally, 40 percent of students reported approaching instructors for grade changes at some point during their time in college. Over 60 percent of the requests lead to an improved grade (in exams, quizzes and assignments), and over 30 percent resulted in better final grades.

"Therefore, these regrade requests may have a profound impact on grades for students," the researchers concluded. They also determined that the changed grades could also increase students' overall grade point average.

"Indeed, using the statistics reported by students, our back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the upper bound of the included GPA conditional on asking could be as high as 0.43 points for females and 0.47 points for males," Li and Zafar wrote.

While the survey found that male students also ask, or consider asking, for grade changes in a larger number of classes, the researchers said gender bias played no role in the outcome of those requests.

"We also find that these request patterns persist throughout the semester. Hence, even if instructors change the grades for male and female students at the same rate, the outcome may still favor male students simply because they ask more frequently. We also find no gender difference in the expected change in grades, conditional on asking."

The researchers also conducted a controlled lab experiment that provided financial incentives based on students’ willingness to pay to request a grade change. Students were given an imperfect indication of how they did on a quiz, which could be their true grade or a higher or lower grade, and then given the option to request a regrade at varying cost levels based on 10 cost scenarios.

"We found that male students are willing to pay higher costs to get it regraded," Li said. "We also found that higher willingness to pay is related to the gender differences in the confidence level and the uncertainty of their belief in the outcomes."

Li and Zafar examined whether the gender differences they found in their research results have consequences while students are still in college and have not yet entered the labor force.

“Specifically, we examine whether male and female students experience different rates of successful grade changes in college," the researchers wrote. “If men are more aggressive than women in bargaining for better grades, they may be more likely to convince their instructors to alter their grades which serve as productivity signals to potential employers. Gender differences in willingness to ask and to negotiate may then put equally capable female students at a relative disadvantage in the job market.”

Li said she decided to research the role of gender in grade change requests after witnessing the disparity firsthand as a professor.

“Basically, when I started this project, it was motivated by my experiences,” she said. “At the end of each semester, I typically get one or two male students asking me to bump up their grades for no justified reason. They just think they deserve it.”

Li said only one female student had requested a grade change in six years, while at least two male students typically made such requests at the end of each semester. Male students also asked for grade changes throughout the semester while female students did not, she said.

She decided to find out why.

“We do have evidence that women don’t ask,” she said, citing the “underconfidence” of women about the quality of their academic work.

“They’re much less confident about their answers; they’re uncertain about their performance,” she said. “Personality traits also explain those differences -- it explains half of the gender gap in asking.”

Li and her research partner were not surprised by what they learned from their study.

“It’s what I expected,” she said of the results.

Said Zafar, "At some level, it's not surprising that men are more likely to ask. What I think I learned from this study is why it is that men are more likely to ask. Women tend to be more uncertain and have lower confidence in their abilities, which is driving a large part of this difference."

He said different personality traits, such as women being more agreeable and uncertain, "end up mattering and explaining the willingness to ask."

Still, uncertainty and lack of confidence "can only explain about half of the gender gap and where it’s coming from," he said. "The other remaining half remains unexplained."

Zafar noted that even though other studies have shown that male students tend to procrastinate more, "what we weren't sure of was whether women were asking for grade changes more during the semester," he said, "but it turns out that was not the case. The men were asking at higher rates throughout the semester and at the end of the semester."

The researchers' survey of students also found that men were more willing to ask for grade changes in large classroom settings; women were not. The women were also more likely to say they did not think their instructors would change the grade when asked, and they said they would be more embarrassed if their instructors rejected their requests for grade changes.

“We asked in the surveys, why did you not ask for a grade change? The women reported feeling very high levels of stress if they had to ask,” Zafar said.

Zafar said professors and instructors could help alleviate these problems by better communicating with students and giving them "more accurate signals and concrete information about their ability and performance."

"If someone doesn’t think they're that good or doesn't think they are performing well, they’re unlikely to appreciate the process and ask for a regrade," he said. "I think that it would help if instructors would just make grading policies, whatever they are, very explicit and transparent. When it’s not, men tend to ask more for grade changes."

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Online program management companies face Washington microscope

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 01:00

Questions about the legality of colleges sharing tuition dollars with companies that help them recruit students are not new, but until recently, lawmakers weren't asking them.

On a  recent afternoon when President Trump’s impeachment inquiry was grabbing attention in Washington, that changed.

In Jan. 23 letters to the CEOs of five leading online program management companies, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown questioned the legality of the business practices of 2U, Academic Partnerships, Bisk Education, Pearson Learning and Wiley Education Services.

The senators requested copies of all contracts the OPM companies hold with colleges, as well as sample presentation materials and details of expenditures and revenue. The companies were asked to provide the information by Feb. 21.

“As the influence of this small handful of companies on the American higher education system has exploded, there is an increasing need for transparency to ensure that students and policy-makers are able to make informed decisions,” wrote the senators in their letters.

“It is also critical that policy-makers determine if OPM business practices -- specifically OPM contracts that require tuition-sharing arrangements -- are legal, an appropriate use of federal student aid dollars, and in the best interest of students,” they continued.

The criticisms are not new. Robert Shireman, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former Education Department official during the Obama administration, wrote about the “sketchy” legal basis for the revenue-share OPM business model for Inside Higher Ed last October. Shireman’s article and research conducted by his colleagues at the Century Foundation are heavily cited in the senators’ letters.

What is new is the high level of attention from reform-minded senators, one of whom is seeking the Democratic nomination for president. It set off discussion among industry experts about how much might change and how significant the attention will be. And since OPMs offer important services and sometimes up-front investment to colleges and universities seeking to grow online, it could prove to be an important development across higher education.

The legal question centers around potential violations of the incentive-compensation rule. This rule, which applies to higher education institutions in receipt of federal student aid, prevents admissions staff members from being compensated based on their success recruiting students. Because tuition-sharing deals often involve delegating recruitment responsibilities to OPMs, Shireman argues they may create an incentive structure that violates federal law. Warren and Brown picked up that argument in their letters.

OPM companies, however, cite 2011 guidance from the Department of Education that allows for bundled-service contracts to illustrate they are not in violation of the law.

The senators said it is “not clear whether this non-regulatory guidance is consistent with the text of the Higher Education Act.” Shireman said he would like to see the department guidance revoked.

“The language in the Higher Education Act regarding incentive compensation is clear,” said Shireman. “I’m not sure anything needs to be changed or amended, other than perhaps adding, ‘we really mean it.’”

Many OPM companies are already moving away from offering tuition-sharing deals in favor of hybrid or fee-for-service arrangements, noted Shireman. He predicts that increased political scrutiny of revenue-sharing arrangements will simply speed up this process. If revenue-sharing arrangements linked to student recruitment are found to violate the incentive-compensation ban, institutions may be required to renegotiate their contracts, he said.

“I think many institutions would actually welcome the opportunity to renegotiate their contracts,” he said. “They might get a better deal.”

Old Criticisms

Some criticisms of the OPM business model in the senators’ letters echoed those historically leveled against the for-profit industry, specifically the concern that tuition-sharing arrangements in OPM contracts create perverse incentives and lead to aggressive and deceptive recruiting practices.

For example, the senators said prospective students may not receive information about the program, its cost or admissions policies until after they provide their contact information, which is used to barrage them with texts and calls. They also suggested that OPM companies may have driven up prices for some students.

Jeff Silber, a senior analyst at BMO Capital Markets, wrote to his subscribers on Jan. 24 that many of the criticisms expressed in the senators' letters had been aired before. Though 2U stock briefly dipped in value following the news, it has now recovered. Silber noted that education stocks “typically initially overreact to negative political headlines.”

Though the OPM companies are not legally required to supply the information requested by Warren and Brown, three of the five companies told Inside Higher Ed that they intend to respond. Representatives at Bisk Education and Academic Partnerships did not respond to requests for comment.

Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services, said via email that the senators’ letters is an “opportunity to spotlight the critical work of our university partners in improving access and outcomes for students and working professionals.”

"We welcome dialogue that advances our collective mission to close the skills gap and create more pathways to opportunity," he added. "This is an all-hands-on-deck effort, including private sector partners."

A spokesperson for 2U highlighted the company’s “willingness to stand behind the quality and strong student outcomes of the programs we power.” The company launched a transparency framework last year and plans to release its inaugural transparency report this year.

A spokesperson for Pearson Learning said that online degree programs are “helping thousands of students achieve their education and career goals,” noting that online programs “can require a significant up-front investment that is unrealistic for institutions to undertake alone.” The spokesperson added, “Pearson’s online program management model depends on the success of students, not the recruitment of students.”

Josh Kim, director of online programs and strategy at the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed, said he hoped the senators’ letters would result in a meaningful dialogue between lawmakers, institutions and OPM companies.

"These senators are raising important issues that are not going to go away," Kim said. "It would be the wrong thing to do to try and ignore this. The OPMs should engage as openly as possible and try and acknowledge the concerns."

The scrutiny of revenue-sharing arrangements shouldn’t cause university leaders to panic, Kim said. There has always been scrutiny of for-profit companies' role in higher education, and this letter is “just a reflection of that,” he said.

“We need to find a way to bring evidence and data into these discussions -- really ask ourselves whether these arrangements are good for schools and students,” Kim said. “We’re not investing the time to do the research and analysis, and that leaves us vulnerable to happenings in the regulatory realm.”

Kevin Shriner, executive director of the Center for Distance Education Research, also said he would like to see more data, but not just from OPM companies. He recently launched a research initiative called the International Distance Education Benchmarking Project and has struggled to get OPM companies or higher education institutions to share their data.

Though there is some limited information about distance education in IPEDS data, Shriner said that online learning is a “modality that we really know nothing about. We don’t know how many students are enrolling online, how many are graduating. We don’t know the demographics of the students.”

"Why pick out the OPMs to talk about transparency?" Shriner said. "We should be talking about all of higher ed."

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New presidents or provosts: Big Sandy Concordia Exeter Molloy Nebraska STAC SMU UWA Wilkes

Wed, 02/05/2020 - 01:00
  • Greg Cant, dean of the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University, in New Jersey, has been appointed president of Wilkes University, in Pennsylvania.
  • Graham Carr, interim president and vice chancellor at Concordia University, in Quebec, has been named to the job on a permanent basis.
  • Amit Chakma, president and vice chancellor of the University of Western Ontario, has been selected as vice chancellor at the University of Western Australia.
  • Kenneth Daly, chief operating officer for U.S. electric at National Grid, in New York, has been chosen as president of St. Thomas Aquinas College, also in New York.
  • Denise King, vice president for academic affairs at Cleveland State Community College, in Tennessee, has been selected as provost/chief academic officer at Big Sandy Community & Technical College, in Kentucky.
  • James Lentini, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Oakland University, in Michigan, has been appointed president of Molloy College, in New York.
  • Elizabeth Loboa, vice chancellor for strategic partnerships and dean and Ketchum Professor of the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Southern Methodist University, in Texas.
  • Lisa Roberts, deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Leeds, in Britain, has been chosen as vice chancellor at the University of Exeter, also in Britain.
  • Elizabeth Spiller, dean of the College of Letters and Science at the University of California, Davis, has been appointed executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
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University of California faculty decline to endorse test-optional admissions

Tue, 02/04/2020 - 01:00

The Academic Senate of the University of California assembled a task force in 2018 to evaluate the system’s current use of standardized tests. On Monday that task force delivered a much-anticipated report listing several recommendations. Not among the recommendations? Tossing the tests.

While the authors considered what it might look like for the large public university system to go test optional and not require SAT or ACT scores in the admissions process, they ultimately declined to endorse that option.

Pressure has been mounting on the UC system to hop on the test-optional train, as more than 1,000 other institutions -- including the University of Chicago, Indiana State University and George Washington University -- have done. A lawsuit against the system, alleging that the standardized tests are biased and exacerbate inequality, and comments from Carol Christ, UC Berkeley's chancellor, that favored dropping the tests indicated that the system might be next to switch. The task force’s report makes the administration’s final decision much harder to predict.

Critics of using standardized tests in admissions often point to differing scores among demographic groups. Minority and low-income students on average perform worse on standardized tests than their white and more affluent peers. Using the tests perpetuates long-standing inequities, critics say, and the tests themselves are often not a great predictor of college success. Some research suggests that high school GPA may be more predictive of academic success in college than standardized test scores.

The task force acknowledged that the system doesn’t fully represent the diversity of the state of California. In 2017, when 61 percent of California high school students were from underrepresented minority groups, only 31 percent of UC freshmen were from those groups (this category does not include Asian students). At Berkeley, the system’s most selective institution, only 18 percent of freshmen were from underrepresented groups.

In producing the report, members of the task force reviewed previous research and literature on standardized testing and also conducted empirical research themselves.

“The task force did not find evidence that UC’s use of test scores played a major role in worsening the effects of disparities already present among applicants and did find evidence that UC’s admissions process helped to make up for the potential adverse effect of score differences between groups,” the report said.

The report's authors concluded that UC admissions officers already were doing a fair job evaluating a student’s standardized test score in context of their demographics.

“For any SAT score, students from disadvantaged groups have a higher probability of being admitted than students from advantaged groups,” the report said. Campus admissions officers appear to be comparing a student’s test score not against the average for UC applicants, but against the average for similarly disadvantaged groups.

“The SAT allows many disadvantaged students to gain guarantees of admission to UC,” the report said, analyzing data that suggested that 24 percent of Latino students and 40 percent of African Americans who earned guaranteed admission did so due to their test scores.

"The original intent of the SAT was to identify students who came from outside relatively privileged circles who might have the potential to succeed in university," said the report. "This original intent is clearly being realized at UC."

Furthermore, authors said, analysis showed that test scores were better predictors of outcomes for underrepresented groups than for majority groups.

Dropping the tests without any other changes, the authors concluded, would result in an average incoming student with a lower first-year GPA, lower probability of graduating within seven years and a lower GPA at graduation. Subsidies and waivers for California students would need to increase to account for the average student taking longer to graduate. Providing support for at-risk students would be more difficult, they said, because those students would be harder to identify.

The UC system has a two-factor admissions process. The first step for students -- determining simple eligibility to the system -- is based only on test scores and high school GPA. The second step, which uses 14 different factors, determines admission to a specific UC campus.

New Tests?

The report recommended other concrete steps for the university system to take. Those approaches included expanding the number of students who are admitted through the state’s Eligibility in Local Context pathway. The system currently admits the top 9 percent of every high school based on GPA, but the task force recommended increasing that number.

Also among the recommendations was a suggestion that the system develop its own assessments. These new tests could be more predictive of success at UC and show smaller disparities between student groups than current standardized tests, allowing the system to admit a student body that would be more representative of the state, the report said. But development of those tests would take approximately nine years.

William Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, said the move by UC faculty members likely is not a setback for the test-optional movement. “I would expect systems and institutions to make their own decisions,” said Hiss, who was the principal investigator on a large study suggesting tests fail to identify talented applicants with potential to succeed.

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, an organization that opposes the use of standardized testing in admissions, stressed that the report is only a recommendation from the faculty task force and is not binding. The Academic Senate will take comments from faculty members at the different campuses and give a final recommendation in April to Janet Napolitano, the system's president. She is expected to bring the issue to the system's Board of Regents, which in May will make the final decision on the matter.

Schaeffer said he was concerned that the task force’s research arrived at different conclusions than the work of other researchers who have studied the UC system. “Because of these discrepancies, we call upon the task force to make the data sets it analyzed available to independent analysts for further review,” he said via email.

Ultimately, the report indicated some tension at the university system.

“UC does not believe that it can, by its own admission policies, single-handedly rectify the large differences in academic preparation among high schoolers that relate to family income and race/ethnicity,” the report said. “But given that UC has always faced two mandates -- to strive to admit prepared students who at the same time reflect the state’s diversity -- UC does strive to do its part to amend these inequalities.”

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