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Federal appeals court blocks adjunct union at Duquesne

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 01:00

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that Duquesne University’s status as a Roman Catholic institution exempts it from National Labor Relations Board's rules on forming an adjunct union.

If upheld, the ruling would effectively kill a union drive at the Pittsburgh university.

But the 2-1 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia suggests that more litigation in the case may be possible.

The majority framed the issue as one of religious rights. The dissenting judge saw the issue as primarily about the rights of adjuncts.

Adjuncts first sought to create a union in 2012, with the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Allied-Industrial and Service Workers International Union. Adjuncts teach 44 percent of all credit hours in the university's core curriculum, which is the general education program. It includes math, writing, science, philosophy, theology and ethics. When the adjuncts voted to unionize, Duquesne asked the NLRB to disallow the union because the university is a religious institution. The NLRB refused, and the university sued.

The appeals court said the "seminal decision" on whether to consider unions at a religious college is NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that set strict limits on the NLRB. These limits were designed to prevent the "risk" of government interference with the religious work of an organization. In a key part of the ruling, cited by the appeals court, the Supreme Court said that it did not matter (as the NLRB had ruled) if the school or college required all of its teachers to hold to a faith or hired teachers who did not.

"The Supreme Court rejected the board’s approach," the appeals court said. "Reading the National Labor Relations Act to avoid the risk of violating the Religion Clauses, the court held in Catholic Bishop that the NLRA does not authorize the board to exercise jurisdiction over teachers in a church-operated school, no matter whether the school is 'completely religious' or merely 'religiously associated.'"

"Given this vital role played by teachers, exercising jurisdiction over disputes involving teachers at any church-operated school presented a 'significant risk that the First Amendment will be infringed,'" the appeals court noted.

The appeals court said that the Catholic Bishop decision set up a clear way to determine if unionization was permitted.

"Under this test, the board lacks jurisdiction if the school (1) holds itself out to the public as a religious institution (i.e., as providing a 'religious educational environment'); (2) is non-profit; and (3) is religiously affiliated."

The court found that the Duquesne adjuncts fit those criteria. "As an initial matter, the adjuncts here are clearly faculty members. In Duquesne’s faculty handbook, the adjuncts who make up the bargaining unit are identified as 'adjunct faculty' and listed among the different types of faculty at Duquesne. Furthermore, the adjuncts possess the key attribute of faculty members: They educate students," the decision said.

Further, the appeals court said that "it makes no difference whether the adjuncts are faculty members who play a role in Duquesne’s religious educational environment."

The appeals court ruling was written by Judge Thomas B. Griffith, and his decision was backed by Judge Judith W. Rogers.

Judge Cornelia T. L. Pillard filed a dissent.

She agreed with the majority decision that full-time faculty members could not unionize because of Duquesne's religious ties. But she said adjuncts were different.

"It is not at all apparent that temporary, part-time adjuncts whom the school does not even hold out as agents of its religious mission necessarily fall within an exemption from the National Labor Relations Act that was drawn to account for the 'critical and unique role' of faculty in 'fulfilling the mission of a church-operated school,'" she said.

Further, she said that court rulings adhering to the Catholic Bishop decision "did not address whether a bargaining unit composed of temporary, part-time adjuncts, like units of other, non-faculty employees of the institution, falls beyond that line."

"Because adjuncts often have a very different role from permanent faculty, it makes sense to treat as distinct the question whether adjuncts are exempted," she added. "Indeed, the board has long differentiated adjuncts from full faculty, concluding that 'the differences between the full-time and part-time faculty are so substantial in most colleges and universities' that certain 'part-time faculty' -- including 'adjunct professors' -- 'do not share a community of interest with full-time faculty and, therefore, should not be included in the same bargaining unit.'"

Reacting to the Decision

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities released a statement that said, "Our faculty are invited to show students the faith-based motivations of famous artists, composers, writers, economists, political theorists, philosophers and more. No government office should ever have the power to decide, department-by-department, course-by-course, which ones are doing the Church’s work and which ones are not. As a member association, we have consistently noted that unions have been welcomed on a number of our Catholic campuses. Our point is more fundamental: Empowering government offices to decide which components of a university are faith-based is simply the wrong way to protect faculty."

Gabriel Welsch, a spokesman for Duquesne, said, “The university is grateful that the court recognized the importance of our religious mission in rendering this significant decision. The Constitution’s First Amendment protection of religious freedom from government intrusion and regulation is one of America’s most important rights, and we are pleased that the court upheld the religious rights of Duquesne University of the Holy Spirit.”

He also noted that the university works with four nonfaculty unions and has "deep respect and appreciation" for unions.

The union seeking to organize the university's adjuncts issued this statement: “We are disappointed with the court’s decision and even more concerned that Duquesne’s administration would fight this hard to keep their workers from having a voice on the job. Unlike other Catholic universities that recognized adjunct faculty unions, the Duquesne administration decided to invoke its status as a religiously affiliated institution in an effort to stop adjuncts from joining together to improve their working conditions and the university community. Adjuncts in Duquesne’s McAnulty College voted in favor of union representation. They deserve the same rights to come together and bargain collectively as all workers.”

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Another art school absorbed by Belmont University

Wed, 01/29/2020 - 01:00

Watkins College of Art, a small private four-year art and design college in Nashville, Tenn., will merge with nearby Belmont University this August.

The acquisition is the second of its kind for Belmont University in the past two years. Belmont, a growing private Christian institution that is set to host the third and final presidential debate of 2020, recently merged with the O’More College of Design and sold the college’s former campus.

Both mergers speak to the challenges faced by small colleges to keep their doors open amid shrinking enrollments and spiraling overheads. Both O’More and Watkins were enrolling fewer than 200 students when Belmont stepped in to incorporate them into its campus.

The challenges facing small colleges aren’t limited to art schools. Marlboro College, a private liberal arts institution in Vermont with around 150 students, will soon be absorbed by Emerson College in Boston. Two former Marlboro faculty members are spearheading an effort to keep the college open and independent.

According to National Center for Education Statistics data, Belmont's enrollment increased to over 8,000 in fall 2018, up from around 2,000 students in the year 2000. Watkins’s enrollment has nearly halved in the last five years, from 304 in fall 2014 to around 160 students today.

“In today’s educational environment, obviously, let’s address it, it’s becoming more and more difficult for small colleges, particularly specialized [colleges] like ours, to perpetuate themselves,” said J. (Joseph) Kline, president of Watkins College of Art, at an event announcing the merger yesterday. “We have done that for 135 years. We have had many iterations. I assure you, with all sincerity, this is the best one we’re ever going to have. Hopefully, this is the last one.”

The merger was voted for “enthusiastically and unanimously” by the boards of both Watkins and Belmont, said Kline. A newly created Watkins College of Art at Belmont will take in students majoring in fine arts, graphic design, illustration, photography and art. Watkins students studying interior design will join peers in the O’More College of Architecture and Design. Watkins’s film major will merge with Belmont’s motion pictures program in the Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. It is not clear whether all of Watkins's faculty and staff will be given jobs at Belmont.

Watkins’s 13-acre campus will be sold and the proceeds used to create an endowment that will support scholarships for Watkins students. Students who are currently enrolled at Watkins will continue to pay Watkins prices for the duration of their studies at Belmont. Watkins students pay approximately $31,600 per year for tuition, fees and on-campus housing, while Belmont students pay $49,920.

“I don’t expect everyone to embrace this decision immediately,” said Bob Fisher, president of Belmont University, at an event Tuesday. “Just two years ago we made a similar announcement [with O’More College of Design]. There’s always questions about relationship changes, but that has been a wonderful event for Belmont, and we have seen a resurgence in enrollments at O’More that has been really pretty remarkable.”

Belmont seems like a good fit for Watkins, said Susan Resneck Pierce, president emerita of the University of Puget Sound and a consultant for colleges and presidents (and an occasional contributor to Inside Higher Ed). “Belmont is bringing programs onto their campus that are consistent with their mission. They are expanding what they are already doing in a way that works for them and that they hope will work for Watkins.” She added, “Often mergers fail because they can’t agree on governance -- that doesn’t seem to be the case here.”

More mergers of small colleges, not just art schools, are likely on the horizon, said Pierce. “These colleges provide an alternative approach to education that was very desirable at one time. But research shows that students want large rather than small, urban rather than rural. The misguided, in my opinion, value placed on pre-professional education over the arts has made these colleges even more vulnerable.”

While many college presidents are thinking about mergers and the potential benefits of greater economies of scale, some leave it too late. “Often places wait too long for a merger, until they are so weak they are no longer a desirable partner. Two weak links don’t make a strong chain.”

Operating a higher education institution of any kind with fewer than 200 students is “extremely challenging,” said Deborah Obalil, president and executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. “You have all the same administrative and compliance requirements of a larger institution, without any savings afforded by scale,” she said. AICAD is a membership organization that represents 39 art and design colleges in the U.S. and Canada, including Watkins College of Art.

“While art and design enrollment has been on the rise in the last two years over all, and while interest in art and design majors is projected to continue increasing in the near future, we’ve seen that individual very small institutions face challenges in growing their enrollments fast enough to mitigate the rising operating costs in higher education,” said Obalil.

For some small colleges, particularly in the arts, mergers can have positive outcomes, said Obalil. She noted that the merger of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston into Tufts University a few years ago “resulted in greater investment in both faculty and student support while maintaining the unique culture for which SMFA was known.” The 1998 merger of the Art Institute of Boston into Lesley University “ultimately resulted in a purpose-built campus for art and design with much greater resources available to both faculty and students,” said Obalil.

“That said, if history has taught us anything, it is that each merger is unique and none are without unexpected challenges along the way.”

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Georgetown Law debates punishments for disruptive protesters

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 01:00

Georgetown University law students are worried school administrators will restrict their right to protest guest speakers on campus after a loud demonstration by students and faculty members interrupted a speech by a Trump administration official last year.

The protesters ultimately prevented Kevin McAleenan, former acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, from giving the keynote address last October during the school's annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference.​ By denying audience members the opportunity to hear McAleenan's speech, the protesters violated the university's written policies for speech and expression.

Administrators responded by reconvening the law center's Speech and Expression Committee to consider limitations and disciplinary measures against demonstrators at future speaking events.​The committee made up of students, faculty members and senior staff was created in 2017 to examine how and where speech is expressed on campus.

William Treanor, dean of the Georgetown University Law Center, asked the committee to recommend whether to implement more specific guidelines for speech and expression on campus by spring 2020, according to a Jan. 16 email to law students. The email was signed by Mitch Bailin, the dean of students, and Peter Byrne, a professor and faculty director of two programs at the law school.

The committee was tasked with considering whether the law center should control who is invited to speak at the campus and who may invite them, what the law center’s response should be to “disruptive protests” during speaking events, and if “possible disciplinary or other administrative action” should be pursued against student and faculty member “disrupters” in the future, according to the email sent to law center students.

Students and faculty opposed to the Trump administration's controversial immigration policies made no secret of their objection to McAleenan's participation in the conference. They wrote a letter to Treanor on Sept. 30, calling on him to disinvite the acting secretary. The law school anticipated the protest and had additional staff members and security present. It also set up a designated area for demonstrators to gather outside the auditorium so as to not disrupt the speech or other classes and activities occurring in the building, a law school official said.

A group of more than 30 protesters gathered in the designated protest area, a hallway near the lobby of Hart Auditorium, where McAleenan was speaking, while others who had registered to attend the event sat in the audience and shouted the names of migrants who had died at the U.S.-Mexico border, said Cora Metrick-Chen, a third-year law student who participated in the “ICE-free GULC,” or Immigration and Customs Enforcement-free Georgetown University Law Center. (“ICE” is the acronym for the federal agency responsible for apprehending, detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants in the U.S.) The protesters, including some from outside community organizations who held banners in the auditorium, were opposing DHS’s immigration policies, specifically the separation and detention of migrant children and their parents at the border, Metrick-Chen said.

“By hosting Kevin McAleenan on campus as a keynote speaker, the school gave him an additional platform to speak on his policies,” Metrick-Chen said. “The school, as a top law school, has a powerful reputation, and inevitably by inviting him, it lends credence to his reputation and looks like an endorsement of his policy … I thought it would be shameful and perpetuating if there wasn’t a public response from students and from community members in opposition to that.”

McAleenan was “drowned out by the protesters’ chants” and “shouted down,” and he ultimately walked off stage, according to media reports. In a statement to Fox News the next day, Treanor expressed “regret that the audience did not get to hear from the secretary” and reaffirmed that the law school “is committed to free speech and expression and the ability of speakers to be heard and engage in dialogue.”

Georgetown’s current policy states, “It is a violation … to curtail the free speech rights of others. Actions that violate this policy include disrupting events to prohibit other students from hearing the views of an invited speaker.”

By preventing McAleenan from speaking, protesters were already breaching the free speech policy and should be punished, said a first-year law student who identified as a libertarian. He said he was disappointed by Georgetown's response and said it should have been prepared to remove disruptive protesters from the audience.

“I’m not arguing for any change, because as they’re written, they’re fine,” the student said of the current speech policy. “This is a factual disagreement, not a policy disagreement … A majority of the audience was there to listen, and there were four or five people who did not want to listen, and they got their way. That runs counter to the idea of free speech.”

Students and faculty members who participated in the protest are now worried their own free speech rights will be diminished by the recommendations of the Speech and Expression Committee, according to a letter written by some of the student protesters and signed by more than 130 other students, organizations and faculty members as of Jan. 24, Metrick-Chen said.

She said although the protest was "partisan" in nature, it addresses an issue that impacts all law students, regardless of their political leanings. Students fear administrators could “make it much harder or much riskier to protest” in general, Metrick-Chen said.

“Punishing protesters flies in the face of the law school’s commitment to free expression,” the law students wrote in another letter to Treanor this month. “We urge you to reject these changes … One does not have to support the cause of a specific protest to know that punishing peaceful protesters would have a chilling effect on free speech and expression across campus.”

Bailin said punishing students is not the driving force behind the re-evaluation of the protest policy.

"The committee’s work is completely prospective," he said in an interview. "We’re looking at how to address protests and potentially disruptive protests moving forward. We are not looking at disciplinary approaches and responses from students who protested Secretary McAleenan. It’s not our charge and it won’t be in our report, and I think members of the community have been confused by that."

Georgetown’s current policy allows faculty members and student groups to invite speakers to campus, and those who oppose a speaker may “protest peacefully in a manner that does not interfere with the audience’s right to listen,” said a statement from the law school.

“Georgetown Law is committed to upholding the values of free speech and expression and serving as a forum for the free exchange of ideas, even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable to some,” the statement said. “The purpose of the process is not to punish past behavior, but to think through for the future how to best balance the competing concerns of the right to speak and the right to protest.”

The Speech and Expression Committee hosted its first "listening session" on Jan. 24 to discuss the committee's work and get input from students.

The first-year libertarian law student, who did not want to be identified, attended the session and said some students present supported punishing the protesters, but a majority opposed any punishment.

“There were some students who did not speak because of the fear of backlash from the protesters,” the student said. “They’ve already demonstrated themselves to be uncaring about others’ opinions. If they speak out against these protesters who have power on campus, they will come after them and disrupt the lives of others.”

Students opposed to the committee’s deliberations are asking for more transparency and that all law students be invited to all guest speaker events, which is not current practice. Faculty members are currently permitted to invite speakers to a particular course or program and limit attendance to only students enrolled in that course or program, a law school official said.

Metrick-Chen said​ Georgetown “seems to be sneaking people in when it’s controversial.”

The student protesters also oppose academic sanctions or disciplinary action against students or faculty members who participate in protests, and want administrators to stop the practice of designating specific spaces for protests, she said.

“Personally I think it’s complicated to juggle the role of a protester and the role of a law student who cares about the expressive health of the institution … I believe that the school should let its speakers speak,” Metrick-Chen said. “The responsibility is on the authority in place to ensure that free speech happens. It doesn’t stop protesters from protesting.”

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Northeastern University launches $100 million research center in Maine

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 01:00

A new research institute focused on the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the digital and life sciences will open in Portland, Me., this spring.

But the institute will not be led by a Maine-based university.

Northeastern University, a private nonprofit institution with its main campus in Boston, was selected by technology entrepreneur David Roux to lead the institute. Northeastern will offer graduate degrees and certificate programs at the new institute about 100 miles north of its Boston campus.

Roux, a Maine native, told attendees at a launch event yesterday that he and a small team of colleagues selected Northeastern to lead the project after a two-year search because it is an “elite university that’s not elitist.”

The institute’s mission will be to create a tech hub in Portland -- the largest city in Maine, a rural state with an aging population and colleges that are struggling to attract new students. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be to Boston what San Jose is to San Francisco,” Roux said yesterday. “We live today in an innovation economy.”

The Roux Institute will be funded with a $100 million gift from Roux and his wife, Barbara. David Roux is co-founder, former chairman and co-chief executive officer of Silver Lake, the world’s largest technology-focused private equity firm. He has previously made large financial gifts to other institutions in Maine, including $10 million to Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts college, and $5 million to the Jackson Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institution where Roux is chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Roux reportedly selected Northeastern after a two-year search process to find the right university to lead the institute. That's noteworthy in higher education, according to experts. “Often gifts are given to institutions where there is already a relationship that’s existed for a long time,” said Larry Ladd, senior consultant at AGB Consulting. “Here’s a case where the donor is acting more like a foundation -- they ask for proposals and they have certain objectives.”

It would appear that Roux, who was born in Maine and still has a holiday home there, picked the location of the institute. Ladd doesn’t see a problem with Roux saying how he wants his money to be spent. But he notes this is part of a growing trend of donors, particularly with backgrounds in tech, “being much more prescriptive about how their gifts should be used.”

Ladd said the $100 million gift is a “good start” but will not be sufficient to launch and run a research institute -- Northeastern will need “more resources to achieve what they are trying to do.” The good news is that it is easier to raise money when you start out with a large gift. “It helps donors know they are giving to something that has a high likelihood of succeeding,” Ladd said.

Roux might have picked the location and the focus of the institute, but Northeastern would not have agreed to set up shop in Maine if they didn’t think it could work, Ladd said. Northeastern has already established regional campuses in Charlotte, N.C.; San Francisco; Seattle; Silicon Valley and Toronto, in addition to its Boston flagship campus. Unlike the Portland location, these satellite campuses are not research focused but do offer graduate degrees in subject areas aligned to the needs of the regional economy.

Linda Durrant, vice president of development at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, agreed that Northeastern likely did a lot of research to ensure the Portland location was viable. “I am sure a great deal of due diligence was done before accepting this gift so that the university was absolutely certain it was the right location and the right way to launch the center,” she said in an email.

Perhaps surprisingly, Maine’s public universities welcomed Northeastern’s expansion into the state, at least publicly. “The Roux Institute at Northeastern University brings a new vision, critical investment and proven research capacity to the Portland region,” said Dannel Malloy, University of Maine system chancellor, in a statement. “It can be a game-changer for Maine’s participation in the innovation economy and create new opportunities for Maine’s students and entrepreneurs.”

The Roux Institute will provide an opportunity for students to pursue advanced degrees in rapidly changing fields, said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, president of the University of Maine. “Pathways programs for UMaine students and faculty fellowships for UMaine and Northeastern faculty are being considered as the first steps in partnering,” she said in a statement.

Many of Maine’s higher education institutions are focused on undergraduate education and won’t be competing directly with Northeastern for students, said Ladd. “They can feed them good students,” he said. “If they can offer a five- or six-year program, where students are automatically enrolled in a master’s program at Northeastern if they get good enough grades, they could actually boost their own enrollment.”

Michael Thomas, president and CEO of the New England Board of Higher Education and an adjunct professor and dissertation adviser at Northeastern, described the announcement as a “big bet and a big investment” by Roux. But it's a bet he thinks he will pay off.

“Portland has the capacity to make something like this happen,” said Thomas. He described the city as a “creative and fun” place that makes sense as a tech hub and won’t have trouble attracting talented faculty.

Thomas sees some similarity between the Roux Institute and the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute on Roosevelt Island in New York City -- a joint academic venture between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology that aims to produce entrepreneurial engineers who will go on to launch their own job-creating companies. Both institutes are trying to energize the local economy, he said.

The organizers behind the Roux Institute have gained impressive support politically and with local business leaders and companies, said Thomas. They include outdoor retailer L.L. Bean and global software company PTC. “It’s one thing to announce an initiative and then try and go out and get that support,” he said. “It’s another to have it already. They did that work to get people involved.”

James Dlugos, president of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, a private liberal arts college located about 20 miles northwest of Portland, said there was a very warm reception to the Roux Institute at a launch event yesterday. “We all see this as a tremendous opportunity for cooperation and collaboration,” he said. “There is a lot of energy.”

Saint Joseph’s College is in the process of creating a new data science concentration for its undergraduate students, which could become a funnel for students looking to study with Northeastern in Maine. The team behind the Roux Institute has been very supportive of the efforts, said Dlugos.

“We’re all committed to growing the workforce,” said Dlugos. “Maine needs more people, and it needs skilled, trained people. This is a great chance for us.”

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Maine university system moves ahead with unified accreditation

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 01:00

Faced with declining enrollment and a tight budget, the University of Maine system’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to try to become the first in the nation to have its seven campuses accredited together instead of separately.

Trustees and university leaders called the move, more than 30 years in the making, “historic” and “revolutionary” and said it will give the system more flexibility to deal with its issues. But the work is just beginning.

The vote by the trustees gives the go-ahead to figuring out detailed answers to questions like how to share resources while ensuring the quality of education at distinctly different campuses. The plan will then be submitted for approval to the system's regional accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education.

While faculty and students expressed support for the idea of unified accreditation, David Townsend, an oceanography professor and chairman of the University of Maine’s Faculty Senate, noted at a meeting of trustees before the vote that “the devil is in the details.”

The idea has its roots in the Maine system’s origins. When it was created in 1968 -- bringing together the University of Maine and its five campuses with five independent state colleges -- Gorham State College, Farmington State College, Aroostook State College, Washington State College and Fort Kent State College -- the idea was in part to make it easier for the institutions to collaborate and combine resources.

But each of the system’s campuses was required to be accredited separately, which officials of the Maine system says ties the system’s hands in dealing with problems familiar to higher education leaders around the county -- the inability of state funding to keep up with rising costs and steeply declining student numbers, which are projected to continue.

The Maine system, like public universities in many states, has seen state support decline from funding two-thirds of costs to a third, said James B. Thelen, its chief of staff and general counsel, in a phone interview. At the same time the number of college-bound students in the state is projected to decline from 7,562 in 2020 to 6,894 in 2036.

The idea of unified assessment has been around for years, first raised by a statewide commission on higher education in 1985, which found the system wasn't evaluating how its campuses coordinated programs. The idea was never acted upon, as the problem continued to grow.

"Facilities aged and costly-but-necessary maintenance was deferred. Enrollments failed to grow at the pace predicted by the 1985 commission. State appropriations did not keep pace with inflation or the System’s rising expenses, and tuition rates climbed higher than Maine families could reasonably afford. Every System campus budget was strained to varying degrees by some combination of all three of the preceding factors," noted a September 2019 report by Maine system chancellor Dannel P. Malloy and Thelen recommending unified accreditation.

As an example of the problems posed by the current accreditation system, Thelen pointed to collaboration between the system’s two small rural campuses. The University of Maine at Presque Isle began offering education degrees at the Fort Kent campus after many of Fort Kent’s faculty members retired. The University of Maine at Fort Kent also began offering its nursing program at Presque Isle.

However, the regional accreditor, the New England Commission of Higher Education, has informally questioned if the campuses could separately meet its accreditation standards under the arrangement.

In a situations where so many professors retire that a single campus would not have enough professors in certain fields, unified assessment would give the system options other than having to close programs, Thelen said.

Thelen said unified accreditation would remove a barrier to create more offerings. While every campus in the system has experts in geospatial mapping and data analytics, no campus has enough to be able to offer a concentration in the field. Being able to draw on the instructors from throughout the system would let it offer the concentration.

It’s unclear whether other systems will follow. Thelen said the Maine system has the advantage of already having public funds go to the system, which disperses it to the individual institutions.

There have been other efforts. The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system is proposing consolidating the state's 12 two-year institutions for the second time after NECHE rejected the plan in 2018.

Paul Gaston, professor emeritus at Kent State University, an expert in higher education reform, noted in an email that the University of Alaska’s governing board considered consolidating the accreditation of the system’s three universities but backed off in December because of concerns over maintaining the distinctiveness of each.

The Maine proposal could face similar concerns from accreditors, he wrote in an email. “Similarly, within the University of Maine, the differences between the flagship at Orono, the ‘rural university’ at Fort Kent, and the regional comprehensive, the University of Southern Maine, are conspicuous. And then there are the institutions at Farmington (the public liberal arts college), Presque Isle, Augusta, etc. In fact, the University of Maine is remarkable for the diversity and singularity of the missions of its constituent institutions,” he said.

“It is difficult to understand how such differentiations would not call for discrete accreditor evaluation as well,” he said.

Peter Ewell, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said Maine’s effort could “be very significant, and many university systems would want to emulate it because of both cost and the benefits of having a single financial aid eligibility.” But he predicted NECHE might be reluctant to allow it. “The campuses making up the system are quite different with their own strengths and weaknesses, and accreditors would want to allow these differences to come out,” he said.

Despite the greater efficiency, he said, “the main drawback is not providing a clear picture of what are the attributes of a set of very different institutions. Accreditation is supposed to aid student choice, so collective accreditation would not provide any useful information of that kind. It is also supposed to provide early warning of potential difficulties for a campus, also hard to do if you are accrediting a system with quite different constituent entities. All in all, I don't think it is a very good idea and kind of negates the whole purpose of accreditation.”

However, NECHE president Barbara Brittingham said in an interview that she’s “optimistic” the accrediting commission will grant a substantive change approval, letting unified accreditation move forward and setting off a two-year evaluation of the change.

She said, though, that the commission will want to see in the upcoming plan how the change will benefit the state and its students. A key will be to see how the plan would enhance the individual campuses’ programs, she said.

NECHE has also been working with the Maine system after questioning in 2015 whether it was allowed only to accredit individual universities. In 2018, NECHE and the Maine system jointly retained Jay Urwitz, former legal counsel at the U.S. Department of Education, to look into whether a unified Maine system could be considered an individual higher education institution. Urwitz said it could. And in discussions, the U.S. Department of Education said it was open to recognizing a unified system if it is accredited by NECHE.

Thelen acknowledged a number of details still need to be worked out before the system submits its plan seeking approval for the idea in June, including how to assess quality at campuses of different sizes and resources, and how to create a system of faculty leadership. A key, he agreed, is showing how the quality of each campus will be preserved.

Still, the move generated some excitement among trustees about the changes it could bring the system. “The main obstacle is fear of change and degradation of quality,” Trustee Samuel W. Collins said at the meeting. But it will bring about “an engagement of the brightest people in the system,” he said.

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Study finds large share of parents struggle to repay federal PLUS loans

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 01:00

A new study adds to growing concerns about a federal program that allows parents to take out loans to help finance their children’s undergraduate education.

Roughly 3.6 million parents had taken out $96 billion in outstanding loans under the federal Parent PLUS program as of late last year, the study from Trellis Research said. Parent PLUS loans now account for about a quarter of total federal lending for undergraduates, a share that grew from 14 percent in 2012-13.

An increasing portion of parents also are struggling to pay off these loans. For example, the five-year default rate grew to 11 percent for parents who took out PLUS loans in 2009, up from 7 percent for the 1999 cohort, research has shown.

The feds eliminated annual and lifetime borrowing limits for Parent PLUS loans in 1993, allowing parents to borrow up to the cost of attendance. And the program features only minimal credit checks.

“The program enables parents to incur substantially larger amounts of education debt than their college student children even though the parents, unlike their children, receive no direct economic returns on the investment,” Trellis Research said in the new study.

The research from the nonprofit group includes data on 59,096 parents whose children attended a Texas college and who entered repayment on their Parent PLUS loans during a roughly six-year period before September 2010. The data set is based on the federal loan portfolio of the Trellis Company (formerly TG), a student loan guarantee agency based in Texas.

Also included in the research are qualitative data Trellis collected from 49 Parent PLUS borrowers. And the study specifically examined borrowing and repayment outcomes for parents whose children went to historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions.

Over all, less than half of parents in the sample (45 percent) were successfully repaying their Parent PLUS loans with uninterrupted payments. The study found that seven years after entering repayment, 8 percent of parents had defaulted, 12 percent had consolidated their loans and 7 percent had not reduced their principal balance.

“Increasingly, low-income families with no adverse credit experiences rely on Parent PLUS loans to access higher education amid rising costs and stagnant wages, although the debt may become especially challenging to repay,” the report said.

Among parents who were successfully repaying their loans, 30 percent had delinquencies, deferments or forbearances at some point within their first seven years of repayment. Roughly 40 percent had at least one delinquency, with 12 percent of parents experiencing three or more.

Roughly 22 percent of the 59,096 parent borrowers had children who attended minority-serving colleges.

These parents were less likely to have uninterrupted payments (40 percent) and more likely to default (10 percent) and to not reduce their loan principal balance (8 percent) compared to parents whose children did not attend minority-serving institutions.

The median cumulative amount parents borrowed in the sample was $12,304. Parents whose children attended minority-serving institutions borrowed less on average, with a median amount of $10,000.

However, as research on other forms of student debt has found, parents with smaller loan debt balances were more likely to default, Trellis found. They also took out the lowest average number of loans.

For example, parents who were in delinquency and default took out a mean of 1.27 loans with a median debt of $6,500. In comparison, parents who were successfully repaying loans without interruption took out 1.82 loans at a median of $11,629.

Federal Fixes?

The Obama administration in 2011 raised credit standards for Parent PLUS loans. The move was unexpected, and loans subsequently were denied to thousands of families.

Families with students who attend historically black colleges and universities were most likely to be affected by the credit change. Due to the steep wealth gap between black and white families, Parent PLUS is viewed as an important tool for college access for black students. And historically underfunded HBCUs often are unable to meet the financial needs of students.

Many HBCU leaders were upset with the Obama administration over the decision, which led to steep enrollment and revenue declines in the sector.

“No one consulted the HBCU community,” said Lodriguez Murray, UNCF’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs. The sector’s total enrollment dropped to 290,000 from 330,000, he said. “It terribly impacted these students.”

Arne Duncan, the first education secretary under Obama, later apologized for the credit change. And the administration in 2014 created a looser credit standard for the program.

Since then, Republicans in the U.S. Congress have called for new lending limits for Parent PLUS. And congressional Democrats have proposed making the loans eligible for income-driven repayment plans.

Those policy fixes would be “treating symptoms rather than the cause” of the problems with the loan program, said Clare McCann, deputy director for federal higher education policy with New America's education policy program.

Last year New America and the Urban Institute published a report on Parent PLUS loans. The report recommended that lending should be limited to a family’s expected family contribution. It also said loan limits should be increased for undergraduate students whose parents would no longer qualify for PLUS loans.

A primary policy goal should be “preventing very low-income parent borrowers from taking on a lot of debt,” McCann said.

Officials with the Education Department last month said the agency plans to release program-level data on Parent PLUS debt, default and repayment later this year. But until then, the Trellis data are helping to fill a hole.

“We have a huge dearth of information” about Parent PLUS, said McCann, who called the new study a “public service.”

Roughly two-thirds of the parents interviewed by Trellis for the study said they have struggled to repay their Parent PLUS loans, with almost half describing it as a regular, frequent or constant issue.

The interviews also revealed college financing gaps that parents had not anticipated. For example, almost a quarter said living costs for their children in college were much higher than expected.

The effect of repaying Parent PLUS loans on parents’ ability to save money and make major purchases varied widely among respondents. But, not surprisingly, parents whose children attended minority-serving institutions and those who defaulted were more likely to describe a large impact.

Murray said his organization would be closely watching policy discussions about Parent PLUS. "We don't want to see the doors of higher education closed."

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Colleges add academic programs

Tue, 01/28/2020 - 01:00
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Some colleges report possible coronavirus cases; experts emphasize importance of planning

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 01:00

The coronavirus has come to U.S. campuses. Arizona public health officials announced Sunday that "a member of the Arizona State community who does not live in university housing" had tested positive for the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The person had recently traveled to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

Baylor University announced that one of its students was being tested by public health officials. Baylor said the student had recently traveled to China.

A student at Wesleyan University who developed a cough and fever after traveling through an airport where a patient identified to have coronavirus traveled is also being tested, the Hartford Courant reported.

A Tennessee Tech University student who was tested for the virus tested negative. A Texas A&M University student who was tested also tested negative.

Meanwhile, in China, Duke Kunshan University, which is located in a city almost 500 miles from Wuhan, has announced that it will suspend classes in all programs until Feb. 17.

As of Sunday evening there had been five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., including the case of the individual connected to Arizona State. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says those infected with the virus experience mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, coughing and shortness of breath. CDC officials believe the symptoms can manifest as few as two or as many as 14 days after exposure.

The CDC said it considers the virus a serious public health threat and that outbreaks of novel viruses are always a cause for concern. Nonetheless, the agency considers the immediate risk to the American public to be low at this time.

The agency recommends against nonessential travel to China's Hubei Province, including the city of Wuhan.

At least 80 people have died from the virus, and Chinese authorities reportedly announced Sunday that Wuhan, a city of about 11 million people, may have 1,000 more cases. China has imposed strict travel restrictions for residents of Wuhan and at least 12 other cities in Hebei Province. The CDC last week began screening incoming travelers from Wuhan at five American airports.

With colleges being international hubs, home to internationally mobile students or faculty, it is possible they may see more cases from students or scholars who traveled to affected regions in China during the winter break.

China is the biggest country of origin for international students in the U.S., and Wuhan is the 18th-largest city of origin, according to data from 2008-12 compiled by the Brookings Institution. At that point there were about 8,000 students from Wuhan in the U.S.

Asked if there are special precautions colleges should take to screen faculty or students who have recently traveled to affected areas in China, James R. Jacobs, the chair of the American College Health Association’s Emerging Public Health Threats and Emergency Response Coalition, said that foremost is to follow the advice of the CDC and local health departments.

“At a minimum, health-care workers should inquire about travel history whenever evaluating a patient with fever,” said Jacobs, the executive director of Vaden Health Services at Stanford University.

“Coincidentally, we are in the middle of influenza season in the U.S., so institutions should already be in aggressive flu-prevention mode (hand washing, cough etiquette and so forth),” he added. “Further, institutions should continue to encourage seasonal flu vaccine for those who have not already received it, as anything that can be done to reduce the number of flu-like illnesses on campus will help to limit confusion if coronavirus illness begins to spread.”

"Many strains of coronaviruses are ubiquitous and are often responsible for symptoms that we attribute to the 'common cold,'" Jacobs said. "Similarly, coronavirus 2019-nCoV seemingly causes no or mild symptoms in most people infected by it." 

Jacobs said guidance for pandemic planning is available on ACHA’s website. "[T]he World Health Organization has not declared spread of coronavirus 2019-nCoV to have reached pandemic status, but the work of pandemic planning done by most campuses during the past 20 years for other respiratory viruses, such as SARS, H5N1 and H1N1, will be useful in preparing to respond to the appearance of 2019-nCoV," he said.

Other experts also emphasized the importance of planning. "I would be thinking about communication plans to keep everyone appraised of the nature of the respiratory threat and where to get advice, and where to get health care if their signs and symptoms meet that advice," said Gregory C. Gray, a professor of infectious disease at Duke University. "I would be thinking about trying to allay the fears that might cause the worried well to seek care unnecessarily."

In addition to a good communications plan, Gray emphasized the need for “a good strategy for how you would handle a high volume of people in your clinic,” including strategies for triage and for safely transporting individuals to hospitals as needed.

“I think that your student health service ought to be asking any student who comes in with a respiratory infection two questions: Have you been in China recently, and if not, have you had close contact with anybody who’s been in China recently? It’s low-tech, no-cost, but it’s terribly telling in selecting individuals who might be possible cases,” said William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University.

Schaffner also said that educational outreach is critical. “In general, let the student body know about this and if you’ve been to China or had close contact with somebody who’s just returned from China that at the very first sign, don’t tough it out. Students have a tendency [to say], ‘Oh well, I’ll see how I feel in the morning.’ Don’t do that. Come [to the student health center] immediately and let us know in advance that you’re coming.”

"I would recommend to people that they stay ahead of the game," said Ron Waldman, a professor of global health at George Washington University. "This is a rapidly evolving situation; it could go south, and colleges should be prepared to implement the next step."

"We have the benefit of not being at the very front end," he added. "In China, they’ve basically cordoned off huge metropolitan areas."

As a final note, Waldman cautioned against potentially stigmatizing international students from China. “No stigma and no panic,” he said. “This is a call for caution, vigilance and surveillance.”

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One year in, 'Contingent Magazine' is going strong

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 01:00

Historian Erin Bartram had no plan B when she published her painfully honest “quit lit” essay in early 2018. She was sick of being on the crappy tenure-track job market, sick of making $28,000 as a visiting assistant professor and, perhaps most of all, sick of people telling her how good her work was, to keep researching and writing no matter what.

“‘But your work is so valuable,’ people say. ‘It would be a shame not to find a way to publish it,’” Bartram wrote at the time. “Valuable to whom? To whom would the value of my labor accrue? And not to be too petty, but if it were so valuable, then why wouldn’t anyone pay me a stable living wage to do it?”

Two years later, Bartram’s plan B is taking shape: she’s got a part-time job that she loves designing and delivering education programs at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Connecticut. And while she doesn’t have a full-time job that supports her academic research (that work is “DOA,” she said recently), she’s helped create a venue for -- and which values -- another kind of writing. 

That venue is Contingent Magazine. The online history publication, now beginning its second year, is written primarily by trained historians working off the tenure track or outside of academe altogether. Its target audience is those who appreciate and enjoy history, but not necessarily academics: the magazine has some interesting traffic sources, such as high school history course websites (in additon to college and graduate school course sites). Articles are edited by historians but not peer reviewed in the traditional sense.

Contingent is funded entirely by readers, most of whom are graduate students and contingent academic historians pledging small donations. Some 210 are monthly sustainers and receive a few extra benefits. The site had 23,000 views in December. And, central to its mission, the magazine pays every single contributor, from $25 for short “postcards” from conferences, up to at least $500 for features.

Published pieces include those in a series on the historical underpinnings of Star Wars, the enduring meaning of Forrest Gump, food, immigration, colleges closing and Watergate. There have been articles on addiction, political candidates, the Civil War and revisionist history. Anything good goes. Sometimes contributors write up “field trips” to museums and historical sites, all of which reveal something about the process of doing history. Lists of books and journal articles published by non-tenure-track historians in 2019 were especially popular, and even resulted in some extra sales for book authors. And Contingent answers readers’ varied questions about the discipline of history.

A recent “Mailbag” column -- that’s Contingent-speak for answers to reader questions -- tackles, for instance, the historical cliché “Don’t we have to judge people by the standards of their time?”

“Not all historical inquiry is explicitly about judgment, and not all historical judgments are about good and bad, but neither are these things outside the boundaries of historical practice,” reads part of the Contingent primer. “Some discomfort with the idea of judgment seems rooted in the notion that judging the goodness of someone else’s choices is somehow unfair, especially if it’s lacking in understanding. But historical judgment isn’t inherently knee-jerk or ill-informed.”

Instead, the piece reads, “it can be, and most of us would say it should be, about learning, understanding and assessing.”

Bartram wrote that one up. And she doesn’t just write for the magazine -- she co-founded and edits it, along with two fellow historians: Bill Black, visiting professor at Western Kentucky University, and Marc Reyes, a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Connecticut. A web designer, Emily Eston, Judaica Digital Humanities Project Coordinator at Penn Libraries, also maintains Contingent, as does a larger board of directors.

A Magazine Is Born

Contingent’s origin story is worth telling, since not everyone was initially sure that the concept would work. In the middle of 2018, as Bartram was making good on her promise to leave academe, Black -- whom she knew primarily through Twitter -- messaged her about an idea: Shouldn't there be a place for historians to publish that isn't a blog, an academic journal, or all about political "hot takes"?

Bartram was interested. Then she thought Reyes, whom she’d met in her doctoral program at Connecticut, as a possible third partner. Discussions followed over email, Twitter and Skype, as did some sink-or-swim work on establishing a nonprofit organization and fundraising. There was an initial pledge push to fund the building of a website, some early content and the creation of a logo that purposely eschewed stereotypical “history” images of old books and the like.

Looking ahead, the editors put out the call for more pitches, including over social media. Historians answered.

Around the same time, last January, Bartram -- armed with Contingent stickers -- attended the American Historical Association meeting. The site had just gone live for a soft launch.

“We were not publicly known outside of a small circle” at that point, Bartram said. “A number of scholars said to me, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to get it off the ground if you didn’t pay people?’”

But paying people was always nonnegotiable.

“I had been in three years of [visiting] positions without any research support,” Bartram said, “and I think it’s deeply unethical to ask people to share the research that they spent their own money without paying them. It’s a Ponzi scheme, where you are paid to do one part of your job and you pay to do the other.”

Bartram said that the magazine is also an opportunity -- even a challenge -- for anyone who’s ever wanted to “do something” for adjuncts. That is, they can donate and give non-tenure-track scholars a kind of “second life.”

At this year’s AHA meeting, earlier this month, Bartram heard different things -- mostly congratulations and “I didn’t think it would work!”

Conferencewide, there was much talk about how historians need to do more to engage the public in their work, to demonstrate its value.

As Contingent is aimed at the public, do its editors consider themselves to be leading the field in some, even small, way?

Bartram was neutral, saying she’s focused on what she can do to advocate for a field she loves, and not on the bigger, structural problems it faces (think adjunctification and devaluation of the humanities).

“What can I do? I can start a magazine with my friends and edit and pay scholars for their work,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think it will change things structurally, but it matters to the people who get $250 per piece.”

Black, Bartram’s co-founder, had a similar take.

“We wanted this to be a grassroots effort. If this was based out of a university department or think tank or something like that, the vision of what it was going to be would have been polluted by different kinds of incentives. This was going to be a thing we did for us.”

At the same time, Black said, “We very much hoped when we were starting Contingent up that we would be a model for other folks to follow and pick up on.” It’s “one thing to say that historians should write more with public audiences in mind, and what we want to stress is that that call can’t exist in an economic vacuum. It has to make economic sense for people to do that work.”

Even tenure-track professors, who are compensated for research, don’t always have the incentive to do public outreach, Black noted, due to the traditionally research-heavy values of promotion and tenure committees.

In any case, he said, “It’s a wild time. It certainly seems like there’s a lot in the air right now.”

One Team

Reyes, Bartram’s and Black’s co-founder, said there’s a strong sense of collaboration among the editors even though they work remotely -- Reyes most of all, as he was until very recently a Fulbright fellow in India.

He’s also “proud of the types and topics of the articles we have run so far,” from features to photo essays to a cartoon. One of Reyes's wishes for the future is that Contingent continues to attract such interesting, diverse pitches from contributors.

Speaking of contributors: Reyes said the best part of Contingent is working with them, as “seeing their work go from pitch to publish is such an exhilarating and rewarding experience.”

Looking back on a year of articles, one that sticks out to Black is “Mr. Kay,” published in April. The piece details not only the life of Mr. Kay, an “Issei,” or Japanese immigrant who came to the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century, but also what it feels like to “fall in love” with someone, something or some time from the past while doing archival research.

“How do we, as historians, care for those we meet in those manila envelopes?” preserved in those archives, the article asks. “How we do understand the emotions the work of history provokes within us?”

Black’s historical sensibilities run romantic, judging by his short list of favorite articles and the way he talks about them. But beyond being romantic, if tragic (Kay always hoped to return to Japan and never did, dying poor and alone in Chicago) the “Mr. Kay” story embodies what Contingent is all about: making transparent the work -- process-wise and personal -- of doing history.

There is no need to separate the historian from the history here. That, in turn, reminds any reader who ever fell in love with history why they did so in the first place. Indeed, if there’s any thread running through all of the pieces on Contingent, it’s a deep affection for history and all that it comprises.

The author of “Mr. Kay,” Sonia C. Gomez, an associate member at the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago and a senior associate at the executive search firm Isaacson, Miller, said she started writing parts of it back in her second year of graduate school, in 2012. It look eight years to find Kay (a pseudonym) the right home, she said recently.

“I had some ideas and feelings about the materials I had uncovered, but I had no clear objective when I visited the building where he once lived and started to write about him,” Gomez said. She always knew, however, that a “traditional academic outlet was not where I wanted to go with his story and the other stories he represented.”

Gomez was immediately interested in Contingent when she heard about it on Twitter, and she even donated to the start-up fund.

“The idea of contingency in academia deeply resonated with me” at the time, Gomez said, as she was then a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and “keenly aware of my itinerant status.”

In addition to recognizing contingency, Gomez said the magazine fills “several gaping holes in academic history.” There's the history-is-for-everyone piece, she said, “which is incredibly important for many reasons -- including the continued existence of history as a discipline in the 21st century.” And circling back to the essence of Mr. Kay, Gomez said, “There’s the piece about demystifying the historian's craft, peeling back the curtains to show how we, historians, actually do history.”

For the record, Gomez said the process of working with Contingent also was pleasant.

“The editors were so very supportive and their questioning really pushed me to think more analytically about the story I wanted to tell.” Gomez is “grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them and have Mr. Kay out in the world.”

Stephenie McGucken, an adjunct instructor of art and design at the University of Tampa who earned her Ph.D. in art history at the University of Edinburgh in 2018, wrote a piece on medieval relics in Star Wars for Contingent’s series on those films and fandom. She also said recently that she’d been thinking about such a piece for a while (“medievalism and Star Wars really go well together,” she added). So Contingent’s call was the push she needed.

“I thought it was a great venue to explore those ideas for a more general audience that has intersecting interests.”

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Discussion about the future of the academy

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 01:00

David Staley believes the university's future has yet to be determined.

While punditry about higher education suggests otherwise, said Staley, director of the Humanities Institute and an associate professor of history at Ohio State University, the academy has the power to imagine a different future from the headline-grabbing innovations of online learning, upskilling and mega-university models.

“Ours is a particularly fertile moment to imagine something new,” he said to a packed room Friday at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities in Washington.

Staley and others were discussing what the “college of the future” might look like. Johann Neem, chair of the history department at Western Washington University, said a key piece of that imagining is to separate the academy from the university.

“Instead of the universities getting rid of professors, what if we got rid of the university?” Neem said.

People have an innate curiosity and desire to learn and build a community, he said, which is why they go to yoga studios and join book groups. What if the academy set up shop in a similar fashion?

“We're afraid that, unless there’s a credential with a degree, nobody’s going to want to learn from me,” said Neem, author of the recently published book What's the Point of College? Seeking Purpose in an Age of Reform (Johns Hopkins University Press). “We insult people when we pretend that the only way they’re going to develop their intellect is because we force them to.”

To create something new, higher education will inevitably have to change. One piece is the departmentalization of college campuses, which Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of digital humanities and an English professor at Michigan State University, said is one reason university structures today are quite rigid.

Instead, Fitzpatrick said universities should be looking for ways to convene groups who are interested in particular issues, an approach that doesn’t align with departments.

Chad Wellmon, professor of German studies at the University of Virginia, said a “college corporate body” should give faculty members the responsibility of creating curricula, rather than pushing strategies like student-centered learning.

Staley said students seem to want an ability to design majors around an idea rather than a specific department. For example, one of his students said he is interested in happiness, which doesn’t have its own department but has been examined by philosophers, psychologists, writers and more.

And, while “breaking down silos is great,” he said faculty members then go back to their departments, where they are promoted and seek tenure.

Technology inevitably will be a factor in the future of higher education, but the panelists cautioned attendees against using it in the wrong way.

“I get super, super nervous when developers of technology like extended reality start talking about technology as an easy path to empathy,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can step into somebody else’s shoes in [virtual reality], but you’ve still got your own feet.”

While people often point to literature and reading as a way to build empathy, Fitzpatrick said that ability actually is developed in the discussion of reading, where people wade through what the words meant and how they each read it differently. She added that “shortcuts” to building community don't exist.

And the absence of such communities is a problem now, the panelists said. The future, Neem said, should center on how to build communities around shared pursuits of knowledge, and then upward from there.

Wellmon shared a similar vision, adding that "the academy is in a precarious position" right now, so protecting it -- through writing, teaching and researching -- is his focus.

“I’m no longer in the business of defending the university,” Wellmon said. “I'm here to defend and argue for the academy.”

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Independent bookstores mount inclusive access lawsuit

Mon, 01/27/2020 - 01:00

Inclusive access programs, where students are automatically billed for their course materials, are increasingly big business for leading textbook publishers and college bookstores.

But for independent, off-campus bookstores, inclusive access programs could spell a death knell.

In a class-action lawsuit on Thursday, four companies representing independent bookstores accused publishers including Pearson, Cengage, McGraw-Hill Education and bookstore chains Barnes and Noble Education and Follett of trying to push them out of business.

In court documents, the independent bookstores describe inclusive access programs as a “conspiracy” whose “end goal and result is eliminating competitors and raising prices.”

“The defendants’ illegal actions have and will ultimately result in a total monopoly,” the suit says.  

In statements, both Cengage and Pearson said they were aware of the lawsuit and stand by the inclusive access model, which they maintain has increased affordability for students. “This complaint is entirely without merit,” said the Cengage statement. McGraw-Hill Education and Barnes and Noble Education declined to comment.

This lawsuit is not the first to challenge the inclusive access model. In 2019, Trident Technical College, a public two-year institution in Charleston, S.C., was sued on anticompetitive grounds by the Virginia Pirate Corporation, a company that owns a secondhand textbook store down the street from the college.

To automatically bill students for course materials, U.S. Department of Education regulations say colleges must offer these materials below a competitive market rate and must also give students a way to opt out of the program. Trident Tech was accused in the lawsuit of fulfilling neither of these requirements, which the institution denies.

Though unrelated, the two lawsuits raise similar issues. Opting out of an inclusive access program is not straightforward for students. “The ‘opt-out’ process, when there is one at all, is opaque, confusing and difficult if not impossible to execute,” said the plaintiffs in the most recent lawsuit. They add that some students who have asked to opt out of inclusive access programs have been told that there “is no opt-out available” or that they will be de-enrolled from a class if they opt out and seek substitute materials.

Kaitlyn Vitez, director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s Campaign to Make Higher Education Affordable, said students should have multiple options for purchasing course materials, and that inclusive access programs have stifled competition. “The direction that the market is moving, especially with the proposed merger of Cengage and McGraw-Hill, is to dramatically reduce student choice,” she said.

Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC, harbors similar concerns about inclusive access programs. “Publishers are systematically eliminating choice, and this complaint highlights many of the ways this does harm,” she said.

“We’re on the verge of the textbook publishing industry becoming a duopoly, and you have to wonder how much worse it is going to get.”

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Catholic colleges develop apps for natural family planning

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 01:00

Natural family planning has been having a bit of a moment.

Natural Cycles, a family planning app approved by the European Union as contraception, has been alternatively held up as both a savior and a scam. Research has rated the app 98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy, better than both condoms and the pill. The company raised $30 million in funding in 2017. But when a Stockholm hospital reported that nearly 6 percent of women seeking abortions there were using the app as their primary form of birth control, the company struggled with the resulting PR crisis.

Natural family planning methods, also called fertility awareness methods, involve tracking a woman’s fertile cycle and -- to prevent pregnancy -- abstaining from sex on days of high fertility (the process can be reversed for those trying to achieve pregnancy).

Both Marquette and Georgetown Universities have been, on a smaller scale, carving out their own part of that app space. The two Jesuit colleges have been involved in developing their own family planning methods, devices and phone apps. Roman Catholicism, like some other religions, eschews all other methods of birth control.

At Marquette, the Institute for Natural Family Planning created the Marquette Model in 1998. The method requires a woman to track her hormone levels with a urine monitor (it looks similar to a pregnancy test) and gives the option to input additional data, like body temperature and cervical mucus levels.

The institute now does research on the model’s efficacy and potential side effects and has also developed an app for couples. The Marquette Fertility app was launched in 2017 for both Apple and Android devices, though it will soon be taken down for redevelopment.

Georgetown's Institute for Reproductive Health has been involved in the development of iCycleBeads, another fertility awareness app. Staff at the institute developed both the Standard Days Method and the CycleBeads device that the app is based on. The Standard Days Method involves abstaining from sex on days eight through 19 of a woman’s cycle, and the CycleBeads, a ring of colored beads with a movable rubber marker, are a device to help keep track of those days. Georgetown owns the patent on the beads, which it has licensed to Cycle Technologies, the creator of the app.

Georgetown also developed the TwoDay Method, now being used in Cycle Technologies’ 2Day family planning app.

The institute now has been conducting research on the efficacy of the apps and other Cycle Technologies products. It also has highlighted work to bring related technology to India and other countries with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The institute did not respond to requests for comment.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that the Marquette Method has a failure rate of 11 to 14 percent with typical use, factoring in human error. Georgetown’s Standard Days Method has a 8 to 25 percent failure rate, and its TwoDay Method has a 14 percent failure rate. For comparison, birth control pills fail about 9 percent of the time, and condoms 13 percent. The most effective forms of birth control are hormonal implants, sterilization and abstinence.

Though neither university appears to be officially encouraging natural family planning by students, both have strict regulations regarding most other contraception.

At Georgetown, all businesses on main campus property are prohibited from selling condoms. Doctors at the student health center cannot prescribe hormonal birth control except for a medical reason, such as migraines or cramps. When the pill is prescribed, it is not sold at the Georgetown Medical Center pharmacy.

H*yas for Choice, the university’s pro-choice group, has been unrecognized by the administration since 1992. (In the 14 months the university did fund the group, a petition was created and sent to Pope John Paul II, with over 1,500 signatories asking that the Vatican revoke the university’s Catholic status.)

Marquette Medical Clinic will similarly not dispense condoms or prescribe birth control for nonmedical reasons.

Richard Fehring, director of the institute at Marquette, said natural family planning has been unjustly mocked and maligned by people who haven’t recognized that the model has moved far beyond the rhythm method to become much more effective.

“Natural family planning will maybe get a little paragraph in a textbook,” he said. “It’s sort of laughed upon.”

Fehring emphasized that while some women may be motivated by religion to use the methods, many are simply concerned about the pill and associated health risks.

“They don’t want to use artificial things to put into their bodies,” he said.

While the scientific consensus is that the majority of women do not experience adverse effects on hormonal birth control, google “going off the pill” and you’ll find a litany of articles from women who report that long-term contraceptive use gave them depression, decreased libido or a different personality. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, has classified birth control pills as carcinogenic.

While some other apps suggest the user employ condoms on her high-fertility days, the Marquette Fertility app, in line with Catholic teaching, suggests abstaining from intercourse on during those days.

“It is healthy for couples to integrate and learn to live with their fertility,” Fehring said. “For couples who are on natural family planning, the act of intercourse remains new and exciting because of that periodic abstaining.”

The Marquette institute also educates health professionals on how to help patients who want to use the method. Natural family planning often is helped by the guidance of a medical professional, because the process tends to require more commitment and discipline on the part of the patient than other methods.

While Catholicism may not be a part of every woman's decision to use natural family planning, the Church, Fehring said, is definitely supportive.

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Swiss bring apprenticeships to Salt Lake Community College

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 01:00

A Swiss company is bringing its apprenticeship model to Utah to build a skilled workforce for its new facility in this country.

The Swiss model, applauded by the Trump administration and broadly supported by the public, has students split time between classes and paid, on-the-job training to get skills for a specific industry.

Stadler Rail, a Swiss manufacturing company that has contracts to build trains in California and Texas, decided to replicate the apprenticeship system after finding a dearth of employees with the correct skills for its U.S. facility in Salt Lake City.

“A lot of our leadership are from Switzerland and went through those programs,” said Charlotte Thalhammer, a spokeswoman for Stadler Rail. “It just made sense.”

And while Stadler doesn't expect the program to fix its employee shortage problem, which is fueled in part by Utah's record low unemployment rates, Thalhammer said it will help them recruit a more skilled workforce. When the company opened up in Utah, little local training existed for the manufacturing skills they needed.

"It was difficult for us to find the kind of workforce that we needed," she said.

Students who are enrolled in the Salt Lake City school districts can apply for the program, called Talent Ready Apprenticeship Connection, in their junior year of high school. The application doesn't rely much on grades, Thalhammer said, but instead requires a résumé, letters of recommendation and a cover letter, as well as an interview.

"We're looking for students that are interested and that are willing to learn," she said.

Once accepted, students start the program in their senior year of high school. After graduating high school, they take classes at Salt Lake Community College while continuing to get on-the-job training from Stadler employees. While apprenticing, students will be paid up to $13 per hour.

Once they finish the apprenticeship, students will have an associate degree of applied science in advanced manufacturing, which will be recognized throughout the state of Utah. Everyone who finishes will also be eligible for full-time jobs at Stadler, Thalhammer said. Those positions would start at $22 per hour.

The pilot program currently enrolls 15 students, and student feedback is so far great, Thalhammer said.

"It’s really important to expose students to what high-tech manufacturing really looks like and what it entails," said Rick Bouillon, associate vice president of workforce and economic development at Salt Lake Community College. "This opportunity is for any student who is interested in starting their career with an advanced manufacturer like Stadler."

The program gave the college the opportunity to venture into youth apprenticeships and to work with the local school district, Bouillon said. He thinks it's important to expose students, and their parents, to these types of careers, as there's often a misperception about what modern manufacturing is.

"We’ve gone so long with an emphasis on other types of education," he said. "But this is very high-tech."

Already, the college is considering expanding the model to other industries.

Taylor White, senior policy analyst at New America, said the Utah apprenticeships are a promising development.

"What’s most exciting for me is they’re trying to smooth the pathway from high school to postsecondary education to the workforce," White said.

Americans tend to view the process of moving from school to college to work as linear, she said, which is "increasingly tenuous for lots of reasons." This model has better handoffs for students during each step along the way to a job.

Katie Spiker, director of government relations at the National Skills Coalition, said the reason the U.S. hasn't "embraced" apprenticeships is because they require robust collaboration between industry and educational institutions.

"It's something that we don't have as much support for across our country," she said.

White said that investing in an intermediary to organize the operational and strategic tasks is an important part of building a program that will succeed.

As these programs proliferate, Spiker said it will be important to provide supports so that a diverse set of students can access them. For example, if students need to move between a classroom and a work site, they will need reliable transportation.

Both Spiker and White believe this model is scalable, but Spiker pointed out that industries will have to engage adults and those not in school to truly reach out broadly. Even if every high school student in every state stayed in place and worked at a job that didn't require a four-year degree, she said, there still wouldn't be enough people to fill the demand for jobs that fall in the middle, requiring some skills but not a full bachelor's degree.

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Coursera launches college completion pathway

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 01:00

Online learning provider Coursera took another step into the undergraduate education market yesterday with the launch of its first bachelor’s degree program at a university in the United States.

The University of North Texas, a public research institution in Denton, Tex., will offer its bachelor of applied arts and sciences (B.A.A.S.) program through Coursera beginning in fall 2020.

The bachelor’s degree program is aimed at working adults with some college education and course credits but no degree, said Adam Fein, vice president for digital strategy and innovation at UNT. He hopes the degree will also attract community college students, veterans and students based overseas.

Fein previously worked with Coursera to launch the online master of business administration (iMBA) at the University of Illinois. When he moved to UNT, he saw an opportunity to partner with Coursera again by opening up online education to a very different demographic.

“We have a lot of first-generation students at UNT,” said Fein. “I thought, ‘This is an area where we can really make an impact.’”

UNT currently has around 1,200 students studying towards B.A.A.S. degrees on campus, said Fein. Students can gain a concentration (the equivalent of 12 credit hours) in dozens of topics, he said. They can also transfer up to 84 credits earned at other accredited institutions. At least 34 of the total 120 credit hours required for the online B.A.A.S. degree must be completed at UNT.

“While the program is already pretty popular on campus, as it is flexible and allows students to build a customized path, we think it will translate well online,” said Fein. “The figure of 36 million Americans with some college but no degree is very disturbing to me. We want to reverse that trend.”

The online B.A.A.S. program looks a lot like the on-campus program, except the number of concentrations has been limited to six initially, said Fein. Through Coursera, UNT students can obtain concentrations in administration, organizational supervision, social services, hospitality, media innovation and consumer behavior. A seventh concentration in information technology is available to students who complete a Google IT support certificate, which is also offered through Coursera.

The number of concentrations will likely be expanded in the future, said Fein.

“We didn’t want it to be too complicated,” he said. Students interested in pursuing the B.A.A.S. degree online will be assisted by UNT advisers who can help them transfer their credits and select the right degree path. The cost of the online B.A.A.S. is $330 per credit hour. The university charges $470 per credit hour for non-Texas or Oklahoma residents for on-campus undergraduate degrees.

Dil Sidhu, chief content officer at Coursera, noted that this is not the company’s first foray into undergraduate degrees. Goldsmiths, University of London, launched a bachelor’s degree in computer science through Coursera in 2018.

Undergraduate degrees have long been seen as a “heavier lift” than graduate degrees by online learning providers, but there is no denying that the market for undergraduate degrees is much bigger, said Sidhu. The success of Coursera's computer science degree with Goldsmiths, which now has more than 1,000 students, shows that there is room to do more in this space, he said. EdX, another online learning platform, launched a program called MicroBachelors earlier this month that will allow students to gain credit toward a full bachelor’s degree online.

“When we start something, we want to learn what is working well and make sure that it is sustainable before we grow,” said Sidhu.

Sean Gallagher, founder and executive director of Northeastern University's Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, said it makes sense to try to scale UNT's B.A.A.S. degree program with Coursera. "As much energy as there is around nondegree credentials, bachelor's degrees are still highly demanded in the job market," he said in an email.

MOOC providers such as Coursera have had an important impact on graduate education, and moves into the undergraduate market will be important to watch, said Gallagher. He said he is interested to see how much support is available to students who pursue these degrees. Often students in the degree-completion space are "more difficult to recruit and retain compared to graduate students, where the MOOC entities have classically focused," he said.

The $330 cost per credit hour is comparable to that offered by institutions such as Southern New Hampshire University, said Gallagher.

"In the online bachelor's degree completion market, competition has been driven more by price at times than prestige. I wonder if in the future we will see $150- or $250-per-credit-hour programs based on new models and technological developments -- just as we've seen with $10-20,000 master's degrees."

Phil Hill, a partner at MindWires Consulting and publisher of the blog Phil on Ed Tech, said Coursera’s partnership with UNT reminded him of Cal State Online’s partnership with online program management company and publisher Pearson. Both programs accepted transfer credit and focused on degree completion at the undergraduate level. But the Cal State Online degree-completion program was abandoned months after it officially launched in 2013 after failing to achieve a sufficient scale.

“There are a lot of similarities between the programs, but acceptance of online ed is greater now, and the OPM market has progressed quite a bit,” said Hill. If Coursera and UNT are willing to learn and adjust as they progress, they are more likely to succeed, he said.

“With Cal State, a lot of the problem was hubris, an attitude of ‘we know better than you,’” he said.

Coursera has a pool of more than 47 million users, 75 percent of which are based outside the U.S. But whether these users will be interested in bachelor's degrees remains to be seen, said Hill. Coursera acknowledged that the majority of its users already hold bachelor's degrees.

“UNT is making two really big bets in partnering with Coursera,” said Hill. “One, that the MOOC funnel will be sufficient to allow them to lower tuition. And two, that leveraging the Coursera brand will make this offering distinctive in an increasingly crowded market.”

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French business schools attract Chinese students to learn about luxury brands

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 01:00

The French way of living, typically seen as one filled with fine wine, high fashion and good food, has a special allure. And French business schools have found a way to tap into this perspective by offering degrees in the art de vivre, offering international students the chance to live and learn that famous French attitude.

The shift is particularly aimed at Chinese students, who represent an increasingly large and mobile proportion of business school recruits, and who typically hold French luxury brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior in high regard.

Among the institutions seeking to capitalize on this is Audencia Business School, a grande école based in Nantes, which this year will launch master’s degrees in cognac and spirits management, and French art de vivre, focused on the country’s luxury sector.

Christophe Germain, the school’s dean, made no secret of the motivation behind setting up the courses, which are taught in English. “We set [the programs] up because we thought that they would be very attractive, particularly to Chinese students,” he told Times Higher Education. Cognac, too, was “part of the art de vivre, because the spirit industry is linked to the luxury sector. Chinese students are very interested in the luxury industry,” he said.

However, Germain also stressed that the courses offered strong opportunities for students and for industry, too. Collaborations with cognac producers have allowed Audencia to tailor its teaching and internships to prepare students to meet the demands of employers, who wanted to recruit young people with the “right competencies in management but who also know the industry really well,” he said.

Cognac was “a big industry for France -- 95 percent of the production goes to China or the U.S.,” Germain added.

Audencia is not the only institution to jump on the bandwagon. HEC Paris has introduced a series of M.B.A. tracks with a “strong French flair,” said Associate Dean Eloic Peyrache, which include student trips to the Burgundy and Champagne regions to give students a taste of the wine sector, sparkling or otherwise.

Peyrache said that luxury brands were “excited” to see more Chinese studying bespoke courses in France. “[China] is a huge market for them,” he said. “They want to recruit students who have been exposed to the content, spent time in Paris, have spent time in headquarters -- perhaps through an internship -- who can then go back and develop the brand in their countries.”

The opportunity for French business schools is significant. A third of applications to programs accredited by the Association of M.B.A.s globally are from outside the country in which the program is delivered, according to latest data, and for schools in Europe, that figure is 57 percent.

With American universities finding it harder to attract international students, French providers see a chance to make major gains.

“The big question is why would a great international applicant come here? Yes, the brand is important, but it’s also what we offer and how we are different from other international business schools that is important,” Peyrache said. “Chinese students are super-interested in luxury.”

HEC Paris has also partnered with cookery school L’Atelier des Chefs to launch the first course in French cooking for its master’s in management students, in which students learn to cook in a restaurant opened on campus last year.

Such courses represented a more focused offering while still providing general teaching in marketing, finance and management, said Peyrache. “You need to be able to speak different languages: you will be a better manager if you understand the reality of your chef’s job,” he said.

Among the institutions adopting similar tactics, the Burgundy School of Business has set up a whole School of Wines and Spirits Business, boasting a laboratory for behavioral studies, a tasting room and a large cellar for its extensive wine collection. It launched its inaugural M.B.A. in 2018, charging fees of 25,000 euros ($27,700).

Paris-based Sciences Po launched a master’s in new luxury and art de vivre last year, offering students work experience in top French houses such as Chanel and LVMH -- home of fashion brand Louis Vuitton and champagne and cognac producer Moët Hennessy -- as well as Swiss conglomerate Richemont, which owns brands such as Cartier, Montblanc and Vacheron Constantin.

“When students are interested in luxury, they immediately think of French brands. The big houses, with the interesting histories, are here,” said Eva Bellinghausen, program manager in Sciences Po’s School of Management and Innovation.

“It made sense [to set up the program] because we had the expertise, we had the links to the companies and we are at a time where the French luxury sector -- or all luxury sectors -- are really examining the future of the industry.”

In particular, there is a focus on changing shopping habits and a desire among consumers and students for top brands to adopt more ethical and sustainable practices.

“With couture, if the seam is one millimeter on the wrong side, the product doesn’t go on the market,” Bellinghausen said. “Personally I believe we should be as demanding in the ethical aspects of our products … I want our students, wherever they go, to ask these questions.”

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Colleges start and finish fundraising campaigns

Fri, 01/24/2020 - 01:00

Starting Out

  • Goddard College is starting a campaign to raise $4 million by June 2020.

Finishing Up

  • Husson University has finished its first-ever fundraising campaign, bringing in just under $38 million. When the campaign started in 2015, the goal was $30 million. The campaign included 51 endowed scholarships.
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Texas A&M's beef with Harvard

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

John Sharp, president of Texas A&M University, on Wednesday took the extraordinary step of sending a public letter of complaint to Harvard University president Lawrence Bacow. At issue is what’s been called an ongoing “food fight” between researchers at both institutions over whether or not it's healthy to eat red meat.

Sharp's letter cites a recent article in JAMA that accuses several Harvard public health researchers of trying to strong-arm another journal into pulling papers questioning longstanding guidance on beef consumption.

As these matters "undermine the values espoused by your institution," they "must be corrected immediately," Sharp wrote to Bacow. Meanwhile he said, “I can assure you that Texas A&M’s research is driven by science. Period.”

Sharp’s note also includes a photo from a recent cardiology conference, supposedly of a graphic used by Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The image accuses Texas A&M and Patrick Stover, a vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences there who co-authored the meat study, of being aligned with "big beef." Rejecting that notion, Sharp told Bacow he hoped to “work together to resolve this problem.” Such a resolution “should include a serious assessment by Harvard” of its affiliation with the True Health Initiative, he said, “and a comprehensive ethical review into any Harvard faculty involved” with it.

True Health is a global, independent organization that seeks to promote healthy lifestyles and eliminate preventable diseases. Willett and his Harvard public health colleague Frank Hu sit on True Health's governing council and are discussed at length in the JAMA piece.

In closing, Sharp said that Texas A&M wants Harvard to “join us for a purely scientific approach to nutrition for the sake of public health and public trust and reject the politics and unethical actions" that "have sought to discredit science and interfere in the scientific process.”

According to JAMA, things got tense around September, when the Annals of Internal Medicine planned to publish a group of articles on beef consumption. You may have heard of them -- they made headlines for suggesting that red meat isn’t all that bad for you. More specifically, they said that the overall evidence linking beef eating to heart and other diseases is overstated to tenuous.

The articles received immediate criticism, including from the past chair of the American Heart Association’s nutrition committee, who called the research “fatally flawed.” Harvard's School of Public Health also released a statement against it, saying that the "new guidelines are not justified as they contradict the evidence generated from their own meta-analyses. Among the five published systematic reviews, three meta-analyses basically confirmed previous findings on red meat and negative health effects." 

The True Health Initiative went a lot farther than that, though, JAMA says. The publication accuses it of purposely breaking the meat papers' embargo and asking that they be censored, purposely flooding the Annals’ editor with complaint emails to the point that she had to shut down her account, and other behaviors unbecoming of academics.

“We’ve published a lot on firearm injury prevention,” Annals editor Christine Laine told JAMA. “The response from the NRA [National Rifle Association] was less vitriolic than the response from the True Health Initiative.”

Laine reportedly added, “It’s really frightening that this group, which includes people like Walter Willett and Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health, which happens to be my alma mater, were aware of this and assisting it.”

Questions about conflict of interest emerged shortly after the meat papers' publication. Speculation centered on the lead researcher, from Dalhousie University in Canada, who responded that he had received funding from an industry trade group in 2015, outside of the three-year disclosure period. The new JAMA article, meanwhile, questions whether any of True Health's industry partners present a conflict of interest and questions the validity of some of the research it promotes. Ultimately, JAMA highlights the fact that nutrition research is notoriously difficult and open to criticism, as it tends to rely on human self-reporting about something as messy as diet over a long period time. Drawing nutritional guidelines from that research is even more difficult, the article points out.

Willett of Harvard said Wednesday that it's important to keep the focus of this story on health. 

Nutrition is complex, he said, "and the perfect study is usually not possible for practical or ethical reasons, in part because disease like cancer, heart disease and dementia develop over many decades." The same applies to other important issues that can't be studied by randomized trials, "such as air pollution, climate change, environmental hazards and environmental chemicals," he added. 

Still, Willett continued, through a combination short-term randomized trials concerning outcomes such as cholesterol levels or blood pressure and long-term observational studies, "we can learn much about aspects of diet that enhance or undermine health." Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology at Harvard, did not provide immediate comment.

The True Health Initiative did not respond to a comment request. David L. Katz, head of the initiative and founding director of Yale University's Prevention Research Center, is quoted in the JAMA piece as saying that he and his colleagues only circulated the press release about the study prior to the embargo, not the papers themselves. And the initiative is not anti-meat, he said, just pro-science. In a lengthy post to LinkedIn on Wednesday, Katz and Sten H. Vermund, Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health and dean of Yale University's School of Public Health, responded to Sharp's criticisms, arguing that the question shouldn't be why there was opposition to the meat papers, but why there wasn't more opposition to them. Particularly concerning, they say, was some framing of the data as new providing "guidelines" about meat consumption. (Vermund is not associated with True Health.)

A Harvard spokesperson said only that Bacow received Sharp’s letter.

JAMA notes that 44 Farms, a producer of Black Angus cattle, established an endowment within Stover’s unit to support Texas A&M's International Beef Cattle Academy. But the beef industry provides only about 1.5 percent of AgriLife’s funding, Texas A&M says.

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An intelligent argument on race

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

The journal Philosophical Psychology is taking flak for publishing an article in defense of race-based science on intelligence. The publication’s editors anticipated blowback, writing an accompanying note as to why they approved the piece by Nathan Cofnas, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at the University of Oxford. But some critics of the article say that the editors’ note raises as many questions as it attempts to pre-empt, and they want a formal response to their concerns.

Cofnas’s paper “disingenuously argues that the best explanation of differences in IQ scores between racial and ethnic groups is genetics,” reads a petition posted by Mark Alfano, associate professor of philosophy at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and professor of philosophy at Australian Catholic University. In so doing, Cofnas “completely neglects the role played by environmental injustice,” such as documented racial disparities in exposure to lead, housing segregation and other factors.

Calling on the editorial team of Philosophical Psychology to answer in some meaningful way -- perhaps via resignations -- Alfano wrote that philosophers and other scholars should boycott the journal in the interim. The fact that Cofnas’s paper was ever approved shows a fundamental breakdown in the editorial process that must be addressed, he argues.

“If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper),” Alfano wrote. “Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors' note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry.”

While “we also support free speech and free inquiry,” the petition says, “free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review.”

In their journal note, editors Cees van Leeuwen, professor of psychology and education sciences at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and Mitchell Herschbach, lecturer in philosophy at California State University at Northridge, responded at length to the three main criticisms they foresaw: Cofnas’s hereditarian stance that IQ differences between racial groups may be the result of genetics; his flying leap of an assumption that neuroscience and genetics will be unified within “several years”; and his inclusion of highly contested empirical evidence on race and intelligence -- including the work of Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life.

Van Leeuwen and Herschbach weigh each point but determine that none disqualifies the paper for publication. As to Cofnas’s fundamental argument that race and IQ may be linked, for example, the editors wrote that many researchers “argue that everyday racial groupings have no biological grounding and that the ancestral populations used in behavioral genetics research have little to do with our socially constructed racial categories.” At the same time, they continued, “biological racial realism certainly has its defenders in the sciences and philosophy.”

Cofnas’s paper “certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ,” the note concludes. “However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence,” and they “deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.”

In and of itself, Cofnas’s article doesn’t break new ground: it mostly cites existing research surrounding race and intelligence, including a large body of work supporting the idea that race is a social construct. But it also discusses what Cofnas describes as another, largely ignored or rejected body of work suggesting otherwise -- that race does matter when it comes to intelligence. His main point is that when (soon, he says) and if (likely, he asserts) advances in science reveal “genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence,” we won’t be ready for it.

In that case, Cofnas warns, “social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences" in intelligence “may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined.”

In a statement this week, the journal’s editors said that Cofnas’s initial submission met the minimum conditions to go through their standard review process. Per normal procedure, they said, two independent reviewers read the paper. Two rounds of revisions followed, as did approval and publication.

In an academic journal such as Philosophical Psychology, van Leeuwen and Herschbach continued, “the role of the editors is to monitor the scholarly adequacy of the reviewing process -- not whether we, or the readership, endorse the values behind the paper.” Readers of our journal, therefore, “get to read papers they may find offensive, or papers by authors whose other statements or behaviors they may find objectionable.”

Addressing Alfano’s concerns about an insufficient discussion of environmental causes of group differences in IQ, Van Leeuwen and Herschbach said that would be relevant if Cofnas’s article had been a review on the most likely causes of the IQ gap. Instead, they said, Cofnas’s focus is to “defend the moral imperative of research into the possible genetic causes of the gap." Given that, "Cofnas attempts to show that the hereditarian thesis is a scientifically serious possibility.”

Precisely because the issue is so complex, van Leeuwen and Herschbach said, “we welcome responses to what is empirically and normatively controversial about Cofnas’s paper." Efforts to "silence unwelcome opinion, however, are doing a disservice to the community.”

Ongoing Discussions, and Why Humans Aren't Like Fruit Flies

Alfano said this week that he hadn’t yet heard back from the journal’s editors directly. He did spar, ad hominem, on social media with Cofnas -- probably in a way that didn’t help his argument. Asked about his Twitter style, Alfano said that when he participates actively in online discussions, he finds a need to distinguish between “people with whom I can have an actual conversation” and “trolls.” Of the latter group, he said, “I treat them with the contempt that they deserve.”

As to why Alfano didn’t submit a rebuttal for the journal to consider, he said this case called for a different response. Cofnas’s paper, he said, is a “Trojan horse” and not a “genuine contribution to the scholarly discourse.” 

Ultimately, he said, free speech for Cofnas “just means the right to push his views about racial hierarchies without pushback or consequences. And free inquiry is what the actual scientists who study intelligence already enjoy.” Noting that Cofnas also has espoused nonconsensus views on climate change, Alfano said accused him of spreading "fringe right-wing views about race from alt-right circles and publications to the mainstream, which lends them credibility and plausibility.”

What does Cofnas want? Cofnas said this week that he is not trying to be a provocateur and that he doesn’t in fact enjoy the backlash he’s experiencing.

“I wrote about this because it’s important, and if we fail to deal with these issues, I believe the long-term consequences could be disastrous,” he wrote in an email. “People who think this area of research is ‘pseudoscience’ are in almost all cases uninformed about the relevant science." Statements such as "‘IQ tests only measure your ability to take an IQ test’ are flat out wrong. IQ tests measure cognitive abilities that are involved in performing real-life tasks both inside and outside the classroom.”

There is more to intelligence than just IQ, “but IQ tests measure something important,” and IQ has been proven to be heritable, he added.

As for race, Cofnas cited his own paper, saying that “no completely environmental explanations of IQ gaps in the U.S. have been successful. There is no scientific basis for rejecting the theory that genes play a significant role in these gaps.” And any scientific basis to support that would bring “very difficult moral challenges,” he said, underscoring his thesis.

Cofnas has certainly raised big philosophical questions. But there are others who are perhaps better situated to address whether or not we face an impending moral crisis about genetics and neuroscience -- namely those philosophers and natural scientists who work in this area every day. Among them is Quayshawn Spencer, Robert S. Blank Presidential Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. Spencer studies the philosophy of science, biology and race and was inspired to become become a philosopher by reading The Bell Curve.

Spencer said that Cofnas’s article appeared -- as described in the editors' note -- not to address the very nature of race. That’s a common oversight among hereditarians, and “particularly frustrating to philosophers of race like myself who specialize in researching and publishing on exactly this topic.” In other words, Spencer said he didn’t see how it’s not a “fatal flaw” for an article on hereditarianism not to discuss the race schema used in the psychological research at hand and whether the existence of racial groups is based in scientific reality.

Even if one does have good reason to think that the “folk races" used in IQ research are biologically real, Spencer said, referring to the way we talk about race in everyday life, there are many different ways of being biologically real -- and some of them don’t lend themselves to the hereditarian hypothesis.

What hereditarians need is a clear, nonaccidental, causal link between group DNA and so-called cognitive capacity, Spencer said. And that doesn't exist.

Joseph L. Graves, professor of biological sciences at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering North Carolina A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said that there wouldn’t be a problem with Cofnas’s line of inquiry if it were “being done in a way that adheres to what we really know about the genetics of complex traits.” Complex traits aren’t solely determined by the environment or by genes, but are rather always a "complex interaction" between genetic and environmental effects.

The real question, then, for those who study complex traits, is the split: how much is environmental and how much is genetic. And currently, Graves said, that’s impossible to estimate or “partition” because people are, well, people.

The kind of certainty that Cofnas seeks would require us to “grow human beings in controlled ways,” such that they all experience the same environmental, genetic and combined environmental and genetic effects, Graves said. To boot, we’d need to do that for at least two generations to eliminate maternal effects on the complex traits. (Graves has studied complex traits in fruit flies but published on why his approach won’t work with humans.)

“I’m not against the study of complex traits in humans,” Graves said, “but what I am against is pseudoscience masquerading as the study of differences in complex traits in humans.”

As to Alfano’s petition, Spencer, the philosopher of race, said he didn’t condone censorship, as it was The Bell Curve that inspired his own career path. That book had some glaring problems, he said, but it “wasn't, in my judgment, anything so below the industry standard of social science that it didn't warrant being allowed to be read.”  (Other philosophers have disagreed with the premise of the petition, including in a discussion thread on the popular philosophy blog Daily Nous.) Pointing to other issues plaguing academic publishing, Spencer also said it’s also increasingly difficult to find expert readers -- including subfield specialists on, say, race and intelligence -- to referee journal articles.

Sensitivities surrounding race are heightened in the current political climate, and science is surely no exception. But is race-based science, or eugenics, making a comeback, along with white supremacist political activity? A 2018 investigation by the Associated Press, for instance, determined that the Pioneer Fund -- founded in 1937 to promote research on eugenics -- was still supporting a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. The London Conference on Intelligence, running since 2014, also has attracted international criticism for hosting panels on eugenics. 

Graves said it was a mistake to think that race science ever went away.

The majority of biomedical researchers still think that humans have biological races, and race differences are still taught in medical schools, he said. To understand why that’s wrong -- why our geographically based genetic variations can’t be “unambiguously apportioned into biological races” -- requires a specific sort of training, in evolutionary and population genetics. The majority of graduate students who exit Ph.D. programs in biology never receive that training, Graves said, while genomics often attracts those with a computer science background.

Of course, he added, the “overall shift towards legitimacy of white supremacy also helps.”

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Trump's claim about saving HBCUs was false, but his administration has largely backed sector

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Fact-checkers quickly corrected the record after President Trump, during remarks Monday at the Davos economic conference, declared that he had rescued historically black colleges and universities.

“I saved HBCUs. We saved them,” Trump said. “They were going out, and we saved them.”

The president’s brief comment appeared to refer to bipartisan legislation, dubbed the FUTURE Act, that the U.S. Congress passed in December. The legislation made permanent $255 million in annual STEM funding for minority-serving colleges, including roughly $85 million specifically allocated to HBCUs.

While many of the nation's 102 HBCUs face financial pressure and the funding stream is important to them, it isn't responsible for keeping their doors open.

Congress passed the legislation after a months-long negotiation over several higher education bills. Trump signed the law in December. So, as fact-checkers rightly noted, it’s a stretch at best for the president to claim he single-handedly saved the colleges by signing the law.

However, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education can make legitimate points when touting their support for the sector.

“Things continue on the right path,” said Ivory Toldson, a professor of psychology at Howard University and editor in chief of The Journal of Negro Education. “I can’t say that the administration has been obstructive.”

Some HBCU leaders, for example, point to the March 2018 move by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to cancel the repayment of more than $300 million in federal relief loans that four historically black colleges took out after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005.

“She was genuinely interested in working on our behalf,” said Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University in New Orleans, which received loan relief from DeVos. “That’s their big win” with HBCUs, he said of the administration.

National groups that represent HBCUs have sought to cultivate close ties to the Trump administration. While those efforts have been controversial on HBCU campuses, the sector’s leaders have had some successes.

In particular they point to increases in key funding streams. For example, during the last three fiscal years, federal programs that the United Negro College Fund deems most important to HBCUs have seen a collective increase of more than $200 million in funding, said Lodriguez Murray, UNCF’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs.

For example, the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program, which is part of Title III, increased from $245 million in federal support in 2017 to $325 million this fiscal year.

Advocates for black colleges also had been quietly opposed to the Obama-era borrower-defense rule. When DeVos rolled back the rule, provoking sustained condemnation from consumer advocates, the department cited a letter from UNCF that challenged several provisions in the rule.

In addition, Murray cited a successful push for the federal government to provide financial relief through deferments to private HBCUs that saw their enrollments decline due to changes made to the Parent PLUS loan program during the Obama administration -- a decision that infuriated HBCU leaders. Congress and the Trump administration backed the deferments.

HBCU leaders also have pointed to the Trump administration's support of the return of so-called year-round Pell Grants as well as symbolic moves such as the transfer of the White House HBCU Initiative from the Education Department to the administration’s executive offices.

“When these items have gotten to the president’s desk,” Murray said, “the president has signed each and every one.”

‘A Seat at the Table’

Yet Kimbrough and others said the administration’s overall record with HBCUs has been mixed.

The White House under Trump has each year proposed steep cuts to higher education and scientific research. And some of those suggested cuts, such as the 2018 White House proposal to restructure and slash TRIO programs by 40 percent, would disproportionately affect HBCU students. Trump also has sought to eliminate the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges program.

Congress has ignored virtually all the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to higher education. TRIO programs, for example, which feature outreach and student services aimed at low-income and first-generation students, have seen budget increases in recent years.

The administration’s rhetoric also has at times angered students, faculty members and administrators at HBCUs.

Perhaps most notably, DeVos in 2017 upset many for what they said was a tone-deaf statement linking historically black colleges to her signature issue.

“HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” she said in a written statement. “They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Beyond his claim this week to have saved HBCUs, the Trump administration appears to have overbilled other purported achievements with HBCUs.

For example, last September Trump said he would lift restrictions on capital financing funds for faith-based HBCUs and seminaries. He said that move would free up funding for more than 40 colleges and seminaries.

But it wasn’t clear at the time if any colleges would receive new federal funding. Kimbrough said he has studied the issue and that Trump’s pledge had no impact on HBCUs.

Trump’s fanciful statements can be “useful hyperbole,” Kimbrough said. “Of course it’s not grounded in reality.”

Toldson said some of the administration’s achievements with HBCUs, including the hurricane loan cancellation, were in the works during the Obama administration.

He also cited federal data showing that HBCUs have seen declines in competitive grants to academic institutions during the Trump administration. Federal science and engineering support to HBCUs has been down for three straight years, the data showed, with a total decline of 17 percent since 2016.

The challenge for HBCU leaders and their advocates, Toldson said, is to balance the objective of having fair representation in Washington while maintaining the sector’s status as a “conscientious entity.”

So far, Murray thinks HBCUs have managed that balancing act.

“These students on our campuses need resources to complete their educations,” said Murray. “Our goal is to make sure our students and our schools have a seat at the table.”

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Conservative student groups say process for official recognition risks viewpoint discrimination

Thu, 01/23/2020 - 01:00

Syracuse University junior Justine Murray was angry when she and other students were denied permission to form a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, or YAF, on Syracuse's campus.

The student panel that rejected the bid for YAF to be formally recognized made clear that it disagreed with the philosophy of the self-described "ideologically conservative youth activism organization."

"Requiring students to agree in the superiority of the U.S. Constitution is exclusionary to international students and other individuals," said the February 2019 rejection email from the majority-student panel authorized to review and approve or decline student organizations seeking to be officially registered at Syracuse. "The Board recognizes that the parent organization, Young America’s Foundation, has demonstrated a pattern of past practice of supporting discourse via printed materials and/or other means that are deemed inflammatory."

It wasn't the first time that politically conservative students felt unfairly sidelined on campus. Murray said they often feel like their ideas are shut down by peers and professors, and the denial of YAF's application to become an official student organization was a clear example.

Although the organization was subsequently granted registered status in September 2019 after a second attempt, conservative students like Murray and free speech advocates are increasingly voicing their opposition to what they consider "viewpoint discrimination" in the approval process for student organizations to be formally recognized on campus.

"We’re another group for conservatives … to freely express their views without feeling like they have to stay quiet, without feeling like they are being judged for it," said Murray, who is now chairwoman of the YAF chapter at Syracuse. "We really shouldn’t be making decisions on whether groups can be on campus based on if we agree with their viewpoints or not. All chapters and all people should be able to voice their views, even if you think it’s hateful or so-called hate speech."

At institutions with strong student government associations, the authority to approve or deny official status to organizations lies with student leaders, said Butch Oxendine, executive director of the American Student Government Association, or ASGA, which represents 1,500 student government associations across the country​. Being officially registered not only grants organizations formal recognition and even legitimacy in the eyes of other students, but on some campuses it can also guarantee the organizations benefits such as the ability to reserve space to host speakers and hold events or post advertisements or messages on campus, and in some cases, funding from student activities and service fees paid to the colleges.

“There are so many free market and independent outlets for conservatives to express their views … given that the administration allows these groups to happen,” said Charlie Copeland, president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, or ISI. The institute aims to add conservative and libertarian thinking into higher education by connecting students to professors and educational materials that reflect those ideologies.

Anecdotes of rejection provided by chapters of national conservative student groups such as Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom and ISI have drawn the attention of media and free speech advocates. The regularity with which official recognition or registration of these groups are voted down is widely unknown, Oxendine said.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, commonly known as FIRE, collects examples of student organizations that are shot down by either student leaders or administrators.

“Universities can make clear in advance that when the student government is given the authority to approve it, they have to do it with content-neutral decision making,” said Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s individual rights defense program. “When it comes to freedom of expression, the university should be facilitating, and there shouldn’t be examples of these groups overcoming these burdens.”

FIRE has recently focused on a chapter of Turning Point USA, or TPUSA, at the University of Scranton, a Catholic liberal arts institution in Scranton, Pa. The chapter was denied a charter by members of the student senate after TPUSA failed to receive a required two-thirds majority vote of approval in October 2019. Before the chapter’s application hearing, Fahad Ashraf, president of the student government, recused himself from the process because of a comment he'd made on social media suggesting he would veto the senate’s vote if TPUSA Scranton was approved, according to minutes from the Oct. 4 meeting.

The student senate members questioned the goals and viewpoints associated with TPUSA’s national organization, including its support for President Donald Trump, and debated whether a group that sells merchandise depicting firearms should be affiliated with Scranton, according to the meeting minutes.

“If I was in your shoes, I would go back to the drawing board,” Student Senator Aaron Asiedu-Wiafe said. “Associating yourself with this club is just going to be too stigmatizing.”

Noah Kraft, treasurer of TPUSA Scranton, called the outcome of the hearing “an unfair decision based on bias” and said other organizations have not received the same type of scrutiny.

“I understand why they have that power, but it doesn’t mix well with people having their own views and bias,” Kraft said. “The decision they made on our charter kind of shows that they aren’t representing the students.”

While the student government’s decision not to charter the chapter at Scranton did turn some students away from joining the group, it retained 25 to 30 interested members, Kraft said. The Scranton chapter continues to be officially recognized by TPUSA's national headquarters.

The student senate has the authority and responsibility to make charter recommendations, Robert Davis Jr., the University of Scranton's vice president for student life, said in a Nov. 26 letter to FIRE responding to calls for university administrators to overturn the decision.

Scranton is “dedicated to the freedom of inquiry and personal development fundamental to the growth in wisdom and integrity of all who share its life,” a university spokesperson said in a statement.

“The proposal to establish a Scranton Chapter of Turning Point USA did not receive the required two-thirds majority vote and, as a result, was not chartered as a club,” the statement said.

Steinbaugh​ said the mishandling of the TPUSA chapter's application should serve as a learning opportunity for student leaders, who he says should have authority over student affairs decisions. But if the student government does not correct its mistakes, the university should step in to uphold its policy, which states, "freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual must be preserved," he said.

Oxendine said the ASGA helps student government leaders attain such authority, granted by the colleges and universities, and provides them with resources and training. But most student governments are not at that level and struggle to even get the student body to vote in student elections and attend SGA events on campus, he said. These weaker student government organizations are not "up to the task" of evaluating student organization applications, he said.

Oxendine said viewpoint neutrality should be a priority of the few student governments given authority over student organizations on campus, and there are some examples of student leaders failing to meet that priority.

"But it’s probably not happening at a level that some people think," he said.

And it's not only happening to conservative student groups, Steinbaugh said. A student at Truman State University, a public university in Kirksville, Mo., applied in December to form a club advocating for animal rights and was denied by a panel made up of students employed by the university’s student life department and some student government members. The denial was based on the club’s association with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the "reputational" and "emotional" risk affiliating with the national organization could pose to students.

In response to criticism about the denial of the animal-rights club, Truman State has “undertaken a review and remission of that process” for approving official student organizations, said Janna Stoskopf, vice president for student affairs.​ She would not comment further on the specifics of the plans to revise the process.

“It is not university staff members engaged with this process. They happen to be student employees, but it is a student process,” Stoskopf said. “That’s an important distinction in my mind … From the student affairs perspective, it’s best to involve students in the processes that involve students.”

The Animal Alliance has since been “granted full charter status” with Truman State, Stoskopf said.

Steinbaugh, the FIRE director, said college administrators have appropriately overruled student government decisions when his organizations has gotten involved in such cases. He also said it's easier to fight such decisions at public institutions like Truman State, where First Amendment protections under the U.S. Constitution are well established.

“They recognize that sometimes students will make mistakes, and they’ll be happy to try to make it a learning experience,” Steinbaugh said. “In some cases where the student government is not going to correct its own mistakes, the administration will intervene. On the other hand, you have schools like Scranton, who are unwilling to explain or defend their mistakes.”

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