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Leaders at the former Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture vow to fight for a future at Taliesin

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 00:00

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation owns the famed architect’s Taliesin estate in Wisconsin and Taliesin West in Arizona. Both are national historic landmarks. As of last summer, both are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Both locations are also homes for the School of Architecture at Taliesin -- at least for a few more months.

The school’s board voted at the end of January to close after the current semester. Leaders involved cited an unsustainable business model and an inability to reach an agreement with the foundation on an acceptable plan for the future.

Just 40 days later, the school’s board reversed course, saying they had heard students’ concerns, raised money and found a sustainable way forward. There was just one problem: they didn’t have the foundation’s blessing. School leaders have been publicly calling on the foundation to extend an agreement under which they use the Taliesin locations.

"The board will look at our options," said Dan Schweiker, who chairs the school’s Board of Governors. "One of those options is to file for mediation and force them to get to the table. We would much rather they came to the table willingly."

That seemed unlikely after the foundation released a Friday statement blasting the school’s handling of the situation. The foundation has two representatives on the school’s board but little information about any new income sources, the statement said.

“The School’s announcements and lack of planning for the consequences of its earlier decision have adversely affected the lives of its employees who were terminated, generated distraction for its students from their studies and future planning, upset its alumni community, and disrupted the Foundation’s own important work,” the foundation’s statement said in part. “The board has demonstrated more concern about seeking blame for its decision to close than creating a sustainable business model for itself.”

Such a war of words between related entities is unusual, although not unheard-of, in higher education. It has become increasingly common for colleges and universities to waffle publicly about closure plans as financial difficulties loom and fights between different constituencies unfold.

Sweet Briar College remains perhaps the most notorious example after a previous administration there planned to close the small women’s college in rural Virginia in 2015, only to have alumnae revolt and eventually win a struggle to keep the institution open. More recently, Hampshire College announced plans last year to find a partner institution before its board decided instead to keep it independent.

And the battle over the future of Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, N.J., provides an example of a struggle over what to do with parts of related institutions, as its parent, Rider University, has sought at different times in recent years to sell the choir college or move it to Rider’s main campus, even as alumni groups want it to remain independent.

The details of the situation unfolding at the School of Architecture at Taliesin and the foundation are in many ways different from those at other colleges. But the case reflects many of the same important tensions playing out at private institutions across higher education -- over finances, control of campuses, institutional identity and who, exactly, is in charge of individual institutions.

Those fights often capture attention because they turn nasty, but they can also reveal weaknesses in the way some higher ed institutions are structured.

“This is a central governance issue,” said Brian C. Mitchell, a former president of Bucknell University and Washington & Jefferson College who is now a consultant. “The governance practices and protocols of the middle and late 20th century no longer fit the direction of institutions as they move forward into the 21st century. So as colleges and universities adapt and modernize, they also need to look carefully at their governance, which must follow suit.”

A Long History at Taliesin

Citing tradition dating to the 1930s, the architecture school operates at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis., from mid-May through mid-October. For the rest of the year, it operates at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The school is successor to an apprenticeship program started by Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1930s, according to its current president, Aaron Betsky. The program was essentially three things, Betsky said: a school, an office that produced Wright-designed buildings and a community where everyone lived and worked together.

In the 1980s, the school gained accreditation and split off from the architecture office, which would continue to operate until 2003, Betsky said. The school remained an important part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for another decade or so, at which point its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, asked the foundation to affirm that its mission was to support higher education.

That wouldn’t have aligned with the foundation’s full mission of “inspiring society” with Wright’s ideas and designs and preserving his Taliesin estates. In Betsky’s telling, the foundation wanted to close the school, but the sides found a solution in which the school became a wholly owned subsidiary of the foundation under independent academic, financial and administrative control.

Reports in 2015 said an agreement was reached that would have the foundation supporting the school through 2019, both financially and by donating the use of facilities. That support was to wind down on a yearly basis, AD PRO reported.

In 2017, the school became its own nonprofit entity, changing its name from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture to the School of Architecture at Taliesin.

“They claimed that if we continued to use that name, they would have to have a right of approval of any student, faculty or staff work that came out into the public under that name,” Betsky said. “That is not something that would be appropriate to an accredited institution of higher learning.”

When splitting off the school as a separate legal entity, the foundation transferred to it the assets and liabilities related to its operation. Net assets transferred included nearly $2 million in cash, investments and pledges receivable, according to the foundation’s audited financial statement.

But the school continued to use Taliesin and Taliesin West. It also paid the foundation for services. In 2017-18, it paid the foundation $248,625 for dining, information technology and human resources services, according to its federal tax statement for that year. It was a significant portion of the school’s total expenses of $1.67 million.

That year the school collected just shy of $392,000 in tuition and fees and slightly more than $129,000 in immersion program fees, according to tax filings.

The school’s lease for the use of the Taliesin estates is part of a memorandum of understanding with the foundation that governs all relations between the two entities, Betsky said. It is up at the end of July, and the sides have been working on a renewal for a year or so, without success.

“The foundation kept wanting more and more and more and finally, at the July 25 meeting, they just said to us, ‘We are not going to renew your MOU under any circumstances,’” Betsky said.

He said that the foundation wanted to charge more for shared services and felt it could use the land better than for the school of architecture. He also said the foundation told the school it wasn’t financially viable.

“Which we thought was odd,” Betsky said. “We have accreditors who have looked at us.”

Without plans for a different location, the school decided to close, Betsky said.

Could the school lease space elsewhere and remain open? Its leaders don’t think so. They already lost the Frank Lloyd Wright name when they split off from the foundation in 2017. Becoming “the School of Architecture kind of near Taliesin” hurts the identity further, Schweiker said.

“It was a marketing challenge when we changed the name from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture,” he said. “That was more difficult than we thought it would be.”

Any Way Forward?

The school of architecture’s board reversed course after hearing from supporters, Schweiker said. A group of Taliesin Fellows has pledged to raise $500,000 for the school by April 30.

It’s not enough to erase all of the school’s problems. Its costs are too high to be spread across the number of students it enrolls, about 30. But it has a business plan to eventually grow to 60 students, and the pledged influx of money would put the school on a path to sustainability, its leaders believe. It will be breaking even when it enrolls between 45 and 60 students and has demonstrated the ability to raise money to carry it until then.

The branding change made enrollment growth slower than originally anticipated, Betsky said.

“We’re running behind,” he said. “That means we have to raise more money, which we have done, and the foundation just doesn’t believe we will grow and that we will continue to attract more students.”

The school also has pro bono legal representation from the firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP. A lawyer there, Jon Kelley, said that the foundation might think it’s convenient to look at some parts of the school’s financial performance and use them to justify not renewing the memorandum of understanding. But that’s not the full story.

“It’s really nothing more than a scapegoat,” Kelley said. “It comes down to whether the foundation is ultimately going to agree to allow the school to continue.”

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation declined a request for interview for this article. Asked about several details in the school’s telling of events, a spokesperson at the foundation provided a copy of the statement released Friday.

That statement says that the foundation only learned of the school’s new plans to remain open “through stories the School of Architecture’s lawyers had placed in the media.”

The foundation has discussed partnering with several other architecture programs to come to its campuses and establish an accredited program, the statement said. The foundation plans to continue to explore such options.

“Frank Lloyd Wright’s 88-year-legacy of architect training will continue at his two homes,” it said. Later, it said that Taliesin and Taliesin West “remain open and thriving, welcoming record numbers of visitors from around the world.”

The foundation declined further comment until it is directly given more information.

“We do not intend to debate or negotiate this matter in the press or in social media and plan no further statement at this time,” its statement said.

A foundation official has, however, forwarded an internal memo about the situation to Architect magazine. The memo, marked confidential, is from Schweiker, the school’s board chair, and is dated Jan. 23 -- days before the initial vote to close the school.

“I have reluctantly concluded that SOAT is too small to exist in its current form,” it said in part. “We do not have, nor will we have in the foreseeable future the resources needed to successfully operate our current model. We do not have the funding to even have the state of the art software programs that graduates need to gain successful employment.”

The memo went on to call for dropping accreditation and engaging with Arizona State University for a teach-out programs. Such a move on teach-out programs was announced after the school decided to close in January.

“In in-depth meetings with the Foundation on the future of the MOU, we ran across areas, where despite the decades of animosity between the two groups, we have alignment of thought,” the memo said. “Both organizations are dedicated to education and to keeping alive and sharing the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. To no one’s surprise we have followed different roads though it turns out driving towards the same goal. Having two groups battling each other and fighting for the same donors does neither group service. The Foundation firmly believes in the education aspects presented in Mr. Wright’s will. It only makes sense to avoid duplication of expenses and the energy lost to interfamily dysfunction and embark upon finding a future education path together.”

Schweiker said Monday the board had changed its mind. It has reopened admissions processes while "disclosing uncertainty" to prospective students, a spokeswoman said.

“There was such an outpouring from students, from former students, from architects,” Schweiker said. “We got together as a board and looked at our previous decision and said, ‘You know what the right thing to do, the only thing to do is to reverse that decision.’ And we’re going to make this school succeed, and if the foundation doesn’t want the school around, instead of making it look like we can’t make it, they’re just going to have to tell the world that they do not want the school anymore.”

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Students, faculty dispersing for personal spring break travel create new challenges for colleges responding to coronavirus outbreak

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 00:00

As the coronavirus has spread to additional countries and American states, many colleges and universities are continuing to cancel all institutionally sponsored international travel, and some are restricting domestic travel by air. But the arrival of spring break at campuses across the United States will likely present new logistical, and possibly health, challenges for these institutions, as significant numbers of students, faculty and staff travel independently, leaving colleges reliant on them to self-report possible exposure to the virus.

As a result, a wave of universities have announced plans to shift instruction online after the spring vacation, and some colleges -- including Harvard University and Amherst College in Massachusetts -- have asked students not to return to campus after the break and to complete their classes remotely. Other institutions have urged students to reconsider traveling during the break.

Amherst's president, Biddy Martin, noted the risk posed by students traveling for break in announcing the decision to move to remote learning after spring break.

"We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it," she wrote. "The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great."

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., which returned from spring break this week, announced Monday that it was canceling instruction for the remainder of the week and shifting courses online through March 30 after "several students returned to campus who have since reported being exposed to an individual who tested positive today for COVID-19."

Earlier in the week, Vanderbilt had sent out a message asking students to comply with self-reporting and self-isolation requirements and saying disciplinary procedures would be used as a stick of sorts to encourage compliance.

“Any student not complying with Vanderbilt’s notification and self-isolation practices will be subject to immediate disciplinary procedures through Student Accountability,” Mark Bandas, the associate provost and dean of students, wrote in a message to the campus Sunday. “If at any time we determine that you have failed to comply with a self-isolation directive that has applied to you, furnished false information to the University, or not reported complete and accurate information about your travel and personal contacts (or the travel and personal contacts of others), you may face major disciplinary action, up to and including separation from the University.”

A Vanderbilt spokesman declined to comment on the specific policies under which students could potentially face disciplinary action, or how Vanderbilt intends to enforce it. He said updates will be shared on the university's dedicated coronavirus website.

Some colleges are asking students, staff and faculty to consider canceling personal travel and are trying to track where individuals go. Spelman College in Atlanta is among those institutions asking students to register their spring break travel inside or outside the U.S. on a university website.

"While we have not historically asked any member of our community to register personal travel, we strongly encourage all students, faculty, and staff to register, as the path of the Coronavirus is fast moving," the college says on its website.

The situation is very fluid. Last week. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday issued a statement discouraging personal international travel -- including spring break travel -- and providing instructions on mandatory reporting to countries flagged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for having high rates of viral transmission. On Tuesday, MIT instructed undergraduates not to return after spring break and said courses will be delivered remotely for the remainder of the semester. It is one of a number of universities -- including Cornell University, in New York; Rutgers University, in New Jersey; and Youngstown State University, in Ohio -- that are using the arrival of spring break as an opportunity to transition to remote instruction.

For those colleges that haven't made that transition (at least not yet), they are relying on a combination of self-reporting, awareness and education to mitigate risks associated with personal travel.

James R. Jacobs, a member of the American College Health Association's COVID-19 task force and the executive director of Stanford University's Vaden Health Center, said that while universities are dependent on self-reporting of personal travel, "our goal is well-informed collaboration, where all parties are committed to minimizing risk to individuals and communities."

"Corralling, or even knowing about, personal travel is a challenge," Jacobs said. "A recommended strategy is to use the college’s resources to track and communicate risks and risk-mitigation strategies. To a large extent, we depend on the intellectual integrity and personal ethics of our university travelers to do the right thing."

As for whether colleges should use their disciplinary procedures to enforce compliance with coronavirus-related policies, Jacobs said his position "is to acknowledge that most forms of public health intervention, such as self-isolation, are best achieved when all parties are acting with transparency and with consideration for self and community. This requires a lot of communication and mutual respect. In most jurisdictions, quarantines and other far-reaching public health interventions can be enforced only by public health officials."

Adrian Hyzler, the chief medical officer of Healix International, a company that provides international medical, security and travel assistance services to colleges and other organizations, said he thinks it will be more effective to appeal to students’ goodwill and ability to make sensible decisions than to tell them they can't travel.

“Ask the students to think about the next few weeks and to think about what’s the sensible thing to do and can you survive without going abroad? Can you survive without doing it this once in a situation where you think about yourself, you think about your fellow students? People must assume that once there is a case in their college, it affects everyone,” Hyzler said. He noted that students should be aware of the risk the illness poses to elderly relatives and friends as well.

Many colleges have language on their websites urging students be aware of the risks of personal travel.

Administrators at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., on Friday sent a message to the campus strongly recommending that all members of the university community reconsider any personal plans to travel internationally. Georgetown has suspended all university-sponsored international travel through May 15.

"Everyone should be aware of the associated risk of disruptions to their reentry to the United States or other countries. Based on the quickly evolving international travel guidance, your return to the United States or to campus may be interrupted by federal or state restrictions," the message states.

A message last Friday from Tufts University, in Massachusetts, announced restrictions on university-sponsored travel and also noted concerns about personal travel.

"While the University cannot restrict personal travel, we recommend monitoring CDC warnings and avoiding both domestic and international destinations where COVID-19 is prevalent," the message says.

Henry Oliver, the director of global advancement at West Virginia University, said his institution is focused on educating the campus about the risks of traveling.

"We’ve done some communications that have gone out to the university community that say with the upcoming spring break, take precautions. A lot of it is common sense." He said the precautions include information such as hand-washing protocols. The university has also made information available about how to seek medical care through student health services.

West Virginia does not have a system in place by which students can register their personal travel with the university.

“There’s no way realistically for us to track what everyone is doing personally,” Oliver said. “We just feel that education and awareness are the absolute best remedies that we have at our disposal.”

Andrea Bordeau, a member of the executive committee of PULSE, an association of professionals focused on health and safety in academic travel, and manager of global safety and security at Vanderbilt, said that “all universities are in this together.”

“Institutions of higher education and the larger community as a whole must rely on thoughtful and careful self-reporting that considers the vulnerable members of our communities,” Bordeau said. “We all need to look beyond ourselves right now and remember that age is not the only indicator for risk. Civic engagement is something many of our students are passionate about, and this situation has offered an opportunity for us to consider the implications of our choices and how to best care for our community.”

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Student activities at risk for spread of coronavirus

Wed, 03/11/2020 - 00:00

Campuses are quickly emptying as colleges opt to move instruction online and encourage social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. But for institutions that are still occupied and still have full residence halls, administrators and student leaders are working together to keep students from interacting too closely -- even though socializing is a large part of the college experience.

Parties, talks by guest speakers, seminars and various other events that normally bring students together have all but disappeared on many campuses, helped in part by the arrival of spring break and decisions by a growing number of colleges to ask students not to return to their campuses after the break and to take classes online instead.

In Seattle, where the spread of the coronavirus has been extensive and deadly, the University of Washington campus remains open for students to access libraries, dining halls and dorms, but leaders of the Associated Students of the University of Washington, or ASUW, described it as a “ghost town.” The student government organization has canceled all but one of its events and meetings for the remaining week of the winter quarter, and other student groups have followed the lead of the ASUW, said President Kelty Pierce.

“We decided to air on the side of caution,” Pierce said. “There weren’t as many events left -- most happened earlier in the quarter -- but it was a precautionary measure to keep the health and safety of students in mind. There were a number of formals or social gatherings that were canceled within the Greek community, but there were large showings of support for this by students.”

Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., near Chicago, canceled an annual dance marathon scheduled for March 6 through 8 that raises millions for charitable organizations in the local community. This year’s beneficiary, an organization that provides counseling and therapy for children, will likely still receive more than $20 million in donations from other fundraising efforts, but leaders of the Northwestern University Dance Marathon said in a statement that their “hearts are broken” and that they “understand it would have been a health risk to hold NUDM this weekend given the spread of coronavirus.”

Campus officials nationwide should be concerned about COVID-19 “due to the potential for rapid transmission in a congregate setting within campus environments,” according to guidelines issued by the American College Health Association. Classrooms and large events are not the only spaces where students are vulnerable to contracting the illness -- they live in dorms and share bathrooms with dozens of other people, eat in dining halls where buffet-style food is served, and attend parties where cups and e-cigarettes and rolled tobacco or marijuana and other smoking material are shared, said Sarah Van Ormen, chief student health officer for the University of Southern California.

“We know that college students tend to live in larger communities and engage in certain activities that noncollege students don’t,” said Van Ormen, who is a member of the ACHA COVID-19 task force. “Everybody needs to take a look at what they’re doing … ‘If I’m going into these settings, are there things that I can do to minimize risk?’”

It’s important for traditional college-aged students to remember that while they will likely avoid life-threatening symptoms, they could spread COVID-19 to at-risk groups on campus and in surrounding communities, generally people who are more than 60 years old or who have pre-existing health conditions, Van Ormen said. Social distancing is recommended more for these groups, and for people who live in areas where there is widespread transmission, she said.

But even if students don’t meet these criteria, they should be proactive by refraining from being in any social environment with more than 30 people if it’s not essential for them to be there, said Debbie Beck, executive director of student health services at the University of South Carolina and a member of the ACHA task force. Bars and parties are especially risky because people are forced to speak loudly over music and saliva “droplets are coming out” of their mouths, Beck said.

“Limit social interactions,” Beck said. “We have to assume in our community that there is someone that has probably been in contact with or associated with someone who has had the virus.”

Three days before UW became one of the first colleges in the nation to move classes online, Erik Johnson, the president of the university’s Interfraternity Council, or IFC, said he required all fraternities on campus to halt social activities. He said spread of the virus through fraternity parties or other events was top of mind in his decision.

“We need to be cognizant of the fact that our community is young and healthy and the rest of people who are vulnerable to the coronavirus are outside the community,” Johnson said. “Seattle is in a very unique situation right now. This is unparalleled to other universities.”

There are always going to be small gatherings that chapter presidents can’t do much about, but IFC fraternities have largely abided by the social moratorium, and there have not been “noticeable” parties or other social events since, Johnson said. Members have expressed “disappointment and understanding” about the moratorium. Johnson said he anticipated more pushback given that it was the last week before finals.

On a national level, only a small number of colleges so far have put restrictions on large student organizations, such as sororities and fraternities, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Some fraternity headquarters, alumni and faculty, and alumni advisers are helping spread the word about university and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent contracting or spreading the coronavirus. UW students have been directed to avoid handshaking and general touching, and although they have not been advised explicitly about practicing safe sexual behaviors, the written guidance has implied it, Johnson said, by noting that the agency's guidelines recommend to "avoid close contact with people who are sick" and to "put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community."

Phil Rodriguez, executive director of Delta Sigma Phi, said the national fraternity has advised chapters to individually formulate housing plans for if a fraternity member is diagnosed with COVID-19 and to communicate with student affairs official​s.

“There’s definitely a conversation about being safe and smart as we navigate these unprecedented waters,” Rodriguez said.

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Roundup of coronavirus news from Mon., March 9

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

Disruptions due to the coronavirus outbreak continued to ripple across higher education Monday, with more cancellations of in-person courses and meetings.

Known cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, topped 700 in the U.S. Monday. Public health authorities are encouraging colleges and other institutions to encourage “social distancing” in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

College and universities are focal points for this effort because many people who travel internationally are on campuses, which also feature dining halls and other public gathering spaces where people face higher odds of being infected.

Suspension of In-Person Classes

A growing number of colleges on Monday moved to either cancel classes or to hold all classes and exams remotely, some of them doing so around spring breaks. Most of those institutions are located in California, New Jersey, New York or Washington. However, the geographic range of colleges that are suspending in-person courses is expanding, with some timing those suspensions around spring breaks.

Hofstra University, which is located on New York’s Long Island, on Monday said a student with flu-like symptoms contacted the university’s health center the previous day. The student had traveled to an off-campus conference where an attendee tested positive for the virus.

The university announced that it was canceling all in-person classes this week and through its scheduled spring break next week for undergraduate and graduate classes on its main campus.

The University of New Haven, located in Connecticut, announced Monday that it was suspending all in-person classes and exams through March 24 after people on the campus were exposed to a confirmed case of the virus after attending a conference.

Fordham University, also located in New York, which declared a state of emergency last weekend, announced Monday that it was suspending face-to-face instruction at all of its campuses. The university said classes were canceled Monday and Tuesday and would resume Wednesday with faculty members teaching online or electronically.

“Though this is an undeniable disruption of the academic enterprise, we feel that it is the best way to minimize the risk of spreading the virus within the campus community,” the university said in a statement.

New York University announced Monday evening that it was transitioning to remote instruction until March 27, a period that includes the university’s spring break. Amherst College said it would cancel classes later this week and that all students were expected to leave campus by next Monday. And San José State University announced it was suspending classes this week, giving faculty and staff members time to prepare to move classes to "remote modalities" next week.

On Monday afternoon, the University of California, Berkeley, said it was suspending face-to-face instruction beginning Tuesday. That change will remain in place through the university’s spring break, which ends March 29.

“There are no confirmed cases on our campus at this time,” the university said in a statement, “however, as local, national and global public health recommendations shift to include mitigation of transmission, the campus is proactively taking steps that will help to protect the community.”

Berkeley said it would decide what to do on March 30 and beyond based on the latest information about the outbreak.

The University of Florida said on Monday it was recommending that instructors move their face-to-face courses to electronic delivery wherever possible. The university’s provost, Joe Glover, said the recommendation was not yet a requirement. But he said there was a strong probability it would be one before the end of the semester. Glover included resources for faculty to help them make the transition.

Princeton University, citing the “community spread” of the virus, on Monday announced a move to virtual instruction after the university’s spring break, with policies the university said would be in force until April 5.

On Monday Vanderbilt University, which is located in Tennessee, announced it was canceling classes for the rest of the week and moving to distance or other alternative delivery methods next week through at least March 30.

Ohio State University announced late Monday that it was suspending face-to-face instruction and moving to virtual instruction, effective immediately, until at least March 30.

College leaders increasingly discussed how to cope with disruptions to final examinations as they move online. Likewise, some wondered about commencement ceremonies. Western Washington University, for example, over the weekend announced the cancellation of its winter commencement, which was scheduled for March 21.

Academics this week were tracking college closures and creating guides to help faculty members teach online.

For example, Bryan Alexander, a futurist and senior scholar at Georgetown University, created a list of institutions that had suspended face-to-face instruction. His spreadsheet, which he created with help from others, on Thursday night included roughly 35 colleges and universities in the U.S.

Daniel Stanford, director of faculty development and technology innovation at DePaul University’s Center for Teaching and Learning, created a spreadsheet with links to remote teaching resources from more than 130 colleges and universities.

Princeton University’s president, Chris Eisgruber, described why his university made the decision to cancel face-to-face instruction despite no cases of infection occurring yet on the campus.

“While much remains unknown about COVID-19’s epidemiology and impact, our medical advisers tell us that we should proceed on the assumption that the virus will spread more broadly and eventually reach our campus,” Eisgruber said in a statement. “They also tell us that the best time to put in place policies to slow the spread of the virus is now, before we begin to see cases on our campus, rather than later.”

Conference Cancellations

Following decisions to cancel SXSW EDU and the American Physical Society’s annual conferences, the American Council on Education and the American Association of Community Colleges on Monday announced the cancellations of their annual meetings, both of which were to be held this month.

ACE, a membership group of college presidents and higher education’s primary lobbying group, was set to host roughly 1,500 college presidents, provosts and other senior administrators in San Diego next week. AACC’s annual meeting had been scheduled for the end of the month in Maryland’s National Harbor, near Washington, D.C.

The American Educational Research Association also announced Monday the move to a virtual version for its annual meeting, which had been slated for April in San Francisco. The University Professional and Continuing Education Association and the Association of Community College Trustees announced they were postponing or canceling events. And the Association for Asian Studies on Monday announced the cancellation of its annual meeting, which was set to be held in Boston later this month.

Some higher education associations rely on annual meetings for a substantial portion of their annual revenue. Questions swirled Monday about whether groups would issue refunds. AACC, for example, said it would issue full refunds.

“This is an unprecedented health emergency which we must all take very seriously and act to protect the health of our community,” the community college association said in a statement.

Testing for Employees, Paid Leave and ICE on International Students

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Monday issued guidance on flexibility and rules for international students who attend colleges and universities that are suspending face-to-face instruction.

The department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program said colleges must inform the feds of accommodations for international students within 10 days after announcing such an operational change.

In addition to requiring colleges to submit information on international students and programs, ICE said it was focused on ensuring that nonimmigrant students were able to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations.

“SEVP recognizes that the COVID-19 crisis is fluid and rapidly changing,” the guidance said. “For that reason, SEVP is not requiring prior notice of procedural adaptations, leaving room for schools to comply with state or local health emergency declarations.”

College and university employees who work in health care are on the front lines of dealing with the impacts of the virus.

In Seattle, which has had a relatively large number of confirmed coronavirus cases and most of the related deaths, the University of Washington's UW Medicine system has turned a hospital garage lot into a drive-by clinic to test employees every five minutes for the virus, NPR reported.

The White House on Monday night was reportedly mulling a range of options to blunt the outbreak’s impacts on public health and the economy. And the Trump administration said it would release guidance on how to keep workplaces, schools, homes and commercial businesses safe from the virus.

One idea that reportedly was on the table was paid leave for workers. Some colleges already are fielding questions about their leave policies amid the outbreak.

The University of Connecticut, for example, over the weekend was cited in a viral tweet alleging that employees were told they would have to use vacation days or personal leave if they took more than three allotted sick days to recover from the virus this semester.

A spokeswoman for the university pushed back on that interpretation, calling it a misunderstanding. She said UConn’s message to students and employees is that, if they get sick with any illness, they should stay home to rest and recover.

“UConn has the discretion to allow additional leave time beyond what is set out in union contracts, and in keeping with the university’s bylaws,” she said via email. “In addition, during unusual or extraordinary circumstances such as a pandemic, UConn would of course use maximum flexibility to help ensure the health of our employees and community.”

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VA cracks down on Temple, Phoenix and three others for misleading prospective students

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that it would soon stop approving the enrollment of new students receiving GI Bill benefits at the University of Phoenix, Temple University and three other institutions based on information from the Federal Trade Commission or state attorneys general that these institutions misled students about the value of getting a degree from these universities.

The move, hailed as long overdue by veterans' groups, will not immediately affect current students. But in a press release, the VA said it will stop approving new GI Bill enrollments at the universities in 60 days unless the institutions, including the Career Education Corporation’s Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, and Bellevue University, take corrective action.

However, the agency held out the possibility of stronger action if problems aren’t fixed by then, saying the matter will be referred to a VA committee on educational allowances, which will help regional agency directors decide "whether educational assistance should be discontinued for all individuals enrolled" at the institutions named "and, if appropriate, whether approval of all further enrollments or reenrollments" at the universities "should be denied to veterans, servicemembers, reservists, or other eligible persons pursuing those courses under educational assistance programs administered by VA."

The move was supported by veterans' education advocates, who said they’ve been asking the VA for years to crack down on institutions for violating a federal law barring the use of advertising, sales or enrollment practices that are erroneous, deceptive or misleading.

“This sends a powerful message, one we’ve been advocating for VA to exercise since 2012, that the federal government and taxpayers will no longer tolerate schools that seek to defraud veterans and other military-connected students out of their hard-earned federal education benefits,” Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, said in a press release.

“Today’s decision by the VA is more than justified based on the years of mounting evidence against University of Phoenix and Colorado Tech for maliciously defrauding veterans,” she said.

In its letter Monday to University of Phoenix president Peter Cohen, the VA cited the FTC investigation that led to a settlement last December in which Phoenix and its private investment group owners agreed to pay the FTC roughly $50 million. The university also agreed to forgive another $140 million in fees owed to the university by former students who allegedly were harmed by deceptive advertising.

That case focused on television and radio advertisements that Phoenix ran from 2012 until early 2014, featuring employers such as Microsoft, Twitter, Adobe and Yahoo!, that gave “the false impression that UoP worked with those companies to create job opportunities for its students and tailor its curriculum for such jobs,” the FTC said at the time.

The FTC, though, had announced it was launching the investigation in July 2015, when Phoenix was a publicly traded company worth more than $3 billion. Since then the university has changed owners and is now privately held by a consortium of investors including the Vistria Group and funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management.

A Phoenix spokesman said the alleged actions took place years ago.

"Let us be clear: after an FTC investigation that lasted more than five years, the one marketing campaign the Commission had issues with ended six years ago and occurred under prior ownership," the spokesman said in a statement. "The University admitted no wrongdoing in choosing to settle with the FTC and continues to believe we acted appropriately. We chose to settle to end the potential for protracted litigation that would impact our focus on our students."

Career Education Corporation, recently renamed Perdoceo Inc., reached a $30 million settlement last July with the FTC, which had been investigating whether it used deceptive marketing and advertising to identify prospective students. Career Education Corp. admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but did agree to enhance compliance measures involving purchasing the names of prospective students from third-party firms.

The company announced another settlement in January with attorneys general from 48 states and the District of Columbia involving "unfair and deceptive practices." Although Career Education Corp. also denied wrongdoing in that deal, it agreed to write off $556 million in debt owed by 180,000 former students.

The VA cited the FTC investigation in a letter to CEC president and CEO Todd Nelson on Monday, saying, ”CEC and its subsidiaries have used illegal and deceptive telemarketing schemes to lure consumers to their post-secondary and vocational schools. CEC used three lead generators, Sun Key, EduTrek and Expand … These lead generators falsely told consumers they were affiliated with or recommended by the U.S. military. As a result of these tactics, CEC lead generators also induced consumers to submit their information under the guise of providing job or benefits assistance.”

Perdoceo said in a statement that it intends to demonstrate to the VA in the 60 days before the sanction takes effect that “we are in full compliance with their requirements and that necessary corrective action, if any, has already been taken.”

Temple agreed in a settlement in December with Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro to establish $250,000 in scholarships for Fox Business School students over the next decade. Shapiro had filed a complaint against Temple for misrepresenting data to college rankings organizations like U.S. News & World Report. In a letter to Temple president Richard Englert, the VA cited a class-action lawsuit against the university citing the misleading data.

A spokesman at Temple did not respond to a request for comment.

In its letter to Bellevue University president Mary Hawkins, the VA cited a complaint Nebraska attorney general Doug Peterson filed in state district court in February 2019, saying the university misled nursing students. Peterson alleged the university’s nursing program did not make it clear to students seeking a bachelor’s degree in nursing that the program was not accredited, reducing the value of the degree.

A university spokeswoman said Bellevue is contesting Peterson's complaint, and that the university believes "the evidence will show that no students were misled on the status of our nursing program accreditation."

The university in a statement also said it has more than 1,500 students attending with the use of veterans' benefits and the VA has received no complaints from them.

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Sam Houston State wants faculty members evaluated annually on their collegiality

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

Sam Houston State University is considering adding collegiality to its list of tenure and promotion criteria. This follows a failed attempt to do so in 2018 when rating professors’ collegiality on a scale of one to 10 was proposed.

This time around, Sam Houston State wants to rate professors on whether they’re collegial or not, up or down. Still, the idea is controversial.

“Fifty percent of crazy is still crazy -- this really confuses the nature of management and the nature of evaluation systems,” Darren Grant, an associate professor of economics, said of the new proposal.

“We all know academia can have some characters and some of them can be unprofessional, but that’s a management problem,” Grant added. A collegiality policy, meanwhile, is more like a blunt human resources “tool to sweep up problems.”

Sam Houston State’s proposal links poor collegiality assessments to comprehensive performance evaluations and assisted faculty development plans. Timelines for remediation vary by plan, but the maximum extension of any plan is one year. After that, the faculty member’s fate is in the hands of the dean and provost. Possible outcomes to the process range from restoration to regular faculty status to getting a new remediation plan to -- most seriously, and to Grant’s point -- initiation of dismissal proceedings.

The proposed policy on faculty performance reviews affirms that the “university environment is based on the principles of free exchange of ideas and information.” It defines collegiality as “respectful interaction and professionalism that is consistent with advancing the department or university.” And, unless otherwise demonstrated and documented, it says, all faculty members are assumed to be “collegial members of the university community.”

Yet in “the rare instance” where a departmental personnel committee, chair or both have concerns, the chair will document evidence and pursue corrective action. Refusal to correct the concern could result in dismissal. All tenured and tenure-track faculty members would be reviewed annually on their collegiality, "to facilitate a conversation" on the topic.

Lack of collegiality includes “hindering” the missions of the department, program, school or university or again, hindering the effectiveness of one’s colleagues.

When university administrators first proposed the idea in 2018, they posited that collegiality is about collaboration and civility, the latter of which requires “avoidance of hostility and rudeness.” The university leaders also wanted faculty members to submit a report on their collegial efforts prior to their reviews, to help inform how chairs rated them on a one-to-10 scale.

That didn’t go over well. Faculty members objected to the rating scale, in particular. Administrators responded by forming an ad hoc committee to redraft faculty performance evaluation standards.

The committee revealed its updated policy proposals recently. So far, the animus hasn’t been as strong. But some faculty members continue to voice their objections to a collegiality criterion, including at a town hall Grant attended last week.

“The goal of the current review process is to ensure that we have a group of polices that collectively provide for a robust evaluation process focused on the professional development of faculty,” Richard Eglsaer, provost, wrote to faculty members in a recent memo. “This will be a transparent process that seeks input from faculty from across all colleges and ranks. With your help, we will continue to have a fair and equitable process that encourages and rewards faculty over the span of their career.”

Christopher Maynard, a vice provost who served on the ad hoc committee, wrote in a similar memo that his group will review all feedback and make “adjustments to the policies, as appropriate.” Finalized policies will be reviewed by the university's general counsel and other groups before being sent to the president.

Lee Miller, professor of sociology, a member of the ad hoc committee and chair-elect of the Faculty Senate, said via email that the committee is in the process of assessing responses from faculty members.

“At the moment we are still in an input-gathering phase of work on our Faculty Review Policies. Any comment on the polices at this point would be premature,” she wrote.

Michael Hanson, head of library technical services, another committee member, and the current Faculty Senate chair, also declined immediate comment.

Beyond issues of management, faculty advocates, including the American Association of University Professors, have long opposed collegiality as a factor in tenure decisions. This, they say, is because inquiry and discovery are fundamental to what professors do, and anything that threatens that -- say, being called uncollegial because you're working on a highly controversial idea or you oppose a new institutional policy -- threatens academic freedom.

To quote AAUP policy on the matter, “In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display ‘enthusiasm’ or ‘dedication,’ evince ‘a constructive attitude’ that will ‘foster harmony,’ or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrators.”

That said, the AAUP doesn’t deny that collegiality is a part of the faculty job description. But the organization believes professors' willingness and ability to be collegial is demonstrated in their teaching, research and service records. So it is part of the traditional faculty responsibility triad, not a fourth leg.

Others disagree and point out that faculty members don't have managers in the typical sense and argue that there is a need to formally enforce expectations of collegiality. But disagreement has ensued wherever faculty members or administrators have tried to push collegiality as a separate faculty evaluation criterion. The University of Arkansas system faced intense pushback when it proposed making what sounded a lot like collegiality a part of faculty evaluations in 2017. The final policy doesn’t include the exact term, but it is nevertheless part of a 2019 lawsuit brought by three professors who say it unfairly widens grounds for dismissal. One of the new justifications for dismissal, for example, is defined as a "pattern of conduct that is detrimental to the productive and efficient operation of the instructional or work environment." (A footnote reads, "This need not be a separate component in the evaluation criteria of faculty, but may be considered in evaluating faculty in the areas of teaching, research and service.")

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education also has weighed in against using collegiality or similar terms as tenure criteria.

“During my time at FIRE and my experience investigating faculty cases, I have seen how these charges can work,” Adam Bonilla, the organization's vice president of programs, wrote of the Arkansas changes.​ “Collegiality-related charges are easily and frequently thrown in as a laundry-list item in faculty investigations, and often it is the only charge universities can make stick.” ​

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Coronavirus caused American Council on Education to cancel annual meeting. Are other higher ed conferences next?

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

The American Council on Education announced Monday that it has canceled its annual meeting, citing the “ongoing and growing threat posed by the novel coronavirus.” The meeting had been scheduled to take place this weekend in San Diego.

ACE’s decision could sway others to cancel their upcoming events, too. Other associations often look to ACE for guidance. They informally watch what the association does, and ACE's president coordinates the Washington Higher Education Secretariat, a forum of 65 association chief executives who develop responses to important issues and challenges facing higher education.

The Secretariat’s meeting last week was “all COVID-19, all the time,” said Ted Mitchell, ACE president, in a telephone interview. Attendees shared information and ideas with other associations and reported out what they were hearing from their members and boards. Asked if he expects other higher education associations to follow ACE’s lead, Mitchell said, “Some will, some won’t.”​

ACE canceled the annual meeting after factoring in health and safety concerns and the speed at which health organizations were releasing new coronavirus guidance, Mitchell said. He was also concerned that pulling presidents and other college leaders away from their campuses amid a national health crisis was irresponsible.

It was “more important for presidents to be on their own campuses helping those communities deal with an outbreak” than to hold the meeting, Mitchell said. More than 1,500 college leaders had registered to attend. ACE is in the process of issuing refunds for all registrants. It does not plan to reschedule the face-to-face event, but some materials will be made available on the association’s website through its new professional development platform, called Engage.

"We did not want to cancel until we were sure it was warranted," Mitchell said. "We canceled as soon as we decided it was the right thing to do for our meeting."​

In recent days, the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Educational Research Association have canceled upcoming events due to the coronavirus. The SXSW Education conference said the city of Austin canceled its March dates.​ The University Professional and Continuing Education Association and the American Association of Community Colleges announced Monday afternoon they would cancel or postpone events.

The status of all events listed in this article were up to date at close of business Monday. Check with conference organizers for the latest information on specific events.

Other scheduled conferences continue to chug forward; a postcard for the upcoming Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education​, or NASPA, conference, also set to take place in Austin, Tex., arrived in the mail Monday. The Association of American Colleges and Universities ​said Monday it is planning to proceed with its conference on diversity, equity and student success at the end of the month.

“The cancellation of SXSW in the city of Austin, which is the city we’ll be in, is a major factor” in a potential cancellation decision, said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA. “They have declared a local disaster and are canceling events in excess of 2,500 people, but that declaration was only for one week.”

ACE’s cancellation could also tip the scale.

“Obviously, if the college presidents' conference is canceled, that may have a big impact on the ability of staff at those colleges to attend,” Kruger said. Vice presidents, he added, are serving on response teams at their respective colleges and may not be able to leave campus.

Requests for cancellations will ultimately harm conferences that decide to proceed. ACCT decided to pull the plug on its Governance Leadership Institute after would-be attendees began to request cancellations on top of already insufficient registration numbers.

NASPA has not seen mass cancellation requests -- in fact, people are still registering to attend as of Monday. Kruger expects that to change should the conference proceed as planned.

"Everything's happening at a very fast pace right now," he said.

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Survey suggests challenges for open textbooks ahead

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

The way instructors discover textbooks and the way students purchase them has changed rapidly over the past five years.

Today, the textbook industry is at an inflection point, according to a new survey on educational resources by Bay View Analytics, formerly the Babson Survey Research Group.

“The whole market has changed,” said Jeff Seaman, director of Bay View Analytics. The most recent data from the company suggest there is growing acceptance of digital materials over print among faculty. The survey of 4,339 faculty members and 1,431 chairpersons also finds that professors, college leaders and even entire college systems are increasingly concerned about how much students must pay for course materials.

The open educational resources movement, which supports the creation and dissemination of freely accessible and openly copyrighted course materials, has played a huge role in driving the conversation about textbook affordability, Seaman said.

While OER adoptions and awareness continue to grow, Seaman suggests the movement may need to alter its messaging to fend off competition from new publisher distribution models such as inclusive access, where institutions can automatically bill students for their course materials after negotiating a bulk discount.

“Five years ago, instructors were choosing between OER and physical publisher textbooks. Now, the entire decision process has changed,” Seaman said. “Publishers are promoting affordable and accessible options, too.”

This year for the first time, the majority of faculty surveyed reported that they are aware of OER. Faculty who had adopted OER rated its quality as equal to that of commercial alternatives. But the report notes that “many faculty remain unfamiliar with the licensing or how to use these materials, and current rates of growth will not change this for many years.”

The inclusive-access model resonates with faculty because it addresses their concerns about the high cost of course materials, the large number of students who choose not to buy required materials and frustration many faculty feel about historic publisher practices such as unnecessary new textbook editions, the report said.

Most faculty have not yet used inclusive-access programs but are open to the idea, the survey found. Over time, faculty’s opinion of the inclusive-access model will likely change, the report says. While some faculty comments praised the inclusive-access model, others expressed concern about students’ ability to opt out. Some faculty said students may not understand that they are leasing access to digital materials on a temporary basis.

"Big publishers, often in conjunction with bookstores, are pushing inclusive access or opt-out billing solutions as hard as they possibly can," said Alastair Adam, co-CEO of FlatWorld, a digital textbook publisher that has resisted the inclusive-access trend. "That’s because they see it as a way to grow their take from each class, while squeezing out the competition from used books."

FlatWorld used to be an OER publisher but could not make the model financially sustainable, Adam said. Now the publisher charges $40 or less for its ebook titles. While the OER movement has shone a spotlight on publisher pricing, Adam said most publishers don’t see OER as a major threat to their business.

“What we see, reinforced by what we hear reported by faculty that have tried OER and have chosen to switch to one of our titles, is that in the absence of funding, compromises inevitably have to be made,” Adam said. “Whether it is the curation and quality control or missing supplemental components, such as a robust homework solution, when corners are cut, the workload and burden shifts to the faculty using the book.”

It is not unusual for commercial publishers to take aim at the quality of OER, said Lisa Petrides, founder and CEO of the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, which manages the OER Commons, a public OER library. She said numerous studies have debunked this claim.

While OER’s messaging has long centered on affordability, the movement has always been about more than just the cost of materials, Petrides said. “There is a lot of really good writing about the impact on teaching and learning,” she said.

The OER movement has been “up against commercial publishing since day one” and continues to grow, Petrides said. Inclusive-access models may pose a new challenge to OER, but not one that is insurmountable. “We’re seeing a lot of consolidation in the industry, this idea that there is a one-size-fits-all model that works for everyone. OER is the opposite of that -- it’s all about academic freedom.”

Administrators are significantly involved in decisions to choose inclusive-access programs, the survey found. While 41 percent of faculty reported that they alone selected inclusive access materials, 44 percent said administrators were involved. Another 15 percent of the decisions were made by administrators only. 

Administrators may become more and more involved in course material decisions as the inclusive-access model takes off, Seaman said. “It’s potentially a real dark cloud on the horizon for academic freedom,” he said.

The OER movement has changed the conversation about affordability and access. Now its challenge is to stop institutions from “trading one broken model for another,” said Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC, which advocates for the use of OER.

“The inclusive-access model is a real threat to a lot of progress that has been made,” Allen said. “OER has an important opportunity to keep driving the conversation to make course materials better and ensure access to course materials is sustainable in the long run.”

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Call for reader questions about coronavirus and its impact on higher education

Tue, 03/10/2020 - 00:00

The new coronavirus continues to cause a wide range of disruptions across higher education. Inside Higher Ed seeks questions from readers that our reporters and editors will try to tackle.

Please send questions to or post them in the comments section of this article. We'll reach out to colleges, experts, federal and state agencies, higher education groups, and more to find answers.

Follow coverage of this fast-moving story here.

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Roundup of news on coronavirus and higher ed

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 00:00

The spread of the new coronavirus continues to cause major disruptions to higher education.

Colleges in California, New York and Washington -- the states where the largest number of cases have been reported -- have closed their campuses or moved instruction online for the remainder of the quarter in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Stanford University, where a medical faculty member has tested positive for the virus, on Friday announced the cancellation of all in-person classes for the remaining two weeks of the winter quarter in favor of moving to online formats "to the extent feasible." Scheduled in-person exams for the quarter will be given as take-home tests. (Stanford said professors will have the option of submitting grades based on work completed to date in cases where remote delivery of a course or exam is not feasible, but added that "instructors are encouraged to provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge at the end of the quarter.")

Stanford also said all large group events are being canceled or adjusted. A weekend for newly admitted students in late April has been canceled, and the undergraduate admission office is canceling campus tours and information sessions through at least April 15.

The University of Washington similarly said on Friday it would hold all classes and exams remotely through the end of the winter quarter March 20 after a staff member tested positive for the new coronavirus (the test used was developed by UW's medical school, and the diagnosis must be confirmed by public health officials). The campuses themselves remain open, including hospitals and clinics, dining services, residence halls, libraries, and recreation and athletics facilities. Athletic events are proceeding as scheduled.

Lake Washington Institute of Technology took the further step of closing its campus and moving to remote operations through March 20. A faculty member tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, and a group of faculty and students, mostly nursing students, have been self-quarantined after visiting a long-term nursing facility that’s been connected to 14 deaths from the virus.

The move toward online instruction appears to be the norm rather than the exception in the Seattle area. Other colleges in the area that have moved all or most instruction online include Bellevue College, Cascadia College, the Seattle Colleges, Seattle University and Shoreline Community College. Everett Community College said most courses would be moved online with some exceptions, including aviation classes and clinical classes for nursing students. An Everett student who was last on campus Feb. 27 has tested positive for the virus.

Yeshiva University, a Jewish university in New York City, has reported that both a student and a professor have tested positive for the virus. The university canceled all classes at its Washington Heights and Midtown campuses until after the Purim holiday, which starts tonight and ends tomorrow, and has postponed all large social events, including a basketball tournament and Purim celebrations.

Columbia University announced Sunday evening that classes would not be held today and tomorrow "because a member of our community has been quarantined as a result of exposure to the coronavirus." Classes will be shifted online for the rest of the week. Barnard College announced the same approach.

Other universities outside California, New York and Washington have also canceled classes. Rice University canceled in-person classes and undergraduate teaching labs this week after an employee contracted the virus during overseas travel. Rice said research will continue, since it typically takes place in small group settings, but Rice is prohibiting all on-campus events involving 100 or more people through April 30. 

Midland University, in Nebraska, has closed its campus through March 15 after Nebraska reported its first case of the new coronavirus. Residence halls and dining facilities remain open. Merritt Nelson, Midland's vice president for enrollment management and marketing, said some Midland football players had volunteered at a local Special Olympics basketball tournament where they may have been in close contact with the affected individual. Nelson said 65 students -- none of whom are showing symptoms -- have been quarantined as a precautionary measure.

Concerns About International Students

The Department of Education issued guidance last week saying it was relaxing rules that typically require colleges to get permission from the department and from their accreditors to shift instruction online. The possibility that more institutions nationwide might need to move to online courses has raised special concerns about international students, who are required to take most of their courses in person under the terms of their visas.

On Friday, Joseph E. Aoun, the president of Northeastern University -- which has a Seattle campus -- wrote to Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, asking for relief from in-person learning requirements for international students.

“Providing flexibility to permit students to pursue their dreams unfettered from the threat of violation of immigration status or visa revocation is a common-sense and essential approach in this time of unprecedented public health concerns,” Aoun wrote.

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, Carissa Cutrell, said the agency will be addressing this issue in forthcoming guidance that will give colleges flexibility. Cutrell said the agency “plans to mirror the Department of Education guidance. SEVP-certified schools will be able to adapt their procedures and policies to address the significant public health concerns associated with COVID-19. Schools will be required to use a form to report COVID-19 procedural adaptations to SEVP to ensure that nonimmigrant students can continue to make normal progress in a full course of study as required by federal regulations. More details will be provided to SEVIS users next week.” (SEVIS is an abbreviation for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, the federal database through which colleges report the statuses of their international students.)

Academic and University Travel

Colleges have canceled many study abroad programs and suspended university-sponsored travel abroad. At first, colleges canceled programs in countries that have been hard hit by the virus -- most notably China, Italy and South Korea -- but increasingly they have begun canceling all university-sponsored travel abroad for the spring and, in some cases, summer. Colleges that have canceled summer study abroad programs include Louisiana State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland, College Park. Some colleges, including Harvard University, have suspended domestic air travel by staff and faculty.

An increasing number of academic conferences have been called off. The American Educational Research Association announced Friday it would not move ahead with its annual meeting in San Francisco that had been scheduled for April 17 to 21. The association said it would organize a virtual meeting instead.

“Sadly, the pernicious presence and spread of the coronavirus internationally, including in recent weeks and days in the United States, makes it both impossible to hold a meeting that would even approximate the value of our annual place-based gathering and irresponsible to encourage, expect, or stand silent when attendees could be exposed to a communicable disease, affect Bay area workers or residents, and return to their homes transmitting an illness to family and friends even before it manifests itself,” AERA’s executive director, Felice J. Levine, said in an email announcing the cancellation. “This is coupled with the recent State of Emergency declared by the mayor of San Francisco last week, a further Declaration by the Governor, and growing incidence of confirmed reports in California and in the United States.

“As a research association, we adhere to the realities and the facts involved, including heeding precautions limiting travel and remaining within one’s community except under the most urgent and extraordinary of circumstances. An annual conference has many wonderful strengths, but it just cannot be classified as urgent or extraordinary in the face of the heightened risk. Those members and colleagues who are already registered will receive full refunds of their AERA Annual Meeting registration fee.”

The SXSW EDU Conference & Festival, an annual event focused on innovation in learning that was scheduled to take place in Austin, Tex., this week, has also been called off by city of Austin officials.

Other Coronavirus News

Johns Hopkins University on Friday barred fans from the opening games of the Division III basketball tournament it was hosting, according to Politico. "In light of Maryland's recently confirmed cases of COVID-19, and based on CDC guidance for large gatherings, we have determined that it is prudent to hold this tournament without spectators," Johns Hopkins’ athletic department said. “We are not making any determination about other JHU events at this time; while we await further guidance from public health authorities, we will be assessing large events on a case-by-case basis.”

Bowdoin College also said it was sanitizing spaces on campus after a student who had been studying abroad in Italy visited the campus, according to WGME. Italy has the largest number of coronavirus cases in Europe, and Italian officials took the drastic step of putting a region of 16 million under quarantine Sunday. Bowdoin officials said a second student who returned from Italy was in downtown Brunswick, Me., where the college is located, and met with a Bowdoin student. Four other students who came back from Italy have not been on the campus.

The University of Southern California on Friday announced plans to test its capabilities to host classes online by replacing in-person classes with online modalities for three days starting this Wednesday. "During Spring Recess, we will review feedback from faculty, students, and staff to determine how to improve the online experience," USC said in a memo. "Should the situation erode and we need to take stronger measures, we will be able to smoothly and quickly adapt, having tested our resources for three days."

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Colleges move classes online as coronavirus infects more

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 00:00

As the new coronavirus infects and kills more people in the United States, several West Coast universities, including the University of Washington and Stanford University, have chosen to forgo in-person classes in favor of remote learning.

The University of Washington announced its transition on Friday morning, and Stanford announced its on Friday evening. Both begin Monday and will continue for the rest of quarter. University of Washington officials have said that pending guidance from public health agencies, they plan to go back to face-to-face instruction at the start of the spring quarter, March 30. Brandman University, Seattle University and the Seattle campus of Northeastern University have also moved to remote instruction for the time being.

The decision to transition classes is part of an attempt at “social distancing,” the practice of limiting large gatherings and in-person contact to slow the transmission of the virus, called SARS-CoV-2.

“The issue is not only how do we stop this epidemic, but how can we slow it down so our health-care system can respond,” said UW president Ana Mari Cauce at a press conference Friday.

Faculty will be mostly responsible for making the decisions about how to move their classes to remote learning.

The Decision to ‘Close’

Cauce emphasized that while classes will be moving out of classrooms, the university’s three campuses will not be closed. Hospital operations, scientific research and food service will all continue, and students will be allowed to stay in dorms and residences.

“We have some students here for whom travel to their home is not possible,” Cauce said. She noted that although the virus is most dangerous for older people and those with chronic illnesses, some students may still fall into those categories. Students in risk groups, she said, were already not attending class.

The University of Washington enrolls over 50,000 students, a majority of whom take classes in person. An online petition posted last week asking the university to close gathered over 20,000 signatures.

The university separately announced that a staff member has received a “presumptive” positive test for the coronavirus but emphasized that the decision to end in-person classes was made before this revelation. Four students have also taken tests for the coronavirus, but those tests have come back negative, officials said.

Denzil Suite, vice president of student affairs at UW, said open bar areas in dining halls, such as salad bars, are being transitioned to a “grab and go” model. Cleaning and sanitizing in student residences have been doubled.

Cauce was emphatic on Friday that the virus and the university’s response to it would have financial consequences, but those would be dealt with and worried about later.

“We are going to make our decision based on what is right,” she said.

Joseph Janes, a professor of library and information science and chair of the UW Faculty Senate, said the administration has handled the situation well considering the circumstances.

“So often, particularly in higher ed, we think, ‘What are our peer institutions going to do?’” he said. “This is an instance where we really had nowhere to turn.”

Janes said that for the majority of faculty, the decision to cancel in-person classes likely came as a surprise. But generally, the administration has done a good job keeping faculty leadership informed and consulted, he said.

“There’s been a sort of rising sense of uncertainty and anxiety about what was going to happen,” Janes said. “I think this is going to provide certainty for people.”

Teaching in an Epidemic

Janes said the administration has left the decision about exactly how to move classes online, or whether it's worth at all trying, up to each individual faculty member.

“There are so many different kinds of classes, there’s no way to do a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “There are some classes where I can imagine its just really hard to go forward.”

With few days left in the quarter, Janes said that many instructors have nearly finished covering their material. For remaining content, instructors have full agency to decide if they would like to hold lectures over videoconferencing, record instructional videos or try some other modality. Final exams could be transitioned to take-home tests or projects.

For classes that involve use of labs, performances or studios, none of those measures may really work. Faculty can choose then to simply grade students on the work they’ve already completed.

Grading students only on the first 80 percent of the semester raises questions of fairness for instructors who built a large and important final assessment into the syllabus and student grading schemes, Janes said, but the decision still remains with the instructors. They can also choose to grade students pass-fail.

Brandman University, which announced a similar transition, teaches about 85 percent of its credit hours online. That makes the transition easier since the infrastructure is already there, said Jennifer Murphy, Brandman’s associate vice chancellor for instructional innovation.

The Brandman classes that do meet in person are still based in Brandman’s learning management system and only meet for one three-hour session per week, she said. These are called blended courses, as much of the course is still completed online. The in-person sessions for those blended courses have been moved to the videoconferencing tool Zoom.

“We are capable of doing this with a low detrimental effect,” Murphy said. “When looking at that versus potentially allowing students, faculty, staff to become ill because something happens, it seems like we are able to do this, so why wouldn’t we?”

The university has increased Zoom trainings for instructors and allowed them to request a staff member from the academic innovation office to sit in on a class if they are nervous about the technology.

The movement to online has raised questions for some universities about exactly how much they are capable of with their existing technology.

“If you don’t have an LMS that’s robust or you don’t have courses built already in an LMS, that’s a huge lift,” Murphy said. “Depending on what things you already have in place, it could be a very difficult process.”

Several universities have been circulating guidance to faculty about how to teach via online methods during an emergency. Guidance from the University of California, Los Angeles, to faculty noted that the administration has purchased more licenses for Zoom. The university also drew attention to a lockdown browser available for faculty to use during assessments, which provides a full audio and video recording of the test attempt.

Faculty have similarly been circulating their own guidance to peers about how to teach online on the fly, sometimes with step-by-step instructions. Instructional design and technology administrators have emphasized that temporarily moving in-person classes to remote learning is different from designing and developing a course that is completely online.

“Teaching well online requires a much more intentional arc of planning and learning around design and pedagogy,” Penelope Adams Moon, director of online learning strategy at UW’s Bothell campus, posted on Twitter. “We need stop-gap measures, but they aren't the same as online teaching.”

Sean Michael Morris, director of the Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Colorado at Denver, advised instructors to rethink grading around participation and attendance.

“Asynchronous work is harder than synchronous work,” he said via Twitter. “Assessment should reflect that.”

Morris and others have also emphasized that a transition to online teaching must keep classes accessible for students with disabilities and students who may lack access to the internet or other technology at home.

Megan Raymond, program director at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s technology cooperative, said that going online might not be right for every institution, depending on how many of its students are already online and other factors.

“There’s a lot of implications that institutions need to evaluate and think through really carefully,” she said, among them whether students have devices that allow them to complete an online course.

She was glad that the University of Washington has decided to keep dining halls and other services open for students, who may be food insecure or similarly vulnerable.

Though moving courses online typically requires an accreditation process, the Department of Education released a letter Thursday morning giving institutions broad approval to use distance technology temporarily to respond to the coronavirus without going through the regular approval process.

As of Friday, Janes hadn’t entirely decided how he was going to move his graduate statistics class over to online.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said.

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With insurance coverage scarce, coronavirus threatens college finances

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 00:00

As COVID-19 -- the disease caused by the novel coronavirus -- spreads across the United States and the world, colleges are creating outbreak contingency plans, canceling study abroad programs and shoring up their financial safety nets.

But outbreaks pose a particular challenge. Unlike fires, floods and storm damage, very few colleges are insured against financial losses due to a biological disaster.

A campuswide outbreak could be costly, and lost tuition revenue from a decrease in Chinese student enrollment could have lasting effects for which colleges are not insured. Typical college insurance plans pay out next to nothing for pandemic-related losses, and purchasing new policies amid the outbreak is difficult and incredibly expensive.

Most colleges have property and business contingency insurance plans. Both could provide some relief for affected colleges in the right circumstances.

Some property insurance plans contain sublimits -- caps on payouts for a specific type of loss -- for outbreaks and pandemics. As long as the college meets its deductible, it could file a claim for pandemic-related damages and be reimbursed up to the policy’s sublimit. A typical $500 million property insurance plan could include a $1 million pandemic damages sublimit, according to Bret Murray, who leads higher education strategy at Risks Strategies Company, a national insurance brokerage and risk management firm.

But getting claims approved could be tricky because colleges must demonstrate actual physical damage to campus property to receive any compensation.

"For such coverage to apply, an insured building must be contaminated and rendered temporarily or permanently unusable (in whole or in part)," Murray wrote in an email. "Some policies further require a 'civil authority' or an officer of the institution to prohibit access to an affected building for coverage to apply.​"

Business contingency insurance plans protect against interruptions with contractors providing services, such as dining and janitorial services. If a campus outbreak somehow interrupted covered contracts, colleges could file an insurance claim as long as their plan included pandemic-related disruptions.

The University of Colorado at Boulder, for example, maintains property and business interruption insurance. Because of limited coverage in the case of a pandemic, the university cannot well predict what financial losses would be covered under its plans.

“We have researched tuition loss coverage in a pandemic scenario,” said Deborah Méndez Wilson, a spokesperson for the university. “However, insurers have limited this type of coverage, have expanded exclusions, have drastically reduced limits and have increased premiums, making these plans very expensive for colleges and universities.”

Experts are looking ahead at what the coronavirus could mean for fall enrollments. International enrollments, particularly enrollments from China, have been a major point of concern. A decrease in tuition revenue as a result of the coronavirus outbreak wouldn’t be covered by property or business contingency insurance plans.​

A survey of more than 230 colleges by the Institute of International Education found that 76 percent of institutions reported that recruiting events in China had been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Recruiting events include "tests like IELTS and TOEFL, recruitment events like college fairs, and other engagements."

One university is uniquely protected against such revenue loss: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The university two years ago purchased insurance to protect against revenue loss due to a drop in Chinese student enrollment. The insurance, created for the university’s business and engineering schools by a subsidiary of Lloyd’s of London, kicks in after the university files a claim that meets two requirements. First, it must demonstrate an 18.5 percent loss in tuition revenue brought in by Chinese students compared to the year prior. Second, the drop in enrollment must be attributed to one of a predetermined list of causes, one of which is a pandemic.

The plan pays out up to $60 million in the case that Chinese student enrollment drops to zero. The university pays $424,000 in annual premiums for the policy, and a university spokesperson said it's reviewing options to expand coverage in the future.

According to Murray, other colleges have eyed the plan in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Beloit College's spokesperson said the college has not ruled out purchasing coronavirus-impact insurance. ​

“A lot of institutions looked at that,” Murray said, “but it was very expensive, and a lot of schools felt it wasn’t worth the risk.”

For most colleges, it’s too late. Few insurers are going to underwrite a pandemic plan in the midst of an outbreak, Murray said.

“It’d be the equivalent of saying there’s fires approaching your house, and now you want to get fire coverage for your house,” he said. “The underwriters can see the fires approaching your house.”

The coronavirus outbreak has already wreaked havoc on study abroad programs. Since the outbreak began, colleges have been canceling their spring study abroad programs and are considering cutting summer programs as well. Insurers are adding carve-outs to make it more difficult to file pandemic-related claims for lost travel expenses that would typically be covered under existing policies.

The IIE survey found that 48 percent of respondents had scheduled spring study abroad programs in China, and 94 percent of those institutions postponed or canceled the programs, with 76 percent “canceled outright or postponed indefinitely.”

Melissa Torres, president and CEO of the Forum for Education Abroad, outlined many ways colleges are losing money on canceled programs -- from logistical losses like airfare, hotels and excursion costs, to wasted operational expenses like international faculty contracts and maintaining empty campuses abroad.

“Everybody is being affected,” Torres said. “Institutions that have really large education abroad programs, full-semester programs, are going to be really hard hit.”

Kevin McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, tweeted Wednesday that the university could lose approximately $450,000 on canceled study abroad trips and stands to lose $2 million if it cancels summer programs.

Many colleges work with third-party providers for study abroad programs, and they are facing huge potential losses as a result of the outbreak. Torres is concerned for their future.

“There are literally hundreds of education abroad providers and programs,” she said. “If the smaller and medium-sized providers go out of business because of the cancellations or requests for refunds,” the resulting consolidation could lead to higher prices across the board.

As summer programs approach, Bill Frederick, founder of Lodestone Safety International, had one piece of advice for colleges weighing their study abroad options: “Don’t spend money that you’re not going to get reimbursed if you’re not sure which way this is going to go.”

While recovering sunk costs from campus outbreaks and canceled programs could be tricky, there are steps colleges can take to temper the coronavirus’s impact. Melanie Bennett, risk management counsel for United Educators, recommends that every college create an outbreak response team made up of people in health services, housing, security, communications, food services, academic affairs, legal council and leadership.

“Make sure you also review business continuity plans,” she said. “What happens if you shut down schools for a day, for a week?"

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Higher ed plans from Biden and Sanders differ in scope, specificity

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 00:00

Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has left two candidates with different approaches to dealing with college affordability and other higher education policy issues. In addition to having different price tags, the plans released by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders differ in how much detail they provide.

Price Tag:

Biden: $750 billion

Sanders: $2.2 trillion

Debt Forgiveness:

Sanders: Would cancel the entire balance of $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt in the U.S.

Biden: Would take a more targeted approach, enrolling all existing and new borrowers in income-based repayment plans, except for those who choose to opt out. Borrowers who make $25,000 or less per year would not owe any payments on their undergraduate federal student loans and wouldn't accrue any interest on those loans. Others would pay 5 percent of their discretionary annual income above $25,000 toward loans. The plan would forgive 100 percent of any remaining debt for those who have made payments for 20 years. It also would change the tax code so that debt forgiven through income-based repayment wouldn’t be taxed.

Biden's plan also would revamp the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, giving $10,000 of undergraduate or graduate debt relief for every year of national or community service worked, up to five years. Individuals who work in schools, government and other nonprofit settings would automatically be enrolled in the forgiveness program. It would seek to address the problem of applicants for PSLF being rejected for not enrolling in the right repayment plan. Adjunct professors would be eligible for forgiveness, depending on the amount of time devoted to teaching.

Free College:

Sanders: Would spend $48 billion per year to eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities, tribal colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs. His plan would create a federal-state partnership in which the federal government would pay two-thirds of the cost of providing free tuition, with the state responsible for the other third.

Participating states and tribes must meet several requirements to be eligible, including reductions of their reliance on low-paid contingent faculty members. Funds generated by the program could not be used for administrator salaries, merit-based financial aid or the construction of nonacademic buildings such as stadiums and student centers.

Biden: Would make up to two years of community college free for all students, including those who attend part-time, the children of undocumented immigrants and those who did not graduate high school recently. The program also would be created through a federal-state partnership, in which the federal government would provide 75 percent of the cost, with states picking up the remainder. The federal government would cover 95 percent of the cost of eliminating tuition at tribal community colleges that serve low-income students. Those who would receive two years of college tuition-free could then get another free two years at historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

Other Student Aid:

Sanders: Because tuition would no longer exist at public institutions, low-income students would be free to use federal Pell Grants for books, transportation, housing and other costs. The plan would require states and tribes that participate in the federal-state partnership for free college cover any costs that are left over, after grants, for low-income students. It also would triple spending on Federal Work-Study, with a focus on institutions that serve large numbers of low-income students.

Biden: For community college students, the federal-state partnership for free college would be so-called first dollar, meaning that student aid grants could cover other costs of attending college besides tuition.

To help students at four-year institutions pay for costs other than tuition, the plan would create a new grant program to provide support services for students, especially veterans of the U.S. military, single parents, low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities. The grant could be used for public benefits, textbook and transportation costs, and childcare and mental health services. Institutions also could use the money to create emergency grant programs for students who experience an unexpected financial challenge that threatens their ability to stay enrolled in college.

The plan would double the maximum award amount of Pell Grants, increasing the number of middle-class students who’d be eligible for the program. It would allow Dreamers and the formerly incarcerated to receive the grants. Biden would prioritize the use of Federal Work-Study dollars for jobs that either provide skills that are valuable for students' intended careers or that contribute to their communities by mentoring students in K-12 classrooms and community centers.

For-Profit Institutions:

Sanders: The plan does not mention for-profit colleges or debt cancellation for students who were deceived by for-profits.

Biden: The plan would require for-profit institutions to prove their value to the U.S. Department of Education to be eligible for federal aid. It also would eliminate the 90-10 loophole that, according to several veterans' groups, gives for-profits an incentive to aggressively market to service members and veterans. The plan would empower the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to take action against private lenders who mislead students about their options and do not provide an affordable payment plan during times of financial hardship. It would restore the Obama administration’s borrower-defense rule, making it easier for people deceived by for-profit institutions to have their student debt forgiven. It also would allow private student loans to be discharged through bankruptcy.

Improving College Performance:

Sanders: His plan would create a federal-state partnership that would differ from the one eliminating tuition. That program would provide a dollar-for-dollar federal match for states and tribes to increase academic opportunities for students, hire new faculty members and provide professional development opportunities for professors.

Biden: His plan would create a grant program to help community colleges implement evidence-based practices to increase student retention and completion of credential programs. It would invest $8 billion to help community colleges improve the health and safety of their facilities and acquire new technology. It would provide grants to states that work to accelerate students’ attainment of bachelor's degrees and other credentials, such as through offering dual-enrollment programs for community college and four-year degree tracks.

HBCUs and Other Minority-Serving Institutions:

Sanders: The plan would spend $1.3 billion per year to eliminate or significantly reduce tuition and fees for low-income students at roughly 200 HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. To be eligible, at least 35 percent of students at the institution would have to be low income.

Biden: The plan would invest $18 billion in grants to provide two years of free tuition to low-income and middle-class students at HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. In return colleges must invest in lowering prices, improving retention and graduation rates, and closing equity gaps for students of color.

It would spend another $10 billion to create at least 200 new centers of excellence that serve as research incubators and connect underrepresented students in career fields like climate change, globalization, inequality, health disparities and cancer. Would boost funding for agricultural research at land-grant universities, including HBCUs and tribal colleges or universities, and would dedicate additional federal funding or grants and contracts for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions. The plan would require any federal research grants to universities with an endowment of over $1 billion to subcontract with an HBCU, tribal college or minority-serving institution. It also would spend $20 billion to build research facilities and labs at HBCUs, tribal colleges and minority-serving institutions. And the plan would invest $10 billion in programs at HBCUs, tribal college and minority-serving institutions that increase enrollment, retention, completion and employment rates.


Biden: He would pay for the $750 billion plan by closing the “stepped-up basis” loophole, which lowers the capital gains tax liability for property passed on to an heir. Biden also would cap itemized deductions for high-income taxpayers at 28 percent.

Sanders: He would pay for the $2.2 trillion plan by taxing Wall Street trades.

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GW faculty and students want president's resignation

Mon, 03/09/2020 - 00:00

A number of George Washington University students and faculty have lost confidence in President Thomas LeBlanc and are calling for his resignation over what they perceive as negligence toward meeting the university’s diversity and inclusion goals.

A wave of opposition to LeBlanc’s plans for GW reached a breaking point in early February after he made a racially insensitive comment on video that was widely shared on campus and cemented critics' impression of him as insufficiently committed to those goals. They point to the administration's five-year strategic plan as a stark example.

Under the plan, commonly referred to as the 20/30 plan, overall enrollment at the university would decrease by 20 percent while enrollment of students majoring in STEM subjects would increase by 11 percent and raise the total proportion of STEM students to 30 percent.

The plan has been fiercely questioned by members of two GW faculty associations, who point to projections of significant revenue loss and a decrease in diversity as a result. Tuition for incoming undergraduates will no longer be fixed starting next fall, and students and faculty members worry the university will not be able to provide as much financial aid because of revenue loss from the enrollment reduction.

Many fear that by making the university less affordable, GW will undo years of efforts to diversify the student body, said Harald Griesshammer, a physics professor and member of the Faculty Senate’s educational policy committee.

“We will become whiter and richer, which means that we are now suddenly confirming a stereotype that we have been fighting for 20 years,” he said.

Eptisam Kassim, a member of the Progressive Student Union, or PSU, which represents a relatively diverse group, said taken together, the projections of reduced numbers of students of color on campus and the controversial analogy LeBlanc used to argue that majority rule should not be used to silence the views of the minority -- "What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here," he said in a conversation with a student -- are evidence that LeBlanc does not "value having a diverse community," Kassim said.

Griesshammer analyzed scenarios in the plan and determined that one of the most likely outcomes is an 8 percent drop in first-year nonwhite, non-Asian students, GW’s most underrepresented groups, and a 5 percent drop in international students, he said. This data has not been disputed by the administration, Griesshammer said.

Of the 12,546 undergraduates ​enrolled at GW in fall 2018, 50 percent were white, 11 percent were Asian, 10 percent were Latino and 7 percent were black, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Bryce Maples, a member of the PSU, is concerned about the end of fixed tuition for incoming students and the possibility of reduced financial aid as a result of the 20/30 plan. Maples uses a wheelchair and said he would not be attending GW without university-provided financial aid, which helps offset the cost of living in accessible housing.

“It’s time for LeBlanc to leave,” Maples said. ​“This is not a diverse school as it is now. This is an incredibly rich and incredibly white school. It’s almost unfathomable the idea of making it even more white and rich. It doesn’t seem possible. The administration’s own models have shown that that’s what the 20/30 plan will do. We need to move forward, and this is moving us back.”

The percentage of first-year students at GW who are eligible for federal Pell Grants, a widely used indicator of low-income status, would decrease from 22 percent to 10 percent under the plan, based on projections Griesshammer presented during a Feb. 25 faculty assembly that LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake attended. Blake and LeBlanc were not available for comment, said Maralee Csellar, director of media relations.

According to minutes from that meeting, Blake said enrollment diversity is up this academic year compared to previous years. He also said the scenarios on which Griesshammer based his analyses are “models on the margins and included targets GW does not intend to implement” despite the fact that the outcomes were provided to the Faculty Senate by the administration.

The GW Faculty Association, or GWUFA, a grass-roots organization that is separate from the Faculty Senate, began circulating a petition calling for LeBlanc’s resignation shortly after the Feb. 25 assembly. The petition denounces the president’s “unwillingness to listen” to faculty members’ repeated requests for more information about the 20/30 plan, said Andrew Zimmerman, a history professor and interim president of GWUFA. The timing of the petition for LeBlanc to resign, however, is tied to the president’s “racist remarks” on Feb. 1, Zimmerman said.

While speaking to a student activist and member of Sunrise GWU, an environmental organization, about demands for the university to cut ties with fossil fuels, LeBlanc used an “insensitive example” to make an argument “that majority rule should never suppress the human rights of others,” he said in an apology the next day.

“What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here?” LeBlanc said. He was unknowingly being recorded, The Washington Post reported.

The apology did not resolve any of the “underlying issues” that students of color face at such a white institution, said Kassim. She said she frequently feels she has to justify her presence on campus as a black Muslim woman who wears a hijab. She made a connection between LeBlanc’s comment and the strategic plan.

"There has been a lot of conversations about inclusivity and acceptance and things that are appropriate to say," Kassim said. "If there was implementation of the strategic plan, it shows the school will become a richer and whiter school, on top of you not understanding what’s appropriate to say."

This sentiment was echoed in GWUFA’s petition, which calls LeBlanc’s comment the “latest evidence of his disregard for both diversity and democracy at GW.”

“Lots of faculty of color and students and staff too felt that was making light of their basic safety and right to be at GW,” Zimmerman said. “People who don’t have respect for democracy also lack respect for diversity, and that seems to be the case here, too.”

Some 115 faculty members had signed the petition as of March 3. The petition also noted that the selection committee that hired LeBlanc as president in 2017 did not include any faculty members of color, Zimmerman said.

Griesshammer does not think LeBlanc is malicious in pushing forward with the 20/30 plan despite projections of decreased diversity, and he said it could be explained as "stupidity."

The GWUFA’s calls for LeBlanc’s resignation could jeopardize the “productive discussions” the Faculty Senate has been having with administration members about the plan, Griesshammer said. He ended his membership with the association because of the petition.

“GWUFA is too radical for its own good,” Griesshammer said. “We need to see how the administration reacts. If the administration makes constructive alternative proposals and not only listens but also digests what students and faculty tell them and act accordingly, then GW can move forward productively. If the administration just hunkers down and says, ‘We have the board behind us, we can do whatever we want,’ then nobody knows what the next steps will be.”

Zimmerman said the GWUFA sees the pursuits of both faculty associations as a “parallel struggle.” He hopes the petition pressures LeBlanc into giving the Faculty Senate the information they've been seeking for months.

In a March 4 letter to faculty members, LeBlanc and Grace Speights, chair of the Board of Trustees, committed to increased cooperation in decision making and providing more data on “key metrics” associated with the 20/30 plan, such as diversity and student financial need. LeBlanc and Speights said the results of the plan will be reassessed annually as it is implemented. The board will vote on the plan at the end of June.

“If the circumstances do not support the current strategy, the administration and the Board of Trustees will adapt the plan and targets as appropriate,” the letter said. “These commitments reflect our belief that our faculty is indispensable -- integral not only to our mission of teaching and research but also to the vigorous discussions that will guide our future.”

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Cambridge College acquiring for-profit college, doubling down on online offerings for working learners

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

Boston-based Cambridge College, a private nonprofit institution, plans to acquire the for-profit New England College of Business and Finance, it announced Thursday -- moving to increase its size, ability to serve working adults, strength online and ties to corporate employers.

The deal combines two institutions of relatively small size and with a focus on adult, part-time and working students. Cambridge College reports head-count enrollment of about 3,700 students across three locations in Massachusetts -- Boston, Springfield and Lawrence -- plus California and San Juan, Puerto Rico. New England College of Business is entirely online with 1,500 students.

Nonetheless, the tie-up reflects national trends. Public and private colleges have sought to grow online through mergers, acquisitions and other arrangements with existing providers as demographic and other pressures make it increasingly hard to compete for students. Meanwhile, many for-profit institutions have been seeking to convert to nonprofit status after years of public scrutiny and regulatory pressure during the Obama administration.

It also represents the last chapter for a lingering component of the now-defunct Education Corporation of America, an Alabama-based for-profit chain that collapsed at the end of 2018 when it lost accreditation. The New England College of Business, based in Boston and with a history long predating Education Corporation of America, had a different accreditor than its parent company and was able to remain open.

Cambridge College’s acquisition is pending until regulators and accreditors give their approval. The deal is structured as an asset-purchase agreement. Upon the agreement's closure, Cambridge will have no further relationship with the New England College of Business’s current owner, Monroe Capital LLC. Plans call for Cambridge to create a new umbrella within its own structure for the acquisition, to be called the New England Institute of Business and Finance.

“In the near term, our goal is to keep them intact, because they have a wonderful business model,” said Cambridge’s president, Deborah Jackson, in a telephone interview Thursday. “What we hope the students will feel is they were online on Friday, they logged off, and on Monday they logged on and it will feel no different.”

Over time, Cambridge will work to fully integrate the two operations.

The acquisition would enable Cambridge to add 27 online programs spanning certificates to doctoral degrees. A key addition are associate degrees, which Cambridge is not currently authorized to offer, Jackson said.

“With the exceptional record that Cambridge College has built for close to 50 years, and its sound commitment to advancing a diverse body of adult student learners, this affiliation will enable NECB to expand its reach to a broader universe and to have expanded resources with which to do so,” the New England College of Business’s president, Howard Horton, said in a statement.

Horton will be executive director of the New England Institute of Business and Finance once it’s set up within Cambridge College.

Additional terms of the deal, including any purchase price, are not being made public at this time. The two sides are working to close in a short time frame, which could affect some of the mechanics of the acquisition, said Cambridge’s chief financial officer, John Spinard.

“The way it is structured as an asset-purchase agreement helps mitigate the risk that Cambridge College was taking on, as well as offer us the opportunity to acquire this book of business,” he said in a telephone interview. “I would say the terms were favorable.”

Although Cambridge is the buy side in the transaction, it didn’t initiate the deal. The New England College of Business was reaching out to colleges in the Boston region, Jackson said. She and Horton first talked in December, and more formal discussions between the two sides began in January.

“We both are committed to serving adult learners,” Jackson said. “We realized we really were focused on the same cohort, the same population, and are probably the only two institutions in this area fully committed to the adult learners.”

Cambridge also sees opportunity to grow in size and connection to corporate America. Its leaders estimate the New England College of Business will add between 30 and 35 percent to its top-line tuition revenue. Over the last five years, the New England College of Business has demonstrated positive net income and operating cash flow, according to Spinard.

That could be important for Cambridge College, where tuition and fees booked as revenue slid from $41.9 million in its 2009-10 fiscal year to about $22 million in 2017-18, according to federal tax filings.

Cambridge is extending employment offers to the New England College of Business’s faculty and staff. The college being acquired has about 35 employees plus 80 adjunct faculty members. Cambridge employs about 150, plus 20 faculty members and 300 adjuncts, many of whom are professionals who teach nights and weekends, Jackson said.

She touted the New England College of Business’s corporate connections. Its students come from 300 different corporate partners. Many of those companies pay for employees’ tuition.

“Part of our strategy at Cambridge College has been to broaden our network of corporate partners,” Jackson said. “Corporate partners are the primary source of their students. And those corporate partners, when they send their students to NECB, they are actually covering tuition.”

Insiders knew that Monroe Capital was seeking to change the New England College of Business’s status. The college was a “great little jewel of an asset” that emerged from Education Corporation of America’s meltdown “unscathed” with a “reasonably strong reputation,” said Trace Urdan, managing director at Tyton Partners.

Urdan had informal conversations with some of the college’s owners but didn’t represent them in any way. They were exploring a range of options from converting the institution to a nonprofit to spinning out services and functioning as an online program manager, he said.

“They were trying to figure out what to do,” he said. “I was not aware they were in conversation with Cambridge, but seeing that resolution does not surprise me.”

From the seller’s perspective, the only reasonable move in this environment is to convert to a nonprofit institution, Urdan said. Selling to Cambridge accomplishes that. And from Cambridge’s perspective, the acquisition provides a foundation for growth and more online capabilities.

Part of a Trend

Similar deals in which nonprofit institutions acquired for-profits include National University acquiring North Central University in a move announced in 2018. A public institution, Purdue University, acquired Kaplan University to form Purdue Global under a 2017 agreement.

Those acquisitions involved much larger operations and thousands more students than the one announced Thursday.

Urdan said future cases in which nonprofits acquire for-profits are likely on the way, especially involving for-profit institutions with solid reputations.

To some, the New England College of Business stands out from other for-profits -- even its former owner -- in part because of a unique history and niche. It was founded in 1909 by the New England banking industry. It is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education, the regional accreditor for the area, and has traditionally focused on working professionals in the business and financial industries.

The number of such esteemed colleges could be a limiting factor for future deals. But that limit could lift over time.

“There aren’t a huge amount of assets, and there aren’t a whole lot of them of a sufficient caliber and quality that a nonprofit would be comfortable acquiring them,” Urdan said. “Let enough time go by. This becomes more mainstream, and even some of the schools you would think would be too hot to touch would fall into this category.”

For now at least, for-profits selling to nonprofits continue to draw attention from consumer advocates. Clean acquisitions in which a nonprofit college takes full control of the for-profit are likely to be a positive for quality and consumer protection, said Bob Shireman, a former deputy undersecretary of education in the Obama administration who is now a senior fellow at the Century Foundation. Not all transactions are structured that way, though.

“Some transactions have left the former owners in a position to control and profit, which is misleading to consumers and often an attempt to dodge regulation,” Shireman said in an email.

In addition to size and scale, some deals between nonprofit and for-profit institutions are likely to be driven by a need for traditional nonprofit colleges to add certain abilities. As some experts expect students to grow older on average and increasingly be working as they attend class, campuses may need to add abilities like serving adult students and better coordinating rolling admissions.

Public institutions could be the next set of colleges and universities to add those capabilities by acquiring and absorbing for-profit institutions, according to Urdan. Most public universities have online programs, but they aren’t always as effective as top competitors -- a gap in their missions to serve the public.

“They’re all having these conversations right now,” Urdan said. “It’s just the politics are daunting to get something like this done.”

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CDC, American College Health Association and Education Department issue guidance on responding to COVID-19

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

Colleges looking for expert advice on how to prepare for possible coronavirus cases have a whole new suite of resources to turn to.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College Health Association both released guidance this week on how to prepare for emergence of the new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, on college campuses. The Department of Education also issued guidance Thursday about compliance with federal financial aid requirements in the event of related disruptions and campus closures.

The CDC guidance includes information on reviewing and updating emergency operations plans; sharing informational resources with faculty, students and staff; making decisions on whether and when to suspend classes or cancel events in coordination with state and local public health officials; and ensuring continuity of safe housing and provision of meals. The CDC has also separately released guidance suggesting that colleges consider canceling study abroad and exchange programs and bring students back to the U.S.

"IHE [institutions of higher education], working together with local health departments, have an important role in slowing the spread of disease," the CDC guidance states. The guidance also notes the fact that some individuals are experiencing stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19, including people of Asian, specifically Chinese, descent -- the virus originated in China but has quickly spread to many other countries -- as well as returning travelers and emergency responders who may have been exposed.

"It is important for IHE to provide accurate and timely information about COVID-19 to students, staff, and faculty to minimize the potential for stigma on college and university campuses," the CDC guidance states. "It is also important to provide mental health support to promote resilience among those groups affected by stigma regarding COVID-19."

The guidance from the American College Health Association focuses on recommendations for preparations by student health centers as well as for the larger campus community.

The association recommends that student health centers develop a COVID-19 planning and response committee, arrange for appropriate staff training, prepare the facility for triage and isolation of possibly infected patients and develop triage and evaluation protocols, develop an internal and external alert system regarding the arrival of a potential patient, stock personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC guidelines, ensure appropriate environmental cleaning and disinfection procedures are in place, and develop a surge care plan in the event of increased demand for student health center services.

As for the broader campus community, the ACHA guidance recommends creating a campuswide working group focused on preparing for COVID-19 and developing a communications plan and plans for the possible arrivals on campus of individuals from areas affected by COVID-19 and for international travel by students, faculty or staff. The guidelines also recommend universities develop business and financial continuity plans that take into account the potential financial ramifications of the outbreak and estimated emergency funding needed to continue operating; the costs of stockpiling food, medical and other supplies; policies and procedures for rapid procurement of supplies; and continuation of payroll, among other issues.

"The ACHA COVID-19 Task Force has been hard at work fielding concerns from the college health community, posting resources and updates, and rapidly responding to new developments related to COVID-19," Jean Chin, the chair of the task force, said in a press release accompanying the new guidelines. "Our hope is that these guidelines, paired with existing campus resources and coordination with local and state health agencies, will assist schools nationwide in preparing for COVID-19 and its implications for campus communities."

The Department of Education also issued guidance on Thursday responding to concerns from colleges about how they can comply with federal financial aid policies for current students whose studies are disrupted by COVID-19. The guidance addresses financial aid implications for three groups of students -- those whose study abroad experiences have been disrupted or canceled; those who had a clinical rotation, internship or other class canceled, causing them to fall below the 12-credit-hour minimum needed to maintain enrollment as a full-time student; and those who miss classes due to illness or quarantines. It also addresses scenarios in which a college suspends face-to-face classes to prevent transmission of the virus.

“Our goal is to work with institutions and find ways to enable you to accommodate students and help them continue their education despite interruptions caused by COVID-19,” the guidance said. “The Department is providing broad approval to institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students on a temporary basis, without going through the regular approval process of the Department in the event that an institution is otherwise required to seek Departmental approval for the use or expansion of distance learning programs … We are also permitting accreditors to waive their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19.”

The guidance notes, however, that the department is not able to offer the flexibility to transition to online learning for foreign schools that participate in the federal financial aid program, as the Higher Education Act does not allow foreign institutions to provide distance learning to Americans participating in federal financial aid programs.

In addition to offering distance education in the event regular classes are disrupted, the guidance says that institutions "may also enter into temporary consortium agreements with other institutions so that students can complete courses at other institutions but be awarded credit by their home institution. In addition, in instances where accrediting agencies require students to complete a final number or percentage of credits in residence at the institution, accrediting agencies may waive that requirement for students impacted by COVID-19 without objection by the Department."

The guidance from the department authorizes colleges to continue paying wages to students through the federal work-study program in the event of a campus closure if certain conditions are met, and it provides flexibility on allowing students to take leaves of absence for reasons related to COVID-19 "even if the student notifies the institution in writing after the approved leave of absence has begun. In such a case, the institution may retain those Title IV funds to apply when the student continues enrollment." (Title IV is the part of the Higher Education Act that authorizes federal financial aid programs.)

It also includes instructions for returning aid funds for students who were unable to begin attending classes this term due to coronavirus-related closures (as in the case of students whose study abroad programs were canceled before the term began), and for those who withdraw for reasons related to COVID-19. The guidance also states that the Education Department does "not have the authority to waive the requirement to award or disburse Title IV funds based on a student’s actual enrollment status. For example, assuming an institution defines full-time enrollment as 12 credit hours, when a full-time student enrolled for 12 credit hours drops or withdraws from three credits, that student is now enrolled at three-quarter time status."

Jill Desjean, a policy analyst with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, which published an analysis of the Education Department guidance, praised the department's flexibility. She noted that while there are certain things the department can't do under the law, it has tried to accommodate the varied needs of higher ed institutions.

"The big concern we had were students who had gone abroad to start study abroad programs and had been pulled back," she said. "I think the department did a good job of addressing that by mentioning all the relief schools could get by offering distance ed ad hoc without having to go through department approval or accreditor approval."

Desjean said the departmental guidance is also helpful for colleges as they consider what would happen if they need to temporarily close. "The distance ed option on the table is a good one to allow schools to start making a plan," she said.

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Michigan university focused on Latinx students, despite small numbers

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

Latinx students make up only about 8 percent of the enrollment at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, but the university has dedicated resources to helping those students succeed and feel included on campus. In recognition of its efforts, the university even won an inaugural Seal of Excelencia last year.

Despite not yet reaching a critical mass of Latinx or Hispanic students, which is defined as about 20 percent of enrollment, according to Deborah Santiago, co-founder and CEO of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit committed to Latinx student success in higher education, staff at the university are being intentional about serving these students.

"Their efforts and strategies perpetuate beyond an individual," Santiago said. "What really stood out about Grand Valley was that their intentionality spread across the institution's leadership. That’s core for us."

While the public four-year institution's Latinx population is fairly small right now, it's growing, which is what prompted the university to start an umbrella initiative targeted at those students, said Jesse Bernal, vice president for inclusion and equity.

"The thinking was, we know this population was going to grow, and we also want to serve our current students in ways that are culturally responsive and sensitive," Bernal said. "If you center underrepresented students, you benefit everyone."

In 2012, about 50 people from across all units of the university -- from police to marketing to financial aid -- came together in a committee to figure out how to think more holistically about students.

What Bernal predicted happened. When the committee was first convened, the university's enrollment was about 2.5 percent Latinx. Now it's at about 8 percent.

​The increase reflects what's happening across the state, but especially in Ottawa County, the western part of Michigan where Grand Valley is located. Statewide, the Hispanic population increased from 446,000 to 515,000 since 2010, according to Eric Guthrie, state demographer. In Ottawa County, the increase was more significant, from about 22,000 to 28,000, or about 26 percent. This is still only about 10 percent of the county's total population

"The western part of the state is where we see population change," Guthrie said. "It’s the fastest-growing metro region in the state, and there’s a lot of dynamism in that particular part of the state."

Inclusion, Data and Training

The campus response to this change includes special orientations, a Latinx student group, retention efforts and training for both university staff and regional companies. These programs have helped contribute to an increase in Latinx enrollment, an 83 percent year-to-year retention rate for Latinx students and a 16 percent increase in the graduation rate for Latinx students. Latinx students in the 2013 cohort actually had a higher graduation rate by 2019 than the general population, at about 68.1 percent versus 67.4 percent. They were only slightly behind white students, who graduated at a rate of 69.2 percent within the six years.

Students who are part of Grand Valley's Latino Student Union praised the early orientation, called Laker Familia, which specifically welcomes Latinx students to the university. Gabriela Herrera, secretary of the student union, said she "would truly have felt lost and not at home" without the ​program.

"It can be hard to adjust to such a different environment when growing up and constantly being surrounded by culture," Herrera said in an emailed statement. "Having that support system of students and faculty that understand what it feels like is very important especially for incoming freshmen where college is already a hard and scary transition."

The university also uses a lot of data. The relatively new president, Philomena Mantella, who started last July, pushed the university to think about retention rates, Bernal said. There is now a multivariate retention analysis team that looks at data from multiple systems and triangulates it to determine how to help students succeed.

For example, Bernal said, they can look at the graduation rates of students of color depending on the type of housing they live in and see the differences and come up with solutions to problem areas. They can also layer participation in programming, financial aid awards and majors on top of those data points. They then contact students about concerns, provide student mentorship or cohort programs, and reach out to students about finishing certain tasks, like registration.

"We can provide interventions to that student," he said. "At the macro level, if we find a lot of commonalities, we can change the system to make things better."

There's also a lot of training, both within and outside the university. Grand Valley employees and potential employers of Grand Valley students can attend trainings and events focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, said Marlene Kowalski-Braun, associate vice president for inclusion and student support.

This past year, the university held an inclusive recruitment, retention and culture conference with the goal of helping local companies create better cultures for the diverse students who will eventually work there. Kowalski-Braun said they plan to host it annually. The first discussed topics ranging from antiracism to recruiting a diverse workforce to the importance of an interfaith workspace. About 160 people from dozens of companies attended.

Companies can also request continuous trainings. For example, one requested long-term training that started with focus groups and policy analysis, Kowalski-Braun said.

The training doesn't focus solely on Latinx issues, but rather intends to provide tools that companies can use to better work with any community, she said. They've held trainings on LGBTQ issues and helped employers with many Spanish-speaking employees understand Latinx culture, to name a few.

The idea to train local companies was actually sparked by stories from transgender students, who had bad experiences during internships. Now, all employers who want to do internships or co-ops with Grand Valley students learn about these issues.

"Our hope is that, by working with them, we motivate them to think about hiring diverse students and how that can benefit them," Kowalski-Braun said. "Just getting these companies to understand this and see it as an asset is what we’re trying to do."

Ed Wierzbicki, facilities supervisor at Grand Valley, attended a training that he said improved him both professionally and personally.

"We have a pretty diverse group in our department, and I think that certainly contributed to my interest," he said, adding that at the training, "there were opportunities to have candid conversations with colleagues across campus that just gave me a better understanding."

While it was uncomfortable for him in the beginning, Wierzbicki said he felt better and like he had improved after completing the training, so he recommends it to other staff.

The university also requires an "inclusive advocate" be on all search committees when hiring new staff and faculty, Bernal said. Faculty also have access to several programs through the Faculty Teaching and Learning Center.

Continuing to Improve

But there's always room for improvement. Several students in the Latino Student Union pointed out areas where Grand Valley could do better, such as with supporting transfer students and commuters, improving faculty diversity, and providing more supports for other students of color, like Native American students.

Bernal agrees that Grand Valley needs to diversify its faculty and staff, which is part of its strategic planning. So far, the number of Latinx faculty has increased by more than 20 percent and the number of Latinx staff has increased by nearly 50 percent since 2015, he said.

As far as supports for other students of color, Bernal said the Latinx student initiative model is being replicated for other populations, including Native Americans.

"Still, I am certain that no one at Grand Valley is satisfied with our racial and ethnic diversity representation. As a public institution, we believe that our university should closely model the demographic makeup of the community in which we exist. We have work to do to make that happen -- to increase access for all learners," he said in an email.

In the last year, the university has added a staff member to focus on Native student support and community engagement. Grand Valley is also the only college in Michigan with a Native American Advisory Council.

"Our work is multipronged -- focused on equity and structural diversity, inclusion and campus climate, and learning and development. This all occurs within a social justice, international and data-driven approach," he said. "And we have much work to do to reach our ideal. We are neither where we want to be nor are we ignorant to the realities of where we are."

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University of Washington preparing for potential escalation of coronavirus

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

The University of Washington is, among higher education institutions, somewhat of a ground zero for the new coronavirus. Of the 11 people killed by the virus in the United States, 10 were in Washington State.

Last week an online petition was posted asking the university, which enrolls 59,000 students on three campuses, to close. It had nearly 24,000 signatures on Thursday.

Behind the scenes, many colleges have been planning and prepping for a potential escalation of the outbreak. College officials are tasked both with maintaining the safety of students and staff and with limiting the virus’s spread beyond campus. Traditional-age college students are not at a high risk of dying of the disease the virus causes, known as COVID-19, but the people they come in contact with -- grandparents, immunocompromised strangers -- may be.

At Washington, an advisory committee on communicable diseases, chaired by a medical expert and with representation from different campus units, has been preparing for just this situation for decades. The group meets regularly under normal circumstances but is now doing so daily.

A leadership team at the university is similarly meeting every day to go over recommendations from the advisory committee. And the university has coronavirus plans in place for its food service, police, housing and hospital operations.

“Everything is on the table for us, because we are really cooperating incredibly closely with the public health agencies in Seattle,” said Denzil Suite, UW’s vice president for student life. “We are not either predicting or precluding any course of action at this point.”

Despite the pressure from students and some faculty members, who said they signed the closure petition because they felt unsafe, university officials emphasized that only recommendations from public health officials will lead to a suspension of operations. (A spokesperson for the university said the campus never truly “closes,” as it is a public space that houses thousands of students and a hospital.)

Suite added that if the university’s own medical experts, at the hospital and elsewhere on campus, were to recommend a suspension while government agencies did not, that guidance would be taken seriously.

Currently, the university has an extensive coronavirus website, including answers to common questions and looking ahead at potential hypotheticals. Suite said the campuses are prepared with emergency relocation spaces -- spread throughout the university’s housing stock -- that could be used in the event that students need to be relocated.

Other universities also have put out extensive guidance for their communities. The University of California system’s latest coronavirus information document is 19 pages long, for example.

Chuck Staben, a biology professor and former president of the University of Idaho (and an occasional columnist for Inside Higher Ed), said that in order to work how they’re intended, university plans need some level of granularity at this point.

“Let’s say you move classes online,” he said. “You do some form of live classes over a communication utility like Zoom. Do you have an enterprise license for Zoom that’s going to allow you to do that, or do you have a more limited license?” And recording video for students to watch might stretch the boundaries of what a college’s learning management system is capable of, he said.

Leadership should also be considering older faculty, Staben said, who face a greater health risk than their students from the worst effects of the virus and may feel unsafe coming to class.

He noted that beyond faculty and students, universities should also consider staff members who can’t work remotely. Food service and facilities workers need to be on campus and often aren’t granted the financial and scheduling flexibility to stay home when sick, potentially putting them at risk for spreading the virus.

“If we go into some form of isolation, you are still going to need people to clean the bathrooms and make the food and keep the lights on,” he said. “How do you protect those people?”

“It’s hard to write down a plan for everything that can happen,” he said. “The structure may need to be fairly flexible and appropriate for the situation.”

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Roundup of this week's news about colleges and the coronavirus

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

This week U.S. colleges grappled with the initial impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak in this country, even as they continued to deal with complications over international travel and to prepare for a dizzying array of likely disruptions in coming weeks and months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday issued guidance recommending that colleges “consider” postponing or canceling student foreign exchange programs and asking students to return to the U.S.

Many institutions have canceled spring break trips and study abroad programs in China, Italy, South Korea and other countries where large numbers of people have COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That trend accelerated throughout the week. New York University, for example, canceled all nonessential international university travel.

However, the vague wording in the CDC statement confused many in higher education. Some college leaders, for example, wondered if the guidance applied to foreign exchange students hosted by U.S. institutions as well as Americans studying abroad.

Some clarity came Tuesday when the president of NAFSA: Association of International Educators issued a statement saying the group had confirmed with the CDC that the guidance was not intended to apply to international students studying in the U.S.

Meanwhile, 76 percent of U.S. colleges said last month that recruitment of students from China has been affected by the coronavirus, according to the results of a survey the Institute of International Education conducted in February. Among responding institutions, 70 percent said they were evacuating students from China. And 94 percent said study abroad programs in China had been canceled or postponed.

Domestic Travel and Conference Cancellations

More than 210 U.S. cases of the virus had been confirmed by Thursday afternoon, with 12 deaths. Most of the cases were on the West Coast, and almost all the deaths have been in the Seattle area. So far California, Washington and Florida have declared states of emergency due to concerns over the coronavirus.

Some college officials have begun preparing for limitations on domestic travel.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was among the first to restrict university-affiliated travel for students, faculty and staff members to locations in the U.S. where a state of emergency has been declared related to the coronavirus. The university also strongly discouraged personal travel to these areas.

“Given the rapidly changing nature of the virus, if you choose to travel to these affected areas you may be asked to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine off-campus upon return,” the university said in a statement.

Brandman University on Thursday announced that faculty and staff members were "generally prohibited" from traveling by air to conduct university business -- both domestically or internationally -- through the end of April. 

Many higher education-related organizations faced uncertainty about conferences they were scheduled to host in coming weeks and months. Some have made the call to cancel or take precautions for those who might attend.

The American Physical Society on Saturday announced that it would cancel its annual meeting, which had 10,000 expected attendees and was slated to begin Monday in Denver. Some attendees had traveled long distances to get to Denver, sparking criticism on social media about the late cancellation notice.

On Sunday, Educause canceled its meeting on advanced learning technology that had been scheduled to begin Monday in Bellevue, Wash. And Ellucian, a higher education software firm, on Tuesday canceled its Ellucian Live 2020 event in Orlando, Fla., instead offering a free online version to 2,700 expected attendees.

Organizers of the ASU GSV Summit, which is scheduled to begin in San Diego at the end of March, announced this week that the conference would conduct mandatory temperature screenings for all attendees. The summit also will not admit attendees from China, South Korea, Iran or Italy and will “strongly encourage” a no-handshake policy -- a move likely to spread across higher education.

More Guidance From Feds, ACHA

Traditional-age college students face relatively low risks of dying from COVID-19, which is considered most dangerous for people over 60.

Yet college campuses could play an outsize role in helping to spread the coronavirus, given their dense concentrations of people, heavily used public spaces and large numbers of frequent travelers. Colleges also employ older faculty and staff members, and officials were scrambling this week to minimize health risks posed even to younger students.

The CDC and the American College Health Association both released guidance this week about how college campuses should prepare.

The guidelines from the CDC included how to update emergency operations plans, share information with employees and students, make decisions about canceling classes or events, and preserve safe housing and meals.

The ACHA focused on preparations for student health centers, including how to triage and isolate possibly infected patients. The group's guidance also covered protective equipment for health-care workers, procedures for cleaning and disinfection, and how to prepare for a surge in demand for student health center services.

Several college students already have been exposed to the coronavirus while working in clinical settings and are in quarantine.

A group of students from Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Washington State has been self-quarantined at home after possible exposure. Some are nursing students who, along with four professors from the institute, visited a long-term nursing facility where seven residents have died from COVID-19. Lake Washington closed on Wednesday after a faculty member tested positive for the virus, and will remain shuttered through the weekend.

After a student at Yeshiva University tested positive for the virus, the university on Wednesday shut down its Washington Heights and Midtown campuses in New York City until next week.

Likewise, public health officials directed four students at California’s Los Rios Community College District to self-quarantine after they performed medical duties and came in contact with a patient who later tested positive for the virus.

The U.S. Department of Education also issued new guidance Thursday with a focus on financial aid policies for students who experience disruptions due to the coronavirus.

The department, which last week said it was forming a coronavirus task force, explained how to comply with financial aid regulations a well as adding new temporary flexibility, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said in a written statement.

Some of the department’s guidance dealt with possible disruptions to the Federal Work-Study program. It also seeks to help colleges more quickly offer online education options to cope with disruptions to courses and academic programs.

“While some institutions would normally have to go through an approval process with the Education Department to use or expand distance learning programs, the Education Department is providing ‘broad approval’ to accommodate students ‘on a temporary basis’ without going through that process,” NASFAA said. “It is also allowing accrediting agencies to waive their review requirements for offering distance education for institutions that may need to do so to accommodate students impacted by the spread of the coronavirus.”

Both the department and the CDC also this week addressed stigma and discrimination related to the coronavirus.

The department cited news reports about stereotyping, harassment and bullying of people who are perceived to be Chinese American or of Asian descent, including some students.

“Ethnic harassment or bullying exacerbates hatred, harms students and is never justified,” Kenneth L. Marcus, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a written statement. “These incidents can create a climate of misunderstanding and fear. This hurts all of us.”

March Madness Without Fans?

The National Collegiate Athletic Association this week announced that it had convened a panel of health experts to help while the NCAA considered “all circumstances” in contingency planning for the virus.

Those scenarios include possibly holding its March basketball tournaments without spectators, Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer, told Bloomberg. The men’s tournament brings in more than 80 percent of the NCAA’s total revenue of more than $1 billion, mostly through TV deals.

The National College Players Association said in a statement that the NCAA and colleges should act quickly to help protect athletes. “There should be a serious discussion about holding competitions without an audience present,” the group said. “The NCAA and its colleges must act now, there is no time to waste.”

Several colleges and universities have begun limiting the travel of intercollegiate sports teams. Chicago State University and the University of Missouri at Kansas City canceled men’s basketball games that had been scheduled this week at Seattle University. Chicago State also canceled basketball games with Utah Valley University.

Kean University went a step further on Wednesday, canceling out-of-state travel next week for five athletics teams during the university’s spring break. Kean made the move out of an “abundance of caution,” news outlets reported.

"This is consistent with the university's recommendation for the entire campus community to postpone spring break travel to limit possible exposure to COVID-19, avoid travel disruptions and reduce the risk of needing to self-quarantine upon their return," a spokeswoman for the university told

Campus Preparations Ramp Up

Most colleges and universities appeared to have kept busy with their own planning and preparation amid the flurry of action by the CDC and federal government.

The University of Washington, for example, was preparing for scenarios of a possible escalation of the outbreak.

“Everything is on the table for us because we are really cooperating incredibly closely with the public health agencies in Seattle,” said Denzil Suite, UW’s vice president for student life. “We are not either predicting or precluding any course of action at this point.”

Many institutions have had coronavirus task forces in place for weeks or months. And colleges are publicly posting a wide range of information for students and employees.

Dr. Mark S. Schlissel, the University of Michigan’s president and a medical doctor, said Wednesday that the university has instructed students about recommended protocols for washing hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and socially isolating themselves if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus or might have it.

The university is publishing daily updates to a COVID-19 information page on its website.

“There’s a huge amount of uncertainty and a lot of concern,” Schlissel said. “We’re looking at it every single day and asking ourselves, ‘What is the right thing to do?’”

-- Several reporters and editors at Inside Higher Ed contributed to this article.

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China moves away from 'publish or perish'

Fri, 03/06/2020 - 01:00

The Chinese government has signaled that it will downgrade the importance of Science Citation Index (SCI) research metrics in assessments of academics and universities and, potentially, funding decisions.

Guidelines, issued jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Technology in the form of a 10-point directive, discourage institutions from rewarding individuals and departments based primarily on how many articles they have in the SCI and suggest that a lack of SCI papers should not be a barrier to granting degrees or qualifications. They also say institutions should stop the practice of paying financial bonuses for publication. SCI, which is owned by Clarivate Analytics, is one of the world’s main bibliometric indexes of published research, covering thousands of the world’s top journals.

“It is a significant policy change that will affect not only evaluation systems for doctoral students, faculty members and researchers at the institutional level, but also the doctoral-degree awarding system,” Futao Huang, a professor at the Research Institute for Higher Education at Hiroshima University, told Times Higher Education.

Shen Wenqin, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Education at Peking University, also voiced concern about the plan’s potential consequences. “If this policy is seriously implemented, it will have a great impact on the entire higher education system -- in evaluations, teacher recruitment and doctoral training,” he said.

The policy change comes during an unprecedented boom in Chinese research. In 2019, China was ranked second worldwide in the Web of Science Group’s list of highly cited researchers, behind only the U.S. As recently as 1973, China published only one SCI paper.

“This is not to say that China did not have scientific research capabilities at the time,” Shen said. “But it shows that China was then separated from the international academic community.”

Today, the opposite is true. Chinese universities’ aggressive drive for research citations, which have quickly bolstered them in global rankings, has led to what the new government document calls a problem of “SCI supremacy.” SCI authorship has now become a core consideration in job evaluations and funding decisions, which has led to an “excessive pursuit” of such citations.

The shift away from SCI citations has been at least a few years in the making. The government directive cites comments on the issue made by President Xi Jinping in 2017.

Li Guojie, former head of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Computing Technology, has long been critical of SCI-dominated assessments. He told Times Higher Education that the policy was a good first step in a larger process. “It is well intended, but how talent is being evaluated is still a problem. It will take time to cultivate a good academic environment. SCI is just one aspect of evaluation.”

Shen said that one possible reason for the policy change was public dissatisfaction with the current research system. “The government has invested huge amounts of money on scientific research, but universities and research institutions have not performed very well in solving practical social problems,” he said.

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