Inside Higher Ed

Experts: Punishments, bans not effective in changing Greek culture

Mon, 2017-11-20 08:00

Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old fraternity pledge at Florida State University, died at an off-campus party this month following a night of heavy drinking.

The circumstances were nearly identical at Texas State University just last week -- Matthew Ellis, 20, another pledge, died, with officials saying alcohol played a factor.

And at Ohio State University, 11 of the institution’s 37 fraternities have come under investigation since the beginning of the academic year -- mostly for alcohol and hazing violations, per a spokesman.

The responses to these incidents have dominated headlines because of their seemingly drastic nature -- a complete and sweeping prohibition of sororities and fraternities at three powerhouse state institutions with a major Greek presence (in the case of Ohio State, just its fraternities were suspended).

Yet similar bans have been tried before, and deaths associated with Greek organizations have never ceased.

Lesser punishments of varying degrees have also been attempted. Administrators have limited or removed alcohol from Greek events, or they’ve discontinued the pledging process. Often, the drinking and recruitment have continued but shifted underground.

Individual chapters have been shut down or barred from campuses, such as Beta Theta Pi at Penn State University after the high-profile death this year of pledge Timothy Piazza, whose fraternity brothers never sought medical attention for Piazza after he drank so much that he fell 15 feet down a flight of steps and bled internally for hours.

The University of West Florida last week suspended Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity for a minimum of five years after an investigation revealed hazing and alcohol-related misconduct, and issued a temporary ban on Zeta Phi Beta sorority, also for hazing. The student-led Interfraternity Council at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor voted recently, too, to suspend most fraternity pledging and parties after claims of sexual misconduct and hazing -- an unusual move in that it was taken by students and not administrators.

Sanctions historically, though, have accomplished little to nothing, experts and researchers into Greek life said in interviews.

Both institutions and the national heads of fraternities and sororities must truly start to control their chapters more, they said, which in some cases means clashing with the preferences of donors, the alumni of the Greek system. It means more oversight -- responsible adult guides need to be installed in the chapters.

And it means investing in investigations and training for the people who conduct them.

“There’s been a never-ending stream of bad headlines,” said John Hechinger, a senior editor at Bloomberg News and author of True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities. Greek organizations “are very concerned about this. Enrollment may be up, but every one of these deaths results in a criminal investigation, often a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, and it’s hard. It does put a huge amount of pressure on them.”

Suspending Greek activities entirely isn’t quite a new phenomenon. West Virginia University and Clemson University both did so in 2014 following pledge deaths.

A slew of higher education professional associations, among them NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors, released a statement after the now infamous 2014 Rolling Stone piece (since retracted) about an alleged sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity house. That statement touched on such bans:

“Pausing the activities of student groups for a reasonable, defined period of time can be a useful mechanism in helping a reeling group evaluate and assess in a time of crisis, especially when that crisis may be related to the group’s activities, as may be the case with sexual violence, hazing and binge drinking,” the statement reads.

The suspension of Greek life activity only serves as a stopgap measure, said Jill Creighton, president of the Association of Student Conduct Administration. It’s not designed as a punishment, but as a way for the institution to address possible safety concerns by pushing “the pause button,” she said.

“It’s to help the community understand the gravity of the concern and collectively work toward positive cultural changes,” Creighton said.

But Nick Altwies, founder of the Society Advocating Fraternal Excellence, a pro-Greek group, has a slightly more cynical view -- he thinks the move is more of a public relations strategy. Altwies was formerly the assistant executive director, director of programs and field secretary for the national Phi Gamma Delta office.

Because these suspensions are temporary, just years later colleges and universities likely go back to operating as “business as usual,” he said. Sometimes after a scandal fraternity chapters will weed out some of the members -- a national branch or administrators might only keep 20 out of 100 brothers and kick the rest out, Altwies said.

Nothing will change fundamentally, though, if the national offices won’t step in and assure a system is in place at all chapters that provides for mentors and supervision, Altwies said -- they have a responsibility to do so, he said.

“The chapters need a fatherly figure, perhaps alumni, to connect with students -- not control them -- much like a good coach does,” he said.

Some chapters have such a figure and are high functioning, and they’re not the ones making news, Altwies said.

National fraternities must also back alcohol-free policies, such as Sigma Phi Epsilon did at its more than 200 chapters, said Hechinger -- this would greatly help institutions in enforcing the rules.

Gentry McCreary, the chief executive officer of Dyad Strategies, which consults with colleges and universities to reshape their Greek life systems, said he was aware of at least four national fraternities that are discussing shifting their policies, either instituting alcohol bans or curtailing the pledging period. He declined to name the fraternities.

“These incidents are a catalyst for these changes,” he said.

The North-American Interfraternity Conference will pilot a new program come January -- an “enhanced health and safety policy” that mandates that hard alcohol be removed from fraternity houses.

The program also tries to better control crowd size at such events -- and the number of them that can have alcohol is limited.

“This pilot approach blends policy rooted in research, best practices in education, enhanced procedures to make events safer and consistent assessment to measure the effectiveness of these interventions,” Heather Kirk, an conference spokeswoman, wrote in an email.

Institutions benefit from the current Greek system, however, Hechinger said.

Colleges market their campus social experience, particularly state institutions looking to attract full-paying out-of-state customers, and are in a way endorsing the current practices, Hechinger said. Many donors also come from the Greek system, he said. Greek alumni are often in high-ranking positions in congresses and in legislatures.

“Really what needs to happen is that colleges and fraternities can’t look at the other way and then act all shocked when someone dies,” he said. “For every death there are multiple hospitalizations before that and sexual assaults and horrible behavior. They need to change the environment -- it’s a public health issue.”

In a statement to Inside Higher Ed, Carole Jones, chairwoman of the National Panhellenic Conference, a coalition of sororities from across the country, said the message to universities is that the sororities want to partner with them.

“Student safety is too important for us to do anything other than work together. We’ve always known that rules alone are not sufficient, so we must create cultures where students advocate for one another. We believe this can happen and we believe it can happen in ways that also respect the rights of students. To that end, we see our role as an organization that can convene leaders from across the industry -- from member organizations, from alumni and from the ranks of university leadership -- to identify where campuses are succeeding in creating the kind of cultures we aspire to build everywhere. This will be our focus in the coming months.”

Hechinger noted that recruitment within Greek life has suffered little despite the negative headlines, with a 50 percent increase in membership in the last decade.

Institutions have also never really tried to determine if their punishments are working, said McCreary.

He said his group offers surveys that can figure out the motivation behind hazing in fraternity and sorority chapters -- in some cases, it’s a bonding exercise to unite the members. In others, it’s simply an issue of “social dominance,” McCreary said.

If colleges simply hand down consequences without learning those motivating factors, they can’t actually change the culture of a chapter, he said.

Many institutions are also particularly poor at investigating low-level hazing and alcohol incidents. If someone dies, generally information comes to light quickly, but in the smaller-scale events, even the victim is more likely to lie, McCreary said.

While colleges have invested substantially in Title IX coordinators, those who administer the federal gender antidiscrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, McCreary said, they have not done so with those who investigate hazing.

He questioned whether the federal government needed to step in, as the Obama administration did with Title IX in 2011, when it enacted far more strict measures for colleges to investigate and adjudicate campus sexual assault.

“All in all,” he said, “we just need more responsible adults in the room.”

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Boston U moves to terminate professor after investigation into sexual harassment claims

Mon, 2017-11-20 08:00

Boston University said Friday that it found evidence of harassment in a case involving David Marchant, a well-known geologist -- enough to initiate termination proceedings against him.

Marchant, who was until recently chair of the department of earth and environment at Boston, remains a professor but is now on paid administrative leave, Provost Jean Morrison said in a statement. The university’s 13-month investigation was prompted by claims of harassment by one of Marchant’s former graduate students but involved interviews and statements from more than 30 witnesses and some 1,000 pages of records.

Many details of the case have since become public, due to media coverage. The matter is also the subject of a separate investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Marchant’s primary accuser is Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor of geology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. She says that Marchant harassed her during a 1999 research trip to Antarctica, when he was still an assistant professor at Boston. Marchant allegedly pressured Willenbring to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip, and called her a "slut" and a "whore." Willenbring also says Marchant pelted her with rocks while she was urinating outside and purposely blew volcanic ash into her eyes as she was recovering from a condition known as ice blindness.

Other witnesses have publicly corroborated some of Willenbring’s account and, in two cases, reported similar experiences during field research with Marchant.

Boston investigators concluded that Marchant engaged in sexual harassment in violation of the university’s policies on sexual harassment and equal opportunity. Specifically, investigators found, “by a preponderance of the evidence, that Marchant directed derogatory sex-based slurs and sexual comments at Willenbring during the 1999-2000 field expedition to Antarctica,” Morrison said. Investigators did not find credible evidence to support Willenbring’s remaining allegations of “direct physical attacks and other types of psychological and physical abuse,” however, she said.

Over all, Boston found the sexual harassment “was sufficiently severe and pervasive so as to create a hostile learning and living environment for Willenbring” in Antarctica.

“We take all complaints of sexual harassment very seriously and will always be vigilant in conducting a thorough, fair and effective investigation,” Morrison said. “We are committed to creating an environment for all members of the university community that is free from sexual harassment.”

Marchant, who has not commented publicly on the case and did not respond to a request from Inside Higher Ed about the university’s findings, has been notified of his right to appeal. Science reported that he denied the allegations against him during the university's investigation.

Willenbring has said that she waited until she gained tenure to report Marchant, for fear of possible professional retribution. Hers is among a group of recent harassment claims against professors involving older incidents -- some inspired by the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and others not. Boston’s response is significant in that it signals professors will still be held accountable for misconduct, regardless of timeline. The case also highlights the particular challenges faced by those who experience harassment or assault at scientific field sites, which are often geographically remote and lack clear standards of conduct and reporting procedures.

Willenbring said Saturday that she was “pleased that the truth of many women’s experiences was heard and believed.” Even though the university didn’t find credible evidence of physical misconduct, she added, it’s “clear from the report that he still discriminates based on gender and sexually harasses some women.”

Boston’s investigation under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting gender discrimination in education, indicates Boston’s “future commitment to students’ well-being,” she said. “Common sense prevailed in their determination that he sexually harassed me.”

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Feminism, safe spaces and the inclusion of male voices

Mon, 2017-11-20 08:00

BALTIMORE -- It was the 38th annual meeting of the National Women’s Studies Association, and Erin Spampinato wanted to talk about cisgender, heterosexual men.

For the City University of New York doctoral candidate, though, that wasn’t an incompatible juxtaposition. Rather, it was a necessary one.

She was talking about a class she taught, Representations of Rape in Literature, and how her syllabus’s trigger warnings on the course's violent content also called for an inclusive classroom -- and specifically welcoming the inclusion of straight, cisgender men -- in order to encourage debate and make sure every student felt welcome to share their opinions. The idea of calling for a safe space in the classroom and using trigger warnings, Spampinato said, wasn’t to stifle debate, as conservative pundits often charge, but quite the opposite: to foster “a diversity of opinions,” the same phrase that conservatives often use when claiming feminism or liberalism is intolerant of their views.

Spampinato was speaking a panel on feminist curricula, titled “Pedagogy’s Cutting Edge: The Practice and Promise of Curriculum Design,” where she was joined by scholars presenting papers on topics ranging from teaching feminism during a period of cultural backlash to the design of online and virtual curricula in a feminist manner.

For Spampinato, using trigger warnings and establishing the classroom as a safe space is a way to promote more conversation and bring more people into discussions on feminism and related topics. During the panel, her definition of a safe space wasn’t a classroom that called for censorship, or a place where no one would be offended, but rather a classroom where “if you are offended, you will feel comfortable explaining why and sharing your feelings.”

Spampinato spoke on her paper “Teaching the Literature of Sexual Violence in the Era of the Trigger Warning” and acknowledged that her approach was unorthodox and very specific to the context of the course she taught, which occurred before the 2016 presidential election. She acknowledged the criticism that comes with carving out space for men in a feminist or women’s studies course, but for her it was as practical as it was pedagogical.

“As a person who researches this topic, I know that the vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by cisgender, heterosexual men,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “I work on a college campus where we have sexual violence. It’s a cultural problem, and I believe men must be part of those conversations.”

The conflation of safe spaces and trigger warnings with censorship, she said, was based on a false understanding by critics of what safe spaces and trigger warnings are supposed to do. The only opinions that Spampinato said were not welcome were ones that were only meant to cause offense without furthering a dialogue or conversation.

Still, Spampinato said her method of explicitly calling for the inclusion of straight, cisgender men was contextual to the class she was teaching, and warned against it being used as a general rule. She wanted to bring men into the conversation around the depiction of rape in literature, she said, and she found that this was a good way to accomplish that in her specific course. Although there were instances of male students saying ignorant or offensive things, their ability to express those opinions became teachable moments when the rest of the class could express their feelings in response.

“The reason I centered cis men in this situation was totally contextual … I didn’t want male students not to take my class, and I was worried about that, especially [given] the topic,” Spampinato said in response to an audience member asking if her method inadvertently made male students the center of attention in a feminist course. “But there might be some internalized misogyny in there, trying to meet the needs of cis male students. That’s something I think about a lot.”

She said her method wasn’t set in stone, and she wasn’t above re-evaluating it; perhaps, she said, she was too concerned with male voices, at the expense at others. She also said she worked made sure her method didn’t come at the expense of supporting students from marginalized backgrounds. Still, she said, her method was in line with feminist goals -- particularly shifting the blame for sexual assault off victims and onto perpetrators.

“If talking about rape more, and sometimes offending each other, means that my students rape each other less, then I’m all for that,” Spampinato said during the panel discussion.

Trigger warnings and safe spaces, Spampinato said, are an invitation for discussing difficult topics.

“You shouldn’t be using them unless you’re down to be challenged, and to reconsider your thinking.”

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California colleges consider prospect of multiple promises

Mon, 2017-11-20 08:00

California’s Legislature and governor may have officially signed off on covering tuition costs for the first year of community college last month, but many of the state’s colleges have already been offering some type of tuition-free program on their own.

And now questions remain about how those more than 40 tuition-free plans in the state will change once the statewide California Promise goes into effect. Despite the measure being signed into law, the statewide tuition-free initiative is dependent on funding that will need to be secured in the state budget next year, which many college officials are optimistic will happen. The legislation is estimated to cost $31 million.

“We definitely see the recent legislation and the flourishing local Promise partnerships as complementing each other, not competing,” said Paul Feist, vice chancellor for communications in the California Community Colleges system, via email, adding that the law is designed to work with local programs.

Although the law is still in need of funding from the Legislature, it provides some flexibility once funding is available and would allow colleges to use the money to waive some or all fees up to one year for first-time students, although the colleges are not required to do so. So students could only benefit from the statewide initiative if colleges choose to participate in the California Promise. But those colleges should also use the funds to “advance the goals of the legislation.”

And advancing those goals, which include increasing completion rates, eliminating achievement gaps and increasing transfer rates to the state’s public universities, has many colleges already considering different ways to use the dollars they have in their current Promise programs.

“When [Assembly Bill 19] is fully funded, individual campuses that have raised funds can choose how to use them in addition to what students will be eligible for through the new law,” said Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley in a recent newsletter to the system. “For instance, campus private funds could be used to help fund the second-year tuition, or for books, supplies or other expenses.”

Among the state’s 114 community colleges, Mary Rauner, a senior research associate at WestEd, estimates there are 49 tuition-free or Promise programs.

Rauner said while it’s still too early for many of these programs to have a plan for how to run alongside the statewide initiative, she’s heard plenty of thoughts and ideas.

“And they run the gamut from extending to two years to using funding for add-ons like books, beyond what existing programs offer … I’ve even heard people at various points talk about child care and nontuition fees,” she said.

Take, for instance, the Long Beach College Promise, a partnership between the city, state university, community college and K-12 system, which has existed for about a decade. Just two years ago, the Long Beach program expanded to offer a full year of free tuition to Long Beach City College.

“In Long Beach, we think the statewide promise is a significant step forward,” said Terri Carbaugh, associate vice president for media and government relations for Long Beach College Promise. “It provides that flexibility because California is so large and every region is so different. It incentivizes that behavior but doesn’t tell regions how to do it. Everyone is free to design their own initiative.”

Carbaugh said the statewide initiative to provide a tuition-free year has allowed Long Beach Promise officials to examine what more they can offer. Nearly 80 percent of first-time, full-time students at Long Beach City College are already attending for free because of the California Promise Grant, formerly known as the Board of Governors fee waiver. The name of the fee waiver, which has existed for more than 30 years, was changed in September to reflect the state’s commitment to waiving tuition for low-income students.

So if the statewide initiative is fully funded next year, Long Beach could consider funding a second year, or “we would have the flexibility to create grants for housing, transportation or books to really begin addressing the full cost of attending college in Long Beach,” Carbaugh said.

Unlike typical statewide tuition-free initiatives that often place prerequisites on students to receive the scholarship, California’s new law has created participation requirements for colleges. Which means those that already have thriving Promise or tuition-free programs may be in a better position to use the statewide program.

Rauner said it also remains to be seen what will come from the colleges that don’t participate in a local tuition-free program. Some could be waiting to see how the statewide Promise is funded before launching any new local initiative.

The law, for instance, requires colleges to partner with K-12 school districts to educate families on college opportunities, financial aid and offer preparatory courses. The colleges should also use multiple measures for placement and participate in the California Community College Guided Pathways Grant Program. It will be up to the chancellor’s office to determine that colleges qualify for the statewide initiative.

“Because the Promise movement is really a grassroots movement, that probably bodes well for its long-term success,” Carbaugh said, adding that as opposed to the Legislature mandating institutions participate in a tuition-free program, the opposite has happened -- the Legislature is backing up existing programs in Long Beach, Oakland and Los Angeles.

The Oakland Promise, which is connected to the East Bay College Fund, for instance, doesn’t just help students with college expenses but is also offering to open college savings accounts for children in the school district.

“All the studies will show that money makes a certain degree of difference, but it’s the persistent support and the advising, too,” said Diane Dodge, executive director of the East Bay College Fund. “When you’re in poverty, just because you’re in college that doesn’t mean it’s any easier … supporting students through four or five or six years is a lot.”

Many of the local tuition-free programs, however, have received funding through private donations or local taxes, and there is a concern that the statewide free initiative may lead to donors finding other ways to help students outside the many Promise programs.

“I have heard some concerns and I know the state has talked about being really careful about how to message this funding,” Rauner said. “It will be a little bit of a challenge for some of the programs, especially those that have worked hard on developing relationships with private donors.”

Carbaugh said she would encourage fund-raisers to make sure donors know that the first year of free tuition is just one step and students still face many other expenses.

“Our hope is that donors, either through education or inherently in our region, will understand, in L.A. in particular … the vast majority of our students are disadvantaged students, so just helping them with tuition is not enough, and helping them in any way you can is a very valuable need,” said Drew Yamanishi, dean of the first-year experience at Los Angeles City College.

The Los Angeles Promise also covers one year of free tuition for students attending any of the nine Los Angeles Community College District institutions. Yamanishi said officials in L.A. are pondering the same issue as other local initiatives about how to combine with the statewide Promise.

The Richmond Promise, which benefits high school students who live in Richmond or North Richmond -- about 10 miles north of Oakland -- already covers the full cost of attendance. The program is mostly funded by Chevron.

“This legislation reinforces the opportunity we have to proactively build in more financial literacy training for our students about short- and long-term financial management,” said Jessie Stewart, executive director, in an email. “We would welcome recommendations about how to leverage this legislation to make Richmond Promise dollars more impactful and possibly provide alternatives for students to save their scholarship dollars for transfer.”

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Roundup of colleges starting or finishing fund-raising campaigns

Mon, 2017-11-20 08:00

Starting Off:

  • Mount Saint Mary's University, in California, has announced a campaign to raise $100 million by 2020. Priorities include student aid and efforts to encourage students to study and conduct research abroad. Already the university has raised $68 million.
  • St. Mary's University, in Texas, is starting a campaign to raise $130 million by 2021. So far, the university has raised more than $104 million.
  • Skidmore College is starting a campaign to raise $200 million by 2020. More than $145 million has already been raised.
  • Tennessee Tech University has launched a campaign to raise $60 million by 2021. Three core areas have been identified for the campaign: student scholarships, endowed faculty and campus expansion. The university has already raised $48 million toward its goal.
  • University of Delaware has started a campaign to raise $750 million by 2020. Financial aid, graduate fellowships and endowed professorships are top priorities for the campaign. The university has already raised $565 million.
  • University of St. Thomas has started a campaign to raise $200 million by 2025. The focus will be scholarship support for students. The university has also announced a $50 million gift for that purpose from the GHR Foundation.

Finishing Up:

  • Loras College, in Iowa, has raised $106 million in a campaign that started in 2013. The original goal was $75 million, and that goal was increased to $100 million two years ago. A key focus has been financial aid, with more than 120 new endowed scholarships created with funds raised in the campaign.
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Southern Illinois U at Carbondale wants to dissolve academic departments -- all of them

Fri, 2017-11-17 08:00

Faculty members at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale understand that something has to be done to stem an enrollment decline and the campus’s financial woes. But many professors object to the centerpiece of Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s radical new plan to fix things: eliminating every department across the institution.

“The chancellor is pushing this idea quite aggressively,” David Anthony, chair of the English department, said. “He kind of showed up, looked around and came up with a plan that doesn’t really have any model, evidence or precedent.”

Earlier this semester, Montemagno -- who has been on the job since mid-August and is an engineer by training -- told the faculty that increasing enrollment and solving Carbondale’s cash flow problems would necessitate restructuring. That didn’t come as a surprise to most professors, and many if not most support the idea. But last month, Montemagno told professors more about how reorganization would necessitate dissolving departments into multiprogram schools, which would be headed by appointed directors. Those schools would be organized within colleges run by deans.

So, in the case of proposed School of Humanities within the proposed College of Liberal and Performing Arts, for example, there would still be programs, courses and majors in history, English, philosophy, philosophy and languages, cultures and international studies. But there would no longer be a departmental structure to support them.

"We have lost more than 50 percent in our freshman class over the last three years alone. We are in a free-fall, and this is directly impacting the health of the institution," Montemagno said during a form on revitalizing academic programs. "Why is this occurring? It’s occurring because we are not offering programs that are distinctive and relevant to today’s students. As we try to correct it, we face limited resources, declining faculty numbers and no help from the state. We must recast and reinforce both our academic programs and our research."

The chancellor went on to say that the "biggest limitation in our ability to change has been bureaucratic, artificial boundaries created by the way we count effort and resources." The solution, he said, "is to eliminate the primary obstacles for multidisciplinary interaction – the financial structure associated with departments. By eliminating departments, we coarsen the delivery of resources to support innovative thinking."

He presented a draft restructuring that would involve collapsing eight colleges and 42 departments and schools (excluding the schools of law and medicine) into five colleges and 18 schools, including law and medicine. Current examples of the general model already exist on campus, in the School of Allied Health, the School of Art and Design and the School of Architecture, Montemagno said. All house multiple programs, with tenure residing in the school, not the department. "So we are not creating new ground. A modified version of this structure already exists on a smaller scale."

Beyond saving money in the reduced administrative costs, Montemagno said programs running together within a school would create new “synergy" on campus. He's also suggested that the faculty union contract and various institutional policies are forcing his hand on the department issue, based on the scope of reorganization; the union disagrees.

“Restructuring isn’t that controversial,” and some small colleges on campus might even embrace eliminating departments, said David Johnson, president of the National Education Association-affiliated Faculty Association and an associate professor of classics. “But others are really big, and this proposal is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. It’s also a completely untried experiment, and that is what’s getting people concerned.”

Another point of tension is the negation of current departmental “operating papers,” under the plan. The papers, guaranteed by union contract, are currently approved by the university but are written by professors at the departmental level. They address issues such as tenure and promotion, faculty qualifications and both how chairs are selected and what they do.

There are also questions of workload: Montemagno has said that the administrative heavy lifting and day-to-day troubleshooting done by current chairs would be picked up by program faculty members as service or within course release periods. Asked about how it all might work, in practice, the chancellor told the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate last week that there was not enough time to have prolonged discussions and they would “just have to trust me. That’s what you hired me to do.”

Skepticism remains, especially considering Montemagno’s desired deadline for restructuring: everything decided upon by the spring, and in place by fall 2019. To Jonathan Bean, a professor of history who teaches business history, Montemagno’s invocation of synergy seemed like a “throwback” to management lingo of the 1990s. Synergy, or the idea that the sum is greater than the organization's parts, turned out to be something of a myth, but successful examples of synergistic mergers tend to be "carefully thought out processes," he said. Montemagno's "slap dash" plan, by contrast, seems "hell bent on increasing central control."

Bean added, “Most of us accept or even favor restructuring, but this really is turning the university upside down then pulling the departments off the branches of the tree.” 

Rae Morrow Goldsmith, a Carbondale spokeswoman, said Thursday that Montemagno has received “both positive and critical feedback” on the proposed academic structure, and that he’d welcome alternative ideas.

“The chancellor knew that there would be concerns about changing a long-held structure that so many are familiar with,” she said via email. “He is proposing the change in order to add to the teaching and research capacity of faculty, reduce bureaucracy, create more flexibility to develop cross-disciplinary programs and research, and generate resources to reinvest in programs and people.”

Carbondale has compared its plan to how Arizona State University is organized. That institution has trimmed its number of departments from about 69 to 40 in recent years. But it’s done so by combining departments into larger ones, or by clustering programs by theme -- not eliminating departments altogether. Johnson compared Carbondale's idea to a highly unpopular plan to eliminate department chairs at Kean University in 2010.

It’s unclear to what extent the final decision at Carbondale will involve faculty input. Montemagno has announced a 90-day feedback period, in which faculty members are to decide which programs should go into which schools. The Faculty Senate has already objected to the elimination of departments, via a resolution passed last week. The vote was 19 to 11, with three abstentions.

The text of the resolution reflects general faculty concerns that the change could do more harm that good in terms of recruitment, since “potential students and faculty will doubt the stability of programs lacking the institutional status of departments, and question the stability of a university that appears to lack the resources to support departments.” It also says that “principles of shared governance and academic freedom are threatened when a unilateral reorganization eliminates academic units across the board without regard to the content or mission of the unit, and with no opportunity for substantive deliberation or debate.” 

Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of academic freedom, tenure and governance at the American Association of University Professors, said Montemagno’s plan appears to be a “rather serious governance concern.” Under widely accepted principles of institutional governance, he said, any important decision about departmental structure should be made “in concert with the faculty.”

Carbondale has pointed to its feedback period as an example of shared governance. Tiede said meaningful faculty participation would be involving a faculty budget committee in questions of how budgetary issues are to be resolved over all, with the faculty making its assessments through the lens of the institution’s academic mission.

Of Carbondale specifically, Tiede said, “I don’t know what process led to this point, but we certainly see with some frequency administrations developing plans for major changes to the institution in which the faculty has had essentially no role. Getting feedback on a fully worked-out plan that has serious academic implications is not shared governance.”

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House passes tax plan with many provisions opposed by colleges

Fri, 2017-11-17 08:00

House Republicans on Thursday pushed through tax reform legislation widely opposed by higher education leaders who say many of its provisions will make a college degree less attainable and hurt the financial strength of institutions.

The bill passed by a 227 to 205 vote with 13 Republicans voting against the plan; it did not receive support from any Democrats.

The House plan, which was introduced just two weeks ago and did not receive a single hearing, dramatically lowers corporate tax rates and shrinks the number of income tax brackets. It has come in for criticism from higher ed both for the offsetting revenue it seeks from institutions and the elimination of benefits for students.

Representative Kevin Brady, the Republican chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the chief architect of the plan, said in a closing statement before the vote Thursday that the legislation would improve the lives of Americans across the country.

"For too long, this broken tax code has put the needs of the people second -- propping up Washington special interests at the expense of hardworking Americans," he said.

But critics of the bill said hardworking students would suffer as a result of many of its provisions. In a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House ahead of the vote this week, Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said those provisions would "discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll and undermine the financial stability of public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities."

"This is not in America's national interest," Mitchell wrote.

Among the most heavily panned provisions of the plan that directly affect students is the repeal of a tax code provision allowing colleges and universities to waive the cost of tuition for graduate students. That change would effectively impose a new tax on graduate students themselves, a move that student groups have warned would make graduate education unattainable for low- and middle-income students in a range of disciplines.

Sam Leitermann, president of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students, said the group was disappointed the House had passed a bill that does not protect graduate student tuition waivers.

“The taxation of tuition waivers will be devastating to graduate studies across the country and will cause many graduate students to be unable to continue their studies,” he said. “We will continue to advocate against these provisions through the reconciliation process.”

Families of college employees would also be hit by the House plan. It would tax the value of tuition discounts currently offered by colleges and universities to the spouses and children of their employees.

The repeal of the tax code provision that allows those benefits for graduate students and family members of employees is estimated to create $5.4 billion in revenues over a decade, according to an analysis the Joint Committee on Taxation presented to Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat and the ranking member on the Senate education committee. The analysis found that student-related provisions of the bill would generate $71.5 billion in revenue.

Another provision of the bill would apply a 1.4 percent excise tax to private college endowments valued at $250,000 per full-time student. That provision would affect fewer than 100 higher ed institutions, but opponents say it penalizes colleges for having a stable revenue stream. It also doesn't redirect that money to student aid -- even though a chief complaint of endowment critics on Capitol Hill is that spending from those funds doesn't do enough to lower the cost of college.

The plan also eliminates tax-exempt private activity bonds that private -- and some public -- institutions use to lower the cost of borrowing for new construction. Effectively this would make it more expensive for colleges to build or renovate facilities. Because wealthier colleges can frequently raise money to build without borrowing, the impact of this provision would be greatest on institutions of modest means.

Higher ed groups also warn that the elimination of state and local tax deductions in the House plan would have negative long-term implications for public funding of colleges and universities. Without those deductions, states may see more opposition to raising taxes -- or even pressure to lower taxes -- that could lead to less support of public universities, critics say.

Reid Setzer, government affairs director at the progressive advocacy group Young Invincibles, said it is “appalling” that congressional Republicans think a solution to increasing student debt is cutting investments in higher education to pay for tax cuts for wealthy corporations.

“The Senate has and should continue to reject the House’s higher education cuts. But the Senate tax plan is also flawed: it fails to boost support for students and families who are struggling to pay for college, and uproots our health-care system by increasing premiums and driving up the number of uninsured,” he said. “Congress should keep their promise to help families get ahead. This plan misses the mark.”

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Valparaiso law school will not admit new students

Fri, 2017-11-17 08:00

Valparaiso University announced Thursday that its law school would no longer admit new students. While such announcements sometimes mean a law school is closing, Valparaiso insists that is not the case there.

Rather, the university is going to seek to merge its law school with that of another institution, or to move the law school to another part of the country, where it might attract more students.

The law school is more than 130 years old, but it has been struggling to enroll enough students to function. Only 29 new students enrolled this fall, down from more than 200 as recently as 2013.

In an interview Thursday evening, President Mark A. Heckler said that the law school faced many of the same challenges confronting other law schools. And indeed, many have responded to declining applicant interest by reducing the size of their programs. In April, Whittier College announced that it would shut its law school.

Heckler said that the Valparaiso law school previously had a reserve fund, but that the fund had been depleted. He declined to say how much the university provided to the law school.

Beyond problems facing legal education generally, Heckler said that Valparaiso faced geographic challenges. The law school is among four in the state of Indiana. Further, because the university is located in the northwest part of the state, it is part of the Chicago law school market, and one of six law schools there, the others more centrally located in or near the city.

Asked why the university didn't follow the lead of Whittier and simply shut down the law school, Heckler said, "We have a 138-year tradition and very strong people."

Valparaiso, a Lutheran institution, is proud of the way its faith tradition has influenced its law school, Heckler said. "We think there is a need for a law school that sees the law as a calling, as a service," he said.

The university will consider locations anywhere in the country, he said. Further, it will consider affiliations with law schools that do not share the university's faith, provided there is respect for the law school's commitment to service. Faculty members would have to support the new location or partner, he said. Depending on location, accreditors and state agencies might also be involved in a review of any proposed change.

Heckler said that some discussions about affiliations or moves have already taken place, although he could not reveal any details about them.

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New Title IX practices at Notre Dame draw criticisms

Fri, 2017-11-17 08:00

The University of Notre Dame for years has been derided for its handling of campus sexual assault. It’s been the subject of multiple prominent lawsuits and federal investigations and was one of the first institutions to be scrutinized under the Obama administration’s heightened rules on these types of cases.

Now, recent policy changes at the powerhouse religious institution have once again spurred concerns of victim advocates, who say the new policies might allow a student accused of sexual misconduct to avoid the traditional disciplinary process.

At a time when some perceive President Trump’s Education Department to be scaling back protections for rape survivors, the university must strengthen its own procedures, students and alumni said in interviews, not follow the lead of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been criticized for removing stringent Obama-era guidance on investigating and adjudicating sexual assault.

In August, Notre Dame revised its practices on Title IX, the federal antidiscrimination law known formally as Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. This is routine for the university every summer, said spokesman Dennis Brown.

The key piece of this shift was a new option allowing students involved in certain sexual misconduct cases to ask for an “alternative resolution” rather than a comprehensive investigation that ends with a panel of university officials deciding whether there was wrongdoing.

This alternative -- which hasn’t been used yet -- can’t be applied to cases involving violence, including rape, Brown said. It could be employed in other types of harassment cases, such as stalking. And what a “resolution” entails will vary by case, Brown said -- it might involve a permanent order barring contact between a victim and the accused, or offering the accused training on sexual violence.

Other institutions have instituted similar routes for deciding a case -- Brown named Wittenberg University, a private religious institution in Ohio as an example. There, merely an apology from the accused, or counseling, can suffice to close a case.

“It can take a number of different forms … based on the wishes of the victim in particular and what they may want to see,” Brown said.

Notre Dame’s Alternative Resolution Process

Alternative resolution is a voluntary, educational and remedies-based process that is not intended to be disciplinary in nature. Where an initial assessment concludes that alternative resolution may be appropriate, the university will offer individual and/or community-based remedies designed to maintain the complainant’s access to the educational, extracurricular and employment activities at the university and to eliminate a potential hostile environment.

This process may include a variety of approaches including, but not limited to, educational programming or training, facilitated dialogue with a respondent, and/or mediation. In some cases, such as alleged sexual assaults, mediation will not be appropriate, even on a voluntary basis. Depending on the form of alternative resolution chosen, it may be possible for a complainant to maintain anonymity. The university will not compel a student to participate in any particular form of alternative resolution. Participation in alternative resolution is voluntary, and either party can request to end alternative resolution at any time.

The university will seek to complete the alternative resolution process within 60 calendar days following the decision to proceed with alternative resolution. In some instances, that may be the same date as the date of the report; in other instances, based on information gathered in the initial assessment, that may be at a later date. The 60-calendar-day time frame does not typically include academic break periods and may be affected by holidays or other extenuating circumstances. The university reserves the right to reasonably modify the alternative resolution process based on a case-by-case basis due to the scope or complexity of the facts and circumstances at issue, or due to other extenuating circumstances. The university may extend any time frame in this policy for good cause, including extension beyond 60 calendar days. Any modifications will be communicated to both parties.

He stressed that the university wouldn’t strong-arm students, and that both parties would need to agree to settle a case in this way.

In addition, Notre Dame has hired two new deputy Title IX coordinators, who will help conduct the investigations that were previously outsourced. The hearings on the cases were moved out of the Office of Community Standards and now will be handled by a three-person panel -- one deputy Title IX coordinator and two other officials in the Title IX and student affairs offices.

The university doesn’t allow mediation in sexual assault cases, Brown said, though mediation is cited as a possibility in the new policy language on alternative resolutions that was promulgated through the student affairs division and agreed to by the Reverend John I. Jenkins, the university's president.

DeVos has permitted mediation in sexual assault cases, according to information her department issued in September. That month, she withdrew the Obama administration’s guidance to colleges on adjudicating sexual assault cases, which came in the form of documents issued in 2011 and 2014, claiming it had created bias against students accused of sexual assault.

Two Notre Dame students, sophomores Elizabeth Boyle and Isabel Rooper, launched a campaign -- StaND 4 IX -- that called for the university to preserve some of the tenets of the Obama guidance. As a part of that, they penned an open letter to Father Jenkins that they are asking others to sign -- at press time they had received more than 1,000 signatures.

Rooper said while they are particularly worried about mediation possibly being allowed in these types of cases, the alternative resolution could potentially beneficial for some students who want to avoid a stressful and time-consuming investigation and hearing.

They also want the university to publicly clarify its new approach -- it was quietly approved over the summer and never announced en masse to the campus, Boyle said.

“There’s a profound lack of information of what the alternative resolution actually entails,” Rooper said. “And part of why we object so strongly to the alternative resolutions … is that we don’t have trained experts in mediation or counseling or restorative justice at the helm of enforcing this policy.”

This new practice does appear legally sound, though, being in line with Title IX guidance from 2001, said Laura L. Dunn, a lawyer and executive director of victim advocacy group SurvJustice.

Dunn said she was concerned, however, that Notre Dame would rely on an alternative resolution for a dating violence case, for instance, without understanding that abusive behavior can escalate.

“I have seen several religious schools be woefully ignorant on the topic to leave survivors in greater harm after ‘alternative’ approaches to discipline,” Dunn wrote in an email, later declining to name any institutions. “Significant training should be required to avoid misuse of such an alternative process to a situation where escalation is likely. I would recommend that all schools have a threat-assessment process as part of this determination to offer alternative resolution.”

Brown said that the university will take into account if someone is a repeat offender before offering this new route.

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, said an initial assessment may not be sufficient to determine whether an “ongoing hostile environment” exists, as required under Title IX.

The Obama letter on Title IX -- to the chagrin of some critics -- enforced a lower standard of evidence in sexual assault cases, preponderance of evidence, which generally means there’s a 51 percent likelihood misconduct occurred. Preponderance of evidence is the standard used in most civil cases, as compared to a clear and convincing standard, which requires roughly a 75 percent chance.

DeVos has told colleges they may use either standard of evidence while the department accepts feedback on permanent rules and develops them.

Notre Dame still uses the preponderance standard with no plans to change, Brown said. Part of the StaND 4 IX push is for the university to commit to preponderance as well as the 60-day time frame mandatory under the Obama rules, which Brown said Notre Dame still operates on. DeVos abolished that mandated timeline in her interim guidance.

“We’ll, of course, be meeting with the students … to offer these assurances,” Brown wrote in an email.

StaND 4 IX has also requested that easy waivers be available to the new requirement that students live on campus for six semesters.

Past and current promises from administrators have done little to mollify Grace Watkins, though, a 2017 Notre Dame graduate who is a sexual assault survivor and who was active in lobbying them for reforming their sexual assault policies.

Watkins said in an interview that she felt the administrators, despite their statements, had placed significant pressure on students to pick alternative resolution because they have characterized it as “more restorative.”

“It made me really angry and seemed to fit in the culture that it is just convenient to be forgiving,” Watkins said.

One administrator verbatim told Watkins she should “pray for the redemption of [her] rapist,” she said.

Notre Dame has been panned before for its management of sexual assault cases. In an opinion piece in Time, Watkins detailed both the problems with mediation in sexual assault cases and a now defunct religious service that the university dubbed “the Mass of Healing” that she said felt like another attempt by administrators to encourage forgiveness for rapists.

When the “Mass of Healing” was happening, the university would invite sexual assault victims, the accused, and their friends and families for a service in the same place.

During the Mass, attendees could opt for an anointment previously reserved for those close to death, but now is more so for anyone suffering a mental or physical illness, Brown said.

Brown disputed the notion that the Mass was meant to push victims to “forgive and forget.” He said Notre Dame has never received any negative feedback over it and it was discontinued simply because the university regularly rotates the events it holds for Domestic Violence Awareness month in October.

Right now, Notre Dame remains under investigation by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights for two complaints opened in 2016.

In September, a former Notre Dame student sued the institution, claiming she was told to drop her sexual assault complaint against a football player so he could transfer out of the university -- the university called the lawsuit inaccurate.

Also this year, a federal judge ruled that a student expelled for allegedly harassing his girlfriend be allowed to take his final exams -- that student also had filed a lawsuit against the university, declaring a Title IX violation, though in that case the institution’s punishment against him still held.

Perhaps most notable was a case in 2010, when Lizzy Seeberg, a student at nearby Saint Mary's College, died by suicide after she accused a Notre Dame football player of sexual battery. Following an Office for Civil Rights investigation after Seeberg's death, the university came to a resolution with the Education Department and agreed to change its sexual assault procedures.

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Decrease in number of openings for history faculty jobs

Fri, 2017-11-17 08:00

The academic job market keeps getting tighter for historians.

During the period from June 2016 to June 2017, the American Historical Association posted 501 listings for full-time positions, a 12 percent decline from the year before. This was the fifth straight year that the number of postings was down. Adding to the concern is that the number of new Ph.D.s in history is routinely more than twice the number of positions being posted by the AHA.

It is important to note that not all faculty jobs in history are listed with the AHA. That said, most experts on the academic job market say association studies like this one reflect broad trends in various disciplines.

History is among the many fields where specialization is crucial in the job search.

American history tends to have the greatest number of jobs (and job applicants). In recent years, as many history departments have moved to diversify their offerings, the history job market has been healthiest in fields such as Asian and African history, where many departments lack expertise they seek. But this year, those fields, Middle Eastern history and environmental history saw larger percentage declines than did American history. Latin American history, however, was flat.

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Higher ed's nuanced strategy gives it options for navigating tax reform debate

Thu, 2017-11-16 08:00

As both houses of Congress charge forward with wide-ranging tax overhaul plans, higher education leaders have chosen to attack specific provisions they feel would hurt colleges and students instead of mounting a more ambitious assault against Republicans’ broader goals.

The strategy is in some ways ironic. Leaders who often talk about the complexity of the postsecondary education system and its pivotal role in fostering economic growth have chosen to focus on their narrow corner of the tax code instead of taking a more holistic view of the currently tangled web of federal rates, incentives and carve outs.

In other words, many in higher ed aren’t saying the current set of tax bills is bad because it seeks to pay for lower corporate tax rates by closing loopholes. They’re saying the current set of bills contains provisions that would be very bad -- for us.

It is a strategy packed with trade-offs. On one hand, it has sparked public discussion about several specific policy proposals that might otherwise have gone overlooked: the House plans to eliminate the student loan interest deduction and to tax graduate student tuition waivers as income, and the Senate measure to subject college logo licensing to the unrelated business income tax. On the other hand, the strategy has enabled some ideas to dominate the early debate that may not have endeared higher ed to the general public, such as when some college presidents lashed out at the idea of taxing wealthy universities' endowments. It could also allow lawmakers to say they were unable to help colleges with their specific concerns and had no choice but to approve the overall tax bill since everyone, including college leaders, indicated it was needed.

College presidents and their lobbyists are navigating a narrow path as they seek to beat back potentially punitive measures in a Republican-controlled Washington. They’re doing so at a time when many conservatives take a dim view of the state of higher education.

But they’re following a playbook that has worked for interest groups in the past. It also gives them the chance to influence any legislation that eventually does pass -- and it could play a part in derailing the current set of proposals entirely.

Higher ed’s strategy is best on display in recent statements by prominent associations. When American Council on Education President Ted Mitchell put out a statement on the House’s tax reform proposal, it argued the plan would discourage students from enrolling, make college more expensive and hurt institutions’ financial stability. But it also signaled willingness to work toward tax reform.

“We believe it is possible to offer tax relief to hardworking middle-class and lower-income Americans in a way that does not increase college costs and make a quality higher education less accessible,” Mitchell’s statement said. “We are eager to work with Congress to enact such legislation.”

A letter sent to members of the Senate Finance Committee by Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, listed in detail concerns about both the House and Senate bills. First, though, it acknowledged a need for tax changes.

“Reforming our nation’s tax code is long overdue and we recognize that policy makers have many priorities they must balance and difficult choices they must make throughout the legislative process,” the letter said. Many presidents of APLU universities, in Washington for the association's annual meeting this week, seemed to echo that statement. They prefaced their concerns about the tax bill by saying they support tax reform.

The APLU has for several years supported the idea of tax reform to stoke economic growth and national prosperity, McPherson said during a telephone interview Wednesday. Tax reform is a messy process, he added. The association’s job is to explain nuanced issues like those affecting graduate students, student debt, tax-free bonding and other educational benefits.

Others can pick up the wider debate about tax reform’s goals.

“Given all the forces that are involved in tax reform, with the whole society and virtually every sector engaged, of course there are people who are making these broader comments,” McPherson said. “Our role is to be able to explain the very specific sections that would be impacted.”

Filling that role has drawbacks. It has largely prevented higher ed’s supporters from coalescing around a single issue, which can bring intensity to the political process.

“From an advocacy point of view, it really is difficult when you’ve got so many things you care about,” said David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges.

Plus, some of the fault lines running between different types of institutions have been revealed.

Plans to levy excise taxes on the earnings of some large endowments received some of the earliest and loudest pushback, as wealthy universities quickly argued their ability to fund student aid, research and other priorities would be hurt. Presidents of universities with smaller endowments -- many of whom are making fund-raising a priority of their own -- haven’t been supportive of the excise tax, even though many privately grumble about what they see as bad behavior by rich private colleges that could be doing more to enroll low-income students.

As a result, headlines blare about universities fighting to protect their multibillion-dollar endowments even as student debt and tuition rise.

The Boston Globe quoted Republican Representative Darrell Issa saying that some institutions “simply want to have a tax-free investment.”

“We can all talk about the poor kid who gets a scholarship, but sometimes this is about the professors and the people running the endowment and their salaries,” Issa said.

This isn’t to say higher ed hasn’t stitched together its individual objections to form some larger arguments. A Tuesday op-ed in the Hartford Courant by Sacred Heart University President John Petillo and Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System President Mark Ojakian argued the proposed endowment tax would impair institutions’ efforts to educate students regardless of their family income. But it also went on to say that the House bill singles out a small number of colleges and universities, taking the first step toward eroding other benefits for tax-exempt organizations like colleges and charities.

“Although we recognize Congress’s desire to reduce the tax burden on the citizens and businesses in this country to promote economic development, what good will that do if the training they need to succeed is less affordable and accessible?” Petillo and Ojakian asked.

There are reasons to think a more comprehensive attack on the bills could play to public sympathies. A recent survey shows the Republican tax plan is widely unpopular.

Just 25 percent of voters approve of the tax plan, while 52 percent disapprove, according to a new poll out Wednesday from Quinnipiac University. A significant majority of voters, 59 percent, said the Republican tax plan favors the rich at the expense of the middle class. Only 33 percent disagreed with that statement.

Sharp partisan divides lie underneath that polling, however. Republicans were much more supportive of the tax plan than Democrats or independents. Republicans were also much more likely to believe the plan will increase jobs and economic growth.

Higher ed leaders may need to be especially careful in this particular political moment. Republicans’ positive views of higher education have drastically eroded in the last two years, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. Colleges and universities are often the subject of negative coverage in conservative media alleging a liberal bias.

Many say higher education can avoid appearing partisan by sticking to its knitting.

“I would describe our activities as primarily reactive and sort of analytical,” said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. “I think what higher ed has collectively done is go chapter and verse and explained the likely impact of these provisions in very nonalarmist ways.”

No matter what the polling says, the higher ed lobby wouldn’t change its strategy, said Steven Bloom, director of government relations for ACE. Associations must approach the issue by being nonpartisan and asking what is best for students and families, he said.

“It is a very toxic political environment, and we have to talk to members on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “And our schools are located in places that are both blue and red states.”

Attacking the concept of the tax reform bills would hurt efforts to be heard by members of Congress, Bloom added.

Given the current makeup of the Senate, where Republicans cling to a narrow two-seat margin, a strategy that would cause any politician to tune out could be a fatal mistake. Some may not consider the full ramifications of a proposal like taxing graduate student tuition waivers until interest groups raise the issue, said Kim Rueben, a senior fellow in the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

“You just need a couple of people to hold the line and say they’re not going to vote for it unless you change this,” she said.

Public university presidents at an APLU roundtable echoed that sentiment Monday.

“I think it’s important for us to make sure all of these unintended consequences be made known,” said Robert Caret, chancellor of the University of Maryland system. “They need to know exactly what’s going to be happening here if it makes it through.”

By coming to the table, colleges and universities can still hope to have some influence on provisions in any bill that does proceed.

“Is there a massaging of this that gives us an ‘and’ that can work a little bit better for everybody?” said Lou Anna Simon, president of Michigan State University.

Colleges and universities are far from alone in that approach. Many industries and interest groups, from Realtors to renewable energy producers, have been mobilizing to protect provisions of the tax code that they like. They’ve been doing it for years, which is a major reason the tax code hasn’t been overhauled since the 1980s.

So higher ed can have it both ways. It can accept the premise that the web of special interests written into the tax code should be unwound. But it still plays a part in defending that web, even if unwittingly, simply by protecting its own corner.

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Fordham's English department adds grants for job search expenses for those finishing doctorates

Thu, 2017-11-16 08:00

Between registration for and travel to academic conferences, new clothes, a haircut and possibly child care, the financial costs of the academic job market really add up (not the mention the psychological ones). Those costs are hopefully an investment in a career, but the money spent finding a job represents a big share of the average graduate student’s budget.

Fordham University’s English department wants to help alleviate some of the financial pressures of finding a position, via a new fund for graduate students in their sixth and final year of funding. In addition to their regular fellowships, students will receive an additional payment of $4,500 meant specifically for the job hunt.

John Bugg, a professor of English and director of graduate studies for the department, said the fund is about making sure students don’t have to restrict their searches -- and therefore their professional opportunities -- due to money. The norm for many searches is not to cover expenses associated with travel to meetings and some cases even campus visits for job interviews.

Fordham is already relatively generous in terms of funding, having moved to six-year packages from five two years ago. (Stipends begin at $23,600, and advanced students may apply for distinguished fellowships of up to $31,000.) The change contributed to the department receiving its highest number of Ph.D. program applications in a decade. So “there is a growing awareness that we’re doing as much as we can to improve the experiences of our students and to help them thrive professionally,” Bugg said in an announcement about the job search fund.

‘Concrete’ Support

Bugg told Inside Higher Ed via email that the fund was inspired, in part, by a National Endowment of the Humanities-funded seminar on campus last year about the Ph.D. for the 21st century. A major takeaway was that “we need to do our best to help our students with their various professional ambitions,” he said.

That means paying attention to the challenges students face in terms of declining numbers of tenure-track jobs, but also the often “eclipsed” issue of cost. While job candidates are typically reimbursed for campus visits, Bugg said, they pay out of pocket for the initial interview and travel -- in English students’ case, to the annual Modern Language Association convention. Many grad students regularly complain about getting asked to interview at MLA at the last minute, adding to the expense.

“Until the discipline officially moves to Skype for the first round of interviews, this is an expense that we must try to offset for our students,” he said. “We also anticipate that this fund will help our students to set aside a full summer month to work full-time on their job search documents.”

Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences will foot the bill. Rather than any meticulously calculated amount, Bugg described the $4,500 figure as “the most that we could guarantee for our students right now.”

The fund is a one-time deal; students may not apply for a second round the next year. But there are no restrictions on how students use the money, meaning for work inside or outside academe. In addition to the new fund, Fordham’s English faculty already helps students pursue a variety of jobs, Bugg said, noting that preparation for different markets “requires a lot of strategic work.”

“Students are faced with an incredibly time-consuming process -- the days of sending out a single ‘job letter’ are long gone,” he added. “Beyond this, the fund will help with expenses that tend to add up during the job search process,” such as electronic dossier fees.

Bugg said students have thus far responded to the news of the fund in two ways: pleasure in knowing there’s a “concrete” amount of money they can count on and budget how they wish, along with gratitude. “In my experience, graduate students are very appreciative of any efforts to take seriously the challenges they face,” he said.

Leonard Cassuto, another professor of English at Fordham, said he thought the new program benefits students most obviously because “the job search is expensive.” Perhaps more important, though, is that this kind of support “shows students that we care about them at a time in their lives that's undeniably stressful,” he said. Professors “want to be broadly supportive in an emotional and concrete way, not just a scholarly way.”

Something New

Russell Berman, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities at Stanford and professor of comparative literature and German studies, has been an outspoken advocate of reforming humanities doctoral programs -- including increased financial support for students. A past president of the MLA, Berman said he’d heard of departments providing funding for conference participation and similar professional events, but never what he described as “a direct subsidy for the search itself.”

Saying it’s crucial for any such subsidy to fund job searches inside and outside academe (which Fordham’s does), Berman said departments must also “prepare graduate students for that full job market and for the search.”

Paula Krebs, executive director of the MLA, said many doctoral programs offer travel funds for their students but that she wasn’t aware of any offering them at Fordham’s scale.

In any case, Krebs said she applauded Fordham’s effort and hoped doctoral programs in general will support students’ pursuit of a range of careers. “Graduate students on the job market can certainly use additional support, whether they're applying for tenure-track positions or any of the other kinds of professional employment that Ph.D.s in the humanities seek,” she added. (Krebs also noted, per Bugg’s point about officially moving to first-round interviews via Skype, that MLA guidelines for search committees ask them to offer candidates remote screening interviews.)

Karen Kelsky, a former tenure-track professor, advises students and graduates looking for faculty jobs through her blog and business, The Professor Is In. Like Krebs, Kelsky noted the scale of funding Fordham is offering -- or what she described as its “generosity.”

“This is not a small amount, $500 here or $1,000 there,” she said. “This really acknowledges the considerable expenses of the search, in terms of dossier services, travel to conferences, new clothes or equipment,” and even possible professional development or assistance. Kelsky noted, too, the “labor costs of the countless hours spent preparing materials” and possible expenses related to nonacademic career preparation.

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NSSE 2017 finds students enrolling in 'inclusive' courses

Thu, 2017-11-16 08:00

College students report that their classes emphasize them sharing their own ideas and perspectives, and that they’re not always learning about other cultures, according to findings by the National Survey of Student Engagement released Thursday.

About three out of five students surveyed indicated that their courses would highlight their thoughts on certain subjects -- about half said their classes focused on discussing equity and privilege and learning about other cultures.

This doesn’t mean that instructors should turn the curriculum over to their students, said Alexander McCormick, NSSE director, but rather professors -- to some degree of success -- are helping students link subject matter back to the students’ experiences.

“No doubt it can be somewhat uncomfortable for some academics to acknowledge that students are bringing perspectives that help bear on the educational experience, but it’s also important not to take that too far,” McCormick said.

While a total of about 650 four-year U.S. colleges and universities and 75 Canadian institutions participated in the survey, they did not have to administer every part of it to their students. More than 55,000 students across more than 130 institutions answered questions about cultural diversity.

This year, NSSE intentionally focused on capturing data about diversity and inclusion, in light of the national political climate, McCormick said. He said that movements like Black Lives Matter remain prominent, as do controversial legislative measures such as so-called bathroom bills introduced that limit where transgender men and women can use the restroom.

Previously, too, institutions had to opt to include a question about students’ sexual orientation -- this year NSSE decided to simply add it in, McCormick said.

Administrators can use the data as a “jumping-off point” to discuss these sorts of issues on their campuses, he said.

McCormick said the findings around students being able to express their perspectives is heartening, and that, naturally, certain disciplines would emphasize those principles over another. Engineering majors, for instance, wouldn’t be taking as many classes that center on diversity -- but “that doesn’t let institutions off the hook,” McCormick said.

More frequently, companies hiring those engineers are seeking employees who can interact with different groups of people and understand the needs of their clients, he said.

The counterpart faculty survey to NSSE, the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, found that professors teaching education, social services and arts and humanities classes emphasized “inclusive and culturally engaging activities” more than other fields.

In the NSSE, about 60 percent of students surveyed for the diversity portion indicated that their classes respected “expression of diverse ideas.” And a little more than 50 percent said the classes helped them recognize cultural norms and their own biases.

Not all academics agree with NSSE's methods or positions.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said that NSSE from its inception has been an "agenda-driven" instrument. It has conflated academic "quality" with elements of the student experience that are separate from teaching substantive material, he said.

Over the years, "student engagement" has been blurred farther away from academics, and this year NSSE reached "a new nadir" by focusing on inclusiveness and diversity, Wood said.

"These are ideological positions that have nothing to do with the quality of education and everything to do with conformity to identitarian politics. A curriculum that emphasizes students 'sharing their own perspectives and experiences' is a curriculum that elevates feelings and intuitions over disciplined inquiry," Wood said via email.

Student Activism

Over the past several years, and particularly since the election of President Trump, students have more vigorously lobbied their administrators and presidents and launched campus rallies around social justice issues.

A small portion of students on the NSSE, about 6,000 from 26 institutions, were asked about social and political activism -- the survey considered a student an activist if they had participated in some sort of boycott, strike, sit-in or walkout. About one in eight students said they were involved in that kind of activity.

The survey found that more of the students NSSE deemed activists were of the traditional college age (late teens into early 20s) and lived on campus.

About 38 percent of activists were students of color, compared to 28 percent of nonactivists, and 23 percent labeled themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, versus 8 percent of nonactivists.

Activist students had a slew of positive characteristics associated with them, according to the survey results -- the students felt they had stronger relationships with faculty members and engaged in a number of positive learning strategies.

McCormick, the NSSE director, said that while college presidents in the past have been pressured by some alumni to “punish” activists who seemingly disrupt the campus environment, he said in actuality, the data suggest that these are the types of students institutions should try to recruit.

“They’re not just rabble-rousers, cutting class to make mischief,” he said. “In the aggregate, we find these students to be having positive educational experiences and engaging in their role as students.”

Wood, meanwhile, said that students should avoid colleges that prioritize "civic engagement."

More and more, Wood said, colleges are swapping out true intellectual teachings for progressive activism and labeling it civic engagement. Wood's association published a report on this phenomenon earlier this year, "Making Citizens."

First-Generation College Students Still Struggle

The NSSE confirmed that first-generation college students in many instances participated in certain opportunities, such as studying abroad, to a lesser degree than other students.

About 8 percent of senior first-generation students in the survey sample studied abroad, compared to 18 percent of non-first-generation seniors. About 42 of first-generation seniors secured an internship, compared to 55 percent of those seniors who were not first generation.

“I think this is important and meaningful to institutions in investigating to what extent is money an obstacle to participating in some of these activities,” McCormick said.

Other Findings

  • NSSE determined the most popular majors among senior students by gender. For men, it was business, at 21 percent. For women, it was a major in a health profession, 19 percent. Arts and humanities were popular among students who identified by a gender other than male or female -- for instance, nonbinary -- at 22 percent.
  • While many LGBTQ students (80 percent), both first-year students and seniors, were acquainted with another LGBTQ student, far fewer knew a queer faculty member -- 30 percent of first-year students said they knew a gay faculty member, and 50 percent of seniors did.
  • Students who had positive interactions with faculty indicated they were more likely to return to the same institution if they could have a "do over." Those who had a quality interaction with a professor -- about 60 percent -- also mostly indicated they would "definitely return" to that college (50 percent).
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Drama and accusations grow over University of California audit

Thu, 2017-11-16 08:00

The University of California Office of the President interfered with an audit of the institution by tampering with the results of surveys sent out to various campuses, an independent investigation is expected to say today.

The special investigation into the allegations, which surfaced last spring after the state auditor declared the parts of the audit unusable and tainted because of unauthorized tampering by the Office of the President, is expected to contradict testimony UC President Janet Napolitano gave to lawmakers and acknowledge her role in approving the plan that led to the tampering -- though it is not expected to find her at fault. Two of her aides -- her chief of staff and deputy chief of staff -- resigned earlier this month, more than a year after the original tampering effort first started.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the details of the report’s conclusion Wednesday, a day before its expected release, the latest in a months-long string of damning stories mostly circulating around public records showing staff from the Office of the President interfered with parts of the audit, which was started last year.

In October 2016, Elaine Howle, the state auditor, launched an inquiry into the University of California and its finances. As part of that inquiry, she asked the different campuses in the UC system to respond to confidential surveys about the Office of the President and its spending and initiatives.

In April, she released the audit, but the surveys were deemed tainted, with Howle saying that the Office of the President interfered with the answers. Emails obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle via a public records request found that three of the campuses -- Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz -- changed the results of their surveys to put the Office of the President in a better light, after being directed to do so by the Office of the President.

Napolitano’s chief of staff, Seth Grossman, and his deputy, Bernie Jones, led much of the effort to encourage changes in the campuses' response to questions about how they viewed initiatives coming from the Office of the President, emails reveal, and Napolitano was briefed on the matter, to some extent, also according to email messages. Karen Petrulakis, deputy general counsel, also offered revisions for the survey results shared with the Office of the President, according to the reported findings of the special investigation. She also suggested that the Office of the President should share with the auditor that changes were being made to the confidential responses. She resigned in July, a month after the University of California Board of Regents hired Carlos Moreno, a former state supreme court justice, to investigate the tampering effort. He is the author of the report coming out today.

Grossman has pushed back against how much he was involved in the effort. The Office of the President has said that Jones and Grossman resigned “to pursue other opportunities.” Another UC official is also said to have reviewed the plan to tamper with the survey results. Charles Robinson, general counsel, is apparently identified in the report as expressing the legal and political risks of the Office of the President interfering in the matter.

Despite the process playing out publicly in the California press for months, UC Santa Cruz declined to comment to Inside Higher Ed on the audit and related fallout until the report was released. Officials at UC Irvine declined to comment on the report and did not respond to follow-up inquiries on the public fallout that had been occurring since the spring. Officials at UC San Diego did not respond to a request for comment.

In testimony to lawmakers following the audit's release in the spring, Napolitano apologized for the way the Office of the President handled the surveys, but also tried to downplay the changes made and said that they were only made when campuses came to the Office of the President with questions.

“It’s important to take a step back and look at what changes were actually made. At seven of the 10 campuses, there were no changes made in the ratings,” Napolitano told them. “It clearly was not a process that was designed to make UCOP look good. It was designed to coordinate and collect the transmission of the surveys.”

Dianne Klein, spokeswoman for the Office of the President, said via email Wednesday that Napolitano approved the plan to coordinate the survey results to ensure they were accurate, within the scope of the audit, and that the chancellors were aware of what their campuses were submitting. She maintained that Napolitano did not know about interference from the Office of the President. Klein declined to comment on media reports of the special investigation's finding.

Emails obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle did not support Napolitano’s claim that campuses came to the Office of the President for help, but rather painted a picture of Grossman and Jones leading outreach. In one instance, UC Santa Cruz retracted its submissions from the auditor’s office after sending them in. When the survey was resubmitted, some responses about the Office of the President were changed from negative to positive. The Moreno report is said to contradict Napolitano’s testimony that campuses were confused by the survey questions and reached out to her staff, and instead conclude that Napolitano was aware of her staff reaching out and coordinating the responses. Still, the Moreno report is said to concur with the Office of the President's position that Napolitano was not aware of any interference.

The report apparently says Napolitano “forthrightly acknowledged her role in approving a plan” that resulted in the interference, but it does not place blame on her for the wrongdoing that occurred, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Although Howle, the auditor, declared the surveys tainted, the audit did find $175,000 at the Office of the President that government officials say was not properly accounted for.

Despite some lawmakers having called for her resignation in the past, State Assemblyman Jose Medina -- who has criticized Napolitano’s handling of the audit in recent months and chairs the Assembly's higher education committee -- said in an email that he supports her continued leadership.

“I appreciate the Office of the President’s admittance to wrongdoing, and I accept President Napolitano’s apology for the interference,” he said, adding that it was important to move forward from the situation. “I will continue to work to improve the relationship between UC and the Legislature. Transparency and accountability within the UCOP are paramount, and I have confidence in President Napolitano’s leadership.”

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Study finds student distrust of those who are not native speakers of English

Thu, 2017-11-16 08:00

Students do not trust teaching by foreign lecturers who speak English with unfamiliar accents, as compared with teaching by native speakers, an academic has warned -- meaning that students may need to be trained to overcome this prejudice.

Charlotte Schmidt, a senior lecturer in water management at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, found that Dutch students at the university did not take “seriously” lecturers from a partner university in Indonesia who taught using accented English.

The students, who were studying civil engineering, urban planning and water management, were much more likely to question the data sets used by Indonesians and tended to believe that the research field in the Netherlands was “much better developed.”

The problem was so serious that “after two years, most of them [Indonesian academics] drop out” of the exchange program, she said. “It’s a bit demotivating” for them, she added. “There’s only a small group of teachers who keep coming.”

There is plenty of academic literature that finds that nonnative speakers are seen as less credible by an audience, Schmidt argued. In one study cited in her paper exploring the problem, 40 percent of undergraduates avoided taking classes taught by foreign teaching assistants.

“Accented speech potentially has a negative impact on attitudinal and affective response of students. Accent is used as a signal that the speaker is part of an out-group and statements made by a speaker with a heavy accent are perceived as less truthful,” she writes in “Impact of Accented Speech on the Credibility of International Exchange Courses; Challenges for Exchanging Knowledge and Experience in the Erasmus+ Program,” presented at a recent conference in Indonesia.

This problem needs to be taken much more seriously by universities as they increasingly hire people from overseas and strike up exchange partnerships across the world, Schmidt argued.

In universities, and in society more generally, people need to be aware of this mental quirk that lowers trust in nonnative speakers, she said.

Accent may not be the only reason for a lack of trust, however: the former colonial relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia could leave Dutch students with a sense of superiority, Schmidt acknowledged. “There’s several issues working together,” she said, which were difficult to separate.

But previous research has controlled for these separate factors and still found that accent alone reduces credibility, she argued. For example, when the Dutch students traveled to Denmark -- widely admired in the Netherlands for its education system -- to take courses taught in English, there was still “a problem” for Danish lecturers and credibility, Schmidt said.

These Dutch students had slightly more trust in lecturers with accents even though English is not their native language, she pointed out, with many believing that their command of English is “impeccable.”

With many Dutch universities switching to teaching in English, this lecturer credibility issue is only likely to become more of a problem, she said.

But there are solutions, Schmidt continued. Students at her university take cultural competence classes for general purposes, where they can practice interacting with an actor playing someone of a different culture, and this could be a way of tackling the problem, she suggested.

Another technique that could assist is a Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences program that invites students from Indonesia to study alongside Dutch students. After the two groups cooperate and make friends, “they come past the cultural barrier” and the Dutch students learn that their Indonesian counterparts “are quite good civil engineers” -- so engendering trust in Indonesian lecturers as well, Schmidt explained.

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Professors say they won't advise students to work or study at U of Rochester

Wed, 2017-11-15 08:00

In an unusually direct public pressure campaign against sexual harassment, hundreds of faculty members from brain and cognitive sciences and other programs in the U.S. and abroad say they can’t advise students to study or seek employment at the University of Rochester. They cite allegations from current and past professors and students at Rochester that the administration cleared a chronic harasser on the faculty of wrongdoing while retaliating against those who reported him.

“In the present circumstances, we cannot in good conscience encourage our students to pursue educational or employment opportunities” at Rochester, reads a new open letter to the institution’s Board of Trustees. Rochester “has abrogated its ultimate responsibility to protect and advance the interests of its most important constituency -- its students -- by supporting the predator and intimidating the victims and advocates in this case. We strenuously object to the [university’s] treatment of our respected colleagues.”

The open letter links to a widely publicized complaint from eight former and current Rochester brain and cognitive sciences professors and graduate students filed with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission late this summer. The complaint, forwarded to Rochester’s board by two former department chairs in particular, describes the department as once at the top of the research rankings and now broken, possibly irrevocably. It traces the dramatic shift to the hiring of Florian Jaeger, now an associate professor, in 2007.

Description of a Predator

The complaint describes Jaeger as a “narcissistic and manipulative sexual predator” who “engaged in numerous sexual relationships with [Rochester] and visiting students, which he flaunted.” He had unprotected sex with students and confided in others that he worried he might have a sexually transmitted disease, used sexual language and intentionally demeaned female students (especially about their intelligence and weight), and sent an unwanted photo of his genitalia to one particular student, according to the complaint. Among other inappropriate behaviors, he also used drugs and hosted “hot tub parties,” it says.

“The lives and careers of [department] graduate students became Jaeger’s personal playground,” reads the EEOC complaint. “Professionally, Jaeger was in the position of power, an important gatekeeper, but they were additionally vulnerable to his coercion because he influenced every aspect of their lives in [the department]. He became the dominant force not only in determining their professional opportunities, but also their day-to-day social lives, gaining access to their personal information, which he used to emotionally manipulate and humiliate them.”

Beyond sexual misconduct, the complaint says, Jaeger encouraged constant “collaboration” with him, often so that he could claim credit for students' work. He allegedly demanded that any student working remotely in his area of expertise -- human language processing -- cite or list him as an author.

The climate eventually became so oppressive, the complaint says, that at least 11 female students and postdoctoral fellows avoided Jaeger, at the expense of their work and in many cases their well-being. Jaeger allegedly told some students that faculty members knew about his behavior and condoned it, so senior faculty members were for some time “in the dark,” according to the complaint. In early 2016, however, Jaeger allegedly expressed enthusiasm for faculty-student dating during faculty meetings, and several senior professors soon learned more about his history of “predation.” They consulted junior faculty members about the matter, and the group decided to report the alleged misconduct to the university and work to rebuild a positive departmental climate.

Two former chairs signed their names to the report and were initially hopeful about the university’s responsiveness. Yet an investigation by the university’s counsel turned out to be a “limp and rushed affair,” the EEOC complaint says, bypassing witnesses and focusing only a few specific examples of harassment instead of a pattern. Moreover, the university promoted Jaeger to full professor during the investigation -- despite faculty requests that the decision be delayed. Worst of all, the final investigatory report exonerated him of the claims.

Dissatisfied with the process, the faculty members who brought the complaint pushed the university for a more thorough response. But instead of initiating one, the EEOC complaint says, the university attempted to “discredit” them, including by reading their emails and presenting only select parts to the current department chair and by sharing a watered-down version of the Jaeger investigation with other colleagues. The divided department also allegedly refused to hire the wife of one of Jaeger’s critics, despite what the complaint describes as stellar credentials and the program’s long history of spousal hires.

Upon the filing of the EEOC complaint, the university defended its actions with regard to Jaeger, saying in a statement that "those not familiar with the investigation conducted would find the language in the complaint deeply disturbing." However, it said, "the core allegations in this complaint were thoroughly investigated and could not be substantiated. We are highly confident in the integrity of these investigations — we followed our processes for fair investigations and due process for all involved, interviewing dozens of witnesses whose names were given to us as alleged victims." President Joel Seligman also compared the 100-plus page complaint and related reports to a now discredited Rolling Stone article about campus rape.

The university backtracked somewhat over time, however, with Seligman saying that promoting Jaeger during the investigation was a mistake. Trustees launched their own investigation. And Jaeger announced he and the university agreed it was best for him to take a leave of absence, though he said he was not admitting any fault in doing so.

Still, faculty members and students on campus and off have continued to criticize the administration, asking why Jaeger wasn’t terminated and why professors who tried to protect students allegedly were punished by way of having their emails read and their reputations challenged.

Influencing Change

The brain-sciences faculty letter to Rochester’s trustees says that the university appears only to have acted appropriately when the EEOC complaint became public, to save face. It urges the board to “think broadly and deeply about the kinds of changes you are committed to making, given the behavior that the [university] administration has tolerated and its retaliatory responses to the attempts of faculty to protect their students.”

As members of the academy, the letter says, the signers “are committed to supporting our colleagues who are working to safeguard gender equality and civil rights at [Rochester], and we will continue to be active, strong and persistent advocates against sexual harassment in all of its forms on our own campuses. We hope that you are committed to action in service of these values as well.”

Seth Pollak, distinguished professor of psychology and professor of anthropology, pediatrics, psychiatry and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Tuesday that he signed the letter to Rochester’s board to signal that the negative attention surrounding the Jaeger case -- particularly the university’s response to it -- “is not going to just fade away as people’s attention moves on to the next scandal.” He highlighted that what makes the letter different than other faculty expressions of distaste is the “potential fallout.” Not encouraging students to work or study at Rochester “will likely catch the attention of trustees in a way that verbal protests will not.” It can’t maintain its position as a “top-tier research university if colleagues around the world are dissuading their students from going there,” he added via email.

Pollak said that the letter may have some collateral damage, negatively affecting graduate-student recruiting for professors at Rochester who had nothing to do with the Jaeger case. Asked if the letter might hurt Rochester Ph.D.s trying to get hired elsewhere, Pollak said, “No, the concern is not about the wonderful people at [Rochester], and no concerns about the flow out.” The concern, in instead, is “about the [Rochester] administration and not wanting to send young people there.”

Ben Hayden, an associate professor who signed the EEOC complaint, left this year for the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities -- in part because the Rochester department is alleged to have retaliated against him by not hiring his spouse. He said he bemoaned the fallout of the case becoming public, since “We tried for over a year to deal with the case as quietly as possible, and only when we had exhausted all avenues available to us did we go public.”

Hayden said he didn’t read the letter as colleagues telling colleagues to have their students avoid Rochester but rather “letting the trustees know what is already happening in private -- advisers warn their students away from environments that they think will be harmful to their careers.” That might because of the climate for women, and it’s “just being a good adviser.”

Steven Piantadosi, an assistant professor involved in making the EEOC complaint, said he’s trying to find a new position elsewhere and that he’s not accepting new graduate students this year anyway, due to his ongoing objections to how the university handled the Jaeger case. He explained the faculty letter simply: “People in the field saw the attitude of Seligman’s administration clearly from his own words and actions and, like us, they recognized that it was completely unacceptable for an educational institution.”

Saying it’s “only an illusion of progress for the president to say Jaeger shouldn't have been promoted,” Piantadosi asked, “Where is his statement that our emails should not have been searched, that the chair should not have accused faculty of being liars, or that Jaeger should not have been contacting people in the field with support of the university attorneys to say that he was being bullied?” Where is the president’s statement that it was not acceptable for university investigators to turn down evidence, refuse to talk to witnesses or unnecessarily name witnesses in reports -- or that he believes the complainants, he added.

Jessica Cantlon, an associate professor in Jaeger’s department who also signed the EEOC complaint, said it’s Rochester that’s hurting students, not the new letter.

“Teachers don't want to send students to a place where the students' career paths might be bent or broken around an abusive faculty member, and the university shows more concern that people are silent about it than whether the students are successful,” she said. “The university's main response to our internal sexual harassment complaint was to silence us -- they issued memo after memo telling us to be quiet. When that didn't work, they pried into our private emails to try to find material that would make people stop listening to us.”

Citing Seligman’s Rolling Stone comment, Cantlon added, “That is an extremely dangerous disposition for a university because it puts students at risk of abuse and of not being believed if they report it.”

Making Rochester ‘Safe for All’

Sara Miller, a university spokeswoman, said that Rochester has “taken this matter very seriously since it was brought to our attention. In addition to conducting our own thorough investigation, we have taken several steps to review the university’s approach to sexual misconduct.”

The university is now awaiting the report “of an independent investigation into both the specific allegations and the university’s policies and procedures,” she said. “We have also established a faculty- and student-led Commission on Women and Gender in Academia to examine campus climate.”

Miller added, “We are committed to making this campus one that is welcoming and safe for all.”

Gregory DeAngelis, current department chair, declined comment, citing “pending litigation and such.” Jaeger, who is now on leave, did not immediately respond to an email from Inside Higher Ed.

Karen Kelsky, a former tenured faculty member who now advises Ph.D.s on the faculty job search through The Professor Is In, said that while the letter wasn’t “ideal” for current students at Rochester, she didn’t think they -- or former students -- would be blamed for “administrative malfeasance." It's obvious they have no control over discipline of a tenured professor, she said.

Of departmental blacklisting as protest over all, at least in terms of advising students, Kelsky said she was “sorry that broad public naming and shaming is required to force many universities to act.” But as long as that’s the case, she said, “wider national and international disciplinary collectives have an important role to play.”

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Robert Spencer targets Stanford students in blog ahead of event

Wed, 2017-11-15 08:00

In a digital war of words, Robert Spencer, widely considered to be an anti-Islam extremist, mocked Stanford University students who criticized him before his talk at the elite institution Tuesday night. On his blog Spencer named students, posted photos and videos of them, and referred to them as “fascists.”

Student organizations and faculty members publicly expressed deep concerns with both Spencer’s invitation to the campus (extended by the Stanford College Republicans) and his continuous “harassment” of students online.

Stanford administrators remained silent on specific blog posts by Spencer, but released multiple more general statements. One statement from President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell did not reference Spencer, but promised an inclusive campus environment. They also at length defended the need for free speech in higher education.

On Tuesday night, hundreds protested Spencer's speech outside the venue. More than 100 students opposed to Spencer entered the auditorium and took seats. Then shortly after he started to speak, they stood and walked out. They did so silently and did not attempt to disrupt the speech. Students posted photos to social media (at right) suggesting that only a small number of people remained in the room after the walkout.

As a private institution, Stanford has no constitutional obligation to allow Spencer on campus -- it is governed by its own policies.

The most recent announcement last Thursday, by Susie Brubaker-Cole, the vice provost for student affairs, and Jane Shaw, Stanford’s dean of religious life, acknowledged “the emotional impact” of Spencer’s visit, but said that nothing could “undercut the fact that Muslim students are an integral part of our community.”

“Significantly, in relation to the talk next week, the president and provost underscore our university’s commitment to freedom of expression, which allows groups in our community to host speakers of their choice provided university policies are followed and imparts upon each of us a responsibility to ensure that speech can proceed without disruption.

However, the president and provost also emphasize that this commitment empowers each of us to exercise our own free speech, “to call out hate when we see it,” and to speak forcefully and peacefully against injustice. These are values we know Stanford community members -- of all faiths and none -- feel deeply about.

Robert Spencer -- who is unrelated to the white nationalist Richard Spencer, who has dominated headlines in recent months for his speeches at public colleges and universities -- has been deemed by civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center one of the country’s most “prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists.”

He was barred from the United Kingdom, where he and Pamela Geller, co-founders of the Stop Islamization of America group, were due to speak at a rally by another fringe conservative organization, in 2013 because his presence would “not be conducive to the public good,” according to statements from the U.K. government.

Spencer has detailed his credentials deeply on his website -- he has authored 17 books and delivered seminars on Islam to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force. Fundamentally, he believes that Islam is a violent religion.

Spencer has disputed the SPLC’s characterization of him and questioned the center’s validity. In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Spencer wrote that SPLC has tried to destroy “legitimate organizations” and “stigmatize legitimate positions.” He wrote that his opposition to “jihad terror” has been lumped in with the likes of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

For at least a week, Spencer has responded on his blog Jihad Watch to multiple opinion writers in Stanford’s student press, at times dissecting the students’ and professors’ grievances with him line by line.

He has also criticized and identified students who have simply openly disagreed with his views or the event.

In one post Monday, Spencer wrote about and identified one student, and linked to a 2016 article in the student newspaper The Stanford Daily, in which the student was quoted.

After a Muslim student published an essay titled “I Will Never Belong in the Stanford Community,” detailing her discomfort with Spencer, in the political student magazine The Stanford Review, Spencer sardonically picked apart nearly every sentence of it.

“Her piece here wringing her hands and claiming victim status over my scheduled appearance at Stanford next week is a masterpiece of self-dramatization, featuring outlandish claims that would have moved me to laughter were it not, hang it all, for the pathos of this poor girl’s plight. I shed a few tears in solidarity with her, while giggling behind my hat,” Spencer wrote.

Spencer ridiculed in several posts made by another student -- whom he referred to as a “fascist.” In the video, posted to Snapchat, someone purported to be the student is shown tearing down posters advertising Spencer’s event. The video was first flagged and written about by national right-wing group Young America’s Foundation, which orchestrates with campus conservative groups to schedule appearances by controversial speakers like Spencer.

Young America’s Foundation coordinated with the Stanford Republicans to bring in Spencer.

The foundation has paid for the fees associated with these speakers -- in this case, some of Spencer’s expenses, Stanford spokesman E. J. Miranda said.

The College Republicans covered most of the costs with its designated funding from student government. (In one column, student groups claim that the student government funding was as much as $6,000.)

The university also chipped in some, though Miranda declined to identify how much.

Asked if the university felt Spencer was inappropriate in naming students on his blog or whether it was grounds to refuse to host him, Miranda wrote in an email, “The university will be reviewing various issues related to this event after it has concluded.”

At least eight professors and others on Monday wrote in The Stanford Daily that Spencer’s blog has opened students and faculty members to harm. They said that while they respect free speech, Spencer’s actions need to be addressed by the university -- they called on the institution to take “ethical action” as determined by its code of conduct. It is unclear if they were asking for Spencer’s invitation to be revoked.

A coalition of student groups, largely representing minority students on campus, has also written in the student paper demanding that the Republicans cancel the event -- or if not, then the campus boycott it. Spencer's appearance has been condemned by both the Undergraduate Senate and Graduate Student Council.

Immediately following the event, student affairs staffers will be available at a gathering in one of the university unions. A group known as Stanford Against Islamophobia, created after Spencer was invited, also held a counterrally Tuesday night at the Mitchell Earth Sciences building on campus.

In his statement to a reporter, Spencer said he appreciated that Stanford has allowed the event to proceed in the face of “enormous pressure,” but said its acceptance of a “smear campaign” against him does not bode well for the health of open discourse at the institution.

"All my work has been in defense of the freedom of speech, the freedom of conscience and the equality of rights of all people before the law," he said. "I’ve never made broad-brush statements about Muslims in the aggregate, contrary to repeated claims. I’ve never called for violence, never justified violence, never approved of violence. I’m merely calling attention to the jihadis’ use of Islamic texts and teachings to justify violence and oppression."

The Stanford Republicans, in a column for The Stanford Review, said the group requested Spencer because he has provided thoughtful arguments backed by evidence. They said there is “arguably no greater threat” than “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The event was not open to the public -- only students and a small number of outsiders picked by the Republicans could attend. Spencer had said he would arrive with his own security.

On a question-and-answer webpage, Stanford said disrupting a campus event is not allowed and may lead to consequences.

Hot-button speakers, among them Richard Spencer, and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, have toured campuses the entire year, with their appearances at times greeted by vehement demonstrations and violence. Prominently, controversial author Charles Murray was shouted down at Middlebury College, which led to 67 students being punished, though none were suspended.

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Accreditors' scrutiny of Florida law school renews concerns over oversight

Wed, 2017-11-15 08:00

When summer bar exam results were released in September, less than half of students at Jacksonville-based Florida Coastal School of Law had passed.

That was a big jump from the one-in-four bar passage rate for the school last winter. Both times, that passage rate ranked last among all law programs in the state -- a distinction it has held for four consecutive bar exams. In January, the law school earned another unfortunate distinction as one of two legal programs to fail federal gainful-employment ratings, which signals unmanageable debt-to-earnings ratios among graduates.

The poor bar exam showings point to how the for-profit law school found itself "seriously out of compliance" with the standards of its accreditor, the American Bar Association, last month. And the high debt load of law students combined with those academic shortcomings has led legal education observers to see a pattern among institutions operated by the law school's parent company, InfiLaw.

The ABA sent a letter to Florida Coastal leaders notifying them the law school had fallen short of the standards after a regular review. Those standards deal specifically with whether a law school's program is rigorous enough for students to pass the bar and succeed in the profession; whether it provides meaningful academic support; and whether it admits too many underqualified applicants unlikely to succeed in the program and pass the bar after graduating.

The admissions standards of law schools have received particular scrutiny in recent years from watchdogs of the sector who say those unprepared for law school are likely to rack up debt without passing the bar exam. And as applications for law school have fallen, it's been harder for many law programs to fill incoming classes with students who earn strong LSAT scores.

Observers say the apparent issues at Florida Coastal are reason for regulators, including the ABA and the Department of Education, to take a more comprehensive look at the law school's parent company, InfiLaw. The company saw one of its law programs, Arizona Summit, placed on probation by the ABA in March over similar issues, and another, Charlotte School of Law, shut down in August after being placed on probation and losing access to Title IV funds last year. And Florida Coastal was one of only two law programs to fail the Department of Education's gainful-employment test in January with a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of more than 34 percent (the department has since delayed accountability provisions of the gainful-employment rule that would affect an institution's access to Title IV funds).

Although Florida Coastal hasn't been sanctioned like the other InfiLaw programs -- a notice about compliance issues puts a program on alert but precedes steps such as censure, probation or loss of accreditation -- in its October letter the ABA cited the same accreditation standards that Charlotte and Arizona Summit fell short of.

When the ABA placed Charlotte on probation in fall 2016, that prompted the Obama administration to cut off Title IV federal funds, an essential source of funding for legal education programs. The Department of Education argued the school had made "substantial misrepresentations" to students and saddled many with serious loan debt without preparing them for the legal profession. Although the Trump administration signaled that it would consider restoring access to federal aid, the law school's licensing body cited the financial uncertainty in denying an extension of its license to operate in North Carolina. The Obama administration's decision to cut off Title IV funds was highly unusual and indicative of a tougher approach toward for-profits. It also came as Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, conducted an investigation into whether the institution violated state consumer protection laws.

InfiLaw and Florida Coastal didn't respond to requests for comment about whether students or regulators should see some connection between the issues raised in the ABA's letter and the problems that eventually led to Charlotte's demise.

But in an email to students Tuesday that the law school shared with Inside Higher Ed, Florida Coastal Dean Scott DeVito said that multiple misconceptions have arisen about the school in response to the letter. He said the law school was in no danger of closing, and he offered several assertions about the quality and status of the program:

  • Compliance issues are not unique to the law school -- at least 23 other programs have received letters about noncompliance issues since 2016.
  • Florida Coastal does a good job educating its students, he said, based on the success of its transfer students at other institutions.
  • The law school has actually bumped up its bottom-quartile LSAT score -- the metric typically used to evaluate whether a school is admitting too many unprepared students -- over the last two years.

"We trust that regulators will pay attention to these facts, and given the comparison to the schools mentioned above, we [do] not believe that there is a reasoned basis for closing the school," DeVito wrote.

But critics of for-profit legal education said the issues at Florida Coastal should be considered in the context of poor performance by other InfiLaw programs. Bar passage rates at Arizona Summit fell to 26 percent in July, after it had already been placed on probation.

"I'm shocked at the extent to which the various issues with the InfiLaw schools all appear to be treated separately," said Ben Miller, senior director of postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress.

Miller said the review process that led up to the denial of a license extension for Charlotte found serious cash-flow issues with InfiLaw, its parent company. And he said questions about the company's financial health are connected to concerns about the academic preparation of students.

"These schools are basically 100 percent dependent on tuition. If they're in financial trouble, they're going to need more tuition dollars," he said. "So they need to sacrifice either the quality of the student body and enroll people less equipped to succeed there, or cut expenditures."

Barry Currier, managing director of the ABA's section of legal education and admissions to the bar, said the organization had no basis in its standards to conduct a review of InfiLaw's operations and resources apart from how they impact a particular accredited school.

"Similarly, our law school standards do not provide a basis for us to conduct a review of operations or resources of the universities within which most law schools operate, other than as those operations or resources impact the law school's ability to comply with the standards," he said in an emailed statement. “Consistent with our rules and procedures, we cannot elaborate beyond the letter that we have posted about the ongoing review of Florida Coastal's program.”

An analysis of nearly 100,000 borrower-defense claims -- applications for student loan discharge based on fraud or deception by a college or university -- the Century Foundation released last week found that InfiLaw ranked in the top 10 of for-profit companies for such claims. As of Aug. 15, students of InfiLaw programs had filed 522 borrower-defense claims, with 501 of those claims coming from former students of Charlotte School of Law.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said 79 former Charlotte students have applied for closed-school discharge, a more straightforward process that allows students enrolled when a school closes its doors to seek discharge of their loans.

The department sought a $6 million letter of credit from Charlotte in talks over restoring Title IV funds, but the school shut down before an agreement could be reached. Hill said the department couldn't comment on whether it would take a closer look at the health of the remaining InfiLaw programs or take measures such as seeking letters of credit

Kyle McEntee, the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit that advocates for reforms in legal education, said Florida Coastal has taken some measures to come back into compliance. Whether they are enough for the ABA, which has shown an increased interest in financial resources of schools, is an open question, he said.

McEntee said he sees some hope for greater scrutiny of legal programs by their accreditor, the ABA, or by state regulators. But he said had little faith in the Trump administration to take effective action in the case of the remaining InfiLaw programs.

"They have thus far shown themselves to be more concerned with for-profit investors than with students," he said.

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Hong Kong university commissions audit after being accused of submitting inaccurate numbers for rankings

Wed, 2017-11-15 08:00

The City University of Hong Kong has been accused of underreporting its enrollment to the British ranking company QS, resulting in a lower student-to-faculty ratio and potentially a higher ranking. The number of City University students reported by QS is more than 30 percent less than the number reported by the Hong Kong government.

In response to the allegations, which were first reported in the Hong Kong press and reportedly made by officials at other Hong Kong universities, City University is commissioning an audit. However, the university’s director of institutional research, Kevin Downing -- who is listed on QS’s website as a consultant to QS and member of the ranking company’s advisory board -- said via email that variations in enrollment figures reported to governmental agencies and rankings companies are “a common phenomenon in rankings exercises” and a “natural consequence of the different definitions of student number required for data submission by institutions for the different purposes of these separate exercises.”

Hong Kong's University Grants Committee (UGC), a governmental body, reports that the City University of Hong Kong enrolled a total of 14,325 students in 2016-17 in UGC-funded programs -- the agency reports the same 14,325 figure for both head count and full-time-equivalent enrollment -- while QS reports the university enrolls 9,240 students. City University’s enrollment as reported by QS has decreased in recent years -- an archived version of the QS site from 2015 shows a reported enrollment of 10,245 -- while the UGC figures show increases in the enrollment of students in government-funded programs (the UGC figures only reflect students who are enrolled in programs funded by the UGC).

Faculty-student ratio accounts for 20 percent of a university’s QS rankings, and is one of six indicators -- along with academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per faculty member, and the ratios of international students and staff, respectively -- that go into calculating the ranking. The City University of Hong Kong has risen quickly in the QS rankings, climbing from No. 108 to its current position of No. 49 in three years. Its score on the faculty-student ratio dimension has improved from 75.4 to 83.6 in that time, out of a maximum score of 100, though much of the recent gain in the university's ranking would seem to be attributable to an approximately 40-point gain on the citations-per-faculty-member metric posted by City University after QS made a methodology change to account for different publishing expectations across fields in 2015.

The City University of Hong Kong, like many universities, boasts of its positions in the QS and other major world university rankings systems on its website. The university has also participated in a rating system QS offers universities for a fee, called QS Stars, and received the maximum five stars.

In an email, Downing said that QS’s definition for student enrollment data is different than that of the UGC “because of its different purposes.” He noted that the UGC reports the same figure for City University's head count and FTE “because the UGC define student number to include everything, including subdegree students.”

By contrast, he said, “QS does not include subdegree numbers in its definition. This can have a significant impact on the FTE [full-time equivalent] number submitted by institutions, depending on the size of their subdegree operations, and whether institutions are expanding or shrinking these programs. It is well known that City University of Hong Kong has been progressively and continuously reducing its subdegree programs alongside reducing its self-financed student enrollment under the requirements of its University Strategic Plans and Academic Development Plans, and also specifically to free up space on a chronically overcrowded campus.” UGC data shows that the number of subdegree students in government-funded programs at the City University has been relatively flat for the past four years at a little more than 900 students. The UGC reports that City University enrolled 903 subdegree students,12,424 undergraduate students and 998 graduate students in government-funded programs in 2016-17.

Downing added, “The different academic approach and operating modes (e.g., part-time/full-time) adopted by different institutions to cater to different student needs or study modes is yet another factor explaining the variation in the data on student numbers. All data submitted to QS by universities is thoroughly audited by the QS ranking body and the QS rankings are themselves audited by a specialist ranking agency.”

“City University is now commissioning its own independent audit using one of the big four companies,” said Downing. A psychologist and the editor in chief of the journal Educational Studies, Downing said that he has served on QS’s Academic Advisory Board in his personal capacity and is chair of the QS MAPLE International Academic Advisory Committee, which organizes an annual conference, roles that are noted on his City University biography. “It is part of the responsibility of any academic to engage with outside bodies and serve on committees in areas related to their particular academic or professional interests,” Downing said in regard to his QS affiliations.

Asked whether QS is taking any action in regard to the allegations that City University underreported its enrollment data, Ben Sowter, QS’s research director, replied via email, “QS invites institutions to submit data directly into our proprietary data collections systems. This goes through a thorough validation check where we compare numbers against our historical records, the university’s public records and any third-party or government sources, like the UGC. Where we see substantial divergence from any or all of these validating records we seek clarification. It is not unusual for definitions to vary, either in terms of what counts or does not count as a student, or as to how FTE is calculated.

“We have repeatedly explored divergences between official data and that supplied by universities and interrogated the universities in question, including City U. We have always been satisfied with their robust and sophisticated explanations of how our data definitions differ from those used elsewhere,” Sowter said.

“We have learnt that the president of City U has commissioned an independent audit from one of the Big Four accounting firms to further reassure their stakeholders about the validity of their data submission to QS,” Sowter continued.

“It is only natural that these divergences would prompt question[s] and QS always takes such enquiries very seriously. QS has a zero-tolerance policy on manipulation of our outcomes; if any institution is revealed to be deliberately supplying incorrect or inaccurate data with a view to improving their outcome, they would be removed from the ranking altogether for that year and identified in a public statement.”

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Universities mull creation of an IT accessibility group to review vendor products

Wed, 2017-11-15 08:00

Failure to provide accessible technologies for learners with disabilities can have serious consequences for universities. Many institutions have been sued in recent years for noncompliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, ratcheting up pressure around accessibility issues. As a result, some universities are thinking about how they might work together to test the technology they buy and make sure it is accessible to all.

At Educause's annual meeting earlier this month, IT accessibility experts said products bought from commercial vendors frequently fail to meet their accessibility needs. As a result, some who work on accessibility have floated the idea of creating a product-testing group that could work together to prevent poor purchasing decisions and to use its collective buying power to encourage vendors to prioritize accessibility.

Though universities can often test software before buying it, IT experts said it is not always possible to spot problems in trial versions of software. Testing also can be costly and time-consuming. As a result, IT staff members often must find accessibility fixes for products that already have been purchased -- a responsibility many feel should lie with the vendor, not with the institution.

Terrill Thompson, a technology accessibility specialist at the University of Washington who led part of the discussion at the Educause meeting, told Inside Higher Ed that conversations about more collaboration on product testing have been taking place for some time. But there is renewed energy to “find some kind of solution,” he said.

“The issue is that we have a lot of third-party software that we’re dependent on, and a lot of that is not accessible. We have to evaluate these products for accessibility to decide whether it’s something we can use,” said Thompson. And while more and more institutions are actively testing products, they are doing so without knowledge of what other colleges are doing, making a lot of their efforts redundant, said Thompson.

In addition to sharing product accessibility reviews, Thompson suggested the nascent product testing group could push for greater collaboration with vendors -- giving them more information about the accessibility issues institutions are facing and helping them to find potential customers. While many institutions are already working closely with vendors, Thompson said these conversations often happen on a one-on-one basis. “If we could all get on the same page, it would be helpful for the vendor and it would be helpful for us. We just want to pool our resources and try to tackle this problem together,” he said.

Margaret Wu, an educational assessment specialist at Purdue University, said accessibility would have been an afterthought for many institutions three or four years ago when purchasing software or developing it in-house. “Now it’s at the forefront,” she said. The main driver of this is a spike in lawsuits over compliance with the ADA, she said, but “taking that punitive piece out of it, it’s just the right thing to do.”

Recently Purdue has been thinking hard about how it can better address accessibility problems, said Wu, adding that the university has concluded that the best time to address potential accessibility problems with a commercial product is “before you buy it.” Recently, Purdue also has introduced accessibility language into its contracts, which compels vendors to fix accessibility issues in a timely manner and at no extra cost to the institution. “They didn’t balk at it,” she said.

Wu suggested that one function of the product testing group might be to share standard contract language, so that institutions can go into negotiations with vendors armed with a contract template and ideas of what to ask for. “This stuff is arising because universities are getting sued, so why don’t we place more onus on the vendor we’re buying tools from?” Wu said.

Under the Educause Umbrella?

One of the barriers to creating an accessibility review group has been a lack of central leadership, said Thompson. “It’s just been a group of interested parties who’ve got together and talked about the issue, but nobody has funding or claims any sort of ownership of it, so the energy dies after a while.”

Some experts said at the meeting this month that Educause could play a central role in the group's creation, a suggestion Thompson supports. “It seems like a logical place for it,” he said.

Jarret Cummings, director of policy and government relations at Educause, was receptive to this idea, suggesting at the meeting that organizers form a small working group to figure out the details and then approach Educause with a specific proposal.

Speaking later to Inside Higher Ed, Cummings said that institutional collaboration on product accessibility reviews “is an idea worth exploring,” but noted that progress would require input from general counsels at colleges early on, as “publishing public reviews of any given product or service may have legal implications that institutions and professionals will have to consider.” He added that “having a consistent, transparent approach to conducting and publishing product accessibility reviews and maintaining them over time” would be needed to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Brent Whiting, the director of information systems at Temple University, said vendor awareness of accessibility issues is “one of the biggest problems we have,” adding that “there are more products that are inaccessible than accessible.” While many start-up companies are willing to work with institutions to improve their products, Whiting said that big vendors whose main market is not education present a challenge for accessibility staff. “We don’t have enough clout with these companies to effect change,” he said.

Whiting said a product testing group, with its collective buying power, could be a good idea. But he warned of several obstacles. Whiting agreed with Cummings that defining clear standards for testing products would be essential. He also pointed to legal obstacles which could prevent the group from moving forward. For example, many universities sign nondisclosure agreements when they test vendor products, he said. Additionally, if one institution pronounces a product accessible, does that mean they could be held liable if another institution uses it and is then sued? “I know my legal counsel isn’t particularly going to want that,” said Whiting.

Shifting Responsibility

At the meeting some audience members said that rather than institutions working together to test and review products, the law should be changed to place greater responsibility on vendors.

Dawn Hunziker, an IT accessibility consultant at the University of Arizona, agreed that she would like to see more responsibility put on the vendors. But, Hunziker said, “I don’t think we have the time to wait for a change in the law to happen -- we need to find a solution now.” Hunziker would like to see the group moved forward, but she said figuring out the right the medium for sharing information and defining what exactly can be shared would be tricky.

Cummings said during the meeting that Educause and many other organizations, including industry groups, support federal legislation to establish a process for collaboratively drawing up clear accessibility guidelines for instructional technologies. If the U.S. Congress passes such a law, Cummings hopes that development of shared guidelines would reduce many accessibility problems. However, establishing guidelines would take a few years, said Cummings, and compliance with them would be voluntary.

Several accessibility experts said problems with vendors over product accessibility are more the result of ignorance than bad intent. “Many providers strive to understand the accessibility issues facing higher education,” said Cummings. But smaller companies “may not even realize” the problems they create for students and institutions by not addressing accessibility in their development process. And larger companies also “are just beginning to recognize how highlighting -- accurately and reliably -- the accessibility of their products may advance product adoption in the marketplace."

As more universities place accessibility at the forefront of their procurement process, Hunziker hopes vendors will start to shift their priorities. Procurement is likely to be a big focus of the Accessing Higher Ground conference taking place in Colorado this week, and collaboration on this issue “is the next big step in IT accessibility,” she said. “Technology touches everything that we do now, and we need to make sure that it’s accessible for everyone to use it.”


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