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Experts discuss residence-life best practices after U of Hartford harassment charges surface

Fri, 2017-11-03 07:00

While the allegations coming out of the University of Hartford in recent days are uniquely disturbing, there are universal lessons that residence life administrators from all colleges can take away from the situation, diversity and student life experts say.

Brianna Brochu appeared in court Wednesday to face criminal mischief charges for alleged conduct intended to drive her freshman roommate out of their dorm. The allegations came to the attention of the university and its police force after Brochu's roommate, Chennel Rowe, moved out and Brochu bragged on Instagram about finally getting rid of "Jamaican Barbie.”

Rowe is black, and Brochu is white. The police department said it is requesting that Brochu be charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, The New York Times reported.

Brochu, according to her Instagram posts, secretly spat in Rowe’s coconut oil, put moldy clam dip in her lotion, rubbed used tampons on her backpack and put her toothbrush “places where the sun doesn’t shine,” according to screen shots of social media posts made after Rowe moved out. In a video made by Rowe and posted to her personal Facebook page -- on which she goes by the first name Jazzy -- she talked about the tense living situation that led to her moving out. She said she hadn’t been aware of Brochu’s alleged actions until after moving out, although she had been getting sick.

“I felt like I was unwanted in my own room,” Rowe said, describing a cold and tense relationship with Brochu that she never understood.

Rowe also expressed frustration at what she perceived was a slow, bureaucratic process by the university in responding to Brochu’s actions, a process she said wasn’t transparent. Brochu would appear in court two days later.

In a statement posted the day after Rowe’s video, Hartford President Greg Woodward said Brochu’s behavior was “reprehensible and does not reflect the values of our institution.” He also stood by the university’s response, and said procedural and legal processes were followed “strictly and swiftly.”

Other universities should be paying attention to Rowe’s story, said Harlan Cohen, the author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, who has spoken and written on issues related to college roommates and times of transition during adulthood.

“It’s awful, it’s disgusting, it’s something no student should ever have to endure,” Cohen said. “And the first question is, ‘How did this happen? And what can we do to prevent this from happening in the future?’ ”

Cohen said university officials -- including but not limited to resident advisers -- should be as proactive as possible when it comes to gauging and getting a handle on their students’ relationships with their roommates. Without making that a priority, he said, “from a professional standpoint, it’s so hard to know when a situation is just two uncomfortable roommates, and someone dealing with changes, or someone who is dealing with deeper-seated issues and is acting in an aggressive way.”

While the Hartford case might stand out because of its graphic detail, it’s hardly the first time situations with roommates have escalated to the point of becoming dangerous. In one of the worst cases in recent history, for example, Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi died by suicide in 2010 after his roommate, Dharun Ravi, spied on him with a webcam and uploaded a video of Clementi kissing another man.

In 2013, authorities charged a group of white students at San Jose State University with harassing their black suitemate for months. Many asked how the incident lasted so long.

While these cases are extreme, the consequences show how important proactive residence-life programs can be.

One simple suggestion Cohen -- who spoke generally since he was not directly familiar with the Hartford case -- advised was encouraging resident advisers and their students to connect on social media. The point of connecting isn’t to spy on students, he said, but rather to more fully develop a relationship with them.

“What I’ve seen, and what professionals have seen, is that students are very slow to share their feelings,” he said. But social media often can connect resident advisers to students in places where they are comfortable sharing things from their personal lives that they’re otherwise uncomfortable sharing in person.

“In many situations, like this situation, the first place they’re going to share their real feelings is social media,” Cohen said. “Those red flags aren’t happening necessarily face-to-face.”

Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California's Race and Equity Center, also said the Hartford case could be a lesson for having a proactive residence life program. Like Cohen, he spoke broadly since he was only familiar with the Hartford case through news media coverage.

“The research is really clear on this: when students have roommates from another racial group, there are all sorts of educational benefits and gains associated with it,” he said. “Where I think this falls apart though, is that … simply pairing a white woman and a black woman together in a rooming situation does not magically guarantee that those educational benefits that are associated with interracial roommate relationships will be actualized.”

Harper said that while he was disgusted by the Hartford story, he wasn’t surprised. It was hardly the first time that a student from a minority or marginalized group has reported harassment from a roommate, he said, but hopefully it could be a time for universities to re-evaluate their residence life programming to make sure they’re doing as much as possible to prevent these situations.

“How do we stimulate conversations among students about interracial roommate interactions? That’s just not a thing” that many colleges focus on, he said. “It kind of surprises me that this isn’t a thing that’s [generally] on the menu for programs that residence halls offer. They just sort of stay away from it.”

Harper added, “That’s just really negligent.”

While Harper couldn’t comment on Hartford’s specific residence hall programming, dorms are an ideal place for talking about race, he said, because of the captive audience.

“These are people who actually live together,” he said.

Still, it would have to be a universitywide effort, he said, noting that resident advisers themselves are only marginally more experienced than the peers they supervise.

As for students who find themselves in similar situations to what Rowe says she faced, Cohen offered some optimistic advice.

“There’s never been more support to help minority students, whether it’s sexual orientation, or if it's race or religion,” Cohen said, adding that student organizations outside residence life can be a useful resource for tackling roadblocks that pop up during the transition to life in college. “[Colleges should be] making sure that those students have those resources identified early into the process.”

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How two institutions are trying to strengthen shared governance

Fri, 2017-11-03 07:00

Shared governance is an issue that generally attracts attention when faculties and administrations are at odds. But a sense of mutual trust and responsibility between professors, administrators and trustees can make a big difference in meeting institutional goals and carrying out campus missions at points of calm and at points of tension.

Knowing that, two institutions with rocky pasts in terms of shared governance -- Pennsylvania State University and the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University -- are working toward structural reforms in that area.

Penn State

“Trust” is not a word that anyone would have used to describe faculty-administrative relations at Penn State within the last decade or so. There was the seemingly never-ending fallout over the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child rape case, which included the conviction earlier this year of former President Graham Spanier for child endangerment. The Penn State faculty also staged a revolt against a new health-insurance policy, now suspended, that would have required annual tests of body mass index and questions about sexual health of all employees; the proposed penalty for missing such tests was $100 per month.

Things are changing, now, though. Spanier is out and so is his successor, Rodney Erickson, who retired in 2014. Penn State’s new president, Eric J. Barron, and Nicholas P. Jones, the new provost, appear to have the backing of the faculty. Sandusky is in prison and the health-insurance fiasco has been resolved. And in what’s been perceived as a sign of administrative goodwill, Penn State has stopped skimming off the top of its permanent fund for tenure-track faculty hires to invest elsewhere -- including in more non-tenure-track faculty hires. 

The systemwide University Faculty Senate has consequently been able to refocus its attentions on actual governance, with significant results. A new general education curriculum is in place. And within the last two years, the senate created new paths to promotion, professorial titles and multiyear contracts for full-time faculty members off the tenure track. Teaching faculty members with terminal degrees may start out as assistant teaching professors and can advance to associate teaching professors and then teaching professors, for example. A researcher is someone who is actively pursuing a terminal degree, while an assistant research professor should have a terminal degree or a master’s and have demonstrated ability as a researcher and shown evidence of professional growth and scholarship. Colleges have their own guidelines of distinguishing between ranks but there is a recommended period of at least five years in rank prior to promotion. Those promotions should be accompanied by a raise.

“You need a high level of cooperation on an issue that is so controversial,” Matthew Woessner, an associate professor of political science and public policy at Penn State’s Harrisburg campus and president of the Faculty Senate, said of the new fixed-term faculty system. “That’s evidence of how far we’ve come.”

Woessner and colleagues want to take the Senate farther: this year, among other changes, they’re proposing two new bylaws that could make the body stronger. The first proposal involves allowing only elected members of the Senate to vote in leadership elections; currently, about 10 percent of faculty senators are appointed by the administration. 

The other proposal involves making the Senate chair eligible for re-election to increase stability -- and hopefully effectiveness -- in leadership. Both changes already have been introduced, and if the Senate approves the latter, a rules committee will be asked to replace the one-year term limit with a term of up to four years.

“Faculty senates only work well if they play a really important role in university governance,” Woessner said, asserting there’s ironically little study of shared governance among scholars across academe -- though Penn State did just host a conference on shared governance within Big Ten institutions. (Woessner is, admittedly, a bit of a shared governance wonk. He has a forthcoming paper in PS: Political Science and Politics on faculty senate constitutions, which found that more representative senates are associated with faculty influence and that -- interestingly -- senates chaired by an administrator feel more “influential” to the professors they represent than do senates chaired by a faculty member.)

“Senators have to be in the position to wave their hands and say, ‘This is a bad idea,’” Woessner added. “If the Senate is independent and bold enough to be brutally honest, it can really provide a candid window through which the university sees itself.”

Michael Bérubé, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature at Penn State’s main campus in State College and the Faculty Senate’s president-elect, called past administrations “autocratic" and some of the behavior of past senates “supine.” He attributed much of the improved governance climate to Barron and Jones, the president and provost.

The past year did see some tense moments, including one sparked by a new policy against direct or indirect participation in political campaigns. “Faculty were puzzled,” thinking, ‘Is this about my I’m With Her sticker?’” Bérubé said. As it turned out, the policy was a pretty boilerplate directive about complying with federal tax laws for nonprofits -- something cleared up with faculty representatives in a relatively simple meeting (the details are still being ironed out). But under a previous administration -- one less committed to communication and shared governance -- it might have become something bigger.

“The point is that it was a very productive meeting -- and that the legal staff, apparently, now understand why it's important to consult with the Faculty Senate before issuing a policy,” Bérubé said. 

So far, he added, “we don't always agree about the outcomes of these discussions, but we are in on them, early, and substantially, in ways that we weren't five years ago.”

Barron said he couldn’t quite gauge improvements in shared governance because he’s only been president there since 2014. But he said it seems “we have a strong sense of the value of shared governance, and have a well-defined relationship that aids that understanding and actions.”

There exist, too, “excellent lines of communication, which I believe is key,” Barron said. “What is important is a strong understanding of our roles as partners and of the critical role of faculty in the oversight of academic programs.”

Asked what the most significant changes to shared governance have been, from an administrative perspective, Kathleen Bieschke, vice provost for faculty affairs, mentioned the “meaningful changes” in policy for fixed-term faculty members. She said the reform process was defined by “communication and a commitment to shared goals,” which continue even now, as policies are being put into place.

Larry Catá Backer, professor of law, served as Faculty Senate president in 2012-13, at the height of faculty distrust in the administration. Backer in an interview applauded his colleagues’ efforts at smoothing out faculty-administration relations. At the same time, he wondered if it was possible to oil the machine too well, risking sacrificing the Senate’s accountability function to the new spirit of collaboration.

Woessner said he agreed that on-campus relations could take a nosedive again in the future, in the face of some new test or under different leaders. That’s why it’s important to consider changes that could make the Senate even more independent and powerful now, he said.

“I’m a political scientist, and political scientists think of everything in terms of balance of power,” he said. “Faculty and administrators have very different perspectives on how things should be done. Faculty are obsessed with the educational mission, and administration is concerned with budgets and things like that … Shared governance at its best is the fusion of these two functions.”

Peabody Institute

Shared governance at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins couldn’t ever really be called strained -- the institute just didn't have much shared governance at all. The music conservatory was incorporated into the university some 40 years ago, and its policies -- or lack thereof -- concerning governance screamed for an upgrade by the time Fred Bronstein became dean in 2014. Hopkins wanted more faculty say in institution affairs, and so did he.

“It needed work,” Bronstein said. “There was a lack of clarity and a lack of communication and a lack of ownership.”

A majority-faculty task force worked for 18 months to rewrite the faculty bylaws from scratch. Priorities included turning department chairs into actual department leaders with decision-making authority, not just coordinators. Two new committees were introduced: the curriculum and assessment committee and a promotion and evaluation committee. A committee governing doctoral studies existed previously and will continue to meet.

Also new is a dean’s advisory group, a five-member faculty body elected by the department chairs committee. The advisory committee will meet monthly for two-year terms, up to two consecutive terms, and advise the dean on issues of concern. Department chairs may not serve on the committee. The dean’s committee must call a full meeting of the faculty at least once a semester, and the full faculty has the ability to call a meeting of the dean’s committee.

The committee of department chairs, meanwhile, will meet monthly to review policies and discuss and make recommendations on schoolwide matters. Examples include admission and student musical performance. Those chairs will elect four to five members to represent them on a smaller academic council; the council existed previously but now has more members. Chairs of departments are appointed by the dean.

Seven full-time, senior professors will serve on the promotion and evaluation committee, appointed by the dean. Their primary job will be to establish policies and procedures surrounding faculty evaluations (Peabody hasn't had any, beyond student evaluations of teaching) and help the institution move to multiyear contracts from single-year ones.

“If you don’t have effective chairs, every decision has to come up to the dean’s office,” Bronstein said. “That’s not an effective way to run a school. You don’t get ownership that way.”

He added, “I’m sure we’ll tweak some things as we go along, but there is a lot of goodwill and commitment and great leadership from the faculty.”

The bylaw changes were approved by overwhelming majority of the faculty last academic year. Robert Muckenfuss, chair of vocal studies at Peabody and past faculty assembly chair, said shared governance worked relatively well for the first three decades after the conservatory associated with Johns Hopkins.

Yet within the past decade, he said, “it was apparent that the governance structure was not fitting the needs of the administration and the faculty. New curriculum, needs of the students and faculty have changed considerably.”

Muckenfuss described the process as “very collegial” and thorough, with town hall-style meetings to update faculty members and get their feedback. He said the establishment of the promotion committee is the most significant change in the long term, since it will lead to ranks, multiyear contracts and more in-depth evaluations.

In general, he said, “I believe that we had the backing of the faculty. We certainly had an overwhelming vote of approval and endorsement when the vote was taken.”

Michael Kannen, Sidney M. Friedberg Chair of Chamber Music at Peabody, said that although the shared governance changes weren’t necessarily initiated by the faculty, “most of us recognized that they would be valuable, especially as we move toward restructuring the way our contracts work … The faculty aren’t that interested in governance in and of itself but we know it has to be done.”

Asked about how to achieve successful governance reform, Bronstein said to do it “thoughtfully. Do it inclusively and take your time. Do it very transparently -- those things are really important.”

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Survey finds IT effectiveness lacking

Fri, 2017-11-03 07:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Many campus investments in information technology aren't necessarily paying off, according to the National Survey of Computing, eLearning and Information Technology. The survey of IT leaders, conducted by the Campus Computing Project, found that many see only modest benefits from IT investments, and generally low satisfaction with many IT services on campus.

The survey, with responses from 199 public and private institutions across the U.S., asked chief information officers to reflect on computing efforts on their campus.

More than 50 percent of IT leaders said that investments in the area of on-campus teaching and instruction technologies had been effective. The next most effective areas of IT investments were judged to be library resources and services, and student recruitment, which both received approval of around 40 percent. In contrast, the areas judged to be least effective were data analysis and managerial analytics technology, which under 20 percent of respondents judged to be effective. Other areas with low reports of effectiveness (under 40 percent) included technology to support faculty research and scholarship, alumni engagement, academic support services, and online courses and programs.

Campus satisfaction with key IT resources and services was generally reported to be low. While over 50 percent of IT leaders said that their campus was satisfied with their Wi-Fi networks and user support services, satisfaction with human resources systems, financial systems and student information systems all hovered under 30 percent.

Unsurprisingly, views of the role of technology in education generally among the IT leaders were positive. Seventy-six percent of IT leaders reported that they strongly support the role of technology in enhancing teaching and learning, and 90 percent said that they believe digital resources provided a superior learning experience to traditional print materials.

While CIOs have confidence in the benefits of digital technologies for teaching and learning, actual deployment of these technologies is low. Just 14 percent of general-education classes were reported to use digital course materials, and 7 percent of developmental and general-education courses use adaptive learning technologies. Eleven percent of courses were reported to be using open educational resources, and eight in 10 respondents said that OER would be an important source of course content in five years.

Budget cuts continued to be a concern for IT leaders, with many reporting that they had experienced cuts in the last 12 months, continuing a trend of limited investment well after the economic decline of 2008. In 2016, just under 30 percent of respondents said they had started the academic year with a smaller budget than the preceding year. This year, the cuts continued, hitting community colleges particularly hard, with 29 percent reporting that their budgets had fallen from the previous year. This is a decrease from the 2016 survey however, when 42 percent of community colleges reported that they had experienced budget cuts.

Kenneth C. Green, the founding director of the Campus Computing Project, and a blogger for Inside Higher Ed, said that if he had to give campus IT a grade, he’d give it a C-plus or a B-minus at best. “We shouldn’t be willing to settle for a B-minus,” said Green at a session discussing the survey at the annual Educause conference. On demonstrating the benefit and value of IT, Green told IT leaders they must do better.

But budgetary constraints are a significant barrier to improvement, said Paul Fisher, associate chief information officer at Seton Hall University. “We all want to do better,” said Fisher, who was a panelist at an Educause session on the findings, “but how could we do better? How many of us have had budget cuts, but are still expected to provide the same services?”

Cynthia Golden, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education, described the grade awarded by Green as a “grim” indictment of campus computing. She agreed there were budgetary constraints but suggested that one way in which IT leaders could improve satisfaction and efficacy of IT services would be to engage faculty more closely on their priorities. Fisher agreed, saying that making a conscious effort to ensure that IT projects are aligned with strategic priorities would be beneficial.

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German university imposes religious code after complaints about Muslim students

Fri, 2017-11-03 07:00

Complaints about students praying loudly in the library and flooding bathrooms to ritually wash their feet have led the University of Hamburg to draw up a religious code of conduct, a first for a German university.

As many universities throughout the world grapple with how to accommodate increasingly religiously diverse student bodies, a philosopher and a group of religious scholars at Hamburg have drawn up the rules for handling religion on campus.

The university’s executive board had received an increasing number of complaints about religious students “disturbing university life,” explained Dieter Lenzen, Hamburg’s president. “External Salafists” had been pressuring Muslim female students to wear traditional Islamic dress such as the veil, he said.

Asked which groups were causing the most difficulty, he said, “To date, there have been no complaints about Buddhist students, just a few about Christian students, but a great many about Muslim students.”

One of the most controversial rules of the new code is that “religiously motivated clothing in the classroom is not in itself disruptive” -- including the full-face veil -- “providing the self-evident demands of academic exchange and exams are not impacted.”

This has caused an outcry in some sections of the German press, with the tabloid Bild asking, “Do you really want burqas at the university, Mr. President?” Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has previously called for a ban on the full-face veil wherever legally possible, following the example of other countries such as France and Austria.

“The German Constitution does not provide any legal basis for preventing specific religious practices, unless these disrupt the purpose of the respective establishment,” argued Lenzen. “This also applies for universities.”

It will be up to individual lecturers to decide whether a face veil disrupts their lessons, he said.

The code, released in October, takes a relatively tough line against reordering university functions to fit with religious sensibilities. Campus canteens “reserve the right to decide whether or not to offer dishes in line with religious dietary guidelines and restrictions,” although the code adds that it would be “desirable” if Hamburg’s student organization were to “include dishes that accommodate the dietary rules of the various religions.”

Students who miss class because of religious festivals will have to “bear the consequences,” and lecturers may ask them to make up for missed work.

“Neither course schedules nor other university events are organized in accordance with religious requirements,” the guidelines add.

Saying prayers aloud on campus or in university rooms is forbidden, although “quiet prayer may be acceptable in the library.”

In the university’s Room of Contemplation, set aside for religious celebrations, “discrimination against male or female visitors by dividing the room according to sex/gender” will not be tolerated, the code says. Lenzen added that a curtain, installed without permission by Muslim students to divide men and women during prayers, had now been permanently removed. The university was monitoring whether the code was being followed, he said, and so far there had not been any new complaints.

In 2013, Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors in Britain, was forced to withdraw guidance that permitted voluntary gender segregation on campus after sustained criticism, including from David Cameron, who was then prime minister.

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Science organizations troubled by Rand Paul bill targeting peer review

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

Science advocates are calling a proposal from Senator Rand Paul a blatant attempt to inject politics into federally funded research.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican, is one of the Senate’s biggest critics of what he sees as wasteful spending by the government. His latest target is federal research he believes has little or no payoff for taxpayers -- a situation Paul would address by altering the peer-review process for evaluating grant applications at all federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, as well as smaller agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He proposes in legislation introduced in October to add two new members to the peer-review panels that judge applications for federal funding -- one expert in a field unrelated to the research proposed in the grant application in question, who could not have worked at or been affiliated with a college or university for 10 years prior to the grant review. The second addition to peer-review panels would be a “taxpayer advocate” who Paul says would consider the likely returns on the research funding for society.

The bill would also move the responsibilities of the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General to an entirely new government entity charged with determining whether a random sample of research proposals at the agency would “deliver value to the taxpayer.” Those that failed that test would have their funding denied.

Attempts by Republican lawmakers to call out -- and even defund -- research that appears to have limited usefulness to the public is nothing new. Some of those measures have focused on the social sciences in particular. But Paul’s attempt to target the peer-review process is novel.

Research advocates don’t necessarily think the bill goes anywhere. Senator James Lankford, the Oklahoma Republican who chairs the full Senate oversight committee, has also criticized the awarding of federal grants in the past, but Paul’s bill has yet to get a single cosponsor. Science advocates are still concerned about the ideas behind it, though, and the misperceptions about the research funding process it represents.

Sean Gallagher, a senior government relations officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the kind of legislation Paul is proposing would have “pretty chilling consequences” -- not just for researchers but for the role of science in federal policy.

“It’s pretty much as blatant a political interference into the scientific process as it gets,” he said of the proposal in Paul’s legislation.

Experts in a particular field are best able to assess the value of a research proposal in that area, Gallagher said. He added that to the extent that some proposals may not appear relevant to the general public, federal agencies have been undertaking efforts to better communicate with the public about the value of research.

The peer-review system isn’t perfect, but the remedies in the Paul proposal exacerbate existing problems, said Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

“His proposal assumes that phony ‘independence’ trumps legitimate expertise, but what is to prevent his taxpayer advocates from serving the bidding of moneyed special interests?” Reichman said.

In a hearing on the legislation last month, Paul cited studies previously identified by Republican colleagues as “silly science” -- among them, NSF grants to study Ugandan gambling habits and “shrimp on a treadmill.” (The treadmill was a small part of a large study looking at how the immune systems of shrimp react to warming oceans and pollution. And the treadmill only cost $50, one investigator involved in the research has said.)

"How does this happen? More accurately, how does it continue to happen?" Paul asked.

He blamed a "publish or perish" mind-set in academe. He also took issue with policies that in some cases give those proposing grants input into who reviews their proposals. Paul said NSF allows grant applicants to recommend potential reviewers and to name individuals who should be excluded as reviewers. And he said NIH allows grant applicants to recommend a potential study section to review grant proposals as well as to name individuals who should be excluded as reviewers.

"So the people getting the money can recommend who approves giving them the money," he said. "That's right. Researchers get to pick the people who approve their funding. Doesn't sound very objective."

That's not quite how the current peer-review process works, according to the NIH and NSF.

NIH uses a two-tiered peer-review process. The first determines scientific merit and feasibility and requires a specific knowledge base in a particular field. The second peer-review tier, known as the advisory committee review, determines the value of a proposal to the mission of NIH. The advisory committee includes both scientific experts and members of the public.

Richard Nakamura, the director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review, noted that NIH does not allow applicants to request specific reviewers. And he said in an emailed statement that the agency also doesn’t entertain requests to exclude reviewers just because an applicant requests it, although they may note an “infamous public dispute” with a potential reviewer.

Applicants may request a review group, but NIH will only allow it if the panel has the required expertise and the extra application doesn’t overload it. Such allowances don’t confer much advantage, given the intense competition for NIH funding, where only the best of the best get fundable scores.

The approval rate for federal research grant applications is exceedingly low -- a reflection of the intense competition for limited funding. At the National Science Foundation, only 24 percent of grant proposals are ultimately funded.

Nearly every grant proposal at the agency receives an initial evaluation from three independent experts who do not work for the agency or for institutions employing the applicants, a spokeswoman for NSF said. Large, complex project proposals often go through a multistage review process, including site visits. The agency does allow applicants to suggest individual reviewers to include (or not include) on panels, but a decision to use those suggestions is up to the program officer handling the proposal.

“NSF’s merit review process is considered by some to be the gold standard of scientific review,” said Aya Collins, a spokeswoman for the agency. “Perhaps the best evidence of NSF’s success is the repeated replication of its merit-review model for discovery, education and innovation in nations around the globe.”

The Paul legislation was referred to committee but hasn’t advanced further. But Tobin Smith, vice president for policy at the Association of American Universities, said it would be a concern to the group if the bill gained any traction.

“Clearly it is important to have people who understand the science evaluating research proposals,” he said. “And it is concerning to think of people who would not have expertise about very technical subjects and technical grant proposals being part of the review process.”

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New book by former professor looks at Georgetown's campus in Qatar, warts and all

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

In The Doha Experiment: Arab Kingdom, Catholic College, Jewish Teacher, a forthcoming book about the eight years Gary Wasserman spent teaching American political science at Georgetown University’s branch campus in Qatar, Wasserman offers a generally positive view of what he describes as Georgetown’s “bold, interesting and important experiment.” But he is also candid in describing the kinds of tensions that have underpinned Georgetown’s attempt to import liberal education to the Persian Gulf.

The tensions are summed up by an “off-the-record” comment from an unnamed Qatari whom Wasserman quotes in his chapter on the negotiations that paved the way for Georgetown’s Doha campus: “You want liberal education. Fine, you can say it, but don’t say it too often.”

Wasserman wrote that Georgetown’s classrooms in Doha on the one hand were sites of debates “that would have been taboo elsewhere [in the region] -- on everything from feminism to punishing dissent to treatment of migrant workers.” On the other hand, Wasserman wrote of what he described as “soft censorship” and the sense of one professor that “there were implicit boundaries on what was discussed in classes about the history, culture and politics of the region.” Another professor said it would be “impolite to criticize the emir and insane to insult Islam.” Still another, Wasserman wrote, “felt concerned enough about the issue of sectarianism to publish an article in an international journal on Shiites and Sunnis under a pseudonym.”

Wasserman also wrote of what he called “not-so-soft censorship” in the form of imported books being seized by customs inspectors and forwarded to the Ministry of Culture for approval -- or lack thereof. Many of the censored books, Wasserman wrote, dealt with politics of Qatar and the region, religion, and sexuality. “Although Georgetown conformed to the ministry’s wishes in all cases where printed books were banned, they were retrieved via other methods,” frequently electronically, he wrote. “Because the school was on the Washington campus’s virtual private network, content could not be tampered with by the authorities.”

The book also discusses the case of a Georgetown Qatar professor who had his residency permit revoked in 2015. The professor in question confirmed that while his permit was subsequently restored, and he was able to resume teaching in Qatar in fall 2016, the permit was then revoked again and he was denied re-entry to Qatar during the winter holiday between the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters. Wasserman speculates the revocation was due to the professor’s critical writings on a country in the region that is allied with Qatar.

Wasserman leaves it as an open question in the book whether Georgetown’s response to these two challenges to its academic freedom -- the censoring of books and the revocation of a professor’s residence permit -- was sufficient. A Georgetown spokesperson said that the university respects “that every sovereign nation retains the right to choose who comes into its borders. As Georgetown engages with countries across the world, we continue to advocate our position on the importance of academic freedom.” The spokesperson also said, “We are confident that we have not had to compromise our curriculum to conduct [the] business of educating students in Qatar. In some cases this has been with printed editions, digital editions or other means as appropriate. We are not facing any interruptions or interference to the delivery of academic content.”

“It seemed to me that we really were engaged in a kind of a struggle, a not-resolved struggle of making sure that the kinds of freedoms that we value in the classroom and in liberal education are preserved and expanded,” Wasserman said in an interview.

For Wasserman, at least, that struggle is worthwhile. “People say you shouldn’t be there because it’s not a democracy, which it isn’t, and you have autocratic rulers, which they are, but that’s kind of where you want to be, isn’t it? Isn’t that’s where you want to make your pitch?”

Wasserman stopped himself. “Let’s not get too self-serving there. Georgetown located in Qatar because Qatar had the resources as well as an eagerness to embrace [American] higher education. It also had the resources.” Georgetown’s expenses for the campus in Doha are bankrolled by the Qatar Foundation to the reported tune of tens of millions of dollars per year, money that paid for Wasserman’s $100,000-a-year salary plus perks like free transportation and housing.

Georgetown’s campus in Qatar opened in 2005, toward the beginning of a boom of sorts in American universities establishing branch campuses in nondemocratic countries in the Middle East and Asia. Georgetown’s campus is one of six American universities that set up shop in Doha in what's known as Education City: it’s joined there by branch campuses of Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. Each of the branches has a focus -- medicine in Cornell’s case, engineering in Texas A&M’s Georgetown offers an undergraduate foreign service degree in Qatar, foreign service being a signature program for Georgetown’s main campus in Washington.

Supporters of the campuses, like Wasserman, say there’s real value to be had in exporting American-style education abroad. In his book, Wasserman writes of these campuses as exercises in American soft power. Liberal education, he says, gives students from the region “new ways to view a host of issues, from women’s rights to press freedom. It also establishes networks of foreign professionals who can fill important positions in a globalized world.”

Critics, however, accuse American universities of selling their brands to autocratic bidders. They question the premise that academic freedom can exist in places where people are not free and that nondiscrimination principles can be upheld in countries with discriminatory laws. In Qatar, rights to freedom of expression and assembly are restricted and sex between men is illegal.

Further, there have been a series of incidents in which students or scholars hoping to study or teach at American branch campuses abroad have been denied permission to do so, seemingly due to reasons related to their identity or research topic. Kristina Bogos, a former graduate student at Georgetown who as an undergraduate studying abroad at New York University's Abu Dhabi campus had written critically of the treatment of migrant workers there, was denied a visa to conduct research at Georgetown’s Qatar campus last fall. She was told by Qatari immigration authorities that she was on a “blacklist” maintained by Gulf Corporation countries due to the “trouble” she’d made in Abu Dhabi.

Georgetown, a Roman Catholic university, issued a brief statement in response to Inside Higher Ed’s questions about Wasserman’s book. “Our campus in Qatar has helped educate nearly 400 students in international affairs while maintaining our unwavering commitment to academic freedom, religious freedom and inclusion and nondiscrimination. We independently manage our campus activities including curriculum, research and faculty hiring. The opinions and representations expressed in this personal memoir do not necessarily reflect those of Georgetown University or its leadership.”

Among the chapters in Wasserman's colloquially written book are ones dealing with Georgetown’s early history in Qatar, expat life and “teaching while Jewish.” Wasserman devotes much of the book to describing the anxiety he had around being a Jewish professor in Qatar. He describes a feeling of “paranoia” upon arriving there, which subsided over time. “As a Jew, I never suffered discrimination or harassment from the people of Qatar,” he wrote.

In a section on being gay in Qatar, Wasserman wrote that same-sex relations were to some degree tolerated as long as they were kept private. Most gay students, he wrote, kept their sexual orientation largely to themselves, but would tell their friends. His book describes an exchange between a Georgetown administrator and a new hire in which the administrator reportedly said he would recommend pulling Georgetown out of Qatar if the hire experienced any discrimination for being gay, even as the administrator made reference to Qatari law, which prohibits gay sex. Wasserman observed wryly that the distinction between, as he put it, “‘being’ gay” versus “‘doing’ gay” is “a somewhat nuanced distinction for any employer to enforce.” (The two parties to the reported conversation did not comment. A Georgetown spokesperson said the university “cannot confirm the accuracy of private conversations that the author recounts or characterizes in the book, and several members of our community dispute the depictions of conversations with them that are included in the book.”)

Some of Wasserman’s diction and descriptive choices will likely strike many readers as questionable. In a chapter about the campus’s female students, Wasserman writes of one that “she would not be called conventionally pretty -- too many angles on her long, Semitic face.” Of a student who wore a miniskirt at graduation, Wasserman commented on the length and muscle tone of the student’s legs as part of a broader point he was making about her character: “The long, athletic legs of this six-footer served as a not-so-subtle parting act of defiance toward the assembled, mostly robed, mostly conservative senior Gulf Arabs seated in the honored front rows of the auditorium.”

The miniskirt-wearing woman, one of a number of female students that Wasserman profiles, was, we learn, a driven and ambitious student who is now enrolled in graduate school in an American city. Over all, Wasserman has mixed feelings about the role the university played in empowering women in the region.

“There was a debate in the corridors of our school about whether female graduates of Western universities could ever fulfill their professional ambitions if they remained in Doha,” he wrote. “Many recent grads stayed in Doha, if only because they were required to remain for a couple years if they wanted their financial aid from Qatar to be forgiven. Most found jobs in multinational corporations, nonprofits or government agencies … On the other side of the debate was a realpolitik appraisal that we were educating women for a world that didn’t quite exist in the Arab Gulf.”

Wasserman also devotes a chapter to the migrant workers who make up the majority of Qatar’s population, and who built Georgetown’s campus, keep it clean and serve students food. His appraisal of Georgetown’s moral standing on the matter is mixed: “Georgetown generally acted as an enlightened employer for its low-income migrant labor. It followed international standards for workers, insisted on safe conditions in the construction of its new building, and advocated Qatar-wide protections for them from abuse by contractors. In a recent survey of workers at Georgetown, the university came off as a good recruiter, informing migrants of their rights and intervening on their behalf with the companies that directly employed them. Professors researched the recruitment and treatment of these workers, set up financial workshops, and elevated the subject of international migration to a topic worthy of academic discussion. Student groups joined in by teaching laborers English and other subjects; a few of them went further by investigating and writing about the living conditions and exploitation of these workers,” Wasserman wrote.

“So Georgetown is ‘off the hook,’ at least in a public relations sense, in its posture toward low-income workers. But whether its actions for impoverished people -- individuals with whom it coexisted and on whom it depended -- lived up to its liberal, religious and educational principles, was another question.”

Wasserman ends the book with a chapter asking whether American liberal education has a future abroad and another chapter pondering his own departure after eight years. The mood in Qatar in 2015, when he was preparing to leave, was glum, he wrote, in part due to an economic slump attributable to the decline in oil prices. And this was before the diplomatic standoff this summer that left Qatar isolated from many of its neighbors.

Wasserman is hopeful Georgetown will stay in Qatar for the long haul. “I would hope it would grow,” he said in an interview. “One of the reasons I wrote the book is to kind of say, how do you become a vital force in this society? [Georgetown is] both fitting in and [being an] an irritant, because it’s trying to change those surroundings in some way. It is trying to improve the condition of workers to some extent; it is trying to implant liberal ideas. It is trying to do a lot of things that are certainly different from the traditions of the region.”

“It’s a bit of a conflict.”

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Oberlin won't notify students about nonthreatening racist fliers

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

It’s a story that has become all too familiar on college campuses: students see buildings, classrooms or bulletin boards papered with racist or anti-Semitic fliers. The administration sends an email to students, telling them that the institution does not support these viewpoints and is investigating the matter.

The Anti-Defamation League tracked 188 incidents of white supremacist fliers on 129 campuses between September 2016 and September 2017. Using different metrics in a log last updated in mid-October, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 329 flier incidents on 241 college campuses since March 2016.

While the recent emboldening of white supremacist groups has been vexing to many on college campuses, especially in the last year or so, Oberlin College recently decided to change tactics.

Last month, fliers calling for the end of “Jewish privilege” were found plastered around campus. The college has since enacted a policy of no longer sending out email notifications for such incidents in most cases.

“We don’t want to participate in amplifying their voice,” Oberlin President Carmen Ambar said. “If the goal here is to be a provocateur, to manipulate, then we’re not going to give them a microphone.”

Oberlin has had its brushes with racist, white supremacist and anti-Islam fliers in the past, but Ambar said October’s event was the first under her tenure, which started in May.

The college still plans on investigating instances of hateful fliers being posted, and plans on alerting students if there is a suspected larger pattern, or if the fliers' presence leads to the suspicions of imminent danger. But the standard practice of notifying students for every instance is gone, and Ambar hopes that Oberlin’s adjustment in strategy will effectively neuter the aims of those who post fliers. The previous policy of alerting students was doing more harm than good, she said.

But while Ambar hopes the policy is a way of strategically adjusting to the times, not everyone on campus is on board. An editorial in The Oberlin Review questioned the policy, with the editorial board worrying that new policy would be akin to sweeping instances of hate under the rug, leaving students in the dark:

First and foremost, we believe that marginalized students have a right to be informed about any [and] all possible statements of hate and threats made against them. The decision to not inform students of such events in absence of “an ongoing pattern or a serious threat to campus safety” not only interferes with that right, but also parallels the fact that atrocities against Jews have historically been ignored and disbelieved -- even unreported.

The editorial further argued that a lack of response might lead to more confusion, since there would be an information gap between students who would see racist fliers before they are taken down and those who wouldn’t. It also questioned the practice of remaining silent in the face of racism.

“If students notice future hateful postings without prompt response from the administration, such news is likely to spread easily on Oberlin’s small and connected campus, and there is no way to know how accurately such information will travel through the Oberlin telephone,” the editorial board wrote. “When marginalized students do hear about acts of hate perpetrated against them, they want real solidarity from campus officials, including and beyond affirmation of their experiences and perceived danger. Ambar’s decision to limit information regarding acts of hate inherently means that solidarity will not be shown.”

Ambar said that she recognized the arguments laid out by some students, but emphasized that the new approach was the best option.

“I appreciate that concern,” the president said, adding that some students have expressed support for the new policy. She also said that Oberlin’s particular deep-seated liberal history is evidence that fliers there are less about recruiting and more about shock value. Perhaps the approach wouldn’t work for all campuses, she said, but it is the right approach at Oberlin.

“The question is, if it’s not a pattern or practice, and there’s not a safety or security issue, should a notice come out from the president’s office to the entire [Oberlin] student body?” Ambar said. “I think that we can find the right balance.”

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U of Oregon protesters who stopped president's speech offered deal to avoid punishment

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

University of Oregon students who protested and shut down a speech by the institution’s president last month are being invited to a talk with administrators in exchange for not being punished.

If the students don’t accept the offer, though, they could be breaching the student code of conduct and face sanctions, according to an email sent to the alleged offenders by Katy Larkin, the university's associate director of student conduct and community standards.

The students involved said they intend to contest the violations.

Shouting down hot-button speakers has become widespread at colleges and universities, although students typically are reacting to outsiders with conservative leanings. The most prominent example this year occurred at Middlebury College, where students successfully drowned out controversial author Charles Murray, who wrote The Bell Curve, a book in which he argues that intelligence is linked to socioeconomic status and race.

Violence erupted later as Murray was escorted out of the building where he was speaking, and a total of 67 students were punished for their role in the demonstrations. Most received probation and none were suspended.

At Oregon last month, students lined the university stage where President Michael Schill was due to give his State of the University address and chanted, “Nothing about us, without us,” holding signs that read “Take back our campus” and “CEO Schill.”

Schill was not able to take the podium, despite a university administrator telling students to stop, according to the email sent to the protesters, which was posted publicly by a group called the University of Oregon Student Collective. It’s unclear how many students may be punished or how many students received the email.

Per the email, students can avoid consequences by attending a meeting with university administrators who want to hear their concerns and say they will try to address them. Students would be admitting to the conduct violation but would only receive a warning.

If they decline, then they would meet with Larkin or another college official, and then the university will decide if and how to punish them. The email indicated the students violated two parts of the conduct code -- disruption and failure to comply with a university representative.

Administrators also decided to waive the $30 fee associated with a conduct violation regardless of which option the students pick, according to the email.

The Student Collective posted a biting statement on Facebook.

“This will lead to a criminalization of protest and dissent,” the statement said. “Students are being punished for speaking out and using their voice. The UO Student Collective will not accept any guidelines that take away our freedom to dissent and protest.”

It continued, “The voices of the students are not a disruption to the business of a university, the voice of the students is the business of a university. Protesting is not a crime. Fighting for the students is not a crime.”

The group said it would contest the charges and told students who have been sent the email to reach out -- because it would “fight” for them. Students who had been “targeted” should attend the group’s next meeting, it urged.

Some on social media expressed confusion, because they said it appeared that administrators were “going easy” on the protesters and wanted to talk directly with them.

"I agree that intimidation is an awful way to propose a meeting. However, it sounds like the options listed in the email were possibly part of an internal compromise, like some administrators want to have a discussion with students while others want to pursue the conduct violations," one Facebook user wrote. "If this is the case, I don't think it's right to assume that the meeting would be harmful, silencing or stifling, as some administrators may genuinely want to address concerns."

The collective called the meeting “coercion.”

“If they want to talk, they could reach out and talk to us without requiring that we plead guilty,” it said.

According to the description on the Student Collective’s Facebook page, the organization works to honor past student activists by focusing on the needs of marginalized groups.

“It is the students that pay for the University of Oregon to run. So why is it that our voices are shoved to the ground? Without the students, there is no University of Oregon. The University of Oregon belongs to the students. Join us and together we can take our power back,” the Facebook post said.

Students at other institutions have also broken the rules over speakers, but their punishments, if any, haven’t been made public.

Students affiliated with Black Lives Matter at the College of William & Mary broke the college's code of conduct in September, officials said, when they silenced an American Civil Liberties Union representative. But the university hasn't said if or how the students would be disciplined.

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Rider U issues layoff notices as it negotiates sale of Westminster Choir College

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

The faculty union at Rider University is protesting after Westminster Choir College’s teaching staff received layoff notices warning that the college may close if it cannot be sold.

Rider, with a main campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., faces financial difficulties and has been seeking to sell Westminster to a buyer that would keep the choir college on its campus in Princeton, N.J. The university has entered negotiations with a buyer that faculty members have described as a for-profit company operating K-12 schools in Asia.

Faculty members previously voiced concern that the possible buyer had no higher education experience. They also are worried about the precedent such a sale would set. Their objections took on a new urgency this week when university administrators sent letters warning of potential layoffs.

Westminster’s potential buyer wants to operate the college as a nonprofit music school in Princeton, according to a letter signed by Rider’s president, Gregory Dell’Omo. Rider’s understanding is that the company would want current Westminster faculty and staff members to continue at the college after the sale. But a deal has not yet been reached, and the choir college may need to be closed if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.

“In the event a transaction is not consummated, it may be necessary to transition to closure and provide an opportunity for teach-out of current WCC students,” Dell’Omo said in the letter. “This process would decrease the size of the student body and thus create the need to concurrently reduce the size of the work force. We expect to know more in the coming months as the work with the potential partner unfolds.”

Administrators believe a deal could be reached by the end of this academic year. But the collective bargaining agreement with Rider's chapter of the American Association of University Professors required the university to notify faculty members of potential layoffs for next year by the end of last month. University leaders provided a layoff notice in case it is required.

The move upset faculty members, many of whom were already distrustful of university leadership and the sale process. Even if the potential buyer has stated it wants to employ current faculty members, there is no guarantee it will do so, said Elizabeth Scheiber, a French and Italian professor who is president of the Rider AAUP chapter.

“Until a contract is drawn up, there is nothing backing that,” Scheiber said. “It’s just something somebody said.”

The prospect of layoffs and closure is a major threat to issue to faculty members, she said. The faculty union is filing a grievance arguing the layoffs do not meet contractual requirements. Union leaders expect the grievance to be referred to arbitration.

They are also worried about issues they cannot challenge under a grievance process, including the sale of a nonprofit institution to a for-profit operator and the sale of a U.S. college to entities from other countries.

“We have concerns about the precedent in the United States of just selling off our education institutions to foreign entities,” Scheiber said. “What does it mean for the professors who work at these institutions? Where is the tuition going to go?”

Other U.S. higher education institutions have explored sales to foreign operators. This spring, a deal that would have had the for-profit Santa Fe University of Art and Design selling to Singapore-based Raffles Education Corp. collapsed amid regulatory scrutiny.

Accreditation also could be an issue for Westminster separating from Rider. Westminster merged into Rider in the early 1990s, at which point its separate accreditation ceased.

Pathways exist for it to receive its own accreditation, however. Westminster is identified as a branch of Rider, which experts said makes a spinout easier than if it was classified in other ways.

The parties would have to propose to accreditors that Westminster was being separated as an independent institution with new ownership, said Mike Goldstein, senior counsel at the Washington-based law firm Cooley. Accreditors would have to approve the move after an agreement between Rider and the buyer was reached but before any sale takes place, he said -- or the separated Westminster would find itself operating without accreditation.

Rider cannot yet share the name of the prospective buyer because the university is conducting due diligence and bound by a nondisclosure agreement, a university spokeswoman said. She confirmed that the buyer is an international entity intending to run Westminster Choir College as a nonprofit institution.

Financial analysts have noted the uncertainty surrounding the Westminster sale. Moody’s Investors Service on Wednesday dropped the outlook on Rider’s debt from stable to negative in part because of questions about the timeline of the Westminster sale and its impact on enrollment and financial performance.

Moody’s also noted other financial challenges Rider faces, including increasing debt and thin operating performance. It assigned a low investment grade rating, Baa2, to $40 million in proposed revenue bonds for the university. Rider enrolls about 4,650 students and brought in $152 million in revenue last year.

The university previously considered moving Westminster from Princeton onto its Lawrenceville campus. But alumni and faculty members fought the move, leading to the university's attempt to instead sell the college and its campus.

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As ed-tech companies gather more data, they struggle to find its best uses

Thu, 2017-11-02 07:00

PHILADELPHIA -- Tech companies are collecting an enormous amount of data from universities and colleges, but even big players like Microsoft seem unsure how best to harness the potential of this assembled information, said speakers at a session at Educause's annual meeting.

During the "Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: The Art of the Possible" session, a Microsoft representative demonstrated new developments in the Delve application that could help boost student and faculty productivity. By showing users information about their individual work performance, such as how quickly they respond to emails or spend writing papers, the app can track work habits and prompt users to work more effectively.

But the real potential of this application doesn't lie with in the individual data, but in data about groups. Potentially, institutions could use algorithms to analyze the data and identify students who might be struggling and help them -- a good thing. But institutions could also use the data to pinpoint faculty members who never respond to their emails or don’t seem to be doing any writing -- an altogether more sinister prospect to professors (particularly for the nontenured). Given this quandary, the question of what to do next is one that Microsoft hasn’t yet answered, presenters said.

Concerns about data privacy were a running theme in the Educause session, which highlighted current and forthcoming AI and machine learning initiatives at companies such as McGraw-Hill Education, Box and Canvas. While AI and machine learning were touted as the bridge that will enable higher education to do meaningful things with all the teaching and learning data that are being collected, the importance of developing these technologies in a mindful and deliberate way was stressed by all the speakers, particularly as institutions have a legal responsibility to protect student data under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. While speakers agreed that responsibility to comply with FERPA lies with the institution, rather than the provider, speakers said this does not mean that providers should be irresponsible with student data.

Andrew Keating, the managing director of higher education at information management and storage company Box, described how his company worked with hundreds of universities to store and share their digital files. The company is working with partners to introduce AI-enabled features such as automatic transcription of video files, but also encourages colleges and universities to develop their own custom tools. While the technology that academics develop is certainly useful to the company in terms of realizing the potential of the data available, Keating said that the company was not profiting from these ideas financially, and does not mine colleges and universities’ data. "We don't seek to make a profit off our academic customers," said Keating.

Masha Chase, senior product manager at Instructure, which created the learning management system Canvas, said that in addition to safeguarding data privacy, institutions and technology companies need to think carefully about the potential of AI and machine learning to enable students to avoid being self-sufficient. “There is a danger we could lose that,” warned Chase. Among recent innovations at Canvas is a partnership with Amazon's Alexa, which enables students and faculty to ask an Alexa device questions such as “When is my next paper due?” or “How many papers do I have to grade?”

The speakers were clear that they did not think that AI technology would ever replace instructors, but suggested that instructors may need to adapt their teaching to take advantage of insight from learning analytics. Several mentioned that they thought accessibility would be improved by AI for students with disabilities, particularly regarding creating automated transcription and captions for audio and video.

Alfred Essa, VP for analytics and R&D at McGraw-Hill Education, said that he would like to see AI and machine learning level the playing field for students from all backgrounds, adding that he believed the prime directive of education should be “equality of opportunity for all students” and closing the achievement gap. Essa said that while there are lots of tools that can improve learning outcomes, few can have significant effect outcomes -- “this is a key thing to get at,” said Essa. While many solutions have focused on improving cognitive performance in students, he said that addressing noncognitive qualities such as a propensity to procrastinate, or a lack of motivation, are neglected.

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Jerry Falwell Jr. relishes new fight for Donald Trump as Liberty University peaks

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:00

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- Jerry Falwell Jr. stood on a stage at Liberty University one recent Wednesday and delivered a winding introduction.

It was convocation, one of the evangelical Christian university’s slickly produced thrice-weekly assemblies mixing prayer, well-known speakers and entertainment. Thousands of students are required to attend, and the assemblies are broadcast online.

Falwell, Liberty’s 6-foot-2, 55-year-old president, took the stage after a song and a prayer. He told students Liberty would give them an extra pass to skip a convocation -- known informally as convo -- if 2,500 of them registered to vote. He also introduced the day’s speaker, comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

“Like me, he’s got an old bulldozer, and instead of playing golf -- I’ve never played golf in my life, I’m a Campbell County redneck, I grew up in Campbell County, and my dad grew up in Campbell County, and his dad, and his granddad -- anyway,” Falwell said. “But my old bulldozer, that’s what I do for recreation. I get on that and push trees over. I build trails, four-wheeler trails off into the woods. I’ve probably got 20 miles of trails now. And, so, um, when I wear a suit, it’s a little bit deceptive, because I’m a redneck at heart.”

This mash-up of religion, technology, politics, cultural identity and celebrity has come to define Jerry Falwell Jr. and the suddenly powerful university he has led for a decade. But neither president nor university found the right mix immediately -- both were stranded in proverbial deserts before stumbling upon successful strategies.

Liberty struggled to stay afloat for years until its online program started to take off in the mid-2000s. Since then, it has vaulted to new heights and can call itself the largest private, nonprofit university in the nation and the largest Christian university in the world.

Falwell, meanwhile, worked behind the scenes to keep Liberty alive as it struggled to grow and as his prominent father, the late Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., held the university’s top leadership position. That changed in 2007 with the elder Falwell’s death. Nine years later, the younger Falwell vaulted himself into the national spotlight during the 2016 presidential campaign by becoming an early endorser of Donald Trump.

Since then, Falwell has stuck by Trump during his darkest hours, defending the candidate and then president amid racial controversy and sexual assault allegations. In doing so, he has broken the mold for a university president’s involvement in politics, invoking fierce criticism on moral and organizational grounds.

Yet Falwell’s risky political play has yet to stop Liberty’s climb. The numbers clearly show increasing fortunes for both Liberty and its president. In the fall of 2007, the start of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s first year leading Liberty, the university enrolled just over 27,000 students, according to federal data. Today, it enrolls more than 110,000, with about 15,000 attending its campus here and the rest studying online.

Liberty’s net assets, measured in the tens of millions of dollars a dozen years ago, exceeded $1.8 billion in 2016. Next year it will move to the top division in college football, realizing a key vision of Jerry Falwell Sr. by becoming the evangelical equivalent of the University of Notre Dame or Brigham Young University -- a nationally recognized religious institution of higher learning that uses its football program to capture hearts and minds on national television.

Essentially, Falwell and the university have won all of their battles -- from the struggle to survive and thrive to the fight for political prominence. But Falwell isn’t done fighting yet. And the question now is where the president and university go from here.

A Family Education

In many ways, Jerry Falwell Jr. is the product of his father’s education. He remembers traveling around the country as a young boy with Jerry Falwell Sr., helping to sell books and sermons on vinyl records. In one story, the elder Falwell forgot to give his son the key to a cash lockbox at the book table. The 7-year-old Jerry Jr. kept the product moving anyway, stuffing money in his socks and down his shirt.

He attended two educational institutions his preacher father founded: the former Lynchburg Christian Academy, a pre-K-12 school now known as Liberty Christian Academy, and Liberty Baptist College, graduating from the college that would soon become Liberty University with a degree in religious studies and history in 1984. Falwell then continued on to earn his J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Liberty’s biography of Falwell says he went into commercial real estate development, represented local clients and returned to Liberty to become general counsel in 1988. That chain of events misses a formative disagreement between Falwell and his mother, Macel, though.

During his years in law school, Falwell started to date Becki Tilley, the woman who would become his wife. But his mother didn’t approve at first.

“She had a certain type of girl picked out that she wanted me to marry, and I didn’t want to marry that kind of girl,” Falwell said during a recent interview. “She didn’t like the fact that Becki wasn’t one of these girls that gets up on stage and sings and has a lot of makeup on and all of that stuff. She’s just kind of a country girl.”

The disagreement led to Falwell’s mother telling him she wouldn’t pay his bills. So he lived on his savings account for two years.

“That’s why I went into real estate developing, because I was determined to make my own money so nobody could tell me what to do,” Falwell said.

Falwell can still tick off the details of some of his successful early real estate deals, explaining in sequence the way parcels of land changed hands for escalating prices. On the other end of the spectrum, he counts as his worst deal the purchase of a Western Steer steak house and buffet restaurant.

The restaurant was fine until a competitor opened next door. Then the property struggled to make money until Falwell eventually flipped it for other land he could develop, leaving him with bad memories of owning a restaurant.

“You can’t do anything with it,” Falwell said. “Either people walk in the door or they don’t. It’s just that simple.”

The same can’t be said of universities. They recruit students, start programs and conduct research. Universities also court donors, erect buildings and play sports.

But when Falwell started as Liberty’s general counsel, much of his time was dedicated simply to keeping the institution alive. Jerry Falwell Sr. founded Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971, and in its early years the institution’s primary source of revenue was donations from the preacher’s television ministry, according to an account in Macel Falwell’s 2008 book, Jerry Falwell: His Life and Legacy. High-profile televangelist scandals hit donations hard in the late 1980s, and the university was staring at $82 million in short-term debt. It missed paydays for faculty at times.

The situation would play out repeatedly over the years. Liberty’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, placed the university on probation multiple times in the 1990s because of heavy debt loads. In 1990, the university’s debt totaled $110 million. In 1996, debt totaled $40 million and scheduled payments to bondholders had been late for two years.

“The financial situation has impinged on the education program,” Jack Allen, associate executive director for the SACS Commission on Colleges, told Christianity Today in February 1997.

Major donors helped to keep Liberty afloat. So did Jerry Falwell Jr., whom relatives and acquaintances describe as a quiet, almost reclusive behind-the-scenes worker during those years.

“He would spend the weekends trying to cover the payroll that they sent out on Friday,” said Becki Falwell, whom Jerry Jr. married in 1987. “It was difficult. It was very stressful.”

Steven Snyder is an attorney in Greenville, S.C., who attended Liberty and law school with Falwell. Snyder said Falwell would put in 90 or 100 hours a week at times after he started working at Liberty.

“The worst times were in the 1990s,” said Snyder, who joined Liberty’s Board of Trustees in 2014. “I know there were plenty of times where they were down to a few days if they were going to make payroll. There were times when they wondered if the school would still be open in a month.”

Liberty and the Falwells survived the financial struggles. In the late 1990s, the university was formally separated from the other divisions of Falwell Ministries, like Thomas Road Baptist Church. That was a change from the way things had evolved after the senior Falwell founded the church in 1956, said John Borek, who served as Liberty’s president from 1997 to 2003 and has been called one of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s mentors

“It was very similar to other businesses -- it grew and it had different offshoots,” Borek said. “As time went on, we asked, why don’t we spin off one thing or another, because it needs to become self-sustaining or it has its own vision that needs its own finances. Liberty just flat out became more.”

Then in May 2007, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr. died at the age of 73.

‘We’re Actually Going to Have Some Financial Prosperity Here’

After his death, the preacher’s two sons took over the large enterprises he founded. His elder son, Jerry Falwell Jr., became Liberty’s leader. The younger, Jonathan Falwell, led Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Jerry Falwell Jr. had been fearing his father’s death for years. In addition to the personal loss, it meant taking over Liberty’s pulpit. As Liberty’s vice chancellor and general counsel, the younger Falwell was able to run the school behind the scenes while his father, who was still the university’s public leader with the title of chancellor, handled the public-facing responsibilities. But Jerry Falwell Jr. eyed the public-speaking responsibilities of a university president with dread.

“I grew up in a fishbowl, because Dad had a huge church and he started a school and he got a lot of publicity,” he said. “I just got burned out on it.”

But Liberty’s board named Falwell his father’s successor. For several years, he dealt with nerves for days before he had to speak publicly. He was also uncomfortable with the responsibility of making appearances at the university’s many events.

As for Liberty’s operations during the transition, Falwell saw his biggest challenge as cohesiveness. He needed to keep the university running smoothly while showing that Liberty was bigger than one man.

“Dad was such a charismatic leader that there was a lot of concern in those days whether the school was completely dependent on his personality,” Falwell said. “He was always out there in the public, just -- he didn’t have -- he never met a stranger. He was just always -- and he built it from scratch. So that was a real concern.”

Liberty’s fortunes began to improve. Many of its debts had already been whittled down thanks to donations and lender forgiveness. But the late Jerry Falwell Sr.’s life insurance policy, valued at $34 million, allowed the university to pay off its debt and start building an endowment.

At the same time, the university’s online programs were taking off. Since Falwell Jr. took over, on-campus enrollment has jumped from 9,600 to more than 15,000, according to the university’s biography of the president. Online enrollment has grown from 27,000 to more than 94,000, and Liberty calls itself the fifth-largest university in the country.

The university traces its online operations back to 1985, when it started a distance learning program by mailing VHS tapes to students. Jerry Falwell Jr. described the program as limping along for 20 years, even as Liberty improved its academic quality. Then around 2005, high-speed internet connections started to take hold. Liberty found itself positioned to serve an enormous adult population with its online offerings.

In 2009, Falwell came to a realization: the online program had reached the point where Liberty was no longer struggling to survive.

“I’d learned to manage debt,” Falwell said. “I’d learned to negotiate with creditors. I would spend a lot of weekends on the phone with lenders and donors trying to find money to cover the paychecks that had gone out the Friday before. That’s how close to the edge we were. Then it hit me all of a sudden. When I saw the online program really just taking off, I was looking at the balance sheet and I said, ‘I can’t believe this. We’re actually going to have some financial prosperity here.’”

In 2005 Liberty posted net income of $12.1 million on revenue of $162.6 million, according to federal tax filings. By 2016 its net income was $215 million. The university’s annual revenue eclipsed $1 billion in 2015.

The university’s net assets have grown from about $150 million in 2007 to more than $1.8 billion in 2016.

Jerry Falwell Jr. has prospered as well. In 2007-08, his first full year leading Liberty after his father’s death, he received about $206,000 in compensation from the university and its related entities. In 2015-16, his compensation totaled just over $985,000.

Conservatism and Christianity in Action

Today, Falwell’s speaking style contrasts sharply with that of his late father. Whereas the elder Falwell was every bit the Baptist preacher, filling rooms with crisp delivery and a golden voice, his son speaks in a resonant, wandering mumble. The stream-of-consciousness style nonetheless holds attention. It projects a comfort on stage that belies the fact Falwell was terrified of public speaking for much of his life.

In person, Falwell speaks in much the same way. After Foxworthy spoke at Liberty’s convocation -- promoting a Liberty global initiative, G5 Rwanda, under which students can sponsor needy children in the country -- the comedian and his family sat down to lunch with the Falwell family and some other key players at the university.

Sitting in the middle of a long wooden table, Falwell said he still has letters from a child he sponsored when he was in law school. He also said giving to the poor is conservatism in action. Liberals, on the other hand, want to vote for people who will have the government take and in turn give to the poor, according to Falwell. That, he believes, is so liberals can feel less guilty about not giving themselves.

Christianity, Falwell said a little later, is not about changing behavior. It’s about helping people. He also brought up Trump several times, describing a call he received from the president to thank him for his support on the cable news show Fox & Friends.

After lunch, Falwell returned to Marie F. Green Hall, a multipurpose former factory purchased for the university in the early 2000s by the conservative Green family, which owns the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores. Today, the building holds administrative offices and the university’s law school, among other operations.

In the hallway, Falwell took a call on his cellphone’s speaker. After hanging up, he apologized. That was the White House counsel, Don McGahn, he said, without elaborating further.

Presidential Kingmaker

Some might be tempted to look back on the 2016 election and argue Liberty’s exploding growth was not enough for Falwell, that he felt the need to grasp for a bigger stage and play political kingmaker by endorsing Trump. But to do so misses the unique history of the university and the deep story of the man leading it.

The Falwell family and the university they founded have played a prominent role in American politics for the last four decades. At the height of the family’s political power, Jerry Falwell Sr. was a key player in swinging evangelical votes in 1980 from the Sunday-school-teaching Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter to the divorced and remarried Ronald Reagan. Liberty, meanwhile, has hosted countless conservative speakers over the years, as well as some prominent liberal speakers like Ted Kennedy.

That political dynamic didn’t change after the elder Falwell died and his son took over as Liberty’s leader. When Mitt Romney spoke at Liberty’s commencement in 2012, Falwell introduced the then presumptive Republican presidential nominee as “the next president of the United States.” Ted Cruz used Liberty as his backdrop when launching his presidential campaign. Even Bernie Sanders spoke at a convocation. And Trump appeared twice at the university before he was elected president.

Trump’s first appearance was in 2012, when Falwell called him “one of the greatest visionaries of our time” whose “business success in making his own dreams a reality is legendary.” Falwell said Trump started his business career in an office shared with his father before going on to list the world’s various Trump-branded properties, noting that Liberty would soon be replacing its oldest dorms.

“I think we need a Trump tower here on campus, don’t you?” Falwell said.

Falwell closed his introduction that day by calling Trump one of the most influential political leaders in the country. He gave Trump credit for single-handedly forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate, a reference to Trump’s long, discredited practice of questioning whether Obama was born in the United States.

Introducing Trump at his second Liberty appearance, in January 2016, when Trump was running for the Republican presidential nomination, Falwell called the candidate loyal to his friends. Falwell continued that introduction by referencing his own father’s stance years ago that electing a president was different from electing a Sunday school teacher, pastor or leader who shared his theological beliefs.

“After all, Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher, but look what happened to our nation with him in the presidency,” Falwell said. “Sorry.”

Falwell went on to draw parallels between his father and Trump.

“Like Mr. Trump, Dad would speak his mind; he would make statements that were politically incorrect,” Falwell said. “He even had a billboard at the entrance to this campus for years that read ‘Liberty University, politically incorrect since 1971.’”

Falwell said Liberty did not support or oppose political candidates -- a key point under tax law. As a 501(c)3 charitable organization, the university could not have supported a candidate without risking its tax-exempt status.

Liberty invited all other candidates from both parties to appear, Falwell said when introducing Trump. Less than two weeks later, he personally endorsed Donald Trump for president, sending a critical early signal to evangelical voters.

The move surprised some higher-ups at the university, who had expected Falwell to endorse Cruz. Recounting the endorsement recently, Falwell said he surprised himself, that he simply felt compelled to make sure Hillary Clinton was not elected president. But Falwell was all in on Trump from that point forward. He toured with Trump in Iowa before the state’s crucial caucuses. He recorded a robocall for Trump before the Super Tuesday primaries, accusing Cruz of “dirty tricks.”

Falwell would be rewarded that summer with a speaking slot at the Republican National Convention. That appearance marked the first time he’d ever been instructed by a speech coach.

There was a price to pay for endorsing Trump. Mark DeMoss, the chairman of Liberty’s Board of Trustees’ executive committee, left the board following a disagreement tied to Falwell’s support of Trump. DeMoss is a former aide to Jerry Falwell Sr. who has called the televangelist his second father, and he is the son of an important early Liberty donor, Arthur DeMoss. His family name still adorns Liberty’s main academic building.

DeMoss resigned in the spring of 2016, several weeks after telling The Washington Post that the Trump campaign was antithetical to the values for which Falwell Sr. and Liberty had stood.

“I’ve been concerned for Liberty University for a couple of months now, and I’ve held my tongue,” DeMoss said in the interview. “I think a lot of what we’ve seen from Donald Trump will prove to be difficult to explain by evangelicals who have backed him. Watching last weekend’s escapades about the KKK, I don’t see how an evangelical backer can feel good about that.”

The KKK reference was to Trump not disavowing an endorsement by former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke during an appearance on CNN. Trump had denounced Duke earlier.

DeMoss told The News & Advance of Lynchburg that he resigned from the executive committee after being told the committee had reached a consensus against his continued service on it. A few days later, he announced his resignation from the board.

Liberty has maintained that DeMoss could have stayed on the board after stepping down from its executive committee. But university leaders also said DeMoss violated his fiduciary duty as a board member by voicing concerns about Liberty’s future.

Since then, Falwell has proven to be perhaps Trump’s most loyal of backers, the surrogate who will defend the president when no one else will.

In the final run-up to Election Day last year, the Trump campaign found itself under siege after a 2005 videotape was released in which Trump described himself taking part in sexual assault. Trump, in the bombshell remarks, said he was “automatically attracted to” beautiful women and “I just start kissing” them. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said in the recording. “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” Trump would issue a rare apology for the remarks and say he never acted on them, deeming them “locker room talk.”

Falwell told stood by the candidate, suggesting the GOP establishment had leaked the videotape as part of a conspiracy. Nothing was defensible about Trump’s remarks, Falwell said. But he also equivocated.

“We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t,” he told WABC Radio. “We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot.”

Falwell wasn’t the only one to continue to support Trump at the time. He wasn’t even the only evangelical leader, as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson continued to back the candidate.

Less than a year later, Falwell would find himself again defending the president amid a crisis. He was the one the Trump White House rolled out after the president delivered highly controversial remarks in the wake of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned violent. Falwell has longstanding ties to Charlottesville, having attended law school there at the University of Virginia. Charlottesville also is close to Lynchburg, about an hour and 15 minutes away by car.

Trump drew outrage when he said that there were “very fine people, on both sides” of the clashes. Neo-Nazis and white nationalists “should be condemned totally,” Trump said. But he also said that “you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now.”

One woman, Heather Heyer, was killed when a driver with reported Nazi sympathies allegedly drove a car into a group of protesters demonstrating against the assembled white nationalists. A man who has been identified as founder and imperial wizard of the Confederate White Knights of the KKK was charged with discharging a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school during the rally after a video showed a white man firing a gun toward a black man who had been using a spray can and lighter to shoot flames into the air.

In the wake of Trump’s Charlottesville comments, Falwell was grilled on Trump’s stance by Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week. He praised the president’s “bold and truthful” statements calling evil and terrorism “by its name,” and identifying Nazis, the KKK and white supremacists. Pressed whether he believed there were “very fine people” on both sides, Falwell said the president had information he did not have.

He went on to argue that Trump had made it clear that no moral equivalency exists between what counterprotesters had done, “even though maybe some of them resorted to violence in response,” and what one man had done by driving a car into a crowd “because he hates people of other races.” Raddatz asked if Trump could have been clearer.

“One of the reasons I supported him is because he doesn’t say what’s politically correct, he says what is in his heart, what he believes, and sometimes that gets him in trouble,” Falwell said. “But he does not have a racist bone in his body. I know him well. He is working so hard to help minorities and people in the inner cities.”

Falwell also told Raddatz that he had spoken with friends in the Jewish community in Charlottesville and a friend who is president at Hampton University, a historically black university. They helped him understand that they felt insecure and scared during the Charlottesville rallies.

Inside Higher Ed later asked who in the Charlottesville Jewish community Falwell had spoken with so that they could be interviewed for this article. Falwell responded that he actually gathered feedback through a public relations agency Liberty works with in New York. The PR agent talked to Jewish leaders and related the conversations to Falwell. That allowed Falwell to understand why people were offended and scared by the events in Charlottesville and Trump’s comments about those events, he said.

“I probably should have clarified that in my interview,” Falwell said, not breaking his normal speaking cadence.

Falwell has never met a white supremacist in central Virginia, he told Raddatz.

White nationalist groups operate near the university. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists one, the Wolves of Vinland, as being headquartered near Lynchburg.

Falwell’s defense of Trump after Charlottesville started a movement by Liberty alumni to mail their diplomas back to the university. He addressed that movement with Raddatz and in the friendlier territory of Fox & Friends and Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes Show.

On the Todd Starnes Show, Falwell pulled no punches on the alumni movement.

“It’s a joke,” he said. “It’s so funny, because it’s grandstanding, is all it is. These people, there’s very few of them, but it happens at every college from time to time.”

If a graduate who mailed his diploma back needs his Liberty degree to apply for a job, he will put it on his résumé, Falwell predicted. That graduate can still use his degree after getting his “little five minutes of fame,” he said.

For those who mailed their diplomas back, however, the decision was no joke. Some said they have scrubbed all mention of Liberty from their résumés. Others could not locate their diplomas to return to the university but signed a letter objecting to its close alignment with Trump and Falwell’s support for the president. A total of 190 people signed a copy of that letter viewed by Inside Higher Ed.

Chris Gaumer graduated from Liberty in 2006 and is a former assistant professor of English at the university. He had two copies of his diploma that he returned to the university by mail. He heard no response, other than Falwell’s comments in the media.

“I know the alumni that I spoke with were just really blown away that the president, that his response was to attack the alumni, to diminish our numbers,” Gaumer said. “Liberty is an academic institution. A lot of the people who are in the group are thinkers or academics or people who at least have an observational interest in politics who understand this is a debate. To turn this into name-calling is to push the discussion into a quarrel. We are not interested in that.”

Bethany Hannah Walker, who started the Facebook group that originally urged alumni to mail their diplomas back to the university, was baffled by Falwell’s reaction to the diploma returners.

“What it says to the current student is, ‘Once we get your money and we cash you out and you move on with your life and you find in interviews that potential employers are, if not overtly hostile, then concerned about the kind of person you’re going to be, it’s damaging you, but we don’t really care,’” she said.

Walker graduated from Liberty in 2007 with a degree in English. Falwell’s support for Trump in the wake of his Charlottesville comments was the straw that broke the camel’s back, she said, but she had harbored concerns about the university and its leadership for years.

“He doesn’t respect us, because he’s in a really weird, unique situation of not really needing us,” she said. “They’re making a lot of money, or have been for years making a lot of money through the online program … I don’t think he cares about alumni. I think he cares about money.”

Other members of the diploma return movement put it differently. Becca Mancari is a singer and songwriter who graduated from Liberty in 2009. She didn’t get her diploma from her mother in time to mail it back to Liberty, but she did sign the letter protesting Falwell’s support of Trump. And she did not appreciate Falwell’s characterization of diploma returners as grandstanders.

“The names on this list are such good friends of mine still, who are so kind and so generous and so active in their communities,” Mancari said. “It’s obscene. That’s the word. It’s aggressive behavior by Jerry Falwell Jr. to say such things about such incredible humans.”

Falwell’s friends and acquaintances describe him differently. Kenneth Garren, the president of Lynchburg College, which is located near Liberty, said he and Falwell often consult on local issues. Falwell has always been helpful and supportive, Garren said, adding that Falwell will apologize when he realizes he’s made a mistake, but he won’t walk away from conflict.

“I’ll tell you, Jerry is a really nice guy,” said Garren, “but if you come after him in a fight, you’d better believe he’s going to fight you back.”

Another college president, Nido Qubein, who leads High Point University in North Carolina, said Falwell wants what’s best for his university.

“I don’t question the fiber of his belief or the fabric of his character,” Qubein said. “I think he just believes what he believes and talks about it authoritatively, and surely he’s aware that some people like what he says and some people don’t like what he says. He seems to plod forward regardless.”

Pennsylvania Avenue Perks

Many wonder whether Falwell’s support for Trump has paid off, if it has been worth the trouble. It’s too early to definitively answer that question, but Falwell argues the university has benefited.

“We got a whole lot of money -- donations -- Liberty did, from people who said, ‘We’re giving you this money because you supported Trump, you had the guts to do it,’” Falwell said. “It’s in the millions. I can’t remember the amounts, but enrollment’s bursting at the seams. I’ve gotten so many people that just -- our base loved it.”

Liberty’s contributions, gifts and grants were higher in 2016 than they were in 2015, according to federal tax filings. The university reported record on-campus enrollment of about 15,200 for the fall 2017 semester. Trump spoke at Liberty’s commencement this spring, visiting the university instead of taking the more traditional route of speaking at Notre Dame.

As for what Falwell personally has gained, the answer seems to be access to the White House.

Falwell has told reporters he declined an offer to be Trump’s secretary of education. At one point, Falwell had said he would be leading a presidential task force on higher education for Trump to address federal regulation of colleges and universities as well as accreditors. But no official task force materialized.

Nonetheless, in interviews and in meetings Inside Higher Ed was allowed to attend with Falwell, the Liberty president volunteered numerous pieces of information about his connections to the Trump White House. Trump sometimes calls to talk to Falwell, often after Liberty football games or media appearances, according to Falwell. And Liberty has also provided the White House with information on federal policy and regulations.

Robert Ritz, the university’s senior vice president of student financial services, gave a brief overview. Liberty provided information to the U.S. Department of Education on several key issues, he said: the borrower defense to repayment rule, gainful-employment regulations, third-party servicer fraud, and streamlining and simplification of the Title IV federal aid program -- particularly on the issue of duplicative reporting.

Many objections to those issues revolve around the idea that the Obama administration overreacted to a few extreme cases, laying on thick new layers of regulation and saddling innocent actors with high compliance costs. Many in higher education’s mainstream, particularly private colleges and their lobbyists in Washington, share that view with Falwell and Liberty.

“It’s the principle of applying regulations broadly to several thousand schools because there’s just a few bad actors,” Ritz said. “The assumption that you can’t go after a few bad actors under existing regulations, that’s the big picture.”

Falwell also brought up issues related to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded education, and a hot topic after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines and issued new guidance giving colleges more leeway in the ways they handle sexual assault cases. Like many universities, Liberty is currently tied up in its own Title IX legal fight. The university has been sued by three former football players who were dismissed from the university in September 2016 after they were accused of sexual assault at a 2015 off-campus party. The Lynchburg Police Department never filed charges in the case.

Law enforcement officers are the ones best qualified to protect victims, Falwell said. He believes colleges should be required to report allegations but investigations should be left to law enforcement.

This opinion differs from current law and the updated Education Department policy, which requires colleges to adopt procedures for resolving sexual misconduct claims. Trained investigators must investigate complaints and act on their findings. Administrators also must act when they should reasonably know of sexual misconduct incidents, the department says, no matter whether a complaint has been filed.

Liberty sent its feedback on the regulations to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

“He was very impressed, thanked us for it, told us we were going to be involved,” Falwell said. “There’s been a lull in activity in the last two or three months. I think they’re busy on some of this.”

Liberty is not making policy decisions, Falwell said. It is not asking for favors. He views the college as simply telling the government what colleges must do to comply with what he sees as onerous regulations.

On the whole, the situation strikes some scholars as history possibly repeating itself. Jerry Falwell Sr. and other evangelical leaders are credited with helping to swing the presidency from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election. But some religious conservatives bemoaned the fact that they did not force Reagan to enact more policies they supported once he was elected.

“I’m wondering if this is the case with the son as well,” said Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Dartmouth College and the author of several books on evangelicalism in America.

“Is there really anything he wants enacted?” Balmer said. “I don’t know what it would be. It seems to me he’s got everything he wants, having access to the president.”

Liberty Football’s Ascent

Liberty also made headlines on issues related to Title IX late last year when it hired Ian McCaw as its athletics director. McCaw resigned from the same post at Baylor University in May 2016, as claims piled up that Baylor’s athletics department mishandled reports that football players committed sexual assaults. Liberty said in November 2016 that McCaw “is a godly man of excellent character” and that if he made mistakes at Baylor, they appeared to be “technical and unintentional, out of line with an otherwise distinguished record.”

McCaw will play a key role as Liberty jumps to the top tier of college football. The move was made possible in February, when the university received a waiver from the National Collegiate Athletic Association allowing it to join the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The university needed the waiver because of a rule requiring schools to be invited by an FBS conference in order to make the jump. Liberty received no conference invite.

Liberty will start playing at the FBS level in the 2018 season. It plans to compete as an independent -- just like Notre Dame and Brigham Young.

The jump means more financial commitments for the university -- in the FBS, colleges and universities can award 85 scholarships, up from 63 at its current Football Championship Subdivision level. Liberty is also spending as much as $50 million to improve its football stadium and to expand seating from 19,200 to 25,000. A massive $29 million indoor football practice facility has already opened.

Falwell sees football as critically important to Liberty’s mission. The only real contact most people have with a university is through athletics, he reasons. Even alumni are most likely to return to campus to see a game. Athletics is not Liberty’s mission, but it highlights the university like little else can.

This is largely the reasoning Liberty leaders have been following for years as they pursued football -- the sport attracts attention and can be a vehicle for communicating about the university and about God.

The road to top-tier football has been long and difficult for Liberty. Falwell alleges some college presidents attempted to keep the university out of FBS by blocking its invite to a conference. He declined to name those presidents, however.

“Liberty was excluded just because two or three presidents out of 11 vetoed, because they didn’t want a faith-based school,” Falwell said. “They told that to people privately and it got back to us.”

The jump in football is not without risk. The Football Bowl Subdivision has been the center of dispute in recent years over whether players should be compensated and able to unionize. Its Power 5 conferences also decided in 2015 to offer full cost of attendance stipends to players, effectively allowing universities to pay cash to players to close the calculated gap between the scholarships they receive and the other expenses students face, like food and travel.

More generally, it is riskier today to invest in football than it has been in the past. The money is bigger in major college athletics, but health concerns about the sport have also grown. Worry about concussions and their effects on athletes continues to swirl around the game of football.

But McCaw argued medical safeguards have improved for student athletes. Football players are also benefiting from improved nutrition and stipends, he said.

“Student athletes have never had a better situation than they do right now,” McCaw said. “It’s never been a better time to be a college student athlete. The same thing for football.”

Falwell acknowledged rewards and risks.

“The TV revenues have really dropped for FBS teams,” he said. “We feel like there’s a lot of teams that are not going to be able to afford to stay in FBS, and once that happens, we think that’s going to open up opportunities for us. But there’s no way to predict that.”

Returns have already started, however. Liberty shocked Baylor to open the football season this year, upsetting an opponent from a Power 5 conference for the first time.

Risk and Reward

Like most leaders, Falwell has a complex relationship with risk. He’s clearly not afraid of the big gambles, like investing in football or backing Trump. But when previous risks pay off, he can be conservative with the proceeds.

Liberty has invested a low percentage of its endowment into equities, between 20 percent and 30 percent, according to Falwell. It’s taking risks instead by pouring profits into its campus.

Construction on Liberty’s campus isn’t just limited to its athletic facilities. The university is in the midst of a $1 billion campus construction plan funded in large part by its online profits.

Projects include academic buildings, dormitories and a 275-foot-tall tower topped by a replica of the Liberty Bell. The tower, which will hold the university’s School of Divinity, sits on an academic lawn that tour guides say is larger than the lawn at the University of Virginia. It is named the Freedom Tower. Some students have referred to it as the Tower of Babel.

Falwell believes in taking measured risks in areas where he can impact the outcome, according to John J. Regan, a partner and chief investment officer at the firm that manages Liberty’s endowment, Permanens Capital.

“We have a university president that sets the tone, which is, ‘We don’t need to take a lot of risk in this part of our operations,’” Regan said. “‘We’re taking risk in building the campus, and we’re taking risk in this online program, but we don’t need to take risk in this part of our lives.’”

Since Falwell took over, Liberty has also moved to formalize the way its board reviews investments. In less than 10 years, the university has gone from not having an investment committee or investment policy statement to having a committee that meets quarterly to review all of its investments.

Meanwhile, the university has been socking away money for the future. One goal is to have enough reserves that Liberty will be able to survive if online education becomes more and more competitive, eating into profit margins so that the online side of the university can no longer subsidize operations on campus. Another is to have enough money to operate a student loan program or provide guarantees to private lenders in case of major changes to the federal student loan program.

“We’re going to have to be so solid that if the online program completely went away, we don’t have to worry about money,” Falwell said.

Could Liberty license its online model to be used elsewhere? The university has not decided to do so, Falwell said. But he left the door open to such an arrangement. Liberty is already partnering with Hampton University. The universities aren’t disclosing the terms of that partnership, but plans call for it to involve athletics and online academics.

“I took my senior team up a few weeks ago to kick the tires, so to speak, because I heard a lot about their academic program, their online program,” said Hampton’s president, William R. Harvey.

Liberty is also more insulated from risk as an employer than are many universities, because its professors do not have tenure. Professors are on one-year contracts, with only a few exceptions -- the university’s law school does offer tenure protection, meeting an accreditation requirement from the American Bar Association.

Those contracts effectively shift risk to the employee. They make it easier for the university to fire professors who aren’t meeting expectations than it would be at a university offering tenure protection. They also could allow the university to shed employees quickly in the event of a financial crisis.

On the other hand, the lack of tenure means faculty members don’t have the same level of protection if they stake out controversial positions. And there are plenty of potentially controversial decisions at a conservative institution like Liberty. Employees are required to sign a doctrinal statement stating, among other things, that the Bible is inerrant and authoritative in all matters and that employees should uphold the “sanctity of permanent marriage between a man and a woman” and abstain from tobacco, alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs.

To Falwell, the lack of tenure does not constrain faculty members or the university. It attracts a certain type of professor.

“When you don’t have tenure, you’ve got people coming to work for you who know that nothing’s guaranteed,” he said. “It actually attracts people who are more risk takers to Liberty. And that’s what we want. We want risk takers. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”

He also said the university has relaxed some of its requirements of students, like a hair code for men. Liberty used to ban hairstyles related to “counterculture,” restricting length and not allowing ponytails, but it dropped those rules. The university does not kick students out the first time they catch them taking drugs or drinking, Falwell said.

“We’ve never excluded gays,” he said. “Most people are surprised at that, but we never have.”

Yet murmurs persist that Liberty has a very different atmosphere when it comes to freedom of expression. Last year the university prevented its student newspaper from publishing a column criticizing Trump -- a move Falwell defended by saying the column was redundant with another piece. This week an evangelical pastor and author who has been critical of Falwell’s support for Trump said he was removed from campus and threatened with arrest after attending an on-campus concert Monday. Falwell said the removal was due to security concerns because the pastor had planned a protest and that Liberty’s tradition is not to allow uninvited protests.

Alumni who have been critical of Falwell say something isn’t quite right.

“People who work there now sent us horror stories of the type of fear that is instilled in many employees,” said Gaumer, the Liberty alumnus and former assistant professor who became a leading voice in the movement to return diplomas.

From department chairs all the way down the professional chain, the rule is to keep your head down and teach, Gaumer said. Those considering being publicly outspoken against the university know they are on one-year contracts.

“Traditionally, a university atmosphere is a haven for thoughtful discussion and curiosity,” Gaumer said via email. “At Liberty, I came to understand that voicing certain opinions makes you expendable.”

Falwell maintained that the university has only fired professors for a lack of competency. He could not recall an instance of firing anyone for making a statement the administration disagreed with or that was out of sync with the university’s mission.

Yet critics say conditions can limit free speech even if no one has been fired.

“I never got the sense that my professors were afraid to speak out openly for fear of losing their jobs,” said Walker, who started the Facebook group that urged alumni to mail their diplomas back to the university. “But Liberty University professors don’t have tenure, and you won’t catch them stepping out of line. It just does not happen.”

The university’s character has shifted since it started bringing in large profits, she said.

“I’ve known a lot of people who have been students and worked there,” she said. “They have lots of perspectives that I’ve heard, saying things changed in a big way once the school started making that kind of money.”

Others who have worked with Falwell say they trust him. Dennis Coleman, a lawyer with the Boston-based firm Ropes & Gray, represented Liberty as it worked to move up to FBS football.

“It wasn’t an engagement letter that consummated our deal, it was a handshake,” Coleman said. “[Falwell] is very comfortable in his own skin. I mean that in a good way. He’s at peace with himself because his belief is that he’s honest with people and he’s straightforward with people and that he’s doing things for the right reasons.”

Defining the Boundaries of Free Speech on Campus

Falwell’s views on free speech on Liberty’s campus are much more nuanced when he is questioned in depth. At a time when athletes’ protests during the national anthem -- and Trump’s comments about them -- have roiled football fans across the country, Falwell believes it is disrespectful to veterans to kneel during the anthem. Yet he would allow Liberty’s coaches to decide on a course of action if some players felt strongly about doing so.

He also thinks flying the Confederate flag is a bad idea for anyone.

“It symbolizes something that is just un-American,” Falwell said. “The white supremacist groups started using it as a symbol. I think the reason they started flying it was meant to be racist. I don’t think the groups, I don’t think they were flying it to say the South was fighting for states’ rights.”

Free speech issues are different for public colleges than they are for private colleges, Falwell said. That echoes established law surrounding the First Amendment, which says, as government entities, public institutions generally cannot block speech on their campuses. Private colleges, on the other hand, have more leeway.

Still, private institutions are making themselves look foolish when they support academic freedom but disinvite conservative speakers, Falwell said. So do students and protesters who turn to violence to keep conservative speakers off campus.

So should Harvard University have pulled its fellowship offer from Chelsea Manning after blowback?

Falwell deferred when asked that question, saying he was unfamiliar with Manning, who spent years in military prison for leaking classified documents. Told who Manning is, Falwell did not answer directly.

“I don’t really understand the question, because it’s not a conservative or a liberal thing,” he said.

Should Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative speaker and focal point of many recent free speech disputes, be allowed to speak on campuses despite a track record of inflammatory statements? Falwell again said he did not know the speaker. But after Yiannopoulos’s background was briefly explained, Falwell offered some thoughts on the boundaries of free speech.

“It’s just like yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” he said. “If somebody is coming in to say things that are provocative, going to cause violence, then I think that’s where free speech ends. That’s what -- liberals used to say that forever. They used to say, ‘I might disagree with what you’ll say, but I’ll die for the right to say it, but you can’t yell “fire” in some crowded theater.’”

Would Liberty host a speech by Bill Maher, the liberal talk show host? Yes, Falwell said. The university would also consider hosting Kathy Griffin, the comedian who drew outrage earlier this year for posing in a photo shoot holding a mock-up of a severed Trump head -- if Griffin had “something of value to say.”

Asked whether Liberty would host Colin Kaepernick, the professional football quarterback who sparked the protest movement by kneeling during the national anthem last year and who has since filed a grievance after he was unable to find work in the National Football League, Falwell said he did not know who the athlete is. After Kaepernick’s history was explained, Falwell said the quarterback would be allowed to speak at Liberty, but that he doubted any student group or department would invite him.

Fielding All Questions

What Falwell has not done is shy away from questions about his politics or his leadership after he supported Trump. Many faculty members and college presidents are in the public eye, taking political positions, he said. He just happens to be one of the few on the conservative side.

Falwell does not, however, see himself as a model for a newly politically active university president. Many presidents still rise through academic ranks, and he does not believe academics go into their fields to be political warriors. They are risk averse, seeking tenure and long-term job security.

He also admits that his outspoken support of Trump could have turned away some students.

“For every one that didn’t come here, I think there’s probably two that did,” he said. “So many schools are in lockstep politically that if you just happen to be on the other side, you’re such an exception. That’s one of the reasons Liberty is a big draw -- it’s kind of like the Fox News of academia.”

Falwell’s personality is enmeshed with Liberty’s trajectory more closely than many other college presidents’, because the university is in many ways run like a family business. Falwell remembers being 8 years old when the institution’s founding was announced. His whole life is engrained with the purpose and mission of Liberty, he said.

He described himself as a fighter, someone who feels derelict in his responsibilities if he isn’t struggling for something. Sometimes he grows bored. At those times, he stirs the pot, sending out a controversial tweet just because things have grown too quiet.

That self-identity as a fighter incorporates Falwell’s feelings about Lynchburg, his family history and even, to a certain extent, religion.

Falwell knows his family history -- he spent three years researching it for his father’s 1987 autobiography, Strength for the Journey. His grandfather owned numerous businesses, including a nightclub, bus lines and an oil company, using some of those businesses to distribute moonshine. But according to the biography, his grandfather died of cirrhosis after years of drinking fueled by guilt brought on by a dispute in which he shot his brother dead. He was acquitted of murder on the grounds of self-defense.

“My mom, when she started dating my dad -- who was only 15 when his dad died -- her parents were mortified because they were middle-class, churchgoing people, and the Falwells were just -- I mean, they were just rough businesspeople, and my dad’s granddad was an atheist,” Falwell said. “I take more after dad’s side of the family. It’s just a fact. I do.”

Lynchburg, Falwell said, has always had a wealthy group of blue bloods. He believes Liberty had to fight them every step of the way. In the 1980s Liberty threatened to move to Atlanta because local politicians charged real estate taxes on its campus despite its nonprofit status. The university bought the nearby New London airport at the end of 2015 for a reported $1.8 million to support its School of Aeronautics, a move that came just a few years after the Lynchburg Regional Airport director pushed back against a Liberty-owned plane service’s expansion, arguing it was creating a monopoly on aviation services at that airport.

“I basically ended up buying another airport, a dinky little airport,” Falwell said. “The zoning is there if I want to lengthen the runway. I can, just to let them know that they weren’t going to control us, that they were going to give us a good deal and they were going to run it right -- or we’re going to be able to compete with you and you’re going to be out of business.”

Does Falwell ever worry about the people who get caught in the cross fire in his fights?

“My family, you mean?” he asked.

Yes. Or anyone else.

Falwell pointed at his son, Jerry Falwell III, whom the family calls Trey. Trey Falwell is Liberty’s vice president of university operations.

“He gets caught in the cross fire sometimes,” Falwell said. It was a reference to recent press coverage of Trey Falwell’s real estate investments in Miami and a house he bought from Liberty that was not listed as a line item on the university’s federal tax forms. The home sale appeared to fall under IRS reporting requirements for business transactions with an interested person. Liberty has said the home sale was properly disclosed. Falwell said his son is investing in a distressed property in Miami, just as he himself has done as a developer.

Debating University and Religion

The people Jesus criticized most, Falwell said, were the people who thought they were better than everybody else. That view came through in Falwell’s argument for Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was released.

“All I said was everybody’s sinned,” Falwell said. “If you believe your Bible, read it. That’s what it says. One person’s not better than the other one because they did this and this and this guy doesn’t.”

This reasoning angered even some of Liberty’s current students. Dustin Wahl is a student who started the Liberty United Against Trump movement during the presidential election. The group has criticized both Trump and Falwell’s support of the candidate. Wahl, a 22-year-old political science major who will graduate this spring, believes Liberty is an institution that is greater than its founding family and president.

“I think he thinks Liberty is his,” Wahl said. “And he is right about that, to a degree. But I think he thinks that it’s just totally his, and I think it’s the students’. And Mark DeMoss thought that it was the administration’s and the students’ and the whole of Liberty’s, and that view has been hostile and foreign to President Falwell.”

In many ways, the disagreements over Falwell’s leadership and Liberty’s direction reflect the divisions running through conservative Christianity and evangelicalism in America.

“We can debate what Liberty University is,” Wahl said. “Falwell thinks it’s his, and I think it’s the students’. If it is the students’, then Liberty is more about Christianity. If it’s Falwell’s, maybe it’s more about politics.”

Rebekah Tilley (no relation to Becki Falwell) graduated from the university in 2002, majoring in government. She says she couldn’t get a job she wanted with her Liberty degree and went on to earn her master’s from the University of Kentucky.

“Frankly, I came out under his father’s tenure, and I feel like, compared to what this generation is going to have to face, how politicized Liberty has become under Falwell Jr., it’s going to be worse,” she said.

Tilley was one of the Liberty alumni in the movement to return diplomas. Her diploma was destroyed in a flooded basement, but she gathered her honors thesis, a program from her graduation ceremony, awards she received as a senior and every last remnant she could find from her time as a student. She mailed the documents to the university in an envelope with a letter explaining why she was returning them. She received no response.

She felt she had to say something if she cared about the institution, Tilley said. When Falwell did interviews diminishing the move to return diplomas, she questioned his leadership.

Tilley doesn’t doubt that Falwell considers himself to be a faithful Christian. While that does not mean he is a Christian leader, many across the country assume he fills that religious role because his father was such a high-profile preacher.

“I wish he recognized that more people kind of see him in that vein,” Tilley said. “Because maybe then he would understand how deeply he is wounding evangelical Christianity right now because of his actions.”

Scrolling through Falwell’s Twitter feed reveals very few biblical or religious references. The Liberty president is comfortable with that, although his reasoning might surprise some.

“I think there’s a difference between religion and Christianity,” he said. “I think Christianity is how you treat other people. Religion is all the other stuff -- you know, going to church, quoting Scripture all the time. I think a lot of people worship the Bible instead of worshipping Christ.”

Falwell gives Liberty’s spiritual leadership space to operate. When David Nasser, the university’s senior vice president for spiritual development, interviewed for his job several years ago, Falwell told him he could run his own team and strategy. Falwell has not micromanaged in the years since then, Nasser said.

This does not mean that Falwell never references the Bible in conversation. He brought up the parable of the talents, the tale of a master leaving property with servants and then evaluating how they had invested it.

We are supposed to love others as we love ourselves; we are supposed to love God, Falwell said. We also are supposed to do the best we can with our own skills, he said, rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and rendering unto God the things that are God’s.

“When you’re serving a corporation, you do what’s in the best interest of the corporation,” he said. “When Jesus said turn the other cheek, he wasn’t talking about -- he didn’t mean for a soldier in battle to turn the other cheek.”

It can be argued that Falwell is in a suddenly uncomfortable position of strength. He has gone from the daily triage of keeping Liberty alive to the responsibilities of shepherding a thriving university made up of thousands of students, faculty, alumni and trustees, all with their own needs and opinions. He has gone from stumping for Trump, a Washington outsider, to defending a president in power.

In some ways, that arc runs parallel to the story of the evangelical movement itself.

“These people are very, very skilled at the rhetoric of victimization,” said Balmer, the Dartmouth professor. “So is Trump, by the way. And I think that’s one of the reasons Trump won the evangelical vote. This rhetoric of victimization is very potent.

“Any time you turn that around, they’re drifting somewhat.”

So where does Falwell go from here? When does he declare victory and walk away?

Falwell has thought about that question. Because of the stresses of his early years guiding Liberty through its financial troubles, he describes his time at the university as being 50 years squeezed into 30. In the last few years, he has started delegating more responsibilities to other administrators than in the past.

He’s not ready.

“I could see myself saying, OK, just 15 more years, I’ll be 70 and maybe just enjoy the rest of it,” Falwell said. “I don’t know if I could handle not being in the middle of the fight.”

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Professors on three campuses face disciplinary action or resign over harassment allegations

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:00

Three separate institutions in the last month have taken action against five professors accused of sexual misconduct, all of them senior and previously esteemed.

Some observers have asked if higher education is having a Harvey Weinstein moment, in reference to the film producer’s recently revealed history of harassing women. But it might be more appropriate to ask if Hollywood is catching up to academe, where women have for several years been speaking out with increasing success against men who are powerful figures in their fields.

In any case, said Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law at Columbia University and director of its Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, academic norms might be changing, but “we have a very long way to go.”

The academic version of the “casting couch has been a well-known hazard of study in all universities” and Columbia “is no exception,” Franke said, referencing one case on her campus: that of William V. Harris, Shepherd Professor of History.

Columbia told students via email this week that Harris had agreed to cease all work interactions with students. The news follows allegations that he repeatedly forced himself on a graduate student known in court documents as Jane Doe. Doe is suing the institution, alleging that she was advised by professors and administrators to avoid Harris, a noted scholar of the Greco-Roman world, rather than report him.

Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment and has not spoken publicly about the allegations. A university spokesperson said via email that while Harris remains an employee, he “has withdrawn from his teaching, advising and other student-related activities. Columbia is deeply committed to fostering an environment that is free from gender-based discrimination and harassment.”

David Sanford, Doe’s attorney, said in a separate statement that harassment of his client by Harris was “not an isolated event,” and that “evidence suggests that Columbia knew or should have known about Harris’s serial harassment of Columbia students for decades and did nothing.”

Franke said she’d been following the case and what struck her as “exceptional” was the university “taking these charges seriously and removing the professor from contact with students.”

She added, “It’s fair to say that all of us in the academy know of colleagues, mentors and other faculty who have a reputation for sexually harassing students and nothing is done about it.”

In another case, Dartmouth College has confirmed that it’s investigating for harassment three faculty members, all of whom are on paid leave with restricted access to campus. The New Hampshire attorney general’s office, the local county attorney and the New Hampshire State Police have launched their own criminal investigation into the professors’ conduct. Dartmouth hasn’t named the professors publicly. But Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald in a statement said his inquiry had been sparked by a story in the Dartmouth student newspaper. That story identifies the professors in question as members of the department of psychological and brain sciences: Todd Heatherton, Lincoln Filene Professor in Human Relations; William Kelley; and Paul Whalen.

None of the professors immediately responded to a request for comment.

Philip Hanlon, Dartmouth's president, in his own statement said he wanted to express “in the most emphatic way possible that sexual misconduct and harassment are unacceptable and have no place at Dartmouth. Such acts harm us as individuals and as members of the community.”

At San Jose State University, a fifth professor accused of harassment resigned quietly earlier this month. That was in contrast to the vocal protests about his return to campus at the beginning of the semester, after the allegations against him made headlines. Lewis Aptekar, a former professor of counseling education, was found by the university to have harassed a graduate student by repeatedly asking to date her but remained chair of his department for five months after that finding, according to The Mercury News. Another student later made similar claims but they were not substantiated. Aptekar was put on paid leave in 2016 but was to return this semester to teach trauma counseling -- something many graduate students said was objectionable.

The university has been accused of mishandling the claims against Aptekar. That might explain why the university settled with Aptekar for $75,000 in exchange for his resignation, according to university documents. His personnel file also will be wiped of references to his suspension but he may not accept any other position within the California State University system, based on the agreement.

Aptekar’s attorney did not provide immediate comment, and the university referred requests for comment to the settlement.

Jason Laker, a fellow professor in Aptekar’s department who has said he was retaliated against for helping bring claims against Aptekar to light, said Tuesday that San Jose State “prioritized protecting the harasser instead of our students.”

It’s a “pattern that happens in higher ed that maintains things as they are,” he said.

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A new type of hacking puts professors' accounts at risk

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:00

A former wrestler at the University of Iowa was arrested last week for his role in a high-tech cheating scheme. The student, Trevor Graves, secretly installed devices called keyloggers onto campus computers and used them to record his professors’ keystrokes. Armed with his instructors’ institutional log-in details, Graves reportedly boosted his grades over 90 times in a 21-month period, in addition to intercepting exam and test questions.

Graves is now due to appear in court, but he is certainly not the first student to be caught using a keylogger. Earlier this month it was reported (but not confirmed by the university) that the University of Kansas had expelled a student who used a similar method to change failing grades to A’s. Numerous other universities have also had high-profile keylogging incidents in recent years, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University and Brigham Young University.

Cathy Bates, a senior consultant at Vantage Technology Consulting Group, explained that there are two approaches to keylogging -- one using software, which she classed as an “external threat,” and another using hardware, an “internal threat.” A hardware keylogger can be bought for as little as $40 and is typically placed in the USB port where the keyboard is plugged into the computer. The devices can sometimes be embedded in the keyboard itself, making them harder to spot.

As many campus computers are regularly scanned for external software, Bates said that the threat of keylogging software can be easily be detected and dealt with, but keylogging hardware might go completely unnoticed without thorough physical inspection of the computer and keyboard. Bates noted that it would be easy for students, or anyone with access to campus computers, to install keylogging hardware without attracting much attention.

Andy Weisskopf, director of security operations and chief information security officer at Binghamton University, of the State University of New York, said that it was important for institutions to think about physical attacks to devices, in addition to remote attacks. Both Weisskopf and Bates said they were not aware of any statistics on the frequency of keylogger attacks in higher education, but suggested the threat was a real concern for many institutions, particularly as students with access to grade-management systems could throw the academic integrity of the institution into disrepute.

At the University of Iowa, a number of steps have been taken in the wake of the keylogging incident. A university spokesperson said that all individuals whose accounts were known to be compromised have been required to change the password for their institutional log-in. The university also urged all faculty members, staff and students change their passwords as a precaution. A manual sweep of all computers was conducted to look for suspicious devices, and physical security was improved in classrooms with computers to prevent tampering.

Two longer-term changes are also underway at Iowa. A two-step verification process was introduced earlier this year on an opt-in basis for access to the course management system and the student records system. A new dashboard which will enable instructors to monitor any changes to grades is also in pilot.

Both Weisskopf and Bates agreed that two-step verification processes (also called multifactor authentication) are a good countermeasure to protect against passwords being stolen through keylogging. Bates said that she had seen many institutions introduce such systems recently, but often on an opt-in basis. Not everyone is a fan of the system, which often requires that you keep your mobile phone handy to receive a unique verification code, which is then entered in addition to your password. Though some see the step as a nuisance, Weisskopf noted that the process is becoming more accepted as more and more online services introduce the feature.

Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas and president of the KU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said that he had not seen any such precautionary security measures taken at his institution. He said he felt frustrated by the institution’s lack of transparency over the keylogging incident, which occurred this spring but was only revealed in passing at a faculty meeting this month.

Barrett-Gonzalez noted that he and a number of colleagues were so concerned about the security of their private information that they had taken to working exclusively on their own laptops on campus. He said he was also concerned that the university’s accreditor would be asking questions about the integrity of the university’s grades, which he said could be easily compromised. “I know several faculty members who will be mentioning this to the accreditor when asked,” said Barrett-Gonzalez.

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, director for news and media relations at the University of Kansas, said the suggestion that faculty should use laptops instead of campus computers “is without merit,” adding that she had “no reason to believe” that Barrett-Gonzalez “has either complete or direct knowledge of the incident,” which she said was isolated and caught quickly.

Nonetheless, Barrett-Gonzalez said that he would recommend that everyone think twice before using campus computers, or at least educate themselves so that they can physically check the computer for obvious signs of tampering before logging on. Looking out for physical changes to devices is a smart idea, said Weisskopf, adding that it is important for everyone to report any suspicious activity to their information security office. To build relations between faculty and IT staff, Bates suggested that faculty members invite their institution’s information security officials to their faculty meetings to discuss any security concerns.

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Tuition-free community college programs gain exposure at critical time

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:00

Free public high school for everyone didn’t happen overnight.

It began gradually with communities and states changing expectations about high school until, eventually, every state offered it for free. Advocates of tuition-free college like to make this point-- that a single state or city won’t be able to change the way people think about how we pay for college and who should attend it.

Cities like Long Beach, Calif., and Detroit, and states like Tennessee and Rhode Island have created tuition-free community college programs. But this year, two of the most populous states in the country -- California and New York -- signed off on free college plans, and their presence in the conversation could have a big impact on efforts to increase access and alter the college-going culture.

“California has 12 to 13 percent of students in the country and 25 percent of all the community colleges,” said Martha Kanter, a former under secretary of education during the Obama administration, who leads the College Promise Campaign, which advocates for free community college. “It’s a leap forward.”

The state’s one-year free community college initiative, which was enacted earlier this month by Jerry Brown, the state’s Democratic governor, won’t go into effect until 2018, and much of the funding and details are still being worked out.

A couple of years ago, Kanter’s group enlisted researchers in an attempt to identify how many tuition-free programs, broadly defined, existed across the country. At the time, Laura Perna, a researcher with the University of Pennsylvania identified about 130, Kanter said.

Today, the campaign has identified more than 200 tuition-free programs. Perna also has created a regularly updated national database that identifies different programs. Researchers at the W. E. Upjohn Institute are planning to unveil next month a more detailed database of tuition-free programs, which will examine 90 different characteristics of the programs.

“We looked at how many Promise programs went out of business, as well as the ones that are growing and moving forward,” Kanter said. “Because so many are place based with no common framework and we have such variability across states, we know one size doesn’t fit all in this country. But we can see where we’re making the most promise.”

The interest in tuition-free programs can sometimes be driven by competition between cities, states and regions.

“California is another example of the competitive nature of states trying to keep up with neighbors,” said Morley Winograd, president and chief executive officer of the Campaign for Free College Tuition. “We now have Oregon and Nevada on both sides of the state, and I think because New York did it, it made California feel they don’t want to be second place to New York.”

That competitiveness has at times kept the tuition-free discussion from becoming too partisan. Blue states like California and New York have shown just as much interest in free college initiatives as red states like Tennessee and Kentucky.

“That’s how we got Kentucky and Arkansas, because they had to respond to Tennessee from an economic development challenge point of view,” Winograd said.

And that competitiveness may be an early indicator of which states will be the next dominoes to fall in the tuition-free movement.

Winograd points to New York’s neighbor, New Jersey, where candidates in the governor’s race -- particularly on the Democratic side -- have discussed a need to respond to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship. However, he said, New Jersey is struggling with serious budget problems.

Election-related calls for free tuition will continue into 2018, as candidates from both parties running for statewide office in Maryland and Pennsylvania have talked about free initiatives, Winograd said.

“The other one is North Carolina with a Democratic governor and Republican Legislature,” he said. “They’re feeling the competitive effects from Tennessee … the message is getting out there. and it’s spreading.”

Early numbers from Tennessee and Rhode Island show that with a tuition-free initiative in place, young people show more interest in going to college.

Rhode Island students didn’t learn the free community college plan had been approved by the Legislature and governor until the first week of August. The Community College of Rhode Island -- the state’s only public two-year institution -- estimated that 1,100 students would enroll and use the program.

Within three weeks, the tuition-free program brought in 1,579 first-time, full-time students -- a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of full-time freshmen, said Patrick Stone, a spokesman for the college. The Rhode Island Promise students are part of an incoming class of more than 4,300 students.

“We looked at Oregon, Tennessee and New York for guidance and leadership and to see what works and what didn’t, but we ended up in a unique spot,” Stone said. “Now a lot of the conversation has been, ‘What about the rest of New England? What about Massachusetts?’ We all hope they are looking at us. We want to show our state and the country what CCRI is capable of and, hopefully, we’ll do excellent and students will succeed at a high rate.”

One Message, Different Systems

Nearly all of the tuition-free initiatives that have emerged across the country have focused on using the “free” description to promote a college-going culture by increasing access and affordability.

But the variability in initiatives and the simple “free” label has led many researchers and academics to question the viability and real benefits of each program. Underlying those questions is concern over whether the failure of any one of these programs could harm the overall movement.

“The best part of free college is that it has the potential to have this big marketing impact,” said Judy Scott Clayton, an associate professor of economics and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s not a bad thing to say its impact is just marketing … in the case of California, it’s a relatively low-cost thing to do that greatly simplifies the message students are getting in high school.”

She said that even students who receive federal financial aid and other grants often have questions about whether they can afford to attend college.

“The risk now is that some states are trying to get the marketing impact of that message and kind of put themselves in the same bucket as free college programs,” she said. “But when you dig into it and look under the hood, it’s not the same thing.”

Clayton has been critical of New York’s Excelsior Scholarship and how it has been marketed as free college. For example, the program includes a residency obligation that requires students to live and work in the state after graduation for the same number of years they received the scholarship. If they fail to meet that requirement, the grant becomes a loan. The scholarship also mandates that students complete 30 credits a year to remain eligible.

Excelsior is aimed at students who attend both two- and four-year public institutions in the state, but early numbers show few community college students taking advantage of the offer. At the City University of New York system, where nearly 2,500 students at the seven CUNY community colleges applied for the scholarship, only 1,082 students are likely to receive it. The scholarship is last dollar, which means students receive it after all other federal and state aid has been used.

“People are worried, including me, that it’ll turn out to be a huge mess for students,” Clayton said. “They say free college, but is it free community college or free to any public institutions? New York is extending it to all public institutions, and that changes the distribution effects.”

Figuring out the distribution effects of these programs has been a struggle in Oregon. The state was an early adopter of a statewide initiative, which began in 2016. In its first year, the program had high turnout but limited funding. The Legislature learned it was $8 million short of projected costs for the second and third years of the program.

After just one year, the state in July made changes in order to maintain the program. For new applicants this fall, the state now takes into consideration students’ expected family contribution, which is determined on the federal financial aid application. Students whose families are expected to pay $18,000 a year or more no longer qualify for the program.

So, this year, Oregon received 15,840 new applicants for the program (not including those students who received the scholarship last year), but only 8,612 were told they were eligible to receive the grant and enroll, according to the state. More than 2,100 students were specifically disqualified from receiving the scholarship because of the new income requirement.

The Legislature gave the state’s higher education commission the discretion to end the income requirement when finances improve. But there is some concern across the state that these roadblocks may ultimately undermine the goal of creating a college-going culture.

“Anything that increases the complexity of the program and reduces the simplicity of that message or that makes a promise no longer a promise will undermine our goals around access, equity and completion,” said Ben Cannon, executive director of the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. “I certainly understand why the Legislature, given limited funding, chose to restrict the program using EFC … that was probably the least bad option available to them, but I’m deeply concerned what it would mean for the future of the program.”

Cannon said his fear is that the Oregon Promise then becomes another need-based aid program. While those programs are important, he said, they don’t have the same galvanizing effect as a universal promise scholarship.

The guarantee of tuition-free programs like what Oregon first envisioned is that everyone will have access to free tuition or nearly tuition-free community college, he said.

But beyond the distribution effects, there’s one more issue that researchers worry could undermine the movement if it is not properly addressed by tuition-free programs: the true cost of attending college.

“People are paying more attention to the fact that it’s not just tuition and fees,” Clayton said. “It’s the cost of supporting yourself. The cost of food, housing, transportation.”

Clayton again points to New York, which covers tuition but not fees. Most college students don’t see a difference between those expenses, she said, adding that it comes across as misleading.

“That’s the big complaint about the New York program,” she said. “They’re spending all of this money to make four-year college free for middle- and upper[-class] families’ income, yet community college students largely aren’t qualifying for the program and they’re not getting extra help for transportation or living costs.”

Ultimately, there are real costs that need to be addressed in order to create a college-going culture, she said, if policy makers want to continue to encourage students, especially low-income ones, to have better access to college.

“And that’s a good investment,” Clayton said. “There is a little bit of a risk that the free college movement may be a victim of its own success if some of these programs, like the one in New York that calls itself free college, and people start to question if it’s a fitting model. It may get a bad name and increase skepticism.”

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Competency-based teacher education program receives state approval

Wed, 2017-11-01 07:00

Advocates for competency-based learning, and for new approaches to teacher education, can chalk up another victory: the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning’s application to become a degree-granting graduate institution.

The academy, which will grant master’s degrees in education, is planning on enrolling about 25 aspiring teachers in fall 2018, spokesman Patrick Riccards said. The program, first announced in 2015, will be competency based, without formal requirements regarding courses, credit hours or semesters, instead requiring students to show mastery in areas and subjects relevant to teaching. The program is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

“This doesn’t look like a traditional higher education program,” Riccards said. “There are no courses, there are no semesters, there are no classes. Instead, what we’re doing is we’re building a series of challenges.”

According to a draft of the academic programming, degree seekers will have to demonstrate competency in subjects such as defining and measuring learning outcomes, designing lesson plans, and professionalism.

Through the institution's blended program, mixing online and in-person teaching, students will still have readings and assignments, but the program also aims to use virtual reality -- which technology firms have been developing software for recently to simulate difficult interactions with students and parents -- and heavy emphasis on clinical hours spent in the classroom.

“Each of the students is working in a K-12 school, working with a strong, veteran teacher so they can apply what they’re learning in a real classroom setting,” Riccards said. “There’s nothing here that says in two years, you’ll have your master’s degree. There’s nothing here that says 36 credit hours means you’re ready to become a teacher … When they feel like they’ve gone through the challenge far enough that they know they’re able to demonstrate that mastery, they’re then able to work with their faculty mentors and put it to the test.”

“This is a very different approach to teacher education.”

Riccards said development of the curriculum is still in the draft stages but was being finalized with feedback from a group of students with STEM backgrounds who have been going through the academy’s postbaccalaureate licensing program, which was approved by the state last year for licensing middle and secondary school biology, chemistry and math teachers. Another facet of the program that is still to be determined is an estimate for completion time.

The emphasis on clinical experience -- and the departure from traditional student-teaching practices that might only enter a teacher’s education in the late stages of a degree -- caught the eye of professionals.

“They’re really leveraging the idea of clinical practice as the most effective way to prepare teachers to be learner ready,” said Roderick Lucero, vice president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “What clinical practice really holds to is the idea that throughout their entire learning process, they’re embedded in the school, with real teachers, real administrators, real kids.”

Lucero commended the Woodrow Wilson Academy, as well as the state of Massachusetts, for “looking at innovative practices,” and added that the association would be watching the results of the academy’s experiment in teacher education.

“One of the things in teacher preparation that we continually need to do is look at innovative ways to reach children,” he said. “We’ll be interested to see what happens in the future … We’ll study it and see if it made a difference in the lives of children, and that’s really what’s most important."

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Could postdoc unions be the next big thing in collective bargaining among academics?

Tue, 2017-10-31 07:00

The past few years have brought unprecedented attention to the working conditions of academics off the tenure track. With that attention has come increased unionization efforts among adjuncts and graduate students on private campuses, following a major decision from the National Labor Relations Board saying they’re employees entitled to collective bargaining.

Could postdoctoral unions grow in number for the same reasons? Some experts think so.

“It is likely that there will be increased unionization efforts by postdocs” going forward, said William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York. “The reason is that they are another element of precarious work in higher education. Their working conditions have been the subject of various reports and raised concerns about postdoctoral salaries and the extent to which their appointments entail actual training.”

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine, for example, in a 2014 report urged major reforms to policies governing postdoctoral employment. Too often, the report said, postdocs are underpaid and undermentored and spend too long in these positions before moving on to something better and more permanent -- if at all.

That paper and others indicate “there’s a real need for change,” Herbert said. “One way of getting that change is through unionization.”

Postdoc Unions Across the U.S.

The National Postdoctoral Association has defined a postdoc as an individual “holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in a temporary period of mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.” In other words, they’re supposed to be advanced, temporary trainees.

Within the last two decades, however, postdocs have become a plentiful, relatively inexpensive source of labor for the booming academic research enterprise. Not only is postdoctoral experience now expected in many fields, but Ph.D.s can land one postdoc after the next. The National Academies found that the number of postdoctoral researchers in science, engineering and health increased 150 percent between 2000 and 2012, “far surpassing” both the percentage increases in graduate students and in tenure and tenure-track faculty positions over the same period. Between 60,000 and 100,000 postdocs are estimated to be working in various research fields within the U.S. Those numbers are much smaller in the social sciences and humanities, but they’re growing, too.

That rapid growth hasn’t translated to widespread unionization -- at least not yet. Currently there are just five postdoc unions in the U.S.: across the University of California system, established in 2008 in affiliation with the United Auto Workers; at the University of Massachusetts, formed in 2009, also with UAW; at Rutgers University, formed in 2009 in affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors; across the University of Alaska system, except first-, second- and third-year postdocs, in 2010 and affiliated with the AFT and AAUP; and within the University of Connecticut Health system, in affiliation with University Health Professionals (AFT). Connecticut differentiates between postdoctoral fellows and trainees, however, and only fellows are covered by the union contract.

The Connecticut union predates the California one, but the scope of the latter union -- thousands of postdocs at research universities across the state -- woke higher education in general up to the possibility of postdoc organizing. A first attempt at organizing, in 2006, fizzled out but the 2008 election was decisive. The union’s eventual first contract streamlined employment policies, included modest pay raises and increased employment protections and other benefits, demonstrating that these efforts could produce meaningful results.

According to one study of the contract, the UC union established a wage scale that is in accordance with federal standards set by the National Institutes of Health, across all system campuses for all postdoctoral employees, with a minimum salary of $38,000. Prior to the contract, the common system salary scale started at $29,000. And indeed many universities' pay scales for postdocs lag the NIH standards. Standard health insurance for postdocs and their families also was included in the contract, in more generous terms than had been offered by the system since 2005. The contract also provided postdocs, for the first time, with no-cost life insurance coverage, accidental death and serious injury insurance, and short-term disability.

Subsequent contracts in California and elsewhere have built in on initial gains. In 2015, the Rutgers union voted to extend an earlier agreement through 2019. Updated improvements include a new minimum salary of $40,000 or a 2 percent pay increase, and a pay increase of more than 2 percent for each year of the contract after that. Increased support services for international scholars also were included.

A number of reports calling for reform to postdoc employment conditions have highlighted the lack of institutionwide policies governing these workers; in many cases, for example, the amount of family leave or vacation or lack thereof to which a postdoc is entitled (or is aware they are entitled to) depends on the generosity of their principal investigator. In response to such criticisms, more campuses have opened central postdoctoral offices to inform researchers of their benefits and otherwise assist them.

Rutgers is one such institution; it recently opened an Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at its campus in Piscataway, N.J. Itzamarie Chevere-Torres, the office’s associate director, said the union and the office aren’t redundant, in that she often helps postdocs understand their major contractual rights. An institutional policy included in the contract, for example, is that no postdoc may work in that role for more than five years -- the limit recommended by the National Academies’ 2014 report.

The office also offers career development, something Jerome Kukor, graduate school dean, said it’s able to focus on because the contract clarifies so many other things.

Clarifying Things

“There was fuzziness within individual laboratories about whether postdocs were eligible for vacations or leaves of absence or family leave, and that’s all very clear now,” he said.

Echoing concerns voiced on other campuses, some wondered during Rutgers’s union drive whether collective bargaining with postdocs would negatively impact research efforts. If postdocs earned more, for example, would the principal investigators who paid their salaries through grants be forced to hire fewer fellows? Would the mentor-mentee relationship between postdocs and professors be fundamentally compromised? Kukor said that seven years into unionization, “this relationship has turned out to be a very good one for us.”

Labs are hiring postdocs at the same or higher rates than they were before, Kukor said, as postdocs -- who have few to no work-related obligations beyond research -- remain attractive employees. There have been no unfair labor practice complaints or grievances filed against the university by the postdoc union, either, Kukor said -- something of a surprise at Rutgers, where nearly all employees have long been unionized and have, at times, butted heads with management, in union parlance.

A significant item in the Rutgers contract is paid time off, separate from university holidays and bereavement. Full-time members of the unit get 15 days paid time per year. After four years, it’s 18 days. Faculty supervisors still have to approve the time off, but it can’t be “unreasonably” denied. 

Unlike Herbert, Kukor said he didn’t foresee a wave of postdoc unionization, since there hasn’t been much movement since the initial cluster of drives around 2010. Just recently, however, a majority of postdocs at the the University of Washington filed union authorization cards, in anticipation of a union election.

Andrea Canini, an organizer with UAW who is currently assisting in the drive at Washington, said that “postdocs around the country see the gains bargained by [California system] postdocs and want to form unions and bargain for improvements with their employers.”

Michelle Tigchelaar, a postdoc in atmospheric sciences at Washington who favors unionization, said she and her colleagues were in fact inspired by their peers in California. And like them, postdocs at Washington are looking for clear, standard policies about their employment in which they’ve had some say. For the moment, she said, “decisions about our employment are made by individual departments and PIs.”

Preliminary issues of concern to union supporters include pay, especially considering the high cost of living in Seattle; Tigchelaar said many postdocs receive a salary equal to or less than the NIH-recommended minimum of $47,848. Paid parental leave and affordable child care are also central themes in organizers’ conversations with hundreds of postdocs, as are just cause for termination and strengthened grievance procedures.

What’s Ahead

A university spokesperson referred requests for comment to an Oct. 11 letter to the would-be union from President Ana Mari Cauce. In it, she expressed disagreement with the eligibility of some proposed members, such as acting instructors and lecturers, as those are faculty members by university policy. But of postdocs in general, Cauce said, “I respect your right to organize and will not interfere with that right.”

Herbert noted that all postdoc unions, established and proposed, are on public campuses. Part of that is culture; faculty and graduate student groups on many of the campuses were previously unionized. In any case, there’s no reason that postdocs can’t unionize on private campuses; they’re not students, so it would be hard for institutions to argue that they’re not entitled to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act. At the same time, they’re not managers, so institutions can't argue that they’re subject to a legal precedent saying that tenure-track and tenured faculty members are managers and therefore not entitled to collective bargaining at private institutions. Herbert said institutions with a religious affiliation could argue that they are exempt from NLRB oversight, as they have in many non-tenure-track-union bids. However, the NLRB has in recent years narrowed the scope of who qualifies as an employee who performs a religious function on a private campus.

Tigchelaar, at Washington, said that however liminal, the “postdoc position is a critical component of the path to tenure,” and, therefore, “defining who gets to be a scientist.” Still, by entering a postdoc position, she said, “many of us elect to make significantly less than we could in industry, and in fast-growing cities this pay could be prohibitively low.” Unionization is, of course, one way to counter that.

She added, “When postdocs at other institutions see what is possible, they will want to make these kind of positive changes, as well.”

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Elevating economic mobility on the agenda of higher education leaders

Tue, 2017-10-31 07:00

AUSTIN, Tex. -- American higher education purports to be a driver of economic and social mobility, and compared to many other countries' systems, it is. Yet even today, a student whose family is in the top income quintile is five times likelier than a student from the lowest quintile to earn a bachelor's degree by the age of 24.

That is a problem for several reasons, including that to meet the education-attainment goals that many believe is needed for a vibrant economy -- having roughly 60 percent of citizens hold a quality postsecondary credential of some kind -- colleges and universities must enroll and graduate far larger numbers of the disadvantaged young people and adults whom they have historically struggled to serve.

Plus, "it's just morally wrong, unless we’re trying to prove that the nation can continue to flourish by disenfranchising whole portions of its population," Daniel Greenstein, director of the postsecondary success program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Monday at a conference at the University of Texas's flagship campus here.

The conference was the first convened by the Collegiate Leaders in Increasing Mobility research initiative, which is a -- well, it isn't entirely clear what CLIMB is, even after a day of compelling conversation involving a lot of important leaders and thinkers in higher education. (For the curious, the B in CLIMB comes from the middle of the word “mobility.”)

For higher education nerds, Monday's convening was a bit like attending the Academy Awards, featuring two former education secretaries (Margaret Spellings and John King), leaders of major university systems and community colleges such as Arizona State University and the California Community Colleges, the heads of major higher education organizations like the American Council on Education and the College Board, and top researchers.

The clear star of the show was the Stanford University economist Raj Chetty, whose name has become synonymous with a piece of research he and several co-authors published early this year showing how every college in the country fared on various measures of "intergenerational mobility," defined broadly as propelling students from low-income backgrounds into the middle class or higher. By creating a new way to judge colleges' performance and revealing that many modestly selective or nonselective public institutions rate very highly in helping their students change socioeconomic classes, the data provided a powerful new lens through which to assess institutions.

Actually, it wasn't Chetty who was the focus of the day, but the research itself, which uses a unique data set merging Education Department data with Treasury Department and Census data about students and their parents. And the most promising aspect of the CLIMB initiative is that the Gates Foundation and the College Board have agreed to fund a significant expansion of the researchers' work.

In a discussion with reporters, Chetty acknowledged that the original research "raised more questions than it answers," pointing out that some colleges and universities rate very well and others do not, but providing no real insight into how and why that is so.

The next stage of the research may shed some light on those questions. Dozens of colleges and universities, including the City University of New York, California Community Colleges, the University of North Carolina and University of California systems, all 11 members of the University Innovation Alliance, and private institutions such as Brown and Stanford Universities, have agreed to let the researchers link their student-level data to the researchers' existing framework of long-term tax data, and the College Board will provide information about actual and potential applicants to the colleges, creating what Brown University's John Friedman, one of Chetty's co-authors, called the "most comprehensive data set on students in higher education."

The expectation, Chetty said, is that by linking all those data, the researchers will be able to clarify the extent to which an institution's strong performance is due to the quality of the students it is admitting as opposed to "treatment effects" -- the actual value added to the typical student's economic mobility by a particular program or set of interventions.

The researchers offered up two early examples based on preliminary research conducted at UT Austin and CUNY. Examining the outcomes of 208,000 students at Texas, they found that students whose families were in the bottom quintile on the economic ladder were, a decade out of college, earning an average of $68,000. That was within a few thousand dollars (and a few percentiles) of UT graduates from the other income quintiles, and there were only modest differences by race, as well.

Similarly, the scholars studied a CUNY program that admits low-income students (average family income of $27,000) whose SAT averages (roughly 805) do not meet the typical admissions requirements to the system's four-year colleges, enrolling them in a summer bridge program and giving them extra tutoring and counseling throughout.

Comparing those students to two peer sets -- one of higher-income students (average $77,000) who scored similarly on the SAT (819 average) and wound up at a CUNY community college or a four-year institution outside CUNY, and one of similarly low-income students who had higher SATs (average 899), the researchers found that the students who went through the CUNY program had an average income of $50,000 by the age of 26 to 34, compared to $46,000 for the higher-income students and $50,000 for the higher SAT students.

Changing Practice and Policy

Many officials at the conference said they were excited by the prospect of getting to a deeper level of understanding about not only which colleges were effective at changing students' socioeconomic arc, but why and how they were doing so. Many institutions are experimenting with various strategies and practices for bolstering their students' success, but many admit that they aren't quite sure which things work and which don't.

That left a set of larger questions hanging over Monday's event. Ben Wildavsky, who heads the College Board Policy Center and helped organize the event, said he hoped the CLIMB initiative would not just help produce better data, but also drive changes in campus practices and public policy.

But during the day's discussion, it was not at all clear whether the many campus leaders, researchers and policy wonks in attendance -- while all caring deeply about the success of low-income students -- feel the need for yet another organization to join the fray. In the last several years, several new networks of colleges, including the University Innovation Alliance and the American Talent Initiative, have surfaced to encourage cooperation and the sharing of effective practices at increasing the success of low-income students.

There was significant discussion about the many efforts that individual campuses are currently undertaking to recruit and retain more disadvantaged students, the ways in which institutions are already working together to share effective practices, and whether state and federal governments might adopt or change policies (such as performance-funding programs) that would spur colleges (with carrots or sticks) to change their priorities.

No one disputed the idea that more collaboration among colleges would be helpful, that higher education institutions collectively need to do a much better job with economically disadvantaged students and that better data on how institutions were faring would both put pressure on colleges and universities that were underperforming and help policy makers figure out which levers to try to pull to improve the lot of low-income students.

The CLIMB initiative's research agenda seemed to have a clear path forward, but at day's end, its potential contributions to spreading good practices or driving policy changes to aid low-income students seemed far less assured.

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Strayer and Capella announce merger amid continuing shake-up of for-profit college sector

Tue, 2017-10-31 07:00

For-profit colleges probably face too many challenges, many of them competitive, to come roaring back, even in the favorable regulatory environment created by the Republican Party's dominance in Washington and most state capitals, experts say.

Yet the combination of less scrutiny from regulators and the sector’s continued financial and enrollment challenges could lead to more creative partnerships, sales and mergers.

“There’s a window of opportunity for transactions,” said Trace Urdan, managing director at Tyton Partners and a longtime analyst of the for-profit sector. He said colleges and their holding companies can “get deals done that may not be available to them if a Democrat gets elected in 2020.”

For example, Purdue University in April announced an unprecedented deal to acquire Kaplan University. And in February a group of private investors bought Apollo Education Group, the University of Phoenix’s holding company, and took the largest for-profit chain private. Likewise, a religious missionary organization in March announced an attempt to buy the struggling Education Management Corporation.

Those moves followed the collapses (with nudges from the Obama administration) of Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. Career Education Corp. also has wound down or sold many of its programs and campuses in recent years.

The transaction trend among publicly traded for-profit universities continued this week, with news that the parent companies of Strayer University and Capella University plan to merge.

The two for-profit universities, which are among the industry’s most respected and successful, will continue to operate as independent institutions under the combined company, which will be renamed Strategic Education Inc.

The U.S. Department of Education, regional accreditors and some state agencies will need to sign off on the deal for it to be approved.

Taken together, the two institutions enroll roughly 80,000 students -- 37,000 for Capella and 42,000 for Strayer. They offer nearly 135 degree and certificate programs, with students in all 50 states and in more than 80 other countries. The proposed new company currently is worth about $1.9 billion.

While the two for-profits are on relatively firm ground, their leaders said Monday that the merger will create several advantages that should pay off in the long run.

In particular, they pointed to the combined company’s broader, diversified scale, which should create a more balanced mix of revenue.

“Ultimately, in this industry the key to value creation and the key to long-term sustainable growth is student success, and while both Strayer and Capella excel in this area, the prospects of putting our combined capabilities together really got us excited,” Kevin Gilligan, Capella’s chairman and CEO, said Monday, according to the transcript of a call with investors. “It’s going to allow us to serve learners in ways beyond what we could do as independent companies, and I think it just creates that much more opportunity for the long term.”

The two universities’ academic offerings don’t overlap much and are complementary, their leaders said.

Roughly 70 percent of Capella’s students are enrolled in graduate programs. Less than 30 percent of Strayer students were enrolled in master’s programs as of last fall, according to a corporate filing. And Strayer does not offer doctoral degrees.

“From our standpoint, the thing that we saw as most complementary was the opportunity to have within our organization the doctoral and a higher percentage of graduate-level programs,” Robert Silberman, Strayer’s executive chairman, said during the investor call. “We haven’t offered anything in any of the health, sociology, psychology kind of areas before. We just have a nascent nursing program, and we were very impressed with Capella’s nursing program. So, clearly, from our standpoint, it’s very complementary and those areas where we do overlap, we think we could just add more benefits to students.”

The Minneapolis-based Capella also is a pioneer in competency-based education, an expertise Strayer said could be used to create hybrid-style competency-based programs at its 73 campuses, which are located in 16 states and in Washington. Roughly 83 percent of Strayer students are enrolled in online programs.

Strayer, which is headquartered in Virginia, is particularly strong in developing relationships with employers, an asset the two colleges touted in describing the merger.

The two for-profits will keep their faculty and academic support structures and personnel in place if the deal goes through. But they will seek efficiencies in the back office, including in the areas of finance, human resources, legal affairs, marketing and information technology.

Altogether, the two companies predicted $50 million in cost savings over 18 months.

The merger will be good for students as well, said Gilligan. “Both institutions will work toward seamless transferability of credits between the universities, and we expect to honor employer discounts from either institution, further improving overall affordability.”

‘Defensive Moves’ by For-Profits

Critics of for-profit colleges were mostly mum on Monday, due in part to the relative lack of controversy around Strayer and Capella. The merger's details also appeared fairly straightforward.

Even so, observers said the news is further evidence of deep problems that continue to plague the for-profit college industry, despite an Education Department that is rolling back regulations and taking a less critical view of for-profits on an individual basis.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the sector, many experts say, is increasingly tough competition from nonprofit universities with national online footprints. Southern New Hampshire University, the University of Maryland University College, Western Governors University, Arizona State University and Liberty University are among a group of nonprofits with large and growing online programs.

For-profits also aren’t the only colleges mulling consolidations.

Slowing or stagnant growth in college applicants and low unemployment rates pose challenges to colleges in all sectors. As a result, state governments in Connecticut, Georgia and Wisconsin are working on mergers of community colleges and public universities. And the drumbeat of closures continues among small private colleges, particularly those located in rural areas.

Michael Feldstein, a partner at MindWires, an educational consulting firm, and co-publisher of the blog e-Literate, said for-profits are still making defensive moves despite the changed attitudes at the department and the White House.

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not changed the laws of physics. These institutions were under pressure before and are still under pressure now,” he wrote in a blog post about the proposed merger. “We should not be surprised to see more closures like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Tech, particularly of second- and third-tier for-profits. They may not be driven by active prosecutions, but the damage to the sector has already been done.”

Urdan agreed, pointing to the “marketing overhang” most for-profits are struggling with in the wake of Corinthian, ITT and the Obama administration’s crackdown on the industry. In the past, a cyclical boom-and-bust pattern applied to for-profits. This cratering feels different, however.

“We’re well past that,” said Urdan, calling the significant damage to the for-profit brand a “permanent issue that these schools are dealing with.”

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, which is the sector’s trade group, said for-profits are positioning themselves for the future.

“Schools become more focused. Every aspect of an institution’s costs are reviewed. Strayer and Capella are two of the more financially stable institutions within the sector. So this initiative speaks volumes to the economic realities facing many schools,” he said via email. “We also know the previous administration was not open to mergers or conversions to nonprofit status. Finally, we have an administration that is willing to look at these transactions on their merits, not based on ideological beliefs.”

Grand Canyon University, another publicly traded for-profit that has fared relatively well, recently failed in an attempt to convert to nonprofit status. The company’s CEO cited the “stigma” of being a for-profit when announcing the attempted move.

Both Capella and Strayer have diversified in recent years, purchasing coding boot camps, for example. But this deal would take that diversification to the next level.

Feldstein said the two companies bring together real complementary strengths.

“Strayer is good at employer partnerships and does fairly extensive profiling of their students’ career goals and paths,” he said. “Capella, for its part, was giving talks about their learning analytics work way back in the early days, before there were even products on the market.”

Even so, large for-profit conglomerates often haven’t fared well, Urdan said, citing the complexity and cultural incompatibilities that have plagued such arrangements in the past.

“These are two pretty good operations,” said Urdan. But the merger “also makes them a bigger target.”

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Columbia protesters under disciplinary investigation

Tue, 2017-10-31 07:00

Sixteen Columbia University students who protested and disrupted a campus speaker earlier this month are under investigation for violating the university’s code of conduct. The investigations represent one of the first examples this academic year of a university seriously considering disciplining students for disrupting a speaker, though high-profile protests at Middlebury College and Claremont McKenna College were followed by punishments last year.

The university's actions are not being universally applauded, however. In response to the investigation, more than 100 professors signed a letter to President Lee Bollinger saying that the university is applying its rules on free speech in a “discriminatory and arbitrary” way. The letter noted that a majority of the students being investigated are students of color and questioned the university’s motives and approach. It did not dispute that the students disrupted the speech, though it argued that no rules were broken.

Earlier in October, Tommy Robinson, an anti-Islam activist from Britain, was slated to speak via video chat at a Columbia College Republicans event open to anyone with a Columbia ID. Protesters both shouted him down at times and peppered him with questions, engaging in a question-and-answer session instead of allowing him to deliver an address. There were also instances of students attempting to unplug the video and audio equipment.

Although they altered the event from what it was originally slated to be, protesters under investigation are arguing that their back-and-forth with Robinson -- whose real name is Christopher Yaxley-Lennon -- constituted a dialogue, and that they were within their rights as Columbia students to participate in a discussion with Robinson. While students did engage in a question-and-answer session with Robinson, the narratives laid out by the university and the campus newspaper involve 30 protesters, some of whom chanted and shouted through some of Robinson’s answers and interrupted other students’ questions. Other protesters banged on the doors to the auditorium where the event was held.

Kayum Ahmed, a doctoral candidate and one of the protesters under investigation, said in an interview Monday afternoon that the university was twisting and exaggerating the protesters’ actions, and highlighted some of the more tame protesters, such as those who held signs peacefully, without blocking the screen on which Robinson appeared. A video posted by the Columbia College Republicans’ Facebook page shows a College Republicans member seeming to shrug off the protesters with signs, which protesters argue was tacit approval.

“Whatever actions we took could be characterized as actions in the name of free speech,” Ahmed said.

In a statement released Monday by 19 of the protesters, they said they were acknowledged by the Columbia College Republicans members present, who did indeed let the event continue. The protesters also said that they had been banned from further Columbia College Republicans events, which they said was a disregard for due process, since the investigations are still ongoing.

We would therefore characterize our participation in terms of the rules as a “clash of opinions” that “tested” the ideas expressed by Robinson “so that members of the university community can listen, challenge each other and be challenged in return.” We were undertaking a “truth-seeking function” through our participation in and challenging of the facts underlying the speakers’ statements. We were thereby contributing to a culture of debate that embraced “a nimble cast of mind” where participants were “able to grasp multiple perspectives and the full complexity of the subject” as articulated in the rules.

The protesters also argued that by allowing the speaking event to take place, Columbia was violating its own principles.

At the same time, it is important to note that “the university may restrict expression that constitutes a genuine threat of harassment …” We believe that the invitations issued to white supremacists by the College Republicans constitute “a genuine threat of harassment” to marginalized groups on campus and that this threat should be investigated by the university.

The professors who signed the letter to Bollinger held similar sentiments to the students being investigated. The letter calls the investigation an overreaction and questioned the legitimacy of banning students from College Republican events before reaching a disciplinary conclusion. They argued that the university was playing into the hands of white supremacists by allowing speakers on campus without regard for their views and then punishing students who protest them.

“The overreaction of the university to student protest through the aggressive and discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement of the rules of university conduct signals the institution’s capitulation to a concerted strategy by the opponents of the very idea of the university,” the letter reads. “Their game plan is to flood educational institutions with inflammatory speakers and lure the university into issuing statements defending their right to speak, despite -- or especially because of -- their offensive ideas. It will then be left to students to protest the ideology of these speakers, at which point the university will prosecute the students for violating the institution’s rules of conduct.”

The Columbia College Republicans have pushed back on the narratives presented by the protesters and the professors who signed the letter.

Speaking on Fox News, Aristotle Boosalis, president of the organization, that the protesters clearly broke the rules, and the disruptions to the event amounted to a silencing of the College Republicans, rather than a discussion.

"We must protect freedom of speech for both sides," Boosalis said. "But if one side was not willing to let the other speak, then we have a problem here."

Boosalis also brought up an instance of fliers being posted around campus with his face on them, urging passersby to "let him know what you think" about the group inviting another controversial speaker, far-right writer Mike Cernovich, to campus.

Regarding the Robinson protests, university administrators argued that the college shouldn’t be in the position of policing views on campus. Even though Columbia is private, and not bound by the First Amendment, policing speakers could set a dangerous precedent, the university argued. (Indeed, colleges in the United States have their own history in the mid-20th century with purging communists and leftists -- the same categories that some of today’s protesters identify with -- from campuses by administering loyalty oaths.)

In an email sent to Columbia students sent before Robinson’s speech, Suzanne B. Goldberg, executive vice president for university life, said it is “foundational to Columbia’s learning and teaching missions that we allow for the contestation of ideas.”

The university reiterated its message on an FAQ page posted ahead the Cernovich event, which was slated for Monday night.

The university allows student organizations to invite speakers to campus, even when those speakers’ ideas are deeply offensive and objectionable. The university’s commitment to free expression, open debate and the testing of ideas means that no message will be ruled out on the ground that it is untrue, offensive or contrary to our values.

The Cernovich event was met with protesters both inside and outside the room reserved for the meeting, though the Columbia Spectator reported the protesters inside the room were mostly silent.

Robinson bills himself as anti-extremist, but he has been affiliated with various anti-Islam activist groups over the years, and called the Quran “a violent and cursed book” on Good Morning Britain over the summer. Currently, he’s a contributor to The Rebel, a conservative media outlet.

Answering questions from protesters during the event earlier this month, Robinson alleged there were only 50 Nazis in Britain, while there were “23,000 Muslims on the terror watch list.” The 23,000 number appears to have come from the number of people designated as “subjects of interest” at some time by anti-terrorism authorities in the U.K., although the range of time that number covers, as well as the religious affiliations of those people, are not clear.

Statements like that, as well as Robinson’s comments on the Quran, are what critics of Robinson have latched onto, saying he often conflates terrorism and extremism with the Muslim religion at large.

The nature of speakers like Robinson raises questions about the traditional interpretation of free speech, both Ahmed and the professors who signed the letter concurred. Ignoring the context of Robinson’s views and allowing him to speak is a form of ignoring larger inequalities in the world, they both separately argued.

“Certain voices, with power, with money, are given far greater spaces than those without … the invitations by College Republicans to white supremacist, alt-right speakers seemed to play into this neutral liberal space that the university was attempting to create,” said Ahmed, an international student from South Africa who lived under apartheid for 18 years. “The free-speech provisions in the First Amendment were being appropriated by the College Republicans and used as a proxy for perpetuating various forms of hate speech and violence.”

Representatives from the Columbia College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment. A Columbia spokeswoman previously told Inside Higher Ed, after the initial protests against Robinson, that any disciplinary actions, if applied, would be confidential. The university did not respond to requests for comment regarding the protesters’ allegations that allowing Robinson to speak was a violation.

The Beginning of Punishing Protesters?

The news from Columbia comes as colleges across the country have been grappling with how to deal with protests that disrupt or shut down events. Often, colleges have remained mum on how they have or haven’t disciplined students, citing student-privacy rules.

At the same time, moves to punish protesters have proved controversial, putting many institutions in a bind. Earlier this month the University of Wisconsin system Board of Regents voted into place a set of punishments for protesters who repeatedly disrupt university events, with suspension and expulsion on the table. The policy mirrors Republican legislation that has stalled in the statehouse, and opponents of the measure said it would chill free speech itself and overstep the First Amendment rights of protesters by being too vaguely written.

Some protesters, however, have started to argue that controversial campus speakers are crossing the line of traditionally protected speech. At a Senate hearing last week, Senators Tim Kaine and Maggie Hassan, both Democrats, diverged from what was otherwise a bipartisan consensus on vigorously defending free speech at college campuses when they questioned whether some speakers pose a threat.

“Colleges should be a place of robust speech and disagreement. We don’t need to protect people from free speech; we need to expose them to different ideas and have them use their critical faculties to determine what is right and wrong,” Kaine said. “But, I think, we cannot use the banner of protecting free speech to allow people to terrorize folks.”

Hassan pointed to two recently filed lawsuits seeking to hold outspoken white supremacist Richard Spencer and organizers of the “Unite the Right” rally accountable for the violence that occurred when white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Va., in August, ostensibly to protest the proposed removal of Confederate statues. In addition to protesters shouting racist and anti-Semitic chants, a man drove his car through a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a woman, and plaintiffs say the organizers saw the violence coming during the planning stages. Hassan also brought up the three Spencer supporters arrested for attempted murder after Spencer’s Oct. 19 University of Florida speech.

In response, Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and a witness at the hearing, told the committee that the bar for free speech crossing a line and becoming an unprotected incitement of violence is very high.

“I think it would be difficult, perhaps, to prove some of the allegations [in the Charlottesville lawsuit], to be honest,” Cohen said. “Clearly, incitement has a very precise legal meaning under the Constitution … There could be evidence of that. Bravado in advance [is] probably not enough. Celebrating someone’s demise in an ugly way, clearly not enough.”

Still, the idea of speakers bringing violence is one that has caught on with protesters, especially those who take their picketing from the sidewalks into the events that they shut down. The confidence in defeating hate speech with opposing speech, espoused by the majority of senators at the hearing, is not universally agreed upon on campuses.

“The very presence of white supremacists on campus makes me fear for my personal safety and that of my colleagues and friends. These concerns are particularly relevant given the violence associated with white supremacist events across the United States,” the Columbia protesters said in their statement. “It is the university’s position that hate speech should be countered with equally opposing views so that the student community can decide for themselves what they want to believe. While this neutral approach may seem reasonable, the university ignores the fact that not all voices have equal power and that opposing voices are not equally heard.”

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NCAA president: Public losing trust in big-time sports

Tue, 2017-10-31 07:00

National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert called for major reforms in collegiate athletics Monday, in perhaps his most substantive statements since the news of multiple recent sports scandals, which he said have eroded public trust.

Addressing the independent Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a panel that for nearly 30 years has focused on trying to bring about change in college athletics, Emmert acknowledged the mixed level of trust in the NCAA. He referenced two revelations that have called into question the association’s ability to police its member institutions.

Last month, four assistant or associate basketball coaches at top-tier institutions, as well as a mix of Adidas executives and those related to the company, were charged with federal corruption and bribery. They allegedly steered recruits and athletes toward recruiters, financial advisers, and colleges associated with the powerhouse sportswear company in return for cash. Federal prosecutors have hinted at more charges.

The NCAA was also slammed by some critics for not punishing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill after, over the course of 20 years, it set up fake courses that helped ensure athletes could compete.

Citing internal data from NCAA surveys of the public, Emmert said 79 percent of those polled think that major institutions put money before their athletes. Just a bit more than half indicated that the NCAA “was part of the problem,” Emmert said.

The NCAA was unaware of the basketball scandal -- and Emmert said Monday he does not know anything more about the ongoing Federal Bureau of Investigation probe than what has been released publicly.

And the association’s panel assigned to rule on the North Carolina situation said it could not act because the “shadow courses” did not fit the association’s rules on “extra benefits” for athletes.

In both instances, the public criticized the NCAA for seeming to be powerless.

“The NCAA members, my staff and those schools have got to get our arms around it fast,” Emmert said. “I don’t think this is some little blip that’s going to go away over time. This is a real question of whether or not the universities and colleges, through the association, can manage their affairs.”

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, now a co-chair of the Knight Commission, told reporters that college sports are at a “crossroads.” Also at stake, he said, is the NCAA’s “legitimacy, integrity, even [its] relevancy.”

The Knight panel has called on the NCAA to rework the rules that allowed North Carolina to makes its own determination of whether it had committed academic fraud, and thus allowed the university to escape consequences. The Knight Commission also wants more enforcement power for the NCAA, said Duncan and the other co-chair, Carol Cartwright, president emerita of Kent State University and Bowling Green State University.

Asked if there was momentum for such reforms, Duncan said that institutions are “losing” in the court of public opinion, which outweighs short-term benefits for colleges bringing in big revenues and coaches reaping multimillion-dollar salaries.

Cartwright said the commission has persisted and taken on "tough challenges," being "relentless" to accomplish some of its recommendations. She pointed to a change to the way revenues are distributed in the Division I men’s basketball tournament, which the NCAA changed to slightly favor teams with better academics.

One commission member during the meeting questioned whether the current NCAA system could endure given its flaws.

Emmert laid out two scenarios.

The federal government could regulate college sports, similar to what happens in other countries, but Emmert said that the United States is the envy of those who already have that model, he said. Or another self-governing body could start from scratch, but it would be similar to the NCAA, he said.

After the federal charges were announced, the NCAA formed a committee led by former secretary of state and Stanford University Provost Condoleezza Rice to examine college basketball, specifically its relationship to sportswear corporations.

“We cannot go into the next basketball season without seeing fundamental changes with the way college basketball is operating,” Emmert said during the meeting. “We need to act. We need to demonstrate that we are, in fact, capable of resolving these issues.”

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