Higher Education News

Reports that Trump administration is considering limits on visas for Chinese citizens cause concern

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00

Two major news organizations are reporting that the Trump administration is considering restrictions on visas for Chinese citizens, including students, as part of a forthcoming package of tariffs and investment restrictions against China.

The Wall Street Journal and Politico have both reported that the administration is considering the visa restrictions as part of what the Journal described as a package of measures intended to punish China for allegedly violating American intellectual property laws and pressuring U.S. companies to transfer technology. According to the Journal, the White House is considering limiting the number of study and work visas for Chinese citizens and ending a program that allows frequent travelers to the U.S. to get visas that last 10 years.

It’s unclear if the potential visa restrictions will become policy -- Politico reported that some Trump administration officials are against them -- and just how broad they would be. But it is clear that restrictions on visas for Chinese citizens could have negative effects on U.S. colleges and universities.

China sends by far the most international students to the United States, accounting for close to a third of international students on U.S. campuses, and American colleges depend heavily on Chinese students for both the tuition revenue and the academic talent they bring. China is also the largest source country for visiting scholars to American universities, and legions of scholars originally from China have earned their Ph.Ds. in the U.S. and stayed to pursue their careers.

The new worries about potential restrictions for Chinese student visas build on widespread concerns about falling international enrollments at U.S. universities, which declined by 2.2 percent at the undergraduate level and 5.5 percent at the graduate level from fall 2016 to fall 2017, according to an analysis of student visa data by the National Science Foundation.

In a written statement, Esther D. Brimmer, the executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association for International Educators, said that any restrictions on visas for Chinese citizens would have “devastating” effects and that "students should never be used as bargaining chips."

“If the administration imposes restrictions that will further prohibit students and scholars from choosing the United States as their destination, we will suffer devastating impacts for decades to come,” Brimmer said. “The U.S. is already losing overall market share of internationally mobile students. Countries like Australia and Canada have worked to welcome international students, and their efforts have paid dividends. Meanwhile, America is beginning to see our international student enrollment decrease, and a threat of action like this will only exacerbate the problem.”

“With international students contributing $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy last year and supporting more than 450,000 jobs, any drop in enrollment would have severe consequences,” Brimmer said. “Chinese students alone contribute $12 billion, alongside countless other benefits, so even a modest reduction in Chinese enrollment would be devastating. Because Chinese students and scholars contribute so much to our science and innovation, virtually every community in America would feel the impact if Chinese student visas were restricted in any way.”

“A broader restriction on their ability to pursue higher education in the U.S. could have long-term implications for the U.S. scientific work force and U.S. competitiveness -- but that is if there is a broad restriction that applies to any science or engineering field,” said Hironao Okahana, the associate vice president for research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools. “At this point we really don’t know how narrow or broad, if any, the restrictions are that the administration is considering.”

Survey data collected by CGS show that students from China accounted for 38 percent of new international students at the master’s level and 33 percent at the doctoral level at U.S. graduate schools in fall 2017. Okahana​ also drew attention to the NSF's Survey of Earned Doctorates, which found that Chinese citizens on temporary visas earned about 10 percent of all doctoral degrees awarded by American universities in 2016, and that the vast majority of Chinese doctoral graduates earned degrees in science and engineering fields. Just over 80 percent of Chinese citizens on temporary visas say they plan to stay in the U.S. after earning their doctorates (even if existing visa policies don't always make that easy).

“The broader implications for U.S. innovation could be quite serious depending on what the restriction imposed ends up being,” said Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, which has issued a number of research reports on enrollments of international students and their importance to universities and to American science and engineering. “If it ends up that Chinese students long term decide the U.S. is not a reliable place to come study and work, then that’ll shut off a major avenue of talent both at universities and in the U.S. tech sector.”

Anderson said the mere fact that restrictions on visas for Chinese citizens are being considered -- and reported on by reputable publications -- could have an impact on international student choices, even if they never become policy.

"People often rely on less than perfect information in making decisions," Anderson said. "International students, they go online, they communicate with each other, they pick up on rumors, they see news reports and they can start making decisions based on that."

"The best way to look at this is not in isolation; it's to consider the other signals that international students are getting," Anderson added. One of those signals, he said, is the Trump administration's stated intent to issue a new rule governing the optional practical training program, which allows international students to work while staying on their student visas for up to three years after they graduate. Many observers have cited uncertainty about the future of the OPT program as one factor behind the recent declines in international student enrollment.

The U.S. has long been the most popular destination in the world for international students. Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, pointed out that international student enrollment numbers have declined in the U.S. before, after Sept. 11, but that proved to be a “blip” and the numbers then began to grow again. Still, Hartle expressed concern about a number of recent incidents that have made the U.S. seem less welcoming or safe to international students.

“I think in the last 13 months, several things have made the U.S. appear to be a less desirable destination for students and scholars,” Hartle said. The first, he said, was the Trump administration's travel ban, various iterations of which have restricted entry for citizens of a group of mostly Muslim-majority countries. The second, he said, concerned comments by the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who, as Hartle said, "basically called Chinese students spies in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That doesn't really send a positive signal." (Wray's full comments -- and responses to them -- can be found here.)

The third event, Hartle said, includes “the occasional acts of violence against foreigners that get widely publicized abroad.” He cited the February 2017 shooting in a bar outside Kansas City, Kans., when a man who is now facing federal hate-crime charges killed an engineer from India and injured two others -- a crime that received extensive news coverage in India -- and international coverage of the march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., last summer.

"What’s happened over the last year: first, we’ve seen a decline in the number of international students admitted, second, as The Wall Street Journal just reported, we’ve seen a significant decline in the number of student visas that have been issued, and third, there are now these stories that the administration is at least thinking about the more restrictive use of student visas pursuant to concerns about trade," Hartle said.

"Obviously the issue there is less [about] foreign students than it’s a reaction to the administration’s views about the way other countries treat us, but the bottom line is international students have benefited this country enormously over the last 25 years. We believe it’s in America’s interest to be the destination of choice for the world’s best students and scholars, and it would be a very sad day if we undermine that perception."

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Udacity ends pledge for students to get hired or get their money back

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00

It was hailed as a “dream come true” by Udacity’s founder and CEO Sebastian Thrun.

“We now GUARANTEE a job for anyone who completes a Nanodegree Plus -- or else tuition back. Hope other universities follow,” tweeted Thrun in January 2016.

Now, it seems, the dream is over.

Udacity has quietly scrapped its pledge, nixing the program, which guaranteed a job within six months of graduation or 100 percent of students’ money back, at the end of last year.

Announced with much fanfare, the job guarantee applied to Udacity’s Nanodegree Plus program, an enhanced version of the nanodegree with access to a career adviser and career concierge services.

Udacity stopped accepting new enrollments into the Nanodegree Plus program in December 2017, and the program will come to a complete end in June. The program was priced at $299 a month ($100 more than a regular nanodegree) and was available in four areas -- Android developer, iOS developer, machine learning engineer and senior web developer. Udacity says on its website that most nanodegrees take students between six months and a year to complete.

Asked why it was ending the Nanodegree Plus program and its job guarantee, Udacity said in a statement that it was “focused on connecting learning to jobs for all our students.”

“To scale our career services globally, we’re no longer enrolling students in Nanodegree Plus programs. We’re taking the best of what we’ve learned from this limited U.S.-only program and are working to extend those services across all of our career-ready Nanodegree programs worldwide,” the statement said. Udacity didn't expand on why it had decided to pull the Nanodegree Plus program.

While career guidance for all students, not just those who pay extra, is a good thing, the demise of the get-a-job-or-your-money-back promise raises questions. Did students get the jobs they wanted? Did Udacity have to give many students their money back? Udacity declined to share data.

Ryan Craig, managing director of investment company University Ventures, noted that none of the major employers associated with Udacity will publicly commit to hire or interview nanodegree candidates. Craig pointed to a 2017 report from VentureBeat, which stated that of around 10,000 students who had earned nanodegrees since 2014, around 1,000 had found jobs as a result. “A placement rate of around 10 percent should spell the demise of any last-mile training program,” said Craig.

Craig said the effectiveness of Udacity’s job guarantee was likely very limited for students. “Money-back guarantees don’t address the real guarantee that students are seeking: a job,” said Craig.

Daniel Friedman, co-founder of coding school Thinkful, wrote in January 2016 that Udacity’s guarantee was vaguer and weaker than the guarantees offered by his own company and others such as Bloc and Flatiron School. Such guarantees are common at coding schools, though Friedman noted that some schools have had to drop guarantees because they conflicted with state regulations.

Udacity didn’t promise that nanodegree holders would get a job in tech, and it also didn’t promise a big salary, said Friedman. Udacity’s guarantee said that students should earn more than the cost of their tuition in three months. If a person graduated in nine months (at a total cost of $2,691), they’d only need to earn $900 a month to meet Udacity's salary expectations -- less than minimum wage, said Friedman.

Phil Hill, co-founder of Mindwires Consulting and co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, said that Udacity’s decision to drop the job guarantee may have been driven by the company’s desire to soon go public. “Investors want predictability in income and growth, and they typically don’t like unknown liabilities,” said Hill. The money-back guarantee was risky and uncharted territory for the company, he said.

Of course, Udacity’s money-back guarantee came with conditions. Students had to apply to at least five jobs per week, and these applications had to show “clear good-faith effort and be tailored to the role and the company.” In addition, students were required to meet with the Udacity careers team and work on their portfolio in their own time.

Dhawal Shah, founder and CEO of Class Central, a review site for online courses, has been following Udacity closely. He noticed in October that the company was moving away from its monthly subscription pricing and was phasing out free courses and money-back offers, including the job guarantee, and an offer for students to get 50 percent of their nanodegree tuition back if they completed the course within a year.

Shah posits that Udacity is doing so well (the company’s revenue doubled in 2017), it simply doesn’t need to make generous offers to attract new students.

“Udacity found success with futuristic-sounding degrees like the self-driving car nanodegree, which got over 10,000 enrollments,” said Shah. The company has shifted its focus from more traditional tech job skills and is focusing on training employees for the “jobs of tomorrow,” said Shah.

It’s also possible that Udacity chose to discontinue its job guarantee because it bit off more than it could chew. “While the Nanodegree Plus idea of a job guarantee sounds good in theory, Udacity must have run into the realization that education providers cannot control what learners do,” said Hill.

Daniel Filous, vice president of marketing and product for App Academy, a coding school that doesn’t charge students tuition until they find a job, said that hinging profits on students finding a job is a tough business model for any company. Even when the school and the student do everything right, sometimes it just doesn’t work out, said Filous.

The principle of judging a school’s success by its outcomes (in this case job placement) is one that is shared by much of the education reform and school accountability movement, said Hill. But there are “so many variables that schools cannot control,” he said. While the intention is noble, “the reality is full of unintended consequences.”

“Udacity might be an interesting case study or possibly a canary in the coal mine,” said Hill. “I would hope that Udacity shares what they have learned -- positive and negative -- to inform the general education community.”

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CSU Northridge professor says she hasn't returned to classroom after online threat because university hasn't made her feel safe

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00

A professor of Africana studies and one-time associate dean at California State University Northridge is reportedly refusing to teach, saying her administration failed to sufficiently address an online threat against her.

Karin Stanford, the professor, became a target for online attacks after she asked students on a final exam last semester whether President Trump’s campaign rhetoric was frequently “anti-Mexican,” “anti-Muslim,” “anti-woman” or “all of the above.”

Another question on the exam, for a class called American Political Institutions: A Black Perspective, described presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s concession speech as “breaking down barriers and bringing people together."

Stanford’s disparate lines of inquiry apparently irked at least one student, whom the website Campus Reform anonymously quoted as saying, “Like, don’t try and make me think a certain way, because everyone’s view is different.”

The student described Stanford’s questions as “random and annoying.” Perhaps because the class was online, the student said, Stanford showed no “political bias for the most part and neither did the chapter readings.”

Campus Reform frequently reports on professors who allegedly show their political biases -- typically liberal ones -- in the classroom, and Stanford began receiving critical messages soon after the story appeared in January. As an ex-girlfriend of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Stanford is presumably used to some degree of public scrutiny. But a comment on the Campus Reform story itself scared her: “This is government abuse. Somebody shoot her in the face.”

Stanford, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, told the Los Angeles Daily News this week that she reported the threatening post to university police and that the campus has not responded in a way that makes her feel safe enough to return. Namely, she said she has not received guidance about how to protect herself and her students.

She said she has been using sick leave to avoid being on campus, since her related worker’s compensation claim was denied.

“Why should I be forced to leave the workplace because of a concern for my safety and my students?” she reportedly said. “Why am I making this choice by myself?”

A campus spokesperson said other faculty members have picked up Stanford’s classes.

It takes just a click or two to connect the classroom to the internet. And within the politically contentious last 18 months in particular, scores of professors have reported being threatened online over comments they’ve made on campus or off.

Institutions have struggled to address these often violent threats for a variety of logistical and legal reasons. Many comments, however grotesque, are considered free speech. And it’s hard to discern from social media, emails and especially anonymous comments left on blogs just who is making a threat and if it's serious. Still, a number of faculty members have publicly urged institutions to develop clear protocols that involve affirming the academic freedom and securing the physical safety of targeted colleagues.

Cal State Northridge said in a statement that it notified Stanford of the reports critical of her final exam “to offer support and guidance on appropriate protocol.” The department of Africana studies and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences “actively monitored the situation and have continued to monitor and communicate” with Stanford, the statement said.

Based on the information Stanford provided, campus police investigated the case and consulted with the city attorney’s office, Cal State Northridge said. Ultimately, “while these comments are disturbing, they were found to not rise to the level of a criminal threat and were considered free speech.”

The university “provides a variety of resources for employees who feel threatened,” it said, including law enforcement escorts to and from offices and classes, counseling, and other “emotional support.”

“We take Stanford’s concerns very seriously and are committed to maintaining a safe and respectful environment,” Cal State Northridge said. “We are very much aware of the issues that arise in the current contentious political environment and are actively working to find solutions that balance the principles of academic freedom and free speech, while ensuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff.”

Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesperson for the California State University System, said via email that any threat made against a professor or other member of the campus “would be the responsibility of the respective university police department to investigate.” Depending on the circumstances, he said, the campus police might call on outside agencies or other campus resources. A bomb threat would involve working with local police, for example, he said, while a student threatening someone else would involve student affairs staff and the student judicial process.

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Cooper Union plans to restore free undergraduate tuition in a decade

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00

Cooper Union has a plan to gradually move back to free tuition for undergraduates over the next 10 years, reversing course from a controversial 2014 decision to start charging.

Scholarships could begin increasing in two years, the private art, architecture and engineering college in New York City announced Thursday, a day after trustees approved the plan. Costs to students will be bought down in increasing amounts over time as administrators find ways to pay for tuition by cutting costs and raising money. They will seek to find $250 million in savings and additional revenue sources over the coming decade in order to boost Cooper Union’s finances to the point where they are deemed strong enough to support free undergraduate tuition.

The plan marks a turnaround from just four years ago, when trustees decided to start charging tuition because of financial concerns. That decision sparked an outcry from some students, professors and alumni who believed it broke with the vision of Peter Cooper, the industrialist who founded the college with a mission of free tuition -- a mission that for generations attracted many top engineering, art and architecture students who were unable to afford traditional colleges.

A group filed a lawsuit attempting to block the college from charging tuition, and the decision led to the resignation of several trustees and then president Jamshed Bharucha. The college, its critics and New York State’s attorney general eventually reached an agreement in 2015 revamping Cooper Union’s governance, requiring more transparency from its board and requiring the board to seek a way to return to free tuition by 2018.

Some former critics lauded the new plan Thursday. But others were unhappy, holding that the college’s financial situation is strong enough to allow it to eliminate tuition much sooner than 10 years from now.

The plan also allows Cooper Union leaders to take more time to cut and eliminate tuition if economic conditions deteriorate and the college’s financials worsen. On the other hand, tuition could be eliminated sooner if financial targets are met ahead of schedule.

“I think there are a lot of people even within Cooper that would love to see us get back to free tuition quicker than in 10 years,” said Laura Sparks, the institution’s president since January 2017, in an interview Thursday evening. “But we wanted to make sure we put a plan in place that was ambitious but also achievable.”

Cooper Union’s undergraduate tuition is listed at $43,250 per year for 2017-18. All first-time enrollees receive scholarships worth half the tuition charge, and additional aid is stacked on top based on students’ demonstrated financial need. Slightly more than a third of students are on full-tuition scholarships, Sparks said.

That translates to an average discount rate of 76 percent. Under the newly approved plan, the scholarship level would increase to 77 percent in 2020 and grow by several points in most years until it hits 100 percent in 2029.

Students would still be responsible for paying fees, although Cooper Union offers nontuition aid to cover fees for students who cannot afford to pay, Sparks said. Many graduate students would also still pay tuition. In fact, the new plan calls for average graduate program scholarships to be cut from 66 percent to 25 percent over five years starting after 2020. A future goal is to increase graduate program scholarships again after undergraduate scholarships have been increased to 100 percent of tuition. Cooper Union decided in 2012 to start charging graduate students tuition.

Other moves to pay for the plan include increasing building and facility rentals, increasing ancillary revenue, and increasing fund-raising revenue by an average of $1.2 million, or 25 percent, annually over the next five years. Over the five following years, the plan calls for increasing fund-raising by 11 percent on average.

(The preceding two paragraphs have been updated to include new information provided by Cooper Union. A plan originally published in January called for graduate scholarship cuts starting in 2019 and for dormitory rates to be increased to the current market rate. But the board changed those provisions in the final plan based on feedback.)

On the side of cutting expenses, the plan calls for cutting both personnel and nonpersonnel costs, changing employee benefits, and cutting rental costs for administrative offices.

Enrollment is expected to hold steady, Sparks said. Cooper Union currently has about 900 undergraduate and graduate students.

The plan received some support from former critics. Mike Essl is an alumnus and member of a group called the Committee to Save Cooper Union. He is also now a dean of the college’s School of Art.

“I am amazed at the plan,” he said in a statement released by Cooper Union. “I think 10 years is a miracle. At the cabinet meeting I was in where the timeline was revealed, I started weeping.”

Not everyone agreed. One critic in the Facebook group Save Cooper Union posted “RIP PETER COOPER’S CU” and went on to say that the founder never would have condoned the new plan. He argued Cooper Union is in a financial position to return to free tuition within three years. But another commenter asked him for a clear case supporting his financial claims and told him, “Enough with the histrionics.”

Cooper Union’s return to free undergraduate tuition comes at a time when New York State has been rolling out its own high-profile free tuition program for undergraduates at public colleges. That program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, was not a source of pressure on Cooper Union, Sparks said. Cooper Union’s board has been exploring free tuition and working to shore up its finances since its agreement with the attorney general.

Nonetheless, Sparks said, she would like to be part of a free tuition movement.

“We really hope that we can lead a larger trend that will reverse the trajectory of increasing tuition costs and a movement toward free tuition for students,” she said. “It would be speculation for me to predict where the broader sector is going to go, but we hope we can be a part of leading a reverse trend.”

Cooper Union is not like many other colleges, however. It owns the land under New York City's Chrysler Building and receives a large amount of revenue from that asset. A step up in revenue from the building put Cooper Union in a position to significantly increase its operating income, along with some expense cuts, Sparks said.

Even with the building, Cooper Union is counting on significant increases in fund-raising to make the new plan work.

“I have my work cut out for me,” Sparks said.

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Questions raised by withdrawal of invitation to National University of Singapore

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00

A well-known journalism scholar reported that a talk he planned to give on state censorship and the media at the National University of Singapore had to be canceled after delays in what he was told was a routine screening process for all visitors to the university’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. It is unclear what the reported screening process entails.

NUS has issued a statement expressing regret for the cancellation, which it described as being the result of an "oversight."

The talk by Cherian George, a Singaporean citizen and professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, has been rescheduled for later this month after the cancellation of the original talk, which was to focus on media policies and authoritarian governments and draw on case studies from Asia, including Singapore. George was, in a famous case, denied tenure at another Singaporean university, Nanyang Technological University, despite rave reviews from his colleagues, leading many to suspect that the sensitive nature of his research on press freedoms and state power in Singapore was the reason for the denial.

Writing on his blog Air-Conditioned Nation, George said that he was asked by the head of a NUS research center to give a talk at NUS and that they agreed to a March 9 date.

“A couple of weeks later,” George wrote, “I got this email: ‘Rest assured that your visit in March is being coordinated.’ My suspicions were aroused by this assurance, since I’d not expressed any impatience. Was there some hitch, I now wondered. Sure enough, in mid-February, I was informed that ‘all visitors to the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences [FASS] are subject to screening.’”

“A few days later, my host apologized for the holdup. I could sense his frustration and helplessness. We agreed to wait and see.”

“A few days ago, he was forced to ask for a rain check, since there was no longer time to make my travel arrangements or publicize the talk even if suddenly we got the green light,” George wrote in the essay, which was dated last Friday, the planned date for the talk.

“This afternoon, approval finally came, like the punch line to a bad joke.”

“No explanation was offered for the nature of the screening or why it had taken so long,” George wrote.

A spokesperson for NUS did not address specific questions from Inside Higher Ed about what screening procedures and protocols are in place for visiting academics such as George, and why there may have been a delay in this particular case. In a written statement, a NUS spokesperson said, “We regret that our internal administrative process took longer than expected due to an oversight, leading to this unfortunate incident. We have invited Dr. Cherian George to give a talk later this month and he has accepted.”

George’s essay does not name the scholar who invited him to NUS, but the rescheduled lecture is part of a series organized by NUS’s Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation. The head of that research center did not respond to emails from Inside Higher Ed.

“In my time as an academic, I have given talks on campuses in around 25 countries,” George wrote. “This is the first time that an invitation to speak has been, in effect, voided. It’s the kind of hitch that I’m mentally prepared for if I need to deal with universities in the People’s Republic of China. I wasn’t expecting it from my own country. I wonder if we’ve hit a new low (and new heights of irony), when the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, in which foreigners occupy half the head-of-department positions, can’t freely decide to have a Singapore citizen visit for a couple of hours to share his research.”

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New presidents or provosts: Charleston Edison Fullerton Hamilton Kentucky Rosemont Southwest Virginia WSU Tri-Cities UT Dallas

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 03/16/2018 - 07:00
  • David Blackwell, dean of the Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky, has been appointed provost and chief academic officer there.
  • Lisa M. Dolling, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Manhattanville College, in New York, has been chosen as provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at Rosemont College, in Pennsylvania.
  • Merodie A. Hancock, president of SUNY Empire State College, in New York, has been selected as president of Thomas Edison State University, in New Jersey.
  • Sandra Haynes, deputy provost and vice president of academic affairs at Metropolitan State University of Denver, in Colorado, has been appointed chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities.
  • Suzanne Keen, dean of the college at Washington and Lee University, in Virginia, has been selected as vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty at Hamilton College, in New York.
  • Inga Musselman, interim provost and professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at Dallas, has been named provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
  • Martin S. Roth, dean of the Barney School of Business at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut, has been chosen as president of the University of Charleston, in West Virginia.
  • Framroze (Fram) Virjee, executive vice chancellor, general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees at the California State University System, has been named president of California State University at Fullerton.
  • Thomas F. Wright, vice president for finance and advancement at Cleveland State Community College, in Tennessee, has been appointed president of Southwest Virginia Community College.
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Penn says Amy Wax will no longer teach required first-year law courses after more comments about race come to light

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

The University of Pennsylvania defended the academic freedom of Amy Wax, Robert Mundheim Professor of Law, last year when she co-wrote a controversial op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer arguing that “all cultures are not equal,” despite the modern “obsession with race.”

This week, however, the university responded to another round of racially charged comments by Wax by saying students no longer have to take her classes.

“I know that this decision will spur debate and difficult conversations in the days, weeks and months ahead, and I welcome them,” Ted Ruger, dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at Penn, wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff members this week, sharing the news about Wax. “All faculty and students here will remain free to express their views. And all students and faculty are entitled to a law school that welcomes them equally as individuals.”

The new controversy involves a video interview by Glenn Loury, professor of economics at Brown University, who has been critical of affirmative action. In the interview, Wax says, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class, and rarely, rarely in the top half.”

Wax added, “I can think of one or two students who've graduated in the top half of my required first-year course,” out of about 90 students per year. She also said that the University of Pennsylvania Law Review has a racial diversity mandate and suggested that some black students shouldn't go to college.

Recorded last fall as part of a conversation called the “Downside to Social Uplift” that appeared online on Loury’s The Glenn Show, the video just recently came to light. But it’s already attracted lots of attention at Penn and elsewhere, including a petition by alumni demanding that Ruger take action against Wax and “explicitly dispel the lies” about black law students’ performance.

Ruger in his letter says that it’s “imperative for me as dean to state that these claims are false: black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law, and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate. Rather, its editors are selected based on a competitive process.”

Contrary to any suggestion otherwise, he continued, “black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market and in their careers.”

Ruger didn’t specify exactly how wrong Wax is, and a university spokesperson did not share specific information on law school performance by racial group. Both Ruger and the spokesperson cited Penn Law’s confidential grading policy, with Ruger asserting that Wax “is not free to transgress the policy that student grades are confidential, or to use her access to those Penn Law students who are required to be in her class to further her scholarly ends without students’ permission.”

Ruger added, “Penn Law does not permit the public disclosure of grades or class rankings, and we do not collect, sort or publicize grade performance by racial group. The existence of these policies and practices, while constraining this response, is not an invitation to statements made with conscious indifference to their truth content. Our first-year students are just that -- students -- not faceless data points or research subjects to be conscripted in the service of their professor’s musings about race in society.”

Ruger's letter makes numerous assurances of Wax’s continued right to free expression and academic freedom. Yet based on her comments, he said, black students assigned to her class in their first week at Penn Law “may reasonably wonder whether their professor has already come to a conclusion about their presence, performance and potential for success in law school and thereafter. They may legitimately question whether the inaccurate and belittling statements she has made may adversely affect their learning environment and career prospects.”

As dean, then, he said, “I have decided that Professor Wax will continue to teach elective courses in her areas of expertise, but that are outside of the mandatory first-year curriculum.”

Such an arrangement puts Wax in a similar position to the majority of the tenured faculty, Ruger added, and entails “no sanction or diminution of Wax’s status on the faculty, which remains secure.”

Normally, he said, such a decision would be private. But because “Wax made these inaccurate public statements, and students and alumni raised their concerns publicly, sharing it with our community is important.”

Wax did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education history at Penn who has previously defended Wax, including in an opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed, said Wednesday that he disagrees with Wax on a number of political and other issues, but he still found the university’s reaction to the recent controversy chilling.

Saying that Wax’s comments, however inaccurate, touch on mismatch theory, Zimmerman said they deserve airing in an academic setting, not minimizing. (Mismatch theory is the idea that admissions boosts, including affirmative action, may not benefit those they’re supposed to help, due to the potential for a poor institutional fit. The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was widely criticized for alluding to it during oral arguments in the Fisher v. University of Texas case.)

“Is there any achievement gap among law students?” Zimmerman asked. “I’d like to know the degree to which there is or isn’t, and the dean’s statement is creatively ambiguous, what the lawyers among us might call nonresponsive.”

Zimmerman said that if there is an achievement gap between white and black students, as is being alleged, those at Penn should know about it to try to close it. So, “my fear,” he added, “is that a moment like this makes that less likely, not more so.”

Marybeth Gasman, Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor of Education at Penn and a scholar of minority-serving institutions, said Wax has the right, guaranteed by academic freedom and tenure, to pursue the research that interests her. But in order to comment on the performance of black students across the law school, “one must have data." And given Ruger’s comments, Gasman said, it’s apparent Wax “did not have data,” and relied instead on “false” anecdotes to make her assessment. 

Saying she does not know Wax, Gasman said there is a difference between “conducting research with controversial findings and making false and disparaging comments about African-American students at our institution.” Students “should not have to be required to learn in a hostile environment,” she added. 

“Penn’s decision is one that respects academic freedom, while also addressing students’ concerns,” Gasman said.

Gasman said she wondered why Wax was “compelled to make disparaging comments about African-Americans at all,” since it is always her hope that faculty members are “familiar with stereotype threat, the ramifications of prejudice and racism and their impact on students and the need to empower students rather than disparage them.”

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College students join gun-reform walkout nationwide

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

The bell at the University of Virginia chapel rang 17 times Wednesday morning -- one chime for each death in the Florida high school shooting that has launched waves of unprecedented activism among students nationwide. A crowd of more than 1,000 students and others splayed across the lawn there, silent amid the ringing.

Exactly one month after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, students across the country exited classrooms at 10 a.m., some quiet, some carrying signs demanding gun reform from lawmakers. The victims’ names were read aloud in places, at others chants arose: “It could have been us.”

Much of the media attention on the planned walkouts Wednesday has been focused on secondary schools, with debate over students’ First Amendment rights and whether they would be disciplined. At least 55 percent of high school students intended to walk out of classrooms, with 46 of those students saying they would do so even if it affected their college admissions, according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey.

Many colleges and universities have promised that if high schools suspended students for protesting, it would not be held against them in the admissions process.

Current college students also participated in these walkouts, with videos of the often emotional demonstrations appearing en masse online.

At Virginia, the Student Council sponsored the event that drew at least 1,500 people, in the estimation of the council president, senior Sarah Kenny. The council’s backing of the protest caused some displeasure among campus conservatives, who felt the council shouldn’t support such a politically charged issue, Kenny said.

“I stand firm in the position that gun reform and commonsense policies are necessary and inherently political,” Kenny said. “Furthermore the students in Parkland, they wanted this to be political to prevent another community being altered by such a tragedy.”

After opening remarks, some proposals were read aloud -- these were generated by the Never Again movement, spawned by the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who also have been organizing the March for Our Lives later this month. The UVA council will try to coordinate buses to the march, Kenny said.

Kenny described the silence during the bell chimes as “deeply emotional” and a showing of student force on these issues. Students have felt relatively “helpless” in the political landscape, but the turnout proved there is a spirit that can carry beyond a single walkout, she said.

“I think that we have a wider variety of ages,” Kenny said of college students’ role in the movement versus the high school crusade. “And our institutions are seen as change agents in and of themselves, as bastions of knowledge. We have a collective of scholars, and these places are progressive on the front lines.”

In lieu of a bullhorn or shouts, participants at the University of Oregon observed 17 minutes of silence.

The College Democrats there helped organize the hushed protest, which attracted students, professors and parents with their young children, said Sophia DeLoretto-Chudy, a senior and vice president of the group.

At an Oregon high school DeLoretto-Chudy’s sister attends, a group of teens tried to put together a walkout shortly after the shooting and were shut down by the administrators, she said.

DeLoretto-Chudy wanted to give those students some sort of outlet and show that the university supported their display, which eventually went on despite the objections of the high school, she said. The secondary students had been reprimanded for using official student government social media to advertise a walkout, so instead they took their message to their personal Twitter pages and Instagram, DeLoretto-Chudy said.

“When you see universities doing things like this, the high schools feel a little more empowered,” she said.

University of Oregon professors supported the college event, delaying classes 20 minutes and handing out excused absences, according to DeLoretto-Chudy, after which students returned to class. Oregon provost Jayanth Banavar told faculty that students would not be punished as long as they did not disrupt the campus.

The Parkland students were well positioned to speak out after the shooting because they come from a relatively affluent area of Florida, DeLoretto-Chudy said, and were able to galvanize their peers with fewer resources and capture the news media. Students have felt “disillusioned” following incidents of gun violence because it feels “like there’s a crisis every minute,” she said.

College students must serve as the vote for the high schoolers who can’t yet, DeLoretto-Chudy said, though she pointed out there’s much more of a move to register them early in many states. Gun violence has launched a new fervor around political activism, not just around gun policies, but even for elections that previously have gone unnoticed -- local races such as education boards and city councils, she said.

“It was a slow and steady progression,” DeLoretto-Chudy said. “It’s hitting way, way closer to home. We wake up with notifications; we see multiple headlines about school shootings. We wake up and Twitter is exploding. Snapchat quite literally has live videos of these walkouts -- that’s how we get our news, and it’s hitting really, really close to home for people.”

Indeed, Twitter feeds exploded Wednesday with footage from walkouts on both high school and college campuses. Snapchat’s map feature, which is usually stocked with footage of concerts and other major events around the country, was dominated by videos of high school walkouts everywhere from Washington State to the coast of North Carolina. Local press accounts noted walkouts at St. Lawrence, Georgetown and Northwestern Universities and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The protests weren't just confined to the campus grounds. University of Wisconsin Madison students took to the state capitol to protest, screaming for gun control and to raise the age to purchase a gun.

.@BadgerHerald Crowd chants in unison for gun reform on steps of the capitol #nationalwalkoutday pic.twitter.com/JJ0iV0gaLs

— Parker Schorr (@SchorrParker) March 14, 2018

College student leaders have pledged to either participate in or help plan transportation to the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, urging lawmakers for new measures. While Florida just last week raised the minimum age to purchase a gun, federal politicians have not expressed urgency on the firearm front. The House recently did pass the Student, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act of 2018, which authorizes $50 million in grant funding for violence prevention, but the money hasn’t yet been appropriated. The bill has been criticized as a weak response, with calls instead to strengthen background checks and make illegal certain military-style weapons.

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House GOP bill would raise colleges' costs for reimbursing federal aid when students drop out

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System invests serious resources into student supports during the first four weeks of a semester -- the period in which at-risk students are most likely to drop out.

Jay Box, the system's president, said its 16 colleges make student retention a top focus throughout the semester. Yet because of student withdrawals during a recent fall semester, the system still had to return about $2.6 million in student aid to the federal government.

Under a GOP proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives, however, the system projects its bill would hit $8.1 million for that semester alone.

“It’s really not a good deal for us,” Box said.

That proposal, part of House legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, would apply to all colleges and universities. But it would hit open-access institutions like community colleges particularly hard.

Republican authors of the PROSPER Act, as the bill is dubbed, described the overhaul of aid repayments as a risk-sharing measure that would compel colleges to produce better outcomes. Critics of the GOP approach said the proposal identifies a real problem while offering a solution that’s even more troublesome.

Federal law requires colleges to pay back a portion of aid students receive if they drop out before a term is completed. Under the system, which is called Return to Title IV, the amount colleges must pay back is prorated and depends on when students drop out or withdraw. When a student has attended 60 percent of the term, the college does not have to return any aid.

The current approach has drawn frequent complaints from college administrators for being overly complex -- to start off with, it can be difficult to determine exactly when a student officially “dropped out.” The PROSPER Act would replace the current process with several tiers for length of attendance to determine how much colleges must repay the federal government. When students attend for a quarter of a term before withdrawing, for example, colleges would keep 25 percent of federal aid money; if they attend for half the term, 50 percent; and so on.

The problem for colleges is that they would keep no federal aid money under the formula if a student withdraws before a quarter of the term is over. And there is no point before the end of the semester in which a student would be considered to have “earned” all of their federal aid.

So institutions get a simpler repayment system but one that could leave them shouldering more of the costs for late-semester withdrawals and all of the costs when a student withdraws early in the semester. That’s troublesome for colleges because there are still plenty of expenses associated with running a classroom that don’t go away if a student drops midsemester.

Community colleges have offered projections showing they’d be on the hook for millions more in repayments if the PROSPER Act goes through without changes.

Over a full academic year, Box said, the Kentucky system would face $16-17 million in repayments thanks to the provision. The system, meanwhile, has repeatedly fended off proposals in recent years to cut its state appropriations or eliminate individual courses of study.

Likewise, the Ivy Tech Community College System, which operates 30 campuses across Indiana, would see a $4.2 million increase in payments from last fall, said Sue Ellspermann, the system's president.

“Given the potential loss of dollars, we would hope that philanthropy and grants would pick up all or a portion of the Title IV loss for proven retention programs like these and others,” she said via email. “However, there is a real risk that they won’t and we could be forced to reduce services offered.”

Community college lobby groups said their members have projected repayments under the House plan to be two to three times their most recent numbers. 

The Republican lawmakers who crafted the PROSPER Act talked explicitly about Title IV repayments as a form of “risk sharing” -- an increasingly popular idea among policy makers who want colleges to take on more of the financial stakes for student outcomes like completion. If faced with the loss of federal dollars, the thinking goes, colleges would do more to make sure students finish a semester.

But community college leaders said they’re already doing a lot to improve student completion rates. Ivy Tech, for example, uses predictive analytics to identify students who are likely to drop out. One project using that analysis and targeted outreach has improved retention of at-risk students by more than 3 percent each semester since it was launched.

And the Kentucky system already invests a huge amount of resources in getting students through the first four weeks of classes, the milestone after which its data show students are much more likely to complete the academic term. Demanding that colleges do more to keep federal funds, Box said, ignores the reality that community colleges are already doing everything they can to get students to complete the semester.

“The No. 1 reason students withdraw from us is that life gets in the way,” he said. “Meaning that all the sudden they have a family crisis; they’ve got to work to support their family or support themselves.”

When those outside pressures push students out, he said, colleges have a limited ability to keep students in class.

Form of Risk Sharing

Asked about complaints from community college leaders regarding the Title IV repayments, a spokesman for Representative Virginia Foxx, the Republican from North Carolina who is chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, referred to the committee report on the bill.

“We’re in frequent contact with the community college groups, and are well aware about [what] they are for and against in PROSPER,” the spokesman said. “No one understands the views of the community colleges more than the chairwoman since she was a former community college president.”

Community college leaders have sought to have the PROSPER Act modified, even as they convey their alarm to Senate lawmakers who are crafting their own higher ed bill. Box said he’s communicated his concerns to lawmakers on the committee and to the Kentucky congressional delegation during multiple trips to Washington.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I won’t say that we’ve completely turned the corner on it. But I'm hopeful they have heard us and see the impact that this will cause.”

For-profit colleges, which serve similar groups of students as community colleges, share the same complaints about Title IV repayments in the PROSPER Act.

"We do have similar populations and therefore similar reservations about the direction that they’re potentially going on risk sharing," said Tom Netting, a lobbyist at Akerman LLP who represents clients in the for-profit college sector.

Netting said a number of programs at proprietary institutions, such as cosmetology, have significant up-front costs for items like tool kits. And their students are most likely to drop out early in the academic term, as they are at community colleges. Under the PROSPER Act, for-profits would shoulder all of those high up-front costs, Netting said.

Getting a tweak to the new formula could be an uphill battle for colleges, as Republican sponsors likely will be reluctant to add to the cost of the bill. The Congressional Budget Office last month estimated that PROSPER would reduce federal spending by $14.6 billion over 10 years. About $419 million in savings would be due to the Return to Title IV changes, the CBO estimated. (Two conservative analysts have argued the bill would actually increase spending thanks to higher discretionary spending on Pell Grants.)

The change to Title IV repayments also would have serious effects not just for colleges but for students themselves by changing the order in which federal aid is returned. Currently, colleges return student loan funds first when a student withdraws, then returns “no strings attached” aid like Pell Grants. The PROSPER Act dictates that colleges return grant aid first, then loans. That means more students who drop out could face the prospect of paying back loans they took out to attend before withdrawing. Federal data indicate that the students who are likeliest to default on their loans are those who left college with a small amount of debt but no degree.

“Given that one of the correlating factors predicting default is withdrawal, there's some more analysis that needs to be done there,” said Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Barmak Nassirian, one of the sharpest critics of the PROSPER Act, said the bill identifies a real problem -- an overly complicated process for returning federal student aid funds -- but offers an even more harmful response.

“Like so many other provisions of the PROSPER Act it exemplifies, [the proposal] makes an astute identification of a real policy issue and provides a completely unworkable and extremist resolution.”

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Colorado College removes honors for early president, found to have sexually harassed and assaulted many women

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

As William F. Slocum left the presidency of Colorado College a century ago, he was awarded an honorary degree. Two buildings were later named for him, in recognition of the nearly 30 years he served as president, years in which he is widely credited with saving the college from financial distress and making it sustainable.

What wasn't revealed publicly in 1917 was that the board had pressured him to leave after an investigation -- unusual for the time -- produced detailed accounts from numerous women about how he had harassed and in some cases assaulted them. Those investigations came to light last year when Jessy Randall, the college's archivist, found the surviving documents from the era and shared them with others on campus. She had been looking into this history for some time, but made the effort a priority after the Me Too movement drew attention to powerful men using their authority to abuse women.

A blog post she wrote on a non-college website, "Colorado College's Own Harvey Weinstein," introduces selections from her findings. The documents are extraordinary in that women -- in an era when they might well not have been believed -- outlined what Slocum did to them. So many eventually came forward that the college investigated and then forced him out. The testimonies show how trapped and humiliated the women felt, and how Slocum attacked women who were employees or had other ties to the college.

One employee said at the time, “To feel that I have not only been insulted once, but many times, has been a thing which I have had to live with mentally. I have had to put up with ‘handling,’ insinuating looks and insidious familiarities, in many of the private interviews which I have had with him, in obeying his wanting ‘to see me for a few minutes.’ I am unable to express the looks which have left me boiling with a sense of shame and disgrace. The constant need of having his hand on your body, feeling it, are things a woman cannot mistake. A constant desire to always bring the physical side in is always present …

“Another illustration … at the end of a normal conversation, when he asked me if I was engaged, I answered ‘No,’ and like a flash the lights were turned off, and before I was aware of what was happening, I was seized in his arms, and he said, ‘You have got to kiss me.’ The lights were turned off another time, but the second time I was prepared … I have been talked to ‘cold-heartedness,’ which was purely in a physical way.”

This week, the college announced that its current president, Jill Tiefenthaler, conducted an investigation based on the archivist's findings and presented the results to the board.

"Based upon its review of the matter, the board finds that there is overwhelming and uncontroverted evidence that Slocum engaged in instances of sexual misconduct and egregious sexual assault while he was president of the college. Such behavior was reprehensible and is in direct conflict with the mission and values of Colorado College," a college statement said. "Accordingly, the board decided unanimously to rescind the honorary degree bestowed on him in 1917 and has ordered the immediate removal of his name from the residence hall and commons building on the corner of Nevada and Cache la Poudre."

At the same time, the statement said that the college needed to further study other ways Slocum's role at the college is honored at the college.

"Because Slocum also accomplished important and necessary achievements for the college during his tenure, for which he had been recognized as one of our greatest presidents, the board has asked President Tiefenthaler to form a committee of students, faculty, staff, and trustees to recommend ways to represent his full legacy on campus. This should include considering the appropriate placement of his portrait that currently hangs in Palmer Hall. Consistent with our mission and values, the college should neither ignore his accomplishments nor his disturbing flaws," the statement said.

"The board has taken these actions because sexual assault and sexual harassment are unacceptable today, and were unacceptable in Slocum’s time. Such behavior is in direct conflict with CC’s mission and values, and must neither be tolerated nor overlooked."

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Report on email rant from British university's press officer

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00

University press officers can put a positive spin on even the most tumultuous events, but what are they really thinking when things don’t go their way?

An extraordinary message from a head of communications to his team, obtained by Times Higher Education, can now give some insight into the normally guarded views of spinners under siege.

In the message, Charles Hymas, who was until recently University College London’s director of media relations, outlines his impressions of an informal meeting about the university’s 483-million-pound ($674 million) plan to build a new campus in east London. At the end, 94 percent of the more than 100 academics present voted that they had no confidence in UCL’s governance.

That motion was raised by Tony Segal, professor of medicine at UCL, and the criticisms did not sit well with Hymas, who previously spent 26 years at The Sunday Times.

In his email, written Feb. 14, Hymas describes how “Professor I’m Not Pursuing a Vendetta Man” told the meeting that he “was not pursuing a vendetta … [but] then proceeded to stick the knife into the provost [Michael Arthur] and the chair of council Dame DeAnne Julius for their autocratic bullying rule which had left the entire … UCL academic community cowed into a blithering jelly of fear.”

“Professor I’m Not Pursuing a Vendetta Man was preaching to the converted, who hung on his every word and clapped every single twist of the knife,” Hymas continues.

His invective against “business interests sullying the white sepulchre of academia” was met with such rapturous support that the meeting “turned into something more akin to a Roman amphitheatre where any slave felt to be worshipping the God Mammon was going to be bayed down by the bloodthirsty crowd,” recounts Hymas.

“Despite my best efforts to press as many No buttons as I could in order to swing the vote in favor of reason, we went crashing down to a 94 [percent] to 6 [percent] vote,” Hymas adds.

Indeed, there was “such a frenzy of hatred against the evil management of UCL that they would have made a blind, three-legged elephant provost” by the end, he says.

The encounter led him to speculate about the wisdom of -- metaphorically -- using a “sharpened medical scalpel [to] take out a sensitive part of Professor I’m Not Pursuing a Vendetta Man’s anatomy without an anaesthetic.”

Hymas’s wrath was not confined to Segal, describing the meeting’s chair, Lord Young of Graffham, as having the “smug patrician air of a multimillionaire Tory businessman.” An unnamed earth science professor who claimed that “producing one brilliant paper a year [was] what true academia was about” was derided as “Professor I’m a True Intellectual.”

A UCL spokesman said that the email was “not sanctioned by UCL and [its author] has left to pursue other opportunities,” adding that the university had apologized “to all those affected.”

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Colleges announce commencement speakers

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 03/15/2018 - 07:00
  • Bard College at Simon’s Rock: April Ryan, White House reporter for American Urban Radio Networks and CNN political analyst.
  • Colorado College: Nancy Nagel Gibbs, the Broadway producer.
  • Hood College: Carla Hayden, the librarian of Congress.
  • Hudson County Community College: Deborah Roberts of ABC News.
  • New College of Florida: Margee M. Ensign, president of Dickinson College.
  • Salem State University: Brian McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe; James O’Shanna Morton, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston; and Kim Gassett-Schiller, higher education advocate and philanthropist.
  • Skidmore College: Alison Bechdel, the author; Robert S. D. Higgins, surgeon in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Christopher B. Mann, assistant professor of political science.
  • Soka University: Susi Snyder, nuclear disarmament program manager for PAX No Nukes in the Netherlands.
  • State University of New York at Geneseo: David Gallo, the oceanographer.
  • Trinity College, in Connecticut: Johnnetta B. Cole, former president of Spelman College and Bennett College.
  • University of Southern California: Siddhartha Mukherjee, the physician and author.
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology: Houssam Sleiman, director of capital programs and environmental affairs at Massachusetts Port Authority-Logan International Airport.
  • Widener University: Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center and Major Heather “Lucky” Penney, who was part of the first wave of women who went directly into fighter planes from pilot training.
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Pressure mounts on colleges' ties to the firearms industry

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

A revitalized movement pressuring colleges to distance themselves from firearms manufacturers scored a significant victory Tuesday when a high-ranking administrator left St. Thomas University in Florida amid intense pressure over her new seat on a gun company’s board of directors.

Anita Britt, the chief financial and administrative officer at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, chose to step down from her CFO position in order to remain on the board of American Outdoor Brands, which is the former Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. Britt had been a St. Thomas trustee and co-chaired the advisory board for its school of business for five years before being named CFO this January. She then sparked heated public debate by accepting a position on the American Outdoor Brands board in February.

University officials at first backed Britt after her new role on the gun maker’s board came to light this month. But they changed their opinion this week, when the institution’s president, Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, told Britt she needed to choose between her role at the company and St. Thomas.

She resigned from the university.

Her resignation came on the eve of a national walkout of high school and college students planned for today to protest gun violence. It also comes as some money managers report that their college and university clients are quietly exploring ways to pull money out of firearm manufacturers’ stocks after last month’s deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla. -- and as some faculty members are advocating against investing in guns.

The developments represent renewed interest in a branch of the divestiture movement that had lost momentum in recent years as calls for colleges to pull their endowments and retirement funds from gun manufacturers faded in comparison to more successful efforts to force them to divest from fossil fuel companies. Many colleges remain silent on where their money is invested, however, and it’s still too soon to say whether the revitalized movement will have any more success than previous firearm divestment efforts that lost steam after mass killings in 2015 and 2012.

St. Thomas found itself one of the flashpoints in the anti-gun movement last week after the Miami New Times reported Britt had been appointed a director of American Outdoor Brands and that an online petition was asking her to resign from the company. American Outdoor Brands allegedly manufactured the AR-15 that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz used, according to the New Times. The petition gathered hundreds of signatures.

At first, Britt’s job at the university appeared safe. A Friday letter from St. Thomas's president, Monsignor Casale, said the university has a policy aligning with one adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “calling for reasonable approaches to gun violence.” American Outdoor Brands, he wrote, “supports the development of effective solutions to make our communities safer while protecting the rights of the law-abiding firearm owner.” He also pointed to a statement from the company saying it “shares the nation’s grief” over the Parkland shooting.

Britt would be staying at the university, Monsignor Casale wrote.

“Ms. Britt’s position with American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer,” he wrote. “Her role with the company does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas. Ms. Britt’s contributions to our organization are noteworthy, and we look forward to her continued participation in our leadership.”

The public pressure continued to mount. A columnist wrote in the Miami Herald that Britt’s commitments to both a Roman Catholic institution and a gun manufacturer should have raised eyebrows and that Monsignor Casale was condoning the affiliation with a list of National Rifle Association talking points. The university’s faculty were also holding votes of disagreement with administrators.

Monsignor Casale reversed course.

“After my statement of this past Friday, it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear,” he said in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon. “Accordingly, yesterday I advised Ms. Britt that she needed to make a choice of either resigning her role on American Outdoor Brands, or her role as CFO at St. Thomas University, but that she could not continue on both. Ms. Britt informed me this afternoon that she has decided to resign her position at St. Thomas University. I have accepted Ms. Britt’s resignation as CFO of St. Thomas University.”

St. Thomas did not disclose Britt’s salary, but the university’s last CFO made about $250,000 from the university and related organizations, according to its latest publicly available federal tax form, for the year ending in June 2016.

When American Outdoor Brands announced Britt’s appointment as a company director, it disclosed that she was granted 9,514 shares of restricted stock units vesting monthly, to be delivered in February 2019. If the stock were to continue trading in its recent range -- about $10.60 per share -- those shares would be worth approximately $100,800. The company also pays directors $70,000 retainers. Britt is in line for another $8,000 because she was expected to serve on the company board’s audit committee.

Whether colleges are taking action on divesting from firearm stocks is far less apparent than St. Thomas’s staffing move. A college has yet to step up and publicly proclaim a gun divestiture after the Parkland shooting. Most of the country’s wealthiest schools remain loath to discuss their investments. Some colleges have even continued to honor agreements with donors who hold positions at the highest level of the National Rifle Association.

Nonetheless, anecdotal reports from money managers indicate colleges are inquiring about ways to divest from firearms. Interest in divestment has spiked in recent weeks, according to Debashis Chowdhury, president at Canterbury Consulting, an investment advising firm managing about $18 billion of assets for endowments, foundations, health care organizations and families.

Donors and parents were asking colleges about their exposure to gun makers or their policy on investing in them, Chowdhury said. Colleges in turn started inquiring with Canterbury. They were also asking about other companies, such as retailers, that profit from gun sales.

The foundation and endowment leaders appear to have grown more serious about socially responsible investing and environmental, social and governance criteria, Chowdhury said. They were more prepared to start asking questions after the Parkland shooting.

“The reaction led to a call for, at a minimum, greater awareness and, at maximum, action,” Chowdhury said.

It’s not necessarily easy for endowments or retirement funds to eliminate exposure to firearm stocks, however. Those stocks are often included in in-demand funds like index funds that represent broad sections of the market. Administrators who make decisions for endowments and retirement plans need to act as fiduciaries seeking the best returns possible, and index funds can be a key part of that.

As a result, many dismiss divestment campaigns or claim they are financially irresponsible. But there is a growing backlash from advocates who say avoiding companies that have negative social or environmental impacts is a good strategy for maximizing returns over the long run. Plus, it has become easier for investment managers to screen for exposure to potentially undesirable holdings in recent years, as new data and screening tools hit the market, Chowdhury said.

Debate also continues over whether divestment movements actually have an impact on companies when other investors are willing to scoop up stocks that are being sold without regard for a company’s social impact. Under that line of reasoning, large funds would have more influence if they tried to use their shareholder voting rights to influence company boards’ policies.

Some large money managers have started publicly grappling with their role in corporate behavior. New York-based BlackRock -- which last year made headlines when it ramped up its college business by winning Arizona State’s $600 million endowment -- posted a lengthy statement in March saying it offers clients products that exclude firearms manufacturers and is also engaging with gun manufacturers and retailers about their business policies.

A recent letter by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink also nodded to a broad move questioning how the private sector addresses social changes.

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose,” he wrote. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

Critics allege institutions aren’t moving quickly enough. Some of the largest money managers, like TIAA and Vanguard, have been targets of online petitions.

One petition started by a college professor calls for TIAA to “divest completely from military-style weapon manufacturers.” As of Tuesday, it had slightly more than 4,000 signatures toward a goal of 5,000. Rebecca Dyer, an associate professor of English at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., started it.

Dyer wants to distance herself and her retirement fund from weapons manufacturers, she said. At the same time, she knows one person’s investment decisions aren’t enough to influence corporate policy.

Group pressure is needed to generate any change, Dyer said. She’s been following the issue of guns on campus and university-backed funds investing in weapons manufacturers since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. So she’s watched other gun-divestiture movements surge and fade away.

“People will not let this one slide,” she said. “So I really felt we should take advantage of this moment and not let people forget again until the next mass shooting.”

TIAA has numerous accounts for clients who prefer to minimize exposure to firearms manufacturers, according to an email from a spokesman. It offers funds and accounts applying environmental, social and governance criteria in selecting securities and that “do not include companies that manufacture firearms as their primary source of revenue,” he said.

Most Vanguard funds do not include firearm stocks, according to a spokeswoman. Out of 388 funds, 359 do not directly invest in the top three gun manufacturers -- Vista Outdoor, American Outdoor Brands and Sturm Ruger. Most that do are index products that attempt to track benchmarks set by independent third parties.

A “small handful” of college and university clients asked Vanguard about divesting, the spokeswoman said. The company has yet to notice any changes in asset allocation as a result of those inquiries, though.

The history of firearms divestment is mixed at colleges and universities. The University of California fund sold gun stocks after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut. The system currently does not have any investments in firearms or firearm distribution, according to a spokeswoman.

On the other hand, Boston University’s board decided in 2015 not to divest from civilian firearms manufacturers. The idea had been germinating since the Sandy Hook shooting and was eventually recommended by a board Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. But the full Board of Trustees was unable to reach a strong consensus, and its 14-member executive committee opted not to divest.

When the university divests from a company or type of company, it risks undermining its goal of creating an academic environment of free inquiry, wrote the board’s chair at the time, Robert Knox -- who is a senior managing director at Cornerstone Equity Investors in Stamford, Conn. Divestment actions should only take place in circumstances where social harms caused by companies are clearly unacceptable and where the benefits of divesting outweigh the potential consequences, he wrote.

The decision prompted some students to launch the BU Campaign to Divest from Firearms. But the campaign was not able to enough gain traction to succeed.

“They really kind of closed the books on the issue and were not especially interested in opening up new conversations,” said Lindsay Fuori, one of the students who was active in the divestment campaign, who is now a senior at the university.

Boston University has no direct investments in civilian firearm manufacturers, a spokeswoman said. Its Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing has not discussed any new proposals on firearm divestment.

Divestment campaigns are difficult because the students who often drive them are inexperienced at lobbying and don’t always know their way around the complex web of administrators and decision makers at colleges, Fuori said.

“At the end of the day, people who are fighting are students,” Fuori said. “It takes a significant organization to build up that movement so there are enough people to carry it out. That has a lot to do with why there are so many movements that have fizzled out.”

The BU campaign had difficulty getting information about whether the university invested in firearms manufacturers. Such reluctance to share details is common.

Inside Higher Ed queried institutions with the country’s 15 largest endowments Tuesday, asking whether they have had discussions about divesting from gun manufacturers and requesting information on any holdings they have in companies that make firearms. Of those responding, most said they do not comment on individual investments.

Only Northwestern University, Texas A&M University, the University of California system and the University of Michigan indicated they do not have investments in firearm manufacturers.

Endowments generally stick to blanket policies restricting information on their holdings, Bloomberg reported Feb. 28 after contacting 42 universities. The University of Texas Investment Management Co. has a policy banning investments advancing “social or political purposes,” but its endowment office did not say whether it held gun-related investments, Bloomberg noted.

Still, those who have watched previous campaigns dry up say there is reason to wonder if this time will be different. Many smaller groups have combined into larger groups, Fuori said.

“These little grassroots organizations are people realizing in their communities that this is an issue,” she said. “It takes time for them to understand how to approach that issue.”

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Education Department, DeVos says false reports of sexual assault are rare

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's appearance on 60 Minutes Sunday was widely panned, with special scrutiny for her one foray into higher education policy, in which DeVos said she didn't know which was greater -- the number of false accusations of sexual assault on campus or the number of campus rapes.

It’s an answer that the Education Department has walked back now in response to questions from Inside Higher Ed. A department spokeswoman, Liz Hill, said Tuesday that DeVos agrees that false reports are a fraction of the overall complaints.

"Of course she doesn’t believe that and she didn’t say that," Hill said. "What she said is one sexual assault is one too many and one falsely accused student is one too many.” (Note: This article has been updated to include this quotation and the following paragraph.)

In the 60 Minutes interview, DeVos said "I don't know" when asked if the number of false accusations is equivalent to the number of sexual assaults.

A reporter asked if DeVos does not believe that that false reports are rare compared to actual rapes or assaults. Hill said DeVos "doesn't believe that," which was unclear in her 60 Minutes segment. Asked to clarify whether DeVos "agrees or disagrees" with the statement that false reports are a small percentage of complaints, Hill said, "Agree."

Research shows that untrue allegations are indeed a small percentage of reported college sexual assaults.

One of the most widely cited studies, published in 2010, comes from David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who found that about 6 percent of sexual assault reports made to a campus police department were false. Lisak’s deep analysis of past research also showed that the rate of false reporting fell between 2 and 10 percent.

He and his colleagues examined a decade’s worth of reports, 136 of them, to an unnamed university police force and deemed only eight of them to be untrue. The researchers only considered a report false if police had looked into the case and found evidence that a sexual assault had definitively not occurred.

Cases that lacked enough information to investigate were not considered false.

Critics have identified flaws in this and other studies, challenging whether reports to law enforcement or to a college or university can be equated. It is generally agreed that many sexual assaults go unreported. An oft-cited -- and challenged -- statistic, which was backed up by a Justice Department study in 2016, is that one in five undergraduate women experience some form of sexual assault in college.

The Obama administration focused on major reforms designed to protect survivors of sexual assault, but President Trump’s Education Department has begun to roll these measures back, asserting they were unfairly skewed against students (predominantly men) accused of rape and colleges.

DeVos has hammered the importance of “due process” in sexual assault cases, joined by a chorus of those opposed to the Obama administration’s actions, who have said colleges are ill equipped to investigate and adjudicate such matters -- “kangaroo courts” is a term often used.

These criticisms led to DeVos striking down guidance on implementing the federal antidiscrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which was issued in 2011 in the form of a Dear Colleague letter and which survivor advocates credit with offering new protections for students.

In the 60 Minutes interview, correspondent Lesley Stahl asked DeVos, “Are you in any way, do you think, suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?”

DeVos dodged the question, saying, “Well, one sexual assault is one too many, and one falsely accused individual is one too many.”

But Stahl repeated, “Yeah, but are they the same?”

DeVos replied that she doesn’t know.

"Are you…suggesting that the number of false accusations are as high as the number of actual rapes or assaults?" Lesley Stahl asks Secretary DeVos about her controversial changes to Title IX guidelines on campus sexual assault. pic.twitter.com/enegEWhKBy

— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) March 11, 2018

Carly Mee, interim executive director of the survivor advocacy group SurvJustice, said DeVos’s comments suggest that the administration severely underestimates the prevalence of sexual assault and that the department is not basing its work in fact.

“The biggest problem is the message that this sends to survivors -- that they aren't a priority to Betsy DeVos, but are instead of the same level of concern as perpetrators of sexual violence,” Mee said.

SurvJustice was one of several plaintiffs that sued DeVos in January over the rollback of the Obama edicts, the 2011 letter and follow-up guidance in 2014 on Title IX.

The Office for Civil Rights has since published interim guidelines before the department accepts public feedback on new rules. These allow much more flexibility for colleges, letting them deviate from the “preponderance of evidence” standard that the Obama administration required -- this is a lower standard of evidence than “clear and convincing.” DeVos also removed the suggested 60-day timeline for resolving sexual assault cases and allowed for mediation in certain cases.

-- Andrew Kreighbaum contributed to this report.

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Study says students rate men more highly than women even when they're teaching identical courses

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

A new study in PS: Political Science combines elements of prior research on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching, or SETs, and arrives at a serious conclusion: institutions using these evaluations in tenure, compensation and other personnel decisions may be engaging in gender discrimination.

“Our analysis of comments in both formal student evaluations and informal online ratings indicates that students do evaluate their professors differently based on whether they are women or men,” the study says. “Students tend to comment on a woman’s appearance and personality far more often than a man’s. Women are referred to as ‘teacher’ [as opposed to professor] more often than men, which indicates that students generally may have less professional respect for their female professors.”

Based on empirical evidence of online SETs, it continues, “bias does not seem to be based solely (or even primarily) on teaching style or even grading patterns. Students appear to evaluate women poorly simply because they are women.”

Lead author Kristina Mitchell, director of undergraduate education and online and regional site education for political science at Texas Tech University, said Tuesday that her study and others like it demonstrate that “we must find an alternate measure of teaching effectiveness -- especially if we plan to use these measures in hiring, tenure and promotion decisions.”

Real-time feedback, along with highly targeted questions about teaching practices, are superior methods to asking general questions such as “Was your instructor effective? Rank one to five,” Mitchell said. Self-evaluation and teaching portfolios are also a “great way to demonstrate teaching effectiveness,” she added.

Mitchell wrote her paper with Jonathan Martin, now an assistant professor of political science at Midland College. Seeking to build on a 2015 study that found instructors in an online class operating under two different gender identities were rated significantly higher when their students thought they were men, Mitchell and Martin decided to teach identical online introductory political science courses. The idea was to analyze the language students used to evaluate them and their teaching in official university ratings and -- somewhat daringly -- on RateMyProfessors.com.

Guessing that students would comment more on their female instructor’s appearance, personality and competency than the male instructor’s, Mitchell and Martin developed the following categories for open-ended student comments: personality, appearance, entertainment, intelligence/competency, incompetency, referring to the instructor as “professor” and referring to the instructor as “teacher.”

Predictably, given prior research, Mitchell and Martin found the language students used to judge them differed significantly -- and not in a gender-neutral way. In university-based evaluations, 16 percent of students commented on Mitchell’s personality, compared to 4 percent who commented on Martin’s. Some 32 percent commented on Mitchell’s entertainment value, as it was qualified in the study, compared to 15 percent for Martin. Mitchell's intelligence was questioned more than Martin's.

Source: Kristina Mitchell

Beyond Texas Tech’s evaluations, Mitchell and Martin also looked at their ratings on Rate My Professors. Mitchell’s appearance was noted by 11 percent of commenters and her perceived incompetence by 7 percent. No one commented on Martin’s appearance or incompetence. Students frequently referred to Mitchell as a “teacher” and Martin as a “professor.”

Over all, the RMP comments were even more gendered, particularly those in reference to appearance.

Notably, the study says, “RMP comments on a woman’s personality tended to be negative (e.g., rude, unapproachable), whereas the official student evaluations tended to be more positive (e.g., nice, funny). In reading the context of each comment, the students mentioning her personality on RMP were almost exclusively taking an online course.”

Mitchell has said the experience was somewhat harrowing, and that she couldn’t believe some of the things students wrote about her, as compared to Martin, when they were administering their courses in identical ways.

The authors rule out that grades played a role in how students assessed their professors, since Martin actually graded his students slightly lower than did Mitchell. So students would not have been retaliating against Mitchell for tough grading via harsher comments.

The disparity in students’ language led to a second line of inquiry: examining how students rated them numerically in official university evaluations. Grouping evaluation questions on what they addressed -- the instructor, the course, technology or administrative issues -- the researchers found that Martin, the man, received higher evaluations, even for questions unrelated to the individual instructor’s ability, demeanor or attitude.

Going forward, Mitchell said, institutions should explore whether telling students about potential biases they bring to evaluations might mitigate the effect. At Texas Tech, she’s working on an infographic telling students what evaluations are used for and asking them to consider such questions as “Would I write this same comment if my instructor were a different gender/race/nationality?”

“I’m hopeful that steps like this can help, but the most important thing right now is awareness,” she said. “We need to be sure that administration and academic leadership is aware of the issue, as they make decisions on what to do about evaluations and hiring.”

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Board chair quits at Lutheran seminary amid controversy over new president

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

The United Lutheran Seminary was created recently through the combination of Lutheran seminaries in Gettysburg, Pa., and Philadelphia. But over the past two weeks, the seminary has been anything but united.

Many students and others are furious that the newly appointed president of the seminary -- the first president to lead the combined institution -- worked for five years for an organization that encouraged gay Christians to stop being gay and supported the widely discredited practice of "conversion therapy" for gay people.

Most people didn't know of that background when Reverend Theresa Latini was named president of the seminary. And although she has since said she rejects the ideas of the group for which she worked from 1996 to 2001, frustrations over her appointment are growing.

Part of the anger has to do with the time frame of Latini's work with a group committed to making gay people stop being gay. While public attitudes about LGBT people have moved rapidly (toward tolerance) in recent years, Latini worked for the organization long after the idea that gay people could or should be changed had support from psychologists and other scientists and health professionals. The American Psychological Association as far back as 1975, for example, said it was important to remove the stigma about being gay and to support people, whatever their sexual orientation.

Then there are concerns over whether the seminary named a president without most people knowing of her background. The board chair knew of Latini's employment history but did not share that information widely.

Students sent a letter to the board saying that many were "deeply wounded by the implications of President Latini's history and the entire student body is wounded by the lack of transparency and communication failures of the institution."

Amid a series of such statements, the board chair, Reverend Elise Brown, announced that she was stepping down. The board also said that it denounces "conversion therapy" for gay people and that it "deeply and sincerely apologizes for the lack of leadership it has displayed during these tumultuous times."

The group Latini led is called One by One, and it continues to advocate for gay people to stop being gay or to stop having gay relationships.

The Lutheran seminary shared a summary of a statement made by Latini at campus meetings about the controversy.

"As director of One by One, Latini said that she believed and taught that sexual orientation could be changed for some people, if not many. She apologized, acknowledged that this belief was wrong, and said, 'I do not believe that one’s orientation can change. I do not believe that anyone should try to change their sexual orientation,'" the statement said.

The statement added, "Dr. Latini explained that she was not a reparative therapist. She did not lead ex-gay support groups or counsel teenagers to stop being gay or lesbian. She acknowledged that she presented basic ideas of a reparative therapist, Elizabeth Moberly, and believed this path was a valid option for those LGBTQ+ persons who wanted to live in chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage between a man and woman, the Presbyterian standard at that time. She stated, 'I completely reject reparative therapy, and renounce it.'"

Despite these statements, the controversy is not only not dying down but is spreading to involve other divinity schools.

A joint letter from the Lutheran Students of Harvard Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary noted that many Lutheran students at those two institutions finish their pre-ordination studies at United Lutheran (and previously did so at one of the two seminaries that merged). The letter said that this tradition has been "jeopardized by the past statements of President Latini and the recent, deceptive actions of the ULS board."

Latini's past support for trying to make gay people stop being gay needs to be taken seriously, the letter said. "So-called 'conversion therapy' is theologically and morally bankrupt, incredibly dangerous, and antithetical to the message of Jesus Christ," the letter added.

The letter said that, as individuals, the signatories would forgive Latini, but that her record leading a group that hurt gay people "should have been disqualifying" for the seminary presidency, and that this record should have been shared widely before any vote on Latini took place.

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Ashford University is the latest big for-profit seeking to become a nonprofit

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

Another large for-profit university is seeking to become a nonprofit.

Bridgepoint Education on Tuesday announced a planned merger of its University of the Rockies with the larger Ashford University. And Ashford, as the combined institution, will seek to convert into a nonprofit.

“They will be able to focus on what they do best, which is academics,” said Vickie Schray, Bridgepoint’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy.

The conversion and merger will require approval from state and federal regulators as well as the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which is Ashford's regional accreditor.

Bridgepoint will continue on as an online program management (OPM) provider -- a booming space in higher education. The company will negotiate with Ashford to enter into a shared services agreement, with Bridgepoint likely handling data management, course management software and services, technology, and financial aid processing for the nonprofit university.

While many decisions have yet to be made about the transaction, the company said Tuesday that it expects “Bridgepoint will be compensated for relinquishing its ownership rights to the new nonprofit Ashford as well as receiving compensation for negotiated services that Bridgepoint will provide under a new services agreement.”

If approved by regulators, the contract between Bridgepoint and the new Ashford will in some ways resemble other major for-profit conversions or acquisitions, including Grand Canyon University’s ongoing attempt to become a nonprofit and the high-profile acquisition of Kaplan University by Purdue University, which is creating the new Purdue University Global.

End of Big For-Profits?

The structures of for-profit conversions have been controversial. The Century Foundation, for example, has criticized some of those moves as being attempts by for-profit owners to escape federal regulations, which tend to be tighter on for-profits, while still reaping personal benefits from owning the colleges.

David Bergeron is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former longtime official at the U.S. Department of Education. He said conversions by Ashford and other large for-profits, if done well and with proper oversight from regulators -- both big ifs -- might not be problematic.

And while Bergeron described such moves as a “backdoor way to privatize higher education,” he said the conversions would be an improvement from what he and other critics have described as bad-actor for-profits that issue degrees.

“It is a step forward,” he said. “We’re drifting into a better place.”

A key sticking point for critics of conversions will be Ashford’s independence from Bridgepoint. The company said Ashford will be more independent from its former corporate owner than is the case for some other former for-profits. For example, company officials stressed that the university’s current Board of Trustees does not include any officers from Bridgepoint.

“The company and Ashford's board of trustees are taking steps to protect Ashford's independence in considering this transaction in order to enable Ashford to act in the best interests of Ashford University and its students,” Bridgepoint said in a corporate filing.

The university’s regional accreditor has scheduled a site visit for April and may decide on the proposed changes as soon as June. The U.S. Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service and regulators in California, Colorado and other states also will need to approve the merger and conversion.

If successful, Ashford's conversion will leave just a handful of remaining large, degree-issuing for-profits.

The industry has struggled with years of severe declines in revenue and enrollments. Its problems were compounded by the Obama administration’s regulatory crackdown as well as by a related marketing hit to for-profit higher education. Two of the sector's biggest players -- Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute -- collapsed in recent years, while other big for-profits merged, went private or concentrated more on offerings in other countries.

Bridgepoint, which has been working on its conversion bid for two years, will remain publicly traded and plans to offer its program management services to other universities as well as Ashford.

Colleges have gotten more sophisticated in working with OPM providers, said Michael Horn, a senior partner at Entangled Solutions and a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. As they seek to expand online offerings, Horn said, colleges are less likely to sign away more than half of that revenue to outside companies, as was often the case a few years ago.

“The OPM space is ripe for disruption,” he said.

But while Horn said Bridgepoint has invested heavily in online learning, breaking into the increasingly crowded OPM market won’t be easy. “They’re going to have to get creative, strategically.”

History Repeats

Bridgepoint said the conversion bid for Ashford will bring the university back to its nonprofit roots.

Ashford has had an eventful 13 years since Bridgepoint in 2005 bought the Franciscan University of the Prairies, a religious college in Iowa that was on the verge of closure. Ashford grew rapidly after Bridgepoint’s purchase, eventually peaking at more than 90,000 students. But the sale also drew plenty of criticism, most notably from Democrats in the U.S. Senate, for having included the former religious college’s regional accreditation as part of the purchase. The debate over Ashford’s accreditation and physical location continues, outlasting the Iowa campus, which was shut down in 2015.

The combined enrollment of Ashford and the smaller University of the Rockies was roughly 41,000 at the end of last year. Doctoral programs offered by the University of the Rockies will become a new, yet-to-be-named doctoral college within Ashford, Bridgepoint said, while its master’s programs will be integrated into Ashford’s existing colleges.

Lawyers and for-profit industry analysts have said that as many as a dozen nonprofit conversion bids are in the works. Several attempts languished at the Education Department during the Obama administration, which also rejected one bid. But more for-profits are seeking to make the change during the deregulation-minded Trump administration.

The timing might seem odd to some, given that the administration’s Education Department is rolling back or pausing regulations aimed at for-profits. But most observers expect that the regulatory pendulum will swing back in coming years. So for-profits are looking to make structural changes while they can, and before gainful employment or other regulations re-emerge.

Demographics are also a challenge for a for-profit sector that remains in free fall. Low unemployment in particular has hurt for-profits and community colleges, which enroll more working adults than do traditional, four-year colleges.

“The market is forcing them to do this,” Horn said of for-profit conversions.

Meanwhile, nonprofit institutions like Western Governors University, Liberty University and Southern New Hampshire University are increasingly dominating the national online space.

“The collapse of the for-profit sector created a vacuum,” said Horn.

As for Ashford, the university’s president, Craig Swenson, said the conversion will benefit students.

“As the higher education environment continues its rapid evolution, Ashford University believes this transformation will enable us to serve students even more effectively as they pursue their academic aspirations,” he said in a written statement. “We also believe that the synergies arising from the merger of Ashford University and University of the Rockies will allow us to make an even greater contribution to the public good.”

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Which team would win the NCAA women's basketball tournament if academics ruled?

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 03/14/2018 - 07:00

The world is ballistic for the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I men’s basketball at the moment (both for March Madness and the ever-growing FBI investigation into an alleged bribery scandal) but here, we strive for equal opportunity.

In that spirit, here’s the women’s edition of our annual tradition -- the Academic Performance Tournament, where the outcome of each game is determined not by athletic prowess but by academic skill.

We measure by the NCAA academic progress rate (an imperfect metric, to be sure). In the event of a tie, we look at the graduation success rate, also determined by the NCAA, which gauges the portion of athletes who graduate within six years.

Our usual final tiebreaker is the federal graduation rate, which differs from the NCAA’s in that it can’t really track transfers.

But this year, in a surprise twist, our final two competitors were identical in all of the above metrics, and so we looked at the overall graduation success rate among all sports for the institutions. Who came out on top? Take a gander. Click here for a high-resolution version of the women’s tournament bracket.

Here are the men’s games, which were published Monday.

Follow me on Twitter @jbeowulf for news on college athletics and student life.

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Ashford University is latest big for-profit to attempt nonprofit conversion

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 11:00

Another large for-profit university is seeking to become a nonprofit.

Bridgepoint Education today will announce a planned merger of its University of the Rockies with the larger Ashford University, an official with the company said. And Ashford, as the merged universities, will seek to convert into a nonprofit.

“They will be able to focus on what they do best, which is academics,” said Vickie Schray, Bridgepoint’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy.

The conversion and merger will require approval from state and federal regulators as well as the WASC Senior College and University Commission, which is Ashford's regional accreditor.

Bridgepoint will continue on as an online program management (OPM) provider -- a booming space in higher education. The company will negotiate with Ashford to enter into a shared services agreement, with Bridgepoint likely handling data management, course management software and services, technology, and financial aid processing for the nonprofit university.

“As an OPM, Bridgepoint Education will bring years of technological and academic innovation and intellectual property development to other colleges and universities that desire to serve students through online education programs,” Schray said in a written statement.

Ashford will be independent from Bridgepoint, the company said. The university’s current Board of Trustees does not include any officers from Bridgepoint, which will release more details about the plan today.

If approved by regulators, the contract between Bridgepoint and the new Ashford will in some ways resemble other major for-profit conversions or acquisitions, including Grand Canyon University’s ongoing attempt to become a nonprofit and the high-profile acquisition of Kaplan University by Purdue University, which is creating the new Purdue University Global.

The structures of for-profit conversions have been controversial. The Century Foundation, for example, has criticized some of those moves as being attempts by for-profit owners to escape federal regulations, which tend to be tighter on for-profits, while still reaping personal benefits from owning the colleges.

Bridgepoint said Ashford will be more independent from its former corporate owner than is the case for some other former for-profits. The company, which has been working on its conversion bid for two years, will remain publicly traded and plans to offer its program management services to other universities as well as Ashford.

The university’s regional accreditor has scheduled a site visit for April and may decide on the proposed changes as soon as June. The U.S. Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service and regulators in California, Colorado and other states also will need to approve the merger and conversion.

If successful, Ashford will leave just a handful of remaining large, degree-issuing for-profits.

The industry has struggled with years of severe declines in revenue and enrollments. Its problems were compounded by the Obama administration’s regulatory crackdown as well as by a related marketing hit to for-profit higher education. Two of the sector's biggest players -- Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute -- collapsed in recent years, while other big for-profits merged, went private or concentrated more on offerings in other countries.

History Repeats

Bridgepoint said the conversion bid for Ashford will bring the university back to its nonprofit roots.

Ashford has had an eventful 13 years since Bridgepoint in 2005 bought the Franciscan University of the Prairies, a religious college in Iowa that was on the verge of closure. Ashford grew rapidly after Bridgepoint’s purchase, eventually peaking at more than 90,000 students. But the sale also drew plenty of criticism, most notably from Democrats in the U.S. Senate, for having included the former religious college’s regional accreditation as part of the purchase. The debate over Ashford’s accreditation and physical location continues, and outlasted the Iowa campus, which was shut down in 2015.

The combined enrollment of Ashford and the smaller University of the Rockies was roughly 41,000 at the end of last year. Doctoral programs offered by the University of the Rockies will become a new, yet-to-be-named doctoral college within Ashford, Bridgepoint said, while its master’s programs will be integrated into Ashford’s existing colleges.

Lawyers and for-profit industry analysts have said that as many as a dozen nonprofit conversion bids are in the works. Several are seeking to make the change during the deregulation-minded Trump administration.

Ashford's president, Craig Swenson, said the conversion will benefit students.

“As the higher education environment continues its rapid evolution, Ashford University believes this transformation will enable us to serve students even more effectively as they pursue their academic aspirations,” he said in a written statement. “We also believe that the synergies arising from the merger of Ashford University and University of the Rockies will allow us to make an even greater contribution to the public good.”

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Faculty members at Wisconsin Stevens Point react to plan to cut 13 majors

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 03/13/2018 - 07:00

Many professors in Wisconsin saw their fears of a 2015 change to state tenure law realized last week. That’s when the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point announced its plan to cut 13 majors -- including those in anchor humanities departments such as English and history and all three of the foreign languages offered -- and, with them, faculty jobs. Tenured professors may well lose their positions.

The plan is part of the campus’s Point Forward initiative to stabilize enrollment by investing scarce resources into programs Stevens Point sees as distinctive and in demand. Those include business, chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, fire science and graphic design.

“Well, you can imagine the mood in the College of Letters and Science, which houses the humanities,” said Michael Williams, chair of English at Stevens Point. Guessing that professors in the fine arts and communications are feeling similarly “grim,” Williams said he and his colleagues feel “dismayed, shocked and angry.”

Those in disciplines “directly affected are also apprehensive,” he added, “across all ranks, tenured and untenured, since most are able to see it as a clear opportunity for the administration to test the application of [University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents Policy Document] 20-24, the new rules governing tenure.”

A bit of history: before 2015, tenure was more protected on University of Wisconsin campuses than it was pretty much anywhere else in the U.S. -- tenured faculty members only could be laid off in cases of true financial emergency. But with the legal weakening of tenure at the hands of the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature came the rewriting of related Board of Regents policies on tenure and program discontinuance.

Those new policies, namely Document 20-24, lumped educational concerns together with financial ones in how public universities may target academic programs for closure and lay off tenured professors. They allow administrators -- in the words of several regents -- to run institutions more like businesses.

“Welcome to the 21st century,” Regent Margaret Farrow said during a board vote on the policies, two years ago this week.

The cynical view of the new Stevens Point plan, held by many faculty members on that campus and off, is that it’s exactly the kind of thing the Legislature, regents and administrators who supported those changes had in mind all along.

The less cynical view shared by others, including Provost Greg Summers, is that the changes present an opportunity for Stevens Point to fight for its future as enrollment declines and state funding dwindles. The campus faces a $4.5 million deficit over two years.

“There’s absolutely some truth in there -- this new [tenure] policy provides us an avenue that would perhaps not be possible otherwise,” Summers said in an interview. “But there is absolutely no truth to the idea there was a purposeful agenda. Higher education institutions, no matter where they are, need to be more nimble, and we’ve been urging redirection for a long time.”

Summers added, “We’ve struggled to do that in other ways because some of these decisions are gut-wrenching and difficult. But to be successful in a competitive environment, we’ve got to make them.”

A spokesperson for the university system said the Stevens Point plan is not related to the new tenure policies.

Lots of Lead-Up, Little Warning

Either way, last week’s announcement came as a shock to the Stevens Point faculty.

Mark Tolstedt, professor of media studies and Faculty Council chair, said, “The administration has been forecasting this kind of move -- although nothing this extreme -- since maybe 2012-13, and so periodically we've been asked to do more strategic planning and consider realignment, and we certainly did.” (Note: This sentence has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the new name of the faculty governance body.)

But last Monday’s news was “a significant surprise to us, to put it mildly,” he added.

Mary Bowman, a professor of English and chair of the council’s General Education Committee, said faculty members were asked for their input, but only in part. For example, she said, professors were surveyed about which criteria should be used for eliminating programs, but not on the new plan’s “underlying premise” that cutting some programs to expand others is a good idea.

Essentially, she said, “no formally constituted committee or working group was involved in producing the plan released Monday,” and to what degree any faculty recommendations were incorporated is unclear.

The English department, for example, drafted a revision to its major to highlight career applications and transferrable skills, Bowman said. Only later did it hear that the administration “was considering eliminating the English major and replacing it with an English education major, which is what appears in the proposal.”

The shock was part size, part substance. Cutting 13 majors -- in any disciplinary area -- is significant. But the cuts are concentrated in the humanities and social sciences, raising serious doubts about the institution’s ability to deliver on its liberal arts mission. Here is the full list of nixed majors: American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish.

Planned areas for reinvestment, by contrast, bend toward the natural resources and more job-oriented fields. Additional growth programs, according to Stevens Point’s plan, are aquaculture, captive wildlife, ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources, and doctor of physical therapy.

Summers said the university based its assessment on what Stevens Point is already known for within the state and nationally and on what incoming students declare as their intended majors. Stevens Point, like many other institutions, is facing a shortage of graduating high school seniors, with another projected population cliff on the horizon. The institution now receives just 13 percent of its funding from the state and has significantly increased its graduation rate in recent years.

While enrollments are somewhat steady right now, Summers said, all those factors will make Stevens Point’s target enrollment of about 8,000 difficult to maintain.

Predictably, many professors have asked why Stevens Point’s plan relies so heavily on what incoming students think they want to study before they even arrive on campus. Critics like Williams note that most of the programs seeing cuts are revenue positive, in part due to their relatively low cost of instructional delivery. Moreover, Williams said, “Eighteen-year-olds are pretty changeable and discover their passion in the first 18 months or so of college -- and that is often when many of them discover history or philosophy or even English literature.”

Yet under the plan, he said, they’ll “no longer have that option. Odds are, they will go to another school in the [Wisconsin] system.” And while “fire science” may entice students, he said, it’s not a field that employs large numbers of experts.

Bowman said that English has, for the past five years, seen an average of 22 first-time students and 15 transfer students declare it as an intended major, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research. Currently, the department has 169 majors. Such students “are unlikely to choose any of the new or expanded programs in large numbers,” Bowman said. “Other students come for one of the more professionally oriented programs and then change their plans for one reason or another, often ending up in one of the programs slated for elimination.”

If all the majors up for elimination go, she said she wondered, will the latter group of students have enough options to “fall back” on?

Questions on the Liberal Arts

John Blakeman, chair of political science, said his department expects to continue to offer a “relatively wide range of courses," even if they're oriented toward outcomes in other degree programs and the general education program. The “fear,” however, he said, “is what happens to our placements in professional and graduate programs? In poli-sci we have an excellent track record of students enrolling in law school, public policy, public administration and even human resources graduate programs, and we’d hate for that to diminish.”

Mary Beth Norton, president of the American Historical Association and Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History at Cornell University, said something similar in a letter she sent to Summers and Eric Yonke, dean of letters and science, last week. Referring to the university’s stated ongoing commitment to the liberal arts, the letter says in part that it “seems odd -- if not self-defeating -- to deny students the opportunity to major in a field that would supply them with precisely the proficiencies the university quite rightly aims to engender in its students.”

While it might be argued that “abandoning a traditional history major is not the same as abandoning all courses in history, especially because of the necessary retention of classes for teacher certification,” Norton said, “I infer from the reference to cost reduction that fewer history courses will be offered if the major is eliminated, thereby reducing the likelihood of non-majors to find courses consonant with their interests.”

Norton also noted a recent national upswing in history enrollments.

Summers, a historian by training who started out on Stevens Point’s faculty, said he knew better than most what eliminating major-level course opportunities for students means. Yet he said he’s become something of a historian of higher education via his role as provost, and that he’s found that the era of the 1950s-’60s -- when state funding was high and large shares of students began to obtain liberal arts degrees -- was an “aberration.” Now, he said, the tides are turning back to more “applied programs with a professional bent,” underpinned by strong general education programs.

Of students who are paying more and more for tuition, he said, “It’s really no surprise that they want to prioritize the career pathways they are likely to get into with a particular credential. And we’re seeing that reflected in our recruitment numbers.”

There’s a little more to the story in Wisconsin, where a merger of two-year institutions with regional four-year universities is under way. So beyond “pivoting” toward professionally oriented programs, to use a term Stevens Point has employed of late, all public comprehensives are about to absorb the missions and students of Wisconsin’s fundamentally more job-oriented community colleges.

Blakeman said state comprehensives “always have to factor in work-force needs, so to an extent [Stevens Point] has historically been somewhat job-oriented.” That said, he added, “there has also been a vibrant and deep liberal arts component on this campus, and that will be overshadowed to an uncertain degree by more professionally-oriented programs.”

Asked if he thought Stevens Point would continue to be a university under the plan, Tolstedt said yes -- but “a different kind of university.”

“We’re a tenured campus and I worry that we’re not going to be able to recruit new faculty, who are such a vital part of any university setting,” he said. “And I worry about the depth of the liberal arts orientation … It’s going to be very, very uncomfortable here for a while. Can it work? I hope so for the sake of the people of Wisconsin.”

Tolstedt credited Stevens Point with sharing its plan earlier than it had to. So the faculty does have some time to consider the university’s recommendations and make counterproposals before a formal review process kicks in this summer. The plans will be reviewed by a campus governance committee, Stevens Point’s chancellor and, ultimately, the board, as outlined in the new regents policy.

Summers stressed that the current list of program recommendations may change in the months ahead. English could re-emerge, for example, as a technically oriented writing major, he said. But he can't spread the "false hope that we can do nothing," he added.

Both Summers and Tolstedt said it’s therefore too soon to say how many faculty jobs, tenured or otherwise, are on the line. Tolstedt guessed that any layoffs would initially target untenured faculty members, given that it’s an easier administrative process.

Blakeman said that is the concern right now, but he noted that the university’s official notice only mentions the possibility of tenured faculty layoffs. If it comes to that, “it might be the first use of the new regents policy.”

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