Higher Education News

Woman who took notes from controversial speaker at UConn is arrested

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 08:00

Catherine Gregory was arrested Monday by University of Connecticut police officers for her role in a chaotic speaking appearance at the university last week. The talk was by a controversial conservative pundit, Lucian Wintrich, who was trying to speak on the topic "It's OK to Be White."

Many in the audience shouted at Wintrich throughout his talk, which they viewed as a way to goad minority students by suggesting that all racial groups are equally likely to face discrimination. At one point in the event, Gregory has admitted, she grabbed Wintrich's notes. He then followed her back into the audience, where they had an altercation that led to his arrest by UConn police that night.

Wintrich charged that Gregory was the one who broke the law, by taking notes that were not hers. And authorities on Monday appeared to back his point of view, dropping charges against Wintrich on the same day they arrested Gregory.

She has been charged with sixth-degree larceny and disorderly conduct.

Wintrich took to Twitter to declare victory, while vowing to make sure that Gregory is convicted.

All charges against me were dropped outright. The leftist thug who stole my speech was arrested. The fight is still not over.

— Lucian B. Wintrich (@lucianwintrich) December 11, 2017

Jon Schoenhorn, Gregory's lawyer, said in an interview Monday that she would fight the charges against her. Schoenhorn said that Gregory never intended to steal anything and had no desire to keep the notes.

"It's ironic and hypocritical that the University of Connecticut is playing this as if it is about equal issues, and saying that racist hate speech should be treated the same as those who protest against it," he said. Schoenhorn said that Wintrich "was trying to incite reaction" that could have become violent. Gregory was trying to minimize such a reaction "in a mild and reserved way" by taking the notes, he said.

Adding to the controversy is that Gregory is associate director of career services and advising at Quinebaug Valley Community College. Wintrich and others have said that the college should be concerned about having someone advising students who tried to block a speech from taking place on a college campus.

After Gregory came forward to say she was the woman who took the notes, Carlee Drummer, president of Quinebaug Valley, issued a statement about the incident, without naming Gregory, suggesting that the incident had no relevance to Gregory's college role.

"Quinebaug Valley Community College confirms that one of its employees attended a speech given by Mr. Wintrich at the University of Connecticut," the statement said. "The employee attended on her personal time and QVCC learned about the incident when reported in the media. The college does not condone the behavior and encourages peaceful discourse and compassionate debate. The employee attended the event as a private citizen."

Drummer did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Schoenhorn said that Gregory has been on leave from the college due to the death threats she has been receiving, some of them coming to the college. He said that "nothing at the University of Connecticut had anything to do with her job."

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Roundup of colleges starting or finishing fund-raising campaigns

Inside HigherEd - Tue, 12/12/2017 - 08:00

Starting Off:

  • Northampton Community College, in Pennsylvania, is starting a campaign to raise $17 million by the end of 2019. A major focus -- and just under $12 million of the target -- will be aid for low-income students.
  • Pacific University is starting a campaign to raise $80 million by 2020. Endowment growth is a top priority. The campaign has raised $44 million.
  • Saint Vincent College, in Pennsylvania, is starting a campaign to raise $100 million by 2020. Four major building projects -- at a cost of $40 million -- are in the campaign plans.
  • Tulane University has announced a campaign to raise $1.3 billion over the next five years. The university has already raised $820 million, including major gifts for scholarships, the creation of a center on entrepreneurship, the renovation of the business school and endowed chairs.

Finishing Up:

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House GOP higher education overhaul would cap graduate lending and end loan-forgiveness benefit

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 08:00

The GOP’s proposed update to the law governing higher education would force a U-turn for long-standing federal policies on graduate student lending.

Students who pursue graduate degrees have been allowed to take out an unlimited amount in federal student loans since Congress authorized the Grad PLUS program in 2005. But the legislation proposed last week by Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the House education committee, would cap annual borrowing amounts for grad students at $28,500 annually. The bill also would change benefits for borrowers by altering income-driven repayment options and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Republicans said the proposed changes would put pressure on institutions to keep costs down and fits with their broader vision to simplify the federal student aid system.

But advocates for graduate education warned that the bill would limit less-well-off students’ access to advanced degrees. And they said public service-oriented fields in particular would be hurt by limits in federal loans and the end of PSLF.

Beth Buehlmann, vice president for public policy and government affairs at the Council of Graduate Schools, worked in the office of Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, who was the ranking Republican on the Senate education committee when Congress authorized Grad PLUS loans. That move was partly designed to reduce students’ reliance on the private loan market, she said.

“And it has done that,” she said. “It has been very successful in doing that.”

Republicans’ opening bid in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act signals just how much the party’s thinking on student aid has changed in the last decade. Not only do GOP leaders want more simplicity -- a departure from the current landscape that offers a number of repayment options for student loan debt -- but they also want a bigger role for the private loan market.

Many Republicans in recent years have argued for eliminating both Grad PLUS and another loan program that allows unlimited lending to parents of undergraduates, called Parent PLUS. The private sector, they argue, will do just as well as any federal regulation to weed out useless programs.

However, Buehlmann and others warn that leaving the private market to fill gaps in the cost of graduate education for certain service-oriented fields -- such as public-interest law, counseling and drug rehabilitation, and social work -- would make those careers unattainable. Grad students, Buehlmann said, can’t access grant funding. Lending is the only option to finance their education, and federal loans provide protections not available in the private market, she said. If the private lending market doesn’t fill the gaps in cost of graduate education, according to this argument, fewer students will be able to enter those professions.

Chris Chapman, president and CEO of AccessLex, said the elimination of PSLF and a cap on graduate lending would make it more difficult for underrepresented student groups to pursue graduate education.

“It would really take away a very strong benefit and strong tool to encourage graduates who go into public service professions,” he said. “Even more than that, it really eliminates the incentive to persist in the profession.”

Higher education groups and student aid advocates, meanwhile, are watching a federal tax reform process that could have major implications for graduate students. The House passed a tax plan last month that includes several provisions to strip current benefits in the tax code for students. One change would mean that graduate students’ tuition discounts effectively are taxed as income. Another would end student loan interest deductions, costing student borrowers an additional $24 billion over the next decade. That change would be particularly burdensome to grad students, many of whom are paying off undergraduate loans.

Those provisions were left out of a Senate bill earlier this month. But the details of the final tax reform legislation that emerges could weigh on whatever changes are made to graduate benefits in a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

The GOP’s Rationale

Republicans have been critical of the increasingly high taxpayer cost estimates for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. And GOP lawmakers believe the benefit is poorly targeted. A committee aide pointed to one recent report arguing that in many cases public sector workers are no less well compensated than private sector workers. PSLF though would also provide loan relief to many low-salaried employees of qualifying nonprofit organizations. 

Regardless of what wage data shows, the GOP says no worker should get special benefits on student loans based on their employer.

“Our proposal offers the same deal for everyone regardless of occupation and puts downward market pressure on institutions to keep costs down," a committee spokesman said. "We believe all work is valuable and should be held in the same high regard."

Republican bill writers also believe the unlimited availability of federal funds has led college to raise tuition and fees. The committee cited one UCLA study from last year examining the use of Parent PLUS loans that appeared to back that notion, commonly known as the Bennett hypothesis. But that study didn't look at the relationship between program costs and graduate lending (Parent PLUS can only be used to fund undergraduate education). And a recent paper from Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of education at Seton Hall University, found limited evidence of the theory’s relevance to graduate lending for legal education.

Kelchen said that in 2005, before Grad PLUS was authorized, federal graduate student loans typically did not cover the full cost of education. The proposed changes in the House bill, he said, would have implications for for-profit chains as well as a substantial number of private nonprofit colleges that have used professional and master’s degree programs to help subsidize undergraduate education.

“It could put pressure on colleges to try to get more revenue from undergraduates,” he said.

Students entering higher-paid fields likely would be able to find private loans at similar rates to Grad PLUS, Kelchen said, but students entering high-tuition, low-paid fields like social work could struggle.

While the evidence is limited of tuition increases linked to unlimited graduate lending, average borrowing amounts by graduate students rose sharply between the 2004-05 and 2010-11 academic years, before subsequently declining through 2014-15, according to a College Board tally of federal loans made to students and parents. But the loan amounts began to rise again in 2015-16.

Critics of unlimited graduate lending also have attributed the unexpectedly high costs of federal income-driven repayment programs to heavy use by graduate students. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report last year found that the expected cost of IDR plans has shot up to $53 billion from $25 billion, for federal loans issued during the 2009 to 2016 fiscal years, primarily because of the growing number of loans expected to be repaid through the program. And changes by the Obama administration to income-driven plans made the program more generous to grad students as it steered more borrowers into those plans.

Preston Cooper, an education data analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the research was clear that allowing unlimited borrowing by parents of undergraduates has led to increases in tuition. The evidence is much more mixed on unlimited graduate borrowing, he said, but capping that lending accomplishes another conservative goal by opening new space for private lenders.

“The rationale for having a federal student loan program is that there is a market failure, that basically no lenders are going to lend to an 18-year-old student who doesn’t have any credit history, doesn’t have any work history, because that’s just too risky,” he said. “Those arguments don’t really apply to the graduate lending sphere.”

Graduate students have ample opportunity to establish a credit history. And private lenders will lend only to students in programs with a reasonable chance of paying off loans, he said. Cooper also argued that income-driven repayment is adequate to ensure students in lower-paying public service fields can afford to repay their loans.

Sarah Flanagan, vice president for government relations and policy at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said institutions want students to be able to cover the full cost of their education with federal loans. Private lending has less generous terms and conditions, she said, and pushing students to take out those additional loans undercuts the Republican theme of greater simplicity in the student aid system.

“That’s really a step backward,” she said.

She said an aggregate limit on graduate lending could be preferable to annual limits and would reward shorter, more efficient programs.

Others have noted that in the case of legal education in particular, private lending would likely fill any gap in costs for students attending prestigious law schools, that may not be the case at lower-ranking law programs. 

The bill does include higher lending amounts for students pursuing graduate education as doctors or other medical professional positions. And while it would otherwise limit graduate lending, it does increase annual lending limits for undergraduates and would raise the aggregate lending limit for federal direct loans from $138,500 to $150,000. Grad PLUS was authorized to meet gaps in need for students who had already reached their aggregate borrowing limit. So some see the higher limit as partially addressing the need met by the program.

Large for-profit college chains, among them Walden University, focus primarily on graduate education. Jennifer Blum, senior vice president of external relations and public policy at Laureate Education, Walden’s parent company, said the university supports efforts to streamline federal loan and repayment programs if the results are more efficient for student borrowers.

“As an institution focused primarily on graduate-level education, we are examining the legislation closely to determine the relationship between any loss of Grad PLUS funding to the other loan reforms and improvements proposed,” she said in a written statement. “We are hopeful that any final legislation will strike the right balance to ensure continued access and completion for graduate students who need educational funding.”

Some advocates for student aid recipients see graduate students taking it on the chin in the House bill. Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said grad students don’t just lose access to Public Service Loan Forgiveness in the bill. They would also be shut out of the federal work-study program.

Draeger said it’s important to be clear about the specific problems lawmakers are setting out to address in the higher education bill’s reauthorization. Loan repayment rates, defaults, tuition inflation and the cost of loan forgiveness are all separate issues, he said.

Graduate students typically aren’t the ones struggling to pay back their loans, said Draeger. To the extent Congress is looking to address the moral hazard of loan forgiveness -- too many students taking out large amounts of loans with the expectation that the government would pick up much of the cost -- it could cap future loan forgiveness, rather than capping borrowing and eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness, he said.

“Sometimes I feel like these conversations are all going by each other,” Draeger said. “Our take is there are ways to address all these issues. Putting caps on the loans might be one of those ways.”

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Lawsuit accuses American Studies Association officers of concealing their plans to boycott Israeli universities

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 08:00

It’s been almost four years since members of the American Studies Association voted by a nearly two-thirds majority to adopt a resolution backing a boycott of Israeli universities, but a lawsuit opposing the resolution filed by four of the association’s current and former members rages on.

In March, a federal judge dismissed the claims of the four members that the ASA operated outside the scope of its bylaws in endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but allowed the plaintiffs’ claims of corporate waste, breach of contract and violation of the D.C. Nonprofit Corporation Act to proceed. In a mixed ruling, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ruled that it was reasonably within the scope of the ASA’s charter as an academic organization to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, but found that the plaintiffs had presented a “plausible case for breach of contract” in regard to their allegations that the ASA had failed to follow its own rules in conducting a vote on the resolution in December 2013.

Now the plaintiffs are bringing new allegations.

Citing emails and other documents unearthed during discovery, the plaintiffs last month submitted a motion asking the court’s permission to file an amended complaint. The 87-page proposed amended complaint brings new charges that certain of the association’s elected leaders strategically kept their pro-boycott agendas secret when they stood for office, that they withheld “pertinent” information about the boycott resolution from voting members “unless it favored the resolution” and that they took what the court filing describes as the “unprecedented” action of freezing membership rolls prior to the announcement of the vote “with the specific intent to prevent members opposed to the resolution from casting votes.”

The proposed amended complaint says that one of the plaintiffs, Michael L. Barton, a professor emeritus of American studies at Pennsylvania State University and a member of ASA for approximately 44 years, had let his membership lapse in 2012 and was not allowed to vote on the boycott resolution when he attempted to reactivate his membership because of this "scheme to freeze the membership rolls."

The ASA is seeking to have the motion to amend the complaint denied. In a Nov. 27 court filing, the ASA describes the plaintiffs’ motion as “an improper effort to revisit plaintiffs’ prior losses and to resurrect derivative claims that have been dismissed” and said if accepted it would “cause undue delay” and “result in greatly expanded expenses to the defendants.” In regard to the specific allegations surrounding the freezing of membership rolls, the ASA legal response says, "There is nothing in the bylaws or statutes that" would "specifically prohibit" this.

"The plaintiffs’ proposed second amended complaint is a continuation of their public relations campaign through litigation, whose focus is not truly the well-being of the ASA, but punishment of persons and entities who dare take contrary positions regarding boycotts of Israeli academic institions [sic]," the ASA legal filing states.

A response filed by the plaintiffs last week contests the ASA's claims that the proposed amended complaint "merely resurrects derivative claims that were previously dismissed" and argues that it instead "presents entirely new claims that arise from facts uncovered in documents produced by defendants" during discovery. Further, it takes issue with what it describes as the ASA brief's "entirely unfounded and inflammatory claims of harassment and dilatory [delaying] tactics."

The New Claims

The lawsuit was originally filed in April 2015 against the ASA and six of its individual leaders at the time the boycott resolution was voted on, including Curtis Marez, then the president, and Lisa Duggan, then the president-elect, and several members of its elected National Council, whose members unanimously endorsed the 2013 boycott resolution before making the decision to turn it over to the full membership for a vote.

The proposed amended complaint seeks to add four additional defendants, including John Stephens, the executive director of the association. Four of the named defendants, or proposed defendants, are identified in court documents as members of the leadership of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, a group, largely comprised of scholars, that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

One person the plaintiffs are seeking to add to the complaint is Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University who, according to court documents, served on the ASA’s nominating committee from 2010 until June 2013, six months prior to the boycott vote, and who is also a member of USACBI’s advisory board. The complaint alleges that in her tenure on the nominating committee, Puar had an agenda of “packing the American Studies Association leadership with USACBI leadership, endorsers and other BDS advocates.”

The court filing quotes from several emails in an effort to support this, including one from Sunaina Maira, another defendant in the case: “Jasbir is nominating me and Alex Lubin for the council and she suggests populating it with as many supporters as possible.” It also quotes an email from the aforementioned Lubin: “In my conversations with Jasbir it’s clear that the intent of her nominations was to bring more people who do work in, and are politically committed to … the question of Palestine … we were nominated in order to build momentum for BDS even though the question of BDS in American Studies Association may or may not emerge while we’re on the council.”

The proposed amended complaint alleges that Puar and certain other of the defendants or proposed defendants did not disclose their pro-boycott positions in their candidate statements in standing for elected office within the association. And it provides evidence from emails that suggests that at least in some cases nondisclosure may have been a deliberate choice. The proposed amended complaint cites the following emails from Lubin (who is not a party or proposed party to the lawsuit), as well as from Maira, one of the original defendants in the case, about whether to position themselves as BDS supporters in running for National Council. Maira is a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of California, Davis, and a member of USACBI's leadership.

Lubin: “I would welcome an expanded discussion of whether those of us nominated for the council should mention in our nomination statement our support for BDS … I wonder if it is strategic to be self-identified as a BDS candidate, or whether we should merely mention our support for human rights, academic freedom for everyone and international law.”

Maira: “I’ve been thinking this over and like Alex, I’m a bit unsure -- personally, I feel it might be more strategic not to present ourselves as a pro-boycott slate. We need to get on the council and I think our larger goal is support for the resolution, not to test support at this early stage from ‘outside’ the NC.”

Another party to the email exchange offered an alternative view. Nikhil Pal Singh, who was then a member of the National Council, responded, according to the court filing:

“My real question: What do we hope to gain from election of pro-BDS members to the American Studies Association national council if we have not made any of the stakes of their election clear to the membership? … I think that not revealing something this important and intentional and then hoping later to use the American Studies Association national council as a vehicle to advance our cause will not work and may well backfire, because it will lack legitimacy.”

According to the court documents, of the three candidates to the National Council who were party to this exchange, one, Lubin, mentioned support for “a pending resolution on the academic and cultural boycott of Israel” in his candidate statement. He lost. The other two, Maira and J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, who both won, did not mention support for a possible ASA boycott resolution against Israel in their candidate statements, though Kauanui’s candidate statement did reference her ties to the broader academic boycott campaign and USACBI in particular (the statement, available here, says she was “involved in a range of activist work for indigenous rights in the Pacific Islands, North America, as well as Occupied Palestine” and that she served “as an advisory board member of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”) Maira’s candidate biography is more oblique but does mention that she then served as “co-chair of the Academic and Community Activism Caucus within ASA, which organized a resolution on the war in Iraq and discussions of boycott and divestment opposing the U.S.-backed occupation and violations of human rights and academic freedom in Palestine.”

"We do not believe that those brief references come close to meeting the fiduciary duties of disclosure," said Jennie Gross, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and a staff attorney for the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. "Both Maira and Kauanui included statements discussing what they would do if elected; neither mentioned the boycott resolution, although we believe this was their primary intention in running, and the primary reason they were nominated to run."

“This case is about the illegal, hostile takeover of a nonprofit, academic association by leaders of an anti-Israel group,” Gross said in a November press release. “Through a series of misrepresentations and breaches of duty, USACBI activists obtained positions of trust in the ASA, and then abused those positions in order to capture and exploit the assets of the ASA to advance the agenda of the BDS movement.” An op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal Dec. 3 and written by two law professors who have advised the plaintiffs' lawyers similarly argues that anti-Israel activists "subvert[ed]" the ASA.

Others argue that the overwhelming results of the membership vote in favor of boycott of Israeli universities belie charges of takeovers and subversion. The sentiment at an open forum on the boycott resolution held at ASA's 2013 conference -- attended by Inside Higher Ed -- was heavily in favor of the boycott.

USACBI described the charge of an "illegal, hostile takeover" as "on its face ludicrous. It seeks to rebrand normal political process, including the work of established caucuses within the ASA, as conspiracy, thus labeling democratic deliberation and advocacy a suspect and sanctionable activity," the group said in a statement on its website.

"This lawsuit is a desperate attempt to bury the single most important fact: the ASA membership voted by an overwhelming democratic majority -- 66 percent -- after months of open debate, to support a boycott in support of Palestinian equality," said Palestine Legal, a legal advocacy group that has in the past provided legal advice to ASA and is advising Puar, who is not at this point named as a defendant in the case.

ASA reported that 1,252 members voted in the election, the largest number of voters in the organization's history. When asked how she reconciles the level of support for the resolution among the membership with the "hostile takeover" charge, Gross, the plaintiffs' lawyer, reiterated that there are "claims and allegations relating to efforts to deny the ability to vote to ASA members and scholars who would likely vote against the resolution, while at the same time inflating the votes known to be in favor of the resolution, with new memberships of people who were neither previous members of the ASA nor American studies scholars."

“I’m not saying the process was perfect, but if I had any concerns about transparency and legitimacy, they were satisfied by the National Council deciding to put the resolution to a membership vote,” said Nikhil Pal Singh, the National Council member who urged his colleagues to be forthright about their BDS ties in the above email exchange and who is an associate professor of social and cultural analysis and history at New York University.

Singh stands by what he said in that email exchange. "I do however understand why individuals would make the decision to represent themselves in the ways in which they chose to represent themselves," he said. "And the reason is this: there’s a politics of smear around this kind of stuff, so I think the concern probably was, if I say this I’m going to be completely misrepresented."

Singh said that anyone could have googled Maira and found that she was a member of USACBI's leadership. “I think for pro-Palestine activists, there’s a countervailing argument that people feel, which is, why are we always having to genuflect to the Israeli exception in a sense? Why are we always needing to bend over backwards to prove ourselves? We are legitimate scholars who have been nominated to the National Council. Our politics are well-known; they're a matter of public record. People can make the decision they’re going to make. The idea that there was some kind of concealment going on is just a fabrication of these lawsuits."

More broadly, Singh, who supported the boycott resolution, said he sat on the National Council from 2010 until November 2013, when the council decided to call for a membership vote on the resolution (his term ended then, so he wasn't privy to the further discussions about implementation of the vote). During his time on the council, he said, he saw increasing support for BDS within the membership.

"I was certainly not aware of any kind of nefarious plot to stack the National Council," he said. "The way I saw things was that in the years leading up to 2013, there had been a series of efforts to move the ASA toward a pro-boycott position. I had been a member of the ASA since the 1990s, so I’d pretty much been to every annual meeting up to that point and each year there was more and more conversation about this … the membership was getting younger, more progressive, and the concerns of the organization were becoming much more sharply focused around questions of colonialism, racism, state violence."

The various individuals named as defendants or proposed defendants in the case either declined interview requests or did not respond to messages seeking comment. “The plaintiffs in Bronner v. the ASA are clearly committed to trying this case in the media,” ASA President Kandice Chu said via email. “In contrast, the ASA retains its faith in the courts as the appropriate venue for litigation, and fully expects to prevail in that setting.” She said the association would not be making further comment.

John K. Wilson, co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, strongly opposes academic boycotts but sees the ongoing lawsuit against the ASA as “a meritless lawsuit aimed at suppressing freedom of speech.”

“It is not legally problematic for candidates to make a choice not to reveal everything they believe or even what they plan to do in office,” Wilson said. “It would be morally objectionable if candidates plotted to conceal a major part of their plans for the office. Although there’s not much evidence of that in this case, even if morally objectionable behavior was revealed, that would only justify criticism, not a lawsuit. And this has nothing to do with the main claim of this lawsuit, that the ASA should be legally prohibited from endorsing a boycott of Israel.

“If you don’t like what an academic organization does, you are perfectly free to persuade the members of that group to vote with you and to choose new leaders,” Wilson said. “You are perfectly [free] to denounce the group and boycott it. But you should not be able to ask the government to ban private organizations from taking a political stand.”

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Professor won't teach required courses due to anti-Semitic posts on social media

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 08:00

Rutgers University at New Brunswick removed Michael Chikindas from teaching any required course and from a campus leadership role, following an investigation into the food science professor’s anti-Semitic Facebook posts.

Robert Barchi, Rutgers president, and Deba Dutta, campus chancellor, announced the suspension Friday in an email to faculty members, saying it was one of several actions the university is taking in the case.

“A fundamental expectation of a university is to provide an environment in which students can learn, discover their passions and do research free from fears of discrimination, harassment or disruption,” Barchi and Dutta said. “So, too, should our faculty and staff expect a professional environment that is welcoming and free from discrimination.”

Chikindas, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, has previously said that his Facebook account was “hacked,” and that he couldn’t be sure he posted all the content that many called objectionable. (Examples of his posts, many of which include offensive language and images, such as the image at right, can be found here.)

After a university investigation based on relevant policies and the law, however, Barchi and Dutta said, Chikindas “was found to have posted extensive bigoted, discriminatory and anti-Semitic material” that “perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty and staff across our community.”

Aspects of the university’s investigation remain confidential. But Barchi and Dutta shared several outcomes, including that Chikindas will be removed from teaching required courses so that no Rutgers student “will be required to take a course that he teaches.” Rutgers also removed Chikindas from his leadership role as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, so that no employee will have to work for him.

Chikindas also will be required to participate in a cultural sensitivity training program and be subject to “ongoing monitoring if and when he returns to the classroom,” according to the announcement.

Rutgers is seeking further disciplinary action, in line with policies outlined in the American Federation of Teachers- and American Association of University Professors-affiliated faculty union contract.

“This has been a sad and deeply troubling situation for our students and our staff, and for our faculty, who stand for much nobler values than those expressed by this particular professor,” Barchi and Dutta said. “While the university is and should always be a place that challenges students to grapple with complex and even controversial ideas, this situation has threatened the trust between professors and students that is a prerequisite to learning.”

They added, “It is our hope that we can navigate these difficult conversations together and that, having been tested by these challenges, we can emerge stronger and with renewed appreciation of our common bonds.”

Rutgers’s faculty union had no immediate comment Sunday.

John Wilson, an independent scholar of academic freedom who has been following the Chikindas case, referred a request for comment to a post he wrote for AAUP’s “Academe” blog, of which he is co-editor. Wilson said that he agreed with Rutgers that Chikindas’s posts were indeed bigoted and anti-Semitic. “But “what exactly is ‘discriminatory’ about a social media post?” he asked. “Discrimination is an act against someone violating their rights. Social media opinions are not in themselves discriminatory.”

Such opinions might indicate that someone could act in a discriminatory way, he said, but it at least appears that Rutgers found no evidence of any action. Perpetuating “toxic stereotypes” is not a violation of any campus rules, he said, and therefore not grounds for disciplinary action.

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Knewton returns, with new pitch

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 08:00

Knewton, a pioneer in adaptive learning technology, will launch its first direct product for higher education in January. Previously the company provided the technology behind several other companies' adaptive learning products, but now Knewton is changing its strategy and selling its product to colleges directly.

The name of Knewton’s proprietary offering hasn't been announced, but it has been piloted at more than 150 institutions, the company said. The product, described as a complete textbook replacement, began piloting early this year and was tested in beta in 2016. Using open education resources, Knewton offers courseware that both instructs and assesses students using adaptive learning technology.

In data shared with Inside Higher Ed and now published online, Knewton presented results from a sample of more than 10,000 students who used the Knewton courseware and completed over 130,000 assignments (defined as "instruction and assessment in Knewton tied to course learning objectives") so far this year. The data also look at the correlation between successful completion of these assignments and performance in class quizzes set by instructors. The sample includes students who used the Knewton product for courses in mathematics, chemistry, statistics and economics. The students were told to complete the Knewton assignments as homework outside class, completion of which counted toward their grades.

In adaptive learning, students receive information that they are then tested on. The answers the students give to these questions determine the next instruction they receive. Those who demonstrate knowledge advance to the next topic, while those who don't get customized additional instruction until they succeed.

The Knewton data show that 87 percent of the time, students successfully completed the assignments. Among students who initially struggled to complete an assignment, 82 percent eventually did so -- an achievement referred to as “mastery."

In addition to a high level of assignment completion, Knewton said their product positively impacted performance in quizzes set by instructors. Students who completed less than 25 percent of their assignments achieved an average class quiz score of 55 percent, compared with 81 percent for students who completed more than 75 percent of the assignments.

Among struggling students (defined as students who started in the bottom 25 percent of the class) those who mastered more than 75 percent of the learning objectives achieved average class quiz scores of 70 percent, compared with 40 percent for those who failed to complete more than a quarter of the assignments. The data suggest that among those who completed the majority of their class assignments, the attainment gap between those who started at the top of the class and those who started at the bottom is closed significantly.

Knewton did not supply a full list of institutions that tested the product, but named a sampling of institutions currently using the Knewton course product, including: California State University at Los Angeles, Kellogg Community College, National Louis University, Central Oregon Community College, Park University, Collin College, Eastern New Mexico University, Hunter College and Front Range Community College.

Eyob Demeke, director of developmental mathematics at California State University at Los Angeles, said that his institution started using Knewton last summer as part of the trial. He said that so far, the reaction had been positive from both students and instructors, with courses reaching “impressive pass rates” in the 80s. Demeke noted, however, that as these courses had not been previously offered at scale, he did not have the historical data to compare results before and after using the Knewton product.

In institutional data shared by Demeke for two math courses using Knewton over two sessions, 69 percent of students rated their experience of the product as “good” or “very good.” Just under 10 percent of students rated their experience as “bad” or “very bad.” The rest described their experience as “neutral.”

A selection of student comments were included with the data from California State L.A., the majority positive, with some students saying the product had helped them to understand topics they had previously had difficulty grasping. Not everyone was convinced, however, with one student commenting that “having to pay to do homework is a rip-off.” Another expressed frustration at the amount of time it took to complete the assignments.

Asked whether his institution intended to keep using Knewton beyond this semester, Demeke said that it had not yet been decided. He noted the California State University system was considering free alternatives such as EdReady, a personalized math study program managed by the nonprofit NROC project.

Andrew Moore, assistant professor and math content lead at National Louis University, said that he had also had a positive experience with Knewton, which his institution started using as a supplemental instruction tool in January. He praised the ability of the product to highlight students who are struggling, saying that his institution had used this to intervene and offer extra support.

“Over all it looks like our current class are going to be performing at a higher rate than our students last year,” said Moore. As the statistics course using the Knewton product is a relatively new, Moore said he didn’t yet know whether this apparent increase in performance is linked to Knewton, or to faculty gaining greater experience of teaching the course. He said he would be reviewing the data closely over the winter break.

Illya Bomash, head of data science at Knewton, acknowledged that evidence of the efficacy of the product is limited by the lack of a control group. However, Bomash maintained the data were sufficient to suggest a causal effect between successful completion of assignments and high attainment in class. He said the results of the data were not particularly surprising, but a “confirmation” that the Knewton approach works.

Karen Vignare, executive director of the Personalized Learning Consortium at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said that the initial data from Knewton “looks good” but “there’s a lot more you want to know.” For example, Vignare questioned who and what exactly defines mastery -- “is it something the professor can set?” she asked. Vignare said she would also like to see more demographic information on the students, and a clear comparison of the levels of understanding before using the Knewton product and after.

Michael Feldstein, a partner at MindWires Consulting, and co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, said that the data demonstrate that students who are taught by instructors with knowledge of mastery learning methods, and who use Knewton-based products that support those methods, tend to achieve the learning objectives for the course and complete the course. “That’s all great,” said Feldstein. “Unfortunately, it’s also utterly generic. Knewton has essentially released data showing that mastery can be effective, which we have known for a long time.” (MindWires has done consulting for some textbook publishers that now have their own adaptive platforms.)

“I don’t see anything in what they’ve released that tells us anything new, and I certainly don’t see anything that makes a specific case for Knewton over the many other mastery learning-based products on the market (whether or not they have whizzy adaptive algorithms),” said Feldstein. He added that in order to gain credibility, Knewton “will need to release original findings in a fully fleshed out and peer-reviewable paper, preferably accompanied by enough of the source data that their work can be checked.”

Brian Kibby, CEO of Knewton, said that he felt confident that Knewton’s product would stand out from other offers on the market. “We are the only ones in that world that do what we do,” said Kibby. “That is, use openly available content in partnership with our powerful personalized learning engine.” Kibby added that a core difference between the Knewton product, and others on the market, is that every student is treated as an individual. “Some of the technology groups learners in pockets,” said Kibby. “We don’t. We approach every learner as a unique learner.”

However, several companies contacted by Inside Higher Ed, including McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson, said that their adaptive learning technology also treats students as unique learners, challenging Kibby's claim.

Heather Shelstad, vice president of marketing for Knewton, said that while most adaptive learning companies would agree that every student is unique, Knewton's latest product is different in that it applies this concept of personalized learning to "all elements of a course," including course content, homework assignments and testing.

"Every interaction a student makes in Knewton impacts the complete learning experience, including instructional content and assessments, to dynamically support the most effective path towards assignment completion and concept mastery," said Shelstad. She explained that there were three general types of learning technology being used in higher education today -- digital homework platforms without adaptive technology, digital homework platforms with add-on adaptive technology, and fully integrated adaptive courseware. Knewton, she said, falls in the latter category. Knewton "continuously diagnoses and evaluates a student's progress toward a concept mastery and assignment completion dynamically and in real time. No two students are ever on the same path," she said.

Kibby, who joined the company as CEO in July and previously held executive roles at McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson, said that Knewton’s previous strategy of leasing its technology to other companies “was misguided” and “flawed from the beginning.” Knewton previously powered Pearson's MyLab and Mastering suite, but Pearson this year decided to end this partnership and develop its own technology.

Erin Joyner, senior vice president of higher education product at Cengage, said that company had previously partnered with Knewton, but decided to go in a different direction after the pilots "didn't produce the results we'd hoped for." Cengage has since partnered with Cerego to offer an adaptive learning product for psychology courses, as well as in-house-developed product called Adaptive Test Prep.

While many partners have been commercially successful with platforms built on Knewton’s technology, none have fully taken advantage of its power, said Kibby. As Knewton has the deepest understanding of its own technology, it is in the best position to deliver it directly to faculty and students, he added. While scaling up Knewton’s proprietary product will now be the company’s main focus, Kibby said the company would maintain its existing commercial partnerships where they continue to make sense for both parties.

Looking forward, Kibby has set some ambitious sales targets. He said that within three years he expects every college and university in the country to be using a Knewton product. His vision is for global expansion, not only in higher education, but also in K-12 -- an area where Kibby foresees a great deal of growth for the company. “When you combine the impact of our product with the affordable price point, how can you not look at it?” said Kibby. He added that early feedback for the product has been “tremendous” and he fully expects the product to “scale up and take off.”

Adam Newman, managing partner of Tyton Partners, an education consultancy firm, said that one of the challenges facing Knewton would be reintroducing it to the market as a courseware provider. Given that Knewton was once known as a test prep company, Newman said that many people may “have impressions of who or what Knewton is that may not be what Knewton is today.” While Kibby’s sales target is a “good stretch goal,” Newman said it was not one he would bet on Knewton reaching, despite Kibby having the background to “understand what it would take to be in every college and university in the U.S.” As for Knewton’s shift in strategy, Newman said launching a new product under a new name could be a good move for the company. “There’s been a lot of hype relative to what’s been delivered historically,” said Newman. “The ability to create a new identity would not necessarily be a bad thing in the postsecondary marketplace,” he said.

Affordability is a key issue in a market where prices are being aggressively driven down by the competition, said Vignare. She said the Knewton product did indeed sound affordable at $44 per student per course for two years’ access or $9.95 per month (plus tax). The product is currently available for 25 courses, mostly concentrated in the areas of mathematics and science, but with plans to expand to all core areas at an introductory level. The basis for the content that is taught and assessed in the Knewton product comes primarily from OpenStax, a nonprofit OER textbook provider, with which Knewton announced a partnership in May 2016.

James Wiley, a principal analyst at Eduventures, said that he thought Knewton’s new direct-to-customer approach made sense, especially as some of Knewton’s former partners, including Pearson, have stated intentions to develop their own adaptive learning capability in-house. “I always think a B2B approach is risky, as your partner could simply learn your technology and develop it for themselves,” he said.

An early leader in the adaptive learning market, Knewton has struggled to capitalize on its head start, despite bold statements about the power of its technology from previous leadership, said Feldstein. “The good news here is that the company seems to be moving away from former CEO Jose Ferreira’s deeply unfortunate characterization of the product as “a robot tutor in the sky that can semi-read your mind,” he said. Wiley, of Eduventures, said that it seemed the original excitement around Knewton “has somewhat died down. Our clients, for example, don’t really ask us about it much.”

Two of the biggest hurdles Knewton will need to overcome are a lack of awareness, and inertia, said Kibby. To overcome this, Kibby said that he has built a strong sales team with experience in education, who will be spending a lot of time on campuses. Establishing these campus relationships will likely be key to Knewton’s success, said Vignare, as other companies will already have strong ties with institutions.

As awareness of adaptive learning technology grows, Vignare warned that institutions would start to ask vendors tougher questions. Wiley agreed, saying that he expected many institutions to want to be able to customize every aspect of the technology. “Institutions we’ve spoken to, for example, want to have full access to the content, assessment and sequencing of a given tool. As you can imagine, vendors in this space may be loath to provide this for fear that allowing this may reduce their products to just a configurable set of algorithms,” he said.

Vignare warned that using adaptive learning technology successfully requires work. “You have to integrate it into your pedagogy. It can’t just be a system that sits alongside your course,” she said.

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Fires affect California colleges' finals, move-out, homework deadlines

Inside HigherEd - Mon, 12/11/2017 - 08:00

Colleges across Southern California are suspending or canceling classes -- and, in some case, final exams -- as wildfires continue to ravage the region and disrupt daily life for affected residents. In addition to keeping their campuses and students safe, colleges are also having to deal with logistical issues brought on by delayed homework assignments and commutes disrupted by fires far away from campus.

Closures have ranged in length and time, but perhaps the most disruptive to students and faculty alike was at Thomas Aquinas College, a small, private liberal arts institution in Santa Paula, where the Thomas fire has been raging nearby. The college evacuated its students last week and opened this past weekend so that students could retrieve their belongings, though it remains closed. Final exams were canceled, and after some back-and-forth -- and considering sending final exams to students over break to do at home -- the institution decided it would hold this semester's final exams at the start of the next semester.

To accommodate the move, one week will be removed from the second semester, and professors will have to update their syllabi accordingly. The university has also modified its schedule, and residence halls will open early so that students have time to get to campus and study. Even with those adjustments, making all the exams fit in one week poses a logistical challenge for the university and students alike, so some exams will be optional.

"By holding exams when students return from the Christmas break, the college can preserve the benefit of common study. Also, since many of you were unable to retrieve your books from the campus before returning home for the Christmas break, having take-home exams would unfairly disadvantage those students who left without their books. Finally, having exams soon after experiencing the fire and evacuation would unnecessarily add to the stress and anxiety associated with final exams," John J. Goyette, Thomas Aquinas's dean, said in a statement.

Students have been instructed not to return to campus -- with an exception to pick up their belongings -- until next semester. Those who cannot immediately return are being accommodated on campus through Saturday.

On Sunday, the University of California, Santa Barbara, announced that finals scheduled for this week would be rescheduled for January. The university cited concerns about power outages that are disrupting technology services, confusion about a false report of an evacuation and other problems to state that going ahead with final exams had become "untenable."

Though many colleges closed for some period of time last week, most were hoping to be open again Monday.

Mount St. Mary’s University's main undergraduate campus is set to be closed to the general public from Monday through the rest of the semester, though students are able to access the campus to retrieve their belongings. The Los Angeles institution held final exams Friday, with more scheduled for Monday, at the institution’s second campus, though “professors also have discretion in how to best complete their courses this semester.”

Take care and have a safe weekend, everyone!

If there are any #SkirballFire updates we need to convey over the weekend, those will come via E-Alerts to our Mount community and posted publicly here: https://t.co/0edJj6Jh5g pic.twitter.com/jCsZEy9BsZ

— #MSMUnstoppable (@MSMU_LA) December 9, 2017

Fires also mean students and faculty have to deal with the logistical struggle of homework assignments, or even showing up to class.

“Students unable to attend class Friday should notify their instructors, and employees unable to report for work should contact their manager. Faculty and supervisors are asked to continue providing latitude to students and employees affected by the fires,” California State University, Northridge, announced in a tweet. The institution had closed Thursday, but reopened Friday.

The University of California, Los Angeles, was safe from fires, but had to close last week because of how the disaster was affecting those trying to get to campus. As for how to handle the academic disruptions, the institution left it up to individual professors and departments.

“While the campus itself is safe, difficult traffic conditions continue to prevent many students, faculty and staff from reaching UCLA,” the university said in a statement published Wednesday. “Consequently, UCLA is canceling classes today that begin on or after noon. Students should check with their instructors or departments about making up class time or class work. Depending on how conditions change during the day we will have further instructions this afternoon.”

Also disrupted at some point by fires were institutions in the Ventura County Community College District; California State University, Channel Islands; California State University, San Marcos; Los Angeles Valley College; Los Angeles Mission College; Los Angeles Pierce College; Santa Monica College; and Palomar College.

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What can a crowdsourced survey of sexual harassment in academia tell us about the problem

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

If harassers weren’t already on notice before this year, they are now. But while there’s increased awareness of sexual misconduct within academe, the phenomenon remains understudied. It’s unclear, for example, just how many students -- especially graduate students -- and faculty members are affected. Also unclear is whether incidences of harassment have decreased of late, even if reports have increased (if indeed they have).

A new crowdsourced survey of experiences with sexual harassment in academe doesn’t seek to answer those questions in a scientific way. But the survey and its 1,200-and-counting entries are attracting attention across higher education for illuminating an ongoing problem in ways that statistics alone could not.

Some of the accounts are immediately shocking, describing legal descriptions of assault -- “A professor wrote me a letter of recommendation for the job market and then stuck his tongue down my throat” -- while others are more subtle. A self-identified department chair at an elite institution described how her first writing mentor as an undergraduate praised and encouraged her for two years before inviting her out and hitting on her as he consoled her about a family loss. From then on, she wrote, “every gesture, any ‘standing too close,’ any compliment all changed tone. All the ‘support’ changed tone … I felt lost. What a strange thing to have to view one’s physical self as an intellectual impediment.”

Some accounts reek of injustice, such as that by a former tenure-track professor who said her notoriously sexist department chair had been encouraged to recruit a female professor prior to her hire, and then constantly criticized her -- in contrast to the regular external praise she received. She left her campus after the experience, accepting a settlement from the university over an offer of reinstatement to the same situation.

All of the accounts are linked in that they suggest abuses of power, along with the residual slow burn of having years if not decades of academic work undermined in moments.

Karen Kelsky, a former tenured professor who runs the academic job consulting business The Professor Is In and a blog of the same name, started the online survey last week. It includes questions on what happened and when, what the harasser’s gender and position relative to the victim were at the time (professor, etc.), institution type and field, institutional responses and career consequences for the harasser (if any), and the impact of harassment on the career and health of the person who experienced it.

Respondents were not required to answer all questions, and Kelsky made clear that while responses would be stripped of names, all other information would be freely available online.

“I leave the definition of ‘sexual harassment’ open; you may share anything that you feel merits inclusion here,” she wrote. “My goal here is to make visible the unacknowledged scope and scale of the problem of sexual harassment in academic settings in the aggregate -- with complete anonymity for all who participate. I will make no effort to use this information for any purpose except to increase public awareness on my blog. I will make no effort to identify the contributors or the actors in their stories in any way.”

Responses poured in, from students, professors, former academics and other researchers alike. The survey got a major boost from social media, where it was shared enthusiastically by many, often accompanied by the hashtag #MeTooPhD -- a riff on the broader #metoo sexual harassment awareness campaign. Some of those who didn’t personally respond also took the survey as a call to action on reform, for their disciplines or academe in general.

Kelsky said Thursday that she created the survey to “give victims a place to share their stories, to know they are not alone and to realize the systemic, institutional and patterned nature of sexual abuse in the academy.” She said she hoped men felt a bit uncomfortable reading and that they'd "closely examine" their own behavior, as well as that of their colleagues. She added via email, “You cannot solve a problem if you can't see it. This survey aims to make the problem visible to all.”

Reading all the submissions revealed major themes, including what Kelsky described as the pervasiveness and severity of abuse, extending to rape and stalking. The “systematic protection” of abusers over victims, stood out, too, demonstrating the "sheer force of patriarchal solidarity in keeping powerful men safe and insulated from consequences," she said. There are also recurrent, “devastating” consequences for women -- and the academy, in terms of women’s lost contributions when they grapple with harassment.

“Countless women on the survey describe being hounded out of the Ph.D. entirely, being forced to change projects or advisers or institutions, resulting in disrupted work and loss of funding and continuity," Kelsky said. She noted that some accounts describe having hidden out in closets or empty rooms to avoid a harasser.

Robin Nelson, an assistant professor of biological anthropology at Santa Clara University, co-wrote two peer-reviewed studies -- one this year -- based on surveys on harassment at scientific field sites. Nelson said she wished she was surprised by Kelsky’s findings, but that she wasn’t, based in part on her own work.

“In institutional structures that are set up so one individual has power over the career trajectory of another, there’s always the possibility of abuse,” Nelson said. “So I’m not really surprised, just saddened by how many folks have had to manage this as they make their way through the beginning of their careers.”

Nelson said she worried, to a degree, that the design of Kelsky’s study could put respondents -- especially those in smaller fields -- at risk of being identified, and therefore retaliated against. The point has been raised on social media, with others arguing against it. (Kelsky in an interview reiterated that the study was not scientific but rather sought to “hold space” for those who have experienced harassment. She also suggested that it was “infantilizing” to assume academics don’t understand the concept of informed consent.)

Yet Nelson said the study holds value in it's easy to see similarities between experiences, cutting through the false perception of isolation many victims feel. Over all, she said, academe is still at the beginning of the road to reform. Clear rules against harassment are important, she said, but attitudes about those rules need to shift, as well.

“We are incredibly tolerant of people who have broken the rules and allow them, in many cases, to remain in our midst for different reasons -- they hold a lot of social capital, or we consider them geniuses or incredibly bright,” Nelson said. “We have got to stop valuing individual scholars over the physical safety and mental health of everyone in our field.”

Kelsky echoed that idea, saying that when people “bemoan the loss of the contribution of Famous Man X, they are ignoring the loss of contribution of the five or 25 or 50 or more women he harassed out of the field entirely.”

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Nearly a third of students change major within three years -- math majors the most

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

Almost a third of first-time college students choose a major and then change it at least once within three years, and students who started out in mathematics and the natural sciences are likelier than others to switch fields, federal data released Thursday show.

The brief report from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, drawn from the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study, finds that 33 percent of bachelor's degree pursuers who entered college in 2011-12 and 28 percent of students in associate degree programs had changed their major at least once by 2014.

About one in 10 had changed majors twice.

Students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs were likelier than those in non-STEM fields (35 versus 29 percent) to change majors.

And students who started out studying math were likeliest of all: 52 percent of those who initially declared as math majors ended up majoring in something else, followed by 40 percent of those in the natural sciences, 37 percent in education, 36 percent in humanities disciplines and 32 percent in engineering and general studies, as seen in the chart below.

What does it mean that math majors are likelier to leave their major than students in other fields? Given the marketplace demand for math majors (and students in other STEM fields), is it a problem that STEM majors are abandoning their majors at a greater rate than other students are?

Ed Venit, managing director of the student success collaborative at EAB, which published a study last year showing that students who changed majors graduate at a higher rate than those who don't, said many students who plan to major in rigorous fields like math because they excelled in high school may find themselves "in a little over their head" in the college-level discipline.

Venit said that EAB researchers more generally find a tendency among students to move from specialized fields like math (and the "extremes" of fields in the arts and humanities as well, like the fine arts) into more catchall fields such as business and psychology.

Given employers' strong demand for math majors and other students with strong quantitative skills, and by extension the desire among students to pursue such majors, it's essential that educators seek ways to make those fields less off-putting to students -- and not by reducing rigor, Venit said.

"You would never want to water down the rigor" of math and other fields, he said, but it does make sense to redesign the classes and improve the nature of instruction (as various national initiatives are doing). Colleges and universities also should strive, Venit said, to create desirable "off-ramps" for students who get waylaid from their original academic goal (for instance, directing students whose academic skills may fall short of those necessary to become a nurse or doctor into public health or other health professions).

Michael Pearson, executive director of the Mathematical Association of America, acknowledged that math has sometimes been seen as a barrier to postsecondary success and that math educators were striving to improve instruction and the perceived relevance of the discipline.

But he noted that enrollments in math courses at all levels of education are up about 20 percent in the last five years, and said that the interest in graduates with strong quantitative skills was strengthening the "pervasiveness of mathematics."

Pearson said he was inclined to attribute the large proportion of students leaving math for other fields more to the reality that college students "are exposed to new areas of study, like engineering, that don’t have nearly as much visibility in high school" than to a decision against math.

"I suspect they're choosing to use their math skills in new ways," he said.

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Saint Rose rocked by trustee resignations amid disagreements with president

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

A leadership struggle at the top of the College of Saint Rose, in Albany, N.Y., has been thrust into the spotlight after several members of the small private college’s Board of Trustees, including its board chair, resigned in recent weeks.

Boiling tensions between some trustees and the college’s embattled president, Carolyn J. Stefanco, are laid bare in trustees’ resignation letters made public this week. Resigning trustees found fault with Stefanco’s leadership style, strained relationship with the board, repeated clashes with faculty members, requests for additional compensation and management of the college, which they said has left it in a perilous financial situation. They called the president secretive and occupied with personal interests, and the former board chair alleged that she was targeted after she asked the president to avoid additional external commitments in order to focus on the college.

The college’s administration responded Thursday by saying applications are up for next year and that Saint Rose has developed from a regional institution into one that can draw students nationally and internationally. But such a transition takes time, and the college’s enrollment was hurt when New York State started a program offering free tuition to many students attending public college this year, administrators argued. They are working to reduce the college’s deficit, and Saint Rose has increased its fund-raising, they said.

Saint Rose also released a statement from the new chair of its Board of Trustees, Sister Mary Anne Heenan.

“Many of the challenges existed before President Stefanco arrived in 2014,” she said in the statement. “In the last three years, she has implemented changes we, the trustees, directed. She has worked diligently with us to address emerging financial, enrollment and personnel challenges. We have a board of 28 extremely talented trustees, all of whom care deeply about the mission of the college and are focused on making progress.”

Stefanco has been a controversial figure at Saint Rose for several years after rounds of layoffs and budget cuts. In May 2015, Saint Rose announced the elimination of 40 administrative and staff positions, only 17 of which were vacant. Then in August of that year, college leaders said more cuts would be coming because of a $9.3 million structural deficit. The college would go on to announce the elimination of 23 faculty positions and 27 academic programs in December 2015. Many of the faculty members whose jobs were cut were tenured.

The American Association of University Professors later issued a report finding that the cuts rendered tenure “virtually meaningless” and that faculty members had been repeatedly left out of deliberations or had been ignored. The AAUP voted in June 2016 to censure the college. Faculty members voted no confidence in Stefanco in February 2016 and voted to ask that the president be removed last April.

After the April vote, trustees announced “unwavering support” for Stefanco. But that support waned among at least a handful of trustees.

Their concerns were brought to light by the Albany Times-Union, which on Thursday published excerpts from several trustees’ resignation letters.

Trustee Gregory Serio wrote that he wanted to support the president and the college but that Stefanco no longer enjoyed his confidence.

"Her secretive management style, closed-circle communication methods, obvious preoccupation with personal interests and apparent disdain for the board and its critical role in the governance of this institution are serious and, probably, irreparable shortcomings for any executive, within or without higher education," he wrote, according to the Times-Union.

The newspaper also quoted from the resignation letter of the college’s now former board chair, Judith Calogero. She wrote that trustees had committed enormous amounts of time and effort to improving the effectiveness of the college’s leadership and management, but that they had not been successful. Trustees were divided over the prospect of taking corrective action, she wrote.

Calogero did not send the letter to the newspaper, she said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed Thursday. She sent the document to the Board of Trustees and did not intend for it to be released publicly, she said.

“I hope my former colleagues on the board will be able to turn this around,” she said. “It’s my alma mater. I love the place. A lot of people in my family have attended the college, and I have nothing but best wishes for them going forward.”

Calogero provided a copy of her resignation letter because it had already been quoted from extensively in the press.

Most faculty members have no confidence in the college’s administrative team, but the team has no plan to improve the relationship with faculty members, Calogero wrote in the letter. She called turnover in the college’s academic leadership unprecedented, writing that four provosts have served in the last two years, that the current interim provost doubles as a dean and that the college’s remaining three dean positions are all filled on an interim basis because their predecessors left.

More than 130 employees left Saint Rose between 2015 and 2016, Calogero wrote. Many of those departing had been administrative appointees. No information was shared with the Board of Trustees about their departures, and the board asked that exit interviews be conducted with a trustee present, Calogero wrote. That proposal was rejected.

Calogero also wrote that thousands of dollars have been spent planning what would be the second administrative building renovation in 10 years, even as other college-owned buildings fell into disrepair. The college will be burdened by deferred maintenance for years to come, she predicted.

She also pointed to a $3.6 million deficit for the last fiscal year and a $12.1 million deficit estimated for the current fiscal year.

“Enrollment is down, student retention is down, the discount rate is at a historical high, student housing occupancy is down, new programs that were expected to bring new students have failed or stalled, and the strategic plan is failing,” Calogero wrote. “All occurring within the last three years under the current leadership team.”

Calogero asked the president to temporarily not take on additional external commitments like board appointments, she wrote. That would allow Stefanco to dedicate her professional time and energy toward Saint Rose, where they were needed. But the request was disregarded, Calogero wrote.

“A campaign was initiated to have me change my position, with repeated requests by phone and email,” she wrote. “When that didn’t work, my authority as chair of the Board of Trustees was further undermined by lobbying other trustees, causing much disruption and divisiveness. The chair-elect joined the campaign, who together with the president brought the topic forward to the full board, to attempt to overturn my decision and further undermine my authority to act. This resulted in the most unprofessional display I’ve ever witnessed at our October board meeting.”

Calogero’s letter also references the president asking for additional compensation when faculty and staff were being laid off. The board opposed the requests in the past, but that may be reversed now, Calogero wrote.

The president is not requesting additional compensation, a Saint Rose spokeswoman said in an email. Stefanco has not received a raise since starting at the college in 2014 and has experienced reductions in benefits, as have other administrators, she said. The spokeswoman declined to comment on specific communications between the administration and trustees, calling such communications confidential. But she did share the college’s overall undergraduate tuition discount rate, which is 52 percent.

The Times Union reported that at least six trustees have resigned in recent weeks, but Saint Rose says the number of resignations is five since Nov. 1.

A statement from the college also said the $12.1 million deficit is a forecast made three months into the current fiscal year. The college is working to increase revenue and cut expenses to reduce the deficit, and it raised more than $7 million in gifts last year, its highest level in 15 years, it said.

The college has almost 2,500 full-time undergraduate students and students enrolled in nearly 6,000 graduate credits, it said. It also said first-year applications for the fall of 2018 are up over last year and that it enrolled a record first-year class in the fall of 2016 before being hit by New York’s free college tuition program for public institutions.

“Our finances remain a very significant challenge as we seek to keep tuition affordable, compete with the SUNY and CUNY systems’ offer of free tuition, and find the money to invest in our programs and facilities,” the statement said. “Our faculty, staff and administration deliver an amazing, life-transforming education despite the financial challenges.”

The college’s full-time undergraduate enrollment has been slipping for years, according to statistics available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Saint Rose had more than 2,800 full-time undergraduate students in 2010, more than 2,700 in 2012 and 2,540 in 2015, the most recent year for which data are available.

Faculty members expressed surprise and concern at the trustee resignations, saying they reflect serious issues with Stefanco’s performance.

“I think everybody is still rather in shock,” said Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology who is president of the Saint Rose chapter of the AAUP. “I think the sentiment is that a change in presidential leadership at this point would be beneficial. But to be honest with you, I think for the situation to improve, it would probably best if the president acknowledged the growing lack of support that she has and would leave and give us a year of transition so we could mount a search for a new president.”

About 10 years ago, the college had 212 full-time faculty members, Crowley said. Now it has 173. Faculty benefits were cut in 2015, and many often teach overload courses now. The number of adjuncts has risen and is now over 200.

“Probably the greatest difficulty right now is the sense of, I’d have to say, doom and fear on campus,” Crowley said.

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Florida State president asks faculty parties to be alcohol-free

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

After a student was found dead the morning after attending a party at Florida State’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapter, the university suspended Greek life indefinitely.

The student, Andrew Coffey, 20, was pledging the fraternity, which was ordered by its national chapter to shut down last month. His death was associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and Florida State has also banned the consumption of alcohol at all events hosted by student organizations affiliated with the university.

Florida State’s new alcohol and Greek life regulations came into effect just over a month ago, but the institution hasn’t stopped its examination of the drinking culture on campus. Earlier this month, John Thrasher, university president, urged faculty and staff to refrain from serving alcohol at any holiday functions held on campus.

“I am now asking that as you plan departmental or office holiday functions and parties, if they are held on campus, you refrain from serving alcohol,” he said in a memo sent to university employees. “I have instituted this policy for functions I am hosting, and while it has not been popular, my guests have understood.”

The memo is nonbinding, and alcohol remains available on campus in certain situations. Since the Greek life suspension, the president’s box has not served alcohol during football games, though guests in other box seats are still free to imbibe. (Florida State’s stadium does not sell alcohol to guests at large, a move several universities have embraced in recent years.)

In his memo, Thrasher examined alcohol consumption from a broader perspective. “I feel strongly that Florida State University is a family,” he said. “As a family, we share our problems and our solutions. This is about setting an example for our students, and, as mentors and leaders, I hope that you will all support this step along the road to culture change.”

It remains to be seen how long the president’s alcohol ban will last, and if other universities will embrace the move. A Florida State spokesman said he wasn't aware how long the president's stance is intended to last, but said Thrasher “feels strongly about leading by example while the university takes this time to reflect on the loss of a young life and make efforts to shift the campus culture in a more positive and healthy direction.”

Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, Indiana University, Texas State University, Ball State University, Louisiana State University and Penn State University are all public institutions where Greek life has been put under some form of sanctioning in recent months. Sanctions range in severity: Penn State’s administration banned Beta Theta Pi in March after student Timothy Piazza died following a Beta Theta Pi party in February. Greek life now runs under new regulations stemming from the death. On the other hand, Ball State fraternities governed by the university’s student-led Interfraternity Council reached an agreement with the administration in October to ban alcohol at events until the end of January, as a sort of reset measure aimed at reshaping fraternity culture.

A spokesman at Texas State wasn’t aware of any similar plans to ban or discourage booze at faculty events at the institution, and neither was a spokesman for Michigan. A spokesman for Indiana said that the university has not “considered or had a discussion about a policy similar to that one at this time.” Representatives from the other universities mentioned did not respond to requests for comment.

In industries outside academe, alcohol policies have been examined in a similar manner, however. In some of those cases, the prompt hasn't been fraternity abuse of alcohol but rather incidents of sexual harassment. At Vox Media, which publishes the websites Vox, SBNation and Racked, among other news sites, the annual holiday party’s open bar has been nixed, and instead employees who choose to drink will be subject to a two-beverage maximum. The move comes after the company fired its editorial director, Lockhart Steele, following allegations of sexual harassment.

“We recognize that even though alcohol isn’t always the reason for unprofessional behavior, creating an environment that encourages overconsumption certainly contributes to it. We hope that you all appreciate the spirit of this change and we look forward to celebrating with you,” an email to staffers read.

In another email to Vox employees, sent at the beginning of November, Vox’s management said it was looking into “tighter policies around alcoholic beverages at company events and meetings and generally ensuring work events and interactions meet the highest standard of professionalism.”

Kimberley Timpf, senior director of prevention education at EverFi, which runs the online alcohol education program AlcoholEdu, said that Thrasher’s message signaled that Florida State was willing to come to the table with students.

“At the core of it is the idea that this president wants to communicate that alcohol is not a required part of socializing,” she said. She added that binge drinking and alcohol safety are comprehensive subjects that require “a lot of difference pieces that need to come together” for a solution.

“There needs to be some consistency across campus,” she said. “If we’re trying to message to them that alcohol is not necessary to socialize, then we need to do that ourselves.”

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Clemson professor pledges $2 million for scholarship

Inside HigherEd - Fri, 12/08/2017 - 08:00

Todd Schweisinger wasn’t anywhere near millionaire status when he was working for $4 an hour at a roller rink at the age of 10. But neither were Dr. Dre, Ice Cube or the other members of the 1980s hip-hop group NWA.

Schweisinger worked at Skateland USA, the iconic skate rink founded in Compton, Calif., in 1984 (and featured in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton), that also acted as a concert venue, helping launch the careers of up-and-coming '80s hip-hop groups.

Now, though, it’s Schweisinger’s turn.

The 42-year-old professor doesn’t have the trappings of a one-percenter: he lives in the same $60,000 house he purchased when he was a doctoral candidate at Clemson University, where he is now a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, and his minivan didn’t have air-conditioning until last year, when he finally caved and spent the money needed to keep him cool during South Carolina’s wicked summers. But that frugality is what has helped put him on the path to pledge 95 percent of his estate to Clemson, a sum he’s hoping will reach $2 million.

“My father instilled in me a hard work ethic,” Schweisinger said. “I’ve worked really hard for my money, and I thought about, ‘Who is going to be the best steward for my money when I’m gone that will share my vision and passion?’”

Through holding a tight budget, working with a financial planner and plans to make investments in real estate, Schweisinger is planning to set up an endowed scholarship fund that can -- when entrusted and invested with the Clemson University Foundation -- last in perpetuity to fund full-ride scholarships, with preference for students from South Carolina.

“I made a lot of friends at Clemson,” said Schweisinger, who earned his master’s degree and Ph.D., both in mechanical engineering, from the institution. “And when they graduated, a lot of them moved into new houses, updated the car that they had been driving for something newer, or got married and had big weddings.”

Schweisinger, on the other hand, kept living “like a graduate student,” opting to keep the house he was already in. He drives 1988 minivan and a 1982 pickup.

He first approached the university’s fund-raising office in 2008 to begin talks about the future of his estate, but his outlook on spending had been shaped years before.

“When I was in elementary school, I’m sure I wanted fancy cars, a big house and all kinds of things,” he said. His parents were always supportive of him working and spending his money on whatever he wanted as a teenager, but the video games and other items that captured his adolescent attention would soon be dated and cease to interest him.

“So at some point in time, I just thought, gosh … maybe the big house, the car, the other fancy things I wanted, isn’t really what makes me happy,” he said.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said he was caught by surprise when he heard about Schweisinger’s donation.

“To give back so overwhelmingly, you have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to believe in your students, you have to believe in what they can achieve,” he said, adding that the donation reaffirmed his “faith in the goodness of people.”

A scholarship endowment carries personal significance for Schweisinger, who is unmarried and without children. As a Ph.D. student, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, and the medical costs associated with it forced him to take out student loans.

“I’m grateful for what I have, specifically my degree. When I completed that degree, I felt like I had accomplished everything I’d set out for, so I didn’t feel like I … [needed] much else to feel complete, other than to put some food on the table,” he said.

He started giving back immediately in the form of teaching, which he considers a form of public service. He also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The $2 million endowment, though, is a guarantee that he can keep giving back after he’s gone.

“Being in higher education is a very personally rewarding career,” he said. “And I enjoy putting students first.”

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A termination, a suspension and a celebration -- all over allegations of faculty misconduct

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:00

As the #metoo sexual harassment awareness campaign continues, several more institutions are taking action against professors accused on their campuses.

On Monday, A. Morrie Craig, a longtime professor of veterinary toxicology at Oregon State University, will appeal his faculty-backed termination to the institution’s Board of Trustees. The specific allegations against Craig, who did not respond to a request for comment, have not been made public. But the university has said, in relation to his case, that it takes seriously “all complaints of bullying and sexual harassment.”

Craig was accused in May, and he testified on his own behalf during a two-day hearing on the case overseen by a special committee of Oregon State’s Faculty Senate, according to The Oregonian. That committee recommended Craig’s dismissal for cause in October, and the university soon notified him of his termination.

Appeals of faculty-backed termination decisions are rare, in part because terminations of tenured professors remain unusual. But Craig reportedly petitioned a county court to review the decision. A judge said he had no jurisdiction over the campus, however, so Craig pursued a last-ditch appeal option: going before the board.

Steve Clark, university spokesperson, declined to share details of the case, but said via email that Oregon State has “explicit policies regarding such actions, including for faculty.” Policies on bullying and harassment consider the severity of allegations, as well as allegations that are less severe but occur over a long period of time, he said.

Brett Sokolow, executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said Wednesday that whether faculty members challenge terminations, in court or internally, remains something of a “mixed bag.” Some of the “really guilty ones,” or those who are most privacy conscious, will not, he said, while those who feel “wronged” or who are unwilling to admit misconduct are more likely to challenge their terminations.

Yet Sokolow said he has noticed an increase in contestations of late, “perhaps because we are seeing an increase in those who are being terminated instead of given a quiet exit.” Previously -- as recently as a year ago -- hushed buyouts and departures for professors found to have committed misconduct were “the norm,” he said. But things have shifted and the faculty member “looking to make a quiet exit is not going to have that option as readily now.”

Earlier this month, the University of Virginia confirmed that John Casey, author and Henry Hoyns Professor of English, won’t be teaching in the spring. Casey, who is on a preplanned sabbatical this term, did not respond to a request for comment. But he’s been placed on leave next semester, when he was set to lead two graduate courses, pending a university investigation into multiple complaints from students. He’s been publicly accused of inappropriately touching students, commenting on what they’re wearing, using profanity to refer to women in readings and ranking female students based on attractiveness.

Anthony de Bruyn, university spokesperson, told Inside Higher Ed that Virginia “is committed to ensuring a safe, nondiscriminatory educational and work environment and takes seriously any allegation of conduct that would violate university policy prohibiting sexual and gender-based harassment.”

Even on campuses that have seen faculty departures over harassment, student advocates say they want more -- more training for employees and students, and more protections for students who report alleged misconduct. Students at San Jose State University, for example, on Tuesday held a party and rally to celebrate the recent resignation of Lewis Aptekar, a longtime professor of counseling education found by the university to have harassed a graduate student by repeatedly asking her out on dates and asking about her relationship status. Another student later made similar claims, which the university said could not be substantiated.

Elisa Stewart, Aptekar’s attorney, told Inside Higher Ed earlier this year that after an investigation into his conduct in 2016-17, Aptekar was cleared of wrongdoing by a “thoughtful, diligent and unbiased process with adequate protections in place to protect all the parties.” An earlier, 2015 investigation was “flawed, and consequently, the result is not reliable,” she said.

Aptekar wasn’t terminated; he resigned in exchange for $75,000, according to university records, after he criticized how the university handled his case. But students nevertheless celebrated what they perceived to be a win for their cause.

Valerie Lamb, a graduate student in education counseling at San Jose State who helped Students Against Sexual Harassment, or SASH, organize the rally, said the campus group is seeking “justice” for professors who engage in harassment. One aim is to get professors found to have committed misconduct terminated, she said, and the other is to serve as “safe space” for students affected. Lamb said SASH and other advocates also hoped to benefit from the media attention surrounding sexual misconduct, in terms of effecting a more positive climate and possible policy changes -- no more “slaps on the wrists" for harassers.

The university said in a statement that it currently requires all faculty, staff and administrators to complete training on avoiding and combating sexual harassment annually, via a two-and-a-half-hour online course. The training includes case studies from the California State University system and is compliant with system executive orders prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation, sexual misconduct, relationships between employees and those over whom they have significant authority, domestic violence, and stalking.

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Peralta Community College rejects Oakland A's offer for new ballpark

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:00

It’s not every day that a community college gets courted by a Major League Baseball team.

It’s also not every day that a community college gets to turn away a professional baseball team, either.

But that’s exactly what happened Tuesday evening when the Peralta Community College District’s governing board directed its chancellor to “discontinue planning for a community engagement process on a possible baseball stadium.”

The Oakland Athletics have spent about a year examining where to build a new ballpark in the city. In September, the A’s announced that they wanted to build the new, 35,000-seat stadium on a district-owned 15-acre property near Oakland’s Laney College, which is one of Peralta’s four two-year institutions.

The Athletics’ plan promised to address displacement of residents and small businesses and to create new affordable housing and well-paying jobs. The team also proposed opportunities for partnerships on mixed-use developments that would help generate revenue for the district.

But faculty groups, students and community organizations have been vehemently opposed to the proposal.

“We’re all really excited,” said Jennifer Shanoski, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers and a chemistry instructor at Merritt College. “Especially in these times when people feel so powerless with everything happening to us all the time. Here’s an instance where good old-fashioned organizing and grassroots organization worked.”

In a team statement released Wednesday, the A’s said they were “shocked” by the board’s decision not to move forward.

A's STATEMENT: We are shocked by Peralta’s decision to not move forward. All we wanted to do was enter into a conversation about how to make this work for all of Oakland, Laney, & the Peralta Community College District. We are disappointed that we will not have that opportunity.

— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) December 6, 2017

The news also caught Oakland leaders by surprise.

Oakland remains fiercely determined to keep the @Athletics in Oakland. It is unfortunate the discussion w/ Peralta ended so abruptly, yet we're committed, more than ever, to working with the A’s and our community to find the right spot in OAK for a privately-financed ballpark.

— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) December 6, 2017

Jowel Laguerre, the district’s chancellor, said the board didn’t make its decision specifically because of opposition from the campus groups, but because they want to focus on assessing the needs of the college and seeing what other partnerships are available.

“The district will build on its shared governance model to reimagine the district’s needs and the resources to meet them. We will develop a robust and inclusive internal engagement process to assess our needs and partnerships aligned with our mission. The Board of Trustees will continue due diligence in determining the costs and benefits of potential development,” the board’s statement said.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Laguerre pointed out that Peralta has challenges with its infrastructure and wants to focus on better addressing the housing and food-insecurity needs of its students.

“The board is really focused on the long-term future of the district and not necessarily the opposition that came up for something that was not well detailed,” Laguerre said.

A lack of details helped keep faculty and students from supporting a ballpark on college property.

The A’s “approached the district and administration well, but there was not a lot of transparency and openness with faculty, staff and students,” Shanoski said. “They tried to do these sort of listening tours, but there was never any information being provided.”

Laguerre said there wasn’t anything for people to be against because the proposal wasn’t a project yet, just a concept.

“It’s easy to say yes or easy to say no but more difficult to say, ‘Let’s think about this and how can this happen,’” Laguerre said. “Even though we’re not using the Oakland A’s project to ask those questions, that’s what we’re asking. How can we use the resources we have and what kind of partnerships can we develop?”

For the different groups on campus, the A’s couldn’t sufficiently address concerns around the potential impacts of a new ballpark on the college and surrounding area.

Community and faculty groups raised concerns on issues ranging from the effect of construction and game noise on classes to displaced housing and gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding the college.

“We didn’t make a knee-jerk reaction,” said Donald Moore, president of the Laney Faculty Senate and an anthropology professor. “Part of it was listening to the Oakland A’s and getting a bunch of supportive comments and no meat behind it. No substance.”

Moore said whenever anyone raised concerns about traffic or displaced businesses, the team would make reassuring statements about mitigating any problems the ballpark would bring, but they did not provide details or research to explain how they would solve those problems.

Laguerre said some of the issues faculty raised, like noise concerns, could have been addressed once the proposal was farther along in planning. But the experience of receiving an offer has helped the college learn how to deal with development and partnership proposals, he said.

Meanwhile, many people around Oakland are eager to keep the team in the city, especially after the Oakland Raiders received approval from the National Football League to move to Las Vegas in 2019. Prior to selecting the college’s land, the A’s considered a waterfront site or a new stadium near their current home at the Oakland Coliseum.

Moore said with the Raiders leaving for Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors abandoning nearby Oracle Arena for San Francisco, the A’s could have the Coliseum to themselves to redevelop and improve that neighborhood.

“We want to keep the A’s in Oakland, as well,” Laguerre said. “I believe in and stated we need to do everything we can to keep the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, but it’s not just Peralta’s job to do that. It’s the whole community that needs to come together around that particular issue.”

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Lawsuit alleges Howard University kept serial rapists on campus

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:00

Howard University, a revered historically black institution, allowed two students, alleged serial rapists, to remain on campus, according to a federal lawsuit that claims administrators failed in their handling of sexual assault reports.

While the university doesn’t explicitly have a legal obligation to remove any student, activists and experts interviewed said when such a pattern emerges, institutions can act, and should do so. Some say that historically black colleges and universities have notoriously been slow to respond to sexual misconduct.

The lawsuit coincides with a national debate over the federal gender discrimination law Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Critics of the Obama administration have said his Education Department’s interpretation of Title IX was overzealous and resulted in accused students being treated unfairly on campus. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has since pulled the Obama rules on Title IX, dating back to 2011, and is in the process of revising them.

In May, five women, current or former students at the Washington university, filed the lawsuit under the pseudonyms Jane Doe 1 through 5, all asserting they had been sexually assaulted and that administrators generally ignored them or lagged in their responses. Their cases dragged on for many months, when Howard’s policy (and previous federal rules) required a 60-day timeline, according to the complaint.

Right after Thanksgiving, a sixth Jane Doe joined the lawsuit, with details about how her case has not been resolved eight months after she reported her rape, and her suit said that she still sees around campus her alleged attacker, who has multiple reports of sexual assault against him.

“The university’s actions have exacerbated and extended, rather than corrected, the resulting interference with the educational opportunities of each woman,” the lawsuit states.

No court case has definitively concluded that an institution needs to bar a student from campus once he or she is reported for sexual assault, said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, which consults with colleges on matters of sexual misconduct.

The Title IX standard colleges must meet is eliminating a hostile environment, Carter said.

“But when you get accused of multiple offenses or criminally convicted, it becomes harder and harder to make the argument that anything short of removal is sufficient,” he said.

But with the Howard case, the punishment seemingly wasn’t even a question -- administrators allegedly did so little that they weren’t even considering suspension until apparently more than seven months or so after one report had been filed, Carter said.

Spokeswoman Crystal Brown said in a statement that Howard does not comment on Title IX cases or pending litigation.

“Howard University takes very seriously all allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence and gender-based discrimination occurring on the university's campus or involving the university's students. Our commitment is evidenced by our rigorous enforcement of the university's Title IX Policy on Prohibited Sexual Harassment and Gender-Based Discrimination in Education Program and Activities. The university has been, and remains, committed to diligently investigating any such allegations to ensure a safe and healthy community for our faculty, staff and students.”

According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe 2 reported her rape to administrators in October 2015, expressing concerns that her alleged assailant was a resident assistant in her dormitory and thus had access to her room key. He had stalked Doe 2 since the beginning of that semester, the suit states, but Howard’s Title IX coordinator, Candi N. Smiley, told Doe 2 he could not be moved until an investigation had finished.

Doe 2 provided Smiley that October with text and email messages that allegedly proved that she was being harassed and that the rape occurred, but she did not hear any response until December, when Smiley asked Doe 2 to resend them.

She tried to drop out at the end of fall 2015 semester after hearing no response for the rest of that year -- the lawsuit states Doe 2 was on “the brink of losing her scholarship” and depressed and fearful she would encounter her rapist. Doe 2 had moved out of the dormitory where he was a resident assistant, but found later she had been charged for doing so when administrators had assured her she would not be. The university also removed her Pell Grant and need-based scholarship from her transcript, charged her for that amount of money, and sent her multiple notices threatening to send her to collections, the complaint states.

Doe 2 didn’t hear anything from Howard until March 2016, right after she had reached out to Doe 1, who had gone on a “storm” on Twitter how the university had similarly botched her report of rape -- against the same man who allegedly assaulted Doe 2. He had transferred from University of California, Los Angeles, after being accused of sexual misconduct there, the suit states.

For a third time, Smiley asked to see the text messages Doe 2 had sent twice, the complaint states. In April 2016, Smiley informed Doe 2 that the university had suspended her alleged attacker for two years.

But no one notified Doe 1 of the outcome. She reported her rape in February 2016, but after she met with Smiley, Doe 1 didn’t hear anything from her from March 1 through March 21, except for Smiley contacting Doe 1 to ask if she had been discussing the rape in text messages with her friends -- she had not, the lawsuit states. Doe 1 called Smiley four times during that period with no response.

Frustrated, Doe 1 posted to Twitter in late March 2016, identifying her and Doe 2’s attacker -- that’s how she connected with Doe 2.

This prompted Howard to release a statement: “There has been an allegation of sexual assault committed by a Howard University student against another Howard student. The university administration is aware of the allegation and took immediate action as soon as we learned of this matter.”

By that point, Doe 1, who was also a resident assistant, had been fired from her position based on a report her alleged assailant gave to residence life.

No one ever told Doe 1 that her rapist was kicked off campus.

In a similar set of circumstances, Doe 6 reported her sexual assault in April 2016, but largely did not hear from administration until a full year later, when a dean told her the attacker had raped someone else and that the university was “reopening her case.” Doe 6 also discovered before she reported her alleged assailant he had multiple cases of sexual violence already open against him -- but he still is permitted on campus to this day, according to the complaint. BuzzFeed first reported details of the amended complaint.

Though institutions can't weigh character evidence when adjudicating a Title IX complaint, they can factor in multiple reports with a pattern, said Laura Dunn, founder of SurvJustice, which advocates for sexual assault victims.

The job of Title IX coordinators is not only to respond to reports, but also track these patterns of discrimination on campus, Dunn said. In theory, a college or university can flag an individual even without a complaint to work from, she said -- or, in the event of a dead end to an investigation, a person can be removed from a position of power. In the Howard case, the alleged rapist could have been fired as a resident assistant during the investigation.

“It’s pretty clear Howard University was not proactively engaging,” she said.

The prevalence of repeat offenders has been challenged in recent years. One 2015 study, led by then Georgia State University assistant professor of psychology Kevin Swartout, now an associate professor, purported that only 25 percent of the men who reported committing acts of rape did so multiple times.

This went against oft-cited research in 2002 by David Lisak, then a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts that cited the number as high as 63 percent.

In light of the newer study, colleges should act more carefully, said Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators and the NCHERM Group, a consulting firm for institutions.

“In a situation in which serial offenses are alleged -- but a pattern may not yet be proven -- I think colleges would be well advised to bring their behavioral intervention or threat assessment teams into play,” Sokolow wrote in an email. “Colleges don’t want to suspend anyone without reasonable cause, but often they’re really only speculating as to pattern and the potential to reoffend when all they have are allegations.”

Not all the plaintiffs in the Howard case allege that their attackers raped multiple people.

After Jane Doe 3 began a relationship with a campus police officer, he sexually and physically abused her: according to the lawsuit, he “hit her, pushed her, strangled her and threw things at her.” She told Howard officials she was suicidal and requested solo counseling, not group therapy, as had been suggested, but they ignored her calls. Because her grades slipped, Doe 3 was worried she would lose her Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship, and she found that administrators were either indifferent or unhelpful in helping her make up course work or register for new classes.

After Jane Doe 4 was raped, administrators and professors did not assist her in rescheduling her exams, and, she said, her alleged assaulter essentially ignored the no-contact order against him. She often encountered him on campus, and administrators did not help her set up a schedule to avoid him in common areas such as the gym or dining halls as she had requested.

Doe 4 then learned she might share a dormitory with her alleged rapist, which administrators had promised her would not happen. Administrators acknowledged this was an error but did not confirm with Doe 4 that he would not live on campus until days before campus move-in, the lawsuit states.

Her alleged assailant was then suspended for a semester, but Doe 4 spotted him at a homecoming pep rally in October 2016. She told campus police he was blocked from campus, but the cops were unaware of this -- the complaint states that the Title IX office never told the police the man was restricted from campus and did not remove him until Doe 4 showed an officer proof of the ban on her phone.

Jane Doe 5 reported her rape to campus officials in April 2015, a month shy of her graduation. She did not feel safe enough at Howard to finish her credits, and requested to do so on another campus. After she took summer classes, the university waited seven months to let her know if the credits would actually count. The alleged assailant in that case was suspended for two years, and the lawsuit states he was later criminally convicted in the District of Columbia for a separate sexual assault.

Howard in July filed to dismiss the complaint, citing the fact that an institution only violates Title IX when an official is aware of, but willfully ignores, ongoing harassment. The university said once it learned of the alleged assaults, it took action: even if the women “disagree with the particulars of Howard’s response, Howard did not subject plaintiffs to intentional gender discrimination,” it wrote in the motion to dismiss.

Black Colleges and Sex Assaults

Howard is a prominent historically black college, but some say the issues there reflect broader problems for HBCUs. One challenge at these institutions is that most lack sufficient resources for all kinds of needs, including investigating sex assault accusations. Such scant resources can result in little investment into combating sexual violence, said Venkayla Haynes, a survivor and a representative of advocacy group Know Your IX. She said HBCUs are also very focused on their images, fearful that reports about sex assaults could hurt them.

Already, too, black men and women are often disproportionally criminalized, so some survivors are hesitant to report and reinforce that image, she said.

Haynes, also a regional adviser for the It’s on Us campaign launched by the Obama White House, said she has dealt with many HBCUs that simply disregard issues of sexual violence. She said she’s sat with victims while they tell their stories to administrators but that they’re never officially recorded.

But just blaming the historically black institutions for deficiencies in sexual assault reports is unfair, said Felecia Commodore, assistant professor of higher education at Old Dominion University, who studies HBCU leadership and governance. Many other institutions have permitted serial offenders to remain on campus, she said.

What tends to happen is when a predominately white institution is found to have dealt with a report of sexual assault poorly, it's treated as an institutional issue only. When an HBCU does, it's characterized inevitably as an issue among all of them, and thus a racial problem, Commodore said.

Black students, particularly black women, face unique challenges in reporting. HBCUs promote a "family atmosphere" and sometimes victims will struggle to tell someone when they know their attacker well, Commodore said. Black women often fear, because of stereotypes, being cast as hypersexualized, and some believe they won't be taken seriously, she said.

"I think it’s really important that we take seriously when any student comes forward saying they’ve been sexually assaulted," Commodore said. "In the case of HBCUs, I think there is a tendency to underreport, and we need to take seriously supporting [survivors] and making an environment where they don’t feel like they have betrayed people."

HBCUs have not always accomplished this, though.

Recently, signs appeared on the campuses of both Spelman College and Morehouse College, both members of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, along with Clark Atlanta University. They accused the colleges of “protecting” rapists. The Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel at Morehouse was spray-painted with “Practice what you preach Morehouse [and] end rape culture.”

Alongside this, a Twitter account, @WeKnowWhatYouDid, was opened, using the hashtag #weknowwhatyoudid and posting the names of alleged perpetrators, identifying some as serial rapists.

While some HBCUs claim to support programs to curtail sexual violence, they are not always realized, though they are advertised publicly, said Haynes of Know Your IX -- Howard promotes such resources on its website.

“But the real change comes when a survivor reports and is actually being taken care of in the way they should,” Haynes said.

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Author discusses his new book on disability and higher education

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:00

Academic Ableism (University of Michigan Press) notes the progress higher education has made to be more inclusive of people with disabilities than in the past. But the book isn't full of praise. Rather, it offers critique after critique of the way colleges have ignored or responded inadequately to the needs of many students and professors.

The author is Jay Timothy Dolmage, associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, who takes disability issues seriously. Below the signature line on his emails is this phrase: "If you have an accommodation need for a planned meeting, please email me directly and I will do my best to make appropriate arrangements. Should you require any materials sent via this email address in an alternate/accessible format, please let me know."

Via email, he responded to questions about his new book.

Q: What drew you to disability studies?

A: I grew up in the disability rights movement in Canada -- and my entire family is still involved in this movement. But when I was a kid, it began with a fight for my brother’s right to go to an inclusive school, in our neighborhood, with his friends and my sister and I. We took that fight all the way to the Ontario Supreme Court of Appeal … and we lost! So we moved to a school [district] where he could be included in a regular classroom, and we supported the subsequent legal challenges that eventually established the right to inclusive education. My mother and my sister, in particular, still work directly to help families protect and achieve this right to education. I see myself as carrying this fight into higher education.

Q: Much of the early discussion about disability in higher education focused on legal requirements about buildings -- stairs, bathroom facilities, etc. How did those discussions shape the way academe perceives these issues?

A: In the book I say that this history has, in part, established disability in mainly legal and medical terms. This means that disability isn’t seen as an identity as much as it is seen as a diagnosis, and this diagnosis is seen to have -- not cultural or social values -- but legal requirements attached to it; minimum legal requirements. So disability gets framed as something you can get wrong if you don’t have the right infrastructure, as at best something that is a cost: you have to get that infrastructure up to the minimum. That’s a pretty problematic way to view 10 to 15 percent of students -- as legal risks, as costs. That said, the metaphors that come from physical accessibility -- ramps, elevators, etc. -- we can do some useful things with these metaphors, urging people to see accessibility much more broadly. What are the ways you build ramps and elevators in your own classroom, to invite everyone in?

Q: More recently, much of the discussion has been about technology, and how various technology tools can be (or many times are not) accessible. How has that changed the narrative?

A: Well, I don’t think it has changed it much at all. Still, the requirement for access is constructed as a cost. It is a really frustrating, unfair calculus. To make content accessible in a general sense, that’s seen as a duty -- it is seen as just good teaching. But when something like digital content needs to be made accessible for people with disabilities, that’s not seen as an investment, it is seen as a cost, one to be avoided if possible. And so people really do avoid it. At the very best, we get digital “ramps” that actually cost people with disabilities, or that make learning much more difficult for them -- these are ramps in the back door of higher education, not in the front door.

Q: In the United States, there is constant discussion of what is "reasonable" in terms of providing assistance. Does that "reasonable" test bother you?

A: Oh, goodness yes. Who is constructed as having the “reason” in this situation? It’s not the disabled student. And because it is not coming from the learners themselves, but instead through bureaucracies designed to deliver the very minimum, we don’t get very logical or reasonable accommodations at all. Around 90 percent of accommodations in North America are the same, rubber-stamped thing: more time on tests and exams. That’s good -- lots of people need that and use that accommodation to keep up with their peers and to provide evidence of how much they have learned. But it shows how little imagination there is -- we teach in myriad innovative ways, but we give the same little minimal accommodations over and over again, and force students to ask, over and over again, and prove their disability, over and over again? It is almost absurdist. The lack of innovation, the repetition, the lack of generosity and curiosity, the lack of communication between teachers and learners, I could go on and on. So, yes, it bothers me!

Q: Do you think academe devalues those people who have a disability of some type?

A: Unfortunately my answer here is a confident one: definitely. I think it is hardwired into academic culture. Around 90 percent of students with learning disabilities get accommodations for those disabilities in high school. Only around 10 percent of those same students, when they go to college or university, seek accommodations. That is even though those same disabilities could be experienced more deeply in higher ed. So why is that? Well, it is a culture that is all about independence, competition, achievement, measurement, comparison, perfection. Admitting that you need help seems out of the question.

So most students who do get accommodations wait until at least their third year to get them; they would rather struggle and try to get through than ask for help. And we see the same trends on the postgraduate level and definitely among faculty -- have a look at the recent collection Negotiating Disability: Disclosure and Higher Education for more on this. The question, for educators, then, needs to be: How am I part of this culture, even unconsciously? What toll is this taking on me? On my students? What makes me afraid to admit this, or to admit my complicity in it? How can I work to change this culture?

Q: Higher education constantly considers issues of diversity, but many times the focus is on race and gender. Where should disability fit in?

A: It should fit in intersectionality. Disability is never “alone with itself” -- that is, there are always ways that it is inflected, influenced, shaped by gender, race, sexuality and other identity markers. It’s something that is awesome about disability identity: there are cultures of inclusion across all of these vectors of difference. But, historically, those combinations and intersections were used much more negatively. Disability was used as a marker of biological deviance and inferiority, flexibly applied onto a range of bodies to construct them as less than human.

As to the history of that, and its politics, isn’t easy to get away from. But disability is a really important form of diversity, just never “alone” -- disability is one of the important ways that real diversity takes shape. I hope that the book begins to show this value -- that we need to move on from legal and medical definitions of disability. We need to move on from minimal “reasonable” accommodations. We need to take a hard look at a culture that wants to deny disability despite the real cost of doing so. If disability can be seen as part of the fabric of higher education, as something that comes in the front door, not around back, as something that drives change and innovation and builds community, then my feeling is we will all become better teachers.

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Max Planck institutes create research positions for which only women may apply

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 12/07/2017 - 08:00

Germany’s Max Planck Society of research institutes has launched a women-only program of tenure-track positions to improve its gender balance and stop rivals poaching its best female scientists.

The Lise Meitner excellence program, named after the pioneering early-20th-century physicist, is one of several women-only hiring initiatives that some observers believe are becoming more common while the proportion of women in top research positions remains stubbornly low.

Christina Beck, a spokeswoman for Max Planck’s network of 83 institutes, said that the program was being launched because “the competition for highly talented female scientists is increasing all over the world, while the pool of excellent women is not really growing.”

“Other institutions successfully recruit the best of our female scientists at group leader level,” she said.

Backed by more than 30 million euros ($35.5 million), the society will create up to 10 five-year research group leader positions annually for the next four years. Unlike the network’s previous women-only initiative to recruit group leaders, which ended in 2015, these positions will be on the tenure track, meaning that recipients get the chance to make their positions permanent at the end of the period.

Grietje Molema, president of the Dutch Network of Women Professors and a professor at the University of Groningen, said that women-only programs were getting more common in Europe and called the move by Max Planck a “good step forward.”

“Affirmative action” was an “essential part” of tackling the underrepresentation of women in research, she said.

In 2003, Groningen started offering Rosalind Franklin Fellowships -- some of which have been co-funded by the European Union -- which grant female researchers placements of up to six years. Toward the end of the fellowship, fellows are assessed and, if successful, promoted to associate professor with tenure. After a further four to seven years, they are assessed again, with the chance to become full professors.

The Technical University of Delft also offers women-only fellowships at the assistant, associate or full professor level.

But women-only recruitment drives were not enough, Molema argued. “These programs are fantastic, but you have to fix the system,” she said.

One problem was that mainly male senior academics tended to promote “a copy” of themselves to top positions, leaving women behind, she said.

Louise Morley, director of the Center for Higher Education and Equity Research at the University of Sussex, acknowledged that “any positive discrimination intervention is always controversial as critics argue that it is in opposition to merit. However, when any social group is so underrepresented, some focused actions are necessary.”

The most recent statistics from the European Commission show that only small steps toward gender equality have been made on the higher rungs of the academic promotion ladder. Women represent 47 percent of Ph.D. graduates, but just 21 percent of academics at the highest level, according to She Figures 2015, with the proportion of female researchers dropping the higher the position.

Germany has a below-average proportion of female researchers at the top level (17.3 percent), as do the Netherlands (16.2 percent) and Britain (17.5 percent). The best performers are Macedonia (66.7 percent), Malta (44.5 percent) and Croatia (38 percent).

At Max Planck, the proportion of female group leaders has risen from 21.6 percent in 2006 to 34.6 percent now, Beck said.

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Scholars push for free access to online citation data, saying they need and deserve access to reference data they helped create

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 08:00

“Open citations now!” So concludes a new open letter to publishers from researchers who support making scholarly citations freely available, in the interest of better citation analysis. Advocates of such efforts say that references are a pillar of scholarly work and that being able to understand how articles cite each other shouldn’t require an expensive subscription to a database.

In short, just as open-access proponents argue for free access to scholarly articles, open-citation proponents want free access to publication citation data.

“References are a product of scholarly work and represent the backbone of science -- demonstrating the origin and advancement of knowledge -- and provide essential information for studying science and making decisions about the future of research,” the letter says. “We therefore issue a strong call to all publishers to make available to the academic community that which it created in the first place.”

The letter builds on the Initiative for Open Citations, or I4OC, which 60-some organizations and publishers launched in April. Goals of that initiative include the establishment of a global, public web of linked scholarly citation data to “enhance the discoverability of published content,” both subscription access and open access. Such a web would especially benefit those outside academic institutions -- or outside wealthier universities -- who lack subscriptions to commercial citation databases, according to I4OC.

Other benefits include the ability to build new services based on the data and create a public citation graph to explore connections between existing fields and the growth of new ones, advocates say.

Cassidy R. Sugimoto, an associate professor of informatics at Indiana University at Bloomington and president of the International Society for Scientometrics and Informetrics, is among the letter’s original signatories. She said Tuesday that open citations wouldn’t make a huge difference in her own work, since she has access to highly curated Web of Science data through her professional collaborations and affiliations. However, she said, “it would make a huge difference for students and scholars” worldwide who don’t have that “luxury.”

Sugimoto said that in her capacity as a reviewer and editor, for example, she’s read papers that lack broader “generalizability” because the authors clearly lacked access to data that could have answered their own research questions. That perpetuates a “two-tiered system” in which only scholars with expensive data-source subscriptions are able to do large-scale analyses, and publish in the most visible venues as a result, she said.

Many publishers already have committed to open citations, providing free access to the reference lists they submit to Crossref, a nonprofit cooperative that interlinks published content.

Yet a large minority of major publishers still consider reference lists proprietary data, according to the letter, which frames open citations as similarly important to promoting research reproducibility, reducing misconduct and increasing access to scholarship.

Currently, the letter says, the ability to undertake large-scale and generalizable bibliometric research, both basic and applied, “is limited to a few well-funded centers that can afford to pay for full access to the raw data of Web of Science or Scopus.” And the remaining bulk of bibliometric research “is restricted to the analysis of small data sets or the use of freely available data sources,” such as PubMed, Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic -- all of which suffer from “shortcomings,” which the letter defines as incomplete coverage, data quality problems, lack of transparency or limited large-scale accessibility.

In order to conduct rigorous analyses, therefore, “scientometricians need a data source that is freely available and comprehensive.” It’s “a matter of scientific integrity, scientific progress and equity -- we must ensure that all members of the scientometric community are able to participate in and validate the research in the field.”

Approximately half of the references deposited in Crossref are now freely available -- a good start, advocates say. The new open letter calls out Elsevier in particular for holding out, since some 65 percent of the remaining, closed references are protected by the mega-publisher, which also owns the paid-access Scopus citation database. Adding Elsevier’s references alone would increase Crossref’s proportion of open references to approximately 83 percent, by the letter writers’ calculations.

Elsevier said in a statement Tuesday it already follows I4OC guidelines in that Scopus’s citation data is structured and separable. However, it said, “not all of Scopus’s citation data is freely accessible and reusable, reflecting the value we have invested in licensing and curating the data that underpins Scopus. Thus we continue to take a wait and see approach as to whether we will sign on to the I4OC.”

Yves Gingras, a professor and Canada Research Chair in history and sociology of science at the University of Quebec at Montreal, who has written critically about how citation metrics are used to evaluate individual scholars, said he “totally approved” of the idea of making citation data publicly available. (Gingras also recently published a paper finding that comparative rankings within the Web of Science tend to give countries with close relationships with the U.S. a “citation advantage,” due to the strong presence U.S. research within the database.)

Given that authors publish papers with “public money,” he said via email, “it also makes sense have to the references (hence citations) of these papers also in open access.”

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Uncertainty for grad students as tax bill goes to conference

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 08:00

WASHINGTON -- As the competing Republican tax plans from the House of Representatives and the Senate head to a conference committee that will square the differences and create a final piece of legislation, graduate students are worried.

A group of 40 or so activists and graduate students, organized in part by Faculty Forward and the Service Employees International Union, took their concerns to Capitol Hill Tuesday in a protest outside the office of Representative Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House. Upon coming to the office’s locked door, the protesters held their demonstration in the hallway.

It was a short-lived affair, with police quickly arresting nine people who declined to move after being given a warning. However, the protest captured the anxiety some graduate students expressed regarding the tax legislation, especially provisions stemming from the House bill.

“If it’s filled with any, or most of, the provisions aimed at higher ed, then I’ll have to drop out of my program,” said Tom DePaola, a doctoral candidate in education policy at the University of Southern California and one of the nine protesters arrested.

Graduate students who took to the Hill, many of them organizers at their respective graduate student unions, took issue with a broad range of measures presented in the tax overhaul, for reasons related to higher education and not. But, some said, if the tax legislation was going to pass, they hoped that some of the provisions in the House bill would be stripped in conference.

“I was really brought out here when I saw that they were going to tax our tuition waivers as income,” said Skyler Reidy, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in history at USC. “It’s going to force people out of grad school; it’s going to force the most vulnerable students out. But it’s part of a bigger attack on the middle class.”

Doctoral students often work for relatively small stipends, but the upside for some of them is that their tuition is waived by their university. The House tax plan, however, would count those tuition waivers as taxable income, meaning many students would be taxed for roughly twice the income they actually see in their bank account.

Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania also spoke out against the tuition-waiver provision last week, when they joined in protests against the tax overhaul held across the country.

The fate of the tuition-waiver provision, like many of the differences between the Senate and House tax plans related to higher education (laid out here) is up in the air. Given that the conference committee members haven’t been announced yet, it’s too soon to tell what’s going to be in the final text, though a spokeswoman for the Senate Finance Committee said that Senate Republicans hoped to keep their language regarding higher education matters.

“There was a strong desire among Senate Finance Committee Republicans to preserve current education incentives in the tax code,” Katie Niederee, committee press secretary, said in an email. “The Senate bill reflects the will of the committee. As we move to conference, Chairman [Orrin] Hatch will work with his colleagues to reconcile the differences and preserve the Senate language.”

A spokeswoman for Ryan did not return a request for comment on how committed House leadership is to seeing the tuition-waiver provision make it into the final legislation, or whether there were any higher education-related provisions from the House bill that Republican leaders were making a priority to make law. A spokesman for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell referred a request for comment to the Finance Committee.

Also weighing in on the fate of the two tax bills was Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. In a letter sent Tuesday to Hatch and Senator Ron Wyden, the Finance Committee’s ranking Democrat, as well as their counterparts on the House Ways and Means Committee, Representatives Kevin Brady and Richard Neal, McPherson lobbied in favor of the Senate bill’s language for multiple provisions.

McPherson, a former Michigan State University president and Reagan administration official, lobbied to nix the House’s tuition-waiver provision. He also argued against House language on employer-provided tuition assistance, the Lifetime Learning Credit and student loan interest deductions. He disagreed with the Senate, however, when it came to taxing universities’ unrelated business income.

"APLU has been communicating with public university leaders and urging them to contact their congressional delegation to detail their concerns and advocate for the provisions that are critical for their students and universities," Jeff Lieberson, an APLU spokesman, said in an email. "We don’t know the facts of this particular situation on the Hill today, but we know that students are speaking out around the country to express their strong concerns over the major tax increase they could face under the legislation being considered. Students nationwide are rightfully concerned about how this bill would impact them. We think it is critical that students appropriately exercise their constitutional rights to engage in the democratic process. Their voices need to be heard."

Students at Penn called the state’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey, urging him to vote no on the Senate’s plan. Toomey, an advocate for the bill, ended up voting yes.

“Neither the House and Senate plan are finalized,” Toomey’s office said in a statement last week. “When looking at a tax-reform package, it is important to remember that it extends beyond singular changes and deductions. So while both the House and the Senate plans adjust tax treatment for certain entities and eliminate certain deductions, they both also lower rates, double the standard deduction and increase the child tax credit, resulting in a net tax cut for millions of working-class and middle-income Pennsylvanians.”

Graduate students gathered in Philadelphia last week and those in Washington Tuesday, however, pointed to a litany of provisions -- many in the House plan -- that they and higher education advocates find worrisome.

In addition to the tuition-waiver provision, for example, deductions for state and local property taxes would be capped at $10,000 in the House tax bill. While those do not deal with higher education outright, some are worried that limiting the deductions will translate to less tax revenue going toward community colleges and public universities, as taxpayers in states that are generous to public higher education start to seek to curb state spending.

“What we’re really seeing is a targeted effort by the GOP to not just attack education, but working-class students’ access to it,” said Laura Jaramillo, a doctoral candidate at Duke University’s program in literature, who protested at Ryan's office.

Students were split on how optimistic they should be as the tax legislation winds its way through Congress, but Reidy hopes that -- even though he opposes the legislation at large -- the final text would, at the very least, be friendlier to graduate students.

“The House version of the bill contains some of the most vicious provisions,” he said. “When you go in to negotiate, why on earth would you fight to make life harder for grad students?”

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DeVry traded to private small company

Inside HigherEd - Wed, 12/06/2017 - 08:00

DeVry University was once among the largest for-profit institutions in the country and the crown jewel in its parent company’s collection.

But enrollments have fallen and the for-profit institution has seen multiple lawsuits over advertising, recruitment and job placement.

Now DeVry’s parent company -- Adtalem Global Education Inc. -- is transferring ownership of the institution, along with Keller Graduate School of Management, to Cogswell Education LLC. DeVry and Keller together enroll nearly 30,000 students. Cogswell is the owner of Cogswell College, a California-based private for-profit institution of about 600 students, that specializes in art, game design, music and software engineering.

No money is changing hands in the deal, which still requires regulatory and accreditor approval.

Both critics and advocates of for-profit colleges say Adtalem management had been signaling for at least a year that the company wanted to divest DeVry.

“Given that the asset is at break-even and declining, selling for zero is also not surprising,” said Trace Urdan, managing director at Tyton Partners and a longtime analyst of the for-profit sector, via email. “If the alternative is an expensive teach-out, then simply getting it off the books is a win.”

The transfer agreement includes a provision that Adtalem could earn up to $20 million over 10 years if DeVry’s cash flow maintains certain levels.

The move continues a shift in for-profit institutions moving from publicly traded status to a different or private status. A nonprofit missionary organization, the Dream Center, is purchasing Education Management Corp., and Purdue University is acquiring Kaplan University in an effort to create a new nonprofit online university.

"We’re seeing the large publicly traded for-profit colleges change their image over the last few years in some way or another,” said Tariq Habash, a policy associate at the Century Foundation.

But there are conditions to the deal that give Adtalem and Cogswell a way out of the agreement. For instance, Adtalem faces financial penalities if enrollment decreases. One condition calls for a minimum enrollment of 22,059 in May 2018. Cogswell can cancel the agreement if enrollments fall 1,500 students short of that target. DeVry's enrollment has fallen 21.4 percent year over year, to 19,287 as of September. Keller enrolls nearly 8,000 students.

Cogswell can also cancel the agreement if the number of borrower-defense claims against DeVry exceeds 2,250. Borrower-defense claims are applications for loan relief from students who state they have been defrauded or misled by their college. According to a November report from the Century Foundation, Adtalem had more than 1,900 claims against the company, of which about 1,600 were from DeVry alone, said Habash, who co-authored the report. The number of borrower-defense claims across all institutions has been growing in recent months, and it’s possible that more claims have been launched against DeVry, he said.

“There has been a lot of scrutiny on DeVry,” Habash said. “They’ve been under a microscope. Adtalem has been under a microscope and [the conditions] might be Cogswell’s way of ensuring if something new comes out buzzing in the public eye, they have an opportunity not to be stuck in the contract.”

Cogswell College officials said they had planned to issue a statement, but they did not provide one in time for publication.

Last year Adtalem settled lawsuits with both the Federal Trade Commission and the Education Department over job-placement claims at DeVry. Adtalem was formerly DeVry Education Group before the name was changed earlier this year.

“DeVry had made some important commitments to consumer protection, promising not to restrict students’ legal rights and to assure market accountability,” said Robert Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and critic of the for-profit college sector, in an email, referring to Adtalem management’s decision last year to voluntarily end forced arbitration agreements and lower the maximum threshold of revenue they received from federal financial aid from 90 percent to 85 percent, including military and veterans’ benefits. “This sale, so soon after those commitments were made, raises questions about the staying power of promises by any other for-profit school.”

Last year Adtalem announced that its institutions would make a set of commitments to students on issues of recruitment, enrollment, student outcomes and informed student choice.

“DeVry and Keller were, in essence, a distressed asset while the bulk of their other properties have been performing well,” said Jeff Silber, an education financial analyst with BMO Capital Markets, in an email. “While it’s still a bit shocking to think that DeVry itself will no longer be part of a publicly held entity, unfortunately, the institution had been underperforming for some time.”

Lisa Wardell, president and chief executive officer of Adtalem, said in a statement that the company would work closely with Cogswell Education to ensure a smooth transition for DeVry.

“Adtalem will now have more ability to focus on its remaining institutions across our three key verticals: medical and health care, technology and business, and professional education,” she said.

Adtalem maintains ownership of Carrington College, Chamberlain University, American University of the Caribbean, Becker Professional Education, Ross University School of Medicine and Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.

For-profit observers admitted not knowing much about the private company that is looking to own DeVry.

“Given the relatively small size of the buyer,” the deal isn’t something that former education secretaries in the Obama administration would likely have approved, Urdan said, but he believes it’ll be interesting to see what the accreditors think of the transaction.

Habash said Cogswell operates schools with fewer than 1,000 students, which should raise red flags -- and that any institution that grows overnight by a factor of 50 should be looked at closely by the department and accreditors.

“It’s definitely not a done deal,” he said.

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