Inside Higher Ed

Catholic University fires professor over relationship with assistant he hired

Fri, 2018-12-14 08:00

Catholic University announced Thursday that it has fired Stephen McKenna, a tenured associate professor of media and communication studies, for having a sexual relationship with a graduate student whom he hired as an assistant.

A university statement said he hired the assistant when he was serving as a department chair. The assistant was a graduate student in another department, and they became sexually involved shortly after she was hired. The university received an anonymous tip about the allegation last year but was unable to get detailed information. But then the employee contacted the university about the relationship.

Catholic referred the matter to a faculty committee, which determined that McKenna had violated university rules with the relationship and that dismissal would be an "appropriate" response. The university's board this week acted on the faculty committee's report and fired McKenna.

University policy explicitly bars any romantic relationships between faculty members or administrators and those they supervise. The relevant policy states, “A consensual dating or sexual relationship between a staff employee, a member of the faculty (including adjunct faculty) and a student, or an employee that the staff/faculty directly supervises, is prohibited when the staff/faculty has any current or foreseeable professional responsibility for the student or the employee … Voluntary consent by the student/employee in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental nature of such a relationship.” The policy also states that “violation of this prohibition may result in disciplinary action including dismissal for unprofessional conduct.”

The university statement on his dismissal said that McKenna admitted to the relationship "but argued that dismissal was inappropriate."

Many colleges and universities that dismiss faculty members in these circumstances do not draw attention to the decisions. But the statement from Catholic said that the faculty committee that reviewed McKenna's case "encouraged the university to publicize the matter widely, in the interests of accountability and deterrence."

UPDATE: Via email on Friday morning, McKenna offered this statement: "Although respect for the confidentiality appropriate to the disciplinary process limits what I can say, I think people would look differently at the dismissal if they knew that it was public knowledge that this relationship lasted for four years after we were co-workers, that I sought and was granted an annulment of my marriage from the church, and that we had planned to marry in the church. Furthermore, the person in question repeatedly told the university that the relationship was fully mutual and consensual, and she wanted none of this -- neither for me to be fired, nor any harm to come to me and my family. Most people at the university believe a different sanction would have been far more appropriate. Those who know and respect me here know a person quite different from the one portrayed in the university's communications. People tell me they are shocked by the nature and tone of the announcement."

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British universities are accepting more students with low grades

Fri, 2018-12-14 08:00

The proportion of British students being accepted to university courses with lower school-leaving grades is at one of its highest rates ever, according to a report from the country’s admissions body.

Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that 84 percent of applicants who achieved grades equivalent to CCC at A level, or lower, gained a higher education place this year, up five percentage points since 2013. For those with A-level points equivalent to DDD, the acceptance rate tipped past 80 percent.

There is a similar trend for applicants taking other qualifications such as Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) schools: acceptance rates for students who received three BTEC passes have risen from below 50 percent in 2013 to 70 percent this year.

The figures follow controversy over the ballooning use of unconditional offers -- where students are guaranteed a place regardless of what grades they achieve in exams -- which a separate UCAS analysis released last month showed was now at a record level.

That analysis also suggested that unconditional offers were being made at increasing rates to those with lower predicted grades, while there was also further evidence that those holding such an offer were more likely to miss their forecast grade profile.

According to the latest UCAS report, the share of applicants over all who missed their predicted A levels by three or more grades has gone up 3.3 percentage points since 2017, and 11.5 percentage points since 2013.

And placed applicants with lower grade profiles have, on average, a larger difference between their achieved and predicted grades, the figures show.

All the data are likely to be seized on by critics of the current system, with some believing that universities that are under pressure to fill places and maintain tuition income are accepting too many students with lower grades.

Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said that while many applicants were accepted on the strength of factors such as interviews or personal statements, universities “must be mindful of accepting applicants with lower grades” and such students “must be appropriately supported during their studies, so they can flourish on their chosen course.”

She added that UCAS was also “working with schools and universities to improve the accuracy of predicted grades, exploring the different ways teachers make predictions, and how they are used by admissions teams when making offers,” with a “good practice guide” due to be published in the new year.

Elsewhere, a separate chapter of the report reveals that although the proportion of British 18-year-olds entering higher education continues to rise over all, there has been a fall in the entry rate for some regions for the first time since tuition fees rose.

In the east of England, the northeast, and Yorkshire and the Humber, there was a drop in the share of 18-year-olds entering higher education of between 0.1 and 0.7 percentage points compared with last year. “These decreases come after five years of consistent entry rate increases for every region of England from 2012 to 2017,” the report says.

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Updates on college fund-raising campaigns

Fri, 2018-12-14 08:00

Starting Out:

  • Hamilton College is starting a campaign to raise $400 million by 2023. Top goals include financial aid and living/learning communities. To date, $191 million has been raised.
  • Lawrence University is starting a campaign to raise $220 million by 2020. Top goals include financial aid, with a push to meeting the full need of all admitted students. To date, $165.5 million has been raised.
  • Saint Louis University is starting a campaign to raise $500 million by 2021. So far, $303 million has been raised with student aid and academic programs among the priorities.

Finishing Up:

  • University of Alabama at Birmingham has raised just over $1 billion in a five-year campaign for which $1 billion was the goal. Top priorities included the business school, student aid and athletics.

Track college fund-raising campaigns at Inside Higher Ed's database.

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University of California challenges Elsevier over access to scholarly research

Thu, 2018-12-13 08:00

Lots of universities grumble about the price and restrictions of their subscription contracts with publishers, but few have the negotiating power of the University of California System -- which single-handedly accounts for almost 10 percent of the research output of the United States.

The UC system, which paid over $10 million this year to the publishing giant Elsevier in journal subscription fees, is unhappy with the status quo. So unhappy that when the UC system’s current five-year contract with Elsevier ends on Dec. 31, officials say, they are willing to put access to Elsevier journals on hold until the university gets what it wants. An Elsevier representative said that the publisher is working hard to reach an agreement with the UC system before its contract expires.

Millions of dollars in potential fees are not the only leverage the UC system is using against the publisher. A recent email from the University of California, Los Angeles's provost to the campus urged the faculty to consider declining offers to review articles for Elsevier and not publishing in Elsevier journals "until negotiations are clearly moving in a productive direction."

Unlike some other universities that have canceled, or at least threatened not to renew, their bundled journal subscription agreements with publishers, the UC system is not primarily protesting rising prices, though it would still like to see its fees reduced. The California system wants to fundamentally alter how it pays for journal content from publishers like Elsevier and to accelerate open-access publishing in the process.

The UC system, which is made up of 10 campuses and 100 libraries, wants to do more to make publicly funded research freely accessible to the public, said Ivy Anderson, associate executive director of the California Digital Library, who is involved in the negotiations with Elsevier.

Currently, final versions of research papers are often made available to the public some time after they have been published, said Anderson. The UC system wants journals to make this research immediately available to all.

To facilitate this, the UC system is pursuing a new kind of arrangement with Elsevier and several other publishers, Anderson said. Rather than paying separately to access subscription journals and make articles immediately available in OA, the UC system wants to roll both costs into one annual fee, which could potentially be higher than what the UC system currently pays for subscriptions only.

This arrangement, called a "read-and-publish" deal, would mean that the public would have immediate, free access to final versions of UC research papers, with no additional article-processing fees to the UC system.

In pursuing such an arrangement with Elsevier, the UC system is “trying to fundamentally change the ecosystem of scholarly communication,” said Rick Anderson, associate dean for colleges and scholarly communications in the Marriott Library at the University of Utah.

While other libraries might be interested in pursuing such deals, “few have enough negotiating leverage to really push it in the way that UC can,” Rick Anderson said. “The UC system is actually somewhat like a European country in that it’s a single system that encompasses a relatively large number of institutions.”

But whether the university system will actually pull it off is unknown. The UC system and Elsevier have been locked in negotiations since the summer and seem to still be at odds about how to move forward.

A ‘No Deal’ Scenario

The clock is ticking for the California system and Elsevier to reach a systemwide subscription deal before the year's end.

The UC system wants to reach an agreement with Elsevier as quickly as possible but is prepared for the “possibility that we may be without a contract for some period of time," said Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian at UC Berkeley, who is also involved in the negotiations with Elsevier.

The system is prepared for that eventuality. Numerous town hall meetings and discussions between professors, faculty senates, librarians and lead negotiators have taken place over the past few months, and each of the system’s 10 campuses is prepared for the possibility of a "no deal" scenario, said MacKie-Mason.

Faculty members have been largely supportive of the UC system’s negotiation strategy, MacKie-Mason said, though he acknowledges some academics are concerned about losing access to key new research.

If an agreement is not reached before the deadline, then as soon as Jan. 1, 2019, the 69,000 faculty members and 238,000 students in the UC system may no longer have access to new articles published in over a thousand Elsevier journals, including Lancet and biology journals published through Cell Press. Access to older articles through Elsevier’s Science Direct platform will continue uninterrupted.

Stephen Floor, an assistant biology professor at the university's San Francisco campus, confirmed that the faculty largely supports what the system is trying to do.

“Obviously we would prefer no disruption, but we have a network of colleagues and systems in place from which we can request articles,” said Floor. “It’ll be an inconvenience, sure. But I think we understand the importance of what they’re trying to achieve.”

Floor said that communication with faculty about the negotiations has been good, but it’s now up to faculty members to “take that message and broadcast it to everyone else who might be affected.”

Jonathan Eisen, a biology professor at UC Davis, agreed that "not being able to read some papers will be awkward," but, he said, "there's a lot to read out there that isn't in Elsevier journals."

The push by the UC system for immediate open-access publication is an important one, said Eisen. "Prepublication versions of articles are frequently different from final versions, and there are many things that are supposed to be in archives that are in fact, not," he said.

Open to Some Experimentation

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Ivy Anderson hinted that Elsevier may be willing to try out a new open-access fee arrangement with the UC system, but that this would not look like the read-and-publish deal the system is seeking.

Gemma Hersh, vice president for global policy for Elsevier, said in an interview Wednesday that the company is one of the leading open-access publishers and continues to be receptive to working with universities to explore different open-access options.

"There's a lot of experimentation in the market, and we've been engaged in pilots for a number of years," said Hersh. "We're always open to testing and trialing something new, and we have a very broad menu of options."

However, the publisher does not want to shift from individual article-processing fees to a fixed annual rate for the immediate open-access publication of an unknown number of articles. "Our principle is that we would like to be paid for the articles that we publish," said Hersh.

Hersh said the popularity of open-access publishing is growing, but she noted that the subscription model is also growing and remains popular.

A letter from Philippe Terheggen, managing director of scientific, technical and medical journals at the company, to Elsevier journal editors who work within the UC system, sheds some light on the publisher’s concerns about the UC system’s proposal.

“We understand what [the California Digital Library] wants to accomplish and are working hard to construct an agreement that enables CDL to retain access to the highest quality subscribed content at a fair price and promotes OA in a realistic context,” wrote Terheggen.

He continued, “CDL wants to pay towards its authors publishing OA for the world to read freely but only pay a nominal amount to access the world’s subscribed content. This model could work if this were an all-OA world. But the reality is that the world’s subscribed content comprises 85 percent of scholarly output and continues to grow. Therefore, while [CDL] wants to fund OA, which we fully support, it still needs to pay to access subscribed content.”

A Model for Read-and-Publish Agreements

The UC system wants its read-and-publish contract with Elsevier to be a model that can be adopted by other institutions, and many university librarians have expressed interest in negotiating similar deals, Ivy Anderson said. She thinks about the contract as more than just a new type of agreement that supports both reading and publishing.

“It’s really a way to try and move the journal ecosystem from a subscription basis toward an open-access basis in an orderly but accelerated fashion,” she said.

The idea of read-and-publish agreements is “fairly new,” said MacKie-Mason. In the U.S. there is only one university that has so far secured a read-and-publish deal with a publisher -- the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which announced such an arrangement with the Royal Society of Chemistry in June.

“It’s certainly the case that major publishers have not embraced these types of agreements,” said MacKie-Mason. “Springer Nature has been more agreeable to contracts of this sort, but many are moving slowly, or actively opposing.”

Greg Eow, associate director for collections at MIT Libraries, is supportive of UC’s attempt to get a read-and-publish deal in place with Elsevier.

“The global movement towards open access has dramatically gained momentum in recent months,” said Eow. The launch of Plan S in Europe -- an initiative to support open-access publishing -- has helped to align funders, researchers, publishers and libraries in their commitment to an open-access future. But there continues to be debate about the best path forward.

Eow believes that read-and-publish agreements should be just one of a number of different open-access models being explored so that institutions can “learn from what works and iterate forward.”

Curtis Brundy, associate university librarian for scholarly communication and collections at Iowa State University, said there is growing awareness in the U.S. of the potential of read-and-publish agreements to rapidly increase open-access publishing. Iowa State is set to announce its first read-and-publish agreement with a publisher by the end of the year and has several more in the works for 2019.

“Read-and-publish agreements eliminate publisher double-dipping, where the library continues to pay full-price subscriptions while the publisher collects article-processing charges from authors,” said Brundy. “A read-and-publish agreement brings those payments together and even allows the library to negotiate a reduced price for article-processing charges.” The deals also “give libraries a fairly straightforward way to convert their subscription spend, which currently supports paywalls, to support for open access.”

If the UC system successfully negotiated such a deal with Elsevier, it would be a “landmark agreement, not just in the U.S., but globally,” said Brundy. “China is interested in read-and-publish-style agreements. Germany and Sweden have refused to sign a deal with Elsevier until they get such an agreement. So the pressure is mounting on Elsevier.”

The Impact of a New Type of Arrangement

It remains to be seen whether the UC system and Elsevier will be able to find any common ground, said Greg Tananbaum, a consultant at SPARC -- an organization that promotes open access and tracks "big deal" cancellations. While reaching an agreement with Elsevier may be tricky, Tananbaum suspects the UC system may have much better luck with nonprofit and learned society publishers.

Tananbaum said that what the UC system is trying to do is unusual. "Historically, libraries have been vocal in their dissatisfaction with the lock-in and spend associated with many forms of the big deal," he said.

“In this instance, UC is not simply bemoaning the status quo; they are working proactively to change it,” said Tananbaum. “This effort is not limited to simply trying to hold the line on pricing. It also seeks to reset the university’s relationship with publishers, promoting a partnership approach to create a glide path to OA.”

Lisa Hinchliffe, professor and coordinator of information literacy services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that many institutions would be interested in read-and-publish deals if the terms were favorable to them.

“The concern is that any read-and-publish deal is likely to have a higher price than an institution’s current read deal,” said Hinchliffe. “Given that [article-processing charges] are usually not paid from a central fund, adding this expense to the library’s budget could be a challenge even if the overall cost to the institution declined as expenses were bundled.”

Some libraries, wary of entering into big deals with publishers, may feel that read-and-publish agreements are just a “new version of the big deal,” said Hinchliffe.

She said she would not be surprised to see Elsevier offer some kind of read-and-publish deal “if Elsevier can negotiate favorable terms for Elsevier.”

However, she said it is “unlikely that what is favorable for Elsevier will also be considered favorable to an institution, or consortium of institutions.”

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State law likely conflicts with DeVos's Title IX proposal

Thu, 2018-12-13 08:00

Three years ago, Kevin Kruger, head of the country’s association for student affairs professionals, wrote to The Washington Post over his concerns with new state laws around campus sexual assaults.

At the time, states such as California and New York were responding to the same pressures that led to the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on sexual violence at colleges and universities. The states passed legislation that both cemented the rules from Obama’s Education Department into state law and went further, adding new definitions of consent and more. Many of the laws applied to both public and private institutions.

This “patchwork” approach to complex sexual assault adjudication, Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, then wrote in the Post, could create bureaucratic nightmares for institutions.

Kruger’s warning appears to have proven prescient, though likely in ways he didn’t imagine.

Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released draft regulations around the federal gender antidiscrimination law, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, in a drastic shift from the approach that Obama championed.

States with their own sex assault laws on the books now have to figure out whether they conflict with the proposed federal regulations, which, once approved, would carry the force of law. In part, because the regulations were just published to the Federal Register for the required 60-day comment collection period, institutions in such states are in a holding pattern while the state systems vet the regulations. They’ve been instructed to do nothing, change nothing.

But the laws will almost certainly clash with the Education Department’s proposal if it remains as is.

For instance, the regulations indicate that administrators should no longer investigate episodes of sexual violence that happen off campus grounds, or if the misconduct doesn’t fall within the scope of an “education program or activity.” Under the Obama rules, which came in the form of a Dear Colleague letter, colleges still needed to investigate incidents that happened off their property. Recently, a Harvard University student sued the institution for investigating a rape he allegedly committed in a city outside Cambridge -- a case that all but assuredly would not meet the proposed federal guidelines.

New York’s Enough Is Enough law, backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, specifies that a university can still investigate a Title IX complaint even if a victim decides to back out of the process.

The federal regulations, however, state that information from the parties can’t be used at all unless they submit to cross-examination during a hearing.

It’s these sometimes subtle inconsistencies that have not been studied at length. But Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said he believes in addition to Illinois, California and New York, laws in Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota and Virginia may have conflicting provisions.

“Nobody is making moves yet, but all are moving to study the issues and formulate recommendations,” Sokolow said.

Liz Hill, Education Department spokeswoman, said that department acknowledges certain state laws might dictate institutions do more than what Title IX requires, “but that does not inherently create a conflict between state and federal law.”

Hill did not address the specific examples that were provided to her by email of possible contradictions between state law and the regulations.

“The department is focused on enforcing Title IX to ensure equal access to education free from sex discrimination,” Hill said.

State Laws Explained

Of the state laws, Enough Is Enough attracted headlines partially because of Cuomo’s promotion of it (and several celebrity endorsements -- Lady Gaga publicly supported the law) but also because New York was one of the first states, along with California, to make the controversial affirmative “yes means yes” the standard for consent.

The administration’s regulations, despite being against the “spirit” of the New York law, as several lawyers described it, don’t actually interfere with the consent piece of Enough Is Enough. Joseph Storch, associate counsel with the State University of New York, said the new regulations do not define consent, though the department did narrow the definition of sexual harassment. The new federal definition of harassment is “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the recipient’s education program or activity” from simply “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

Storch said since the department had never defined consent under Obama, states such as California and New York did. So while DeVos's proposal does not cover many of the cases that the states' laws do, the regulations do not interfere with the state approach.

The proposed regulations also force colleges and universities to turn over all available evidence to both parties if it’s submitted to institutions during an investigation. But the New York law had given institutions a bit more latitude. If someone provided an email, for instance, that wasn’t necessarily relevant to the case, then officials could exclude it from the case file, said Andrea Stagg, deputy general counsel for Barnard College in New York.

Stagg said the provision in the regulations could deter parties from handing over information that they wouldn’t want the other side to see in a case. It would also create much more work for the colleges, which would likely be forced to redact many more documents than they had previously, as required by federal privacy laws.

New York State and City both also have sexual harassment laws regarding workplaces that could complicate Title IX proceedings. The definitions of harassment in these laws exceed the new federal definition. Stagg pointed out that this could create confusion if, for example, a student was employed by the university and was harassed. And under the regulations, only certain officials must report instances of sexual harassment -- but many more are obligated to do so under the New York employment laws.

“It’s problematic,” Stagg said.

California’s definition of sexual assault, as included in the Donahoe Higher Education Act, is also much broader than the federal definition. It is as follows:

“Sexual harassment” means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature, made by someone from or in the work or educational setting, under any of the following conditions:

(a) Submission to the conduct is explicitly or implicitly made a term or a condition of an individual’s employment, academic status, or progress.

(b) Submission to, or rejection of, the conduct by the individual is used as the basis of employment or academic decisions affecting the individual.

(c) The conduct has the purpose or effect of having a negative impact upon the individual’s work or academic performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.

(d) Submission to, or rejection of, the conduct by the individual is used as the basis for any decision affecting the individual regarding benefits and services, honors, programs, or activities available at or through the educational institution.

The University of California System was perhaps the most vocal in criticizing DeVos’s plan right away, issuing a statement last month denouncing several of the projected changes, including that institutions must now hold live hearings to adjudicate sexual violence cases and the adjustment to the sexual harassment definition. California's governor, Democrat Jerry Brown, in 2017 vetoed a bill that would have put the Obama-era rules into state law. At the time, Brown said that state and federal actions may have unintentionally led to due process being violated, and that he would instead convene a "group of knowledgeable persons" that would help develop a sexual harassment policy for the state.

Suzanne Taylor, the interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, said in an interview that UC is preparing to provide comment to the department and that it is studying how the regulations may diverge from the state’s laws.

A University of Illinois System workgroup is also evaluating the same issues, according to spokesman Thomas Hardy. The system, in a statement earlier this month, said officials will “carefully review” the proposal and promised “safe and welcoming” institutions for students and staff members.

Multiple state officials said in interviews they were also confused by a part of the regulations that allowed for institutions to punish students for sexually related misconduct that the department might not deem sexual harassment under the new definition.

The regulations mandate that colleges and universities completely dismiss Title IX claims that do not rise to the level of sexual harassment. But institutions could pursue separate proceedings, though their codes of conduct, though these look entirely different from a Title IX process -- they’re often much more informal.

“If the whole point of this is due process for respondents [students who are accused of misconduct], proceeding with other conduct code processes rather than Title IX doesn’t seem consistent with that objective,” Taylor said.

University Response and More

As one lawyer who specializes in Title IX phrased it: colleges and universities are “in panic mode.”

Many small institutions -- with generally small budgets -- have historically never needed to hold hearings to manage the few Title IX complaints they receive. But now they will potentially need to find officials willing and versed enough to be on a panel, a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

Students will also be represented by an adviser in such hearings, which critics of DeVos have likened to imposing courtroom trials into a college setting.

“Due process is historically a flexible construct,” Storch said. “The Supreme Court has told us to balance the gains in truth-seeking that more process would bring to a determination against the costs and inefficiencies that additional due process would bring.”

“The proposed regulations do not contain any analysis of the due process balance and simply seem to add additional processes, which, in total, are well beyond what any court decision or statute has ever required, without any consideration of cost, inefficiencies and the additional challenges of addressing violence through the formal process.”

Some colleges and universities, again, particularly the small ones, rely on a “single-investigator” model that the new regulations forbid, in which one official handles the entire Title IX inquiry and, in many cases, makes a recommendation whether an assault occurred.

Natasha Baker, a San Francisco-based lawyer and partner at Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP, who advises colleges in Title IX matters, said she would tell her clients (she hasn’t received many direct questions yet) to wait until the regulations are officially approved.

While some of the proposals make her nervous -- Baker pointed to the possibility of needing to chase conduct code violations and not Title IX -- she said that the department will need to respond to the comments submitted to the Register, which could take a while.

One group, Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses LLC, which counsels colleges on Title IX, has already requested that DeVos extend the comment period from 60 to 120 days in light of the busy schedules most institutions have around winter finals and the end of the semester.

“The department is going to have to sort it out,” Baker said of possible conflicts. “Even if you don’t have a state law definition, this concept of a separate conduct code proceeding is going to cause a lot of confusion.”

Some commentators and Title IX practitioners predict that congressional Democrats, who recently got more leverage by winning majority control of the U.S. House of Representatives, will try to pressure the Education Department to back down on some of its proposals, said Sokolow of the Association of Title IX Administrators.

On Nov. 29, more than 75 House Democrats urged DeVos to withdraw the regulations.

“This rule is a blatant attempt to silence survivors of sexual harassment and violence and force them back into the shadows. A year after the Me Too movement went viral, we will not tolerate a system that shames and blames victims,” the representatives wrote in a letter to DeVos.

The department will almost inevitably be sued once the regulations are final, said Peter F. Lake, a law professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

If that happened and the actual implementation of the regulations was delayed, it could push the timeline into the next general election into 2020, Lake said -- he and others think there’s a possibility the new rules never take effect.

“No one has ever attempted to force a federally mandated court system on colleges,” Lake said. “It’s absolutely unprecedented.”

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Author discusses his new book about going to college in the '60s

Thu, 2018-12-13 08:00

The cover of Going to College in the Sixties (Johns Hopkins University Press) features a photograph of a protest at the University of California, Berkeley. Among the photographs in the book that might have been more emblematic of the book’s contents was the one at right promoting a film, Tall Story, that starred a (pre-radical days) Jane Fonda and Anthony Perkins and was a farce about campus romance, reflecting what Hollywood believed Americans thought about when and if they thought about higher education.

The book argues for a broader view of higher education during that decade than one focused on protests and social movements. "Business as usual" was also going on, argues John R. Thelin, a professor at the University of Kentucky who is one of the leading historians of American higher education. Thelin, who was himself a student during the ’60s, responded via email to questions about his new book.

Q: Many will assume from the title of your book that they are going to read only about protests and chaos, but that's not your focus. Why did you decide to focus much of the book on the "business as usual" part of higher education during the ’60s?

A: The tumultuous events of the ’60s made a big impact on students -- but often in causing reconsideration of values and ideas, not necessarily as activists or radicals. For most undergraduates, the consequential factors in going to college in the ’60s were crowding and competition, not political activism. I devote attention to the highly visible and volatile events about campus protests and chaos and then place them in context with other groups, events and activities taking place within a campus -- and across the American higher education landscape. There was, after all, a very strong and pervasive “higher education establishment” during the 1960s, along with the prevalence of traditional campus groups ranging from Greek life to ROTC and big-time sports. It is the interaction of the protests with customary campus life that created the distinctive atmosphere of conflict and contradictions, which each college student had to acknowledge and resolve.

The change in the mood of American higher education from 1960 to 1969 was incredible and surprising -- from optimism and confidence to exhaustion and uncertainty. If I were asked for a eulogy or epitaph for the decade, I would note that much of the ’60s happened in the ’70s. The countercultural innovations that took root in the late 1960s continued and grew into the mid-1970s. I also think the cultural legacies surpassed the political changes.

Q: How did the college curriculum most notably change during the decade?

A: This varied. There were a small number of exciting, new experimental colleges such as University of California, Santa Cruz; Hampshire College; Stockton State and Ramapo College of New Jersey. But nationwide most innovation by undergraduates and faculty took place on the margins, creating new courses and new majors within the existing curriculum. Central to this was interest in various popular culture forms including movies, fiction, design and expanded interpretations of social and political history. Meanwhile, there was relatively little innovation in professional schools, business schools, health sciences, engineering, law and medicine.

Q: Many institutions first experienced meaningful desegregation during this era (and Northern institutions that were not de jure segregated saw their first serious numbers of black students). How did higher education respond to these changing demographics?

A: My interpretation is that many college students of the decade showed great interest in and commitment to racial desegregation, civil rights and social justice. This included participation and activism. However, going beyond nominal racial desegregation and some curricular innovation, I do not think there was much progress in genuine racial integration on most campuses. To the contrary, groups such as a Black Student Union often expressed frustration and discontent with the character of the major colleges and universities. I was surprised in looking at national enrollment data for the decade at how overwhelming the percentages of white students were whether in 1960 or in 1969.

In terms of equity and social change, I think the most overlooked initiatives and innovations were those made by and for women as students and as members of the academic community. Most campus political figures dismissed or underappreciated women, relegating them to secondary roles. Women faced formal and informal exclusion in academics and activities, including varsity sports and a range of other groups. The unexpected consequence of this exclusion was that women as undergraduates learned their lessons well in matters of campus politics and rights. Their early efforts would pay off dramatically and substantially in the 1970s and on.

Q: How did the development of federal aid for college (most notably the Higher Education Act in 1965) change higher education?

A: The Higher Education Act of 1965 had minimal effect on college affordability. It did put in place a political and legislative groundwork that would blossom in 1972 with the massive federal programs of the Higher Education Act Reauthorization, including the BEOG (Pell Grants) and expanded loan programs. Student financial aid, especially grants, remained uncertain and limited in the 1960s. Some colleges took the lead in extending need-based financial aid. And California and Massachusetts and New York, among others, led the way in creating tuition assistance grant programs that were portable to colleges within the state. These various initiatives were ahead of the federal role during the 1960s.

Q: Why do you think public understanding of the decade in higher education is frequently only about the protest movements?

A: First, the enhanced technology of media coverage such as genuine nationwide network broadcast coverage was available. Second, news media understandably gravitate to those campuses whose events and participants were graphic, different and controversial. Third, the accumulated momentum of campus demonstrations and activism accelerated around 1967 and was captivating for audiences cutting across numerous regions and categories.

Q: You were an undergraduate at a politically engaged institution (Brown University) in the 1960s. How did that experience -- both protests and the business as usual -- affect your life?

A: Brown University was hardly chaotic or volatile when contrasted to the University of California, Berkeley (where I started graduate school in 1969). I do think at Brown students were informed and concerned. But serious activism probably gravitated to an important significant minority. Brown was distinctive in 1968-69 for comprehensive and highly organized initiatives for curricular reform that students prompted the faculty and administration to take seriously -- and formally approve. At Brown and many campuses, most undergraduates were concerned about their future prospects, ranging from graduate and professional school, whether or not to serve in the military, or possible job interviews. These had to be reconciled with changes in values and ideals, but not necessarily discarded.

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In male-dominated profession, a woman leads lineman instruction at Metropolitan Community College

Thu, 2018-12-13 08:00

There was not a single woman who climbed poles and repaired electric lines in Missouri until Susan Blaser became a journeyman line worker with Kansas City Power and Light in 1992.

Nearly 30 years later, there still are few women line workers in Missouri and across the country, but Blaser, the lead instructor of Metropolitan Community College’s electric utility line technician program, is trying to change this by encouraging more women to consider entering the profession.

Students can earn an associate degree or certificate through the program, which prepares them for careers as meter readers, utility workers, linemen and wind technicians. The certificate program can be completed in three semesters and the associate degree in four semesters.

“I realized that this was a career opportunity that females could do,” Blaser said.

Although electrical line work continues to be viewed as a “man’s field,” Blaser developed the line tech program at Metropolitan with an eye toward recruiting more women. She started her career as a meter reader for the Kansas City utility company and became an apprentice in line work in 1989. Blaser spent 10 years working in the field and eventually also started training apprentices.

Blaser said the death of her father caused her to re-evaluate her career goals -- she decided she wanted to educate and train future line workers. She began coordinating the line technician program at MCC in 2008 -- one year after the two-year degree program started at the college. Blaser, who had developed the apprenticeship program at Kansas City Power and Light, modeled the curriculum for MCC's program on a first-year apprenticeship.

“My goal was to target females and minorities and bring them over to the program so they could have the same opportunity I got,” she said, noting that women are currently only 9 percent of the industry.

There are significant gender gaps in earnings for careers that require certificates, industry certifications and occupational licenses. Male-dominated occupations such as construction, repair services, engineering and computing, a category which line work falls under, have higher earning levels than female-dominated fields such as health care, education and administrative support.

A New America report released earlier this year showed that 25 percent of workers with a certificate in construction, installation and repair fields made between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, and 13 percent made more than $75,000 a year. Meanwhile, only 7 percent of workers with a certificate in a health-care field made between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, and just 5 percent made more than $75,000 a year. Women comprise 84 percent of health-care workers, while 96 percent of workers in construction and repair occupations are men.

When women are employed in these male-dominated professions, the pay gaps are smaller and are similar to gender pay gaps across all occupations, Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills in the education policy program at New America, said in an email.

“That’s likely due to the effect of union contracts, which provide some wage equality and protection for women,” McCarthy said.

Line workers who start their careers in a union apprenticeship can make between $28 and $32 an hour and receive a wage raise about every six months, Blaser said. Apprenticeships last about three to five years.

A journeyman line worker can make about $45 an hour, she said.

Blaser said her daughter, Randi, who went through the program at Metropolitan, is employed as a line worker by Ameren, an Illinois electric company, and is on track to earn $100,000 in her first year on the job.

There’s also a growing demand for more skilled workers to become line technicians.

In the next three years, about 15 percent of the lineman industry, which is about 15,000 employees nationally, will be eligible for retirement, Blaser said.

“My program can only make 40 students a year,” she said. “That’s hard to keep up when you got several thousand a year retiring.”

There are a few federal initiatives that focus on increasing women's access to male-dominated fields. One initiative that does this is the Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations grant program from the U.S. Department of Labor. Grants have been awarded to nonprofit organizations that work in specific industries such as the Chicago Women in Trades and Oregon Tradeswomen Incorporated, Katie Spiker, senior federal policy analyst with the National Skills Coalition, said in an email.

But Spiker said more could be done to encourage women to pursue these fields.

"Federal policy should also make childcare more affordable, improve access to transportation for workers to get from their home to work to school or help them afford steel-toe boots or a set of tools for the first day of work," she said.

Blaser also tries to encourage women to consider line work by not only promoting the wages but pointing out that after line workers put in a hard day of work, they can go home and enjoy spending time with their families.

"It's not like I can take my work home at 4 p.m.," she said.

Blaser’s own family is full of line workers. In addition to her daughter, her husband is in the profession, as is her son, who also went through Metropolitan’s program. Blaser’s daughter is now the second female line worker employed at Ameren. The first female line worker was Jodie Reinhart, who was also trained by Blaser at MCC.

“Susan wasn’t easy, and I had to earn her respect,” Reinhart said. “She told me, if you want to do this you have to be tough, and I understand why she was tough on me now.”

Reinhart was 38 when she enrolled in Blaser’s class and had her own challenges as an adult student who was also working for a Walmart distribution center at the same time she attended the college. But after Kansas City Power and Light turned down her initial application, Reinhart said, she was determined to become a lineman.

“People are always pretty amazed that this is what I do,” Reinhart said. “People ask me, ‘Are you a linewoman?’ I say, no, I work hard to be a lineman.”

Still, encouraging women to pursue a career as a line worker isn’t easy.

“Getting females is difficult,” Blaser said. “One good year, I had three. I typically get one to two women a year.”

Blaser said she’s also been able to encourage more men of color to join the program. It's the women, though, who tend to have more concerns about what they perceive they can do as a line worker. Some women assume they can’t do the work because they’re a certain height or weight, she said.

“Even with men, I’m going to teach them how to rig and work smart and work hard,” Blaser said. “That was taught to me when I went through my apprenticeship. I didn’t have the man strength, but I had the woman’s wisdom to learn how to do it right.”

Jacqueline Gill, president of the MCC Blue River and MCC Business and Technology campuses, said Blaser’s presence is the institution's best recruiting tool.

“Encouraging young women and people of color is a possibility,” Gill said. “We know they must see themselves in that position. When they see someone like Susan, she’s our best marketing tool.”

Blaser said few women even consider line work a career possibility, because they aren’t encouraged by their parents or high school counselors. When she visits high schools, she finds that most teachers and counselors don’t promote skilled trades or utility work. Instead, Blaser reaches out to high school athletic coaches to help pass the word along. She also visits high schools to promote Metropolitan's program and encourages principals to guide qualified students to the program.

Blaser said word of mouth is the best way potential students learn about her program.

High school coaches know the women who want to do more “hands-on” or physical work and don’t plan to spend years earning multiple degrees at a university, she said. “They’re probably one of my biggest sponsors.”

It’s not always easy for a woman to enter a workspace that has been and continues to be dominated by men. When Blaser started her career, she adapted to working with men who felt she didn’t belong in the field -- and they learned to adapt to her presence, she said.

“I was the 13th female to attempt an apprenticeship at Kansas City Power and Light,” Blaser said. “All the others had failed, so there wasn’t a good track record. There were people there who didn’t want me there, and they were explicit … some of the old guys gave me grief.”

A male co-worker once even slipped a sexist letter in her personnel file. The letter read that she "should be home cooking brownies and taking care of my kids. Not doing line work," she said.

Blaser used humor to deal with the men who didn’t want her around. But she wasn't all smiles; she made a point of holding her ground by dyeing her work gloves and bags pink to signal that women could do the work. She proudly notes that she’s never had an accident in her entire time on the job.

Blaser said she tells the women in her class to have a good attitude, roll with the punches and not to take comments or jokes co-workers make about their gender personally. She said male line techs have become more accepting of women co-workers over the years.

“I had to prove to these guys I could do this,” Reinhart said. “I told them I didn’t want no special treatment. I’m a lineman just like the guys. I want to do what you’re doing.”

She said some male students enter her class convinced they’re better than any female student or student of color.

“I don’t get a lot of those, and to me, that’s how they were raised,” she said. “I'm not going to change that attitude.”

Most male students see Blaser leading the program and gain a respect for women in the industry, Gill said.

Blaser has also been invited to other lineman training programs to talk to male students about how to interact with women in the workplace.

Despite their small numbers, there is a community of women line workers online and on social media, such as the Women in Linework Facebook page, where they share information and support each other.

“There are more and more women doing it, and that’s kind of exciting,” Reinhart said. “I don’t think it’s for every woman, and it’s not for every man. You can’t get in it just for the money. You have to love what you’re doing, because there are days when it’s snowing, raining, ice coming at you, and you have to be out there in it and fixing the power.”

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Colleges add new academic programs

Thu, 2018-12-13 08:00
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Emails reveal vitriol toward Ohio State president, adamant defense of Urban Meyer

Wed, 2018-12-12 08:00

In early August, a 1961 Ohio State University alumnus emailed the institution’s president, Michael V. Drake, with a glowing endorsement of head football coach Urban Meyer. A revered figure among donors and fans, Meyer led the program to a national championship and was undefeated against archrival University of Michigan during his seven seasons in Columbus.

But Meyer had gotten caught up in a scandal (not for the first time). He failed to report that one of his deputies, assistant coach Zach Smith, had allegedly abused his wife on multiple occasions. Meyer was accused of covering up Smith’s misdeeds, and when John Rapach, the alumnus, reached out to Drake, it was shortly after the coach had been placed on leave while the university investigated.

Many of the alumni reaching out didn't much care about the allegations per se, though there was evidence Meyer did in fact try to conceal his role with Smith. Investigators for the university found that Meyer had asked an athletics staffer how to change his phone settings so that only text messages from a certain time would be available. This was following the publication of a story detailing the allegations against Smith. Officials and news outlets that tried to obtain those texts were unable to read them.

“I feel strongly that damaging Urban Meyer will greatly erode our base and myself from loyalty to the Ohio State University,” Rapach wrote to Drake.

Perhaps unwittingly, Rapach summed up the sentiments of dozens of Ohio State devotees who contacted Drake that August, when the turmoil on campus was peaking. Supporters and critics, and even casual observers and those outside the sphere of the university’s athletics, were watching how Drake and the Board of Trustees would react, as some viewed the leaders’ verdict on Meyer as a litmus test: whether enormously successful coaches such as Meyer could avoid a harsh punishment despite wrongdoing.

Ultimately, Meyer, who is retiring, was slapped with a three-game ban, which many viewed as light punishment. Before and after that announcement, though, Drake was inundated with a flood of vitriolic and impassioned emails, illustrating the pressure the public applies to university executives during these types of controversies -- when they are weighing a decision that could cost the institution its reputation or millions of dollars (Ohio State’s football program generates $90 million for the athletics department annually).

Presidents have long endured similarly rabid campaigns for coaches, notably this year, too, when the University of Maryland, College Park, president and the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents was grappling with whether to fire head football coach DJ Durkin after a player died, followed by reports of abusive behavior by athletics staffers.

Inside Higher Ed filed a public records request and reviewed nearly 600 pages of emails that were sent to Drake for about three weeks in August, from the time that Meyer was first put on leave to when Drake and the trustees suspended him.

While pundits took a range of positions on Meyer, the majority of those who emailed Drake urged him to retain the coach and were quite insistent that he do so.

Common themes emerged in the emails: many of those who wrote to Drake believed that news media was pursuing a “witch hunt” against Meyer, that they were prosecuting him in the court of public opinion without knowing all the facts about Smith and his wife. Meyer’s followers implored Drake to disregard these stories, which in part were a result of rampant “political correctness.” Some nastily implied that Drake should not try to replicate the liberalism of California and the tendencies of University of California, Berkeley, a well-known bastion of progressivism. (Drake previously led another UC campus, not Berkeley.)

At least 20 people threatened to withhold donations, and others likened the scandal to the fallout from Pennsylvania State University and Jerry Sandusky. And one man simply called Drake “an ass clown,” in a call for Drake’s resignation, by far not the only profanity that was sent to his in-box.

One man named Jason Newhouse wrote in a curse-laden diatribe to Drake that Meyer's suspension was not enough.

“Wow, The University of Ohio State really sets the bar high, what a Fucking joke a three game suspension!!!! The Big 10 ever since the whole Penn st ordeal has really really down played everything. Must be real nice to get ALL that money for all your big ten schools and get away with beating your wife and raping women and the University’s involved keep their coaches so basically telling us that this is acceptable behavior,” Newhouse wrote. (All emails quoted here are reproduced verbatim.)

Many others attacked Drake and the institution. Ron Knobbe from Minnesota took advantage of his caps lock when he wrote to Drake to “FIRE THIS SON OF A BITCH URBAN MEYER NOW!!!!” or “I will NEVER, EVER watch another Ohio State University Football Game EVER!”


A man named Frank Picozzi was a bit more succinct.

He called Ohio State a “sewer” institution.

A Meyer proponent, Derek Mundt, initially emailed Drake with a relatively polite statement: that he supported Meyer and he hoped that Drake would “do the right thing.” After Meyer’s suspension though, Mundt wrote to him, “Seriously go fuck yourself you SJW weasel.” (SJW stands for social justice warrior, a derogatory way to describe someone who promotes progressive values).

Not every commentator was as ill tempered.

Nicholas A. Jordan, a longtime Ohio State enthusiast, wrote to Drake with a lengthy and deferential justification as to why Meyer should continue coaching, ending with that if Drake had read the letter, “it would be a great honor.”

“I believe that Mr. Meyer is currently the greatest recruiter this university employs. Even his predecessor did not have this success in changing young mens lives. His program has produced more successful students than any other professor on campus -- but this one teaches football. If he were to be let go he would have a dozen offers from programs that will say, ‘we’ve reviewed the investigation and found absolutely no wrongdoing by Urban Meyer’ along with a measure of support for the man,” Jordan wrote.

Alumnus Robert Bulas asked that Drake not “fold” to the “sensationalized media” coverage of the dispute with the assistant coach and his wife.

“I ask that no ‘sacrifice’ is given to the media. Penalties, including suspensions, should only be given to the truly guilty, not as a token to the mob,” Bulas wrote.

Many of those who wrote to Drake seemed to borrow the rhetoric of President Trump that he popularized before and after his election. Multiple commenters decried the Meyer coverage as “fake news” and many more complained about “PC culture.”

“I want a president that is a leader at Ohio State and not a PR liberal California coward,” wrote alumnus Paul Condon to Drake and the trustees. “Myself and others are going to push people we know across many OSU alumni forums to get rid of Drake.”

“I cannot even be professional in this letter and feel better to speak exactly how I feel, tonight was a total embarrassment to be a graduate of Ohio State and watch a president with no backbone cave into a false narrative and national perception,” Condon wrote after the press conference announcing the suspension.

Regardless of how the public felt about how Drake handled this situation, Meyer won’t stay at Ohio State. He announced he would retire after the Rose Bowl game in January, citing the stress the suspension caused him and mounting health issues.

But Meyer has retired from college football once before, in 2010, when he was head coach at the University of Florida. Plenty of sports commentators are convinced he will return.

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Temple board announces it respects professor's controversial speech as protected by Constitution

Wed, 2018-12-12 08:00

Temple University's board issued a statement Tuesday saying that the controversial anti-Israel remarks a professor recently made at the United Nations -- comments some have called anti-Semitic -- were protected as free speech by the Constitution.

Tuesday's statement backed away from comments Temple's board chair made earlier suggesting that the professor, Marc Lamont Hill, could be punished. "Free speech is one thing. Hate speech is entirely different," the chair, Patrick O'Connor, said in early December. Further, he said he had instructed Temple's legal office to consider steps the university could take in response to the speech. "We're going to look at what remedies we have."

Those comments appeared to undercut earlier statements from Temple president Richard M. Englert that the comments, while he disagreed with them, were protected free speech. Temple's faculty union, and experts on academic freedom and professors with a range of views on Israel, condemned O'Connor, saying that his comments reflected a lack of respect for academic freedom.

Tuesday's board statement said that Hill had the right to express his views. "In giving this speech outside of his role as a teacher and researcher at Temple, Professor Hill was not speaking on behalf of or representing the university," the statement said. "We recognize that Professor Hill’s comments are his own, that his speech as a private individual is entitled to the same Constitutional protection of any other citizen, and that he has through subsequent statements expressly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence."

The statement also said that board members "hereby state their disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement with Professor Hill’s comments," but that there were no threats of any punishment for Hill.

What Hill Said

The controversy concerned a talk Hill, a professor of media studies at Temple, gave at the United Nations about Palestinian rights. Hill ended the speech by saying that he hoped for a free Palestine "from the river to the sea." That phrase is commonly used by Palestinian supporters and is viewed by many as a call to eliminate Israel.

The river in the phrase is the Jordan River, which marks the eastern border of Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank with Jordan. The sea is the Mediterranean, which marks Israel's western border. A Palestinian state from the river to the sea, many say, means one in which Israel does not exist. Many consider calls to eliminate Israel as a nation to be not just anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic.

Other critics noted that Hill's speech (viewable here on YouTube), while endorsing nonviolent protest, said that Palestinians should not be limited to nonviolent tactics.

But Hill said after the controversy broke out that he did not use the phrase in the way his critics suggested, and he disavowed anti-Semitism. On Twitter, he wrote, "My reference to 'river to the sea' was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza. The speech very clearly and specifically said those things. No amount of debate will change what I actually said or what I meant."

He also said on Twitter, "I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things."

In his speech, Hill referenced the 1967 borders of Israel, in which that country did exist.

CNN fired Hill as a commentator after his speech. Many academics said that Temple's board chair had no right to order the university's legal staff to look for ways to punish Hill. An open letter from more than 500 scholars said, "We are dismayed that the board has looked into procedures for Dr. Hill’s firing simply for expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people. Instead of continuing the pursuit of any retributive actions against Dr. Hill, particularly those efforts that infringe upon his academic freedom and First Amendment guarantee to free speech, we urge the university to join his advocacy for universal human rights worldwide."

Adam Steinbaugh of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, one of the groups that criticized the statement by Temple's board chair, said Tuesday that the new statement from the board was welcome.

"Temple University was right when it first concluded that Hill's speech was protected by the First Amendment," Steinbaugh said. "Its board chairman did it no favors by announcing that he had directed its legal team to explore 'remedies' and suggesting that 'hate speech' was unprotected. Temple's renewed recognition that Hill spoke as a private citizen, and that the First Amendment protects his right to do so, is welcome."

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In switch to digital-first products, publishers are signing fewer textbook authors

Wed, 2018-12-12 08:00

Few academics make their fortunes writing textbooks, and if current trends in academic publishing continue, it's possible that even fewer will become star authors in the future.

Large academic publishers such as Pearson and Cengage are working with fewer and fewer textbook authors as the companies shift their focus and investments from traditional textbooks to digital courseware.

Paul Corey, managing director of global higher education at Pearson, said large investments of time and expertise into digital courseware mean the publisher’s capacity to sign new textbook authors is “not as great as it once was.”

Best-selling digital courseware still has “all the elements of a traditional textbook,” said Corey. But the publishers are also developing costly additional features such as adaptive assessment, data analytics and user-friendly interfaces with videos and animations.

“We must pick our shots more carefully,” he said.

Rather than signing new authors, Pearson is primarily “reincarnating in digital format” successful textbook franchises from established authors, Corey said. He declined to say how many new authors the publisher has signed in recent years.

Like Pearson, Cengage is investing in digital products designed to improve student learning outcomes. Erin Joyner, senior vice president for higher education product at Cengage, said the publisher is still signing new authors but is more selective now than in the past.

She said by investing more in its products, the company is improving the efficacy of its products and putting quality over quantity. “As a content provider, we’re much more strategic and focused,” she said.

Joyner said Cengage published 120 first-edition textbooks in the past four years but is scheduled to publish just 11 in 2020.

Both Wiley and McGraw-Hill Education declined to provide the numbers of new authors they have signed in recent years.

Scott Virkler, chief product officer for higher education at McGraw-Hill, said there has been "a general decline in traditional new product agreements compared to, say, a decade ago."

"Those agreements are being replaced by new, innovative content partnerships with leading authors and content experts to build new solutions for instructors and students," he said.

Charles Linsmeier, senior vice president of content strategy for publisher Macmillan Learning, said even as other academic publishers are signing fewer authors and launching fewer first editions, Macmillan has been “careful about resisting that trend.”

“We feel pretty strongly that we need more points of view, more new content and new pedagogies,” he said. He added that while Macmillan has no set target for signing new authors, the number of first editions published each year hovers “pretty consistently” between 13 and 20 percent of the total number of titles published.

Oxford University Press is also bucking the trend and continues to sign new authors, said John Challice, vice president and publisher for higher education content.

"We're signing at the same level we always have," said Challice. Approximately 40 percent of the books the company publishes each year are first editions.

"For the big guys, author acquisition is basically zero now in the traditional sense of having one quarterback on a project," said Challice.

Because the big publishers control such a large share of the market, it makes sense there will be fewer opportunities for academics to write textbooks than in the past, he said. "Only those who are truly stellar will rise to the top."

Challice said there will still be opportunities for academics to contribute to courseware, but they may be one of many contributing authors.

"If you're writing a textbook for the attribution, that is diluted in courseware," he said. "It's not like the old days when textbooks were known by their authors and survived for 40 years."

Michael Spinella, executive director of the Textbook and Academic Authors Association (TAA) said members of his organization are reporting more difficulty securing textbook contracts with big academic publishers.

“It’s always been hard to get your first contract and to get subsequent ones,” said Spinella. “But it is becoming increasingly competitive. It may be harder to get that first contract. We’re in the midst of a changing industry.”

Spinella said academics that do get contracts are being asked to do more by the publishers than in the past.

“It might have been straight writing before, but now it’s also getting permission for use of photos, developing graphics, sometimes getting involved in assessment work,” he said.

Academics that can’t secure contracts are increasingly turning to open educational resources -- producing openly copyrighted textbooks and learning materials, which are free for students to access, said Spinella.

“We do have members that are engaging in OER projects, and some are eager to do it,” he said. “It’s a way for younger academics, particularly newly minted Ph.D.s, to get their work noticed -- and there are some resources compensating authors for their efforts.”

While the textbook industry is continuing to change, Spinella believes “very strongly that there will be an ongoing need for quality educational materials” and that publishers will continue to look to academics for their expertise.

“I think the fundamentals of the practice of developing educational resources will have ongoing strength,” he said.

John Bond, a scholarly publishing consultant and founder of Riverwinds Consulting, said the business model for traditional print textbooks has “always been challenging” for publishers. With subscription-based digital courseware, publishers focus on sales at the academic department level rather than to individual instructors -- and they don’t lose any revenue to the used book market.

Given that it can take several years for a textbook to make it to market, Bond said it may be some time before the full impact of big publishers signing fewer authors is apparent.

“There won’t be much of a diminishment of academics needed to write material,” he said. “But there will be a change from the rosy days of getting a Fed Ex package with your textbook with your name on it.”

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Banks paying colleges to promote student debit cards charge higher fees, but new rule has changed market

Wed, 2018-12-12 08:00

A newly public Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analysis of campus-sponsored debit cards found that students at colleges paid to promote the cards were charged on average three times more in account fees than student account holders elsewhere.

The Education Department received the analysis nearly a year ago, but it was only released last week in response to Freedom of Information Act requests for the documents. The findings raise questions about conflicts of interest arising from financial relationships between banking entities and the colleges that promote their student accounts, the agency said in its report.

But the analysis also suggests that cash management regulations issued by the Education Department in 2015 have already had a significant positive impact for students.

“The CFPB report shows that the cash management regulations are working,” said Nathan Arnold, a senior adviser at Education Counsel and former Education Department official who helped write the rule. “It shows that overall fees are down in the market, especially compared to prior to the cash management regulations. The worst actors are also no longer operating or are charging a lot less than they used to.”

Under the Obama administration, the market for college-sponsored deposit and prepaid accounts became a serious focus for the department, thanks in part to an investigation by a watchdog group that found student aid recipients were losing hundreds to fees on bad deals their colleges had with credit card companies.

The cash management rules barred companies contracted by colleges to process student aid payments and other functions from charging fees to students. And beginning in 2017, colleges with those marketing agreements were required to start reporting information like student enrollment in the accounts, fees charged and financial compensation to the school.

Most students at the majority of the 573 colleges where CFPB analyzed card agreements paid no fees in the 2016-17 academic year. But the fees paid by students varied quite a bit among those companies that did charge students -- from less than a dollar to nearly $47 annually.

And while students paid more than $27 million in fees, the worst practices identified by consumer and watchdog groups have largely been banned, and fees are mostly in line with the general debit card market.

The consumer group U.S. PIRG in a 2012 report identified hundreds of agreements between banking entities and colleges that in many cases steered revenue to campuses but also included some steep fees for students. Higher One, the company that the group identified as the biggest player in the market, generated about 80 percent of its revenue from student fees, the group found.

But the company, now known as BankMobile, charged relatively modest annual fees on average -- just over $12 a year -- according to the CFPB analysis.

Wells Fargo, which holds more than 300,000 student accounts, charged the highest average fees annually, the agency found, at $46.99. The company with the second-highest average annual fees, University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union, charged students an average of $37 in a 12-month period. It also held only 2,570 student accounts, a small proportion of the overall market.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, earlier this year raised concerns about fees charged to students at colleges partnering with the company. A company spokesman said in response to scrutiny from Durbin that fees could be higher depending on the concentration of nontraditional or part-time students on a campus.

Stacy Kika, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said students have the ability to opt in to campus cards at participating colleges. And she said fees can be incurred depending on how customers use their accounts, including whether they withdraw money from ATMs outside the bank's networks, send wire transfers or purchase money orders. (Note: This story was updated to include comments from Wells Fargo.) 

"Banking with Wells Fargo provides these customers with access to a wide array of resources to help them with their daily money management and planning," she said. 

The cash management rule was never intended to stop banks from charging fees on student accounts entirely. 

Arnold said that new public data on account fees will give colleges ammunition to demand better deals for students.

“Schools have more leverage in these agreements than they realize,” he said. “This report shows that they can get a better deal for students if they negotiate. And it shows all the competitors they could be negotiating with if they think they're getting a bad deal.”

But Seth Frotman, the former student loans ombudsman at CFPB, said the data the agency collected shows the need for tough enforcement from the department as well.

“No bank is giving a school money for free,” he said. “When money flows from banks to schools, it’s students who are the ones paying the price.”

Frotman noted that Wells Fargo, which held less than a quarter of student accounts, charged almost half of all fees to students.

CFPB provided the analysis to A. Wayne Johnson, the chief strategy and transformation officer at the Education Department, in February as the department developed plans to pilot its own prepaid card for student aid recipients. One of the biggest selling points Johnson has offered for a department-issued debit card is that it would have zero fees for students. And the CFPB analysis “confirmed for us the importance of a fee-free payment card option for students,” said Liz Hill, a department spokeswoman.

Colleen Campbell, associate director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, said if the department’s focus is on lowering fees for students, “you have the cash management regulations to enforce.”

Arnold said if the department can set up a prepaid card that’s a good deal for consumers, it would be welcomed to the market of campus-sponsored accounts.

“But it looks to me like the market already has a lot of really solid competition that is serving students well,” he said.

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Fund-raising in times of crisis is a tough balancing act

Tue, 2018-12-11 08:00

The confidential world of high-dollar college fund-raising doesn’t usually make national headlines unless a major donor makes a record-breaking gift. Interactions between those tasked with asking for large sums of money and those proffering it are largely the result of relationships built on tact and propriety -- and above all, privacy. Not doing anything to undermine the deep commitment and affinity alumni and donors have for a given college or university is sacrosanct.

Those normal rules of decorum were recently upended at the University of Maryland, College Park, with the death of Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman for the Terrapins football team, and the subsequent firing of the team’s head coach. The events, which occurred during a $1.5 billion fund-raising campaign, roiled the campus and provided a rare public glimpse into the generally discreet practices of the institution’s main fund-raising foundation and a top benefactor.

The chairman of the foundation angrily complained about the actions of the university system’s Board of Regents in the wake of McNair’s death from heatstroke last June. Among other things, the board forced the university’s president, Wallace Loh, to reinstate the head coach, who had been put on leave. This move didn’t sit well with some students and alumni, and some of McNair’s teammates, who said the university was placing athletics over student safety. The foundation chairman characterized the board’s actions as a “fatal blow” to the campaign. A member of the foundation who'd given the university millions followed suit and said she would withhold any future funding because of the “unacceptable” way the controversy was managed.

The dustup exposed problems that can and do arise when the public relations goals of a carefully choreographed fund-raising campaign and a troubled athletic program collide: universities and colleges are left scrambling to repair their damaged reputation among alumni while also trying to keep sports-loving donors happy with the institutions’ athletic programs.

It’s a tough balancing act for any university with a popular sports program, especially those with nationally recognized football and men's basketball teams such as Pennsylvania State University, Baylor University, Ohio State University, Michigan State University and many others that have experienced all manner of scandals.

Of course, donors can also react to issues having nothing to do with college sports. Just last week, some prominent benefactors of the University of Southern California openly criticized a decision by the interim president to remove the dean of the business school. The dean is "not going anywhere, and neither are we," one donor asserted. Another donor, a billionaire who donated $85 million to USC, hired a lawyer to advocate for the dean.

“Universities have to maintain legitimacy with their stakeholders -- with students who pay tuition, donors/trustees who make contributions, legislators who appropriate funds, etc. Many of them are deeply invested in the institution's success, so they aren't neutral arbiters. Instead, they will bask in the reflected glory of the university's triumphs and find ways to distance themselves (and the university) from perceived failures,” Welch Suggs Jr., an associate professor at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, said in an email.

“In the face of scandal, how do such stakeholders respond? Given recent examples, it's surprising when they express concern that a university's response to scandal is not strong enough. More commonly, donors and other stakeholders get upset when they think university officials have been too punitive and are compromising their teams' competitiveness.”

The challenge of balancing these competing interests was made all the more difficult at Maryland after the widely criticized reinstatement and then bungled firing of the once popular coach, DJ Durkin. In the aftermath of McNair’s death, team members alleged that Durkin fostered a "toxic" coaching culture. In addition, an investigation of McNair’s death concluded that the athletic department staff didn't follow university procedures that should have diagnosed a heatstroke.

Even as the dust settled on campus, the accusations and recriminations that followed the imbroglio revealed a level of exasperation with the state of affairs not usually expressed so bluntly.

In a letter of complaint to the Board of Regents, Geoff J. Gonella, the foundation chairman, implied the board improperly commandeered the investigation of McNair’s death, bullied Loh to reinstate Durkin and even pushed Loh to announce his retirement.

“Let us remind you that we are in the middle of a $1.5 billion campaign to raise funds for the flagship of the system,” Gonella wrote. “And we are deeply distressed that you have not only dented our momentum, but you may have dealt our efforts a fatal blow.”

The head of the regents resigned soon after.

Suggs, the University of Georgia professor who is also a former associate director for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said the outspoken reactions were surprising.

“Most of the time, donors and other stakeholders value competitiveness and the pursuit of excellence more than penitence or corrective action, or even victim support. They want scandals to be over and done with so they can get on with being fans and supporters,” he wrote. “So, the Maryland situation seems to be a critical example: Will other donors expect universities to hold themselves deeply accountable for tragedies like the death of Jordan McNair? Or will they try to negotiate settlements and move on? It'll be interesting to see.”

Universities that do take prompt and unequivocal responsibility for tragic mistakes and embarrassing scandals are likely to fare better, said Brian Gawor, vice president for research and strategy in the fund-raising management division at consulting firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

“What we find is if the university is standing up and taking responsibility, and is not shy about talking to and listening, really listening, to the alumni, and providing very clear plans as to what they’re doing to address the situation, they will be able to move on from the controversy,” he said.

Bruce Levenson, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist who along with his wife is a major donor to the University of Maryland, agreed that acknowledgment of fault followed by tangible corrective action can help restore university boosters’ faith in an institution.

“The way Maryland reacts to this will affect how it’s judged in the broader academic community,” he said. “So how they react is very, very important.”

Levenson, former co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks and his wife, Karen, a Maryland alumna and member of the fund-raising foundation Board of Trustees, gave Maryland $75 million in 2016 to help launch the Do Good Institute at the School of Public Policy to promote philanthropy and entrepreneurial innovation among students. He said he was speaking for both himself and his wife.

Karen Levenson, who also co-chairs a campaign steering committee that helps Maryland administrators plan fund-raising campaigns, wrote the letter about withholding future donations to the university.

She said in the letter that she felt compelled to speak out after keeping “quiet about the extent of my very significant financial commitment” to the university.

“I have directed the halting of future funding to the university until such time as I am convinced the university will be governed in the manner I was led to believe it would be governed when I made my commitment,” she wrote.

Bruce Levenson said Maryland’s actions going forward would be key to determining future support from him and his wife. He said he was heartened that Governor Larry Hogan and other state lawmakers called on University of Maryland administrators to do more “to restore the public trust.”

“For me, assuming that there’s now follow-through, my inclination would be to be even more generous,” he said.

Another major donor who gave Maryland money to help build a $152 million computer science building and fund scholarships also criticized the regents' handling of the events and called on Hogan and lawmakers to protect Loh's job, according to The Baltimore Sun.

University of Maryland officials declined to make the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the College Park Foundation available for an interview. Instead, Jackie Lewis, vice president for university relations, issued a written statement.

“While a tragedy on campus has the potential to impact fundraising, it’s more important than ever that we continue to reach out to our stakeholders and supporters. We need to listen to their concerns, provide accurate information directly to our community, and be responsive,” she wrote. “During a campaign, our critical work of raising private dollars continues. It is our hope that our alumni and strongest supporters continue to believe in the transformative impact higher education and the University of Maryland has on our students, community and world. The campaign is raising private funds to provide academic scholarships, support faculty positions, build new facilities, and support research projects that discover new knowledge.”

Other Universities

When a shocking child sex abuse case rocked Pennsylvania State University’s hugely popular football program in 2011, the condemnations and repercussions were swift and far-reaching. The story was at the center of a media maelstrom for several weeks, and the fallout continues to this day. Like Maryland, Penn State was also in the midst of a fund-raising campaign when the scandal exploded.

Joe Paterno, the widely beloved longtime head coach of the Nittany Lions, was ousted in disgrace. (He died in 2012.) Jerry Sandusky, an assistant coach, was eventually convicted of more than 40 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to a jail term of 30 to 60 years. The university president, vice president and athletic director were charged with various crimes, including obstruction of justice and child endangerment, for not intervening to stop the abuse, and given short prison sentences. Penn State's costs related to the scandal, including settlement payments to Sandusky's victims, have reportedly reached $237 million and counting.

The campus was emotionally riven by the scandal; students who supported the team and those outraged by the handling and attempted cover-up of the allegations protested on opposing sides. Alumni spoke out in defense of the school or harshly criticized it.

The university decided to proactively cease some of the activities of the seven-year, $2 billion fund-raising campaign. Development officers were advised "to move more slowly in major donor solicitations," O. Richard Bundy III, Penn State’s vice president of development and alumni relations, said in an email. Solicitation calls from the Lion Line, Penn State's "telefund" organization, were suspended for a time, and development staff members went on a “listening tour” in the months immediately after the crisis broke.

"As a result, there was a significant decrease in the number of major gift proposals we delivered in the first six months of 2012," Bundy wrote. "All of these measures were a significant departure from standard practice during any fundraising campaign."

The university also adopted “aggressive reforms in compliance and reporting protocols” focused on fighting child abuse and sexual misconduct, “all of which were key factors in maintaining donor support,” he said.

The campaign still managed to eventually surpass its fund-raising goal with the help of 167,500 alumni “at the time believed to be the most alumni donors to any campaign in the country,” said Bundy. He was not in his current position at the time of the abuse crisis, but he doesn’t believe it motivated donors to give as a way to show support for the university.

“I think there are more significant factors that drive our philanthropic success,” he said. “Our alumni and friends care deeply about this institution. Our alumni surveys have consistently demonstrated confidence in the university’s priorities.”

He said while Penn State football was likely a factor, it was not the only reason for donors’ largesse.

“It’s true that many of our donors also are fans of Penn State athletics,” he said. “At a minimum, our athletic successes give our development staff an icebreaker when starting conversations with prospective donors. Having said that, we’re a university with a depth and breadth of offerings, and there are many more motivations for giving that go well beyond athletics. That includes patrons of the arts, for example, and grateful patients, and first generation [students] to go to college, many of whom have no interest in sports.”

Bundy said Penn State’s donor base has increased by more than 20 percent since 2011 and is now at record highs. Donors to intercollegiate athletics have also returned to pre-recession highs.

The university’s current five-year, $1.6 billion campaign, launched on June 30, 2016, raised more than $713 million -- more than 44 percent of its goal -- in the first two years and now stands at $845 million. Bundy said more than 375,000 “alumni and friends” of Penn State donated.

Kenon A. Brown, an assistant professor in the University of Alabama’s program in sports communication, said what happened at Maryland is just the latest in a string of controversial incidents in college sports programs that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has not given sufficient attention.

“At what point does it become a systemic problem for the NCAA?” he said. “How many schools need to get in trouble like this before you say what you’re going to do as a governing institution to sort of minimize this? They’re not holding up their end of the bargain … They’re too lenient for their own good.”

Brown said the NCAA is not holding its member institutions accountable, and he questions whether Maryland would have reinstated a coach who ran a seriously troubled football program if the NCAA had stepped in and said, “This can’t happen -- you’re not going to reinstate this coach.”

Still, he said, there was plenty of blame to go around, including with administrators at the University of Maryland.

Brown said donors such as the Levensons stepping up and demanding accountability as a condition of their financial support is a result of NCAA inaction.

“The donors have a lot of power, and money talks as soon as they start pulling back their checks,” he said. “It’s like any business -- once you start losing revenue then you have a problem. That’s when institutions start asking themselves the hard questions.”

Linda Durant, vice president for development at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, said donors often continue to support institutions despite scandals because the time and effort university administrators, particularly presidents and senior development personnel, spend cultivating and nurturing relationships with big donors often pays off over the long term.

“So when a controversy or scandal erupts, the donors are often willing to give the university administrators the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “The good news is when you’re talking about a major campaign, these donors are the individuals who are closest to the university. They have long-standing and trusting relationships with the leadership of the university, they care deeply about the university, and this is what inspires and motivates them.”

Durant, who formerly was senior vice president for advancement at Widener University in Pennsylvania and vice president for advancement at Dean College in Massachusetts, said universities facing a major scandal will often reach out to major donors and schedule meetings, phone calls and one-on-one conversations to reassure them that administrators “have the best interest of the university, alumni and friends of the university at hand, and are working to protect the mission of the university.”

“As someone who was in that world for a very long time, I know that the university is always aware that anything can happen during a fund-raising campaign,” she said. “There can be an economic downturn or a controversial event on campus. That’s why they’re always talking to donors. If there’s a time when they feel they can’t move in the direction they wanted to with the campaign, they may pause and say, ‘Let’s just stop for a while. Let’s assess the situation and let’s address it and communicate with our alumni and donors.’”

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New study says scientists are leaving academic work at unprecedented rates

Tue, 2018-12-11 08:00

The “half-life” of academic scientists has shortened dramatically over time, says a new paper calling attention to the “rise of the temporary workforce.”

Following scientists in three fields, the paper’s authors found that it took about five years for a half of a science cohort to leave academic work in 2010 -- compared to 35 years in the 1960s.

The researchers also found a “rapid rise” in scientists who spend their careers supporting others and never leading a paper of their own -- from about 25 percent of scientists in the 1960s to 60 percent today.

“Entering graduate students should be aware of this, so that they would have realistic expectations and perhaps try to plan their lives accordingly,” lead author Staša Milojević, associate professor of informatics at Indiana University, said Monday.

While some scientists do survive and thrive, the paper says it remains somewhat unclear what drives that “survivability.”

This message is clearer: as supporting scientists become more and more essential, given the rise of team science, they’re “suffering from greater career instability and worse long-term career prospects in some fields.”

Milojević said part of the problem is postdoctoral positions, or “permadocs,” as they’re sometimes called -- supposedly temporary positions on which academic research increasingly depends.

“The existence of the postdoc role has definitely changed the lab dynamics,” she said. “It has also allowed individuals to stay longer in the field in the hopes of landing a more permanent position. I believe that the existence of so many postdoc positions is leading to the attrition picture we are seeing.”

The study focused on researcher cohorts in astronomy, ecology and robotics. Researchers drew their cohorts from scientists who had published in any of the principal journals in their fields, starting in the 1960s: some 71,000 authors in astronomy, 21,000 in ecology and 18,000 in robotics. These scientists remained active authors and therefore “in” science if they’d published in a journal in any role -- lead or supporting author -- in the last three years covered by the study.

The researchers determined that the share of all authors who are lead authors has been trending downward in all three disciplines since the 1960s, leading to a complementary increase in the share of supporting authors.

In early cohorts in the study, about 75 percent of entering authors had a lead author role, the paper says. That figure is now about 40 percent.

For authors who persist in science beyond their first publication, the study employed a “survival analysis” to study their career longevity. Graphed survival “curves” show that until the 1980s and, for astronomy, the 1990s, half of each cohort had a “full” 20 or more years in their academic careers. In recent decades, however, there has been a continuous decline in expected career length.

Expanding the survival analysis to every cohort, the authors decided that a “half-life” would be the time it took a group of scientists to lose half its ranks. Astronomy’s half-life dropped from 37 years in the 1960s to five years in 2007. The half-lives were even shorter in ecology and robotics. Part of that difference probably reflects better nonacademic job opportunities in the latter two fields.

Source: PNAS

Attempting to track when scientists leave a field, the researchers determined that there’s no “bottleneck” stage when they rush to leave, but rather a constant trickle.

Over all, scientists who have been lead authors have significantly higher production and collaboration levels than supporting authors. Their impact levels are similar, the study says. And supporting authors, “while working on fewer papers and with fewer direct collaborators, nevertheless contribute to projects of similar impact.”

A more advanced analysis suggests that for lead authors, number of publications has “consistently been a significant predictor of career longevity. We also see that citations reduced the hazard of exit in the early cohorts.” However, the paper says, more recently, the model is “dominated by publications, with citations having little independent effect.” And in contrast, for supporting authors, publications have “very weak effects until the most recent cohort.”

While their findings are linked to the rise of group science, they’re not an "inevitable outcome of the increasing sizes of teams," the authors say.

Going farther, the author says there is a need to reform career structures in universities to account for the changing nature of “composition and reproduction cycles in team science, with social insect colonies rather than parent-child reproduction as a more appropriate model.”

The increased need for both the “specialization and possession of specialized technical knowledge to manipulate increasingly complex instrumentation and data has created an essential group of supporting contributors to knowledge,” the paper says. “Unfortunately, the existing job roles and educational structures may not be responding to these changes.”

"Changing Demographics of Scientific Careers: The Rise of the Temporary Workforce" was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Columbia student goes on racist tirade at fellow students

Tue, 2018-12-11 08:00

A Columbia University student shouted that “white people are the best thing that ever happened to the world” on Sunday evening during a racist tirade in front of students of color, who caught the rant on video.

“We invented science and industry, and you want to tell us to stop because ‘oh, my God, we’re so bad,’” the student said, skipping around the small crowd of students. “We saved billions of people from starvation. We built modern civilization. White people are the best thing that ever happened to the world. We are so amazing. I love myself and I love my people. [Fuck] yeah, white people! [Fuck] yeah, white men! We’re white men, we did everything.”

Disappointed, but not surprised. Twitter, do your thing@Columbia @CC_Columbia #ColumbiaWhiteExcellence

— Aala (@aalanasir) December 9, 2018

The white student in the video is Julian von Abele. Several onlooking students challenged his remarks; one asked, “What about slavery?”

In an email to students, Deans Mary Boyce, Lisa Rosen-Metsch and James Valentini assured students that the university was investigating the incident.

“Although we cannot comment on the proceedings, this incident is already under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, and we want to assure you that it will be investigated thoroughly, beginning with interviews of witnesses,” the email read.

A spokesperson for Columbia could not confirm whether that investigation will result in disciplinary action for von Abele.

The Columbia University Black Student Union addressed the incident in a Facebook post and elaborated on what allegedly occurred after the camera turned off.

“Apparently after this encounter, [von Abele] continued to harass several students and Public Safety did nothing to help or protect the students when they were contacted,” the post read. “This came after he forcibly grabbed a black woman and asked black women if they liked to date white men, according to several individuals.”

Von Abele did not respond to Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment.

Columbia’s student conduct policies specifically prohibit harassment, which is defined as “unwelcome verbal or physical conduct/threat of physical conduct that, because of its severity, pervasiveness, and/or persistence, interferes significantly with an individual’s work or education, or adversely affects an individual’s living conditions.” The university also has a nondiscrimination policy that, if violated, could result in a disciplinary hearing.

The university posted a Twitter thread in response to the incident.

“Statements of white racial superiority conflict with the university’s core value of inclusivity as well as the educational work and research that take place on our campuses,” it began.

The thread was met with some criticism.

“Actually, by teaching a Eurocentric core curriculum in which students study the modern world through the lens of solely Western societies, you are perpetuating the white supremacy that occurred on campus,” one user wrote. “I appreciate the tweeting, but it's time to diversify the core.” Columbia is known for a rigorous core curriculum with a strong focus on Western classics.

“There is only one socially acceptable outcome and that is to expel Julian von Abele from Columbia university,” another user tweeted. “You have to show there are serious consequences for his type of racist behavior.”

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Science advocates weigh in as HHS conducts review of fetal tissue research

Tue, 2018-12-11 08:00

The Trump administration in September launched a comprehensive review of all research involving human fetal tissue, which has helped researchers make headway in studies of macular degeneration and infectious diseases like HIV and the Zika virus.

The review followed pressure from antiabortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List as well as members of Congress in recent months to end federal support for the research. Although university and research groups have said there appears to be a genuine interest in getting the science right at the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency has taken several steps recently to limit ongoing research and promote alternatives to fetal tissue that scientists say aren't viable.

Just after launching the review, the agency barred scientists from the National Institutes of Health from acquiring new human fetal tissue for research. The decision, which was made without any public announcement, only became public Friday thanks to a report in Science.

And on Monday, the National Institutes of Health said it would fund new studies to develop alternatives to human fetal tissue.

The announcement follows reporting that cast doubt on the long-term funding prospects for a multimillion-dollar research contract at University of California, San Francisco, to test new treatments for HIV.

The use of fetal tissue in federally backed research is extremely controversial among antiabortion groups, because much the tissue comes from aborted fetuses. The Department of Health and Human Services put a moratorium on federal support for research using fetal tissue from elective abortions in 1988. But President Clinton reversed the moratorium in 1993, and the same year Congress legalized federal funding for the research. The National Institutes of Health, which is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, provided $103 million to back fetal tissue research this year. It’s expected to provide $95 million in research funding in 2019.

While the HHS review is underway, the backers of fetal tissue research are hoping to have their say. Even as the administration take steps that appear designed to placate antiabortion groups, science groups say HHS hasn’t yet made a change of policy on the research.

“I think there is a genuine interest in getting a strong understanding of the science,” said Jennifer Poulakidas, vice president for congressional and governmental affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

APLU is one of a number of higher ed organizations, research advocates and patient groups that are weighing in on talks with HHS as the agency carries out its review of the research.

“Science is changing very rapidly these days in any number of areas. It makes sense to get on top of that,” said Jennifer Zeitzer, director of federal relations at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. “We’re taking HHS at its word, and we want to help them do that.”

In recent months, though, the administration has made changes suggesting skepticism of the research. Last month, President Trump appointed a University of Utah academic, whose views on “fetal pain” are far outside the scientific mainstream, to a White House scientific advisory board.

When it launched its comprehensive review in September, HHS also dropped a contract with laboratory research services firm Advanced Bioscience Resources Inc. to provide fetal tissue to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because it said it was not "sufficiently assured" the material was obtained in a way that complied with federal law.

“As a result, that contract has been terminated, and HHS is now conducting an audit of all acquisitions involving human fetal tissue to ensure conformity with procurement and human fetal tissue research laws and regulations,” an agency spokeswoman said. “In addition, HHS has initiated a comprehensive review of all research involving fetal tissue to ensure consistency with statutes and regulations governing such research, and to ensure the adequacy of procedures and oversight of this research in light of the serious regulatory, moral, and ethical considerations involved.”

The agency also said it’s looking into alternatives to the use of human fetal tissue in federally funded research, a priority NIH delivered on with its announcement Monday.

"Research using these tissues has been important in shedding light on scientific questions fundamental to biomedical research, ranging from understanding basic physiologic mechanisms to understanding normal human tissue developmental and disease processes. However, new technologies raise the potential of reconstituting these model systems without fetal tissue yielding more replicable and reproducible system for broader uses," the notice said. That’s an objective that’s been pushed by antiabortion groups. But researchers say there currently are no viable alternatives for the research conducted with fetal tissue.

While opponents and backers are watching that process unfold, uncertainty over federal support for fetal tissue at UCSF appeared to signal a new approach on federal funding. The Washington Post reported last week that the Trump administration has sowed doubt over the continuation of an NIH contract with a university laboratory.

The investigator who runs that lab, which has tested most drugs to prevent or treat HIV infection, the Post reported, was given a 90-day extension instead of the typical one-year, $2 million extension.

But HHS after that story issued a rare and forceful statement pushing back on suggestions the contract would be canceled.

“Regarding the extension on the UC San Francisco contract, no final decision has been made. A decision will be made when the contract has been reviewed, pursuant to the ongoing audit/review process,” said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley in an email to Inside Higher Ed.

Oakley did not provide details on a timeline for review but said, “When we have more to announce on the progress of the review, we will.”

The University of California System declined to comment on the status of the NIH contract. Spokeswoman Claire Doan said in a statement that fetal tissue material is vital to finding treatments and cures for a wide variety of diseases and medical conditions.

“This research is conducted in full compliance with federal and state law, as well as ethical standards, and is in keeping with the university’s education, research and public service missions,” Doan said.

The most vocal antiabortion groups for their part have called the ongoing HHS review "completely inadequate."

“Secretary [Alex] Azar must put an immediate moratorium on funding for research using aborted baby organs and tissue purchased from the abortion industry,” said Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser after the agency announced the review in September.

Scientists say they are worried about the accuracy of information the administration is receiving from those groups.

“The pro-life community that’s pressuring the Trump administration is making claims that stem cells of various types can replace fetal tissue, and that’s scientifically untrue,” said Larry Goldstein, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego. “As long as HHS relies on good, solid facts from knowledgeable sources, we welcome review.”

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LIU students want apology after 'berating' of editor

Tue, 2018-12-11 08:00

The student government association at Long Island University’s Post campus is demanding an apology from President Kimberly Cline and members of her administration after a co-editor of LIU’s student newspaper said several officials turned a routine interview into a confrontation over the newspaper’s coverage.

Co-editor Jada Butler wrote that she had scheduled an interview with a Board of Trustees member who had been the subject of previous coverage, as well as with Michael Berthel, an LIU dean, and Gordon Tepper, LIU’s public relations director. Butler said that when she and a reporter arrived for the meeting, the trustee wasn’t there. Instead, Berthel and Tepper were joined via telephone by the university counsel, Michael Best.

Butler said Tepper and Best spent the first 20 or so minutes of the meeting “berating” the newspaper for covering a series of anonymous pamphlets that have been distributed campuswide this fall, criticizing Cline, among others, for staff cuts and changes to sports programs. Butler also spoke to Inside Higher Ed last month about the pamphlets.

“They never told us not to publish anything,” Butler wrote, “rather they speculated about our reasoning behind covering these pamphlets.” She said Tepper and Best “believed we were wrong for covering what they called falsehoods and details they said were exaggerated.” The newspaper had fact-checked the memos, Butler said, but the officials put her in the “awkward position” of having to defend her work at what was supposed to be an interview.

Tepper did not respond to requests for comment.

The student association last week demanded that Cline and the other officials make “written, public apologies” for the incident. It also asked for a written statement from Cline and LIU’s Board of Trustees “guaranteeing free speech throughout the university for all students, staff, and faculty” at LIU’s Post campus.

It set a deadline of Dec. 10 for publication of the notices, threatening that if “sufficient apologies” aren’t made, the group would “use the LIU Post network of students to make the entire country aware of your administration’s abuses.” The group said it would “let high school students everywhere know that LIU Post is the place to come only if you do not like thinking for yourself.”

In a letter sent to the student government association and shared with Inside Higher Ed, Cline said LIU “fully embraces the guaranteed right to freedom of speech, and is committed to upholding and encouraging open and constructive dialogue. We value all perspectives of our students, faculty and community, and we understand and respect that good people and bright minds may differ.”

But she said anonymous letters “eliminate the ability to speak openly and respectfully about our differences, with the give-and-take necessary to separate fact from opinions and emotion.” She also said the university “would never seek to silence dissenting perspectives -- even in cases where an opinion might be at odds with the policies of the university. But differing opinions must nonetheless be voiced respectfully, without misleading information, hyperbole or threats.”

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Are numbers of doctorates awarded finally starting to reflect the poor academic job market?

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

The number of U.S. doctorates awarded in 2017 fell slightly year over year, to 54,664 from 54,862, according to a new report based on data from the federal Survey of Earned Doctorates.

As in years past, science and engineering doctorates made up the vast majority of degrees awarded -- and actually increased in number by 249, to 41,438. But the number of non-science and engineering degrees awarded in 2017 fell by 356, to 13,226, the lowest figure since 2012. It is the latter category of disciplines in which job market has been tightest for years.

Taking a longer-term view, science (including social science and psychology) and engineering doctorates climbed from 58 percent of all doctorates awarded in 1977 to 76 percent in 2017. The number of non-science and engineering doctorates awarded in 2017, meanwhile, was slightly lower than the number awarded in 1977.

Every broad science and engineering field except for psychology and social sciences increased in number and share of doctorates granted over the past two decades, the report notes. Psychology and social sciences grew in terms of degrees granted, but declined in overall share of new Ph.D.s, from about 17 percent in 1998 to 16 percent in 2017. Engineering saw the biggest growth of all fields within the last 20 years.

Between 2016 and 2017, the life sciences held steady at about 30 percent of all doctorates granted, as did the physical and Earth sciences, at about 11 percent. Math and computer science represented about 7 percent of all degrees in each year. Engineering increased from 17 percent to 18 percent.

In nonscience fields, education doctorates fell steeply between 1998 and 2017, from about 15 percent of all doctorates granted to 9 percent. Arts and humanities degrees dropped from about 13 percent to 10 percent. Other fields, such as business management and communication, continued to represent about 5 percent of all doctorates awarded over that time period.

Foreign languages and literature Ph.D.s conferred increased slightly year over year, from 599 in 2016 to 624 in 2017. History fell from 1,148 to 1,066.

Story by Numbers

The survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Education Department, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other agencies, is an annual census of research degrees awarded in the U.S. Both annual and longer-term trends tell the story of who is getting advanced degrees and in what.

As the report says, “Annual counts of doctorate recipients from U.S. universities are measures of the incremental investment in human resources devoted to science, engineering, research, and scholarship, and they can serve as leading indicators of the capacity for knowledge creation and innovation in various domains.”

The survey began in 1957. Since then, the gap between science and nonscience fields has continued to widen. The overall number of degrees awarded has ebbed and flowed, but the average annual growth is about 3 percent.

The changing characteristics of the new Ph.D. population over time reflect “political, economic, social, technological and demographic trends and events,” the report says. And, it warns, “continued preeminence of U.S. doctoral education is not assured. Other nations, recognizing the contributions doctorate recipients make to economies and cultures, are investing heavily in doctoral education. The world’s brightest students, including U.S. citizens, may go elsewhere for the doctoral degree, and they may begin careers elsewhere as well.”

That may already be happening: first-time international graduate enrollments in U.S. institutions fell 3.7 percent from fall 2016 to fall 2017, according to a recent report from the Council of Graduate Schools.

The new federal report says that the number of doctorates in science and engineering awarded to temporary visa holders was 14,166 in 2017, down 159 from 2016. Overall growth in this area was still up 77 percent since 1998 and 9 percent since 2008, however. The proportion of science and engineering doctorates awarded to temporary visa holders peaked at 41 percent in 2007, the report says, but has held steady at around 36 percent since 2011.

Among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, the number of science and engineering degrees awarded grew by 2 percent year over year, but experienced slower growth over all.

Asian Americans earned more doctorates than any other racial and ethnic minority groups in life sciences, physical sciences and earth sciences, mathematics and computer sciences, and engineering. Blacks or African Americans were the largest U.S. minority population in education. Latinos earned a larger share of doctorates in psychology and social sciences and in humanities and arts than did any other minority group.

Women’s share of doctorates awarded has grown in the past 20 years in all broad fields. Women earned the majority of doctorates awarded in life sciences, psychology and social sciences education, and humanities and arts in 2017. They earned about one-fourth of engineering and mathematics and computer science doctorates. Still, their ranks in those latter fields have been growing, from about 13 percent in engineering in 1998 and 22 percent in computer science and engineering.

Interestingly, the parents of recent doctoral recipients are better educated than parents of earlier Ph.D. cohorts. The share of new Ph.D.s with a parent who didn’t graduate college, meanwhile, has declined in the past 20 years. Research assistantships are the most frequent primary source of financial support for all doctorate recipients, followed by fellowships or grants and teaching assistantships. Sixteen percent of doctoral students rely primarily on their own resources, such as loans, personal savings, personal earnings or spouse or family, and 5 percent relied on such other sources as employer reimbursement and foreign support.

Most students (71 percent) in the physical and earth sciences, math and computer science, engineering and life sciences reported having no education-related debt. In psychology and social sciences and the humanities and arts, along with other non-science and engineering fields, only half of students said that. The shares of doctoral students with debt burdens of more than $30,000 were education (37 percent), psychology and social sciences (30 percent), and humanities and arts (26 percent).

Time to degree in 2017 ranged from about six years in the physical and Earth sciences to double that in education. In the humanities and arts, it was more than nine years.

The share of 2017 doctorates with definite commitments for employment increased slightly from 2016 across fields.

Salaries for those with definite job commitments varied widely in 2017, however, from about $50,000 for postdocs in most fields to $125,000 for mathematicians and computer scientists employed in business. In every broad field, reported postdoc salaries were lower than salaries for doctorate recipients entering non-postdoc employment in industry or academe. The biggest starting salaries in academe in non-postdoc positions were seen in engineering and “other” fields, such as business.

Nearly half (46 percent) of doctoral recipients with definite employment commitments, excluding postdocs, reported plans to work in academe. Academic employment plans were most prominent among those in the humanities and arts (77 percent), and “other” fields (80 percent). The lowest rates were in engineering (14 percent) and the physical and Earth sciences (24 percent).

The overall rates of scientists and engineers taking postdocs has remained at about 47 percent over the last decade. Rates have increased in engineering and psychology and the social sciences but decreased in other sciences over that time. Rates of non-science and engineering Ph.D.s taking postdocs continue to increase over time, to about 12 percent in 2017.

Robert B. Townsend, director of the Washington office of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, studies Ph.D. outcomes. He said that whenever he gives talks around the country on the topic, "quite a few people” ask why the number of humanities Ph.D.s remains high, despite the sharp drop in academic jobs after the 2008 recession. The 3.5 percent year-over-year decline in arts and humanities Ph.D.s conferred indicated in the report is therefore interesting, he said.

Still, he cautioned, there are “notable splits between the disciplines, which makes it hard to discern a trend.” Foreign language Ph.D.s increased 4.2 percent, for example, after falling in recent years, and some even smaller fields saw double-digit increases. Conversely, Townsend said, there were "substantial" declines in history, along with American literature and philosophy.

Given that it takes an average of seven years to earn a Ph.D., and that tracking studies have only recently reported declines in program enrollment, he said, “I suspect a broad and sustained decline is still a few years off.”

Hironao Okahana, associate vice president for research and policy analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools, said the annual survey is an “invaluable national data resource” for institutions and others interested in higher education.

Pointing to the findings about definite employment commitments, Okahana said said that after several years of “slow decline,” the council is “cautiously optimistic at the slight improvement.”  The uptick in employment in industry and nonprofits also seems to signal a "recognition of the value of doctoral of education across employment sectors,” he added.

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Dream Center colleges closing at year's end

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

About 30 colleges are shutting their doors at the end of this month, nearly a year after becoming the latest group of for-profit institutions to convert to nonprofit status.

The colleges, most of which are part of the once renowned Art Institutes brand, are owned by the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Dream Center Education Holdings, or DCEH. They were formerly owned by Education Management Corporation. Despite having a recognizable brand, EDMC struggled with decreases in enrollment and revenue and increased scrutiny by state and federal investigations before selling the properties last year to the Dream Center Foundation, a Christian missionary organization.

The Dream Center purchased Argosy University, the Art Institutes, South University and Western State College of Law, which together had more than 100 campuses, from EDMC and converted the large for-profit institutions into nonprofit entities. It was reported in July that DCEH would stop enrolling students at 30 campuses and shut down those locations. The campuses have about 50,000 students enrolled in total.

Officials at DCEH did not respond to multiple calls and emails seeking more information about the closures of the colleges.

Trace Urdan, a managing director at the consulting firm Tyton Partners who follows and analyzes the for-profit sector, said several factors led to the closures.

“The challenge of turning the business around has proven to be more difficult than anticipated and that simply declaring it nonprofit has been insufficient to shake the negative associations with the brand,” he said in an email.

Urdan said the dwindling appeal and high costs of programs at the Art Institutes -- the programs include culinary arts, media production, fashion, animation and interior design -- also worked against the universities. These programs require students to buy expensive course materials and equipment, which are essentially investments with low returns since most graduates end up in jobs with low starting salaries.

“In the context of a full-employment economy, attracting students to what are effectively vocational programs remains very challenging,” Urdan said. “They have to be persuaded that spending or borrowing money will boost their earning power enough to justify the expense. And because [the Art Institutes] is primarily a four-year degree institution, the cost and hurdle involved are that much greater.”

Tuition at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, for example, ranged from about $48,000 for an associate degree in graphic design to about $93,000 for a bachelor's degree in graphic design. The Philadelphia campus is among the locations that are closing. Tuition at Argosy University's San Francisco and Nashville, Tenn., campuses, which are also closing, ranged from $445 per credit hour to more than $1,000 per credit hour, according to its website. The Argosy campuses offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

But it isn't just the cost of the programs that may be turning off potential students. The wages for the careers that the degrees lead to aren't high enough for these programs to be a good value, said Spiros Protopsaltis, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University and former deputy assistant secretary for higher education and student financial aid at the U.S. Department of Education under the Obama administration.

Employers don't seem to value these degrees, especially from a former for-profit, as much as they do when students are coming from a traditional public university or a nonprofit institution that hasn't undergone a conversion, he said.

"People see through some of these things for what they are, and at the end of the day, consumers realize that just because a school converted to a nonprofit, it doesn't mean that it necessarily changed its education model," he said. "If outcomes don't improve and quality doesn't go up and the value proposition isn't there, changing tax status doesn't change the underlying problems with the business model."

Prior to the Education Department's decision in August to drop the gainful-employment rule, which required for-profit institutions to prove they are preparing graduates for remunerative employment, and before the nonprofit conversion, career education programs like some of those offered at the Art Institutes failed to meet the guidelines. For example, the Art Institute of Pittsburgh charges more than $44,800 for an associate degree in graphic design, but only 12 percent of students graduated on time. And those graduates typically earned less than $22,000 a year and had more than $40,000 in federal student loan debt, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

"Changing the tax status without changing the culture or changing the product is not going to lead to any different outcomes," Protopsaltis said.

When the Dream Center took over the struggling EDMC campuses, critics questioned whether the organization was equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to run one of the country’s largest for-profits. At the time of the sale, EDMC records indicated an enrollment of 65,000 students.

Critics also point to another example of a failed attempt to convert a for-profit institution into a nonprofit by the ECMC Group, a student loan guarantee agency. ECMC created the Zenith Education Group to turn some of the former for-profit Corinthian Colleges into nonprofit entities.

ECMC purchased 56 former Everest and WyoTech campuses in 2015 and together with Zenith spent more than $500 million to keep the former Corinthian Colleges operating. The company closed 21 of the campuses in 2017 but left three open.

Protopsaltis said these types of conversions need to be scrutinized more carefully.

Dream Center supporters dispute the assessment that the company doesn't understand the complexity of turning around former for-profit institutions. They point to Brent Richardson, who was previously the executive chairman of Grand Canyon University, a private, nonprofit Christian university in Phoenix. Richardson spent years investing in and helping to build GCU when it was a struggling for-profit entity.

Michael Clifford, a former board member of the Dream Center who has invested in for-profit colleges and describes himself as a “friend of the nonprofit,” said the campus closings are a sign that the Dream Center’s administrative teams are moving the company in the right direction and in the best interests of the students who continue to attend the institutions.

“They’ve done more positive things in six or seven months than anyone in this business,” he said while declining to give specific examples on the record. “I’ve never seen a management team turn around a nonprofit school center as this group has done.”

Clifford's appraisal of Dream Center's financial outlook did not include other challenges the organization is currently facing.

The Art Institute of Seattle, which was not on the list of campuses closing this year, laid off 10 of 13 full-time instructors this fall. The institute also employs 75 part-time instructors, none of whom were laid off.

Meanwhile, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which is the accreditor for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, recently ruled that Dream Center had to provide more evidence that it adheres to commission standards by March 1 in order for the institution to be accredited.

Middle States, along with other regional accreditors for the DCEH campuses such as the Higher Learning Commission, has also approved teach-out agreements for the 30 campuses slated to close. The Higher Learning Commission, for example, approved a plan that would allow Illinois Institute of Art and Art Institute of Colorado students to transfer their earned credits to Columbia College Chicago or Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design, in Denver.

Students who attended the Illinois campuses last week launched a class action lawsuit with the National Student Legal Defense Network. They accused the institution of hiding the fact that HLC revoked accreditation in January while continuing to encourage students to pay for courses and to graduate with unaccredited degrees.

Clifford is optimistic that regulatory changes made by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will help put DCEH campuses on stronger financial footing. He points to the administration's accreditation overhaul and its concerns that accreditors may not be in the best position to properly scrutinize the financial health of institutions and nonprofit conversions. Clifford said he supports the idea of shifting oversight from the accreditors to the states.

"No one wants another Corinthian or ITT [Technical Institutes]," Clifford said, referring to for-profit chains that collapsed in recent years after being subjected to increased federal oversight.

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Fifty colleges sued in barrage of ADA lawsuits over web accessibility

Mon, 2018-12-10 08:00

Jason Camacho, a blind resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., is suing 50 colleges over the accessibility of their websites.

The 50 lawsuits, filed in November, say the colleges are in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, as their websites are not accessible to people with disabilities. Camacho uses a screen reader and said he experienced barriers when trying to access the colleges' websites.

Despite the court cases being filed in New York's Southern District, the institutions targeted are located all over the country. Almost all are private colleges, universities or conservatories, and include large research universities such as Northeastern University and Drexel University. Both institutions said they do not comment on ongoing legal matters. Also being sued are Cornell University, Vanderbilt University, the California Institute of the Arts, Oberlin College, Loyola University New Orleans, the Savannah College of Art and Design, and many others

The lawsuits, which all appear to have similar wording, argue that because the colleges recruit students in New York, the colleges can be sued in New York. All the colleges recently took part in a college fair in New York City for prospective students interested in performing and visual arts, which Camacho says he attended.

Camacho’s attorney, Jeffrey Gottlieb of Gottlieb and Associates, declined to comment, but has previously indicated that the intention of the lawsuits is to ensure accessibility for all. “If the website is not accessible, you’re shut out,” he told the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.

Gottlieb and Associates describes itself as a “boutique litigation firm dedicated to representing disabled persons who’s [sic] rights have been violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” The firm says on its website that it works “solely on a contingent fee basis” which means that clients do not pay if their case is unsuccessful.

This is not the first time Camacho and Gottlieb have worked together to sue higher education institutions over website accessibility. New York University, Adelphi University, Monroe College, Lim College and the New York Code and Design Academy were all sued by Camacho earlier this year. The cases were settled out of court. A New York University spokesperson said the terms of its settlement with Camacho were confidential.

Camacho was also the lead plaintiff in several other ADA lawsuits filed in 2017, including against companies such as Peet’s Coffee and Aldi.

While there are disability advocates who have single-handedly filed thousands of ADA complaints against colleges and universities to U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, there are few individuals who have taken so many colleges to court, said Chris Danielson, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind. That group has sued many colleges and reached settlements with others over issues similar to those raised in the new round of lawsuits.

The litigation-first approach is not one the NFB advocates.

“We tend to worry a little bit when we see one individual filing a bunch of lawsuits at once like this, because it’s not usually the best way to get a good result and enter into a good dialogue with the institutions,” he said. “Our approach is usually to go to litigation only after all other approaches have failed.”

Filing a lawsuit as a first move “puts universities on the defensive and is automatically adversarial,” said Danielson. But he added “it’s not necessarily a bad thing that someone who isn’t attending a university yet is doing some advocacy.”

The NFB has created a self-advocacy toolkit for students who experience accessibility barriers at college but said it can be tough for them to deal with these issues on top of their schoolwork.

The trend of somebody finding an accessibility issue on a website, “however big or small,” and filing a lawsuit is not unique to college and universities, said Danielson. “There are plaintiffs and lawyers who just take a category of business, like wineries for example, and just sue a bunch of them all at once.”

Filing large numbers of similarly worded ADA lawsuits against one type of business is sometimes referred to as “drive-by” litigation. This activity is widely seen as a means to get a quick settlement, rather than improve accessibility.

Whether Camacho is a disability rights advocate or an opportunist is irrelevant, said Peter Blanck, University Professor of law at Syracuse University and chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute, which aims to advance the participation of people with disabilities in society.

“It’s beside the point whether there are 50 or 1,000 lawsuits,” said Blanck. “These cases are reflective of a larger systemic problem -- that there is a lack of a strong commitment by many institutions to try to be as inclusive as possible.”

It’s been almost 30 years since the ADA was passed, and we should have made more progress, said Blanck. “Way back in the '90s I was asked to testify whether or not websites would be subject to the ADA,” he said. “There is no question that universities have been on notice for a long time.”

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