By Scott Jaschik

Authorities have charged Hengjun Chao, a former assistant professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, with attempted murder for shooting the school’s dean and another man Monday morning at a deli in Chappaqua, N.Y.

The Journal News reported that revenge is believed to be a motive in the shooting of Dennis Charney, who is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The other man who was shot was treated at a hospital and released.

Mount Sinai officials confirmed that Chao was dismissed in 2010.

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Dennis Charney, dean who was shot
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By Dean Dad

How the Chicago debate differs from the realities of a community college student body.

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By John Warner

That instructor would be me.

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By Michael Stoner

Prospective students — both teens and older students — are repeat visitors to the “academic program” pages on higher ed websites. Make sure that they can find them — and that content on academic sites meets their needs.

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By Jake New

Last year, colleges were rocked by a series of protests over racial inequality on campuses and across the country. With signs pointing to those protests returning as students head back to campus this month, colleges and universities are preparing for another year of student activism.

Among those preparations, several institutions have begun offering new diversity and multicultural programming to their students.

“This isn’t a new area for higher education at all, but it’s clear that more and more campuses are recognizing it’s important to try and create more opportunities for open dialogue about these issues,” Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, said. “Most campuses understand that the protests and activism last year show that there are issues that need to be addressed.”

Students at the University of Missouri at Columbia must now complete mandatory “citizenship” training, a series of fall workshops that the university created after protests on campus last year, which included the football team threatening to boycott games and that led to the resignation and ouster of the university’s president and chancellor.

The Citizenship@Mizzou training requires students to gather in an auditorium for group discussions, musical performances and speakers. Students are asked to share their opinions and questions about diverse groups. A student might say, for instance, that he believes Islam is more dangerous than other religions. Other students can then chime in, disagreeing with that student or asking him to elaborate on how he came to that conclusion. The meetings also include musical performances in which a song is performed in different genres — Americana versus R&B, for example — and students are asked to reflect on which version they were more comfortable with.

Starting this year, Oregon State University will require students to take an online “social justice” course that will act as a primer on “concepts of diversity and inclusion.” Virginia Tech University required all first-year and graduate students to take a similar online course earlier this month. Called DiversityEdu, the online course, which is also used by several other institutions, is meant to help students acquire the “skills for engaging successfully with diversity and mitigating the influence of unconscious biases and stereotypical thinking on personal choices and professional decisions.”

The course includes readings and writing prompts such as “Describe a time when someone made a false assumption about you,” as well as video reenactments of discriminatory and racist interactions.

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, officials are piloting a new “community building program” with a focus on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, nationality and ethnicity. The new program follows last year’s anti-racism protests as well as a series of troubling incidents on campus, including Swastikas taped to the door of a Jewish student, racist slurs and threats directed at a black student through an anonymous note, and the heckling of a Native American elder during a healing circle.

Tensions were further flared in April, when university police pulled a black student from class and arrested him for allegedly spray-painting anti-racist messages across campus.

The new program will be offered to 1,000 incoming first-year students this year as a series of two-hour “in-person facilitated workshops,” Meredith Mcglone, a spokeswoman for the university said. The workshops will include structured dialogue, group activities, reflection and action planning. The university said the goal is to provide students with a broader awareness of diversity of social identities on campus, enhanced skills for engaging in constructive dialogue about those identities, and skills to detect discrimination and how to intervene.

“College is often the first time where people are exposed to people who are different from themselves,” Joshua Moon Johnson, special assistant to the university’s vice provost for student life, said in a statement. “Those could be religious differences, racial, socio-economic status, or sexual orientation. This pilot is an effort to definitely create some broad awareness of difference, not to tell people how to think, but to tell people how to critique the ways in which they think.”

Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, said there’s value in diversity and multicultural programs, but said that such initiatives can be ineffective if they are just a two-hour seminar or if they are connected to student orientation events.

“Orientation is a time of information overload,” Harper said. “These are 17- and 18-year-olds who are excited about getting off to college, who are saying goodbye to their parents. They have a ton of emotions. They’re not all that excited to sit through one session after another on one topic after another. I’m afraid that some diversity discussions get sort of lost because it’s all too much.”

Instead, Harper recommends that colleges organize ongoing first-year diversity seminars or that they find ways to “integrate diversity across the curriculum.” The Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education is piloting a new survey tool this year that could soon help colleges make those changes, Harper said.

The tool is being tested at 100 institutions this semester, surveying freshman about what experiences they have had with different races, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations and religions. The responses can then be shared with a student’s academic advisor, Harper said, who will use the survey to help the student pick classes that might “introduce her to dimensions of diversity that she hadn’t been previously exposed to.”

Similarly, the survey could be used for determining who might benefit most from different kinds of multicultural programming, rather than spending resources on blanket attempts that include students who may already have been exposed to such ideas.

“We know from research that students are increasingly coming to us from racially segregated residential and educational environments,” Harper said. “They’re also coming to us from places that are largely segregated by income, so you have students arriving on campus that very likely have not had exposure or meaningful interactions with low-income people. The inventory we are developing will help assess the extent to which students have had those interactions on a student-by-student basis.”

Harper said such an effort would be more effective than if a university were to pay for a pre-made two hour workshop or online course.

A recent Harvard Business Review report, which analyzed three decades’ worth of data from more than 800 U.S. companies and firms, concluded that requiring diversity training of that kind in the private sector can actually “activate bias rather than stamp it out.” Such training could have a similar effect at colleges, critics of diversity programs argue. They say multicultural programs initiatives are costly and ineffective. Wisconsin is spending about $150,000 on its new program.

“Requiring such training in a university setting where participation is mandatory will likely produce backlash,” W. Lee Hansen, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Wisconsin, wrote in a recent essay. “Many students, staff and faculty will object to this training, believing they do not need it. Some may even refuse to participate.”

Kruger, of NASPA, said, however, that the costs of diversity and multicultural programs are relatively small when compared to a college’s overall budget, and that they are an integral part of most institutions’ missions.

“These are done not only to prevent less incidents of bias, but also because they’re in the spirit of universities being a marketplace of ideas,” Kruger said. “We want to give students the competency to engage in these important conversations. These programs are built on the assumption that those conversations have an intrinsic value.”

Diversity
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By Carl Straumsheim

After spending, in the words of educational technology manager Gus Roque, “a lot of work and … a lot of money” to redesign hundreds of courses according to Quality Matters’s standards for high-quality online education, Florida International University this spring decided to take a step back.

“We figured we’d do some research and see if it’s worth our time,” Roque said in an interview.

The result was a report released last month that compared 29 online course sections that had been redesigned according to best practices to 664 online sections that hadn’t. Across all the metrics the university’s researchers looked at — from the time students spent in the online course to how they evaluated the course and the grades they earned — the redesigned courses posted better results.

The findings only concern one semester’s worth of courses at one university, but they are an encouraging sign for Quality Matters, as well as for the more than 900 institutions that subscribe to the organization. The Maryland-based nonprofit is one of a number of groups claiming their quality evaluation programs give online education providers a process, separate from accreditation, through which they can review and promote their online programs. FIU’s findings offer some early evidence that those processes can lead to measurable improvements for faculty members and students.

While FIU saw gains across the board, the redesigned courses stood out from the others particularly in the area of content. The redesigned courses featured on average 69 percent more tool items — blogs, discussion forums, journals and wikis — 51 percent more course content (defined as explanations, instructions and links to technical support) and 58 percent more assessment items, such as assignments, tests and quizzes.

Perhaps because of the additional content, students spent more time in the redesigned courses. On average, they logged in 10 percent more often, clicked on 16 percent more links and items, turned in 19 percent more submissions and spent 177 more minutes in the courses during the semester. In their course evaluations, the students rated the redesigned courses higher than the other courses on all points, from their opinion of the instructor (up 12 percent) to the courses’ ability to keep them interested (up 11 percent).

The students’ grades were also “a fraction higher” in the redesigned courses, said Roque. He credited the course redesign process with helping faculty members focus on aligning assignments with course objectives.

“If you lay out an objective, that objective is being met by an assessment,” Roque, who is also an adjunct instructor at the university, said. “That paper, that assignment, that blog — all of it has to feed back to the objectives.”

Rubrics created by Quality Matters and university systems in states such as California and New York focus mainly on course design. Other evaluation programs, such the one offered by the Online Learning Consortium, take a more holistic view, reviewing areas such as faculty training and technology support. Colleges often use several rubrics and programs to diagnose the overall health of their programs.

“We all work well together,” Jennifer Mathes, the OLC’s director of strategic partnerships, said in an interview. “In terms of online education, there’s obviously a need to validate the quality of a program.… Rubrics help us achieve that in higher education.”

Mathes said she was not aware of a college that has conducted a study of the OLC’s program, known as the Quality Scorecard, that is similar to FIU’s research. She pointed to the organization’s work with online education experts, as well as feedback from members, as signs that the scorecard is helping colleges improve their online programs. She estimated more than 500 colleges have used the OLC’s interactive scorecard, while an unknown number of others have downloaded the free paper version (the organization does not track those downloads).

The OLC also offers a peer-review process similar to an accreditation site visit for members who want an outside consultation. Through that process, the organization has recognized four institutions — Baker College, Southern Nazarene University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse — for their “exemplary” online programs, an endorsement reserved for colleges that earn a high score across the scorecard’s nine sections.

“We feel like we have a really high-quality program, but what feel — let’s admit it — doesn’t matter,” Jill Langen, president of Baker College Online, said in an interview. “We were looking for an external partner that is well-respected and has a great deal of expertise to come in and look at our offerings … to tell us if we’re as good as we think.”

Baker, which along with UW-La Crosse was named an “exemplary” institution in June, has not conducted research similar to FIU’s. But anecdotally, Langen said, the OLC’s review process helped the college identify areas where it could improve.

For example, Baker received high marks for its student services, but the review process highlighted that students might have a difficult time finding them on the college’s website — a simple but important fix, Langen said. The consultants performing the review also suggested ways Baker could make its courses more accessible for students with disabilities and improve its record keeping, she said.

Langer said Baker decided to go through the peer-review process so that the college would be able to show an independently verified seal of approval to prospective students who may be deciding between it and other institutions.

“We have to recognize that students are consumers, and that they are going to become much more educated,” Langen said. “We, as institutions that provide online education, need to very aggressively utilize Quality Matters or organizations like the OLC so that we have some kind of external, standardized benchmarks that help us show others that we have quality, and that we hold ourselves to our standards.”

Assessment and Accountability
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By Colleen Flaherty

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that graduate student workers at private institutions may now form unions. But they need to vote to unionize first. In the meantime, a handful of institutions, including those with active graduate assistant union campaigns, have either launched or updated websites that they term information, but that are attracting criticism as being “anti-union.” Others say universities have an obligation to inform students of the drawbacks to unionization — not just the benefits.

“What’s frustrating to me is the false moderation here, under the guise of making information available, when what’s actually being presented is a partisan argument against unionization,” Paul Katz, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Columbia University, said about his institution’s new website. “Everything about this site is very clearly crafted to support the main contention that readers are supposed to conclude, which is that the [union] is a dangerous, outside, third-party presence.”

After much legal back and forth, the NLRB last week ruled 3-1 that graduate teaching, research and staff assistants at Columbia may vote to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers. Since then, Columbia, along with Harvard, Princeton and Yale Universities and the University of Chicago, have posted information online about the possible effects of unionization. Most point out that all union members must pay dues and are expected to participate in strikes, should they occur, and that unionization won’t necessarily improve their working conditions. Some contain concerns previously voiced to, and largely rejected by the NLRB — namely that unionization compromises the student experience in a number of ways.

“While reasonable people can come to different conclusions on this point, it is vital that we maintain the special and individual nature of students’ educational experiences and opportunities for intellectual and professional growth,” reads a letter from on the Chicago website from President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier. “A graduate student labor union could impede such opportunities and, as a result, be detrimental to students’ education and preparation for future careers. It could also compromise the ability of faculty to mentor and support students on an individualized basis.”

A Yale news story quotes President Peter Salovey as promising a free and open debate on the union issue. But, he says, “The mentorship and training that Yale professors provide to graduate students is essential to educating the next generation of leading scholars. I have long been concerned that this relationship would become less productive and rewarding under a formal collective bargaining regime, in which professors would be ‘supervisors’ of their graduate student ‘employees.’”

Columbia, Chicago, Harvard, Princeton and Yale all have Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) pages; several note they were partially adapted from Chicago’s.

Here are some examples from Columbia’s:

Chicago has had a long-active campaign for a graduate assistants’ union affiliated with UAW, which also is organizing at Boston College, the union announced this week. Other unions organizing graduate students on private campuses include the American Federation of Teachers and Service Employees International Union.

UNITE-HERE has been working with graduate students at Yale for years; the union announced Monday that graduate assistants on that campus had petitioned the NLRB for a union election involving departmental-level or “micro-units.”

Nothing New

Managerial information campaigns are nothing new, either within academe or without. A number of colleges and universities have launched them in response to recent adjunct union drives, for example. But universities — no longer protected by a past NLRB ruling from a union vote — are updating their arguments. And they’ve attracted some criticism from graduate students and others as being disingenuous.

Fred Klonsky, a retired teacher, posted some of Chicago’s content to his popular blog about education matters. He left the job of editorializing to his readers. Comments were largely negative, including “Under the cover of lofty language, it is still Union Busting 101” and “Translation of UC statement: ‘We have been screwing over the grad students forever and we like it that way, we don’t want any changes.’”

Jezebel, a popular feminist website, called Columbia’s website “slick” and essentially shallow.

“[T]he provost’s anti-unionization website does not contain very much specific information about why those concerns, or the potential drawbacks for student workers of being represented by UAW, beyond the usual issues of having to ‘pay dues’ and potentially being fined for not participating in a strike,” it said.

Katz, of Columbia, said it was disappointing but not surprising that so many of anti-union administrators’ arguments presented before the NLRB were being rehashed on the internet. He noted similarities between today’s information campaigns and anti-graduate assistant unions fights of the past, including the mostly defunct set of “At What Cost?” websites. Supposedly maintained by graduate students, the sites date back to around the last time the NLRB considered — and ultimately decided against — these unions, in a 2004 case concerning Brown University.

Both then and now, Katz said, such campaigns weren’t openly anti-union. But they seemed to center on questions about what “could” or “would” happen in worst-case scenarios, rather than on the large sample of graduate student union outcomes at public institutions, he said. Several of the new websites — including Columbia’s, above — cite only the 2-percent dues paid by graduate student workers at New York University to UAW, for example. NYU university agreed to voluntarily recognize graduate assistants over two years ago in a case that was previously pending before the NLRB.

Corey Robin, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center, on his personal blog poked fun at the obvious similarities between some of the FAQ websites.

“Unions, these universities have argued, would impose a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach on the ineffably individual and heterogenous nature of graduate education,” he wrote after quoting some nearly identical language on different sites. “Casual readers might conclude that the only thing standardized and cookie-cutter about unions in elite universities is the argument against them. Or perhaps it’s just that great minds sometimes really do think alike.”

Others disagree, saying it’s entirely appropriate for colleges and universities to share their positions on unionization with students, just as parent unions have done. After all, the websites contain no threats or falsehoods.

Caroline Adelman, a spokesperson for Columbia, said its website was “moderate” and contained “important information.”

Joseph Ambash, managing partner with Fisher Phillips in Boston, successfully argued the Brown case before the board back in 2004. He said it was too soon to say whether any institution would challenge a graduate assistant union election, and that creating an informational website is hardly the first step in that direction. Rather, he said, matching union information with managerial information is “standard operating procedure.”

“I recommend that every institution do this — it’s perfectly appropriate that every institution that cares about this issue wants to inform students of accurate information in relation to unionizing,” he said. “This is nothing new.”

Neither is criticism of employers, Ambash added. “Any time an employer shares information or explains the possible downsides of unionization, [unions] accuse the employer of being anti-union, but nothing is further from the truth. Employers should share accurate information so that voters can make an informed choice.”

Katz said it’s up to graduate students to debate among themselves the pros and cons of a union now. He said organizers and community leaders have asked Columbia going back two years to remain neutral, as NYU pledged to do after the voluntary recognition. Putting up this kind of website isn’t neutral, he said.

Not all universities with graduate student union movement have responded to the NLRB decision this way. Brown — the subject of the 2004 case against unions — did put up a FAQ-type web page this summer about graduate student unions and formally opposed the notion that students are employees. But in a recent email to faculty, students and staff, President Christina Paxson and other administrators said that while the university is dedicated to a balanced debate, it “will comply with the NLRB’s recent decision and support discussions among graduate students as they explore whether or not unionization is right for them.”

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By Ashley A. Smith

Most college mergers are driven by finances.

For example, demographics change in a region and policy makers feel there’s a need for smaller colleges to become more efficient, so they consolidate their resources.

Not so in greater Atlanta, where earlier this year Georgia State University — one of the state’s four research institutions, which is located in the city’s downtown — consolidated with Georgia Perimeter College, a two-year institution in the city’s suburbs. The decision wasn’t driven by finances, but by completion and student success.

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents wanted to combine Perimeter with the recognized student success at Georgia State, said Peter Lyons, vice provost and dean of what’s now called Perimeter College at Georgia State. The plan, he said, is to “export initiatives we developed at Georgia State and use them at Perimeter College.”

Bringing the university’s completion track record to the two-year institution won’t be an easy task. Perimeter, the state’s largest two-year institution, with more than 20,000 students, has a three-year graduation rate around 6 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia State has been recognized for having one of the most improved completion rates in the country. Since 2002, the university’s graduation rates increased by about 20 percentage points overall and 23 percentage points for underrepresented students, according to 2014 data from Education Trust. The university has a 54 percent graduation rate, according to federal data.

Demographics at both institutions are similar. For instance, at Georgia State, 59 percent of students are eligible to receive federal Pell Grants, while 60 percent are eligible at Perimeter. Minority student groups make up 63 percent of the students at both institutions is, said Timothy Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Georgia State.

“Georgia State is such an atypical research university that it makes the type of approaches we have in student success plausible,” Renick said, adding that the merger in greater Atlanta would be difficult to replicate at other national research universities, because few enroll as many underserved students as Georgia State.

GSU officials have started transitioning its successful Panther Retention Grant to Perimeter students. The grant program covers the unmet tuition and fees of students who would otherwise be dropped because of nonpayment. Renick said the university learned that most of the students who were dropped only owed about $300 and were often seniors close to graduating and fulfilling their academic requirements. This past spring, about 40 Perimeter students received the grant, he said.

The university also is planning to extend its predictive analytics program to Perimeter students and staff to help identify behaviors and decisions that may lead students to drop out. They then use the analytics to alert advisers who help the students get back on track. At the university, they’ve identified about 800 behaviors that can trigger interventions and they’re in the process of identifying risky behaviors that would apply to community college students, said Renick.

Although the consolidation officially took place in January, this fall will be the first semester that students will be admitted to the new Perimeter College at Georgia State University. It’s still early for officials to see most of the academic effects of the consolidation, but officials have already spotted a few things

For instance, students who earn a Perimeter College degree or meet the academic requirements of a traditional transfer automatically gain admission to Georgia State.

“The number of students who no longer need to transfer from one institution to another was way over 500,” Lyons said. “More students had transitioned to the downtown, four-year-program campus.”

These students still have to satisfy the matriculation requirements of moving from a two-year college to a four-year university, but they’re no longer transfer students, which means no fees or transfer paperwork.

That lack of a transfer process provides another benefit from the consolidation, Renick said.

Georgia State only admits about half of all applicants to the university, and for many first-generation students who aren’t accepted, they may be deterred or discouraged from attending college altogether.

“This year we didn’t turn down any students who applied to the Atlanta campus and didn’t qualify,” he said. “Instead, they got a letter saying, ‘Sorry you didn’t qualify for admission to the Atlanta campus, but we’re pleased to offer admission to any of the five campuses of Perimeter College at Georgia State.’ And at any point after that, if they’re in good academic standing, they can transition to the bachelor-level campus.”

That message is also important to students who may not be able to afford Georgia State. The price for both institutions remained the same postconsolidation, and Perimeter is 40 percent less expensive than the university, he said.

A New Institution

The Perimeter and GSU consolidation is the sixth merger to take place within the University System of Georgia. The mergers have been driven by the state’s governor and the system board, sometimes controversially.

Most of the transfer students who attend GSU are former Perimeter students, with about 20 percent of undergraduates coming from the two-year institution, Lyons said.

“And they do just as well as first-time, full-time freshmen,” he said. “So there’s a close working relationship between both institutions.”

Despite the consolidation, Lyons said officials were clear in wanting to preserve the open-access mission at Perimeter.

No faculty members at Georgia Perimeter lost their jobs due to the merger, Lyons said. And although the faculty senate at Perimeter was terminated, about 50 members of Perimeter’s faculty are now senators in the university’s faculty senate. The school colors at Perimeter changed to reflect GSU’s, and student-athletes were given the option to remain with the college on scholarship or go elsewhere And the Perimeter student government was merged with the university’s student government association.

However, there were some cuts. Instead of two presidents, there is now one. There are also fewer vice presidents, and financial aid, admission, enrollment and ancillary services were consolidated, Lyons said. Fifteen administrative positions were eliminated between both institutions because of the consolidation — seven employees from Perimeter and eight employees from Georgia State were affected.

“We didn’t combine or reduce academic departments, and they work closely to determine curriculum for the first two years although they’re separate departments,” Lyons said. “We didn’t reduce faculty at all. Our plan is to grow enrollment at Perimeter Colleges, and we may be looking for more faculty.”

The goal of the new institution is ultimately to increase graduation rates, said Renick, doubling the 6 percent rate in the next three years and, eventually, bringing it to over 20 percent.

“We certainly think that’s doable, and after that we’re willing to keep pushing and be among some of the better two-year institutions in the country,” he said. “Some of the finest community colleges have 40 percent and above. What we want to do is make the right choices and get the programs in place.”

It’s a unique opportunity for the new institution, Lyon said, since they now can offer multiple communities everything from certificates to Ph.D. programs.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for both former institutions,” Lyon said. “It provides great stability and security for Perimeter and it gives Georgia State a bigger pipeline of better-prepared students.”

Community Colleges
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By Joshua Kim

A book that is not about campus IT, but that may motivate us to think differently about campus IT.

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By University of Venus

U Venus bloggers share their resolutions.

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By Liz Reisberg

Colombia has been on the path toward developing a sophisticated, diversified and equitable system of higher education for many years. This is promising but there are many shortcomings in policy and practice.

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By Scott Jaschik

Those tasked with writing letters to incoming freshmen frequently wonder if anyone reads them.

John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago, need not worry. His letter to new students has been read and scrutinized not only by Chicago students but by professors and pundits nationwide. “Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial and we do not condone the creation of intellectual safe spaces where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own,” he wrote.

To those who regularly campaign against what they see as political correctness, and to plenty of others, the letter was the message they have been waiting for — and that they think students need.

But to many others, the letter distorted programs on which many students rely, ignored the hostility many students feel on campus, and belittled the sincerity of faculty members who work to make higher education more inclusive. Many also said that the letter, by criticizing specific academic practices, could be seen as limiting academic freedom by encouraging the use of those practices.

In a twist first reported by The Chicago Tribune, Chicago may not be as pure on safe spaces as the letter suggested. It turns out that the University of Chicago website features references to efforts to create safe spaces for students — and even a Safe Space Ally Network for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. One of the safe space allies is none other than the same John Ellison who wrote to freshmen criticizing the safe space concept. Ellison did not respond to messages, and his email has an “out of office” response.

While Ellison hasn’t been talking, Chicago officials are promoting his ideas. Chicago’s president, Robert J. Zimmer, published an essay in The Wall Street Journal Friday reiterating the points Ellison made, and saying that “free speech is at risk” in academe.

“Universities cannot be viewed as a sanctuary for comfort but rather as a crucible for confronting ideas and thereby learning to make informed judgments in complex environments,” he wrote. “Having one’s assumptions challenged and experiencing the discomfort that sometimes accompanies this process are intrinsic parts of an excellent education. Only then will students develop the skills necessary to build their own futures and contribute to society.”

Open to Discomfort

The Chicago letter from Ellison similarly argued that part of a good college education is being open to ideas that make one uncomfortable. “You will find that we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion and even disagreement. At times this may challenge you and even cause discomfort,” he wrote.

While many educators are criticizing the Chicago letter, two college presidents this weekend urged their students to be open to ideas that make them uncomfortable. Their talks did not attack safe spaces, trigger warnings or the like, but they spoke in a positive way of interacting with ideas that freshmen would find unfamiliar and in some cases counter to their way of thinking.

Clayton Rose, the president of Bowdoin (at right), urged students to be “intellectually fearless.”

He explained that “a great liberal arts education and liberal arts experience must make you uncomfortable. Now stop again for a moment — fearless and uncomfortable. I am here to become intellectually fearless, and making this happen requires my being uncomfortable, at times rattled, and even offended.”

He added: “Don’t avoid being uncomfortable, embrace it. Tomorrow, a week from now, a year from now, when you are in a discussion in class, listening to a speaker — in the dining hall, dorms, wherever — and you hear something that really pushes your buttons, that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you should run to it, embrace it, figure out why you are uncomfortable, unsettled, offended, and then engage with it.

“Engage with it in a thoughtful, objective, and respectful way. This is how you learn. This is how you become intellectually fearless. And this is how you change the world. Remind yourself that this is exactly why you are here.”

Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, focused his speech for freshmen on “false narratives” and the reality that many people believe or believed for years in things subsequently shown to be untrue. A challenge for everyone, but especially college students, is to avoid such false narratives.

“People naturally construct narratives to make sense of their world. I have been concerned to point out that in times of great stress, false narratives may dominate the public mind and public discourse, inflaming negative emotions and fanning discord,” he said. “In our times especially, a wide array of instantaneous transmissions rapidly amplify such narratives. As a result, we sometimes find that anger, fear, or disgust can blind us to the complexity of the world and the responsibility to seek deeper understandings of important issues.”

If “you hear something that really pushes your buttons, that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you should run to it, embrace it, figure out why you are uncomfortable, unsettled, offended, and then engage with it.”
–Clayton Rose, Bowdoin’s president

Yale, he said, “is a place for you to learn how and why to gravitate toward people who view things differently than you do, who will test your most strongly held assumptions. It is also a place to learn why it takes extraordinary discipline, courage, and persistence — often over a lifetime — to construct new foundations for tackling the most intractable and challenging questions of our time. You have come to a place where civil disagreements and deep rethinking are the heart and soul of the enterprise, where we prize exceptional diversity of views alongside the greatest possible freedom of expression.”

Context: a Year of Protests

The Bowdoin and Yale speeches did not mention the Chicago letter or the intense campus protests last fall on issues of race and inclusivity.

Two other presidents — Barry Glassner of Lewis & Clark College and Morton Schapiro of Northwestern University — weighed in with an essay in The Los Angeles Times defending the student protest movement that has been criticized and mocked by those who are cheering on the University of Chicago letter (which they did not mention). They argued that criticizing safe spaces and trigger warnings oversimplifies real issues faced by many students.

“We have less patience with pundits and politicians who opine from gated communities and segregated offices about campus incidents that, for all their notoriety, are utterly unrepresentative of the main points of tension on campuses,” Glassner and Schapiro wrote. “For every student who complained about inauthentic ethnic food in the cafeteria, to cite one well-publicized example, exponentially more Asian and Asian American students endured insults and snubs based on jealousy, stereotypes or outright hatred. Likewise, for every example of students demanding safe places or trigger warnings so as to avoid material they consider offensive or upsetting, innumerable LGBT students and students of color found themselves in situations where they were affronted or physically threatened.”

On social media, some have speculated that the Glassner/Schapiro piece was intended as a response to the Chicago letter. Via email, Schapiro said that the essay was written before the Chicago letter became public.

The Praise for the Chicago Letter

As soon as the Chicago letter started to circulated, it attracted praise — primarily from people who have been concerned about what they perceive as limits on campus speech.

Roger Pilon, writing on the blog of the libertarian Cato Institute, praised Chicago for “bucking the trend at colleges and universities across the country by refusing to pander to the delicate but demanding ‘snowflakes’ and ‘crybullies’ who’ve tyrannized American campuses over the past few years.”

Alex Morey, on the blog of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has long opposed limits on campus speech, noted that the University of Chicago never banned faculty members who want to use trigger warnings from using them, and that the letter was thus entirely consistent with principles of academic freedom. “FIRE hopes this will be the first of many requests from colleges and universities asking students to recommit to freedom of expression this academic year,” Morey wrote.

But the letter also attracted attention and praise in quarters not normally focused on campus speech issues. In New York Magazine, Jesse Singal, a writer for the magazine, said the letter “could have been less provocative” and that there is little evidence that trigger warnings are widely used or causing any problems in higher education. But he called the letter important and significant.

“Pundits trying to play political football with this issue act like it’s a left versus right thing, or a crazy-young-people versus rational-older-people thing, but in reality, there’s a strong case to be made that most students favor a liberal conception of campus free-speech rights; they’re just quieter about their preferences than the activists who believe that open debate of controversial subjects is harmful,” Singal wrote.

He added: “There have absolutely been recent instances in which campus outrage has snowballed out of hand, in which protesters have actually impinged on the ability for real debate to take place, and these episodes matter. If you actually read the letter that got Erika Christakis in so much trouble at Yale, for example, it’s clear that the outrage was disproportionate to the content. At Wesleyan [University], the column that sparked the uproar was far milder than what you’ll hear in the next 15 seconds if you flip on AM radio.

“And it isn’t just my opinion that these and other campus reactions were overblown — a small but nationally representative survey of campus undergrads from last year found that, despite all the gnashing of teeth about the supposed indoctrination of today’s college students, about 80 percent agree with the statement that ‘freedom of speech should either be less limited on college campuses or there should be no difference compared to society at large.’ If that finding is anywhere close to accurate, the vast majority of students don’t think anyone should get punished for expressing views that progressives find discomfiting or offensive — they accept that it can be true that a debate is offensive to some people, but shouldn’t be shut down.” (Inside Higher Ed coverage of the Yale and Wesleyan incidents references may be found here and here.)

Critiques of the Chicago Letter

After an initial flurry of praise, the letter has attracted considerable criticism — much of it from students and professors who say that the issues in teaching, learning and diversity today are far more complex than the way Ellison described them. (An Inside Higher Ed blogger, John Warner, offered a critique on Friday and our website is publishing a Views essay today, defending safe spaces, by Matthew Pratt Guterl, chair of American studies at Brown University.)

Many professors have been arguing that the Chicago letter is drawing attention to the wrong challenges facing higher education.

The blog The Good Enough Professor has a post called “Monsters and Mythical Creatures of Higher Education.” The post lists real threats to higher education (declining state support, a push to view higher education as job training, student debt and the “adjunctification of higher education”). Then it lists “things that don’t pose a threat to freedom of inquiry,” such as “professors’ efforts to prevent bigoted students from derailing discussion” or “the acknowledgment that traumatized students may find some material difficult” or “events, spaces, organizations that give students who have, as a group, been historically excluded from certain institutions the opportunity — if they wanted — to have community and a sense of belonging at those institutions.”

Finally the blog notes that using trigger warnings and other efforts to help students feel included are individual choices made by individual faculty members — and not forced on anyone. The blog lists as “things that don’t exist” such things as “institutionally enforced expectations that faculty not talk about certain things” and “institutionally enforced expectations that students be allowed to opt out of anything that makes them uncomfortable.”

Another response to Dean Ellison comes in the form of an open letter to him from Jasmine Mithani, a current undergraduate. She wrote that she agreed with him that students should have their ideas “challenged by our rigorous liberal arts curriculum and demand for critical thinking.” But she added that students “should not expect to have their life experiences belittled by the very person who is tasked with advocating on their behalf. I am referring to your paragraph describing the university commitment against ‘so-called ‘trigger warnings.’” And Mithani said that she doesn’t think he understands what they are and how they are used at Chicago and elsewhere — and that they do not mean students don’t read difficult works.

She offers this example from her Chicago education: “I was in an English class last year that was reading The Autobiography of Red. Having recently reread it, I emailed my instructor asking if she would inform the class that the book described incestual sexual abuse – something not at all expected from a lyric based on a very short Greek myth. She immediately responded in the positive, and at the end of the next class she told us to take care with the reading, as there were depictions of sexual abuse and incest. That’s it. This experience restored my faith in the instructors at this university – their empathy, their care for the wellbeing of their students, and the respect they have for the integrity of their pupils. Trigger warnings are not about oversensitivity – they are about empathy, and recognizing the varied experiences of all students at this university.”

Another critique of the Chicago letter may surprise some. The author is Malloy Owen, and he wrote in The American Conservative. Owen describes himself as a conservative student active in the campus anti-abortion movement. He praises Chicago for never interfering when that movement brings speakers to campus.

But he argues that the campus left may “have a point” that theoretically open discussion in classes doesn’t necessarily take the ideas of all students seriously. He said he could understand how class discussions could leave some students feeling marginalized.

“Here’s what the campus left says: Imagine a core social-science seminar in which the conversation turns to police brutality and racial bias. If the class consists of 20 students and reflects the racial composition of the college, one or two of them will be black. If these students’ attitudes towards police brutality reflect national averages, the black students will see a connection between police brutality and racial bias while a majority of their classmates won’t,” Owen writes.

He adds: “I can say from experience that young, intelligent, accomplished, opinionated, and arrogant students like the ones who populate classes at Chicago are not always attuned to other people’s most deeply felt concerns. What might be an intensely personal issue for the black students could easily be dismissed out of hand by the white majority. The right tends to ask, well, why don’t the black students just speak up? But the point is that at the University of Chicago, speaking up is not always a simple or risk-free enterprise. You can perform the same thought experiment about rape victims in a discussion that touches on sexual violence: it’s not difficult to imagine how the noisy majority that knows only what it’s read in the newspaper could make class hard to bear for victims of severe trauma.”

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By Andrew Kreighbaum

Donald Trump is a historically controversial presidential candidate — even within his own party.

That fact is being reflected in the endorsement decisions, or lack thereof, issued by campus GOP groups. A number of College Republican organizations have either refused to endorse Trump or have declared themselves on the fence.

Republican groups at campuses including Harvard, Penn State and Princeton Universities have decided not to endorse the candidate. And the College Republicans at the University of Virginia are deliberating whether they will do so.

That Trump is facing challenges among some younger Republicans his hardly surprising. Less than half of Republicans said they were satisfied with the party’s nominee in a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in June. An Ipsos poll this month found Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by 36 percentage points among Americans ages 18 to 34. A separate McClatchy poll this month had Trump coming in fourth — behind third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — in support among Americans under 30.

College Republican endorsements are unlikely to win or lose Trump the election in November. But they’re illustrative of the hurdles he’s facing with younger voters, which are especially apparent on campuses.

The Harvard Republican Club has supported the party’s nominee in every presidential election since 1888. But the group decided before the fall semester not to back Trump, said Vice President Cameron Khansarinia.

“This year we could not in good faith tell our members that of the two major national candidates the one from our party was the best one for whom to vote,” he said.

Khansarinia said Trump doesn’t have the right character, temperament, or even knowledge of government to lead. After publishing a Facebook post explaining the decision, the group was inundated with accusations that it had betrayed the party. But he said the group had no reason to believe Trump is a better option than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Chris Baker, the spokesman for Penn State We are for Trump, said opposition to Trump was sour grapes from a strain of the Republican Party that had dominated the party before the current election cycle. He said the rejection of Trump and his supporters also undermined the idea of the GOP as a “big tent” party.

He acknowledged that comments the nominee has made about groups including immigrants, Hispanics, African Americans, Muslims and women have turned off many people — including younger voters. But Baker said he gets frustrated with Trump supporters being labeled as racist or misogynist because of who they support. He said he disagrees with many of the nominee’s statements himself but believes Trump is still the best candidate.

“You’re saying that just because who I support for president that I’m a racist. That is ludicrous to say that,” he said. “Instead of people attacking the positions we stand for, the attacks come on our personal members. You must be a racist you must be bigot.”

The Penn State College Republicans’ executive leadership decided not to endorse Trump after taking a non-binding poll of their members. Michael Straw, the group’s president, said he does not personally support Trump because the candidate does not match his positions on a variety of issues from international relations to fiscal policy. And he said recent polls showed he was struggling to attract votes from young people more widely.

The group’s first meeting of the semester was preoccupied with the decision not to endorse Trump, which drew protests from members of the We Are for Trump group. Many of the group’s members are also part of the College Republicans.

A proposal to hold a second vote failed to move forward, then Trump supporters moved to hold a reelection of the executive board members. While new members looked on bewildered, the meeting grew exceedingly antagonistic, according to both sides.

“It reached a level of chaos where everyone was just yelling,” Baker said.

Certainly not all or even most campus Republican groups are rejecting their party’s nominee. Campus groups at Citadel, Liberty University and University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa have all backed the candidate.

The University of Notre Dame College Republicans, meanwhile, said the group would support but not endorse Trump — a position that indicated disagreement with many of his views. Campus Republican leaders at places like American University have taken heat for deferring to their members on the candidate while declining to directly address his record. The Yale College Republicans’ decision to endorse Trump despite opposition from a majority of executive board members led to the formation of a new group, Yale New Republicans, that says it puts “national interests above partisan ones.”

Alexandra Smith, chair of the College Republican National Committee, said there is more than one way to be a Republican and the group leaves it up to its chapters to decide on issues like endorsements.

“Unlike the Democratic Party, we have not stifled different opinions,” she said in a statement. “College Republicans are some of the best suited to handle this type of political discourse because they have already been on the forefront of debating generational issues that have come up in the party. We hope that College Republicans will support Republicans that they believe in up and down the ticket.”

Organizations at some campuses have yet to take an official position although their leaders are expressing some trepidation over Trump as the nominee.

Ali Hiestand, the vice chair of events at the University of Virginia’s College Republicans chapter, said the group will represent the views of its members when they vote on an endorsement in the coming weeks. She said some in the group worry an endorsement would hurt the group’s credibility supporting state and local candidates on campus.

But Hiestand said the elite composition of many of the schools where Trump has received the loudest criticism in Republican circles may reflect his opposition within the party more widely.

“He attracts people who feel shut out by richer people and the government and wealthier people,” she said. “They don’t understand how Trump can appeal to anyone because they don’t understand those voters, which is why he’s so successful.”

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By Rick Seltzer

Worries about the health of a long-serving president at a private institution in San Antonio highlight questions hanging over aging presidencies at many universities.

How old is too old for a president? How long is too long in the top chair? How should the health of a leader weigh into decisions about his or her future?

The University of the Incarnate Word, a Roman Catholic institution with more than 6,000 students on its main campus in San Antonio, is an extreme example of issues that could be lurking at other colleges and universities. Incarnate Word’s 65-year-old president of 31 years, Louis J. Agnese Jr., went on medical leave in mid-August amid concerns over his health — concerns following student complaints that he’d made offensive comments about ethnic and religious groups. Agnese initially lobbed angry words toward his Board of Trustees when the medical leave was announced.

It’s not clear whether the situation in San Antonio will be resolved with Agnese returning to work or whether it could become the next in a string of messy presidential firings this summer. The executive committee of Incarnate Word’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to make a recommendation on the matter Monday. What is clear, however, is that Incarnate Word is far from the only institution headed by a president with a lengthy tenure who is approaching the traditional retirement age.

The average university president’s age increased to 61 years in 2011, according to the most recent version of the American College President study from the American Council on Education. It was 60 in 2006 and 52 two decades before.

While higher education is full of vibrant professors and highly effective presidents well over 61 years old, advancing ages bring the possibility of more frequent health problems and longer tenures. And most higher education leadership experts say longer tenures can be problematic quite aside from issues of health. Even the financial sector, with its emphasis on stability and certainty, recognizes dangers associated with long-tenured leaders at colleges and universities. Moody’s Investors Service mentioned the issue in a report issued Friday on leadership turmoil jeopardizing universities.

“Very long-tenured presidents can add an element of key man risk and difficulty in adjusting to changing market conditions,” the report said. “These challenges can be exacerbated by insular boards.”

Age is clearly tied up in length of tenure and health, and no institution wants a president who is asleep at the switchor physically unable to perform the duties of a demanding job.

Agnese on Leave

It’s still not clear how much these issues may have played into the situation at Incarnate Word. That situation first became public Aug. 18, when Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Lutz issued a statement announcing President Agnese had been placed on 90-day medical leave. The statement cited “sporadic uncharacteristic behavior and comments” and interactions with students, faculty and administrative staff that had caused “considerable concern” for the president’s well-being. It did not provide additional details.

Agnese denied acting inappropriately, adding in expletive-laced comments published in the San Antonio Express-News that he would file a lawsuit if the board did not retract its statement. He later told the newspaper that a visit to a doctor and an MRI scan had found some nerve damage on his brain’s frontal lobe but that such damage takes place with age.

“They then did some more tests and I’ve been totally cleared,” Agnese said, according to the Express-News.

Then at the start of last week, Agnese said he was no longer considering a lawsuit after he and university officials reached an agreement. He indicated he planned to take less than 90 days off before returning. Many saw the comments he was accused of making as being inconsistent with a man who, although known for bold statements, has devoted decades to a university that has a history of educating a diverse student body, one that enrolls many minority, low-income students.

But the university’s Faculty Senate still unanimously voted to support the board’s andling of the situation. The Express-News obtained a letter in which Brett Richardson, assistant professor of music and coordinator of music education, said the faculty senate fully supported trustees’ decision to have Agnese go on medical leave.

“Furthermore, the Faculty Senate has asked the board to ensure the well-being and safety of the university community is considered during this uncertain time,” Richardson’s letter said.

Conflicting reports surfaced over Agnese’s behavior. An anonymous university official said leaders were worried the president had a brain condition altering his behavior, describing him as disheveled and lost at a recent meeting. But friends of Agnese said the president had not changed.

Agnese, meanwhile, voiced suspicions that his medical leave was spurred by a discrimination complaint six white faculty members had filed.

Finally on Thursday, the Express-News published an account of a student complaint filed against Agnese shortly before he was placed on leave. The account described a luncheon attended by students, faculty members and administrators. It said Agnese told an African-American student who was not wearing Incarnate Word’s cardinal-red color that she was “lucky you’re black so you are in a way wearing cardinal black,” and that he said Native American students’ “Indian-red skin color would also count as wearing cardinal red.” Agnese also told a Hispanic faculty member he looked “like a José,” singled out a student’s test scores and joked about Mormons taking over one of the university’s schools, according to the newspaper.

Agnese confirmed those statements to the Express-News but said he hadn’t made offensive comments.

A university spokeswoman declined comment on the presidential situation. A Friday afternoon statement from Board of Trustees Chairman Lutz said the board’s executive committee planned to make a recommendation on the matter to the full board Monday. The statement credited Agnese with “immeasurable” contributions and transforming the university during his tenure before addressing his recent comments.

“However, recent comments by Dr. Agnese are not consistent with the traditions and values of the university and cannot be condoned,” the statement said. “Inspired by Judeo-Christian values, the Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic social teaching, UIW’s mission is to educate men and women who will become concerned and enlightened citizens of faith within the global community and who will have learned and witnessed the importance of treating each person with respect.”

Incarnate Word’s undergraduate student body was 58 percent Hispanic/Latino as of last fall, according to its 2015-16 Common Data Set. It was 7 percent African-American.

Past Parallels

This is far from the first time a president’s comments have drawn scrutiny of his age and tenure. One notable example is E. Gordon Gee, who announced his retirement from Ohio State University in 2013 following a series of verbal gaffes. A recording caught Gee making negative remarks about the University of Notre Dame , Roman Catholics and others, saying, among other things, that “those damned Catholics” can’t be trusted. Gee had landed in hot water over comments before and had by that time earned a reputation as a free-speaking figure.

Gee apologized for his comments and said the controversy they created played very little into his decision to retire.

“I’m 69 years of age, so I’ve been thinking about transition for some time,” Gee said at the time. “As I’ve said, I live in a world of turbulence. In fairness, turbulence does bring about a focused conversation with family.”

But less than a year later, Gee was back in a president’s chair when he was named interim president of West Virginia University as he approached his 70th birthday. The interim qualifier was later dropped. Gee, who had previously been president of West Virginia, remains the institution’s president today. He has not had gaffe issues at West Virginia and officials said they could not schedule him to comment for this article.

There are key differences between the cases of Gee and Agnese, aside from the substance of the comments involved. Perhaps most importantly, Gee has held numerous presidencies in the last three decades. Agnese has held one.

Agnese has led his institution since the middle of the 1980s, less than two decades after it first admitted undergraduate men in 1970. He took over what was then Incarnate Word College in 1985 at the age of 33, officially being inaugurated as president in March of 1986. He led the institution as it became the University of the Incarnate Word in 1996.

Agnese’s time at the top has been marked by considerable growth, with Incarnate Word expanding from 1,300 students in 1985 to nearly 11,000 in 2015, counting extended programs and locations. The university opened campuses in Mexico and Germany during his tenure. It added its first Ph.D. program and doctoral programs in several fields, and it moved into Division I athletics, fielding a football team for the first time in 2009.

Problems and Solutions

Long-running service and presidential success can make it more difficult to put in place a leadership change if and when one becomes necessary, experts said. Presidents of long standing often become embedded, feel secure and resist giving up their leadership roles. Many constituencies on campus can feel loyalty to longtime leaders, said John Moore, a former president at Indiana State University and a consultant whose specialties include transition planning and troubled presidencies.

Moore and other experts interviewed for this article did not comment on the specifics of the Incarnate Word situation, instead keeping their comments on larger issues of age, health and tenure.

Academe generally does not generally like succession planning because faculty members want open searches and national competitions instead of board members picking a president in waiting, Moore said. Consequently, transitions are often handled poorly because no strong policies are in place. That can contribute to a lack of presidential changes, eventually resulting in long-tenured presidents of advancing age at some institutions.

“Higher education doesn’t do a very good job of any kind of succession planning or transition planning,” Moore said. “We avoid it. We’re terrible at it.”

Still, college and university boards are responsible for evaluating whether a sitting president is right for a job. It can be difficult for boards to stay vigilant about longtime presidents, who were often hired at a time when they didn’t sign contracts.

“What happens more than not, unfortunately, is they kind of go to sleep at the switch,” said Raymond D. Cotton, a lawyer based in Washington who specializes in contract negotiations for both boards and presidents. “So the presidency just rolls on from year to year, and little by little the president can suffer medical issues — and they might not even know it.”

The time to think about length of tenure is when hiring a president, Cotton said. He suggests starting with a three-year contract that can then be extended with additional deals up to about 13 years.

“Remember, every time that contract comes up for renewal, it’s an opportunity to talk about a lot of issues with the incumbent,” Cotton said. “That’s the advantage of having a contract with set terms.”

Moore agreed that 10 to 15 years is generally long enough for a president to be at a college or university. He also agreed that contracts are a good idea, adding transition planning, performance reviews and medical examinations of presidents to a list of best practices.

There are reasons beyond the health of a president to consider length of tenure, Cotton said.

“A lot is happening in higher ed,” Cotton said. “If you have one person who is sort of stuck in some particular era, he or she is not applying the current best practices to that university.”

While some presidents are inclined to remain in office for decades, others make a point of moving on when they feel they have led institutions long enough. For instance, when Lawrence S. Bacow announced he planned to retire from Tufts University in 2011, he cited the length of his time in office.

“I have often said that 10 years is about the right term for a university president,” he said at the time. “It is long enough for one individual to have a substantial impact but not so long that the institution, or the president, becomes comfortable.”

Each president’s situation is different, Bacow said in an email Thursday. Very long presidencies tend to come with their own challenges that add up over time. For instance, long-tenured presidents are likely to have to dismantle projects they put in place earlier, which is difficult for a leader to do, Bacow said.

Opposition to a personality can also build up over time on campuses.

“To get anything done in a university, you need to step on toes,” Bacow said in his email. “No matter which direction a long-serving president turns, he or she is likely to encounter people with long memories. This may lead some presidents to either retire in place, or alternatively, even if they keep pursuing an agenda for change, it may lead to knee-jerk opposition. Neither is a good alternative.”

Presidents can take health issues into account. Bacow fought an infection in the lining of his heart during his fourth year at Tufts. He had to be hospitalized nine times in six months. Although he’d recovered and was healthy when he later stepped down at the age of 59, the possibility of future health issues was “indirectly” in his thoughts.

“At that point, I did not take continuing good health for granted,” he said in his email.

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By Carl Straumsheim

The Federal Trade Commission on Friday filed a complaint against the academic journal publisher OMICS Group and two of its subsidiaries, saying the publisher deceives scholars and misrepresents the editorial rigor of its journals.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, marks the first time the FTC has gone after what are often known as “predatory” publishers. Such publishers exploit open-access publishing as a way to charge steep fees to researchers who believe their work will be printed in legitimate journals, when in fact the journals may publish anyone who pays and lack even a basic peer-review process.

Ioana Rusu, a staff attorney with the FTC, said in an interview that the commission is responding to a growing number of calls from people in academe for some sort of action to be taken against publishers that take advantage of scholars wishing to publish in open-access journals.

“There was definitely a sense that nobody had done anything about it,” Rusu said. “Now we’re watching.”

OMICS’ business practices have been scrutinized for years. The company, based in Hyderabad, India, publishers more than 700 open-access journals, and has created a number of imprints — including iMedPub, also named in the complaint — to expand its presence in the scholarly publishing market. Several of OMICS’ journals have names similar to other, legitimate journals, which critics say is an attempt to confuse scholars.

“If anything is predatory, it’s that publisher,” said Jeffrey Beall, scholarly communications librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver. “It’s the worst of the worst.”

Beall is known for his lists of thousands of “predatory” journals and publishers, and he has for several years written about OMICS and other publishers on his blog. Last month, for example, he published a handful of emails sent to him by researchers caught by surprise by four-digit publication fees or struggling to withdraw their papers from OMICS journals.

Those are the kinds of practices the FTC highlighted in its complaint. OMICS, the commission alleges, does not adequately disclose that authors have to pay a publication fee, falsely claims that its journals are frequently cited and lists academic experts with no connection to the journals as editors.

“As a result, in many instances, consumers only discover that their articles will not be peer reviewed and that they owe fees ranging from several hundred to several thousands of dollars after Defendants inform them that their articles have been approved for publication. Consumers’ attempts to withdraw their articles are frequently rejected, thereby preventing them from publishing in other journals,” the complaint reads. Should the court not take action, it adds, OMICS will continue to “injure consumers, reap unjust enrichment, and harm the public interest.”

The complaint extends to OMICS’ event business, managed through the subsidiary Conference Series. According to the complaint, OMICS regularly advertises conferences featuring academic experts who were never scheduled to appear in order to attract registrants.

OMICS did not respond to a request for comment.

Even if the FTC is successful in its case against OMICS, the commission will only make a dent in the world of “predatory” publishing. One study by researchers at Finland’s Hanken School of Economics found that such publishers flooded the scholarly communications landscape with more than 420,000 articles in 2014, about eight times as many as in 2010.

The FTC does not intend to file thousands of complaints — nor does it have the resources to do so — but Rusu said taking action against OMICS represents the commission announcing its interest in a new field. Typically, the FTC will do so by strategically targeting “some of the most recognized and also some of the worst actors” in that space, she said.

“With a lot of our other areas in which there are bad actors, the best you can hope for is that it’s setting a precedent, … marking a line in the sand and telling people that’s not OK,” Rusu said. “We don’t care if you’re marketing debt collection or publishing.”

Rusu stressed that the FTC is not passing judgment on open-access publishing in general. “We take no sides between the traditional subscription model and the open-access model,” she said. “We believe both of them can be done in a fair, open, clear and lawful way. What we have a problem with here is people who are trying to benefit from the open-access model to scam people.”

The FTC is seeking both monetary relief for researchers that have published with OMICS and to prevent the publisher from further violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914.

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By Scott Jaschik

Cornell University announced last week that it is changing the name of the Cornell Plantations to the Cornell Botanical Gardens.

The university announcement stressed that the new name better reflects the 4,000 acres of natural landscape and natural history collections that have made up the Cornell Plantations. But the name of the Cornell Plantations has also been criticized by many minority students on the campus, who view the word “plantations” as associated with slavery, even if the land and programs that makes up the Cornell gardens never had any association with slavery. Last year, Black Students United demanded a new name for Cornell Plantations as one way Cornell could be more inclusive of its minority students.

Cornell officials who have been reviewing the identity of the Cornell Plantations said that its name is inconsistent with the name. Christopher Dunn, director of the Cornell Plantations, said he viewed “plantation” as being about a single crop. “A botanic garden is all about showcasing the rich diversity of the plant kingdom. How can you have a plantation that is a botanic garden? It’s a non sequitur,” he said in the university announcement.

He also noted that many people associate the word plantations with slavery. And the announcement quoted Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, saying: “Renaming Cornell Plantations not only respects the richness of this great natural and scientific resource, it shows our full respect for the diverse and highly valued community of students and scholars this university is fortunate enough to serve.”

Changing Names

Many colleges and universities have been debating what to do about buildings, statues or inscriptions that praise the Confederacy or its supporters. This summer has seen changes at several universities:

  • The University of Texas at Austin moved a panel in a prominent campus location with an inscription that praises “the men and women of the Confederacy who fought with valor and suffered with fortitude that states’ rights be maintained” and who were “not dismayed by defeat nor discouraged by misrule.”
  • Vanderbilt University announced that it will pay the Tennessee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy $1.2 million (the value in today’s dollars of a gift from the group in 1933) so the university can legally remove the word “Confederate” from Confederate Memorial Hall, built in part with that gift.
  • Yale University, three months after announcing it would keep the name of the slavery advocate John Calhoun on one of its residential colleges, announced a process to reconsider, and to possibly remove, the name.

The Cornell Plantations name is in some ways different from the other examples. The panel at Texas and building name at Vanderbilt were intended to honor the Confederacy. The college at Yale honors one of the most effective politicians of his era at preserving slavery and promoting racist views. In contrast, the Cornell Plantations were never intended to honor slavery. In some ways the debate is similar to the one at several colleges that led them to drop the word “master” (for leader of residential college). The origins of the word have nothing to do with slavery, but the word has come to be associated with it.

Language experts say that the word plantations is associated with slavery, but also has roots that are about plants, not slavery.

The name ended up on the Cornell gardens specifically as a way to promote a non-slavery meaning. The horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey named the Cornell Plantations in 1944, and according to a profile in the Plantations’ magazine, “he purposely chose to dismiss old associations with slavery in favor of the proper meaning of the word, plantations: ‘areas under cultivation’ or ‘newly established settlements.’ ”

Reactions to the Change

Cornell surveyed supporters of the Cornell Plantations and found overwhelming support for changing the name.

People weighing in on the website of The Cornell Daily Sun have expressed a range of views. One alumna wrote of assuming from the Cornell Plantations name that it was a site of crop research, and said that it took her a while to discover what was really there — and to enjoy visits there. She said the name change was “sensible.”

Another wrote: “As long as people can still trip and enjoy the trees I don’t care what it’s called.”

Others, however, wrote that there was no reason to change the name. One alumnus wrote: “You mean it’s NOT a slaveholding operation? I had no idea — THANK YOU for changing the name and making that clear to me. (Ridiculous — just ridiculous.)”

And another wrote: “A monstrous betrayal of generations of Cornell alumni attached to the Cornell Plantations. And for what? To appease a handful of crybabies who can’t read a history book or a map, given that they can’t tell the difference between the Cornell Plantations and an agricultural model practiced 150 years ago a thousand miles south of Ithaca. This university administration needs to start standing for something other than appeasement, retreat, and milquetoast nonsense. Can everyone just grow up now? The world doesn’t pander, and Cornell shouldn’t either.”

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By John Warner

College campuses are very safe spaces for some.

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By Matt Reed

A choice — with risks either way — for community college students.

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By John Warner

College campuses are very safe spaces for some.

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By Joshua Kim

Why we should celebrate this Education Department experiment.

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By Tracy Mitrano

A history fix.

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By Michael Patrick Rutter

Offering another view of the higher education landscape.

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By Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)

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Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)
Looking for a little back-to-school inspiration? Check out these tips for making a great first impression and connection with parents in this playlist.

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By Rick Seltzer

It’s hard to watch $38 million melt away.

But that’s effectively what Marian University in Indianapolis has had to do. The small Roman Catholic university on the city’s west side secured a very public $48 million pledge from a wealthy donor at the beginning of the decade as it sought to expand with a new medical school. Then a series of business troubles hit the donor, drastically cutting his wealth and his ability to pay.

Today, Marian says it has received just under $10 million of the pledged donation. It’s budgeting as if no more is coming. Now university leaders are arguing Marian stands as proof institutions can weather the loss of large, high-profile donations if they’ve put the right financial plans in place. The university is operating in the black, they said.

“Any institution that builds a financial plan off of one thing is being reckless,” said Daniel J. Elsener, Marian’s president. “Anything can go wrong. What’s guaranteed in the world?”

The fact remains, however, that the pledge’s evaporation has raised some uncomfortable issues for Marian — as it would for any university. It’s opened the question of slowing an ambitious construction schedule. It has eaten into endowment growth. Perhaps most visibly, it has left Marian with a medical school building named after a donor who could not fulfill his $48 million pledge.

Marian has been respectful of the donor, Michael Evans, in its response. That reaction is worth examining, fund-raising experts say. It deals with an element that’s more difficult than the financial books — the human element. And future donors are watching.

Evans was the CEO of locally based toxicology tester AIT Laboratories. He pledged the $48 million gift in 2010. The gift became public in 2011, when Marian was breaking ground on a new building to hold its medical and nursing schools. The university announced at the time it was naming the building the Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences.

Since then, however, Evans and AIT have run into financial trouble. Much of Evans’s wealth was in AIT, even after he sold the company to its employees. But the company fell on hard times amid a decline in Medicare reimbursement rates, and it was recently sold to a private equity firm in Texas. Earlier this year, Evans also settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Labor alleging that he sold AIT to employees for more than it was worth. He did not admit wrongdoing.

Evans’s lawyer, Andrew McNeil, declined to comment on his client’s finances for the Indianapolis Business Journal but told the publication Evans “just wants to move on.”

Yet there are no plans to remove his name from the medical school building at Marian. Evans ultimately gave about $10 million toward the construction of a $44 million building. The gift was critically important because the money came when Marian was trying to get construction off of the ground, according to Elsener.

“There’s no building without him,” said Elsener, who has been president at Marian since 2001. “I can’t see how we could have done it without him.”

Elsener has also seen no indication that Evans planned to walk back his loan pledge. The parties had done their due diligence, only to have several unlikely events combine to derail the pledge, he said.

“We didn’t do this on the back of a napkin,” Elsener said. “When Mike Evans made this pledge, the world was different. He showed me, he showed us: ‘Here’s our books.’”

No one knows for sure how common it is for major donations to evaporate, said Paul Schervish, professor emeritus and retired director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. Such events are usually kept private.

They do leak out from time to time under various circumstances, though. For example, Duke University recently made a claim on Chesapeake Energy Corp. co-founder Aubrey McClendon’s estate, alleging he did not fulfill $10 million in pledges before he died. When such situations do become public, it’s important for institutions to remember they can be a blow to individual reputations, Schervish said.

“I think it’s important to understand the terrible embarrassment and reluctance of the donor to cancel the pledge,” he said. “It’s one thing to drop it because you don’t like what the institution has done with the first part of the pledge. It’s another thing to drop it when you simply can’t afford it.”

Parties will typically do what they can to salvage a pledge, Schervish said. But when there is no way to salvage it, the institution has to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Confidence is key, said Elizabeth Herman, a consultant and former executive in several institutions’ fund-raising departments. An institution will have to project confidence, she said. It will need the confidence of its donors, particularly in a time when there is already widespread hand-wringing about higher education finance, she said.

“What is the story, how is the donor handled, how is the institution perceived?” she said. “That’s so critical, because you can’t go about backstopping unless everyone is quite clear and full of integrity about what happened and why. The story is everything in a situation like this, or it could be catastrophic.”

Any impact on future donations is uncertain. Experts were split about whether a pledge evaporating could help or hurt fund-raising, agreeing it depends on the situation and individuals involved.

Marian is putting forward a confident face, sharing information on its financial situation. The university built contingencies into its financial plan, insulating it from unexpected events, Elsener said. Plus, the $48 million pledge was to come in over eight years, meaning the lost revenue doesn’t hit home all at once. Marian is also able to absorb some financial blows because its other fund-raising is up, as are enrollments. The new medical school has opened and is operating at capacity, adding millions in revenue.

Marian plans about $40 million in new construction in the next 35 to 40 months as it continues to grow enrollment, Elsener said. It’s not clear yet whether the evaporation of Evans’s gift will force Marian to change its construction schedule. At the moment, the university plans on moving forward as scheduled but could slow plans if necessary.

The loss of the gift could also have an impact on Marian’s rate of endowment growth. The endowment has grown since 2001, when it was $2.9 million. Net assets were $67 million in the 2016 fiscal year and are expected to jump to $80 million in 2017. By 2025, Marian wants to be at more than $200 million.

The large gift would have made it easier to grow the endowment, Elsener said. Yet although the endowment is important, it is not driving the college’s core operations, he said.

“If our fund-raising was way up, or enrollment is way up, and the gift comes in, then our endowment is quite bigger,” Elsener said. “We use it almost solely on scholarships.”

Because of the amount already paid and after accounting adjustments for factors like inflation, the loss of Evans’s pledge required Marian to write a $30 million reserve into its books. It’s a lot of money for an institution of Marian’s size, even if it is a number living only in an accounting ledger. But Elsener said successful fund-raising and enrollment growth can help offset the number.

“It’s an anomaly, but you’ve got to plan for anomalies,” he said.

Marian posted a record $24 million in fund-raising in the fiscal year ending June 30. It expects revenue to rise by more than $10 million in 2017, pushing total revenue above $100 million. Total enrollment is projected to grow to more than 3,000 students, up from 2,750.

The medical school, which opened in 2013, is also now up to 600 students. Tuition from the school is a major source of income, roughly $30 million.

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The Michael A. Evans Center for Health Sciences is likely to keep its name at Marian University, even after the donor it is named for could not fulfill a large portion of a major pledge.
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By Jack Grove for Times Higher Education

Academe may often seem mercifully free of the nepotism that is rife in other industries.

But a study suggests that the supposed meritocracy of higher education is not as free from family favoritism as many imagine, with some scientists quite happy to give a leg up to a relation.

According to the analysis of more than 21 million papers in the health sciences, scientists are more likely to collaborate on a journal paper with a family member than they were 50 years ago.

Those who published a paper with a relation were also more likely to enjoy an “important position” among other co-authors, such as being the lead author, says the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, titled “Kinship of co-authorship in five decades of health science literature,” tracked how often authors from the world’s top 25 publishing countries shared a surname with another co-author. The results were filtered for the most common surnames in each country to give an indication of levels of “kinship” found in the scientific publication in each country.

Italy, Poland and post-Soviet Russia had some of the highest kinship scores, according to the paper, suggesting that family ties were particularly helpful for getting published in these countries.

Kinship scores were well below average in the Netherlands and Britain and slightly below average in Canada, Australia and Switzerland. Scores were above average in Brazil and had seen an increasing trend in Greece.

“We found a very small amount of kinship in papers in most countries, affecting about 5 percent [of papers] in most countries,” said Sandro Meloni, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zaragoza’s Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems, and one of the report’s authors.

“In some countries, however, this rose to 8 percent,” Meloni added.

Those who shared a surname with another co-author also tended to have a larger number of collaborators than those who did not, suggesting that they were more able to tap into broader academic networks than less well-connected scientists, the paper says.

“Those researchers [with family members on the same paper] tend to have a more central position in the publication, which was quite different to those who were not part of any kinship group,” Meloni said.

However, the analysis also showed that some countries had managed to crack down on nepotism in academe, Meloni explained.

The level of co-authorship of people with the same surname has significantly fallen in France and Spain since 1980 and, to a lesser extent, in Britain, he said.

“These figures confirm what I have seen myself in higher education over the years,” said Meloni, who said that the study suggested Spain’s efforts to root out nepotistic hiring appeared to be bearing fruit.

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By Jake New

The new documentary The Business of Amateurs argues that the National Collegiate Athletic Association generates billions of dollars for big-time college sports programs while compromising the education, health and futures of the unpaid athletes it profits from. It’s a familiar argument that has gained more traction in recent years. But The Business of Amateurs is billed as the first documentary that challenges the NCAA “from the perspective of former student-athletes.”

The documentary features interviews with former college players who feel they have been let down by the NCAA and the colleges they attended, with one former player, Scott Ross, becoming the film’s emotional center. Ross, who showed signs of dementia believed to have been the result of repeated head injuries, died before the documentary was completed.

The film, which is available today on streaming platforms including iTunes and Amazon, also showcases the artistic skills of many former athletes. A former Oregon State University football player animated segments of the documentary, a former Princeton University baseball player composed the film’s score and a former University of Minnesota wrestler — who lost his NCAA eligibility for using his own name when promoting his music career — wrote the song that plays over the end credits. The documentary was directed by Bob DeMars, a former football player for the University of Southern California.

DeMars responded to questions about his film and the current state of big-time college athletics.

Q: Your film is very critical of the NCAA and how college athletes, particularly those playing revenue sports like football and basketball, are treated. As a former athlete, what led you to make this documentary?

A: About nine years ago, my roommate asked if his buddy could crash on the couch for a while. My roommate’s buddy was USC legend Scott Ross, the linebacker who played next to Junior Seau at USC 10 years before I played there. He was a legend and a human wrecking ball that played in three Rose Bowls, and his pictures lined the halls and defensive meeting rooms at USC. When I met him in person, he was a shell of his former self. He was struggling with depression and anxiety, and at the age of 39 he was diagnosed with dementia.

That was the first time I really began to question the long-term repercussions of football.

I still had several lingering injuries — knees, neck, back, shoulder — from playing college football, and I realized that the cost of my injuries might one day outweigh the benefits of my education. Many would respond to this aspect with, “You signed up for it.” I understood the sentiment when it came to my other injuries, because football is an inherently violent sport, but I completely disagreed when it came to the head injuries and potential risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Scott Ross was a legend at USC, but his condition made me take a hard look at how we arrived at this point. That’s when I started researching for the film.

Q: As your research progressed, was there anything you learned that surprised you?

A: When I started the film I was really focused on the hypocrisy of the system. The more I researched the history of the NCAA, the more I discovered how far the organization had really wandered from the initial purpose it was founded on. The NCAA was originally created to protect the welfare of the college athlete, but the NCAA now denies this responsibility.

The NCAA was also founded to prevent commercial exploitation, but I discovered that their current intent is to prevent others from exploiting the talent that they are commercially exploiting. While we were initially focused on the hypocrisy of the NCAA, we ended up with a story about college athletes and the undermining of their rights. I hope their compelling stories will resonate and help spark long-overdue changes in the flawed system.

Q: This film joins a growing body of work criticizing the NCAA and the idea that college athletes must be amateurs. Do you think people are starting to become more aware of some of the problems that might be inherent in this system?

A: When we started making the film, we received some pushback from fans who thought that the intent of the film was to pay players. Many people still want to believe in the fairy tale of amateurism and that these guys are playing for the love of the sport. If that’s true, then the coaches aren’t playing because they love it, because they are very well paid. America is a capitalistic country, but somehow paying a college athlete has become the exception to this ideal.

Recently, with the PBS documentary League of Denial and Sony’s Concussion with Will Smith, many people have learned that these young men are risking their long-term mental health. This has caused many people to reconsider the fairy tale.

Q: At the same time, the immense popularity of these sports points to the fact that many fans are not losing much sleep over these issues. Do you think too many people are happy to keep just watching football and basketball games without really considering the human costs?

A: There are some fans that don’t want to know where their meat comes from and how the cow gets butchered.

While the film has had an immensely positive response from viewers, there has also been a lot of ambivalence after viewing the film. I think that these mixed emotions are the signs of growing pains in a system that is long overdue for an overhaul. As the money continues to grow at an exponential rate in college sports, athletes’ rights are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Q: When people talk about the NCAA and amateurism, many think of the conversation in terms of paying athletes. Is this about more than just swapping a scholarship for a paycheck?

A: The Northwestern athletes [who attempted to unionize] were not seeking a salary; they were seeking rights: financially, academically and medically.

Financially, the film shows the billions of dollars made by universities, coaches and administrators, which shows the discrepancy and gap that exists when 80 percent of big-time college athletes live below the poverty line [while enrolled]. Academically, many schools are motivated to keep athletes eligible rather than for them to receive a real education and degree.

Many athletes that come from impoverished backgrounds with minimal academic resources have no soft step into college or remedial classes to prepare them to be college students. But their academic shortcomings are often the excuse a school uses to get rid of an athlete that doesn’t pan out athletically.

Medically, the NCAA is far behind professional sports. In recent years, we have seen the National Football League provide protections for its athletes, like [hiring] independent medical staff and minimizing contact practices. This is because the NFL players have a union and a voice to fight for these rights. While high schools and Pop Warner leagues have followed in the footsteps of the NFL, at the college level it’s still up to a university’s coach how many times that school’s players bash their heads in every week.

Q: Do you think this is a system that is broken beyond repair, or are there some things that can be done to fix it?

A: There are many ways to change the system. There is the unionization effort that we saw at Northwestern, which would be on a school-by-school basis. Litigation is another factor, as we’ve seen with the recent O’Bannon lawsuit [over athletes’ name and likeness rights], concussion lawsuits and antitrust lawsuits. Legislation could provide changes at the state or federal level if the government tries to step in and take the reins at some point.

But I believe competition is the fastest way to positive changes in the flawed system. When schools start competing for athletes with rights and protections, other schools will be forced to follow suit. There are very simple solutions to empower and protect college athletes, and we offer many of them in the film.

I believe that there are many values that come with being a college athlete and that college sports is something worth saving. Like many athletes in the film, I love my school. And this film is really made out of love. When you really love something, you push it to be better. I hope this film will educate fans, players and families so that we can make college sports better. And I believe that change will ultimately start with the players.

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By Colleen Flaherty

Faculty members at yet another college are fighting what they say are unilateral, sweeping cuts to academic programs following a round of academic prioritization. The cuts announced at Notre Dame de Namur University in California also follow the institution’s unusual decision to recognize its tenured faculty union.

“The cuts that have been announced go well beyond the faculty recommendations” made during the recent prioritization process, or formal review of the educational and financial viability of academic programs, said Kim Tolley, a professor of education at Notre Dame de Namur and chair of its Faculty Senate. “Faculty who teach on nine-month contracts just returned on Aug. 15 and were instructed to submit teach-out plans by Aug. 22. There are real questions here about the extent of these cuts and how they’ll impact students, along with the faculty.”

This spring, Notre Dame de Namur surprisingly agreed to allow its tenured faculty members to join an existing part-time faculty union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Legal precedent holds that tenured faculty members at private institutions have managerial responsibilities and are therefore not entitled to collective bargaining. But Notre Dame de Namur said in a statement that its Board of Trustees made a “considered decision” to allow tenure-track and tenured faculty members to obtain “status as labor” if they so chose. And they did, 35 to 6.

Notre Dame de Namur’s statement about the decision made several references to the faculty members’ choice, in kind, to give up their status as managers in exchange for the recognition. “Going forward, internal university governance processes will be changed to adapt to their voting choice,” the university said.

But faculty members maintain that they didn’t understand those references, because they never agreed to give up any managerial rights in exchange for a union. They continued to celebrate the victory until July 29, when Judith Maxwell Greig, university president, sent a seemingly innocuous email entitled “Results of Spring Program Prioritization Process; Cost Reductions in Administration.” The body was blank, causing some faculty members to overlook it for days.

But the attached memo was significant. It said the board already had approved Greig’s recommendations to terminate bachelor’s degree programs in philosophy, theater arts and English, along with the French, dance and theater arts minors and several other concentrations.

Master’s degree programs in musical performance and systems management also were terminated, as was a certificate program in clinical gerontology.

The board also voted to terminate the women’s tennis programs but to add men’s and women’s track and field, and to sell or otherwise derive income from the theater building.

Greig said the university suffered last year from declining enrollment and lower than expected revenue from gifts, and has “substantive issues to resolve.” Fixing that “requires sacrifice by all participants and clear alignment with our common objective of serving students with access to an excellent education,” she wrote.

Professors knew some program changes were coming, as a faculty panel had been one of three on-campus groups to make suggestions during the formal academic prioritization process last year. Indeed, the faculty panel submitted a plan it estimated would cut academic program costs by 6-8 percent. That included terminating clinical gerontology, theater arts, musical performance and the master of science in systems management.

But as far as other programs, and especially those in the liberal arts, it suggested creating a new, multidisciplinary Department of Humanities and Culture and other tweaks — not cutting philosophy or English outright. Moreover, Tolley said, Notre Dame de Namur’s polices and procedures dictate that curricular changes be vetted by a faculty body.

Specifically, the Governance Handbook says that the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee “is the chief body for implementing the undergraduate curricular goals of the university. The committee reviews any pending decisions that may impact the curriculum and/or educational aims of the university.”

Yet Greig presented the changes as final. The course catalog already has been updated to the reflect them, Tolley said.

Asked if the changes could be related to the faculty’s new union status, Tolley reiterated that the faculty never signed away any managerial rights. “When [Greig] made that statement, no one really knew what she meant,” Tolley added, referring to the faculty’s alleged exchange of rights. “We say that we’ve never been managers here but we do have shared governance — we have a Faculty Senate and faculty committees that provide curricular decisions and so on. And shared governance is very important to us.”

Tolley noted that a recent report from WASC Senior College and University Commission, the college’s accreditor, recommended more shared governance, not less.

SEIU has filed an unfair labor practice claim on behalf of the faculty union, alleging that Notre Dame de Namur unilaterally changed faculty working conditions ahead of collective bargaining. It had explicitly asked the university not to make any changes to the curriculum before contract negotiations.

A spokesperson for Notre Dame de Namur referred questions to the office of the president. The office did not respond to specific questions but forwarded a recent statement to faculty and staff. It says, in part, that it is “absolutely essential to the survival of Notre Dame de Namur University and our Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur small private universities that serve the needs of so many modest-income families and ethnically underserved students that the university conserve its resources and limit its spending on courses and programs that are not expected to attract student enrollment.”

William Herbert, executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said there was no reason, legal or otherwise, that being part of a union would preclude faculty members from being key players in curricular changes. In a higher education setting, he added, it’s expected that faculty members guide that process.

Some faculty members suspect that Notre Dame de Namur pushed the curricular changes through ahead of collective bargaining. Herbert said it’s common for questions about faculty curricular control to be discussed during collective bargaining and eventually written into union contracts.

It’s also possible that the outcomes of prioritization had nothing to do with the union, since a number of colleges and universities with profiles similar to Notre Dame de Namur’s have made major academic cuts following formal program reviews in recent years.

The College of Saint Rose’s process, in New York, resulted in the elimination or curtailing of American studies, art education, economics, geology, philosophy, religious studies, sociology, Spanish, and women’s and gender studies, as well as a number of graduate programs. Twenty-three tenure-line faculty members, about half of them tenured, received notices of termination.

And Felician College in New Jersey cut approximately 15 percent of its faculty some time after what the institution called a “reprioritization process.” St. Joseph’s University in New York also is in the midst of a prioritization process that has roiled faculty.

The American Association of University Professors has since 2013 censured Saint Rose and Felician, along with National Louis University and the University of Southern Maine, over alleged violations of tenure and academic freedom during academic prioritization. The association maintains that the curriculum is the primary domain of the faculty and that academic changes should result in the firing of tenured faculty members only in cases of true financial exigency, or for sound educational reasons backed by the faculty.

Academic prioritization, proposed in an influential book, Prioritizing Academic Programs and Services: Reallocating Resources to Achieve Strategic Balance, isn’t always so controversial. Author Robert Dickeson, president emeritus of the University of Northern Colorado, said earlier this month that some 300 institutions already have tried prioritization for reasons including balancing the budget, informing future budget decisions and improving overall efficiency and effectiveness.

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By Ashley A. Smith

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday prohibited ITT Educational Services, the parent company of ITT Technical Institutes, from enrolling new students who use federal financial aid.

The devastating ban, along with a set of increased federal oversight of the for-profit institution, continues several years of federal scrutiny of ITT Tech, which has more than 130 campuses in 38 states and enrolled approximately 45,000 people last year. It could mean the end for the institution.

“Our responsibility is first and foremost to protect students and taxpayers,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said during a phone call with reporters. “Looking at all of the risk factors, it’s clear we need to increase financial protection and it wouldn’t be responsible or in the best interest of students to allow ITT to continue enrolling new students who rely on federal student aid funds.”

King said the ban and the increased oversight was due to ITT’s accreditor, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which determined that ITT “is not in compliance and is unlikely to become in compliance with [ACICS] accreditation criteria.” According to the department, ACICS questioned ITT’s compliance with standards such as financial stability, management, record keeping, admissions, recruitment standards, retention, job placement and institutional integrity, in an Aug. 17 letter sent to the department. (The letter has not been released publicly.) ACICS held a hearing earlier this month on whether or not to sanction ITT, however, that decision has been placed on hold until after a December hearing. The national accreditor is also facing scrutiny.

Some see the department’s move as pushing the for-profit institution one step closer to bankruptcy and closure.

Ben Miller, senior director for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, described ITT as a “dead college” and said the department’s actions were necessary and appropriate.

“In many ways, this decision further shows ACICS probably should’ve revoked ITT’s accreditation,” Miller said. “ITT’s closure has felt for a long time like a matter of when, not if, and this is the department showing the courage to step in when ACICS didn’t.”

In addition to the ban, the department is prohibiting ITT from awarding raises or paying bonuses or severance to the company’s executives. The department also increased the company’s letter of credit requirement from about $124 million to approximately $247 million, or 40 percent of all federal aid ITT received in 2015.

A letter of credit is collateral the government asks colleges to set aside when officials have concerns that an institution may be unable or unwilling to pay back money it owes the government. The letter also protects students and taxpayers if the institution can’t cover federal student aid liabilities. The company will have to provide the letter of credit from a bank ensuring the availability of those funds, which may be difficult. Last year, ITT reported about $850 million in total revenue, with about $580 million coming from federal aid.

The department has also placed ITT on a tighter form of the financial oversight known as heightened cash monitoring, which requires the institution to use its own funds to cover federal aid disbursements for current students. The department would later reimburse those funds after verifying the students.

According to the company’s most recent financial filing, it has about $78 million in available cash.

“At this moment, ITT poses a significant risk to students and taxpayers,” said U.S. Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell in a phone call with reporters. “If you’re a current ITT student, you have some options. You can continue your courses at ITT with federal student aid, you can transfer credits to a new school, and you can pause your education and wait to see how this matter resolves. If ITT closes before you finish the program and you don’t transfer credits, those students are likely to discharge their loans.”

ITT didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Although the department is citing ACICS’s censure as the driving force behind the increased oversight, Trace Urdan, a research analyst at Credit Suisse, questions if it was instead ITT’s decision to cut back on marketing and the company’s announcement that new student enrollment could drop by as much as 60 percent that forced the department’s hand. The move by ITT could have signaled that they were freeing up cash to satisfy the department or that they were winding down their operations. It was hard to tell the difference, Urdan said, adding that the ACICS censure had been in place for a while but ITT’s projected enrollment decrease was new.

Urdan said the department’s actions against ITT are a signal to other for-profit institutions with regulatory issues, like DeVry University, for instance, that the department is taking bold actions against the sector.

“There’s no one else whose balance sheet is as challenged [as ITT’s] among the larger companies, no one in quite the same situation,” he said. “But I also read into this a certain level of aggressiveness.”

As for ITT, the company did free up some cash by cutting back on marketing, he said, but considering the new financial restrictions placed by the department — doubling the letter of credit requirements, being placed on the more stringent cash monitoring level, the new enrollment problems, any accreditation disclosures, the negative publicity — the additional financial restrictions imposed by the department may be too much to handle.

Several state and federal investigations and lawsuits against the company also continue, including lawsuits from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It definitely makes it very difficult for them to live through this,” Urdan said.

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By Jim Newberry

Three common scenarios show us how

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By John Warner

That U of C “welcome” letter comes from a place of fundamental weakness.

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