Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Student Affairs scholarship

Most of the literature in student affairs, development, and services is written by faculty in graduate preparation programs. Analysis of articles in journals confirm that as graduate faculty have been increasingly rewarded for research and publication, the literature shifted to accommodate their contributions. The days of significant numbers of scholar-practitioners, staff who researched and wrote as a function of reflective practice, authoring published works has declined over the last 50 years.

Chelsea Gilbert wrote that "Colleges should recognize that research grounded in the daily experiences of those most knowledgeable about students' lives is crucial for meeting students' needs." While I heartily agree that student affairs staff should write more, it's an error to claim superiority in being the "most knowledgeable about students' lives," primarily because it has the potential of alienating many faculty who are also deeply informed about students and may resent the assertion that they are not.

I don't know of research that will confirm my assertions but my belief is that many student affairs staff don't write because they have not benefitted from the cultivation that many faculty receive. Student affairs has been an oasis for diversity in many institutions, first welcoming women, then colleagues from diverse cultures, and then opening the door for LGBTQ+ colleagues. In addition, many may have been first-generation students whose families were not able to mentor them into the culture of writing and research. All this adds up to a population group that has much to offer but is silenced in a system that rewards certain kinds of academics, with specified elite credentials, and sponsored by senior colleagues who encourage them.

Chelsea proposes three corrective measures: provide time, provide funding, and provide a spotlight. Addressing these three issues would help but the reason student affairs staff are constricted in their scholarship goes much deeper to issues of background, identity, and reward.


Friday, June 11, 2021

Purdue struggles with autocratically imposed civics literacy

As a testament to the importance of institutions being careful to act in ways that are consistent with their rhetoric, faculty are pushing back at Purdue University's civics requirement. Alice Pawley, associate professor of engineering said, "It's like democracy and civic literacy are so important, we're willing to be dictators about it." Other faculty said that their own colleagues did not engage the planning and decision making process so the fault is not that of the Purdue President or Board but of the faculty.

Leadership in higher education is not easy and it requires everyone to embrace the idea of fluid leadership that moves across different individuals and groups. Those in positional roles have a responsibility to exercise inclusive leadership and those without specific roles must authentically participate through active followership. It's too easy for either group to point fingers but shared leadership should be easier in higher education than it usually is in actuality.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

First-generation students and scholars struggle

There has been increasing recognition of the struggles that first-generation students face in going to college. The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) and the Suder Foundation initiated the "First-Gen Forward" project to increase the focus on success within this group and to recognize institutions committed to this goal.

In addition to undergraduate students, first-generation graduate students and scholars face barriers as well. Kelly Craig, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Utah, expressed that the resilience that first-generation graduate students bring to their studies and work is typically unrecognized. Matthew Jerome Schneider, an assistant professor at UNC-Pembroke, described the awkwardness of being asked to comment on his research agenda in a new graduate student welcome session, a task that his fellow graduate students seemed to understand all to well and were enthusiastic to answer.

For students and for aspiring and advancing scholars, first-generation naiveté is often an unrecognized barrier. Those who have not come from first-generation experiences do not understand the privilege that they bring to academic circles where there are many unwritten rules, customs, and expectations. These privileges do not all of a sudden disappear once the doctoral degree is granted or an academic assignment is secured. Seasoned academics know about the importance of networks, riding the coattails of significant leaders in the field, and publishing in the journals that result in the greatest number of citations of one's work.

The disadvantages of first-generation naiveté impact all those who seek to advance in the academic world. For those whose cross-sectional identities include other barriers such as sex, race, language, or other difference, striving to enter and excel in academic circles is even harder. If higher education seeks to be more representative of the population at large, these disadvantages have to be highlighted and addressed.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Study abroad grapples with its future

As U.S.A. and other countries/areas of the world see improving conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, study abroad programs struggle with what to do. Core to the struggle about if and where to resume study abroad is balancing advice from the U.S.A. government against the resources available at various institutions. Those institutions with greater resources are able to make independent and nuanced decisions where lower-resourced institutions restrict themselves to State Department and CDC directives in order to be secure in their decisions.

The differential impact of COVID-19 on areas of the world "has also forced a shift away from Global South countries." The shift benefits Western Europe and parts of Asia, which have "advanced health-care systems and higher vaccination raters. Even before the pandemic, more than half of all students who studied abroad -- 55.7 percent in 2018-19 -- studied in Western Europe." International educators have increasingly encouraged students to go beyond the more comfortable and touristy locations of Europe with the intent of deeper dives into more diverse contexts; research confirms enhanced educational outcomes where greater cultural dissonance is encountered.

The flip side of the study abroad issue is the decline of international students coming to the U.S.A. Education leaders have begged Biden and his administration to intervene to help bring this critical group of learners and scholars back. Study visas are difficult to obtain for many international students as a result of the pandemic and resulting closures of consulates throughout the world. Early reports from campuses indicate that there is hope that international enrollment will increase in 2021.

UNC Chapel Hill denies tenure to "1619" journalist

Nikole Hannah Jones, the Pulitzer Prize journalist and a creator of the NYT 1619 project, was denied tenure by the Board of Trustees of UNC Chapel Hill. Proposed and approved by faculty vote, the Board chose to offer her only a term contract with the opportunity to apply for tenure in 5 years.

Students and professors demanded justification for the Board's decision, but rationale and response to public demand were anything but clear. The UNC case demonstrates the problem of conservative control of UNC by the Board and university Boards in general. Faculty assert that the UNC case reflects the political orientation of Board members and inappropriate intrusion in decisions related to academic merit, which was confirmed by correspondence of Board member, Walter Hussman, Jr. Inside Higher Education wrote, "The New York Times Magazine's '1619 Project,' which re-examines the role of race in the nation's founding, and which has been criticized by detractors including former president Trump as being unpatriotic. Hannah-Jones is Black, and some also believe that she's being held to a different standard than her white would-be peers."

UNC faculty have urged the Board to act immediately to reconsider their denial. Expediting consideration is particularly important in the face of losing other scholars who are sympathetic with, or concerned about, Hannah Jones' cause. Hannah Jones said in a Twitter post, "I have been overwhelmed by all the support you all have shown me. It has truly fortified my spirit and my resolve. You all know that I will be OK. But this fight is bigger than me, and I will try my best not to let you down." At a time when deeper analyses of previous narratives of U.S.A. history are underway, the UNC case is likely only the beginning.

Educators beyond UNC have raised concern about Hannah Jones' tenure denial, including a letter from prominent Yale faculty and the AAUP. The letter warns of spreading conservative reaction by saying, "We call on all people of conscience to decry this growing wave of repression and to encourage a recommitment to the free exchange of ideas in our schools, workplaces, legislatures and communities."

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Investing in the future through education - Gates Foundation

A commitment to the welfare of broad numbers of Americans is an idea imbedded in democracy and romanticized in the "American Dream." Yet, obsession with protecting a competitive capitalist meritocracy is embraced by many Americans, both rich and poor. This obsession across class was graphically reinforced in the electoral base that supported Donald Trump's election and bid for election in 2020. While political conservatism celebrates capitalism and the competitive spirit that supposedly supports it, the fact is, most economists conclude that broad investment in talent development, specifically through education enhancement, is the best policy for a country's long-term economic prospects.

The report of the Gates Foundation's Post-Secondary Value Commission defines higher education, and K-12 preparation, as essential to America's future. The Commission report was "designed to catalyze an equitable value movement, which will help reshape the higher education system in the United States by combating access and completion barriers, sparking economic mobility, dismantling racist practices and structural inequalities, and building a more vibrant and just society." The Commission report raises question of individual, institutional, as well as governmental responsibility for correcting inequities that exist.

The Gates Foundation report is hailed as lifting up the long-held assertion of educators that access, equity, and completion of educational goals has to be a central goal of a democratic society. Why? Because informed and talented citizens pay off in numerous ways - responsible participation, innovation, service, and economic vitality. The cost of inequity is too significant to ignore and the solution isn't only gaining access to higher education but the role it plays in equalizing opportunity. It has long been clear that privileged Americans are taking care of themselves by preserving access and networks through elite higher education. The Gates Foundation seeks to highlight how investment to benefit those without this privilege can be achieved - by "providing stronger academic and wraparound supports - including better academic and career counseling and mental health services; more comprehensive assistance with personal and financial needs, including tuition, childcare, food and housing; and stronger transfer pathways - to ensure that these students can reach their educational goals." Gates Commission members Anthony Carnevale and Kathryn Peltier offer the sobering conclusion that "The chances of earning a college degree and finding a good job in young adulthood are often determined more by a student's family socioeconomic status than by early achievement - for American children, it's better to be rich than smart."

It's abundantly clear that the United States has not created the equitable democracy that offers opportunity to all regardless of background. Abandoning the unsubstantiated assumption of competitive capitalism, without educational opportunity and talent development, appears to be a way forward for all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Friday, May 7, 2021

European science cooperation

Aside from the education of undergraduate and graduate students, research productivity and advancing the boundaries of science is one of the most important outcomes of colleges and universities. Pursuit of research is achieved through support of individual faculty but it often involves cooperative ventures across institutions and even further cooperation across state jurisdictional and national boundaries.

Over 20 years ago, European educational leadership "envisaged an E.U. where 'people and knowledge can circulate more freely,' the integration of scientists in eastern and western Europe, and for countries to 'coordinate' what type of research they funded to avoid policy 'overlap.'" Reflections on this purpose now conclude that shared research across the E.U. is an unfinished project. The causes are many but some of it relates to the source of funding - 90% coming from nation-states and only 10% from the E.U. The newly created "European Universities" struggle to implement joint research due to differences in labor, tax, and social services across countries and many nation-state institutions hunker down to protect their own interests.