Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Freedom of speech - going broader

The University of Chicago led the way toward free speech on campus that conservatives liked and now similar approaches are being taken by other institutions. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) report indicated that increases in on-line instruction coupled with more student activism is the cause of increased complaints that students' free speech is being violated. Seventy-eight institutions or faculty bodies have endorsed the Chicago Principles that includes the statement, "it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive." Eight additional institutions have incorporated the Chicago Principles into their campus policies, a move that conservatives celebrate and diversity advocates worry will increase openly expressed hostility toward minority groups on campus.

The Supreme Court supported the appeal of students at Gwinnett College in Georgia who asserted that their free speech had been violated by restrictions about the place of expression and required prior approval. A nonpartisan faculty group has also formed and will likely influence the ongoing considerations related to how freedom of speech can be protected. Keith Whittington, a professor at Princeton and chair of the faculty group's academic committee said, "I think it's important that we be able to talk across some of these divides in order to convey the real sense that there's a shared threat here. I do think it's true that those on the right and those on the left can easily imagine that they're the only ones being threatened."

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

China postpones return of international students

China may well be one of the first national economies to begin recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to protect its advantage, the Chinese government is continuing its prohibition of international students' return for their studies. The approximately 500,000 students who previously studied in China have turned to petitioning for return but it appears that the governmental policy is not likely to change.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Education and work post-COVID-19

As higher education continues to navigate survival and what is in the future after COVID-19 is tamed, Strada Education Network's research found that current and/or prospective university students "have a lot of hope, but not a lot of confidence. People need to move beyond belief and hope to the personal confidence they need in order to take action and pursue the education or training they want and need."

Inside Higher Education's brief summary of an interview with Strada's Dave Clayton didn't cover the political push-back that has come about as the result of the Trump administration's vilification of the liberal bias in higher education, vilification that has now shown up in France. What the interview does capture is that higher education institutions need to look more closely at how citizens can prepare for work that will offer a more promising future after a period of personal and economic devastation. In order to be more responsive to students' needs and desires, Ryan Craig proposes that the dominant "boomer" orientation toward self discovery rather than pathways to prosperity will have to be undone.

Strada Education Network asserts that putting students first is essential and that the "future of education and training broadly is certain to include more hybrid settings, meaning we will have a mix of in-person and virtual learning experiences across our lives," all more carefully tailored to the diversity of students who hope to find opportunity going forward.

Learning innovation and a focus on outcomes for students will certainly be central in the minds of many education leaders. "Susan Resneck Pierce challenged university leaders to begin to think strategically and long term, rather than only managing the daunting tactical tasks of the moment." Maloney and Kim assert that it is "crucial for them to see the lessons of the past nine months (and near future) as long term investments in deliberate, purposeful change." Steven Mintz offered 20 things he believed higher education faculty and leaders have learned from the pandemic and recommended that "future proofing" graduates should be a major priority. These higher education leaders are part of the wave advocating that COVID-19 realizations have the potential to improve retention, satisfaction, and outcome for all students.

A common response to the financial stresses on higher education at present is to expand scope. Grow or die has been the reality for all too many institutions whose leaders have guided them to tap new enrollment markets, increase online presence, pursue joint ventures in their local communities, and expand branch campuses. "Institutions have adopted a much more entrepreneurial mindset..." that requires risk-taking, visioning and partnering that builds support both inside and outside campus boundaries.

Nathan Grawe proposes agility as one of the primary features of successful institutions in the coming years. Demographic shifts, exacerbated by a possible decline in birth rate resulting from the pandemic, will require institutions to be resilient and persevering. Staying focused on students, improving retention, and attracting underserved students will be important to almost any institutional strategy.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Creativity and innovation

"Creatives" are a treasure to almost every organization, especially in this time of chaotic change brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic Tsunami that is raging throughout the world. The full impact of this pandemic will ripple through all sectors of the economy and will likely transform many workplaces. Particularly as artificial intelligence replaces some jobs, creativity will be a central attribute most sought in employees.

How organizations across a variety of sectors respond depends on their stability, resource base, and leadership. Particularly in higher education, many are predicting paradigmatic change that will result from shifting markets, changing finances, and diverse stakeholders. 

How does paradigmatic change occur and what kind of people are required in order for sustainable change to emerge? Responding on the behalf of those who champion unrecognized or unpopular solutions, Robert Sternberg, publishing in Inside Higher Education, raises the question that creatives often raise, "Was your idea too creative?"

I've played the "creative" role throughout my career, sometimes achieving a desirable outcome and other times succeeding temporarily or failing all together. As a younger educator I didn't even understand that my views were often entirely different from those around me. I thought that I was just the one who voiced the perspective that was likely obvious to at least some, if not a number, of those around me. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I was asking others around me to take a leap, moving into an uncomfortable or even disloyal place, which automatically set up resistance that I then needed to manage.

Sternberg's opinion piece is eye-opening and is broadly applicable in higher education and other sectors. The key issues he helps us understand are: 1) what level of change are you advocating? 2) why are you often rejected? and 3) how do you minimize the potential of rejection?

These are very important questions for the individual "creative" but they are also questions that organizations might ask of themselves in slightly modified form: 1) what level of change is required for organizational survival and thriving? 2) why does our organization reject important opportunities? and 3) how can the organization minimize the negative impact on "creatives" and the consequences for the broader organization?

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Biden-Harris educational agenda

You could practically hear the collective sigh of relief when educators at all levels saw the announcement on November 7 that Donald Trump is on his way out. Perhaps more important to educators' immediate concerns, Betsy Devos hastily left as a result of her protest resignation after the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S.A. capitol. The damage done by Devos, which some same say isn't much, will require Biden and Harris to undo what has undermined higher education over the last four years.

President-elect Biden spoke at numerous points about the importance of education. In addition, that his wife has a doctoral degree in education and continues an active education career, shows great promise. Dr. Jill Biden completed a bachelor, 2 masters, and doctorate degrees, justifying the appropriate title of "Dr.," although Joseph Epstein, a former bachelors-only degree holder and instructor up until 2003 in English at Northwestern University, criticized her for using the academic title. Northwestern's English department and broader university issued statements disagreeing with Epstein's views. Some predict that community colleges will be a primary place where a Biden-bump is expected but others see the same possibility for HBCUs and addressing student debt (with some advocating entirely cancelling previous debt and broader numbers joining the move) as part of his economic recovery plan.

Evidence projects a more positive approach to education during the Biden-Harris administration and this was reinforced by considerable resources being directed to higher education in Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan. In addition, Biden's proposed budget included significant increases to NIH and NSF, and a smaller increase for NEH. His proposed regular budget included increases for higher education that were lauded by many but, according to some higher education groups, some gaps remained.

A return to freer expression of various student concerns was also evident in the early days of Biden's administration. Speculation quickly emerged on who would serve as the their Secretary of Education which is key to delivering on campaign statements. The possibility of selecting former NEA President, Lily Eskelson Garcia, drew opposition before any announcement was made. Ultimately, Miguel Cordona, who previously has served as head of Connecticut schools, was confirmed, and other appointments filled in leadership in the Secretary's office. Higher education advocates were included in a number of other appointments, including some with track records related to equity and access.

Racial and wealth inequality will be one of the most important issues to address during the new administration. Responding to the "inequality that is built into the United States' most viable system of opportunity - the education sector - is an elephant in the room that the leader of the U.S. Department of Education... can't ignore." Biden's "Anti-Systemic Racism" Executive Order was an important signal that all government agencies should examine their practices and the impact will surely be seen in higher education. Cybersecurity is another major issue that impacts higher education and many other areas of citizens' lives in the USA. Tracy Mitrano, a Cornell University faculty member who moved to elective office over the last three years offers suggestions about what the Biden administration should do.

Responding to the devastation of COVID-19 on higher education, for which the Trump administration provided little guidance, Biden immediately called for better guidance to universities about safely opening and operating universities. Another very problematic area was the Trump administration's persistent policy intervention and statements about international students. The Trump administration caused U.S. enrollments in high school as well as at colleges and universities to decline presipitously. Educators are well aware that the Biden-Harris administration will have to reset both policy and perception of U.S. hospitality toward international students.

Everyone knows that a lot of hard work is ahead and the hope is that the consequence of electing Biden-Harris will be greater positive attention on all levels of education. We're with you, Joe!

Friday, November 6, 2020

How first-generation and low-income students access and survive higher education

First-generation and low-income students are often viewed through a deficit lens. This perpetuates dysfunctional discrimination as well as sometimes internalized oppression among students from these backgrounds. Mariette Jackson and Ngoc Tran remind us to switch to seeing what it is about first-generation and low-income students' identity that actually helps them be successful.

The "hidden curriculum" is one of the major challenges for first-generation students because of its complex and opaque customs and expectations. One of the most challenging dynamics of navigating the hidden curriculum is that its power is not recognized, resulting in it being even more difficult to learn how to be successful in it.

Even the way campuses communicate belonging can be problematic. It's common for faculty and staff to admonish students to "find their place" both inside and outside of class. Unfortunately, this message puts the onus of responsibility on the student which can result in a sense of failure or rejection. Particularly for students who are in a minority cultural status, "find your place" does not recognize that there are systems in place that ignore or push away students who are different.

The hidden curriculum and encouragement to students that they "find their place" also neglect to address insidious issues that keep students of different cultural backgrounds from interacting with each other. Even the residential environments that are offered at some colleges/universities as the panacea for cross-cultural engagement can result in systemic separations. Whether it's the way students apply for spaces, the cost associated with different accommodations, or individual preferences, student development educators should pay attention to how students are sorted/assigned to residential spaces.

Controversy over New Zealand scholar's critique of relations with Chinese military

The highly controversial publication by Ann-Marie Brady and her colleagues about links between New Zealand's higher education sector and the Chinese military raises academic freedom and international partnership questions.

The academic freedom question emerges from Canterbury University's directive to Brady that she not communicate publicly about her scholarship. Brady's lawyer asserted, "The university's failure to direct the complainants to normal academic remedies - publish their criticisms if they had confidence in them - is generating significant disquiet and internal protest from staff at her university."

The partnership question is one that should likely be raised across many nations and institutions. The bottom line is what is the purpose of the partnerships, is it mutual in benefit, and what educational or capacity building goals are being advanced?

Friday, October 30, 2020

Bavaria adopts U.S.-style higher education model

A possible successor to Angela Merkel, Markus Soder, has advocated that Bavaria move to a different model of funding and organizing higher education - the U.S. model. The proposal would increase competition among institutions by granting more independence from the state, allowing for higher tuition to be charged to international students, and allowing salary competition for top scholars. The proposal spurred some backlash among academics who assert that market-based rewards in academia could negatively impact disciplines that have less direct "business" relevance.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The "Cost of Inclusion" and why white male students benefit most

Having committed my life to a career as a student development educator who advocated for deeper engagement for all students, reading the summary of the interview of Blake R. Silver was to say the least disheartening. Silver's book, The Cost of Inclusion, is based on his qualitative study of an institution that should have been more inclusive of students from various backgrounds but, in fact, perpetuated white male privilege in its extracurricular experiences.

One of Silver's conclusions was "that white men frequently have an easier time acquiring a durable sense of belonging in extracurricular outlets than peers who identify as women or racial and ethnic minority students... white men were able to draw from raced and gendered assumptions about authority to take on styles of self-presentation that positioned them as group leaders or intellectuals." The result of this is that as white men are elevated through "deference and mentorship of peers" as other students disconnect. Silver found that even when white male students started out with a commitment to openness and full participation by all, they were intoxicated by "centripetal elevation," becoming part of a system that marginalized their female and non-white peers.

The summary interview entices me to dig into Silver's book. I look forward to discovering more detail of how our best attempts to include all students still fall short of the goal of equal access and opportunity. At the core of the commitment to inclusion is the power of peer influence which has long been identified in research as an intervening variable that is very difficult to control. Silver offered advice in the interview which I particularly look forward to further exploring. He opined that "Faculty involvement outside of the classroom is one way to equip young people with tools for engaging with diversity on campus. Partnerships between professors and student affairs practitioners could bring curricular frameworks to the social realm of college, offering models for student engagement that extend beyond the imperative to fit in and make friends."

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

U.S. Education Department (DeVos) continues scrutiny of gifts to universities

Although the Trump administration has refused to meet with colleges and universities who have sought clarification on compliance with Section 117 Foreign Gifts and Contracts reporting requirements, Betsy DeVos announced as a new report was released that, "We found pervasive noncompliance by higher ed institutions and significant foreign entanglement with America's colleges and universities... Our initial investigations catalyzed disclosure of approximately $6.5 billion previously unreported foreign funds." Since 2019, the Education Department has launched investigations into 12 institutions, four of which are partners with Qatar in establishing their branch campuses in Doha. The scrutiny of foreign gifts has not been welcome by higher education institutions and resulted in the American Council on Education objecting to the DeVos intrusions.

The Education Department report raises particular concern about anonymized gifts, which likely should be investigated. It also reported that there is "risk posed by colleges accepting gifts or entering into contracts with governments or nongovernmental entities, including business, in countries with adversarial relationships with the United States, including China, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates."

WHAT!!! Characterizing China (where Trump does business and pays taxes), Qatar (which brokers diplomatic meetings for the U.S. and hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Arabian Gulf), Russia (who actively supported Trump in his 2016 POTUS bid and is continuing to do so in 2020), Saudi Arabia (the first "partner" to whom Trump sold arms in the early days of his administration and whose ruler was exonerated by Trump for murdering a journalist unfavorable to the King), and the UAE (the first Arab/Islamic world partner to Jared Kushner's "Middle East Peace" plan) as "adversarial" reflects not only a complete disconnect with Trump's "foreign policy" but completely insane assumptions.

From an informed perspective of having worked with the four institutions under scrutiny for their Qatar connections, I can attest that the funds paid to these institutions are not "gifts" but are instead fees for services granted to them for siting their branches in the country. The Education Department report claims that the "gifts" from foreign entities are a form of soft power that compromises relationships. When was soft power determined as a malignant form of engagement, especially since this is exactly what the six U.S. universities that are on the Education City campus in Qatar have proudly professed for the last approximately 20 years?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Absurd and superficial answer to cheapen U.S. higher education


I am certain that William Durden, President Emeritus of Dickson College and President of the International University Alliance, is a great administrator and scholar. However, his Inside Higher Education opinion offered in Reinventing Higher Education for Affordability is absurd and offers a simplistic and uninformed recommendation that U.S. higher education could adjust budgets to make university attendance more affordable by eliminating student life programs and non-academic support services. Liliana Rodriguez joined my critique in her opinion piece, "The cost of our silence," when she declared that "College costs are out of control because, as a nation, we've failed our citizens."

The first thing that Durden misses is that student affairs is unique in its origins in U.S. higher education and emerged as a speciality when faculty abdicated the role of supporting students so that faculty could focus more on their teaching and scholarship. The second point is that, once faculty abdicated, student affairs professionals emerged and built a speciality with research and theorizing that confirms student life as a significant contributor to student retention and graduation; a vast literature documents how student affairs educators contribute to enhancing student experiences but a recent example is from Loyola University of Chicago. Third, many of the auxiliary services provided by student affairs staff contribute to balancing the budgets that are gapped when tuition doesn't meet expenses for many colleges and universities. Fourth, Durden points to the Studentenwerks that provide housing and dining services independent of, and self-funded from, German universities. While Durden proposes that the Studentenwerk model could be applied in the U.S., he misses the point that the German political system is totally different from that of the U.S., offering numerous social supports that students can access any time they need them at low or no cost outside the universities. The U.S. has no such social support system. Finally, Durden suggests that elite universities in the U.S. could maintain the holistic student experience while other "lesser" institutions could adopt the new financial model. Great suggestion if your goal is to perpetuate a separate and unequal system of higher education to serve elite populations untethered from the reality of regular citizens and students.

The shortcomings of Durden's recommendation to do away with student affairs and support services is especially short-sighted in the context of the growing stress, anxiety, and loneliness that students are presently feeling. As so many institutions move to partial or complete virtual learning, the long-term impact on students' and faculty members' mental health and progress in learning is likely to be at risk. The current generation of students will likely be labeled as the "COVID-19" generation due to the disruption of their learning and long-term impact of the COVID-19 economic picture. Fortunately, some faculty are advocating that campuses adopt a more humane approach to students' experiences, dropping the inclination to blame them for the COVID-19 positive cases that have risen in university settings and providing positive ways for students to interact and socialize with each other. When it comes to attracting and retaining students from minority backgrounds, the urgency of retaining strong support systems is particularly important.

This opinion piece is an example of throwing others under the bus in the very difficulty times COVID-19 has created. This is not a time to start attacking fellow educators who are trying to make all this work. My hope is that other academics will not take Durden seriously, or that they will take him seriously and push back vigorously to insist that the holistic education that is distinctive to U.S. higher education be preserved, even in difficult times.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Carnegie Mellon University positions around UN sustainable development goals

Making higher education relevant in an age of populist politicians who actively denigrate the contributions of higher education is a challenge. One of the ways to assert relevance is relating institutional goals and initiatives to a recognizable framework that is commonly embraced as representing public good.

Carnegie Mellon University, with campuses in several places around the world, undertook the question of relevance by using the UN sustainable development goals as a template. Krista Rasmussen, senior research associate of policy planning at the UN Foundation, lauded Carnegie Mellon by saying that the "community-driven approach to achieving the SDGs... is a great model for other universities to use." Rasmussen went on to say that, although the SDGs are complicated, finding ways to translate them into meaningful outcomes that impact students, professors, teaching/learning, and research is commendable.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Higher education leadership in the post-COVID-19 era

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many gaps and vulnerabilities throughout the U.S.A. and around the world. As its fuller impact evolved, Inside Higher Education compiled a summary of COVID-19's impact on higher education and work. The financial toll of COVID-19 worsened moving into the fall of 2020 and predicts to continue into 2021, exaggerating various aspects of higher education that haven't been working. Resolving these gaps looms as one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time and there are those who believe that the crisis can lead to positive resolution of multiple issues. Views of the most important realizations from the COVID-19 era vary, while others focus on the vulnerabilities of higher education.

One of the darkest characterizations of higher education is Daniel Bessner's "Can the American University Be Saved."  Bressner's summary of two books, The Gig Academy (Kezar, Depoala, and Scott) and The Meritocracy Trap (Markovitz), criticizes higher education for administrative bloat that replaces long-term faculty with temporary workers and offers crowd-pleasing facilities as it claims merit as the driver of excellence when it's really more about restricted access for a privileged elite. Bessner's sharp criticism will likely be dismissed by many in higher education but those who know higher education from the inside will recognize many of his points as valid and important to consider.

Inside Higher Education offers their take on what will be required of campus leadership in a post-COVID-19 environment in College Leadership in an Era of Unpredictability. Excerpts from the interviews conducted to produce the report offer a glimpse of what dozens of college and university presidents say are the leadership skills that will be required in the new higher education world. As higher education institutions attempt to regain their footing in the haze of COVID-19, the trends that were already underway and were exaggerated by the pandemic will have to be addressed with leadership that can handle not only logistical challenges but also activate adaptive change that better advances post-COVID-19 economic recovery.

The Inside Higher Education's report proposes that new era leadership must address the three long-standing pandemics of health, the economy, and racism that have created the debilitating forces of; 1) economic inequality, 2) systemic racism, 3) technology, 4) the pace of change, 5) a shrinking world developing growing rifts, and 6) political and leadership atrophy. (Executive Summary, p. 1) These central issues will have to be addressed in the middle of the storm when the end state after the pandemic is still unclear and when predictions for the future are a moving target, to say the least. The Inside Higher Education report makes it clear that the idea of returning to normal or even a new normal is delusional.

Creativity is at the core of the type of leadership required in a changing environment and fostering innovation without getting rejected is key. In addition, the idea of "leadership" during and after the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be shared more broadly in the academy if higher education is to thrive. Calls for boards of trustees to step up is obvious. Broader administrative staff who often make budget and infrastructure decision as well as faculty and students must also see themselves as stakeholders in the processes of change that will be considered.

Particularly because some medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, indicate that the U.S.A. may not be able to return to anything that looks "normal" until well into 2022, questions about how higher education is beginning to consider remaking itself are emerging. As efforts are undertaken to change, as in the example of the University of Colorado's Arts & Sciences Dean's move to replace retiring tenured faculty with instructors, opposition emerged immediately. On the other hand, some believe that the University of Colorado approach has the potential to correct misappropriated funding coming from student tuition for unfunded faculty research. Some institutions are handling the COVID-19 pandemic better than others, employing budget cuts of various types across institutions. When faced with difficult times or problems, those who are handling the turmoil can sometimes adopt a "there but for the grace of God" perspective, as Susan Henking suggested. John Warner agreed with Henking that leaders should not rest in the comfort of escaping calamity but should join together across the breadth of higher education institutions to find solutions to COVID-19 and the other problems that have been exposed by it. Failure to engage actively has already begun to result in "no confidence" votes for leaders, as demonstrated at the University of Michigan. Warner said, "I see worrisome little evidence that institutional leaders are truly facing up to the severity of the threat. Every school that broadcasts this year's recently released U.S. News rankings demonstrates that they absolutely do not understand what is happening to them. Your rankings are not going to save you now. They never were. The first step to being treated as a public good is to start acting like one, no matter the consequences. It is a terrible and painful choice, but a necessary one."

Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, captured the opportunity and the challenge higher education faces in this quote from the report, "Higher education and its leaders should ask themselves, 'Why shouldn't this be our moment? Society needs us in a very real way. But also, we have to hold ourselves accountable, because every single person that is responsible for this condition of society right now came through our doors." (Executive Summary, p. 9)  Morton Shapiro (President - Northwestern University) and Barry Glassner (Lewis & Clark College) offered a similar compelling view when they urged that support to the current generation of students be increased to unrivaled historic levels. Only then will the graduates of the future be able "to reconstitute an economy and social order, even as they resurrect their own lives. The prospect of rebuilding a devastated economy while reckoning with long-standing racial and other injustices is as daunting a task as we can imagine."

Matt Reed offered a short essay following the release of the Inside Higher Education report asserting that having a moral center should be one of the most important attributes of leaders in today's environment, primarily because having such a center brings coherence to decision making in turbulent times. Leaders who remain transactional and tactical may suffer in credibility and even those who engage actively will often face criticism. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Interdisciplinary collaboration challenges authoritarianism

It's not unusual for campuses to laud the presence of key interdisciplinary projects or teams. But reimagining research and learning so that interdisciplinary collaboration drives everything - unimaginable!

Utrecht University (Netherlands), one of the world's oldest universities, established its Institutions for Open Societies initiative in order to align the institution more directly with the needs of its students and the communities in which they live. The IOS started through more limited interdisciplinary work and evolved into what Dr. Bas van Bavel says, "...embodies and reflects Utrecht's commitment to simultaneously advance both academic achievements and societal good. The program aims to answer two vital questions: Why do societies develop so divergently? And how do institutions contribute to the formation of open and sustainable societies?"

As van Bavel indicates, the very foundations of societies that used to clearly advance the idea of equitable access to opportunity and prosperity are at risk. Through the IOS, Utrecht is attempting to determine why and how this has happened and find ways to renew progressive democratic values through exploring five focal points; social entrepreneurship, citizen-based initiatives, future of work, gender and diversity, and security in open societies. We know that all higher education plays a vital role in diminishing the inclination toward authoritarianism. As Carnevale says, the problem is that authoritarianism prefers uniformity, or the "security of sameness over the uncertainty of difference"... where "even those who typically are not so inclined can be willing to suppress the rights of others to protect their own sense of dominance or personal safety." This inclination toward authoritarianism is particularly evident at this point in history and higher education's role in countering it is one of the most important bulwarks against its corrosive influence.

The Utrecht project has the potential to transform the way disciplines inform each other, which has long been one of the greatest impediments to relevant research and teaching. The broad commitment of higher education to liberal learning also stands against authoritarianism that so endangers democratic societies. The question then becomes, how do the integrated findings of interdisciplinary scholars and commitment to liberal learning translate into students' experiences and the potential impact that they have where they work and live?

Friday, September 4, 2020

What employers seek in graduates

The attributes most sought by employers of recent graduates has not appreciably changed in the face of  COVID-19 or the recession that resulted from it.  The recent study of Emsi, a labor market analytics firm, identified (in this order) communication, management, leadership, problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking as the top six qualities that employers hope to find in those they hire.

Sometimes higher education leaders have difficulty accepting the importance of fostering job-related attributes, believing that broader intellectual capability is the goal. However, particularly in an environment where joblessness has increased, graduates need to be able to demonstrate their value to prospective employers. In fact, some say that the future of higher education is at the intersection of learning and employers.

The other thing that is important about the six qualities (not "job skills") is that problem solving and critical thinking are almost always at the top of the list for faculty advocating liberal arts or general education outcomes. That two of the six are so aligned is a benefit for all and should be the starting place when addressing graduates' preparation for the world of work and service. In addition, leadership educators also almost always include not only problem solving and critical thinking as learning outcome they seek to achieve but communication, management, and team work are almost always included under the broader framework of leadership capacity.

The point is that what employers seek in new hires, what faculty strive to achieve in liberal arts curriculum, and what leadership educators cultivate in their courses and experiences is well aligned. These three stakeholder groups should be collaborating so that the redesign of liberal education and enhancement of leadership learning are recognized as central to developing the workforce and citizenry of the future. 

One could easily make the case that the six qualities employers most value is actually only one thing - leadership capacity - informed by deep intellectual curiosity, focused on engagement with others, and fostered through a commitment to lifelong learning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Urging students to vote

Civic participation has long been a goal of higher education in the U.S.A. Student governments, a variety of other student organizations, and political activity have all contributed to fulfilling this purpose. With the rise of populism and anti-intellectualism in the U.S.A., it's more important than ever for colleges and universities to actively urge students to register and to vote in the upcoming 2020 election. The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University offered advice on how to encourage college-age students to continue to commit to voting. The rise in the 2018 proportion of college students was encouraging but continuing dedication to bringing them out in an ongoing commitment to promoting democracy is required. As the formal election day of November 3 arrived, educators turned to what must be done to restore civil discourse on campus regardless of the outcome.

Overcoming cynicism is one of the major obstacles in activating the youth vote, however, youth voters numbers were up in 2020 (increasing by at least 5%) and favored Biden by almost a 2:1 margin, with the most glaring exception being white male students. Encouraging faculty to talk about questions related to the 2020 election is particularly important to activity the youth vote. Tufts University's guide for faculty is a helpful resource. The deepest cynicism about higher education is found among citizens who have no experience in higher education, with 59% believing that "colleges and universities have a negative effect on our country's direction." This negative view, coupled with other pronouncements by Trump over the last four years, reinforces why urging students to vote is so important in 2020 and colleges and universities need to help students navigate the obstacles that sometimes discourage their vote.

One of the more difficulty issues to address while encouraging anyone to vote is the impact of demonstrations on voters' opinions. Omar Wasow of Princeton University has encountered considerable opposition for research he conducted on voter activation during the protests of the 1960s. He found that protests resulted in more conservative positions among some voters, a dynamic that is welcomed and being exploited by the Trump campaign of 2020. Richard Nixon won the 1968 election and the Brookings Institution advises that he won by following the same strategy Trump is presently using - painting demonstrations and protest as unAmerican behavior that requires a law and order response. The problem with Wasow's warning is that many believe that a polite response to police brutality is inexcusable; I say it can't be either/or but that an opposing strategy has to support legitimate protest AND push for voter activism to match any increase that may result from Trump's manipulation.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Competency based education in Singapore

 Nanyang Polytechnic University of Singapore has been working on a competency based curriculum that was accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking of recent progress, Jeanne Liew, principal and chief executive at Nanyang, said that the curriculum has been completely reconceptualized and is more relevant now than every. She said, "This pandemic has shown us that there may be disruptions that you don't expect, so we need a model that's very agile, very quick."

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The COVID-19 reveals disregard for "non faculty"

A recent Atlantic article by Jeff Selingo identified a very important point related to the disparity in impact for university staff and faculty as a result of COVID-19 forced institutional changes. The point Selingo was making was that teaching faculty are more protected than "non faculty." The AAUP advocated that non-tenure track faculty (who make up 70% of teaching faculty) should be included in this privileged group. Selingo drew attention to staff who work in instructional technology who have expertise that is central to institutions' success in moving courses partially or entirely to virtual formats.

Introducing Selingo's article in Inside Higher Education, Joshua Kim noted that the dynamics institutions now face may result in reconsideration of the divide between faculty and non faculty. Kim wrote two later pieces, one that noted three trends of how staff have begun to be treated differently, and another suggesting that the flexibility and autonomy granted to faculty may also be warranted for academic staff.

The unfortunate part of both Selingo and Kim's critique is that the essential role of non faculty educators who serve in roles in students affairs was not mentioned. This same limited view was reflected in Marcus' essay on the "immense value of higher education community." Student affairs staff serve faithfully and tirelessly and are treated as incidental to faculty at most institutions; it's high time that the educational role they play is recognized and legitimized.

The very sad reality of the disregard for student affairs educators who occupy their particular segment of "non faculty" roles, was reflected in Shane Cadden's hypothetical post-mortem letter to an institution (like so many) that required him to inform them of "intent to return" in Fall 2020. The letter is satirical and revelatory regarding the fact that nothing was done to protect student affairs staff who were equally, and perhaps more lethally, exposed to COVID-19 in student interactions. Mary DeNiro, CEO of the Association of College and University Housing Officers, later called for staff in residence life positions to receive priority for COVID vaccinations.

Writing in a later Inside Higher Education article, Greta Anderson addressed the challenge of student affairs staff - not being in a position to have voice yet on the front lines of opening campuses to in-person instruction. Both ACPA and NASPA staff were interviewed by Anderson and it's gratifying that the important role of student affairs and the dilemma of having no institutional security was acknowledged.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Brilliant idea to reverse access to educational privilege

Eboo Patel, known for his inter-faith work, weighed in on how to reverse access to educational privilege - elite institutions (yes, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Yale, Penn, Dartmouth, Duke, Vanderbilt and more) should admit only students whose families make less than $100,000/year for the next decade. Inequity in access is not only characteristic of elite private institutions but of selective publics as well, perhaps justifying the applicability of Patel's advice beyond the Ivy League. The proposal would not only benefit those students who have never had access to elite higher education before but would benefit the students who typically go to elite universities and never have the opportunity to actually see how the other 90% lives.

I believe Patel is accurate in saying that those students who have the supposed credentials and money to go to select universities will not suffer - they will still enter a work world that is based on networks of generational privilege. One difference that would come from reversing access is that suddenly students who have the capability to function in elite education would be afforded the opportunity to fulfill their potential. Another difference is that the new <$100,000/year students would transfer elite institutions and the knowledge the disseminate in very important ways.

Based on decades of research that indicates that how students engage in their learning is more important to educational outcomes than where they attend university, undistinguished universities would also suddenly be able to demonstrate that they actually provide a quality of education that is commensurate with what elite institutions claim. The playing field among young people and institutions would begin to level in ways that has never been seen anywhere in the world and what a difference it could make.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Botched policy for internationalization

Multiple publications (Inside Higher EducationForbes and NPR are three) warned of the impacts of denying study visas to international students whose host institutions moved online in the face of COVID-19. The unwillingness of the Trump administration to formulate a national approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19 resulted in spikes in many areas of the USA, forcing more universities to move to partial or complete online instruction in the fall of 2020.

This ill-fated effort to pressure universities to open and to restrict international student options was abandoned when the judge at the initial hearing of the Harvard and MIT complaint announced that the government had withdrawn the July directive and returned to the March advice, allowing greater continuing flexibility for international students to take online courses. Educators viewed the status of new international students as ambiguous and 17 states and the District of Columbia joined in a lawsuit demanding clarity on whether they would be allowed to study online or not. The lack of definitive policy resulted in some institutions advising new international students to not begin their programs in the new academic year. ICE directed that new international students could not study 100% online although hybrid combinations of in-person and online courses were acceptable. Democratic lawmakers countered by sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security recommending flexibility for new international students. Ultimately, international students were allowed to continue whatever form of study they were pursuing in March of 2020 through the end of spring 2021.

The perfect conundrum - a pandemic out of control as a result of no national coordination, universities scrambled to respond based on their unique circumstances, Trump declared that educational institutions must open for in-person instruction, and ICE restricted trade opportunity at a national level by declaring that international students must study in person. Some viewed the proposed restriction as non-sensical and poor  policy formation and others viewed it as simply a strong-arm effort to force institutions to go completely or substantially in-person, a path that neglected institutional uniqueness and the disparities in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the USA.

Restrictions placed on international students brought very real economic calamity for institutions and individuals as enrollment declined. It also had the potential to disrupt thousands of students' progress on their degrees, to undermine the contribution international students make to the diverse mix of USA institutions, to interrupt diplomatic relations, and to destroy future business opportunity of friendly partners throughout the world. Months after the initial flap over Trump administration mandates and subsequent reversals, Trump officials came back in September of 2020 with a new mandate that international students be granted only fixed-term visas and then be forced to apply for extensions if their degrees were not completed within 4 years. Again in October 20 the Depart of Homeland Security through ICE began a "round up" of international students that it believed were improperly granted OPT work visas after completing their degrees. The original efforts coupled with continuing restriction proposals gives international students in the USA a very clear governmental message - you don't belong here!

The Trump administration's new rules on eligibility and fees for H-1B visas as well as stipulations on salaries for faculty and researchers at universities are additional examples of botched policy. The policies, which were distributed without consultation, impact graduate students who wish to stay in the U.S. after completing advanced degrees and other faculty and researchers that provide critical intellectual resources to many colleges and universities. A consortium of colleges and universities sued the government over the new requirements and a federal judge struck down the Trump visa rules in December, 2020.

While the Trump administration disrupted USA international student enrollment, the United Kingdom was considering charter flights to make it easier for international students to access their academic programs and Hong Kong launched a major recruitment effort. By contrast, New Zealand's government decided to stop study visas for international students based on protecting the country from experiencing COVID-19 again after completely eliminating it. The uniqueness of the U.S.A. environment is that institutions have been interrupted and students thrown into a very uncertain future because of arbitrary and capricious action by the Trump administration - botched and shifting policy at every turn.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

International students - time to examine motives

I've advocated in previous posts that the competition for international student enrollment has intensified. Now in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, every institution and country that has hosted international students and used them to supplement budget shortfalls resulting from declining government support and slipping demographics is scrambling.

With a 21% decline in international student visas and overall declining international enrollment in the U.S., the path forward will have to include reexamining why institutions and countries are interested in the first place - is it only the economic benefit or does it include the educational value that international students represent? The Council on Foreign Relations provided a podcast summarizing the rationale for "Why we need international students."

Institutions also need to consider the impact that COVID-19 had on international students and move quickly to help them. Issues include addressing the complications for international students who were stranded when the COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed, the loss of part-time jobs and internships, payment of stipends to graduate students, and the dashing of plans for continued graduate school enrollment or OPT. The bottom line is the "need to create or expand networks of social support... in addition to offering free housing, meals and health care for students who are stuck."

Colleges and universities need to carefully examine how international students apply and gain admission. The unfortunate outcome of education being highly prized is that prospective international students can be exploited by schemes to help them gain admission to the most desirable institutions. Elite institutions have been embarrassed and some of the brokers are now paying the price for encouraging fraudulent applications, as confirmed in the federal prosecution of two providers in southern California.

Months after the flurry of concern related to Trump administration policy interventions and then the pandemic, some campuses seem to have doubled down to pursue prospective students. Two University of California system campus - Irving and Riverside - have been criticized for schemes designed to primarily attract wealthy Chinese students 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Black Lives Matter on campus

The rather strange confluence of COVID-19 closing campuses while the Black Lives Matter movement grew in prominence left higher education out of the headlines during the summer. Especially with many journalists noting the parallels that can be made in BLM protests to the civil rights protests of the 1950s and anti-war protests of the 1960s, not seeing protests on university campuses seemed odd.

Some educators prepared strategies and devised programs to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of students' return to campus. Based on the racial crisis at the University of Missouri in 2015, researchers indicate that a "Collective Trauma Recovery" approach is needed to respond to the emotional trauma that can occur when racial tensions arise. Others advocated a "Trauma-informed" approach to the mental health deterioration that Black students often experience. James M. Thomas warned in an interview about his book, Diversity Regimes: Why Talk is not Enough to Fix Racial Inequality at Universities (Rutgers University Press), that when students return to campus, "Colleges and universities should expect conflict, plain and simple. A not-insignificant number of our minority students will have actively participated in the protests themselves" and will likely seek to bring their concerns back with them.

While it did not conclude a cause and effect connection, a recent study found that HBCU enrollment increases correlated with reports of hate crimes. The findings reflect the hyperconsciousness of students of color to campus and surrounding climate. If there is evidence of hostility or fear associated with attending university, why would students not choose a campus that by its very definition is a more welcoming place? As enrollment figures emerged, HBCUs saw significant increases for fall of 2021.

An important element related to the BLM movement is the disadvantages faced by Black students before they begin their higher education. The way U.S.A. history was conceived and is portrayed in academic publications and courses is a pervasive complication once students begin their university coursework. John Thelen recommends facing past racist history by considering name changes for institutions and entities within them. Steve Mintz recommends serious examination, including recognition of many institutions' problematic histories, by evaluating if the perspectives being advanced are rational/liberal, multicultural, or a new and more radical view. Even disciplines such as music are now experiencing questions about scholars who demonstrated racist views in their work and college presidents' roles in desegregating or racializing higher education are being examined.

How a university's responds to faculty who display racist views is a very important signal that can either support or threaten marginalized students and faculty/staff. Faculty can help by anticipating more contentious classrooms, paving the way for more positive exchange. One of the most difficult issues will be the "fragility and inflexibility" of many of those within the hallowed halls of academe. From students who come with delicate sensibilities that are coddled or reinforced to professors who have hair-like triggers that send them off into entitled tirades of unexamined bias, colleges and universities have a responsibility to change their cultures as well as their content.

Positive signs emerged amid the continuing BLM crisis, such as college athletes raising their voices for social justice by threatening to "withhold their labors" and the faculty strike for racial justice, which advocated "brave spaces" to examine racial injustice. Eleven non-Black faculty (most from the University of Colorado in Boulder) issued a "Dear Professor" letter urging faculty to consider how they can incorporate anti-racism into their classrooms. The University of Virginia initiated a "place-based" faculty development program to address racial inequities, a Duke University law professor urged faculty to "Debias Yourself to Debias Your Teaching," and others proposed anti-racist practices to create more inclusive learning. A donor campaign kicked off at Howard University resulting in a $1 million gift that will hopefully increase to $5 million for a Center for Women, Gender, and Global Leadership.

Protestors are challenging names placed on campus buildings or monuments that reify confederate heroes and they are gradually being removed. An exception is at the University of Richmond where double-naming buildings was proposed, a move that Black students characterize as creating a false equivalency between prominent former advocates of slavery and the very slaves they oppressed. Even after their protests, Richmond maintained the posture of double-naming, resulting in a coalition of Black students and other supporters declaring that they will withdraw from participating in University organizations and administrative groups if the policy is not changed by March 25. Others advocate partnerships between racial justice advocates and inter-faith organizations as well as urge decision making that carefully considers students' needs. As demonstrated by the denial of the University of Dallas of a racial justice club, not all institutions are ready to explore questions related to Black students' comfort on campus.

Since students from minority backgrounds incur more debt and have a harder time paying off educational expenses and are presently experiencing greater mental health challenges, guidance on concrete steps that can be taken by faculty and administration to challenge systemic racism is welcome. While it's important to recognize that dismantling systems of marginalization and oppression is in everyone's interest and is everyone's responsibility, the essay by Aomawa Shields captured how becoming tenured helped her to find her voice in confronting racism. Access to a university education is important but it isn't the only concern. The accompanying problem is that success in the most selective fields with greatest return on investment have lower diversity representation.

Campuses are pushing deeper into racial healing, summarized in an AACU report and campuses/systems that require ethnic studies courses of all students may be on the rise. Land grant institutions are being urged to look at the "land grab" from native peoples that established their campuses. The Knight Commission has published recommendations for addressing racism in college sports. Publishers are beginning to provide direction to rectify institutionalized racism to authors that will correct decades of misinformation. The 1619 Project has raised both attention and ire (from the Trump administration) as a way to begin to portray a more accurate history of America's early days. Models of how to progressively demonstrate more commitment in resolving racial injustice offer helpful perspective and a real sense that this critical work can be accomplished, and it is critical that this social justice work be more than lipservice.

One of the challenges to moving forward with anti-racism work is the challenge from conservatives who view these actions as discriminating against them. The student who wore a "White Lives Matter" mask to his student government inauguration at Wichita State University is one kind of protest. Trump's mandate that diversity training in federal agencies cease fed this narrative and some campuses began to change or discontinue their diversity and inclusion programs, although the specifics of Trump's mandate is anything but clear. Trump officials later clarified that training "designed to inform workers, or foster discussion, about pre-conceptions, opinions, or stereotypes that people - regardless of their race or sex - may have regarding people who are different, which could influence a worker's conduct or speech and be perceived by others as offensive" was acceptable. However, when Princeton University's President restated a commitment to continuing its efforts to address systemic racism, the U.S. Department of Education responded that the statement was a "'serious, even shocking' admission, which 'compel[led] the Department to move with all appropriate speed" in their investigation of the University. Trump's mandate persisted even after President Biden rescinded it, leaving some institutions (Boise State) and states (Iowa) in a quandary about what to do.

Higher education has generally stood for freedom of thought and expression, which is core to most liberal arts/education models. However, not all students feel safe engaging with others about controversial topics, which may or may not be a result of the campus environment. Examples of conservative students targeting professors who they view as liberal have increased with the founding of Turning Point USA in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, the lead-off speaker for the 2020 Republic National Convention. Turning Point has done everything from forming the "Professor Watchlist" to advocating that donors cease to support "liberal" colleges. While claiming to keep expression open, Kirk's rhetoric, characteristic if staunch conservatives, emboldens those who seek to intimidate and harass scholars. An example is a professor at Washington & Lee in Virginia whose course gained national attention in conservative media, resulting in hostility and threats toward him.

Steven Mintz' review of Mathew Johnson's Undermining Racial Justice criticized senior administrators in elite liberal arts institutions for perpetuating racism through their actions. "...senior administrators had two overarching goals: To transform the campus into a true multiracial community, while doing nothing that might endanger the campus' elite status or undermine selectivity, merit, and qualifications in admissions. By portraying the university as a victim of a racist and inequitable society, which bore responsibility for the campus' racial disparities, and by creating a host of offices directed by Black staff members, the university's leadership sought to coop and channel pressure for radical change and prevent student activists from disrupting institutional priorities." Such a critique highlights the difficulty of striving for authentic change that goes beyond surface accommodations in racial justice work.

Unfortunately, reactions to protest can be very divisive as is the case when President Shapiro of Northwestern University berated demonstrators who reportedly had attempted to get the University's attention for weeks and then resorted to more violent means. Angered by Shapiro's response, organizers of the protest asserted, "Morty does not have the knowledge, tools, or desire to engage with our demands or to address the needs of Black students. He double down on his anti-Black email, refused to abolish NUPD or to engage with us directly." This specific example reflects what can happen when an institution may not have prepared nor taken seriously the angst that students, faculty, and staff feel around issues of racial injustice.

The BLM movement grew more intense when Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times during an attempted arrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Armed militia entered the picture with a 17 year old using a rifle to kill two demonstrators, adding even greater weight to the original shooting of Blake. This unfolded during the four days of the Republican National Convention, resulting in President Trump and multiple speakers calling for "law and order." Van Jones, former Obama White House staffer, warned about the rhetoric being used by VP Pence and Trump and encouraged greater attention to the three dimensions of the crisis: 1) police brutality toward people of color, 2) high-jacking of peaceful protest by agitators, and 3) white supremacist vigilantes who are emboldened by talk of threats to the "American way of life."

The bottom line is that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is ongoing work and reasons to hope that BLM will last should be lauded and advocated. Evidence indicates that campus diversity, inclusion, and social justice work has an impact, with college athletic teams being one of the most responsive settings. Building capacity and using crises to positively advance this work should be a commitment that higher education leaders make now instead of waiting for discord to emerge.