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 elections. Many higher education institutions were very effective in getting the student vote out, which resulted in 66% of students voting in 2020, the broadest participation on record.

Leading up to 2020, 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. Adjunct faculty have faced insecurity and poor salaries during the pandemic, which is ironic in the face of students seeing no difference between them and tenured or tenure-track faculty.

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.