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.