Monday, December 20, 2021

Social justice and volunteer service

The benefits of volunteer service have been documented for many years. Keira Wilson, formerly of Grinnell College and now at Johns Hopkins, captured five key career preparation outcomes that students can expect to acquire as a result of volunteering: mind-set of self-awareness, agility in solving problems, comfort with ambiguity, a collaborative approach, and active preparedness. While these outcomes are not exclusively related to volunteering, they reflect broader educational outcomes that many employers value.

Career preparation is important but may not be the driving interest for all students. The career versus making a difference motivation depends to a large degree on demographic and life experience differences. First generation students attend less-selective universities and graduate at lower rates, which may contribute to their being more highly motivated by social mobility and justice. Seeking purpose rather than financial gain is the key, which relates to the public versus private benefit of students pursuing a higher education. How then might institutions help students see the connection between social justice and the volunteer service that many pursue?

Forty-five colleges in California launched an engagement initiative for low-income students. Called "CaliforniansForAll College Corps," up to 6,500 students will receive $7,000 living allowance and a $3,000 education award for completing 450 hours to "serve the social and civic health of our state" and as a strategy to address the disproportionate impact of the pandemic in vulnerable communities.

Texas A&M in Qatar - arts and sciences proposal

A proposal to reorganize the arts and sciences programs offered by Texas A&M at its Qatar location stirred questions about faculty involvement in decision making as well as raised questions about the autonomy of the remote campus. Timothy Scott, interim provost in College Station, intervened by postponing changes and by forming a committee "to evaluate the potential impact of the reorganization proposal and recommend changes to the plan and timeline." In addition, the committee will explore "key performance indicators" that are included in the contract between Texas A&M and Qatar Foundation.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also covered the Texas A&M dispute. The greater detail of the Chronicle article included quotes from Francisco Marmolejo, President of Higher Education for Qatar Foundation, and noted U.S. experts in international higher education Philip Altbach and Jason Lane. However, the most salient insights were offered by Jana Kleibert, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute in Germany, who noted that branch programs and sponsoring entities in international higher education think they're on the same page but often are not. That Qatar Foundation asserted performance expectations in the contract negotiations with Texas A&M makes total sense and was a good way for Qatar to clarify what it expects in terms of outcomes. Reinforcing the legitimacy of Qatar's move to include new performance indicators in its contract with Texas A&M, Jason Lane suggested that international partnership models commonly evolve over time.

Having worked at Qatar Foundation and assisted in the very early phases of establishing the graduate programs of Hamad bin Khalifa University, everyone should have assumed from the beginning that expectations and contracts would change over time and that the partnerships should increasingly tip toward the funding entity's expectations. In what world does any entity say to its benefactor, "Take it or leave it. Our approach is so good that it cannot be adapted to local expectations or changing needs."

Friday, December 10, 2021

Learning pedagogy - balancing challenge and support

The idea of pedagogically balancing challenge and support in students' learning dates back to the early work of L. Lee Knefelkamp and other colleagues in the 1970s. The idea, and the research that supported it, was that students' responsiveness to learning differed based on developmental level and that modifying the balance to match readiness would result in improved student learning and development.

Assertions by faculty, one advocating improv as a model for increasing freedom and the other proposing music and its structure, beautifully demonstrate the merit of challenge and support in learning. Improvisation and the free expression associated with it, is often seen as very intimidating. In order to create an environment where students are able to deal with this freedom, focusing on students, using pretend to inform reality, supporting everyone, and assuming that all can be successful, serve as principles to enhance not only the improv experience but learning overall. In the music example, releasing the emotional dimensions of a subject and engaging learners with one another in structured interaction, offer additional principles that could deepen learning. Balancing these variables of support and challenge then offer a scale on which pedagogy can move back and forth to enrich learning and development opportunity.

Although these ideas were proposed separately, their combination brought back a simple, and extremely valuable, lesson in how to improve students' experiences both in and out of class. An integrative balance in educational experiences, focus on improving teaching, and integrating more experiential methods offer the most promising means of reimagining undergraduate learning. One of the distinguishing characteristics of higher education is the extra or cocurriculum, which offers enrichment outside of or in conjunction with classroom learning. In order to make these experiences more broadly available to all students, rather than those who have the privilege of time and money, institutions should create "for-credit learning experiences that incorporate the elements that make extracurriculars educationally purposeful." In addition, replacing the focus on selecting lucrative majors and having high grades with a focus on experience, including part-time jobs and internships, will help students develop real-life skills that will benefit them throughout life.

Attending to student engagement in general, while integrating learning experiences and balancing challenge and support, will not only improve learning but it will also help institutions improve their retention and graduation. The Power of Systems initiative is based on this assumption. Combining these ideas with policy changes related to transfer credits, stopping in and out of full-time learning, can all do a great deal to bring students across the finish line of degree completion. But one of the impediments to progress in improving the quality of student learning is the disconnect between what faculty and administrations see as important. The recent American Council on Education's research recommended "elevating the importance of civic skills and global learning; more intentionally focusing curricula on developing student mind-sets, aptitudes and dispositions; establishing equity goals; and increasing transparency." Advancing these ideas will require deeper conversation among all educators, whether faculty or administration, in order to tackle the inertia of current discipline-based curricula on many campuses.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Germany prioritizing universities

New governmental leadership in Germany is pledging to increase funding for universities. With Germany already leading the EU is economic growth and influence and with a continuing commitment to welcoming immigrant populations, it is securing its future in the decades to come. Paraq Khanna in Move provides voluminous evidence that Germany is in a very good place to benefit from climate changes and population migrations that are underway and will continue. Coupling the commitment to "increase government spending on research and development to 3.5 percent of gross domestic product by 2025, and create a 'digital university' program covering teaching, qualifications, infrastructure and cybersecurity" is an alignment to watch.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

COVID just won't go away

The aching reality that is emerging around the world is that COVID is not going away but, instead, continues to morph in ways the allows its spread in vulnerable as well as prepared communities. Spring breaks in 2022 may have contributed to a rise in the latest COVID variant, resulting in some campuses returning to mask mandates. The persistence of COVID and its variants was addressed by new recommendations from the American College Health Association. The COVID pandemic has become an endemic and campus changes from the last two years will likely morph into long-term adjustments. With the shift to viewing COVID as an endemic to be managed, and changing policies related to its control, those with preconditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus will become more at risk again.

The impact of the initial waves of COVID (previously summarized) caused educators to ponder and respond to a "lost generation" of students whose experience is captured in a collection of essays by first-year students at Oregon State University. Part of addressing current students' needs involved masking and vaccination mandates, which turned into booster mandates but the "ripple effects" of the pandemic went far beyond what these measures will achieve. Faculty and their ability to respond to the pandemic received mixed reviews from students. Some educators have warned that a false narrative, which includes sweeping generalizations that don't reflect the reality of diverse enrollment, should be corrected if institutions are to navigate toward a positive future.

Multiple assessments documented the impact of the COVID pandemic. The disruption wrought by COVID resulted in many high school graduates being less well prepared. The National Survey of Student Engagement found that the impact of moves to virtual and other restrictions to students' engagement was more impactful for first-year students. However, NSSE findings indicated that students have been relatively satisfied with teaching and learning at their institutions during a very difficult time. Steps to take for the pandemic that has become endemic, tips from a counselor about fostering wellness during continued COVID uncertainty, as well as Inside Higher Education's "Back on Track" offered some help as institutions planned to support students struggling to stay afloat during this very difficulty time.

As the Omicron variant gained recognition, higher education institutions were warned to prepare for its inevitable arrival (or recognition) in the U.S.A. Some institutions responded to the spread of Delta and the emergence of Omicron by reinstating previous mandates, moving exams online, and cancelling campus events, while the majority of institutions resumed in-person instruction, utilizing other mitigation strategies instead. Cornell University reported 469 cases and cancelled mid-year graduation and moved finals online. Georgetown, NYU, and Princeton quickly followed Cornell's example, reflecting fears that the Omicron variant could quickly spread through in-person events. Striving to stay open during the Omicron scare led to innovation on the part of some institutions, resulting in their leading their communities to better testing and more effective mitigation.

While institutions switched back and forth in reinstating or dropping previous COVID control strategies, the question of how 2022 would look remained unclear. Institutions with rising COVID rates reinstated mask mandates in the Summer of 2022. This lack of clarity was perhaps behind Inside Higher Education's "Live Updates" which pulled their posts related to COVID management together in one place. As the winter surge of the Omicron variant declined and legal challenges to mask mandates undermined a consistent response, states began to roll back mask mandates and colleges followed their lead.

Unfortunately, politics sidetracked consistent response with Arizona institutions being a prime example - some responding with paused mandates and others maintaining their efforts to prevent COVID spread. Governor DeSantis declared that higher education institutions in Florida should refund 100% of tuition if they go virtual, an obvious assertion of a political view. The newly elected Republican Attorney General of Virginia issued an advisory that state institutions cannot impose vaccination mandates. University of Virginia President, Jim Ryan, responded by saying that the issue of vaccinations is moot because 99% of UVa's students are already vaccinated. Jason Miyares (the Virginia AG) isn't only seeking to restrict state institution's COVID strategies but also has dismissed two institution's legal counsels, because as his spokesperson says, "The attorney general wants the university counsel to return to giving legal advice based on law, and not the philosophy of a university."

The effects of the pandemic impacted niches within the student population in very different ways, with Black and Latino students and students with work and personal life complexities hit more heavily. Students aren't the only people who have been impacted by COVID. The higher education workforce contracted by 4% in fall 2020 and we don't know whether this portion of the workforce has now returned or has declined further. The distribution of decline was very different, depending on type of work, with part-time faculty, administrative, and student support staff suffering the most. Another way that faculty and staff have been impacted is in compensation. Michigan State University faculty recently protested loss of salary which has now been restored with a $1,500 bonus granted from excess revenue that resulted from more robust enrollment. Staff were not included in the bonuses, resulting in the trend of protecting faculty first and foremost.

Numerous lawsuits sought tuition and fee refunds for loss of educational benefit when institutions shifted to online and shut down, or limited access to, campus resources. The decisions vary significantly depending on the circumstances and the jurisdictions involved, with some cases dismissed and others resulting in millions of dollars of reimbursements.

Regardless of the challenges institutions faced, their presidents are confident and believe that adjustments have been made that will promise a positive future. Some question if this confidence is justifiable or warranted but the survey results are likely to have been influenced by the common expectation that leaders are the custodians of hope. Institutions will be best served if leaders can maintain hope while still facing the reality of adversity. Facing adversity is particular important in one of the findings of the presidents' survey - a shocking proportion of them (73%) indicated that race relations were either good or excellent.

Now two years and beyond the COVID pandemic, I'm left wondering what we knew or could have predicted about the devastation that the world has experienced. Unfortunately, higher education has not been seen by the public as helping to address COVID. The U.S.A. government has also wavered and lost credibility as a result of action or inaction. Critics charged Trump from the beginning with ignoring the pandemic plan assembled by the Obama administration (wouldn't you love to know what it recommended?). I've begun to think that no one could have predicted the impact of global inequities in health services, public skepticism about science and research around communicable diseases, or the fact that a virus could so effectively evade control by changing its very composition.

It's truly amazing that as COVID emerged in 2020 that the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) advised that the world's "lack of unity is a bigger threat than the virus." How prophetic of where we are now! And perhaps the battle against COVID should study and propose strategies that could begin to deal with this devastating and systemic contributor to the pain that has reached deeply into so many people's lives around the globe.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Serving refugees through higher education

The evidence has been very clear - immigrants, and specifically refugees, can be some of the most loyal and productive citizens of their new host countries. However, opportunity is key.

A new model has been launched to improve access to higher education for refugees in the U.S.A. "Laura Wagner, project manager for the Initiative on U.S. Education Pathways for Refugee Students at the Presidents Alliance, said the initial goal of the campaign is to spread awareness of the university sponsorship model 'so that communities and current college students as well as higher ed institutions know and understand what university sponsorship is...'"

The Pathways for Refugee Students would include institutions' willingness to "agree to flexible admissions policies for refugee students that take into account their unique situations" and it would also include the need to address individual needs as well as prospective students' families situations. Family concerns are particularly important in order to address gender imbalances in educational opportunity. The focus for refugee students would start small and scale up over time. Funding will be the responsibility of host institutions but could be compiled from; government, philanthropic groups, faith-based organizations, corporations, U.N. agencies, and institutions themselves.

A lesson that will hopefully be incorporated from both positive and negative experiences of international students is that campus culture will also be critical. Faculty, staff, and students will need to learn how to respect the resilience and strength of students who come to campus as refugees in order to avoid stereotyping and stigmatization.


Monday, November 22, 2021

Diversity statements in academic applications

With the pressures of diversity and equity increasing in U.S.A. higher education, many faculty and staff positions now include requests for a diversity statement. While this requirement may seem very natural for those familiar with the struggles for inclusion that have been present for so long, diversity statements may present considerable challenge to international applicants, and perhaps others as well.

Justin McBrayer's opinion, articulated in "Diversity statements are the new faith statements," asserted that diversity statements are so common that they impose compliance. Asking applicants to issue statements could result in further concentration of liberal faculty in U.S.A. higher education, a dynamic that could exacerbate the political tensions on campus and throughout society.

It's important to consider the opposition to diversity statements, with McBrayer's being only one. A "jumping through the hoop" filing of a diversity statement will not produce an authentic commitment to improving diversity. And, if the reason for requesting diversity statements is improperly framed, more seeds of opposition will be planted.

Olga Koutseridi offers four pieces of advice that can help. They include: reflect, leverage cultural competence, create a list of stories, and seek targeted feedback. At the center of Koutseridi's advice is introspection about the strength that international candidates bring to any campus. Not being considered a "minority" in the typical sense of U.S.A. institutions does not mean that a candidate has not experienced the dynamics of discrimination.

Reflecting, searching for stories, and then presenting how one can contribute to inclusive learning should be the goal. And, by the way, readers and reviewers of these statements might pursue a bit of reflection themselves - opening up to the lived experience of international academics in ways that could expand perspective beyond the U.S.A.


Friday, November 19, 2021

Central European University's move to Vienna

After tensions with Hungary's government made the location of Central European University in Budapest increasingly intolerable, it is moving to Vienna. Shalini Randeria, a U.S.-born academic whose research in sociology and social anthropology focused on questions of forced displacement now finds herself navigating the displacement of an entire university, including faculty and students, to a new home.

Vienna and Budapest share significant histories as former Austrian Imperial cities. Both also share histories of persecuting Jews. Central European University's move from Budapest to Vienna, and renovating a former early 20th century progressive psychiatric hospital for its campus, lays open one of the most difficult connections between the two cities - CEU's new campus was used between 1940 and 1945 by Nazis to torture and kill 789 children in their euthanasia program.

George Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and prominent liberal political figure, is the major benefactor of CEU. The relocation of CEU to Vienna, a dislocation from Soros' own birthplace in Hungary, and to a campus first representing progressive ideas that were turned into oppression, provides a canvas for learning about the potential of horror and hope in human existence that is likely not to be rivaled by any other university in the world.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Technology integration

Whether in higher education or practically any for-profit or non-profit sector, technology has transformed much of the way we interact. Some people blame the pandemic for the imposition of technology but it only accelerated what was inevitable. And so, higher education must incorporate technology, even though some evidence has indicated that students' learning has suffered during this time of technology invasion.

Continuous Relationship Management (CRM) is one way that technology may offer not only improved quality for students but savings for institutions. Some institutions are using CRM to integrate disparate student services in a unified system. The advantage of this approach is reaching students who may not otherwise research the resources available to them or walk into an office. These one-stop technologies also offer the opportunity to track students' inquiries and responses, which is key to growing services or programs that are in high demand.

An important element of any technology innovation is the awareness of both internal and external stakeholders. Because hesitancy to return to in-person interactions and new habits of relying on virtual participation have taken hold of faculty, staff, students, and external audiences, moving communications strategies from informing to engaging will likely be a necessity. When it comes to student recruitment, external audiences may be accessing information that many current faculty, staff, and students don't know is available. It is critical that internal constituencies understand the invisible marketing that is underway, often shaping prospective students' expectations.

While improved and greater reliance on technology is underway, campus IT workers are looking outside of higher education for opportunity. The exodus of key staff may present greater vulnerability as institutions try to do their best to integrate and enhance technology presence.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Japan to welcome return of international students

Ending months of waiting, the Japanese government has signaled intent to allow international students to return. However, the actual rate of return is very low with only 87 of 147,000 having been granted reentry by January of 2022. The hope of Japanese institutions is that they will be able to recover approximately 147,000 visiting students after months of indecision, which was likely related to fear of backlash should Japan experience a resurgence of COVID19.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The "Great Resignation"

We had the "Great Recession" and now we have the "Great Resignation," says Anthony Kloyz who is an organizational psychologist. The reason - the COVID lock-down gave everyone more time to reflect on their lives and priorities and the conclusion was, "I don't want to continue living this way." Higher education is only a small part of a world-wide wave of protests against poor working conditions which is at the core of people quitting their jobs. to Some institutions are adjusting expectations for in-person versus virtual work as one way to accommodate workers' changing preferences, a trend that is likely to gain momentum.

The pandemic era has taken its toll on many employment sectors. Leadership turnover among California's community colleges may be indicative of the broader impact on higher education. Student affairs staff are one segment of higher education that appears to have suffered most significantly. A survey from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) found that 84% of student affairs workers said that stress and crises had led to their experiencing burnout Solutions recommended in the repot were "transparent salary information, equitable promotion policies, flexible work options and regular two-way feedback."

Turnover, burnout, and general demoralization are the outcomes of workplace dissatisfaction. Poor work cultures contribute to unhappiness, which is ironic in the face of higher education's centrality to developing human potential. Kevin McClure, who researches working conditions in higher education, commented in an interview with Inside Higher Education that the "most successful organizations in higher education over the course of the next 10 years are the ones that are gonna take workplace conditions and culture seriously and start doing that right now."

Burnout is a subjective determination and "burn-up" may be a more descriptive term that captures being spent and tire. Whether burnout or burn-up, creating environments that reduce its prevalence is likely a collective endeavor. Assuming that well-being, inclusiveness, innovation and entrepreneurship in the workplace are what employees want, the question becomes how do workplaces pivot to this kind of work culture? Further, what should higher education do to embrace and help the reported 40% of employees who were found in the survey to be considering quitting their current jobs within 3-6 months? Exploring options outside higher education isn't necessarily a bad thing. Looking around can sometimes result in realizing things aren't that bad or that things elsewhere aren't that great.

Surveys have found for years that the majority of workers are dissatisfied with their work environments but 40% on the lookout for new work is alarming and could represent a major impediment to productivity as experienced employees walk out the door. Some of the issue is about money, especially among service industry workers, but it's also about the respect and compassion of managers that results in even modest compensation increases to be effective in retaining workers.

Likely more important to attracting and retaining talented employees in higher education, a sense of belonging is one of the easiest things that institutions can do and all their employees can embrace. Indications are that the sense of mattering is particularly important for employees in the 30-45 age bracket as well as those of minoritzed or marginalized backgrounds. Leadership is key in establishing positive educational and work cultures. Hiring the person not the resume, listening, valuing diversity, supervisory support, professional development, and building the team are all part of the mix by which leadership can make a difference in cultivating positive work environments.

While assistance in moving out of higher education is becoming a new market in itself, others are attempting to address campus problems that result in attrition. Perhaps the answer is in a partnership between higher education and employers at the local level, offering career coaching, upgrading skills, and consulting with organizations about how to change their cultures. Maybe higher education should even take a look at itself, exploring what about its workers' complaints expose fundamental dissatisfaction with unrealistic expectations and work environments that are dehumanizing? To be sure - someone had best get to work on solutions and the clock is ticking...

Friday, October 29, 2021

Higher education funding in Biden's "Build Back Better"

Predictions were that the long-anticipated proposal to "Build Back Better" would result in higher education funding shrinking from what many hoped. The implications of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 signed by President Biden reflected a hard fought battle that includes several significant take-aways.

The most visible features of BBB include; increasing Pell Grants, supporting HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs) enroll about the same name of Black students as HBCUs and require attention, although they have not received the same level of support.

College retention and completion grants included in the funding proposal are considered revolutionary and could lead to a new era of focus on not only getting underserved students in the door but out the door and into lucrative workforces. Focusing on undeserved students is especially important in the face of continued decline in enrollments, most dramatically reflected in minority-serving institutions, with early common application figures for 2022 showing a reversal of the decline. While some education leaders bemoan the reduction of scope of higher education funding, President Biden remarked, "No one got everything they wanted, including me, but that's what compromise is. That's consensus. And that's what I ran on."

The Biden administration's attention to higher education is warranted at a time when revolutionary forces are underway. Steve Mintz summarized the factors driving the revolution and responses education leaders might consider. Included among Mintz' factors of revolution is the question of whether or not college is for everyone, especially in the face of emerging alternative approaches that "rebalance our goals by allocating a far larger share of public resources toward non-college pathways" that are more directly focused on skills development and career preparation. Reinforcing the importance of broad institutional commitment, a new quality assurance group, the Workforce Talent Educators Association, is poised to recognize, and perhaps even accredit, institutions for their effectiveness in preparing students for work.

With 65% (and continuing to grow) of the COVID relief funds designated for students having been spent, U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Kvaal reported significant impact for individual students and institutions. Kvaal responded to skeptical legislators that proper oversight to guarantee proper use of funds is in place. Students with the greatest financial need are important because they are among the young adults who will need to be upskilled for 21st century work opportunity. Continuing that focus, the BBB funding includes "Dreamers" (DACA) continuing to receive help. Lobbying is still underway to offer help to the broad number of undocumented students in the U.S.A.

Student loan debt has long been known to restrict young adults acquisition of the markers of adulthood - cars, homes, and independence. Debate has continued about whether or not debt relief is warranted but as of May 2022, it appeared that the U.S.A. Department of Education was poised to forgive debt for at least the proportion of students with the heaviest debt. Biden was considering caps to both income and total amount of loan forgiveness for those qualifying for debt reduction. The caveat is that loan forgiveness driven by Democrats could result in major political disruption. Many among conservatives hold higher education in low regard and see loan forgiveness as a maneuver to garner favor among young voters.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Are universities indispensable to democracy?

The answer to the question of universities' relationship to the preservation of democracy was answered very directly by the President of Johns Hopkins, Ron Daniels, in an interview about his book, What Universities Owe Democracy. He said:

...this is a perilous moment for democracy. And it is interesting that if one looks back over the years in the United States, whenever there has been a sense that democracy has been in peril -- you know, whether it was during the Civil War, or the two world wars -- the universities, with support from government, have really understood their role as bulwark institutions of democracy. And I fear in this moment, as much as we do to support democracy, there is an opportunity here to do more. And doing more with some urgency is really essential right now. We're not bystanders. We are indispensable institutions to democracy flourishing.

In his interview, Daniels highlighted the importance of creating more inclusive institutions, reincorporating conservative voices into faculty ranks, and abandoning legacy admissions at elite universities. Reinforcing Daniels' core assertion that more should be done, William Tierney believes that higher education is shirking its responsibility to challenge the emergence of fascism and appealed for action to protect voting rights (to which Matt Reed adds the relevance of rule of law and standing) as a critical area of concern. He proposed that "Trustees can set the tone. Presidents can employ the bully pulpit to make the case for fact-based decision making and the import of democracy. Faculty members can engage in respectful, difficult dialogues to model how tough topics might be discussed. Henry Reichman warns that faculty need to more deeply understand what academic freedom is and remain diligent in protecting it. Students can come to grips with the responsibility they have as activist citizens in a democracy."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, 2022, drew the world's attention to the tension between democratic and authoritarian states. The President of the Lumina Foundation referenced this revival of military action to impose political order as a wake-up call in relation to the responsibility to expand access and foster social progress through higher education.

While the role of universities in supporting democratic practices is perceived as increasing in importance, there are troubling indications that political interventions are seeking to undermine it. The move to keep critical theory out of K-12 is evident in the 38 higher education focused legislative bills now being considered at the state level. These legislative actions are essentially "gag orders" and "would have a disastrous effect on the tenets of free inquiry, free expression and critical thinking."

Carol Geary Schneider, former President of the American Council on Education, called all of higher education, but particularly those serving previously underserved populations, to revisit the guidance of the 1947 Truman Commission, which advocated:

  • Education for a fuller realization of democracy
  • Education directly and explicitly for international understanding and cooperation
  • Education for the application of creative imagination and trained intelligence
In a time where democratic processes are being challenged, Schneider called for a return to making civic education central in all students' experiences, not just an elective or for students of select backgrounds. Hong Kong Baptist University's focus on citizenship and social responsibility is a fascinating example of infusion of key learning outcomes across students' experiences. Complementing Schneider's perspective, the President of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, Lynn Pasquerella, explored public health, questions of life and death, issues of campus controversy, and rebuilding public trust in her book, We Value: Public Health, Social Justice and Educating for Democracy.

One of the greatest challenges of higher education is cultivating democratic practice and participation is creating environments where all voices are welcome. Cambridge University proposed a "mutual respect" policy as a way to support all voices but faculty quickly criticized the approach. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of students who feel that their campus climate stifles free expression and don't feel free to speak out. Law student disruption of speakers at Yale and UC Hastings feed into the view that conservative ideas are silenced. In an age where increased sensitivity to language and history is on so many educators' minds, and where accusations of "cancel culture" are used to defend offensive acts, holding the line on open expression is difficult. Yale's determination that protester's behavior was "unacceptable" but fell short of conduct warranting disciplinary offense won't satisfy conservatives' accusation of stifling their free speech but it does protect the speech of those who felt it was their free speech right to protest.

Free speech could be imperiled if institutions are unsuccessful in framing the importance of, and civil approaches to, free expression which includes recognizing some claims as no more than attempts to impose intellectual conformity. MIT has been dealing with the repercussions of cancelling Dorian Abbot's lecture. Abbot, a University of Chicago scholar, has openly criticized  and drawn equivalency between "academe's diversity 'regime' to Nazism." Princeton subsequently scheduled Abbot's lecture on its campus. Alumni groups are now growing in number as an alliance to take on "cancel culture," a move that asserts a view that alumni should not only be a source of donations but should help preserve the qualities of the institutions that nurtured them in their academic study.

A critical issue embedded in the question of advancing democracy is how to assess the difference between legitimate intellectual criticism versus canceling others' views and presence. Discourse that involves sharp and direct communication is essential to advancing knowledge and mischaracterizing it as "cancel culture" is a very significant danger to the academy. Essentially, balancing civility with free speech requires "the broadest possible tolerance... while also attending to the potentially harmful effects of accusatory or hate speech." Free speech for all should also be distinguished from academic freedom that faculty are assumed to have. Academic freedom for faculty has specific parameters related to their intellectual expertise and protections related to public, rather than private, issues. Some educators warn that academic leaders' pronouncements may compromise their stance as advocates for free speech.

Students who are conservative report greater reticence about speaking out on campus. Those students who are reluctant to share their candid views fear their peers' criticism outside of class. Academic discourse needs to be challenging and the complaints of self-censorship and cancel culture may actually cross the line to a more restrictive culture. Campus administrators can address the rise of incivility on campus by reminding everyone on campus of the commonly accepted classroom norms that support discourse. Effort should also be undertaken to fuse the expectations of in and out-of-class conduct, especially in the face of an "increasingly hostile and toxic work environment" that results from escalating tensions between staff and students over pandemic and other policy directives.

Accusations of cancel culture, fostering campus environments that are inclusive of diverse perspectives, and campus speech are three tensions that must be managed by higher education leaders. Survey results found that most university presidents believe that race relations are either good or excellent on their campuses, demonstrating surprising naiveté about campus discourse. Managing Political Tensions, a collection of articles offered by Inside Higher Education, promotes deescalating tensions and cultivating the cognitive tools in students to resist manipulation. The Bipartisan Policy Committee's Campus Free Expression: A New Roadmap "seeks to bridge the campus speech divide, arguing that talking through contentious issues is a skill set that students can and should be taught - and also that academic freedom and inclusion complement each other instead of conflict" as described in the Inside Higher Education announcement about its release.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Free speech abroad?

U.S.A. Students who study abroad may believe that they take the same rights and privileges they experienced at their home institution with them when they travel. A report compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) calls for institutions to be more clear that, when studying abroad, U.S.A. students must be aware of, and follow, the laws of the jurisdiction where they are studying.

The laws of countries where students go vary widely and the details may be difficult to discern, especially when it comes to freedom of speech and dissent. Sarah McLaughlin, director of targeted advocacy for FIRE, said "universities should be doing a little more of the heavy lifting to make sure their students understand what speech issues abroad mean for them specifically." Part of the heavy lifting needs to include the U.S.A. home institutions' policies related to what will happen should a study abroad student violate its policies. Examples of activities that students may assume they can do that could be interpreted as political activism include; wearing pro-LGBTQ+ clothing or pins, writing articles on foreign policy, or tweeting criticism of a host country's government.

One reason for needing clearer statements of institutional policy is that, in the absence of specific declarations, students may unnecessarily self-censor. Fully engaging in the study abroad experience could include service learning or community involvement that would be helpful but, lacking specific direction, students could avoid or not get all the benefit of such experiences.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Generational tension in higher education

Recognition of generational change is usually spurred by key catalytic events that end up defining the experience of those in a new generation. The post WWII "baby boomers" were influenced by the exodus from a world war coupled with a seismic population explosion, growth of a middle class, and a move to the suburbs. The current Millennial Generation has been defined by 9-11, being the first digital natives, and uncertainty in career prospects when they graduated from college. Such distinctions by roughly 20 year increments are challenged as lacking relevance and in some cases contributing to simplistic thinking.

The current generation of college students, born in the early 2000s, were grade schoolers during the trauma of a near depression that exposed business, church, and government corruption. They weren't quite ready to vote in 2016 when a populist demagogue captured the White House but in 2020 they helped defeat him for a second term. And, they were closed down by a pandemic at a time when their youthful energies would typically have been unleashed. All of these potentially impact what college students expect of their teachers.

The 1960s brought a number of very significant changes to U.S. higher education, creating a mix of "complex and contradictory legacies" as Steve Mintz wrote. Mintz previously looked at names and how they have changed in the current generation to discern the more important differences that define this generation. As Karl Mannheim described in 1928 in the Problem of Generations, the character of age cohorts is "defined by its values, aesthetics, and sensibility in opposition to its elders." In a follow-up article, Mintz explored an additional difference that characterizes many of the current generation of students - their longer and more complicated journey to adulthood. The passage to adulthood also includes class differences that must be recognized, with privileged students' lives still resembling the intriguing stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald and less privileged looking more like the lives of the Williams sisters in the recently released movie, King Richard.

Herein lies the challenge of an aging professoriate facing students of the new generation - baby boomers, with some Millennials and Generation X mixed in, relating to a new generation which has yet to secure a predictable name. Mintz recommends that in these times of potential generation tension that academics take the time to cultivate ways of relating that include; respect, understanding, support, flexibility, and open mindedness. A core issue in bridging generational tensions is students' sense of "being seen" or believing that institutional staff understand them. Nearly two-thirds of students report the most direct connection with faculty, with somewhat fewer believing they are acknowledged by student affairs and other administrators. Which students are "seen" differs by demographic and socio-economic background. Deeper analysis of the Student Voice data was used to formulate 10 ways to strengthen connections with students.

Mintz quoting Randolph Bourne, "Youth puts the remorseless questions to everything that is old and established... (and) turns instinctively to overthrow them and build in their place the things with which its visions teem." The times they are a-changing... and it scares many of the elders. But why should they fear when the evidence is that to thrive we must be reborn to a new age with new challenges and opportunities? That's why this generation should be called the Resilients or Passionates.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Strong first impressions

University of Maryland President, Daryll Pines, and a colleague who is a faculty member in higher education, created what they believe is essential as part of welcoming new students, faculty, and staff to campus. The TerrapinStrong initiative is designed to build community and pride of membership among new campus members. The focus is particularly on shaping first impressions that strengthen campus values related to identity and inclusion that "creates a launchpad from which Terps can tackle grand challenges, such as racial justice, climate change and civic engagement."

Although orientation programs on college and university campuses have purposefully cultivated community and pride for decades, what may be slightly different about TerrapinStrong is the focus on outcome. Not only are community and inclusion good for encouraging connections and retention, they are the building blocks of healthy community that allow all members to do their best work.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

McKinsey commits to youth capacity building in MENA region

Projecting that by 2040 one out of every six youth will live in the Middle East, McKinsey & Co. has committed to a capacity building initiative. The McKinsey strategy, titled Giving back in 2020, proposes a multi-pronged approach including; empower leadership, upskill the workforce, serve communities, and aid the refugee crisis. The Forward declares "We are committed to doing all we can to help youth in this region get opportunities they deserve to pursue their dreams."

The McKinsey initiative isn't only about building capacity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan but worldwide. If youth in these regions don't have hope and the accompanying support to fulfill their promise, the entire world will suffer.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Hrabowski leaves legacy of "you can be the best"

Freeman Hrabowski is stepping down as President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, after 30 years. There's not much question that he is one of the most popular presidents in contemporary U.S.A. higher education but that's not the most important part of his legacy. The message he sought to convey and the legacy he will leave is that you can be the best. This is an individual message to students, faculty, and staff and an organizational message. Individually or collectively, you don't have to be the richest or most prestigious in order to be accomplished.

Regardless of institutional prestige, retention, not just recruitment, has to be emphasized in order for all students to succeed. The PLOS study indicates that "failed retention contributes to mis-representation across academia and that the stages responsible for the largest disparities differ by race and ethnicity."

In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Hrabowski commented, "What we are best known for is the fact that we lead the country in producing African Americans who go on to get science Ph.D.s and M.D. Ph.D.s - we are No. 1 in the nation. What's really great, though, is that we produce large numbers of students of all races who go on to grad school, in the humanities and sciences." The sad reality of elitism in higher education is that institutions such as UMBC have to "counter the notion that you see in the media: that anybody who is wealthy enough and privileged enough will tend to go to certain universities. And if you didn't -- particularly in certain parts of the country -- people are like, 'Oh, I'm sorry.'"

Hrabowski retires in June 2022, with accolades from near and far. His leadership of UMBC for 30 years was transformative for the institution and a model for broader higher education. Why can't the lessons applied at UMC not help other institutions learn how to be both more inclusive and reflected the highest possible quality?

Somewhat aligned, but in other ways flawed, a new partnership funded by Strada Education Network will support 28 HBCUs in promoting career readiness and leadership development. The partnership, involving $25 million for scholarships, is portrayed as a long-game strategy to enhance student economic mobility. HBCUs that participate will select three students per year, for 12 each once fully operational, who will receive scholarship and more intentional cultivation related to career and leadership. While testing a model on a small, elite, number may be necessary to learn how to scale the project to larger numbers, the label "Strada Scholar" sends a potentially problematic message that may not fall far from the flawed philosophy of the "talented 10th." Strada and the partnering HBCUs will need to pay close attention to this  potential unintended consequence.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Higher education's legacy of colonialism

As various academic disciplines continue to examine their histories and the bias that exists in what they advance in teaching and scholarship, the institution of higher education, itself, must be examined. That appears to be the premise of Professor Leigh Patel in No study without struggle. Simply reading the review by Scott Jaschik caused me to pause. As Patel is quoted in this interview, "Reckoning with unsavory histories that continue to rumble in the present isn't easy, but it's far more tenable than selling higher education as an experience, wallpapering publicly available histories of how wealth and property (were accumulated) since the start."

Reckoning includes several key points for higher education to begin to correct its past. Steve Mintz recommends; publicly acknowledge history, address wrong doings, validate and affirm the importance of equity, rectify the harm that has been done, and look forward.

Serving the underserved is a frequent call for action in higher education. And, access and success for students cannot be addressed without honesty and a broad discussion among educators. Tuition waivers for Native American students is one example of acknowledging and addressing the impact of colonization in the U.S.A. Addressing a conference of higher education executives on policy questions, Shaun Harper said, "'Avoidance is the primary way we deal with the issues of race' in many workplaces and other settings,... and it is often left to employees of color to raise the issues."

The depth of systemic racism is addressed in Adam Harris' book, The State Must Provide. The point made in this book is that HBCUs have been underfunded and under supported from the beginning. Minority serving institutions had fewer resources in the beginning and have not added to their resources over the years. Harris proposes that wealthy institutions now partner with HBCUs to begin to counterbalance the privilege they have unfairly gained.

Unfortunately, the unevenness of support for various types of institutions isn't only long-standing but was accelerated as public support for higher education declined from the mid-20th century. Any hope that improved educational access will create a more even playing field for all talented young people is thwarted by the fact that elite institutions have largely been responsible for perpetuating social and economic hierarchy and the differences in how they serve students is dramatically different. Evan Mandery's Poison Ivy: How Elite Colleges Divide Us asserts the same critique. A class action suit filed against 16 private schools alleges that they are "gatekeepers to the American Dream" and that "Defendants' misconduct is therefore particularly egregious because it has narrowed a critical pathway to upward mobility."

Realizing the impact of elite recruitment strategies, the National Education Equity Lab initiated partnerships with elite institutions to more effectively reach underserved populations. Individual institutions such as Amherst College have begun to do their part by eliminating legacy admissions to reverse the advantage held by applicants with a family connection. Citing its history of racial injustice, Yale University's Divinity School designated a portion of its endowment to provide "social justice" scholarships. Harvard established a $100 million fund to redress its ties slavery. The financial advantage of endowment portfolios among elite institutions calls for accountability through innovation and opening access to prospective students of lesser economic means.

The idea of selectivity in admissions and financial aid requires examination and a dramatic shift in practice away from a zero-sum competition in enrolling a select and presumably gifted few. Touting selective admission relies on a reputational model that results in institutions being highly sought after, which then also translates to perceptual hierarchies of who belongs once students are enrolled. Having been associated with institutions that claimed high selectivity, the examples of how students of "superior intellectual ability" were treated are numerous. And, the fact that these students were superior only be virtue of the opportunities they received was abundantly clear.

The topic of colonialism in the legacy of the U.S.A. is relevant to international educators for at least three reasons.

  • Much of the literature studied in higher education throughout the world originated from Western (i.e. U.S.A. and European) institutions.
  • Branch campuses/programs are particularly likely to carry Western ideas into other cultural/national settings.
  • Colonialism was perpetrated by Western countries but vestiges of colonialism are everywhere and often embedded in policy or narrative that sustains the perspective of the original colonizers.

Recognizing the imbalances of North and South collaboration in academia is an essential place to start if the goal is decolonization. Collaboration (meaning co-labor) is at the center of the African Urbanism Humanities Lab proposal to end "hit and run" scholarship that benefits the North while exploiting the South. Lab members suggest that "Collaboration has the capacity to change the questions people ask and the answers they come to. It has the power to change the ways in which research is read and infused into the world. And it can serve as a vital tool for social mobility and social change."

A fascinating example of widely read literature that reinforces the necessity of critical examination is Mark Twain. Twain's work, ranging from Huckleberry Finn to Pudd'nhead Wilson, represent both reinforcement and a challenge to notions of race of his time. Colonialist expansion across the U.S.A. exploited race in order to achieve its objective and Twain was early to recognize it.

A central part of the problem of undoing the legacy of colonialism in Western thought and literature is what gets published as science. A call to action for social justice to be more purposefully recognized and incorporated in academic publishing could help to rectify the imbalance but central to achieving it is institutions' nurturing BIPOC faculty. However, correcting generations of scientific inquiry and literature is a substantial challenge. The process of reconsidering history, and especially the ebb and flow of human emancipation and liberation, includes placing U.S.A. history in the broader context of world history.

With debate raging about critical race theory and its role in the academy, it's obvious that someone's privileged assumptions have been challenged. Like any personally held psychological trick we play with ourselves, it's often the nagging thought in the back of our minds that is most troubling. The nagging question in my mind is how have I, and other well-meaning colleagues over time, perpetuated a colonialist view that has perpetuated the inequities with which we continue to struggle so deeply.