Monday, May 31, 2021

Study abroad grapples with its future

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

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

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

UNC Chapel Hill first denies, then offers, tenure to "1619" journalist

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize journalist and a creator of the NYT 1619 project, was denied tenure by the Board of Trustees of UNC Chapel Hill. Proposed and approved by faculty vote, the Board chose to offer her only a term contract with the opportunity to apply for tenure in 5 years. As a result of fallout from the decision, the Board of Trustees scheduled a meeting for June 30, 2021, to vote again and approved tenure for Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones first postponed her move to UNC and then finally rejected it, instead taking a position at Howard University. UNC missed both quality and reputational opportunity and Howard University is the better for it, having now combined Hannah-Jones appoint with that of fellow journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates.

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

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

Subsequent denial by the Board of Trustees of Eric Muller, another prominent journalist, to its UNC Press Board threw the university more deeply into controversy. Muller had previously criticized the Board of Trustees over considerations related to removal of "Silent Sam," a sculpture celebrating the Confederacy era.

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Investing in the future through education - Gates Foundation

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

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

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

It's abundantly clear that the United States has not created the equitable democracy that offers opportunity to all regardless of background. Abandoning the unsubstantiated assumption of competitive capitalism, without educational opportunity and talent development, appears to be a way forward for all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status. Advocating for change could, or should, be part of the economic recovery planning that the Biden administration has launched. John Macintosh asserted that the U.S. higher education system, with 125 years of decentralization, allows only incremental change, when "steps to better serve students by exploring things like shared services and infrastructure, joint academic offerings, even mergers or preplanned, well-funded teach-outs" are actually required.

Harper, Culver, & Keazar propose that the process of change and creating more equitable and justice-focused processes of design must be cultivated if higher education institutions are to make progress. The idea is to apply design thinking to problems that colleges and universities face, striving to identify power differentials and inequities that impair the process of decision making that are used while the policies and systems are being critically examined.

Friday, May 7, 2021

European science cooperation

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

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

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Students' views on racial justice

The Student Voice survey (conducted by Inside Higher Education) provides important guidance to educators about students' views of campus climate and action regarding racial justice. With 65% of all students either agreeing or strongly agreeing that higher education has a role to play in addressing racial justice and equality, educators have a clear mandate. This mandate is complicated by the fact that when the data is segregated by political inclination, 63% of students who lean Democratic and only 6% of those who lean Republican strongly agree with the mandate.

The survey (including 1,100 white and 800 students of color) found that most students either don't have a clear perception about what their institutions did to address racial issues or were somewhat disappointed. In particularly, students found the responses to police killing George Floyd "underwhelming." A common perspective was that there are lots of statements of sympathy and understanding but far fewer real actions to bring about change. Student activists can make a real difference in advocating racial justice and some institutions stand out in their effectiveness, demonstrating  that change is essentially a matter of institutional will.

Increased Fall 2021 enrollment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) perhaps reflected Black students' view of campus climate. The increases could be the result of a variety of factors but one likely cause is that Black students see HBCUs as more responsive to their needs and more likely to address racial justice questions than predominantly White colleges and universities.

More Asian American students are now joining fellow Black students in recognizing and voicing concerns about the discrimination and aggressions they face. Interestingly enough, Asian American students were also the most likely to have participated in institutionally-sponsored racial justice initiatives. Sometimes sponsored by institutions and at other times just part of campus life, students indicate that race comes up more often as a topic of discussion. Nathan Reddy, a 2019 Cornell graduate, reinforced the importance of discussions about race, noting that they have raised consciousness, causing people to be "wary of committing microagressions, afraid of insulting someone because of their race." These discussions have created a safer space for exploration of race but one sometimes encumbered by the "need to express all the 'right' thoughts." Reddy called for "more openness to make mistakes and make candid statements."

Jeffrey Herbst, President of American Jewish University in Los Angeles, warned of the threat of rising anti-semitism on campuses in the wake of the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas. He reports that anti-semitism doubled since May and that higher education institutions need to get out in front of what could be rising activism and another polarizing issue on campus.

Student views, are generally support social justice work, need to be understood and factored into clarifying the role for higher education in addressing racial justice as more campuses reopen in fall of 2021 with more in-person encounters. Clarity about the purpose and actions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion will be central to moving forward deliberately and effectively. Of immediate note is the there is a Black faculty have had a lukewarm response to campus Juneteenth programs and observances, skeptical that window-dressing rather than substance may be the focus.

Some educators assert that nothing short of decolonizing the academy must be undertaken, a process that would include 1) revamping the curriculum, 2) reimagining our syllabi, 3) reimagining classroom dynamics, 4) rethinking our pedagogies, and 5) bringing all students to mastery.