Monday, May 31, 2021
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
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
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
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.