administrators

Faculty Group Sues UT-Brownsville, Texas Southmost

The Texas Faculty Association is suing the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College in federal court on behalf of three tenured professors who say they were fired for being too old, after the two institutions ended a 20-year-old joint operating agreement. Juan Antonio Gonzalez, a professor of modern languages; Dorothy Boven, an assistant professor of English; and Karen Fuss-Sommer, an instructor of nursing, all were granted tenure at Texas Southmost prior to the merger of the college and university in 1992 but had their tenure revoked following their split in 2012.

The lawsuit alleges that was due to an administrative charge that prioritized the retention of non-tenure-track faculty members with master’s degrees over tenured faculty without master’s degrees during downsizing related to the split. But the professors, all over 40, say their positions weren’t even eliminated, and that they were replaced with younger professors without due process.

"Tenure is a property right, and it is not to be taken without good cause or due process, and these individuals were denied both,” said Mary Aldridge Dean, executive director the Texas Faculty Association, affiliated with the National Education Association, in a news release. Some 80 tenure-line and non-tenure-track faculty lost their jobs following the institutions' split.

A spokeswoman from Brownsville said the university does not comment on pending litigation. Texas Southmost did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Concordia Fires Safety Chief After Arrest for Indecency

The public safety director at Illinois's Concordia University has been fired after his arrest for allegedly masturbating in a colleague's office, The Chicago Tribune reported. A female employee told police that she spotted Timothy Margis adjusting his belt while leaving her office, and then discovered semen in one of her shoes. Officers arrested him at his home for misdemeanor public indecency and disorderly conduct, and Concordia suspended and then fired him, the newspaper reported.

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Philander Smith President Out After 18 Months

Johnny Moore resigned Thursday as president of Philander Smith College after just 18 months, the university said in an emailed statement. Moore became president of the Arkansas historically black institution in July 2012, succeeding Walter Kimbrough, who became Dillard University's president. Philander Smith officials did not offer any explanation for the unusually short tenure, saying only that Moore was leaving to pursue other opportunities.

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Harvard Receives $150 Million Gift

Harvard University has received a $150 million gift from an alumnus, Kenneth Griffin. Most of the funds will support undergraduate financial aid.

 

Why Won't Oklahoma Return Painting Looted by Nazis?

Some state legislator are calling for the University of Oklahoma to return a painting that was looted by the Nazis to the Jewish family that once owned it, The Oklahoman reported. Family members have sued the university, but Oklahoma has said it will not return the painting unless ordered to do so by a court. There is no dispute that the Nazis looted the painting from the family, but the university cites a 1953 court ruling in Switzerland that the family waited too long to claim the painting. “The university does not want to keep any items which it does not legitimately own,” said David Boren, president of the university. “However, the challenge to the university, as the current custodian of the painting, is to avoid setting a bad precedent that the university will automatically give away other people’s gifts to us to anyone who claims them.”

But Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Oklahoma City, said, "I think it’s certainly of concern within the Jewish community that a painting that was plundered under the Nazis was not returned to its rightful owner."

The painting is "Shepherdess Bringing in Sheep," by Camille Pissarro, currently part of the collection of the university's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

 

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Art College to Become Part of George Washington U.

The Corcoran College of Art + Design would become part of George Washington University under a plan announced Wednesday. The college and the Corcoran Gallery of Art have struggled financially for some time, and the plan would also involve the National Gallery of Art taking control of the art museum. The announcement of the plan noted that details remain to be worked out. The new plan replaces one announced in April under which the Corcoran would have created an affiliation with the University of Maryland at College Park.

 

Layoffs at Marquette

Marquette University announced Wednesday that 25 non-faculty employees are being told that their jobs are being eliminated, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. With other open positions not being replaced, the total number of jobs at the university is expected to drop by 105. University officials said that they were trying to minimize spending, and to minimize tuition increases.

 

Essay says 'undermatching' is part of a much broader problem than current policy debate suggests

As Inside Higher Ed has observed, few issues have risen to national attention as quickly as “undermatching,” the problem of high-achieving low-income students choosing to attend non-selective colleges.

Now, in the study by Bastedo and Flaster summarized by Inside Higher Ed,  we are beginning to see the first critiques of the methodology and assumptions underlying the original undermatching studies. In response, the earlier researchers argue that the quality of this new work is low.  Other scholars defend the new critics and suggest that undermatching is indeed “overrated,” because it looks at only a small minority of low-income students -- the smartest and luckiest ones.

Into this mix I’d like to insert another perspective, one that raises additional concerns about the concept of undermatching as currently defined and studied, and at the same time argues that the problem is more, not less, pervasive and important than we have yet understood. 

Matching, more broadly and deeply defined, means thinking from the beginning, at school and at home, about finding a good fit between students' ongoing educational opportunities and their emerging abilities and interests. Matching should not be a one-time idea that we introduce at the 11th hour, when it's suddenly time to choose a college. It should be a guiding principle and a fundamental goal of educational theory and practice from preschool forward.

As we consider this kind of matching, which is far more complicated, I'd also like to propose that we avoid the typical either/or approach that has plagued educational theorizing and policy-making. In particular, I submit that helping “a very small number” of top low-income students is not a bad thing, nor does it require us to divert all our attention and resources away from the “vast majority.”

What happens to low-income, high-achieving students who beat the odds, often with the help of highly effective interventions, is important to everyone. And matching, as I understand the concept, improves learning opportunities and outcomes for all students: It expands our capacity and our responsibility as educators not only to “personalize” education -- to know each student very well, as a whole person and as an individual -- but also to help all students know themselves.

On the academic side, matching each student's abilities and interests to the appropriate level and type of challenge is not a new idea. Good teachers have always done it.

When I was in first grade, already reading at an advanced level and bored by addition and subtraction, I missed 40-plus school days because I cried so often, complained of stomach aches, and threw up on the bus. In second grade, my attendance improved dramatically when my teacher, who understood my problem, let me finish my worksheets and read. My mother dropped out of high school and my father started full-time work at 17, but from middle school on, I was “tracked,” matched to curriculum, activities, peers, and expectations all designed to help me choose the most rigorous college that would have me.

My personal experience is supported by a solid body of research, work educators, families, and policy makers may not know today. Decades ago, University of Washington psychologists Halbert and Nancy Robinson developed the notion of “optimal match.” Julian Stanley founded the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth on this idea that capacity and passion for learning flourish when students pursue education at the pace of their intellectual abilities instead of their chronological age. In the 1990’s, the authors of Talented Teenagers: The Roots of Success and Failure collected evidence showing how and why “the close, well-paced match between task complexities and individual skills” helps students identified as talented in ninth grade sustain their abilities in later years. 

Despite the evidence and experience supporting matching as an educational principle, we have recently forgotten what is good about this idea in the name of inclusion. The rise of inclusion was fueled in part by reasonable concerns about the social inequities of tracking and labeling students as “gifted” or not. We should not set these worries aside. Some definitions of gifted and talented children imply a fixed notion of intelligence, and we know that this mindset stifles achievement, just as we know that different children and different abilities may develop at varying rates. And challenge for its own sake is unproductive, as we see in the recent results of pushing underprepared students into Advanced Placement classes and pretending that we are giving them greater opportunities. Instead, we have given some of the poorest kids yet another opportunity to fail and give up on themselves.

Despite the legitimate concerns about tracking and labeling and the rhetorically persuasive benefits of inclusion, the evidence is clear that we've too often defined and pursued inclusion in ways that ignore advanced learners and fail to identify and develop potential talents among rich and poor alike. No evidence can be found to show inclusion has been good for high-potential students, especially the poor ones. The gifted and talented programs that still exist in many states are too often underfunded, controversial, and poorly designed. Academically advanced learners are routinely taught by teachers with no special training in a field that is not even studied in the top schools of education.

Parents who recognize their children have unmet needs for appropriate challenge are among the most desperate people I talk to today. Some find their way to supplemental programs as a lifeline. Those with resources may choose specialized private schools for talented children, and some may choose home schooling. These options are rarely viable for poor families. 

There is another dimension to the matching problem, one that goes beyond what schools and educators can address. The more we know about the role non-cognitive abilities (like interest and motivation and self-esteem and resilience) play in realizing potential, the more we must consider what's going on outside the classroom.  As a first-generation African-American college student on full scholarship once said to me during a conversation about how we could improve our campus culture to promote inclusion, “The administration and faculty can only do so much. This is home stuff.”

At the recent White House Summit on education -- where undermatching was a major topic of discussion yet appeared in few written plans for increasing opportunity submitted by colleges and other institutions attending -- President Obama indirectly alluded to home stuff by noting that his daughters and their Sidwell Friends classmates received college advice starting in seventh grade. I suspect that few of these students need much advice about college match by middle school. Most have grown up in a world where it’s natural to assume a good education is a birthright, that it’s their responsibility to strive to attend a highly selective college, and that their parents will help them get into the best college they can.

As I have already argued, it's not good enough to wait until the end of high school to tell poor students to start thinking about matching ability and challenge, when many of their more well-resourced peers have been implicitly and explicitly taught, at school and at home, that this is the secret to success.  We can't expect that earlier and better matching, in and of itself, will solve all the problems of social and economic inequality. But if we want to improve the likelihood that all students benefit from practices aimed at this goal, what we must do is simple and clear.    

At the next White House Summit, and in future studies of college-matching patterns, we should bring college leaders and others focused on improving college access to the table with teachers, parents, administrators, and educators who know and care about pre-K-12 education and talent development.

Our policy and research agenda should include proposing, discussing, carrying out and evaluating plans to ensure school and home recognize as early as possible the need for  a close, appropriate, productive match between individual skills and the level of difficulty, challenge, and risk each child is encouraged and enabled to pursue. 

These plans must include putting resources into asking and answering many tough questions, like how do we identify potential academic talent in the early years of a student’s life? Where, when, and how do we give all students a chance to aspire beyond their comfort zone, while at the same time assuring them it is safe to take risks and learn from mistakes?

These and other questions are not going to have easy or simple answers.  But who knows what would happen if we started treating the space between preK-12 and higher education as a critical intersection rather than a no-man's land? Maybe we would reinvest in a school counseling system that has enough resources to see, nurture, and direct potential in every child, even the bright ones.  Perhaps we would improve our capacity to recognize students with advanced talent and interest in specific domains and support them in learning at a pace based not on age but on ability.  We might even develop and fund an integrated research and teacher education agenda focused on how exceptional minds develop that would in turn further our understanding of how all students learn.  

Forty days of first grade are too many to miss. And 13 years of formal education is too long to wait to match up with appropriate and fulfilling academic challenges that can help set one’s life course.

Elaine Tuttle Hansen is executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and the former president of Bates College.

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Occidental Bans Investments in Assault Weapon Industry

The board of Occidental College has agreed to bar future investments in companies that manufacture assault weapons, The Los Angeles Times reported. While the college has no such investments now, officials said that it was important to take a stand on the issue. Faculty members had pushed for the policy, citing mass shootings involving assault weapons. Jennifer Fiore, executive director of the Campaign to Unload, which is seeking such investment bans, said that she believed Occidental was the first college to adopt one and that others would follow.

 

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U. of Illinois at Chicago Faculty Strike for First Contract

After 18 months of trying to negotiate their first union contract, faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago moved forward on Tuesday with a planned, two-day strike. Hundreds of classes were not held Tuesday as a result of the strike, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Joe Persky, professor of economics and president of the United Faculty, an American Federation of Teachers- and American Association of University Professors-affiliated union representing both tenure-line and, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty, said the strike was a last resort to which the union had been “pushed” by the university. Major unresolved issues for the union include a proposed $45,000 baseline salary for full-time, non-tenure track lecturers, many of whom teach large, first-year courses, Persky said. “We’ve got lecturers here making $30,000 a year, and they’re filling up classes with $300,000 worth of students. There’s something wrong there.” The union also wants various “blanks” in the contract, such as those for future merit raise pools, filled in with real dollar amounts, and a 4.5 percent pay increase starting next year.

In an email, a university spokesman said the union also wants payment for out-of-pocket insurance costs and special allocations to address salary compression -- when longer-serving professors are paid similarly to newer peers because raises haven’t kept up with the outside market. He said the estimated cost of those proposals, including the $45,000 base salary for lecturers, would equal a hefty, approximately 25 percent personnel cost jump to the university, over four years. A side-by-side university chart comparing the its and the union’s bargaining positions, including their costs, is available here.

“The university believes that a work stoppage or strike is not in the best interest of the faculty, the university, or our students; however, we acknowledge the faculty’s right to strike under Illinois labor law,” reads a university statement on the strike. Despite offering a “fair” contract already, the university said it will continue to bargain with the union until an agreement is reached. Additional negotiating sessions have been scheduled through March; the next is on Friday. Persky said he was confident that the strike, which shut down classes and was accompanied by on-campus rallies and picketing by professors and students, would help the union’s cause.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “We’ve shown them what we can do.”

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