administrators

Wisconsin Board Approves Posttenure Change

Over faculty objections, the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents on Thursday approved change in posttenure review policies that will give administrators the final decision and the right to make their own independent reviews of tenured faculty members, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Faculty groups have long argued that for posttenure reviews to remain consistent with the job security provided by tenure, the reviews must be conducted by professors. The latest decision has added to the distrust of many professors in the Wisconsin board.

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OCR Receives Record Number of Complaints

The number of complaints filed last year with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights soared to a record 16,720, according to a report the department released Thursday. The number of complaints was a 61 percent increase over the previous year's total.

By far, the largest increase has been in reports of sexual violence on college campuses. Since 2011, when the department released a Dear Colleague letter urging institutions to more rigorously investigate and adjudicate reports of sexual assault, the number of complaints related to campus sexual violence has increased by 831 percent. The increase in complaints, the department said, has also been notable in other areas, including restraint and seclusion of students with disabilities (a 100 percent increase), web accessibly for persons with disabilities (511 percent), and harassment on the basis of race, color or national origin (17 percent).

From 2009 to 2016, the Office for Civil Rights received 76,022 cases and resolved 66,102 of them.

"Over the last eight years, one of the Obama administration’s highest priorities has been to protect the access of all students to a world-class education," the department stated. "As a result, the department and OCR have seen significant progress in increasing educational equity nationwide and reducing discriminatory barriers that students face."

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Barnard's Different Approach to Divestment

A minority of colleges have in recent years opted to bar their endowments from holding investments in either the fossil fuel industry generally or specific parts of the industry (such as coal). Barnard College on Thursday announced a different approach: a committee of trustees, professors and students has recommended that the college sell holdings in "all fossil fuel companies that deny climate science or otherwise seek to thwart efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change." The Barnard board's investment committee said that, pending a review, it expected to recommend adoption of the policy by the full board.

A statement from the college explained the approach this way: "The recommendation to divest from climate change deniers would align the college’s investments with its core mission, centered on academic freedom and scientific integrity. This will enable the college to distinguish between companies based on their behavior and willingness to transition to a cleaner economy and could create incentives for the poorest performers to change their ways."

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NYU Dean Will Become Next Pomona President

Pomona College announced Thursday that G. Gabrielle Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at New York University, will become its next president. Starr will succeed David W. Oxtoby, who announced earlier this year that he would step down in June 2017, ending 14 years leading the college.

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Pima CC Settles With Former Instructor

Pima Community College has settled out of court with a former professor of chemistry who accused it of firing him with no due process, Tucson.com reported. David A. Katz will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages and about $50,000 in lost pay related to his 2014 termination. Katz will not be reappointed, despite his desire to resume work on campus. All parties are subject to a gag order, but public records show that the college, Chancellor Lee Lambert and two former subordinates implicated in Katz’s lawsuit denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to Tucson.com.

A federal judge ruled in a pretrial hearing in July that the college violated Katz’s constitutional right to due process in suspending and later terminating him without giving him the right to defend himself. The judge did not rule out the possibility that Lambert could personally be held liable for damages if the case went to trial. The court rejected other claims by Katz, however, including that his free speech rights were violated when he was disciplined after complaining about laboratory conditions. The college argued that Katz was prone to angry outbursts, but some instructors disputed that characterization. All parties will bear their own court costs.

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LIU Faculty Contract Negotiations Stall Again

Contract negotiations between Long Island University and its faculty union are again stalled, just three months after the parties came to a temporary agreement that ended a 12-day faculty lockout. The faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement Thursday that compulsory mediation was terminated after several rounds of talks, due to administrators’ failure “to meaningfully engage with faculty on the terms of a new labor contract.” The current contract runs through May of next year, and sticking points going forward include a management proposal that would cut pay for new adjunct faculty hires by up to 30 percent, according to information from the union. It said that student learning remains “at risk.”

The university challenged the union account, however. Gale Haynes, vice president of academic affairs at the Brooklyn campus and chief operating officer, said the union’s statements “do not accurately reflect” the course of negotiations and that the university wanted to move forward. The university was “extremely disappointed to learn of [the union’s] decision not to continue with the mediation process. We remain available, willing and eager to negotiate and urge the faculty union leadership to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible and to engage in good faith bargaining.”

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How dwindling support for the humanities and higher ed's lack of diversity are related (essay)

Diversity in the Humanities

One morning not too long ago, I opened Inside Higher Ed and read a story about the dwindling support for humanities. Citing low enrollments, Western Illinois University had just cut four degree programs, including philosophy and religious studies. Faculty members were worried. Metrics were being questioned.

In other news outlets, another dire situation played out: more student protests over a lack of diversity -- this time at Seattle University. The tone was urgent. The institution placed the dean on administrative leave, and the students demonstrated for 22 days, demanding more attention to diversity in the curriculum.

Were these two separate stories? Or were they, in fact, closely intertwined?

Campus politics over the past decade have centered on diversity issues -- on addressing racial, ethnic, sexual and gender bias in the student body, faculty and administration. “Inclusivity” is the watchword on campuses today. Consequently, over the past few years, new diversity officers have been hired, budgets for diversity efforts have been skyrocketing -- in 2015, for instance, Yale University committed $50 million toward faculty diversity initiatives -- and intellectual approaches to the understanding of diversity are being integrated into curricula at places like Hamilton College.

While the emphasis on diversity is gaining momentum, force and funding, the perceived crisis in the humanities appears to be fading into the background, left to defend itself ad nauseam. In fact, it seems that these two movements may even be functioning against one another. The result of more affordable access to college for lower-income students, for example, may very well be leading to cuts in programs with low enrollments or lower salary yields (i.e., the humanities), as Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed of the University of Illinois readily underscore in “The Real Humanities Crisis Is Happening at Public Universities.”

But can our institutions of higher education afford not to support and invest heavily in the humanities? Can we welcome a growing number of diverse students without increased attention to the study of languages, art, music and cultural contributions of people from diverse communities around the world? Can our country claim to educate democratic citizens without teaching our children to analyze the messages that inform their personal and political lives -- skills learned in literature classes? Can our country grapple with radical Islamic groups while defunding religious studies programs and courses in Arabic language and culture, art, and history?

I find it troubling that explicit and comprehensive support for the humanities as central to any institution’s efforts to build a diverse and inclusive curriculum and campus culture has largely been absent from national conversations.

The humanities inform the kinds of values implicit in diversity and inclusion initiatives because our disciplines consistently demand that we become more attuned to the nuances of each other’s lives. The knowledge students gain in the most diverse learning hubs on our campuses -- as most of our modern languages and literatures departments are -- allow them to more truly value each other’s differences inside and outside the classroom, in local or global communities. In those spaces, they learn to confront their own biases and blind spots by engaging with distinct social and cultural backgrounds and the ways in which language, literature, theater, film, art and media shape and inform diverse and ever-changing worldviews and identities every single day.

The humanities give us the knowledge and the skills to share and express who we are and how we see our place in the world. In the process, we all gain the critical and creative thinking, communication, and comprehension skills needed to build the bridges that our diversity and inclusivity efforts are working toward.

The goal of diversity measures is to broaden the voices and perspectives on a campus. So why are we cutting out the vital stream of voices embodied in the arts and humanities? In an era of tight budgets, these may be seen as competing priorities, as distinct issues, but that’s a mistake. Greater diversity can broaden our conceptions of art, history, music, language studies and other arts and humanities. And the arts and humanities can support and enrich a culture of inclusivity across many communities, fields and professions.

Christine Henseler is a professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies at Union College.

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Nazareth Leader Angry on Check of Muslim Students

When two Muslim students at Nazareth College recently attended a service at a nearby church, someone at the church reported them to the Department of Homeland Security, which then sent New York state police to the college to confirm that they were students, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. The students were at the church to fulfill a requirement in a sociology of religion course that students attend religious services that are not of their own faith.

Daan Braveman, the president of Nazareth, sent an email to the campus Wednesday noting that the students did nothing wrong and sharing his frustration about what had happened. "I am very troubled and indeed angered that two of our students were singled out because of their religious beliefs," Braveman wrote. He added that he met with the students to reassure them.

"This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference," Braveman added.

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Academic Fraud at California State Northridge

A former director of basketball operations at California State University, Northridge, violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules when he completed course work for 10 men's basketball players, the NCAA announced Wednesday. The former director denied the allegations to the NCAA, but the association said it did not find "him to be credible."

Metadata attached to course work for the 10 athletes showed "approximately 3,000 individual actions" had originated from the former director's computer more than 70 miles from campus. In one instance, an athlete told a tutor that he did not know how to log in to the online system used to submit course assignments, yet the tutor found assignments that had been submitted through the system as if by the student.

"Concerns with the former director of basketball operations were raised as early as three years before the violations began, but the university failed to take adequate steps to thoroughly investigate the concerns or monitor his actions," the NCAA stated. "The university noted there was dysfunction between its academic affairs and athletics departments. That dysfunction and lack of communication allowed the violations involving the former director of basketball operations to occur, according to the panel."

The NCAA placed the university on three years' probation, and accepted the university's self-imposed sanctions, which included reducing the team's number of scholarships for two seasons and a ban for the program from last year's postseason. In addition, any wins in which the 10 players participated will be vacated.

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Serving as the sole conservative on a post-election panel (essay)

I’m a mathematician. I’m teaching Calculus II and mathematical structures for computer science this term. I write blog posts on topics like the best way to determine whether two lines intersect in three-dimensional space. Yet at 3:30 p.m. on the day after Trump’s election I found myself on a hastily convened panel with five of my faculty colleagues, facing an emotionally charged crowd of about 400 students, faculty and staff.

Our mission -- it felt like we were a team in that moment -- was to help our campus make sense of the results of an election that many found shocking and even frightening. The rest of the panel consisted of professors of politics and government, religion, gender and queer studies, and African-American studies. Why was a mathematician on the panel? I was the person the university found to give the conservative perspective.

After explaining my function on the panel, I said the following:

"It’s kind of odd that I’m here to be the conservative on this panel; I’m not that conservative. I’m probably more of a right-leaning moderate. I also didn’t vote for Trump, as I have concerns about his judgment and temperament. Instead, I voted for Gary Johnson. But this is Puget Sound, and so here I am representing the conservative perspective.

"Right now I feel a lot of things. I feel fear and worry. As I said, I’m concerned about Trump’s judgment. I’m also concerned because of the anger and division that I see, as well as the bad behavior by some of Trump’s supporters.

"As I watched the election returns roll in last night, though, I was surprised to discover that I also felt kind of excited, maybe even elated. And so why is that?

"I grew up in a small town in north Louisiana in the 1980s: a world that is Southern, rural, conservative and Christian. I’m second-generation college: my grandparents worked at jobs like coal miner, gas station attendant, department-store clerk, farmer, beautician. For most of my adult life I’ve been an academic, though, and for the past 11 years, I’ve worked at a very progressive liberal arts college in one of the most progressive parts of the country. That has given me a sort of double vision or cultural whiplash at times.

"Hillary Clinton called my people 'deplorable.' She said we were 'irredeemable.' Our current president, who I think sees the world similarly, said that my people are bitter clingers who hold on to guns and religion because we don’t have anything else worthwhile in our lives. Why would I want to support someone like that? Someone who talks that way about my people is not going to do a good job representing me. I’m glad she lost. I’ve got some concerns about Trump, but I’m glad Hillary Clinton lost.

"To understand this election, you have to understand that to be white working class means that you have almost no power. Not economic. Not cultural. Neither do you have the power that comes from moral authority, unlike most other victimized groups.

"To a large degree, Trump represents the revolt of the white working class. The revolt is partly economic. The cultural aspect is that they’re tired of being, in their minds, looked down on and condescended to by the people who run the country.

"I’ll hypothesize that, in some respects, the more Trump is mocked for his hair, his language, his racism, his sexism, his bigotry, the more the white working class says, 'That’s how I’ve been treated, too. Trump is like me. Trump is one of us.'"

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my campus after saying this, in an emotionally charged room with hundreds of people. But it represented the culmination of something that had been building in me for years.

Shut Out of Group Norms

I became an academic because I wanted to teach, help my students work through the big questions of life and discuss those big questions inside a larger community. I wanted a career at a liberal arts college. On the political axis, I thought of myself as a moderate. I knew academe leaned to the left, but I had always thought of the left (and academics in particular) as being fairly open-minded.

Not too long after I took my first tenure-track position in the fall of 2004, I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. I had assumed it was just a friendly get-together. Most of the evening, however, was spent bashing President Bush. The critiques were more visceral than intellectual, and I saw none of the nuance that I expected from academics. In hindsight, I realize that much of what the guests were doing was signaling to each other their membership in a community, as well as venting frustrations, and they had assumed the party was a space where they could do that.

For unrelated reasons, I took a position at my current university -- a very different institution, in a very different part of the country -- the following year. Here, I have repeatedly found myself in situations where someone makes assumptions about everyone in the room, assumptions that I don’t share. The culprit has always been my Southernness, or my small-town background, or my Christian faith, or my lack of progressivism.

I remember the awkward silence that briefly followed when one of my students asked me outside of class whether I am religious, and I told him I am a Christian. I remember the snide comment about Texas at a faculty workshop. I remember a colleague’s casual dismissal of Fox News and the people who watch it. My mother watches Fox News. She’s one of most giving and selfless people I know -- someone who dropped everything to do disaster relief work in south Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I remember others’ stories, too. I remember the two conservative students who vented in my office for half an hour, thankful that somebody was willing to listen to them. I remember the conservative colleague who told me that he’s tired of being a target and so he just keeps his head down now. I remember the alumnus who told me that he would never have dared to be out as a Christian on our campus because then he wouldn’t have had any friends.

Every institution has a culture and a set of shared norms, and an academic institution is no different. Those sacred values don’t come from the institution’s mission statement but arise from the shared set of beliefs held by the people who are part of it. A newcomer to a college may not ever be able to articulate that college’s norms, but he internalizes them every time an idea is praised with no countervailing opinion expressed. She internalizes them every time a group is criticized, and no one comes to that group’s defense. Over time the in ideas and out groups become part of the assumptions that people make. You don’t even think about them anymore. They’re like the oxygen in the air.

Where does that place you when you don’t share many of those norms? Sometimes you find yourself bewildered. On the literal level, the discussion is about Donald Trump or Barack Obama or George W. Bush or racism or transgender rights or environmental policy. But really the conversation is often about sacred values. When you don’t share the group norms, you feel shut out of the conversation because its very framing assumes the group norms. People don’t listen to the stories you use to explain your views because your stories are tied up with your norms -- not theirs -- and they don’t have a good mental place to connect them to. As a result, your stories get explained away.

You can always try to go deeper, of course. However, trying to get the group to look hard at its assumptions and then trying to explain why you don’t share them is difficult and exhausting. And even when you do have the energy, it’s easy to transgress some norm that you didn’t see and then face an unexpected blast directed at you. That makes you want to engage even less.

Besides, there are much easier options. You can become cynical. You can become angry. You can start hating the group. You can nurture your pain and envision yourself as a beleaguered minority. You can start throwing rhetorical explosives, which sure feels good -- at first. You can find another group. I’ve been tempted by most of these possible actions and have committed several of them.

The story that I’m telling here is about me at a progressive liberal arts college and slowly identifying more over time as conservative. It could also be the story of the white working class at the national level. And that brings me back to Trump and the post election panel.

Hopeful Signs

After I finished my remarks, I was worn out. I had just made myself far more emotionally vulnerable than I am used to, and I had done it in front of an angry and fearful crowd. I don’t remember much of the question-and-answer session, but I don’t think I had the wherewithal to attempt to answer anyone’s questions.

After it was over, one of my faculty colleagues made her way up to the table. “Thank you,” she said, “Your remarks made this all worthwhile.” The next person in line was a student. “My father is really conservative. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, and I’m scared about Thanksgiving. Do you have any advice for me?” She started tearing up. I hope what I said was helpful. Another student: “I’m a moderate. Thank you for giving another perspective.” “Just … thank you,” from a student in one of my classes this term. Then more expressions of thanks from faculty colleagues: “We should talk more,” “That’s exactly what we needed” and even “Nice pedagogy.”

Then, that night, I started getting emails. They continued to trickle in over the next several days. They said things like “That gave me a sense of courage,” “I realized I haven’t been listening well or asking the right questions,” “While you and I don’t agree, it was important for me to hear that” and “Thank you for pointing out that we are not all evil.” All in all, somewhere around 25 or 30 people have made a point of expressing gratitude for my remarks. The feedback hasn’t been uniformly positive -- I’ve also received some pushback -- but even that has been collegial.

I’ve responded in multiple ways. Scenes from Jerry Maguire keep running through my head: the ones where Jerry criticizes his company, everyone applauds and then Jerry gets fired. At least I have tenure, while Jerry did not. Another is a feeling of regret -- regret that I’ve underestimated my own campus.

Mostly, though, I’m more hopeful now than I have been in quite some time about my university. I hope we can dial back the inflammatory rhetoric -- especially the “-ists” and the “phobics” that we slap as labels on people. I hope we can do a better job of listening to people who have different values -- especially to a large group of people in this country who are not well understood by academics but whose support just elected Donald Trump president.

To understand the disparate people in our country, however, we need a greater variety of perspectives than we have now on campuses. Our sacred values shouldn’t effectively exclude large swaths of the country. We shouldn’t have to tap a moderately conservative mathematician who didn’t vote for Trump to give the conservative view on Trump voters.

Academe shouldn’t even be an institution that needs hastily convened panels like the one I was on: we should know how large groups of people in this country think and feel. We should be teaching their experiences and listening to them. We should have more people with their belief systems on our campuses, teaching and learning, so we can learn from them.

And so I find myself, ironically, arguing in favor of one of academe’s most sacred values: diversity. I’m not arguing for diversity the way academe functionally defines it, though. Instead, I’m arguing for intellectual diversity. Trump’s election -- and academe’s response -- only confirm that, for an institution of higher learning, it's the most important kind of diversity to have.

Mike Spivey is professor of mathematics at the University of Puget Sound.

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