Ithaca College’s new non-tenure-track faculty union reached a tentative contract agreement with the institution this week, averting a threatened strike. Terms of the contract are generous compared to many other contingent faculty agreements. They include an established path to pay parity for part-time faculty members, with immediate raises, followed by annual raises totaling $1,025 per three-credit course for the life of the contract.
Other gains are more stability for full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members included in the new bargaining unit; they’ll be eligible for two-year appointments after three years of teaching at the college and three-year appointments after five years of service. Part-timers, too, will be eligible for two-year appointments after three on campus, and they’re guaranteed a $1,300 “kill fee” for any course canceled at the last minute. All unit members get earlier notice of appointments and the right to interview and be considered for full-time positions.
The unit affiliated with Service Employees International Union said in a news release that it “won on everything.” Nancy Pringle, college senior vice president; Linda Petrosino, provost; and Gwen Seaquist, professor of legal studies, said in a joint statement they are “confident that this new contract is fair, that it addresses the concerns of our valued faculty members and that it enables the college to maintain excellence in a fiscally responsive manner.”
Three students at Vernon College, members of the Texas institution's rodeo team, have died from injuries in a car crash last week, The Times Record News reported. Two were killed initially, and a third died Sunday. The college has created funds to help the families of the students.
As college instructors begin to think about what materials to assign in their fall classes, we can expect to see renewed interest in the debate over the cost of college textbooks. For example, not too long ago the Financial Times published a piece proclaiming that open educational resources -- or OERs -- would set textbooks “free.” Soon after, student public interest research groups published a report that similarly painted OERs as education's savior in the face of rising costs.
As a professor of psychological and brain sciences who has spent much of his career creating material designed to maximize learning and student success, I want nothing more than to see my students succeed. Yet I can’t help but feel that conversations about open educational resources severely miss the mark. At best, proponents of OERs overstate their potential; at worst, they draw our attention -- and valuable resources -- away from far more pressing challenges facing higher education today.
The Real Crisis in Higher Education
The rising cost of college is undoubtedly a major concern, and one that virtually every student feels in one way or another. It needs to be addressed. But looking at the system as a whole, the problems that high costs create simply do not compare to the true crisis in higher education: our dismal graduation rates.
Based on national statistics, of the students who enter four-year colleges this fall, we can expect that only about three-fifths will have graduated six years from now. For those who enter two-year schools, less than a third will have graduated in three years. Frankly, that’s appalling.
Moreover, as concerning as student debt may be for students who graduate, it poses a far greater threat to the students who do not graduate. The College Board estimates that, over the course of a lifetime, workers who graduate from college will earn about 66 percent more than their counterparts who do not graduate from college. In a very real sense, increasing graduation rates would significantly ease the financial burden associated with college.
The Hidden Cost of Free Resources
Given the investment that a college education represents, students simply must have access to the tools that will most effectively help them succeed. Unfortunately, most open educational resources fall short.
In large part, that’s because they are usually little more than traditional textbooks, distributed digitally. They’re new versions of the same kinds of materials that have been around for decades, even as student expectations have changed and graduation rates have plummeted. Worse, they’re often poorly curated, and revisions and updates are sporadic at best.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the reality is that these “new” open resources are generally among the least innovative solutions available today, and they ultimately do little more than further entrench an ineffective status quo.
Now, compare that with today’s latest paid digital learning tools that are based on technological advances and discoveries from learning scientists that have emerged in the last decade. Such tools are not textbooks in the traditional sense -- they’re dynamic, adaptive learning systems, and they facilitate highly impactful learning experiences in a way that no traditional textbook could. They deliver deeply personalized lessons for students, giving continuous feedback and support, all while providing educators with insights that allow us to reach our students more effectively.
I for one can tell you that the availability of these solutions offers a better educational experience for students. In my introductory psychology courses, for example, rather than assigning a traditional (linear) textbook, I can now assign an adaptive online version that customizes the way it presents content for each student, based on that student’s individual needs. The tool continually poses questions to assess each student’s mastery of material, and then provides a unique path through the material, not only targeting each student’s strengths and weaknesses but ensuring that students review and reinforce what they’ve learned at optimal intervals. At the same time, it can help to identify particular elements of the material that students might be having trouble with, allowing the opportunity to fine-tune lectures in a way that no traditional textbook ever could.
Consequently, it is misguided to assume that the difference between open educational resources and paid resources is merely one of cost (although it’s worth mentioning that the solution I describe above comes at a cost significantly lower than that of the traditional hardcover text). The reality is that there are simply no open resources that are as flexible, reliable or impactful as the newest generation of education resources. My experience may be anecdotal, but carefully conducted research supports it: studies have repeatedly shown that students who use digitally personalized learning tools are more likely to do better in class, to receive better grades and to avoid dropping out.
The prospect of free textbooks is obviously appealing, both to students and to educators interested in reducing the overall cost of higher education. But it doesn’t make any sense to allow cost to be our primary concern in assessing resources that amount to just a fraction of students’ total expenditures -- especially when, meanwhile, those same resources can play an outsize role in determining whether students pass a course, graduate from college or are prepared for future employment.
Educators certainly should have the flexibility to use whichever tools best suit their needs, and open resources do have a place in our education system. But we do ourselves and our students a disservice if we suggest that they should replace paid resources outright. Our students can’t afford it.
Robert S. Feldman is deputy chancellor and professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. He also serves as chair of the McGraw-Hill Education Learning Science Research Advisory Council. (Note: This bio has been updated to note the author's connection to a publisher.)
Olga Perez Stable Cox, the professor of psychology who was secretly recorded telling her students that Donald Trump’s election was an “act of terrorism,” will accept Orange Coast College’s faculty member of the year award, but she won’t deliver the commencement speech that customarily comes with the nod, The Orange County Registerreported. A spokesperson for the college originally stated that Cox would not accept her colleagues’ nomination because she didn’t want to pull attention away from students at graduation, according to the Register, but the same spokesperson said Friday that she would accept the award.
Cox has become polarizing on campus and off since the video hit the internet last fall -- as has the college, which first said it would suspend the student who recorded Cox and then backtracked. A committee of 10 faculty members and administrators selected Cox as 2017’s full-time colleague of the year. Rob Schneiderman, president of Orange Coast’s American Federation of Teachers-affiliated faculty union, told the Register that Cox won’t be a commencement speaker because “she did not want to distract from the students” and that the choice was “consistent with her nature as a faculty member.” Joshua Recalde-Martinez, a leader with the campus College Republicans, which posted the video, said the decision “only serves to resurrect past tensions against both her and the College Republicans.”
Submitted by Emily Tate on March 27, 2017 - 3:00am
Faculty at Kentucky State University last week voted no confidence in the Board of Regents and its chairwoman, The State-Journalreported.
The board received 39 votes for no confidence and 36 for confidence, while the chairwoman, Karen Bearden, fared worse. Fifty faculty members voted no confidence in Bearden’s leadership, while 30 asserted their confidence.
The vote was first suggested in late February, when faculty voiced concerns over the board’s handling of the presidential search as well as issues with the budget, tenure, promotion and raises, according to The State-Journal.
In addition to the votes of no confidence, the Faculty Caucus of Color was also formed at Kentucky State last week. The group will seek to address the limited number of African-American faculty members at the historically black university, which has led to the “systematic and de facto alienation, marginalization and disempowerment within both the institution and the Faculty Senate’s shared governance and decision-making processes, protocols and mechanisms,” the interim president of the caucus said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Board of Regents said the board will use the vote of no confidence “as a catalyst for change.”
Submitted by Emily Tate on March 27, 2017 - 3:00am
An investigation at the University of California, Berkeley, found that its chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, broke university policy by accepting free memberships to the campus recreational sports facility, campus exercise equipment and meetings with a personal trainer, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The value of the benefits Dirks received inappropriately since becoming chancellor in 2013 amounted to just under $9,000. The gym membership fees and personal training were estimated at $4,990, and the elliptical exercise equipment he accepted was valued around $4,000, according to a report released Friday.
By accepting these fitness perks, Dirks violated UC ethics rules that prohibit university employees from using campus facilities and resources without special authorization.
The investigation was launched in April, but a university spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that Dirks corrected the issue by September, before the investigation was closed, by apologizing and paying back the money he owed.
Dirks announced plans for his resignation last fall. His term will end on June 30, and Carol T. Christ, the interim executive vice chancellor and provost at Berkeley, will become the new chancellor.