A jury in Tennessee on Friday convicted Brandon Vandenburg, a former football player at Vanderbilt University, of inviting three teammates to his room to sexually assault an unconscious woman, The New York Times reported. One of the teammates has also been convicted and two others are awaiting trial. Earlier convictions were thrown out after it was revealed that a juror failed to disclose that she had been a victim of statutory rape. Vandenburg was not accused of physically attacking the woman but of inviting others to do so and making a video of the attacks that he sent to others. His defense was that he was too intoxicated to be held responsible.
The University of Wyoming announced Friday that President Laurie Nichols plans to declare a financial crisis to speed the process of cuts that officials believe are necessary due to declines in state funding. Nichols plans to identify $19 million in cuts and $6 million in reallocations during the next fiscal year, and an additional $10 million in spending cuts in the following fiscal year.
The board of St. John's College on Friday announced that it has approved a new governance plan for the Great Books institution with campuses in Annapolis, Md., and Santa Fe, N.M. Until now, each campus has had its own president. Going forward, one of the campus presidents (starting with the current Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt), will also serve as president of the entire institution. Board members said that the plan would improve governance, but some alumni and supporters of the older campus at Annapolis have said that they question the switch.
Eileen Ely resigned Thursday, effective immediately, as president of Green River College, The Seattle Times reported. Ely did not state why she is leaving, but she has clashed repeatedly with faculty members, who have repeatedly voted no confidence in her leadership, citing what they say is a lack of commitment to shared governance and program cuts they consider ill advised.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has announced a new employee benefit: free passes for local bus and subway service. The program is designed to encourage more people to use public transportation and reduce the environmental impact of commuting. Above right is a subway stop entrance.
In the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday morning -- when a large number of Latinx lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and other club patrons were murdered in one of the largest shootings in United States history -- some people in higher education are probably feeling themselves targeted and traumatized. I’m reaching out to anyone who may feel that way to say that I am thinking of you and that you are valued by some of us. I imagine the violence itself and the aftermath of responses and nonresponses from colleagues, friends and the news media can be overwhelming for people who are already treated as less than in our society. You do matter. In fact, we desperately need you -- even when we don’t do a good job showing it.
I also am writing because I believe what has been happening is incredibly relevant to the work that we do in higher education in general and as faculty members in student affairs in particular. I have been taking stock of my own response, or nonresponse, to the shooting and trying to make sense of it in light of my identities as a cisgender, white, agnostic woman from a middle-upper-class background. My privilege allows me to not engage in the conversation, not participate in community events necessary to show solidarity with targeted individuals and not think about terrorism being directed at me on a daily basis. I can simply go about my life, teaching, hanging out with my family and finishing those projects that I need to get done for my own benefit. I acknowledged the shooting to my partner and a friend I know who identifies as queer, but otherwise I have not been present in solidarity or action.
Some of you who are reading this may be wondering what you can do in the world generally and in academe more specifically in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Orlando. Based on my experiences and knowledge of the literature, here are some things that have started to come to mind for me.
Engage in the conversation, especially with people who haven’t brought it up yet and probably won’t in the future.
Listen, listen, listen to what people who have been targeted might be trying to tell you about their experiences.
Continue to do your own work to understand issues of oppression -- especially those related to your privilege areas. (The most highly skilled people practice this every day.)
Show up in solidarity (attend or help plan events hosted by others) but don’t expect praise for it. Then, keep showing up.
Start a conversation with students by framing curriculum in a way that they must ask critical questions about how people in positions of power make decisions with or without including people who have been or are often excluded.
Pay attention to when the conversations start to be about dominant-group perceptions, stereotypes (e.g., Islamophobia, heterosexism, cisgenderism) and feelings (e.g., “I didn’t mean it that way, and I’m really trying, so why are you mad at me?”). Shift it back to challenging the norms: Why was this group targeted? What are the consequences of stereotypes? Where do our norms come from, and how do they harm everyone? How can I question and resist norms that privilege a few people at a cost to many?
Give resources -- time, money, people -- to establishing programs, policies, procedures and other methods of dealing with issues of inequity. That could include, but not be limited to, hiring faculty members who have experience or expertise about equity issues; tackling social-justice topics in courses; creating mechanisms for faculty, staff and students to report instances of bias that they experience; and developing means for handling instances of bias that occur.
Seek out good sources of advice on the issues. The University of Michigan, for instance, has some great resources for educators about being inclusive and having difficult dialogues.
I plan to use some of the continuing discussion taking place on the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook page to help my students understand how incidents like these have a traumatic impact on our higher education community. If you look on social media, you can see some mostly LGBTQ people expressing frustration and anger that the student affairs FB group and professional community have been silent or dismissive in the wake of the Orlando attack.
The central question raised in the Facebook group is whether or not student affairs professionals should be expected to be supportive of people who are minoritized in society. Should we as a whole be knowledgeable about the issues minoritized people are confronting and responsible for supporting minoritized students and others? How can we go about addressing that essential question in our field?
And how can we work with others throughout higher education to grapple with it? What kinds of things can -- and should -- we in higher education do to confront violence and inequity and support people traumatized by continuing oppression? I hope we can work to find more answers and make changes in higher education to better live our expressed values of equity and inclusion.
Stephanie Bondi is a faculty member in the student affairs program at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Her scholarship focuses on power and oppression, teaching and learning, and student affairs preparation.
Using a search firm to recruit a new president or provost can cost public colleges and universities the better part of $100,000 -- or more.
Research being presented Friday estimates fees called for under executive search firm contracts with public colleges and universities for the 2015-16 academic year averaged $78,769. Fees varied from a low of $25,000 to a high of $160,000. The estimate is before indirect or administrative fees. Factor in several other fees, and the average search firm contract was estimated as being worth $87,186.
That higher figure still does not quantify other hard-to-estimate costs like reimbursements, bonuses and faculty time, according to James Finkelstein, a public policy professor at George Mason University who is presenting the research on search firm contracts at the American Association of University Professors’ annual conference under the title of “Executive Search Firms and the Disempowerment of Faculty.” Finkelstein’s research used job postings seeking higher education leaders for the 2015-16 academic year, finding 82 out of 106 hunts for leaders used a search firm. Ultimately, researchers received 61 contracts to evaluate through public information requests.
Executive search firms are being used more frequently by universities, according to Finkelstein. But he thinks his research has implications beyond the number of searches or the dollar amounts involved. Outside search firms can directly affect which candidates are being recruited, whether candidates’ needs are being met and how the search process plays out. Finkelstein thinks they are an important topic under university governance.
“Is the use of a search firm, in particular in hiring a president, essentially a governing board outsourcing one of their most important responsibilities?” said Finkelstein, who on Thursday presented another batch of research examining the salaries and benefits public college and university presidents receive.
Under their contracts, search firms are not bound to provide all the services many might expect, Finkelstein said. Of the contracts reviewed, 51 percent included on-list reference check services and 46 percent included off-list reference checks. Some contracts included other due diligence services -- but many of those services came with an additional fee.
Degree checks were included in 23 percent of contracts but could be added for an additional fee in another 20 percent. Media checks were included in 20 percent of searches and could be added for a fee in 2 percent more. Credit reports were included in 12 percent of contracts and available for a fee in 20 percent, criminal record checks were included in 10 percent of contracts and available for a fee in 21 percent, and checks with departments of motor vehicles were included in 8 percent of contracts and available for an extra fee in 16 percent.
Total estimated fees -- including indirect or administrative fees but not other fees like travel reimbursements -- varied widely between two-year and four-year institutions. Fees averaged $53,536 at two-year institutions and $101,607 at four-year institutions. Differences weren’t as pronounced between presidential and provost searches, however. Lumping two-year and four-year institutions together, presidential searches came with fees estimated at an average of $88,194. Provost searches had an average estimate of $84,833.
Most contracts called for calculating fees based on a fixed-price model or a percentage model. The fixed-price model was used in 52 percent of searches, while a percentage of a leader’s base salary was used in calculations in 25 percent of searches. That percentage of base salary used to calculate fees varied from 30-33 percent -- and 22 percent of searches included bonuses in their calculations.
Finkelstein’s research also showed that a majority of contracts, 57 percent, were prepared by search firms, instead of the hiring colleges or universities.
There are backers and detractors of universities using executive search firms. Some have argued that spending on university searches is an investment that pays off, with the right university presidents able to boost donations and improve standings.
A recent University of Virginia law school graduate is suing the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the department has illegally mandated that colleges abandon due process protections when adjudicating sexual assault cases. In particular, the lawsuit focuses on the department's directive that colleges use a low standard of proof called preponderance of evidence. The department's Office for Civil Rights instructed colleges to use this standard in a 2011 Dear Colleague letter.
Department officials maintain that the letter merely clarified existing regulations. Critics, however, say that the letters actually enacted sweeping regulatory changes without first going through the notice-and-comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act.
The UVA lawsuit is sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The former student was found responsible of sexual assault last year when the university used the preponderance of evidence standard to decide his case, in which he was accused of assaulting an intoxicated woman. He was able to graduate but must complete four months of counseling before he is allowed to work as an attorney, and he is banned from returning to campus. According to the lawsuit, the retired judge who decided the case noted that it was a "very close" and "very difficult" decision, and that her ruling was based on the OCR's requirement that she use "the weakest standard of proof." Until 2011, UVA used the higher standard known as "clear and convincing."
The former student's lawsuit joins two others recently filed against the department that also argue the department ignored APA requirements and sacrificed due process.
“Students have a right to pursue their education free from sexual harassment, or any type of harassment or discrimination,” Dorie Nolt, press secretary for the Department of Education, said in an email. “The Office for Civil Rights has worked tirelessly to defend that right, and our efforts have been validated repeatedly by the courts.”