FIRE Releases Survey of Bias Response Teams

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on Tuesday released a nationwide survey of college and university bias response teams, saying they pose a growing threat to free speech on campus. The report identified 232 public and private institutions with bias response programs in 2016, saying that 42 percent list law enforcement personnel as team members -- what FIRE called “literal speech police.”

“Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer at FIRE, said in a statement. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”

Citing a controversial case at the University of Northern Colorado last year that resulted in the dismantling of a bias response team, Steinbaugh said that institutions “may rightly take action against a wide variety of conduct.” But in asking students to report incidents of “pure, protected speech simply because someone claims he or she found it offensive,” he said, “colleges are sending the destructive message that the way for students to handle speech they don’t like is not by challenging it in the marketplace of ideas, but by reporting it to authorities.”

Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education, challenged FIRE’s assessment somewhat, saying that bias response teams “play an important role in responding to behavioral incidents on campus around issues such as race, ethnicity, religion and gender identity.” Their design and intent is to make “a clear distinction between free speech and actual behavior that causes physical harm or speech that is harassment or threatening,” he added. “A well-developed bias response protocol provides a clear and consistent mechanism to respond to students most directly affected by the bias incident.”

Kruger said the distinction between protected speech and threatening or harmful behavior is “critical.” So even in cases in which reported speech or behavior is clearly protected, he said, teams can play an “important educational role in reinforcing the value of diverse and often controversial speech on a college campus.”

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Advice for obtaining leadership positions in one's department (essay)

Then you should tell someone -- and here’s how, writes Judith White.

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New presidents or provosts: Grand Rapids Holyoke Morris SAU Tech USC Upstate

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  • Michelle Behr, provost, senior vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college at Birmingham-Southern College, in Alabama, has been named chancellor of the University of Minnesota, Morris.
  • Brendan Kelly, vice president for university advancement at University of West Florida, has been selected as chancellor of the University of South Carolina Upstate.

Paying tuition with credit cards comes at a cost

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Colleges increasingly accept credit cards as a form of tuition payment, but many experts wonder why.

Baylor Strength Coach Caught in Prostitution Sting

Baylor University fired a strength coach, Brandon Washington, after he was arrested early Saturday in a prostitution sting, The Waco Tribune reported. Washington was arrested after he arrived at a hotel to meet a prostitute, authorities said. The arrest comes amid a continuing scandal over the way Baylor has handled sexual assault allegations against athletes.

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Washington U Ends Suspension of Soccer Team

Washington University in St. Louis has lifted its suspension of the men's soccer team after an investigation determined that the team did not violate the university's sexual harassment policy when some members wrote "degrading and sexually explicit" online comments about the women's soccer team. The team was suspended in December after the 2015 comments came to light. Lori White, Washington's vice chancellor for student affairs, announced Monday that an investigation by the university's Office of Student Conduct found that the behavior was not as widespread as initially suspected, and that some members of the team "made genuine efforts to discourage this kind of behavior."

The men's team must still provide a written apology to the women's team and complete training on sexual harassment.

"The issues raised in the complaint are very serious, and it took courage for the women's team to come forward," White said in a statement. "There is a long history of comradery between the men's and women's soccer teams. Going forward, we will be working with both teams to help rebuild a relationship that is based on mutual respect."

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Sweet Briar Picks Next President

Sweet Briar College named its next president Monday, picking a former University of Virginia dean to lead the all-women liberal arts institution as it attempts to recover from a near closure two years ago.

Meredith Woo will take over as president of Sweet Briar in rural Virginia after current president Phillip C. Stone retires in May. Woo was the dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia from 2008 to 2014. Afterward, she worked in London as the director of the higher education support program for the Open Society Foundations, which is tasked with supporting liberal arts colleges in the former Soviet Union and with supporting higher education for refugee populations in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Woo will face fund-raising, enrollment and curricular challenges at Sweet Briar after the college's previous leadership attempted to close the college in 2015. Alumnae successfully fought the move, but Sweet Briar has been heavily reliant on fund-raising since then and has posted mixed enrollment results. Stone has said that the college brought in 160 new students this fall but that it needs 200 new fall enrollments as it seeks to become sustainable into the future. The college's total enrollment is about 330.

In an interview Monday, Woo said she intends to improve Sweet Briar's liberal arts curriculum, raise money and build upon Sweet Briar's status as one of only two women's colleges in the country with an engineering program.

“We'll need to move forward to raise resources from foundations and supporters of women's education,” she said. “That will be predicated on having really great ideas.”

Woo is also a former dean of social sciences at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in political science and a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She received her bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College in Maine. She is a native of Seoul in South Korea and speaks Korean and Japanese. She is also proficient in Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese.

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Do recent student demonstrations signal a new trend in activism? (essay)

Last month’s Women’s March, one of the largest demonstrations in American history, drew between three and five million people across 673 U.S. cities and 170 cities internationally, according to a Google Drive effort to capture estimates. Since then, protests have continued in communities nationwide, including a series of major demonstrations in response to President Trump’s executive order barring travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim nations, his order to move ahead with the wall along the Mexican border and the controversial North Dakota pipeline.

Viewed as signaling white nationalism, racism, sexism and xenophobia, the election of Donald Trump has provoked strong and negative responses among students. The turbulent political atmosphere recently engulfed the University of California, Berkeley, where students or -- according to campus officials -- agitators from off the campus violently interrupted what were to be peaceful protests and a speech by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos. Student protests against Trump’s travel ban have also occurred at Ohio, American, Chapman and Rutgers Universities.

What do these events say, if anything, about activism on college campuses today? Have they sparked a new wave of student engagement? Or is it a momentary outcry?

If the former, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that students led the charge against the agendas and decisions of our nation’s policy makers. Since our country’s founding, college students have challenged the status quo and played a key role in movements for social change. Historian David F. Allmendinger Jr. reported that between 1760 and 1860, New England colleges experienced “the most disorderly century in their history.” Quickly spreading to colleges in the South and Midwest, student “disquietude” (also called mobs, uprisings, riots, unrest, resistance, lawlessness, disorder and terrorism) challenged everything from slavery to the quality of the butter in the dining hall.

The next significant wave of student activism came during the Depression, when students challenged capitalism and wealth inequality in the 1930s and favored socialism, labor unions and public work programs. Snuffed by the McCarthy era and dubbed a “forgotten history,” student unrest faded until the late 1950s and ’60s, when anti-war sentiments and civil rights movements galvanized students. College activists successfully sought the closure of ROTC programs and catalyzed the establishment of interdisciplinary programs such as African-American and ethnic studies. Student protest also led to the ratification of the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. In the 1970s, female students challenged sexism on campuses and throughout American society.

Student activism sporadically reoccurred until the 2000s, when, according to University of Illinois Professor Barbara Ransby, students shaped “the conscience of the university” by raising awareness about racial inequality, sexual assault on campus, immigrant rights, homophobia and unequal rights for the LGBTQ community, as well as global issues such as the Palestinian crisis. And in recent years, students on campuses throughout the country have supported the Black Lives Matter movement and protested over racism in various forms.

Leveraging the Moment

So where are we today? Online activism has surged. In the weeks following the election, many virtual resources and communities of practice were created by people working together, sometimes anonymously, on distinct causes. Some of these come from colleges and universities (although, for most, the originator is hard to identify). Examples include Post-Election Support Resources (Stanford University) and Election Clapback Actions (CUNY). An assistant professor at Merrimack College, Melissa Zimdars, created a resource for spotting fake news. Recent data suggest that digital platforms empower students and facilitate civic and political engagement. According to a recent Educause study, around 96 percent of college students own smartphones. This enables communication and organizing capacity.

Colleges and universities will undoubtedly face more student unrest. How can educators leverage this historic opportunity and encourage constructive, inclusive political learning and participation? We offer some suggestions.

  • Approach student activism with the right attitude. Student protest is not a bad thing, unless it is accompanied by violence or seriously disrupts the educational process. Student protest provides a teachable moment not just for those who are protesting but for the rest of the campus community. Consider it a timely opportunity for problem-based learning.
  • Provide students with opportunities to gather, identify the issues that concern them the most and identify their networks. This includes providing students with physical spaces to convene and connecting them with faculty members or people in the community who share their interest.
  • Teach the arts of discussion. Your institution already has experienced facilitators among faculty members, administrators and students. Have them teach others to facilitate and engage in constructive discussions as a foundation to organizing. Many civic organizations provide training (see the resources section of this publication).
  • Study, deliberate, study: don’t let students go down some rabbit hole of alternative facts or myopic analysis. Insist that students answer questions, like what do we know about this issue? Is what we know reliable? How will we fill knowledge gaps? And most importantly, what are all of the perspectives on this issue, including unpopular ones unrepresented in this group? Weigh the pros and cons of different perspectives rather than dismissing them without consideration or, worse, denigrating the people who hold them.
  • Help students think positively by envisioning “the mission accomplished.” What will the world look like if their goals are achieved? The process of identifying a shared vision among group members is in and of itself a good lesson in framing, persuasion, collaboration and compromise.
  • Teach the history and most promising practices of social change movements. There are thousands of well-researched publications to consider as text. We offer two very different resources: Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King and Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow offers 500-plus pages of insight into the meticulous, long-game planning, as well as the strategies used to overcome unthinkable barriers, by leaders of the African-American civil rights movement. In her research for the Ford Foundation, Hahrie Han, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, outlines essential strategies, such as coalition building among civic organizations, political leaders and other potential allies.
  • Emphasize the importance of voting and what’s at stake when candidates have vastly different policy positions. Our National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement found that only 45 percent of college and university students voted in 2012. And while we haven't analyzed all the final numbers for 2016 yet, as the election demonstrated, who turns out to vote matters.

Finally, college and university presidents have historically been hesitant to offer their viewpoints on political issues, but recent events, particularly on the issue of immigration and new border controls, have given rise to a series of powerful statements from presidents and higher education leaders. We wonder what would happen if presidents who plan to make public statements about matters of public policy were to involve students in the discussion about that statement to take advantage of the educational moment.

Nancy Thomas and Adam Gismondi research college student political learning and engagement in democracy at the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

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Protests at Rutgers University
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NCAA to Pay $208M to Settle Lawsuit

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have agreed to pay $208.7 million to men's and women's basketball and football players who did not receive full cost of attendance between 2008 and 2017. The settlement is in response to a lawsuit brought against the NCAA in 2014 by Shawne Alston, a former West Virginia University football player, who claimed the NCAA violated antitrust law by capping the value of athletic scholarships at less than the full cost of attending college. The NCAA's Division I have since changed its rules to allow cost of attendance for athletes.

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ACE Publishes Review of Fellows Program

Today’s higher education leaders must be adept at navigating not only problems with clear, “conventional solutions,” but also “adaptive challenges” related to the “demographic, economic and cultural transitions taking place,” according to a new report from the American Council on Education. The paper, called “Looking Back and Looking Forward,” is a review of the ACE Fellows Program, which prepares faculty and staff members and administrators for senior leadership positions in a cohort-based mentorship model.

The report argues that professional development must prepare senior leaders not only to work effectively within their individual positions, but also through a “collective approach that benefits the individual, institutions and the enterprise.” Findings are based on a survey of those who have been involved in the program and interviews, with 98 percent of responding fellows saying they agree that the program prepared them from a senior leadership position. “One-on-one conversations with mentors” emerged as the most significant aspect of the placement experience that prepared fellows for senior leadership positions.

The report identifies one “central dilemma” as how leadership is defined and who leads. “Scholarship and conventional wisdom tell us that professionals up and down the line must have the leadership skills and expert knowledge necessary to flex to any challenge,” the report says. “Nevertheless, leadership development programs tend to be designed around the very real hierarchies that exist on college and university campuses.”

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