administrators

SUNY Binghamton engineering professor offends by asking about "white" engineering society in response to email from black students' group

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SUNY Binghamton engineering professor offends many by asking about a “white” engineering society in response to an email from a black students’ group.

New presidents or provosts: Bennett Cleveland State Embry-Riddle Labouré Lord Fairfax Oneonta Queen's Quinnipiac St. Augustine Saint Michael's Scranton

  • Kimberly Blosser, vice president of academic and student affairs at Lord Fairfax Community College, in Virginia, has been promoted to president there.

Former Professor Admits to Assaulting Disabled Man

Anna Stubblefield, the former chair of philosophy at Rutgers University at Newark, said this week that she sexually assaulted a disabled man, after years of insisting that she and the man were in love and had engaged in a consensual relationship. Her admission of third-degree aggravated criminal sexual contact was part of a plea deal under which the Essex County prosecutor’s office will recommend a four-year prison sentence, according to NJ.com

Stubblefield was originally convicted of assault in the case and sentenced to concurrent 12-year prison terms, in 2015. But an appeals court overturned the conviction last year, saying that she should have been able to present blocked evidence from an expert in facilitated communication. That’s the highly controversial form of communication through which Stubblefield long said she communicated with the man known in court documents as D. J. The man’s family said that Stubblefield raped him, since he was unable to talk or give consent due to a severely limited intellectual capacity stemming from cerebral palsy. Stubblefield and D. J. began working together in 2008 after the man’s brother, a former student of Stubblefield’s, asked her if facilitated communication might help him.

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Apologizing for Interviewing, Akron President Will Step Down

The president of the University of Akron announced Thursday that he will step down this summer, also apologizing after he recently interviewed for another presidency in his former home of Florida.

Matthew J. Wilson will step down at the end of July after just two years as University of Akron president, Crain’s Cleveland Business reported. He will rejoin the university’s law school faculty, taking a pay cut to $240,500, down from his current annual base compensation of $450,000. Wilson came to Akron as its law school dean in 2014, then was hired as interim president in July 2016 after the departure of controversial president Scott L. Scarborough. Wilson’s interim tag was later removed.

Wilson has given several reasons for leaving the presidency, telling Crain’s he works 100-hour weeks and has been wondering how long he could keep up the pace. In a letter addressed to campus, he cited both personal and family considerations.

But the letter opened with his “sincerest apologies” for any concern caused after he was included as a finalist in the presidential search for the University of Central Florida.

“As I previously mentioned, the invitation to apply for the UCF presidency caught my interest due to our roots in the Orlando area and the opportunities associated with this once-in-a-lifetime chance,” he wrote. “Please know how much I sincerely appreciate those who reached out with words of gratitude, understanding, and support during the search process.”

Akron trustees had said they welcomed Wilson’s continued service as president, issuing a statement earlier this month after he was not selected for the UCF job.

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Colleges should more regularly kill academic programs for underperforming (opinion)

My first real job was a triumphant lesson in unplanned obsolescence. I landed a paid internship at a New York PR firm called Creamer Dickson Basford and was assigned to the Pizza Hut account. It was an auspicious summer for Pizza Hut public relations. Not only was Pizza Hut launching a 3-D campaign for its Chunky-Style Pizza -- I was responsible for assembling a 3-D press kit, complete with 3-D glasses and 3-D photo of chunky toppings bursting from the pizza -- but Creamer Dickson Basford had convinced its client to run a national blimp tour to draw attention to the launch of the Bigfoot Pizza: a 21-slice rectangular pizza, or two square feet of pizza.

As this wasn’t just any old pizza, it couldn’t be just any old blimp. The Bigfoot Pizza Blimp was the first with a fiber-optic night sign, permitting 24-7 promotion of gluttony. On July 2 it was scheduled to fly from Boston to New York to provide a magnificent large-pizza-themed aerial spectacle alongside the fireworks over the Hudson River.

But on the morning of July 4, as the blimp flew over the Hudson River, it began losing air. A lot of air. Seeing no other choice, the pilot of the dirigible I had promoted to Sports Illustrated for Kids as “safe and fun” crash-landed on the roof of a squat seven-story apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen.

Images of the deflated blimp pancaked down the side of 410 W. 53rd St. dominated the New York tabloids for days. All the attention being paid to the Pizza Hut Bigfoot Pizza Blimp was astonishing. Fortunately no one was hurt, so we kept the blimp in the news with stories like how much we were paying to store remnants in the parking lot across the street. The front page of the New York Post later that week: “At Lee’s Parking on 53rd and 10th, it’s Cars $5, Trucks $10, Blimps $75.” The nonstop coverage drove Bigfoot Pizza awareness and sales through the roof.

Some things just aren’t made to last, like high-tech blimps. But what about programs of study at colleges and universities? They’re intended to last forever, and most do. In a 20-year period between 1978 and 1998, my alma mater offered 97 distinct academic programs or tracks for undergraduates. During that time, only three programs were discontinued, and two of the three were reorganized (engineering was split into various engineering tracks, and economics and political science became ethics, politics and economics). Meanwhile, over one-third of these programs and tracks -- including German studies-- failed to attract more than 100 undergraduate course registrations per year. And yet the only program to receive a Viking funeral was organizational behavior. That’s a generational obsolescence rate of 1 percent.

What other kinds of products have no expiration date? Physical infrastructure and industrial goods can only aspire to last this long. In contrast, knowledge- and technology-based products -- much closer to academic programs than to roads, buildings and airplanes -- are designed for a limited useful life with the expectation that they’ll be surpassed by new and better products, or fundamentally transformed by regular iterations.

This is what’s happening in India, where, facing massive unemployment and underemployment among its 750,000 engineering graduates each year, the government is now demanding that universities update all course syllabi “annually … per requirements of industry.”

Of course it’s true that the vast majority of academic programs (including lousy engineering programs at Indian universities) -- if pursued diligently -- inculcate core competencies, cognitive and executive function skills. A generation ago, the depth of these programs combined with the breadth of distribution requirements was sufficient to launch most graduates onto the first rung of a professional ladder. But unlike our programs of study, the economy hasn’t stood still. And while critical thinking is an unmitigated good thing, continuing to defend the status quo with broad terms like “critical thinking” doesn’t demonstrate great critical thinking.

The key question -- and the most pertinent to students themselves -- is what programs will mean for graduates and their pathways for the next five years.

Curriculum doesn’t become obsolete because knowledge -- when not supplanted by new and better knowledge -- doesn’t become obsolete. Cognitive skills survive the test of time. But for most students, a successful launch into an increasingly technical economy requires a combination of soft skills and digital skills.

Students are flailing about, trying to figure this out. We’re seeing massive shifts from arts and humanities to STEM. Alex Usher recently pointed out enrollment increases of between 30 and 60 percent in STEM programs from 2009 to 2016 at a number of Ontario universities. And the percentage of students who are hedging their bets by double majoring appears to have doubled since 2000.

I suspect that had Yale shuttered more than one program between 1978 and 1998, it would have launched more than two new STEM programs. And although the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has launched six new STEM degree programs in the past decade, including applied computing, data analytics, health information management and technology, and health information management and technology, I wonder if UW-Stevens Point might have done even better had it eliminated any academic programs in that same period (it did not).

A more proactive approach could have boosted enrollment, reduced the $4.5 million deficit the campus faces over the next two years and limited the need for the drastic restructuring plan announced last week to cut 13 majors, including English, history and all three foreign languages.

The near immortality of departments and majors provides a misleading sense of academic plenty. College students may well be getting soft skills and digital skills -- and most do in their extracurricular activities -- but there’s little guarantee it’s happening in their program of study. And there’s no reason why not besides the absurd durability of programs that fall short. Planned obsolescence in designing academic programs -- or at least a systematic review of whether programs are doing an adequate job of producing all the skills graduates require -- would be helpful in this regard.

Yale can afford to be inefficient in a way that few other colleges and universities can. Every week we learn of new nonselective schools forced to shutter programs due to falling overall enrollment and mandatory institutionwide budget cuts. The key to avoiding becoming the next Sweet Briar College -- a school facing a conundrum of fundamentally needing to change, while relying on the generosity of nostalgic alumnae who don’t want change -- is, as Trace Urdan says, “beginning the process long before your back is against the wall.”

At a minimum, programs that fail to attract a threshold number of students should go under the microscope. But we ought to do better than react to student flows. Why not institute a regular, thorough review of whether every academic program is providing the skills graduates actually need, and make clear to all stakeholders that programs that fail to make the grade will be culled?

Such a self-imposed standard would be much higher than accreditors currently require, where the test of stating learning outcomes and demonstrating outcomes are being met ensures that an institution’s accreditation is as long-lived as its academic programs.

The challenge, of course, is facing the fact that curriculum can become obsolete -- or that you can become obsolete -- which is a lot less enjoyable than teaching exactly the same course you taught when you were much younger.

No one enjoys confronting their own mortality. But we die to make room for the new. To really understand this eternal tension, you’d need to take a few courses in humanities or classics. The problem, you see, is that few employers are profound enough to prioritize such understanding over the skills new graduates actually need to do the job.

Ryan Craig is managing director of University Ventures and author of the upcoming A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College (BenBella Books).

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How an administrator can build a culture of excellence in their academic unit (opinion)

How can academic leaders foster a culture of excellence in their departments and other units? Robert A. Easter, C. K. Gunsalus, Sebastian Wraight, Nicholas C. Burbules and Jeremy D. Meuser suggest some specific actions to take.

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President Who Ousted 3 Chairs Will Step Down

Quentin D. Wheeler is stepping down as president of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in June, ending a tenure troubled by faculty votes against his leadership and a controversial overhaul of department chairs.

Wheeler will end his presidency June 30, before the start of the new academic year, SUNY said in a news release Wednesday. The state university system did not give a reason for his departure.

But Wheeler's relationship with faculty has deteriorated since he took over in 2014. More than half of faculty members voted no confidence in his leadership in 2016 amid complaints about his hiring, financial decisions and vision for the university, Syracuse.com reported. Then in December, the ESF Academic Governance body approved a resolution taking issue with Wheeler for not consulting with faculty members on plans including increasing enrollment.

Wheeler also angered faculty and students when he removed three department chairs in January. Wheeler emailed students saying the changes were for intellectual renewal and growth at the institution. Some students were dissatisfied with his stated reasons, reported WRVO.

Results of another faculty vote announced earlier this month showed 85 percent of ESF union members were against renewing the president's contract. Another 91 percent thought the college's finances need to be investigated.

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Jacksonville State Campus Closed After Tornado

Jacksonville State University’s campus will be closed until April 2 after tornadoes tore through Alabama Monday night, damaging dormitories, classrooms, offices and other student housing.

Officials were still working Wednesday to assess the state of the the university's campus, according to AL.com. It will take a week or more to remove debris and fully gauge damage to each building, said John Beehler, the university's president.

But the 8,500-student university will finish the semester, Beehler said.

After assessing the damage, officials will draw up contingency plans for temporary classrooms and student lodging. The university is considering options for both on-campus students and those living in apartments that were damaged.

This week is Jacksonville State's spring break. It is too dangerous for students to return to campus to collect personal effects, according to a message from Timothy B. King, Jacksonville State's vice president for student affairs. He promised to notify students when it is safe, noting over 70 buildings on campus must be reviewed.

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Sewanee, in reversal, revokes Charlie Rose's honorary degree

Sewanee, which at first stood by an honorary degree for the disgraced journalist, revokes it after much discussion of the theology of forgiveness and the movement against sexual harassment.

Unusual debate about politics at University of Texas at Austin

Conservative student government representative at University of Texas at Austin campaigned to change College of Liberal Arts to College of Conservative Arts and College of Liberal Arts -- or COCACOLA. He isn't getting the name change, but did prompt discussion.

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