Penn State's Outing Club Can't Go Out

After this spring, the Penn State University Outing Club isn’t going out anymore.

A risk assessment by the university determined that the club’s typical activities -- hiking, running, backpacking trips and the like -- are too risky. The club earlier this month told its members that the university has deemed them above its “threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”

The 169-member club, founded in 1920, announced the change earlier this month on its website and Facebook page. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Don Hopey wrote about it last week, noting that a university review of two other groups -- the Nittany Grotto Caving Club and the Nittany Divers SCUBA Club -- found them too risky as well, and the groups will be disbanded.

By contrast, Hopey said, Penn State’s archery, boxing, alpine ski racing and rifle clubs passed the review.

Richard Waltz, the Outing Club’s 2017-18 president, said club leaders talked to the club adviser and university staff about safety issues, but that they didn’t get the chance to talk to the risk assessment office, which made the decision.

“Safety is a legitimate concern, but it wasn’t an open dialogue,” Waltz said.

Michael Lacey, president of the Caving Club, told the Centre Daily Times that Penn State has "just been clamping down really hard on the nature of activities" since the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

The caving club is 70 years old, while the outing club is even older: 98 years old.

University spokeswoman Lisa Powers told the Daily Times that the groups were losing their recognition "due to an unacceptable amount of risk to student members that is associated with their activities."

Christina Platt, the outing club's incoming president, said she could “hardly blame Penn State for protecting itself against further litigation after a number of high-profile scandals in the past decade,” but she told Hopey, “Our increasingly litigious society is making it far more difficult for people to get outside without the fear of lawsuits for any misstep.”

In its posting, the club said the community that has grown around it “is not going anywhere” and that officers are working with the club’s adviser and Penn State staff “to find the appropriate structure” within the university to go outdoors again.

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Norovirus Closes Western Connecticut State

Western Connecticut State University closed temporarily on Monday after about 100 students reported symptoms of norovirus, a highly contagious infection that causes gastroenteritis.

In a statement Monday afternoon, the university announced it would reopen today.

The state Department of Public Health confirmed the infection is norovirus. The college does not know of any more cases of norovirus, said Paul Steinmetz, a university spokesperson. "It seems like it's on the down trend."

Fourteen students with symptoms of norovirus were admitted to the local emergency room over the weekend, Steinmetz said. The university subsequently has cleaned all common areas, including its two cafeterias, to Centers for Disease Control standards.

Western Connecticut president John Clark released a statement Sunday night saying that the college made the decision to close after consulting with local health departments.

“This is the best and most conservative course of action to protect our university community from infection and spread of the disease," Clark wrote.

The closure also gave staff a day to talk to state and city health officials and allowed maintenance crews time to properly clean all areas of the university.

“While the latest data we have about the disease is encouraging, we want to make doubly sure that the university is safe and secure for all before reopening,” said Clark.

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How presidents today must deal with problems they didn't create and can't control (opinion)

I’ve been receiving an unprecedented number of calls from presidents across the country asking me to “talk [them] off the ledge.” Most of those conversations have been with presidents whom I judge to be effective and emotionally grounded. Yet each person has been distressed in ways that I didn’t find common during my earlier years in higher education.

In her recent novel, The Devil and Webster, Jean Hanff Korelitz says of her fictional president, Naomi Roth:

From the beginning, she had characterized the job of a college president as, first, doing no harm to the institution, second, improving the institution if at all possible, and third, getting out in one piece. There were bells and whistles, of course, myriad responsibilities, drudgery, absurdities, little challenges like speechifying and remembering names and riding the general rocket that was 21st-century selective admissions in a helicopter parent culture, but at the end of the day the job boiled down to these three.

Like Roth, I was, as the Tacoma News Tribune noted in announcing my appointment in 1992 as president of the University of Puget Sound, “a divorced Jewish woman.” We both also had daughters in college.

But despite those similarities, what struck me most about the book were the differences between my presidential experiences from 1992 to 2003 and those of my contemporaries, on the one hand, and those of Naomi Roth and the many current presidents with whom I talk, on the other. Simply put, although my contemporaries and I often exchanged our own war stories about unhappy moments back then, on balance most of us genuinely took great pleasure in our work. We, too, made lots of speeches, tried hard to remember names, encountered helicopter parents and were sustained by a sense of the absurd, but most of us did not find our work, as Roth does, to be “drudgery.” And I know that I was not alone in being sustained rather than disheartened by my interactions with students, faculty and staff.

It was also a far gentler time. Even as we grappled with perennial matters like admissions, retention, budgets, our physical plants and fund-raising, we didn’t worry -- as current presidents do -- about whether colleges and universities, much less the liberal arts, would survive. The notion of “reputational risk” was a foreign one. Disagreements on campus tended to be confined to the campus.

But that was then, and this is now.

As readers of Inside Higher Ed know, this is a fraught time for many college presidents who are confronting challenges that they did not create and often can’t control.

Many institutions are experiencing financial challenges, often stemming from a cascading decline in enrollments, and the data reveal that these challenges will persist. The number of college-age students in America will continue to decrease for the next several years and will not, in any foreseeable future, return to the numbers we saw before 2011. Growing concerns on the part of the public -- fueled by some elected officials -- that college is unaffordable and/or fails to prepare students for jobs may further dampen interest in college. The “travel ban” has discouraged many international students from enrolling at institutions in the United States.

In response, to attract students, many colleges and universities have had to increase their tuition discount significantly, thereby reducing their net tuition revenue. In 2016, the average tuition discount exceeded 49 percent, compared with 38 percent in 2003.

Institutions that once had prided themselves on collegiality are now divided over matters that previously had not been contentious, such as free speech and academic freedom. Campus events that would previously have been considered standard fare can now quickly become highly politicized and can even present safety concerns. Declining enrollments in the liberal arts have led some administrations and boards to make curricular decisions unilaterally that once had been the primary responsibility of the faculty.

Salary and hiring freezes, layoffs and the closing of long-established programs have also led faculty and staff members to distrust presidents and trustees, sometimes those with whom they had once enjoyed positive relationships. And instead of looking forward to conversations with students, many presidents worry that such encounters will become contentious and uncivil occasions for students to demand large societal changes over which presidents have no influence.

Social media has also significantly raised the possibility of reputational risk. Historically, stories about negative events that occurred on a college campus were most likely to be featured only in the student newspaper and the local press. Today, such stories make their way around the world immediately. Think, for instance, of the painful YouTube videos that have gone viral of college presidents, controversial speakers and even faculty members being subject to the vitriol of protesters, some of whom may not even be members of the campus community.

Recent events reveal how presidents and boards can almost instantaneously be at the center of and ultimately impacted by widely publicized stories about destructive actions on the part of colleagues and students. Baylor University, Penn State University and now Michigan State University have all made clear, in cases involving sexual assault, how vulnerable presidents and trustees are to criticism if they fail to fulfill -- or even if they are perceived to have failed to fulfill -- their responsibly for the health and integrity of the institution in their trust.

Dealing With Presidential Angst

I spoke with a number of worried presidents at this January’s annual meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges’ Presidents Institute. This year, as noted in an article in Inside Higher Ed, “a heightened sense of concern underpinned” much of what took place in both formal sessions and informal conversations: “The concern was evident in the institute's programming, which included a notable number of sessions addressing mergers or partnerships between institutions, as well as strategies for taking on financial challenges.”

Even as I worry on a personal level about these beleaguered presidents, I also worry about what it means for higher education. If talented and dedicated presidents wonder, as many now tell me that they do, if the job is even “doable,” I fear that many potentially excellent candidates will refuse even to consider the presidential role.

So what in these troubled times should college presidents do to function effectively and, at least some of the time, enjoy their work?

Presidents should focus in moments of calm on developing a shared understanding with their boards about who is responsible for which decisions, rather than waiting for a crisis to sort that out. Presidents, other senior administrators and trustees should come together to engage in the kind of exercise that Richard Chait advocates in his article in Trusteeship, “Decisions, Decisions,” to determine which institutional decisions are the responsibility of the president, which belong to the president after discussion with trustees and often with the faculty and other members of the campus community as well, and which should be made by the board after discussion with the president.

Trustees, the administration and the faculty should avoid demonizing one another and come to a common understanding of shared governance, including achieving clarity about who in which circumstances has primary (although not necessarily ultimate) responsibility, who should be consulted and who should be informed about which decisions.

The president and the board should clarify how they will communicate with one another. At some institutions, the president and board chair have regular meetings or calls, but they also need to decide on a protocol for moments of crisis. It is also vitally important that the entire board has confidence that the president will immediately inform the chair about matters of risk and that the chair will, when appropriate, engage trustees in thinking with the president about those matters.

The president and other senior administrators should also be sure that they have effective internal communications. Joined -- by representative faculty members, student affairs staff and, as applicable, campus security professionals, they should engage in robust scenario planning about possible crises on the campus and share the results of that planning with the board. While institutions often do that when it comes to natural disasters, many have not adequately prepared for other possible scenarios, such as:

  • Students taking over the president’s office
  • Some in an audience shouting down a speaker
  • Calls for transparency (which often translate to mean full disclosure) by students and others on matters about which the administration must observe confidentiality for both legal and ethical reasons
  • Unsubstantiated but public accusations that one or more people on the campus are racist, homophobic or sexually or otherwise abusive.

This group also needs to decide what relationship campus leaders should have with local law enforcement officers and who speaks for the institution under which circumstances.

Presidents, boards and senior staff should also have a clear understanding of the role of the president in times of crisis. Some experts argue that the president should not be front and center but should delegate interaction with campus constituencies to a vice president. Others believe, as I do, that the president needs to play a visible leadership role, articulating the values of the institution. At the very least, presidents should be fully informed about the circumstances of the crisis, agree with what is being proposed and speak at key moments on behalf of the institution.

Every president should have at least one person knowledgeable about higher education to whom they can turn to discuss such fraught moments confidentially and constructively. Although I would have given similar advice years ago, it is even more vital today that presidents establish relationships with confidants. Those confidants should not only listen and provide moral support but also engage in creative problem solving with the president.

Presidents should intentionally establish and maintain relationships with members of the faculty and staff who will candidly share, both in normal circumstances and moments of crisis, what they think and what they are hearing from others.

Even in the midst of charged and uncertain moments, presidents should exhibit the following characteristics: an unwavering commitment to fairness, a sense of confidence in the strength of their institution and its people, graciousness even when being unfairly attacked, and, if appropriate, empathy for those who believe themselves wronged (which may include parties on all sides of an issue). Presidents should view their role as one of strength but not rigidity and of listening and being responsive. And because most people at the institution will be attuned to their moods and demeanor, presidents should project calm.

Finally, presidents, in both good times and bad, should connect with their campuses. As a matter of ordinary practice, they should take as many walks around the campus as possible, talking informally with students and faculty and staff colleagues. I know of some presidents who have formed strong bonds with people at their institution by dedicating free lunch hours to eating in the school dining hall, joining students, faculty or staff for impromptu conversations. They also attend as many events as possible, such as concerts, plays, lectures, art exhibits and athletic events. Indeed, the best presidents I know view these interactions as one of the perquisites of the job.

My wish for presidents in the current environment is that they become anchored in the life of the campus. Doing so will remind them of the importance of and the reason for the work that they do. It will also enable them to achieve not just President Roth’s goal of “getting out in one piece” but also the fulfillment and pleasure that will sustain them through the challenges as well as the successes.

Susan Resneck Pierce is president emerita of the University of Puget Sound and president of SRP Consulting. Her most recent books are On Being Presidential: A Guide for College and University Leaders, (Jossey Bass, 2012) and Governance Reconsidered: How Boards, Presidents, Administrators and Faculty Can Help Their Colleges Thrive (Jossey Bass, 2014).

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When college goes under, everyone suffers, but Mount Ida's faculty feels a particular sense of betrayal

When a college goes under, everyone suffers. But faculty at Mount Ida feel a particular sense of betrayal following its abrupt closure announcement.

Harvard Graduate Assistants Vote for Union

Graduate students at Harvard University voted 1,931 to 1,523 to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers, they announced Friday. The election, held earlier this month, was the second on the union issue, as a 2016 vote proved inconclusive. "Harvard appreciates student engagement on this important issue," the university said in a statement. "Regardless of the outcome, this election underscores the importance of the university’s commitment to continuing to improve the experience of our students."

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Private colleges look for repeal of endowment tax

Although prospects look dim this year, private colleges target future repeal.

The importance of counting an institution's research expenditures in the humanities (opinion)

Humanities research is both poorly funded and poorly understood. When I served as dean of humanities at Arizona State University, I tried to explain to people what humanists do in this way: we research the whats, hows and especially whys of who we are across cultures and time. We delve deeply into individual cultures and histories, and we try, as difficult as it may be, to juxtapose different traditions and ways of thinking -- sometimes without judgment, but sometimes with a judgment formed by a combination of deep knowledge and relentlessly critical thinking.

This research serves our teaching, of course, but it also helps change the world outside academe through books, articles, digital projects and contributions to large-scale research about the “wicked problems” humanity faces. Anyone who knows anything knows that solutions to such wicked problems are at least as cultural as they are technical.

Somewhat ironically, I’ve found that the public often understands what humanists do more accurately than many of our nonhumanist colleagues, even, or especially, at research universities like mine. Such institutions need to do a better job to support, and tap into, the wealth of knowledge and creative thinking that humanists have and use.

For our part as humanists, to make an impression inside our institutions and in the outside world, we need to do a better job of understanding the relationship between research support and research outcomes. And for starters, we might do a much better job of counting the support our hardworking faculty members receive to pursue their important work.

The Numbers Tell a Story

My institution, Arizona State University, has been among the most successful in both supporting and counting humanities research. In the recently released National Science Foundation rankings for university research expenditures in the area of the humanities, Arizona State University placed fourth, registering more than $12.5 million in 2016. The year before, our ranking was 12th ($7.7 million), and in 2014, it was 18th (almost $5 million). In fact, our humanities research expenditures in 2016, composed of both internal and external support for research in such areas, were greater than those of public institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Virginia; and the University of Wisconsin, as well as private institutions like Harvard, New York, Princeton and Yale Universities. (We were bested only by Brown University and the Universities of Michigan and Notre Dame.)

Those rankings haven’t mattered much in the past, but they should impel us to think again about humanities research and its funding. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a wing of the National Science Foundation, puts together the Higher Education Research and Development Survey -- or HERD -- rankings. Universities boast about their science and technology research expenditures in the way hedge fund managers might crow about the size of their funds. Over all, Johns Hopkins University was again ranked first in 2016 with over $2.4 billion in research expenditures. Arizona State University was, over all, 44th (up from 48th in 2015) with just over $518 million in research expenditures.

Arizona State’s national ranking in the overall HERD numbers reflects the university’s core belief that service to students goes hand in hand with knowledge creation and creative work. The university has received attention for its transdisciplinary research in biomedical science, engineering and the physical sciences. Similarly, the university’s rise specifically in the humanities rankings demonstrates not only the continuing power of research in traditional areas of humanistic research but also in the possibility of bringing together the humanities with other areas of research in the university and with the community.

From 2014 to the middle of 2017, I served as associate vice president for humanities and arts in Arizona State’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, or OKED, as well as dean of humanities. The office is a supercharged office of research, not only covering traditional areas of research compliance, research animal care and coordination of data but also fueling the productive use of knowledge across campus and with students, industry leaders and other key constituents. As with other academic and support units at the university, the funny name both reflects and prompts a deep rethinking of the roles of administrative structures at a research university. When we turned our attention to the humanities, we were able to increase the scope, impact and amount of our research expenditures.

Internal and External Investments

During my time in OKED, the university made important and substantial investments in humanities research. We built those investments upon the principle that funding should support faculty members to do what they love and know yet also provide them with the opportunity to extend their intellectual work to change the world.

We created major funding opportunities for faculty members, including support for traditional humanities research as well as large-scale projects that took their work in a new, collaborative directions. And we created an incentive program for faculty members seeking external support. Connections with the outside world -- federal agencies, foundations and the media -- were central to all that we tried to do.

The digital humanities, which we have consciously built at ASU over the past half decade, represent one area in which funded humanities research can make an impact. For example, one of our university’s digital humanists, originally a scholar of 17th-century English culture, has been embedded in the university’s Global Security Initiative, the interdisciplinary hub for research that addresses human security in a broad way -- tackling issues in defense cybersecurity, safety, individual privacy and many other vital areas.

But it’s not just the digital humanities: humanists are collaborating with scientists in our Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. They are also working across town with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic to better develop ways the humanities can help address issues of health and wellness.

An explicit goal of most of our institutional support for research is also to obtain external funding. Such support not only acts as a multiplier of internal investments, it provides external validation and a pathway for extended impact.

Meanwhile, we haven’t diminished the university’s traditional support for humanities research, including sabbatical leave, book subventions and funding to attend, present at and host scholarly conferences. “The library is my laboratory,” some humanists will say, and Arizona State has dedicated effort to building the library of the future. We can’t count that investment toward the HERD rankings, but better counting is a hallmark of Arizona State’s annual rise in humanities expenditures over the past three years.

More Than a Rounding Error

If you look at our university’s fourth-ranked expenditures of $12 million in relation to the university’s overall expenditures of over $500 million, you could see the humanities as “budget dust” -- a rounding error in a major research university’s efforts. The comparatively small amount involved is perhaps the main reason that few universities have taken the time and trouble to accurately count their internal and external research expenditures.

Moreover, accurate counting to the standards of the HERD rankings is difficult. One vexing problem that we’ve only recently fixed is how to gather information on the individual research fellowships that faculty members in the humanities receive from the National Endowment for the Humanities, foundations and scholarly organizations. If a professor making $100,000 per year receives $70,000 from a foundation to devote a year of work to a scholarly project, how do you know that, and how do you count it?

You only know that if your department chairs and deans are aware that it’s going on. At Arizona State, the accounting system doesn’t automatically code that $70,000 fellowship as “research support,” because it typically goes straight to the department to pay for the teaching that the faculty member is not doing. And although the dean typically “tops up” support so that fellowship recipients keep their full salary and benefits, the college and university haven’t always counted those top-up funds as research expenditures.

In my scenario, the cost for the faculty member to do the year of research is $135,000 to cover salary and benefits for full-time scholarly work. We hadn’t been counting either the $70,000 in external fellowship support or the top-up amount of $65,000. If a productive humanities faculty at a major university has 10 faculty members per year winning fellowships, that’s around $1.5 million of typically uncounted research expenditures. Through manual processes and the hard work of OKED staff members, department chairs and budget managers, we are now successfully counting those fellowships.

This better counting has been important for us internally and externally. A ranking of fourth in the nation (“higher than Cornell!”) brings attention to the brilliant scholars among our faculty in the humanities. Scientists may laugh at the amounts involved, but with a place in the rankings, scientists and the community members alike recognize the significance of the efforts of Arizona State humanists. Recognition helps build the transdisciplinary connections necessary for the “grand challenge” research that will help solve large-scale problems in our world.

I hope other universities will emulate some of what we’ve done at Arizona State. If every place counted as well as we did, I’m not sure we’d rank fourth in the nation. But we would welcome the competition and celebrate the continued excellence of humanities research across the country. Most of us genuinely want to understand the world better and to use our knowledge to make a positive difference. The more exposure we humanists receive, the greater attention we garner and the better collaborations we can set up, the better the world will be.

George Justice is a professor of English at Arizona State University. He served as dean of humanities and associate vice president for humanities and arts at the university from 2013 to 2017.

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Closing Academic Publishing's Gender Gap

Academic publishing’s gender gap is likely to continue for generations, especially in certain fields, according to a new analysis of 10 million science, technology, engineering and math-related papers published in nearly 6,000 journals worldwide over the last 15 years. Researchers from the University of Melbourne estimated the genders of the papers’ 36 million authors, finding that the gender-based publishing gap was especially persistent in surgery, computer science, physics and math. Eighty-seven of the of the 115 disciplines examined had significantly less than 45 percent female authors, while five had significantly more than 55 percent female authors (the rest were close to gender parity).

The gap is especially large in authorship positions associated with seniority, and prestigious journals have fewer women authors than others, according to the study, published Thursday in PLOS Biology. “The Gender Gap in Science: How Long Until Women Are Equally Represented?” also estimates that journals invite men to submit papers twice as often as they ask women. Wealthy countries, namely Japan, Germany and Switzerland, also tend to have fewer women authors than poorer ones, it says. The paper’s authors recommend education efforts and other reforms to help close the gender gap faster.

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Student Government Leaders Call for Gun Control

Student government presidents from 82 colleges and universities signed a letter to leaders in the U.S. Congress and to President Donald Trump calling for "common sense" gun control. The University of Virginia Student Council led the effort, which was backed by student leaders from community colleges, public institutions and private colleges.

"As students, we should be focused on our academics and preparing for careers," they wrote. "We have seen that the growing prevalence of gun violence, both on and off campus, makes that increasingly difficult and has cut short too many of our classmates’ lives."

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La.'s New Commissioner of Higher Education

Louisiana's Board of Regents announced Thursday that it has hired Kim Hunter Reed as the state's next commissioner of higher education. Since early last year, Reed has been executive director of Colorado's Department of Higher Education, a similar role to the one she'll play in Louisiana.

Reed, a Louisiana native who has spent much her career in the state, in 2015 led its higher education transition and previously was state policy director. She was deputy undersecretary of education at the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration, where she led the department's higher education diversity and inclusion work. She also led the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

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