Lynn Pasquerella (right), a philosopher who started her academic career at a community college and had prominent leadership roles at public and private colleges alike, has been named president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Pasquerella, who will replace Carol Geary Schneider at AAC&U on July 1, is president of Mount Holyoke College, in Massachusetts. She previously was provost of the University of Hartford and graduate dean and a longtime professor of philosophy at the University of Rhode Island. She is also host of the Academic Minute, a podcast series featured on Inside Higher Ed.
The association advocates for undergraduate liberal education at its 1,350 member institutions and across higher education.
Submitted by Sarah Lyon on January 5, 2016 - 3:00am
Student Mental Health
Mental illness exists on any type of campus -- urban or rural, public or independent, prestigious or relatively unknown. Students of all class years, ethnicities, majors and socioeconomic backgrounds are susceptible. Thus, it is now time for every one of our colleges and universities to implement orientation seminars dedicated to educating new students about the campus resources and support systems available with regard to mental health. This effort can be particularly important in preventing campus suicides, now the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 18 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recently, the state of Texas has made strides in this area. As a result of a bill passed this past June, Texas now by law “requires universities to show students a live presentation or video with information about mental health and suicide as part of their orientation.” But the concept of dealing with mental health within the collegiate setting is nothing new -- so why haven’t such orientation seminars been required all along?
Historically, mental health resources were not always well received. As one historian notes, “The stigma associated with admitting mental health problems, together with tight budgets and the wish to focus only on academics, has often constrained … the development of services.” Still, the historian explains, by the mid-20th century, half of colleges and universities had mental health-related programs on campus. Why, more than 60 years later, are we not giving these resources the full credit they deserve by emphasizing their benefits during the orientation period?
It should be noted that campus health programs came about even earlier than the 1950s. Princeton University is credited with having established the first on-campus resource in 1910 -- the service was formed to tackle the issue of strong students withdrawing from the university “because of emotional and personality issues.” Harvard University and Yale University both hired campus psychiatrists in 1925, and other institutions had done so even earlier. The mental hygiene movement, which one scholar referred to as “a movement whose aim is the promotion and preservation of mental health,” was one factor connected to the establishment of such resources at the time.
Unfortunately, today’s students are still abandoning higher education for reasons similar to those who left Princeton over a century ago. In 2012, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) released results from a survey of 765 college students experiencing a mental health condition, noting that 64 percent of respondents left college as a result of their condition. The survey findings indicate that half of the students who left an institution “did not access mental health services and support,” later noting that 24 percent of respondents cited a lack of information as one reason that they did not take advantage of such resources. In general, those students who left college cited “connecting with mental health providers earlier” as one factor that may have prevented them from withdrawing.
What’s more, over the years, students’ needs for mental health care have become more pressing. For instance, a 1998 paper found that the concerns of contemporary college students “include both the normal college student problems … as well as the more severe problems, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, sexual assault and personality disorders.”
All of the above findings underscore the need for exposure to mental health-related services upon students’ arrival to campus. NAMI, too, advocates for orientation and campus tours to include information about mental health resources.
First-year orientation programming often includes sessions on alcohol use and abuse, sexual violence, and other topics pertaining to student health and lifestyles. In examining future programming, college administrators should make every effort to include a seminar detailing the resources that are available to those battling depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness. It is still important to consider the issue of stigma; as the NAMI report notes, “Stigma remains the No. 1 barrier to students seeking help.” Thus, a key benefit of making such seminars required for all first-years is that it eliminates any implication that any one student is personally facing a specific issue.
At such orientations, students can have the opportunity to practice asking each other difficult questions, such as, “Do you have thoughts of harming yourself?” They will learn how to delicately decipher why a friend seems upset and engage in sample conversations with peers. They can watch simulations that demonstrate how to respond to a friend who appears to be in distress.
These are all the same tactics that the University of Pennsylvania’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) counselors incorporate into their own training sessions. CAPS offers free workshops throughout each semester, during which students, faculty members and staff members have the opportunity to gain awareness of the university’s many resources designed to support individuals. Likewise, this type of workshop demonstrates how to be an ally for a peer suffering from mental illness. Ensuring students’ mandatory attendance to such a workshop during orientation will pave the way for a more supportive campus community as a whole.
By addressing mental health during the orientation period, students will begin their college careers with knowledge of the various challenges they or their peers may face at the present moment or at some point throughout their college career. With anxiety, depression, relationship problems and thoughts of suicide among the most common mental health concerns plaguing college students, it is imperative that our nation’s colleges and universities address this serious issue.
Sarah Lyon is a master’s candidate in higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 graduate of Colby College in Waterville, Me.
Administrators at City College of San Francisco, where cuts to academic programs remain controversial, have been spending significant sums on travel and other expenses without documentation about the purpose of such spending, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. For example, records obtained by the newspaper show that the college paid for travel by President Virginia Parras to China, Taiwan and Vietnam without required records about the purpose of the trip. College officials said the trip was to recruit foreign students but couldn't say whether any enrolled as a result. College officials also couldn't provide information on why they paid for spending by Parras at Best Buy ($1,759 and $1,377) and at Amazon Marketplace ($735).
Rafael Mandelman, president of the City College Board of Trustees, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the district started an investigation after the newspaper started looking into the issue. The expenses may "be perfectly explainable," he said, but the lack of appropriate documentation pointed to continuing problems that need fixing with regard to "internal fiscal controls."
The National Labor Relations Board in December agreed to consider whether graduate students at Columbia University are entitled to unionize. The NLRB in October agreed to address the issue with respect to a bid by graduate students at the New School to unionize. Collective bargaining rights at public universities are governed by state law, and many public universities as a result have teaching assistant unions. The NLRB has gone back and forth on the issue with respect to private universities, but the current precedent bars collective bargaining. The petitions from graduate students at both the New School and Columbia seek to reverse that ruling, while the universities would like to maintain the ruling.
Curtis B. Charles has resigned as president of Tiffin University, effective Friday. Charles has been president for only six months. A university press release said his departure was "a result of a difference in views on strategic vision."
Tiffin, a private nonprofit college in Ohio, was forced in 2013 to abandon a strategy in which it worked with a company -- Ivy Bridge College -- to run an online institution that offered associate degrees. Tiffin ended that partnership after its accreditor objected.
It’s been widely researched, documented and debated. But even with all the attention, the nation’s colleges and universities have made little progress in closing the gender gap in academic leadership.
Despite the fact that more than half of America’s population is female, and the gender ratio among college and university students has been increasingly favoring women for nearly 50 years, higher education institutions don’t get very good grades in terms of hiring and promoting female leaders. Research by the American Council on Education has found that only 27 percent of deans of academic colleges and 26 percent of college or university presidents are women.
While those numbers are an improvement from past studies, progress in this critical area has just been too slow. At Rochester Institute of Technology, where I serve as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, we’re striving to be leaders of change in this arena. In fact, at our nine-college university, where our 18,500-student enrollment is 66 percent male and the majority of students are majoring in male-dominated STEM fields, 44 percent of the deans, 50 percent of associate or assistant provosts and 40 percent of vice presidents are women. In addition, three of our four female deans are in colleges where leadership is typically male: our business school, college of science, and college of computing and information sciences. (The fourth is dean of a college unique to RIT, the nationally ranked College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.)
How did we achieve this? It did not happen overnight, but rather through deliberate focus and corresponding actions, using a systematic approach that we call SERS: Strategize, Encourage, Recruit and Support.
Strategize. You must build on a foundation grounded in your institution’s values in order to diversify its leadership. An underlying thread in RIT’s 2025 strategic plan, entitled “Greatness Through Difference,” recognizes the power of diversity to shape the future of higher education as well as the students we serve. This strategic plan includes goals of increasing the number of female and minority employees in supervisory and management positions; designing, distributing and publicizing career ladders for advancement within each division; and examining our mentoring program to determine if it meets the “personal, profession and career advancement needs of minority and female faculty and staff.” Having such a strategic mandate goes a long way toward building momentum and garnering on-the-ground support for this work.
Encourage. To make important strategic institutional changes, you must instill your priorities in your institution’s culture. So, if you want to diversify your leadership, it is not enough to establish the expectations. You must then put support systems into place.
For example, when working with all of the deans to set the plan of work for the year, we agree on specific goals for diversifying the faculty and staff and provide ample examples of the role that deans can play in achieving these goals. One specific way is to encourage up-and-coming women and faculty members of color to seek out leadership roles and development opportunities. Diversifying committee leadership positions is one approach, but so are more formal professional experiences such as the ACE Fellows, Harvard Higher Education Leadership or emerging leadership programs. We have found that these “grow your own” approaches often produce superior results.
Or if you have an opening for a dean position and are going through a search process, you might consider asking a qualified woman to step in as interim -- something I’ve done on two occasions at RIT. It accomplishes two practical goals: it provides the person with a safe environment to try on the position and decide if it is a good fit, and it gives the community an opportunity, in turn, to try out him or her.
Recruit. Of course, one of the most important ways to help meet the goal of diversifying your institution’s leadership is in the recruitment process. For instance, when forming a search committee for a high-level position, make it clear in your charge to them that you expect they will present the decision makers with a diverse final pool. That means they will have to actively and intentionally recruit, not just sit back and hope diverse resumes fill their inboxes.
That’s not as difficult a task as it may sound. There are many professional organizations, including the American Council on Education’s Women’s Network Executive Council, that keep track of their rising stars. In fact, ACE hosted a round table in June entitled “Moving the Needle: Advancing Women Leaders” that drew 70 attendees. This initiative has set a vision that by 2030 half of the chief executives at higher education institutions will be women. You can begin building your own database of exceptional women in academe by working with one of those organizations. And do not forget that the professional societies, such as the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, are also great sources for women and faculty of color leaders.
Once the search committee brings you that diverse group of finalists, be prepared to take action that reinforces your strategic imperative. In other words, if you have to choose between two equally qualified candidates, choose the one who brings diversity to your college or university. Without such deliberate actions, we cannot expect to achieve our diversity goals.
Support. And finally and equally important: support women in leadership positions. As provost, it’s my obligation -- and honestly, my privilege -- to recognize our in-house talent and to then work with them to identify and cultivate development opportunities. This support is crucial to their long-term success.
For example, I recently invited our female deans to join me on a development trip on the West Coast. The invitation demonstrated my respect and appreciation for their leadership and willingness to take on new challenges. The time we all spent together gave us a chance to learn more about each other as people and colleagues. I have seen the bond that has formed among these women, who now look to each other for counsel and support. And of course, encouraging our emerging leaders to find mentors and advisers who will carefully provide career guidance is a great way to create a continuum of support. The converse works, too -- all of us should offer to be mentors for our rising stars.
Systemic Change Required
But one person -- or even a group of people -- can only do so much. If we are to balance the scale on gender diversity in higher education leadership, we must recognize the need for systemic change and be the force behind it.
At RIT, we’ve used a $3.4 million transformational grant from the National Science Foundation to establish AdvanceRIT, a project aimed at refining and creating systems and targeted programs designed to increase the representation of women faculty in the STEM disciplines and among our campus leaders. It is a research-based project that includes enhancements to faculty development, refinements to policies and better-related data tracking and reporting -- all to further improve the working environment and support career advancement of women faculty through empowerment and inclusion. For example, AdvanceRIT created a system of “connectivity” grants that allow women faculty to build greater research networks, and AdvanceRIT played a leadership role in clarifying the RIT policy on tenure.
Our ultimate goal is to improve recruitment, retention and advancement among our women faculty. And in keeping with our commitment to diversity, the project is looking into the distinct challenges experienced by women faculty of color and those who are deaf and hard of hearing. To demonstrate our commitment to this project, both RIT President William W. Destler and I serve on its leadership team, along with the principal investigator, mechanical engineering professor Margaret Bailey, and four other talented female STEM faculty members, who are co-principals on this project.
I’m certainly not implying that we at RIT have done everything right, or that we have all the answers. We know that our work is far from done. We can, for example, better diversify our department chairs and our faculty senate and increase the number of faculty of color in leadership positions. But if change is to happen, if we are to do more than talk about diversity and actually achieve it, then we all must take action.
Jeremy Haefner is provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, a post he has held since July 2008.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday issued an opinion that rejected ideas put forward by some public colleges and faculty members in the state about carrying out the new "campus carry" law. Paxton rejected, among other things, the idea that colleges could bar guns in dormitories and that individual faculty members could bar guns in their classrooms. Many Texas higher education leaders have hoped they could ban guns in dorms, because most students residing there are under the age of 21, the minimum required for a concealed carry permit. But Paxton rejected that argument. He noted that the law references rules for storing guns in dormitories, thus suggesting that legislators envisioned guns in dorms.
Paxton's ruling is nonbinding, but it could have an impact on what is likely a round of litigation ahead as public colleges try to set limits on guns on campus and gun rights groups push back.