The American Council on Education on Wednesday released two reports from its Presidential Innovation Lab. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded lab asks more than a dozen chief executives to think about how technological, pedagogical, organizational and structural innovations can close the student achievement gap.
The first paper, called "Unbundling Versus Designing Faculty Roles," traces the evolving role of the faculty, from mainly tutors in the 18 and 19th centuries, to the increasingly professionalized faculty of the early and mid-20th century, to contemporary professors, for whom teaching, research, service and others duties increasingly are “unbundled” or disaggregated. The paper argues that this unbundling is particularly acute in large introductory courses, where instructors mainly teach rather than design courses, and in massive, open, online courses, or MOOCs. At the same time, the paper says, unbundling is occurring in myriad ways, and “there is no single model.”
A common concern related to such unbundling, the paper says, is the potential for the decline of the “complete scholar,” whose research, teaching and service combine to positively impact students. But, the paper notes, community college teachers understandably may focus more on teaching than research. The paper also says that technology can help integrate teaching and research by making teaching more inquiry-driven, and by making teaching a kind of research process through student data analytics. The paper concludes that unbundling of professor duties is not necessarily bad for students, but that it requires further study. Colleges and universities may do well to study unbundling within their institutions and more intentionally assign faculty roles based on their evolving duties, as some institutions have done. But those conversations also should happen at the national level, the paper says.
The second paper, called "Beyond the Inflection Point: Reimagining Business Models for Higher Education," raises a broad range of questions about possible changes to higher education’s various business models. For example, the 10-page primer mentions the role of online education in potentially depressing tuition prices across the academy. It also looks at how competency-based education and prior-learning assessment could increase the acceptance of alternative credentialing in higher education. The context for these changes includes more scrutiny of costs in higher education and of the use of cross-subsidization among programs. While the paper doesn't provide firm answers to these challenges, it makes several suggestions, including a call for more collaboration between colleges and for institutions to consider outsourcing the teaching of introductory courses.
More than 500 adjunct professors and their advocates have signed a petition calling for the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate their working conditions. The petition's authors, all current or former adjuncts at various colleges and universities, allege that they are being paid for only part of the work they do, and that that amounts to wage theft. The petition is addressed to David Weil, director of the agency's Wage and Hour Division, and urges him to "open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty, including adjunct instructors and full-time contract faculty outside the tenure track." The investigation should be conducted at the "sector" level, they say, rather than individually.
The petition says that average yearly income for adjunct professors "hovers in the same range as minimum-wage fast food and retail workers," since adjuncts typically are paid only for the time they spend teaching -- not the time they spend preparing or meeting individually with students. Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor of English at three New York City-area colleges, says in a photo posted with the petition that she works 66 hours per week but is compensated for only 26 hours, for example. Kottner and her co-authors say faculty unions have helped alleviate the problem in some cases, but that more needs to be done to protect the rights of adjuncts who can't or won't form unions. Many adjuncts lack basic job security and fear getting "blacklisted" for speaking out or organizing, they say.
The Labor Department did not return a call for comment on the petition.
A prominent article in The New York Times offers a highly critical look at how Hobart and William Smith Colleges handled a student's complaint that she was sexually assaulted by three football players. The article describes how the college quickly cleared the players -- and physical evidence that emerged backing the female student's complaints. The article also describes how the student felt her privacy was violated, and how she was subject to threats and harassment for having brought the charges.
Hobart on Sunday issued a statement disputing many points in the article. The statement said, for example, that while the article portrayed the case as one in which local authorities were not contacted initially, the local police were contacted within one hour of the report received by the college. The statement says that the college takes sexual assault cases seriously, and that in the past two years, Hobart has adjudicated seven charges of sexual misconduct, four of which led to students being "permanently separated" from Hobart.
A recent Internal Revenue Service audit of Ohio University has determined that President Roderick Davis should pay personal income taxes on the benefit of living in the presidential home, The Columbus Dispatch reported. The university's board responded by giving Davis extra funds to pay the taxes. But the article noted that other Ohio colleges and university presidents who live in presidential homes don't pay taxes on the benefit.
Both The Texas Monthly and The Dallas Morning News are reporting that two candidates have emerged as favorites as the University of Texas System Board of Regents seeks a system chancellor to succeed Francisco Cigarroa, who plans to return to academic medicine. The two candidates are Richard W. Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Admiral William McRaven. The Morning News article said other candidates were still being considered.
If the job goes to Fisher or McRaven, that would continue a trend in recent years of higher ed system head positions in Texas going to people with experience primarily outside of academe.
A discussion with Hunter Rawlings III, president of the Association of American Universities, on the push to oust Bill Powers as president of the University of Texas at Austin.
A discussion with Laura Dunn of SurvJustice and Kevin Kruger of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education on Senator Claire McCaskill's study of how colleges prevent and respond to sexual assault.
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For decades now, email has been the preferred form of communication for individuals in large and small organizations, including colleges and universities. The impact of the use of email on the need for vital primary sources for institutional histories, however, has been little noticed, let alone addressed. And the clock is ticking.
David Skorton, president of Cornell University (where I have taught and served as an administrator for 30 years), receives between 150 and 200 emails each day. He replies to virtually all of them. The volume of email traffic (perhaps 100,000 notes a year per person) is about the same for the provost and many of the vice presidents and deans at Cornell. Like telephone conversations, which are often informal and irreverent, with a mix of the personal and the professional, their emails can be more important – and more candid – than snail mail letters.
It is not entirely clear who owns emails. Lawyers at private colleges and universities claim that all business records and communications, including correspondence conducted on computers, iPads or iPhones purchased and maintained by the employer, are the property of the institution. In many states, email records at public colleges and universities are covered by open records laws, and can become public as a result. Many experts acknowledge, however, that few colleges and universities have policies that explicitly engage this issue with reference to email.
Past practice, moreover, has permitted presidents, provosts and deans (and, for that matter, faculty and staff) to review their own correspondence, be it in the form of hard copy or emails, before deciding what material is personal and what “documents,” if any, should be housed in library archives. It should not be surprising, then, that many college and university officials routinely delete their incoming and outgoing emails, rendering them difficult to recover and doomed to extinction when the computer that houses them is discarded.
Given the volume – and the sometimes sensitive content – of email exchanges, it seems likely that few, if any, academic leaders will have sufficient time or be inclined to conduct a comprehensive review of their “files.” Nor, I suspect, will they choose to allow a third party to make decisions about what items to include or exclude. Absent a formal policy governing this correspondence, which may or may not resemble the preserve everything that has “documentary or evidential value” approach taken by the litigation and freedom of information-conscious federal government and applied to many state employees, it may well be that in the 21st century, the official “papers” of college and university officials will lack vitally important information about decisions made during their tenure.
In my view, boards of trustees should act – with a sense of urgency. They might begin by appointing a task force, composed of professional historians, lawyers, board members, and administrators, to recommend procedures for an independent review of the correspondence of presidents and provosts. Although a mandate that all communications should reside in library archives might have a chilling effect on email exchanges (and boost the telephone bills of academic leaders), it should be considered as well. Equally important, boards of trustees should set aside funds for the review – and for cataloging presidential and provostial papers (having just completed a history of Cornell from 1940 to the present, co-authored with my colleague Isaac Kramnick, I can attest to the massive challenges posed by uncataloged collections, which contain millions of documents).
In addition to making possible more accurate institutional histories, complete and accessible presidential "papers" might well help sitting presidents facing tough decisions, by allowing them to understand what their predecessors considered, said and did in similar situations.
Such an approach will cost a considerable amount of money, but even at a time in which resources are tight, the alternative – a less complete, more sanitized, and impoverished account of the history of colleges and universities – is far too steep a price to pay. Emails are, in a sense, an endangered species: it’s in our interest to design a practical plan to preserve and protect them.
Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
The University of Southern California and the Scripps Research Institute have abandoned talks about Scripps becoming part of USC, The Los Angeles Times reported. The end of the talks comes amid widespread opposition among Scripps researchers to the merger idea.