New Advice on Navigating Politics in the Classroom

The American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers have published an FAQ-style guide addressing common concerns among professors in the wake of the 2016 election. The document offers advice on scenarios ranging from an administrative ban on talking about the election in the classroom to discussing the election without appearing partisan and responding to students who express racist, sexist, xenophobic or homophobic views. It includes information on what is protected classroom speech and conduct and what is not.

The guide gives attention to non-tenure-track faculty members, saying that they “may be especially vulnerable in a highly politicized environment. All faculty must commit to ensuring that nontenured colleagues are supported and protected through enforcement of collective bargaining agreements, faculty handbooks and other actions from political and popular pressures that lead to arbitrary dismissals or nonrenewal of contracts.”

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U of Wisconsin Sues Former Campus Leaders

The University of Wisconsin System filed a lawsuit Wednesday against its Oshkosh campus’s former chancellor and chief business officer, charging that they oversaw illegal financial transfers and university guarantees supporting five foundation-backed real estate projects.

The suit alleges that former UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells and former campus Chief Business Officer Thomas Sonnleitner improperly transferred a total of $11.3 million from UW Oshkosh to the UW Oshkosh Foundation, largely for the real estate projects. They also executed what the university system called illegal guarantees pledging UW Oshkosh support for bank loans made to the foundation -- assuring banks that the campus would make debt payments for the foundation in the event the foundation could not meet its financial obligations. But the Wisconsin state constitution and university system policies don’t allow public entities to support a private organization like the foundation.

Foundation projects supported by the transfers and guarantees were an alumni welcome and conference center, two biodigesters, a sports complex, and hotel renovations in downtown Oshkosh. Some of the money has been repaid, but roughly $4.5 million is still outstanding, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Wells (at left) served as UW Oshkosh chancellor from 2000 to 2014, at which point he retired. He supervised Sonnleitner, who was at the university from 2000 to 2016. Sonnleitner stepped down as chief budget officer and vice chancellor in March, then retired at the end of May after being placed on administrative leave.

The university system is seeking reimbursement for investigation costs, plus damages. The suit comes after UW Oshkosh Foundation President Art Rathjen in April informed UW Oshkosh’s current chancellor, Andrew Leavitt, that the foundation might need assistance with debt payments on the alumni welcome center. That prompted a series of investigations.

Leavitt fired Rathjen Tuesday. He also placed an unnamed foundation accountant on administrative leave.

In a statement Wednesday, Leavitt said Wells and Sonnleitner “broke a sacred trust” and described their actions as “isolated behavior.” The University of Wisconsin System said it and its Oshkosh campus cannot be held responsible for the foundation’s expenses or debt service, because the campus could not legally guarantee foundation bank loans.

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Fordham denies student Palestinian rights group approval for being too polarizing

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Fordham refuses to recognize Students for Justice in Palestine chapter as an official club, citing its political agenda and the risk of polarization.

Time demands, concussion policies to be focus of NCAA meeting this week

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At NCAA meeting, Division I and the Power Five conferences will take a second shot at legislation limiting time demands on athletes. Divisions II and III expect to adopt new rules giving “unchallengeable authority” to physicians on when athletes should play after concussions.

U of California's Napolitano Treated for Cancer

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California System, has been undergoing cancer treatment for several months, the university announced Tuesday. The announcement did not specify the type of cancer.

"The treatment is nearly complete. President Napolitano had a previous diagnosis of cancer that was successfully treated. She has kept the chair of the UC Board of Regents informed throughout the course of her current treatment," a statement said. "During the course of this treatment, President Napolitano has consistently performed her wide range of duties at full capacity, without interruption or impact. Yesterday, however, she experienced side effects that required her to be hospitalized. According to her physicians, she is doing extremely well. They expect her to be discharged in the next day or so and back to her normal duties at full capacity very soon. While she is recuperating, UC’s senior leadership will continue to support President Napolitano in the management of the UC system and in advancing the university’s key priorities."

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3 U of Oregon Football Players Hospitalized

Three University of Oregon football players were hospitalized last week following a series of "grueling" off-season strength and conditioning workouts, The Oregonian reported on Monday. All three players remain in the hospital, and the mother of one of the athletes told the newspaper that her son was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition in which muscle tissue degrades and can enter the bloodstream. In August, eight women's volleyball players at Texas Woman's University were also diagnosed with the condition, which is frequently caused by overexertion.

On Tuesday, the University of Oregon announced that it had suspended the football team's strength and conditioning coach.

"The safety and welfare of all of our student-athletes is paramount in all that we do," the university said in a statement. "While we cannot comment on the health of our individual students, we have implemented modifications as we transition into full training to prevent further occurrences."

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Essay on presidency and symbolic interactionism

“As nearly all scholars recognize,” we read in an article published in Presidential Studies Quarterly in 1983, “there is no apprenticeship or training an individual may obtain in preparation for the presidency. There is no convenient book or guide which provides a detailed step-by-step analysis of the requirements and demands of the office.”

How true! An acquaintance with the Constitution would surely be helpful, but it’s not as if you have to pass a test on it -- even one with simple questions, such as “Would requiring Muslims to register with the government follow the First Amendment (a) to the letter, (b) in spirit or (c) none of the above?” (It’s surprising how far you can get in public life without being able to answer that one correctly.)

But the whole point of the paper just quoted -- “On ‘Becoming’ President of the United States: The Interaction of the Office with the Office Holder” by Robert E. Denton Jr. -- is that coping with the lack of an orientation handbook is one of the simultaneous, urgent and inflexible demands over which the incoming chief executive must demonstrate a mastery, beginning almost immediately. The author is a professor of communications (and head of the department) at Virginia Tech, with a special interest in the “symbolic dimensions of the American presidency,” to borrow the title of the first of his more than two dozen books.

His vita shows that Denton has been analyzing presidential communications more or less in real time since the first Reagan administration, when “On ‘Becoming’ President” appeared. One of his earliest publications, it proves especially interesting just now -- despite having been written long before official speeches and press conferences were joined by such message-delivery formats as the tweet.

“On ‘Becoming’ President” takes its bearings from symbolic interactionism: a school of thought at the intersection of sociology and psychology, and well established even then. Its defining insight -- drawn largely from the American pragmatist philosophers, especially George Herbert Mead -- is that communication between human beings always involves considerably more than the content of a message. We also take in cues about one another’s roles, statuses, expectations and so on -- an ongoing process of learning to see oneself from other people’s vantage points.

They are doing so at the same time, of course. It can get complicated, even when the roles, beliefs and shared expectations are all reasonably clear or well established. Arguably the symbolic-interactionist researcher and the novelist or filmmaker each tries to depict and analyze the range of communicative multitasking constantly underway in life.

The Oval Office emerges as the scene where symbolic interactions of global consequence take place that are conditioned by “expectations and functions of the office [that] are often competing, conflicting and contradictory.” In addition to the president’s constitutionally specified roles (chief of state, chief executive, chief diplomat, chief legislator and commander in chief), another “five extraconstitutional roles must be recognized: chief of [his] party, protector of the peace, manager of prosperity, world leader and voice of the people.” (Denton culls these roles from the poli-sci literature of the day; the references are given in his article.)

Occupancy of the office itself confers a great deal of persuasive force in exercising any given role. But it often requires playing a number of them simultaneously, and while a certain amount of authority may be delegated, the ultimate responsibility cannot. Denton also underscores the constant burden of “vast and complex” public expectation, both to meet of promises and to exhibit a suitable combination of leadership traits and personal morality.

“Many attitudes about the presidency stem from messages received in childhood about the virtues of various presidents,” Denton writes. “Studies continually find that the president is ordinarily the first public official to come to the attention of young children. Long before children are informed about the specific functions of the presidency, they view individual presidents as exceptionally important and benign.”

He mentions researchers who found children attributing to the president qualities of “honesty, wisdom, helpfulness” and related virtues. (All of the studies Denton cites were conducted before the mid-1970s, but comparable findings appear in a book on child psychology from 2005.)

The symbolic-interactionist approach would emphasize not only presidential roles and duties (as established by the Constitution or tradition) or the pressure of public expectations (still tinged with hero fantasies from childhood, perhaps) but also the inner experience of “adopting and adapting the self to the actions of others” through years of public life. The political learning curve “is adaptive,” Denton writes, “resulting from the capacity to change self depending on political environment, beliefs, values and expectations.”

Implied by Denton’s remarks on what he calls the “political self” is some normative sense of a successful candidate’s personality and career: a self conditioned by the experience of political action and debate, informed by some modeling of another’s leadership, and skilled at anticipating the impact of both words and deeds. The tempered political self -- so understood -- will presumably be as well prepared as anyone can be to incorporate “the trappings, powers and prerogatives of the presidency” into itself. And he suggests that the process is not without its risks, even then.

Our majestic treatment of presidents causes status inequality, inflation of self-concept and distorted perception of external events. Such exposure manifests distortion of social comparison processes, ‘overidentification’ with the office and misinformed decisions …. Presidents are constantly pressured to misrepresent or distort themselves to various national constituencies. Such a continual pressure causes further misrepresentations, erosion of truth norms and self-delusion.

It appears that the author had Richard Nixon in mind as the worst-case scenario, although Nixon had more than 20 years of political experience (including one previous presidential campaign) before taking office. In any event, Denton’s paper is something to chew on this week -- and to choke down in the months ahead.

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Morehouse Board Won't Renew President's Contract

The board of Morehouse College has decided not to renew the contract of John Wilson as president, and he will leave after four years in office. The college’s press release praised Wilson. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that his tenure has been controversial, with criticism of budget cuts and tuition increases that Wilson said were needed due to financial problems.

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Three things to consider about increasing access to higher education (essay)

This past fall’s elections marked a significant change for our nation, both in terms of leadership and direction. As a historian, I am always interested in the how and why of such phenomena, and as an educator, I am interested in what they mean for higher education. So I’ve spent a good deal of time in recent weeks talking with a wide range of people from coast to coast and reading a host of analyses in an effort to grasp the world that is unfolding and how our colleges and universities fit into it.

I’ve come away from that experience with two basic observations. The first is that our nation is more divided than I realized, and the division is more about opportunity than ideology. A recurring theme in my conversations and reading was one of anxiety and anger among many Americans about being left behind. Many people feel that globalization and innovation have not left them better off, and that the institutions that are supposed to help them are not there for them. This sense of an opportunity gap is palpable and powerful, and it will have a real and lasting impact on our politics.

The second observation is that this opportunity gap has a good deal to do with higher education. While inequities in economic opportunity lie at the heart of many Americans’ discontent, educational opportunity is a natural extension of that frustration. In recent years, we have seen survey after survey document the sentiment that education after high school is necessary but increasingly unaffordable. Meanwhile, according to recent data from Public Agenda, public belief that college is essential has slipped. It is too early to tell if that is a blip or a trend, but it is powerfully illustrated by a comment made to me by a gas station attendant in Iowa: “Why would I spend money I don’t have to go to a community college where no one graduates?”

As we begin 2017, I believe that we in higher education need to engage in a serious dialogue about our role in exacerbating the opportunity gap and our obligation going forward to close it. For me, that means grappling with three basic questions.

What Is Higher Education, and Who Is It For?

In our public conversation and policy making, we simply must take a broader view of education after high school and who pursues it. Even today, we labor under outdated images of newly minted high school graduates making their way to lectures and leafy quads, even as 40 percent of our students are over 25 and fully one-quarter are parents. It is time to move conversations about matters like digital learning and redesigning remedial education from the margins to the mainstream and embrace new delivery models that aren’t grounded in seat time and agrarian calendars but rather meet the needs of today’s students.

Institutions like Rio Salado College in Arizona grasp these realities and are responding to them by embracing a combination of online and in-class learning and by having an academic calendar that begins a new term virtually every Monday, rather than just two or four times a year. States are also waking up to the realities of today’s college students, launching initiatives like Tennessee Reconnect to bring adults with some college experience but no credential back into the pipeline for a degree or certificate.

How Important Is Higher Education?

Even as Americans increasingly question the value of higher education, the evidence is clear: our economy favors those with education and training after high school and punishes those who lack it. Virtually all the jobs created since the Great Recession required some form of postsecondary education, from short-term certifications to postdoctoral studies. And that trend will only continue, as the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Economy estimates that, at current enrollment and completion rates, our economy faces a shortfall of 11 million credentialed workers. We need more access and success in higher education, and we especially need it for the people who have consistently been left behind: low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults.

And yet, higher education’s incentive and recognition systems continue to celebrate and reward exclusion. The institutions that top the U.S. News & World Report rankings are the ones that reject the most applicants. The colleges and universities that receive the greatest per-student public funding are the least diverse ones. And as my colleague Anthony P. Carnevale, direct of the center at Georgetown, noted recently, our elite institutions are unable to meaningfully tackle the growing opportunity gap in this country. We must rewrite that narrative if we are going to leave fewer Americans behind.

Institutions like Arizona State University, Georgia State University and the other members of the University Innovation Alliance deserve credit and, more important, support for their efforts to redefine excellence not in terms of whom they exclude but whom they include -- and how well those students succeed. So do open-access institutions that redefine their students’ experiences to emphasize credential completion and employment, like Miami Dade College and Sinclair Community College. They and a growing cadre of other innovators are determined to achieve excellence through inclusion.

What Is Higher Education’s Role in the Public Arena?

Throughout the nation’s history, colleges and universities and their leaders have been engaged in the great debates of war and peace, civil rights, and poverty and inequality. But as America increasingly cleaves along the lines of the haves and have-nots, where is higher education on issues affecting the disaffected, like immigration and health care reform? Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, rightly argued recently in this publication that as an enterprise, higher education has become too insular, too self-referential and too risk averse. Many college and university leaders, fearful of the wrath of politicians and donors, have moved from the center to the sidelines in the public arena. Their voices are urgently needed to substantively address the opportunity gap.

I am heartened to see campus leaders address questions related to immigration and use their convening power to address and hopefully lower racial tensions affecting many communities. But I am also left to wonder how much standing we in higher education have already ceded in the public arena, absorbed with the pursuit of prestige and the race for revenue as those left behind have fallen even farther back.

At the end of the day, I am an optimist. I believe that the educational opportunity gap can be bridged. In fact, it must be bridged if we are going to have an economy and society that is about raising people up rather than leaving them behind. For us in higher education, that process begins by recognizing where our rhetoric may be at odds with reality -- and then doing something about it.

Dan Greenstein is director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Advice for starting or directing a teaching center (essay)

Teaching Today

Christopher M. Hakala provides insights on creating and running a teaching center.

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