Madison Area Technical College is turning down an offer of a $100,000 gift because of a condition attached to it, The Capital Times reported. David Peterson, a long-time instructor, pledged the money if the college would change the name of the Bettsey L. Barhorst Welcome Center by removing the name of Barhorst, former president of the college. To drive home the point, Peterson said he would turn over the funds specifically for the lettering currently used in the welcome center. Peterson explained his rationale to the newspaper. He said he was offended by the "decadent display of self-promotion." A welcome center, he said, should be "functional, not personal." College officials say, however, that the welcome center wasn't just named to honor the former president, but because she and her husband made a donation. Having accepted funds and agreed to name the center, officials said, they can't remove the name.
The Massachusetts State Board of Higher Education has summoned the president and board leaders of Westfield State University to Boston for a discussion of the president's expenses, The Republican reported. The request comes as a new outside report detailed numerous violations of spending rules. The president, Evan Dobelle, has admitted to charging some items in error, and has said he has reimbursed the university or its foundation in such cases. Further, he has argued that his spending has been to advance the university's interests.
But the outside report found that Dobelle violated credit card policies on trips to San Francisco, New Orleans, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, New York City, Washington and elsewhere. In other cases, Dobelle charged the university foundation for travel to Spain, Vietnam, Thailand and China -- without receipts or documentation.
Residential halls may be the greatest experiment in American democracy. In the same way that many people argue the military draft once performed a unique function in mixing people together, residential halls may be one of the few places that truly do this in American society. At the very least, they are certainly one of our under-leveraged assets for civic learning.
Each year, students arrive on our campuses and move into residential halls. Typically, we pack lots of students into small spaces. For our first-year students, it will be the first time that many of them have shared a room with another person. It's also the first time that many of our students have bumped up against so much diversity. Over the last 30 years our residential halls have become increasingly diverse, mixing students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, mental and physical challenges, alcohol or drug issues, and a range of other characteristics or issues.
For the most part, too many of us treat residential halls as a functional place for housing students.
This is a lost opportunity. The next generation is going to inherit a world filled with civic challenges. In addition to the usual challenges of community building, they will inherit communities struggling under the weight of large social and political institutions that are not up to the task of the modern era. They also will inherit communities grappling with complex global issues manifesting themselves as local problems, including a lack of jobs, water shortages, and racial/ethnic/religious divisions.
To meet their civic responsibilities, our students will need the capacity to thrive in diverse environments, embrace change as a daily reality, think outside boxes and across categories, and possess a mix of personal attributes, including humility, confidence, persistence, empathy, and communication and conflict negotiation skills. Residential halls are great places for some of this learning to occur.
Take two examples:
A typical roommate conflict takes the following form. Students get annoyed. Rather than tell their roommates, they often text their friends and/or use cell phones to call their parents. Eventually they talk to a resident adviser (RA) or a member of our staff. By the time they confront their roommate, they are angry and often voice the annoyance in a way that few people could hear. Everyone gets angry. Friends take sides, and the hall becomes divided. Paid professionals then step in to solve the problem. Sometimes we move one of the students. Other times we create rules that allow for people to share space by minimizing social interaction. Rather than viewing roommate conflicts as problems to be solved, we should see them as moments to teach students the habits and skills of civil discourse. Roommate conflicts are opportunities for students to learn to voice problems, to hear different views, and to reconcile competing views into an action or policy. Part of living in a free society is learning to live and work with people you may not like. The roommate who is "driving us crazy" will someday be our neighbor, family member, coworker, or ally in a local issue.
A second example is the typical problem of late-night noise on a residence hall floor. Under the current model, students learn poor civic responses that mirror large society. First, the individual approaches the group that is making a lot of noise. When that does not work, students call the local authorities, often campus security or RAs. If this does not work, they lump it by either finding another place to study or learning to live with it.
Another approach would be for our students to be coached to organize their neighbors to solve the problem. Most often, late-night noise results from a few students going too far on a regular basis. Everybody on the hall knows the source of the problem. The majority of students don't want the constant nighttime ruckus and its associated problems. We should help students learn to mobilize their peers to develop and carry out creative solutions. In the process, students will learn to work in groups, develop the arts of creative problem solving and project implementation, and acquire the skills of persistence, communication and conflict negotiation. They also will learn to hold their peers accountable when they are acting against the interest of the community, a skill that is sorely lacking in American society.
Disruption within residential halls is important. Often those making the noise operate from a place of privilege that is associated with class, constructions of gender and its expression, and truisms about college life. As they get louder, the rest get smaller, quieter, and more isolated. By training and encouraging civic action, we help a generation learn to become stronger and louder, not quieter, in the face of clashing culture norms. This is tough stuff, but it uniquely prepares students to be effective in democratic settings.
What do we need to do? We can start by trusting and investing in our residential staff. Much of what I wrote above is known to our students and staff working in residential halls. We have a fantastic generation of people choosing to work in our halls, both as students and professionals.They know a lot about campus culture. We need to recognize them and elevate the work they do in three ways.
First, we need to focus on a different kind of training. Most staff members have received training in student development, which they pass along to our student RAs. But very few have been trained as community organizers. This may seem like a small shift, but it requires training students and staff to use techniques and processes of community organizing. People trained this way know how to canvass a neighborhood and conduct one-on-one conversations with people who hold different views. And they are well equipped to facilitate contentious meetings, set agendas, and keep people organized and aligned over time. They understand the art of framing an issue and are adept at seeking allies in unexpected places.
Second, we should adopt and use the language of civic action. We often use the concept of community when talking about residential halls, but then we juxtapose the language of rules and processes. Effectively, our nomenclature in halls mixes frameworks of civic engagement with language of social control and bureaucratic management. There is a rich language used by people engaged in community work that is powerful, historic, and largely absent on our campuses. We might more forcefully use terms like community council, civic agency, and public work.
Language is connected to action. A community that is alive with civic action is a messy place that is filled with competing views, publicly contested issues, and engaged citizens. Civic action takes time. It also requires space to problem-solve. To transform our residence halls into sites for civic learning, we would need to de-layer our halls of rules and processes. We would move away from approaches where professionals act on people — and move toward civic approaches, where residential hall leaders understand the art of coaching students to engage in community building. We would take an experiential approach, giving students space and time to learn by doing. Sometimes our students would get it wrong. This would lead to some messiness and, often, to some conflict. We would see these as positive learning moments and not messy moments to be avoided.
All of this would require some give and take across the campus. In tight budget times, we would be asking a range of constituencies to support an intentional channeling of resources to residence halls as educational sites that complement and leverage learning elsewhere. We also would be asking our residential hall staff to embrace new ways of thinking, including giving up some of the rules and processes.
I spent the last eight years working for an organization on the front lines of global issues. We worked with young people from more than 140 countries who want to build healthy communities that can address the critical global issues that will shape the future. Our students were fighting for human rights in Yemen, working on public health issues across Africa, and addressing issues of poverty and race in the United States. As I watched them struggle, I was struck by how many of them had wonderful hearts but lacked the skills of civic action and community building. I also was struck by how many of them had spent time on our campuses.
I will admit that I am writing this a few days after my wife and I hosted a dinner for 70 students who serve as resident advisers and head residents, along with our amazing residential life staff. Talking to them, I was moved by their passions and talents. And I was intrigued by the thought of what they could do if trained and empowered as civic actors.
Adam Weinberg is the president of Denison University. Prior to this he was the president and CEO of World Learning. From 1995-2005, he was on the faculty at Colgate University, including serving as vice president and dean of the college.
Nassau Community College adjuncts have been on strike this week, following the Board of Trustees’ rejection of a proposed contract settlement it said it couldn’t afford.
The Adjunct Faculty Association, an independent union representing 2,600 adjunct faculty, has been without a contract since 2010. The union's proposed contract would have lasted through 2018, and offered a retroactive pay raise of 4.9 percent each year, costing $14.5 million, Long Island Newsday reported. The college said the total cost would have been $63.4 million.
Adjuncts went on strike Monday and plan on continuing to picket each afternoon. Public employees are prohibited from striking under the Public Employees Fair Employment Act and Nassau adjuncts will be fined two days' pay for each day they strike.
Union leaders could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement on the union website, Charles Loiacono, president, called the fine “a very small penalty for standing up for the agreement that we have negotiated with the County; and it’s certainly nothing compared with the indignity and disrespect shown to us by the [board].”
In an e-mail, Alicia Steger, a college spokeswoman, said: "A professor who teaches a three-credit [course] gets about $5,100. That is the highest of the colleges in the area. We have heard numerous reports from adjuncts who teach elsewhere that they would love to teach at NCC. So, that is our answer to the claim of unfair working conditions."
More than 100 members of the Faculty Senate -- a little less than half the body -- moved this week to hold a special meeting by the end of the month to vote on postponing the plan. Such an action is rare for the Faculty Senate, Brent Yarnal, professor of geography and body president, said in an e-mail.
Employees have complained about details of the plan since they were announced this summer, including punitive surcharges of up to $100 monthly each for not completing a biometric screening, smoking and covering spouses eligible for health insurance through their own employers. Faculty and staff members also have raised privacy concerns about the uploading of years of personal medical information onto a third-party provider's website and the nature of the questions in a mandatory, online wellness profile, such as those about drinking habits and mental health.
University administrators have repeatedly said that serious intervention is needed if the university is to tackle skyrocketing health care costs, predicted to increase by 13 percent next year, and that previous, voluntary programs to mitigate costs have not been effective. All information collected and its uses comply with federal health care privacy laws, Penn State has said, including that it is only reported to the university in aggregate form.
Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the institution's new advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, called the meeting "a major victory for us."
A university spokeswoman did not return a request for comment on the Senate matter. It is unclear if the body has the authority to delay the plan, even if it votes to do so.
When institutions and organizations begin to identify with processes instead of intended outcomes, they become vulnerable. They lose sight of their real missions and, when faced with challenges or disruptive innovation, often struggle to survive.
Eastman Kodak, once the dominant brand in photography, identified too closely with the chemical processes it used and failed to recognize that its overarching mission was photography rather than film and film processing. Swiss watch manufacturers likewise identified too closely with the mechanical workings of their watches and lost market share to companies that understood that the real mission was the production of reliable and wearable instruments to tell time. If railroads had viewed their mission as transportation of people and goods rather than moving trains on tracks, we might have some different brand names on airplanes and vehicles today.
In retrospect, it seems that the decisions made by these industries defied common sense. Although the leaders were experienced and capable, they were blinded by tradition, and they confused established processes with the real mission of their enterprises.
Higher education today identifies closely with its processes. In open-access public institutions, we recruit, admit and enroll students; assess them for college readiness; place or advise those who are not adequately prepared into remedial classes; give others access to a bewildering variety of course options, often without adequate orientation and advising; provide instruction, often in a passive lecture format; offer services to those who seek and find their way to them; grade students on how well they can navigate our systems and how well they perform on assignments and tests; and issue degrees and certificates based upon the number of credits the students accumulate in required and elective courses.
We need to fund our institutions, so we concentrate on enrollment targets and make sure classroom seats are filled in accordance with regulations that specify when we count our students for revenue purposes.
At the same time that American higher education is so focused on and protective of its processes, it is also facing both significant challenges and potentially disruptive innovation. Challenges include responding to calls from federal and state policy makers for higher education to increase completion rates and to keep costs down, finding ways that are more effective to help students who are unprepared for college to become successful students, making college information more accessible and processes more transparent for prospective students and their parents, explaining new college rating systems and public score cards, coordinating across institutional boundaries to help an increasingly mobile student population to transfer more seamlessly and successfully from one institution to another and to graduate, dealing with the threat to shift from peer-based institutional accreditation to a federal system of quality assurance, and responding to new funding systems that are based upon institutional performance.
Potentially disruptive innovations include the increasing use of social media such as YouTube and other open education resources (OER) for learning, the advent of massive online open courses (MOOCs), the quick access to information made possible by advances in technology, and the potential for a shift from the Carnegie unit to documented competencies as the primary way to measure student progression.
One of today’s most significant challenges to higher education is the increased focus on student success. In response to calls and sometimes financial incentives from policy makers -- and with the assistance provided by major foundations -- colleges and universities are shifting their focus from student access and opportunity to student access and success. Higher education associations have committed themselves to helping institutions improve college completion rates. The terminology used is that we are shifting from an “access agenda” to a “success agenda” or a “completion agenda.”
This identification with outcomes is positive, but it raises concerns about both loss of access to higher education for those students who are less likely to succeed, and the potential for decreased academic rigor. The real mission of higher education is student learning; degrees and certificates must be the institution’s certification of identified student learning outcomes rather than just accumulated credits.
Faculty and academic administrators, perhaps working with appropriate representatives from business and industry, need to identify the learner competencies that should be developed by the curriculum. The curriculum should be designed or modified to ensure that those competencies are appropriately addressed. Students should be challenged to rise to the high expectations required to master the identified competencies and should be provided the support they need to become successful. Finally, learners should be assessed in order to ensure that a degree or certificate is a certification of acquired competencies.
What would we do differently if, rather than identifying with our processes, we identified with our overarching mission -- student learning? When viewed through the lens of student learning, many of the processes that we currently rely upon and the decisions we make (or fail to make) seem to defy common sense. The institution itself controls some of these policies and practices; others are policies (or the lack of policies) between and among educational institutions; and some are the result of state or federal legislation.
A prime example of a detrimental institutional process is late registration, the practice of allowing students to register after orientation activities -- and often after classes have begun. Can we really expect students to be successful if they enter a class after it is under way? Research consistently shows that students who register late are at a significant disadvantage and, most often, fail or drop out.
Yet, many institutions continue this practice, perhaps in the belief that they are providing opportunity -- but it is opportunity that most often leads to discouragement and failure. Some institutional leaders may worry about the potential negative impact on budgets of not having seats filled. However, the enrollment consequences to eliminating late registration have almost always been temporary or negligible.
Sometimes institutional policies are developed in isolation and create unintended roadblocks for students. When I assumed the presidency of Palomar College, the college had a policy that students could not repeat a course in which they received a passing grade (C or above). But another policy prohibited students who had not received a grade of B or higher in the highest-level developmental writing class from progressing to freshman composition. Students who passed the developmental class with a grade of C were out of luck and had to transfer to another institution if they were to proceed with their education. The English faculty likely wanted only the best-performing students from developmental writing in their freshman composition classes, but this same objective could be accomplished by raising the standards for a C grade in the developmental writing class.
Higher education institutions rely on their faculty and staff to accomplish their missions, so it is important for everyone to understand it in the same way. A faculty member I once met told me that he was proud of the high rate of failure in his classes. He believed that it demonstrated both the rigor of his classes and his excellence as a teacher. If we measured the excellence of medical doctors by the percentage of their patients who die, it would make as much sense. Everyone at the institution has a role in promoting student learning, and everyone needs to understand that the job is to inspire students and help them to be successful rather than sorting out those who have challenges.
"The mission of higher education is student learning, and all of or policies, procedures, and practices must be aligned with that mission if our institutions are to remain relevant."
It is important for faculty and staff to enjoy their work, to feel valued by trustees, administrators, peers, and students -- and for them to feel free to innovate and secure in their employment. As important as our people are to accomplishing our mission, their special interests are not the mission. Periodic discussions about revising general education requirements are often influenced by faculty biases about the importance of their disciplines or even by concerns about job security rather than what students need to learn as part of a degree or certificate program. Before these discussions begin, ground rules should be established so that the determinations are based upon desired skills and knowledge of graduates.
Too often, students leave high school unprepared for college, and they almost always face barriers when transferring from one higher education institution to another. The only solution to these problems is for educators to agree on expectations and learning outcome standards. However, institutional autonomy and sometimes prejudice act as barriers to faculty dialogue across institutional boundaries. It is rare for community college faculty and administrators to interact with their colleagues in high schools -- and interaction between university and community college faculty is just as rare.
Why should we be surprised when students leaving high school are often not ready to succeed in college or when the transition between community college and university is not as seamless as it should be for students? If we are serious about increasing the rates of success for students, educators will need to come together to begin important discussions about standards for curriculums and expectations for students.
Despite the best intentions of legislators, government policies often force the focus of institutions away from the mission of student learning. In California, legislation requires community colleges to spend at least 50 percent of their revenue on classroom faculty. Librarians, counselors, student advisers, and financial aid officers are “on the other side of the Fifty Percent Law.” The ratio of student advisers or counselors is most often greater than a thousand to one. Research clearly demonstrates that investments in student guidance pay off in increased student learning and success. Despite the fact that community college students are the most financially disadvantaged students in higher education, they are less likely to receive the financial aid they deserve. Yet, the Fifty Percent Law severely limits what local college faculty and academic administrators can do on their campuses to meet the needs of students in these areas. Clearly, this law is a barrier to increasing student learning and success. Perhaps state legislators and the faculty unions that lobby them do not trust local trustees and administrators to spend resources appropriately, but this law, in its current form, defies common sense if our mission is student learning.
At the federal level, systems of accountability that track only students who are first-time, full-time freshmen to an institution do not make sense in an era when college students are more mobile than ever and in an environment in which most community college students attend part-time. A few years ago, I met with a group of presidents of historically black universities and encouraged them to work with community colleges to increase the number of students who transfer to their institutions. The presidents told me that doing so could lower their measured student success rates because transfers are not first-time freshmen, and the presidents were not willing to take that risk. Fortunately, officials in the U.S. Department of Education are aware of this issue and are working to correct data systems.
There are many other examples of policies and procedures that seem senseless when viewed through the lens of student learning rather than cherished processes and tradition, just as it seems silly that Eastman Kodak did not recognize that its business was photography or that the Swiss watch manufacturers did not understand that their business was to manufacture accurate and affordable wristwatches.
American higher education today is increasingly criticized for increasing costs and low completion rates. Higher education costs have risen at an even faster rate than those of health care; student indebtedness has skyrocketed to nearly $1 trillion; and college completion rates in the United States have fallen to 16th in the world. In addition, new technologies and innovations may soon threaten established practices.
Challenging the status quo and confronting those with special interests that are not aligned with the mission of higher education can be risky for both elected officials and educational leaders. But given the challenges that we face today, “muddling through” brings even greater risks. Every decision that is made and every policy that is proposed must be data-informed, and policy makers and leaders need the courage to ask how the changes will affect student learning, student success, and college costs. Existing policies and practices should be examined with the same questions in mind. Faculty and staff need to be free of restraining practices so they can experiment with strategies to engage students and to help them to learn.
Colleges and universities are too important for educators to deny the challenges and demands of today and too important for policy makers to pass laws because of pressure from special interests or based on their recollection of what college used to be. Decisions cannot be based on past practices when the world is changing so rapidly. The mission of higher education is student learning, and all of our policies, procedures and practices must be aligned with that mission if our institutions are to remain relevant.
George R. Boggs is the president and CEO emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges. He is a clinical professor for the Roueche Graduate Center at National American University.