Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State University, on Monday answered questions that had been due to state officials the prior Thursday about his spending on numerous foreign and domestic trips, and a pattern in which inappropriate charges were billed to the university or its foundation. As Dobelle was filing his defense, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said he had "very, very serious concerns" about Dobelle's spending, and the head of Westfield State's foundation disputed Dobelle's claims of fund-raising success, The Boston Globe reported.
Dobelle then defended himself on a YouTube video in which he said he doesn't like to travel, but does so only to advance the university's interests, and he suggested he was just seeking the same type of due process the governor has received when people have made accusations against him.
Study comparing grad students with and without collective bargaining for their teaching work finds that those with unions have better pay, and that they are just as close to their professors as those on other campuses.
Doing what is right pays dividends. That is a lesson learned in the weeks and months following Unity College’s divestment from investment in fossil fuels.
In 2012, Unity College, an environmental college founded in 1965 by Unity, Maine-area residents became the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels. With a modest endowment of $13.5 million, we could not afford to get this wrong. If divesting from investments in fossil fuels produced negative results for us, there would be no lifejacket at the ready -- we would sink, and fast. Far from possessing some special dispensation due to an economy of both the size of our student body and comparatively modest endowment of $13.5 million at the time, Unity had more to lose than large universities.
There was no drama in Unity’s decision to divest. Once our board members were satisfied that Unity’s fiduciary responsibilities would be met post-divestment, they unanimously supported the initiative.
If the warnings of naysayers turned out to be correct, this college would have far less cushion if things went wrong after the divestment than much wealthier institutions. In the ensuing months, however, I was surprised to read comments from some in higher education downplaying the significance of Unity’s decision to divest. They argued that they have far more to lose from divesting than an institution like Unity College, and disentangling their complex matrix of investments in order to do so would be a logistical nightmare akin to raising the Titanic.
A funny thing has happened since Unity College divested. Not only has this institution not lost money, but it has benefited from a positive series of unintended consequences.
The Rewards of Acting Upon an Ethical Imperative
Just weeks after Unity announced its decision to divest, our director of development, Martha Nordstrom, received a call from the Richard David Stutzke Foundation. The foundation, impressed by Unity’s divestment, offered a generous gift. That gift has since transformed into scholarships in perpetuity for students pursuing studies at Unity as part of its sustainable energy management and environmental policy, law, and society programs.
Foundation officials felt that Unity’s divestment demonstrated leadership and a commitment to the sustainability of the planet. We framed our decision as an ethical imperative related to the recognition that the burning of fossil fuels is driving the crisis of global climate change. Since Unity announced its decision to divest, more than 300 college and university campuses across the United States have seen the development of robust student movements encouraging divestment. Bill McKibben’s organization, 350.org, is leading this effort and encourages any who are interested in divesting to contact them.
An important aspect of our divestment is that we did not intend to use it as a political football. We have always intended to keep the focus on what is scientifically undeniable and point out the course of action we feel is justified. When considering whether to divest, our Board of Trustees discussed the political implications. Trustees unanimously voted to divest not as a monolithic group of liberal-leaning activists (they are not), but as a group of deeply engaged stewards of this college. The board agreed that our investments should be aligned with our values. All institutions of higher learning have a stake in this, regardless of their focus, given the consequences we all face from global climate change. There is no controversy regarding the need to mitigate global climate change, all academies of science recognize the existence of this problem.
Keep Politics Out of It
When advocating for divestment, disengage from possible political quandaries and stick to the facts. You must not allow others to turn divestment into a political act and struggle. The truth of it is that although Unity has an environmental mission, it has always been home to a diversity of political perspectives. In point of fact, caring about the planet is not a brand to be possessed by a political party, it is a timely value to be embraced by all of humanity.
At the risk of offering stereotypical characterizations, I would point out that we have students from conservative backgrounds who are studying to pursue careers in conservation law enforcement, while some sustainable agriculture and environmental policy majors are preservationists with a penchant for social causes championed by groups within the liberal spectrum. When making our divestment announcement , we did not characterize it as a choice between political philosophies, but rather a choice to proactively preserve the precious resources that students across the political spectrum care about.
Unity's divestment announcement has been well-received by its politically diverse college community, including alumni, some of whom have expressed an overwhelming sense of pride in their alma mater. This alone ought to be a call to action for development departments across higher education. Taking a stand on behalf of a world facing the ravages of global climate change is a winning position for advancement professionals, trustees, presidents and senior leaders across the spectrum.
Advancement Professionals Can Advocate for Change
Advancement professionals are in a position to advocate for their own institutions to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Their strength lies not only in their ability to point to the ethical imperative to do what is necessary and right in service to the ongoing renewal of civilization that is at the core of higher education, but to point out that doing so at this juncture makes good business sense.
The green economy is now overtaking the aged, lumbering giants of the dying fossil fuel industry. Divesting at this juncture will position institutions of higher learning to capitalize not only on the inevitable, the wholesale greening of the economy, but encourage the fossil fuel industry to start seriously transforming itself into an active participant. Most fossil fuel players know that carbon emissions must be reduced, probably sooner rather than later. The game afoot is to wring every last drop of profits possible before nightfall. By continuing the divestment movement within higher education, the fossil fuel power players will eventually lose their social contract to pursue business as usual. This will hopefully lead to major changes in service to a simple goal: ensuring that the fossil fuel reserves still available are not extracted and used.
If they are and business continues as usual, the science says it will be “game over” for this planet. The clock to get this done is ticking and advancement professionals in higher education can be change agents.
Financial managers may complain that divestment will be complicated and insurmountably onerous. However, it takes no more effort to manage a portfolio for minimum exposure to fossil fuels than it does to manage for maximum market return – and these two goals can coexist. Admittedly, markets are more complex today than in the time of divestment from companies associated with apartheid. Depending on your particular mix of investment tools, achieving an absolute zero fossil fuel return may be difficult. Presently we have achieved less than 1 percent exposure to fossil fuels for a majority of our holdings, and we are confident that our overall portfolio will generally not perform more poorly than the market average while holding true to our promise to divest.
Your institution must not be on the wrong side of this issue. A commitment to unimpeachable ethical standards is in keeping with the best impulses of the fund-raising profession. Also, when you make your arguments in favor of divestment, be sure to point out that since divesting Unity has not lost a dime on its investments.
I cannot comment on the reasons why Harvard University chose not to divest. What I can say is that Unity's decision to divest was both financially and morally rewarding. We believe that higher education should be focused on the renewal of civilization and sustainability of the planet regardless of a student's field of study.
Tensions surrounding the spending by Westfield State University's president have escalated over the past few days.
Evan Dobelle, president of Westfield State, is currently facing scrutiny from state officials over his widespread foreign and domestic travel, and other expenses -- sometimes without appropriate documentation. On Thursday, he missed a deadline from state officials for a full documentation of his expenses, saying he needed a little more time. Richard Freeland, the commissioner of higher education, responded on Friday by immediately suspending $197,000 in state grants to Westfield State, and seeking authorization to suspend $2 million for a science building, The Boston Globe reported.
Then on Saturday, Dobelle issued a letter accusing his board of violating state law and its bylaws in the way it has investigated his spending, The Republican reported. A spokesman said that Dobelle wants to "protect the integrity of the university against witch hunts like this in the future." The board is scheduled to hold a special meeting this month to discuss Dobelle's spending, which has included travel to trips to Thailand, Vienna, London and San Francisco.
U.S. News & World Report has announced revisions (downward) of the statistics given by Providence College for the average SAT and ACT scores of the class that entered in fall 2012. The average critical reading score on the SAT was really 569, not the 611 that had been reported. The average mathematics score on the SAT was 580, not the 624 reported. Further, the composite ACT score was 25, not 28. Other SAT and ACT figures reported by Providence (including the 25th and 75th percentile scores) were accurate. The magazine said that correcting the data did not change the college's ranking. A spokesman for the college said that the data errors were simply a mistake by the institution, and that the college identified the error and reported it as soon as it was discovered.
Six current or former University of Louisville women's lacrosse players have accused the coach, Kellie Young, of abusive tactics, The Courier-Journal reported. Among their allegations are that the coach required a player with a torn anterior cruciate ligament to do 250 push-ups in an airport terminal, that she told two team members that they had to sign a contract not to talk to one another, and that she called players "alcoholics," "bipolar bitches" and "princess pussies." Young disputed the allegations, as did two co-captains on the team. But Young acknowledged trying to push players hard, in part through the things she says to them. "I tell my leaders, 'It's acting. I’m just trying to get a reaction out of you. If you’re going to be mad at me, great ... if that means you're gonna play harder.' "
The back-to-school season is easy to recognize. Temperatures get a bit cooler. Walgreens and CVS start doing a brisk business in pencil and notebook sales. And in college towns like Boston, as I can personally attest, commute times suddenly double.
Another familiar feature of the season, of course, is news columns on education trends -- those lists of the 10 or 12 or 15 things to watch, whether they be emerging technologies, or new regulations, or looming anxieties about increased competition, financial challenges, the future of tenure, and so on.
What’s striking about so many of the observable trends in higher education today is the way in which they seem to be fueled by the same motivating force: the desire for jobs. The pursuit of jobs or job readiness or real-world work experience seems to be the trend of trends.
For some within the higher education community, this focus on jobs will undoubtedly be viewed as reductivist, relegating higher education institutions to the same status as factories churning out “product” – skilled labor, in this case.
“Just wait,” this constituency may well caution, “this vocational turn will be accompanied by a hail of unintended consequences: a weakened citizenry, the abandonment of the arts, and the valorization of rote learning in place of critical thinking.”
For others, the increased attention to graduate employability and work readiness will signal what they might regard as a long-overdue pivot to a more realistic perspective on the function of higher education within a knowledge economy.
“Look,” this group of stakeholders might well argue, “preparing future professionals to communicate effectively, arrive at work on time, take problems to managers only when warranted, and possess some familiarity with the tools of the contemporary work place – whether spreadsheets, algorithms, databases, or other – just makes good, practical sense.”
For the moment, the latter voices appear to be in the ascendency -- spurred on by an extended economic crisis, unparalleled in our lifetimes, where as many as 4 in 10 recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Indeed, we can see evidence of this perspective taking hold in decisions related to everything from campus operations to curriculum design to assessment to the development of new education-related consumer services.
Look at big data. Business analytics have an important role to play in demonstrating institutional effectiveness. Increasingly, that effectiveness is measured by student success – not just in the classroom or on the exit exam, but in the workforce. Mid-career salaries represent the kind of long-term outcomes growing numbers of institutions are orienting themselves around, and colleges are adapting their systems to gather this kind of information.
Furthermore, few schools today would willingly position themselves as being at a remove from the wider world of economics, industry and work. To the contrary, in one way or another, colleges are going to where the jobs are – whether through the delivery of online learning and short-residency executive education programs, or through the development of satellite campuses, both domestically and internationally, in key economic hubs.
This represents an important kind of bridge-building between the world of academic study and the world of work, and it can be seen in the way colleges and universities are approaching curriculum design.
Look at big data – again. This past summer, IBM announced deals with five U.S. universities – including Georgetown University, George Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Northwestern University, and the University of Missouri, as well as several foreign institutions – to collaborate in the development of new curriculums around data science.
Last spring, the Georgia Institute of Technology announced a deal with Udacity to deliver a master’s degree in computer science online for less than $7,000 in tuition, supported by a $2 million grant from AT&T. Naturally enough, the telecom firm hopes to hire some of the program’s graduates. Deals like these underscore the extent to which universities represent critical talent pipelines, and undoubtedly many students will benefit from the closer collaboration between these institutions and employers.
Even the debate about the value of the liberal arts is concerned with the relevance of the curriculum to the work place – and this is by no means a bad thing, at least if you are among those who believe that the liberal arts curriculum, and the skills and capacities it develops, does have relevance to the needs of the work place.
But the debate is useful also to the extent that it highlights the limitations of the liberal arts in promoting work readiness – because there are a number of ways in which such a curriculum might be augmented to achieve that end.
This can be seen in the growing focus on experiential learning opportunities – whether it takes the form of internships and co-ops, or field research experiences, or participation in business incubators, or any number of other kinds of outside-the-classroom learning experiences.
Of course, experiential learning programs take time for institutions to develop – especially those that intend to provide students with the opportunity to benefit from paid, professional experience earned in the course of their degree programs – and not every institution has the capacity to quickly develop the relationships with employers necessary to sustain these efforts.
For that reason, a number of commercial enterprises are stepping in to help current students and recent graduates, as well as colleges and universities, by providing these sorts of experiences. Witness coaching organizations like the Fullbridge Program, which delivers an intensive preparatory curriculum to help students increase their work readiness, and online providers like Coursolve, which matches courses with organizations’ current business needs so that students can engage in practical problem solving and produce a real-world work product.
Inasmuch as educators are now placing greater emphasis on the application of curriculum to the work place, it isn’t a surprise to see assessment moving in the same direction. This summer the Council for Aid to Education announced that its Collegiate Learning Assessment exam – a tool for measuring, at the institutional level, the value-add that colleges are able to deliver over the course of an undergraduate degree – would now be augmented by something called the CLA+, a new kind of exit exam that attempts to measure the employability of the individual graduate.
Concurrent with the emergence of this new kind of outcomes assessment is a growing recognition that employability should not just be the concern of recent graduates or incoming seniors.
Indeed, a few weeks back, LinkedIn announced that it would begin allowing individuals as young as 14 to create profiles on its site while also permitting them to draw upon the firm’s new University Pages to aid these future professionals in their college search efforts. The intention, it seems, is not only to help prospective college students compare and contrast institutional profiles, but to empower them to connect with current students, as well as alums – folks who are already on campus or already in the workforce, and who can share their views on the extent to which their alma mater was able to effectively prepare them for the careers they ultimately hope to pursue or are already pursuing.
It will take time to see which of these forms of work force preparation prove effective and which do not – both academically and professionally. Those institutions that are most successful in testing these more professionally focused strategies and tactics are likely to be those that view the journey from college to work as a continuum where they have an important role to play, rather than those who view the encroachment of pre-professional preparation on academic disciplines as an anathema.
Whatever one’s philosophical disposition, the desire to link the worlds of academic study and work more closely together is clearly driving diverse forms of innovation, and those innovations certainly represent interesting trends in and of themselves. But the real trend, ultimately, is the pursuit of jobs itself.
As a consequence, for a growing number of colleges and universities, the emphasis this back-to-school season will have to be on getting their students ready for work, and getting ready to make that work for themselves, as well.
Peter Stokes is vice president of global strategy and business development at Northeastern University, and author of the Peripheral Vision column.