Kenneth Starr resigned as chancellor of Baylor University on Wednesday, a week after he stepped down as president amid allegations that the world’s largest Baptist university has continuously mishandled -- and sought to suppress public discourse about -- sexual assaults committed by its football players and other students.
Starr's resignation last week came at the urging of the university's Board of Regents, after a law firm hired by the university to investigate how it has handled allegations of sexual assault presented a lengthy oral report to the board summarizing its findings.
The firm found that university officials mishandled a number of reports of sexual violence and that there were several instances in which "football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct." The football program, the university's summary of the findings stated, operated its own "internal system of discipline," that "resulted in conduct being ignored or players being dismissed from the team based on an informal and subjective process."
Baylor's board fired the university's head football coach on Thursday, and its athletic director, Ian McCaw, resigned on Monday. Starr was originally expected to resign as president, but remain at the university as chancellor and as a law professor. The board said Wednesday that Starr will now step down as chancellor immediately.
"We thank Judge Starr for his years of service," the Board of Regents said in a statement. "We recognize this is a tumultuous time for Baylor, most importantly for our current and former students and victims of sexual assault. We were horrified by what we learned from the investigation and again express our public acknowledgment and deepest apologies. The decisions made, and the actions we have taken, will ensure there is no room for deflection of responsibility or diminishing the experiences of the victims."
The University of Iowa has approved a new policy aimed at strengthening working conditions and career prospects for its 280 non-tenure-track lecturers. The Instructional Faculty Policy, developed by Faculty Senate committees, deans and the provost’s office, gives lecturers grievance rights, representation in faculty governance, a pathway to promotion and clearer workload expectations, according to information from the university. It was approved by a nearly unanimous vote by the senate. The provost’s office will work over the summer to draft college-specific policies, to be rolled out in the fall. The changes follow a two-year study of quality of life among lecturers on campus, which found that these non-tenure-track instructors lacked clear and consistent pathways to promotion, a role in shared governance, and access to dispute procedures. Compensation was a top concern.
Many brilliant products of research end up feared and rejected by the mainstream society. Technologies such as vaccinations, genetics in agriculture or animal models in medicine can save lives, feed the world and preserve the planet but are distrusted by the majority of nonacademic Americans. How should science regain the trust of consumers? Probably not by doing more research. Instead, scientists are increasingly urged to come out from their academic ivory tower and become better communicators.
But is it fair to expect that scientists will do much of this communicating? Few hard-core researchers are gifted communicators. The minds that discover new drugs or new particles do so with an enormous amount of focus, and it may be counterproductive to demand from them additional, completely different types of creativity.
Instead, the academic leadership and administration of higher education institutions need to embrace science communication as a key pillar of their existence and enter the world of media. Most of society -- political candidates and parties, the corporate sector, nonprofits, even religions -- now engage in aggressive and technologically innovative campaigns in the struggle for influence. But not universities. Instead, scientific and educational institutions still appear reluctant to harness their accumulated intellectual, literary and technological capacity.
Yet there are enormous benefits to be reaped, financial as well as political, if higher education manages to enter mass media. For the national academy, communicating the importance of science is no longer a noble pursuit but a matter of survival. Here I offer for debate a few strategies for how science communication can be functionally institutionalized. Academic leadership should:
Measure and reward the impact of individual faculty members’ outreach. Not every scientist needs to know how to use Twitter. But for those who do choose to distribute their knowledge by means less obtuse than research articles, a system should be in place that objectively assesses their efforts and rewards demonstrable outcomes. Such rewards are commonplace for exceptional research, teaching or extension. That they do not exist for science communication is not by design, but out of inertia. Current tenure metrics still value a cryptic research publication that is never cited more than a blog post that influences thousands. Furthermore, measuring the impact of science communication would be easy and possibly more reliable than standard metrics of teaching, such as student evaluations, as usage analytic methods are readily available.
Revamp communications offices. At most American colleges and universities, offices in charge of science communication ether do not exist or are underfunded and resemble something between a sign shop and a branding police. In the world where what matters most is one’s prominence in the media and on the internet, this is an anachronism. Colleges and universities should take note of successful industries and invest heavily in high-quality science promotion teams. Such offices will always need to keep adapting to societal and technological change, and thus will only retain meaning if staffing is flexible -- and always open to new generations that are ahead of, not behind, new trends.
Some colleges and universities are moving forward and even establishing joint science news outlets (such as Futurity). That is a great start, but the vast majority of science news on the web is still by independent bloggers.
Get serious with local and national media for self-promotion. Many American colleges and universities, and most of the large land-grant institutions, reside in relatively small communities. Local radio stations and TV channels are a logical venue for promoting the importance of science to the community. Yet which research departments truly dedicate strategic effort to collaboration with local news media? In Gainesville, Fla., the crime scene dominates local news, with often little or no mention of the mega-funded and mega-productive research enterprise of the University of Florida that resides here. That is a wasted opportunity for developing a positive image of the institution in the lives and minds of the community, as well as for recruitment of supporters.
It is easy to blame the news media for not supporting science reporters any longer. But media-savvy institutions do not sit and wait to be noticed. They flood the market with interesting stuff, form long-term relationships with the news media and cultivate their audiences.
Reinvent extension. The three traditional pillars of all land-grant universities in America are research, teaching and extension. In a nutshell, extension is a network of university employees who mostly live among farmers and other industry folks and who can translate the fruits of recent research to their constituency. Over the last 100 years, this model helped propel America’s countryside into the most productive agriculture region in the world.
Now, in the 21st century, the vast majority of people live not on farms but in cities, and the extension empire is sometimes struggling to remain relevant. Land-grant universities would benefit themselves and the nation if they turned the extension model toward urban audiences. Those audiences are increasingly moving the American economy and are also more and more prone to be swayed by anti-science ideologies.
The main strength of extension has always lain in the army of motivated agents accustomed to working with lay populations. Thousands of agents are trained in core competencies such as electronic communication, program development and youth education. This organization is as close as it gets to being capable of carrying out the much-needed science communications revolution. All it needs is a new focus on plugged-in city dwellers. Some land grants are already exploring this path: check out the Western Center for Metropolitan Extension and Research.
Establish courses on activism and how to influence the media, combined with STEM course work. Whether academic circles approve of it or not, one sting video can thwart a thousand research papers. By producing alumni with practical skills in activism as well as empirical thinking, colleges and universities would secure their place in this increasingly vital aspect of contemporary history. Most important, by also requiring science-based courses, the educational system can exert a degree of control over the choice of worthy causes. Even a few instances of young people loudly demonstrating for better vaccinations would make a huge difference in the public perception of such matters.
Collectively demand that government agencies increase funding for science communication. Scientists are smart people and would invent amazing ways to communicate their results, but only if it becomes the currency of the trade. It is currently not. The National Science Foundation supports research participation for various student groups, but that is quite different from the need to break into online chat rooms where millions of adult Americans form their opinions. NSF also requires an explicit “broader impacts” statement with every grant application, but there is minimal enforcement and no monitoring of impact. This is not the robust incentive that is needed to communicate with masses.
Some of these suggestions may be uncomfortable for many in academe. Some raise ethical questions about the impartiality of education. That is the point. Anti-science groups and lobbying firms that already dominate the virtual marketplace of ideas are not going to wait for ethical guidance.
Jiri Hulcr is an associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation at the University of Florida.
In a rare move among private institutions, Notre Dame de Namur University in California has agreed to recognize a faculty union that includes tenured and tenure-track professors. A majority of tenure-line faculty members voted last week to join an existing part-time faculty union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. In the midst of that organizing campaign, Judith Maxwell Greig, university president, recommended to Notre Dame de Namur’s Board of Trustees that the university no longer invest full-time faculty with managerial authority, so as to legally allow tenure-line professors to unionize if they chose to do so.
According to the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning Yeshiva University, tenure-line professors are considered managers and not entitled to collective bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act. A more recent decision from the National Labor Relations Board concerning Pacific Lutheran University outlined a series of new tests for assessing faculty members’ managerial status, but several recent bids involving tenure-line faculty unions on other campuses have been rejected under the new standards. Notre Dame said in a statement that its decision was “considered,” and that “internal university governance processes will be changed to adapt” to the faculty’s choice. It has signed a voluntary election agreement with SEIU.
Kim Tolley, president of education at Notre Dame de Namur and president of its Faculty Senate, in a separate statement called the development “historic” and “hard-won.”
William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, agreed that the decision was “significant." It's the first new private sector bargaining union since 2010, when the American Federation of Teachers was certified to represent a unit at the Longy School of Music, he said. Prior to that, in 2001, United Auto Workers Union was certified to represent faculty members at Goddard College. The American Association of University Professors was certified to represented tenured faculty at Delaware Valley College in 1994.
“The election at Notre Dame de Namur is another clear sign of the growth of unionizing efforts on private sector campuses,” Herbert said.
The University of Akron announced Tuesday morning that its controversial president, Scott L. Scarborough (right), is stepping down today, by mutual agreement with the board.
Scarborough has been involved in repeated controversies during his less than two years at Akron. He has led efforts to make significant budget cuts, which would have been controversial even if he had not been spending money on renovating his university home. Many were shocked by the $951,000 in renovation costs, and in particular $556.40 on a decorative olive jar (without any olives).
Some of his controversial decisions were reversed. He tried to eliminate the jobs of everyone at the university press (but then pulled back on that). And just last week he ended a relationship with a local company to supplement its student advising and mentoring staff. The company, Trust Navigator, had no other higher ed customers, and the move came soon after the university eliminated numerous positions in its student success division. And the $840,000 price tag seemed to many to be too high for a university that was struggling with enrollments and revenue.
Baylor's athletics director, Ian McCaw, has resigned, the university announced Monday. McCaw's decision came days after Baylor's Board of Regents fired the university's head football coach amid allegations that the world’s largest Baptist university has continuously mishandled -- and sought to suppress public discourse about -- sexual assaults committed by its football players and other students. Baylor's president, Kenneth Starr, stepped aside on Thursday at the board's urging.
The board chose not to fire McCaw last week, though it did place the athletics director on probation for his role in mishandling allegations against players.
“After much reflection and prayer, I have decided that a change in athletics department leadership is in Baylor University’s best interest in order to promote the unity, healing and restoration that must occur in order to move forward," McCaw said in a statement Monday. "I have always sought to put the University’s needs ahead of my own. My time at Baylor has been an incredible journey filled with some of the most remarkable people I have ever known. I am grateful to Baylor Nation for its support and dedication, and to all who have done so much to advance the athletics program.”
Greg McGarity, athletic director of the University of Georgia, has apologized for the terms of the contract with Ludacris (at right), a rapper who performed at the university's spring football game, The Athens Banner-Herald reported. Speaking at a meeting of the athletics department's board, McGarity said that “I do want to take this opportunity to apologize to our board for mistakes we made with certain aspects of the details of an entertainment agreement." The comment was a reference to the contract with Ludacris. He was paid $65,000 for a 13-minute performance. But much of the criticism has focused not just on the fee, but on all of the items that the contract required the university to provide Ludcris, including six Hanes t-shirts, two bottles each of cognac and vodka, one bottle each of red and white wine, two cases of Snapple and a box of condoms. Deadspin published the full list.