administrators

Pima CC Settles With Former Instructor

Pima Community College has settled out of court with a former professor of chemistry who accused it of firing him with no due process, Tucson.com reported. David A. Katz will receive $100,000 in compensatory damages and about $50,000 in lost pay related to his 2014 termination. Katz will not be reappointed, despite his desire to resume work on campus. All parties are subject to a gag order, but public records show that the college, Chancellor Lee Lambert and two former subordinates implicated in Katz’s lawsuit denied wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to Tucson.com.

A federal judge ruled in a pretrial hearing in July that the college violated Katz’s constitutional right to due process in suspending and later terminating him without giving him the right to defend himself. The judge did not rule out the possibility that Lambert could personally be held liable for damages if the case went to trial. The court rejected other claims by Katz, however, including that his free speech rights were violated when he was disciplined after complaining about laboratory conditions. The college argued that Katz was prone to angry outbursts, but some instructors disputed that characterization. All parties will bear their own court costs.

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LIU Faculty Contract Negotiations Stall Again

Contract negotiations between Long Island University and its faculty union are again stalled, just three months after the parties came to a temporary agreement that ended a 12-day faculty lockout. The faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers said in a statement Thursday that compulsory mediation was terminated after several rounds of talks, due to administrators’ failure “to meaningfully engage with faculty on the terms of a new labor contract.” The current contract runs through May of next year, and sticking points going forward include a management proposal that would cut pay for new adjunct faculty hires by up to 30 percent, according to information from the union. It said that student learning remains “at risk.”

The university challenged the union account, however. Gale Haynes, vice president of academic affairs at the Brooklyn campus and chief operating officer, said the union’s statements “do not accurately reflect” the course of negotiations and that the university wanted to move forward. The university was “extremely disappointed to learn of [the union’s] decision not to continue with the mediation process. We remain available, willing and eager to negotiate and urge the faculty union leadership to return to the bargaining table as soon as possible and to engage in good faith bargaining.”

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How dwindling support for the humanities and higher ed's lack of diversity are related (essay)

Diversity in the Humanities

One morning not too long ago, I opened Inside Higher Ed and read a story about the dwindling support for humanities. Citing low enrollments, Western Illinois University had just cut four degree programs, including philosophy and religious studies. Faculty members were worried. Metrics were being questioned.

In other news outlets, another dire situation played out: more student protests over a lack of diversity -- this time at Seattle University. The tone was urgent. The institution placed the dean on administrative leave, and the students demonstrated for 22 days, demanding more attention to diversity in the curriculum.

Were these two separate stories? Or were they, in fact, closely intertwined?

Campus politics over the past decade have centered on diversity issues -- on addressing racial, ethnic, sexual and gender bias in the student body, faculty and administration. “Inclusivity” is the watchword on campuses today. Consequently, over the past few years, new diversity officers have been hired, budgets for diversity efforts have been skyrocketing -- in 2015, for instance, Yale University committed $50 million toward faculty diversity initiatives -- and intellectual approaches to the understanding of diversity are being integrated into curricula at places like Hamilton College.

While the emphasis on diversity is gaining momentum, force and funding, the perceived crisis in the humanities appears to be fading into the background, left to defend itself ad nauseam. In fact, it seems that these two movements may even be functioning against one another. The result of more affordable access to college for lower-income students, for example, may very well be leading to cuts in programs with low enrollments or lower salary yields (i.e., the humanities), as Gordon Hutner and Feisal G. Mohamed of the University of Illinois readily underscore in “The Real Humanities Crisis Is Happening at Public Universities.”

But can our institutions of higher education afford not to support and invest heavily in the humanities? Can we welcome a growing number of diverse students without increased attention to the study of languages, art, music and cultural contributions of people from diverse communities around the world? Can our country claim to educate democratic citizens without teaching our children to analyze the messages that inform their personal and political lives -- skills learned in literature classes? Can our country grapple with radical Islamic groups while defunding religious studies programs and courses in Arabic language and culture, art, and history?

I find it troubling that explicit and comprehensive support for the humanities as central to any institution’s efforts to build a diverse and inclusive curriculum and campus culture has largely been absent from national conversations.

The humanities inform the kinds of values implicit in diversity and inclusion initiatives because our disciplines consistently demand that we become more attuned to the nuances of each other’s lives. The knowledge students gain in the most diverse learning hubs on our campuses -- as most of our modern languages and literatures departments are -- allow them to more truly value each other’s differences inside and outside the classroom, in local or global communities. In those spaces, they learn to confront their own biases and blind spots by engaging with distinct social and cultural backgrounds and the ways in which language, literature, theater, film, art and media shape and inform diverse and ever-changing worldviews and identities every single day.

The humanities give us the knowledge and the skills to share and express who we are and how we see our place in the world. In the process, we all gain the critical and creative thinking, communication, and comprehension skills needed to build the bridges that our diversity and inclusivity efforts are working toward.

The goal of diversity measures is to broaden the voices and perspectives on a campus. So why are we cutting out the vital stream of voices embodied in the arts and humanities? In an era of tight budgets, these may be seen as competing priorities, as distinct issues, but that’s a mistake. Greater diversity can broaden our conceptions of art, history, music, language studies and other arts and humanities. And the arts and humanities can support and enrich a culture of inclusivity across many communities, fields and professions.

Christine Henseler is a professor of Spanish and Hispanic studies at Union College.

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Nazareth Leader Angry on Check of Muslim Students

When two Muslim students at Nazareth College recently attended a service at a nearby church, someone at the church reported them to the Department of Homeland Security, which then sent New York state police to the college to confirm that they were students, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. The students were at the church to fulfill a requirement in a sociology of religion course that students attend religious services that are not of their own faith.

Daan Braveman, the president of Nazareth, sent an email to the campus Wednesday noting that the students did nothing wrong and sharing his frustration about what had happened. "I am very troubled and indeed angered that two of our students were singled out because of their religious beliefs," Braveman wrote. He added that he met with the students to reassure them.

"This incident underscores, especially in the context of the larger environment, the importance of our work in promoting interfaith understanding and respect across lines of religious difference," Braveman added.

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Academic Fraud at California State Northridge

A former director of basketball operations at California State University, Northridge, violated National Collegiate Athletic Association rules when he completed course work for 10 men's basketball players, the NCAA announced Wednesday. The former director denied the allegations to the NCAA, but the association said it did not find "him to be credible."

Metadata attached to course work for the 10 athletes showed "approximately 3,000 individual actions" had originated from the former director's computer more than 70 miles from campus. In one instance, an athlete told a tutor that he did not know how to log in to the online system used to submit course assignments, yet the tutor found assignments that had been submitted through the system as if by the student.

"Concerns with the former director of basketball operations were raised as early as three years before the violations began, but the university failed to take adequate steps to thoroughly investigate the concerns or monitor his actions," the NCAA stated. "The university noted there was dysfunction between its academic affairs and athletics departments. That dysfunction and lack of communication allowed the violations involving the former director of basketball operations to occur, according to the panel."

The NCAA placed the university on three years' probation, and accepted the university's self-imposed sanctions, which included reducing the team's number of scholarships for two seasons and a ban for the program from last year's postseason. In addition, any wins in which the 10 players participated will be vacated.

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Serving as the sole conservative on a post-election panel (essay)

I’m a mathematician. I’m teaching Calculus II and mathematical structures for computer science this term. I write blog posts on topics like the best way to determine whether two lines intersect in three-dimensional space. Yet at 3:30 p.m. on the day after Trump’s election I found myself on a hastily convened panel with five of my faculty colleagues, facing an emotionally charged crowd of about 400 students, faculty and staff.

Our mission -- it felt like we were a team in that moment -- was to help our campus make sense of the results of an election that many found shocking and even frightening. The rest of the panel consisted of professors of politics and government, religion, gender and queer studies, and African-American studies. Why was a mathematician on the panel? I was the person the university found to give the conservative perspective.

After explaining my function on the panel, I said the following:

"It’s kind of odd that I’m here to be the conservative on this panel; I’m not that conservative. I’m probably more of a right-leaning moderate. I also didn’t vote for Trump, as I have concerns about his judgment and temperament. Instead, I voted for Gary Johnson. But this is Puget Sound, and so here I am representing the conservative perspective.

"Right now I feel a lot of things. I feel fear and worry. As I said, I’m concerned about Trump’s judgment. I’m also concerned because of the anger and division that I see, as well as the bad behavior by some of Trump’s supporters.

"As I watched the election returns roll in last night, though, I was surprised to discover that I also felt kind of excited, maybe even elated. And so why is that?

"I grew up in a small town in north Louisiana in the 1980s: a world that is Southern, rural, conservative and Christian. I’m second-generation college: my grandparents worked at jobs like coal miner, gas station attendant, department-store clerk, farmer, beautician. For most of my adult life I’ve been an academic, though, and for the past 11 years, I’ve worked at a very progressive liberal arts college in one of the most progressive parts of the country. That has given me a sort of double vision or cultural whiplash at times.

"Hillary Clinton called my people 'deplorable.' She said we were 'irredeemable.' Our current president, who I think sees the world similarly, said that my people are bitter clingers who hold on to guns and religion because we don’t have anything else worthwhile in our lives. Why would I want to support someone like that? Someone who talks that way about my people is not going to do a good job representing me. I’m glad she lost. I’ve got some concerns about Trump, but I’m glad Hillary Clinton lost.

"To understand this election, you have to understand that to be white working class means that you have almost no power. Not economic. Not cultural. Neither do you have the power that comes from moral authority, unlike most other victimized groups.

"To a large degree, Trump represents the revolt of the white working class. The revolt is partly economic. The cultural aspect is that they’re tired of being, in their minds, looked down on and condescended to by the people who run the country.

"I’ll hypothesize that, in some respects, the more Trump is mocked for his hair, his language, his racism, his sexism, his bigotry, the more the white working class says, 'That’s how I’ve been treated, too. Trump is like me. Trump is one of us.'"

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my campus after saying this, in an emotionally charged room with hundreds of people. But it represented the culmination of something that had been building in me for years.

Shut Out of Group Norms

I became an academic because I wanted to teach, help my students work through the big questions of life and discuss those big questions inside a larger community. I wanted a career at a liberal arts college. On the political axis, I thought of myself as a moderate. I knew academe leaned to the left, but I had always thought of the left (and academics in particular) as being fairly open-minded.

Not too long after I took my first tenure-track position in the fall of 2004, I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. I had assumed it was just a friendly get-together. Most of the evening, however, was spent bashing President Bush. The critiques were more visceral than intellectual, and I saw none of the nuance that I expected from academics. In hindsight, I realize that much of what the guests were doing was signaling to each other their membership in a community, as well as venting frustrations, and they had assumed the party was a space where they could do that.

For unrelated reasons, I took a position at my current university -- a very different institution, in a very different part of the country -- the following year. Here, I have repeatedly found myself in situations where someone makes assumptions about everyone in the room, assumptions that I don’t share. The culprit has always been my Southernness, or my small-town background, or my Christian faith, or my lack of progressivism.

I remember the awkward silence that briefly followed when one of my students asked me outside of class whether I am religious, and I told him I am a Christian. I remember the snide comment about Texas at a faculty workshop. I remember a colleague’s casual dismissal of Fox News and the people who watch it. My mother watches Fox News. She’s one of most giving and selfless people I know -- someone who dropped everything to do disaster relief work in south Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

I remember others’ stories, too. I remember the two conservative students who vented in my office for half an hour, thankful that somebody was willing to listen to them. I remember the conservative colleague who told me that he’s tired of being a target and so he just keeps his head down now. I remember the alumnus who told me that he would never have dared to be out as a Christian on our campus because then he wouldn’t have had any friends.

Every institution has a culture and a set of shared norms, and an academic institution is no different. Those sacred values don’t come from the institution’s mission statement but arise from the shared set of beliefs held by the people who are part of it. A newcomer to a college may not ever be able to articulate that college’s norms, but he internalizes them every time an idea is praised with no countervailing opinion expressed. She internalizes them every time a group is criticized, and no one comes to that group’s defense. Over time the in ideas and out groups become part of the assumptions that people make. You don’t even think about them anymore. They’re like the oxygen in the air.

Where does that place you when you don’t share many of those norms? Sometimes you find yourself bewildered. On the literal level, the discussion is about Donald Trump or Barack Obama or George W. Bush or racism or transgender rights or environmental policy. But really the conversation is often about sacred values. When you don’t share the group norms, you feel shut out of the conversation because its very framing assumes the group norms. People don’t listen to the stories you use to explain your views because your stories are tied up with your norms -- not theirs -- and they don’t have a good mental place to connect them to. As a result, your stories get explained away.

You can always try to go deeper, of course. However, trying to get the group to look hard at its assumptions and then trying to explain why you don’t share them is difficult and exhausting. And even when you do have the energy, it’s easy to transgress some norm that you didn’t see and then face an unexpected blast directed at you. That makes you want to engage even less.

Besides, there are much easier options. You can become cynical. You can become angry. You can start hating the group. You can nurture your pain and envision yourself as a beleaguered minority. You can start throwing rhetorical explosives, which sure feels good -- at first. You can find another group. I’ve been tempted by most of these possible actions and have committed several of them.

The story that I’m telling here is about me at a progressive liberal arts college and slowly identifying more over time as conservative. It could also be the story of the white working class at the national level. And that brings me back to Trump and the post election panel.

Hopeful Signs

After I finished my remarks, I was worn out. I had just made myself far more emotionally vulnerable than I am used to, and I had done it in front of an angry and fearful crowd. I don’t remember much of the question-and-answer session, but I don’t think I had the wherewithal to attempt to answer anyone’s questions.

After it was over, one of my faculty colleagues made her way up to the table. “Thank you,” she said, “Your remarks made this all worthwhile.” The next person in line was a student. “My father is really conservative. I don’t agree with him on a lot of things, and I’m scared about Thanksgiving. Do you have any advice for me?” She started tearing up. I hope what I said was helpful. Another student: “I’m a moderate. Thank you for giving another perspective.” “Just … thank you,” from a student in one of my classes this term. Then more expressions of thanks from faculty colleagues: “We should talk more,” “That’s exactly what we needed” and even “Nice pedagogy.”

Then, that night, I started getting emails. They continued to trickle in over the next several days. They said things like “That gave me a sense of courage,” “I realized I haven’t been listening well or asking the right questions,” “While you and I don’t agree, it was important for me to hear that” and “Thank you for pointing out that we are not all evil.” All in all, somewhere around 25 or 30 people have made a point of expressing gratitude for my remarks. The feedback hasn’t been uniformly positive -- I’ve also received some pushback -- but even that has been collegial.

I’ve responded in multiple ways. Scenes from Jerry Maguire keep running through my head: the ones where Jerry criticizes his company, everyone applauds and then Jerry gets fired. At least I have tenure, while Jerry did not. Another is a feeling of regret -- regret that I’ve underestimated my own campus.

Mostly, though, I’m more hopeful now than I have been in quite some time about my university. I hope we can dial back the inflammatory rhetoric -- especially the “-ists” and the “phobics” that we slap as labels on people. I hope we can do a better job of listening to people who have different values -- especially to a large group of people in this country who are not well understood by academics but whose support just elected Donald Trump president.

To understand the disparate people in our country, however, we need a greater variety of perspectives than we have now on campuses. Our sacred values shouldn’t effectively exclude large swaths of the country. We shouldn’t have to tap a moderately conservative mathematician who didn’t vote for Trump to give the conservative view on Trump voters.

Academe shouldn’t even be an institution that needs hastily convened panels like the one I was on: we should know how large groups of people in this country think and feel. We should be teaching their experiences and listening to them. We should have more people with their belief systems on our campuses, teaching and learning, so we can learn from them.

And so I find myself, ironically, arguing in favor of one of academe’s most sacred values: diversity. I’m not arguing for diversity the way academe functionally defines it, though. Instead, I’m arguing for intellectual diversity. Trump’s election -- and academe’s response -- only confirm that, for an institution of higher learning, it's the most important kind of diversity to have.

Mike Spivey is professor of mathematics at the University of Puget Sound.

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The limitations of emergency text-messaging systems during a crisis (essay)

At 9:56 a.m. Monday, Nov. 28, Ohio State University students and employees received an active shooter alert, but there were two key pieces of information they did not know.

One: as students rushed in total panic to build walls of chairs and desks in front of classroom doors, they did not know the alert was inaccurate. Contrary to the words in the warning, no active shooter was on the campus. He had a knife.

Two: perhaps even more important, they had no idea the campus assailant they’d just been warned about had already died several minutes before they received the first vague danger warning at 9:54 a.m. and the second one about an active shooter at 9:56 a.m. He was shot dead by a university police officer at 9:53 a.m., about a minute after he started his attack. The danger was over when people received both of those Buckeye Alerts.

The attack at Ohio State University is a reminder that although colleges and universities have spent tens of millions of dollars during the past decade to put in place complex emergency communications systems, the technology has serious limitations. Because of the way most such attacks develop, communications will always be too slow and, at least initially, not very accurate.

Pennsylvania State University put in place one of the early text communications systems in higher education in 2006, the year before the attack at Virginia Tech. Back then it was simply another news delivery system to add to the many other advances we were making in digital communications.

I have watched as the technology has expanded, improved and been deployed to thousands of colleges and universities, hospitals, and other institutions around the nation.

Higher education systems should have such systems in place, and we should practice using them, but we need to lower our expectations for their impact. I am not aware of any such system saving lives in an active campus attack.

It is also worth remembering that although there have been some high-profile shootings on college campuses, the overall rate of campus homicides is a fraction of the rate found across the country in general. Statistically our students are far safer on the school side of College Avenue than they are on the town side.

In addition to aggressive improvements in communications, campus police around the nation have stepped up training, purchased new equipment, added officers and changed tactics. But in light of those improvements and the enormous sums being spent on new technology, it is important that students, employees and parents not be lulled into thinking technology will help keep them safe.

Imagine receiving a text message that essentially warns “Hurry up! It’s time to panic!”

And very little else. There are no details. No information on what is happening or where it is happening. No detailed description of the bad guys and what they are doing. And no specific advice on how to stay safe and alive other than an often vague message like “Shelter in place!”

The key is being fast. And not at all surprising in an emergency like the one at Ohio State, accuracy and context often come later.

Unless that smartphone sitting in your pocket happens to deflect a bullet, I’m not sure mass-alert technology will be a life-saving tool during an active shooter event on campus. Here are some of the reasons they are not perfect solutions.

  • Bad guys have phones, too. What if the bad guys are subscribers to your alert system and social media postings? That’s pretty likely if they are a student or work for the institution. Every message to the public can also alert them to what the college believes is going on. If you alert students to shootings on the west side of campus and tell them to move to the east side of campus, the bad guys can see that. If you tell students to shelter in place and turn out the lights, the bad guys can read that, too.
  • Shootings take seconds; phone calls take minutes. When a 911 call is made, this happens: a dispatcher takes down the pertinent information and starts to think about it. Maybe they ask some questions. Then they share it with police to respond to the call for assistance. Then the dispatcher or someone working with them types up, or selects from a predetermined group of messages, a note to send out by text messaging and social media to perhaps tens of thousands of subscribers. While this several-minutes-long, well-thought-out and practiced official process takes place, another unofficial one is already well underway. A hundred students in the area of the shooting have already sent 100 different and probably contradictory text messages to their friends, posted to Facebook, tweeted about the event and put it on Snapchat. And more than a few are in the process of putting themselves in danger to get photos and videos of the assailant and the attack in progress. It’s time for them to be a social media star, to go viral and generate some clicks.
  • Not enough subscribers. At some institutions, only a fraction of the student body and faculty and staff are signed up for the official text alerts. You can’t read what you don’t see.
  • Too many subscribers. Other colleges have the opposite problem -- thousands of family members, news media and the general public are signed up. That can slow the process of pushing out the message quickly to the people who need it most and first.
  • Lack of facts. Messages, especially initially, are often vague and perhaps even misleading. Police simply don’t have much detail. Consider the giant, terrifying stampede at JFK airport this year when someone thought they heard a gunshot. Thousands of people fled, throwing the terminal into chaos for hours. Those reports were wrong. Trying to follow the letter of the law as best they can, some institutions send out multiple alerts every week, and most of them are related to sexual assaults. Those messages are often vague and tied to when the assault was reported, not to when it occurred. It is not unusual for a victim to struggle with the issue of whether to report an assault for several days or even weeks before going to campus police. If the assault happened four days ago, should an emergency text alert be sent to 50,000 people the hour it is finally reported? In many cases it is. Subscribers become cynical when they read the words “Emergency Alert” and then receive old news.
  • System overload. When an earthquake centered in Virginia rumbled across the eastern United States around 2 p.m. on Aug. 23, 2011, Penn State was one of many institutions to immediately tap its text alert system. A couple things went wrong. Because scores of text alert systems on the East Coast all jumped into action at once, and the general public also rushed to the cellular system to talk and text with each other, the system ground to a slow crawl. A small group of Penn State officials sitting in a room together mapping out our response received the text alert we had ordered sent to students and employees over a 30-minute window. That’s a big difference in an unfolding emergency. And, of course, we could not assure any of our text alert subscribers that there would not be another aftershock five minutes later. We really had little useful information to share with them.
  • Slow delivery. One company brags that it “sets the standard for rapid, reliable message delivery.” It says it can deliver messages at a rate of 10,000 a minute. But what if your large state university has 70,000 subscribers? Is it OK for the message to take seven minutes to reach thousands of phones? Many people can be shot and killed in seven minutes. And in the best-case scenario, a couple minutes will elapse between that first gunshot, the call to 911 and then somebody pushing the send button for an emergency text.
  • The news media. In the middle of a crisis, what is the last thing you need? Yep, a dozen TV news vans and reporters live tweeting and transmitting video from the scene with a lot of frightened bystanders who have no factual information but are ready to speculate for Action News. When we had a sniper on Penn State’s campus shooting at students, the first rushed report from a major newswire service said two people were killed. It was actually one. And this was a professional communicator getting facts wrong. Our communications team lost time the rest of the morning trying to correct that information.
  • False positives. Panicked callers dial 911 or university safety offices because they “saw something.” A man with a gun? It’s legal in most states and increasingly on college campuses. Someone “Middle Eastern-looking spoke Arabic into a cell phone”? Give me a break. The admissions office is spending a lot of money trying to get Middle Eastern students enrolled at your university. And yes, they have cell phones, like every other person in the country above the age of 10. And they absolutely speak another language. Alert systems are put into action and the equivalent of campus SWAT teams respond to these false calls. The public also sends the messages virally on social media before the truth catches up with reality.
  • Turn off those phones! One rule many faculty members include in their syllabi and repeat all semester in the classroom is that students should put their cell phones away until class is over. Officials make the same announcements before guest speakers start talking and concerts begin. As I said earlier, you can’t read what you can’t see.
  • Too much information. One of the weakest links in most systems is how to sort through hundreds of simultaneous calls and social media postings and get police officers to the scene of an active shooter in the first seconds of a developing massacre.
  • Used for the wrong purpose. We once had the head of one of our campuses send out a text alert to tell everyone he was missing his keys. No, really.

Even with all those problems, and others, I still think we need robust text alert and social media systems in place on college campuses. But it is important we dial down the expectations for such systems and understand their serious limitations. The real key in limiting a mass shooting on your campus is going to be your police department -- their training, size and equipment. At Ohio State, an officer was on the scene of the attack and quickly ended it.

Until something better comes along, I will continue to start the first day of class the way I always do -- once we go through the syllabus and everyone in class has introduced themselves, I talk to my students for a couple minutes about their safety. I tell them where the two closest exits from the building are located and how to try to barricade the half glass door to the classroom -- the one that opens outward and has no lock -- to buy themselves a couple extra seconds until the police arrive. And to keep that cell phone in their pocket over their heart. It may do more good there.

Bill Mahon is a former vice president of university relations at Penn State, where he now teaches strategic communications in the College of Communications. He is a partner of University RepProtect, a suite of readiness services offered by public relations firm Ketchum.

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MLA Launches Humanities Commons

Following the success of its scholarly communication platform, MLA Commons, the Modern Language Association has launched the beta version of Humanities Commons, a nonprofit, open-access network. The new commons is designed to provide scholars, teachers, librarians and other humanists with a way to share their work and teaching materials and to network. Humanities Commons features a library-quality digital repository, the Commons Open Repository Exchange, or CORE, where users can share and archive conference papers, syllabi, peer-reviewed articles and other documents and media.

“CORE offers Humanities Commons members the opportunity to increase the reach of their work -- as soon as it’s produced,” Kathleen Fitzpatrick, the MLA’s associate executive director and director of scholarly communication, said in a statement. “We hope that the platform can also be a hub for teachers looking for resources, writers looking for potential collaborators or conference organizers seeking a way to share materials.” The project is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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New Version of Proposal to Regulate Endowments

Representative Tom Reed has announced a new version of his plan to regulate endowments and push colleges to provide more student aid and minimize tuition increases. Reed, a New York Republican, may have more clout now than in the past -- he was recently named a vice chair of President-elect Donald J. Trump's transition team.

The proposal, expected in legislation in the new Congress, would:

  • Require colleges with endowments of more than $1 billion to show that they are using at least 25 percent of their investment gains "to reduce the costs of attendance for students from middle- and working-class families." Those that fail to do so would face taxes on their earnings.
  • Allow students to receive Pell Grants in the summer.
  • Require colleges to report more information -- and make it easier to find -- about benefits provided to senior officials.
  • Create a Promoting Lifelong Accountability Now program. Under the program, colleges would be required to submit plans to assure that tuition increases at less than the rate of inflation. Rewards and penalties would be established for those that succeed or fail at their plans.

Generally, college leaders back the idea of Pell Grants in the summer and oppose the other provisions.

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Educating students in ambiguity and discomfort (essay)

The current public assumption that safe spaces and trigger warnings conflict with academic freedom and are the result of political correctness gone mad is a false dichotomy. If students today are indeed more fragile, then it is vital that we in higher education understand: (1) the specific nature of this sensitivity and (2) what colleges can do to help.

After this divisive election, we will need more capacity for talking about controversial issues. While the anonymity of social media may have escalated invective, it has not made for more ease with difficult conversations. Technology has allowed a generation to end relationships by text message, or even by “ghosting” an ex -- deleting a relationship from your life without any conflict or effort.

Avoiding conflict, of course, also sacrifices an opportunity to learn. Our campuses and world, meanwhile, are increasingly more religiously, culturally and ethnically diverse and now more politically divided. So at the very moment when we have more varied ideas, thoughts and opinions on our campuses, we also have students who are less equipped and perhaps less eager to have challenging discussions.

The U.S. Department of Education recently issued a Dear Colleague letter to college presidents asking that we help students learn to disagree in a “respectful manner.” But what it means to be “disrespected” is highly contested, so we are indeed having difficult conversations about trigger warnings and safe spaces. Ultimately, college is about helping students think critically. That requires learning how to interrogate complexity while withholding judgment and trying to feel safe in precisely those uncomfortable spaces where our ideas and attitudes are being challenged.

But this is a process. The first stage of college is finding a safe home. We learn much more when we explore from a place of safety, have the rights tools and feel accepted as equal partners in the discourse. The news media has greatly exaggerated the very few students who want “protection” from ideas they find uncomfortable. Safe spaces are mostly simply places of congregation, and assembly with other people who share your ideas, history and culture is a basic human impulse. With a safe home base established, we can then encourage students to venture into discussions in which they may have greater discomfort.

Pedagogy is about moving from comfort to discomfort and eventually finding comfort in discomfort. The measure of a college, then, has nothing to do with the sensitivity of its first-year students or if their professors use trigger warnings, but rather with the outcomes. Can we teach students to embrace ambiguity and discomfort? And, if so, how?

A Path Forward

First, colleges must assemble a diverse community of learners. Employers say they want graduates who can solve complex problems with people who are not like them. This year, for example, the first-year class at Goucher College is 35 percent students of color and 25 percent Pell-eligible students. We also have students from 60 countries on our campus, and we require 100 percent of our undergraduates to study abroad, as travel can be a great way to encounter differences and discover that not everyone speaks or thinks as you do.

But bringing diverse students together is just the beginning. To have open, meaningful and difficult conversations, young people also need to learn to live with a higher tolerance for ambiguity -- or “the tendency to perceive ambiguous situations as desirable.” It is essential for democracy, and it is being used in research on global leadership because it is related to cross-cultural communication and performance in diverse work environments. At Goucher College, we use a Tolerance for Ambiguity scale that asks students to respond to statements like:

  • An expert who doesn’t come up with a definite answer probably doesn’t know too much.
  • A good teacher is one who makes you wonder about your way of looking at things.
  • The sooner we all acquire similar values and ideals the better.

We are using that tool and other existing psychological constructs to measure where our students are when they first arrive on our campus in terms of dealing with ambiguity, and then we follow up every year to see if and when they have progressed. All of this is confidential and analyzed by researchers only in the aggregate. We will, however, look for patterns and connect trends with pedagogy and activities. (Are juniors willing to take more cognitive risk? Did our required study abroad experience increase cultural sensitivity?)

This work is at an early stage, but our hope is that we will come to understand better how college and various interventions can have an impact. We have begun by actively doing everything we can as college administrators and faculty members to demonstrate that there are multiple good answers, that knowledge is complex and that we can change our minds.

We must also be intellectual and ethical role models, so on our campus, we are responsive and transparent about student concerns. We routinely engage students in open meetings and alter policy as a result of their input. It is certainly more work, but it has the dual benefit of building community while modeling that smart people have open minds.

We must also create a campus culture that invites and supports the most difficult conversations. On a night of unrest in Baltimore, I joined a spontaneous gathering of dozens of faculty members and students watching the news. Late into the night, students continued to share their responses, fears, anxieties, hurts and pains. It was profoundly uncomfortable -- and we all learned. In the weeks that followed, we decided we need to be even more uncomfortable, and a group of faculty members created a seven-week seminar, Back to School on Race. More than 150 faculty and staff members signed up and participated -- and we all learned more about the deep structures of racial inequity as seen through the lenses of multiple disciplines, as well as the ongoing pain and discomfort that such topics bring to many members of our own community. This became a springboard to further conversations about curriculum, pedagogy, support and campus culture.

Thus, to help our students embrace discomfort, we must first establish a home for them. Later we encourage them to encounter discomfort, allow them the time to reintegrate that new information and then send them back out to embrace more discomfort.

Next fall, we will also introduce a new curriculum that begins with a first-year seminar designed to welcome students to the world of inquiry through faculty members who model their own passionate exploration of a topic of their choosing, with the focus more on how faculty are thinking about their topic rather than what they are thinking. Students will then take three exploration courses that are based in our new interdisciplinary academic centers. Over four years, and not in a single course, students will also need to demonstrate that they are racially and culturally literate.

We encapsulate all these efforts in our new version of the three R’s of learning: relationships, resilience and reflection. We start by getting to know our students. We emphasize to them the importance of building relationships that will prepare them for more discomfort. We focus on resilience (and also measure this in our students) because we have found that, in general, those who see failure as an opportunity learn more, grow personally and succeed professionally. Conflict and failure allow us to test boundaries and open us up to new ideas and new perspectives.

Reflection is what ties it all together and feeds our compassion and social conscience, so we will soon require all graduating students to develop a reflection portfolio. Recognizing there are a multiplicity of accents, experiences, histories and values living all around us is a first step, but we must then also reconsider our own values, frameworks and prejudices, and then confront our differences honestly.

Technology and globalization have increased our exposure to difference, but that alone has not opened hearts and minds. The internet offers us increasing access to new ideas and knowledge, and most of what students will need to know for the jobs of the future, they will need to learn as they go along after they graduate. That means that colleges should focus less on making sure we cover the content and more on teaching students how to become self-regulated learners. New knowledge is only really useful if you know how to let it in and allow it to change your mind. We need to rethink the pedagogical processes by which we get students to truly embrace difference.

Without critical thinking, discernment and reflection, democracy retreats from the sound of the loudest voice. The value of the liberal arts will only increase as knowledge and ideas proliferate. We need graduates who are not only capable of difficult conversations but also eager to listen and reflect. Perhaps we should restrict degrees to those who realize the answer to most difficult questions is almost always “It depends.”

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José Antonio Bowen is president of Goucher College.

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