It should not be controversial to believe that growing up involves becoming stronger, becoming better able to withstand whatever slings and arrows life throws at us and to pursue our goals even against difficult challenges. Surely the college years can and should play an important role in that growing-up process.
And yet, too often colleges treat their students like hatchlings not yet ready to leave the nest, as opposed to preparing and encouraging them to fly.
There are a variety of policies and practices that give students what most of them seem to want, but not necessarily what they most need. Speech codes and trigger warnings are two over-protecting initiatives that have received considerable attention in the higher education press and beyond.
So much has been written about the problems with speech codes that there is no need to belabor the subject at this point. Aside from the legal problems they can present with regard to free speech issues, especially in public higher education, they presume that students cannot withstand, much less respond with vigor to, speech they find objectionable. They also serve as an example of how formal codes and policies are no substitute for shared norms and values concerning how people should behave with one another.
The trigger warning movement, which has offered another field day for those on the lookout for opportunities to ridicule colleges and universities, advocates alerting students in advance to anything potentially upsetting in materials required for a course. Above and beyond being forewarned, some students would presumably be allowed to avoid an encounter with such materials altogether. Aside from this being an insult to the intelligence and good sense of students and faculty members alike, it also threatens to spoil the thrill of discovery. After all, would all first-time readers of Anna Karenina really want to be told ahead of time that [SPOILER ALERT!!] Anna commits suicide by throwing herself under a train at the end of the novel.
And then there is the rash of speaker cancellations due to student unwillingness to be exposed to “objectionable” views from a guest to the campus. Part of this particular problem might be addressed by recognizing that an essentially ritual occasion like a graduation ceremony may not be the best venue for a controversial, as opposed to celebratory, message. That issue taken care of, it should be easier to push back on other occasions against students who are being overly selective in their defense of free speech.
Student reactions to displays of racial insensitivity and prejudice can be considered in this context. The persistence of racism in our society and on our campuses is most certainly disturbing and unacceptable. At the same time, while a couple of students hanging a Confederate flag in their dormitory window or some students sending anonymous offensive tweets should not go without some critical response, incidents like these do not seem sufficient to put an entire campus into a state of turmoil. Surely, that is attributing too much power to the offenders and displaying too much vulnerability on the part of those they would offend.
It is important to consider which institutional customs may be at odds with the task at hand. There is, for example, the practice that has become common of designating certain areas of campus as “safe spaces” for certain kinds of activities and identities. Such language goes above and beyond the informal establishing of preferred comfortable gathering spaces. The implication is that certain students, depending on their identities or preferred activities, are “unsafe” on other areas of campus. This magnifies the sense of personal danger out of all proportion and interferes with students’ appreciation of what it means to be in real peril. It is an obstacle to the development of authentic courage.
The exponential growth of professional student services staff – which, to be sure, has had its positive side – has played into a tendency toward what we might see as self-infantilization on the part of students, who are now in the habit of seeking formal institutional support and approval for the kinds of activities they used to be capable of managing themselves. The most unusual example of this in my own years as a college president occurred when a student came to me seeking institutional recognition for the group she represented, which, as it happened, was composed of students favoring safe, consensual S&M sex. I inquired as to why it was not sufficient that her group was not being interfered with by the administration. That was apparently not good enough for her: she wanted a blessing from those in authority. I declined to provide the blessing, preferring to encourage her to see that she could manage without it.
This support-seeking seems to be of a piece with the prolonged umbilical role that many students maintain with their parents into their college years, calling them several times a day on their cellphones. The parents, for their part, remain overly involved with their children – at least those parents whose life circumstances allow them to do so. And so we have socialization in reverse: rather than helping their offspring achieve adulthood, those who should be the grown-ups are living the lives of their children along with them. Parental over-involvement can make the institutional exercise of authority all the more challenging when it rises to (or descends into) litigiousness.
So -- whose responsibility is it to address this and other aspects of campus culture that stand in the way of students developing the kind of resilience and strength that they need in life? First and foremost, this job, like so many other tough and often thankless tasks, falls to college and university presidents. A job far easier to assign than to fulfill.
Those of us who have moved on to less complicated lives must at least have the good grace to feel their pain. The task, however, must be taken up if the undergraduate experience is to be what it should be. Where presidents lead, staff will follow – and so even will the faculty, if a persuasively argued connection is made to the essential purposes of the institution.
Here, then, are the questions that must frame a president’s response when one of those increasingly common eruptions breaks out on campus: How high does this measure on the Richter scale of crises? How can I respond in a way that plays to my students’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses? How can this serve as an occasion to increase their wisdom and self-confidence? How will I help them to grow up?
To invoke the timelessly wise words of the Rolling Stones: If students can’t always get what they want, if we try sometimes, we might just find they get what they need.
Judith Shapiro is a former faculty member and provost at Bryn Mawr College and former president of Barnard College.
The board of Brookdale Community College Thursday night approved a series of cuts -- including the elimination of 48 jobs -- to deal with a $5.5 million budget gap, The Asbury Park Press reported. Board members made some minor changes to the budget plan, but largely approved it, saying it was necessary in light of fiscal constraints at the New Jersey community college. Faculty critics have said that the cuts are unfair to women, noting that two-thirds of the professors who will lose jobs are women, while the board is overwhelmingly male.
Submitted by Jake New on December 12, 2014 - 3:00am
College-aged women who are not students are more likely to be victims of rape and sexual assault than those who are students, but victims of campus sexual assault are less likely to report the crime to police, according to a new report released by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report examined data from the bureau's National Crime Victimization Survey collected between 1995 to 2013 about women aged 18 to 24 -- the demographic that is most at risk for sexual assault. The researchers found that the rate of rape and sexual assault among nonstudents in that age group was 1.2 times higher than that of students. Of those students who were assaulted, however, 80 percent never reported the crime to police. For nonstudents, 68 percent never reported the assaults to law enforcement.
More than a quarter of students who did not report to police said it was because they believed it was a personal matter, and one in five said they were afraid of reprisal. Twelve percent of students said they didn't think the incident was "important enough" to report, a worry shared by only five percent of nonstudents. Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held a hearing on whether law enforcement's role has been missing in the debates over sexual assaults on campus.
Bowdoin College is punishing 14 members of its lacrosse team for dressing as Native Americans for a "Cracksgiving" party held at a house -- known as "Crack House" -- in which many of the athletes live, The Bangor Daily News reported. The college has had several recent programs about the insensitivity of costumes based on race or ethnicity.
Oregon State University President Ed Ray on Wednesday met with Brenda Tracy, a woman who has recently publicly told her story of being raped by four men, two of them football players at the university in 1998. Ray had pledged earlier that the university would investigate what happened. An investigation at the time yielded relatively light sanctions against the athletes. After his meeting Wednesday, Ray wrote to the campus about what the investigation found, and The Oregonian published that letter.
"What we can share is that the student conduct environment in 1998 that dealt with off-campus matters involving a non-student was very different nationally – and at OSU. If this case was reported to us today, we would pursue significant student conduct actions – even if this violence took place off-campus and involved a survivor who was not a student," Ray wrote. "I assure you that today we would respect the survivor's wishes and their confidentiality. We would work with the survivor to fully pursue conduct sanctions including the suspension or expulsion of those OSU students who committed such an offense. And we would work to stop the sexual misconduct, prevent a recurrence and assist the survivor."
He added that he had "asked Oregon State officials to evaluate possible retroactive student conduct actions in this case, but they determined that law will not allow the university to take such action. Changing how the criminal process was managed in 1998 in this case is beyond OSU's control."
Submitted by Jake New on December 11, 2014 - 3:00am
Two congressmen sent a letter to Mark Emmert, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Wednesday, requesting information about the association's oversight of the academic services its member colleges provide to athletes. The request was inspired by a report released in October that detailed how 3,100 students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill -- many of them athletes -- enrolled and passed classes they never attended and which were not taught by a single faculty member.
A separate, earlier NCAA investigation into the so-called "paper classes" ended in no penalty for the university, as the courses were available to all students, not just athletes. The new report, however, found that nearly half of the students taking the courses were athletes, even though athletes made up just 4 percent of the student population.
"The NCAA’s response suggests that participation by non-student athletes in ‘no-show’ classes somehow inoculates NCAA member institutions from sanctions by their governing body," Rep. Tony Cárdenas and Rep. Elijah Cummings wrote. "Although the NCAA routinely legislates matters as mundane as meal quotas for student-athletes, its failure to sanction the use of ‘no-show’ classes calls into question the NCAA’s commitment to its educational mission.” In the letter, the lawmakers requested information about what actions the NCAA has taken in response to the report and what the association is doing to prevent similar scandals from happening at other colleges. The NCAA continues to investigate the report's claims.
Jose Adames, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Dutchess Community College, part of the State University of New York System, has been selected as president of El Centro College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, in Texas.
On Friday, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney sent an all-campus email about various campus efforts to promote inclusion and to support those angered by the recent decisions of grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict police officers who killed unarmed black men. The email's substance was well-received on campus, but McCartney's subject line -- "All Lives Matter" -- was not. Many of those protesting the grand jury decisions have taken to using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, while some of those criticizing the protest movement have been using #AllLivesMatter instead. Students told McCartney that her heading was being used elsewhere in this way. That prompted another email from the president. "I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against black people," she wrote, thanking students for sharing the information. The original email and the follow-up email may both be found here.