Tenure Draft and Survey Controversy at UW Madison

After months of uncertainly about the future of tenure at their institution, faculty members at the University of Wisconsin at Madison received a draft tenure policy proposal this week asserting that the faculty holds the authority to make academic program changes of the sort that could lead to layoffs under a new state law, reported. Proponents of the policy say its protections of tenure put it line with peer institutions and guidelines established by the American Association of University Professors.

The university’s administration pledged earlier this summer that it would find ways to preserve tenure as it’s known at Wisconsin, despite recent legislative changes in the state that make it easier for tenured faculty members to be terminated. The executive committee of the university’s Faculty Senate said the new policy “is solidly grounded in the strong tenure tradition at Madison, codifying existing practice of broad involvement in program change and clearly delimiting the narrow parameters under which such change could lead to faculty dismissal.”

Also this week, some faculty members within the University of Wisconsin System objected to a survey of their views on tenure sent from William Howell, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Howell obtained faculty members’ email addresses via an open records request, but professors complained that he didn’t sufficiently disclose funding sources for the survey, which includes such questions as how much professors would accept in terms of a pay increase for giving up tenure. On Tuesday, the secretary of the faculty at the Madison campus emailed professors to say that the survey was funded by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a think tank that describes itself as nonpartisan but which has promoted conservative ideas and has ties to Governor Scott Walker. Faculty members expressed their concerns on Twitter and elsewhere.

Howell said via email, “The only purpose of the survey is to characterize faculty opinion on tenure policy and some policy alternatives to it. This is a live issue in Wisconsin, and I am only hoping to make sense of the range of opinions that faculty have about it.”

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Are NIH Conflict of Interest Rules Working?

An analysis in Nature explores the impact of new rules, enacted in 2012, on conflict of interest by researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health. The findings are largely negative. Universities complain about the cost of compliance. But watchdog groups see universities applying the rules in inconsistent ways, without providing enough assurance that conflicts are prevented or revealed.

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Georgia Regents University undergoes name change, again

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A public institution in Georgia is changing its name just three years after an initial, controversial switch that angered alumni, faculty and students.

Wheelock VP, Who Used Words of Others, Resigns

Shirley Malone-Fenner has resigned as vice president for academic affairs at Wheelock College, following the news that material in her letter welcoming faculty members back for a new academic year included unattributed material from Harvard President Drew Faust and others, The Boston Globe reported. Malone-Fenner has admitted using the words of others and has apologized. Faculty members discovered the use of the material after running Malone-Fenner's letter through plagiarism detection software that the college uses for the work of students.

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Essay says data in White House Scorecard is lacking

As president of University of Phoenix, I am instinctively guided to support the principles of greater access to, and better analysis of, data and information. That holds particularly true in the case of data that can help prospective students make informed choices about higher education.

So the White House’s newly released College Scorecard -- and its attendant torrent of new data on colleges -- should be a welcome move. It purports to contain a variety of information that assesses institutions on important metrics, including graduation rates and the income of graduates.

It is no secret, however, that the Scorecard has attracted widespread criticism, not least from my colleagues at large public universities, whose concerns I share regarding broader methodological flaws in it -- particularly the failure to include data on students who did not receive Title IV funds (data currently unavailable to the department under federal law). And even the data about Title IV recipients presents major challenges. They paint a skewed view of graduation rates that I believe does a particular disservice to students and prospective working adult learners -- the very people this tool should help.

Just taking University of Phoenix as an example, there is much for which my university can be proud. The data released includes findings ranking it sixth in the nation amongst large, private institutions (more than 15,000 students) in terms of the income of its graduates (and 24th among all large institutions, public and private). This adds to our institution’s latest draft three-year cohort default rate of 13.6, which is comparable to the national average.

But consider the methodology behind the graduation rates that the Scorecard cites -- arguably the most problematic flaw underlying it. For years now the U.S. Department of Education has relied on Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) graduation rates, which reflect only first-time, full-time undergraduate students. By any measure, the student population of America is more diverse than those who attend college full-time and complete it in a single shot. At the University of Phoenix, 60 percent of students in 2014 were first generation, and 76 percent were working -- 67 percent with dependents. These are the type of students labeled “nontraditional” by a Department of Education that has often talked of empowering them.

Yet for the purposes of the department’s graduation rates, these nontraditional students are effectively invisible, uncounted. In 2014, University of Phoenix’s institutional graduation rate for students with bachelor’s degrees was 42 percent. The department’s new Scorecard puts that figure at 20 percent. Our institutional rates demonstrate a higher rate of student success while IPEDS provides an incomplete picture of the university’s performance. In 2014, only 9.3 percent of my university’s students were first-time, full-time students as defined by IPEDS.

These graduation data would be troubling enough were it not for the fact that they are misinforming the same students that the Department of Education claims to be helping. For our graduates, the refusal to accurately calculate these data cheapens their legitimate and hard-earned academic achievements.

Reporting on the Scorecard, National Public Radio suggested that “what the government released … isn’t a scorecard at all -- it’s a data dump of epic proportions.” That is a correct assessment that speaks to the crux of the problem. More data, in this case, is not better. In open phone calls with reporters, department officials have acknowledged the limitations of their data, seemingly citing that very acknowledgment as license to publish them anyway. Yet no such acknowledgment is made clearly on the new Scorecard’s website, where students will access the information to make their decisions.

Now that the floodgate of institutional data has been opened, however, it is incumbent on all of us to improve it, contextualize it and help interpret it so prospective students can be appropriately informed by it. Responding to the Scorecard, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities called for “Congress through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act to support a student-level data system for persistence, transfer, graduation and employment/income information to provide more complete data for all institutions.”

The University of Phoenix has long supported these principles and objectives -- not just in pushing for more complete data but also in making clear that the standards must be applied to all institutions of higher learning. We agree with both Republicans and Democrats who want to see more audit-ready data for every college and university so as to validate and verify the foundational basis upon which the department creates and enforces regulations that should be applied to all higher education institutions (last year’s gainful employment rules among them). More can be done to guard against potential political motivations in the presentation of public data.

For our part, University of Phoenix is also clear that we must improve student outcomes, as we generally have year over year. From significant investment in our core campuses to ensuring that first-time undergraduates complete a pathway diagnostic before enrolling in their first credit-bearing course, we are engaged in the work that will help us to continue improving those outcomes and, more generally, to transform into a better, more trusted institution.

In the year I have been president, I have met with thousands of our students and graduates -- the men and women who are the face of that nontraditional category. These are people who are achieving great academic success despite the other demands that contemporary life imposes. They are driven, ambitious, determined and hardworking. And they leave me in no doubt of two things: their success deserves to be appropriately recognized, and their successors deserve better information in picking a college. We can all play a role in securing these basic goals.

Timothy P. Slottow is president of University of Phoenix.

Essay praises new Obama administration College Scorecard

While the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard website may be a scaled-back version of what President Obama first announced on the State University of New York’s own Buffalo campus in 2013, it will be a useful tool for providing the information students and their families need to make decisions about college costs and return on investment.

We agree with President Obama: it’s not a moment too soon for colleges and universities across the nation to be held to a standard of transparency and accountability. The bottom line is that if we really want to take a bite out of student debt, we have to help students understand the true cost of college and what it is they’re paying for. The College Scorecard, which provides new measures of student outcomes at specific colleges and universities -- including graduation rates, median salaries and loan repayment rates -- is an important step in the right direction. Increasing college completion ought to be the next.

While SUNY is proud to offer fair and predictable tuition that is the most affordable of public colleges in the Northeast, we know that controlling tuition alone will not solve the debt crisis. There must also be a strong commitment to ensuring that students finish their degrees as quickly as possible, without taking unnecessary courses and thus ringing up additional cost.

SUNY has committed to increasing the number of degrees awarded annually from 93,000 to 150,000 by 2020. We’re going to ensure that more students complete on time at lower cost. And in doing so, we will expand access to what we know is one of the most valuable commodities in today’s society: a high-quality college degree and an educational experience that has prepared each graduate for workforce success.

SUNY is already a leader when it comes to student completion and achievement, in part because we have created and expanded programs that help students get their degree. Our four-, five- and six-year graduation rates for baccalaureate students surpass those of our national public peers, and the same is true of our two- and three-year graduation rates at the associate level. We launched our own financial literacy tool, SUNY Smart Track, which ensures that students and families understand their borrowing options and responsibilities; we adopted the nation's most comprehensive seamless transfer policy; and we are significantly expanding online course offerings through Open SUNY.

However, we know that until every student completes, we have more work to do.

We recognize the need to continuously improve and welcome effective ways to do so. I am pleased to see that the metrics included in the Scorecard mirror those used to ensure quality through SUNY’s own performance management system, SUNY Excels. In fact, the 64 campuses of SUNY are currently at work fine-tuning performance plans for how they will answer a systemwide call for improved retention and graduation rates, greater financial literacy among students, expanded applied learning and research opportunities, and more. The College Scorecard could help us measure our progress on some of those goals, both within SUNY and in comparison to others nationally. It will allow us to identify the programs and interventions that really move the dial on student completion so we can take them to scale across our university system.

I am especially encouraged by the administration’s commitment to adding Student Achievement Measure (SAM) data, which accounts for the outcomes of transfer students, to the Scorecard. A large number of students move in and out of institutions or transfer without a degree, which means that many colleges and universities have a majority of students that the federal system would otherwise not count. Throughout this process, I have stressed the importance of SAM, joining my colleagues in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities just recently in a final push to use this data because it is so vital in providing students and their families with the complete picture on degree attainment. At SUNY alone, nearly 30,000 students transfer annually among our institutions, and last year, 35 percent of all our undergraduate degrees were awarded to transfer students.

In pivoting from the original proposal to rate colleges and universities -- many of which have significantly different missions and serve vastly different student bodies -- and ultimately adding in SAM data, the Scorecard will also account for the diversity of institutions and the students they serve. As a public institution with a founding commitment to access for New Yorkers, we see transparency and accountability as fundamental to helping parents and students understand opportunities and challenges as they navigate an increasingly complex cradle-to-career pipeline.

I applaud President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for recognizing, as SUNY has, that data must be a driving factor as higher education works toward continued improvement. I look forward to working with my colleagues in higher education and with our federal partners in a continuing effort to bring to light the most comprehensive and accurate data available to help students make informed choices.

Nancy Zimpher is the chancellor of the State University of New York.

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Professor Dead in Shooting at Delta State U

A professor at Delta State University in Mississippi was shot dead on campus Monday morning. The university identified the victim as Ethan Schmidt, a professor of history. The campus was on lockdown for much of the day as police worked to clear buildings and move stranded faculty, staff and students to a sports arena on the north side of campus. No other on-campus casualties were reported.

The man officials believe was the shooter, Shannon Lamb, fatally shot himself after Greenville police officers approached him Monday night. Lamb was an instructor of geography at Delta State. The Associated Press reported that Lamb was a suspect in a separate murder committed Monday 300 miles away from Delta State (the victim of that murder was a woman).

Classes are canceled today at Delta State. Counselors will be on campus to conduct group and individual sessions. Michelle Roberts, a university spokeswoman, said in a statement, “We are grieving on this campus with this loss, and our condolences are with the [Schmidt] family at this time.”

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Stanford Dean Resigns Amid Suit Over Relationship

Garth Saloner is resigning as dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University amid allegations over his relationship with a faculty member, The Wall Street Journal reported. Stanford is being sued by a former professor who says he was dismissed while Saloner had a relationship with the former professor's wife, also a professor. Stanford has denied wrongdoing and said that there were no conflicts of interest, and that the former professor's dismissal was for legitimate reasons -- namely taking too many leaves of absence. Saloner sent an email to faculty members and others, saying, “I have become increasingly concerned that the ongoing litigation and growing media interest will distract all of you from the important work that you are doing and unfairly impact this stellar school’s deserved reputation.”

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Disparities Among Asian-American Students in California

A new report from the Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit group, breaks down how Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students are faring in higher education in California. The group is the fastest growing racial and ethnic segment in California. It is also heavily reliant on public colleges -- 87 percent of Asian-Americans first enroll in a California community college or a California State University or University of California campus, the report found.

There are wide disparities in the college attainment levels among the group. The report said that looking at Asian-Americans as one monolithic group can lead to inaccurate assumptions, particularly that Asian-Americans are doing well in earning degrees.

For example, 70 percent of adult Indian-Americans in California hold at least a bachelor's degree, according to the report, compared to only 10 percent of adult Laotian-Americans.

Excitement and concern about prior-prior year FAFSA changes

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The Obama administration's FAFSA changes generate support -- and a few questions -- from colleges and financial aid experts.


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