Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on Wednesday became the latest candidate to join the race for the Republican presidential nomination. While it is unlikely he'll spend much time talking about this fact, Jindal is the only Republican in the race (or Democrat, for that matter) who has been the president of a university system -- Jindal led the University of Louisiana System from 1999 (taking office at age 28) through 2001.
His appointment was controversial with some faculty members, because he was seen as a politician more than an educator. Known for his strong anti-tax positions, Jindal, who has been governor since 2008, has overseen numerous cuts in higher education spending, and his initial proposals in this year's legislative session (modified at the last minute) would have resulted in massive cuts to public higher education. In 2011, Jindal set off a huge debate in the state when he proposed a study of merging historically black Southern University at New Orleans with the predominantly white University of New Orleans. The plan died. Additionally, scientists have regularly criticized Jindal for, in their view, promoting creationist views.
Pitzer College's president, Laura Skandera Trombley, announced in December that she would leave office at the end of this month to become president of the Huntington Library. She has won praise from her board and others for setting college records in fund-raising, bolstering environmental programs and attracting more students over a 13-year tenure. But even though she is in her final days in office, the faculty voted no confidence in her this week, after a meeting in which professors away for the summer participated digitally.
Faculty members say that Trombley has disregarded the tradition of shared governance at the college. Specifically, many are upset that she did not reappoint Muriel Poston as dean of the faculty, and that this decision was, they say, made without faculty consultation. Pitzer faculty leaders say that this is a position that college guidelines specifically state shall be evaluated by faculty members and administrators. Faculty also this week passed a resolution calling for a reinstatement of Poston, who did not respond to an email request for comment.
Via email, Trombley said, "I am very happily moving to more scholarly pastures, and the college is steeling itself for what could be an acrimonious search process. While I have stayed far, far away from the search, what I see surfacing is a struggle between who will lead the search and, by implication, the college."
She added: "Due to my outgoing status, the board felt it prudent and responsible in its legal and governing role to determine whether or not the dean of the faculty's contract should be renewed. Based upon the board’s careful review, as well as their deep belief in shared governance and careful adherence to the faculty and board bylaws, the board passed a motion that the dean of the faculty's contract should not be renewed. The dean was informed of the board’s decision by the board chair. The dean has tenure, and the board offered her a year's paid sabbatical. She was not fired. The board chair sent a written message to the faculty, and some faculty were upset about the board's action. The faculty met, voted no confidence in me on the basis of inadequate 'shared governance' (and let's face it, an easy vote with my immediate departure) and demanded that the dean be reinstated."
Wallace Hall, a controversial member of the University of Texas Board of Regents, has filed a suit in state court against the Texas system's new chancellor, William McRaven, The Texas Tribune reported. Hall has conducted investigations -- some of which have been verified by UT's own outside inquiries -- based on his allegations that officials at the Austin campus helped some politically connected applicants gain admission over the objections of admissions officers. UT's investigation did not go far enough, Hall says, in identifying which powerful people helped which applicants get in, and he wants that information. UT officials have said that they can't violate federal privacy requirements. "Chancellor McRaven believes that a regent's access to information is not above the law," said a statement from the university system.
More than 22 percent of female undergraduate students responding to a survey at the University of Michigan say they have experienced some type of sexual assault, the university announced Wednesday. The findings echo that of the often cited, though also often criticized, 2007 study that concluded one in five female students were sexually assaulted while in college. A new national survey released by The Washington Post last week also reached the same conclusion.
The Michigan survey asked students about sexual misconduct, broadly defining it as "nonconsensual (also known as unwanted), kissing and touching, oral, vaginal or anal penetration" stemming from coercion, intoxication or use of force. But it also asked students about sexual assault specifically involving penetration, a distinction often made by critics when challenging the results of sexual assault surveys. About 12 percent of female undergraduate students -- and 9.7 percent of all female students -- said they had experienced "nonconsensual sexual penetration" in the previous 12 months.
In all, 11.4 percent of Michigan students in the survey said they experienced some form of nonconsensual sexual behavior in the past year. Among male students, 7.6 percent of undergraduates said they had experienced a nonconsensual sexual act.
Fraternity and sorority members are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of "nonconsensual sexual penetration" than non-Greek students, the survey found, and minority students' risk is also higher. The survey also revealed a gap in awareness between male and female students regarding the university's sexual assault policies and resources. More than 90 percent of male undergraduate students said they were aware that Michigan has a sexual misconduct policy, but only 84 percent of female students said the same. Nearly half of male students said they know where to find that policy, compared to only 30 percent of female students.
When the survey -- along with a separate survey created by the Association of American Universities -- was conducted in the spring, some students said its questions were too explicit and could trigger harmful memories in sexual assault victims. The university defended the questions at the time, as did several researchers who study sexual violence. Despite the criticism, the survey had a 67 percent response rate, which is higher than most online surveys.
"Having good data is important," Mark Schlissel, Michigan's president, said in a statement. "The more we know about our own community, the more we can spread awareness of the issues we face and the better we are able to focus our programs to be successful."
Five years ago, I took a long walk in Ireland with my husband, and when we got back, there were reports of several research scandals in which academic reputations were ruined by what appeared to be data falsification or at least substantial sloppiness. I wrote about it -- claiming, as I often do, that enforced data sharing would at least ensure that researchers tidied up their documentation.
A few weeks ago, I took another long walk in Ireland with my husband, and this time the news was filled with Ireland’s public referendum legalizing same-sex marriage and another research scandal, this one involving research about the possibility that face-to-face voter canvassing by persons identified as gay can change opinions about the rights of the LGBT community. I guess I need to be more careful about my travel plans, at least when they involve Ireland.
This time I am less sanguine about the idea that simply enforcing data sharing can improve the research process enough that sloppiness and outright fraud will be well policed. The most recent story involves a young Ph.D. student, Michael J. LaCour, who made up facts about the research process -- such as who funded it, how incentives were paid out, whether the embedded experiments were registered with a centralized registry and perhaps even which survey firm conducted the study.
The scandal began, as they often do, when someone wanted to replicate the research, and the researcher did not share all of the data. The student, in fact, despite the very sound advice of his senior co-author, had not deposited all the data with my former employer the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) so that the full data file could both be found and shared. Once thwarted and confused, of course, the research team that wanted to replicate his research started pulling at the loose thread and unraveled a whole skein of lies and exaggerations. I bet Michael LaCour now profoundly wishes he had paid closer and more careful heed to the advice of his mentor -- because ICPSR, in fact, could have coaxed him into the truth simply by the act of scrutiny and documentation; instead he chose a self-archiving method that allowed him to upload what he wished.
The story of LaCour should bolster my cherished premise that full data sharing will reduce the amount of malfeasance, right? Is it possible to still be naïve in your early 50s? I am afraid so. After another five years of being head down and hip deep in data collection and file preparation, I am willing to admit that either encouraging or forcing data sharing among researchers just is not enough. These scandals result from deeper problems with our training and review of the research process. The scandals almost always erupt when someone starts to question the data used to answer a substantive question -- and then the answer to the substantive question is viewed with suspicion. The inability to replicate, or even get close, opens the door to all types of scrutiny. Mishandling data or data collection is like Al Capone not paying his taxes -- it provides an entrée for our academic Eliot Ness to bring home the investigation.
My claims about the inadequacy of research training and the peer-review process will likely raise howls of protest -- what about all of the graduate-level methods courses, the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the peer-review process required for grants and publications? Yes, all of these checks and balances, in principle, ensure ethical, high-quality research. But they do not, in fact, in any of the disciplines I am familiar with. Graduate-level methods classes in the social sciences -- and I have taught more than a few -- carry a heavy burden requiring both an omnibus survey of data collection methods, research ethics and often a smattering of statistical methods. The section on research ethics usually only focuses on how to deal with human subjects, not on how to handle the data we collect from them. Even a two-course sequence will never get you much beyond what I always think of as the research equivalent of “happily ever after” data collection. No one tells you how to stay married to your Prince Charming nor how to adequately and ethically prepare data files for sharing.
What of the IRB and peer review -- don’t they represent the bulwark against sloppiness and malfeasance? Not really -- as both do not have the explicit purpose of policing the research process generally. The purpose of the IRB is, in fact, the protection of human subjects -- that is, ensuring that all data collection is ethical. This may or may not ensure that the data collection is well documented, accurate and scrupulously transparent, as the protection of human subjects requires looking carefully at informed consent, for instance, but not necessarily data documentation.
Unfortunately, peer review is even more narrowly focused, except when a reviewer pulls hard at a methodological thread. Journal articles and grant applications never allow for the careful description of the methods and procedures because of substantial space constraints. In the past, co-authors and fellow review panel members have rightly scolded me for my overweening and tedious attention to the details of the research process. Peer review focuses primarily on substance and research quality because it must -- we are meant to trust that our colleagues are well trained, careful, transparent and accurate, without a lot of detail about how they execute these traits. I am not entirely sure that trust is warranted -- thus, peer review also fails to ensure that the research process is as it should be.
On our walk in Ireland, my husband and I climbed Croagh Patrick, the mountain on top of which St. Patrick spent 40 days fasting in 441 AD. It is a religious pilgrimage for many Irish Catholics -- for us, it was the challenge of going straight uphill on loose slate for two hours. Croagh Patrick is famous for its miserable weather, and our walk was no exception -- 50-mile-an-hour winds, driving rain and dense fog. As my husband is fond of saying, St. Patrick’s religious visions on the top of the mountain can likely be attributed to hypothermia and the fact that he could not find his way down.
As I crawled my way up the mountain of loose, wet stone, in addition to cursing my husband, who is descended from a long line of spirited Irish men and women, I thought about the value of careful and thorough preparation. My husband, ever the Eagle Scout, always ensures that we are thoroughly prepared and carefully equipped for every eventuality -- thus, I only got soaked to the skin in the last 20 minutes instead of the first two hours, and we made it both up and down the mountain despite being the far side of 50 years old. It strikes me that the research process is indeed like climbing Croagh Patrick -- preparation and careful attention to detail are an absolute must. The research community must find better ways to nurture and encourage these skills rather than spend time picking over the bones of those who have fallen off the trail.
Felicia B. LeClere is a senior fellow with NORC at the University of Chicago, where she works as research coordinator on multiple projects. She has 20 years of experience in survey design and practice, with particular interest in data dissemination and the support of scientific research through the development of scientific infrastructure.
Police officers at the University of California at Los Angeles on Monday arrested Sean Combs, the music star widely known as Diddy, on three counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of making terrorist threats and one count of battery. The weapon referenced was a kettlebell. The university said the arrest took place at the Acosta Athletic Training Complex, where members of the football team work out. Justin Combs, son of Sean Combs, is a member of the UCLA football team. ESPN and others reported that Sean Combs attacked a conditioning coach, Sal Alosi. Combs posted bail and has not commented.
Columbia University's board voted Monday to divest its endowment from private prison companies, CNN reported. Columbia may be the first American college or university to adopt such a policy. Student and faculty groups have been urging the shift. Columbia has in the past invested in two such companies, although there have been reports that holdings in one company were sold prior to Monday's vote. A statement from the university to CNN said: “This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum. The decision follows… thoughtful analysis and deliberation by our faculty, students and alumni.”
The monks who founded Benedictine University, in Illinois, have sued the institution, saying that it is ignoring their authority, The Chicago Tribune reported. The university issued a statement Monday saying that some bylaw clarification may be needed, but denying wrongdoing. The dispute appears to involve the appointment of Michael Brophy as the university's next president. The monks say that the university bylaws give them the right to approve the new president, and that the university board ignored this. They are also requesting that they be able to interview three finalists.