administrators

Despite recent criticism, college officials say bias response teams fill important need

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Amid growing concerns that they compromise academic freedom and free speech, college administrators offer defense of Bias Assessment and Response Teams.

Balcony Collapse Injures 30 Students at Trinity (Conn.)

More than 30 students at Trinity College in Connecticut were injured Saturday night when porches collapsed on top of one another at a three-story off-campus house, The Hartford Courant reported. While injuries were not life-threatening, some were serious, such as concussions and broken bones. Some students needed to have debris pulled off them. Officials said the building is owned by Trinity and managed by a private company. Five people live in the building and some of them are members of a fraternity, but the building is not a fraternity house. A statement issued by the college Sunday said a total of 28 students were hospitalized and a majority have been discharged after treatment.

Brian J. Foley, deputy police chief in Hartford, posted photos of the damage to Twitter.

The Trinity incident is not the first instance of injuries from the collapses of roofs or balconies in off-campus buildings where students are holding parties.

  • Nine students were injured in 2015 when a garage roof on which they had been holding a large party near California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo collapsed.
  • Nearly a dozen students at Indiana University at Bloomington were injured in 2014 when a balcony collapsed at an off-campus house.
  • A student at New York University was injured in 2013 when the stairs collapsed at an off-campus rooftop party.
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UCLA Settles Suit by Grad Students on Harassment Case

The University of California, Los Angeles, said Sunday that it settled with two graduate students who sued over its handling of a sexual harassment case against a professor of history. One graduate student will receive $350,000 and the other is owed $110,000 and a dissertation year fellowship, according to a statement from the university.

“UCLA is committed to maintaining an atmosphere where all students can live and learn free of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation,” reads the statement. “All members of the UCLA community are encouraged to report any incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”

Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, both graduate students who have been public about their case, last year filed a complaint against the university, alleging that it took insufficient action against Gabriel Piterberg, the professor in question. The students say he repeatedly sexually harassed them and tried to touch them, and that the university was out of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, in its response. Piterberg was fined $3,000 and told not to meet with his students in his office with the door closed, among other consequences. After a suspension lasting one academic quarter, he was allowed to return to teaching this semester, prompting student protests and faculty outcry. He has not responded publicly to the complaints about him.

UCLA said in its most recent statement that it’s taken steps since the time of the alleged violations, including creating its Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and establishing peer review committees to review proposed sanctions for any senior leader or faculty member found to have committed sexual harassment.

 

Pence Weighs In on ITT Tech's Collapse

Mike Pence, the Republican governor of Indiana and Donald Trump's running mate, on Friday called on the federal government to help veterans of the U.S. military who attended the now-closed ITT Tech, Politico reported. Pence wrote to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ask for the restoration of GI Bill benefits for ITT students.

"Our veterans are being unfairly punished due to lack of flexibility in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which does not take into account such situations, such as this recent closure, that are of no fault to the students," he wrote. "We cannot allow this to stand."

Also last week, Pence criticized the White House's stance on for-profits. "ITT Tech's situation is due in part to the Obama administration's overregulation, which is sadly killing jobs nationwide," his spokeswoman told the Indianapolis Star.

Philadelphia U, Thomas Jefferson U Will Merge

Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University on Friday announced a merger agreement. The combined institution of 7,500 students will be the fifth largest in Philadelphia. Thomas Jefferson's programs are in the health sciences while Philadelphia's are in design, textiles, business and related professional fields. The combined institution is conducting a branding strategy that will influence how the combined institution will be described and promoted.

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West Florida Faculty Senate Opposes Lawmaker as Potential President

The University of West Florida Faculty Senate on Friday voted, 12 to 5, to oppose the presidential bid of a state senator with no higher education background who helped design a controversial performance-based funding system.

The Faculty Senate “is resolved that statements made by candidate Don Gaetz in his initial interview, combined with his past political and professional positions and actions, are incompatible with the academic mission and educational initiatives” of the university, reads the faculty resolution. It urges the presidential search committee and Board of Trustees to choose among the remaining pool of “highly qualified finalists.”

Daniel Pace, a professor of finance and president of the university’s union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, called performance measures “so flawed,” Politico reported. “They show a fundamental lack of understanding of how a university functions and what the role of a university is, particularly for a regional comprehensive university like [West Florida]. There is no place for a regional comprehensive university under these performance metrics.”

All finalists beyond Gaetz, including Martha Saunders, the university's provost, have significant higher education experience. Gaetz told Politico, “Everyone has a right to express themselves, and I certainly respect the members of the faculty who organized this effort. It is their right to express themselves.” The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trustees are expected to name a new president on Thursday.

Florida State University in 2014 hired John Thrasher, a Republican state lawmaker with no higher education experience, as president, despite a similar plea by faculty members to their Board of Trustees not to do so.

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Seattle U Adjuncts Vote to Form Union

Non-tenure-track faculty members at Seattle University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, 73 to 63, they announced Friday. Adjuncts had to wait two years to count their votes, after the university challenged their right to form a union based on its religious affiliation. But the National Labor Relations Board said last month that the votes should be counted, save those from adjuncts who teach theology and religious studies, and those specifically teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry.

"This has been a challenging issue for our campus community," the university said in a statement. "The two overriding, yet competing rights -- the right to organize and the First Amendment right of the university to carry forward its core Jesuit Catholic educational mission on its own terms free from government interference -- require thoughtful consideration." The university said it respects the right of workers to organize, but that faculty members in particular play "a central role" in its religious mission. The university may release another statement on the vote within a month.

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Effectively using data to gauge success (essay)

Around this time every year, as colleges and universities begin to spring back to life, I am reminded of my years working within central administration and the excitement in watching the sea of people full of promise come spilling back onto the campus. I remember the familiar faces of returning students, beaming with the fresh potential of a new year, who dropped by just to declare themselves back again or share goals for the year hatched over the summer.

But I also remember just as clearly the faces of the students who didn’t return. Those we lost somewhere along the way to graduation.

Many of those students still haunt me today. I remember one freshman I met when I was working as vice chancellor and chief of staff at UNC Greensboro. She came into my office at the end of the spring semester in tears. A straight-A student through high school, she arrived on our campus full of confidence. But that confidence was shattered when her professors told her that she was a terrible writer. She struggled through the year in silence, determined to improve. But she never got the help she needed. The tears rolled down that young woman’s face as she learned that she’d been placed on academic probation and would lose her scholarship. It was too late. We were too late.

There are thousands more stories like this young woman’s -- of students from low-income families who could have made it farther than their parents did but whom we somehow failed along the way.

We used to blame our students: their poverty, their underpreparation, the extra burdens they carry. It turns out, though, that it’s a lot about us. Yes, poverty and preparation matter. But the choices we make matter, too. Some institutions are simply doing a much better job of graduating their students than other institutions serving exactly the same kinds of students.

As we begin a new academic year, this can be a moment for improvement-minded institutional leaders to engage campus communities in honest, data-driven conversations about what we might do better. How can we more fully understand the journeys our students take on the way to the degree, noting where those journeys are speeded and guided, and where they derail? How can we renew our collective commitment to expand what's working and to confront -- and address -- what’s not?

To assist institutional leaders in their reflection and planning, The Education Trust has sought to identify and broadly share the high-impact practices of institutional leaders who have driven impressive improvement in completion rates, particularly for students who have gone historically underrepresented -- and underserved -- on our campuses: low-income and first-generation students and students of color. Most recently we’ve examined practices at Florida State University, San Diego State University, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and Georgia State University.

While each of these institutions is distinct in their mission, and each set of leaders distinct in their style, at the core of their improvement efforts are common practices and qualities -- many of them steeped in honest analysis of data. Those practices and qualities are:

Courage. When then San Diego State President Stephen Weber addressed his Faculty Senate, applauding the many ways in which the faculty had worked toward -- and attained -- excellence over the years, he went on to issue a challenge that would spark a decade-long improvement effort: “But a great university doesn’t lose almost two-thirds of its Latino freshmen along the road toward graduation.” Like Weber, all of the leaders at the campuses we’ve been learning from are clear-eyed, intentional and dogged in their approaches to institutional improvement. They roll up their sleeves alongside staff and faculty and ask hard questions of the data on student matriculation and success. They zero in on areas of strength and weakness to draw out promising practices and needed interventions.

Shared commitment. These leaders are keenly aware that, while they have a strong role to play in leading change, staff and faculty members operating closest to their students are the ones who enact that change. Using data, leaders at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire engaged departments as partners and problem solvers. Said one senior leader on campus, “We give them the data … we’re not telling them where the problem is; they identify the problem and we encourage them to solve the problem.”

In examining their data, they found that, while their six-year graduation rate was relatively high, the four-year graduation rate was extremely low at just 18 percent. To address that pattern, faculty and staff members identified course bottlenecks and acted to remove them.

At each of the institutions we’ve studied, leaders draw together partners at every level -- senior administrators, department heads, faculty members, student-affairs professionals -- to engage in data analysis and problem solving. And they arrive not with answers, but with questions, trusting that those assembled in the room have much to contribute to improvement efforts.

Timely data for targeted interventions. These leaders understand that their students struggle in real time -- and that those working closest to them need information to intervene in real time. Further, they know from disaggregating data that all students don’t struggle at the same time with the same obstacles or need the same supports. They take time to parse data to understand the needs of all their students -- first generation, transfer, black, Latino, immigrant and many others. They identify benchmarks and warning indicators to ensure that no student is left to languish and disappear at any point in their educational journey without real supports to turn the situation around.

For example, practitioners at Georgia State University noted, “Four or five years ago, we had nothing consistent in our system that would help us track students.” Today, an impressive online data repository gives faculty and staff members immediate access to 130 screens of the most requested data on student progression and success. Through their Graduation and Progression Success advising system, which tracks more than 700 markers of student success, nightly feeds generate lists of which students have missed which markers. That information enables advisers to reach out immediately with targeted support for students who stumble.

Continuing evaluation of the data. Leaders at these institutions always come back to the data. A longtime campus leader at Florida State University described the cultural change ushered in by former provost Lawrence G. Abele: “When he came in, there was a huge shift in culture. It was no longer OK to just do things you thought were right; you needed data to support new ideas and also to assess, evaluate and improve current programs.”

For instance, when campus leaders analyzed their dropout patterns, they found that while white students were most at risk of dropping out in their first year, black male students were more likely to leave after the second, third or even fifth year. They realized that their retention efforts needed to stretch beyond freshman year to guide students through the entire undergraduate trajectory. Like Abele, leaders at these fast-improving institutions convene their teams regularly to monitor and review the data and to make midcourse corrections to ensure that their efforts, energies and resources are directed where they are most needed.

The lessons these leaders offer provide real insight from within successful college and university change efforts. They remind all of us in higher education that “success for some” is no great institution’s epitaph -- that institutional success will be measured not by how well some students are served but by how well all groups of students are served. If institutional leaders and those of us working alongside them don’t have the courage to confront the reality of what’s happening on our campuses in the narratives of all students, whether on commencement lists or dropout rolls, we are merely comforting ourselves with a half-true story that plays on repeat each year.

Bonita J. Brown is director of higher education practice at The Education Trust. She most recently served as vice chancellor and chief of staff at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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U of Oregon Removes Name of Klan Leader From Dorm

The board of the University of Oregon voted Thursday to remove the name of Frederic Dunn (right) from a dormitory that has for years honored him, The Register-Guard reported. Dunn was a professor of classics at the university in the 1920s and 1930s and was respected for his teaching and scholarship. He was also a leader -- with the title “exalted cyclops” -- of the Ku Klux Klan in the region. Black students have been pushing for his name to be removed from the dormitory. The board delayed until later in the fall a decision on a building named for Matthew Deady, one of the university's founders and one who held pro-slavery views.

Win for Ashford in Fight Over GI Bill Eligibility

Iowa's Department of Education last week dropped its opposition to a request by Ashford University for more time to resolve a challenge to the for-profit university's eligibility to receive students' Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, according to an email the company distributed to employees on Thursday. The Iowa agency will not decide whether to withdrawal Ashford's GI Bill eligibility until after a judge rules on a lawsuit the university filed to prevent that action, said Staci Hupp, a spokeswoman for the department.

The university enrolls roughly 6,250 military and veteran students. In May the Iowa agency ruled that Ashford would need to register in California, where the for-profit is now based, to continue its GI Bill eligibility. Ashford sued to block the move, citing its continuing presence in Iowa. The company also released emails from an Iowa official, which it secured as part of a lawsuit, in which the official said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and two California agencies had improperly meddled in Iowa's decision to terminate Ashford's eligibility.

Ashford's CEO, Andrew S. Clark, said in the Thursday email that the Iowa agency's decision means the university will be able to continue accepting GI Bill benefits for the "full length of time" needed to resolve the legal dispute. "We anticipate that this process, and related court proceedings, could take approximately 10 months to complete," he said.

Hupp said the goal of the agency's decision last week was to "make sure that veterans receive their tuition benefits without interuption."

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