Earl H. Potter III, president of St. Cloud State University, died Monday night as a result of injuries in a car crash. He was driving to Minneapolis-St. Paul for a meeting with the university's foundation board chair. A biography on the university's website notes many accomplishments since he became president there in 2007.
A University of Alabama student who recently studied abroad has the Zika virus, AL.com reported. Officials said they could not provide details on the student but noted that most people with the virus recover quickly. The university has notified all students who recently returned from Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and recommended testing for any experiencing symptoms. The virus has been linked to birth defects, and so exposure is considered particularly dangerous to women who are or plan to become pregnant.
This month has opened with another two-step in the national campaign. Donald Trump throws out a blunt allegation, and the news media and political class rise in sputtering indignation. Trump has questioned the fitness of Judge Gonzalo Curiel to preside over the Trump University lawsuit. Judge Curiel has Mexican-American parents, and Trump believes his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico bias the judge's decision making. An NPR story on the matter cites Trump referring to Judge Curiel in a speech in San Diego as “a hater of Donald Trump, a hater.” On CNN, he accused the judge of issuing “very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe.”
Response has ranged from dismay to outrage on both left and right. John Kasich thinks Trump should “apologize to Judge Curiel and try to unite this country.” At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick, always a reliable voice against Republican villainy, opens, “No truly sane person can defend Donald Trump's vile, racist slander against Gonzalo Curiel.”
Anyone who has worked in academe for a measure of time has to wonder at the shock and ire of these critics. What's the big deal? We have heard the premise of Trump's gripe repeated so many times that it has become a standard part of the stagecraft of public and private debate. No concept has undergone more dismantling in the last half century than objectivity. And no criticism against objectivity has had greater popular impact than the one that says judgment is inevitably swayed by racial/ethnic/gender/sexual factors.
That line of thinking is the sole legal basis for affirmative action in college admissions, for instance. In her 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor acknowledged "one's own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race unfortunately still matters." The racial diversification of the student body, the court ruled, means the diversification of experiences, which enhances the education of everyone. College and universities may practice discrimination because of the reality of racially conditioned minds.
The grounds for that assumption reach back to the Marx and Freud, among others, especially to their critique of the liberal dream of cognitive freedom. The dream allowed that, with enough education and a cosmopolitan disposition, you could transcend your circumstances and reach an unbiased viewpoint. Familial, tribal and national interests would fade, identitarian limits (racial, etc.) would fall away, and a universal human eye would be achieved.
Readers of Inside Higher Ed don't need a rehearsal of how that objectivity collapsed. Hegel historicized it, Marx materialized it, Freud psychoanalyzed it. Forever after, the liberal mind was considered a pretense -- an effort to transcend history, class or psychic repression. Race/class/gender/sexuality critics of the 1980s and ’90s gave these grand undoings an identity twist, an easy step to take in the wake of civil rights, women's lib and the Gay Liberation Front.
Many years ago, in a speech at a law conference, Sonia Sotomayor gave the identity theory a clear and simple expression that is now one of the canons of our age: “Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see …. I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.”
Donald Trump has done nothing more than to accept Justice Sotomayor’s point. But he has broken a taboo. For identity arguments are not equal opportunity. You can raise the objectivity problem when a white man is in power, but you may not do so when a woman or person of color is in power. In other words, Trump has crossed one of the prohibitions that sustain the identity regime. He dares to challenge a man of color on the grounds of his color; also, he reveals the double standards of those who routinely challenge white men on the grounds of their color (and sex).
The dismay on the right comes less from taboo sources than from a philosophical and a tactical source. First, conservatives don’t like identity politics. As Ian Tuttle put it in National Review, Trump’s charge “plays into the left’s identity-politics game, in which one’s heritage or sex determines whether one can render a fair judgment.” Second, Republican politicians fear the “racist” tag because they believe it leads to lost votes. The left has put them fully on the defensive on the issue, and their handlers tell them that the Hispanic bloc is crucial to success in 2016 and beyond.
My prediction is that this controversy will pass like all the rest. Trump’s supporters know that the right’s standard response to identity politics -- to refuse them -- hasn’t slowed their progress one bit. Group thinking and the bad-straight-white-male image have never enjoyed so much popularity. I believed in 1992 that nobody but a transient subset of humanities professors would pay attention to identity theory after the fashion went away, but I was wrong. The feminism and neopragmatism and critical race theory and queer theory that assailed objectivity and dominated the seminar room have settled into dogma in the press, the courtroom, the art world, the White House. The counterculture is now the hegemony.
Trump is an intervention in that spread. He breaks the rules, breaches decorum, says the unsayable. He is precisely the transgressive figure that critical theory in the ’90s exalted. If they were principled in their assumptions, academic theorists wouldn’t join the universal denunciation of Donald Trump by the elite and the establishment. They would situate him in a framework of taboo and totem, interdiction, madness and civilization, or the scapegoat. I’m pretty sure that if Foucault were alive today, he would have been fascinated and amused by the phenomenon of the Republican primary winner -- and utterly bored by the other side.
Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University and co-editor (with Adam Bellow) of The State of the American Mind (Templeton, 2015).
Growing up in a low-income family, David Machado knew he would have to find creative ways to pay for college.
After graduating from high school in Florida in 2004, he joined the U.S. Navy for the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and a chance to gain medical experience as a hospital corpsman. And when he went into the reserves in 2010 to have more time to focus on his education, he enrolled in community college, first in North Carolina and then in Connecticut.
Though he had been planning to transfer to a state school or the University of Connecticut, an English teacher convinced him Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., would be a good fit, allowing him to pursue his passions for poetry and painting and his childhood goal of becoming a doctor.
“I fell in love with writing and what he taught, and he’d talk about Wesleyan,” said Machado, now 29.
But his road to transfer wasn’t always smooth. He didn’t find out about a program for automatic transfer to UConn until he had too many credits to qualify. His community college adviser didn’t answer his emails, so he had to drop into his office to get help. Eventually he gave up on the adviser, relying instead on the advice of professors and others, who led him to other opportunities like a summer medical education program at Yale.
Still, he didn’t always take the right classes in his two years in community college.
“I didn’t understand the transferability of classes at the time, so I was just taking classes that would be of interest and would satisfy the pre-med requirements,” Machado said. Because many of his classes only transferred as electives, and some as three credits instead of four, Machado entered Wesleyan as a sophomore.
Though as many as 80 percent of community college students want to transfer, a study by the Community College Research Center, the Aspen Institute and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released in January found that only 14 percent of degree-seeking students earned a bachelor’s within six years. And research has found many pitfalls in the process of transferring from a community college to a four-year school.
Frequently, students at community colleges are advised to take courses that end up not being accepted by the local four-year campus. When courses transfer, many are accepted only as electives and do not count toward the students’ majors. In other instances, the prerequisite courses students need to transfer with junior standing aren’t offered in a given term, and so students either lose time waiting to take the courses or have to transfer and take them at the higher university cost. Research conducted by Public Agenda on the student experience of transfer found that a number of recurring themes are embedded in the stories of students like the one above:
Well-meaning but overwhelmed and underprepared general advisers at community colleges who lack the time and resources to provide students with correct and up-to-date information about degree pathways;
Faculty advisers who are critically important but dangerously siloed;
Diffuse and scattered information resources on transfer that students have difficulty accessing or effectively navigating;
A lack of clear programs of study that carry through the community college into the four-year institution and through graduation;
Insufficient or dysfunctional channels of communication between faculty and staff within and across two-year and four-year institutions, fueled by institutions’ cultural histories of suspicion and competition.
For first-generation and lower-income students, unconfident learners and students who lack clear goals, the stakes of these challenges are particularly high. Public Agenda research found that community college students often blame themselves for the barriers they face in seeking to transfer. Students not only lose time and money as they attempt to navigate broken systems, they also lose hope in their ability to make a better life through education.
In focus groups conducted by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin, students shared some of their frustrations with the transfer process.
I’d rather look for myself than ask for somebody to answer the questions, because I’ve had cases where those questions weren’t answered correctly, and since they’re not answered correctly it’s a big, big mistake. … If you miss a deadline because somebody answered your question wrong, you start getting skeptical about the advice you’re getting.
A quote from Public Agenda’s research captures the hope deficit that is created through the problems community college transfer students face.
I’m getting tired of school. I had a plan and thought I was doing everything right, and everyone I talked to [at the school] seemed so sure they were giving me the right information, so I never questioned it because I had no idea what I was doing. But here I am and I’ve probably lost two whole semesters taking classes I didn’t need or that ended up not transferring or counting toward my major. I don’t even want to think about the money I lost, because I couldn’t afford to lose it … at this point, honestly, I don’t know if I’m ever going to finish. I’m just getting tired.
The stories of transfer students show the dogged persistence needed to make it.
Jordan Kratz came out of high school in 2012 planning to be a veterinary technician. She chose SUNY Canton in northern New York for its specialized curriculum. But by the spring of her second year, Kratz, from Ballston Spa, N.Y., decided she didn’t want to work with animals full time and applied to transfer to Ithaca College.
“I actually did a total flip,” she said in a recent interview. “I’m in communications management and design.”
Kratz, now 21, dived into research on four-year colleges with the help of her parents and advice from friends. She didn’t turn to her adviser, who was a veterinarian experienced in helping students going to veterinary school.
“I didn’t know if he would have the advice for me that I was looking for,” she said.
The Ithaca admissions office was helpful, answering questions and offering tours, but it wasn’t until she enrolled that she got the full story on how her Canton credits would apply to requirements at Ithaca. Because Ithaca has a very specific core curriculum, many of Kratz’s credits only transferred for general credit.
“On my transcript it just says, ‘transfer elective,’” she said. “It doesn’t even say what the course was.”
In order to catch up, she has to take a series of courses in humanities, creative arts, social sciences and diversity on top of the upper-division courses in her major. But because she has senior standing, the registration system locks her out of the core classes designated for freshmen and sophomores.
“I’m actually having a hard time getting into them as a transfer student,” she said. By the time she files the override paperwork and, if that fails, appeals to the dean, the classes are full.
“You would think when they know you’re a transfer student they would override you into those classes,” Kratz said.
With four more core classes to go, in addition to other requirements, she’s hoping to graduate in the spring of 2017. By then she will have many more credits than she needs to graduate, even after having taken a semester off as she transferred.
“If I did the typical four years in college I should graduate this May,” she said.
Creating the conditions for more students to successfully transfer with junior standing in their majors is the collective work of institutions, systems and policy makers. Students share in the responsibility, but systems need to work better for the majority of students who come to community college with fewer supports and less confidence than Kratz.
As institutional leaders and policy makers seek to diagnose and address a tremendous host of challenges facing transfer students, elevating the voices and perspectives of students themselves is an essential piece of the work to be done.
Alison Kadlec is senior vice president and director of higher education and workforce programs at Public Agenda. Elizabeth Ganga is a communications specialist at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University's Teachers College.
Newspapers in Cincinnati and Vancouver are reporting that the University of Cincinnati's president, Santa J. Ono, will today be named president of the University of British Columbia, one of Canada's top research universities. Ono has been popular on campus, even amid controversies, and is known for having a major following on Twitter. In fact, his Twitter activity might have added to speculation about his next move, as one local blog noted that Ono recently started following many people and organizations with ties to the University of British Columbia. UBC has been searching for a new president since the departure last year of Arvind Gupta. Many faculty members liked his agenda and blamed the board for his departure after a short tenure.
University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart has opted not to pursue an extension of her current contract, a decision coming months after she drew flak for deciding to join the board of for-profit college company DeVry Education Group.
Hart, who took over as Arizona’s president in July 2012, still has two years left on her contract. She’s slated to step down from the presidency on June 30, 2018. Her decision came after she realized she’s been a university president for 14 years, she said in a statement. Hart was previously president at Temple University and the University of New Hampshire.
“I look forward to returning to full-time faculty work as a teacher, scholar and citizen of the university,” she said.
Hart’s decision, announced Friday, comes after she was sharply criticized in March for joining the Board of Directors for Illinois-based DeVry Education Group, which operates DeVry University. The criticism followed the Federal Trade Commission filing a lawsuit against DeVry, alleging it made deceptive claims about job placement rates and graduate wages.
Arizona alumni, employees and students’ parents complained about Hart joining DeVry, and she was questioned by Arizona’s Faculty Senate. But she defended her role, saying she would advocate for quality at DeVry and try to make education available to students who cannot attend Arizona.
The Arizona Board of Regents plans to start a national search for Hart’s replacement this fall. The board came out in support of her decision not to seek a new contract, with Chairman Jay Heiler releasing a statement.
“President Hart has conferred with me and others throughout the spring regarding her plans and her contract,” it said. “The decision not to seek an extension is hers, and true to her character she has made it in full consideration of both her personal aspirations and her institutional commitments.”
Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees decided Friday to take no action on President Elmira Mangum’s future, choosing not to renew her contract as she enters the final academic year of a three-year deal following a recent history marked by contention and criticism -- even as some students and alumni praise her for making long-overdue changes.
Trustees indicated they would take up Mangum’s contract at their next meeting, currently scheduled for September. That means they’ll revisit the issue after the passing of a deadline written into Mangum’s contract calling for her and trustees to confer on a renewal or extension by June 30. If no deal is reached, the contract calls for Mangum to complete her term in April 2017.
But board Chairman Kelvin Lawson said he wanted more data on Mangum’s performance before the board acts. He had asked Mangum for a 45-day contract deadline extension, allowing board members to evaluate her performance and review a self-evaluation she submitted Thursday. The two sides did not agree on a timeline extension, prompting the board to delay action after virtually no public discussion.
Eight of FAMU’s 13 trustees are new in the last six months. Lawson and Mangum have been on opposite sides of the table in the past, with Lawson moving to fire her in October.
While trustees shared few public comments on the contract during their meeting, FAMU faculty members, students and alumni addressed the issue during an extended public comment session. Some urged the board to keep Mangum, saying she was dealing with issues that would be difficult for any administrator to manage. Others urged them to replace her, arguing the university is not in a better place after two years of her management.
Mangum herself appeared to allude to the issue during a report to the board that came before trustees voted on her contract. She is focused on putting money into classrooms and students, and FAMU has improved its performance under Florida’s performance funding model, she said. But she argued that the institution has to adapt to keep up with societal changes.
“We will continue to make the tough decisions,” she said. “Because that’s the only way we are going to get a different outcome.”
The decision not to act on the contract came a day after a high-profile 11-member group addressed a harshly worded open letter to the Board of Trustees, urging against the renewal of Mangum’s contract. The Reverend R. B. Holmes, a former FAMU trustee and president of the Tallahassee Chapter of the National Action Network, was the lead signee of the letter. Other signees included former FAMU presidents and former interim presidents.
The letter alleged improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies during Mangum’s tenure. It cited disenfranchisement of students, faculty, alumni and staff while also arguing that controversy and division swirled around Mangum’s administration. It also pointed to tension between administration and faculty, disharmony within the administration’s leadership team and staff, and a purported lack of vision, goals and objectives. In addition, the letter brought up a charge that has repeatedly been levied at Mangum: poor communication with trustees.
“Our future has fallen victim to a recalcitrant administration engaged in a campaign to sustain an individual, not FAMU,” the letter read. “The embarrassing improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies are constant.”
Mangum replied to the letter Thursday, saying she did not understand Holmes’s motivation.