Submitted by Jake New on January 18, 2017 - 3:00am
Three University of Oregon football players were hospitalized last week following a series of "grueling" off-season strength and conditioning workouts, The Oregonian reported on Monday. All three players remain in the hospital, and the mother of one of the athletes told the newspaper that her son was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a rare condition in which muscle tissue degrades and can enter the bloodstream. In August, eight women's volleyball players at Texas Woman's University were also diagnosed with the condition, which is frequently caused by overexertion.
On Tuesday, the University of Oregon announced that it had suspended the football team's strength and conditioning coach.
"The safety and welfare of all of our student-athletes is paramount in all that we do," the university said in a statement. "While we cannot comment on the health of our individual students, we have implemented modifications as we transition into full training to prevent further occurrences."
“As nearly all scholars recognize,” we read in an article published in Presidential Studies Quarterly in 1983, “there is no apprenticeship or training an individual may obtain in preparation for the presidency. There is no convenient book or guide which provides a detailed step-by-step analysis of the requirements and demands of the office.”
How true! An acquaintance with the Constitution would surely be helpful, but it’s not as if you have to pass a test on it -- even one with simple questions, such as “Would requiring Muslims to register with the government follow the First Amendment (a) to the letter, (b) in spirit or (c) none of the above?” (It’s surprising how far you can get in public life without being able to answer that one correctly.)
But the whole point of the paper just quoted -- “On ‘Becoming’ President of the United States: The Interaction of the Office with the Office Holder” by Robert E. Denton Jr. -- is that coping with the lack of an orientation handbook is one of the simultaneous, urgent and inflexible demands over which the incoming chief executive must demonstrate a mastery, beginning almost immediately. The author is a professor of communications (and head of the department) at Virginia Tech, with a special interest in the “symbolic dimensions of the American presidency,” to borrow the title of the first of his more than two dozen books.
His vita shows that Denton has been analyzing presidential communications more or less in real time since the first Reagan administration, when “On ‘Becoming’ President” appeared. One of his earliest publications, it proves especially interesting just now -- despite having been written long before official speeches and press conferences were joined by such message-delivery formats as the tweet.
“On ‘Becoming’ President” takes its bearings from symbolic interactionism: a school of thought at the intersection of sociology and psychology, and well established even then. Its defining insight -- drawn largely from the American pragmatist philosophers, especially George Herbert Mead -- is that communication between human beings always involves considerably more than the content of a message. We also take in cues about one another’s roles, statuses, expectations and so on -- an ongoing process of learning to see oneself from other people’s vantage points.
They are doing so at the same time, of course. It can get complicated, even when the roles, beliefs and shared expectations are all reasonably clear or well established. Arguably the symbolic-interactionist researcher and the novelist or filmmaker each tries to depict and analyze the range of communicative multitasking constantly underway in life.
The Oval Office emerges as the scene where symbolic interactions of global consequence take place that are conditioned by “expectations and functions of the office [that] are often competing, conflicting and contradictory.” In addition to the president’s constitutionally specified roles (chief of state, chief executive, chief diplomat, chief legislator and commander in chief), another “five extraconstitutional roles must be recognized: chief of [his] party, protector of the peace, manager of prosperity, world leader and voice of the people.” (Denton culls these roles from the poli-sci literature of the day; the references are given in his article.)
Occupancy of the office itself confers a great deal of persuasive force in exercising any given role. But it often requires playing a number of them simultaneously, and while a certain amount of authority may be delegated, the ultimate responsibility cannot. Denton also underscores the constant burden of “vast and complex” public expectation, both to meet of promises and to exhibit a suitable combination of leadership traits and personal morality.
“Many attitudes about the presidency stem from messages received in childhood about the virtues of various presidents,” Denton writes. “Studies continually find that the president is ordinarily the first public official to come to the attention of young children. Long before children are informed about the specific functions of the presidency, they view individual presidents as exceptionally important and benign.”
He mentions researchers who found children attributing to the president qualities of “honesty, wisdom, helpfulness” and related virtues. (All of the studies Denton cites were conducted before the mid-1970s, but comparable findings appear in a book on child psychology from 2005.)
The symbolic-interactionist approach would emphasize not only presidential roles and duties (as established by the Constitution or tradition) or the pressure of public expectations (still tinged with hero fantasies from childhood, perhaps) but also the inner experience of “adopting and adapting the self to the actions of others” through years of public life. The political learning curve “is adaptive,” Denton writes, “resulting from the capacity to change self depending on political environment, beliefs, values and expectations.”
Implied by Denton’s remarks on what he calls the “political self” is some normative sense of a successful candidate’s personality and career: a self conditioned by the experience of political action and debate, informed by some modeling of another’s leadership, and skilled at anticipating the impact of both words and deeds. The tempered political self -- so understood -- will presumably be as well prepared as anyone can be to incorporate “the trappings, powers and prerogatives of the presidency” into itself. And he suggests that the process is not without its risks, even then.
Our majestic treatment of presidents causes status inequality, inflation of self-concept and distorted perception of external events. Such exposure manifests distortion of social comparison processes, ‘overidentification’ with the office and misinformed decisions …. Presidents are constantly pressured to misrepresent or distort themselves to various national constituencies. Such a continual pressure causes further misrepresentations, erosion of truth norms and self-delusion.
It appears that the author had Richard Nixon in mind as the worst-case scenario, although Nixon had more than 20 years of political experience (including one previous presidential campaign) before taking office. In any event, Denton’s paper is something to chew on this week -- and to choke down in the months ahead.
The board of Morehouse College has decided not to renew the contract of John Wilson as president, and he will leave after four years in office. The college’s press release praised Wilson. But The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that his tenure has been controversial, with criticism of budget cuts and tuition increases that Wilson said were needed due to financial problems.
This past fall’s elections marked a significant change for our nation, both in terms of leadership and direction. As a historian, I am always interested in the how and why of such phenomena, and as an educator, I am interested in what they mean for higher education. So I’ve spent a good deal of time in recent weeks talking with a wide range of people from coast to coast and reading a host of analyses in an effort to grasp the world that is unfolding and how our colleges and universities fit into it.
I’ve come away from that experience with two basic observations. The first is that our nation is more divided than I realized, and the division is more about opportunity than ideology. A recurring theme in my conversations and reading was one of anxiety and anger among many Americans about being left behind. Many people feel that globalization and innovation have not left them better off, and that the institutions that are supposed to help them are not there for them. This sense of an opportunity gap is palpable and powerful, and it will have a real and lasting impact on our politics.
The second observation is that this opportunity gap has a good deal to do with higher education. While inequities in economic opportunity lie at the heart of many Americans’ discontent, educational opportunity is a natural extension of that frustration. In recent years, we have seen survey after survey document the sentiment that education after high school is necessary but increasingly unaffordable. Meanwhile, according to recent data from Public Agenda, public belief that college is essential has slipped. It is too early to tell if that is a blip or a trend, but it is powerfully illustrated by a comment made to me by a gas station attendant in Iowa: “Why would I spend money I don’t have to go to a community college where no one graduates?”
As we begin 2017, I believe that we in higher education need to engage in a serious dialogue about our role in exacerbating the opportunity gap and our obligation going forward to close it. For me, that means grappling with three basic questions.
What Is Higher Education, and Who Is It For?
In our public conversation and policy making, we simply must take a broader view of education after high school and who pursues it. Even today, we labor under outdated images of newly minted high school graduates making their way to lectures and leafy quads, even as 40 percent of our students are over 25 and fully one-quarter are parents. It is time to move conversations about matters like digital learning and redesigning remedial education from the margins to the mainstream and embrace new delivery models that aren’t grounded in seat time and agrarian calendars but rather meet the needs of today’s students.
Institutions like Rio Salado College in Arizona grasp these realities and are responding to them by embracing a combination of online and in-class learning and by having an academic calendar that begins a new term virtually every Monday, rather than just two or four times a year. States are also waking up to the realities of today’s college students, launching initiatives like Tennessee Reconnect to bring adults with some college experience but no credential back into the pipeline for a degree or certificate.
How Important Is Higher Education?
Even as Americans increasingly question the value of higher education, the evidence is clear: our economy favors those with education and training after high school and punishes those who lack it. Virtually all the jobs created since the Great Recession required some form of postsecondary education, from short-term certifications to postdoctoral studies. And that trend will only continue, as the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Economy estimates that, at current enrollment and completion rates, our economy faces a shortfall of 11 million credentialed workers. We need more access and success in higher education, and we especially need it for the people who have consistently been left behind: low-income and first-generation students, students of color, and working adults.
And yet, higher education’s incentive and recognition systems continue to celebrate and reward exclusion. The institutions that top the U.S. News & World Report rankings are the ones that reject the most applicants. The colleges and universities that receive the greatest per-student public funding are the least diverse ones. And as my colleague Anthony P. Carnevale, direct of the center at Georgetown, noted recently, our elite institutions are unable to meaningfully tackle the growing opportunity gap in this country. We must rewrite that narrative if we are going to leave fewer Americans behind.
Institutions like Arizona State University, Georgia State University and the other members of the University Innovation Alliance deserve credit and, more important, support for their efforts to redefine excellence not in terms of whom they exclude but whom they include -- and how well those students succeed. So do open-access institutions that redefine their students’ experiences to emphasize credential completion and employment, like Miami Dade College and Sinclair Community College. They and a growing cadre of other innovators are determined to achieve excellence through inclusion.
What Is Higher Education’s Role in the Public Arena?
Throughout the nation’s history, colleges and universities and their leaders have been engaged in the great debates of war and peace, civil rights, and poverty and inequality. But as America increasingly cleaves along the lines of the haves and have-nots, where is higher education on issues affecting the disaffected, like immigration and health care reform? Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, rightly argued recently in this publication that as an enterprise, higher education has become too insular, too self-referential and too risk averse. Many college and university leaders, fearful of the wrath of politicians and donors, have moved from the center to the sidelines in the public arena. Their voices are urgently needed to substantively address the opportunity gap.
I am heartened to see campus leaders address questions related to immigration and use their convening power to address and hopefully lower racial tensions affecting many communities. But I am also left to wonder how much standing we in higher education have already ceded in the public arena, absorbed with the pursuit of prestige and the race for revenue as those left behind have fallen even farther back.
At the end of the day, I am an optimist. I believe that the educational opportunity gap can be bridged. In fact, it must be bridged if we are going to have an economy and society that is about raising people up rather than leaving them behind. For us in higher education, that process begins by recognizing where our rhetoric may be at odds with reality -- and then doing something about it.
Dan Greenstein is director of postsecondary success at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
A man was stabbed early Sunday morning at the home of the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Boston, The Boston Globe reported. The man who was stabbed, who is 20, is in the hospital, and no information was available on his condition. J. Keith Motley, the chancellor, was traveling at the time. He issued a statement that said he was rushing home. “I have learned about an incident that occurred at my residence last night and am very concerned about it as well as the health of the young man who was injured,” said a statement from Motley.
The University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Faculty Senate on Friday voted no confidence in Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska System, 28 to 9, the Alaska Dispatch Newsreported. The nonbinding resolution says that faculty turnover has increased while morale has declined under Johnsen’s tenure, in part because "the issues or concerns raised by the faculty have had no apparent influence on" and are not addressed by any decisions concerning a major system restructuring.
That process, called Strategic Pathways, aims to streamline academic and administrative operations across campuses. Frank Jeffries, a professor of business and public policy, said that the restructuring didn't follow best practices, and the statewide administration appeared to make decisions while "completely ignoring financial implications,” according to the Dispatch News.
Alaska Board of Regents Chair Gloria O'Neill said the regents still have full confidence in Johnsen. "I believe this is systematic of real change and the messy environment that we find ourselves in," she added.
The United States has seen a significant decline in state support for higher education in recent years. From 2000 to 2012, state support per full-time equivalent student declined from an average of $7,000 to $4,400 after inflation, a drop of almost 4 percent a year. Over the same period, federal support grew 2.5 percent annually after inflation, from $3,800 to $5,100 per full-time equivalent.
The contrast between state and federal investment in the specific period from 2008 to 2012, the first four years after the Great Recession, was even greater: state support declined at an annual rate of 7.8 percent, while federal support grew at an annual rate of 7.3 percent. And while three states (Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming) have increased support for public higher education over the past three years, the other 47 states have decreased it.
On a more granular level, one has seen budget collapses at the City University of New York and a budget impasse threatening all public universities in Illinois. One might ask why City University -- which not only offered high-quality tuition-free university education through 1976 but also produced 13 Nobel laureates from the classes of 1933 through 1963 -- does not enjoy greater public support, support it once had. One might ask why Illinois universities -- including the flagship University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago State University and others -- do not enjoy greater public support, again support the system once had.
The Tragedy of the Commons
The decline in state support for public universities appears to be flip side of a classic economic conundrum: the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons describes overuse of a shared resource (for example, a fishing area) by individual users (fishermen). Since each fisherman can expect to harvest only a small fraction of future fish growth, the optimal strategy is to catch as many fish as possible, even though the collective result of all of those individual optimal strategies is to drive the fish population to extinction. W. F. Lloyd first described this “tragedy of the commons,” or the overexploitation of a shared resource, almost 200 years ago.
The tragedy of the commons is fundamentally a mismatch between the scale of the decision maker(s) and the scale of the resource. In the presence of this mismatch, and the absence of communication and agreement among users, each user’s optimal economic strategy in exploiting a shared resource (a fishery, or, more generally, the commons) is to overexploit the resource, potentially driving it to extinction.
A similar mismatch has emerged in support for United States public universities. Until now, public universities, like public schools, have been primarily funded locally: public schools through a combination of local and state support, and universities largely at the state level. Historically, most graduates stayed local, and most of the hiring was local. Thus, each individual participant (for example, a local business) in a local community received much of the benefit of their investment, motivating investment commensurate with the benefits of the university. State support of public universities matched the scale of users of these universities, and state investment in their public universities benefited the state population and businesses.
In contrast, if far fewer graduates stayed local, and much of hiring were significantly broader based (for example, national or global), an individual participant would logically choose to invest little or nothing in their local public universities. The logic parallels the classical tragedy of the commons, where individual users (herdsman or fisherman), acting independently, together overexploit a common resource because each has essentially no ownership of the resource. In this case, each participant underinvests because they receive only a small benefit from investing in the shared resource -- the scales of statewide investment and broader national usage do not match. The results are also similar: namely collapse of the common resource.
This reverse tragedy of the commons describes the present-day United States. Public universities have become national resources, not merely state resources, providing benefits both in the state and outside of it. The educated population is highly mobile, and businesses recruit and hire their best-educated employees on a national or global scale.
Thus, federal support for public universities has grown in recent years because the scale of federal decision making and investment matches the national scale of usage of public universities. But meanwhile, state support has fallen sharply because the scale of state decision making and investment does not match the national scale of the hiring and mobility of the well educated.
Reductions in state support not only harm the quality and affordability of public universities; they also trigger further reductions in support. Business can hire out of state, even outside the United States. Those seeking science, engineering and technology workers can use the H-1B visa program to access a global talent pool. Students who are able can choose to attend out-of-state or private universities.
To fill the gap in state support, public universities can pursue out-of-state students to increase revenue. But states like California have been publicly pressured to reduce out-of-state admissions in favor of in-state students. Another possibility -- raising tuition -- both reduces opportunities for students and makes state universities less competitive economically.
Meanwhile, those strategies don’t really address the collapse of support for public education -- and its negative consequences. (It’s worth noting, for example, that all 13 Nobel laureates at City University graduated between 1933 and 1963 -- none did during the disinvestment in the 1970s and later.) And they all further weaken the case for state taxpayer support, driving a downward spiral in state support for public universities.
User Communities on a National Scale
How can this spiral toward collapse of public universities be stopped? Fisheries management suggests two alternative but complementary approaches, both based upon the concept of an optimal strategy for the user community as a whole. One approach to managing fisheries is to regulate the total harvest at a sustainable level and then to apportion the harvest to fishermen in one of several ways: restrict the season, restrict the effort or adopt a system of catch shares.
The analog for funding universities would be to provide funding at a sustainable level on a suitable scale and then allocate enrollment. That is the current model in Germany and the Nordic countries, reflecting “deeply rooted social values, such as equality of opportunity and social equity” (OECD report, 2015). That model was once common in the United States before public support lost pace with increasing costs and tuition was introduced to make up the shortfall. Examples include the University of California system and City University of New York. New York State’s community colleges were created on an analogous but explicit shared-funding model: one-third funding each from the state, local sponsors and students.
We can and should move toward a more significant national component of a shared funding model, as a partial replacement for the failing present approach of state funding. But perhaps we simply need to start with more open communication about the benefits of investment in public higher education.
Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel laureate in the economic sciences, essentially called for the emergence of user communities of beneficiaries of a common resource, such as a university, who understand and together effectively manage their common resource, generating a match between the scale of a common resource and the community of its users. As she stated in her Nobel lecture, “Isolated, anonymous individuals overharvest from common-pool resources. Simply allowing communication, or ‘cheap talk,’ enables participants to reduce overharvesting and increase joint payoffs … Large studies of irrigation systems in Nepal and forests around the world challenge the presumption that governments always do a better job than users in organizing and protecting important resources.” In particular, “resources in good condition have users with long-term interests, who invest in monitoring and building trust.”
In fact, private universities have also needed to develop and cultivate their own user communities to generate adequate support and have experienced some striking contrasts. Overall alumni giving rates have fallen significantly, but colleges and universities with a well-identified sense of community have experienced increased overall giving and high alumni giving rates. This trend brings hope for the future.
We need to build upon this concept to better support public higher education on a broad, national scale. To this end I offer several concrete suggestions to galvanize a national user community. We should:
Develop a unified voice as stakeholders. Public universities are represented by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Association of American Universities, and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Their membership forms a complex Venn diagram. For example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is a member of APLU and AAU but not AASCU, while many other UNC campuses are members of APLU and AASCU but not AAU. There are also separate organizations for private nonprofit universities, for community colleges and for university faculty. Although all of those associations have similar agendas for improving funding for and access to the higher educational common, a unified single voice for public universities could speak more effectively to further a common agenda.
Communicate more effectively to the public. We must make the case that support for broad access to higher education is a mission-critical national investment, in the spirit of the post-Sputnik space program and the war on cancer. More budget transparency and improved public outreach are key components.
Speak on behalf of a broad national user community of stakeholders in higher education. A partnership including industry, as well as between public and private universities, is needed. I applaud AAU President Mary Sue Coleman’s address “Saving Public Higher Education” at the 2016 World Academic Summit, and in particular her statement “Public universities are the workhorses of American teaching and research. And the benefits to society are powerful.” Although she notes that there are no private research universities in a majority of states, the AAU itself recognizes the value of a broad public-private effort by including 26 private research universities in America among its 62 member institutions. Public and private universities should be coming together to support their common mission and generate increased public support for all.
Advocate for more national-scale support, while preserving the independence of public and private universities. Such a program could perhaps be modeled upon a combination of existing federal grants, the National Merit Scholarship Program, Pell Grants and ROTC (as a model of public service).
In summary, we in higher education must work together to build a more active and effective national user community, one that acts on its collective responsibility to support its commons -- the public universities of the United States -- with increased national-scale support.
Harold M. Hastings is professor emeritus at Hofstra University and an adjunct faculty member in the sciences at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. These opinions are his own.
Survey suggests that increasing student demand for mental health services -- spurred by prevention and awareness campaigns -- may be leading colleges to focus less on ongoing treatment in order to respond more rapidly to high-risk students.
Beverly Wendland, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, has no plans to close the historic Humanities Center, she assured faculty members and students Wednesday. Wendland made her announcement in a cover letter to a faculty committee report on the department’s future. The report recommends one of three courses of action: keeping the center’s name while rethinking its role in relation to other humanities departments; renaming the department as something that more “clearly conveys its identity and focus”; or transforming the humanities center into a comparative literature department, “building on the expertise of current faculty and using vacant faculty lines to recruit strong scholars in this specific, interdisciplinary field.”
Wendland said Johns Hopkins will “consider carefully all of the committee’s recommendations and options in order to determine the best path forward for the humanities.” Students and faculty members objected to the possible closure of the 50-year-old interdisciplinary Humanities Center in the fall, launching a petition and website to save it. The new report calls out some of those protesters, saying, “We believe that the situation could have provided a teachable moment regarding how to engage calmly and rationally with controversy, but unfortunately, the students may not have had proper faculty guidance in doing so.”