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California State University looks to end placement exams

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Move is part of a goal to significantly raise graduation rates.

White paper explores management-based approach to accreditation

White paper explores changing the accreditation system to encourage continuous improvement and open the door to “alternative” education providers.

Sister Joel Read, Assessment Pioneer, Dies

Sister Joel Read (right), former president of Alverno College, died Thursday at the age of 91. She was named president of Alverno -- a Roman Catholic women's college in Wisconsin -- in 1968, and she served in that position for 35 years. While president, she pioneered a program in which the curriculum was organized around abilities students needed for various degrees, and assessment programs were created for those abilities and the broader impact of the Alverno education. The assessment efforts at Alverno were adopted many years before such practices became common -- and influenced many other colleges.

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House Version of Student Data Bill

A bipartisan group of influential U.S. senators released a bill Monday that would overturn the ban on a federal student-level data system that would allow for the tracking of employment and graduation rates. A bipartisan companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives followed Tuesday.

The House version, introduced by Representatives Paul Mitchell, a Michigan Republican, and Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat, is dubbed the College Transparency Act of 2017. It closely mirrors the Senate version, with the bill's sponsors saying it would help students and families with "actionable and customizable" information on student outcomes, while also securely protecting students' privacy. Some of the opposition to dropping the 2008 ban, from both sides of the aisle, is based on privacy concerns. The largest private college group is against this push for a federal data system, but public higher education groups back it.

“It has long been a priority of mine to ensure students and families have the necessary tools to make informed decisions about their future,” Mitchell said in a written statement. “As soon as I assumed office, I began working on legislation to increase transparency to enable students to make decisions that will put them on the path to success. This bill will streamline and update current data practices to arm students with information to make the best choices, while reducing bureaucratic burdens on universities.”

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Colgate Releases First Findings on False Alarm on Shooter

Colgate University released its findings from a 10-day review that examined what went wrong May 1 when the university mistook a black student carrying a glue gun for an “active shooter” on campus.

Colgate students received two campus security alerts that evening. The first indicated a person with a gun had entered a campus building. The second reported an active shooter on campus and ordered a lockdown. It caused fear and anxiety on campus, as well as a social media frenzy.

Upon learning that the “active shooter” was a student who needed a glue gun for an art project, Brian W. Casey, the president of Colgate, promised to review what happened and make the results public. He said he believed racial profiling could have contributed to the escalated events from that night.

The findings -- as well as some recommendations -- are now available on the university’s website. The review found the university should improve its emergency response structures as well as the flow of communication surrounding potentially threatening situations.

The two senior administrators leading the review said in the report that the matter of racial profiling or bias is inconclusive.

“There is no appropriate way within the time frame and scope of this investigation to fully, or even preliminarily, assess the role that bias might have played in the initial report to Campus Safety of perceptions of an armed person,” the report said.

“The university should aggressively consider the ways in which it can shape the campus environment to minimize the likelihood that members of our community will be inaccurately perceived as threats.”

The report recommends the university provide more information and training for all students, faculty and staff in dealing with emergency situations.

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18 Penn State Fraternity Members Charged in Death

Eighteen students at Penn State University were charged Friday for their roles in the death of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old sophomore who fell repeatedly after drinking excessive amounts of liquor and beer at a Beta Theta Pi pledge night in February.

The 18 students are all members of the fraternity. Eight of the students and the organization itself were charged with involuntary manslaughter -- a felony. The remaining men were charged with a variety of lesser violations, including hazing, furnishing alcohol to minors, evidence tampering and aggravated and simple assault, according to The New York Times.

Eric Barron, president of Penn State, permanently banned Beta Theta Pi from the campus and tightened alcohol regulations for Greek organizations. At the end of March, he announced the university would no longer allow daylong parties, and it would limit the number of parties with alcohol that each sorority and fraternity can host -- 10 per semester, down from the current 45. At those parties, only beer and wine are allowed to be served. Liquor and kegs are banned.

After a grand jury in Centre County District released its finding from the investigation into Piazza’s death Friday, Barron released a statement.

“The details alleged in these findings are heart-wrenching and incomprehensible,” Barrow wrote. “The university community continues to mourn his tragic death, but no pain we feel can begin to compare to the devastating heartbreak that Timothy’s family and friends are experiencing.”

“The alleged details in the grand jury presentment, which suggest the inhumane treatment of a student forced through hazing to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and endure hours of suffering, are sickening and difficult to understand,” he added. “It is numbing how an atmosphere that endangers the well-being and safety of another person could occur within an organization that prided itself on commitment to each other and to its community.”

The party that led to Piazza’s death started with an initiation ritual where each pledge lined up to complete various drinking tasks -- drink from a bottle of vodka, shotgun a beer and chug from a wine bag.

Video surveillance in the fraternity house helped piece together what happened to Piazza that night, which the grand jury described in detail. Piazza was visibly drunk and staggering by 11 p.m. Soon after, he fell down basement stairs.

In a group text message, one of the fraternity members there said, “Also, Tim Piazza might actually be a problem. He fell 15 feet down a flight of stairs, hair-first, going to need help.”

The hours that followed included several more hard falls, usually on his head, and often against a hard surface, like an iron railing or a stone floor, while Piazza went in and out of consciousness. Occasionally, some of the brothers tried to help. They filled a backpack with textbooks and put it on Piazza’s back to prevent him from rolling over and choking on his own vomit. They splashed water on him and slapped him in the face to try jolt him awake. But no one called 911 -- not until after 10 a.m. the next morning. He died the following day.

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Northwestern and Berkeley's journalism schools drop accreditor, echoing broader criticism about the value of accreditation

Northwestern’s journalism school drops its accreditor, shortly after Berkeley did the same, echoing broader questions about the value of the process and whether it impedes innovation.

Northwestern J-School Drops Accreditation

Northwestern University's journalism school has dropped its specialized accreditation, The Chicago Tribune reported. The school -- generally considered among the country's top journalism programs -- was up for renewal by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications and opted not to go through the process. Northwestern, as a university, maintains institutional accreditation, so students are still eligible for federal student aid.

Bradley Hamm, dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, told the Tribune, "Our goal is always to be the best in the world, and this process doesn't get us there. We just don't find that the review provides us with anything beyond what we already know today. It's relatively superficial, extremely time-consuming and doesn't lead us to a goal of significant improvement. It's sort of a low bar."

The accreditor declined to comment on that statement.

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West Virginia Loosens Public University Oversight

A newly signed West Virginia bill cuts the authority of the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission, a move backers say will give local campuses more decision-making flexibility and increase efficiency as potential budget cuts loom over public higher education in the state.

Governor Jim Justice signed the bill Tuesday, according to WAJR.com. It gives West Virginia University, Marshall University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine more power over their hiring, firing and operations. It also could allow them to avoid some fees.

Presidents at the three universities supported the legislation, saying it aligns the state with others where large public universities gained greater autonomy as state funding fell for higher education.

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Nontenured faculty should not be assessed by student evaluations in this politically charged era (essay)

Now that more that 75 percent of the instructors teaching in higher education in the United States do not have tenure, it is important to think about how the current political climate might affect those vulnerable teachers. Although we should pay attention to how all faculty are being threatened, nontenured faculty are in an especially vulnerable position because they often lack any type of academic freedom or shared governance rights. In other words, they are a class without representation, and they usually can be let go at any time for any reason. That type of precarious employment, which is spreading all over the world to all types of occupations, creates a high level of professional insecurity and helps to feed the power of the growing managerial class.

In the case of higher education, we need to recognize that this new faculty majority often relies on getting high student evaluations in order to keep their jobs or earn pay increases. The emphasis on pleasing students not only can result in grade inflation and defensive teaching, but it also places the teacher in an impossible situation when dealing with political issues in a polarized environment. While some students want teachers to talk about political issues, many students will turn against an instructor who does not share their own ideological perspective. Sometimes that type of political disagreement is transformed in student evaluations into vague complaints about the teacher’s attitude or personality.

In this fraught cultural environment, practically everyone feels that they are being censored or silenced or ignored. For example, some of my conservative students have told me that they feel like they are the real minorities on campus, and even though Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency, they still think they cannot express their true opinions. On the other side, some of my self-identified progressive activist students believe that political correctness makes it hard to have an open discussion: from their perspective, since anything can be perceived as a microaggression, people tend to silence themselves. Moreover, the themes of political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings and free speech have become contentious issues on both the right and the left.

What I am describing is an educational environment where almost everyone is afraid to speak. The nontenured faculty members are fearful of losing their jobs, the conservative students see themselves as a censored minority and the progressive students are afraid of being called out for their privilege or lack of political correctness. Making matters worse is that students are often socialized by their large lecture classes to simply remain passive and silent.

It appears that we are facing a perfect storm where free speech and real debate are no longer possible. One way of countering this culture is to stop relying on student evaluations to assess nontenured faculty. If we want teachers to promote open dialogue in their classes, they should not have to be afraid that they will lose their jobs for promoting the free exchange of ideas. Therefore, we need to rely more on the peer review of instruction, and we have to stop using the easy way out. In short, we have to change how nontenured faculty members are evaluated.

Non-tenure-track faculty should be empowered to observe and review one another’s courses using established review criteria. It is also helpful to have experienced faculty with expertise in pedagogy involved in the peer-review process of teaching. By examining and discussing effective instructional methods, all faculty members can participate in improving the quality of education.

It is also essential that to protect free speech and open academic dialogue, we should realize that the majority of faculty members no longer have academic freedom or the right to vote in their departments and faculty senates. In order to change this undemocratic situation, tenured professors should understand that it is to their advantage to extend academic freedom and shared governance to all faculty members, regardless of their tenure status. If we do not work together to fight back against the current political climate, we will all suffer together.

Robert Samuels teaches writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is the president of UC-AFT. His forthcoming book is The Politics of Writing Studies.

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