Democrats Introduce Bill to Bolster Pell Grants

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced new legislation Tuesday that would permanently index the value of the grant to inflation, while making funding for the program mandatory and expanding or reinstating access for a number of student groups.

Senators Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii and Patty Murray of Washington and Representatives Susan Davis of California and Bobby Scott of Virginia introduced the bill, the Pell Grant Preservation and Expansion Act. Murray and Scott are the ranking Democrats on their chambers' respective education committees.

The senators say the Pell Grant would remain fixed at the current maximum of $5,920 in fiscal year 2018 without additional fixes, eroding the value of the grant. And they say making funding for the program mandatory, rather than discretionary, would protect it from cuts during spikes in demand. The bill would also extend access to Pell Grants to "high-quality, short-term" job-training programs, raise the income threshold for the grant, and increase lifetime eligibility to 14 semesters. It also would reinstate or expand access for defrauded students who make successful borrower-defense claims, Dreamers, incarcerated students and students with drug-related convictions.

While Pell Grants have received bipartisan support -- evidenced by the reinstatement of year-round Pell in the 2017 omnibus funding package -- the bill will likely struggle to get Republican support. It's part of a higher ed campaign House Democrats announced Monday focused on access, affordability and completion.

Democrats launched a similar campaign last year -- called In the Red -- that went nowhere.

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Commencement Speaker Sorry for Using N-Word

This article contains explicit and potentially offensive terms that are essential to reporting on this situation.

Dennis Lehane, the novelist, has apologized for using a racial slur during his commencement speech Sunday at Emerson College, Boston Magazine reported. The slur came when he was talking about Boston during the 1970s school-busing controversy. He noted that opponents of the desegregation plan shouted "niggers out" at various protests. His use of the slur bothered many, who took to social media to ask why it was necessary to use the word in a commencement address. Several noted that Emerson responded quickly when it found someone had written the word on campus, but the college didn't seem concerned by the commencement address.

Lehane's statement Monday said that the word is “the most offensive word in the English language” and that he used it “in the context of the times in which I was describing, to show exactly how ugly those times were …. If, in an attempt to convey that with absolute authenticity, I managed to offend, then I apologize to those who were offended.”

The college issued a statement that said, “Emerson College is aware that some individuals objected on social media to a specific instance in Dennis Lehane’s commencement address in which he referenced and denounced a racist slogan commonly used by some groups and individuals in the mid-1970s during the Boston school-busing crisis. Emerson commends Mr. Lehane for his prompt and thoughtful response.”

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Report envisions future of the college presidency

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Citing a shrinking talent pool and a retirement boom, a panel of campus leaders convened by the Aspen Institute lays out what the changing job requires and who might fill it.

Texas Southern withdraws invitation to Senator Cornyn to speak at commencement

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Texas Southern withdraws invitation to Senator John Cornyn, as students and faculty members ask why black colleges invite politicians with records they think go against their interests.

Book offers data on impact of grades, test scores and other factors on admission to competitive colleges

New book shows the impact of grades, test scores, race and gender on admission to competitive colleges.

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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President: U New Hampshire Will Do More on Diversity

Students at the University of New Hampshire have called for the administration to make several major changes to show its commitment to diversity and its intolerance for racism.

The students are asking that the university double its number of students and faculty of color, provide diversity training for all university employees, and change the code of conduct so that any student who promotes “racially insensitive” ideas is expelled from the institution, according to Boston.com. Currently, the student body -- which is made up of about 12,000 undergraduates -- is about 3 percent Latino and 1 percent black.

Students made these demands last week, following a series of events that many considered offensive and racially charged. At a Cinco de Mayo party on May 5, a number of UNH students wore ponchos and sombreros. Danique Montique, a sophomore at the university, posted photos and a video on Facebook of fellow students “who chose to demean and appropriate Mexican culture.”

The Facebook post, published the next day, addresses the university directly. “For an institution that claims it encourages diversity, where were you yesterday when we needed you the most? Why do you encourage us to come here? Yet we're forced to defend our existence every day on this campus,” Montique wrote.

“I walked on campus miserable, as if I didn't belong,” she continued. “As a black woman, I was forced to become the very thing society deemed me to be -- angry. What do we have to do for you to hear us? Are we not loud enough?”

Other students of color have recently come forward to the administration with stories of being spat on or called racial slurs by people on campus. They described a tense atmosphere since the 2016 election.

At a forum last week, President Mark Huddleston admitted he needed to do more to make the campus more inclusive.

“Obviously, there are incidents of bias and racism that are absolutely unacceptable -- that for many of us go beneath the surface. They are clearly not going beneath the surface for all the kids in this room tonight,” Huddleston told the Associated Press. “The point of the forum for me was to make sure that all of my team understands that and we do what we can to make it better.”

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The Duke Divinity email fracas and the perils of seeing academic work as a vocation (essay)

There is no official tally of how many resignations have ensued from reply-all email battles in the academy, but the count recently went up by one. The Catholic theologian Paul J. Griffiths of Duke Divinity School will reportedly leave his named chair in a year. This news came after a contentious email exchange between Griffiths and his colleagues over an invitation to a workshop on racial equity.

According to the published emails, Anathea Portier-Young, an associate professor of Old Testament, had emailed the school’s faculty members and students, “strongly urg[ing]” them to attend a voluntary two-day training on anti-racism. Later that day, Griffiths replied, claiming that the training would be “intellectually flaccid,” “definitively anti-intellectual,” a “waste” and a “distraction” from the school’s mission. Following this exchange, Griffiths has said that there were disciplinary moves made against him, including his being banned from faculty meetings.

In one of his messages to the faculty, Griffiths says that his case is about intellectual freedom. The conservative commentator Rod Dreher wants to make it about the illiberalism of the academy and its legion of intolerant “social justice warriors.” (Incidentally, Griffiths is on the record as skeptical toward liberal claims of tolerance.)

The case is also about the way academics think about their work. Judging from his emails, Griffiths seems to think of academic work as an exceptionally high calling, a vocation. He is hardly alone in thinking so. As a former theology professor at a Catholic college, I appreciate Griffiths’s sense that he is doing something of metaphysical importance.

But even a theologian has to remember that a professorship is also -- and perhaps mainly -- a job. That means that collegiality matters. It means that efforts to make the school more equitable for its students and faculty members matters. Indeed, by defining what they do in terms of vocation, scholars may do the profession and the people in it much greater harm than the “anti-intellectual” programs that Griffiths condemns.

The concept of vocation has religious roots in the calling of prophets, patriarchs and disciples. Yet even in the Bible, there is a conflict between vocation and ordinary work. In the gospels, Jesus calls his initial followers away from their work as fishermen and then gives them an unusual mission to preach and heal without accepting money. They are supposed to be itinerant, kicking away the dust of inhospitable towns as they leave them. Jesus expects that ultimately, his followers will be imprisoned and put to death for the sake of their call.

Griffiths writes that the work of the Divinity School’s faculty, “to think, read, write and teach about the triune Lord of Christian confession … is a hard thing. Each of us should be tense with the effort of it, thrumming like a tautly triple-woven steel thread with the work of it, consumed by the fire of it, ever eager for more of it.” In a sense, the passion with which Griffiths views his work is admirable. It is no doubt a major reason why he was able to become a leading scholar of Catholicism after already being a leading scholar of Buddhism, his CV stretching to 28 tightly spaced pages.

Vocational language surely has a place in divinity schools. But to ask any worker to be so stretched, to thrum, to burn and to be eager for more -- it can be inhuman. Ideals like this are what lead faculty members to burn out, because not even Duke has the resources to support workers being treated as an infinitely malleable substance. This kind of zeal for work also gives cover for neglect of the humdrum work of managing an institution and getting along with coworkers. Compared to Griffiths’s vision of academic work, any meeting, any report, any regulation meant to make a university an easier place for people to work and learn debases the highest good.

The academic with a sense of calling is tenacious, possessing “the ability to don blinkers for once and to convince himself that the destiny of his soul depends upon whether he is right to make precisely this conjecture and no other,” in the words of Max Weber’s lecture “Science as a Vocation.” Only a zealot who cannot tolerate perceived error sees an easily deleted email invitation as an attack on an ideal, an attack that must be countered. I should know; I’ve succumbed to zeal myself and been too quick to reply all with a sharp refutation of a minor point. Weber called the academic vocation a “strange intoxication.” It keeps the scholar fixated on a problem, even when it’s the wrong problem.

Ideals always come with costs. Stifling the ideal of the academic vocation might mean that some geniuses went unaccommodated while the decency of office life was tended and bureaucrats were appeased. Weber, for his part, thought the vocation was a necessary intoxication. According to him, academics can only bear the indignities of graduate programs, the job market, peer review and promotion and tenure -- indignities academics themselves invented -- if each one “finds and obeys the daemon that holds the threads of his life.”

But the costs are even greater if the ideal of the vocation crowds out academics’ ability to see that they are workers. Belief in vocation keeps grad students and postdocs performing what Miya Tokumitsu calls “hope labor.” They do skilled labor for little pay now in the hope that they will one day get the big reward of a tenure-track job. It goes without saying that their hope is often in vain.

The costs of vocationalism also include the strains that itinerancy places on dual-academic-career relationships, as well as untold amounts of harassment endured and swept under departmental rugs, and labor rights and benefits not argued for or unacknowledged. After all, if you have a calling, why let mundane concerns get in its way?

No doubt, someone could turn my argument around and say that the Divinity School faculty who welcomed the anti-racism workshop are too zealous in their sense of vocation. I don’t know enough to say; only Griffiths has made his case public. But the faculty members whom Griffiths criticizes at least acknowledge that, as a place of learning and work, the school has a racial climate that is worth understanding and improving.

Griffiths closed his initial email by exhorting his colleagues to “Keep your eyes on the prize,” a cynical echo of a civil-rights theme. Depending on the prize, focusing intently on it can take your eyes off your surroundings. It can make you stumble into the people around you, knock them down, flail about to steady yourself and then wonder why they insist on living in the muck.

Jonathan Malesic is a writer living in Dallas and an adjunct faculty member at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is working on a book about the spiritual costs of the American work ethic. (Twitter: @jonmalesic)

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Thursday, May 18, 2017
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An Alfred Honorary Degree to Right a Wrong

Alfred University will award an honorary degree Saturday to Warren Sutton (at right), who enrolled as a student in 1957 and succeeded both academically and as a basketball player. But in his junior year, he left Alfred under pressure from administrators. Sutton, who is black, had started dating a white woman whose father was an administrator and who orchestrated the pressure for him to leave. He eventually moved to Canada. An Alfred history professor, Gary Ostrower, was a classmate of Sutton, and told Mark Zupan, Alfred's new president, about what the administrator did to Sutton. Zupan reached out and apologized, and their communications led to the honorary degree to be awarded Saturday. An account from the university is here.

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St. Olaf President: Racist Note Was ‘Fabricated’

A racist note threatening a black woman at St. Olaf College was “fabricated” and was not a genuine threat, the college's president told students Wednesday, The Star Tribune reported. The note led to a series of protests on campus and demands that the college do more to promote diversity and to fight racism. The college's president, David R. Anderson, revealed few details about what the college has learned about the note. But he said it was part of a “strategy to draw attention to concerns about the campus climate.” Anderson said that a student was responsible for the fake note, but that privacy laws prevented him from discussing the person's identity or the college's actions involving the student.

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