diversity

Cornell students revive debate on whom colleges should count as a black student

Cornell protest revives debate on whether first-generation immigrants from Africa and Caribbean make up disproportionate share of black students at top colleges, and what -- if anything -- should be done as a result.

White House Seeks Investigation Into UNLV Professor

An assistant professor of history at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas has apologized for blaming President Trump for the recent shooting massacre in the city after a student secretly recorded her comments and shared them with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. In the video, Tessa Winkelmann tells an upper-level class that when Trump was elected, she told students “that some of us won’t be affected by this presidency, but others are going to die.” Winkelmann says that Trump has “threatened to declare violence against North Korea and other places” and that “words, especially if they’re coming from someone who is the president, have consequences.” She adds, “I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected, but he has rhetorical powers; every president has to encourage or to discourage [violence]. So far all he’s done is to encourage violence.”

The anonymous student who shared with video with the newspaper reportedly said classmates began arguing the point with one another. The Review-Journal quotes Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, as saying that Winkelmann “should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students.”

Winkelmann told the newspaper that last week was “very difficult for members of our community, and we have allowed students space in our classes to discuss how they have been affected and to openly convey their feelings.” She added via email, “I regret that my comments caused more pain during this difficult time. Emotions were running high and I wish I would have been more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation.”

Tony Allen, university spokesperson, in a statement called Winkelmann’s comments insensitive but did not address the possibility of disciplinary action against her.

“While we respect academic freedom in the classroom and the right to free speech, we believe the comments were insensitive, especially given the series of events this week and the healing process that has begun in the community.”

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New papers find persistent barriers to aid for low-income students, despite federal policy changes

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Two new papers find application rates for federal student aid continue to lag for low-income students, and serious barriers remain for those most in need of help paying for college.

Toronto Professor Who Made Racist Remark Resigns

Michael Marrus, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Toronto, resigned from a senior fellowship after making a racially offensive comment to a student at affiliated Massey College, the Toronto Star reported. Marrus was accused of asking a black graduate student whether he knew his “master,” which is what the head of the college was called until last week. “Do you feel the lash?” he reportedly asked the student. Some 200 students and faculty members soon signed a petition calling for Marrus’s termination and for the college to change its leader’s title.

“First, I am so sorry for what I said, in a poor effort at jocular humor at lunch last Tuesday,” Marrus wrote in his resignation letter to college head Hugh Segal, according to the Star. “What I said was both foolish and, I understood immediately, hurtful, and I want, first and foremost, to convey my deepest regrets to all whom I may have harmed.” Segal previously apologized for Marrus’s remarks on behalf of the college.

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Apology at Utica on Social Media 'Joke' on Race

Photos students posted to on social media, appearing to encourage segregation, alarmed many at Utica College last week. The college investigated and the president, Laura Casamento, posted to Facebook an explanation of what happened, and an apology from the students.

One photograph showed two white students sitting together with a sign that said: “Whites only. We’re privileged.” The other showed two black students with a sign that said: “Black People Section.”

The Facebook post by Casamento said that two minority students (whom she did not identify) admitted to creating the signs and posting the photos. They said that they were sitting around with other students, joking, and decided to make the signs, take the photographs and post them. "It was not any sort of historical reference nor was it an insult to any group or individual students within the [Utica College] community," said a statement from the students who created the images.

Casamento added: "This incident provides an opportune time to remind members of the college community that irresponsible social media behavior, no matter what the intent, can have far reaching and even dangerous consequences."

 

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Faculty need to go beyond symbolic protests about complex social issues (essay)

What started as a long-simmering discussion of whether Colin Kaepernick is or is not being blackballed in the NFL for refusing to stand during the National Anthem ignited into a four-alarm fire following  President Trump’s decision to call for the firing of protesting football players.

As such, the public discussion of a former quarterback and pro sports has now encapsulated a much broader scope of issues on campuses, as faculty members have taken a knee in support of free speech protest and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions has criticized American universities for becoming “an echo chamber of political correctness.

The time trip back to the social activism of the 60’s and 70’s has left many university administrators and faculty members without a playbook as we grapple with the need to address in rapid-fire succession a dizzying array of complex social issues that have had a significant impact on our academic communities and the students we educate.

One only has to page through the daily briefings from Inside Higher Ed to see that the issues of the “outside” world are impinging on the hallowed halls of academe at an increasing frequency: in response to Black Lives Matterthe presidential electionCharlottesvilleDACABetsy DeVos and new OCR policies, students are requesting, and sometimes demanding, that presidents and deans denounce the injustices of the world.

And to a large extent, so it should be: our institutions of higher learning are not isolated towers, ivory or otherwise; they are part of the real world, and our ability to educate is severely compromised if we do not address those issues. Our leaders do have an obligation to make statements on the great ethical issues of our times. Their voices carry weight, they are heard by many.

And faculty members have those obligations, too -- and not just those teaching undergraduates. Certainly, those of us in medical schools fail in training physicians if we do not teach about health care disparities alongside of anatomy and physiology. Our medical case studies need to incorporate why ethnicity matters and how we define “race” -- not simply to add a tag line about a patient being African-American as if we are filling in a Mad-Lib

Yet both administrators and on-the-ground members of the faculty are finding it increasingly difficult to respond in an adequate fashion, much less with the kind of thorough thoughtfulness that such issues require.

Yes, students want us to take a stance on the issues they think matter, and they want it in a timeframe that fits with the 24-hour cycle of media hyperbole. So administrators and faculty members struggle to know which issues merit a public pronouncement and which do not.  Should we comment on racism at our fellow universities but not ethnic cleansing in Myanmar? We struggle not because the latter doesn’t matter, but because a constant string of 140-character tweets or micron-thin official website statements on all of the world’s wrongs strips them of meaning.

Outside of earshot of their students, many faculty members (and likely more than a few senior administrators) may with exasperation whisper, “Can’t we just get back to teaching the things we know?” (What is apoptosis?  What is the QT interval in a cardiac action potential?)

And the answer is no, we can’t step away because there are DACA students midway through medical school who may be booted out of the country with no recourse to finish their training and a double whammy of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars of student debt.  And there are my colleagues who don’t know if they feel safe to take their kids to the park in an area of the country consistently rated one of the best places to live in the United States because some older kids might put a rope around their necks if they happen to have the wrong color skin.

Ironically, in the shallowness of tweets, perhaps President Trump may have actually done this country a favor:  He has uncivilly elevated a discussion that has sunk back to debates on whether or the Colts should pick up Kaepernick to what Kaepernick civilly wanted us to discuss in the first place. But taking a knee or holding up a Black Lives Matter sign at a street corner in an upscale town like Hanover, N.H. only goes so far.

We need to go beyond symbolic protests, and we certainly need to find a better way to grapple with these issues than through the press email and social media. If we do not follow up with the difficult conversations as to why those things matter with those who most disagree, we devalue the very causes we purportedly support by a public, but shallow, act of “giving voice.”

And we need to do so off our devices.  While some people argue otherwise, many agree that empathy is likely the greatest tool we have towards making connections and reannealing our social fabric that today’s society tears apart.  But making those connections means we have to put down our iPhones and Androids and talk directly to one another.

No one size fits all for what each institution or school will want to do or can do, but efforts to enhance communication do not necessarily require a huge infusion of resources or ponderous institutional policy changes. At our medical school, we have standing lunches where the senior deans meet with students.  And while these sessions can focus on practical issues like management of ECHO360 or changes in expectations for the Medical Student Performance Evaluation, they have been the forum for instigating changes within the medical school community to address these broader societal issues. Stemming from these initial conversations, we have developed initiatives that include:

  • Booking reserved spaces for discussion with no set agenda to allow conversations on the most pressing issues of the day to flow freely without the administrative burden of defining topics and appropriate attendees.
  • Identifying a Rapid Response Contact Team of senior administrators from the different parts of the school who can be contacted by anyone in the community to request that the institution consider an official or organized response to specific issues.
  • Creating a student feedback site (through Qualtrics) that allows immediate, real-time, and anonymous student feedback (both positive and negative) on issues of diversity and inclusion, which then prompts a meeting with a faculty member and one of our identified student representatives from the office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. These personal meetings allow students to directly inform a faculty member that they are appreciative of how the material was presented or to have a thoughtful conversation about why students may have found a presentation disrespectful -- even if that was not the faculty member’s intent.  This initiative can both capture specific issues to be addressed with an immediacy that can be lost with end-of-class surveys and act to diffuse potential problems before it grows out of proportion. It also highlights a key concept:  the most creative solutions to the very issues that are problematic to our students can often come from the students themselves (as did the solution for addressing real-time feedback though a survey mechanism).  We as educators talk about the importance of active learning in the classroom; we should recognize that these precepts hold for addressing the social issues that have impact on our schools and colleges and engage students in these solutions as much as we do in team-based learning exercises.
  • Creating a group of students, staff and faculty members who will work in concert with the medical school’s standing diversity council to provide practical guidance on integrating issues of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and other key social determinants of health in the curriculum. The goals of the group include creating a set of guidelines that faculty members can reference as they prepare course material and performing a review of all patient cases.
  • Establishing sessions to discuss best practices based on information from our professional societies (for example, relevant satellite meetings of the Association of American Medical Colleges), feedback from our counterparts at other med schools, and review of the health professions literature to find best practice and evidence for both curricular reform and personnel interactions.

In the university, as well as in sports, perhaps one of the best things all of us can do is to get off of our knees and electronic soapboxes (recognizing the irony of stating this in an op-ed piece) and provide ways for our students and colleagues in our community to gather in small rooms and to voice opinions to one another, especially those who see the world through different lenses. It isn’t so much that we need to provide “safe” spaces, defined as the PC echo chamber that Sessions decries. But it seems that the most effective discussions about potentially divisive issues that touch on race, sex, religion, patriotism and power arise when we know each other well as individuals and can talk openly and outside of the public eye.

And it seems that those efforts would go a lot further than all the broadcasts and public gestures and pronouncements to truly make our students, staff and faculty members feel welcomed, included and valued.

Leslie P. Henderson is dean of faculty affairs, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and professor of physiology and neurobiology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

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Kneeling at the University of Michigan
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Faculty Departures Quadruple at U of Wyoming

The University of Wyoming has lost four times as many faculty members in the past year than it has in recent memory, the Associated Press reported. Major cuts in state funding and a voluntary severance program are to blame: the severance initiative is part of a $10 million budget cut and led to the departures of 43 of the 86 professors, researchers, lecturers and other instructors who left last year. The other half resigned. Typically, some 20-25 faculty members leave per year. The university this year expects record freshman enrollment and slightly higher than average total enrollment.

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Faculty Departures Quadruple at U of Wyoming

AAU reports on efforts to improve science teaching at research universities

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AAU wanted to improve science education beyond an instructor-by-instructor basis. Five years on, a major initiative piloted on eight campuses seems to be working.

Master of Toronto Residential College Apologizes for Professor's Racist Remarks

The “master” of residential Massey College, which is affiliated with the University of Toronto, has apologized for racist statements by a faculty member to a black student, according to the Canadian Press. Segal said in a statement last week that Michael Marrus, a professor emeritus of history at Toronto, made "hurtful and completely inappropriate" remarks toward the student over lunch on Tuesday. The statement did not provide details of the incident, but a letter of complaint signed by scores of students and faculty members alleges that Marrus said to the student, reference to Segal, “You know this is your master, eh? Do you feel the lash?” The letter demands that Marrus be fired that Segal change his own title to something other than “master.” Segal has said he will ask the college’s governing board to change his position to “head of college.”

 "Words and statements like these in no way reflect the position of Massey College as a whole," Segal said. "We are committed to providing an open, welcoming and inclusive academic and residential community and will ensure that it is a safe space for all our fellows in which this kind of encounter can never happen again.” He and other college leaders will meet with students and host town halls to discuss ways forward, he added. Marcus did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Globe and Mail.

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'Master' of U Toronto Residential College Apologizes for Professor's Racist Remarks

Virginia Tech Professor Arrested, Charged with Fraud

A professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech is accused of defrauding the university and the federal government in a case involving more than $1 million in grant funding, the The Roanoke Times reported. The professor, Yiheng Percival Zhang, is charged with wire fraud, making criminal false claims and making false statements, according to a federal affidavit filed in the U.S. Western District Court of Virginia. He was arrested last week and in jail as of early this week, according to The Times.

Zhang’s lawyer said the professor maintains his innocence and intends to vigorously fight the charges. Zhang, a Tech graduate and Chun You, a postdoctoral researcher in China, are accused of defrauding the university, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy by withholding grant funds from 2014 to 2016. Specifically, Zhang allegedly applied for grants to pay for research that already had been completed in China and only turned over 18 percent of federal funds to Tech when he owed it 30 percent as part of the grant agreement. A university spokesperson said Zhang was still employed there this week.

 
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Virginia Tech Professor Arrested, Charged with Fraud

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