In a first, a star of big-time college football has come out. Michael Sam, who won numerous awards as a defensive linesman for the University of Missouri at Columbia, on Sunday told The New York Times and ESPN that he is gay. He told his teammates last year in the preseason. Last month, a freshman kicker on the Willamette University football team came out as bisexual, at the time becoming the first football player to publicly identify, while playing, as non-straight. While Willamette is Division III, Missouri plays with the elites of college football and Sam has been expected to be drafted in the National Football League.
Business and academic leaders and philanthropists on Tuesday unveiled TheDream.US, a program to provide scholarships to undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Obama administration's deferred action initiative. The new program awarded an initial 39 scholarships to recipients, who must have financial need and meet academic requirements both prior to and after receiving the grants and have financial need. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive federal financial aid and are barred from many state programs as well.
A dozen colleges and universities have signed on to the program at its start. They are Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College and Kingsborough Community College in New York, part of the City University of New York; California State University at Long Beach, El Paso Community College, Long Beach City College, Miami Dade College, Mount Washington College, South Texas College, Trinity Washington University, and the University of Texas-Pan American and University of Texas at El Paso.
Report on two months of harassment of black student at San Jose State says that he didn't want to report the ugly incidents, and that university officials generally followed proper procedures. But president wasn't in the loop for weeks.
Women in Harvard University's business school have been treated inappropriately for decades, Dean Nitin Nohria told an alumni gathering last week, according to Business Insider. Nohria personally apologized for the mistreatment, saying that women at the business school were "disrespected, left out, and unloved by the school. I'm sorry on behalf of the business school." Among the pledges he made: to double (to 20 percent) the share of female protagonists in the case studies that are a key part of the M.B.A. curriculum. The apology came after an article in September inThe New York Times detailed the negative experiences of many female students, and the business school's attempts (with mixed success) to promote a more hospitable environment.
Students and others at Memorial University, in Canada, are angry over one question on an assignment for computer science students, CBC News reported. They were asked to determine whether a rape victim, especially after being mocked online, would be likely to kill herself. Critics say that there was no need to use such an example for the computer science course. The professor did not respond to the network or Inside Higher Ed.
Black student and faculty groups at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities have asked the institution to stop using racial descriptions in crime alerts, CBS Minnesota reported. "[We] unanimously agree that campus safety should be of the [police department's] utmost importance; however, efforts to reduce crime should never be at the expense of our black men, or any specific group of people likely to be targeted. In addition to causing black men to feel unsafe and distrusted, racial profiling is proven to inflict negative psychological effects on its victims," said a joint letter from the groups. The letter responded to the the incorrect identification of a student as a suspect in an attempted robbery at the university.
Pamela Wheelock, vice president of university services. responded at a forum this week by saying that while racial profiling is inappropriate, full descriptions of crime suspects -- including race -- are appropriate. “I firmly believe that a well-informed community is an asset to public safety," she said. "I believe that sharing more information in our crime alerts, not less, is most beneficial in terms of public safety, especially when that information is available."
A redshirt freshman kicker at Willamette University this week became the first active college football player to come out publicly as non-straight, revealing to Outsports.com that he’s bisexual and has a boyfriend. Conner Mertens first told his team and coaches at Willamette, a Division III program in a politically conservative area of Oregon, before going to the media. Mertens also tweeted out a letter explaining his decision and encouraging his peers.
“I refuse to apologize for being who I am. I am the same person that I was yesterday,” he wrote. “Don’t let society dictate who you can and cannot be simply because it doesn’t fit their perception of who you are supposed to be.”
Making an unpopular decision and accepting the ensuing criticism is part of the job of a university leader. Whether the topic is research priorities, academic freedom, athletics, or, as it turns out, snow days, there is always a range of opinion on a college campus. And there should be, provided the campus nurtures an environment where everyone feels safe entering into the debate.
When those opinions move from civil and respectful discourse into vitriolic attacks on an individual it can be discouraging and damaging – personally and institutionally. On Monday, about a dozen students, upset that classes were not canceled because of cold weather, took to social media to criticize the decision and to attack me – in comments that were vulgar, crude and in some instances racist and sexist.
People have asked me whether the attacks disturbed me.
Not necessarily on a personal level, because many of the comments could be dismissed as juvenile, notwithstanding the offensive language.
Not because the comments truly reflect my university. The outpouring of support from our students, my colleagues and others – including heartfelt apologies from several of those who posted comments – has shown our true nature.
What was most disturbing was witnessing social media drive a discussion quickly into the abyss of hateful comments and even threats of violence. I shudder to think what might happen if that type of vitriol were directed at a vulnerable member of our student body or university community.
The negative comments, as offensive as they were, are protected speech. But what is protected expression and what is the level of discourse we as educators expect from our students can be very different things. And the size of that gap – so evident this week – is what has been most disappointing. Racist, intimidating or culturally derogatory epithets have no place in any debate in any circumstance. Of all places, a university should be home to diverse ideas and differing perspectives, where robust – and even intense – debate and disagreement are welcomed.
How do we foster such an atmosphere? Only through an unwavering and unrelenting commitment to building truly diverse communities of students and scholars. One dinner with someone who doesn’t look like you and doesn’t sound like you can open new worlds of ideas. You can sit in a classroom and discuss situations in Egypt or in Syria based on academic readings. But, to hear these issues explained by a classmate from that country, from her or his personal experience, in his or her voice – this is when an academic exercise can become a moment of personal transformation. That is why we say diversity is the route to excellence.
And, in fact, we are a diverse campus at Illinois, with students, faculty and staff from every state and more than 100 nations. They are a key part of what makes our university special, a community of cultures and ideas that generate original thought, outstanding research and the excitement that comes with working with the top people in their fields. But this incident shows that we still have work to do.
On Monday, Jan. 27, we held classes, as usual, at the University of Illinois. And, I hope, we all learned something.
Phyllis M. Wise is chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.