U. of Colorado to Conduct Survey on Political Diversity

The University of Colorado Board of Regents voted Thursday to conduct a campus survey on whether there is discrimination based on political perspectives, particularly at the flagship Boulder campus, The Denver Post reported. Regents said that there was insufficient political diversity on the faculty, and that this could lead to discrimination against students based on political perspectives. Faculty leaders have said that there is no evidence of bias against students. The survey is expected to cost at least $40,000.


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Making academic departments welcoming for LGBT staff and students (essay_


Interested in making your department more inclusive? Elizabeth Simmons and Ramón S. Barthelemy offer suggestions for improving the climate for LGBT colleagues and students.

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Suit Accuses Carlow U. of Getting Rid of Older Women

Three former administrators at Carlow University have sued the institution, in federal court, charging the recent elimination of jobs has had an unfair impact on older workers, and in particular on older women, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The women who sued were 61, 65 and 73 at the time that their jobs ended. Their suit charges that 11 positions were eliminated, 6 of them held by women over the age of 60. The suit charges that the duties performed by the administrators were given to younger employees. A Carlow spokesman said that he had not seen the lawsuit and so could not comment on it.

Essay on humanities Ph.D. students with and without outside financial support

Money has always given people better options, but for humanities Ph.D. students, money’s now necessary just to get acceptable ones. Just now becoming noticeable, this “re-gilded ivory tower” looms over a landscape that everyone should consider.

As one fellow graduate student recently observed, "You have to have a spouse nowadays; that’s how more and more people seem to be doing it." As is well-known, the economic crash hastened the decline of tenure-track jobs and increased competition for them. Once standard, these stable jobs with adequate salary and benefits have become rarer, displaced by short-term, one- to two-year positions at best, and by piecemeal adjuncting at worst. In turn, entry-level qualifications also rose at some institutions to include a secondary research specialization, at least one article, and attention to pedagogy resulting in the creation of one or more substantive classes, ideally taught at outside institutions.

Thus, some form of outside support has become essential for wading through longer Ph.D. programs, and very often an indefinite period of unstable and unremunerative post-graduation employment while waiting for a good job that may never come. Spousal income, a parent-owned condo, a trust fund – no matter which, these necessities increasingly make a humanities Ph.D. less of a career path and more of a leisure pursuit for those with financial stability from elsewhere, even for students at top institutions.

Recent cohorts at my home institution of the University of Chicago show how money has effectively formed two tracks of Ph.D. students. One student, a self-supporting single person, graduated several years ago and entered a one-year position with a heavy teaching load because he "had to." He’s been able to renew his position – but he also hasn’t published, and was passed over for a tenure-track job where he teaches because his teaching load made it impossible to write articles.

Another, a married person who leans on her non-academic spouse for income and benefits, adjuncts one or two classes per semester and uses the rest of her time for research as she awaits and creates better possibilities. "There’s no way in hell I’m doing a one-year," she confided. "But then again, I can afford to do that."

As if this anecdotal evidence isn’t enough, panelists at a recent academic careers conference at the same university openly averred that money is necessary to achieve the recommended level of professionalization – or at least as much of it as a student can get.

Since many institutions don’t track job placement for doctoral students, let alone gather comprehensive student financial profiles, experiences like these give the first glimpses into an academic world where finances determine fate. Given the steady loss of good jobs and devaluation of the humanities in favor of fields like science and engineering, class stratification in academia is set to grow and raises several crucial issues:

Who will become our professors? Despite rare exceptions, our humanities professors will come from wealthier backgrounds. To the extent that the academy can draw from wealthier members of different racial and national demographics, however, overall diversity may suffer less than one might think. Nevertheless, the academy will recede as a symbol of general social mobility.

What will our intellectual life be? As poorer students fall by the wayside, students with money – but not necessarily as much merit – will take their place in Ph.D. programs and professorships. Thus, scholarly standards and intellectual vibrancy should drop somewhat. Gone too will be questions stemming from the underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds. Accordingly, the social utility of university research may decline – at least in disciplines where these questions are more common. Will the effects be the same in literature as in history or sociology, for example?

How to conceptualize the humanities? Students from poorer backgrounds will still encounter the humanities in general education requirements – but how do professors convey their enriching potential in a way that makes sense, when deep and sustained engagement is the province of the privileged? Descriptions of the humanities as a common cultural inheritance will need revision, if not outright replacement.

How to balance student and institutional well-being? Self-supporting students are already at a disadvantage for professionalization and survival in the humanities. Since student exploration into other careers almost unavoidably involves volunteering and then facing off against candidates with more appropriate degrees and job histories, the most humane advice may be warning poorer prospective students away from the risky bet of a Ph.D. Some professors do this, but institutions depend on students’ loan money and teaching. In the best-case scenario, poorer students self-select out. When they don’t, however, they foist a complicated set of ethical decisions upon faculty and administrators, with whom institutional inertia and pressures often hold sway.

Overall, a re-gilded ivory tower currently seems inevitable. Yet, how much will change? At the end of the day, professors will teach, students will study, and academic conversations will continue. For those who think, however, tainting everything will be a simple but ugly truth: money, not mind, makes a colleague.  Perhaps, then, the single most pressing task of all for those in the humanities is our current national challenge, how to cultivate sensitivity across class lines.


David Mihalyfy is a seventh-year Ph.D. candidate in the history of Christianity program at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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Academic Minute: Prenatal Sexism

In today’s Academic Minute, Leah Lakdawala of Michigan State University reveals how technology is allowing sex discrimination to begin before birth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Federal agencies warn health professions schools about Hepatitis B bias

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Federal agencies are investigating reports of illegal bias by medical and dental schools against applicants or students with Hepatitis B.

Ugly Fraternity Incident at U. of Chicago

The U.S. Postal Service has cut off mail delivery to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity after an incident in which fraternity members mistreated a mail carrier, The Chicago Sun-Times reported. The mail carrier received an order for 79 postal supply boxes, which he had to deliver in six or seven trips. After the last trip, fraternity members told him it was a prank and that he should look at the name on the delivery order -- “Reggin Toggaf" -- and read it backwards. Doing so reveals two slurs. The postal service said it will not deliver mail to the fraternity until an apology is made.

UPDATE: The University of Chicago has issued a statement in which it deplores the treatment of the mail carrier but states that the fraternity members deny being responsible for the incident. The statement also says that the university has "no evidence pointing to individuals who might be responsible."

we had no evidence pointing to individuals who might be responsible - See more at: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2013/06/13/university-chicago-responds-racial-incident-involving-mail-delivery-fraternity#sthash.DJEbYpuL.dpuf
we had no evidence pointing to individuals who might be responsible - See more at: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2013/06/13/university-chicago-responds-racial-incident-involving-mail-delivery-fraternity#sthash.DJEbYpuL.dpuf
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Essay criticizes Education Dept. approach to sexual harassment

Earlier this month, the federal Departments of Education and Justice reached an agreement with the University of Montana following an investigation into the university’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 — an agreement that the agencies have said should serve as a “blueprint” for colleges and universities.

The administrative burden of following this blueprint is so great that it seems as if the federal government has forgotten that universities exist for a purpose other than sheltering 18-to-21-year-olds from offensive speech. Worse still, the federal blueprint defines sexual harassment so broadly that even colleges and universities doing their best to comply will remain at high risk for federal investigation and enforcement actions related to Title IX, and will risk First Amendment lawsuits as well.

The blueprint consists of two key documents: a 31-page findings letter and a 16-page resolution agreement. And while the incidents underlying the Montana investigation involved sexual assault, much of the blueprint focuses not on assault but instead on harassment. The findings letter holds that the University of Montana’s existing definition of sexual harassment is too narrow, and that "sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.' " The letter also clarifies that sexual harassment includes "verbal conduct" (read: speech) and need not be "objectively offensive." Rather, speech becomes "sexual harassment" when the listener in question perceives the speech as "unwelcome."

The resolution agreement then identifies more than 40 distinct actions the University of Montana must take in order to be Title IX compliant. (Of course, universities not compliant with Title IX risk losing federal funding.) These actions include:

  • Developing and carrying out a system for tracking and reviewing reports of sex-based harassment (which, under the government’s definitions, includes any subjectively offensive sexual or gender-related speech).
  • Ensuring that all university offices (except where confidentiality privileges apply) notify the university’s Title IX coordinator within 24 hours of receiving information about sex-based harassment, regardless of whether a formal complaint was filed.
  • Ensuring that the educational environment of any student reporting sex-based harassment is free of further harassment (i.e., further subjectively offensive speech).
  • Conducting annual campus climate surveys for all students, analyzing the results of those surveys within 60 calendar days, and working with a paid equity consultant to develop actions to take in response to the survey results.
  • Developing a monitoring program to assess the effectiveness of the university’s efforts to address sex-based harassment, conducting an annual assessment of those efforts, and submitting that assessment to the federal government.

That’s just the beginning. And should the university fail to take any of these and other actions in a timely manner, the federal government may take legal action. Universities reading this blueprint should be deeply concerned for several reasons.

First, the administrative burden of following the blueprint is staggering. Indeed, one cannot help wondering — upon reading the document in full — how the federal government expects colleges and universities to have any time or money left over for the pesky task of actually educating their students.

Second, the blueprint requires public universities to choose between the newly mandated definition of sexual harassment and upholding students’ First Amendment rights. While earlier guidance from the Department of Education emphasized the importance of protecting free speech on campus, the words "free speech" and "First Amendment" do not appear anywhere in the blueprint’s 47 pages. While failure to comply with Title IX can lead to a loss of federal funding, public universities will also face legal action for violating students’ free speech rights. As such, this blueprint leaves public universities between a rock and a hard place. Although the Department of Education has since stated (not to colleges and universities, but to those who wrote in to criticize the blueprint) that the blueprint is not intended to interfere with First Amendment rights, this belated lip service to free expression does little to mitigate the blueprint’s impact.

Finally, the blueprint defines sex-based harassment so broadly that even universities making good-faith efforts to comply will still find themselves at high risk for investigation and enforcement actions. For instance, the University of Montana had already undertaken numerous compliance efforts during the course of the federal government’s investigation — steps the government, in its findings letter, deemed inadequate.

If universities want to remain able to fulfill their core missions, it is time for administrators to begin pushing back against the ever-increasing demands of the Education Department. No one disputes the importance of preventing sex discrimination on campus, but doing so need not consume so many resources that it interferes with universities’ ability to carry out their core educational functions, nor can it require universities to violate their students’ First Amendment rights.

Samantha Harris is a lawyer and the director of speech code research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

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Student expelled for being gay and charged $6,000 in back tuition protests with online petition

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A student expelled for having a lesbian relationship and ordered to repay $6,000 in scholarship money is fighting back.

Essay defends Education Department's approach to sexual harassment

"Holding Colleges Responsible” is the latest example in a slew of articles – many of them quoting the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education – that are meant to alarm anyone with a voice, and the author’s use of selective quotes out of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights's response to FIRE only fans the flame.

At issue is whether the Education Department’s enforcement of a law and guidance that are designed to promote compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and prevent sexual harassment put free speech at risk. In particular, the recent cause for concern is language in the agreement between OCR, the Department of Justice, and the University of Montana, which the government called a "blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country."

Readers should know that preserving free speech and academic freedom and ensuring an environment free from sexual harassment are not mutually exclusive goals, and OCR has never published guidance or decisions that aim to limit even the most explicitly sexual academic material.

The issue seems to be the department’s acknowledgment that conduct that is not yet severe or pervasive may still constitute sexual harassment. OCR clarified in a letter to FIRE that only severe or pervasive sexual harassment actually violates Title IX. The department’s view requires defining sexual harassment broadly and understanding the difference between an institution’s obligation to educate and proactively problem-solve and the obligation to "bang the gavel."

The Office for Civil Rights's "Dear Colleague" letter from April 4, 2011 is less concerned with gavel-banging and more concerned with how the complainant is treated during the reporting and grievance process. The outcome sought is the elimination of the hostile environment, if one exists, and maintaining a campus climate free from sexual harassment and violence -- not the termination, suspension, or expulsion of each accused individual.

It is not new for an institution to encourage reporting so that it may determine whether the report warrants action. "See something, say something." Surely not every forgotten bag contains explosives, but because citizen bystanders are not experts with bomb-sniffing German Shepherds, we are encouraged to report what we see.

Despite OCR’s recommendation for broad-based training and notification of sex discrimination definitions and procedures, students and employees are not experts in this area, and they are not expected to be equipped to make a final decision about whether actionable sex discrimination exists. That responsibility falls specifically to the Title IX coordinator or designee under the grievance procedures. By encouraging reporting of unwelcome conduct, the coordinator or designee also has the opportunity to spot patterns, which is a requirement of that job.

Imagine that 10 students report similar instances of sexual harassment (unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature) by another student or an employee that, individually, would not rise to the level of a hostile environment. Together, this conduct is a pattern of sexual harassment behavior that may create a hostile environment in a particular classroom, department or residence hall. Certainly, at the least, it warrants a conversation with and training for the accused individual.

The Education Department and higher education administrators are well aware of the First Amendment and academic freedom. Encouraging the campus community to report instances of sexual harassment and leaving the evaluation of such reports to designated experts is appropriate and lawful.

Andrea Stagg is an associate counsel in the State University of New York’s Office of General Counsel. The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the State University of New York.

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