The University of California, Los Angeles, said Sunday that it settled with two graduate students who sued over its handling of a sexual harassment case against a professor of history. One graduate student will receive $350,000 and the other is owed $110,000 and a dissertation year fellowship, according to a statement from the university.
“UCLA is committed to maintaining an atmosphere where all students can live and learn free of discrimination, harassment, exploitation or intimidation,” reads the statement. “All members of the UCLA community are encouraged to report any incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence.”
Nefertiti Takla and Kristen Glasgow, both graduate students who have been public about their case, last year filed a complaint against the university, alleging that it took insufficient action against Gabriel Piterberg, the professor in question. The students say he repeatedly sexually harassed them and tried to touch them, and that the university was out of compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination in education, in its response. Piterberg was fined $3,000 and told not to meet with his students in his office with the door closed, among other consequences. After a suspension lasting one academic quarter, he was allowed to return to teaching this semester, prompting student protests and faculty outcry. He has not responded publicly to the complaints about him.
UCLA said in its most recent statement that it’s taken steps since the time of the alleged violations, including creating its Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and establishing peer review committees to review proposed sanctions for any senior leader or faculty member found to have committed sexual harassment.
The Faculty Senate “is resolved that statements made by candidate Don Gaetz in his initial interview, combined with his past political and professional positions and actions, are incompatible with the academic mission and educational initiatives” of the university, reads the faculty resolution. It urges the presidential search committee and Board of Trustees to choose among the remaining pool of “highly qualified finalists.”
Daniel Pace, a professor of finance and president of the university’s union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, called performance measures “so flawed,” Politicoreported. “They show a fundamental lack of understanding of how a university functions and what the role of a university is, particularly for a regional comprehensive university like [West Florida]. There is no place for a regional comprehensive university under these performance metrics.”
All finalists beyond Gaetz, including Martha Saunders, the university's provost, have significant higher education experience. Gaetz told Politico, “Everyone has a right to express themselves, and I certainly respect the members of the faculty who organized this effort. It is their right to express themselves.” The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trustees are expected to name a new president on Thursday.
Florida State University in 2014 hired John Thrasher, a Republican state lawmaker with no higher education experience, as president, despite a similar plea by faculty members to their Board of Trustees not to do so.
Non-tenure-track faculty members at Seattle University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, 73 to 63, they announced Friday. Adjuncts had to wait two years to count their votes, after the university challenged their right to form a union based on its religious affiliation. But the National Labor Relations Board said last month that the votes should be counted, save those from adjuncts who teach theology and religious studies, and those specifically teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry.
"This has been a challenging issue for our campus community," the university said in a statement. "The two overriding, yet competing rights -- the right to organize and the First Amendment right of the university to carry forward its core Jesuit Catholic educational mission on its own terms free from government interference -- require thoughtful consideration." The university said it respects the right of workers to organize, but that faculty members in particular play "a central role" in its religious mission. The university may release another statement on the vote within a month.
Around this time every year, as colleges and universities begin to spring back to life, I am reminded of my years working within central administration and the excitement in watching the sea of people full of promise come spilling back onto the campus. I remember the familiar faces of returning students, beaming with the fresh potential of a new year, who dropped by just to declare themselves back again or share goals for the year hatched over the summer.
But I also remember just as clearly the faces of the students who didn’t return. Those we lost somewhere along the way to graduation.
Many of those students still haunt me today. I remember one freshman I met when I was working as vice chancellor and chief of staff at UNC Greensboro. She came into my office at the end of the spring semester in tears. A straight-A student through high school, she arrived on our campus full of confidence. But that confidence was shattered when her professors told her that she was a terrible writer. She struggled through the year in silence, determined to improve. But she never got the help she needed. The tears rolled down that young woman’s face as she learned that she’d been placed on academic probation and would lose her scholarship. It was too late. We were too late.
There are thousands more stories like this young woman’s -- of students from low-income families who could have made it farther than their parents did but whom we somehow failed along the way.
We used to blame our students: their poverty, their underpreparation, the extra burdens they carry. It turns out, though, that it’s a lot about us. Yes, poverty and preparation matter. But the choices we make matter, too. Some institutions are simply doing a much better job of graduating their students than other institutions serving exactly the same kinds of students.
As we begin a new academic year, this can be a moment for improvement-minded institutional leaders to engage campus communities in honest, data-driven conversations about what we might do better. How can we more fully understand the journeys our students take on the way to the degree, noting where those journeys are speeded and guided, and where they derail? How can we renew our collective commitment to expand what's working and to confront -- and address -- what’s not?
To assist institutional leaders in their reflection and planning, The Education Trust has sought to identify and broadly share the high-impact practices of institutional leaders who have driven impressive improvement in completion rates, particularly for students who have gone historically underrepresented -- and underserved -- on our campuses: low-income and first-generation students and students of color. Most recently we’ve examined practices at Florida State University, San Diego State University, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and Georgia State University.
While each of these institutions is distinct in their mission, and each set of leaders distinct in their style, at the core of their improvement efforts are common practices and qualities -- many of them steeped in honest analysis of data. Those practices and qualities are:
Courage. When then San Diego State President Stephen Weber addressed his Faculty Senate, applauding the many ways in which the faculty had worked toward -- and attained -- excellence over the years, he went on to issue a challenge that would spark a decade-long improvement effort: “But a great university doesn’t lose almost two-thirds of its Latino freshmen along the road toward graduation.” Like Weber, all of the leaders at the campuses we’ve been learning from are clear-eyed, intentional and dogged in their approaches to institutional improvement. They roll up their sleeves alongside staff and faculty and ask hard questions of the data on student matriculation and success. They zero in on areas of strength and weakness to draw out promising practices and needed interventions.
Shared commitment. These leaders are keenly aware that, while they have a strong role to play in leading change, staff and faculty members operating closest to their students are the ones who enact that change. Using data, leaders at University of Wisconsin Eau Claire engaged departments as partners and problem solvers. Said one senior leader on campus, “We give them the data … we’re not telling them where the problem is; they identify the problem and we encourage them to solve the problem.”
In examining their data, they found that, while their six-year graduation rate was relatively high, the four-year graduation rate was extremely low at just 18 percent. To address that pattern, faculty and staff members identified course bottlenecks and acted to remove them.
At each of the institutions we’ve studied, leaders draw together partners at every level -- senior administrators, department heads, faculty members, student-affairs professionals -- to engage in data analysis and problem solving. And they arrive not with answers, but with questions, trusting that those assembled in the room have much to contribute to improvement efforts.
Timely data for targeted interventions. These leaders understand that their students struggle in real time -- and that those working closest to them need information to intervene in real time. Further, they know from disaggregating data that all students don’t struggle at the same time with the same obstacles or need the same supports. They take time to parse data to understand the needs of all their students -- first generation, transfer, black, Latino, immigrant and many others. They identify benchmarks and warning indicators to ensure that no student is left to languish and disappear at any point in their educational journey without real supports to turn the situation around.
For example, practitioners at Georgia State University noted, “Four or five years ago, we had nothing consistent in our system that would help us track students.” Today, an impressive online data repository gives faculty and staff members immediate access to 130 screens of the most requested data on student progression and success. Through their Graduation and Progression Success advising system, which tracks more than 700 markers of student success, nightly feeds generate lists of which students have missed which markers. That information enables advisers to reach out immediately with targeted support for students who stumble.
Continuing evaluation of the data. Leaders at these institutions always come back to the data. A longtime campus leader at Florida State University described the cultural change ushered in by former provost Lawrence G. Abele: “When he came in, there was a huge shift in culture. It was no longer OK to just do things you thought were right; you needed data to support new ideas and also to assess, evaluate and improve current programs.”
For instance, when campus leaders analyzed their dropout patterns, they found that while white students were most at risk of dropping out in their first year, black male students were more likely to leave after the second, third or even fifth year. They realized that their retention efforts needed to stretch beyond freshman year to guide students through the entire undergraduate trajectory. Like Abele, leaders at these fast-improving institutions convene their teams regularly to monitor and review the data and to make midcourse corrections to ensure that their efforts, energies and resources are directed where they are most needed.
The lessons these leaders offer provide real insight from within successful college and university change efforts. They remind all of us in higher education that “success for some” is no great institution’s epitaph -- that institutional success will be measured not by how well some students are served but by how well all groups of students are served. If institutional leaders and those of us working alongside them don’t have the courage to confront the reality of what’s happening on our campuses in the narratives of all students, whether on commencement lists or dropout rolls, we are merely comforting ourselves with a half-true story that plays on repeat each year.
Bonita J. Brown is director of higher education practice at The Education Trust. She most recently served as vice chancellor and chief of staff at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Despite the excuses that administrators often give, a commitment to diversity can go beyond lip service and translate into more faculty of color in tenure-track, tenured, full professor and upper administrative ranks, argues Adia Harvey Wingfield.
Long Island University has rejected a proposal by the faculty union to end the current lockout of professors at the Brooklyn campus. The union proposed that the lockout end and that the previous contract be extended by five weeks. Further, the union proposed that if a contract could not be agreed upon within two weeks, the parties would bring in a mutually acceptable mediator to resolve differences before the end of the five-week extension. Faculty leaders said that the mediation proposal was a good-faith effort to end the lockout now and create conditions for a speedy resolution of the contract dispute.
Gale Haynes, vice president, chief operating officer and university counsel at LIU, issued a statement defending the rejection of the proposal: “Surrounding students with the uncertainty of five more weeks of bargaining, which could still result in a strike -- as has been the pattern in five out of the last six contracts with the Brooklyn faculty union -- is not in the best interests of our students. We believe the time to resolve is now and will continue to negotiate in good faith.”
Is applying for tenure-track jobs like rushing a series of exclusive sororities? That’s the idea behind a new web video performed and produced by Jillian Weise, an associate professor of creative writing at Clemson University who is currently an editor in residence at TheIowa Review. Throughout the video, Weise is in character as Tipsy Tullivan, a truth-talking, blond-wigged, fake-eyelashed Southern woman reminiscent of (though more verbal than) some of those featured in high-budget sorority recruitment videos.
“Rushing for a sorority is a whole lot like rushing the academic job market,” Tullivan coos. “It costs a lot of money …. So consider whether you are wealthy enough to rush the job market before you do it.”
Tullivan also warns applicants to keep some things “zipped up,” namely one’s disability status. “Just go get yourself into a closet underneath a box of shoes,” she says, since people are “confused” by disability.
The sorority-style video is just one in a series of YouTube videos Weise has created -- many of which center on the notion that disability is still somehow taboo in academe and society at large. Weise said via email that Tullivan is performance art, conceived after an academic conference rejected panels on disability. “The exclusion of disabled academics was absurd,” Weise said. “It required an absurd response. So I invented Tipsy. I was thinking of Emily Dickinson's line ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.’”
“Ableism is bigger than one conference,” Weise added. “So Tipsy continues.”
Tipsy's message in the recruitment video, for example, is, “Come join us! You only need to have the right amount of money and the right identity for the market,” Weise said. “Obviously, something is wrong with that message.”
Tipsy advises that unlike disability status, scholars don’t need to hide their “queer” status. “I wrote the line to question why higher ed seems more at ease with queer theory than, say, critical disability theory,” Weise said, recalling the case of William J. Peace. The disability scholar’s controversial piece in a Northwestern University bioethics journal on his sexual awakening after paralysis was censored in 2014. Two faculty members resigned as a result.
“Why are we uncomfortable with disability in higher ed?” asked Weise, a poet who has written about sexuality vis-à-vis her own disability, including in The Amputee’s Guide to Sex. “Does the disabled academic have free speech?”