faculty

AAUP Condemns Hate Crimes, Endorses Campus Sanctuary Movement

The American Association of University Professors is the latest academic group to speak out against hate crimes and support the campus sanctuary movement for undocumented students. Its national council recently approved a resolution saying that since Donald Trump’s election as president, the U.S. has experienced “an unprecedented spike in hate crimes, both physical and verbal, many of them on college and university campuses. These have been directed against African-Americans, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, women and people with disabilities. In some instances the perpetrators have invoked the president-elect in support of their heinous actions. The AAUP national council unequivocally condemns these attacks and calls on college and university administrators, faculty, staff and students to unite against them. Violence, threats of violence and harassment have no place on campus.”

The resolution urges colleges and universities to ensure that all members of their campuses “may seek knowledge freely,” reiterating AAUP’s 1994 Statement on Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes. That statement says that on a free and open campus, “no idea can be banned or forbidden. No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed.”

At the same time, the new resolution says, “threats and harassment differ from expressions of ideas that some or even most may find repulsive. They intimidate and silence. The free exchange of ideas is incompatible with an atmosphere of fear. Colleges and universities must be places where all ideas and even prejudices may be freely and openly debated and discussed, but such discussion cannot happen when some members of the community are threatened or excluded. Our goal must be to provide safety for both ideas and for all those who wish to engage with them.”

AAUP calls on administrators “to take swift and firm action, consistent with due process rights, against those who have perpetrated violence and those whose menacing behavior threatens both the safety of members of our community and their sense of inclusion,” and “to make clear to all on the campus that such assaults will not be tolerated and to encourage frank and respectful discussion instead.” The association encourages AAUP chapters and all faculty members “to speak out against these assaults and to support all efforts to ensure that campus communities are welcoming and inclusive of all groups and ideas. During this difficult time the faculty voice needs more than ever to be heard loud and clear.”

AAUP says undocumented students, “many of whom have been in this country since early childhood,” are particularly vulnerable. “Concern for the welfare of these students has already prompted a rash of petitions calling on colleges and universities to become ‘sanctuary campuses,’” the resolution says, endorsing the notion. “While colleges and universities must obey the law, administrations must make all efforts to guarantee the privacy of immigrant students and pledge not to grant access to information that might reveal their immigration status unless so ordered by a court of law. Nor should colleges and universities gather information about the citizenship or immigration status of people who have interactions with the administration, including with campus police. College and university police should not themselves participate in any efforts to enforce immigration laws, which are under federal jurisdiction. Faculty members should join efforts to resist all attempts to intimidate or inappropriately investigate undocumented students or to deny them their full rights to due process and a fair hearing.”

The resolution also calls on Trump to reconsider his appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and “to more vehemently denounce the hate crimes being committed in the president-elect’s name and act to ensure the safety of members of threatened communities and the freedom of all to teach, study and learn.”

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What an adjunct learned by taking a year off from academe (essay)

An adjunct professor describes five lessons she learned when she decided to explore life on the outside.

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Colleges award tenure

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The following individuals have recently been awarded tenure by their colleges and universities.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Faculty members allege a pattern of breach of contract at San Francisco State University

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At San Francisco State, professors allege a pattern of ignoring promises made to recruit or retain faculty members.

Call for Due Process for Accused Berkeley Professor

A group of University of California, Berkeley, current and former students is asking administrators, including Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, and members of the Academic Senate’s Committee on Privilege and Tenure to “withhold judgment” regarding a professor accused of sexual harassment. Some members of the group are now faculty members elsewhere, and their request comes after an on-campus protest by graduate students who criticized the campus's response to the allegations against Nezar AlSayyad, who teaches architecture, planning and urban design. A five-month investigation by Berkeley found that he spent months becoming close to, or "grooming," a graduate student before placing his hand on her upper thigh and proposing that they travel together to Las Vegas. The disciplinary process is ongoing, but some students said they wish they’d known earlier the results of the investigation and, in some cases, the nature of the allegations. AlSayyad denies wrongdoing. The case against him was first made public by the San Francisco Chronicle.

A university spokesperson confirmed that the new letter sent to administrators includes 23 names and nine unnamed signers. But all signatories wish to remain anonymous to the broader public due to what they described as “potential risks of retaliation from activists.” Describing themselves as those who have worked or studied closely with AlSayyad, they wrote that “we have never experienced any forms of harassment or inappropriate actions in our interactions with him throughout the years. On the contrary, he as always been a genuine mentor who cares deeply for his students’ well-being, has supported their careers and encouraged them to become professionals that interact with colleagues in a mutually respectful way.” They questioned circulating accounts of AlSayyad’s behavior towards students and colleagues, for example, saying that meeting with them outside of campus or socially is not unusual in the collaborative studio culture of design.

“We understand the very legitimate concerns of students and will strive with the campus community to fight any misconduct or unacceptable behavior,” the letter says. “We are simply making a request that one should wait until the investigation is over before making a judgment on the case.”

Members of the group added via email, "Given the times provoking increased conflicts and racist sentiments, it is particularly easy to jump into quick judgment, especially when the subject is being identified in the news as Middle East scholar."

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Cornel West Will Return to Harvard

Cornel West, one of the leading figures in African-American studies (and also a controversial figure), will return to teaching at Harvard University, The New York Times reported. West left a Harvard position 14 years ago amid a series of disputes with Lawrence Summers, then president of the university. He went from Harvard to Princeton University, and then to the Union Theological Seminary. He currently has emeritus status at both institutions. Upon his return to Harvard, West will hold a joint appointment in the African and African-American studies program and at the Harvard Divinity School.

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Advice and encouragement to humanities Ph.D.s in pursuing diverse career paths (essay)

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As a graduate student or alum, you can be an important part of the conversation about the future of humanities doctoral education and its possible career paths, argues Amy Pszczolkowski.

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How assessment falls significantly short of valid research (essay)

In a rare moment of inattention a couple of years ago, I let myself get talked into becoming the chair of my campus’s Institutional Review Board. Being IRB chair may not be the best way to endear oneself to one’s colleagues, but it does offer an interesting window into how different disciplines conceive of research and the many different ways that scholarly work can be used to produce useful knowledge.

It has also brought home to me how utterly different research and assessment are. I have come to question why anyone with any knowledge of research methods would place any value on the results of typical learning outcomes assessment.

IRB approval is required for any work that involves both research and human subjects. If both conditions are met, the IRB must review it; if only one is present, the IRB can claim no authority. In general, it’s pretty easy to tell when a project involves human subjects, but distinguishing nonresearch from research, as it is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is more complicated. It depends in large part on whether the project will result in generalizable knowledge.

Determining what is research and what is not is interesting from an IRB perspective, but it has also forced me to think more about the differences between research and assessment. Learning outcomes assessment looks superficially like human subjects research, but there are some critical differences. Among other things, assessors routinely ignore practices that are considered essential safeguards for research subjects as well as standard research design principles.

A basic tenet of ethical human subjects research is that the research subjects should consent to participate. That is why obtaining informed consent is a routine part of human subject research. In contrast, students whose courses are being assessed are typically not asked whether they are willing to participate in those assessments. They are simply told that they will be participating. Often there is what an IRB would see as coercion. Whether it’s 20 points of extra credit for doing the posttest or embedding an essay that will be used for assessment in the final exam, assessors go out of their way to compel participation in the study.

Given that assessment involves little physical or psychological risk, the coercion of assessment subjects is not that big of a deal. What is more interesting to me is how assessment plans ignore most of the standard practices of good research. In a typical assessment effort, the assessor first decides what the desired outcomes in his course or program are. Sometimes the next step is to determine what level of knowledge or skill students bring with them when they start the course or program, although that is not always done. The final step is to have some sort of posttest or “artifact” -- assessmentspeak for a student-produced product like a paper rather than, say, a potsherd -- which can be examined (invariably with a rubric) to determine if the course or program outcomes have been met.

On some levels, this looks like research. The pretest gives you a baseline measurement, and then, if students do X percent better on the posttest, you appear to have evidence that they made progress. Even if you don’t establish a baseline, you might still be able to look at a capstone project and say that your students met the declared program-level outcome of being able to write a cogent research paper or design and execute a psychology experiment.

From an IRB perspective, however, this is not research. It does not produce generalizable knowledge, in that the success or, more rarely, failure to meet a particular course or program outcome does not allow us to make inferences about other courses or programs. So what appears to have worked for my students, in my World History course, at my institution, may not provide any guidance about what will work at your institution, with your students, with your approach to teaching.

If assessment does not offer generalizable knowledge, does assessment produce meaningful knowledge about particular courses or programs? I would argue that it does not. Leaving aside arguments about whether the blunt instrument of learning outcomes can capture the complexity of student learning or whether the purpose of an entire degree program can be easily summed up in ways that lend themselves to documentation and measurement, it is hard to see how assessment is giving us meaningful information, even concerning specific courses or programs.

First, the people who devise and administer the assessment have a stake in the outcome. When I assess my own course or program, I have an interest in the outcome of that assessment. If I create the assessment instrument, administer it and assess it, my conscious or even unconscious belief in the awesomeness of my own course or program is certain to influence the results. After all, if my approach did not already seem to be the best possible way of doing things, as a conscientious instructor, I would have changed it long ago.

Even if I were the rare human who is entirely without bias, my assessment results would still be meaningless, because I have no way of knowing what caused any of the changes I have observed. I have never seen a control group used in an assessment plan. We give all the students in the class or program the same course or courses. Then we look at what they can or cannot do at the end and assume that the course work is the cause of any change we have observed. Now, maybe this a valid assumption in a few instances, but if my history students are better writers at the end of the semester than they were at the beginning of the semester, how do I know that my course caused the change?

It could be that they were all in a good composition class at the same time as they took my class, or it could even be the case, especially in a program-level assessment, that they are just older and their brains have matured over the last four years. Without some group that has not been subjected to my course or program to compare them to, there is no compelling reason to assume it’s my course or program that’s causing the changes that are being observed.

If I developed a drug and then tested it myself without a control group, you might be a bit suspicious about my claims that everyone who took it recovered from his head cold after two weeks and thus that my drug is a success. But these are precisely the sorts of claims that we find in assessment.

I suspect that most academics are either consciously aware or at least unconsciously aware of these shortcomings and thus uneasy about the way assessment is done. That no one says anything reflects the sort of empty ritual that assessment is. Faculty members just want to keep the assessment office off their backs, the assessment office wants to keep the accreditors at bay and the accreditors need to appease lawmakers, who in turn want to be able to claim that they are holding higher education accountable.

IRBs are not supposed to critique research design unless it affects the safety of human subjects. However, they are supposed to weigh the balance between the risks posed by the study and the benefits of the research. Above all, you should not waste the time or risk the health of human subjects with research that is so poorly designed that it cannot produce meaningful results.

So, acknowledging that assessment is not research and not governed by IRB rules, it still seems that something silly and wasteful is going on here. Why is it acceptable that we spend more and more time and money -- time and money that have real opportunity costs and could be devoted to our students -- on assessment that is so poorly designed that it does not tell us anything meaningful about our courses or students? Whose interests are really served by this? Not students. Not faculty members.

It’s time to stop this charade. If some people want to do real research on what works in the classroom, more power to them. But making every program and every faculty member engage in nonresearch that yields nothing of value is a colossal, frivolous waste of time and money.

Erik Gilbert is a professor of history at Arkansas State University.

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Recommendations for how marginalized academics can improve their editing (essay)

When moving from ideas to publication, if you don’t look, think and/or write like the dominant academics in your field, the path can be treacherous, writes Shannon Craigo-Snell.

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Study suggests Ph.D. supply isn't the problem when it comes to diversifying the professoriate

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Study suggests Ph.D. supply isn't the problem when it comes to diversifying the professoriate.

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