faculty

The importance of showing empathy to students in the classroom (essay)

Teaching Today

To be successful, faculty members must go beyond teaching the material, writes Matthew J. Wright. We must care deeply about students and show it.

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Grad Student Suing U of Southern California Over Harassment Case

A graduate student at the University of Southern California is suing the institution for failing to sufficiently address her allegations of harassment against a professor, the Los Angeles Daily News reported. Karissa Fenwick, who has been public about her case, says that Erick Guerrero, an associate professor of social work, asked her to come to his hotel room during an academic conference in New Orleans and tried to kiss her on his bed. After Fenwick refused and ran out of the room, she says, Guerrero threatened her to keep quiet. He “told me that if I ever told anybody about what happened that it would ruin both of our careers and he would take down anybody that I told, and that the dean would never take my side or let anything happen to him,” Fenwick told reporters last week. She nevertheless filed a complaint but is dismayed that Guerrero was not terminated after the university determined that misconduct had occurred.

The university says that Guerrero was disciplined and warned that any recurrence could lead to dismissal. He was also blocked from holding leadership positions and teaching or supervising students this year. The institution “took the complaint of sexual harassment very seriously,” it said in a statement. “The university is reviewing the recent legal filing to determine if additional action is warranted.”

Mark Hathaway, Guerrero's attorney, told Inside Higher Ed that his client denies all of Fenwick's allegations and is grieving the university's investigation into his conduct. Hathaway said that Fenwick came to Guerrero's room voluntarily after a night of socializing with colleagues to order a ride back to her hotel via Uber, and that she departed shortly thereafter.

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Professor Quits Over Alleged Censorship of Seminars

Mark Trahant, an endowed professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota, said he’s quitting because the institution won’t let him hold seminars on the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest, the Associated Press reported. Trahant said he proposed two pipeline protest topics as part of a journalism lecture series he was planning, and both were rejected. Last year, he said, he wanted to hear from reporters who covered the protests, and this year he wanted to talk about social media’s role in the same events. Trahant did not specify who turned down his requests but said he was told that the university’s "senior administration" feared the state Legislature would retaliate against the campus if lectures on the pipeline protests proceeded. He said he was “disgusted” that the university did not seem interested in being a policy leader in the state. The university in a statement denied any suggestion that it was trying to censor Trahant based on political concerns.

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King University Cuts Full-Time Faculty Positions

King University in Tennessee plans to cut more than a dozen jobs, including nine full-time faculty positions at the Bristol campus and two at the Knoxville campus, the Bristol Herald Courier reported. The private university blames the decision on enrollment numbers, which have dropped from about 2,800 to in 2016-17 to 2,100 this academic year. It attributed that drop to declining enrollment in community colleges, from which many students enroll in King, and the economy over all. The Tennessee Board of Nursing also suspended the university’s ability to accept new nursing students earlier this year, until more students can pass the National Council Licensure Examination, according to the Herald Courier. The affected faculty members have already been notified of their layoffs, effective next fall.

“We have to be as flexible as the market is,” President Alexander Whitaker told the newspaper. “This is not a question of King staying afloat -- this is what a responsible school must do to remain financially responsible.” Whitaker declined to say exactly which faculty and staff positions will be cut. “We must reaffirm our commitment to rigorous academics,” he said. “We’ve seen some areas that need attention, such as our nursing program, and we are addressing those issues.”

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How to rejuvenate yourself when your academic job no longer motivates you (essay)

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When your work isn’t making you happy, take charge of your career happiness and figure out what will bring you joy, advises Natalie Lundsteen.

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Why colleges shouldn't abandon remedial education (essay)

If I had any doubts about what the future holds for our students before listening to this fall’s convocation speeches by our chancellor, our president and the guest speakers, I no longer do: federal and state policy makers, college and university administrators, and some well-intentioned instructors are clamoring to do away with remedial education in favor of ignoring low placement scores and simply putting most entering students into freshman composition and math.

Of course, this wasn’t really a surprise. For months, the media headlines have been adamant: “Remediation Is Doing More Harm Than Good,” “Most College Students Able to Flourish Without Remediation,” “Remediation Unnecessary if Teachers Just Raise the Bar” (as if thousands of teachers have not been breaking their backs to hoist that “bar” for decades).

As much as I admire some of the truly dedicated instructors involved in this acceleration movement and the goals they are dreaming of accomplishing, a lifetime of experience tells me that if we follow this path, no matter how expedient it might seem, we are once again turning away from the undeniable truth -- the root of so many of our problems (whether most of us care to admit it or not): we have already promoted so many students at all levels who don’t know the material that we are drowning in a sea of bogus diplomas and degrees -- and far worse, the holders of those dishonorable documents are floundering.

The answer to this very real problem is so simple it would be laughable if not for the human suffering we have produced: if we want to save our educational system, we must stop promoting students who don’t know the material. It’s that simple.

If Johnny can’t read, don’t pass him until he can. Period. If he graduates from third grade when he is 18, so be it. (I graduated from high school when I was 25, so I have some experience with this.) At least we’ll know where Johnny stands, and more important, so will he. We cannot continue to pass students and then hand them high school diplomas that they cannot read.

And even more crucial from my perspective, we who teach at colleges and universities cannot continue to graduate students who, due to their lack of basic skills, cannot function well enough to survive in their chosen fields. How, exactly, does that shameful travesty help anyone? Have you seen what employers have to say about their new hires’ lack of basic skills?

Last year, President Obama proudly announced that “America’s high school graduation rate has reached a record new high of 83.2 percent.” But, unfortunately, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only around 38 percent of seniors in high school scored at or above grade level on its reading test in recent years. Furthermore, nationwide college entrance exams show that far too many of those who can read cannot do so well enough to enroll in freshman English. And now we are passing legislation such as California’s AB 705, which will do nothing but throw gasoline all over that fire. Get them in; get them out.

How do we justify passing such ill-prepared students? “Compassionate passes” -- isn’t that what we call them? Well, according to every international ranking of American students that I have seen, such as the latest one from the Pew Research Center (“U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries”), all that “compassion” is rapidly leading our beleaguered educational system to the brink of disaster, and we are leaving hundreds of thousands of young Americans in shambles. The big news isn’t “Remedial Classes Are Hurting Students.” No, they are not! We are hurting students by not teaching them the material before we pass them, and that process begins in kindergarten and continues through college. So where, exactly, does it finally end?

I get a lot of underprepared students in my college English classes. What a great way to start a 17-week class that is supposed to culminate with the students knowing how to read, comprehend, analyze, summarize and respond thoughtfully in a concise, coherent manner to a college-level essay -- not to mention the required college-level research paper. Sadly, with so many lower-level students in the class, it is sometimes difficult to see those who came prepared. But now I’m being told there is a new “solution” on the horizon.

“Acceleration” and “corequisite” are the new buzzwords in college education. We put remedial students who are incapable of surviving remedial classes into transfer-level classes alongside students who are supposedly prepared, and that, along with a little extra tutoring, will somehow provide the lower-level students with the desire and abilities to quickly acquire all the skills they have failed to gain in the first 12 years of their educations. Baloney!

You might as well put basic math students in calculus and expect osmosis to do the work for everyone. If we are going to turn around this problem -- and our entire country, as far as I’m concerned -- then we need to stop lying. We, no matter what subject we teach, need to stop indiscriminately passing students and start requiring that they learn basic reading, writing and math skills before being promoted.

I know this from experience. I grew up in the American nightmare, not the American dream: one parent, poverty, violence, dyslexia, illiteracy, ADHD, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder -- all were hurdles I had to surmount on my road to education. In my personal journey from the cockroach-infested nightmare in which I was born and raised to my job as a community college instructor, I have learned above all that desire is the key to success in education.

But unfortunately, most of the students I encounter do not have it yet, or at least not enough of it to open the books and learn what they need to know. Why? Because they have always been passed along whether they learned the material or not. So why bother to start learning now, right? The overwhelming majority of my entering freshman-composition students (not remedial students) do not know what a sentence is -- a sentence -- let alone a paragraph. As you can probably tell from my writing, I am certainly not an expert on grammar, but it’s time to stop pretending that basic writing skills don’t matter.

In my 17-week class, I am expected to teach students everything from commonly confused words (there, they’re, their), parts of speech, run-ons, fragments, syntax, thesis statements, topic sentences, coherence, unity, logic, analysis, critical thinking, punctuation, tenacity -- the list goes on. And now we’re going to enroll a whole bunch of people who know even less into that mix. What a joke, a very bad joke -- one that is going to do irreparable harm to my students and our country.

Yes, some students who are borderline in their abilities and motivated will be able to accelerate, but the majority will remain just as lost as ever. Those who think otherwise are deeply underestimating the amount of damage that has been done to those of us who have long been accelerated right past basic English and math, and especially those of us who have grown up in poverty and violence and all the ugly, mind-altering brutality of that experience. On the day I was put out of high school, the principal said I was reading and writing at a fourth grade level. I’ll take responsibility for some of that, but not for passing myself from grade to grade.

If you want to help us, if you are sincere in your efforts to bring real and lasting change to our lives, don’t speed up -- slow down! Teach those of us who have the desire -- really teach us -- what our instructors neglected to teach us the first time. And above all, make us learn or leave. Make us accountable. Make us earn our way. Let us feel pride in what we have accomplished, not arrogance in how we circumvented the system. How else will we ever learn that success is earned, not given, that grit sometimes involves years of hard labor, even if that labor includes learning remedial math or English?

One of the basic tenets of the acceleration movement is to stop relying on college entrance exams and to start putting more value on entering students' high school GPAs. Yet GPAs don’t pull a lot of weight with me, and here’s one reason why: thousands of California high school students have not been able to pass their high school exit exams, which have consisted of an eighth-grade math test requiring a score of 55 percent (in eight attempts) and a 10th-grade English test requiring a score of 60 percent. So we recently simply did away with the exam. And voilà! We now have more high school graduates. We also now have more college students who have been conditioned to believe that they do not have to learn the material in order to graduate. They simply have to wait it out. And who can argue with that?

If we truly want an egalitarian educational system, we need to provide free, well-staffed learning centers, on and off our campuses, where folks can come and study basic skills like English, math and reading until they qualify to enter college-level classes, if that is their goal. These centers should be open and fully staffed day and night for as many hours as possible. One-on-one help will abound. Drop-in hours will allow people to attend as often and as long as they like, and again, such services and materials will all be free to the students. Desire, perseverance and progress will be the only requirements, and for those who achieve those goals, performance pay should be awarded.

Those students who are highly motivated and capable will quickly work their way into college-level classes, while those who are struggling will finally be allowed to slow down and really learn the material, instead of being passed along until they no longer have any chance of succeeding. And finally, those who don’t want to or can’t learn can leave and find something better suited for them instead of draining our valuable resources.

I’m sure some number crunchers will fault me, but right now we are squandering hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars on people who do not have the wherewithal to do the work. In fact, we are paying for far too many people to not finish college instead of for those who do. Once we stop doing that, we will find ourselves with an enormous reserve, certainly enough to help all sincere students. Can you imagine the trillions of dollars that are being lost or squandered because of our broken educational system? In a recent article for Inc. magazine, Kaleigh Moore reported that “blue-chip businesses are spending as much as $3.1 billion on remedial writing training annually.”

Acceleration might be fine for a handful, but until students demonstrate that they have attained a solid educational foundation, none of these programs or bills are going to accomplish what we need in order to turn this mess around. You do not accelerate people who do not know the basics. You slow down and teach them what they desperately need to know, including how to earn the right to join the community of scholars so that they can take pride in their accomplishments and believe that for once they truly belong.

We teachers have the ability to unravel this mess that we and so many politicians and administrators and parents and students have created. If we teachers put our priorities in order and simply refuse to pass unqualified students, no matter how overwhelming the pressure to do so might be, together we could finally settle down and get back to the basics.

John Almy is a professor of English at Yuba Community College. He is a former high school dropout who, while serving as a volunteer for Literacy Volunteers of America, quite unexpectedly discovered that helping others learn to read and write is one of the most honorable and gratifying vocations on the planet.

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Loyola Won't Negotiate With Graduate Student Union

Loyola University in Chicago will not engage in collective bargaining with graduate assistants who teach or do research, it informed its new graduate student union. That’s despite an earlier statement from the university that it would bargain a contract with the Service Employees International Union-affiliated graduate assistants. Steve Christensen, Loyola spokesperson, said via email that teaching and research assistants are “fundamentally students, and therefore, do not qualify as ‘employees’ within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act.” He added, “We will continue to give voice to Loyola graduate assistants and take steps to provide them with a rewarding and fulfilling student experience.” 

The National Labor Relations Board decided last year that graduate teaching and research assistants on private campuses are in fact employees under the labor act, but other private institutions have said they’ll challenge the decision for the same reasons cited by Loyola. Some campuses have committed to bargaining with students, however. Christensen noted that Loyola recently announced stipend increases, among other changes for assistants, which “reflect our commitment to Jesuit, Catholic values and a fair and just academic environment.” The union said in a separate statement, “Regardless of what the university claims, we are a union and will continue to push for improvements, a contract and a voice in our working conditions. We are prepared to hold Loyola’s administration accountable."

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University investigating professor's anti-Semitic Facebook posts

Recalling a case at Oberlin College, Rutgers investigates a professor for anti-Semitic Facebook comments he says he can't be sure he made.

Academics should provide more platforms to learn from each others at their own institutions (essay)

Before we travel to national and international conferences to hear from other scholars, perhaps we should provide more platforms to learn from those within our own institutions, writes Ruth Gotian.

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The importance of moving toward a pedagogy of emotions (essay)

We should move toward a pedagogy of sadness, anger and love, writes Jenny Heineman.

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