faculty

Group projects in online classes create connections and challenge instructors

Group projects might seem more daunting in an online format, but instructors say they've found ways to foster collaboration and avoid logistical roadblocks.

Columbia Grad Assistants Go on Strike

Graduate teaching and research assistants at Columbia University went on strike Tuesday over the institution’s refusal to negotiate a contract with their United Auto Workers-affiliated union. Columbia's graduate students voted more than a year ago to unionize, following a major National Labor Relations Board decision in their favor asserting that graduate assistants on private campuses are employees entitled to collective bargaining. The university has legally challenged that decision, however, saying that graduate students are students, not employees. Picket lines are planned through next week.

Olga Brudastova, a teaching assistant in Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department, said in a statement, “We work long hours for Columbia, and most of us take home less than $30,000 a year while securing millions in grants and research funding. We want a union because we want real recourse when faced with sexual harassment or assault and progress on issues like late pay, dilapidated lab facilities and benefits. We won a union election with 72 percent of the vote 16 months ago -- and the law is clear. Columbia must bargain with us. As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”

Caroline Adelman, university spokesperson, said via email that Columbia respects “the rights of students to express their views and the rights of all students and faculty to continue their teaching, learning and progress toward degrees.” While Columbia collectively bargains with more than a dozen unions representing thousands of university employees, she said, “we believe that student teaching and research assistants who come to Columbia for an education are not ‘employees' under the law.” The NLRB has repeatedly reversed itself on this issue, “depending on the changing political makeup of the board,” Adelman said, and the university does “not understand why the [graduate assistants’ union] prefers the pressure tactics and disruption of a strike to a definitive, nonpartisan resolution of that legal question in the federal courts.”

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Scientists Call on Trump to Stop Attacks on Science

Concerned members of the National Academy of Sciences this month posted a letter calling for a return of science-based policy in the federal government.

The statement said the decision by President Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate accord last year is symptomatic of a larger problem -- the administration's denigration of expertise and harassment of scientists.

"The dismissal of scientific evidence in policy formulation has affected wide areas of the social, biological, environmental and physical sciences. It has been particularly egregious in climate science. A recent instance of this is the intention of the Administration to assemble a 'Red Team/Blue Team' to re-litigate all aspects of climate science. Such an exercise seeks to foster the erroneous impression of deep uncertainty concerning the reality and seriousness of anthropogenically driven climate change," the statement said.

The letter called on the federal government to maintain scientific content on public websites, appoint qualified personnel to positions that require scientific expertise, stop censorship of scientists and reverse the decision on the Paris agreement.

More than 300 scientists from colleges and universities across the country have signed the letter.

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A professor ponders the people who give academic life its value (essay)

A professor and a person can perish on the way to publishing, writes Robert Zaretsky.

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How to negotiate a job offer effectively (opinion)

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It takes some practice, but if you know and understand the basics, you can become much better at it, advises Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis.

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Thursday, May 3, 2018
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6 Mistakes to Avoid When Negotiating Your Job Offer

When college goes under, everyone suffers, but Mount Ida's faculty feels a particular sense of betrayal

When a college goes under, everyone suffers. But faculty at Mount Ida feel a particular sense of betrayal following its abrupt closure announcement.

Harvard Graduate Assistants Vote for Union

Graduate students at Harvard University voted 1,931 to 1,523 to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers, they announced Friday. The election, held earlier this month, was the second on the union issue, as a 2016 vote proved inconclusive. "Harvard appreciates student engagement on this important issue," the university said in a statement. "Regardless of the outcome, this election underscores the importance of the university’s commitment to continuing to improve the experience of our students."

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The importance of counting an institution's research expenditures in the humanities (opinion)

Humanities research is both poorly funded and poorly understood. When I served as dean of humanities at Arizona State University, I tried to explain to people what humanists do in this way: we research the whats, hows and especially whys of who we are across cultures and time. We delve deeply into individual cultures and histories, and we try, as difficult as it may be, to juxtapose different traditions and ways of thinking -- sometimes without judgment, but sometimes with a judgment formed by a combination of deep knowledge and relentlessly critical thinking.

This research serves our teaching, of course, but it also helps change the world outside academe through books, articles, digital projects and contributions to large-scale research about the “wicked problems” humanity faces. Anyone who knows anything knows that solutions to such wicked problems are at least as cultural as they are technical.

Somewhat ironically, I’ve found that the public often understands what humanists do more accurately than many of our nonhumanist colleagues, even, or especially, at research universities like mine. Such institutions need to do a better job to support, and tap into, the wealth of knowledge and creative thinking that humanists have and use.

For our part as humanists, to make an impression inside our institutions and in the outside world, we need to do a better job of understanding the relationship between research support and research outcomes. And for starters, we might do a much better job of counting the support our hardworking faculty members receive to pursue their important work.

The Numbers Tell a Story

My institution, Arizona State University, has been among the most successful in both supporting and counting humanities research. In the recently released National Science Foundation rankings for university research expenditures in the area of the humanities, Arizona State University placed fourth, registering more than $12.5 million in 2016. The year before, our ranking was 12th ($7.7 million), and in 2014, it was 18th (almost $5 million). In fact, our humanities research expenditures in 2016, composed of both internal and external support for research in such areas, were greater than those of public institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Virginia; and the University of Wisconsin, as well as private institutions like Harvard, New York, Princeton and Yale Universities. (We were bested only by Brown University and the Universities of Michigan and Notre Dame.)

Those rankings haven’t mattered much in the past, but they should impel us to think again about humanities research and its funding. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a wing of the National Science Foundation, puts together the Higher Education Research and Development Survey -- or HERD -- rankings. Universities boast about their science and technology research expenditures in the way hedge fund managers might crow about the size of their funds. Over all, Johns Hopkins University was again ranked first in 2016 with over $2.4 billion in research expenditures. Arizona State University was, over all, 44th (up from 48th in 2015) with just over $518 million in research expenditures.

Arizona State’s national ranking in the overall HERD numbers reflects the university’s core belief that service to students goes hand in hand with knowledge creation and creative work. The university has received attention for its transdisciplinary research in biomedical science, engineering and the physical sciences. Similarly, the university’s rise specifically in the humanities rankings demonstrates not only the continuing power of research in traditional areas of humanistic research but also in the possibility of bringing together the humanities with other areas of research in the university and with the community.

From 2014 to the middle of 2017, I served as associate vice president for humanities and arts in Arizona State’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, or OKED, as well as dean of humanities. The office is a supercharged office of research, not only covering traditional areas of research compliance, research animal care and coordination of data but also fueling the productive use of knowledge across campus and with students, industry leaders and other key constituents. As with other academic and support units at the university, the funny name both reflects and prompts a deep rethinking of the roles of administrative structures at a research university. When we turned our attention to the humanities, we were able to increase the scope, impact and amount of our research expenditures.

Internal and External Investments

During my time in OKED, the university made important and substantial investments in humanities research. We built those investments upon the principle that funding should support faculty members to do what they love and know yet also provide them with the opportunity to extend their intellectual work to change the world.

We created major funding opportunities for faculty members, including support for traditional humanities research as well as large-scale projects that took their work in a new, collaborative directions. And we created an incentive program for faculty members seeking external support. Connections with the outside world -- federal agencies, foundations and the media -- were central to all that we tried to do.

The digital humanities, which we have consciously built at ASU over the past half decade, represent one area in which funded humanities research can make an impact. For example, one of our university’s digital humanists, originally a scholar of 17th-century English culture, has been embedded in the university’s Global Security Initiative, the interdisciplinary hub for research that addresses human security in a broad way -- tackling issues in defense cybersecurity, safety, individual privacy and many other vital areas.

But it’s not just the digital humanities: humanists are collaborating with scientists in our Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. They are also working across town with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic to better develop ways the humanities can help address issues of health and wellness.

An explicit goal of most of our institutional support for research is also to obtain external funding. Such support not only acts as a multiplier of internal investments, it provides external validation and a pathway for extended impact.

Meanwhile, we haven’t diminished the university’s traditional support for humanities research, including sabbatical leave, book subventions and funding to attend, present at and host scholarly conferences. “The library is my laboratory,” some humanists will say, and Arizona State has dedicated effort to building the library of the future. We can’t count that investment toward the HERD rankings, but better counting is a hallmark of Arizona State’s annual rise in humanities expenditures over the past three years.

More Than a Rounding Error

If you look at our university’s fourth-ranked expenditures of $12 million in relation to the university’s overall expenditures of over $500 million, you could see the humanities as “budget dust” -- a rounding error in a major research university’s efforts. The comparatively small amount involved is perhaps the main reason that few universities have taken the time and trouble to accurately count their internal and external research expenditures.

Moreover, accurate counting to the standards of the HERD rankings is difficult. One vexing problem that we’ve only recently fixed is how to gather information on the individual research fellowships that faculty members in the humanities receive from the National Endowment for the Humanities, foundations and scholarly organizations. If a professor making $100,000 per year receives $70,000 from a foundation to devote a year of work to a scholarly project, how do you know that, and how do you count it?

You only know that if your department chairs and deans are aware that it’s going on. At Arizona State, the accounting system doesn’t automatically code that $70,000 fellowship as “research support,” because it typically goes straight to the department to pay for the teaching that the faculty member is not doing. And although the dean typically “tops up” support so that fellowship recipients keep their full salary and benefits, the college and university haven’t always counted those top-up funds as research expenditures.

In my scenario, the cost for the faculty member to do the year of research is $135,000 to cover salary and benefits for full-time scholarly work. We hadn’t been counting either the $70,000 in external fellowship support or the top-up amount of $65,000. If a productive humanities faculty at a major university has 10 faculty members per year winning fellowships, that’s around $1.5 million of typically uncounted research expenditures. Through manual processes and the hard work of OKED staff members, department chairs and budget managers, we are now successfully counting those fellowships.

This better counting has been important for us internally and externally. A ranking of fourth in the nation (“higher than Cornell!”) brings attention to the brilliant scholars among our faculty in the humanities. Scientists may laugh at the amounts involved, but with a place in the rankings, scientists and the community members alike recognize the significance of the efforts of Arizona State humanists. Recognition helps build the transdisciplinary connections necessary for the “grand challenge” research that will help solve large-scale problems in our world.

I hope other universities will emulate some of what we’ve done at Arizona State. If every place counted as well as we did, I’m not sure we’d rank fourth in the nation. But we would welcome the competition and celebrate the continued excellence of humanities research across the country. Most of us genuinely want to understand the world better and to use our knowledge to make a positive difference. The more exposure we humanists receive, the greater attention we garner and the better collaborations we can set up, the better the world will be.

George Justice is a professor of English at Arizona State University. He served as dean of humanities and associate vice president for humanities and arts at the university from 2013 to 2017.

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Closing Academic Publishing's Gender Gap

Academic publishing’s gender gap is likely to continue for generations, especially in certain fields, according to a new analysis of 10 million science, technology, engineering and math-related papers published in nearly 6,000 journals worldwide over the last 15 years. Researchers from the University of Melbourne estimated the genders of the papers’ 36 million authors, finding that the gender-based publishing gap was especially persistent in surgery, computer science, physics and math. Eighty-seven of the of the 115 disciplines examined had significantly less than 45 percent female authors, while five had significantly more than 55 percent female authors (the rest were close to gender parity).

The gap is especially large in authorship positions associated with seniority, and prestigious journals have fewer women authors than others, according to the study, published Thursday in PLOS Biology. “The Gender Gap in Science: How Long Until Women Are Equally Represented?” also estimates that journals invite men to submit papers twice as often as they ask women. Wealthy countries, namely Japan, Germany and Switzerland, also tend to have fewer women authors than poorer ones, it says. The paper’s authors recommend education efforts and other reforms to help close the gender gap faster.

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College faculty should follow the lead of K-12 teachers and organize for change (opinion)

Faculty members should come together and organize on behalf of the future of higher education, argues Melanie Barron.

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