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St. John Fisher seeks to fire a longtime professor over his use of paid class managers, saying it doesn't qualify as teaching

St. John Fisher seeks to fire a longtime professor over his use of paid class managers, saying it doesn't qualify as teaching. The professor says more is at play, including discrimination on the basis of his Muslim background.

More Criticism of AP World History Timeline

While some have praised the College Board’s recent decision to begin its Advanced Placement World History exam in 1200 instead of 1450, as previously planned, concerns linger. The World History Association previously urged the board to “not to truncate the time depth of the course but rather to reassess the density of topics” in a concept timeline. Currently, the exam covers about 10,000 years of history, and the board and some teachers say that’s too much for one year of high school. So the 1200 start date, announced last week, is a concession to critics who said another plan to begin exam questions around the year 1450 risked making world history too centered on Europe. In introducing the 1200 decision, the board said it tentatively planned to create another AP course on ancient world history.

In response to the 1200 start date, the World History Association again wrote to the College Board, quoting its first letter, saying that this “does violence to the basic premises of the field,” for “only by examining the human past over the very long term can we discern the shared history of our humanity.” And “promising to look into offering a course on world history before 1200 is no solution,” Merry Wiesner-Hanks, distinguished professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and president of the World History Association, wrote in the follow-up letter to Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP and instruction at the board. Wiesner-Hanks also expressed concern about the pace of change, saying that 2019 was too soon for teachers to develop a “thoughtful and coherent course in what is basically overnight, as professional development for the revised course would have to begin this fall.”

Amanda DoAmaral, a K-12 educator who previously challenged Packer about the 1450 plan, said via email that a start date of 1200 instead of 1450 “is virtually the same and does not address our concerns of the post-classical era removed from assessment.” The extra 250 years include the Mongol Empire and Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire, “two of our major grievances,” she said, but “still excludes several West African empires, Chinese dynasties and the Islamic caliphates, who were all crucial in the development of the modern world. Starting the course in 1200 is detrimental to students and is especially offensive to students of color.”

The board said in a statement Tuesday that it “engaged with a range of stakeholders -- teachers, students, college faculty, leading historical organizations and other advocates -- to understand concerns and identify the best approach for changes to the AP World History course. We heard from those who brought to light principled concerns and opportunities for improvements.”

That feedback “underscored that we share the same priorities: engaging students in the rich histories of civilizations across the globe and ensuring that such important content is given the time it deserves,” the board said. “We’re grateful for the principled feedback from the world history community. We believe this new approach -- which represents the unanimous position of the AP World History Development committee -- will best serve students and educators, balance course breadth and depth, and honor the full, essential story of human history. We're grateful for those who support these changes and we equally respect the views of those who still have concerns.”

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Drexel University introduces repository of virtual reality assets for instructors

Instructors at Drexel University can sift through more than 250,000 pieces of virtual reality content in a repository the institution bills as the first of its kind.

New Online Learning Consortium report highlights instructional designers

A white paper published yesterday by the Online Learning Consortium offers a look at the increasingly complex field of instructional design in higher education.

Coastline Community College sees professional development lead to online enrollment gains

A two-year college in California took a leap forward with professional development efforts geared toward online.

Advice for graduate students who plan to start looking for an academic job this year (opinion)

A graduate student provides advice if you plan to start applying for an academic position this coming year.

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Report: Former Wayne State Journalism Professor Harassed and Retaliated Against Women

Jack Lessenberry, former director of Wayne State University’s journalism program, came on to female students, retaliated against them when they didn’t reciprocate and made out with one woman in his car and office, according to an external investigation obtained by Deadline Detroit through an open records request. Lessenberry, a political analyst, resigned in May from his post at Michigan Radio after Deadline Detroit ran a story called “Jack Lessenberry’s Long History of Questionable Behavior with Women,” written by 2004 Wayne State journalism graduates. Wayne State initiated its outside review of Lessenberry’s conduct around the same time. The outside review, prepared by Tara E. Mahoney, a Detroit attorney, recommended dismissal. But Lessenberry, who was already suspended, resigned from his professorship last month.

Mahoney's interviews with students and faculty members reportedly revealed a pattern of Lessenberry having “pet” or “favorite” students, whom he showered with unwanted attention. He told female students that they were attractive, touched or hugged others, and had a “passionate relationship” with one, according to the report. Lessenberry also allegedly wrote comments such as, “I wish I could love you” on students’ assignments. "Some day I shall kiss you; the jail time will be worth it,” and “You know you mesmerize me, and I could get lost in you,” he wrote to one student, according to emails included in the report. Some students said he spoke poorly of them to other professors or outside professionals, or threatened to reduce their grades when they did not respond to his advances. Some also said they stopped wearing nice clothes or makeup to class to avoid being noticed and found ways to avoid having to hug him, such holding books in their arms. The independent report also says that Lessenberry corresponded with a high school student in the early 2000s, calling her his “muse.”

"It would be prudent to review reporting requirements with all faculty to ensure they are aware of proper steps that must be taken if a student shares information that could be a policy violation," reads the report, which notes that students previously shared their concerns with other faculty members.

Lessenberry has denied the claims against him, saying it's difficult to defend himself against anonymous allegations. “My reputation has been shredded, and that has plainly made some people gleeful, but I do not intend to wallow in this,” he said on Facebook. “I am sincerely sorry if I offended anyone; I never meant to, and many -- most -- of the allegations were completely false. I do know that I helped many people, women and men, launch their careers, and will always be happy about that.”

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Researchers say proposed EPA rule would throw out good science

Higher ed groups in recent weeks have joined opposition to proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule they say would block good research from being used in drafting new regulations.

The importance today of teaching students wisdom (opinion)

In October of 1979, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Barbara Tuchman delivered a lecture at West Point in which she decried the “persistence of unwisdom” among politicians across the ages. Reflecting on how American presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had embroiled the United States more deeply in the Vietnam War, Tuchman bemoaned a perennial “wooden-headedness” -- a tendency for politicians to act wishfully, while not allowing themselves to be “confused by facts.”

Tuchman spoke of geopolitical reason as overwhelmed by “ambition, greed, fear, face-saving, the instinct to dominate, the needs of the ego, the whole bundle of personal vanities and anxieties.” Evoking an explicitly male obsession with potency, she concluded that, in government, “men seek power over others -- only to lose it over themselves.”

I dare say that even Tuchman could not have foreseen the depths of unwisdom displayed daily by our 45th U.S. president.

Nothing would be easier than to survey the various manifestations of Donald J. Trump’s “unwisdom” to show that his style of government represents an uncanny apotheosis of the trends that Tuchman decried in the waning years of the Carter administration. The recent proliferation of blank gift books with titles like The Wisdom of Donald Trump: Words for All Americans and The Wit and Wisdom of Donald Trump suggests that many Americans would concur with the comment of New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, speaking of Trump’s Twitter battle with the National Football League: “I think we need a little more wisdom in that office.”

Yet focusing on President Trump’s particular brand of unwisdom -- an obsessive temptation, to be sure -- tends to let us all off the hook. Tuchman recognized the collective’s role in sustaining unwisdom when she remarked in the concluding sentence of her address, “Perhaps, rather than educating officials, we should concentrate on educating the electorate -- that is, ourselves -- to look for, to recognize and to reward character in our representatives, and to reject the ersatz.”

We have many reasons to feel that, in 2018, Tuchman’s injunction to educate for wisdom is a heavy lift. We live in a time when technological innovation and a rampant ideology of self seem clearly to conspire against wisdom’s acquisition. A news cycle driven by the frenetic accounting of momentary winners and losers; cable outlets addicted to the staging of partisan conflict; the continued decline of ostensibly objective media venues; a social media space marked by the clamor for markers of attention (likes, retweets); the increasing replacement of text-based analysis with more emotionally resonant memes; a rampant presentism -- all of these trends undermine development of the mature, nuanced, historically informed and empathic reflection on which wisdom depends. Recent revelations around Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of Facebook data in the run-up to the 2016 election confirm Stephan S. Hall’s argument that our political sphere has become disturbingly adept at speaking to the emotional brain, so as to “short-circuit (neurologically!) political thoughtfulness.” Not surprisingly, a recent study in Science reports that fake news spreads through Twitter “farther, faster, deeper and more broadly” than truth.

Compounding these developments is our tendency as contemporary Americans to double down on what author and commentator David Brooks has dubbed the “moral ecology” of “the Big Me” -- an ideology of individual achievement that fails to recognize that we are fundamentally social beings who only fully realize our aspirations in society. Our increasingly curated online lives not only make us anxious about not measuring up; they tend to erase the life struggles so essential to the acquisition of wisdom.

In the face of such headwinds, I see our task as educators as twofold: to lay the groundwork for wisdom by consciously aligning our pedagogy with its most essential attributes and to use examples of great wisdom -- past and, most especially, present -- to waken in our students a hunger for it.

It has, of course, long been argued that wisdom cannot be taught. In the essay “Of Pedantry,” Montaigne famously writes, “For though we could become learned by another man’s learning, we can never be wise except by our own wisdom.” Wisdom is the fruit of long experience, the argument goes, and cannot be transmitted in the way knowledge can -- in part because, as my late colleague University of Southern California professor of philosophy Dallas Willard once noted, “exhortation is not the only, nor the most effective, way of teaching.”

That is not to say, however, that we cannot teach for wisdom. Psychologist Robert Sternberg, arguably the strongest recent proponent of that approach, rightly suggests that, although we cannot teach “particular courses of action that would be considered wise regardless of circumstance,” we can and must “provide the scaffolding for the development of wisdom and case studies to help students develop wisdom.” I would argue that four such strategies are especially fitting today.

First, at a time when our media environment and our practices of secondary education tend to reward those who stake out a position and defend it at all costs, it is vital that we as educators teach our students to acknowledge and appreciate complexity, in both its cognitive and ethical forms. That means focusing our pedagogy not only on the quarrel between valid interpretative approaches to a given question or problem but also on the moral dilemmas that arise (as Brooks puts it) “when two legitimate moral values clash.” At American University, we recently instituted a mandatory multitopic seminar for all incoming undergraduates, entitled Complex Problems, aimed at instilling just such an appreciation.

Second, we must consistently help our students to see how the actions and values of individuals -- whether historic, contemporary or fictional -- have been shaped by their particular social, cultural, economic and/or religious contexts. Studying abroad in a culture radically different from one’s own remains the single best way to solidify this awareness, consistent with Mark Twain’s insight that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness … Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” But study abroad is only conducive to such cross-cultural sensitivity if students have been prepared to develop it through prior experience and course work. (Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University, has recently suggested that fostering student engagement with diverse cultures is doubly valuable in the age of artificial intelligence insofar as cultural context is “not easily appreciated by even the most intelligent of machines.”)

Aristotle’s dictum that “It is impossible to be practically wise without being good” points to a third way to teach for wisdom: by fostering in our students an empathic care for the other and a deep-seated sense of social justice. Many academic disciplines actively work to nurture these; allow me to take an example from mine. Thinking of the ways in which novels effectively put the reader into the head of their characters, and buttressed by a well-known, if controversial, 2013 study contending that the act of reading of literary fiction boosts empathy and emotional intelligence, Gary Saul Morson, professor of the arts and humanities at Northwestern University, and Morton Schapiro, president of Northwestern, have argued that, “endlessly repeated, this experience of another person from within teaches us empathy by making it a habit.” One need not go back to the great novels of the 19th-century psychological realists -- Tolstoy, Eliot, Austen, et al. -- to find novels that do this. Imbolo Mbue’s 2016 debut novel, Behold the Dreamers, is just one of several recent novels of immigrant life in America that brilliantly -- and, yes, wisely -- evoke a deep sense of readerly empathy across significant cultural divides.

Finally, and in many ways most critically, wisdom implies cognitive humility. “I am wiser than he is to this small extent,” Socrates famously remarks in Plato’s Apology, “that I do not think that I know what I do not know.” What Brooks calls “epistemological modesty” is not something that comes naturally to the talented 18-year-olds who populate our classes or that we ourselves once were. And, of course, nothing is more counterproductive or hostile to learning as a process of mutual discovery than simply insisting upon our students’ ignorance. In all of its manifestations, wisdom is not an end state so much as a process -- not a body of knowledge but an approach to its acquisition; not a fixed corpus of moral and ethical answers but a deep-seated (and ever-renewed) engagement in ethical questioning.

Students -- and indeed we as faculty members -- have much to learn from the now extensive body of philosophical and psychological literature on wisdom. But the most essential step that we as professors can take in teaching for wisdom is to model cognitive humility, to allow all that we don’t yet know and may never know to shine through our disciplinary expertise, to let our continued curiosity about the world we live in trigger our students’ enthusiasm.

As hardheaded academics, we tend to be suspicious of the seemingly mushy, New Agey concept of wisdom. But in a political and social age that devalues cognitive and moral nuance, ignores the determinative force of cultural difference, and leaves both empathy and cognitive humility in short supply, we have no choice but to consistently, and self-consciously, teach for wisdom.

Peter Starr is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University.

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Graduate students must take responsibility for their own careers (opinion)

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You must be responsible for pursuing your own professional options while sorting through insights from faculty members, professional staff and peers, counsels Alfreda James.

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Thursday, August 2, 2018
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Graduate Students, Take Charge

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