faculty

Professor flips class with mixed results

Students stopped coming to a professor's class, so he flipped the course and created a detailed report about the results. Some students liked the new format -- but that didn't keep them coming to class.

OER is catalyst for national conversation about public higher education

Open education resources can catalyze a much-needed national conversation about what we mean by “public” higher education, Robin DeRosa writes.

Inquiry on Professor's Comments to Muslim Student

The University of Cincinnati is investigating comments Clifford Adams, an assistant professor of music, wrote on a Muslim student's assignment, according to Cincinnati.com. The student reportedly wrote in a paper that the song “Walk on Water” speaks to American values that are antithetical to bigotry. In a response since shared on Facebook, Adams allegedly wrote that "Muslim females" are murdered by their family members for holding hands with non-Muslims and that "July 4th is not the day we tape a sign to a damn stick and go out and march with smug college brats and dysphoric drama queens, it is a federal holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. I am glad you took my class; you really do need to shut up, listen, and learn. Welcome to America, and welcome to college.” Another comment reads, “The U.S. president’s first sworn duty is to protect America from enemies, and the greatest threat to our freedom is not the president, it is radical Islam. Review this list of Islamic terrorist attacks and then tell me about your hurt feelings.” Adams declined immediate comment. Greg Vehr, university spokesperson, said in a statement that Cincinnati “takes seriously all concerns for discriminatory or harassing conduct occurring within its community and pursuant to its policies, will conduct an appropriate review.”

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

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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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Advice on how to most effectively mentor students (essay)

Although the practice of undergraduate research, scholarship and creative work has long been a fixture in American higher education, several developments within the past couple of years have drawn much-needed attention to the role of the undergraduate faculty mentor. The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index identified that only about two in 10 college students strongly agreed that they had a mentor who encouraged them in their goals. In 2015, Purdue University administrators announced their plans to make mentoring undergraduate students a point of emphasis in tenure reviews. And since then, scores of articles and studies have appeared about the role and importance of mentoring.

Our interest in those developments is in the way they are focusing attention and conversation on the crucial practice of mentoring undergraduate students. For three summers, we co-led a seminar at Elon University’s Center for Engaged Learning on mentoring undergraduate research for faculty members and undergraduate research program directors from institutions in the United States and abroad. The work of experts in the field of mentoring, as well as George Kuh and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has identified undergraduate research, scholarship and creative work as among 10 high-impact practices and provided the foundation for our seminar. Yet we’ve pushed one step farther. Our seminar participants have identified one key to this high-impact practice: the mentor who works closely with a student engaged in a research or creative project.

Guided by our own knowledge and experiences of mentoring that, in turn, have been enhanced by our seminar participants' studies of mentoring practices, we’ve learned a few things about what excellent mentoring is, and what it's not. And along the way, we have acquired a better idea of what institutions can do (and in some cases, what they shouldn't do) to enhance the well-mentored undergraduate experience.

Mentoring relies on quality relationships that endure over time. An intensive summer or multiyear mentored undergraduate experience, for example, supports students’ developing expertise in a field of study as well as their personal growth. And as a result, mentoring connotes a relationship that transcends mere assigned roles such as advising and teaching.

Yet good intentions and the proliferation of programs for undergraduate research do not guarantee that good-quality mentoring happens. Even when students, faculty members or administrators label these assigned relationships "mentorships," there is no guarantee that such supervision will reflect effective mentoring practice. Student involvement in undergraduate research or creative work alone offers no guarantee of good mentoring.

We instead suggest that colleges and universities better emphasize quality mentoring relationships and develop strategies and practices that assist faculty members and students alike in aspiring to and developing an excellent mentoring experience. Specifically, they should:

  1. Define the relationship. The farther we progressed in our seminar, the more complicated the meaning of mentoring became. Not every student-faculty assignment or interaction results in mentoring, even if it is labeled as such. An intentional focus on high-quality mentoring requires a critical definition of the developmental relationship we have in mind. Colleges and universities would be well served to articulate:
    1. what good mentoring is on their campuses (and how it differs from the other important roles a faculty member plays for students),
    2. how it is operationally defined,
    3. what the appropriate expectations are,
    4. what its best practices are, and
    5. what its distinct manifestations are among the disciplines.
  2. Train faculty members over time. Holding the occasional workshop for faculty on mentoring will not alone advance an institutional culture of high-quality mentoring. Rather, institutions should commit to a prolonged and robust system of mentor selection and training, one that begins with a faculty-faculty mentoring program, incorporates the importance of recognizing and engaging the variety of student developmental needs, and includes regular assessment of mentoring effectiveness with students.
  3. Provide adequate support. Undergraduate research offices, and the people who occupy them, need clear direction from campus constituencies about the role and value of mentoring at the institution. Likewise, those offices should have financial backing -- not only funds available to support students and faculty in undergraduate research experiences but also to support consistent programming and training about what makes a high-quality mentor.
  4. Make it a priority. Chief academic officers play a key role in making good mentoring a priority on campuses. They must allocate the resources and create the infrastructure to fully support undergraduate research offices. They also should support diverse pathways for faculty members to be involved in undergraduate research, following appropriate training and perhaps even supervised experience in the mentor role.
  5. Focus on competence. Perhaps most politically sensitive, we suggest colleges and universities pay more and better attention to competence of those in the mentoring role, and recognize that not every faculty member is a good mentor to undergraduate students at every stage in their career. It would be helpful to assist faculty members in thoughtfully working to balance the various expectations and aspirations of their own careers with associated activities related to high-quality mentoring of undergraduate students. One important element of such planning is that faculty members consider when they can (and when they cannot) invest in a high-quality mentoring relationship with an undergraduate student.
  6. Recognize and reward good mentoring. Colleges and universities need to consider how mentoring undergraduate students in research fits into the evaluative standards used for the promotion and tenure processes, and how other kinds of tangible supports can be offered to those who excel in such activity. Given the vital learning opportunity such experiences offer to students -- not to mention the considerable time and effort required of the faculty member -- we believe that faculty work in this high-impact practice should be recognized, rewarded and formalized in institutional practice and policy.
  7. Assess and reassess. Finally, if we are to hold to the belief that good-quality mentoring is inextricably linked with successful undergraduate research experiences, then we need to commit to an honest assessment and evaluation of these experiences that provides the faculty mentor with an opportunity for growth and development in this important role.

What we have come to know about the experience for students engaged in undergraduate research, scholarship and creative work is that it has the potential to facilitate deep and lasting high-impact learning. This potential can only be fully realized when colleges and universities commit to the belief that high-quality mentoring matters -- for students, faculty members and their institutions over all -- and they put practices and programs in place to promote, reinforce and celebrate it.

Laura L. Behling is professor of English at Knox College. W. Brad Johnson is professor of psychology at the U.S. Naval Academy. Paul C. Miller is assistant provost for communications and operations and professor of exercise science at Elon University. Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler is professor of psychology and director of the Center for Research on Global Engagement at Elon University. They served as co-leaders of the Elon University Center for Engaged Learning’s Seminar on Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, 2014-16.

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