A successful black academic considers the twists and turns of her career (essay)

Terri E. Givens, now a provost, considers the twists and turns of her career, wondering how much her outward success reflects her unseen struggles as a black woman in academe.

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Diversity Newsletter publication date: 
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Advice Newsletter publication date: 
Thursday, April 27, 2017
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Online programs offer academic progression for nurses

The broad expansion of online programs has led to a dramatic increase in the number of registered nurses earning bachelor's degrees.

Robots in classrooms connect distance learners with classrooms

Colleges and universities are employing robots on wheels to connect online students with face-to-face classes.

ID2ID peer mentoring program for instructional designers

First-of-a-kind program will pair designers from around the country and globe to share experiences, solve collective problems and learn new skills.

Shortage of nursing faculty

In addition to the shortage of nurses, there's a short supply of nurses with advanced degrees who want to teach at colleges and universities.

Middlebury Professor Sorry for Co-Sponsoring Murray Talk

Prior to the visit of Charles Murray to Middlebury -- where he was shouted down by students -- the political science department at the college was criticized by Murray critics on campus for agreeing to co-sponsor the talk. At the time, the department said that it simply agreed to co-sponsor events that related to political science, and that doing so was not an endorsement of Murray.

Now the chair of political science is apologizing for agreeing without wide consultation to co-sponsor the event.

"Last week, I apologized to my departmental colleagues for this closed decision-making process, and I apologize now to the broader Middlebury community," said a letter from the chair, Bertram Johnson, published in the student newspaper, The Middlebury Campus. "The short amount of time between when the event became public and when it occurred gave all of us scant opportunity to listen to and understand alternative points of view. Most importantly, and to my deep regret, it contributed to a feeling of voicelessness that many already experience on this campus, and it contributed to the very real pain that many people -- particularly people of color -- have felt as a result of this event."

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CEO of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute Reinstated

Mary Beckerle was reinstated Tuesday to her position as director and CEO of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Beckerle was fired suddenly via email last week, angering faculty members and the prominent Huntsman family of donors. She’ll now report directly to David Pershing, university president, according to the Tribune, in an agreement that walls her off from Vivian Lee, senior vice president of health sciences and CEO of university health care.

Kathy Wilets, university spokesperson, said the announcement "only changes the reporting structure,” between the cancer center and other medical facilities, however. "We continue to be an integrated system with shared clinical and research resources.” Lee declined requests for comment but Jon Huntsman, Sr. told the Tribune that she has previously expressed a desire to combine the cash-rich institute and the university’s medical school so the former would be a campus research facility. "I told her not on her life," Huntsman said.

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Indiana State Professor Accused of Fake Threats

An assistant professor of aviation technology at Indiana State University in Terre Haute was arrested Monday on charges of obstruction of justice and harassment, RTV 6-ABC reported. Azhar Hussain is accused of sending emails containing anti-Muslim messages and threats to members of the campus community -- and naming himself as a target. Campus police say that Hussain, who recently learned that he would not be reappointed to his position beyond 2018, also reported an alleged assault on his person last month. "Based upon the investigation, it is our belief that Hussain was trying to gain sympathy by becoming a victim of anti-Muslim threats, which he had created," Joseph Newport, chief of campus police, said in a statement. Hussain has been suspended from teaching, according to the university.

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Higher ed needs to destigmatize suicide (essay)

I was saddened last week to read about the suicide of Professor Will Moore at Arizona State University. Everyone’s path is different, but mine led me to attempt suicide last semester. Like Moore, I wrote a series of notes on social media and then did not expect to wake up. Waking up from a suicide attempt, the first thing I learned was that there is a latent social stigma around it that, in fact, protects suicide and helps it survive.

It struck me that Moore’s last note called out this “taboo” around suicide. He’s right. It is not to be talked about, especially in print. I experienced this in the first draft of this article, which was rejected by another publication that responded, “We receive dozens of manuscripts each week on all sorts of topics and have to make some tough choices.” Tough choices. Yes. Well, talking about suicide can even be difficult in therapy. I remember my therapist referring to it as “the overdose” with a bit of Southern charm -- suggesting that the issue wasn’t mental health, the norms of academe or a social system that has failed me but rather an unfortunate accident. My overdose was not an accident. And it had no charm.

I was teaching last semester, and halfway through I took pills. Specifically, a lot of pills. I took them on the weekend and woke up unexpectedly a day or so later. At some point early on, in the haze of consciousness and aliveness, I realized that I needed to prepare my lectures for the week. And so I did. I tried to kill myself on Saturday night, woke up on Sunday night and taught on Tuesday and Wednesday. In academe, that is part of the dysfunctional routine we normalize. We research and we teach, even when we have tried very hard to kill ourselves two days before. I think this is, dare I say, a fatal flaw in academe. So I wanted to note three things I have learned.

First, people might not understand the side effects from surviving trying to kill yourself. They are really terrible. If you go to the hospital, you might have a different experience because it is possible to pump your stomach, but I did not go to the hospital. I was worried about losing my job at the university if I did. What if they committed me? Who would teach my courses that week? Would this get out and be a mark against me in looking for future jobs?

So I stayed home and drank water. The results were physically devastating. I had difficulty walking and seeing for two weeks. I now have asthma and high blood pressure. Somehow I taught -- the way we all do when our friends tell us, “Whatever you do, don’t go in to work.” I stayed out of my colleagues’ way that week, got through my classes and went home to bed.

Second, there is no easy way to talk about mental-health events in the workplace. This truth was also echoed in the recent piece on Moore. How do you have a conversation that you have been systematically trained not to have? In our academic departments, we celebrate the arrival of new babies, we commemorate deaths, we bring cake for birthdays and we go out for drinks for promotions. We celebrate the positive but avoid confronting the often sad reality. Where does attempted suicide fit into this? Maybe it isn’t something to share. Maybe it is “too much information,” like domestic violence. Maybe this is another sad thing that is something to be silenced, hidden away -- assuming that next time, next time, it’ll be “successful.” That’s a much easier goal to have: death. It works for those who are suicidal and those who don’t want to have the conversation. Yet this uncomfortable situation betrays a truth that, in academe, this is a conversation literally dying to be had.

And, last, our students get it, yet we perpetuate a double standard. Our students experience mental-health issues, and we encourage them to talk and seek help. Our students attempt suicide and we give them support in class. It would never sink their future careers. When it is us, however, we shut down.

So we (the academy) should ask why we are tiptoeing around an issue that is part of the lived experience of our faculty and that, if unacknowledged, could lead to death. As many of us can attest, good mental health for all staff and faculty members is not a reality in most departments. I have written this piece using a pseudonym. As the Inside Higher Ed article on Moore noted, where you are in your career dramatically influences what you feel safe talking about. I am in the early part of my career, so I’m terrified of losing my employability.

Indeed, the real task falls to colleges and universities to step up on behalf of adjuncts, untenured professors and all other faculty and staff members. They should consider 2017 as an opportunity to engage not simply in suicide prevention but also suicide destigmatization. This is an affirmative step that should not wait for the death of another Moore or situations like mine. Because you cannot ask people who are suicidal to solve this problem -- that’s the whole point, we need help, and here we are, asking for it.

So I would leave you with this: very good people can have very bad days, and those people should not do what I did. They should go to the hospital, feel free to tell their colleagues and speak up about it before it is too late. Stigma is something we all reproduce or disrupt. Universities can be leaders here. Today.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The author works at a large public research university.

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Harvard Sees Gains in Faculty Diversity

Harvard University released data Monday illustrating gains in the diversity of its faculty over the last decade.

During that time the total number of tenured and tenure-track positions did not change much at all, although the proportion who were tenured went up. Among the other changes in the makeup of the tenured faculty:

  • The percentage who are white men dropped from 69.0 percent to 60.8 percent.
  • The percentage who are white women increased from 18.2 percent to 20.4 percent.
  • The percentage of Asian women more than doubled, from 1.4 percent to 2.9 percent, while the percentage of Asian men grew from 6.2 percent to 8.2 percent.
  • The percentages also went up for those in underrepresented minority groups -- for women from 0.9 percent to 2.5 percent, and for men from 4.1 percent to 5.2 percent.

Gains for those who were not white males also were evident in the tenure-track, nontenured category, where white males dropped from 47.8 percent to 42.3 percent.

The data show that the percentage of the Harvard faculty (tenured and tenure track) who are white men is now at an all-time low for the institution.

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