The most recent American Freshman Survey found that the emotional health of incoming freshmen is at its lowest point in at least three decades -- a finding that should be of concern to all of us in higher education. Similarly, according to the National Survey of College Counseling Centers, 94 percent of counseling and psychological services (CAPS) professionals report that “recent trends toward greater numbers of student with some psychological problems continue to be true on their campuses.”
What can be done to alter these dire statistics? To help students prepare to meet the increased psychological demands required in modern life, colleges must provide additional support -- and not only from counseling professionals but also undergraduate advisers and faculty members.
Just ask any counseling and psychological services professional in your college or university and he or she will tell you that your students are not well emotionally, psychologically and physically, and those most responsible for their well-being -- advisers and faculty members -- have not been provided with a way to look at and help solve the problem. As one vice president of student affairs at a Big Ten university declared recently, “CAPS is receiving higher incidences of anxiety and depression” with “more so than usual behavior issues, where needs continue to grow each year and there is a long, growing waiting list.” He concluded, “We are not going to find enough money to remedy the situation.”
This is a sad commentary that expresses the depth of resignation among college and university leaders that anything can be done to reverse such a troubling situation.
Institutional leaders, frontline advisers and faculty members have been led to believe that if college students do well academically -- and take advantage of internships and student activities or develop a scholarly relationship with a close faculty mentor -- then they will also be happy, healthy and flourishing in higher education and life. That is a false belief that we should not perpetuate.
Senior administrators need to view students, the academic advising relationship and the broader college experience through a new lens that focuses much more on students’ overall well-being and not just on academics and traditional extracurricular activities alone. Today’s faculty members and academic advisers are just not taught to think this way. They don’t have a way to look at the problem, nor do they have a definition of what constitutes “well-being” to guide their prevention and education programs.
Well-being is not simply the absence of mental or physical illness. Rather, it is the more positive connotation of how well your life is going. Well-being encompasses, among other things, emotional health, vitality and satisfaction, life direction and ability to make a difference, the quality of one’s relationships, and living a good life.
What is required in higher education today is a systematic process that helps students achieve their educational, career and personal goals by concentrating on areas of talent and engagement, dreams and passions. Such a student success strategy will stimulate and support students in their quest for an enriched quality of life. That will, in turn, result in higher student satisfaction, increased retention and graduation rates, and, at the most fundamental level, young adults who are fulfilled and psychologically healthy.
In fact, some institutions are already exploring some proven best practices that effectively infuse well-being approaches beyond counseling and psychological services into academic advising, curricula and career counseling.
For example, one university where I was both a dean and professor applied an approach that we called Self Across the Curriculum (SAC). We required all students at the beginning of a new 16-week course to discuss with their professor how the course could help them better understand their distinct purpose in life. Faculty members designed weekly lesson activities that allowed students to design real-world projects that allowed them to work, for example, on ways to stop bullying in middle schools. Students became engaged in their learning by being intrinsically motivated to use their talents and skills to deal with real problems. Further, they encouraged and moved each other by revealing their highest hopes and dreams for a better world where children and people treated each other with kindness and love.
Retention rates increased by 26 percent for the entire institution, with student satisfaction scores going up by almost 40 percent -- demonstrating that students feel empowered to persevere and are happier about who they are and their course work when they learn about themselves and see the tangible contributions they can make.
In addition, academic advisers at that same university then applied the scientifically based Integrated Self (iSelf) model, an assessment and intervention tool that links four functional areas that are crucial to student success: academic advising, career services, personal counseling and student engagement. This model measures multiple facets or attributes of psychological well-being, including: emotional and socioemotional intelligence; self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-understanding; personal identity and beliefs; and intrinsic motivation.
Through the iSelf model, the university offered a short, three-session workshop to help students understand their life purpose and dreams, then choose their academic program based upon that life purpose and those dreams, and then select a potential career path and internships that would manifest such expressions of themselves.
The result? The students in the class in general did whatever it took to remain in college and found new and creative ways to finance their education after taking the workshop. Further, they took it upon themselves to take ownership of their well-being and future direction -- resulting, for instance, in reduced levels of substance abuse that often accompanies anxiety and depression.
For example, one student who had limited financial means to even attend college expressed an interest in a “practical” career to satisfy her parents’ demands. As such, she was just going through the motions of attending classes and was not emotionally engaged in her expensive education. Through the workshop, she transformed her understanding of who she was and what she was meant to do with her life -- the distinct difference she could make.
She changed her academic major from Spanish to Social Policy and International Relations, and she then actively found and accepted an internship in Peru. She went on to empower inner-city people to make their communities and neighborhoods safer and cleaner and to improve their personal health by reducing obesity rates. Her self-esteem and confidence soared, giving rise to a dynamic personality that had lain dormant.
This university is just one example of how institutions can use new assessment and intervention tools to create a student-success model that is based on the latest research in the psychology of well-being and student-centered learning. The occasional seminar or mental health event, or worse, allowing CAPS to passively wait for students to voluntarily sign up for counseling, is simply not enough. Our colleges and universities need to actively offer educational prevention programs and to infuse the teaching of self-understanding and well-being throughout the curriculum.
At the very least, academic outcomes will go up. At best, we have happier, healthier, more productive young adults.
Henry G. Brzycki is the president of The Brzycki Group and the Center for the Self in Schools. His next book, co-authored with Elaine J. Brzycki, Student Success in Higher Education, will be published in June 2016. He can be contacted at: Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.
Conversation. "Online publications invite us to 'join the conversation,' which is usually more of a scream-fest," says the announcement list. (Confession: Inside Higher Ed is among the online publications that use that language.)
Problematic: “A corporate-academic weasel word,” according to the Urban Dictionary entry cited by the university.
Stakeholder: The university explains that this "word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being overused in business to describe customers and others."
Break the Internet: Lake Superior calls this "a phrase that is annoying online word watchers around the world."
Manspreading: The university quotes one of those who nominated the word as saying that "men don't need another disgusting-sounding word thrown into the vocabulary to describe something they do …. You're just taking too much room on this train seat -- be a little more polite."
The Modern Language Association's Executive Council has issued a statement criticizing growing anti-Muslim bias as well as bias against those who teach about Islam. The statement says: "After the terrible shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, we have witnessed a sharp rise in Islamophobia, the intense hatred and fear of Islam and those identifying with the religion and its culture. This includes, but is not restricted to, targeting Arabs and Arab-Americans. In the United States there has been an upsurge in attacks upon and censorship and harassment of those who, as part of their scholarly work, teach about Islam. The MLA condemns any and all violations of free speech and academic freedom, including those based on race, religious affiliation and ethnicity. We especially deplore the firings and intimidation of those teachers who aid in our understanding of Islam."
The New Hampshire Supreme Court in December upheld the University of New Hampshire's 2013 firing of Marco Dorfsman, an associate professor of Spanish, after he admitted to altering a colleague's student evaluations. Dorfsman admitted to altering the evaluations so the student reviews would appear lower than they really were. The university invoked a provision in the contract of the faculty union that "moral turpitude" is grounds for firing. An arbitrator agreed that Dorfsman's actions constituted moral turpitude but found that dismissal was too harsh a punishment.
The Supreme Court decision said that because the contract specifically allows dismissals for moral turpitude and the arbitrator did not contest that the altering of evaluations met that standard, there was no basis to question the university's decision. "In rejecting UNH’s chosen penalty for moral turpitude, the arbitrator substituted his views of the proper industrial relationships for the provisions of the contract," said the Supreme Court decision in the case. "The arbitrator may not rewrite the labor contract in such a way."
The National Labor Relations Board in December agreed to consider whether graduate students at Columbia University are entitled to unionize. The NLRB in October agreed to address the issue with respect to a bid by graduate students at the New School to unionize. Collective bargaining rights at public universities are governed by state law, and many public universities as a result have teaching assistant unions. The NLRB has gone back and forth on the issue with respect to private universities, but the current precedent bars collective bargaining. The petitions from graduate students at both the New School and Columbia seek to reverse that ruling, while the universities would like to maintain the ruling.
Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois, and Larycia Hawkins, a tenured faculty member in political science, are apparently at an impasse over her continued employment at the college.
Hawkins attracted international attention this month when she announced -- in the wake of anti-Muslim statement by American politicians and others -- that she would wear a hijab as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. (The photo shows Hawkins, at right, with a student who also opted to wear a hijab as part of the effort.) Hawkins was placed on leave not for the gesture but for what she said about her motivation, which was to show support for Muslims, who "worship the same God" as do Christians. That statement about "the same God" reflects an idea endorsed by some Christian theologians, but very much opposed by others. Since Hawkins was placed on leave, she has been in touch with Wheaton officials about resolving the dispute.
Shortly before Christmas, Hawkins told The Chicago Tribune that discussions had broken down and she would reject a proposal from the college that she would return to teach, but without tenure for at least two years. She said the college appeared to be trying to force her out. "I was naively thinking they wanted to cooperate," she said. "I have tenure, and I have to fight for that."
The college issued a statement in which it acknowledged that talks have not been successful, but denied trying to force her out.
"At Dr. Hawkins's request, the college proposed the terms of separation if she chose to resign. We have not asked her to resign and did not suggest that she do so. Although Dr. Hawkins and the college have begun discussions regarding the possibility of a voluntary resignation, those discussions have not yet been successful and may have reached an impasse. Because of the arrival of the Christmas holidays, it will be some time before the resolution is solidified. Meanwhile, we solicit prayers for wisdom and discernment on behalf of all affected."
The college's statement also asserted Wheaton's right as a religious institution to require that faculty members embrace certain beliefs. "Wheaton recognizes that there may be a range of views among our faculty and staff regarding contemporary issues," the statement said. "However, we take the [college's] Statement of Faith seriously; as members of this voluntary community, all faculty and staff are expected not merely to sign it as a cursory requirement of employment, but also to affirm it as an expression of their own beliefs. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage and speak about issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s Statement of Faith, which is at the core of our identity and mission."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced in December that its chemistry division has withdrawn the nomination of Patrick Harran to be a fellow of the association. After the association announced Harran's nomination last month -- a significant honor for a scientist -- the AAAS was criticized for failing to consider Harran's full record. One of his lab assistants was killed in a laboratory fire in 2008, after which questions were raised about whether Harran should have done a better job of assuring safety. Harran faced felony counts related to alleged violations of state health and safety standards and could have served more than four years in prison if convicted. In 2014, he reached a deal with authorities -- opposed by the lab assistant's family -- in which he did not admit wrongdoing and legal charges were dropped. He did pledge to create and teach an organic chemistry course for college-bound urban students for five summers, to perform 800 hours of community service and to pay $10,000 to a burn center. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the incident.
The re-evaluation of Harran's nomination came, the AAAS statement said, "after it became apparent that an initial review of nomination materials had not included all relevant information. Members of the nomination reviewing committee recently became aware of a 2008 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran." The statement added that an AAAS committee "is also considering changes to the fellow review process for subsequent nominations."
Harran did not immediately respond to an email seeking his reaction.
The deaths of leading academic scientists may contribute in an unexpected way to the advancement of their fields, according to a study released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study (abstract available here) looked at the impact of the deaths of 452 academic life scientists who died while still "at the peak of their scientific abilities." As expected, the flow of articles by their collaborators declined. But their fields actually thrived as a result of a significant increase in publication of articles in the field by people not previously active and many of these papers went on to be influential. The paper speculates that "outsiders are reluctant to challenge leadership within a field when the star is alive and that a number of barriers may constrain entry even after she is gone."
The authors of the paper are Pierre Azoulay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joshua Graff Zivin of the University of California at San Diego, and Christian Fons-Rosen of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Spain.