faculty

Error Seen in Promoting Accused Professor

Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester, told faculty leaders last week that the university made a mistake by promoting Florian Jaeger while he was accused of sexual harassment, The Democrat & Chronicle reported. Seligman made the observation in a closed faculty meeting, but the newspaper said it obtained and verified minutes from the meeting. The university has faced widespread criticism on campus and off for investigations that clear Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, of harassment allegations.

The university has launched a new review of its handling of the case but has not retracted its findings clearing Jaeger, who has denied wrongdoing. But Seligman's latest remarks, according to the Democrat & Chronicle, included this quote: "I frankly think it was a mistake [to promote him], and it was one where it’s not going to happen again … And it’s not that after an investigation one can’t be promoted if it’s justified on the merits, but in the pendency of a serious investigation of this nature, it was wrong to promote him."

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Career services and faculty must work together to help humanities students (essay)

After years of being on the back foot, the humanities have launched a counterattack. A shelf of new books, including Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) and Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro’s Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From the Humanities (Princeton, 2017), attest to the usefulness of the humanities for the 21st-century job market. Their fresh message makes the old creed that the humanities are a “mistake” or not “relevant” seem out of touch. Surveying these works in the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, J. M. Olejarz dubs this countermovement “the revenge of the film, history and philosophy nerds.”

But what exactly makes the humanities useful? Many of the new studies attest to the significance of the humanities by drawing on biographies. How could the humanities not be useful if countless CEOs in Silicon Valley, as Hartley points out, have humanities degrees? Stewart Butterfield, Slack, philosophy; Jack Ma, Alibaba, English; Susan Wojcicki, YouTube, history and literature; Brian Chesky, Airbnb, fine arts. The list goes on.

But where we go from here requires the hard work of identifying just what is the common denominator being learned in the humanities and how to parlay that knowledge and those skills into professional success. How do you apply Virginia Woolf to write better code or marshal your skills conjugating Latin verbs to execute an IPO?

At the University of North Carolina Greensboro, we have taken the next step of improving career outcomes for our students in the humanities by implementing the Liberal Arts Advantage, a strategy that articulates the value of the humanities to students, their parents and the community.

Directors of career development are realizing that they can’t do this work alone. They must engage faculty as their partners.

Jeremy Podany, founder, CEO, and senior consultant of the Career Leadership Collective, a global solutions group and network of innovators inside and near to university career services, says that helping faculty teach career development is part of the job. “I actually think we need to go to the faculty and say, ‘Let me teach you how to have a great career conversation,’” said Podany. The relationship between faculty members and career development offices -- experts in the humanities and careers -- is essential to preparing students for the job market.

Why? Because the central issue in realizing a long-term strategy for student career development is translation. That is, how students translate the skills they learn in the classroom into workplace success. This is particularly true in the case of the metacognitive skills that professors in the humanities can, and should, help contribute in their students.

On campuses nationwide, career services teams are moving to the center -- physically and educationally. Many directors now report to advancement and alumni offices. In their widely read manifesto on the future of career development, Christine Y. Cruzvergara and Farouk Dey identified elevating career services and customized networks as necessary changes for improving career outcomes for students. The money is following. One of the biggest donations of 2016 was a $25 million gift for humanities-oriented St. John’s College, partially earmarked for career services.

Missing in the recent reports, however, is the change that is most needed for institutions to integrate career development into the college experience: faculty involvement. Without collaboration between the faculty and career services, these developments can only have a tangential impact.

Want to meaningfully improve career outcomes for students? Get faculty members on board.

Troy Markowitz and Ryan Craig wrote recently that students aren’t suffering from a skills gap but an “awareness gap” that leads to underemployment, debt and diminished career options. This problem is starkest in the humanities, where many lack the ability to articulate skills to employers. Our strategy focuses on the skills humanities students learn, and helps them translate those skills for career impact. At UNCG we are building a program that helps students take the critical steps toward identifying skills, pursuing them and translating them into professional success.

To make the humanities more accessible, we must show our students the path from their studies to meaningful work. Humanities faculty are mistakenly resistant to integrating career development into their courses. A revelatory recent article in The Atlantic that showed how first-generation students were finding “personal and professional fulfillment in the humanities and social sciences” underscores the power of this strategy. Of course, many students do discover the inherent value of the humanities, yet not all students have that luxury. We must emphasize competencies as much as content, and help the majority of students translate and apply them across the education-to-employment divide.

Humanities education is a long-term investment in future leaders. To prepare graduates for the challenges of the job market, our departments are developing three skill sets that meet employers’ needs: critical thinking, communication and collaboration. We call these the three C’s skills. Together with a task force of faculty members from across the college, we organized UNCG’s first professional development day for students in the humanities. Attended by more than 250 students, the event included breakout sessions co-led by representatives of the faculty and career services.

Our keynote speaker, Laurin Titus, senior vice president in consumer marketing at Bank of America, enumerated how critical thinking, communication and collaboration contribute to success at the entry level and in senior leadership. In breakout sessions that followed, career services worked side by side with instructors from humanities departments to offer examples of exercises and assignments from their classes and how they could contribute to career development. In exit surveys, 99 percent of students surveyed indicated they will use what they learned in the sessions.

This month we are leveraging these workshops at UNCG to pilot online career development modules. Unlike stand-alone career courses, faculty members will embed these modules in their courses and integrate them into their curricula. This approach brings translation to the moment of skill creation. It is only possible through close collaboration among faculty and career development offices.

Many faculty know their value in contributing to the three C’s, as the Partnership for 21st Century Learning’s “Framework for 21st Century Learning” suggests. They know critical thinking when they see it. Presenting the humanities as an obstacle to career advancement understandably puts faculty on the defensive. Yet faculty should be willing to mine curricula for assignments and stories that bring translatable skills to the fore.

The fact is that students are already learning many necessary skills and competencies for the professional work force in humanities courses. The awareness gap has distorted students’ perception of what employers want and clouded us to the value of the humanities. We as educators can correct this misconception by making the skills already learned explicit. We can close the awareness gap and make the humanities truly accessible.

To do this career services staff must reimagine themselves as educators, and professors must embrace their role in professional development. Only translation will show how what is valuable can also be useful.

Emily J. Levine is an associate professor of history, and Nicole Hall is director of career services, at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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3 Share Nobel Prize in Medicine

Nobel Prize medal.Three American academics were this morning named joint winners of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine. They were honored "for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm." Details on their research may be found here.

The three are:

  • Jeffrey C. Hall, professor emeritus of biology at Brandeis University, also affiliated with the University of Maine.
  • Michael Rosbash, professor of biology and neuroscience at Brandeis. (Details on his lab there may be found here.)
  • Michael W. Young, professor and vice president for academic affairs at Rockefeller University. (More information about his work may be found here.)
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Colorado State, professor settle First Amendment lawsuit

Professor used historical imagery of a strike being put down violently in criticizing Colorado State’s move to lay off employees. University then blocked him from using his university email account.

Supreme Court Case Is Threat to Public Unions

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that could limit the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from nonmembers, The New York Times reported. The case does not center on higher education unions but has major implications for them: a decision in favor of the plaintiff, Mark Janus, who works for the state government of Illinois and does not wish to pay fees to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, could drastically limit revenue for unions at public institutions.

Janus’s was one of just 11 cases the justices added to their docket out of 2,000 petitions submitted over the summer break, according to the Times. The case resembles another involving a California teachers' union that was argued before the high court in early 2016, and which resulted in a 4-to-4 deadlock upon the death of the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. It is widely speculated that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Scalia’s replacement and an appointee of the Trump administration, will cast a tie-breaking vote against the union position in the new case.

Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, said in a co-authored statement Thursday that the organization plans to defend faculty unionization rights against Janus and other threats. "We are facing unprecedented attacks, through the courts and through legislation, on our freedom to join together in union and work together to set standards that create better universities and colleges," he said. "We anticipate submitting an amicus brief arguing that fair-share fees are constitutional. And our chapters will continue to organize to defend higher education as a public good."
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Virginia Tech Professor Arrested, Charged with Fraud

A professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech is accused of defrauding the university and the federal government in a case involving more than $1 million in grant funding, the The Roanoke Times reported. The professor, Yiheng Percival Zhang, is charged with wire fraud, making criminal false claims and making false statements, according to a federal affidavit filed in the U.S. Western District Court of Virginia. He was arrested last week and in jail as of early this week, according to The Times.

Zhang’s lawyer said the professor maintains his innocence and intends to vigorously fight the charges. Zhang, a Tech graduate and Chun You, a postdoctoral researcher in China, are accused of defrauding the university, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy by withholding grant funds from 2014 to 2016. Specifically, Zhang allegedly applied for grants to pay for research that already had been completed in China and only turned over 18 percent of federal funds to Tech when he owed it 30 percent as part of the grant agreement. A university spokesperson said Zhang was still employed there this week.

 
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Virginia Tech Professor Arrested, Charged with Fraud

Advice for academics when working with journalists (essay)

Just because you can read a newspaper, doesn’t mean you can write for one. Sure, it’s writing at a sixth-grade reading level. But writing well for a newspaper or magazine audience can be a vexing challenge for people who do it every day, let alone those who only dabble with an op-ed once a year.

Yet in the age of fake news and pseudoscience, the need for academics to reach the public is more urgent than ever. Scholars seek relevance in public debate, and impact for their research, while news editors are starving for compelling ideas, thoughtfully expressed.

This transaction should be symbiotic. Often it is. More often, it isn’t.

 In the interest of getting academics and editors on the same page, we’ve composed a short list of tips for pitching a journalistic outlet and joining the conversation:

Have a newspeg: There must be an immediately apparent reason why this piece is relevant right now. Not yesterday, not tomorrow. Time is compressed in journalism, and scholars need to envision what it’s like to work under such pressure. To think strategically, scholars should look at the calendar.  Is there an overlooked anniversary coming up? A vote in Congress that most readers won’t be aware of? Is there a pattern of occurrences that speak to a larger trend in your field? Look at recent events and deduce how today's news will likely be repeated soon. 

For example: It’s an unfortunate reality that a police officer will be caught on video shooting a suspect and that the video will go viral sometime in the near future. Or a scholar might look at the several recent episodes of political violence - everything from the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise to the brutality that occurred in Charlottesville - and conclude that another similar episode is inevitable.  Start writing that essay now - so you're ahead of the news. Draft up the 600 words, and keep it in a file. When something does happen, update with a strong lede and pitch quickly. Newsrooms do this often for the obituaries of famous people. Many events are predictable, which is why fortune -- and the front page -- both favor the well-prepared. 

 Start with a great lede: A 'lede" is the opening of any piece of journalism. It should pierce the cheek like a fishhook with a barb that’s strong enough to hold the reader and pull them through the piece. A sentence or two is all you get to do so.  A good lede is short, tight and engaging.  If your lede fails to capture the editor’s attention, your essay -- no matter how fabulous -- likely won’t get the chance to hook any readers at all.  It is the most important sentence in your piece and should be written for your gate-keeping audience of one. Write it and re-write it. Try going short -- cut out the commas and extra clauses. Read it out loud. It can be very difficult to sculpt a memorable lede. But when it works, you’ll know it.

 Write tight: Too many academics simply don’t know how to communicate clearly and succinctly.  To write effectively, one must be able to express complex ideas in clear, simple prose. Abandon adverbs. Embrace brevity. Learn to love sentence fragments. This problem is deeper than just wordiness and avoiding jargon. Basic compositional flaws often bog down what should be engaging writing.

For example: a dearth of action verbs slows an essay. For some reason, academics just don’t employ enough action verbs. Action verbs propel sentences. They establish rhythm. They comprise the foundation of journalistic communication.  Meanwhile, sentences that are overly long, ponderously caveated, lousy with intellectual digressions and lacking in lyricism slow down even the most compelling pieces. Short packs punch.

Advance the conversation: This might appear a low hurdle, but a surprising number of academics approach public communication with a more educative and less engaging goal. Nobody is interested in an academic synthesis that encapsulates scholarly debate. With fewer than 800 words, you simply don’t have time for an introductory exposition summarizing multiple perspectives on the issue at hand. Any summary and synthesis must also be stimulating and engaging. 

Scholars might dismiss this as selling clickbait, but it's about finding the most effective way to package the added value of your expertise. In today’s social media universe, it's likely that your specific idea or take has already been tweeted and circulated. In the hypercompetitive world of contemporary journalism, most journalism outlets expect those who submit material to not only know details of current discussion, but to also be able to clearly identify their specific addition to that discussion.

Read where you’re pitching: The best way to learn the writing style of the outlet where you’d like to be published is to read it. Many of the pitches that editors receive are either bulk submissions, sent to hundreds of editors, or completely unsuited to the publication they work for. Read to improve your writing and write for where you’ll be read. Pitch your intended publication pieces they’d be crazy to reject.

Learn how to handle rejection: The rejection rate for a large daily metropolitan newspaper can surpass even the most prestigious academic journals. Every day hundreds of excellent essays cross the transom at America's top newspapers. That’s not an exaggeration. Unlike applying to university, there are no fees. So essays can go to hundreds of editors simultaneously in an email blast. Skilled wordsmiths employed by strategic communication firms earn big salaries by composing op eds in newspapers around the United States. Scholars pitching journalists are no longer competing in their niche research domain; rather, they are pushing into a huge public conversation that’s severely constricted by multiple factors.

There’s the real estate in the actual newspaper, or the number of stories that can be promoted on any given homepage. But there’s also the protection and promotion of the brand. Newspapers in the big cities, and their websites, are -- to some extent -- the last bastion of the text-based mass audience. They still provide the essential building blocks of communal knowledge and local political engagement. That remains a huge responsibility. In this sense, the daily (and even hourly) mix must always be carefully and selectively curated.

For this reason, an outstanding essay on a subject covered elsewhere in the newspaper two days earlier might very well not make it. Rather than assume the editor is an idiot who can’t recognize genius, or be personally affronted or insulted, view rejection as an opportunity. Tinker with the essay and pitch it again elsewhere. Put it away and try again when the moment is more accommodating.  All writers possess pieces they love that have been rejected that remain in their computers awaiting their moment. Rather than consider rejection as a finality, use it as motivation. Keep plugging away.

Publishing will always be more about perseverance in the face of rejection than any instant recognition. But if scholars truly seek to shape public discussion and reach audiences outside of academe, they should have at least passing fluency in the way that journalism works.

Alex Kingsbury is deputy Ideas editor at the Boston Globe. Michael J. Socolow teaches journalism at the University of Maine.

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A provost with an unconventional background describes her first job experience (essay)

Terri E. Givens describes her first job and some of the lessons she learned.

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Inside Digital Learning: Online Education in Question

In today’s “Inside Digital Learning”:

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Inside Digital Learning: Online Education in Question
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Inside Digital Learning: Sept. 27, 2017, Newsletter
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Instructors suggest digital tools for improving engagement with online students in wake of WGU audit

Federal auditors assert that instructors at Western Governors University don't interact sufficiently with distance learners. Faculty members consider strategies to improve contact with online students.

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